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2018

Hereditary

Hereditary

According to Tolstoy, happy families are all alike;
every doomed family however is doomed in its own way

dir: Ari Aster

2018

That. Was. Utterly. Horrifying.

Since I sat through / endured Midsommar, and thought it was a crafty little flick, I thought I’d go back and check out Ari Aster’s first flick Hereditary, which I’d heard a lot about but declined to watch, figuring nothing good would come of it. But since I tricked myself into watching something as out there as Midsommar, by telling myself it was a documentary about the Midsummer festival Melbourne’s been having since the 1990s to celebrate our LGBTIQ brothers, sisters and non-binary identifying everythings in between, I tricked myself into watching Hereditary by telling myself it was a documentary about DNA and hereditable traits, you know, phylogenetic and epigenetic expression to the max!!!

Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be two of the most terrifying hours I’ve spent watching Toni Collette react to stuff.

I’ve read a few reviews since watching the flick, and I have to say I saw a movie very different from the one many of the detractors saw. What they saw was a weird flick that doesn’t make any sense and is very slow, and doesn’t have enough gore or jump scares or something.

What I saw was a horrifying story about a doomed family. The thing about doom is, it is inescapable, and generally to make you commit to watching something to the end, you have to at least be made to care about the people involved. That’s not where this is coming from. The Graham family doesn’t earn our sympathy or our compassion, but at least every few minutes I was alternating between “Oh my god, poor Charlie” to “ohmygod poor Peter” to “ohmygod poor everyone”.

When Hereditary begins, a family prepares to bury an unloved matriarch. During the eulogy, the deceased’s daughter Annie (Toni Collette) delivers a eulogy that, on one level, could have more succinctly be put as “Fuck you, mom, burn in hell” but which instead tries to ground us in the disturbed reality of what Annie comes from: a family where severe mental illness has destroyed almost everyone. Severe dissociative disorders, severe psychosis, hell for the people with it, hell for the people around them. We are sure Annie is not sad to see her go, but when she relates how she lost her own sibling and her father, you might think now she and her ‘normal’ family can grieve, take some time, and eventually grow closer.

But this flick is called Hereditary

Which means the problems of previous generations are carried through to the next, and the next, and the next.

Rating:

Searching

Searching

Nothing good comes from sitting in a dark room on the internet...

dir: Aneesh Chaganty

2018

This is a really keen film that transcends its gimmick (of almost entirely transpiring on the screens of multiple computers, phones, security cam footage and police interviews), to be more a story about the lengths one parent will go to save their child than about the technology it uses.

That sounds like a simple premise, and, in American hands, it seems to, at least recently, involve Liam Neeson killing a bunch of foreigners in order to save his daughter / ex-wife from multiculturalism. Those of us who are parents (and who, on average, like being parents) are compelled by stories like this to wonder about the lengths we would go to in order to protect or save our kids. Rarely do we see it as a negative.

Searching stars the great John Cho, world renowned as the Harold from Harold and Kumar Do Some Dumb Shit while on Drugs trilogy, for taking over the Sulu role in Star Trek from the equally legendary George Takei, and scrambling for decades as a tv guy in a million blink and you'll miss them roles.

He's pretty memorable, though. He's got a certain amount of presence. In this he's not playing an avenging vigilante parent or some kind of action hero. He's mostly just an American guy who works in Northern California and lives with his family, wife and daughter, and would probably prefer not to have to endure such a hideous drama.

The first ten minutes of the film are a study in how you can rip off the accelerated storytelling of a scene like the beginning of Pixar's Up, make it your own, make it work, and not be accused of abject plagiarism. Really, it’s a (banal) master class, it truly is. Even with its montage-like effect, it still gives you enough reasons to care about the family and what happens to them, even if you’ve barely spent any time with them yet.

We meet David (John Cho), Pam (Sara Sohn) and Margot Kim (eventually played by Michelle La) through the various milestones and home video-type stuff that accompanies modern life in the so-called Western world. 1st day's at school, Father's Day, first piano recitals, all that stuff. In between the various elements of a family's lives are the unavoidable hints that something is terribly medically wrong with Pam, and it just keeps getting worse as she battles with, and eventually succumbs to, lymphoma.

