Here we go with September of last year thoughts. All in all a pretty positive month, that skews quite heavily to newer (at the time) releases. Enjoy.
- It (2017), Andy Muschietti – I really liked this, despite finding the scares to be pretty ineffectual. Builds this nice 80s small town with a dark past vibe. This is nicely shown through sketching out the different experiences that kids can have in a place like that. Liked the adventure vibe, a group of buds taking on something massive. But the horror elements are too scattershot. Sort of works in the world of the gfilm, but no cohesiveness in frightening the audience. Plus there is too much CGI on Pennywise. Some dark stuff to consider. Bullying and the face that all the adults are either distant at best or a whole lot worse. It’s a film about the experience of childhood divorced from the experience of adults.
- The Dark Tower (2017), Nikolaj Arcel – Given this is based on a (extremely beloved) series of books, it’s super slight. But given I have no connection to the source material, I actually had an ok time here. It’s light on plot for a fantasy film with minimal mythology. Builds nice dual worlds though. Both of the older leads are really excellent. McConaughey mixes cool reserve and genuine evil. Elba rocks as a fuckin badass action hero with presence and bravado. A strange mix of kid-led adventure film with some legit darkness and intensity. This actually left me hanging out for the supposed TV series.
- The Fate of the Furious (2017), F. Gary Grey – As someone who hasn’t enjoyed any of this franchise since #3, this was a really nice surprise. Crackingly awful dialogue. Grey harnesses the silliness and self-parody into something super fun. Which is not easy to do when not only do you know where the plot is going, you know every single beat. Gloriously stupid stuff. The Stath doing an action scene holding a baby is an underrated high point of the series.
- Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces (2016), Yousry Nasrallah – I didn’t quite capture some of the tonal stuff. But there was a lot to like here. The performances, especially from the two leads, are really good. There is a great sense of character, which comes much more strongly from these performances than the writing. There’s a really strong sequence at a wedding, storytelling wrapped up with a pivotal life ceremony. A quite horrific late shift that jars with what has come before and then the film ends on a comedic bee attack.
- The Incredible Jessica James (2017), Jim Strouse – I’m a big fan of Jessica Williams, especially her podcast ‘2 Dope Queens’. Here she plays a struggling playwright going through a breakup. Going in, thought Chris O’Dowd would be a bad fit opposite Williams. But it works really well, despite the uninspired script. Gentle, nice and worth it for the lead performances..
- The Girlfriend Experience (2009), Steven Soderbergh – Big fan of this one. Like the way it is shot – small, intimate and utilises focus. Sketches out the ‘girlfriend experience’. I thought Sasha Grey was really good. Like the construction, plotless in a way but the narrative sort of builds through encounters. Actually as more plot got added in, I liked it less. Still one of my favourite Soderbergh films though.
- Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colours (2015), Stephen Herek – This has the spirit of Dolly Parton running through it and is fucking delightful as a result. Be warned, it does get a little churchy at the end. But it’s really well acted, from the young lead and her parents in particular. And it’s a lovely weaving of her song into movie form. Slight and clearly made for TV, but lovely.
- Fly Away Home (1996), Caroll Ballard – A huge dose of schmaltz from minute one. Scraggly Jeff Daniels is all kinds of ace. Lots of cute baby geese. Look it’s pretty run of the miss stuff. But I like the motley crew vibe that pops up. Above average, solid, family fare.
- Hidden Figures (2016), Theodore Melfi – Perhaps not as revolutionary as the story demands. But dies make plain the intense racism and sexism being confronted. Simple, but good storytelling elevated by bloody good performances from the three leads. It’s a good script. More focused on Taraji P. Henson’s character than I was expecting. She is great here, but I think a more ensemble approach to the story would have made for a more satisfying film.
- Lego Batman Movie (2017), Chris McKay – Much better than its predecessor. Hilariously and cleverly pokes fun at the conventions of the character, tapping into his loneliness, arrogance and privilege. Also looks super, super cool. Even the really self-aware moments are very funny. Silly, but canny enough to poke at the seriousness of the character.
