Encanto

Encanto

Happy families are all alike; every magical family is
unhappy in its own magical way

dirs: Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith

2021

You may ask yourself: why would a man your age voluntarily subject yourself to a new Disney animated movie, when you no longer have a child of an age where the watching of such films is not only necessary, but mandatory?

Honestly, while I wave my hands at all *this* that’s happening now, the very thisness of it all, the crushing familiarity of where the world is at the moment, I just wanted to feel some delight, some joy, and while such a thing is not always guaranteed by Disney, it has a pretty good track record delivering with its mainline animated efforts.

I watched it, on a night I usually reserve for horror flicks or brutal action monstrosities, because I think my soul needed it, and I was rewarded. Encanto is up there with the “good” recent animated films Disney proper has put out, since it started having to compete with Pixar (before buying Pixar, of course). I don’t yet know if this has the longevity of something like Tangled, Moana or Frozen (I mean, Frozen was a global phenomenon, but no-one talks about Frozen II), but it’s definitely up there.

It does have some catchy tunes, but however great “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is, it’s not going to invade the ears and minds of every reluctant parent the way that “Let It Go” is probably sung even on the outer planets of our solar system.

I also like the fact, love the fact that if you could somehow resurrect Walt Disney himself, and play him the entirety of the movie, he would probably die from shock that an animated movie from the studio he created would have so many people with different skin shades in it, and that they weren’t playing happy slaves on a plantation.

It would kill him all over again, and that’s probably a good thing. We don’t need old racist zombies returning from the grave, craving our brains, money or votes.

Rating:

Eternals

Marvel's Eternals

Here we stand, all on an angle, all pretending to look at
something. It's all ever so compelling.

dir: Chloé Zhao

2021

Strange days have found us…

Marvel is so confident in its marketing abilities that the masses will consume anything that says ‘Marvel’ on it, that they’re making movies out of the unloved, unwanted, unsuccessful parts of their back catalogue deliberately now. No-one’s been able to make the Eternals work as an ongoing series, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone was really clamoring for them to appear in cinematic form.

Ironically, this feels the least like a Marvel flick, despite being extruded ultimately into such a familiar final form.

We know nothing of these beings, of their characters beforehand, but we’ll be too familiar with them when two and a half hours have elapsed. When some of them ‘die’, we might feel nothing, not even mild surprise.

The ‘trick’ earlier Marvel flicks pulled was having a character, oh, let’s say one played by a very tall blonde Australian, which is a character known of outside of comic books but also within comic books, being Thor, a hammer wielding jerk with a murderous trickster for a brother, being Loki.

The conceit is that, sure, on this Earth we know of the Norse myth of the very strong, very dumb son of Odin who wields a hammer called Mjolnir and gets drunk a lot, but in the ‘reality’ of these movies, the myth springs from the reality, which is that there’s actually a guy called Thor, and he has a hammer, and lives in another realm called Asgard, and they’re so advanced they’re kinda like gods?

Well, if you can swallow that claptrap, let me introduce you to a bunch of other superbeings who also sounds familiarish because their names appear in a bunch of disparate Earth mythologies.

I can’t bring myself to even type their names, because it feels so generic. The important thing to say is that, there’s ten of them, and they came to Earth on a spaceship thousands of years ago, and they’ve protected humans from these monstrous creatures called Deviants. Whenever these creatures appeared, the Eternals destroyed them using their powers, and then they’d sit around for ages waiting for the next attack.

In between attacks, human civilisations generally flourished, populations grew, but the Eternals weren’t getting involved any of the other times when bad stuff happened, nor were they meant to protect humans from their own stupidity.

These Eternals mostly have analogs in old stories, because, we’re meant to think, they would occasionally get bored and tell people, or want to speak to someone’s manager, and bellow “do you know who I am and what I’ve done for your wretched species?”

Rating:

Come True

Come True

I assure you, the movie is better than the poster would indicate

dir: Anthony Scott Burns

2020

This was… one of the most unsettling films that I saw last year, and it wasn’t just because it’s Canadian. It’s not the most horrific flick that I saw last year, or the most horrific Canadian film I saw last year (that would be Violation, but it’s without a doubt the most unsettling.

Up until a certain point. Then it pulls a M. Night Shyamalan, and makes you regret ever having heard of the film in the first place.

It’s not even really a twist so much as an explanation, that comes out of nowhere, that no-one asked for, that improves nothing, that instead makes you feel like you’ve wasted your entire time watching something that has such an appalling ending.

I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on what I feel the flick gets right, for most of it length, because that way it feels like I’m being fairer to the film, to the people involved.

Saying that this film, Come True has a nightmarish quality is kind of like describing Kafka’s The Trial as being Kafkaesque. It’s redundant phrasing, because it’s literally about nightmares.

A lot of the flick is passages of a camera swooping through monochrome landscapes and sets with imagery that disturbing, but you can’t quite put your finger on why. It’s not gory or violent (except for maybe a few seconds just before the ending), and there’s no monsters eating people or demons trying to tear people’s bodies or souls apart.

It’s about a person, Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), who’s homeless, and she doesn’t sleep very well. When she does, she always seems to be approaching a motionless figure, someone who she feels she is terrified of, but doesn’t know why.

We don’t know why Sarah avoids her mother, or doesn’t feel safe at home. She tries to scrounge food, take showers where she can, get to school on time, but she’s always falling asleep during class. When she sees one of those tear-off fliers for a place, presumably a university, offering to pay people in order to conduct sleep studies on them, she thinks that maybe this will help her out and she’ll get some money for her troubles.

Two birds, one stone. The people running the study are friendly enough, but they have a weird boss Dr Meyer (Christopher Hetherington), with these massive glasses on his face, which are even more disturbing than anything else that happens in the flick. Also, they don’t answer many questions when asked.

Rating:

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch

All so many people, most with very little of worth to do

dir: Wes Anderson

2021

It’s impossible to know whether this flick is peak Wes Anderson, or whether his next flick will be even fussier. Each time one of his flicks come out, I think “it can’t get any fussier than this, can it?” and every time I’m wrong.

At this late stage of his career, to expect any different would be foolish.

The French Dispatch’s full title is The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun. How you feel immediately after hearing or reading that could impact on your reaction towards the film. If, upon hearing that, you rolled your eyes so hard you might have strained something, or you fought the instant urge to punch a kitten in the face, the preciousness of the ensuing endeavor may be a tad too much for thee.

After all, fans of Wes Anderson films are a special bunch. Like the collectors of Sylvanian Families anthropomorphised unholy animal hybrids or the people who are now drinking their own pee as a coronavirus cure, they’re not like other humanoids. Imagine the kind of person for whom Wes Anderson movies are the best movies they’ve ever seen.

You’re either picturing Wes Anderson himself, possibly wearing a cravat or an ascot, or legions of penny farthing riding, artisanal picklers, waxed moustache baristas or people who crave a gluten free lifestyle despite not being gluten-intolerant.

In other words such a creature doesn’t really exist. And yet those films keep being made, and someone must be seeing them.

Well, I saw this one now, and it’s not only a homage to all things fussy and Andersonian; it’s also a love letter to that other bastion of fussiness and great writing, being the New Yorker magazine. Why the pretense that it’s a French supplement to a Kansas newspaper? I have no idea, other than that Anderson wanted to set this flick in France in a town literally called Boredom-on-Apathy (Ennui-sur-Blasé) because that counts for humour in Wes Anderson World. Though the parallels with the New Yorker are fairly transparent and one-to-one, maybe it’s a reference to The Paris Review as well, which was founded by amongst others, George Plimpton, that silver haired razor wit and raconteur.

