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8 stars

A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born

Let's rub noses together, that's the most rock n' roll thing ever

dir: Bradley Cooper

2018

A Star Is Born is probably the movie I heard random people talk about the most last year, with the possible exception of Bohemian Rhapsody and, in my case, as in, the film I bored people to death talking about, being Black Panther. I know that lots of other films came out, movies even, and a few pictures. But very few of them resonated or seemed to matter that much to the multitudes.

And that’s just, like, my opinion, man. The advantage Rhapsody had was everyone over a certain age at least in the Western world knows all of those songs. Lady Gaga, maybe not as much. But she’s here with her pop vocal stylings and affectless facial expressions, in this most recent telling of the age-old story: previously successful man on the way down boosts the career of an unknown young ingénue, falls in love, is then pushed down the stairs in order to make way for youth. It’s a story as old as time, or at least since 1937, when the first movie version of this came out. There’s also the legendary one from the seventies with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand. Really, it’s a heart-warming tale because it can be told over and over again.

I don’t know why Bradley Cooper decided he had to direct it, but he did, and he managed to do a bang up job. The film is always in focus, there aren’t too many shots of boom mics and not too many people walk into walls or trip over props. Sam Elliot is also in this along with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and I am glad to report his mustache is very big. Phew! No one likes seeing Sam Elliot without his mustache, especially Sam Elliot.

Speaking of Sam Elliot, Bradley Cooper adopts a kind of southern drawl that makes me think not of an actual Southerner, but of Jeff Bridges (though not as The Dude from The Big Lebowski, because that would be way too symmetrical). Though even if Bradley Cooper is incomprehensible much of the time (he also pretends to be drunk most of the story, unless he went Method and actually got drunk all the time in order to really capture the essence of the character), his soulful eyes and the beard do a lot of the acting for him.

Rating:

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody

That can't be good for your back, Freddie, ease up

dir: Bryan Singer

2018

I did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did, but I certainly did. It could have been because it was my birthday and I was in an emotionally fragile state (what with the feeling of impending doom that accompanies every birthday now that I’ve lived to a ‘ripe’ old age), or it could have been because of the prosecco Aperol cocktail I was drinking in the cinema like I was some kind of royal / celebrity / shameful alcoholic. And let me just point out that the most estimable Westgarth cinema has a bar – this was not something I smuggled in my pocket / a thermos /within the bladder of a wine cask.

No, it was professionally made, and quite delightful, and maybe the perfect drink to get me in the mood for a dramatic retelling of the history, or at least part of the history of Queen, that legendary band from the 1970s / 80s. Finding someone to embody the mercurial and one of a kind Freddie Mercury could not have been easy, but at least they had at least one extremely thin and extremely odd looking person who could fit the bill. The only other thing I’ve seen Rami Malek in is Mr Robot, in which he’s superb, of course, but this could not have been an easy performance for him or for anyone else to do or endure.

It’s the teeth, you see. Forced to wear a set of prosthetic teeth that would put a mule to shame, and trying to act and talk and sing could not have been easy for this good chap, but he gives it his darndest. I thought at some points that the false teeth were distracting for him and for the people around him, but just think how Freddie must have felt for having to deal with all those teeth for reals when he was still alive. That couldn’t have been easy, and, when I recall watching a documentary about him about a year ago, he was constantly adjusting his mouth and compensating for his extra teeth anyway, so the actor doing it as well is just Pure Method acting of the kind and level that probably made Daniel Day Lewis punch someone in the face for not giving him the role.

I don’t need to be told that elements of the film aren’t right. I don’t expect biopics of pop / rock stars to be documentaries. I expect documentaries to be fascinating and accurate, and I expect fictional retellings of people’s lives to be entertaining or at least diverting. What Bohemian Rhapsody gave me is an intense appreciation of a) what a keen actor Rami Malek is to put so much work into this portrayal b) what an amazing talented man Freddie was and c) how amazing it is that in their day Queen were the biggest band in the whole freaking world. It is nothing short of bizarre considering the disparate elements that went together to make this band happen.

And the world that accepted them with open arms and wallets! To this day Queen still remain one of the bestselling bands of all time, and for the life of me I still have no idea how or why, except of course when you see Queen and Freddie perform, and here, where you see Rami Malek and the other actors replicate it with such fervency, with such awe-inspiring passion that it really confuses reality with memory.

Rating:

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.

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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.

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