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My Letterboxd reviews for December 2018-January 2019

Charles Dance in Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Mostly Netflix originals fare in December and January, and not a standout among them. The best film I saw in this period was, and I’m happy to say this, a new Ben Wheatley film. Because I really didn’t get on with Free Fire, but Happy New Year, Colin Burstead — which screened on the BBC to ring in 2019 — is for me his best since A Field in England. Apparently his next project is a new adaptation of Rebecca, but seeing as the Hitchcock original is unimpeachable, I can’t see what else he can bring to the table. It’s repeating a mantra for many a film fan but still: more original stuff, please.

The Predator:

It’s notable how utterly distracted I was by this film. Distracted by the constant meta-references in the script: riffs on dialogue in the 1987 original, character names, Shane Black’s Iron Man travesty. Distracted by the needlessly convoluted story, heaping on plot contrivances that necessitate the awkward tonal shifts into family comedy-drama and so on while failing to explain other things, even in a throwaway line, that might have bolstered the narrative. Distracted by its seeming compulsion to avoid building or sustaining anything approaching tension. Distracted by Alfie Allen’s inexcusably bad Irish accent (we’re only over here, like). Distracted, too, and frankly insulted by its hamfisted crypto-misogyny (don’t think I didn’t notice Olivia Munn’s character default to the motherly figure in the third act) and calculatedly ignorant portrayal of neurological difference, from autism to Tourette’s (and that blatant ‘retarded’ joke). This isn’t a case of being sore it isn’t the movie I would’ve wanted; this is, all things considered, just a bad one.

Inferno:

Why is this movie so damn long?

Cabin Boy:

I can see why this is considered a cult classic, even though it barely made me crack a smile, let alone laugh.

Z Storm:

I’m under no illusions as to the propaganda purposes of such films as this, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t fun to watch.

Bird Box:

This is very much a personal bugbear but anyway: if the villain of your story is a Lovecraftian entity so incomprehensible that to glimpse it induces instant madness, perhaps don’t fill out more than half of your interminable two-hour running time teasing the audience with its appearance — and the notion of a purpose to its machinations — with no follow-through. And maybe lay off the ‘stranger knocking on the door’ trope while you’re at it.

The Endless:

A time-bending sci-fi drama whose reach exceeds its grasp.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch:

This was going quite well, until it was clear the creative direction was — for lack of a better term but let’s be direct about it — up its own hole. As in, first-year philosophy free will vs determinism, meta-narrative cynicism, the joke’s on the viewer — that kind of bullshit. I’d rather play Dragon’s Lair. (In all seriousness, though, there’s potential for this kind of interactivity, if better written.)

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead:

I was beginning to think Ben Wheatley had lost the plot. But I’ll forgive him the damp squib that was Free Fire for this firecracker.

Split:

It’s longer than it needs to be, which is ironic as the parts it’s missing — the usual conventions of kidnapping thrillers, or filters on what’s fodder for cinematic exploitation — are what make it so interesting.

Glass:

I meant to write this up Thumped, but other things got in the way, and as the release date drew closer the hot takes were already everywhere, and adding my own felt more and more a futile gesture. But for completion’s sake — what a waste. M Night Shyamalan simply doesn’t have it in him to do the ‘epic trilogy’ he pretends to present here. Pretends in that it’s not really a trilogy (Glass is a sequel to both Unbreakable and Split, but Split is not a sequel to Unbreakable, which does not a trilogy make) and very self-consciously not an epic, making the lack of a budget to fulfil its ambitions painfully obvious. It’s almost not worth pointing out the clash of performances veering wildly from stilted to overegged, and the inevitability of The Twist that renders the plot all too predictable (I was on the right track before the movie was half-way done). I imagine it will be re-evaluated to some degree as a cult classic in years hence, as it’s not without a certain amount of incongruous charm (James McEvoy’s unnerving multiple personalities role from Split being more or less played for laughs here, for one) but still. Also, seriously, what is it with Shyamalan and distractingly wobbly tracking shots?

Road House:

Needed more Terry Funk.

Miss Sloane:

Slick political machinations? Jessica Chastain as a man-eating power player on the verge of cracking? In a word, watchable. Shame about the pipe dream liberal wish fulfilment climax (and I’m a leftie!).

IO:

There’s no getting past the fact that IO is pretty much a rejig of Z for Zachariah mashed up with Silent Running, with bits ’n’ bobs from Blade Runner, The Martian and others, some smatterings of cod philosophy, and an unearned ambiguous ending. Its execution screams ‘too many cooks’ — the distraction of disembodied voices throughout the first act; the bluntness of its references: the bee/hive metaphor, the characters named ‘Elon’ and ‘Walden’, the target marketing (STEM is hot, tattoos are in — let’s slap ‘em together!).

More subtle is its underlying theme of toxic patriarchy: the young woman protagonist (Margaret Qualley, daughter of Andie MacDowell) whose fate is tied up in the hands of a distant lover (an unseen Tom Payne) who demands her presence yet puts his own destiny first, and the mysterious stranger (Anthony Mackie) whose actions, while apparently well-meaning, still condescend and reinforce the saviour-victim dynamic. It’s this that sets it apart from the usual straight-to-Netflix movie fare even when, on the whole, it’s not entirely convincing.

Fyre:

Baudrillard would’ve had a field day with this.

Polar:

This one’s convinced me: highly stylised comic book series/graphic novels simply don’t translate to the screen.

Skyscraper:

Exactly what you’d expect, nothing more or less. Considering the disappointment that was The Rock’s previous disaster epic Rampage, that’s just fine.