Joker

joker

Spare me those goddamn stairs. And don't take any candy
from him, kids, and definitely stay away from his van

dir: Todd Phillips

2019

Since, I think, Silence of the Lambs, there’s been this case to be made that we, as in audiences, are happy to make allowances for characters that do awful things on camera, as long as they’re compelling. Hannibal Lecter kept us hypnotised like the cliché about the cobra and the mongoose, trapped in his unblinking eyes, and we could not look away.

All these years later, and we’re still paying the price.

With that comes the argument about heroes, antiheroes, jerks and other lunatics, and it muddies the waters a bit. The Joker from the comics isn’t, at his base, a complex character. I know nerds nerdier than I can point to thousands of different versions of the Joker, each more demented than the last, but the basic fact is, when first created, he was someone ridiculous, camp and chaotic, and meant as the fundamental antithesis of the orderly, stoic, rich psychopath Batman.

He’s not a deep character. No amount of overwriting or depth of performance really makes up for that gaping lack. There’s a primary reason why the director and the production lean so heavily on the aesthetics of 1970s movies, because without it they’ve got nothing else. Joaquin Phoenix is a compelling actor, mesmerising, all those descriptive words, and he’s great as this character, honestly.

It’s just that there isn’t much there. It feels bad saying it, but there’s not as much ‘there’ as they would like us to think. Without the Scorsese ripoffs, the transparent Taxi Driver ‘homages’, the Death Wish / Bernard Goetz restaging, and the embarrassing Fight Club-lite insult to our intelligence, there’s just a creepy guy who laughs until it hurts, and who kills a few people.

The world of Gotham as conjured here has less to do with the comics, and more to do with the kind of New York that the movies tried to grasp in the 70s and 80s: a diseased, corrupt, heartsick and pungent place, where the great unwashed threaten to drown not only each other, but the wealthy as well. Social order is breaking down, the garbage isn’t being collected, services are being cut to those who need them most, and people dance on the stairs for no good reason. It’s purgatory.

Rating:

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man Far From Home

Night Monkey Goes Bananas, as a title, could have brought
more boys to the yard, it's Marketing 101

dir: Jon Watts

2019

Finally. An unambiguously mediocre, exceedingly average Marvel movie.

It’s a relief, honestly. It’s about bloody time.

The steady stream of undifferentiated product has finally pumped out something that is significantly sub-standard compared to the previous 20+ instalments, and that’s okay. It’s good. It’s good to be shitty, sometimes. It takes the pressure off.

Of course opinions and enjoyment are subjective. Of course I don’t think my opinion on this is in any way definitive, or that it’s even a commonly held opinion. I have no idea. I speak to like five people in this world with any frequency, and they have better things to do that argue about Star Wars Trek Marvel DC et al.

And the thing is, I really like Tom Holland as this Spider-Man. I love Zendaya as MJ, and the action looks okay, and the settings aren’t terrible to look at.

But it’s just a fucking shemozzle. It’s a dog’s breakfast, as if dogs care what their breakfasts look like, the villain makes no sense; the villain has to know a bunch of stuff they couldn’t know in order to plan ahead, and all the characters around Spider-Man have to be fucking dense as shit in order to sell the silliness.

It also doesn’t help that this standalone Spider-Man movie comes on the heels not of Avengers: Endgame, but after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was just so on point, and so makes a mockery of all this folderol and foofaraw.

So, young Peter Parker is still emotional after the death of his supposed mentor Tony Stark, who only ever treated him terribly, the way you would treat a redheaded stepchild who did more drugs than you. The world, apparently, is crying out for someone to take up the mantle of Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist, at the very least in order to make sense of stuff they couldn’t possibly make sense of.

The five year gap in which half of all life in the universe disappeared, and then reappeared without having aged, is referred to as The Blip, and people seem to have accepted it without question.

Sure. Life returned exactly back to normal, and the average pleb goes about their day doing the same things they were trying to do five years ago. Really? Wouldn’t this have fundamentally changed everything, everyone’s approach to reality and religion and life and all that shit? I mean, it’s not as if the average pleb in these films knows about Thanos, or presumably, anything, but surely it would fuck with their heads?

Rating:

The King

The King

It is unlikely to always be good to be the king. There must be
times when it sucks

dir: David Michôd

2019

I have a confession to make – not that anyone asked. I do love me some Henry V. I don’t know whether I give a tinker’s cuss for the actual Henry the Fifth, as in the actual royal jerk, but I have enjoyed the Shakespearean version in several forms. I have probably seen the Kenneth Brannagh version too many times, and I’ve even seen the Sir Laurence Olivier version, because, yes, I am that old.

In whatever version of it I’ve seen or listened to, considering the joy of language on display when you hear Shakespeare firing on all cylinders, I never sat there watching it thinking, “You know what this needs? Less talky-talky, more stabby stabby.”

I can’t imagine the mindset that thinks, “You know how great the St Crispin’s Day speech is about bands of brothers and once more unto the breech and all that jazz, you know what, it’s tired, we need something with more pizazz so the audience can collectively shrug in indifference.”

So, okay, maybe the thinking was “let’s make a more grounded, more down to earth version of this story, less flowery, more brutal”. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that this thinking perplexes me. While we might not know or care how brutal things were way back then, we have actually had at least a million movies and tv series purporting to show us the ‘real’ long ago, the real brutality of what people are capable of.

And to that I say: Got it already, thanks. I’m never going to need “gritty” retellings of humanity’s barbaric past, because I’ve already seen it too many times, and our present, let alone our past, is plenty brutal anyway.

Rating:

Parasite

Parasite

I musn't be remembering the film properly, because I don't
remember the bit where rich people stole everyone's eyes.
Sounds like something they'd do, though.

(기생충 Gisaengchung)

dir: Bong Joon-ho

2019

The thing about parasites is… how many are too many, and what should I do to get rid of them, lickety split?

Nah, but Parasite, the latest flick from the deranged and brilliant mind that brought us Okja, Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host and Memories of Murder, all of which are remarkably solid films, all of which are fairly unique, is probably the most outwardly conventional of all his films.

Not only that, but it won the Palme D’Or this year at Cannes! Can you imagine caring about such a thing? Surely if something wins the Palme D’Or it means it’s a pretty great film, if not the greatest film of all time, or at least that year thus far? I mean, look at all the other great Palme D’Or winners, like Pulp Fiction, Barton Fink, The Piano and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

I didn’t make up that last one. On the list of winners there are a lot of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh films, and films from many nations, with no obvious bias towards the films of any region. Mostly, they have nothing in common, though one could be tempted to imply that the jury likes flicks where class is addressed, or plays a part thematically, or is indeed called The Class, which won the Palme D’Or in 2008.

Parasite, the South Korean director’s latest flick, is pretty much about class, but it’s also about the struggles of a family of grifters, and their travails. The least charitable application of the title would be to say that what this family does is become a parasite burrowing its way into the body of another, wealthier family. When we meet our grifters, they’re living in a basement, fighting to find the right spot in which to use someone else’s wi-fi connection in order to connect for some data. Calling the place a hovel would be an insult to squalor.

