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6 stars

Da 5 Bloods

Da 5 Bloods

War is hell, but at least the good guys got paid, right?

dir: Spike Lee

2020

It’s what the world needed right now: A film about four African-American Vietnam veterans returning to the scene of the crime, like, 50 years later, in order to honour their fallen comrade Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), but really they’re there to get some gold they buried back in the day.

Not, just, like a little bit of gold, but a whole shitload of CIA gold, which is the worst kind.

The men are old but not completely broken down. Paul (Delroy Lindo) wears a MAGA hat and is generally paranoid, aggressive and annoying. Otis (Clarke Peters) is calm and charming, and somehow has a pony tail. Melvin (Isaiah Whitlock Jnr) is like a cuddly teddy bear who can draw out saying “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit” longer than anyone else in human history. Eddie (Norm Lewis) is just there. I have no opinion about Eddie.

1 of the so called 5 Bloods is clearly missing, and clearly died all those years ago, his life and his death having cast a pall over these men’s lives. They are getting together again presumably for the first time in a long time, in a city that had another name when they fought in the country. They fought in a country that didn’t really want them there, sent by a country at the time that clearly didn’t want them home either. It sent as many as it could to fight and die in a pointless war, and was brutalising the ones back home who were fighting for the civil rights of their brothers and sisters.

Rating:

We Summon the Darkness

We Summon the Darkness

The title, though entirely inaccurate, feels like it should
have an exclamation mark or two, and at least one umlaut

dir: Marc Meyers

2020

Set in Indiana in the 1980s, you would be forgiven for thinking that they’re jumping onto some kind of Stranger Things bandwagon with this satanic panic horror flick We Summon the Darkness, what with the promotional poster and all.

It sounds so nasty and metal-y, doesn’t it? Like some bad people are going to do bad things at a metal gig in order to, um, summon the, uh, darkness?

It’s not as convoluted as it might seem. No actual darkness was summoned, harmed or pursued by the makers or participants of this movie. Some bad stuff happens, as in, people are killed (not really, I mean they pretend to kill people, this being a ‘horror’ movie and not reality television after all), but it has less to do with His Satanic Majesty, who thought it would be better to rule in hell than serve in heaven or at a fancy ice cream place, and more to do with three crazy kids who think it would be cool to kill a bunch of other kids and make it look like people are doing Satan’s bidding all over the place.

We watch as three girls get ready for and drive to a gig somewhere in Indiana. It could be some bar, or a barn, or a haystack for all I know. It reminded me of travelling out to suburbs like Croydon to watch gigs at The Hull, which was kind of like travelling back through time to Indiana. The rural sectors of Indiana are not ones I profess to know anything about. To be sure it just looks like a bunch of kids having fun. On the way to the gig, which is of a metal band called Soldiers of Satan or Satanic Pride or Merciful Pancakes or something suitably metal sounding, someone throws a milkshake at their car, which Isn’t Very Insurance-y. Alexis has to clean the windshield. It’s very inconsiderate. It could almost make you want to kill the people that did it, but not quite. And Val, who I’ll get to, has to pee all the time.

The gig is…funny. But to these kids it’s the real deal, I guess, and they’re super into it, kinda. Alexis (Alexandra Daddario) doesn’t know much about these bands of the day that the other ‘kids’ are talking about, like the minutiae of Sabbath and Metallica and Megadeth, and fakes her way through these conversation. If you were ever in a group of friends who were way into music, there was always someone like that in the group. Of course, you could have been that person in the group, that pretended to know all the connections, and to have gone to gigs you couldn’t possibly have gone to, and gotten back stage with whoever.

Rating:

Shirley

Shirley

She looks like she would be fun at parties

dir: Josephine Decker

2020

I only previously knew a tiny amount about Shirley Jackson, and all of that was solely about her short story The Lottery, which encompassed an idea, or a version of American society so powerful that it’s been ripped off or echoed in countless novels and movies as diverse as The Purge through Hunger Games through anything that critiques the mentality of American group psychology and its perpetual need for scapegoats.

I didn’t know much about her life, so that wasn’t what pulled my attention towards seeing this. Admittedly it was the fact that Elizabeth Moss was playing the main role. As far as I’m concerned that’s reason enough to watch any movie.

Having watched this I now feel like I know even less about her, because surely this can’t be a definitive portrayal. It felt like watching an assortment of affectations, a bunch of clichés about writers, and an opaque story about how domesticity robs women of more than their time and effort that could better be applied in other areas.

