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2019

Joker

joker

Spare me those goddamn stairs. And don't take any candy
from him, kids, and definitely stay away from his van

dir: Todd Phillips

2019

Since, I think, Silence of the Lambs, there’s been this case to be made that we, as in audiences, are happy to make allowances for characters that do awful things on camera, as long as they’re compelling. Hannibal Lecter kept us hypnotised like the cliché about the cobra and the mongoose, trapped in his unblinking eyes, and we could not look away.

All these years later, and we’re still paying the price.

With that comes the argument about heroes, antiheroes, jerks and other lunatics, and it muddies the waters a bit. The Joker from the comics isn’t, at his base, a complex character. I know nerds nerdier than I can point to thousands of different versions of the Joker, each more demented than the last, but the basic fact is, when first created, he was someone ridiculous, camp and chaotic, and meant as the fundamental antithesis of the orderly, stoic, rich psychopath Batman.

He’s not a deep character. No amount of overwriting or depth of performance really makes up for that gaping lack. There’s a primary reason why the director and the production lean so heavily on the aesthetics of 1970s movies, because without it they’ve got nothing else. Joaquin Phoenix is a compelling actor, mesmerising, all those descriptive words, and he’s great as this character, honestly.

It’s just that there isn’t much there. It feels bad saying it, but there’s not as much ‘there’ as they would like us to think. Without the Scorsese ripoffs, the transparent Taxi Driver ‘homages’, the Death Wish / Bernard Goetz restaging, and the embarrassing Fight Club-lite insult to our intelligence, there’s just a creepy guy who laughs until it hurts, and who kills a few people.

The world of Gotham as conjured here has less to do with the comics, and more to do with the kind of New York that the movies tried to grasp in the 70s and 80s: a diseased, corrupt, heartsick and pungent place, where the great unwashed threaten to drown not only each other, but the wealthy as well. Social order is breaking down, the garbage isn’t being collected, services are being cut to those who need them most, and people dance on the stairs for no good reason. It’s purgatory.

Rating:

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man Far From Home

Night Monkey Goes Bananas, as a title, could have brought
more boys to the yard, it's Marketing 101

dir: Jon Watts

2019

Finally. An unambiguously mediocre, exceedingly average Marvel movie.

It’s a relief, honestly. It’s about bloody time.

The steady stream of undifferentiated product has finally pumped out something that is significantly sub-standard compared to the previous 20+ instalments, and that’s okay. It’s good. It’s good to be shitty, sometimes. It takes the pressure off.

Of course opinions and enjoyment are subjective. Of course I don’t think my opinion on this is in any way definitive, or that it’s even a commonly held opinion. I have no idea. I speak to like five people in this world with any frequency, and they have better things to do that argue about Star Wars Trek Marvel DC et al.

And the thing is, I really like Tom Holland as this Spider-Man. I love Zendaya as MJ, and the action looks okay, and the settings aren’t terrible to look at.

But it’s just a fucking shemozzle. It’s a dog’s breakfast, as if dogs care what their breakfasts look like, the villain makes no sense; the villain has to know a bunch of stuff they couldn’t know in order to plan ahead, and all the characters around Spider-Man have to be fucking dense as shit in order to sell the silliness.

It also doesn’t help that this standalone Spider-Man movie comes on the heels not of Avengers: Endgame, but after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was just so on point, and so makes a mockery of all this folderol and foofaraw.

So, young Peter Parker is still emotional after the death of his supposed mentor Tony Stark, who only ever treated him terribly, the way you would treat a redheaded stepchild who did more drugs than you. The world, apparently, is crying out for someone to take up the mantle of Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist, at the very least in order to make sense of stuff they couldn’t possibly make sense of.

The five year gap in which half of all life in the universe disappeared, and then reappeared without having aged, is referred to as The Blip, and people seem to have accepted it without question.

Sure. Life returned exactly back to normal, and the average pleb goes about their day doing the same things they were trying to do five years ago. Really? Wouldn’t this have fundamentally changed everything, everyone’s approach to reality and religion and life and all that shit? I mean, it’s not as if the average pleb in these films knows about Thanos, or presumably, anything, but surely it would fuck with their heads?

Rating:

The King

The King

It is unlikely to always be good to be the king. There must be
times when it sucks

dir: David Michôd

2019

I have a confession to make – not that anyone asked. I do love me some Henry V. I don’t know whether I give a tinker’s cuss for the actual Henry the Fifth, as in the actual royal jerk, but I have enjoyed the Shakespearean version in several forms. I have probably seen the Kenneth Brannagh version too many times, and I’ve even seen the Sir Laurence Olivier version, because, yes, I am that old.