But they’re tough, and resourceful, as are most petty crims who need to survive on their wits. The father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho, who is not only in most of the Bong Joon-ho or Park chan-wook movies I’ve seen, but also in the majority of all South Korean flicks I’ve ever seen) is a fairly quiet, fairly optimistic chap. He supports all his kids in all their attempts to grift. He seems like such a likable guy. The mum, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) is a former athlete, and gives the least amount of fucks of any in the family (being exactly zero), often threatening to bite the hand that feeds or actively biting it especially when it’s not in their interest. Then there’s the gentle and retiring son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and the daughter, Ki-jung (Park So-dam), with some serious Photoshop skills that she puts to work in service of the plan.

Rating:

The Perfection

The Perfection

Just keep practicing, it's the only way to get to Carnegie Hall

dir: Richard Shepard

2019

That was… a decidedly macabre experience.

Some films live for their twists. Others pay lip service to the twist, and just dangle it as an afterthought at the end, which often undoes much of the goodwill a film might have earned along the way. Others are so dependent on their twists that getting invested in the story seems pointless once you know that the rug is going to be pulled out enough times such that there’s nothing left to believe in anymore, man. The whole System is corrupt, Man!

But some films, like this one, and the great recent Korean flick The Handmaiden, have twists baked into the production, meaning we couldn’t predict what was coming, or why, but it at least enhances the story even as it keeps changing course in whiplash-inducing ways.

We think we know what’s going on. We don’t really know what’s going on, until the very end.

The Perfection refers to… something, I’m not entirely sure what. It might be the level of excellence required by the elite classical musicians of this strange world. It could also be a short cut phrase to the almost-cult like mentality of the musicians trained at the 1 % of the 1 % that is the Backoff Academy, run like a personal fiefdom by Anton (Steven Weber).

Rating:

The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth

Better translated title: My Wandering Attention; I'm Wandering
Away from This Movie and Down the Pub; The Frantabulous Earth
Saving Contraption of the Chinese Communist Party.
There's a lot of fun to be had, just not watching this movie

dir: Frant Gwo

2019

This is one of the highest grossing movies in Chinese history, and so I thought I’d give it a gander (on Netflix), knowing full well that something being immensely popular sometimes guarantees a certain level of interstellar shiteness, no matter the pedigree.

Also, despite being a fan of Chinese and Hong Kong movies for decades, I always knew that there was a disconnect between the stuff I was getting to see in the arthouse cinemas and from the dodgy Chinatown DVD sellers, and what the mass Asian audience was watching in its own backyard.

The Wandering Earth, despite being based on a short story by Liu Cixin, is certainly one of the dumbest science fiction flicks to have ever been produced, at least as far as the actual ‘science’ part of the phrase is concerned. Again I say despite the involvement of Liu Cixin, most famous outside of China for the Three Body Problem and for his other novels in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy which brought a profoundly different take on the science fiction genre and to stories about other alien cultures finding out about sentient life on Earth. He is a great writer of complex stuff. This film is neither great nor complex stuff. It’s essentially the Mainland China Communist Party Approved version of Armageddon; that dumb – as - a - box - full - of - Bruce - Willises movie where Michael Bay does to our brains what Michael Bay has been doing to movies for decades.

Big budget Chinese films are, like the big budget films of any nation, propagandistic by their very nature. All of them say something political just by existing, but Chinese movies specifically say ‘something’ just by being approved by the government censors for production. And Chinese films for the last couple of decades have been getting vastly more nationalistic in their plots and their action. If Wandering Earth is the second most Titanic-like movie in Chinese box office history, well, Number 1 is Wolf Warrior II, a movie where noble Chinese ex-special forces jerks / mercenaries save helpless African locals from evil Americans mercenaries. I wonder what the attraction is, hmmm…

Maybe there’s a theme emerging here. Big box office comes from, apparently, making Chinese heroes the saviours of all of humanity, with the best and brightest from other nations taking a bit of a back seat. It’s only fair; now it’s their time to shine.

The Wandering Earth’s plot is so fucking bonkers that if I even try to describe it openly, you’re probably going to think I’m either bullshitting, flat out wrong, or that it sounds so insane that it has to be a guilty pleasure to watch, like a Sharknado movie or anything with talking animals in it. It is none of those things. I swear on all that is good and holy, it is none of those things.

The sun in our solar system, about 40 years into the future, spontaneously decides to become a red giant, meaning the Earth is fucked, or at least more fucked than it was previously.

Rating:

Hereditary

Hereditary

According to Tolstoy, happy families are all alike;
every doomed family however is doomed in its own way

dir: Ari Aster

2018

That. Was. Utterly. Horrifying.

Since I sat through / endured Midsommar, and thought it was a crafty little flick, I thought I’d go back and check out Ari Aster’s first flick Hereditary, which I’d heard a lot about but declined to watch, figuring nothing good would come of it. But since I tricked myself into watching something as out there as Midsommar, by telling myself it was a documentary about the Midsummer festival Melbourne’s been having since the 1990s to celebrate our LGBTIQ brothers, sisters and non-binary identifying everythings in between, I tricked myself into watching Hereditary by telling myself it was a documentary about DNA and hereditable traits, you know, phylogenetic and epigenetic expression to the max!!!

Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be two of the most terrifying hours I’ve spent watching Toni Collette react to stuff.

I’ve read a few reviews since watching the flick, and I have to say I saw a movie very different from the one many of the detractors saw. What they saw was a weird flick that doesn’t make any sense and is very slow, and doesn’t have enough gore or jump scares or something.

What I saw was a horrifying story about a doomed family. The thing about doom is, it is inescapable, and generally to make you commit to watching something to the end, you have to at least be made to care about the people involved. That’s not where this is coming from. The Graham family doesn’t earn our sympathy or our compassion, but at least every few minutes I was alternating between “Oh my god, poor Charlie” to “ohmygod poor Peter” to “ohmygod poor everyone”.

When Hereditary begins, a family prepares to bury an unloved matriarch. During the eulogy, the deceased’s daughter Annie (Toni Collette) delivers a eulogy that, on one level, could have more succinctly be put as “Fuck you, mom, burn in hell” but which instead tries to ground us in the disturbed reality of what Annie comes from: a family where severe mental illness has destroyed almost everyone. Severe dissociative disorders, severe psychosis, hell for the people with it, hell for the people around them. We are sure Annie is not sad to see her go, but when she relates how she lost her own sibling and her father, you might think now she and her ‘normal’ family can grieve, take some time, and eventually grow closer.

But this flick is called Hereditary

Which means the problems of previous generations are carried through to the next, and the next, and the next.

Rating:

Midsommar

Midsommar

I guess my allergies must be acting up something fierce

dir: Ari Aster

2019

This is some fucked up shit.

Midsommar is a deeply creepy flick, that is very long (I watched a director’s cut which adds like another half hour, making it nearly three hours long), but is not without its merits.

The main merit it possesses is Florence Pugh, who seems to be getting all the acting work these days (she was great in Lady Macbeth and the Little Drummer Girl mini series, and will star in the new Black Widow movie), and is just phenomenal even in something as disturbing as this. And it’s not an easy role, at all. You can just say this flick is a horror flick, and assume it requires someone being terrorised for a time before rising up and killing their tormentors or escaping to leave the tormentors to keep tormenting them in the sequel, but that’s not the kind of horror on display here.