- Deadly Blessing (1981), Wes Craven – Underrated Craven goodness here. Smoothly crafts the ominous aspects of the Hittites – costuming and choral singing take on a creepiness. Plenty of this feels unremarkable, especially the whodunit elements. But Craven can’t help putting his touch of brilliance on things. Ernest Borgnine is really quite good in this. He adds layers to the presentation of the Hittites I think. Sort of lulls you along, then suddenly something like a slamming door scares the shit out of you. Also feels like Craven is riffing on his own career at times – the bath scene recalls his most famous film.
- Malcolm (1986), Nadia Tass – Colin Friels stars as a shy dude fired for building his own tram. Nice portrait of an ingenious and awkward outsider. Settles into an odd-couple crime caper with class commentary. Great script, that constantly makes you smile. I think something quite beautiful to it, depth to the characters and relationships. A fun, strikingly absurd tale of friendship and bank robbery.
- Patti cake$ (2017), Geremy Jasper – In a way not what I was expecting. It’s grimmer and more true to lie than the triumphant musical underdog story it was sold as. It’s a really great lead performance from Danielle Macdonald, transcends the cliché it could have become (large white girl trying to do hip-hop). Elicits the confidence that she has the fortitude to achieve what she is yearning for. All culminates in one of the best musical moments in a film for a long time. An awesomely exultant release of the film’s build-up.
- Ali’s Wedding (2017), Jeffrey Walker – So incredibly charming. Teen romcom tropes – nervousness about exams, talking to girls – filtered through a Muslim-Australian lens in a way that feels quite meaningful. It also makes this part of the humour. Really solid filmmaking, the way the harsher flashbacks are crafted. Also laugh out loud funny, with some really clever and fun music cues. Hits all the beats you expect in a way you haven’t seen.
- The Good Fight Season 1 (2017), Robert King, Michelle King & Phil Alden Robinson – Plays like a heart-warming remix of its predecessor. Baranski’s Diane provides such a comforting connection, while Lucca really becomes the focus here. The case of the week format means there are duds. But the overall theme of a predominately African American firm taking on police violence lends it a cohesiveness. I found this to be a warm, fun ride.
Not Worth Watching
- Hatchet (2006), Adam Green – I do love how Adam Green has made his own way, and this seems to be a particularly beloved film in the horror community. But it did little for me. Starts muted, even with the presence of Robert Englund. The script has some nice humour to it and it actually works pretty well as a comedy. Unfortunately it’s totally forgettable as a horror film. The kills are weird, not sure what they are going for. Neither played for laughs (despite the silly effects) or particularly creative.
- Death Ship (1980), Alvin Rakoff – Sort of OTT and hilarious, but not at all fun. There is an ominous presence to the visuals of the titular ship. But as soon as it is boarded, that atmosphere essentially evaporates. A muted and gross experience, neither of those in a good way.
- XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017), D.J Caruso – Sold to me by people I trust as a fun ‘good-bad’ movie, this is unfortunately junk. Utterly stupid from the first second. The action, even with dudes as talented as Donnie Yen, is super slow and a bit shit. Quite stilted overall. Very much a failed Bond riff. Occasionally certain cast members give it a shot of life, but there’s an equal number of them who explode onto the screen with a meh. A chore.
- Take the 10 (2017), Chester Tam – Oof. A lot of the Netflix original movies are underrated I feel. No chance of that here. It’s exceptionally bad. Mind-numbingly horrible and arch dialogue. I barely made it through which is very rare for me. Super uninspiring, crass and cheap. Unfunny with no plot as well. You know things are dire when not even Andy Samberg can inspire some laughs.
- Girls Trip (2017), Malcolm D. Lee – I didn’t get what so many others got from this film. Instantly establishes the four main characters. Which means no time wasted on backstory. And the casting is uniformly great. Four ace leads headlined by the breakout performance from Tiffany Haddish. But for me, it didn’t really transcend standard comedic stuff. The pee jokes and long drug trips felt tired, even with the refreshing characters and performers. Plus it was super overlong.
- Annabelle Creation (2017), David F. Sandberg – Supposedly an improvement on the first but I don’t see it. Really average rather than abrasively awful. Builds a decent ‘world’ – older couple with secrets, big ol house, orphans and nuns. But does zero with it. Boring. Feels like the many Waniverse tropes of slamming doors, use of framing and focus to generate scares, folks getting dragged away, people floating, are really only any good in James’ hands.
If you only have time to watch one Ali’s Wedding
Avoid at all costs Take the 10