Seriously, screw the internet pile-on – there’s really a lot to like about the Fantastic Four reboot. Josh Trank’s film (from a screenplay by him, Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg) adds a more ‘rational’ twist, in terms of internal logic, to the FF’s inherently silly origin story, eschewing the already dated campiness of the noughties films (so that it’s more tonally consistent with its sibling X-Men franchise) and borrowing liberally from Cronenberg’s The Fly in its fable of ambition gone awry.
Another documentary double bill. First up, Sarah Kelly’s fly-on-the-wall/in-the-ointment making-of doc Full Tilt Boogie:
One of those ‘things didn’t turn out the way they expected’ documentaries, whereby a pretty simple behind-the-scenes hangout with the cast and crew (mostly crew) of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn gets complicated by union troubles, bad weather, shitty food, and even the odd fire.
I have to admit I was disappointed to learn the Charlie Lyne responsible for this visual essay – or dissertation, really – exploring the tropes of the high school/teen movie since the mid 1990s is actually male. Blame the gender ambiguity of the name, or the choice of presentation (narration provided by Fairuza Balk), or my own expectation that we were finally getting to hear what a woman has to say about film in a film. I guess that’s still a picture that needs to be made. It doesn’t diminish the work here, however, though it’s better appreciated as a personal reading of the material at hand rather than a prescriptive definition of the genre, if it’s even a genre.
Others have referenced John Carpenter, in both mood and score, in this striking, creeping, brooding psychological (and vaguely psychosexual) horror, where young people’s actions are turned against them by forces unknowable, but not in the slasher-type way you might expect from that description. Personally, though, what stood out for me were the manifold allusions to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, not in its main plot or elevator pitch but those unsettling incidental touches that make Wes Craven’s film so memorable. Fear and terror are one thing; the constant nagging anxiety that there’s something that wants to get you, and you don’t know how to stop it, that’s very different, and it’s a palpable feeling that David Robert Mitchell’s film evokes quite powerfully here.
Richard Stanley, some of his cast and many of his crew lament the disintegration of what could have been the Hardware and Dust Devil director’s Peter-Jackson-level Hollywood calling card. Alas, it happened the way it happened: Stanley disappeared into relative obscurity while his fellow Southern Hemisphere horror auteur got to do The Frighteners, survived a few years of boardroom politicking to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the rest is history. But something tells me Stanley wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Quite the curio, this: the original Godzilla, repackaged for American audiences with the addition of Raymond ‘Ironside’ Burr as a reporter recounting the destruction for newspaper readers back home.
The conceit is a smart one for the presumably tiny budget they had to work with: rather than dub the Japanese cast or add subtitled, they just have Burr do a voiceover. (There’s even a scene where he leans into one of his native hosts to confess his Japanese is a bit rusty and he needs a translation. I like that.)
Here’s a couple of ‘Netflix roulette’ viewings, starting with Limitless
I still don’t know what people see in Bradley Cooper. His charisma void undermines what’s already a fairly uninspired action thriller, one with Dick-ish pretensions but too capitalist to go all the way. That director Neil Burger would go on to helm the first instalment of the Divergent franchise is apropos, in hindsight.
He’s at the top of his game here, Eddie Murphy, and his wit and charm – combined with a more than able supporting cast – make you forget that nothing much really happens, plot-wise. Then there’s THAT TUNE.
It is what it is: a respectful but honest portrait (partly a self-portrait, I should add) of a rightly legendary film critic. If I expected more from the documentary itself, I’m sure I’ll get it from the book it’s vaguely adapted from, as then I’ll really be able to get inside Roger Ebert’s head and understand what made him who he was. And who he is, because his words haven’t died.
This meta-sequel to the ’70s schlocky shocker of the same name could have gone down the Scream route into po-mo self-parody. It benefits from playing things straight, though it telegraphs what direction to look for the killer far too early for its own good, and comes with a final twist that makes pretty much zero sense other than to swerve on the audience for the sake of it. Still, there’s some neat use of sound design to heighten the gruesomeness of its only mildly graphic kill scenes. And it’s low on jump scares, which is always a plus. Low budget horror done decently.
Before Fury Road, I revisited the original Mad Max, and came away impressed:
Mad Max is a spoof, right? It’s only in this rewatch, many years after first seeing it, that I’ve realised what a send-up of ’70s exploitation action thrillers it is. But it’s an affectionate one, betraying George Miller’s genuine admiration for such films, and so well done it’s little wonder it came to be regarded as one of the key examples of a genre it’s mildly ribbing, if you look close enough.
