The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin

Heroes of the People, surely, except when they're killing,
torturing and starving them all. Vodka and circuses for
everyone!

dir: Armando Iannucci

2018

When someone tells you that times have changed and the world we live in is not like the world depicted in this movie, consider the fact that the Russian government threatened and sued cinemas in Russia for playing this goddamn movie, because the Ministry of Culture (as oxymoronic a phrase as has ever existed) felt it insulted the memory of one of history’s greatest monsters, and it might make Russian peoples feel bad about their appalling history.

Is it really a comedy? There are moments of humour in this flick, and it’s referred to as a comedy in every single review, but there really is very little to laugh about. The world it conjures up, of the Soviet Union in the 1950s, is a totalitarian hellscape where virtually everyone lives in terror of being hauled off and killed at a moment’s notice.

Even those close to the Big Man himself, who you’d think would feel a bit more secure, know that at the slightest inclination, for the most ludicrous reason, they or their families could be hauled off and shot, tortured or sent to Siberia for having incurred the displeasure of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). His ‘friends’, the other members of the Select Committee, have to monitor every single thing they say on the off chance that they refer to something or someone out of favour, or that they don’t bray loud enough like the donkeys they are at his jokes, that they could be doomed. It’s a bit of a toxic work environment, to put it in today’s terms.

I have had managers like that in the past. Capricious, aggressive, needy, completely lacking in empathy, willing to destroy everything just to get their way or prove a point. The major difference is, in my case the people in power didn’t condemn literally millions to death and torment just for a laugh or a lack thereof.

The basic premise that the film has to establish is not the period piece specifics, of aesthetics and such; it’s the horrifying and anti-human atmosphere of a hellish totalitarian state. However the flick is described, as satirical, as whatever else, it does not make light of the fact that most of the men shown here were monsters of the highest order, of the greatest magnitude, some of the worst that humanity had ever seen at the time. It’s hard, at many times, to see what humour there is in such horror.

Rating:

Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War

Purple Rain, Purple Rain, Only wanna see you, dissolving in
the purple rain

dir: Russo Brothers

2018

What the hell?

Marvel is becoming that particular kind of arrogant boyfriend / girlfriend that takes you for granted so much that they feel like they can basically do anything to you and you’d put up with it forever. Infinitely. So confident are they that we’ll put up with anything, that you’ll eternally keep coming back for more they’re like a character from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, who is so sure of herself and her hold over her partner that she often walks away from the bedroom in the middle of sex after bringing them close to the ‘edge’, so to speak, but deciding to torture them by walking away with the job unfinished.

It’s a strained analogy, I’m the first to admit, but I am not sure this flick exists as a flick that makes any sense on its own, unlike the other 18 Marvel flicks which all have discrete beginnings and ends while teasing what’s going to come next. This just exists as whatever it is, but will completely not make sense BECAUSE of what will come next.

Again that’s not going to make sense. In a lot of ways I wish Marvel was even more arrogant and disinterested in anything other than making a point, and decided that this was going to be the last Marvel movie. It’s an impossibility, really, because the amount of money these movies have made is staggering. Put real simply they’ve spent 3 billion dollars over 10 years to make 15 billion dollars. That’s a ROI (Return on Investment) of 400%. Drug cartels don’t make that kind of money.

So obviously there are going to be an infinite amount of Marvel flicks, but eventually won’t we get sick of being brought to the edge and have it fade out to nothing every fucking time? Isn’t this becoming a masochistic exercise in frustrating futility?

Rating:

Annihilation

Annihilation

I'm trying to imagine what the opposite of Annihilation is and I can't.
Is it a Jennifer Aniston / Jason Bateman movie?

dir: Alex Garland

2018

Damn. Now that was an unsettling experience.

Annihilation was not what I was expecting, and I’d already read a bunch of reviews referencing Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, all of which I’ve seen / endured / survived. Mostly, Solaris, one of the most sleep inducing movies ever made, and Stalker, the other most sleep inducing movie ever made, are referenced. Everything’s always just a collection of references, naturally, but these are two very specific, very necessary ones.

Rest assured, Annihilation is nowhere near as boring as any of those movies mentioned. It has too much forward momentum, too many evil crazy bears and alligators, and people confronting the unknown and being painfully fucked by the unknown to have too much in common with the films of the Russian master.

Annihilation, though, is not a cheap and easy flick cobbled together from the remnants of a thousand other sci-fi flicks. It is, like many of the other flicks Alex Garland has been associated with, a fairly unique experience. Yes, there are antecedents, but it stands alone, and mostly unloved, but it deserves at least a certain amount of respect.

He used to just write the screenplays before, but then he must have thought “fuck it, I can do at least as good a job as the shmucks directing my work” and for once he seems to be right. Virtually everyone who saw Ex Machina thought it was pretty good, if not great, and on the back of that somehow somewhy Netflix coughed up a bunch of money to buy the flick after Paramount lost faith with the end product. Some people saw it in cinemas, but really, Netflix is the perfect venue for this. It’s visually strong but it’s not something that has to be seen on the big screen. Its virtues aren’t purely visual, they’re more conceptual, and that’s fine for the home theatre.

