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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:

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:

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:

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:

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

That's such...an accurate interpretation of how trapped the female
protagonists are. My compliments to the poster designer. Very creepy

(아가씨 Ah-ga-ssi)

dir: Park Chan-wook

2017

Goodness gracious me what nasty heroic stuff is delivered to my disbelieving eyeballs by this amazing film.

I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I? This South Korean director has been making stunning, lurid, incredibly violent films for decades, all of which I think I’ve seen, from Joint Security Area to the Vengeance trilogy to his American forays into creepy family dynamics (the little seen Stoker) and end of the world – late stage capitalism allegories (Snowpiercer).

The Handmaiden is no less perplexing / shocking / surprising, even if it technically qualifies as a period piece, and a very weird period piece at that. Lifted from the pages of a novel set in Victorian times (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters), the plot is very similar, but the outcome is vastly different. The setting in this flick is probably a bit hard to wrap one’s head around if you’re not Korean or don’t know much about World War II, but it’s not like it matters that much. It’s set during the occupation of Korea by the Japanese, which means these Korean characters are acting awfully Japanese a lot of the time.

It being a time of war, naturally the people that get by the ‘best’ are the grifters, the con artists, the black marketeers, thieves and forgers. Among them rises a jerk who styles himself a Count no less (Ha Jung-woo), with plans to make off with a rich Japanese woman’s fortune. To help him out he convinces another con artist, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), to pretend to be a maid, and to wheedle her way into the heiress’s house and heart. Then, once the jerk marries Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), it’s off to the insane asylum with her, while he absconds with all the money.

The icy Lady Hideko lives with her uncle, who, this might come as something of a complete shock, is a terrible, terrible person. Just how terrible a person he is unfolds over the course of the movie, but at the very least we get the clear impression that he has creepy designs on his niece, not the least of which is the threat that he intends to marry her at some point.

Sook-hee, despite being a player herself, whose plan it is to get a percentage of that inheritance money, plays the naif fairly well in the domain of her aristocratic betters. She’s all wide-eyed and perplexed by all the mysteries of the stately manor and the enigmatically cool Hideko, but we’re not meant to forget that she’s planning a fate worse than death for the lady.

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.

Rating:

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.

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.

Rating:

High-Rise

High-Rise

I get it, you're trying to remind people of A Clockwork Orange.
No-one cares, poster design nerds.

dir: Ben Wheatley

2016

Hmmm.

I don’t know about this flick. I’m not sure I got it, really. I'm not sure there's enough of anything to get.

I mean, I watched it. I saw lots of images, and heard lots of dialogue, and most of that went through my eyes and ears into my brain, and I’m recalling many of those moments and images and ideas right now, but I’m not sure what they add up to.

Ben Wheatley is a beast of a Brit director, who’s made a swag of vicious flicks, and this is no less vicious, though it seems like a bigger budget / bigger deal than what he’s handled previously. I mean, after all, this has Tom Hiddleston in it, in a lead role.

You know, Loki? The (possible) next James Bond? Taylor Swift’s current boyfriend?

Even more (slightly less) impressive than that, this has Jeremy Irons in a key role.

Jeremy. Irons.

Sorry, old Simpsons reference, couldn’t resist.

High-Rise is based on a book by JG Ballard, which is a name that doesn’t resonate with most people, but it does with me, because I went through that stage that many aging literature nerds of my generation went through when you read many of the books of particular writers all in a row: like you go through your Bukowski stage, your Henry Miller stage, your Vonnegut stage, and then, during your science fiction phase, your Philip K. Dick stage and your Ballard stage. And I read a bunch of them, including this.

Rating:

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