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5 stars

True History of the Kelly Gang

True History of the Kelly Gang

The absolute bollocks story of some people at some time

dir: Justin Kurzel

2020

I had, at first, thought this might be a decent reappraisal of the Ned Kelly legend fit for the whole family to enjoy. Of course the opening minutes of the film, dealing as they do with a young Ned (as a kid played by Orlando Schwerdt) watching his mother blow a trooper (Charlie Hunnam), and all such thoughts rapidly evaporated.

Nah, even I’m not that dumb. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was actually excited about seeing this flick. There’s two main reasons for that. I still remember the review I wrote of the Gregor Jordan-directed, Heath Ledger-starring Ned Kelly from a while back.

I remember it so well, because I hated it so much. I don’t think “hate” is too strong a word to describe it. My feelings were less than charitable. It didn’t work for me on any level, I thought every single soul in it was horribly miscast, and I thought the pretentious yet deadeningly dumb script were just too much.

And then years later Heath Ledger died, and I remember feeling extremely guilty about my review, as if I had somehow contributed to his death. I’m not…wait a second, I’m not saying it’s either true or that I actually believed it – stop looking at me like that – I’m just saying that it felt like that. That version of Ned Kelly’s story, good or bad as it was, was what it was. I seem to recall it was based on a book, being Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe, which I remember because a friend of mine gave me a different Robert Drewe book as a present, being The Drowner, which he published straight after.

Well, this version which, remember, I was looking forward to seeing, like, actively looking forward to seeing, is also based on a book, being Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, which again is a fictionalized account based on the style and perspective of the Jerilderie Letter. A letter which Ned is said to have dictated to his good friend Joe Byrne, copies of which still exist, but I don’t know if it’s actually what they say it is, but something was written down by someone at a time and place, so…

In those days they called it a letter, but these days it would be called a manifesto, and nothing good happens when someone puts out a manifesto. Invariably it’s followed by a killing spree. In the letter Ned rails against the predations of the troopers and their persecution of his family specifically and the Irish more generally.

Carey’s book follows that logic through and elaborates on the themes of the letter, but magnify his self-justifications for his criminal actions in a way that almost justifies the rise of the legend of Ned Kelly as some strange Australian folk hero, to the point where so many bogans have tattoos of either Ned himself in his armour, or his alleged last words “such is life.”

Rating:

Onward

Onward

No, not Onwards, backwards. Upwards, not forwards, and always
twirling twirling towards freedom

dir: Dan Scanlon

2020

I’ll be the first to admit my own potential to devolve into repetitive hackery. In this instance, what I mean is, sure, there are probably plenty of times where I rely on stock standard phrases and repeat myself in reviews. In some instances, you could probably change the name of the movie being reviewed, and insert any random other movie title into the body of the review or the title, and it would be indistinguishable from another review. It’s perhaps the result of laziness, or of forgetfulness, but either way if a reader started reading an old review, and it started sounding like a lot of other reviews, you’d have good reason to be miffed, Dear Reader. You wouldn’t be getting value for money.

That whole paragraph was purest preamble. The thing I’m going to repeat here is the thing (admittedly lazy) I seem to be finding myself saying whenever a new Pixar flick comes out, which is “Do you remember when you used to care that a new Pixar flick was coming out?” Like, it used to be an event, of sorts. It was something to look forward to.

Of course you can just as easily say the same about the overabundance of Marvel movies, or Star Wars movies, or James Bond movies, or anything else that we’ve been programmed to see every couple of years as the next instalment of a production line that will never seemingly stop producing instalments.

That question is one I posed out loud to my family about half an hour into watching this, it wasn’t just something I whispered into a guinea pig’s ear hoping for answers. The two responses I got back were “Eh” and “It’s Disney, what do you expect?” Both responses are probably right. It’s unreasonable for me to expect something that isn’t sustainable.

The ratio of mediocre to great flicks to come out of the brains and computers at Pixar is ever growing. The exceptional flicks are still exceptional, but they are getting lonelier. The ranks of the shitty ones just keep expanding.