This is a deeply weird flick, but it’s the kind of weird that I can get behind. I can’t say that I am that much of a horror flick fan now as in the past, but it certainly is transporting to see something a bit different (even if it isn’t entirely unfamiliar).

The place where it starts is a deeply, viscerally horrible place. Dani (Florence Pugh) is a college student, with a boyfriend called Christian (jack Reynor) who’s an anthropology graduate student. Her sister, who we never meet, has decided to kill herself, but even worse, to take her parents with her. But Dani doesn’t know all of this at first, and is reacting to a worrying text from her sister, and is more concerned about alienating her boyfriend by being too clingy or too needy.

When it cuts to the boyfriend, he’s chatting with his mates about how he’s planning on giving her the flick. The mates don’t seem to care, but they also seem to think he’s put up with enough as it is.

It is probably a kind of callous conversation that has been had by millions of people in their late teens early twenties since at least the dawn of human time, though it’s possible even our less evolved ancestors took a similar version of that chat for a spin back when the latest gadget was a sharp rock.

Rating:

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix

These posters are all starting to look pretty much the same

dir: Simon Kinberg

2019

Almost everyone that liked the first two X-Men films really hated the 3rd one directed by one of the worst directors in the business, being the appalling Brett Ratner who I hope never gets to direct again. That 3rd flick, The Last Stand, was pretty hateable. In it the character of Jean Grey goes fucking crazy and wants to destroy the world, for some reason.

Bryan Singer, who directed the first two flicks, did not get to direct the third one, and was so offended by it that when he got the chance in X-Men: Days of Future Past, he made it so the earlier film never existed. Would that we all had such power to undo the actions of the past. If Bryan Singer actually possessed such power, perhaps he could travel back in time and undo the sexual assault and harassment he’s been accused of. I hope neither he, nor Ratner, ever work again, because both of them are pieces of shit and neither deserves forgiveness.

So, one of the people who wrote the third film, being Simon Kinberg, decided it was shit too, and thought “maybe I can do the same story properly, and people will like it, and like me too, maybe?” So he decided to direct a version of the Dark Phoenix storyline where Jean Grey gets even more powerful and threatens to – something – the world. I dunno, she kills a few people unintentionally, and probably had some impact on property values.

Former allies and enemies join hands and either try to save Jean or kill her, depending on how they feel at any given moment, but ultimately the story is pretty much the same as in the Last Stand. If I wrote the script on one film, and it turned out to be shit, and then a studio gave me even more money, told me to write it again pretty much the same way and also to direct it, I would consider myself the luckiest motherfucker on the planet.

I have had arguments with people in the past about Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, in terms of whether she was a decent actor or not. I thought she was great in Game of Thrones, and only got better as the character improved over time. All of my defences of her acting fall apart here. She is, as are most other people in this flick, pretty dull. The combined effort of all these British people putting on American accents pretty much leaves them with nothing left in the tank for the “basic talking or acting” scenes.

Rating:

John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

John Wick 3

This poster furthers the impression that he's Gun Jesus, and I have
no problem with that

dir: Chad Stahelski

2019

Lots of thirsty people may disagree, and disagree strongly, but there is really no reason for this flick to exist. There’s no need for it.

If you like watching Keanu Reeves get repeatedly beaten up, stabbed and shot beyond the point where even a cyborg would pack it in, and also like watching him kill thousands of people, there are already two John Wick flicks in which all that happens. The singular attraction has to be one, or the other, or both, I guess. In this Chapter 3, even more people try to kill John Wick, and that’s about as complicated as it gets. All the story that was ever going to be told was told in the first one, where an idiot attacks a man, steals his car, kills his dog, only to realise when it’s too late that the person he wronged was the world’s most lethal assassin. That would make any man slap his forehead and utter a hearty “D’oh!”

The second one has a scumbag force John Wick to kill someone which then results in him having to kill hundreds of other people. And there’s a dog, but this time it survives. Yay doggo!

The third one has two more dogs but also the whole world wanting to kill the unkillable John Wick, who somehow keeps surviving because none of these super assassins ever thought to maybe just shoot him from a distance with a sniper rifle. Every super assassin just keeps wandering up to him, patiently waiting for their turn to die.

Oh, there’s no doubt they take their pound of flesh from Wick in exchange for violently being sent to their eternal reward, because he never changes his outfit, or his appearance, which is usually blood-soaked, or his carefully manicured beard. In fact, he does nothing to be less recognisable. It’s almost like he wants to get spotted so he can kill more people. But otherwise, he just keeps on keeping on.

Rating:

Her Smell

Her Smell

She's not winking at you, she just has glass in her eye

dir: Alex Ross Perry

2019

Jesus fucking Christ.

I don’t usually blaspheme, but jeez-us fucking holy hell, this is a hard film to sit through.

At least the first parts of it. I mean, it never really gets that comfortable, but also, there’s this false dawn where you think the movie will chill out and be something you can watch without taking a Valium, but you’d be wrong.

I can’t say that I know that much about this director, Alex Perry Ross, but I can say that I know enough to know that his films are hard to watch. This film, or many parts of it, feel like being trapped on a bus that is way overcrowded with awful, overlapping atonal soundtracks and random people screaming abuse at you in between feeling you up. And it never seems to get to its destination, and there’s no button to press to make it stop.

Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) and her band Something She are playing a song, a cover of Another Girl, Another Planet, and they do an okay job. I mean, it’s not their song, it’s from 1978 and The Only Ones, but they’re doing okay. I get the feeling their meant to be some kind of band like Babes in Toyland, Hole, 7 Year Bitch, maybe Bikini Kill-ish, who knows, but certainly of the early 1990s variety, and yet it’s never really borne out by the music.

Rating:

Searching

Searching

Nothing good comes from sitting in a dark room on the internet...

dir: Aneesh Chaganty

2018

This is a really keen film that transcends its gimmick (of almost entirely transpiring on the screens of multiple computers, phones, security cam footage and police interviews), to be more a story about the lengths one parent will go to save their child than about the technology it uses.

That sounds like a simple premise, and, in American hands, it seems to, at least recently, involve Liam Neeson killing a bunch of foreigners in order to save his daughter / ex-wife from multiculturalism. Those of us who are parents (and who, on average, like being parents) are compelled by stories like this to wonder about the lengths we would go to in order to protect or save our kids. Rarely do we see it as a negative.

Searching stars the great John Cho, world renowned as the Harold from Harold and Kumar Do Some Dumb Shit while on Drugs trilogy, for taking over the Sulu role in Star Trek from the equally legendary George Takei, and scrambling for decades as a tv guy in a million blink and you'll miss them roles.

He's pretty memorable, though. He's got a certain amount of presence. In this he's not playing an avenging vigilante parent or some kind of action hero. He's mostly just an American guy who works in Northern California and lives with his family, wife and daughter, and would probably prefer not to have to endure such a hideous drama.

The first ten minutes of the film are a study in how you can rip off the accelerated storytelling of a scene like the beginning of Pixar's Up, make it your own, make it work, and not be accused of abject plagiarism. Really, it’s a (banal) master class, it truly is. Even with its montage-like effect, it still gives you enough reasons to care about the family and what happens to them, even if you’ve barely spent any time with them yet.