Shirley (Moss) is struggling with her latest novel, which will go on to be Hangsaman. But when the flick starts off she’s struggling with the fact that she’s not even the main character in her own movie, named after her and all. The ‘real’ main character would seem to be Rose (Odessa Young), the new bride of an ambitious young English professor (Logan Lerman), who feels the need to suck up to the old jerk who runs the English department at Bennington, Vermont. So, Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants to “help” out his wife’s writing by pretty much using Rosie as an unpaid servant, dangling the prospect of tenure for her husband, while having no intention of actually helping them out long term.

It doesn’t help that the flick is awkwardly and irritatingly filmed. Odd, obtrusively angled shots, repellent in their way, sometimes alternating between being too close to the subjects or off to the side to make everything feel off kilter. I’m sure it worked as intended.

The writer is housebound, agoraphobic, alcoholic and cannot stand people. She loves her appalling husband despite the fact that the old goat who is extremely full of himself keeps rubbing up against every female he can. What they make of Shirley’s various mental health issues the film reduces to Shirley’s resentments and insecurities arising from her husband’s numerous infidelities.

But that’s surely not going to happen to the young couple, surely? Rosie and Fred still have sex daily, all throughout her pregnancy too, so of course Fred isn’t going to follow in Stanley’s footsteps just to impress him, is he?

Is he fuck…

Stanley is a piece of work, but not much of an impressive one. He embodies all the worst qualities of an academic that one can imagine of the era, and though I have no doubt he was that much of a piece of shit, he’s not a particularly interesting piece of shit. His casual cruelty towards the young couple or his selfishness towards his wife under the guise of “looking after” her rings true but hollow as well.

Rating:

Yesterday

Yesterday

I'm shocked too that they couldn't do more with the idea

dir: Danny Boyle

2019

Danny Boyle has made some surprising flicks in his day, but this has to be one of the most surprising, mostly because it’s such a tame grandmother-pleasing flick from the guy that once made Trainspotting.

Of course he also made Trainspotting 2, but that wasn’t surprising, just depressing. In terms of crowd pleasing fare, this is probably closest to something like Billions (not the series, a movie about a boy who finds a bag full of cash), which was as G rated a film as humanly possible by someone renowned for so, so much filth.

This has a novel premise, but one so fundamentally out there, that you wonder if it resulted among a group of people who were smoking dope together, so impressed were they with this brilliant idea. However, before they could pool their enhanced inspiration together and come up with a plot and an ending, they sobered up, ran out of substances, and were left cold, sad and a little bit hungry.

Maybe it’s a great premise. I don’t know. It’s such a ridiculous premise that the fact they don’t do much with it doesn’t really register until the very end where you wonder how it all got this far without someone saying “Hang on a second – we didn’t give the film a point!”

It’s a stealth way of doing a biopic without the messiness and cost of having to get the consent of the various real people or their estates involved, or having to wrangle the egos of famous-ish people playing people even more famous than themselves. There were scenes in this which were pretty much identical to stuff from Rocketman, the Elton John biopic, where someone sits at a piano and belts out a song as everyone stands around them in awe, and you think “that’s nice, but” because, really, they’re just covers.

Covers of songs that are familiar, well known or beloved by many. Obviously, the original is the preferred version. A decent cover can sometimes be nice, but they’re generally superfluous. A transformative cover sometimes unearths a completely different way of experiencing something we thought we knew, revealed to us in a wholly different form.

Most often the best they can do is get us to remember the past.

This flick hinges on the premise that what if something happened, like, a giant purple dude with a gaudy glove covered in gems snapped his fingers, but instead of wiping out half the life in the universe, he decided to erase the existence of The Beatles from everyone’s minds like they never existed.

But. There’s one guy who remembers most of their songs. What do you think would happen then?

Rating:

The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen

This is one of the most awkwardly arranged group shots
I've ever seen. It's like something out of the Royal family

dir: Guy Ritchie

2019

I don’t know what Guy Ritchie’s deal is, and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to see things this way, but when you make a flick that seems like it’s all about getting revenge on those dastardly tabloid editors and jerk – crim reporters, it seems a bit personal.

And when one of the main characters you have in the film is Hugh Grant, playing the sleaziest version of the kinds of slimy paparazzi / private detectives / tabloid reporters that made his life a living hell for decades, again, you seem to be making a statement.

Statements are all well and good, but they don’t always make for entertaining cinema. This film here, The Gentlemen, goes out of its way to be entertaining. Perhaps almost even too entertaining. It flirts with breaking the fourth wall plenty of times, with Grant practically winking at us as he refers to camera lenses and anamorphic aspect ratios and fade outs and other narrative / stylistic techniques as he tells his barely believable tale to a captive audience.

