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9 stars

Knives Out

Knives Out

Look at these rich arseholes. Who doesn't deserve to be stabbed?

dir: Rian Johnson

2019

Rian Johnson, as a writer and director, and probably in playing competitive boardgames and in the bedroom, is too clever for his own good. I acknowledge that it’s a meaningless phrase. I probably just mean he’s a smartarse.

Sometimes he pulls it off, sometimes it just doesn’t land, but often he’s a really keen director.

Kinda like an American version of Edgar Wright; another talented director whose love of film and love of being a clever fuck sometimes trips him up with his own ambitions.

Knives Out is a film that is plenty entertaining, so he probably got the balance right this time. Murder mysteries usually aren’t my thing, because there’s just so many shows and movies about people annihilating each other, but I’m here for clever stuff and decent performances.

This flick has like a dozen hams mostly restrained in the best of ways, in the service of a plot that is not so much a whodunit so much as a “what the hell happened and why, and how nasty is the central family, right?”

Rating:

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

You're trying to have a soothing bath, and some bastard tries to kill you, it's not fair

dir: John Krasinski

2018

I kinda avoided seeing this at the time, and I regret it now, because it’s one of the better horror flicks I’ve seen in recent memory. And its sequel, which was about to be released now before the Coronapocalypse happened, might never see the light of day in a cinema, so there’s that, I guess.

I’m not sure that it’s the novelty of the premise, because it’s not that novel, or the complexity of the scenario, but whatever it is, the elements cohere and make this quite a terrifying / exhausting experience.

The enemy in this premise is some kind of monstrous creature. Don’t know where it came from, and it doesn’t really matter. These creatures are big, insect-like, covered in armour plating and they are blind. They are blind but they have exquisitely powerful hearing. So whatever happened in the initial stages of this invasion, the survivors know not to make noise by now.

Kids. It’s hard to convince small children about how serious a serious situation is. Very young boys in particular. One could almost say they’re pretty dumb, but that’s unfair. After the disaster strikes, and we start following one group of survivors, who happen to be a family, we see a boy wanting more than anything else, a space shuttle toy with flashing lights and whizz bang sounds. Despite understanding that Noise Equals Death in their brave new world, the boy don’t care, he wants his toy.

Rating:

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

There is something about this image that makes it one of the
greatest images ever taken, but I'm not entirely sure what it is...

dir: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

2019

It was always going to be this great. I don’t know how I knew it, but there was always going to be something glorious about bringing this character to the big screen. She might not be as well-known as many other prominent female superheroes that all seem to be coming to the fore these days, now that Marvel and DC feel like the human cinema-going population of the world is suitably obedient and docile such that female or African-American leads aren’t seen as too much of a financial risk at the box office, but she’s definitely the one that gives the least fucks (being exactly zero, by film’s end), and that’s got to count for something.

Wonder Woman, for all her virtues as a character and as great as the film was, is still a problematic character, to some extent. The truly visionary and strange William Moulton Marston who, along with his wife Elizabeth and their girlfriend (!) Olive created Wonder Woman, very much wanted a character that was immensely strong, immensely powerful, but also an object of masturbatory bondage fetishism at the same time. It’s sort of like the idea that's plagued a lot of movies over the last 100 years that, whether a woman in a role is ‘empowered’ or completely downtrodden, the important thing is whether women wish they looked like her and men jerked off at the Betty Page-like cheesecake imagery.

Well, we’ve come too far for that bullshit now. None of Captain Marvel’s story arc, or representation, or purpose in this film has anything to do with achieving any of her desires while simultaneously conforming to the needs of her passive but needy hierarchy. She doesn’t have anything to prove to us. She is powerful, and she just has to accept it, and do what she needs to do without being hobbled and hampered by the controlling shitbirds in her life.

Like most women. I’m sure many of them can relate, I think, or at least close to 4 billion of them, considering how much this has earned thus far.

In that, this is something unique in terms of these here Marvel flicks, in that while it ties in effectively with the overall superstructure (leading, inevitably, into the position of being an explanation as to how and why she is going to turn up in Avengers: Endgame even though she’s not been mentioned in all of the other 2,021 Marvel movies). I care not about any of that. I love, utterly love Black Panther, and could not care less what eventually comes down the Disney pipe because I really, really enjoyed that film. Captain Marvel, I can honestly say, I loved (despite the 90s setting) regardless of what role she plays in Endgame, because it’s plenty good enough on its own.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

So many spiders, not enough giant boots hurtling down on them

dirs: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

2018

Arguing about which of the Spider-Man movies are the ‘best’ is pointless, fruitless, demeaning, creepy and needlessly nerdy. After all, everyone knows Spider-Man 2 was the okayest, if not the best.

So it’s a settled argument. Phew. Now we can go back to arguing whether Nazis are really Nazis anymore or whether people need that much oxygen to breathe and whether Australia Day should be celebrated on April Fool’s Day or not.

And after that’s settled, maybe we get back to the new, real argument, which is: Which is the second-best Spider-Man flick?

