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My Letterboxd reviews for December 2017 & January 2018

A scene from the 2016 anime film Your Name.

Late with my monthnotes, and late with my Letterboxd reviews as well. Since we’re well into the new year by now, I’m overdue in noting that I logged 171 viewings over the course of 2017, which is about 50 more than I managed the previous year.

Even accounting for the fact that some were shorter (circa 1 hr) documentaries, that’s still a better than average showing. Mind you, I didn’t write as many full-length reviews as I have in previous years, but it surely indicates I was watching more for my own enjoyment and/or edification. (That also classifies as CPD as far as I’m concerned.)

Getting specific to December and January (and the first half of February), over at Thumped I wrote about The Last Jedi, All the Money in the World, The Post and The Commuter, and two other films only recently released that I saw way back in November, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water.

As for everything else? A few classics, a few firsts, a few duds and a few particularly bright spots. A sickbed-influenced close to 2017, and a slow but decent start to 2018.

Midnight Run:

This one took a long time to get going for me; I sat stone-faced through much of the first half, failing to see the appeal. Then I started to warm up to the odd-couple pairing of Robert De Niro, as a wiseass but relatively straight-shooting bounty hunter, and his bounty Charles Grodin’s understated neuroses and middle-class contempt (which gives way to respect in a natural fashion). Imagine Planes, Trains and Automobiles dialled down a few notches and you’re close, but not close enough, as that film doesn’t have a supporting cast like hard-case FBI agent Yaphet Kotto and slimy bail bondsman Joe Pantoliano, and a script that weaves distinct threads into a cohesive whole. However, I still think Midnight Run is a film more to admire than enjoy as a comedy, and the bouncy soundtrack suggests I wasn’t wrong to expect it be such.

The Foreigner:

Methinks the intricacies of the Irish peace process have been lost in translation in this otherwise stupidly engrossing action thriller, as gritty and brisk for its running time as it is completely ludicrous. As revenge fantasies go, this one’s up there. Though let’s be frank: Jackie Chan’s character is as much of an arsehole as the terrorist cell he’s hunting down.

Hired Gun:

A fairly pedestrian rock doc about session musicians playing fairly pedestrian music. But it gets a thumbs-up for painting Billy Joel as a grade-A arsehole.

Your Name.:

I waited a year to see this one – it only got a couple of single-night outings at one Dublin cinema, and its home video release suffered from an extended delay – but it was worth it. Impeccably animated, sentimental without being soppy, and with a daring second-half twist that works despite some wrinkles, Your Name marks a superlative union of writer/director Makoto Shinkai’s fantastical (The Place Promised in Our Early Days) and bittersweet romantic (5 Centimeters per Second) tendencies.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves:

Don’t come looking for historical accuracy in this ridiculously po-faced adventure yarn, which gets by mostly on the scenery munching of its dastardly villains, the late, great Alan Rickman and the underrated Michael Wincott. Shame it loses its wind after the mandatory campout-before-the-big-final-battle section. Kevin, are you sure you couldn’t have cut out some of that bullshit to get everything under two hours?

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond:

There’s a hint in the closing credits of this documentary, a supposed ‘peek behind the curtain’ during the awkward production of Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, which lets slip that what we’ve just seen for the previous 90 minutes might not entirely be on the up and up. That’s not to say it’s fake, just that it’s not the film you thought you were watching.

And in hindsight, Jim Carrey — who famously went method during filming, not playing but being Andy Kaufman, or his absolutely-not-an-alter-ego Tony Clifton — doesn’t skimp on dropping hints to that effect, 20 years on. It’s as much a story about Carrey holding his persona at arm’s length from his true self, if such a thing even exists, as it is about his attempt to find understanding in his inhabiting a similarly misunderstood persona in Kaufman’s. There’s nothing fake about that.

Bright:

Not nearly as bad as the chatter might have you believe, Bright nevertheless never rises above the level of ‘just fine’. Perhaps that’s down to the paint-by-numbers buddy cop thriller structure. Or better yet, Max Landis’ far-too-smart-for-its-own-good screenplay, which presupposes a general audience actually giving a shit about the question ‘What if Middle Earth social divisions were applied to our contemporary world?’ Yeah, me neither. Still, it’s an interesting failure.

Atomic Blonde:

It works on paper, but there’s something missing in this graphic novel adaptation that blends Le Carré-esque espionnage with pretensions to John Wick levels of ultraviolence. And its absence isn’t resolved by the self-conscious period referencing in its fashions and soundtrack. Even so, Charlize Theron more than holds her own as a commanding lead.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:

Oh, Valerian. What an refreshingly inventive, diverse and potentially deep universe we have here. But the slight adventure plot — with fairly regressive sexual politics to boot — and the smart-alec leads with zero chemistry simply can’t bear the weight. That’s a shame, as it really is wonderful to look at. (And it’s easy to see what George Lucas nicked for Star Wars, too.)

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

The first instalment of this YA adaptation series squandered its ‘mystery environment’ premise (teens with amnesia trapped in a post-apocalyptic labyrinth that’s really part of a government experiment to blah blah…) by being astoundingly boring. Its follow-up, by the same director, solves the boredom issue with a much niftier pace — but at the expense of novelty, as a good-guys-on-the-run-from-bad-guys story so underdeveloped that it repeats the same plot beats barely an hour apart, just to fill space. Oh, and did I mention the zombies? That McGuffin seems to exist mostly to give the protagonists a reason for running from A to B that really isn’t, as well as for a sly nod to Dawn of the Dead with a scene in a ruined shopping mall.

Sunset Boulevard:

Another classic off the list. I went in more or less cold, and didn’t expect it to be quite so meta. That’s a good thing, as I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

Battles Without Honour and Humanity:

Highly recommended if you’re into 90-odd minutes of angry men shouting and shooting at each other. Seriously, though, Kinji Fukasaku’s kinetic direction makes this a step above the usual Yakuza thriller.

It:

Surprise, surprise, this is actually a pretty decent reboot… of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Happy Death Day:

Clearly the result of ’80s cult classic slasher fans sitting down and thinking of what kind of movie they’d want to see made today.

Hiroshima Death Match:

Bleak but powerful sequel following a Yakuza lowlife’s downfall as he’s manipulated by the powers that be.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture:

The story of the founders of National Lampoon, told with a playful mockumentary edge by a mixed cast of comedy vets and worthy thesps, though it loses something as sentimentality firms its grip.