It’s an odd flick, that’s for sure. It doesn’t fit completely in either the science fiction genre or the horror genre, nor is it really an amalgam of the two. It does have a predominately female cast, but that doesn’t really change the nature of the flick even if it changes its tenor, its tone.

Rating:

Blade Runner 2049

2049

This was the best poster I could find for it, and
they still missed the point. Unless they wanted to
trick those pesky Ghost In The Shell fans into watching it

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2017

It’s amazing that they tried to do this.

I’m glad that they did it, in some ways. Yes, the original is a bona fide 80s sci-fi classic. On the other hand, there’s not really a sense that some mercenary jerks got together and thought “Hey, we need to make oodles more money from exploiting a franchise famous for being a box office failure but a critical darling, because that’ll definitely work”.

Or maybe they were that delusional. It happens. They made a Baywatch movie, after all.

Instead of going down the commercial route, they seem to have made a very expensive film, and spent a fortune advertising it (I assume it’s a fortune if I see posters advertising it at the tram and bus stops in my neighbourhood), completely at odds with what was likely to happen with audiences.

So, just to leap ahead to the end result: Blade Runner 2049 lost way more money and connected with far fewer people than the original did. Maybe that was all part of the plan?

Which is a shame, because in a lot of ways it’s a better film, and is quite compelling, even if it is the continuation of a story that no-one really asked for. Also, it has as its centre an actor who seems content to be a void more than a presence, which is his prerogative, I guess. Say what you will about Harrison Ford, but whatever role he’s in or however good or back the flick is that he’s in, he is very much present. He very much fills a role with his presence.

Not so much Ryan Gosling, who has raised impassivity to an art form. It might sound like I’m criticising him for his performance here, but I’m really not, because I don’t doubt that he probably did exactly what the director wanted for this role. You needed a blue-eyed robot for a role; you got the most blue-eyed robot of them all.

Rating:

Mute

Mute

See, it's a giant neon mouth, and he can't talk. Makes you
think, huh.

dir: Duncan Jones

2018

I can’t… It’s not…

I’m trying to find nice things to say about Mute, and I can’t. I really wanted to like it, I was excited when I heard Duncan Jones had a flick coming out, and when I heard the premise for this, but, having endured this weird smorgasbord of shiteness, which just kept going on and on far longer than it deserved to, I actually come away from the experience feeling cheated and disgruntled.

It’s not like I paid to watch it, well, not like I paid extra beyond my monthly Netflix subscription. This falls under the somewhat interesting banner of movies actually “made” by Netflix, not just a movie that Netflix overpaid for first screening rights. Of the three “Netflix Exclusives!!!” that I recall seeing over the last year, this is by far – BY FAR – the worst.

The problem here, just to be a glib smartarse, is that it is terrible, which is a shame, because the central performance, despite being ill-conceived, is actually all right. Good, yet baffling.

Alexander Skarsgaad has nothing to be ashamed about here. He is, in fact, practically the only good thing in the whole grating experience. And that isn’t enough, I’m sad to say, because the other stuff is so fucking awful.

For the longest time it’s been like I’ve been reluctant to ever really give a flick a critical bollocking, or that when I watch something truly terrible I don’t even bother reviewing it because it’s like rubbing salt into my own wounds getting me to waste even more of my precious time. But some movies stand out in their singular awfulness, and need time and attention paid to them in order to try to stop them happening again.

Rating:

Black Panther

Black Panther

I like that Martin goddamn Freeman is one of the token
white guys in this. Represent!

dir: Ryan Coogler

2018

That was incredible.

The Marvel movies have been a long and torturous rollercoaster ride for so long, but finally it’s delivered a strong film that could work almost perfectly fine outside of the Marvel milieu. I almost wish it didn’t have to dovetail into the broader franchise, because it’s something so special on its own.

Another thing – I will not miss Stan Lee’s cameos when he inevitably dies soon. I mean he’s in his 90s already, and that hairpiece seems like it’s starting to take over his entire head, and I don’t wish anyone ill, least of all a carnival barker of his longevity and shamelessness, but, honestly, come on.

There’s something so enjoyable about the creation of Wakanda. It’s not unique or original in the field of science fiction or comic books, but the very idea of a place hidden in plain sight in the middle of Africa that escapes the historical deprivations of slaughter, slavery and resource theft (and their contemporary repercussions) is appealing for a whole number of reasons. The absolute *greatest* thing about it is what they *don’t* do with it.

I am absolutely positive that there would have been some Marvel exec trying to argue that the “best” way to tell this story would “well, actually” be from the perspective of a white guy who stumbles across this technological Shangri-La – Xanadu – Brigadoon – or whatever the hell the magical Kathmandu place was called in Doctor Strange. Then the guy, treated with suspicion at first by the locals, eventually saves them and is treated like a god.

We’ve seen it many times before. Thank Christ – Loki – Satan that they didn’t go down this path. No, Wakanda is the point of the whole movie, both its isolation and the role it could potentially play in the world (like, the whole fictional Marvel world), for good or ill.

With no disrespect at all to Chadwick Boseman, who’s great here just as he was in Captain America: Civil War, it’s almost like this flick called Black Panther doesn’t really need the Black Panther in it that much. There is so much going on, and so many other interesting characters, that the Black Panther itself only becomes a symbol of what Wakanda should do with its place in the world.