Does somebody have something scandalous on Nicholas Cage? Because that’s the only explanation I can fathom for his appearance, and in a starring role no less, in this godawful Christian fundamentalist dreck. And I’m not even talking about its plain-as-day racism and anti-everything-not-fundie ethos. If the Evangelical Christian right wants to be taken seriously in the mainstream, surely they can do a lot better than this depressingly inept sub-TV-movie garbage, an exercise in awfulness that takes formula filmmaking and screenwriting to its lowest nadir. That it’s the work of a second-unit director on a number of top-tier action flicks simply beggars belief. On the plus side, it’s ripe for an MST3K-style laugh-along commentary. Get the beers in or hit the hard stuff, ’cause you’ll need it.
Big Eyes is a departure for Tim Burton, but that doesn’t help matters:
I have to credit my other half with this summation: Big Eyes is a film about honesty that isn’t honest in any way. Tim Burton takes the ostensibly true-life story of Margaret Keane as an opportunity to make a film very much out of his style, but his lack of comfort beyond the Burtonisms is palpable. The resulting tale plays against a weird pastiche of Vertigo crossed with Sweet Smell of Success, sprinkled with odd references to his own films, and ends with such a whimper you’d be forgiven for thinking he messed up the edit. It’s watchable, but only just.
So I wasn’t expecting much from this one, especially with recent Pixar fare doing nothing for me (Brave, especially, looks under-detailed and poorly textured, while its story falls on the ‘but she’s a modern Disney princess’ conceit that holds no water when you consider the likes of Belle in Beauty and the Beast, etc). But Monsters University might be my favourite Pixar film.
It’s easily their most visually striking. The trees, the asphalt, the stone, the chrome – they all look so real! Even the monsters themselves, while conforming to the ‘Pixar body shape’ trope, have differing skin textures to subtly distinguish from each other. And there’s a hint of tilt-shift on the ‘camera’ that gives the whole production an almost stop-motion vibe. Amazing work by the Pixar team there; their friends down in Burbank should take note.
But the story is there, too. I stopped thinking of it as a prequel fairly early on (and who really needs Sulley and Mike’s backstory, anyway?) because it’s way more a homage to ’80s ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ style campus comedies. It’s a fun ride that feels genuine and unforced, completely aware of its cliches but played with affection, without a trace of jaded hipster irony. I think of ParaNorman as another recent animated feature that goes along the same lines, and I feel like Monsters University sits alongside it at the pinnacle.
Five stars to Laika for another superb job, both in animation and direction. Just a shame – like the underwhelming, overrated Coraline – that the source material isn’t up to scratch. I’ve love to see Laika take on an actual adaptation of Discworld, rather than this Discworld-wannabe effort, as the allusions to (if not downright rip-offs from) Terry Pratchett’s creation are too obvious to ignore. In the meantime, they should return to original fare like the superlative ParaNorman, because they’ve clearly got a knack for it.
I wanted to like this one more than I did, as I quite enjoyed the original. And I appreciate that writer/director Gareth Evans tried to do something different: a repeat of the first film’s side-scrolling beat-’em-up plot would’ve been a waste of time. The Hong Kong/Yakuza gangster flick direction was a good way to go in terms of story, and those dramatic elements work very well, even if the plot is needlessly labyrinthine.
But it’s far, far too long (should be closer to 90 minutes, not two-and-a-half hours!) and the ultra-realism of the violence and gore tips the expertly staged fight scenes and general action from thrilling to grim. By the climactic duel in the kitchen (it’s in the trailer, no spoiler), it was just washing over me; I didn’t feel excited or invested, more exhausted – with a thousand-yard stare.
The embargo’s finally lifted so I can share with you all my surprising take on the second Avengers flick: it’s shite
Now calm down, I will be fair; there are some improvements on the first one, which I hated with a burning passion. The awful ‘witty’ dialogue has been toned down for the most part. The treatment of the characters is more sympathetic to their solo adventures, if not canon. The Hulk, written backwards from one of those oh-so-witty lines in the first film, is redrawn here as the classic tragic child-in-a-monster’s-body; Hawkeye is not the one from Matt Fraction’s superlative comic run, but at least gets a respectful role in the story.
After all the anticipation, Mr Turner was a letdown:
A bravura performance by Timothy Spall this undoubtedly has, but as a film, Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner is a flawed masterpiece. As I see it there are two ways you can do biographical drama: identify a theme and use events of the subject’s life to illustrate that and tell a specific story (a la Milos Forman’s Amadeus), or simply retell the events of that life in succession. Leigh opts for the latter, and the result is like a diary flailing for a story, and missing out on the stuff we really care about when it comes to JMW Turner: the bloody art, like!