In whatever version of it I’ve seen or listened to, considering the joy of language on display when you hear Shakespeare firing on all cylinders, I never sat there watching it thinking, “You know what this needs? Less talky-talky, more stabby stabby.”

I can’t imagine the mindset that thinks, “You know how great the St Crispin’s Day speech is about bands of brothers and once more unto the breech and all that jazz, you know what, it’s tired, we need something with more pizazz so the audience can collectively shrug in indifference.”

So, okay, maybe the thinking was “let’s make a more grounded, more down to earth version of this story, less flowery, more brutal”. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that this thinking perplexes me. While we might not know or care how brutal things were way back then, we have actually had at least a million movies and tv series purporting to show us the ‘real’ long ago, the real brutality of what people are capable of.

And to that I say: Got it already, thanks. I’m never going to need “gritty” retellings of humanity’s barbaric past, because I’ve already seen it too many times, and our present, let alone our past, is plenty brutal anyway.

Rating:

Parasite

Parasite

I musn't be remembering the film properly, because I don't
remember the bit where rich people stole everyone's eyes.
Sounds like something they'd do, though.

(기생충 Gisaengchung)

dir: Bong Joon-ho

2019

The thing about parasites is… how many are too many, and what should I do to get rid of them, lickety split?

Nah, but Parasite, the latest flick from the deranged and brilliant mind that brought us Okja, Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host and Memories of Murder, all of which are remarkably solid films, all of which are fairly unique, is probably the most outwardly conventional of all his films.

Not only that, but it won the Palme D’Or this year at Cannes! Can you imagine caring about such a thing? Surely if something wins the Palme D’Or it means it’s a pretty great film, if not the greatest film of all time, or at least that year thus far? I mean, look at all the other great Palme D’Or winners, like Pulp Fiction, Barton Fink, The Piano and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

I didn’t make up that last one. On the list of winners there are a lot of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh films, and films from many nations, with no obvious bias towards the films of any region. Mostly, they have nothing in common, though one could be tempted to imply that the jury likes flicks where class is addressed, or plays a part thematically, or is indeed called The Class, which won the Palme D’Or in 2008.

Parasite, the South Korean director’s latest flick, is pretty much about class, but it’s also about the struggles of a family of grifters, and their travails. The least charitable application of the title would be to say that what this family does is become a parasite burrowing its way into the body of another, wealthier family. When we meet our grifters, they’re living in a basement, fighting to find the right spot in which to use someone else’s wi-fi connection in order to connect for some data. Calling the place a hovel would be an insult to squalor.

But they’re tough, and resourceful, as are most petty crims who need to survive on their wits. The father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho, who is not only in most of the Bong Joon-ho or Park chan-wook movies I’ve seen, but also in the majority of all South Korean flicks I’ve ever seen) is a fairly quiet, fairly optimistic chap. He supports all his kids in all their attempts to grift. He seems like such a likable guy. The mum, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) is a former athlete, and gives the least amount of fucks of any in the family (being exactly zero), often threatening to bite the hand that feeds or actively biting it especially when it’s not in their interest. Then there’s the gentle and retiring son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and the daughter, Ki-jung (Park So-dam), with some serious Photoshop skills that she puts to work in service of the plan.

Rating:

The Perfection

The Perfection

Just keep practicing, it's the only way to get to Carnegie Hall

dir: Richard Shepard

2019

That was… a decidedly macabre experience.

Some films live for their twists. Others pay lip service to the twist, and just dangle it as an afterthought at the end, which often undoes much of the goodwill a film might have earned along the way. Others are so dependent on their twists that getting invested in the story seems pointless once you know that the rug is going to be pulled out enough times such that there’s nothing left to believe in anymore, man. The whole System is corrupt, Man!

But some films, like this one, and the great recent Korean flick The Handmaiden, have twists baked into the production, meaning we couldn’t predict what was coming, or why, but it at least enhances the story even as it keeps changing course in whiplash-inducing ways.

We think we know what’s going on. We don’t really know what’s going on, until the very end.

The Perfection refers to… something, I’m not entirely sure what. It might be the level of excellence required by the elite classical musicians of this strange world. It could also be a short cut phrase to the almost-cult like mentality of the musicians trained at the 1 % of the 1 % that is the Backoff Academy, run like a personal fiefdom by Anton (Steven Weber).