Some time passes, and we get to watch the interactions, via phones and chat apps, between a father and daughter that have lost an incredibly important person in their lives, and who are unsure how to carry on. David is, like a typical guy, all "let's just keep moving forward like that person I never mention is just in the other room and never talk about it", and poor Margot, who your heart breaks for, clearly is yearning to talk about the person who’s no longer there, but just doesn’t feel like she can with her dad.

Rating:

Destroyer

Destroyer

Destroyer, or How I Learned to Love the Passage of Time

dir: Karyn Kusama

2018

This is a pretty grim story, in case you couldn’t tell from the heavily made up images of Nicole Kidman’s ravaged face.

The intention in this, I’m sorry to be so cynical, could have been Oscar-bait. Someone must have convinced Nicole that accepting a piddling amount of money to star in this would be compensated by the inevitable awards that would flow. It worked for Charlize Theron in Monster, so surely it would work again?

It’s not like Nicole doesn’t have awards, including the golden smooth shiny ones of the Academy. I don’t even have to look it up to remember that she won an Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours, where the very unkind joked that the prosthetic nose she wore deserved the award for doing all the work. She was fine. It was one of a few occasions where people were surprised that she could subsume herself into a role and not just be Nicole.

She definitely doesn’t look like the fragile, afraid to crack a smile actor that she is in Big Little Lies or anything else that she does contemporaneously. There’s an unfortunate focus on her looks that detracts from her meagre or multitudinous acting skills, and I’m probably contributing to it here yet again. Suffice to say they really make her look haggard here, to good effect.

When the film opens Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) wakes up, bleary eyed and crusty, in her car. She never sleeps in a bed, at least in the present (there are a lot of flashbacks in this flick). She does not just look, act and speak like she’s hungover: she acts like she’s at death’s door. A body is found at the LA aqueduct, with three distinctive tattooed marks on the back of his neck. The cops actually there doing their jobs are disgusted by Bell’s presence, a theme which is carried on throughout the film: People are either horrified, surprised or disgusted when she turns up. She tells the investigating cops that she knows who killed the victim.

Back at her office, her actual co-workers are also surprised that she’s turned up, and also annoyed. We sense that no-one really likes being around her or listening to her or looking at her. The world is so unfair. Most of this flick’s action, or activities occur in bright, debilitating daylight, as if to show how horrible daytime is to both vampires and alcoholics.

Rating:

Peppermint

Peppermint

It's like they had to literalise the white saviour metaphor...

dir: Pierre Morel

2018

From a flick about a guy interacting with Mexican people and saying “eh, they’re not all so bad”, the flick being The Mule and the guy being Clint Eastwood, we now transition to a flick that, were it a person, looked at The Mule and screamed “NOT RACIST ENOUGH” and proceeded to render itself into a form that would be most pleasing to people who were leaving a Trump klan rally and thought they might want to watch a movie.

Peppermint is a revenge – vigilante thriller which, in and of itself, is not unique to American cinema, since every culture has its themes of vengeance and justice. But this is the quintessential American take on the genre, which celebrates self-determination, stick-to-itiveness and achieving justice through the barrel of a gun against racial caricatures that are meant to make the viewer uncomfortable until they are shot, and then everything’s fine

There’s a reason the Republican party uses photos and footage of members of a particular vicious gang called MS-13 in its scare-mongering electoral ad campaigns: because they’re Hispanic, and many of them have face tattoos.

There’s a reason why the movie uses Hispanic men with face tattoos as the perpetrators of violence, and then as the victims of retributive violence at the hands of the movie’s heroine: because the intended audience is already made uncomfortable by them and doesn’t mind if they get offed.

Rating:

The Mule

The Mule

Old men don't think the law should apply to them, and
maybe they're right

dir: Clint Eastwood

2018

This is like the eleventy millionth Eastwood flick that he’s directed, and, who knows, he could have at least another 100 in him. Of course, however many more films Eastwood is going to make and star in these days, they’re not going to be that different. He’s going to play a character who’s an old guy, who is a Korean War veteran, who’s irascible and vitriolic about the youth of today, perhaps estranged from his family, but, no matter what he did, he loves them and he’s sorry.

