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My Letterboxd reviews for May 2018

Benny Safdie and Robert Pattinson in Good Time

I always talk about films I have watched, so let me tell you about a couple I didn’t watch, bailing after the first few minutes of each.

Kickboxer Retaliation kicks off with a parodic dance scene interrupted by the world’s worst goon squad; cue some poorly choreographed kick-punching on the roof of a supposedly speeding train that’s clearly just a shaky camera and some guys waving torches. And all that before a credits sequence made by a child messing around with some budget editing software. More than enough to convince I’d get little to no satisfaction from the next two hours. (Two hours!)

Hellraiser Judgment, meanwhile, doesn’t understand that fear and disgust are different emotions, and its opening scenes play enough like some shelved controversy-baiting FMV game from the ’90s to make clicking the ‘Stop’ button the right thing to do.

Scratching those off my list, I still managed to watch 19 films watched in May. A pretty good month, even if it was a mixed bag.

Audrey Rose:

Audrey Rose is a subtle ghost story manifest as a not-so-subtle melodrama; one of a slew of post-Exorcist, post-Carrie paranormal chillers in the mid to late ’70s that centred on children, usually girls coming of age, and in this case a mash-up flavoured with nods to more highfalutin fare like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. As knock-offs go, this one does have a certain class, from its name director in Oscar winner and genre veteran Robert Wise, to an early-career turn from Anthony Hopkins. But it’s nevertheless on a tier below its influences — not least because it’s shot and scored like a TV movie of the week.

Enter the Ninja:

The director’s previous film was The Apple. Need I say more?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot:

It might be a marker of how much I’ve grown as a person but even me, as orthodox a white cishet male as you’re likely to come across, was put off by the throwaway transphobic joke in this one. I mean, that’s amid the general awfulness on display — ‘ha ha burkas’ and casting white actors in ethnic roles included.

Putting those poor choices aside, however, this story of war correspondents in mid-2000s Afghanistan is much stronger, and less sentimental, than its fish-out-of-water competition (A Hologram for the King, etc). It’s also shot with a vérité, propulsive style that evokes the adrenalin rush on which its subjects survive from day to day. More sensitive casting and judicious script editing would lift it higher in my estimation.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers:

I hope the foley artists got a bonus for this one.

ManHunt:

The most John Woo movie.

The Man from UNCLE:

Stylish as this reboot of an old TV show may be, it’s also disjointed, tonally confused, tedious and overlong. A waste of Alicia Vikander’s talents, too, playing second fiddle to the charisma-deficient double act of Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill.

Patlabor:

I first saw this one more than 20 years ago, as part of an anime film season on BBC Two I thought I was imagining till I found an entry for the very broadcast I watched. Perhaps I was more easily pleased back then; on this rewatch I found it a bit too thin on plot, while at the same time far too talky and padded with exposition, with only smatterings of mecha action. Not one I’d recommend for anyone new to the genre, so, but it passes the time.

The Bye Bye Man:

Are we certain this wasn’t made by a neural network?

Land of the Lost:

It doesn’t really work, even as ironic reboots of 1970s kitsch TV go, and Will Ferrell and Danny McBride are clearly operating at half-speed throughout. But Land of the Lost isn’t nearly as aggressively bad as the Razzies suggest. It’s just fairly lazy — like, why go for a more absurdist gag when some casual sexism will do? Sigh. At least Anna Friel survives with her dignity intact, more or less.

Cargo:

Navigating awkwardly through a run-of-the-mill rural zombie apocalypse (yes, that is a thing in 2018), a grieving father with child in tow (Martin Freeman) and an indigenous Australian girl (Simone Landers) make a connection that attempts to elevate the material above standard fare into something more worthy, and moving. However, Cargo is burdened by clumsy editing, a one-dimensional villain (I mean, besides the viral outbreak and those it infects) lifted straight out of Wolf Creek, and some unfortunate colonialist/white-saviour overtones that keep it from being the much better film its themes deserve.

The Birth of Sake:

One one hand, this is a blatant feature-length advert for a sake brewery (and one that works; I wouldn’t mind a bottle). On the other, it’s a tender portrait of a vocation, reflecting contemporary Japanese themes of traditional ways and how they fit with the rapidly modernising world. It’s also impeccably composed, if a little too slick at times — almost like a drink that goes down too easy, losing some of its character down the hatch.

Good Time:

The twitchy, edgy energy is present as promised – as much from the lurid visual composition as Oneohtrix Point Never’s soundtrack – but Good Time is also more saddening than I’d come to expect. While it dresses as a kitchen-sink crime thriller, ultimately it’s a story about relationship as a manipulation by one party over the other, even if the love is there.

Miles Ahead:

Clearly a passion project for Don Cheadle, who makes gestures towards a warts-and-all portrait of the legendary jazz musician over straight hagiography. However, that’s also within the framework of a kind of caper flick that, a lot like the similarly toned Elvis & Nixon from the following year, or the George Clooney biopics that are an obvious inspiration, is mostly made-up bobbins. Structurally, and dialogue-wise, it feels better suited for the stage than the screen; its symbolism (a tray of coke obscuring the face of Davis’ ex-wife on an album cover springs to mind) is far too direct. It’s got issues. But so did Miles, in fairness.

The Square:

I guess if you love cringe comedy, you’d enjoy this. I don’t, so I didn’t. I found its satire blunt and obvious; its humour more cruel than unusual; its pessimistic, misanthropic worldview wearying. It has its moments of visual flair, but at the end of the day, poking fun at the vapidity of the art world is shooting fish in a barrel. Disappointing stuff from Ruben Östlund after the clever comedy of manners that was Force Majeure.

Death Wish:

This Death Wish reboot could have been an intelligent take on the vigilante mythos — and there are hints of a smarter movie here and there, not only in its occasional horror film stylings. But Eli Roth had to go for the safe grade, turning in a ludicrously tone-deaf fascist libertarian fantasy for white people.

Proud Mary:

Proud Mary feels like part of a series we’ve joined halfway through; the one where the capable, efficient hitwoman is finally humanised by the notion of motherhood. That enough is a burden on Taraji P Henson, who doesn’t get a chance to develop as any kind of character before that socio-culturally conformist gender role is thrust upon her.

There’s an awful lot more than that missing in what plays like a mostly competent but utterly generic action thriller. Opening titles aside, the film’s got no style to it at all; even the score is straight off the rack. (And I say mostly competent: there’s a scene in the third act that’s backlit so harshly the character’s features are rendered invisible; if that was an artistic choice, it was a bad one.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows:

Experientially, this is a far better film than its predecessor: stronger, brighter look; moves at a faster clip, etc. But the plot has clearly been messed with in the edit at some stage. Key characters are sent to far flung places for no reason, or drop out of the story entirely for lengthy stretches. Plot points and motivations appear out of thin air, as if there had been a logical explanation that was snipped out for time. Still, there isn’t that sense of audience contempt one gets from the typical Michael Bay production; there’s a real feeling that people involved here wanted to do some justice to the franchise. It’s that feeling that just about holds things together when the story has all but split apart.

Game Night:

So it turns out Hollywood can still make good action comedies after all.

Andre the Giant:

Some incredible early archival footage, and often heartbreaking interviews with the people who knew him best – Hulk Hogan notwithstanding – make this overview of the man, myth and legend of Andre the Giant worth your time.