We meet David (John Cho), Pam (Sara Sohn) and Margot Kim (eventually played by Michelle La) through the various milestones and home video-type stuff that accompanies modern life in the so-called Western world. 1st day's at school, Father's Day, first piano recitals, all that stuff. In between the various elements of a family's lives are the unavoidable hints that something is terribly medically wrong with Pam, and it just keeps getting worse as she battles with, and eventually succumbs to, lymphoma.

Some time passes, and we get to watch the interactions, via phones and chat apps, between a father and daughter that have lost an incredibly important person in their lives, and who are unsure how to carry on. David is, like a typical guy, all "let's just keep moving forward like that person I never mention is just in the other room and never talk about it", and poor Margot, who your heart breaks for, clearly is yearning to talk about the person who’s no longer there, but just doesn’t feel like she can with her dad.

Rating:

Always Be My Maybe

Always Be My Maybe

I love the film, but, seriously, that poster is the very
definition of awkward

dir: Nahnatchka Khan

2019

This is, ridiculously, one of my favourite films of the year thus far. I know it’s not over yet, many months to go, but I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I’ve seen it twice.

And the bits with Keanu, honestly, they’re the least part of it.

The film’s greatest strength, whether as a romantic comedy or whatever other phrase one might want to use to genre-fy things up, is Ali Wong and Randall Park. Both immensely funny in other stuff, both perfectly relaxed and believable here, not as a star-crossed lovers or people with monster – Viking – sexual chemistry, but just as two people who could reasonably be happiest with each other despite their myriad differences as people.

Ali Wong has made two Netflix stand-up specials, both while heavily pregnant, that constitute two of the funniest stand up specials I’ve ever seen, on any format. She has a phenomenal energy and delivery, and great skills as a teller of her own tale, and fiercely feminist to boot. Randall Park is naturally funny in anything, can do sitcom stuff with relative ease, played a monstrous dictator and still made that funny as a demented Kim Jong-Un in The Interview, and can play this role here as Marcus comfortably as putting on old sneakers.

Sasha and Marcus, growing up as kids in San Francisco, bond over being Asian-Americans in a predominately whitebread town though they’re not from the same backgrounds. Sasha is also something of a latchkey kid who never sees her hardworking Vietnamese parents, and so she spends even more time with Marcus than friends would. In Marcus’s Korean mum Judy (Susan Park) she gets an adoptive mother, and the comfort and love that comes from regular feeding. From Judy she further picks up a deep love of making quality Korean food.

Up until they are spotty teenagers in their late teens, and Marcus’ mum dies unexpectedly, they’ve been close friends, but grief and a need for something else leads them to having sex for the first time. The awkwardness and the vulnerability, and the stupid stuff people say at that age afterwards, drives them far apart.

Rating:

Unicorn Store

Unicorn Store

You can relax now, job well done

dir: Brie Larson

2019

It’s a bit of a strange anomaly of a flick. It’s a so-called Netflix Original, but all that means is that when it played the film festival circuit, Netflix bought the rights to screen in when no-one else wanted to.

Perhaps they thought audiences would clamour to see it after Captain Marvel became a massive hit. But how could they have known? I mean, Larson did win an Academy award for her role in Room, but she was hardly a household name before this year. Maybe it was to build a creative relationship with her ongoing, as this is her directorial debut.

It’s unlikely that they saw it and thought “People will punch their grandmothers in the face in order to be the first to stream this goddamn movie!”

Oh, it’s quite odd. I like odd, there’s no doubt, and this is plenty odd. This is the kind of odd that I actually value Netflix for. It is the kind of thing I see or seek out of curiosity that I otherwise would never have even heard of, and I would probably only watch it on a streaming service.

I am not going to explain any further. It is what it is. It is, I hope, the flick that Brie Larson wanted it to be, the exact flick she wanted it to be. It is strange, it doesn’t follow predictable story beats, it seems to exist in our reality, and it seems to be making some points about art, about creativity and about creative people being in tension with commercial interests or profit motives, and how easily people are crushed in that altercation / dynamic.

But it’s also about a young woman who is finally going to get the unicorn she’s craved all her life, as any girl would.

I watched this with my daughter, and at one point she turned to me and asked, “So, do you think the unicorn is meant to be, like, a metaphor for something, or real?”

Rating:

Destroyer

Destroyer

Destroyer, or How I Learned to Love the Passage of Time

dir: Karyn Kusama

2018

This is a pretty grim story, in case you couldn’t tell from the heavily made up images of Nicole Kidman’s ravaged face.

The intention in this, I’m sorry to be so cynical, could have been Oscar-bait. Someone must have convinced Nicole that accepting a piddling amount of money to star in this would be compensated by the inevitable awards that would flow. It worked for Charlize Theron in Monster, so surely it would work again?

It’s not like Nicole doesn’t have awards, including the golden smooth shiny ones of the Academy. I don’t even have to look it up to remember that she won an Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours, where the very unkind joked that the prosthetic nose she wore deserved the award for doing all the work. She was fine. It was one of a few occasions where people were surprised that she could subsume herself into a role and not just be Nicole.

She definitely doesn’t look like the fragile, afraid to crack a smile actor that she is in Big Little Lies or anything else that she does contemporaneously. There’s an unfortunate focus on her looks that detracts from her meagre or multitudinous acting skills, and I’m probably contributing to it here yet again. Suffice to say they really make her look haggard here, to good effect.

When the film opens Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) wakes up, bleary eyed and crusty, in her car. She never sleeps in a bed, at least in the present (there are a lot of flashbacks in this flick). She does not just look, act and speak like she’s hungover: she acts like she’s at death’s door. A body is found at the LA aqueduct, with three distinctive tattooed marks on the back of his neck. The cops actually there doing their jobs are disgusted by Bell’s presence, a theme which is carried on throughout the film: People are either horrified, surprised or disgusted when she turns up. She tells the investigating cops that she knows who killed the victim.

Back at her office, her actual co-workers are also surprised that she’s turned up, and also annoyed. We sense that no-one really likes being around her or listening to her or looking at her. The world is so unfair. Most of this flick’s action, or activities occur in bright, debilitating daylight, as if to show how horrible daytime is to both vampires and alcoholics.

Rating:

Peppermint

Peppermint

It's like they had to literalise the white saviour metaphor...

dir: Pierre Morel

2018

From a flick about a guy interacting with Mexican people and saying “eh, they’re not all so bad”, the flick being The Mule and the guy being Clint Eastwood, we now transition to a flick that, were it a person, looked at The Mule and screamed “NOT RACIST ENOUGH” and proceeded to render itself into a form that would be most pleasing to people who were leaving a Trump klan rally and thought they might want to watch a movie.

Peppermint is a revenge – vigilante thriller which, in and of itself, is not unique to American cinema, since every culture has its themes of vengeance and justice. But this is the quintessential American take on the genre, which celebrates self-determination, stick-to-itiveness and achieving justice through the barrel of a gun against racial caricatures that are meant to make the viewer uncomfortable until they are shot, and then everything’s fine

There’s a reason the Republican party uses photos and footage of members of a particular vicious gang called MS-13 in its scare-mongering electoral ad campaigns: because they’re Hispanic, and many of them have face tattoos.

There’s a reason why the movie uses Hispanic men with face tattoos as the perpetrators of violence, and then as the victims of retributive violence at the hands of the movie’s heroine: because the intended audience is already made uncomfortable by them and doesn’t mind if they get offed.