His family, whether daughters or granddaughters or ex-wives, are all exasperated by him and stuff he did or didn’t do decades ago, but eventually, because they don’t really have much of a choice, forgive him for his transgressions.

How do I know this is the plot of this and future films of his? Because. Just because. It’s an educated guess. It’s also a safe bet.

Every flick is the same because Eastwood is the same man. Whether he’s playing the lead of a fictional story or a true story that isn’t about him per se, but which easily be warped into his kind of story.

But, and I’m ashamed of myself a bit for what I’m about to write, that’s why we love him.

Not every flick that Eastwood makes is as good as the good ones, and many of them completely lose their way, or start and finish terrible. But when they work, when we get where he’s coming from and forgive him for his awful racial and sexist attitudes (or don’t) that often bleed through into his characters, we’re really forgiving many of the older men in our lives, some of whom we already love, some maybe we don’t, but at the very least we somehow (ill-advisedly) cut him a break because, well, we sense the end is probably near anyway, so why fight anymore?

Rating:

Aquaman

Aquaman

When a Fish is A Man, I'll Hold a Candle for that Man,
Because That Fish Is The Man!

dir: James Wan

2018

See, I hate travelling for work.

It’s about the only time I get to travel to cities interstate, with work paying for it, but then I have to do work things and stay in work designated places. These places designated by work are usually known as hotels.

Hotels, gods love the industry and all the minimum wage people that work in them and for them, are loathsome places to stay. They’re generic and antiseptic but they still feel permanently unclean.

The only virtue they have, and that is some of them versus all of them, is that some of them have a dedicated movies channel. Sometimes they’ll even have fairly recent movies on them!

What this basically boils down to, which explains both the existence of this review and the point of the preamble, is that on these work trips where I can’t really do much else other than go to the work thing, wander around a strange and sometimes quite boring city, then retire to the confines of a hotel room until the next day or departure. So I watch a bunch of stuff I ordinarily would never watch, because the standards that apply when you’re on a plane or trapped in a hotel room vary vastly compared to when you’re endlessly scrolling through Netflix trying to find the perfect choice that ‘everyone’ will be happy with at home.

Rating:

Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You

... but have you accepted Jesus as your personal saviour?

dir: Boots Riley

2018

Any film can go off the rails in its third act, but few do it in such a bonkers, catastrophic fashion. If you’re going to crash and burn, I say do it as spectacularly as possible, and this flick certainly gives it a red hot go.

I could not even begin to describe what genre this movie slots into. I guess you could kind of say it was a comedy? Corporate satire with racial / social commentary? I mean, it’s pretty funny in parts, but it tries to do so much in its running time that to say it transcends traditional restrictions in favour of making an insane set of literal and allegorical points would really not even scratch the surface.

Maybe it’s just easier to call it a satire, though a satire of late-stage capitalism and the pretentiousness of performance art, or the way African-Americans have to commodify themselves in order to eke out a living, I could not rightly say. It’s saying something, or a lot of somethings, it’s just that I don’t know ultimately what it means, if anything.

Our Hero Cassius, or Cash as he’s referred to more often, is played by Lakeith Stanfield, probably best known for playing Darius in the FX series Atlanta. The characters, at least initially, aren’t that dissimilar. He also had a brief but memorable role in Get Out, as someone who clearly wasn’t feeling like himself anymore.

Here he’s a financially disadvantaged bum who lives in his uncle’s garage, and is desperate for work. We see him trying to put 40 cents of petrol in his car, one which needs literal strings to be pulled in order to get the wipers moving. I wouldn’t have mentioned the uncle except that the uncle is played by the sublime Terry Crews, who is confidently working towards taking over America by appearing in everything and on everything. If there is only one person on the planet I can accept getting to refer to themselves in the third person, and there is only one, it’s Terry.

I have however expended more words in the last paragraph than Terry gets in the whole flick. Let me not give the impression that Cash’s uncle Sergio plays any significant part in the proceedings. He doesn’t, other than as an occasional antagonist.

