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5 stars

Chaos Walking

Chaos Walking

She's got half a head, and he's got half a head! Together, they
almost make up one interesting character

dir: Doug Liman

2021

Well, that was a waste of time, money and three books.

Chaos Walking is the name of the YA trilogy. I know this because I read the books with my daughter when she was at that pre-tween stage where childish stories were too childish for her and YA stuff was too grown up. We were big fans of Patrick Ness, whose other book A Monster Calls has also been adapted into a movie, far more successfully than this.

The first book of the Chaos Walking trilogy is called The Knife of Never Letting Go. The Knife of Never Letting Go is a far cooler title than Chaos Walking. The geniuses who squandered hundreds of millions on this, you get the feeling way pre-pandemic, had the highest of high hopes that this could become another massive YA franchise, along the lines of Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner.

Geez, talk about aiming low. In a lot of ways, because the books aren’t set on Earth, it’s the hardest sell of all of them, not only because it’s fairly serious science fiction, but because a lot of other elements involving toxic masculinity, genocidal misogyny, colonialism and religious fundamentalism.

You can really see how they started out, and how they murdered the story by deciding to cut their losses and run. It reminds me of when Peter Jackson went to the despicable Weinstein brothers, and said “give me money to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy”, and they said “Sure, but it has to be one movie.” Well, those movies turned out okay, and half the Weinsteins are in jail forever, and the other half shouldn’t be allowed to ever produce a movie again, so I think the message is: Stop enabling sadistic monsters, and don’t turn trilogies into single movies.

It probably was never going to work, though for much of this movie, I watched it thinking, hm, they haven’t fucked it up too much yet. But then it also seemed deeply wrong to have Tom Holland playing the lead character, since Todd Hewitt is meant to be quite young, like 13 I think at the beginning of the saga.

I guess Holland playing a teenager in Spider-Man movies was acceptable way back then, but he’s 24 now, and doesn’t really look 13.

Rating:

Zack Snyder's Justice League

Justice League

This is pretty fascist looking. Leni Riefenstahl would be proud.

dir: Zack Snyder

2021

This version of Justice League, in case you didn’t already know, is directed by Zack Snyder. It’s amazing, that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is directed by Zack Snyder. You know, Zack Snyder? Famous for directing, um, 300?

Why wouldn’t you trust this man of singular vision to make a movie again or anew, that was previously released as Joss Whedon’s Justice League? Four years later, and I’m sure this will be an experience on a par with the director’s cuts of Blade Runner, Heaven’s Gate, Donnie Darko and Legally Blonde, perhaps.

Also, just to make the same point millions of other people have already made: How often have you ever watched a shitty 2 hour movie and thought to yourself “You know what would have made that movie great? Double the running time.”

And thus does a shitty 2 hour movie become a 4 hour extravaganza. Everything that was not of the Snyder directorial vision previously has been excised, and more Snyderness has been added, to maximise the overall Snyder tone and Snyder aesthetic. Everything is slow motion, except when it’s not. People do a lot of standing. Like, they stand and stare at…something. Or, if they leave the scene, others look after them longingly.

The greatest single example of this was so fucking terrible and funny. The so-called Aquaman Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) pulls a jumper off that he was wearing, and jumps into the ocean around, Iceland, I guess. A whole bunch of blonde and redheaded women start singing some kind of song honouring him. A girl picks up the jumper discarded on the dock, and sniffs it lovingly as she keeps singing. He is some kind of ocean god to these women, and they sing, perhaps, of his greatness, and their epic wish to bear his children.

It's treated, like everything else in this fucking dirge of an unending epic, with utmost seriousness, with weighty profundity. With loud, insistent string sections that never let you forget how important what you’re lucky enough to be watching is, and how somber.

I mean, the fate of the fucking world is at stake! Is that not serious enough for you? Okay, so, yeah, every flick with super duper heroes in it requires the world or the whole universe to be threatened in order to even register anymore.

The threat needs to be great enough that it forces a bunch of loners together with powers in order to be able to fix things, especially since Superman (Henry Cavill) died in a previous Snyder film that didn’t get better the longer it went. It did have two grown men yelling about their thing for women called Martha, though, so there’s that at least.