Yeah, nah, probably not. The editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray), is probably even fussier than Wes Anderson himself. There are an array of other editors and cronies, all mostly played by the other hangers on and goons who usually populate Anderson’s films. Familiar faces. Familiar, goofy faces.

Mostly, the flick is held together with a tissue of connections, formatting, impeccable set design, but (mostly) is an anthology of stories, some more interesting than others.

Rating:

C'mon C'mon

Cmon Cmon

That wary look is the look of every parent when their kid does
something stupid

dir: Mike Mills

2021

I wish that I had seen this earlier, like, earlier last year. It would really have capped off the last, most dismal year hopefully that we’ll ever experience in our lifetimes.

Well, those of us who survived, I guess.

I was completely unprepared for how easily C’mon C’mon slipped through my critical defences and destroyed me, on a deep, deep level. There were multiple times where I was sobbing, and it’s not even a particularly “weepy” flick. It’s actually a quite joyous flick, in a lot of ways.

It feels like a film from a different era, and not just because it’s in black and white. It’s very contemporary in its efforts to get people, especially adults, to speak in helpful ways about their emotions, but it’s also not afraid to look at the fraught tensions between adults and children. A lot of the flick is Joaquin Phoenix interviewing kids. The kids aren’t acting. When they’re talking about the world or their parents or the future, it never felt like it was scripted.

My heart broke almost every time they spoke. They’re cautiously optimistic about the future regardless of their circumstances, but many of them can’t see past the dramas in their family lives. The kid who’s dad is in jail, and he’s there trying to get by, for his younger sister, because she’s all that matters…

I’m sorry, I’m already in a puddle again on the floor.

The film isn’t even mostly about that, but it does conjure up an atmosphere of optimism, somehow. Of hope. Not once is the pandemic mentioned. There’s not a single mask anywhere. I don’t know why that made me so happy. I didn’t even have to look it up to know that this was filmed just prior to, you know, all this craziness. That means this flick is like a fantasy, where the plague isn’t fucking things up for everyone across the world.

Rating:

Nitram

Nitram

The cracks, they are getting bigger

dir: Justin Kurzel

2021

A film that no-one wanted to see made, other than obviously the people that made it. Yet it won a lot of awards recently, so someone other than the people of Tasmania thought it had to be worth something.

“Too soon” isn’t even the cry, because no amount of time will be enough for the survivors, for those who lost loved ones back in 1996, or the rest of us who were just left stunned. And though I clearly remember that time and what happened, and how we sounded when we talked to each other about it, and though I have seen and done much in life that would stain the souls of most mortal men, even I came into this film wary, worried, anxious.

To say that someone is this nation’s worst killer, who harmed the most people in the shortest expanse of time, is obviously not a worthy title, but it’s one I deeply hope is never taken from this particular, awful man. I never want anything even close to this to ever happen again, here or anywhere else. There are other countries, let’s be fairly obvious, where gun carnage and mass killings are taken to be an unfortunate but necessary reality that should never be used to diminish a citizen’s right to own as many guns as they want, for whatever reason. But that’s not Here. That’s not Australia. We tell ourselves, well, it only happened because of an oversight – our overly permissive laws regarding guns before were only because we never imagined someone could legally possess weaponry like this and use it in such a fashion. I mean, This is Australia!

And yet, you ask yourself, what else would they be for? A weapon that can shoot thousands of bullets in the space of minutes only really has one purpose, and don’t they just sit there full of their dark potential until someone uses them the way God intended?

I had hoped there would not actually be any depiction of the fateful day itself, but Nitram goes into aspects of the day, like, how the massacre started, and it was all too much. But that was the end of the film, and up till then, I’d been sitting there as a tortured ball of stress, willing somehow at the screen with every fibre of my being that the outcome we were obviously leading up to could somehow be different, could somehow be anything else.

But it couldn’t. This is part of our appalling history, and just like how the colonial horrors of Port Arthur from more than a century previous, or any of the brutality across Tasmania can’t be undone by wishing it, nor could this horrible day be undone either.

Nitram opens with a shocking snippet of news footage of the person this film is about, as a child, in hospital after an accident. It’s shocking because it’s shocking to see him as a child, that he existed in documented form well before he became known by all.

He speaks flatly about having hurt himself with fireworks, and when asked by the interviewer as to whether he’s going to avoid fireworks in the future or be more careful in general, if anything he wants to play with fireworks even more now.

It never lets us forget what he’s going to do, but it does remind us that he was a child once. A child that grew up into a man who was pretty much still a child.

Rating:

The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter

Everyone has fun on a Shirley Valentine-like holiday

dir: Maggie Gyllenhaal

2021

Is there anything the Gyllenhaals can’t do? When they’re not wowing audiences with their intense acting, or stealing red scarves from Taylor Swift and keeping them long after the relationship has ended, now they’re also directing intense dramas and probably getting ridiculous amounts of awards and stuff.

Maggie Gyllenhaal elects to write and direct here, adapting a novel by Elena Ferrante, being The Lost Daughter and not, as I initially thought, an adaptation of the fourth Neapolitan novel The Story of the Lost Child. She does not elect to star in it, instead letting Olivia Colman take centre stage, to the film’s benefit. Gyllenhaal is a fine actor, but Colman has this way of getting mean peevishness across with very little effort. She did it so effortlessly and coldly on The Crown as Queen Betty for two years, so why wouldn’t she bring those Ever So British skills to bear here?

Very much like the Neapolitan novels, it’s about a woman who’s an intellectual and an academic, who had kids, and felt pretty unimpressed with the experience. Present are the elements to do with maternal ambivalence towards one’s own children and not wanting to be classified as a mother to the exclusion of one’s other professional, personal or artistic pursuits. Absent are the elements to do with growing up in poverty in a mafia run town, or the intense rivalry between two childhood friends.

It’s something most mums are reluctant to admit, I’m guessing, unless they feel like they’re in a safe space or have had a few too many chardonnays. The mother who isn’t completely enraptured by kids, or who doesn’t feel comfortable maintaining the illusion that having kids changes everything positively about what you want out of life is still a touchy subject that usually results in the woman daring to say it in essays or fiction as heartless, selfish monsters.

Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) never lies to people about how she feels about motherhood. “Children are…a crushing responsibility” she says to a pregnant woman at one point. Very patiently, over the course of the film, Leda’s relationship with motherhood, and what she did to her children, is teased out, but mostly it’s used as a backdrop to partially explain why she’s standoffish and prefers to be isolated even as she holidays alone on the Greek island of Spetses.

The thing about holidays is, no matter where you go, other arseholes always turn up. And a huge bunch of loud Americans appear, among them a young woman (Dakota Johnson) with a toddler daughter. The way the mother seems to swing between wanting to be a good mother to her angelic, annoying child, and seeming to want some freedom from her as well, reminds Leda of what were clearly her struggles when her own daughters were younger.

We get to see Leda as a younger woman with a pair of kids being so deliberately annoying you know this is somewhat a heightened depiction of how oppressive kids can feel sometimes, especially when you know it’s down to you. Other people will say they’re happy to help, but there’s judgement there too.

It’s down to you, all of the time.

Rating:

Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up

It doesn't matter whether you look up or not if you tell yourself
it's either not happening or how can I make money from this?

dir: Adam McKay

2021

Don’t Look Up. It’s not satire; it’s a documentary.

It’s not a documentary of what’s happened in the past or what brought us as a species to this point: It’s a document of why humanity’s narcissism, greed, laziness, stupidity, and willingness to swallow lies, no matter how transparently false, will not only doom our own species, but many others.

