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8 stars

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:

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:

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:

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:

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?

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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