Cash tries to lie his way into a job at a telemarketing place. He unfortunately perpetrates a bit of resume padding claiming he worked as a manager at the Bank of Oakland during a particular time period, not knowing of course that the jerk interviewing him was the manager at that bank at the same time. Other places would show you the door, but this is telemarketing, of course, where being an awful person is its own reward and a valuable skill. Cash’s initial attempts to sell bullshit to people on the phone fails because the second people hear his voice they hang up.

An old hand at the job, Langston (Danny Glover), advises Cash to speak with his white voice. A voice that reassures the listener, that calms and comforts them, radiating ease and privilege, a voice that never knows want or fear of being able to pay the rent. When Cash finally masters that kind of voice, his rise through the ranks becomes stratospheric.

Rating:

The Favourite

The Favourite

Come, family, let us bask in the warming glow of our betters,
giving us a myriad of life lessons

dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

2018

Unbelievable. Finally they’ve made a good remake of All About Eve. It’s about bloody time.

The Favourite is one of the most bizarre situations to ever rise to such prominence that it not only earns nominations but actual Academy Awards and such, but, controversially, I’m going to argue the awards went to the wrong persons. Also, that this flick by this lunatic of a director ever could have been nominated for Best Picture (and lose to a manipulative nothing like Green Book) is flat out surreal.

As wonderful as I find Olivia Colman generally and specifically in everything she’s ever done, probably especially Broadchurch and Peep Show, I actually am not sure why you’d give the award to her and not her two co-stars. I can’t see this film working without the strength of the other two performances, being those by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

For this director, in quite a baffling way, this is probably the most conventional flick he’s made so far, the most “normal”. Working backwards, The Killing of a Sacred Deer reformulated ancient Greek tragedy as a bizarre family under threat drama, telling an awful story (‘tis a tragedy after all) with his signature oddness. Before that, known actors in The Lobster delivered the flattest and awkwardest performances of their careers in a movie where single people are transformed into animals if they don’t hook up after a year of singledom. Before that, there was the film about people who, for a fee, pretend to be your recently deceased loves ones to help you through the grieving process, awkwardly and flatly delivered (Alps). And before that (Dogtooth), it was a flick where two parents keep their three adult kids in captivity, spinning a tale about the world outside gone to rack and ruin, even though the world inside is pretty fucking awful and bonkers.

Not a conventional filmmaker. He’s pretty prominent, for a Greek director, but it’s a testament to how successful he is now that he no longer has to or wants to work with Greek actors in the Greek language. I mean, why would you, if you could avoid it?

Lord knows I’m sick of it. Just kidding. Now I’m no scholar of Greek film, but he’s clearly the most prominent director to come out of Greece since maybe Costa-Gavras, whose best work was admittedly decades ago. If that is, in itself, a good thing, then it’s an even better thing that he’s bringing up some other talented Greek actors like Ariane Labed (his wife), directors and film production people, especially Athina Rachel Tsangari (whose films Attenberg and Chevalier were pretty good).

All of that has nothing to do with this. The Favourite is a movie about Queen Anne (Oliva Colman), who reigned between 1702 and 1714. I don’t know anything about what she was actually like as a queen or as a person. The Favourite depicts her as a singularly ineffectual monarch and probably a complete nightmare of a person to hang around. She’s unwell physically, she seems fairly fearful of everything and everyone both inside and outside the palace, and she doesn’t really seem to be relishing the privileges that come with aristocracy.

Rating:

Green Book

Green Book

Green Book Green Book with two Stars. Twinkly Racist Driving Cars.

dir: Peter Farrelly

2018

Yes the fact that this got nominated for things at the thingie ceremony in late Feb / early March is the only reason I saw this. Otherwise I probably would have skipped it, not that I’m against touching stories where a low-rent mob palooka and a prissy African-American pianist reach across the racial divide and make America a better place by doing so.