Rating:

The Mule

The Mule

Old men don't think the law should apply to them, and
maybe they're right

dir: Clint Eastwood

2018

This is like the eleventy millionth Eastwood flick that he’s directed, and, who knows, he could have at least another 100 in him. Of course, however many more films Eastwood is going to make and star in these days, they’re not going to be that different. He’s going to play a character who’s an old guy, who is a Korean War veteran, who’s irascible and vitriolic about the youth of today, perhaps estranged from his family, but, no matter what he did, he loves them and he’s sorry.

His family, whether daughters or granddaughters or ex-wives, are all exasperated by him and stuff he did or didn’t do decades ago, but eventually, because they don’t really have much of a choice, forgive him for his transgressions.

How do I know this is the plot of this and future films of his? Because. Just because. It’s an educated guess. It’s also a safe bet.

Every flick is the same because Eastwood is the same man. Whether he’s playing the lead of a fictional story or a true story that isn’t about him per se, but which easily be warped into his kind of story.

But, and I’m ashamed of myself a bit for what I’m about to write, that’s why we love him.

Not every flick that Eastwood makes is as good as the good ones, and many of them completely lose their way, or start and finish terrible. But when they work, when we get where he’s coming from and forgive him for his awful racial and sexist attitudes (or don’t) that often bleed through into his characters, we’re really forgiving many of the older men in our lives, some of whom we already love, some maybe we don’t, but at the very least we somehow (ill-advisedly) cut him a break because, well, we sense the end is probably near anyway, so why fight anymore?

Rating:

Aquaman

Aquaman

When a Fish is A Man, I'll Hold a Candle for that Man,
Because That Fish Is The Man!

dir: James Wan

2018

See, I hate travelling for work.

It’s about the only time I get to travel to cities interstate, with work paying for it, but then I have to do work things and stay in work designated places. These places designated by work are usually known as hotels.

Hotels, gods love the industry and all the minimum wage people that work in them and for them, are loathsome places to stay. They’re generic and antiseptic but they still feel permanently unclean.

The only virtue they have, and that is some of them versus all of them, is that some of them have a dedicated movies channel. Sometimes they’ll even have fairly recent movies on them!

What this basically boils down to, which explains both the existence of this review and the point of the preamble, is that on these work trips where I can’t really do much else other than go to the work thing, wander around a strange and sometimes quite boring city, then retire to the confines of a hotel room until the next day or departure. So I watch a bunch of stuff I ordinarily would never watch, because the standards that apply when you’re on a plane or trapped in a hotel room vary vastly compared to when you’re endlessly scrolling through Netflix trying to find the perfect choice that ‘everyone’ will be happy with at home.

Rating:

Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You

... but have you accepted Jesus as your personal saviour?

dir: Boots Riley

2018

Any film can go off the rails in its third act, but few do it in such a bonkers, catastrophic fashion. If you’re going to crash and burn, I say do it as spectacularly as possible, and this flick certainly gives it a red hot go.

I could not even begin to describe what genre this movie slots into. I guess you could kind of say it was a comedy? Corporate satire with racial / social commentary? I mean, it’s pretty funny in parts, but it tries to do so much in its running time that to say it transcends traditional restrictions in favour of making an insane set of literal and allegorical points would really not even scratch the surface.

Maybe it’s just easier to call it a satire, though a satire of late-stage capitalism and the pretentiousness of performance art, or the way African-Americans have to commodify themselves in order to eke out a living, I could not rightly say. It’s saying something, or a lot of somethings, it’s just that I don’t know ultimately what it means, if anything.

Our Hero Cassius, or Cash as he’s referred to more often, is played by Lakeith Stanfield, probably best known for playing Darius in the FX series Atlanta. The characters, at least initially, aren’t that dissimilar. He also had a brief but memorable role in Get Out, as someone who clearly wasn’t feeling like himself anymore.

Here he’s a financially disadvantaged bum who lives in his uncle’s garage, and is desperate for work. We see him trying to put 40 cents of petrol in his car, one which needs literal strings to be pulled in order to get the wipers moving. I wouldn’t have mentioned the uncle except that the uncle is played by the sublime Terry Crews, who is confidently working towards taking over America by appearing in everything and on everything. If there is only one person on the planet I can accept getting to refer to themselves in the third person, and there is only one, it’s Terry.

I have however expended more words in the last paragraph than Terry gets in the whole flick. Let me not give the impression that Cash’s uncle Sergio plays any significant part in the proceedings. He doesn’t, other than as an occasional antagonist.

Cash tries to lie his way into a job at a telemarketing place. He unfortunately perpetrates a bit of resume padding claiming he worked as a manager at the Bank of Oakland during a particular time period, not knowing of course that the jerk interviewing him was the manager at that bank at the same time. Other places would show you the door, but this is telemarketing, of course, where being an awful person is its own reward and a valuable skill. Cash’s initial attempts to sell bullshit to people on the phone fails because the second people hear his voice they hang up.

An old hand at the job, Langston (Danny Glover), advises Cash to speak with his white voice. A voice that reassures the listener, that calms and comforts them, radiating ease and privilege, a voice that never knows want or fear of being able to pay the rent. When Cash finally masters that kind of voice, his rise through the ranks becomes stratospheric.

Rating:

Us

Us

This phenomenal poster is more disturbing than
anything in the film. Plus, where did they get all
the fingerless gloves from?

dir: Jordan Peele

2019

That was…something.

The shadow self, the dark Jungian version of our unexpressed ourselves that might have up until now lurked in the depths of our consciousness; right now, for plot reasons, comes to the fore, scissors in hand, ready to take our place.

I… am not going to pretend that I actually completely understood either the text, the subtext, the literal meaning of stuff or the allegorical meaning of what actually transpires in this horror film that starts off looking like a family under siege in their own home kind of story, and becomes something very much more complicated.

It starts in the 80s, as a young girl called Adelaide watches an ad for Hands Across America, an effort that came after the whole We Are The World fiasco to raise money for charities including homelessness. Also maybe to prove that Americans could stand up and hold hands, doing two things simultaneously. In retrospect it seems bizarre that anyone would do such a thing, but when I looked up that it raised probably around $100 million, but only about $15 million went to actual charities, it makes perfect sense.

Although, let’s be honest about this, after that, there was no homelessness or poverty in America or anywhere else for that matter, ever again, so it was all obviously worth it.

Adelaide watches this bizarre ad on the telly, and then it cuts to her and her parents going down to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, to celebrate her birthday with candied apples and games of chance, as her parents bicker. She observes her parents from behind, but observes all the people around her, including a strange chap holding a sign that says Jeremiah 11:11. This number and this wordless character keeps cropping up throughout the flick. I had to look it up, because I’m a godless heathen, and it talks about the Lord God visiting evil upon a bunch of people for no good reason.

Rating:

Glass

Glass

I find myself feeling very nervous for all of you

dir: M Night Shyamalan

2019

The truth is, we’ve been sucked in for a very long time by this guy. Like a televangelist or a very online Russian model looking for love who’s really a catfishing guy with stuff falling out of his beard who hasn’t seen daylight in weeks, it keeps working over the long run because many of us are just dumb enough to not want to admit that we keep getting fooled, again and again.

