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Showing posts from September, 2019

My advice? Take it to Channel 4. They’ll eat this shit up.

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)
(SPOILERS) One time, it would be satisfying if the main protagonist in one of these Grandfather Paradox constructions had done with the inherent inescapability of it all and expressly set out to blow the bloody doors off. If Boyd Holbrook’s increasingly bedraggled, hairpiece-hampered ex-cop, on realising that’s his granddaughter on the beach, the initiator of all these time-travel, would-you-kill Hitler murders – notably, there’s no discussion of whether this is a morally unconscionable mission, presumably because those responsible for kicking off the future civil war are hateful racists, so there shouldn’t be any debate on the matter – had just shot her in the head, that at least would have saved his younger, less chronologically-aware version from pushing her in front of a train.

You sucked my arm off!

Logan Lucky (2017)
(SPOILERS) I suppose it’s quite sweet that love and devotion dictated Steven Soderbergh’s return to big screen moviemaking, if reports of the true identity of Logan Lucky’s screenwriter are accurate (his wife, Jules Asner, under the pseudonym Rebecca Blunt). I’d say I can’t see any other good reason for having made it, but I’d say that of most Soderbergh fare (including ones shot on an iPhone or with a handycam or even an instant polaroid).

“All you need is a mango season and everything will change.”

High Flying Bird (2019)
(SPOILERS) The most noticeable thing about Steven Soderbergh’s return to moviemaking has been that so few really noticed. He has directed four films since his four-year hiatus (sorry, retirement), with a fifth on the way, and seems to be operating by a career rationale in direct contrast to Tarantino’s. The latter wants every one to count, to dig deep into his auteur status and thus leave behind an indomitable rep (underlined by that all-important – and terrifying as a prospect to some – ten-and-out movies). Soderbergh appears to have only one criterion in picking his projects: that they’re desperately inessential.

Ew, you feed dragons to dragons?

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was a big fan of How to Train Your Dragon, and rated the sequel as a cut above most repetitive, remixed follow-up fare, even if it was thoroughly embedded with second-chapter tropes. This third instalment, however, arriving half a decade after its predecessor, feels more like contractual obligation than the consequence of a real yen to tell a story. The focus on dragon Toothless ends up yielding a rather toothless story.

Er, should we tell him there are no restrooms in the Land of the Dead?

Coco (2017)
(SPOILERS) Although I knew I should Coco, it took me a while to get round to this Pixar (don’t hold your breath for Cars 3). Partly because I’ve become somewhat jaded towards the animation house’s once must-see cachet, whereby even their original offerings betray a formula that it isn’t so stratospherically superior to that of DreamWorks, who invariably suffer when it comes to comparisons. But, as with Inside Out, Pixar’s ninth Best Animated Feature Oscar winner offers the potential of an original outing that’s also somewhat risky; it’s actually nothing of the sort, as much great beyond comfort food as Casper, but it’s nevertheless as appealingly precision-engineered as only Pixar can provide.

He is a rambunctious sort, ain't he?

Quentin Tarantino  Ranked
The debate continues, particularly with the typically divisive Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, over whether Quentin Tarantino deserves all the attention lavished on him. Is he a true talent with a deceptive amount to say? Or a showy, shallow pretender to the auteur crown, who gets the press he does because he’s pretty much alone in an arid desert of popular original filmmaking, one where cinema is all-but suffocated by franchise overload.

You're not even an ape. You're a media person.

Natural Born Killers (1994)
(SPOILERS) In which Oliver Stone loses the plot. Casting about for something new to get incensed over now he’s burnt himself out on Nam and dead presidents, Oli happens upon a Tarantino script (sold for $10k) and proceeds to take a wrecking ball to it. As a non sequitur of a cinematic experience, it’s almost as if he actively sought to piss away the good will the editing Oscar for JFK engendered (notably awarded to a different editor). As a media “satire”, Natural Born Killers reinforces criticisms that his only means of tackling a subject is napalming it.

What you are doing is not how it's done.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
(SPOILERS) Tarantino undertook a bout of script doctoring during the mid-90s, but From Dusk Till Dawn represents his sole outright gun-for-hire job from inception, and apart from feeling through-and-through like a scrappy Robert Rodriguez production, with “That’ll do” writ large across it (complete with a plum part for mate Quentin), it’s also an unusually scrappy screenplay, lacking his usual inventiveness and memorable dialogue, leaving instead merely a pervading air of unpleasantness.

Do you like to get pie after you see a good movie?

True Romance (1993)
(SPOILERS) The track record for others adapting Tarantino’s early screenplays isn’t so hot – the prosecution offers Natural Born Killers and From Dusk Til Dawn – but Tony Scott’s envisioning of True Romance, made before the director went stratospheric with Pulp Fiction and after Quentin politely turned Tony down when he made it known how much he’d like to direct Reservoir Dogs himself, is nigh on perfect. Scott ironed the director’s tricksy structure into something linear, and brought with it an upbeat ending, because he knew that if you’re onboard with Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette), you don’t need bells and whistles and foisted tragedy. And he managed to make a classic as a result, the best film of his career.