I would have skipped it because on paper, in ads, conceptually and aesthetically, it did not appeal to me on any level, despite starring two actors that I adore. Viggo Mortensen is a tremendous man and a wonderful actor, and I’ve loved him in almost everything I’ve ever seen him in. And Mahershala Ali has been magnificent on tv, in movies and, like, probably even when he walks down the street or just out the front door to get his newspaper, very convincing, totally believable. Mahershala has charisma and presence to burn 99% of the time, so the stage is set for a feel-good movie you could take your grandmother too, that could just as easily have had Ebony & Ivory playing in it, that would also win heaps of awards from the less than discerning voters of the Academy, thank you, thank you, this is such an honour, I’d like to thank the Academy, and my agent etc etc…

That this is based on a couple of people who existed in human history does not make it a documentary, and a lot of critics point to discrepancies between what Doc Shirley’s surviving family say about their time together, and what Tony Vallelonga’s family say happened, as if either of the two sets of gold-diggers / reality deniers would really know. Even better, several times in the film Tony takes pride in announcing to the world that he’s famous for his well-earned nickname ‘Lip’ because of his propensity and alacrity with bullshitting people at any and all times.

Plus, not to be too rude, but who the fuck is Don Shirley anyway, and why should we care? I mean, he’s no Freddie Mercury / Jackson Maine / Lady Gaga, is he.

So perhaps the most accurate rendering of what this film is about, is that this movie is based on a story Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga told anyone who would listen about the time he drove a famous pianist around. Is that so complicated?

Well, it’s complicated by the time in which this happened, and the myriad of levels that people feel the need to argue and discount people’s stories these days (I guess it was always thus and always thus shall be). Some critics have dismissed the film saying a) it’s all bullshit, b), it’s a white saviour narrative, c) the road trip did happen, but not like this, d) bloody Hollywood pushing its agendas on us.

Rating:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Six paths, six stories, that all say the same bloody thing

dir: Coens

2018

Usually I’d argue that anthology films are kind of a waste of time and resources unless you’re in the mood for the cinematic equivalent of tapas instead of an actual meal, but, hell, it’s the Coens, it’s on Netflix, and I’d be a fool to not see it, considering the, I dunno, 14 or so truly great films they’ve made so far. It’s a reasonable bet to give them the benefit of the doubt, and it pays off most of the time.

Except when it doesn’t. But this is not one of those times. The fact that these stories are told in short story form, is the perfect delivery device for the overall package, because there’s no real connection between any of the stories, other than that people suck. It’s not the first time the Coens have ventured in the realm of the Western, but it’s the most recent, and probably the funniest. There is a certain mordent grimness as well, which befits the frontier setting, one which maybe implies man’s drive to ‘conquer’ the New World was an inherently deadly business.

Almost all the stories trade in death, in that death is either an element of the story, or the punchline to it, but not always. The last story, as far as I could tell, is entirely about death, with a number of people lead unawares to their final reward on a stagecoach, and yet they also argue about the nature of love, tedium, loneliness, the value of speaking the same language as someone you’ve shacked up with. All while the driver drives on.

The stories are bookended with images from a literal book being leafed through, as if these are all stories from the same book, by the same author, but really it’s mostly the Coens putting together some stories they thought up over the years (one of the stories is from Jack London, probably the best one, but who could tell) and making it look like there’s an overarching theme or connection at work.

There isn’t. Their only point is the same one they borrowed when they made No Country for Old Men, which is that there is no mercy, no divine grace, no power of prayer, no divine intercession on our behalf, and evil easily triumphs over good because it is way meaner and wants the prize more.

Again, except when it doesn’t. There is a wry approach at play here, where luck doesn’t really seem to go anyone’s way for too long, and misunderstandings lead to tragedy, or where venality wins out over virtue, but it’s not meant in a mean way, if that makes any sense, and it probably doesn’t.

The first story, which shares the title of the movie, is about a happy-go-lucky singing cowboy (Tim Blake Nelson) who looks like and sounds like the clear embodiment of all that jerks used to love about cowboy movies. Not only that but, like Deadpool, or any number of other characters who talk directly to the audience, this jerk tells us all about how wonderful he is, through his particular song and dance routine. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s quite handy with a gun.

Rating:

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