Well, that argument has now also been settled with the release of this hilarious and utterly transcendent animated Spider-Man movie that artfully combines so many elements from the long and storied Spider-Man backstory, while also looking forward in gleeful and energetic ways.

Yes, okay, everything is superheroes these days and I’ve pretty much given up arguing against it, so now we’re just looking at the nuances and the ebbs and flows within the broader genre to see where the latest entries stack up. That’s all you can do. Twenty years ago the movies were mostly drama, a lot of action, some comedies and the occasional animated movie. Now it’s 90% superheroes, 5% shit blowing up, 4% people screaming at each other in place of drama and 1% whatever the hell is streaming on Netflix, mostly weak stand-up comedy. And most of that is older comics blaming the world for why we don't think they’re that funny anymore.

There’s something undeniably exuberant about this flick, something which this hero and his extended family is best known for, despite the dark turns the story might take. Visually it’s sublime and nuts, and it’s all in service of the story, insane as the story might be. But whoever Spider-Man is, the hero is always more like an actual person outside of the suit, brilliant but working class, highly functioning but ground down by life.

Miles Morales is a young teenager who really isn’t struggling with that much other than feelings of insecurity and imposter syndrome at the elitist school his hardworking parents have squirreled him into. There he is, existing quietly in his own universe, minding his own business, when he gets bitten by a genetically-engineered radioactive magic spider, don't you know.

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The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

That's such...an accurate interpretation of how trapped the female
protagonists are. My compliments to the poster designer. Very creepy

(아가씨 Ah-ga-ssi)

dir: Park Chan-wook

2017

Goodness gracious me what nasty heroic stuff is delivered to my disbelieving eyeballs by this amazing film.

I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I? This South Korean director has been making stunning, lurid, incredibly violent films for decades, all of which I think I’ve seen, from Joint Security Area to the Vengeance trilogy to his American forays into creepy family dynamics (the little seen Stoker) and end of the world – late stage capitalism allegories (Snowpiercer).

The Handmaiden is no less perplexing / shocking / surprising, even if it technically qualifies as a period piece, and a very weird period piece at that. Lifted from the pages of a novel set in Victorian times (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters), the plot is very similar, but the outcome is vastly different. The setting in this flick is probably a bit hard to wrap one’s head around if you’re not Korean or don’t know much about World War II, but it’s not like it matters that much. It’s set during the occupation of Korea by the Japanese, which means these Korean characters are acting awfully Japanese a lot of the time.

It being a time of war, naturally the people that get by the ‘best’ are the grifters, the con artists, the black marketeers, thieves and forgers. Among them rises a jerk who styles himself a Count no less (Ha Jung-woo), with plans to make off with a rich Japanese woman’s fortune. To help him out he convinces another con artist, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), to pretend to be a maid, and to wheedle her way into the heiress’s house and heart. Then, once the jerk marries Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), it’s off to the insane asylum with her, while he absconds with all the money.

The icy Lady Hideko lives with her uncle, who, this might come as something of a complete shock, is a terrible, terrible person. Just how terrible a person he is unfolds over the course of the movie, but at the very least we get the clear impression that he has creepy designs on his niece, not the least of which is the threat that he intends to marry her at some point.

Sook-hee, despite being a player herself, whose plan it is to get a percentage of that inheritance money, plays the naif fairly well in the domain of her aristocratic betters. She’s all wide-eyed and perplexed by all the mysteries of the stately manor and the enigmatically cool Hideko, but we’re not meant to forget that she’s planning a fate worse than death for the lady.

Rating:

Black Panther

Black Panther

I like that Martin goddamn Freeman is one of the token
white guys in this. Represent!

dir: Ryan Coogler

2018

That was incredible.

The Marvel movies have been a long and torturous rollercoaster ride for so long, but finally it’s delivered a strong film that could work almost perfectly fine outside of the Marvel milieu. I almost wish it didn’t have to dovetail into the broader franchise, because it’s something so special on its own.

Another thing – I will not miss Stan Lee’s cameos when he inevitably dies soon. I mean he’s in his 90s already, and that hairpiece seems like it’s starting to take over his entire head, and I don’t wish anyone ill, least of all a carnival barker of his longevity and shamelessness, but, honestly, come on.

There’s something so enjoyable about the creation of Wakanda. It’s not unique or original in the field of science fiction or comic books, but the very idea of a place hidden in plain sight in the middle of Africa that escapes the historical deprivations of slaughter, slavery and resource theft (and their contemporary repercussions) is appealing for a whole number of reasons. The absolute *greatest* thing about it is what they *don’t* do with it.

I am absolutely positive that there would have been some Marvel exec trying to argue that the “best” way to tell this story would “well, actually” be from the perspective of a white guy who stumbles across this technological Shangri-La – Xanadu – Brigadoon – or whatever the hell the magical Kathmandu place was called in Doctor Strange. Then the guy, treated with suspicion at first by the locals, eventually saves them and is treated like a god.

We’ve seen it many times before. Thank Christ – Loki – Satan that they didn’t go down this path. No, Wakanda is the point of the whole movie, both its isolation and the role it could potentially play in the world (like, the whole fictional Marvel world), for good or ill.