Rating:

The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi

Love the posters. Don't really know what film they're from

dir: Rian Johnson

2017

So, yeah, I didn’t care for it.

Not my cup of tea.

Maybe I’m just burned out on the whole Star Wars saga. It’s possible. I’ve consumed more of it on a daily basis than any doctor outside of George Lucas’s doctor would ever recommend without receiving corrupt money directly from Disney.

But something, or rather many somethings, just didn’t feel right about this movie.

I don’t get where it’s coming from. I don’t really get why the characters do most of the dumb things they do, and where the actions aren’t dumb and maybe seem kinda cool it doesn’t feel like it belongs in a Star Wars flick, or this flick specifically.

It seems more like it belongs in a Rian Johnson flick. Sure, I know he’s the director, and had he not been able to superimpose his stamp over such an entrenched property like Star Wars, it would have just seemed like generic work-for-hire stuff that anyone could have produced (anyone other than Lucas). But there’s a sometimes distracting cleverness to Rian Johnson’s stuff, as seen in his flicks like Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper and in several Breaking Bad episodes that he had a hand in.

The best example of what I’m talking about – distracting smartarsedness – is not even from Last Jedi. It’s from Brick. Bear with me, I swear it (might) make sense in the long run.

Rating:

Baby Driver

Baby Driver

The hum in the drum that never quits

dir: Edgar Wright

2017

People have, perversely, been waiting for the rest of the world to appreciate how keen and clever a director Edgar Wright truly is, graduating from ‘little’ but adored ‘cult’ type movies to something ‘worthy’ of his talents. Or at least you’d think that’s the case, based on the almost palpable relief critics and reviews expressed at how much they enjoyed Baby Driver and how glad they are that it was as successful as it’s been.

But really, do we want Edgar saddled with multiple hundred million dollar budgets and making pablum for Disney? I mean, I understand that Disney is going to own everything eventually, and what isn’t owned by Disney is going to be owned by Google, Facebook, Apple and Netflix, including our very souls, but isn’t this the unity – hive mind – singularity that science fiction has been warning us against since Invasion of the Body Snatchers?

I’d rather that Edgar, who sounds like a thoroughly wonderful film fanatic and all round wonderful human being on the podcast circuit, was kept to small budgets and relative obscurity, just so he can be kept making small but keen flicks that I adore the heck out of.

Well, I’ll be honest, I don’t love all his flicks with the same intensity. Sometimes, just like with Wes Anderson, who is the reigning king of fussiness and anal retentive composition, that fussiness, that overloading of scenes or soundtracks puts me off horribly. I don’t know if Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is as horrible as I suspect it is, or if it’s only because of Michael Cera being so annoying, or whether it’s Edgar’s fault, but whatever I feel about Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz or The World’s End, I definitely don’t feel the same for that film previously mentioned that I don’t want to mention again.

This, Baby Driver, seems like it’s a departure from all that, but it isn’t, really. It’s the pinnacle, the apotheosis of all the traits that Edgar (yes, I’m going to chat about him like we’re on a first-name basis) has displayed before. If anything, this flick’s success is only going to encourage him because he’s been so roundly rewarded for his two most distinctive traits: cinephilia and over-egging the pudding.

Rating:

Get Out

Get Out

Don't shoot until you see the whites *in* their eyes

dir: Jordan Peele

2017

This has been a long time coming.

In 1983 (I first watched it in 1984 at age 12, probably way too young) Eddie Murphy was known not as the guy starring in movies as most of the characters wearing fat suits and farting all the time, but as probably the biggest stand up comedian in the world. And, this in itself is pretty amazing, he was 22 at the time when Delirious was recorded.

Some of the material is ageless, some of it has aged horribly (especially to do with LGBTIQ issues and terrible AIDS jokes), but generally it holds up. What is it about African-American comedians and terrible jokes about gay, lesbian and trans people, amiright? Wait, don’t walk away, I’m sorry about the racist generalisations, sorry!

Setting all of that aside, I remember very clearly that towards the end of the concert movie, Murphy points out one of the many differences between “white” people and “black” people, at least as it relates to horror movies. In horror movies, a white family moves into a haunted house ignoring all the obvious signs that something terrible is going to happen, because, I dunno, gentrification or something.

Murphy’s counterpoint was, and the punchline / capper to his whole show, was that a black family that walked into a beautiful house, listed all the great attributes of the place and the neighbourhood, but heard a ghostly voice clearly say “Get Out!” would instantly say “Too bad we can’t stay” and immediately get the fuck out of there.

Thank you and good night! I’m here all week, try the veal etc etc. Look, I can’t argue that it’s still as funny, or that it’s funny out of context, but since it’s stayed with me all these years, it clearly made an impression upon me. The moment I heard there was a film made by African-American comedian and that it was called Get Out, the first thing I thought of was the classic Eddie Murphy joke.

So too, since there was a racial edge to that previous joke, did I assume that it would be a horror flick that had something to say about White America versus Black America, and, good goddamn, was that accurate.

Get Out doesn’t have a set up whereby blacks are forced back into slavery, or are hunted down by the Klan or the Secret Service or anything. It’s at the same time a more insidious and more horrifying / daft proposal. The racism isn’t the worst element, but it’s the enabling element that lets the rest of the story cascade along.