I am forever driven on this quest.

Ad Astra (2019)
(SPOILERS) Would Apocalypse Now have finished up as a classic if Captain Willard had been ordered on a mission to exterminate his mad dad with extreme prejudice, rather than a mysterious and off-reservation colonel? Ad Astra features many stunning elements. It’s an undeniably classy piece of filmmaking from James Gray, who establishes his tone from the get-go and keeps it consistent, even through various showy set pieces. But the decision to give its lead character an existential crisis entirely revolving around his absent father is its reductive, fatal flaw, ultimately deflating much of the air from Gray’s space balloon.

Hey, everybody. The bellboy's here.

Four Rooms (1995)
(SPOILERS) I had an idea that I’d only seen part of Four Rooms previously, and having now definitively watched the entire thing, I can see where that notion sprang from. It’s a picture that actively encourages you to think it never existed. Much of it isn’t even actively terrible – although, at the same time, it couldn’t be labelled remotely good– but it’s so utterly lethargic, so lacking in the energy, enthusiasm and inventiveness that characterises these filmmakers at their best – and yes, I’m including Rodriguez, although it’s a very limited corner for him – that it’s very easy to banish the entire misbegotten enterprise from your mind.

If a rat were to walk in here right now as I'm talking, would you treat it to a saucer of your delicious milk?

Inglourious Basterds (2009)
(SPOILERS) His staunchest fans would doubtless claim Tarantino has never taken a wrong step, but for me, his post-Pulp Fiction output had been either not quite as satisfying (Jackie Brown), empty spectacle (the Kill Bills) or wretched (Death Proof). It wasn’t until Inglourious Basterds that he recovered his mojo, revelling in an alternate World War II where Adolf didn’t just lose but also got machine gunned to death in a movie theatre showing a warmly received Goebbels-produced propaganda film. It may not be his masterpiece – as Aldo Raines refers to the swastika engraved on “Jew hunter” Hans Landa’s forehead, and as Tarantino actually saw the potential of his script – but it’s brimming with ideas and energy.

Check it out. I wonder if BJ brought the Bear with him.

Death Proof (2007)
(SPOILERS) In a way, I’m slightly surprised Tarantino didn’t take the opportunity to disown Death Proof, to claim that, as part of Grindhouse, it was no more one of his ten-official-films-and-out than his Four Rooms segment. But that would be to spurn the exploitation genre affectation that has informed everything he’s put his name to since Kill Bill, to a greater or less extent, and also require him to admit that he was wrong, and you won’t find him doing that for anything bar My Best Friend’s Birthday.

That woman, deserves her revenge and… we deserve to die. But then again, so does she.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2  (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’m not sure I can really conclude whether one Kill Bill is better than the other, since I’m essentially with Quentin in his assertion that they’re one film, just cut into two for the purposes of a selling point. I do think Kill Bill: Vol. 2 has the movie’s one actually interesting character, though, and I’m not talking David Carradine’s title role.

When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
(SPOILERS) It sometimes seems as if Quentin Tarantino – in terms of his actual movies, rather than nearly getting Uma killed in an auto stunt – is the last bastion of can-do-no-wrong on the Internet. Or at very least has the preponderance of its vocal weight behind him. Back when his first two movies proper were coming out, so before online was really a thing, I’d likely have agreed, but by about the time the Kill Bills arrived, I’d have admitted I was having serious pause about him being all he was cracked up to be. Because the Kill Bills aren’t very good, and they’ve rather characterised his hermetically sealed wallowing in obscure media trash and genre cul-de-sacs approach to his art ever since. Sometimes to entertaining effect, sometimes less so, but always ever more entrenching his furrow; as Neil Norman note in his Evening Standard review, “Tarantino has attempted (and largely succeeded) in making a movie whose only reality is that of celluloid”. Extend t…

Everyone wants a happy ending and everyone wants closure but that's not the way life works out.

It Chapter Two (2019)
(SPOILERS) An exercise in stultifying repetitiveness, It Chapter Two does its very best to undo all the goodwill engendered by the previous instalment. It may simply be that adopting a linear approach to the novel’s interweaving timelines has scuppered the sequel’s chances of doing anything the first film hasn’t. Oh, except getting rid of Pennywise for good, which you’d be hard-pressed to discern as substantially different to the CGI-infused confrontation in the first part, Native American ritual aside.

Where’s the commode in this dungeon? I gotta have a squirt.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
(SPOILERS) I’m not shy to admit that I fully bought into the Tarantino hype when he first arrived on the scene. Which, effectively took place with the UK’s reception of Reservoir Dogs (and its subsequent banning from home video), rather than the slightly tepid post-Sundance US response. That said, I think I always appreciated the “package” more than the piece itself. Don’t get me wrong, I admired the film for what it achieved, shrewdly maximising its effectiveness on a limited budget by, for example, making a virtue out of notshowing the all-important heist. But its influence was everything, more than the sum total of the film itself – that slow-motion parade in cheap matching suits (not so much Chris Penn’s track one), the soundtrack CD that was a fixture until, basically Pulp Fiction came out, the snatches of dialogue, most famously the “Like a Virgin” monologue, even the poster, adorning every student’s wall for the next half decade – so I wouldn’t quite say I …

That's what I think of Mr J Evans Pritchard.