People, told the truth about what changes climate change will bring upon the planet, either collectively shrug their shoulders and keep doing what they’re doing, or actively try to find ways to make things worse. Of course, this being an American film, it’s about the general stupidity and venality of American society, that would rather jerk off to the latest celebrity gossip than spend a second thinking about reality, but let’s not pretend any other countries, including our own with its coal-hugging prime ministers, are any less fucking dumb, venal and corrupt.

Worst of all, which could be one of the reasons why the reviews have been so savage, is the media landscape that aids and abets this mentality of outrage algorithms and clickbait making stories about Real Housewives shenanigans and pop singer breakups resonating far more deeply with people than anything to do with global catastrophic climate change. In the form of two tv hosts played by Tyler Perry and an almost terrifyingly unrecognisable Cate Blanchett, the media is depicted as so uninterested in any truth, and so focused on maintaining a pleasant and comfortable illusion that ALL IS WELL, JUST KEEP CONSUMING is the only message they have to give us, all of the time.

Yes, the film is about a comet hurtling towards the earth, initially with 6 months notice before it arrives, as a metaphor for climate change. But it’s really about this fucked up society that will either ignore the problem until it’s too late, try to profit from it, or deliberately sabotage mitigations because, hey, humans have a death wish. The people who discover the comet, two astronomers, (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) tell this fact to anyone who’ll listen. They can confirm that it’s happening, that it’s coming. No-one really believes them, but a few people are uneasy about it. Bit concerned.

They tell their sorry tale to advisers to the president (Meryl Streep, playing the worst fusion of Hillary Clinton and the former orange fucker that you’re ever likely to see), and then to the president herself, who doesn’t believe them, who disputes the very idea of statistics, statistical results or empirical evidence, and shushes them, being more concerned with upcoming elections and her ex-pornstar boyfriend that she wants to install on the Supreme Court, and they make the concerted decision to pretend it’s not happening at all.

Rating:

The Man Who Sold His Skin

The Man Who Sold His Skin

Every time I think of the title, I think of it sung by Kurt Cobain
to the tune of "The Man Who Sold the World". Try It!

(Ar-Rajul Allaḏī Bāʿa Zahrihu)

dir: Kaouther Ben Hania

2020

Where this starts… and where this goes…

This is a pretty sly and smart flick, undone only by what I feel is like something of a cop out ending.

I didn’t know these things before watching the movie, but I know them now – this is kind of based on something that happened, which itself was ‘inspired’ by a Roald Dahl short story called Skin.

Skin I remember, because I read Skin when I was a kid in Tales of the Unexpected, and it stuck in my head ever since, because of the economical brutality of it: a chap has an exquisite tattoo on his back, needs money, someone promises to take care of him like he’s a pampered poodle, but next thing you know the skin is on a gallery wall somehow.

This film begins with two curators being ordered around by a guy with way too much mascara on, getting the position of the frame right, only for the camera to close in on the painting itself, showing that it is human skin.

So, the film starts at the macabre ending, and we’re to wonder how this ever happened.

The purpose of Dahl’s story was to shock, to disturb, to give someone a wry chuckle. The purpose of this flick is very much something different, seeing as it’s by a Tunisian director, with Syrian leads, set during the Syrian Civil War and the rise of the Islamic State, and most of it transpires in Belgium.

Belgium? How many good flicks other than In Bruges are set in fucking Belgium?

Well, there’s this one.

Sami Ali (Yahya Mahayni) loves a woman, called Abeer (Dea Liane), but her family have promised her to some Syrian jerk who works as a diplomat in Belgium. Bashar Assad’s forces are randomly killing bunches of Syrians, you know, just to keep them in line, so her family think it’s safest for her if they marry her off and send her to Europe.

Rating:

We Need to Do Something

We Need to Do Something

How about let's not and say we did?

dir: Sean King O’Grady

2021

Can you imagine anything as terrifying as not being able to get away from your own family? Imagine being trapped inside with them, unable to get out, unable to go anywhere…

Well, what I mean is, imagine it happening to someone else, but not because of a dumb virus. And they’re Americans, so it’s okay if bad stuff happens to them. As the film opens, we watch a family voluntarily getting into a bathroom together. It’s a pretty big bathroom, at least. There’s a tornado coming, and they’re being casual about it, so I’m going to guess they’re in one of those states where tornadoes happen frequently and people are used to it, but never think to maybe move somewhere else where they don’t happen.

They will be there for a long time. If this screenplay suffers from any problems, it’s that it has a The Shining problem. I know it’s considered a Kubrick / horror classic, but most people rarely mention the fact that Jack Nicholson’s character is a prick and a nut right from the start. He really doesn’t have anywhere to go, other than from fairly nuts to totally nuts. There’s no arc, no development.

The dad (Pat Healy) here, too, is an abusive arsehole before things start going wrong, but at least the other family members can make eye contact with him at the start. Not so much later on.

There’s also a mom (Vinessa Shaw), a son (John James Cronin) and teenage daughter Melissa, or Mel (Sierra McCormick). They’re an average, very average, middle class family. They are fighting and sniping even before the storm happens.

What happens is, the house is damaged and it looks like a tree has trapped them in the bathroom. Forever, unless someone comes to help them out. Phones don’t work, or are conveniently lost.

“We need to do something” is said again and again, mostly by Mel. Thing is, though, the room is a perfect trap, and everything they try, down to brute force, doesn’t work.

The mum of course reassures the kids that everything will be all right, that help will come, that they won’t be harmed, they’ll be fine. The dad rants and raves, humiliated by his powerlessness, alternating between screaming obscenities at his wife, his kids or at the universe at random.

Contrasting parenting styles. Everything we see that happens to them, or doesn’t happen to them, occurs in this one room. It’s almost like they’re in a lockdown that never ends…

Rating:

The Matrix Resurrections

Resurrections

Only ageless people would think they're not too old for this shit

dir: Lana Wachowski

2021

Well. I have seen The Matrix Resurrections. I imagine I will be one of the lucky few.

I have the feeling not a lot of people are either going to watch this or like it, and the ones that do like it won’t be believed, and the ones that hate it will really, really hate it.

What I’m going to do now is not something I usually do in reviews, seeing as it’s going to be pretty annoying and not very illuminating without context. But I’m going to type out a sequence of dialogue verbatim as it was in the movie.

All the context I’m going to give you is this: Keanu Reeves, as Neo / Thomas Anderson, is alive, and works for the biggest gaming company in the world. He has a boss, and it’s the boss talking to Keanu / Neo:
“I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company Warner Brothers has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy.”
- “What?” (that’s Keanu saying “what”)
“They inform me they’re going to do it with or without us.”
- “I thought they couldn’t do that.”
“Oh, they can, and they will, and they made it clear they’ll kill our contract if we don’t cooperate.”

Okay. So. The people, who have made this film, including the director Lana Wachowski, didn’t want to make this film. If you include lines of dialogue in a film, and mention Warner Brothers specifically, being the company that Lana is saying she was pressured into making this film by, what possible incentive is there to make a decent flick?

I have no idea just how resentful Lana might be, but she’s certainly delivered on her contractual obligation, as have apparently Keanu and Carrie-Anne Moss.

How are their characters alive, you may ask, since we watched both of them die for the good of all humanity at the end of the dismal Revolutions? Well, the pesky machines, the AIs that dominate the Earth in the future and who enslaved humanity, literally within the context of the movie resurrect both of them, put them back in pods like they were in the beginning, and use Neo to keep enslaving humanity.