A guy goes to his girlfriend’s parent’s place in order to meet them for the first time. It’s the perfect set up for a Look Who’s Coming to Dinner type of scenario, but the girl reassures her boyfriend that her affluent, professional, liberal parents will love him too. Just like in Look Who’s Coming to Dinner.

He, being Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) thinks this is a disaster in the making. She, being Rose (Allison Williams, playing a slightly less horrible version of her Marnie character on Girls), hasn’t warned her parents that she’s dating an African-American chap. Chris might be expecting some hostility, some tension. This is a nation that elected a white supremacist president just after the first African-American president for revenge, after all.

Rating:

Nocturama

Nocturama

I have to admit, that's a pretty great film poster, maybe
better than the film itself(?)

dir: Bertrand Bonello

2016

Every now and then even people, like me, who’ve seen millions of films, will watch a film and say to themselves, or someone nearby, “I have no fucking idea what that was about.”

Sometimes having an experience like that fills me with great anger, and furious vengeance, like when I watched Upstream Color and hated it so much I recently watched it with my daughter just so she could know just how terrible and pretentious a ‘grown-ups’ film could be. More recently, when a flick garners some critical praise and I endeavour to seek it out, when I have an experience like the one I had last night watching this French flick, I just shrug my shoulders and think, “well, maybe it makes more sense to French people” and then go on with the rest of my life.

I can’t claim to understand what the point of Nocturama is or was, but I’m comfortable with that. It doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. As long as the director got something out of it, and the kids in the flick are happy with their work, then who the fuck am I to complain about it?

It would seem that this flick is about terrorism, or at least the main characters commit some acts of terrorism in the heart of Paris, but giving it political significance like that might be foolhardy. This flick was apparently made well before the massacre at the Bataclan where Eagles of Death Metal were meant to be playing, or the Bastille Day atrocity in Nice, or the myriad other instances of so many human lives being wasted for the dumbest reasons possible. The kids here don’t seem to be doing it for anything like the same reasons ie. fundamentalist hatred, loneliness, not getting the biggest slice of cake at that 8th birthday party.

If the ‘kids’ here have a leader, he is the straight-laced and dorky looking son of some mainstream French politician. He seems to be inspired by something, by some desire to make a statement, and has recruited a large group of perhaps similarly disaffected kids to his cause, who each might have their own reasons for getting involved. A number of them are perhaps from the kinds of backgrounds that Marine Le Pen and the rest of the National Front would want to boot out of the country or kill or both, but they don’t seem (I have no idea, really), seem to be doing what they’re doing for ideological reasons, or nationalistic reasons.

Rating:

John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick Chapter 2

I really don't like their chances. Don't they know he kills everybody?

dir: Chad Stahelski

2017

When you ask yourself, really ask yourself, what is best in life, as in, what are the elements possible in life that give you the most meaning, or pleasure, what do you come up with?

There are the simple and cliché pleasures, of love, of family, of sex, that are no less pleasurable just because they’re universal, but there’s art, there’s exercise, there’s food, there’s booze, there’s a bunch of other stuff, elements as many and varied as there are people in the world.

When you ask yourself about those pleasures, does one of them end up being the distinct and exquisite pleasure of watching Keanu Reeves kill hundreds of people? Does that bring warmth, blood flow or wetness to the various bits of one’s psyche / body like any of those fundamental pleasures discussed earlier?

Because this film, and its predecessor, which wasn’t called Chapter 1 as far as I know, is really only about watching Keanu kill lots and lots and lots of people. If he killed a lot of people in the first one, he kills probably five times as many in this one.

If one isn’t thrilled by the prospect of watching a weirdly bearded Keanu kill boatloads of people, well, you’re not going to get much else out of this flick or this franchise. You’ve entered the wrong cinema / popped on the wrong Blu-Ray, or started streaming the very wrongest of titles. Best be putting on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel instead.

Rating:

Alien Covenant

Alien Covenant

Damn, that does not look like a fun Saturday night out

dir: Ridley Scott

2017

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. What is Ridley Scott on?

What’s his major malfunction? Why is this the story he needs to tell? He could be doing anything instead of this. Literally anything else. He could be making The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel or an adaptation of Adaptation or a new version of Birth of a Nation, but instead he makes this?

Continuing the pointlessness that started with Prometheus, which I initially thought was pretty shit but now looks better compared to this flick (not by much), Ridley Scott continues in his strange crusade to fill out the gaps no-one knew existed or even cared about regarding the origins of the terrifying creatures usually referred to as xenomorphs, made popular by the creepy HR Giger design.

It started with Alien. Reached its apotheosis with Aliens. Wasted our time with Alien 3. Confused the universe with Alien: Resurrection. Delighted no-one with Alien Vs Predator. Angered everyone who watched Alien vs Predator: Requiem.

Then we got some horribly pointless backstory with Prometheus, that showed some bald species of albinos seeding a planet that was probably Earth with, I dunno, their DNA or something, for the purposes of… something. Humans and an android stumble across something ages later, and it’s meant to mean that an alien species they refer to as the Engineers probably had something to do with life starting on Earth, on other planets, and they probably created the xenomorphs (vicious reptilian acid-blooded chomping legends) too.