Dead Poets Society (1989)
(SPOILERS) I’ve been up and down on Dead Poets Society over the years, initially impressed by the picture and subsequently finding it rather lacking. As such, I hadn’t been minded to revisit it in a good while, but this occasion found me resolved somewhere between those two positions. On the one hand, Tom Schulman’s screenplay is often simplistic in its character and thematic content while sporting a veneer of substance and maturity. On the other, director Peter Weir imbues the proceedings with an immersive, tangible flavour of time, setting and atmosphere. It’s Witness all over again, basically, just slightly less satisfying in the final reckoning.

The VP just sits around and waits for the President to die. You’ve said so yourself.

Vice (2018)
(SPOILERS) It doesn’t bode well when you have to preface your movie with an admission that you know fuck all about your subject matter, even going as far as using the f-word jokingly as a means of saying you’re hip to this problem but you’re going to struggle on manfully anyway, as you’re telling an important piece of political history in a populist and accessible manner. You think. Underlined by repeating it at the end (“If you leave knowing Cheney no better than when you arrived, you’ll know how we feel”), which only emphasises that being self-aware regarding your abject failure doesn’t make it any less of a failure, even if you allows one to be smugly pleased over job badly done. So no, Vice just isn’t very good.

A squad of dirty Bosch bastards were about to have a sausage party, but I shot them.

Welcome to Marwen (2018)
(SPOILERS) The latest flop from Robert Zemeckis isn’t, fortunately, as dramatically inert as Allied (surely one of the most soporific films of the twenty-first century) but it’s just as guided by its director’s curious obsession – having got over his hideous motion-capture phase – with choosing material on the basis of whatever effects innovations he can bring to the table, whether they merit it or not. If you’re working by that methodology, it shouldn’t be a surprise, as evidenced by Welcome to Marwen, when your storytelling suffers, again and again and again.

You know what successful people do, Detective Bell? They get over shit. They move on.

Destroyer (2018)
(SPOILERS) Karyn Kusama seems to get offered a steady stream of TV work these days, but her movie career has never quite taken off. Following the well-received Girlfight, Æon Flux was a well-documented disaster, and Jennifer’s Body was unable to capitalise on either Megan Fox or Diablo Cody, then both then in fashion, sort of. More recently, The Invitation proved a very pleasant surprise, one of those instant cult movies that, despite bearing a resemblance to other fare (I’ll say no more) managed to etch out its own distinctive furrow. She’s working from a screenplay by her husband Phil Hay (who writes with Matt Manfredi) again for Destroyer, but the results are less than compelling.

I'm like a cat who makes tables. And I'm gonna build was a great big table.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
(SPOILERS) Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight is the kind of fare usually lapped up by the awards circuit. Which isn’t to suggest Jenkins was necessarily setting out to make it a double on Oscar night, but rather that If Beale Street Could Talk is achingly self-conscious in its awareness of its worth and responsibility. You can tell, right from the off and the over explanation of the opening titles – of how James Baldwin intended Beale Street to represent the universality of the black American experience – that this is going to be a little-seen stodge, the kind of artful, self-involved project a director often takes on after Oscar plaudits (see Soderbergh and Kafka).

I think I’d rather poke you in the eye.

Stan & Ollie (2018)
(SPOILERS) I really couldn’t get on with this one. The acclaim (including multiple BAFTA nominations) had me thinking I might have had the trailers wrong, and that Stan & Ollie was other than a slightly hackneyed, twilight-years biopic resting on the laurels – ahem – of such reflective fare. But that’s exactly what it is. Despite decent impersonations from Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, Jon S Baird’s movie is something of a predictable slog.

Is the atomic weight of cobalt 58.9?

Ghostbusters II (1989)
(SPOILERS) Columbia doubtless saw a Ghostbusters sequel as a licence to print money. Well, they did after David Puttnam, who disdained the overt commercialism of blockbusters – as you might guess, he didn’t last very long – was replaced as chairman by Dawn Steel (Puttnam lasted just over a year). Troubled waters were smoothed over – he’d effectively insulted Bill Murray, as well as claiming a sequel was going ahead; Ivan Reitman’s office responded that it was “The first we’ve heard of it” – and development put into high gear, but the studio ended up with a box office also-ran, thoroughly eclipsed by the summer of the Bat (Tim Burton’s movie opened the following week) and grossing less than half the original’s tally. Ivan Reitman put it down to a change in tastes towards darker fare, while Murray opined that the special effects guys took over; both would have been better simply to admit that Ghostbusters II sucked.