That’s a long way of saying that, even as people (with a hint of desperation in their voices) may claim this represents a return to form for someone who’s had bad film after bad film for over a decade, it still betrays an incredible level of dumbness in a way that can only make you laugh at the end product. There are scenes in this flick where you just wonder to yourself whether people tried to point out to the director just how inane some of his ideas are, or whether he just covers his ears and wails “nah nah nah can’t hear you” until they stop trying to point out the horrifically obvious.

Glass is, apparently, the third part of a trilogy to do with people in the ordinary world having superpowers. I didn’t see the second instalment, and never will, let’s be honest, because I cannot for the life of me imagine myself doing so. The first part was called Unbreakable, and was a pretty good flick, I thought, way back in 2000. The second part that I’ll never watch is called Split, and is about a lunatic played by James McAvoy who has the honour of playing host to 23 distinct personalities. Unfortunately, the only way movies like to use such a character conceit is as fodder for a serial killer flick where a jerk kidnaps and murders cheerleaders.

Very important for the character development that they be cheerleaders, for sure. One of those personalities, which the others fearfully call The Beast, is not only some demonic-sounding cretin, but, when the “feeling” comes upon the jerk, he seems to manifest supernatural abilities (like veins all over the place, and being able to dance on the ceiling).

Shyamalan has combined the earlier good flick with the latter tedious flick and brought back the Samuel L. Jackson character from Unbreakable as well, known as Mr Glass, for this third flick, where they are held captive in a psych institution by a psychiatrist (the always luminous Sarah Paulson), who tries to convince them all that what they think of as almost supernatural abilities can easily be explained away by science and the ways the mind deals with trauma, being the creation and adherence to a delusional worldview in order to avoid the sad reality that the rest of us live with.

Rating:

I Am Mother

I Am Mother

Surely there's nothing ominous about this setup?

dir: Grant Sputore

2019

There’s a lot going on in this flick. A lot. Firstly, and this is going to blow your mind because you’ve never heard of such a thing before, it’s set in the future, it has robots, and the robots have turned eeeeeeeeeevil.

I know! Whodda thunkit?

Every day we have news media telling us automation is taking over all our jobs and that robots are now doing heaps of things previously only people could do, from complex tasks to climbing stairs and doing backflips. And every night we have movies telling us that if we make smart robots, they will one day try to kill us all.

People, we’re getting mixed messages. Or maybe they’re just partial messages that we need to combine in order to get the full message: “The Robots Are Coming and they’re Going to Kill Us All!”

It has been science’s job for centuries to tell us how or why things happen, and to explain the progress we’ve made as a species, and science fiction’s job to tell us how and why we should be afraid of that progress. Even as far back as the first famous science fiction novel, which is probably Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, science fiction has been telling us that just because you can miraculously do something that couldn’t be done before doesn’t mean you should. Doing something previously impossible often brings with it unfortunate consequences we have little chance of foreseeing because a lot of the time you can’t predict the possible outcomes of scenarios you’ve never imagined before

In I Am Mother, something terrible has already happened wiping out the humans on this sad planet Earth. In some kind of secure facility, a solicitous and kind robot (voiced by Rose Byrne), raises a child from an embryo, that she calls Daughter (Clara Rugaard, eventually), and who calls her Mother. The robot that is Mother is in no way approximates human features – the robot is sleek like an appliance and very functional. The voice it uses has this lilt of concern or feeling, but is fundamentally cold. Mother uses all sorts of functions and programs to maximise its efforts in child-rearing, probably having read all the What to Expect When You’re Expecting-type books and follows all the advice, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff.

If it could, Mother would probably breastfeed and give super formula at the same time to maximise the infant’s potential, but the difference is (one of a multitude) that this Mother doesn’t second-guess herself (itself) constantly, doesn’t constantly compare herself to other mums on social media and find herself inadequate; she doesn’t have to try to balance the needs of her relationship with looking after the kids and looking after a house and balance a job and try to have a social life and do find time for self-care and not feel undermined by her mother-in-law / younger Instagram influencer sister.

Rating:

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers Endgame

You've got to wonder what the hell they're all looking at

dirs: Joe and Anthony Russo

2019

It’s finally over. Now we can all stop watching Marvel movies. They’ve got all our money; they’re richer than the gods now, so there’s no need to keep putting out movies. The heroes won, the baddies are gone, and now we can all rest easy in peace or in pieces, as the case may be.

It’s about bloody time. We could all do with a rest, don’t you think? We’ve earned it, they’ve earned it, we’re all good.

But… we can’t. Just can’t let it go. They can’t, we can’t. We knew it was only a matter of time. Marvel, and by Marvel I mean Disney, are addicted to money. It’s sad, but it’s true. They’ve got so much already, you think, they’ve taken so much for so long, but past actions, past performance doesn’t stop them from wanting more in the future. It’s the unfortunate way of the world.

When people talk about the death of cinema, or declining audiences etc, some, usually pretentious wankers, complain that it’s because the amount of decent films being put out is ever decreasing; more flicks are going straight to streaming versus the multiplex, piracy and more people spending time gaming or whatever else we occupy our time with in between tormenting strangers online via social media.

Disney sees this. Disney hears this. Disney’s plan of action is: however many or few eyeballs exist to glare at screens, we will own them all. Marvel’s ascent is just a part of the same rise that sees every massive franchise now under their one banner. Ultimately, they’re not going to care about how many or how few people are still going to the movies, because however many it is, wherever it is being watched, the ‘product’ they’re watching, in most cases, will be Disney product.

That’s the shame about all of this, but there are also benefits in these films now being the biggest movies in the world. One of them, I guess, is that maybe this is the natural peak, the pinnacle, the ne plus ultra, after which maybe, just maybe, we can start focusing on something else other than these monstrosities.

I don’t really think I’m ever going to sit through another 3+ hour film in the cinemas. I just find it increasingly hard to justify the time constraint of being forced to sit in a specific place at a specific time in order to see something soon enough such that we’re not exposed to too many spoilers. That’s the only real driver to seeing it near opening day: a fear both of missing out and of having others lord it over you that they saw it first.

Rating:

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

There is something about this image that makes it one of the
greatest images ever taken, but I'm not entirely sure what it is...

dir: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

2019

It was always going to be this great. I don’t know how I knew it, but there was always going to be something glorious about bringing this character to the big screen. She might not be as well-known as many other prominent female superheroes that all seem to be coming to the fore these days, now that Marvel and DC feel like the human cinema-going population of the world is suitably obedient and docile such that female or African-American leads aren’t seen as too much of a financial risk at the box office, but she’s definitely the one that gives the least fucks (being exactly zero, by film’s end), and that’s got to count for something.

Wonder Woman, for all her virtues as a character and as great as the film was, is still a problematic character, to some extent. The truly visionary and strange William Moulton Marston who, along with his wife Elizabeth and their girlfriend (!) Olive created Wonder Woman, very much wanted a character that was immensely strong, immensely powerful, but also an object of masturbatory bondage fetishism at the same time. It’s sort of like the idea that's plagued a lot of movies over the last 100 years that, whether a woman in a role is ‘empowered’ or completely downtrodden, the important thing is whether women wish they looked like her and men jerked off at the Betty Page-like cheesecake imagery.