In the Matrix, as in, the virtual reality within the context of the films where most of humanity live and think is their actual real lives playing out, the machines resurrected Neo in order to have him keep enslaving humanity with entertainment.

That entertainment, within the Matrix, is the Matrix films. So the people enslaved by the Matrix are the ones who are entertained by the Matrix films / games.

So that would mean… we’re the ones enslaved by the machines? Or is it the Wachowskis, who feel they're enslaved by Warner Brothers?

Rating:

Petite Maman

Petite Maman

The petite mamans will inherit the earth, and all the candy that
comes with it

dir: Cèline Sciamma

2021

Little mum. That’s how I choose to translate the title. It’s probably ‘little mother’, but I ain’t fancy like that.

Petite Maman is such a tiny, small-scaled flick, with its tiny, 8 year old protagonist. She is Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), and she’s just lost her grandmother. Her mother Marion (Nina Meurisse) is stunned by grief. They clear out gran’s room at the old folk’s home, and then travel to clear out grandma’s home – the home Marion grew up in.

It’s an old kind of place (I guess, I mean I have no reference point for what places in France should look like, if they haven’t been renovated since the 90s?), and Marion’s childhood stuff is all still there, which she feels ambivalent about.

Nelly and Marion grieve in their own, confused ways, sleeping wherever feels most appropriate, pottering and such.

And then Marion leaves, because it’s all too much.

Nelly and her dad (Stéphane Varupenne) are meant to be clearing the place out over the next couple of days, but Nelly is more interested in finding the place in the woods nearby where her mother told her she once built a fort out of branches and such when she was a kid, about Nelly’s present age.

She finds the place, four trees in something of a square. There happens to be a young girl there, building the fort. I guess it’s something of a coincidence that the other girl is called Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), and she happens to look a lot like Nelly. They work together a while, and then run to Marion’s place when a downpour starts.

Even though they go in the opposite direction to where Nelly is staying, you kind of know what’s going to happen – this isn’t a mystery, or a thriller. It’s a gentle meditation on motherhood, grief, wanting somehow to say goodbye properly to someone for whom that option no longer exists, and the wondering many kids must do about what their parents were like when they themselves were kids.

They get to Marion’s house, and of course it’s identical to where Nelly is staying, only it’s back in time. Marion’s mother (Margo Abascal) already walks with the same cane that Nelly, in the present, asked if she could keep when her grandmother died. She is protective of Marion, as she is about to go to hospital for some kind of worrying surgery.

Rating:

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Claw man is coming for you, off-brand Arachno Boy!

dir: Jon Watts

2021

Finally, another Spider-Man movie! This is impossible to review without spoiling, because every second of its running time, instead of having a story or plot, is just a never ending cascade of surprising spoilers.

I don’t know if you missed seeing Tobey Maguire either in general or as Spider-Man, but if you were missing him, here he is again.

Do you think about Andrew Garfield much? Do you like him as an actor? He is here, also playing Spider-Man.

Tom Holland plays Spider-Man too, or should I say three. He is the main Spider-Man here, the others are just hangers-on, depending on your perspective.

Benedict Cumberbatch reprises the character he plays in The Power of the Dog as Dr Phil Strange, an angry, repressed man who takes out his frustrations on the universe by doing magical spells. For reasons that don’t really make any sense because why would you need stuff to make sense if you’ve got magic, Dr Strange casts a spell to make the world forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

Why would this matter? Well, because Peter and his friends are having trouble getting in to MIT, and the thought of having to go and work in the service industry or go to community college is too depressing for them. That’s plenty of justification for wrecking reality.

This makes villains from other universes that have a Spider-Man / Peter Parker, appear in this universe, trying to kill Peter Parker. But their Peter Parkers are played by different actors, so Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus are after Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro and some Lizard guy are after Andrew Garfield (not for being Peter Parker, but because he’s so fucking annoying).

Rating:

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Let There Be Carnage

Just look at this garbage. But, not for too long

dir: Andy Serkis

2021

In any year I’ll see a stack of films. There will be great ones, okay ones, dull ones, painful ones, but rarely will there be actively dumb ones.

Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of dumb scenes in countless movies, but it takes a special talent / motivation to make a good “dumb” movie. Bad dumb movies are all too easy.

Of the thoroughly dumb ones I’ve seen this year, like the Australian made Mortal Kombat reboot or King Kong Versus Godzilla, this Venom flick is somehow dumber than the rest yet not any more enjoyable because of it.

Plot points and motivations, dialogue and virtually everything people say or do don’t matter in dumb flicks. Dumb flicks skate by all of that by being fun and / or funny.

This wasn’t fun, at least not for me. Tom Hardy as the somewhat lead character doesn’t look like he’s having fun either, but he’s based a career on that, so he’s not going to start looking comfortable now. Throughout this entire flick, and throughout what little I remember of the first one, Hardy’s character of Eddie Brock looks like little more than a guy who desperately needs to find a working bathroom. Alternatively, he has the air of a junkie starting to get the shakes, but they never stop; the shakes and the sweats are eternal.

Within him is an alien symbiote they call Venom, who consistently keeps wanting to eat other people’s heads. They have a very uneasy alliance, in that they fight constantly, though I think only Eddie hears Venom’s voice.

I could wax rhapsodic about how this is an updated version of the duality of the human soul / mind, of the Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde concept, but even the thought I put into constructing this clumsy sentence is more than the level of thought that was put into the original script. I say ‘original’, because I can hear the deathly “punch-up” moments scattered throughout the lazy screenplay.

Rating:

The Power of the Dog

Power of the Dog

This is so not a Western, and yet... People will be tricked
into thinking it so

dir: Jane Campion

2021

What a film. What a strange, alluring film.

I guarantee you’ve seen no film like it this year, or pretty much any year.

Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a cruel piece of shit. His brother George (Jesse Plemons) is not a cruel piece of shit, but he does put up with a fair amount of abuse. They run a cattle ranch somewhere in Montana (it’s really the south east coast Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island, but, the magic of movies), and they are quite successful at it.

Phil rules the men that work for him with an iron fist, disdaining anything that might be delicate or gentle. He sees some flowers, constructed from paper, and it fills him with loathing and contempt, which he directs at the maker of said flowers, being Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

This isn’t, not that his cruelties would be any more justifiable if it were, frontier times or Civil War times or anything, it’s like 1925. The Roaring 20s. What even is this cowboy bullshit when there’s cars and trucks and stuff on the roads?

Phil don’t care. Everything that ever mattered he learned from Bronco Henry, a man we never get to meet, but who looms over Phil’s consciousness all of the time.

George, the other brother, is not like Phil. He doesn’t do the grunt work on the ranch with the grunts in their employ. He dresses fancy, waxes his moustache and schmoozes with, I dunno, governors and mayors and the like. When he sees a woman like the widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), or her son Peter, he isn’t filled with an inexplicable rage. Instead he sees some gentle folk who he could have a life with, much to Phil’s disgust.

Every review you might read, including this one here, keep talking about what a cruel sonofabitch Phil is, but none of the reviews can really capture the extent of it, despite the fact that his cruelty is not like, I dunno, Hannibal Lecter or anything. He never physically threatens her, and rarely if ever speaks to her. But he finds his ways, he does, of making her feel worthless.

Rating:

Passing

Passing

I've been trying to pass for human for over 40 years, and
I don't think I've quite nailed it yet

dir: Rebecca Hall

2021

I’ve seen a few films, even just this week, made recently but in black and white for stylistic reasons, mostly. I think this one is in black and white for entirely different reasons.