Rating:

The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth

Better translated title: My Wandering Attention; I'm Wandering
Away from This Movie and Down the Pub; The Frantabulous Earth
Saving Contraption of the Chinese Communist Party.
There's a lot of fun to be had, just not watching this movie

dir: Frant Gwo

2019

This is one of the highest grossing movies in Chinese history, and so I thought I’d give it a gander (on Netflix), knowing full well that something being immensely popular sometimes guarantees a certain level of interstellar shiteness, no matter the pedigree.

Also, despite being a fan of Chinese and Hong Kong movies for decades, I always knew that there was a disconnect between the stuff I was getting to see in the arthouse cinemas and from the dodgy Chinatown DVD sellers, and what the mass Asian audience was watching in its own backyard.

The Wandering Earth, despite being based on a short story by Liu Cixin, is certainly one of the dumbest science fiction flicks to have ever been produced, at least as far as the actual ‘science’ part of the phrase is concerned. Again I say despite the involvement of Liu Cixin, most famous outside of China for the Three Body Problem and for his other novels in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy which brought a profoundly different take on the science fiction genre and to stories about other alien cultures finding out about sentient life on Earth. He is a great writer of complex stuff. This film is neither great nor complex stuff. It’s essentially the Mainland China Communist Party Approved version of Armageddon; that dumb – as - a - box - full - of - Bruce - Willises movie where Michael Bay does to our brains what Michael Bay has been doing to movies for decades.

Big budget Chinese films are, like the big budget films of any nation, propagandistic by their very nature. All of them say something political just by existing, but Chinese movies specifically say ‘something’ just by being approved by the government censors for production. And Chinese films for the last couple of decades have been getting vastly more nationalistic in their plots and their action. If Wandering Earth is the second most Titanic-like movie in Chinese box office history, well, Number 1 is Wolf Warrior II, a movie where noble Chinese ex-special forces jerks / mercenaries save helpless African locals from evil Americans mercenaries. I wonder what the attraction is, hmmm…

Maybe there’s a theme emerging here. Big box office comes from, apparently, making Chinese heroes the saviours of all of humanity, with the best and brightest from other nations taking a bit of a back seat. It’s only fair; now it’s their time to shine.

The Wandering Earth’s plot is so fucking bonkers that if I even try to describe it openly, you’re probably going to think I’m either bullshitting, flat out wrong, or that it sounds so insane that it has to be a guilty pleasure to watch, like a Sharknado movie or anything with talking animals in it. It is none of those things. I swear on all that is good and holy, it is none of those things.

The sun in our solar system, about 40 years into the future, spontaneously decides to become a red giant, meaning the Earth is fucked, or at least more fucked than it was previously.

Rating:

Midsommar

Midsommar

I guess my allergies must be acting up something fierce

dir: Ari Aster

2019

This is some fucked up shit.

Midsommar is a deeply creepy flick, that is very long (I watched a director’s cut which adds like another half hour, making it nearly three hours long), but is not without its merits.

The main merit it possesses is Florence Pugh, who seems to be getting all the acting work these days (she was great in Lady Macbeth and the Little Drummer Girl mini series, and will star in the new Black Widow movie), and is just phenomenal even in something as disturbing as this. And it’s not an easy role, at all. You can just say this flick is a horror flick, and assume it requires someone being terrorised for a time before rising up and killing their tormentors or escaping to leave the tormentors to keep tormenting them in the sequel, but that’s not the kind of horror on display here.

This is a deeply weird flick, but it’s the kind of weird that I can get behind. I can’t say that I am that much of a horror flick fan now as in the past, but it certainly is transporting to see something a bit different (even if it isn’t entirely unfamiliar).

The place where it starts is a deeply, viscerally horrible place. Dani (Florence Pugh) is a college student, with a boyfriend called Christian (jack Reynor) who’s an anthropology graduate student. Her sister, who we never meet, has decided to kill herself, but even worse, to take her parents with her. But Dani doesn’t know all of this at first, and is reacting to a worrying text from her sister, and is more concerned about alienating her boyfriend by being too clingy or too needy.

When it cuts to the boyfriend, he’s chatting with his mates about how he’s planning on giving her the flick. The mates don’t seem to care, but they also seem to think he’s put up with enough as it is.

It is probably a kind of callous conversation that has been had by millions of people in their late teens early twenties since at least the dawn of human time, though it’s possible even our less evolved ancestors took a similar version of that chat for a spin back when the latest gadget was a sharp rock.