The DUFF is a nice surprise: a film I fully expected to be awful, judging by the try-hard social media marketing campaign, and the ‘Hottie and the Nottie’ implications of its central conceit. But it’s actually a pretty funny, well-done contemporary take on those risque ’80s teen comedies we look back on with such fondness. Starting from a fairly crass premise, the film moves through a series of set-piece high-school cliches in lieu of a plot, but they’re cliches because they work, and there’s enough modern riffing and stereotype inversion to set it apart from straight pastiche. Plus there’s the versatile Mae Whitman (the voice of Katara in the fantastic Avatar animated series) in the lead as the so-called Designated Ugly Fat Friend of the title, gracefully walking that line between sensitivity and silly comedy, and who by all rights should be destined for better things.
Whatever you can say about Rob Zombie, you can’t say he’s not a trier. But this, his first directorial effort after a music career soaked in horror fandom and imagery, well, it’s too self-conscious about its own recognition of the genre’s tropes to be as fun as it should be, and not nearly as deranged and affecting as the classics it’s blatantly homaging. The clusterfuck pile-on ending, too calculatedly crazy, is case in point. Still, at least he shows some visual flair, and an understanding of what makes a memorable shot.
I didn’t watch the Academy Awards (because we don’t have Sky Movies, and I can make do with the highlights) but I did watch And the Oscar Goes To…:
This history-of-the-Oscars doc is clearly a puff piece (it’s only very lightly skewering, like trying to roast someone who can’t take a joke) but I’m a sucker for these kinds of things. Still, there’s room for a real warts-and-all, behind-the-scenes take on what it takes to put on the show, from the screeners to the stage techs to the politics and all points between.
If Irène Némirovsky’s novel is about the complications of love in the midst of conflict, Saul Dibb’s film adaptation strives to make it as uncomplicated as possible. The result is boiled down to the blandest of ‘forbidden passion’ clichés, padded out with the usual tropes (the hunky heel with a heart of gold; the nasty, sadistic counterpart; the ice maiden who atones for her sins… the list goes on). It’s romance-by-numbers, beneath the talents of a cast who either play it too safe (Michelle Williams does little more than model vintage wear) or lay it on thick (Kristin Scott Thomas as the aforementioned ice maiden). Don’t even get me started on the accents (so the French are all English, and the Germans are all… German) or the offensiveness of its rose-tinted view of a country under oppressive occupation.
For the first two thirds of this flick, there’s a real sense of a good film trying to get out. Yes, the plot moves too fast for some things (we never get a strong sense of why it matters) and too slow for others (it’s forever before we see the turtles in their ‘glory’), and the colour timing is atrocious (blame Michael Bay). But at least it takes its story cues from the right sources, and you get the notion director Jonathan Liebesman and the writers (some of whom started in Profiler, remember that show?) are at least trying to pay respect to the material. Then the third act comes along and it all goes down the sewer: plot, editing, effects, any hope for redemption, the whole lot. Yikes.
Went through very unofficial channels to see this one, but I’m glad I didn’t leave the house or cough up the cash because Inherent Vice isn’t worth it:
Adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice is Chinatown in the gonzo sensibility of the Coen brothers or Terry Gilliam, except it’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film so it’s a million hours long, overly enamoured with its talkiness as it meanders from scene to scene, with an unnecessarily unwieldy cast to boot.
A couple of bad horror choices to kick off the new year, starting with WWE-produced slasher sequel See No Evil 2:
I expected much more from this sequel, coming from hot horror prospects the Soska sisters, and with a cast including genre stalwarts Danielle Harris and Katharine Isabelle. Only Isabelle really stands out as a knowing parody of the drunk party girl archetype, but she’s in a completely different movie to everyone else: a self-serious slasher with no plot to speak of, set in a bland, sterile environment, and with depressingly underwhelming kill scenes. The first film was pretty bad, but at least it had a semblance of a story, and a decent performance by Kane; this one’s so boring, it’s actually worse.
My most recent movie viewings have been all about the action. First up, the excitingly titled Bloodfist:
Shoddy acting and atrocious editing abound in this zero-budget, Corman-produced knockoff of Bloodsport. But there’s a lot of charm here, even if unintentional (the foley artist must have been taking the piss), and the fight choreography is decent enough to keep the pulse racing to the end.
John Huston’s gregarious musical – with plenty of strong singers, and a spirited lead – loses the plot quite literally as it stumbles into its turgid second hour, all but ditching the songs for a dull chase sequence that goes nowhere.
One of 2014’s most acclaimed films was Ida, and I concur:
Composed like a short story – starkly photographic in appearance, economical in script and length – Ida is ostensibly the tale of a young nun-to-be who discovers dark truths about her background, and her place in the world at large. But as always with such things it’s about so much more than that.