Set in Harlem in the 1920s, this flick centers itself less around the idea of people of African-American backgrounds passing for “white” in a climate still hostile to black people (unlike the enlightened era we all live in 100 years later), and more around the complex friendship between two women, Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga).

The film is based on a novel by Nella Larsen, written in the 20s, and though I don’t think it’s autobiographical per se, the author herself had a complicated heritage, and these notions of passing for white, or, failing that, passing for being “European” might have been a big deal in her life too.

The two women knew each other at school, but Clare’s father’s death saw her move away twelve years ago. When they reconnect, it is by chance, at a hotel restaurant. Irene is not trying to pass for white in this initial sequence; it seems more like she just doesn’t want shopkeepers and doormen to notice that she’s black. Her cloche hat is pulled down far enough, and is current fashion, so if people assume, she doesn’t correct them.

Clare, on the other hand, is blonde, and looks like a silent era movie star. When Irene finally recognises her, and is eventually introduced to her husband (Alexander Skarsgård), she realises her childhood friend is passing for white, and is somewhat surprised.

Even more surprising is the crap the husband says, including his nickname for his wife, and the ‘fact’ that she hates African-Americans even more than he does.

Irene doesn’t mention the obvious stuff that we realise: that both the women he’s talking to are black. She may still have some wariness towards Clare, but she doesn’t want to blow her cover.

When Irene returns to “her” world of the suburb of Harlem, she feels safe in her “element”, and no longer has to camouflage as someone other than “black”. She has a nice house, a husband Brian (Andre Holland) and two young boys, whom she wants to protect from the harshness of the world they live in. This America, decades after the Civil War, is still not a safe place generally for their people. Lynchings happen and get reported all the time, more with glee in the papers rather than sorrow. I don’t know the specific year this film is set in the 1920s, but the Tulsa Massacre happened in 1923, so that would have been recent history.

And New York, far from being the safe, multicultural metropolis of the imagination, is still a place of open tensions.

Rating:

Wild Indian

Wild Indian

Behind every great fortune, or nation, lies a terrible crime

dir: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jnr

2021

This is a pretty confronting, deliberately unsatisfying film. You don’t see a heap of flicks coming out of the States with First Nations / Native American leads or themes, and you also don’t see ones usually this dark. This isn’t about people reconnecting with family or their past, reconciling the enormity of the crime perpetrated against the native people of the Americas with today’s lived experience, or any of those platitudes.

Reservation Dogs is a recent (and the only one I can think of) tv series with First Nations kids as the leads playing characters living on a reservation, where the realities of their lives are leavened with a wicked sense of human and charming performances. Wild Indian has no such buffers

The brutal opening of the film is set in Wisconsin in the 1980s. M’kwa (Phoenix Wilson) is a young Ojibwe boy covered in bruises. A young Catholic priest at M’kwa’s school tries to gently find out where the bruises are coming from, but M’kwa demurs to say anything. His home life is awful, just awful. He has a father who cannot stand the sight of him, and who beats him just for existing. Bullied at school as well, at least he has his best friend and cousin Ted-O (Julian Gopal) on his side. They hang out, avoiding their parents as best they can, shooting bottles with Ted-O’s dad’s rifle just for something to do.

There’s a blonde WASP girl at their school, from ‘town’, and to M’kwa she comes to symbolise something very desirable and unattainable, and I don’t think it has anything to do with sexual desire. When another student starts dating her, it unleashes a resentment that will end up in tragedy, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

M’kwa feels powerless against his brutal father, though he is tempted to do something drastic and final. You can see him seething at this other boy, a boy who’s done nothing wrong, whose living circumstances are probably not that different from his own. Which M’kwa himself sees, when he resentfully peers through the boy’s window, and he sees him comforting his passed-out mother.

The priest, delivering a sermon, explains what’s going on for those of us who can’t figure it out from what we’re watching. It may seem strange that, considering the people involved, why we would need a priest to explain stuff to us from the perspective of the Old Testament, when M’kwa and Ted-O themselves could tell us how shitty their lives are?

Rating:

Lamb

Lamb

Nature is cruel. Mothers are great. Lamb is nice too,
slow cooked at least.

(Dýrið)
dir: Valdimar Jóhannsson

2021

Hmm. Well. This was a film. That I watched. Recently.

You can’t say you’ve seen many Icelandic films. Even if you watch more films than I do, and it’s unlikely, and also unless you’re Icelandic (Hi Björk, góðan daginn), you can’t really say you’ve seen that many either. I can think of tons of movies that have scenery shot in Iceland, because it’s an incredible looking place, perfect for movies as diverse as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Clint Eastwood’s two-for-one deal of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, that used the black rock beaches of Iceland to stand in for the Japanese island of the title.

But you wouldn’t call them Icelandic films, would you? A film from a place set in that place tells us something about the place beyond just the scenery. A film set in Iceland, on a farm, with a sad couple mourning the loss of a child; you’d hope such a set up tells us something, or at least the way it plays out.

In truth the main thing that drew me to this flick, called Lamb, was that one of the best flicks I saw this year was called Pig, and so if I kept things simple, and just watched movies with one word animal titles, I couldn’t go wrong.

Dumb strategy. Lamb is a lot, but it’s nothing like Pig, though they both have their merits.

As far as I know Icelandic is one of the hardest languages for a non-Icelandic person to learn. Imagine my surprise when I saw Swedish superstar Noomi Rapace as one of the two main leads here. Does she know Icelandic? No idea. No-one really speaks for more than a few words ever, at a time. “Check the barn.” “Okay.” Although she did move to Iceland as a child and grew up there, so it’s probably likely she’s all over the language.

She plays Maria, one half of the farming couple that have heaps of sheep, and some fields to plow with their tractor. At first, I thought the characters were just stoic Icelandic types: grim people matching the awe-inspiring but grim landscape.

But there is an underlying sadness there, that isn’t underlined by having the characters actually, you know, talk about things. Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) goes about his tasks all robot-like, but at one point behind the wheel of the tractor, starts sobbing.

Rating:

The Humans

Humans

We who are about to be depressed, salute you

dir: Stephen Karam

2021

This flick was kind of horrifying, but it’s not a horror flick, I don’t care what any reviewer says. It’s shot like a horror flick a lot of the time, and there are jump scares, which is a bit confusing.

But this is really about a family coming together for Thanksgiving, in New York, in a cursed pre-World War II apartment that has never seen better days, and just has them talking in these jagged, awkward ways, like people actually talk rather than carefully curated monologues and declamatory speeches.

It’s awfully, deliberately mundane, but the mistake I don’t want to make is to think that so-called naturalistic performances are easy or that they aren’t acting in and of themselves. It’s hard, just as hard as the showier stuff. Imagine pointing a camera at someone and yelling “act natural!”, and just imagine the performance you’re going to get.

People talk and mumble and get distracted and wander around and check their phones and say one thing and then trail off and talk over each other and support each other or attack each other, and I guess that’s what a group of people having a meal together might be like.

Though there are revelations and such, it’s not a flick that’s building to a crescendo or with natural peaks and flows, or rhythms that we might be accustomed to.

Veteran acting legend Richard Jenkins does his thing as the Dad of the piece: Jayne Houdyshell plays the Mum, a role she also assayed in the play this is based on, on Broadway. Amy Schumer and Beanie Feldstein play their two daughters, Aimee and Brigid. Plus there’s also Brigid’s partner Rich (Steven Yuen) with whom she shares this diabolical apartment.

And. If I’m going to call Richard Jenkins a veteran actor, what am I going to call the legendary June Squibb, who plays the wheelchair bound Momo, as they call her? June Squibb was in goddamn Cat on a Hot Tin Roof all them years ago. Let me tell you something for free: there are not many people who were in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof who are still around today.