There is even a scene involving Guy Ritchie playing a very Weinstein-esque looking exec at Miramax’s offices. You remember Miramax, don’t you? They made all these great movies, and ruined all these women’s lives?

If we’re all really honest, no Guy Ritchie flick has been as outright enjoyable as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in all these years. Some of his other flicks have come pretty close (maybe Snatch, maybe RocknRolla, maybe the first Sherlock Holmes flick), some have been meh, and some are flat out dumb. His flicks are only getting more convoluted in their plots, with that frustrating proviso that any situation faced by a character can be gotten out of because of something else we didn’t see happen beforehand done by someone we didn’t know was around.

That might seem like an artless way to describe the complicated plotting on display here, but in some ways this kind of overwrought overwriting is really underwriting. It’s the equivalent of someone with little to say who tries to hide the fact by yelling the little they have to say very loudly and with different phrasing a lot of times, and occasionally backwards.

Rating:

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey and Other Opportunities Wasted Incorporated

dir: Cathy Yan

2020

Let’s not sleep on the whole title: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn. If you saw that on a poster and had never heard of The Birds of Prey or Harley Quinn, would it induce you to brave a virus-filled world and venture forth into a cinema to watch it?

In a Simpsons episode from what feels like a century ago, Hollywood has-been Troy McClure has a brief renaissance professionally when he pretends to be heteronormative for a while by dint of marrying Marge’s sister Selma. When the sham falls apart, despite the best efforts of Troy’s agent MacArthur Parker, instead of going with the part of McBain’s sidekick in McBain IV: Fatal Discharge, he elects to star in The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel. Perhaps only time will tell which would have been the better choice.

Every time I saw mention made of Birds of Prey and the Contrabulous Fabtraption of Harley Hufnagel, I wondered what the fuck they were thinking. To me it seems like less a failure of ambition and more a failure of marketing – they didn’t have enough confidence that people would go see a flick with the Birds of Prey without a playfully shoehorned reference to the actual main character, one Harleen Quinzel. But then why not call it Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey without the other semi-embarrassed bullshit in between?

Now I’m all for Emancipation, whether it’s from slavery or from toxic relationships with genocidal maniacs, but the flick is, and this hurts to say, a mess, regardless of whether anyone gets emancipated or not.

It’s a fucking mess. At its core it has good intentions, but then they say the Good Intentions Paving Company also does its best building those roads that lead straight to hell.

Rating:

Hobbs & Shaw

Hobbs & Shaw

There may be a more boring movie poster out there, but I
haven't found it yet

dir: David Leitch

2019

This is a gloriously stupid movie, and yet somehow that didn’t decrease my enjoyment of it not one whit.

If there are net negatives it’s that there is a certain amount of laziness involved in all the dick squeezing competitiveness of the two leads, one of whom is built like the proverbial brick shithouse, and the other being built like a pre-verbal shit brickhouse, only on a different scale, and yet much of the flick is watching them slap their metaphorical machismo all over each other in order to feel like the bigger man.

And there’s never a winner in those kinds of contests, except for the viewer in theory(?)

There’s a market for that, I guess. A lot of people like seeing men do manly things to each other. I’m not sure that’s the market this flick is aiming for, but it probably doesn’t hurt either.

Throw into the mix the self-titled Black Superman Idris Elba as the villain, with the unlikely name of Brixton Lore, and you have a very unlikely story about some people with very unlikely names doing very unlikely things that rarely involves cars. And it’s…okay.

It’s okay if you’re watching a flick with a premise whereby a baddie of some kind wants to release some kind of virus onto the world that will kill much of humanity. That bit seems a bit too close to home at the moment, but let’s ignore the fact that humanity is currently struggling with a virus, and all the efforts of The Rock, Jason Statham and Stringer Bell ain’t going to do diddly squat to help us, we’re on our own.

The last film, which I think had the even dumber name of Fate of the Furious in order to be able to incorporate an eight into its title, completed the trajectory of these films that started off being about, I kid you not, illegal drag racing, into now being sharper, shinier James Bond flicks. And for this one, the producers thought “those other characters are shit, people only care about the other people with shiny heads that aren’t Vin Diesel”, so they got rid of the plethora of C-list nobodies (no-one misses you Tyrese), and pared it down to an almost manageable amount of scenery chewers and people who yell stuff for expository reasons.

Rating:

Joker

joker

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

dir: Todd Phillips

2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

John Wick 3

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

dir: Chad Stahelski

2019

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

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:

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