This eco-horror from Barry Levinson (yes, that Barry Levinson) makes its found-footage format work by being fashioned as a mock documentary released to the public via a WikiLeaks-style website. It’s replete with all the unsubtle political overtones you can imagine, but the results are above average for the genre and the budget, so it’s definitely worth a watch.
Altman feels a tad slight; 90 minutes surely isn’t long enough to survey the great director’s life and career. But to be fair, it’s a documentary that picks the man Robert Altman over the work that made his name, and tells his story via the people who were closest (or should’ve been closest) to him, his wife and children. There is a 2009 biography that likely goes into far more detail, and other sources that examine his films (Rich Hall’s fantastic doc How The West Was Lost is particularly good on McCabe & Mrs Miller); this slots in as a worthy complement.
The Wild Bunch is one of those mythological Great American Movies that can’t possibly live up to expectations. And the start doesn’t promise much, its static, fussy staging straight out of the television of the era. Sam Peckinpah was a TV veteran, so that makes sense, but he’s aware of the freedom of the big screen, and his eye for subtext is there. The opening shot of children pitting to scorpions against one another is a broad-stroke but appropriate metaphor for the film we’re about to see, where William Holden’s band of outlaws (including a magnetic Ernest Borgnine and the great Warren Oates) slips the clutches of Robert Ryan’s posse of hired goons to do One Last Job, but end up embroiled in some serious political corruption down Mexico way.
Such a small film in many ways; most of it takes place in a single house, with a handful of principal players. But I think that’s what makes it so powerful, because it brings near inescapable esoteric horrors so terrifyingly close to home. That the likes of Pinhead can be reasoned with despite their unknowable nature (at least at this stage of the saga) makes it even stronger; he’s not just your run of the mill evil villain, it’s up for question whether he’s even a villain, let alone evil. Sure, it’s not quite the film Clive Barker set out to make (meddling by financiers put paid to that, like it did to an even greater degree with his next film Nightbreed) but he gets enough of his original story on screen to make a real genre-busting difference.
Christopher Nolan does it again with his least original production yet, a would-be heady epic that’s neither heady nor epic enough. At least it does have a discernible story, with a beginning, middle and end, which is more than I can say for The Dark Knight or Inception or the like. But beyond the pseudo-profound bluster, Interstellar is fairly hackneyed stuff, an ‘anyone can be president’-style fable of a crack pilot turned humble farmer (Matthew McConaughey at his most folksy) who leaves a dying Earth headed for a wormhole that links to a distant star system, and a potential new home for humanity.
So yeah, it’s pretty rotten in hindsight; clearly no money was spent on either the special effects or a decent screenplay. And the main conceit – Supes giving up his powers as if he’s The Little Mermaid to be human for Lois Lane, like who gives a fuck about all the other people in this shitty world who need protecting – says it all, really. But I’ll be darned if it isn’t a bit fun to watch, even if that is to original director Richard Donner’s chagrin.
Far, far better than the marketing would lead you to believe, Edge of Tomorrow suffered at the cinema due to woeful trailers and TC fatigue. But the film itself is a treat, despite boiling down to a cross between Groundhog Day and Aliens (and it knows it, with the very aware casting of the great Bill Paxton, among other nods throughout). Anyone with a bugbear over temporal paradoxes will have something to argue about when the credits roll, but for me that doesn’t mar what’s a jolly well done, thrilling sci-fi action bonanza. Even with Tom Cruise in it.
So it seems Hollywood can still produce a heartwarming yet unsappy romantic comedy, one with actual substance, uncynical despite its quirky hook (its conceit is that most of its characters work in and around the voice-over and vocal coaching industry) and – and it’s a shame this has to be remarked upon, but it’s kinda key to how it works – one where the woman is the fulcrum of the story. It won’t be long before that won’t need to be said anymore, of course, once people like Lake Bell (and Lena Dunham, et al) carve out more space in the multiplexes or the cable networks. And then I’ll look like a sexist for pointing it out at all. I kid, I kid!
If one must, this can be summarised as both a film about the mechanics of filmmaking (the artistry behind the bits we don’t notice precisely because they work so well) and of the mental breakdown of a homely man, an expert in his field, who’s unable to handle the new environment – both physical, being in a foreign land, and artistically, being employed to work on a limit-pushing giallo-esque horror flick – he’s been thrust into. But Berberian Sound Studio is so much more than the sum of those parts, and precisely because of my summary above, it must be experienced to understand why it’s so enthralling.