Rating:

Last Night in Soho

Last Night Soho

It's almost like they're two sides of the same exploited coin

dir: Edgar Wright

2021

Last Night in Soho is not the kind of flick you’d expect from this director. He’s very clever, very erudite, has a deep, deep knowledge of cinema, and loves to put everything together in a fashion so fussy even Wes Anderson is like: “just chill out, occasionally, dude.”

It’s also the first of his flicks that isn’t totally boy and nerd centric. As much as I like his so-called Cornetto trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, and his other stuff, and his other genre exercises like Baby Driver, he has a certain mode, and he tends to stick to it.

This is nothing like those other flicks, though it’s still a genre exercise. It’s set contemporarily, but a lot of the “action” happens in the early swinging 60s in London, of all places. Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman just moved to the city from Cornwall wanting to pursue her dream of being a fashion designer. Though she gets into a design college, what she was too naïve to realise is that some, if not many of the people who would go to fashion design college would be vapid and poisonous fucks like Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), who goes out of her way to make Ellie’s life a living hell for no discernible reason.

I found all the dumb, pointlessly cruel shit Jocasta does in this first bit to Ellie way, way more triggering and irritating that anything that happens in the rest of the flick. And let me tell you, the rest of the flick is about the horrible exploitation of women by men, and a whole bunch of murders. So many murders.

Ellie is sensitive, and I don’t mean that she doesn’t taken constructive criticism kindly or has a fragile sense of self, I mean she seems to be attuned to the spirit world or something similar. Does she see ghosts? I’m… not entirely sure.

When she is drawn to a particular flat in Soho, her nightly routine becomes one of being transported, not through a wardrobe to a snowy wonderland, but to the 1960s, and to the adventures of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). It’s not entirely clear whether Ellie “becomes” Sandy, or whether they’re both somehow there together. There are times when their dual consciousness seems to be mirrored, as in, literally mirrors are used to show that they’re somehow both “there”. Sometimes Sandy seems to sense Ellie, and sometimes Ellie almost gets Sandy’s attention.

Rating:

Belfast

Belfast

Those people below are awfully chill about a flying
Irish child

dir: Kenneth Branagh

2021

If you ever wanted to watch a movie about The Troubles in Ireland during the 1960s, but didn’t want to see too much brutality or killing, then have I got a feel good movie for you!

The big question of the film, called Belfast, is whether the family at the centre of the film, is going to leave Belfast, because shit is getting really crazy. They are Protestants living in a mostly Protestant street, but they themselves have no issues with the Catholics in their midst. At least Buddy (Jude Hill) doesn’t get why he should hate them too.

Ma (Catriona Balfe, of Outlander fame) yells at the kids a lot, and fights with her husband Pa (Jamie Dornan), who is mostly away working in London. That leaves Buddy free to do whatever the hell it is kids can do in streets that are barricaded, where the occasional car is blown up, and the British Army patrols around like it owns the place.

Buddy loves going to the movies, and his eyes light up whenever they get to go. Most of the film is in black and white, but when they’re at the pictures, the screen lights up in colour. Granny (Dame Judi Dench) also has the reflection in colour on her glasses as she watches a car flying around, and as the masses sing along with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who still remains our fine four-fendered friend.

Buddy sees himself, thanks to an unusually fire and brimstone reverend’s sermon, to be at the crossroads of two paths, the path of goodness and earthly and heavenly reward, or the hellfire path of eternal damnation and occasional discomfort. The thing is, though, he can’t remember which is which, and life doesn’t always provide obvious signposts.

He has an older friend who routinely tries to get him involved in seriously shady shit, like shoplifting, and, later on, looting, but his heart’s not really in it. But like any budding crim knows, snitches get stitches, so he knows to keep his mouth shut.

Rating:

John and the Hole

John & the Hole

Maybe we should all just stay in the hole a bit longer

dir: Pascual Sisto

2021

John and the Hole is quite a strange movie.

I like strange. Strange is good. Strange is sustaining for me, the way other people need hydration, or painkillers, or holidays. Strange, for me, resets the pathways in my mind, forces me to drift away from the well-trodden ways my mind tends to think, at least when it comes to art and movies.

When I think about this film, I am left with profound, unanswerable questions. It's not questions like whether what we saw was “real” within the context of the movie, or what parts were real, what parts imagined, or story within a story – type storytelling.

The question I can’t figure out is why at least two of these actors agreed to be in this movie.

Did they not read the script beforehand?

Jennifer Ehle will probably always best be known for playing Lizzie Bennett in the series of Pride and Prejudice alongside Colin Firth as Darcy. I know it was decades ago, but if people joke about Firth’s Darcy decades after the fact, then it’s a positive for her too. She’s been in a stack of other movies, even a psychological horror flick called Saint Maud I saw earlier this year, but rarely does she get to attack roles which resonate with the movie-going public. This role is unlikely to change that perception.

Michael C. Hall is probably best known for playing the serial killer lead of the Dexter tv series, but I prefer to remember him as David Fisher from Six Feet Under, a show I still treasure in my heart of hearts. I can only imagine that he lost a bet or has serious gambling debts to have stayed and completed his part of this movie.

I mention these portions of their résumés because for 90 per cent of this movie, which could mean that for 90 per cent of the time that this flick was being shot over the course of 23 days somewhere in rural Massachusetts, Ehle and Hall are down in a hole wearing dirty clothes with mud smeared all over their faces. Or on / in a set made to look as such for all that time.

They’re not even really main characters. The two main characters are the John of the title (Charlie Shotwell), and the Hole itself, near where the characters live.

John is an odd kid. Though nothing in the story implies as such, he could be some kind of alien-cuckoo changeling, replaced at birth, unsuited to and baffled by our human ways.

This is not, just for some reassurance, a story about a deeply disturbed child who goes on to murder a bunch of people. We Don’t Need to Talk About Kevin or John, at least not yet. But there is something deeply weird about this kid, and we get to spend about 100 minutes watching him do weird thing after weird thing, and I’m not sure there was much point to it.

John seems to be baffled by everything, but at least he makes choices. He seems highly intelligent and determined, but he knows little about how the world actually works. The world of adults seems especially alien to him, but he decides that he wants to find out what it would be like, despite being only 13.

Rating:

Copshop

Cop Shop

Stop glaring at me I don't owe you any money, Rusty Chuckles

dir: Joe Carnahan

2021

This is the second goddamn movie by Joe Carnahan that I’ve seen this year. One a year is more than enough. This also has Frank Grillo in a lead role, a role which I don’t think he deserves to be in, but at least he wasn’t as tedious here as he was in Boss Level.

The other supreme advantage this flick has: no Mel Gibson (ew)

Instead of Mel Gibson, we get Gerard Butler, trying to do an American accent again, which he can’t really do, and playing, as far as I can tell, Russell Crowe.

I don’t mean he’s playing a character Russell Crowe has played. I don’t mean he’s playing a character the way Russell Crowe would. I mean I think Gerard Butler’s directions in the movie amounted to “just be like Russell Crowe is all the time except when he’s acting”.

Hence, he’s playing Russell Crowe. Oh, sure, pick at technicalities and say that the character is called Bob Viddick in the script. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t. Fucking. Matter. It’s Russell Crowe, in all his menacing and slovenly glory.

Grillo plays some other scumbag on the run from the mob called Teddy, or the feds, or the feds in cahoots with the mob. Doesn’t matter. His character is scum. What’s important is that neither of these characters is meant to be the main character. That’s meant to be Officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder), who is the best character and actor in the whole flick.