Rating:

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix

These posters are all starting to look pretty much the same

dir: Simon Kinberg

2019

Almost everyone that liked the first two X-Men films really hated the 3rd one directed by one of the worst directors in the business, being the appalling Brett Ratner who I hope never gets to direct again. That 3rd flick, The Last Stand, was pretty hateable. In it the character of Jean Grey goes fucking crazy and wants to destroy the world, for some reason.

Bryan Singer, who directed the first two flicks, did not get to direct the third one, and was so offended by it that when he got the chance in X-Men: Days of Future Past, he made it so the earlier film never existed. Would that we all had such power to undo the actions of the past. If Bryan Singer actually possessed such power, perhaps he could travel back in time and undo the sexual assault and harassment he’s been accused of. I hope neither he, nor Ratner, ever work again, because both of them are pieces of shit and neither deserves forgiveness.

So, one of the people who wrote the third film, being Simon Kinberg, decided it was shit too, and thought “maybe I can do the same story properly, and people will like it, and like me too, maybe?” So he decided to direct a version of the Dark Phoenix storyline where Jean Grey gets even more powerful and threatens to – something – the world. I dunno, she kills a few people unintentionally, and probably had some impact on property values.

Former allies and enemies join hands and either try to save Jean or kill her, depending on how they feel at any given moment, but ultimately the story is pretty much the same as in the Last Stand. If I wrote the script on one film, and it turned out to be shit, and then a studio gave me even more money, told me to write it again pretty much the same way and also to direct it, I would consider myself the luckiest motherfucker on the planet.

I have had arguments with people in the past about Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, in terms of whether she was a decent actor or not. I thought she was great in Game of Thrones, and only got better as the character improved over time. All of my defences of her acting fall apart here. She is, as are most other people in this flick, pretty dull. The combined effort of all these British people putting on American accents pretty much leaves them with nothing left in the tank for the “basic talking or acting” scenes.

Rating:

John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

John Wick 3

This poster furthers the impression that he's Gun Jesus, and I have
no problem with that

dir: Chad Stahelski

2019

Lots of thirsty people may disagree, and disagree strongly, but there is really no reason for this flick to exist. There’s no need for it.

If you like watching Keanu Reeves get repeatedly beaten up, stabbed and shot beyond the point where even a cyborg would pack it in, and also like watching him kill thousands of people, there are already two John Wick flicks in which all that happens. The singular attraction has to be one, or the other, or both, I guess. In this Chapter 3, even more people try to kill John Wick, and that’s about as complicated as it gets. All the story that was ever going to be told was told in the first one, where an idiot attacks a man, steals his car, kills his dog, only to realise when it’s too late that the person he wronged was the world’s most lethal assassin. That would make any man slap his forehead and utter a hearty “D’oh!”

The second one has a scumbag force John Wick to kill someone which then results in him having to kill hundreds of other people. And there’s a dog, but this time it survives. Yay doggo!

The third one has two more dogs but also the whole world wanting to kill the unkillable John Wick, who somehow keeps surviving because none of these super assassins ever thought to maybe just shoot him from a distance with a sniper rifle. Every super assassin just keeps wandering up to him, patiently waiting for their turn to die.

Oh, there’s no doubt they take their pound of flesh from Wick in exchange for violently being sent to their eternal reward, because he never changes his outfit, or his appearance, which is usually blood-soaked, or his carefully manicured beard. In fact, he does nothing to be less recognisable. It’s almost like he wants to get spotted so he can kill more people. But otherwise, he just keeps on keeping on.

Rating:

Her Smell

Her Smell

She's not winking at you, she just has glass in her eye

dir: Alex Ross Perry

2019

Jesus fucking Christ.

I don’t usually blaspheme, but jeez-us fucking holy hell, this is a hard film to sit through.

At least the first parts of it. I mean, it never really gets that comfortable, but also, there’s this false dawn where you think the movie will chill out and be something you can watch without taking a Valium, but you’d be wrong.

I can’t say that I know that much about this director, Alex Perry Ross, but I can say that I know enough to know that his films are hard to watch. This film, or many parts of it, feel like being trapped on a bus that is way overcrowded with awful, overlapping atonal soundtracks and random people screaming abuse at you in between feeling you up. And it never seems to get to its destination, and there’s no button to press to make it stop.

Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) and her band Something She are playing a song, a cover of Another Girl, Another Planet, and they do an okay job. I mean, it’s not their song, it’s from 1978 and The Only Ones, but they’re doing okay. I get the feeling their meant to be some kind of band like Babes in Toyland, Hole, 7 Year Bitch, maybe Bikini Kill-ish, who knows, but certainly of the early 1990s variety, and yet it’s never really borne out by the music.

Rating:

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