Well, whatever it was that happened in that previous flick, and whatever the reason was that Scott demanded that story be told, here he is elaborating upon it, like a drunk sitting next to you on a plane telling you some well-polished anecdote from their past that they’ve forgotten why they started telling you, and you never started caring and just keep hoping that the plane will crash so that you don’t have to listen to it any longer.

Rating:

Okja

Okja

Being tasty appears to be very bad for your health.
Smoking's cool, though.

dir: Bong Joon-ho

2017

Sublime. Silly. Surreal.

That’s my all encompassing take on Korean cinema in general and the films of Bong Joon-ho in particular. Like all generalisations, it ignores a lot of nuances and detail to say something so simplistic and reductive, but, hey, at least I just made a generalisation about generalisations.

I would not be exaggerating to say that Okja is the strange reason I started subscribing to Netflix. Having had the ‘flix for the last month or so, and this isn’t a thinly veiled ad for the service, I can honestly say, what the fuck was I waiting for? Not to blow too much smoke up their collective arses, but it is incredible how much stuff I’ve gotten to watch through subscribing to this service. How did I live before…?

And why was it Okja that broke the seal on my intransigence? I dunno, but for some reason I was enthralled by its existence, and I couldn’t think of any other way to watch it when I wanted to watch, which was the day of its release, soon after its premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it received… tepid to okay reviews. The main point of contention at the time, if I recall (it’s not like I was there, it’s just what I read), that many of the people at the screenings objected to something being promoted at Cannes that wasn’t really intended for cinemas, despite the much bigger budget that Bong had access to, which was probably bigger than all the other film budgets he’s ever had combined.

I don’t know how to feel about that. It’s seems a bit Luddite, a bit petty, and a bit wilfully ignorant of the changes in the media landscape to boo a film before it’s even screened with a nasally French accent to the booing, no less. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in this life that denying something is happening doesn’t actually make that thing not happen. If it did, I can assure you, a lot of stuff that happened this year never would have troubled us, because they would have been willed out of existence.

Rating:

A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom

What are we looking at again? Is it that thing over there, no wait, ah,
now I see it

dir: Amma Asante

2016

Ah, I love a good pun title. No, actually, I tell a lie. I fucking hate puns.

It’s an amusing perhaps pun, at least, or it’s not even a pun, and is more of an ironic title. The Kingdom referred to in the title isn’t necessarily the United Kingdom as it is known (that dwindling empire of yesteryear, that dwindles ever more with each passing year that the Tories are in charge), but another place divided by strife in Africa that the helpful Brits generously decided to help out of the goodness of their hearts.

That kingdom , that used to be called Bechuanaland, had itself, after World War II, a very merry yet precarious existence. Its status as an independent kingdom was guaranteed by Queen Victoria somehow (meaning it was essentially a vassal state), however changes are afoot, apparently. At least at the time that the flick begins. An uncle, serving as regent ruler, lives in some hut somewhere, and sends the heir to the throne, Seretse (the amazing David Oyelowo), a letter telling him it’s time to come home from Oxford to assume the mantle of kingship, time to rule his people like he was always meant to.

Seretse is, somehow, in 1940s Britain, studying law and getting along just fine down the local pub with his mates. He meets, through a church group, a lovely young Brit called Ruth (Rosamund Pike). They fall in love, have some babies, and lived happily ever after.

Rating:

Kong: Skull Island

Kong

Maybe if they just shoot at him a few more hundred times,
that'll work

dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

2017

Good Lord is this a dumb movie. But, in the time-old math of cinema, dumb does not necessarily ≠ fun. Dumb can be way fun, as long as the fun isn’t overwhelmed by the dumb.

You need a decent balance, and I’m really not sure that Kong: Skull Island bothers to get that balance right. Of course, had I watched this drunk, plenty of the dumbest aspects of the story wouldn’t have leapt out at my eyes and brain like one of the Lost World creatures from this flick.

Yes, it’s a King Kong flick about King Kong. But it’s not really. It’s an excuse to make a Viet Nam war movie without having to actually get into the messiness of the Viet Nam war and what both sides of that stupid conflict inflicted onto millions of people.

What you do is get a guy, somehow a senior Army colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) freshly stung from losing the war (he’ll tell you, like he tells a photographer, that they didn’t lose the war; they just abandoned it instead, like they lost interest in it and it wasn’t worth their time anymore) against the North Vietnamese, the Viet Cong, and pit him against an unstoppable force of nature called Kong. Get it? Kong and Cong? It’s the same thing, in case you didn’t notice. Why didn't you notice, huh?

Rating:

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Guardians 2

I wouldn't let them guard a sandwich let alone a whole galaxy

dir: James Gunn

2017

Meh. I’m left feeling pretty meh after watching that. That it was an experience of sorts is undeniable. What I can’t really grasp yet is what kind of experience it was.

It didn’t really feel like a movie, let alone a Marvel movie. In a lot of scenes I felt like I was watching people rehearsing scenes from a bunch of different plays, and really so much of it doesn’t really hang together. Maybe it was like one of those interactive rides at a theme park where it’s really not that interactive and it’s over awfully quickly, and at best you remember that you had an experience without remembering what the experience was.

Unless it happened at Dreamworld, in which case you’re lucky to still be alive after the ride. Damn that place is a Deathtrap on the Gold Coast™.