Onward is staggeringly mediocre. It’s, like, embarrassing stuff, actively painful stuff with little if anything to say about anything. It’s so probably amazing from a technical perspective, but it has the heart and soul of an insurance ad. It’s so seeped in banality, and the laziest forms of sentiment that it did not elicit even the tiniest amount of emotion from me, and I’m the sort of soft touch that tears up at insurance commercials.

Rating:

Vivarium

Vivarium

It's like something unpleasant, only not enjoyable either

dir: Lorcan Finnegan

2020

Vivarium is an unpleasant and disturbing movie with little point that I could discern. I’m not sure if it was intended as satire, or a cautionary tale, but in the end, it really didn’t feel like it justified its own existence.

It’s not painful to watch or actively stupid. Neither is it offputting or horrific enough to have that going for it. It feels like a Black Mirror episode which forgot to have a vicious punchline that illuminates just how terrible people are. All it illuminates is that if there was some mysterious creature that looked vaguely human but wasn’t, that could kidnap people and put them somewhere they couldn’t escape from, it would be bad.

If it’s point is that something like what happens to the two protagonists here would be terrible to endure, well, derr fred, no doubt. Most stories usually need something more than that. Chopping my toe off with an axe would be bad, but I don’t think I should get to make a film about it (though Zuckerberg / Eisenberg is welcome to play my big toe any time).

A young couple (Imogen Poots and everyone’s favourite Zuckerberg Jesse Eisenberg) are looking for a place to live. She’s a primary teacher, he’s a, I dunno, groundskeeper Willy or something. It’s not clear where they are, but it’s not going to matter anyway. They wander into a storefront that we assume was a real estate agent or something. A really creepy looking guy called Martin promises them that the place they’re looking for is in a planned community called Yonder.

When they travel to Yonder, they find a place of thousands of identical houses. There is no one else around. Martin shows them No. 9, and literally disappears. Gemma and Tom try to drive away and keep turning up at 9. Whatever they do, they can’t leave.

The next night Tom burns the house down. The house reappears, and a box, also. There is a baby in the box. On the box is printed “Raise the child and you shall be released”.

O-kay. So they’re trapped in suburbia, with a child they don’t want, and for invisible reasons they can’t leave.

Does that even qualify as satire?

Rating:

It Chapter 2

It Chapter Two

Two balloons means twice as great and attractive as one

dir: Andy Muschietti

2019

The thing is, it’s not good, and in fact is fucking bonkers in a bad way, in a lot of ways. But it’s the ending we had to have. Because honestly…

So many jokes are made at Stephen King’s expense regarding the endings of his books or stories in this flick. It happens so frequently, and so mundanely, that when the actual Stephen King turns up in a cameo as a pawnshop owner joking about the terrible endings of his books (through another character, who effectively becomes the King stand-in), you start to wonder what they’re buttering us up for.

Because take it from me, and maybe from Maria Schneider from Last Tango in Paris; nothing good comes from being buttered up.

How you feel about this last epic Chapter 2 depends a lot on how you feel about the epic Chapter 1 and the epic book that both come from. Also, no-one is scared of Pennywise anymore. That ship sailed a long time ago. Over-exposure has kind of upped our immunity. Where one might have dreaded seeing the crazed clown peering out from a drain or the dark recesses of our minds, it’s been overdone, and he barely even eats anyone anymore. I guess being gone for 27 years will do that to someone’s rep.

I think it’s been 27 years since the events of the first film in a little shitty town called Derry. Most of the members of the Losers club have moved away and grown up to be fairly disappointed adults, pretty much like most adults. Beverly (now played by Jessica Chastain) was fleeing sexual abuse as a kid, and as an adult is in an abusive relationship. Bill (James McAvoy) has become a best selling author whose books are made into films, and though successful, no-one likes the shitty ends of his books. Richie (Bill Hader) has channelled his nasty mouth and acerbic hot takes on everything and everyone into a career as a stand-up, but he’s still a mess. Ben (Jay Ryan), graduating from being the token fat guy of the group, is a buff architect that wouldn’t be out of place in a Chippendales line up. And then there’s Eddie and Stanley and Mike.

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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