The problem is, and it’s a big problem, is that there’s so much other flick going on, and a tonne of superfluous characters, and Grillo and Butler competing for who can get the most pointless and repetitive lines. The flick also sidelines the young cop for far too long in the flick, and stretches out a thin premise far longer than it needed to be sustained.

The premise is an old one: a group of people under siege, enemies within and without. For American cinema, the level up came with John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, which paired a good cop with a criminal fighting against a horde (which updated it from the “cowboys & Indians” days).

This doesn’t have a horde, but it has a bunch of crims and dirty cops wanting to either kill Teddy and all the cops, or kill Teddy and most of the cops, or kill everyone in the building, or some variation thereof.

The position it puts the young, good cop in is: in order to survive and see another day, I have to figure out which one of these two scumbag crims is less bad than the other, and the one least likely to turn around and shoot me as well.

It’s an impossible puzzle, beyond the game theory Prisoner’s Dilemma or the ethical Trolley Problem: it’s more like Fuckhead Scumbag Bingo.

Rating:

First Cow

First Cow

One Cow to rule them all, one Cow to find them, and
in the darkness bind them

dir: Kelly Reichardt

2020

This is a strange little movie, strange only in its choice of subject matter, not in the way it tells its story (though that’s plenty odd). It is a story about friendship, about two men in frontier times, Cookie Figowitz (john Magaro) and King-lu (Orion Lee), who are men out of place in a country they probably shouldn’t be in, but at least they have each other.

There is not much around in Oregon at this time, in terms of what settlers, formerly indentured servants and other chancers might hope for. There are many indigenous people around still, but this isn’t a flick explicitly about genocide and colonisation and such. There are trappers, hunters, people trying to set up forts and trading posts, and little else other than worthless nature.

Worthless to the titans of industry, that is. It is a cruel time, with little room for kindness.

Cookie is a kind man, though, however the world around him chooses to be, and when he chances upon a naked and desperate King-lu, his instinct is to help him, regardless of cost.

Of this act is born a curious friendship in the middle of nowhere. After some time passes, the men meet again, and literally shack up together, in a literal shack made of put together bits of wood that do not look like they would survive upright in a gentle breeze. Of note in town has been the auspicious arrival of a cow. It’s the only cow in the area – its calf and mate did not survive the journey from across the world.

One cow. The first cow of the title. What kind of man would bring a cow to a place where dairy cows haven’t existed before? An Englishman, of course, a coloniser, someone who sees an untrammelled wilderness and sees opportunity and profits ahead by trammelling it most brutally.

The Chief Factor (Toby Jones) is such a man. Like the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine, he doesn’t need a name, because he is what he does. He either factors chiefly or chiefly factors.

Rating:

No Time to Die

No Time to Die

There's plenty of time to die. The film is like nearly
3 hours long!

dir: Cary Joji Fukunaga

2021

Well. The world, as in, lazy clickbait journalists keep asking “who should the next Bond be?” as if Daniel Craig is dead, but what they have never been asking is “why should there be another James Bond?”

There’s like a billion of these fucking films. There are also a billion other action films where a guy fucks women and then fucks up a whole bunch of guys before saving the world. There’s nothing unique any more at all about these films. The Missions: Impossible flicks have Tom Cruise as an American James Bond, the Fast & Furious films have, alternatingly, Vin Diesel, The Rock and Jason Statham as some kind of Bond but with more cars and less shagging, and there’s no shortage of flicks where someone solves a mystery, shoots people then shags someone, not necessarily in that order.

What, other than the specific motifs of the theme music, the well known aesthetics of the intro, the tuxedo, the shooting of people, the M character, the Q character, the Miss Moneypenny character, the parade of villains with skin deformities who threaten the world and always lose; the female character who James shags who then dies midway through the flick, the other female James bonks later on who at least gets to live up to the end credits; why do we need much more of this, regardless of whether the next Bond is Idris Elba, Jodie Whittaker or, my personal pick, manager of the English national team, Gareth Southgate?

It's so inessential. There’s 25 of these films already. The only purpose in making more of these is so that the James Bond box set of DVDs one potentially buys for their dad on Father’s Day gets a little bit wider every other year.

I have probably been writing a version of the above paragraphs every time a Bond film has come out since, I dunno, that fucking terrible Pierce Brosnan Bond film Die Another Die, which was just diabolically bad, came out. I should just cut and paste to save time. I will probably be writing the same shit thirty years from now from some old folk’s home underground somewhere, when Bond films are streamed directly into our brains in order to keep us docile and amused.

If Daniel Craig is relieved that he never has to play the role again, then I am happy for him. He can go on and live his life and play some other character in some other franchise. Maybe they can give him some Marvel work, or something in Star Warses, or maybe he can return to his one true love, which is probably Eastenders or something. He could take over the pub from Danny Dyer and speak wiv an even broader Cockney accent, guv’nor.

This is definitely the last time, there’s no going back. There’s a note of finality to the occasion, a bridge-burning aspect that just screams “I’m done with this shit.”

There is, however, none of this bullshit I’ve read in a bunch of reviews that tries to encompass the notion that Bond is old and wounded, and exhausted, and wanting to be done with everything, in the context of the flick itself. I’ve read people write such drivel, but, I can assure you, nothing of the sort is in the flick. Bond, as Craig is playing him here, is just as keen to get the bad guys, just as keen not to trust women, and just as much out of step with the world as he ever is.

Rating:

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang Chi 10 Rings

You like my shiny, shiny rings? Well, you can't have them.

dir: Destin Daniel Cretton

2021

It’s hard to admit when you know how completely you have been programmed as an individual.

Back in the day (he said as he took a drag on his vape pen and started rocking back and forth in his Eames lounge chair) when you wanted to record something from the television, you used to have to program the time into the bloody video machine and manually input the time the program was going to run, if you weren’t going to be there to press ‘record’. Which is why most people had VCRs where the time was always flashing, unwanted, unloved, unable to be used.

What I’m getting at, is that due to my youthful exposure to a strange show called Monkey!, all my life I’ve pretty much been programmed to respond like Pavlov’s Dog to almost anything with Chinese mythology and martial arts in it.

Shang Chi, despite being as Marvel as any of the Marvel products, encompasses enough of the Chinese martial arts epic type stuff and imagery to at least give it a different look from all the other flicks that have been extruded thus far by the factory process. It also, radically, for these people, stars actual people from actual Asian backgrounds in lead roles.

What radical thinking. Were Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Angelina Jolie unavailable yet again?

The two leads here are Simu Liu as the Shang Chi / Shaun of the title, and his best friend Katy played by Awkwafina, who I have thought was wonderful in many things, and is wonderful here too. Her role of being the smartarse sidekick is fine, it’s fine. She can render mundane lines funnier just by saying them with her incredulous, raspy voice.

I think she’s wonderful. And in another, more helpful way, she humanises the main character, or at least keeps him grounded enough for this bullshit to matter.

Scratch that: it doesn’t matter, but at least we might care a little bit about these city slickers who end up in the country and have to get by with country ways?

Rating:

Titane

Titanium

This car is on fire, with passionate love

dir: Julie Ducournau

2021

Well. That was. A film.

This won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the supreme French honour for cinema, for only the second time by a female director. I had heard that fact previous to watching this flick, but now I’m starting to wonder what it matters.

Prestigious films have won the Palme D’Or, but also some crappy ones that people have forgotten days after the award was awarded. I am pretty secretly sure that no awards actually amount to much in terms of the qualities a film possesses, but sometimes something is being said when certain films win. The last film that won the Palme D’Or was Parasite, and there has to be some reason why people on either side of the Atlantic were so enamoured with a South Korean flick about what scum poor people are and how they’ll do anything to extend their sad existences.