And while I’m the first to admit that I had, shall we say, ambiguous feelings about the flick up to this specific point, if I thought the flick was lame / unsatisfying before the “father and son bond over playing catch” scene, afterwards, when the cold sweat of embarrassment faded, my feelings about it were no longer ambiguous, I can tell you that much.

No. In fact, I thought for a while that this could be the lamest / dumbest thing I’d seen in a while, but then there were little bits and pieces that made me not loathe it as much.

Rating:

Paterson

Paterson

No, this is nothing like any season of Girls, don't be too disappointed

dir: Jim Jarmusch

2016

A movie from one of my favourite directors. Being a godless heathen, my Christmas happens every time a film from one of my favourite directors comes out. This is the reason; their films are gifts to the world, maybe, but mostly to me. Sometimes, I know how weird this sounds, they even seem specifically made for me.

Of course, sometimes, for Christmas, or Hanukah, or for your birthday, sometimes you get socks, a voucher to a naturopath clinic or a punch in the goolies (depends on the family, naturally).

Paterson is like almost every other Jarmusch film, with his own sense of time, with all his obsessions / interests up on the screen, and yet it also takes the time to (perhaps) advocate for the idea that anyone, including the viewer, can find an outlet for their own creativity, and that regardless of what they do for their daily bread, their efforts are just as worthy as those of any of the artists they might idolise.

Rating:

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

Maybe they'll hook up, get married, have a baby, call him Nate, if he's a boy

dir: Kenneth Lonergan

2016

Well, that was exhausting. Manchester by the Sea is a long arse movie, but even its length doesn’t matter as much as its content. And what miserable content it is.

Casey Affleck, the shorter Affleck, the younger Affleck, won an Academy Award for this role. I’m not going to argue that it is ill-deserved, or should have gone to anyone else, because that’s pointless. It doesn’t matter anyway. But to get this most “highest” of honours for this role seems…surprising.

I think it’s surprising because the character is so much like the walking dead from that show whose title escapes me at the moment, except he doesn’t want fresh brains or anything else to eat. He, being Lee, is dead inside. He goes through the motions of his work, which requires talking to people, but he hates talking to people. It seems to cause him physical discomfort.

This isn’t the latest in a long line of autism-spectrum dramas trying to illuminate aspects of the human experience through portraying the way some people are completely anti-social but good at math or shooting people or something like that. Lee’s not on the spectrum, he’s just dead inside from grief.

It takes a while to find out what happened, but the more pressing factor, at least from Lee’s perspective, is that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has just died, which forces Lee to drive to a place, the place of the title, that he can’t stand to be in.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts

Don't come around here no more, Newt Scamander, your kind ain't welcome

dir: David Yates

2016

Oh, pointlessness, thy name is an ersatz Harry Potter movie without Harry Potter or any of his cronies. Is Warner Brothers so desperate for money that they have to keep plundering a cupboard laid bare, such that anything with JK Rowling’s name on it can still make them drool Pavlov’s dog style?

Whilst I abhor endless franchises that never seem to end that aren’t called Star Wars or Star Trek or Marvel's or - wait a second I guess I don’t abhor them - one could say that the natural place to let the Harry Potter phenomenon die off was at the end of The Deathly Hallows Part II. A natural end. The perfect place to let it gently fade into the background of the pop cultural ether.

But money needs more money. It gets lonely. It needs new friends, always. It is a gold plated diamond encrusted guarantee that more will come, because Pottermania cannot be allowed to die.

As such I think that this will be the first in probably a new unkillable series, which will function as a prequel to the Potter movies / books, that will be overflowing with not so sly references and Easter eggs for the devoted masses. For me, honestly, I really don’t care. I’ve never read the books and my ten-year-old daughter refuses to even vaguely entertain the prospect of ever reading the books together or watching the flicks.

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Moonlight

Moonlight

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale... good gods what is that?

dir: Barry Jenkins

2016

What a way to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Long after people have forgotten what the flick was about they’ll remember, just like those jokes about Marisa Tomei winning for My Cousin Vinny way back in the day, people will be joking about how it was announced by Bonnie and Clyde, in their final act of defiance, that La La Land had won, when in fact Moonlight was the actual winner.

And it made for quite an awkward speech to cap the night off, from both the people who thought they’d won, and the ones who actually won.

Who cares anyway – the Oscars are meaningless, really, the actual awards don’t mean anything other than marketing.

And yet, it is fucking bizarre that this flick won Best Picture. I have to believe that however the votes from the Academy members were tabulated, I can’t believe that thousands of old white people watched this and thought it was the best flick of the year.

I say this as someone who watched it and liked it, and who thinks it’s absurd that a flick like this can even be compared with something like La La Land. It’s like comparing lasagne to clouds, or frogs to espadrilles.

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Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell

They really did think they were going to get sweaty nerds in a lather with this flick

dir: Rupert Sanders

2017

Well. That was something.

Yes, this is the part where I talk about something other than the film I’m pretending to review. I have seen the Japanese animated movie at least a thousand times, and I had the soundtrack, or at least songs from it on various music-playing devices for ages and heard those crazy Japanese wailing banshee songs at least 10,000 times. The (original) movie is in my DNA. Hearing that they were going to make a new version of it, I thought, rightly “so what?”

