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2019

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 have a baby
at the same time, and some lousy bastard tries to kill you,
it's so 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:

Hobbs & Shaw

Hobbs & Shaw

There may be a more boring movie poster out there, but I
haven't found it yet

dir: David Leitch

2019

This is a gloriously stupid movie, and yet somehow that didn’t decrease my enjoyment of it not one whit.

If there are net negatives it’s that there is a certain amount of laziness involved in all the dick squeezing competitiveness of the two leads, one of whom is built like the proverbial brick shithouse, and the other being built like a pre-verbal shit brickhouse, only on a different scale, and yet much of the flick is watching them slap their metaphorical machismo all over each other in order to feel like the bigger man.

And there’s never a winner in those kinds of contests, except for the viewer in theory(?)

There’s a market for that, I guess. A lot of people like seeing men do manly things to each other. I’m not sure that’s the market this flick is aiming for, but it probably doesn’t hurt either.

Throw into the mix the self-titled Black Superman Idris Elba as the villain, with the unlikely name of Brixton Lore, and you have a very unlikely story about some people with very unlikely names doing very unlikely things that rarely involves cars. And it’s…okay.

It’s okay if you’re watching a flick with a premise whereby a baddie of some kind wants to release some kind of virus onto the world that will kill much of humanity. That bit seems a bit too close to home at the moment, but let’s ignore the fact that humanity is currently struggling with a virus, and all the efforts of The Rock, Jason Statham and Stringer Bell ain’t going to do diddly squat to help us, we’re on our own.

The last film, which I think had the even dumber name of Fate of the Furious in order to be able to incorporate an eight into its title, completed the trajectory of these films that started off being about, I kid you not, illegal drag racing, into now being sharper, shinier James Bond flicks. And for this one, the producers thought “those other characters are shit, people only care about the other people with shiny heads that aren’t Vin Diesel”, so they got rid of the plethora of C-list nobodies (no-one misses you Tyrese), and pared it down to an almost manageable amount of scenery chewers and people who yell stuff for expository reasons.

Rating:

It Chapter 2

It Chapter Two

Two balloons means twice as great and attractive as one

dir: Andy Muschietti

2019

The thing is, it’s not good, and in fact is fucking bonkers in a bad way, in a lot of ways. But it’s the ending we had to have. Because honestly…

So many jokes are made at Stephen King’s expense regarding the endings of his books or stories in this flick. It happens so frequently, and so mundanely, that when the actual Stephen King turns up in a cameo as a pawnshop owner joking about the terrible endings of his books (through another character, who effectively becomes the King stand-in), you start to wonder what they’re buttering us up for.

Because take it from me, and maybe from Maria Schneider from Last Tango in Paris; nothing good comes from being buttered up.

How you feel about this last epic Chapter 2 depends a lot on how you feel about the epic Chapter 1 and the epic book that both come from. Also, no-one is scared of Pennywise anymore. That ship sailed a long time ago. Over-exposure has kind of upped our immunity. Where one might have dreaded seeing the crazed clown peering out from a drain or the dark recesses of our minds, it’s been overdone, and he barely even eats anyone anymore. I guess being gone for 27 years will do that to someone’s rep.

I think it’s been 27 years since the events of the first film in a little shitty town called Derry. Most of the members of the Losers club have moved away and grown up to be fairly disappointed adults, pretty much like most adults. Beverly (now played by Jessica Chastain) was fleeing sexual abuse as a kid, and as an adult is in an abusive relationship. Bill (James McAvoy) has become a best selling author whose books are made into films, and though successful, no-one likes the shitty ends of his books. Richie (Bill Hader) has channelled his nasty mouth and acerbic hot takes on everything and everyone into a career as a stand-up, but he’s still a mess. Ben (Jay Ryan), graduating from being the token fat guy of the group, is a buff architect that wouldn’t be out of place in a Chippendales line up. And then there’s Eddie and Stanley and Mike.

Rating:

The Irishman

The Irishman

No leprechauns were harmed in the making of this documentary

dir: Martin Scorsese

2019

I don’t really have the reverence for Martin Scorsese that almost every other film critic and reviewer on this green but burning earth possesses, but that’s not the same as saying I don’t like him or like his movies. I like him well enough, as an old man, but especially as someone who loves movies. His series on film history is sublime, especially since it’s not about his movies.

In the discussion about this flick that I was having with a dear friend, I felt compelled to open up and admit that I’ve never really loved any of Scorsese’s films in the manner in which a lot of other people fall over themselves to admit. His films, to me, for the longest time, felt like homework, like you had to love them, or else people would frown upon you. Admitting you couldn’t stand Taxi Driver or Goodfellas could be enough to get you thrown out of a pub if the people you were arguing with were drunk enough.

There are dozens of reasons why much of his oeuvre hasn’t resonated with me, but I would never be foolish enough to pretend that he hasn't had an immense impact on the medium of film.

What’s ironic for me is that in this, his most recent film about the same shit he’s been making films about for decades, the element that disgusts me the most about his depiction of toxic masculinity here is transformed into something else entirely. Wow, what a convoluted fucking sentence. What I’m trying to say is that many of his other films depict the depths of toxic masculinity but also have their cake and eat it too by showing how much glorious fun can come from being the perpetrator of this mobbed up version of toxic masculinity. The Irishman lays bare that mentality, showing how completely it defeats itself over the longest term.

It’s really a film about old age and regret, made by an old Catholic man with regrets. The hushed tones and awards screeds pretend that it’s important because it reveals the “truth” about various chapters of American history. Honestly, give us a fucking break. This should be held up as a glowing beacon of truth and honesty the way Oliver Stone’s JFK is held up as a shocking film about what really happened: it’s isn’t, no one does, no-one mentions it any more.

Rating:

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:

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