The villain, Steppenwolf (Ciarin Hinds) is dumb and should feel dumb, in either version of these films. In the earlier one, he was kinda murky and brown, and looked dumb. In this one, which he’s in for even more time, he’s shiny and spiky, but still pretty dumb. In the earlier film, he wanted to find three magic/technology boxes in order to ruin things for us on this planet we call home. In this new version, he wants three magic/technology boxes in order to destroy our planet, but he wants to do it to impress his sugar daddy, called Thanos. Sorry, no, he’s called Darkseid.

Darkseid, of what we see of him, or it, or however he chooses to identify, is just an ugly, stern looking judgmental type. He brings nothing to this, other than trying to build him up to be the ultimate Big Bad, which is never going to work because it looks silly, and like a badly photocopied version of Thanos.

Rating:

Music

Musique

Music brings the party people together

dir: Sia Furler

2021

I have to admit, I’m a fan of disaster cinema. I’m not talking about disaster movies per se, though those can be entertaining as well. I mean movies that come out that capture the imagination of the critics or the public because of, not in spite of, the fact that they are branded absolutely screaming apocalyptic dumpster fires right from the get go.

The people who greenlit this at Warner Brothers in order to keep Sia happy are probably happy that they haven’t been arrested yet, that the opprobrium has dissipated somewhat, and that Music has been pretty much forgotten about, about a month after its expectant mother, Sia, brought it forth into an uncaring and unsuspecting world.

Depending on which articles you read about it, Music was either the worst movie ever made to do with a character living with autism, or the worst movie ever conceived independent of whether autism is accurately or fairly depicted. That it was just a supremely wrong-headed project from conception to realisation is probably unfair to say out loud.

But while more complex questions come to mind, the far simpler one that perhaps captures the essence of the problem from the start is this one: what the fuck were they thinking?

Could no one say to Sia that this was a bad idea? Is she so far gone in her stardom that when people start shaking their heads at something she says they are fired immediately or catapulted out of a building?

Rating:

Wonder Woman 1984

WW84

This is a pretty good image for a poster, though it would be
even better on the side of a Sandman panel van

dir: Patty Jenkins

2020

I have to admit, as in, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a bit disappointed.

I feel like I should be more grateful that a) another Wonder Woman movie has been released, and b) that another Wonder Woman movie was released at the tail end of the worst year in living memory, in a way that it could be enjoyed without risking coronadeath for myself or my nearest and dearest.

I might be more forgiving down the track, with more viewings, but I kinda have to admit that it didn’t feel great a lot of the time, and by the end, especially because of the ending, I felt a bit embarrassed for the people involved.

There should be scope, and room for films like this to be goofy. There’s enough of the ultra seriousness out there such that we don’t need every flick to feel like the literal fate of the universe is in the hands of an impressive band of overwhelmed heroes of various origins and ethnicities, though still predominately white, to save us all at least by the end of the film, if not the end of the sequel. Shazam managed to be goofy, endearing and entertaining, which was to Zach Levi’s and the movie's credit. I’m not sure there’s as much scope for goofiness with this character, but they try, good lord do they try.

I think that they still get the character right, and Gal Gadot’s performance is still pretty great. I’m not sure about the plot, though.

There are three major strands to the plot, and only one of them works that well, at least for my money. Also, the plot depends on a magic stone that grants wishes, and such things remind us that we are watching something a bit cheap, in every sense of the word.

The one plotline that kinda works best is the one dealing with Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). This flick has an enormous advantage, at least for me, in that I am already severely predisposed towards loving anything Pedro Pascal does. I knew nothing about the very existence of the man until he played Oberyn Martel in Game of Thrones, and he was so unfuckingbelievably great as that character that I’ve never forgiven George RR Martin or the makers of the show for what they did to the single greatest character the show ever had that wasn’t called Tyrion, Cersei, Brienne, Arya, Varys or Ser Davos, admittedly.

