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Showing posts from October, 2018

We need to fail. We need to fail down here so we don't fail up there.

First Man (2018)
I was ambivalent about the need for First Man. The space race movie had already been made in The Right Stuff, and couldn’t possibly be bettered, and the “tribulations in space” movie had been one of the better Ron Howard pictures (still only solid, rather than great, though). Was another Hollywood production promulgating the official history of NASA needed? Probably not, as there's nothing very new here on that score, but what impresses about First Man is rather the perversely unglorifying approach it takes – which isn't to say it’s anything other than in awe of the risks taken by the risk takers – resulting in a piece that's almost the opposite of Philip Kaufman's film in scope, scale and design, despite sharing some of its iconography; it could even be seen as an anti-epic.

That kind of nonsense can come back and haunt you down the road. If you killed her, I mean.

Suburbicon (2017)
(SPOILERS) I wonder what the Coen brothers really thought of George Clooney (and Grant Heslov) rewriting their long-on-the-shelf screenplay. Clooney’s record with such tampering isn’t exactly spotless (Charlie Kaufman was most unimpressed with the changes he made to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), and his decision to mash up their '50s-set crime story with their own segregation drama, as a reaction to Trump, is only deleterious to the whole. Apparently the Coens gave him their blessing, but they were probably just being polite.

I don’t catch wolves looking where they might be. I look where they’ve been.

Wind River (2017)
(SPOILERS) Taylor Sheridan's second feature as director sees him continue tapping a vein of political-toned genre writing that informed his two breakout successes, Sicario and Hell or High Water. He's a bit of a plodder as a helmer on this evidence, however, lacking the energy or flair Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie brought to those screenplays.

Why can’t it just be about the skating?

I, Tonya (2017)
(SPOILERS) The conflicting accounts that I, Tonya wears as a badge of pride, courtesy of screenwriter Steven Rogers' decision to wallow in the distinctive points of view of its protagonists rather than attempt to sift through them to reach some level of ostensible truth, are both a stroke of genius and the picture's Achilles' heel. Because once that choice has been made, it lends the proceedings an archness that, while entertaining and often very funny, is distancing.

This train’s freakin’ me out!

The Commuter (2018)
(SPOILERS) I've found the previous Liam Neeson/Jaume Collet-Serra collaborations entertaining for the most part (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night), but there's definitely a cumulative sense of them punching below their weight. Indeed, instead of solving dastardly deeds on a plane (Non-Stop), this time the actor and his director are on a train doing likewise.

People are going rabid!

Train to Busan (2016)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps I just had my expectations raised too high, based on all the praise lavished on Train to Busan, but this South Korean zombie flick, largely situated – surprise, surprise – on the titular train, is merely adequate. Sang-ho Yeon offers perfectly serviceable zombie action – albeit without the resort to freneticism so common in the US versions – but rather falls down when feasting on lumpen and obvious social commentary.

All in favour of Chief fighting the robot dog, say ay.

Isle of Dogs (2018)
(SPOILERS) I didn’t have very high hopes for Isle of Dogs. While I'm a big Wes Anderson fan, give or take the odd picture (The Life Aquatic just doesn’t do it for me), the trailers almost felt like they were intended as a patience-testing parody of his quirky tableau style. Plus, I wasn't enormously keen on The Fantastic Mr Fox, although that may just have been my wanting a respectful adaptation of Roald Dahl's story, rather than one Wes'd up to the max. Yet this, his sophomore animation, is as a very pleasant surprise. Perhaps because it allows him free rein, without impressing himself on someone else's material. Most of the criticisms aimed at the picture have some validity, but they're very much outweighed by its significant merits.

Of course, I’m not all right, you idiot. I’ve just been massaged by a pig.

Early Man (2018)
(SPOILERS) This ought to be a sobering lesson in what happens when an auteur is given a free hand and no one has the bottle to tell him he's come up with a stinker. Sure, Early Man had generally sympathetic reviews, but that’s really because Nick Park – rightly – has built up an enormous amount of goodwill over the years. Sometimes, though, you have to be cruel to be kind and call a turkey a turkey.

Wasn't it her brother who murdered all those babysitters?

Halloween (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that you can keep going back to the same crumbling well and there'll still be a ready and willing (nostalgic) audience to lap up the results, at least for the first weekend. The critics seemed to like this sequel to the first movie, though, which expressly wipes out Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later – which also retconned out of existence everything aside from the first two movies. Mind you, the makers would do that, since both cover similar ground, while this Halloween ends up not being noticeably all that superior.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.

I love robbing the English, they're so polite.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
(SPOILERS) It’s probably fair to suggest A Fish Called Wanda was the last time John Cleese felt he had something to prove creatively. Certainly, the belated "sequel" Death Fish II/ Fierce Creatures seemed designed to squander the massive amount of good will its predecessor engendered. Post-Python (and Fawlty Towers) he'd become better known for having his head examined and profiting from the world of corporate training videos than building on his comedic legacy. His one stab at headlining a production, Clockwise, had met with mild success at home but complete indifference everywhere else, and he was only showing up there as a performer. So the challenge he set himself, to break the difficult US market and pass himself off as a romantic lead, was no small one.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.