My relationship with the original, whatever it might be, can’t really be changed or tainted or in any way damaged or even really improved by something that comes out twenty years later, can it? Is this like what happened with the Indiana Jones flicks, where the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls made me hate myself for liking the first three movies, and childhoods were destroyed etc etc?

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Logan

Logan

Run, Logan, Run. I think you're taking this over-parenting stuff a bit far

dir: James Mangold

2017

Goddamn that was a violent film. And not in a jokey-comedic-comic-book way. This is violent in a gruesome ‘grown-up’ way, in order to disabuse us of any notion that this flick about Wolverine is going to be like any of the other multitude of X-Men or Marvel movies birthed and disgorged upon this unsuspecting but entirely too willing world.

And, with that as their objective, they totally succeeded. This is so grimly violent, with such consequences for the main characters, that there’s no walking away from this with a giggle and a shrug.

The thing is, though, while it might be ‘different’ from other comic book based flicks, it’s pretty much a standard action flick, just with no editing tricks to mask the violence. There might be reviews that make profound statements like “Logan deconstructs the action / superhero film like no other” or that it’s a meditation on mortality or whatever, but I am here to reassure you that this is pretty much like every action flick ever made, just with more people using adamantium claws to kill a shitload of people instead of guns.

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The Love Witch

The Love Witch

Sure, there's a lot of red in the flick, but, yeah, better Dead than Red

dir: Anna Biller

2016

What… what in the name of unholy fuck was that about?

I did read some very positive reviews of this flick late last year, very keen appraisals that argue passionately and persuasively about the merits of The Love Witch. This even made some people’s Best Of lists at the tail end of 2016. I even got to read a glowing review in The Age, the local paper of record, which made me think “Hmm, sounds great, must check it out”.

And now? Now I feel this dull rage, like I got ripped off by someone who wasn’t even running that good a scam on me, yet I got played anyway and I lost my watch, my wallet and my glass eye in the deal…

Of course you can’t rely on other people’s opinions in order to form your own opinions about anything: yes, People are People and have Different Experiences and Such when they See the World in All its Glory. I know all that: I’ve seen identical twins watch the same movie and violently disagree over their different takes on it while walking out of the theatre, which even might have resulted in a punch up, no shit.

At the very least what I can say is that the merits a fair few reviewers and / or film critics saw in this film are completely lost on me, even as I can nod my head and comprehend some of the themes and points the film seems to be making. Where I say “seems” I could just readily admit that I have no freaking idea.

Rating:

Lion

Lion

You could almost think this was a love story from the poster

dir: Garth Davis

2016

This is perhaps not a wonderful film. The fact that it is based on a true story perhaps means it deserves slack being cut its way. That being said, it is a very emotional flick to watch. What matters is whether it earns the emotions it insists, almost at gunpoint, that the audience feel.

And I felt them, oh gods in heaven did I feel them. Parts of this flick are deeply disturbing, and parts are wrenching. But what does it add up to?

It is such a compelling story, at least some aspects of it. The first section of the film, and the section that I daresay most people will think draws you in the most, shows two boys, at some time in the 80s trying to steal coal from a moving train. Now, I don’t support this kind of criminal behaviour, mostly because brown coal is, like, the total worst for the environment, but when we see why they steal the goddamn coal (to exchange it for two small bags of milk), you realise that these kids aren’t exactly criminal masterminds.

No, they ain’t slinging crack or shooting byatches upside their dome pieces for mad money – they’re two poor kids who lament how hard their labourer mother (Priyanka Bose) works, and they try to ease her burdens. For a bit of milk.

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La La Land

La La Land

I prefer this poster because it makes it look like a completely different
flick from the one it actually is. This ain't no Goddard flick, though maybe
it's a remake of Breathless and no-one told me.

dir: Damien Chazelle

2016

It’s like… don’t they realise how out of place something like this is right now, in this day and age?

Don’t the makers and stars of La La Land realise that the place society seems to be leaning towards is more Fear the Walking Dead rather than Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Singing in the Rain?

They couldn’t have known, I guess, when they were making it that it would look like some anachronistic relic, like something completely at odds with the zeitgeist it would be released into. This flick says nothing about our anxieties, our fears, however concrete or abstract as they may be, but it does speak sweetly to our hopes and dreams.

Turns out, as long as we try our darnedest at whatever the hell it is we most want in the world and don’t give up, and we look like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, then eventually we’ll get exactly what we want, because this is a universe that rewards people’s most heartfelt desires and their specific attractiveness, instead of a realm that crushes everything in the vast uncaring coldness of oblivion.

This is exactly the kind of cynicism that a film like La La Land is trying to transcend, and why the hell not? These dark times we live in need some spark of light, some reminders that eventually, maybe, things will be a tad brighter? Or that maybe the staggering darkness isn’t as all pervasive as it seems?

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Moana

Moana

Ohhhhhhh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, Dwayne The Rock Johnson!
Absorbent and yellow and porous is he? Dwayne The Rock Johnson!

dir: Ron Clements and John Musker

2016

Another year, another Disney princess movie, another attempt from Disney to wring another billion or two out of the world through ticket sales and cross-promotional opportunities.