With no disrespect at all to Chadwick Boseman, who’s great here just as he was in Captain America: Civil War, it’s almost like this flick called Black Panther doesn’t really need the Black Panther in it that much. There is so much going on, and so many other interesting characters, that the Black Panther itself only becomes a symbol of what Wakanda should do with its place in the world.

Rating:

Arrival

Arrival

With hope and patience and open hearts, no matter the colour of blood they
might pump, perhaps we can figure this puzzle of our existence out.

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2016

There aren’t many science fiction films that leave me crying or thoughtful as I sit blubbing through the credits. The reason is this – most science fiction flicks aren’t really science fiction flicks. They’re action flicks with science fiction set dressing and costuming.

Arrival is definitely not an action flick masquerading as a science fiction flick. It is certainly about a first contact scenario with what we would call actual alien aliens, who appear on Earth without even the courtesy of an advance email or nothin’.

They just appear, and they don’t even seem to want anything. They don’t want our resources, or our women, or anything. They just sit there, in their ships, waiting.

This is enough to make the leaders of several countries think “We should be blowing the ever-living fuck out of them, because their very presence makes us uncomfortable”.

It’s frustrating to see, but when I look at the world we currently live in, it doesn’t seem that far fetched. When some ‘just listening to right-wing extremists on the internet’ Marines think, for no sensible reason “well, let’s just blow them up!”, it seems discordant, and arbitrary, but again, I look at Trump’s America, and I don’t think the naughty soldiers would have even been able to wait as long as they did.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

So quirky there should be laws against it, forcing them to go on the run

dir: Taika Waititi

2016

Sometimes you watch a trailer and say to yourself “I must watch that movie.” Sometimes you watch the movie, and think “That movie was nothing like the trailer, and now I am sad.” Other times you watch the movie and say “that was exactly like the trailer, but eh.”

But this time? This time? I was really excited about seeing Hunt for the Wilderpeople, we saw it (as a family), and I loved it thoroughly and utterly.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have seen it as a family? I thought it would skirt the edges of its PG rating, but it kinda went a tad further than I would have expected. Having your nine-year-old daughter ask you out loud at the Westgarth Cinema on a Friday night “What’s a molesterer?” is perhaps a conversation for another time.

I was, at least in some respects, pre-programmed to enjoy this. I loved Waititi’s film Boy, liked What We Do In the Shadows, and occasionally enjoyed Flight of the Conchords (the tv show he occasionally directed, whereas the band will always rank in my heart as the greatest musicians to ever come out of New Zealand except for all the other ones).

Taika makes some very quirky movies, filled to the brim with quirky characters and 80s aesthetics. Sometimes it’s oppressive. Sometimes it gibes just right with the material. In this case, it’s a pretty good fit (in terms of the actors, the quirks, and the story).

Rating:

Inside Out

Inside Out

Some things are more powerful than Joy, and last way, way longer.
Ah, hello Sadness my old friend. It's time to drink with you again.

dir: Peter Docter

2015

Finally.

We’ve missed you, Pixar. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed the days when you made beautiful, touching, insanely fun animated movies that we could watch again and again and feel joyful about each time.

It’s been a while.

The supreme virtue Pixar used to hold, prior to its purchase by Disney, wasn’t just that it was producing the best looking computer animated movies of their day. It was that it was making the kinds of movies with the kinds of stories that other shittier companies wouldn’t or couldn’t make. Anyone can make an animated movie, seemingly. Only Pixar was making Pixar-like movies, if you’ll allow the obvious tautology.

Its run was almost unprecedented. The only other company I can think of that had such a sustained consistent run in terms of originality and quality is probably Studio Ghibli. That came to an end seemingly after Up, I think. I mean, some of the other Pixar flicks haven’t been completely terrible (Brave was an okay attempt at doing something ‘different’ for Pixar but the same as everyone else, but there just isn’t any compelling reason to ever pop that Blu-Ray in the machine, ever, no pressure from the kids, either).

Rating:

Interstellar

Interstellar

I often look up at the night sky and wonder if Matthew
McConaugey is looking down upon me

dir: Christopher Nolan

2014

Last year’s big entry in the ‘serious’ science fiction genre was a lot more ambitious than Gravity. Don’t get me wrong, Gravity was plenty ambitious, but its ambitions were reserved towards putting the main character through an increasingly more technically complicated wringer with the desperate hope of getting back home always dangling just out of reach.

Interstellar is bigger. It’s not aiming for the atmosphere (or lack thereof) just above our planet. It’s aiming to become the next generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If that was truly the case, it should have aimed to be a hell of a lot more tedious.

I know 2001 is a classic. I know this because everyone keeps saying it’s a classic. The same consensus tells me that Forrest Gump and Titanic are classics. So if everyone says something is a classic, ipso facto it’s a classic.

With that established, as I repeat every time the topic of 2001 comes up, I cannot for the life of me stay awake during that goddamn film. The only time it didn’t put me to sleep it was showing at the Astor cinema, and I was a child seeing it for the first time, confused out of my mind, but wide-eyed.

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