Well, we’ve come too far for that bullshit now. None of Captain Marvel’s story arc, or representation, or purpose in this film has anything to do with achieving any of her desires while simultaneously conforming to the needs of her passive but needy hierarchy. She doesn’t have anything to prove to us. She is powerful, and she just has to accept it, and do what she needs to do without being hobbled and hampered by the controlling shitbirds in her life.

Like most women. I’m sure many of them can relate, I think, or at least close to 4 billion of them, considering how much this has earned thus far.

In that, this is something unique in terms of these here Marvel flicks, in that while it ties in effectively with the overall superstructure (leading, inevitably, into the position of being an explanation as to how and why she is going to turn up in Avengers: Endgame even though she’s not been mentioned in all of the other 2,021 Marvel movies). I care not about any of that. I love, utterly love Black Panther, and could not care less what eventually comes down the Disney pipe because I really, really enjoyed that film. Captain Marvel, I can honestly say, I loved (despite the 90s setting) regardless of what role she plays in Endgame, because it’s plenty good enough on its own.

Rating:

The Favourite

The Favourite

Come, family, let us bask in the warming glow of our betters,
giving us a myriad of life lessons

dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

2018

Unbelievable. Finally they’ve made a good remake of All About Eve. It’s about bloody time.

The Favourite is one of the most bizarre situations to ever rise to such prominence that it not only earns nominations but actual Academy Awards and such, but, controversially, I’m going to argue the awards went to the wrong persons. Also, that this flick by this lunatic of a director ever could have been nominated for Best Picture (and lose to a manipulative nothing like Green Book) is flat out surreal.

As wonderful as I find Olivia Colman generally and specifically in everything she’s ever done, probably especially Broadchurch and Peep Show, I actually am not sure why you’d give the award to her and not her two co-stars. I can’t see this film working without the strength of the other two performances, being those by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

For this director, in quite a baffling way, this is probably the most conventional flick he’s made so far, the most “normal”. Working backwards, The Killing of a Sacred Deer reformulated ancient Greek tragedy as a bizarre family under threat drama, telling an awful story (‘tis a tragedy after all) with his signature oddness. Before that, known actors in The Lobster delivered the flattest and awkwardest performances of their careers in a movie where single people are transformed into animals if they don’t hook up after a year of singledom. Before that, there was the film about people who, for a fee, pretend to be your recently deceased loves ones to help you through the grieving process, awkwardly and flatly delivered (Alps). And before that (Dogtooth), it was a flick where two parents keep their three adult kids in captivity, spinning a tale about the world outside gone to rack and ruin, even though the world inside is pretty fucking awful and bonkers.

Not a conventional filmmaker. He’s pretty prominent, for a Greek director, but it’s a testament to how successful he is now that he no longer has to or wants to work with Greek actors in the Greek language. I mean, why would you, if you could avoid it?

Lord knows I’m sick of it. Just kidding. Now I’m no scholar of Greek film, but he’s clearly the most prominent director to come out of Greece since maybe Costa-Gavras, whose best work was admittedly decades ago. If that is, in itself, a good thing, then it’s an even better thing that he’s bringing up some other talented Greek actors like Ariane Labed (his wife), directors and film production people, especially Athina Rachel Tsangari (whose films Attenberg and Chevalier were pretty good).

All of that has nothing to do with this. The Favourite is a movie about Queen Anne (Oliva Colman), who reigned between 1702 and 1714. I don’t know anything about what she was actually like as a queen or as a person. The Favourite depicts her as a singularly ineffectual monarch and probably a complete nightmare of a person to hang around. She’s unwell physically, she seems fairly fearful of everything and everyone both inside and outside the palace, and she doesn’t really seem to be relishing the privileges that come with aristocracy.

Rating:

Green Book

Green Book

Green Book Green Book with two Stars. Twinkly Racist Driving Cars.

dir: Peter Farrelly

2018

Yes the fact that this got nominated for things at the thingie ceremony in late Feb / early March is the only reason I saw this. Otherwise I probably would have skipped it, not that I’m against touching stories where a low-rent mob palooka and a prissy African-American pianist reach across the racial divide and make America a better place by doing so.

I would have skipped it because on paper, in ads, conceptually and aesthetically, it did not appeal to me on any level, despite starring two actors that I adore. Viggo Mortensen is a tremendous man and a wonderful actor, and I’ve loved him in almost everything I’ve ever seen him in. And Mahershala Ali has been magnificent on tv, in movies and, like, probably even when he walks down the street or just out the front door to get his newspaper, very convincing, totally believable. Mahershala has charisma and presence to burn 99% of the time, so the stage is set for a feel-good movie you could take your grandmother too, that could just as easily have had Ebony & Ivory playing in it, that would also win heaps of awards from the less than discerning voters of the Academy, thank you, thank you, this is such an honour, I’d like to thank the Academy, and my agent etc etc…

That this is based on a couple of people who existed in human history does not make it a documentary, and a lot of critics point to discrepancies between what Doc Shirley’s surviving family say about their time together, and what Tony Vallelonga’s family say happened, as if either of the two sets of gold-diggers / reality deniers would really know. Even better, several times in the film Tony takes pride in announcing to the world that he’s famous for his well-earned nickname ‘Lip’ because of his propensity and alacrity with bullshitting people at any and all times.

Plus, not to be too rude, but who the fuck is Don Shirley anyway, and why should we care? I mean, he’s no Freddie Mercury / Jackson Maine / Lady Gaga, is he.

So perhaps the most accurate rendering of what this film is about, is that this movie is based on a story Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga told anyone who would listen about the time he drove a famous pianist around. Is that so complicated?

Well, it’s complicated by the time in which this happened, and the myriad of levels that people feel the need to argue and discount people’s stories these days (I guess it was always thus and always thus shall be). Some critics have dismissed the film saying a) it’s all bullshit, b), it’s a white saviour narrative, c) the road trip did happen, but not like this, d) bloody Hollywood pushing its agendas on us.

Rating:

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

You, Really, Here, Never Were, but you could have tried at least

dir: Lynne Ramsay

2017

Such a title sounds like an admonition, a cold observation, a sad reckoning. It sounds like the kind of thing someone would say to an absent parent, especially, but I can imagine a bunch of other situations where someone could say it and mean it, too. You could say to someone “you were never really here”, and it would be an acknowledgement that even if that person was actually, physically there the whole time, their mind, their emotional investment, was somewhere else, focused on something or someone else.

If nothing else it emphasises absence over presence, and we can safely assume it’s not seen as a positive quality.

I cannot say that I entirely know what it means in the mind of the author of the novella that this is based (by Jonathan Ames), or in Lynne Ramsay’s mind, but the main character definitely has a lot on his mind, and if he’s a bit distracted, I can understand why.

Joe, as played by someone who clearly already has mental health issues, being Joaquin Phoenix, has a mass of mental health issues and an array of traumas from which crests a continued existence of remarkable precariousness. That’s a fancy way of saying Joe is so messed up I’m amazed he can get out of bed. Almost every action flick with a jerk at the centre of it has a tragic backstory where someone’s wife died or someone’s kid died, and they have to make up for it by killing a bunch of people in order to save some other woman or child. And then, when that’s done, they can be rewarded either by partnering with the woman, adopting the child, or dying, or all three.