So what am I implying about Titane? Almost nothing. I can’t at all intuit what Titane winning says in a contemporary sense, in terms of a post-pandemic landscape, zeitgeist or any gender-political stuff relevant to France or Europe or the world.

The one thing I can say is that, scene to scene, second to second, there is almost nothing you can predict as this flick unfolds unless you’ve been forewarned, or read a bonkers synopsis.

A young girl called Alexia makes broom-broom noises in a car being driven by her irritated dad. It keeps escalating until there’s a serious accident, and the girl ends up with a titanium plate in her head. When she is eventually released from hospital, she hugs the car, not her parents.

As an adult (Agathe Rousselle), she still has the plate in her head, and a strange spiralish scar above her right ear, and she has an attitude that exudes zero fucks. She also, importantly, keeps her hair up with a metal knitting needle / chopstick or something similar, making sure people can see her scar at all times. Maybe it’s made of titanium. Not sure it matters.

Her job is to dance and writhe on top of cars at a car show. One of the cars she writhes lasciviously upon is like a Cadillac painted in flames, and it’s also a low-rider, with those bouncing hydraulics installed.

Rating:

Scare Me

Scare Me

If you want me to scare you, let me remind you that tax
returns for last financial year had to be submitted 3 days ago...

dir: Josh Ruben

2020

It’s funny. Funny to me at least. The chap that made and starred in this flick, where he plays an insecure writer/director/actor who can’t think of what to make a film about other than something something werewolves, made this flick, and then made Werewolves Within, which I also saw recently.

And though there’s something sour curdling away at the core of this flick, I think I might have been more positively disposed towards that latter flick had I seen this one first.

I can’t always relate to the issues that other characters have, or that actors portray, in movies. My parents weren’t killed by criminals, so that motivation doesn’t move me much for batclad vigilantes fighting villains. Neither my significant other nor my dog were murdered by the Russian mob, so I don’t always feel like I get the motivation of people who kill a million people in revenge.

But a mediocre guy who struggles artistically in vain and sometimes doesn’t accomplish anything worthwhile? I can totally get that.

Fred (Josh Ruben) secludes himself in a cabin in upstate New York in order to work on something. In terms of ideas, all he has thus far is “werewolf have guns – get revenge?” He meets an actual successful writer, immensely popular and well known, and instantly resents her.

That other writer is played by the awesome Aya Cash. Aya Cash may not be a household name, but she should be. She played Gretchen in a tv series called You’re The Worst about a vile group of Friends from a bizarro-universe, and more recently played secret Nazi superhero/villain Stormfront in the second season of The Boys. Everything she plays, she plays with style and élan, and it’s no different here.

As Fanny, without always intending to, she gives Fred a vision of what being an actual creative person could be like, someone willing to work and extend ideas and throw shit around and actually do something, whether it works or not.

At first he’s amazed by her, seeing how her mind goes in directions and places where he never thought to go. Despite their rocky introduction to each other, they end up in his cabin during a power outage, telling each other stories not with the intention of actually scaring each other but in terms of trying to tell scary stories in order to come up with some creative stuff, and one up each other.

Rating:

Dune Part 1

Dune

All these people worried about what spices are going to
be served at dinner

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2021

I was a bit worried when I heard that Denis Villenueve was tackling Dune, but I shouldn’t have worried. He’s probably one of the consistently best directors making big budget movies around. Look at this list of movies: Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and now Dune, all solid movies.

Maybe I was a bit more worried about Timothée Chalamet as the lead, because, look at him, he’s Timothée Chalamet, for fuck’s sake. He’s no Kyle McLachlan, that’s for sure.

But he does okay. If ever a role called for a moody emo kid in a trenchcoat to look moody and such, well, Chalamet is your boy.

The scale is BIG, everything is really BIG. Production values, through the roof! There’s nothing cheap about this production, no siree.

I am one of the few people who actually has fond memories of the ‘original’ version of this, directed by David Lynch, that came in 1984. I liked it, but I was twelve. That’s not an excuse, it’s just that at 12 I liked a bunch of things that maybe weren’t great. I hadn’t discovered women yet and wouldn’t do so for many more years, so maybe I didn’t have a lot of life experience as to what stuff was great and what stuff sucked back then.

I saw it at the movies, and I saw it a stack more times on a VHS copy in the following years. I know that long arse flick backwards. Kyle McLachlan played Paul Atriedes, Francesca Annis played his mum, and a whole bunch of other legends played various characters. Sir Fucking Patrick Stewart was in it! Dean Stockwell! Sean Young? Jurgen Prochnow? Virginia Madsen? And there were giant worms, and people could kill people with just using their voices. And it had an amazing look to it, both retro and ultra futuristic.

I’m not here to defend that film, just to say while it might have been a bomb, no film David Lynch has ever made has ever been completely worthless (with the possible exception of Fire Walk With Me). And I read the book too, but the film always mattered more to me than the book did.

Fidelity to the book also never really concerned me that much. This flick does everything it can to make this all seem serious and important. There’s no fucking around here: everything is deadly serious. The state of, um, the universe is at stake.

Rating:

Identifying Features

Sin Senas Particulares

This shouldn't be happening, there, or anywhere. Please stop.

Sin Señas Particulares

dir: Fernanda Valadez

2020

I don’t understand. I don’t understand what is happening, what is depicted here, as happening in Mexico.

I understand government violence (well, when I say that, I say it from the safety of distance and privilege, in that I can intellectualise about it, but haven’t lived through it), I understand the concept that criminal gangs commit violence in order to control drug operations and maintain areas of control.

I guess I understand the concept of right wing or left wing paramilitaries, or religious nutters attacking villagers and villages, or ruling suburbs, or any number of things. I think I understand violence as a tool to make the survivors cower, and go along with whatever the group wants.

I don’t understand what is depicted here. Killing just to kill people, and not like serial killers or sadists or crazies or vampires. People, trying to get to El Norte (the States) from all areas of Mexico, being robbed, murdered and their bodies desecrated and burned, just for the hell of it.

And…it’s real, it’s what’s been happening for a long time in Mexico, and I find it terrifying, and I don’t understand it.

A recent film I watched about the Srebrenica Massacre (Quo Vadis, Aida?) during the Balkans War in the 90s, that was horrible, and terrifying, to see a group of people try to exterminate an ethnic group of people they don’t like. That’s horrible, too, but I can at least grasp some semblance of their mentality, of how they justify it to themselves, or try to justify it in front of a war crimes tribunal at The Haig.

I don’t understand this.

The perspective is mostly from that of a mother, Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez), trying to find out what happened to her son Jesús (Juan Jesús Varela), who went up north two months ago, and haven’t been heard from since. She lives a humble farming existence on a small plot of land, and while she obviously fears for her son, she would understand the son’s drive to go El Norte, cross the border, maybe eke out a living and send some money home. The lure of the better life that only money and not being surrounded by apocalyptic violence could bring.

When he and his mate disappear, his friend having a distinctive patch of vitiligo on his forehead, making his body easier to identify for his mother, at least, Magdalena doesn’t accept that just because the authorities say that he’s dead, that he must be.

She’s fully aware that he might be dead. This isn’t false hope or delusion on her part. She has a weary kind of resignation to what has happened. But she has to know for sure. She needs certainty, a mother needs certainty, to bury her son, to bring him home, somehow, if she can.

Rating:

Pages

Subscribe to fresh movie reviews for a socially distanced world RSS