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2018

The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin

Heroes of the People, surely, except when they're killing,
torturing and starving them all. Vodka and circuses for
everyone!

dir: Armando Iannucci

2018

When someone tells you that times have changed and the world we live in is not like the world depicted in this movie, consider the fact that the Russian government threatened and sued cinemas in Russia for playing this goddamn movie, because the Ministry of Culture (as oxymoronic a phrase as has ever existed) felt it insulted the memory of one of history’s greatest monsters, and it might make Russian peoples feel bad about their appalling history.

Is it really a comedy? There are moments of humour in this flick, and it’s referred to as a comedy in every single review, but there really is very little to laugh about. The world it conjures up, of the Soviet Union in the 1950s, is a totalitarian hellscape where virtually everyone lives in terror of being hauled off and killed at a moment’s notice.

Even those close to the Big Man himself, who you’d think would feel a bit more secure, know that at the slightest inclination, for the most ludicrous reason, they or their families could be hauled off and shot, tortured or sent to Siberia for having incurred the displeasure of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). His ‘friends’, the other members of the Select Committee, have to monitor every single thing they say on the off chance that they refer to something or someone out of favour, or that they don’t bray loud enough like the donkeys they are at his jokes, that they could be doomed. It’s a bit of a toxic work environment, to put it in today’s terms.

I have had managers like that in the past. Capricious, aggressive, needy, completely lacking in empathy, willing to destroy everything just to get their way or prove a point. The major difference is, in my case the people in power didn’t condemn literally millions to death and torment just for a laugh or a lack thereof.

The basic premise that the film has to establish is not the period piece specifics, of aesthetics and such; it’s the horrifying and anti-human atmosphere of a hellish totalitarian state. However the flick is described, as satirical, as whatever else, it does not make light of the fact that most of the men shown here were monsters of the highest order, of the greatest magnitude, some of the worst that humanity had ever seen at the time. It’s hard, at many times, to see what humour there is in such horror.

Rating:

Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War

Purple Rain, Purple Rain, Only wanna see you, dissolving in
the purple rain

dir: Russo Brothers

2018

What the hell?

Marvel is becoming that particular kind of arrogant boyfriend / girlfriend that takes you for granted so much that they feel like they can basically do anything to you and you’d put up with it forever. Infinitely. So confident are they that we’ll put up with anything, that you’ll eternally keep coming back for more they’re like a character from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, who is so sure of herself and her hold over her partner that she often walks away from the bedroom in the middle of sex after bringing them close to the ‘edge’, so to speak, but deciding to torture them by walking away with the job unfinished.

It’s a strained analogy, I’m the first to admit, but I am not sure this flick exists as a flick that makes any sense on its own, unlike the other 18 Marvel flicks which all have discrete beginnings and ends while teasing what’s going to come next. This just exists as whatever it is, but will completely not make sense BECAUSE of what will come next.

Again that’s not going to make sense. In a lot of ways I wish Marvel was even more arrogant and disinterested in anything other than making a point, and decided that this was going to be the last Marvel movie. It’s an impossibility, really, because the amount of money these movies have made is staggering. Put real simply they’ve spent 3 billion dollars over 10 years to make 15 billion dollars. That’s a ROI (Return on Investment) of 400%. Drug cartels don’t make that kind of money.

So obviously there are going to be an infinite amount of Marvel flicks, but eventually won’t we get sick of being brought to the edge and have it fade out to nothing every fucking time? Isn’t this becoming a masochistic exercise in frustrating futility?

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.

Rating:

Mute

Mute

See, it's a giant neon mouth, and he can't talk. Makes you
think, huh.

dir: Duncan Jones

2018

I can’t… It’s not…

I’m trying to find nice things to say about Mute, and I can’t. I really wanted to like it, I was excited when I heard Duncan Jones had a flick coming out, and when I heard the premise for this, but, having endured this weird smorgasbord of shiteness, which just kept going on and on far longer than it deserved to, I actually come away from the experience feeling cheated and disgruntled.

It’s not like I paid to watch it, well, not like I paid extra beyond my monthly Netflix subscription. This falls under the somewhat interesting banner of movies actually “made” by Netflix, not just a movie that Netflix overpaid for first screening rights. Of the three “Netflix Exclusives!!!” that I recall seeing over the last year, this is by far – BY FAR – the worst.

The problem here, just to be a glib smartarse, is that it is terrible, which is a shame, because the central performance, despite being ill-conceived, is actually all right. Good, yet baffling.

Alexander Skarsgaad has nothing to be ashamed about here. He is, in fact, practically the only good thing in the whole grating experience. And that isn’t enough, I’m sad to say, because the other stuff is so fucking awful.

For the longest time it’s been like I’ve been reluctant to ever really give a flick a critical bollocking, or that when I watch something truly terrible I don’t even bother reviewing it because it’s like rubbing salt into my own wounds getting me to waste even more of my precious time. But some movies stand out in their singular awfulness, and need time and attention paid to them in order to try to stop them happening again.

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.

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