It’s the standard screenwriting playbook, as lazy and as repeated as a Valentine’s Day card’s banal message. Is it really that different in the hands of Joaquin Phoenix and Lynne Ramsay?

Well, do you remember what else Lynne Ramsay’s done? Do you remember watching We Need to Talk About Kevin? If you did watch it, do you remember watching it a second time? Could you ever bring yourself to watch it again?

I think not, but that doesn’t speak as to the quality of the films she makes. They are high quality and like no-one else’s films. Her approach is distinctive and amazing in equal measure (not really, but it seemed like the right thing to say at the time). They are definitely memorable, but the reason you remember them is not because of the dialogue, or the script in general. It’s because of the way she chooses to tell her stories visually, and how unsettling an experience it is to watch them. She finds the most distinctive but sometimes most obtuse ways to get her images and ideas across. And she wants you to remember her images, the same way in which the protagonist here can’t stop thinking about the horror-show going on in his own head.

Joe’s traumas begin early, in childhood, at the hands of an abusive parent, but he has also clearly seen terrible, truly terrible things in a time of war, and as an FBI agent, images that haunt him constantly, and now some of them will probably haunt us too.

Rating:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Six paths, six stories, that all say the same bloody thing

dir: Coens

2018

Usually I’d argue that anthology films are kind of a waste of time and resources unless you’re in the mood for the cinematic equivalent of tapas instead of an actual meal, but, hell, it’s the Coens, it’s on Netflix, and I’d be a fool to not see it, considering the, I dunno, 14 or so truly great films they’ve made so far. It’s a reasonable bet to give them the benefit of the doubt, and it pays off most of the time.

Except when it doesn’t. But this is not one of those times. The fact that these stories are told in short story form, is the perfect delivery device for the overall package, because there’s no real connection between any of the stories, other than that people suck. It’s not the first time the Coens have ventured in the realm of the Western, but it’s the most recent, and probably the funniest. There is a certain mordent grimness as well, which befits the frontier setting, one which maybe implies man’s drive to ‘conquer’ the New World was an inherently deadly business.

Almost all the stories trade in death, in that death is either an element of the story, or the punchline to it, but not always. The last story, as far as I could tell, is entirely about death, with a number of people lead unawares to their final reward on a stagecoach, and yet they also argue about the nature of love, tedium, loneliness, the value of speaking the same language as someone you’ve shacked up with. All while the driver drives on.

The stories are bookended with images from a literal book being leafed through, as if these are all stories from the same book, by the same author, but really it’s mostly the Coens putting together some stories they thought up over the years (one of the stories is from Jack London, probably the best one, but who could tell) and making it look like there’s an overarching theme or connection at work.

There isn’t. Their only point is the same one they borrowed when they made No Country for Old Men, which is that there is no mercy, no divine grace, no power of prayer, no divine intercession on our behalf, and evil easily triumphs over good because it is way meaner and wants the prize more.

Again, except when it doesn’t. There is a wry approach at play here, where luck doesn’t really seem to go anyone’s way for too long, and misunderstandings lead to tragedy, or where venality wins out over virtue, but it’s not meant in a mean way, if that makes any sense, and it probably doesn’t.

The first story, which shares the title of the movie, is about a happy-go-lucky singing cowboy (Tim Blake Nelson) who looks like and sounds like the clear embodiment of all that jerks used to love about cowboy movies. Not only that but, like Deadpool, or any number of other characters who talk directly to the audience, this jerk tells us all about how wonderful he is, through his particular song and dance routine. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s quite handy with a gun.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

So many spiders, not enough giant boots hurtling down on them

dirs: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

2018

Arguing about which of the Spider-Man movies are the ‘best’ is pointless, fruitless, demeaning, creepy and needlessly nerdy. After all, everyone knows Spider-Man 2 was the okayest, if not the best.

So it’s a settled argument. Phew. Now we can go back to arguing whether Nazis are really Nazis anymore or whether people need that much oxygen to breathe and whether Australia Day should be celebrated on April Fool’s Day or not.

And after that’s settled, maybe we get back to the new, real argument, which is: Which is the second-best Spider-Man flick?

Well, that argument has now also been settled with the release of this hilarious and utterly transcendent animated Spider-Man movie that artfully combines so many elements from the long and storied Spider-Man backstory, while also looking forward in gleeful and energetic ways.

Yes, okay, everything is superheroes these days and I’ve pretty much given up arguing against it, so now we’re just looking at the nuances and the ebbs and flows within the broader genre to see where the latest entries stack up. That’s all you can do. Twenty years ago the movies were mostly drama, a lot of action, some comedies and the occasional animated movie. Now it’s 90% superheroes, 5% shit blowing up, 4% people screaming at each other in place of drama and 1% whatever the hell is streaming on Netflix, mostly weak stand-up comedy. And most of that is older comics blaming the world for why we don't think they’re that funny anymore.

There’s something undeniably exuberant about this flick, something which this hero and his extended family is best known for, despite the dark turns the story might take. Visually it’s sublime and nuts, and it’s all in service of the story, insane as the story might be. But whoever Spider-Man is, the hero is always more like an actual person outside of the suit, brilliant but working class, highly functioning but ground down by life.

Miles Morales is a young teenager who really isn’t struggling with that much other than feelings of insecurity and imposter syndrome at the elitist school his hardworking parents have squirreled him into. There he is, existing quietly in his own universe, minding his own business, when he gets bitten by a genetically-engineered radioactive magic spider, don't you know.

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A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born

Let's rub noses together, that's the most rock n' roll thing ever

dir: Bradley Cooper

2018

A Star Is Born is probably the movie I heard random people talk about the most last year, with the possible exception of Bohemian Rhapsody and, in my case, as in, the film I bored people to death talking about, being Black Panther. I know that lots of other films came out, movies even, and a few pictures. But very few of them resonated or seemed to matter that much to the multitudes.

And that’s just, like, my opinion, man. The advantage Rhapsody had was everyone over a certain age at least in the Western world knows all of those songs. Lady Gaga, maybe not as much. But she’s here with her pop vocal stylings and affectless facial expressions, in this most recent telling of the age-old story: previously successful man on the way down boosts the career of an unknown young ingénue, falls in love, is then pushed down the stairs in order to make way for youth. It’s a story as old as time, or at least since 1937, when the first movie version of this came out. There’s also the legendary one from the seventies with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand. Really, it’s a heart-warming tale because it can be told over and over again.

I don’t know why Bradley Cooper decided he had to direct it, but he did, and he managed to do a bang up job. The film is always in focus, there aren’t too many shots of boom mics and not too many people walk into walls or trip over props. Sam Elliot is also in this along with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and I am glad to report his mustache is very big. Phew! No one likes seeing Sam Elliot without his mustache, especially Sam Elliot.

Speaking of Sam Elliot, Bradley Cooper adopts a kind of southern drawl that makes me think not of an actual Southerner, but of Jeff Bridges (though not as The Dude from The Big Lebowski, because that would be way too symmetrical). Though even if Bradley Cooper is incomprehensible much of the time (he also pretends to be drunk most of the story, unless he went Method and actually got drunk all the time in order to really capture the essence of the character), his soulful eyes and the beard do a lot of the acting for him.

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