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Showing posts from January, 2019

He leads with his heart. Not his spear.

Alpha (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Hughes Brothers’ projects weren’t quite gelling for a while before they decided to pursue solo careers. Gravitating towards more commercial properties, the resulting From Hell and The Book of Eli both have their merits but bear the signs of studio interference/ compromise (Alan Moore’s labyrinthine, involved comic book reduced to a sketchy shell) and a script that wasn’t quite there respectively. Allen’s first solo feature was the clumsy Broken City (both in screenplay and performances), more than half a decade ago, and now Albert finally follows him with Alpha, taking him from Eli’s post-apocalyptic landscape to a prehistoric one. And it’s pretty good.

You might want to rethink how amazing he is.

Beast (2017)
(SPOILERS) I’m a little surprised by the BAFTA attention Michael Pearce’s debut feature is receiving, although that may reflect a need to scrape around to find sufficient homegrown films remotely worthy of awards. I think Beast is fine, as far as it goes; it’s well-acted and nicely directed, but it’s also quite unremarkable as a piece of writing, striving but failing to find something new amongst its serial killer trappings.

STEM, you can take over.

Upgrade (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s a host of readily identifiable, familiar elements from genre fare in Leigh Whannell’s sci-fi B-movie, taking in such disparate flicks as Death Wish, Robocop, Knight Rider and Monkey Shines – and Venom, despite coming out of the gate a month earlier than the Tom Hardy starrer – and its premise, of an unstoppable, inventive AI that can see far beyond the humans who spawned it, couldn’t be called especially novel, but Upgrade comes with enough personality to be its own thing.

To me, it was just our planet desperately trying to survive by kicking us out.

Io: Last on Earth (2019)
(SPOILERS) Here’s the reason most original Netflix movies don’t gain much traction: they’re forgettable, bland, cheap filler. There’s nothing very awful about Io: Last on Earth, so there’s that, but neither is there any reason to stay the course with it, except out of loyalty to the principal of finishing what you’ve started.

I'm just happy to be talking to a true white American.

BlacKkKlansman (2018)
(SPOILERS) BlacKkKlansman illustrates, if nothing else, that Spike Lee is still entirely unable to judge when less is more. Only this time, his lack of discernment has come up roses, garnering him Best Picture and Director Oscar nominations. One can be cynical about this, crediting peer recognition to the picture’s socio-political currency rather than its quality, but then, wasn’t it ever thus with the Academy Awards? This really isa disappointing film, though, roundly failing to deliver on its you-couldn’t-make-it-up, must-see premise; one can only imagine how much more potent BlacKkKlansman might have been, had producer Jordan Peele opted to direct rather than bringing Lee on board. Peele is, after all, a dab hand at both comedy and drama; Lee’s credentials in the former are debatable, some might say negligible, and he hasn’t really proved himself in the latter in a decade or more.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

"Did you find, in your life, a clock in the sand?"

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
The overriding response elicited by this documentary on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ultimately doomed attempt to make a version of Dune in the mid-70s is amazement that it got as far as it did, that he managed to assemble so many talents and stars and two-thirds of financing before the behemoth went belly-up. Because what he was attempting seemed impossible, particularly with hindsight.

Kilmer didn't like Brando. Brando didn't like Kilmer. They all didn't like Frankenheimer. Frankenheimer didn't like them.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2015)
I’m not one of those who thought the John Frankenheimer-inherited The Island of Dr. Moreau was one of the worst movies ever made. Indeed, I found it very patchy – so reflective of most of the director’s efforts by this point in his career – but actually quite entertaining, much of that down to the absurd performance of Marlon Brando, who if this documentary from David Gregory is anything to go by, really had it in for the film’s producer New Line.

All the royals wanted was a brood mare crossed with a clothes horse.

Unlawful Killing (2011)
This Mohamed Al Fayed-financed documentary, fronted by the one and only – mercifully – Keith Allen, boasts the honour of being unshown in the UK owing to 87 changes, requested for legal reasons, that the producers refused to make. It’s readily viewable on YouTube, however, where it can be considered for what it does or doesn’t add to the conspiracy conversation surrounding Princess Diana’s death. While it presents examining the inquest as its remit (“It is the inquest of the inquest” as Allen puts it) its net is cast wider than that, and it’s in that capacity that it ultimately ends up undermining itself.

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

It looks like we’ve got another schizoid embolism!

Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.

It shall cleanse the world! Everyone must look. Everyone must look.

Bird Box (2018)
(SPOILERS) 45 million viewers can’t be wrong. Right? What’s more interesting about Netlfix’s announcement of the multitudes flocking to see Sandy Buttocks shield her eyes from the apocalypse is that previous big events on their part were accompanied by no such swagger. So I guess Bright or Adam Sandler’s latest just didn’t cut it to the same magnitude? Doubtless the streaming giant will be commissioning more end-of-the-world fare tout suite. Possibly starring Will Smith and Adam Sandler, together at last. The success of The Walking Dead made it incredibly obvious, if that was even necessary, that there are huge potential audiences for the inevitable collapse of civilisation, provided it’s occurring while ensconced in one’s living room, but also that it gets stale quite quickly if you don’t have anything really distinctive to throw into the mix. Bird Box is well made and acted, but all it does is remind you of other, often better, movies of its ilk.

They're everywhere. Battling for dominance.

Prediction 2019 Box Office
2019 is even more loaded in Disney’s favour than most years (which is every year anyway); they’ve got an easy shot at five $1bn+ grossers, leaving other studios to mop up whatever table leavings they can. Notables that didn’t make the cut: Minecraft, Greyhound, Midway, Zombieland 2, Sonic the Hedgehog, Little Women, Child’s Play reboot, Charlie’s Angels. Beneath this little lot you can find my error sheet for 2018.