Always interesting to compare my own habits with others. My stats for 2016 slipped a little, about 20 films short of what I watched the previous year. And I rate things differently. Few if any five-stars; a four-and-half from me is more like a five from someone else. #link
Here’s a diegetic twist on the found-footage horror where the meta-narrative is more than just a series of links between episodes, as a team of cops race against time to rescue a missing family from a masked assailant, following clues from digital cameras recovered at the crime scene, but uncover a mystery far more messed-up than anyone could have expected. Props to French film prodigy Nathan Ambrosioni (he’s only 17, the bastard!) for a decent attempt at the kind of genre blend that usually separates or scrambles. However, it’s still primarily a found-footage psycho slasher, set in a spooooky abandoned building, in the deep, dark woods — hitting the cliché trifecta — so your mileage may vary.
So busy this week that I forgot to link this one when it went live on Tuesday evening. Despite what I said before, there might be one more film review from me before the year is out, if I can bring myself to write at length about Collateral Beauty. #link
Way too much overthinking here, since the function of the craft doesn’t factor into the story of the film whatsoever. But the fact that these things are thought about? That’s good. [c/o Pinboard/infovore] #link
Probably my final film review for 2016, since I’m missing a bunch of screenings over the next fortnight. And it’s one I liked, but didn’t love. Give it a watch if it shows up on your streaming service of choice. #link
No, he hasn’t: Disney bosses have panicked because they don’t know what they have. Look at how they bungled Doctor Strange, an above-average superhero film that wasn’t screened for critics till days before it hit cinemas. They’re petrified of putting out anything that doesn’t match the tone of what’s come before, forgetting of course that recent genre smashes — even from other studios, like Deadpool — established said tone in the first place. The Force Awakens itself suffered from that fear, by compromising on the fresh take its first 45 minutes offered with a nostalgia trip for the rest of the flick. And how many people were talking about it even a month after release? I hope Rogue One retains the darker, Empire Strikes Back tone as it was allegedly conceived, but that remains to be seen, and it doesn’t look good from here, just four weeks out from release. #link
It takes a good while for this belated sequel to get going, through a messy, meandering first half-hour that feels a lot longer, till all the pieces are in place for a souped-up showdown between our heroes and the nefarious Tall Man, gleefully icky and technically impressive (for its day) special effects and all.
Who the hell called this #Horror when a far better title (Slashtag!) is staring you right in the face? It’s not even really a horror film, anyway, not until the last 20 minutes. Psychological thriller, then? Maybe, at a stretch, when most of it plays as a cyberbullying-themed tweenage drama with some blunt social commentary shoehorned in. First-time director (but long-time actor, fashion industry figure and multimedia artist) Tara Subkoff throws all her influences into the mix here, and it shows. More focus would help, but it’s hardly the worst film ever; these no-star reviews are taking the piss.
That it’s made by one of the ‘stars’ of Troll 2, the ‘worst movie ever made’, is what steers this away from mocking hipster irony to give us a genuinely sweet and decidedly odd where-are-they-now documentary. That it centres on the charming actor-turned-dentist George Hardy as its hero, following his exploits as he drums up support for comedic revival screenings, is more luck than genius, but that’s fine, because Michael Stephenson knows what he’s got here. Not only an insight into the unconventional world of the jobbing actor, and the quirks of the convention circuit, it’s even got a pantomime villain in Claudio Fragasso, director of Troll 2 (it doesn’t even have any trolls in it!) and a man whose inflated ego won’t let him admit he was a purveyor of trash.
You probably wouldn’t expect an Italo-horror cash-in on the 1970s craze for demonic progeny (The Exorcist, The Omen) and young women with supernatural powers (Carrie, The Fury, etc) to have much identity of its own. And especially not when its biggest set pieces betray an obsession with Hitchcock’s The Birds. But The Visitor’s deeply strange story, rooted in a sci-fi interpretation of Abrahamic religious myth, stands apart from the typical rip-offs of the day.