It was worth sitting through Man on Fire to catch this excellent short right afterwards on Film4. Michael Mort’s hilarious and enthusiastic stop-motion tribute to the bombast of the ’80s action thriller is a must-see for any fans of movies that KICK ASS!
I wish Tony Scott had made this back in the mid 1980s when he was originally supposed to do it before money issues got in the way, because by the time he got around to it nearly two decades later, his work had become subsumed by Style with a capital S.
Sure, he was always a stylist – we wouldn’t remember films like The Hunger or Top Gun nearly as much if they didn’t look as modish as they do – but Man on Fire plays like he was trying to outdo Michael Bay in all of his key, horrible aspects: tiresome length (at 2 1/2 hours it’s an hour too long), ADD editing and effects (so much jittery zooming and shaky cam, random Final Cut Pro filters and ‘unique’ subtitle placement), and teal-and-orange colour timing so atrociously fucked-up that even full daylight scenes are swathed in shadow.
Whether Slavoj Žižek is right or wrong isn’t the point (he’s a philosopher; being wrong about things just makes the whole thing more interesting). The point is that he’s so enthusiastic and entertaining and honest about what he’s arguing and where he’s coming from. That he can see through the often bullshit divisions of culture into ‘high’ and ‘low’ is a bonus, in this only slightly lesser sequel to his immensely rewarding Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. (Pervert in this case meaning to pervert received wisdom or the canonical order of things. Although…)
Can’t remember when I watched this one before, but I remembered much of the film. American Movie kind of marks the beginning of the obsessive geek documentary, affectionate rather than exploitative (though that charge is still made), which would reach different but similarly remarkable peaks with The Devil and Daniel Johnston, The King of Kong and Anvil! The Story of Anvil, each expressing in their own way that geekery is passion.
Definitely one of the better Cannon martial arts flicks, and it’s easy to see why it was such a springboard for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career (and maybe even Forest Whitaker, who features as a bumbling military cop). The fight scenes are snappy and exciting, which is surprisingly a rarity in these kinds of movies, and the whole thing wisely keeps plot to a minimum; it knows it’s about kicking ass and nothing more. Plus, those faces!
Slow moving, they said it was. And they were right about that. Indeed, it’s a good half hour too long; so many extraneous establishing scenes meant to make us care more about the main characters, but it’s just banter. They also said it was properly old-school scary, but it’s nothing of the sort. Poltergeist? Rosemary’s Baby? The Shining? Now those are haunting movies. The Innkeepers is so tame by comparison, it’s almost a category error to call it a horror.
This John Le Carré adaptation courtesy of noted photographer-turned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn (Control) gets off on the wrong foot, with the frame lingering in fixed position on waves lapping lazily against a dock wall at first light. It’s a strong, stark, photographic image reflecting, perhaps, the maker’s bias for aesthetics over substance? Or maybe it’s the photographer exorcising that side of himself before driving into new territory, for the film thereafter is indeed a film, not an art installation.
Not that it doesn’t have a look; Corbijn (and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme) capture a cold, hardened Hamburg filtered through hues of blue and tints of grey. That reflects the steely natures of its characters, not least the gruff-but-good super-spy played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final lead performance (and what a performance!).
As an espionage thriller, this is indeed a work of character and plot, of shady deals, troubled alliances and double crossings, haunting and moving without submitting to the image of it all. Could it have made better use of actors like Daniel Brühl who are relegated here to bit parts? Probably; there’s no real need for Rachel McAdams or Willem Dafoe other than market appeal. But it still works exceedingly well, and it’s a more than fitting tribute to Hoffman, the actor’s actor.
Despite the near-universal judgement that this sequel is superior to its predecessor, I found its see-saw mix of humour and horror a little too imbalanced for my liking, at least in the first half. But when it settles down to business it’s easy to see why people prefer it. The performances are even more strange and heightened. And James Whale was way ahead of his time with the weird angles, close-ups and flash cuts that make the ‘creation’ sequence such a delight. I wish the whole film was as good as its final scenes, but those scenes are very good indeed.
Something new I want to try here, seeing as it’s Blog Day (3108, get it?): reblogging stuff I post on other sites. I’m starting with my Letterboxd review of Airplane!, which also happens to be my 100th logged movie watch for this year:
The casual racism and misogyny are impossible to ignore in this day and age, even if the film comes at everything from a sardonic angle. But considering it was made at a time when the Black and White Minstrel Show was only a few years off the air, and virulently racist and sexist ‘comics’ like Bernard Manning were packing them in, Airplane! could almost be seen as progressive. Take its context as a given and it’s easier to look past the jokes they’d never make today and revel in its anarchic, puntastic spirit.