And then he proved, at least mostly with his voice, that he could be equally great playing a completely different character, being the Clint Eastwood character he plays in The Mandalorian. In Wonder Woman 1984, to give the film its full title, or one of its potential titles – I’m not really sure – he is incredible. But, and this is a big butt, and I cannot lie, the major issue is whether you can stomach the millionth version of something to do with the orange piece of shit soon to be ejected from the White House in the United States.

Rating:

Tesla

Tesla

In movies like this, the moustache does most of the work

dir: Michael Almereyda

2020

This film… It’s genuinely taking the piss.

A flick about Nikola Tesla, that has a narrator wearing period costume talking about how many hits you get when you google Tesla or Thomas Edison, that has a scene where an actor playing Edison whips out a smartphone. People rollerskate for some reason, and Ethan Hawke, using what passes for his Serbian / Tesla accent, sings a karaoke version of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World to pad out the last minutes of the flick and get it up to the agreed upon running time of 100 or so minutes.

For some reason.

Is it funny? It’s funny in that it is deliberately odd, without actually being humorous. It treats its subject with abject seriousness, but the screenplay, I’m telling you, is as deep as the Wikipedia entry that it used to generate itself, like something the less responsible parts of the internet could spontaneously erupt forth with. It gives us a potted history of some of the stuff he did, some of the places he went and people he met, his rivalry with Edison, which wasn’t really a contest of equals, but more of one guy who dominated everything and another guy that didn’t like him much.

And a moustache, and a hairstyle. I’m starting to think that this is about as much as we can expect from biopics these days. It has the qualities and the feel of a high school play put on about a famous person, down to images projected onto screens to set the scene, leading to the memorable image of Nikola Tesla trying to feed an apple to the projected image of a horse. I use ‘memorable’ in the sense that, yes, this is what they spent their time doing, and ours, too.

In watching this, it made me have a greater appreciation for the other biopic I saw recently about a different scientific pioneer, being the Marie Curie biopic Radioactive. That, I dunno, at least made more of a case for itself and for Curie. I criticised the flick at the time because I thought it was a bit unnecessary to amp up the almost Asperger’s like tics and project them onto the actor just to give her something interesting / irritating to do that fits neatly into the stereotypes of scientists throughout the ages. This flick projects almost nothing onto Tesla, and makes him out to be a boring, broody and misunderstood emo kid from the 90s who people should have appreciated more, because reasons.

He is so boring that he can’t even supply any interest in his own story, which has to be narrated by someone else, who was, at least at some stage, more interested in Tesla than Tesla himself was. It is left to Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson) to carry the heavy burden of convincing us why we should keep watching.

Rating:

Amulet

Amulet

Look at these intense faces. A comedy this is definitely not

dir: Romola Garai

2020

Another week, another horror flick set in a decaying house with some demented woman upstairs slowly dying and trying to take everyone else down with her.

Amulet could not be more different from the other film I’m referring to, being the Australian flick Relic which came out a week or two ago. Amulet is far darker, but also far less harrowing somehow than the other flick. Both were directed by women, not to lump films into categories just because of the gender of the directors involved, but I can say that at least in this instance, they are directors trying to do more than just jump scares and surprise kills.

And while Relic might have been about intergenerational legacies and the steady process of deletion that dementia brings in the aged, the narrowing of a labyrinth people find themselves trapped in looking after the elderly, Amulet is some strange amalgam of guilt, revenge, physical manifestations of evil, and some monstrous feminine energy seeking retribution. I think? I could have it all completely wrong, because the thing I was thinking the most towards the end was “what the fuck is going on, like, seriously?”

Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) is clearly a very troubled chap. We see scenes of him clean shaven, meaning the past, and bearded, meaning the present. In the past, he was a soldier, in a forest, a suspiciously symmetrical forest. Something bad must have happened during The War, but we won’t find out until way later in the film. Also, we never find out which war, which, I guess, doesn’t matter. All wars are bad, and bad things tend to happen in them. But the bad thing that Tomaz does has nothing to do with the war.

In the bearded present, Tomaz seems to be leading a fairly hardscrabble existence in London, living in a squat with fellow refugees, but one detail of his existence seems to be unique to him: each night as he lays himself down to sleep, he tapes his hands together for some reason, and has to cut himself free in the mornings.

Rating:

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:

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