Arrival is definitely a Denis Villeneuve film, and it’s a beautiful one for the most part. The visuals are muted but constantly arresting, a stylistic contrast to the over-sharpened harshness of Sicario. Similarly, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s sound design is enveloping yet the drones don’t conjure a sense of claustrophobic unease as much as something bigger than we can comprehend. It’s full of allusions to Kubrick, Malick, Tarkovsky, even Spielberg, not to mention Villeneuve’s own films: the long tunnel shots of Sicario; the arachnoid preoccupations of Enemy. (And for his second film running, a strong female lead; Amy Adams carries the weight of the world on her shoulders here.) However, the last 20 to 30 minutes of the story require a leap of faith that I wasn’t prepared to make, and I don’t believe is earned. In trying to distill complex philosophical questions about language and meaning and self into something parseable in a two-hour movie, it drops the ball right when it matters most.
I get passion for the genre and nostalgia for the era and everything, but mid-80s drive-in-filler slasher Blood Rage is just plain bad. There’s some intelligence behind the kills, and in the occasional non-sequitur weirdness. But overall? What a waste of a good idea.
Despite the presence of a likeable Tom Hanks, a magnetic Audrey Tautou and an EEEEEVIL Paul Bettany (playing yet another religious figure), not nearly enough happens to justify its near three-hour running time.
Another concentration-camp flick from Brian Trenchard-Smith, though a damn sight more sedate than the terrors of Turkey Shoot. Perhaps too much so, as the only thing really keeping the ‘residents’ of the Star Drive-In within its electrified fences is the fact that the outside world is far worse, freedom be damned. The social commentary is blunt, though it still rings true today, and it’s definitely a saving grace – that and its suitably grimy atmosphere. Yet I can’t help feeling there’s a more exciting film at the other end of the road, in the war on the streets between the tow-truck scrappers and roving gangs of ‘car boys’ that’s only teased at in the first 10 minutes, and can’t not have been in the mind of George Miller when he was writing Fury Road.
An intrepid journalist (Warren Beatty) goes up against a sinister corporation in this conspiracy thriller from Alan J Pakula, who would give us a more triumphant ending with his similarly themed, truth-stranger-than-fiction story All The President’s Men two years later. That film is rightly lauded, but it doesn’t have the Hitchcockian tension, vague sci-fi trappings and general sense of unease that make The Parallax View so compelling.
Funny to consider James Caan’s master thief in Michael Mann’s debut feature is even more of an anti-hero now than he was back in the day, what with his loose way with racial epithets a la Dirty Harry, and his, well, less than ethical treatment of his love interest (Tuesday Weld). Sure, the film does lay out why he’s such a hardened individual, but explanation is no excuse.
Nothing particularly revelatory here, if you already know the story, but the combination of fiery live clips and reminiscences of those who knew her does a great job of conveying what a special musician Janis Joplin was, and the metaphysical connection she had with friends and fans alike.
Penny Marshall’s film of the late Oliver Sacks’ medical reportage, adapted to the screen by Steven Zaillian, strikes for the most part a careful balance between sentimentality (note with dismay the occasionally oppressive, syrupy score by Randy Newman) and stark, painful honesty, with the kind of bittersweet denouement that simply wouldn’t pass muster in a studio movie today.
This classic of British horror cinema’s golden age still holds up today in great part thanks to its striking visuals, courtesy of cinematographer John Coquillon and young director Michael Reeves, who would die less than a year from its release aged just 25. It’s hard not to ponder what might have become of his career on the strength what was only his third film proper, a revenge tale in a time of division and suspicion among the British people (nothing like the present, why would you even bring that up?) that’s really only let down by the red-paint blood and unenlightened sexual politics that were both typical of its era.
Within its shameless exploitation skin, The Purge: Anarchy actually has a fair bit to say about the amorality of society’s wealthy, and the manipulation of the underclasses to turn on each other for the profit and, even worse, amusement of the elite. Indeed, the extremes of the dystopia depicted here don’t seem so far-fetched in the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump’s US presidential campaign.
Why Marathon Man is only remembered for That Scene I can’t tell you, because the whole thing is so wildly over the top, it’s almost a parody of the paranoid thrillers of its era, from the opening old-fogey car chase to its grand guignol flair, Bond-movie explosions of action and copious hat-doffs to Hitchcock. But if there’s ever a film that essays the absolute futility of torture as a valid information-gathering technique, this is it.
I've seen some criticism of the technical aspects of this documentary, made by a childhood friend of the slain US combat journalist, but I had no issues with that side of things -- perhaps because I've seen a lot worse. #link