And this year’s princess is dark skinned! Hooray for diversity and equality and the melting pot and all that.
The fact that it’s “just” another princess flick is mocked within the flick itself, when the only other character chastises Moana by pointing out that she’s a girl, with an amusing sidekick, on some kind of journey (unspoken: that this is occurring in a Disney flick), so she’s a princess.

So, with that out of the way, are we meant to get over the fact that it’s another goddamn princess flick from the mega-entertainment Leviathan that is the Disney dream factory, and just sing along with all the songs?
Yes, yes we are.

I am cynical enough to see the naked self-aggrandising in something made so shamelessly with input from teams of marketers and sensitivity-focused PR flacks. I am not so cynical as to be incapable of enjoying it anyway. I don’t care about the ethnicity of the people doing to voices, I just care if what those voices are saying, singing or muttering is funny / entertaining / diverting / awful or whatevs.

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Arrival

Arrival

With hope and patience and open hearts, no matter the colour of blood they
might pump, perhaps we can figure this puzzle of our existence out.

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2016

There aren’t many science fiction films that leave me crying or thoughtful as I sit blubbing through the credits. The reason is this – most science fiction flicks aren’t really science fiction flicks. They’re action flicks with science fiction set dressing and costuming.

Arrival is definitely not an action flick masquerading as a science fiction flick. It is certainly about a first contact scenario with what we would call actual alien aliens, who appear on Earth without even the courtesy of an advance email or nothin’.

They just appear, and they don’t even seem to want anything. They don’t want our resources, or our women, or anything. They just sit there, in their ships, waiting.

This is enough to make the leaders of several countries think “We should be blowing the ever-living fuck out of them, because their very presence makes us uncomfortable”.

It’s frustrating to see, but when I look at the world we currently live in, it doesn’t seem that far fetched. When some ‘just listening to right-wing extremists on the internet’ Marines think, for no sensible reason “well, let’s just blow them up!”, it seems discordant, and arbitrary, but again, I look at Trump’s America, and I don’t think the naughty soldiers would have even been able to wait as long as they did.

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Rogue One

Rogue One

I don't know why, but seeing the addendum "a Star Wars story" makes
me want to claw my eyes out for some reason.

dir: Gareth Edwards

2017

Yeah, so, Star Wars movies: for or against?

They always make a billion dollars, they’re as familiar as cheesecake with a similar level of consistency and taste, and they’re completely and utterly unnecessary.

And yet…

I ask myself what need there is (other than the financial) in this world for more Star Wars movies, especially since there seems to be no intention or interest in telling any ‘new’ stories, just in telling the previous ones again and again. The Force Awakens was maligned by some for being a retread of A New Hope, but what would you even say about this one here, Rogue One, replete with its fixation on daddy issues, ending, as it does, exactly at the point where A New Hope, or Star Wars, as we used to know it as, begins?

It’s less of a new construction, and more of an annex or extension on an existing McMansion that’s already plenty monstrously big okay thanks for asking bye.

It was, somewhat dishonestly, touted as a substantially different kind or type of Star Wars film, since it didn’t have any Jedi or Skywalkers in it and had a very different emphasis, being predominately more of a war movie, or at least as much of a war movie than usual.

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Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

The only thing strange about this guy is his facial hair. And his clothes.
And his name. And his accent. But other than that, Doctor Normal.

dir: Scott Derrickson

2016

Sometimes just letting me see trippy visuals is enough. More than enough. That’s all I’m asking for, sometimes.

Really, I’m that cheap a date.

I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this as much as I did, but that’s because mostly I think my decision-making abilities have taken a hit in the last couple of weeks. When presented with the option of watching Arrival, that new, apparently thoughtful and uplifting science fiction film starring Amy Adams, or Doctor Strange, Marvel’s latest attempt to absorb the entirety of the world’s money, I chose the path of least intellectual requirement.

Yep, I had the choice of watching something emotionally engaging and intellectually satisfying, and something that looked cool and trippy, and I essentially opted, or at least argued in favour of the Happy Meal option.

Why? Well, I could wax rhapsodically about the actual darkness that has started spreading across the world, and how at the moment I just don’t have it in me to engage intellectually or hopefully with anything right now. I just can’t even, as the lazy phrase goes. It’ll come back, because it has to, but for now I just can’t goddamn stomach anything that requires me to think or feel too much about anything.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings

He's got a sword, and he's going to stab the moon with it

dir: Travis Knight

2016

I wanted to love this, I really did. I love most of the stuff that the animators at Laika Entertainment have come up with thus far. They’re idiosyncratic as purveyors of animation, getting the distinctive look you’re not going to confuse with any of the other studios that comes from still using a lot of stop-motion (physical) animation in their movies.

It’s certainly the brightest and best looking of their works, shiniest and cleanest, compared to Coraline, The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman, which all looked somewhat gothic (in Coraline’s case) or a bit gangrenous. They were shooting for a mass audience, and they didn’t get it, which is a bit of a shame.

It’s ambitious, too. It opens with a woman in a boat trying to get somewhere in a terrible storm, one which wrecks her little boat and wounds her terribly, but even worse she is not alone. A baby boy is with her, and they crawl together into a cave to die.

It’s a very idyllic cave, beautiful ocean views, though probably a bit drafty. Some time passes, and the baby becomes a boy, and what a boy. He looks after his damaged mother, who sits motionless all day, and raises money for some rice by telling stories at a nearby village.

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