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Naked Singularity

A Naked Singularity

Just to reassure you, there's no nakedness in the flick, which
is a shame for John Boyega fans, but he's definitely singular

dir: Chase Palmer

2021

This film was actually made. I cannot believe it. Few books have ever looked less likely to end up as movies.

When I first heard A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava was going to be made into a movie starring John Boyega, I thought, no fucking way. I should probably phrase that a bit more elegantly – I thought – that sounds unlikely.

This isn’t to brag, but I’ve read the book, and it was quite a memorable book. It is also a massive fucking book. It’s 864 pages. It’s the kind of book you would use to kill a giant Galapagos tortoise with if you really needed to, for whatever reason. One of the most memorable, mainly because it had so little to do with anything else that happened in the story, sections was the feverish writing about boxer Wilfred Benitez. People in the boxer’s life, who like him, probably never will write as much about him as Sergio De La Pava did.

It was insane, the book was insane. He didn’t just throw in the kitchen sink, he threw in thousands of kitchen sinks, of all different shapes, sizes and qualities. Since it was initially self-published, there was no editor to tell him not to put in every single thing he’d ever thought of and written down.

I read it at a time when it seemed important to read these massive American novels because reading is like lifting weights, as in, if you’re not reading hefty tomes like Infinite Jest or The Recognitions or Mason & Dixon, or Underworld or Atlas Shrugged, do you even read, bro? Now I can happily let these monstrosities slide by me, because perversely I don’t have as much time to read books working from home.

For the screenplay here they’ve lifted the bare bones of the plot from two things: Casi’s work as a public defender in New York, which are soul-crushing excerpts and absurd experiences from the life of the author himself who’s done the job, and a surreal crime heist plot that came across as something fantastical even within the confines of the book.

Also, the protagonist of the book, I’m pretty sure, had been rendered completely insane. The protagonist of the film, ably played by John Boyega as a somehow still idealistic lawyer fighting for the rights of people the legal system is designed to crush, is not anywhere near as insane as the one in the book. Much of the book has an air of unreality, in that unlikely or impossible things happen, and we’re not entirely sure whether the protagonist is just hallucinating them. For most of the book I was convinced that Casi’s friend / fiend Dane (played in the film by Bill Skarsgard) was a Tyler Durdan alter ego delusion of Casi’s, a shadow self who followed Casi’s urges in directions he couldn’t consciously allow himself to go.

There’s none of that high falutin’ crap here. There’s Casi, there’s Dane, there’s an ex-con called Leah (Olivia Cooke) who works at the Dept of Motor Vehicles, there’s a bunch of salty crims, and there’s a massive stash of heroin that everyone wants, including the Mexican cartels and a crime organization run by Hasidic Jews, headed by The Gollum (Kyle Mooney).

I mean, that perhaps sounds insane on paper, but that is so reduced, so minimal compared to the maximalist insanity of the novel. In the book the fear induced by an almost mythical Mexican enforcer called Ballena, or The Whale, is such that his very massive presence is enough to warp space and time around him. I guess that sounds a bit like a “yo mama” joke.

Rating:

The Dry

Dry

Don't look over there, look behind you. That's where the
stupid town is.

dir: Robert Connelly

2020

Just for something different I thought I’d watch an Australian film.

Ooo, how exotic!

This flick, really, couldn’t possibly have any surprises for me. After all, I’ve read the Jane Harper book which sold like hand sanitiser at the beginning of the epidemic. Everyone (at least people that catch public transport and still read books, which is the sum and total of people who still read books) read that book and the ones that came after, probably.

I read that one and stopped there. Not because I didn’t like it, because I kinda did, despite how formulaic it was. It’s just that my prejudice became “well, now she’s a prisoner of her own success, and everything she writes will be minor variations on this template.”

I’m too lazy to find out if that’s actually true. Maybe I’m just afraid to admit how wrong I am (I know I’m wrong; I am somewhat comfortable with that fact).

But The Dry, despite its formulaic nature, did resonate with me, or at least the parts of me that respond to those elements of the formula. A book like this can be and has been written in every language and in every nation. They aren’t necessarily all crime stories, but all these country town or village dramas proceed in a similar fashion, because it’s a story I think most people can relate to.

They’re always stories about belonging, or being ostracised, or starting off as a part of a tiny community, and then either fleeing or being cast out, and then being forced by circumstance to revisit the past, dredge up old traumas and solve outstanding riddles. It’s great.

I fully support it. So, Aaron (Eric Bana, perfectly cast) is a guy who grew up in a fictional far west Victorian town call call Kiewarra. It hasn’t rained in Kiewarra for a long goddamn time, which is a problem, because all it does is try to grow wheat in dusty fields. It’s one of those dwindling or dying towns, but none of that should matter.

Aaron left town as a teenager, literally chased out of town, after the death of one of his friends, something that clearly haunts him still. More than, I dunno, twenty years have passed, and people still act like he probably had something to do with it.

Yeah, it’s one of those country stories, like that other superb flick set in the country by Rachel Ward a bunch of years ago, Beautiful Kate. But that was about a family destroyed by tragedy and loneliness, whereas this story is about cruel shitbags and murderous greed.

Rating:

No Sudden Move

No Sudden Move

These guys, they are dangerous and ambitious, but they are
not as dangerous as those car companies.

dir: Steven Soderbergh

2021

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that had “crime doesn’t pay” as its ultimate message. I mean, every film before the 1970s used to have that message: cops are good, crooks are bad, if you crime, you’ll die etc.

Even though this is set in 1950s Detroit, though, and this being Steven Soderbergh, who I’m sure said he was going to retire from filmmaking years ago, the ultimate message actually ends up being: crime doesn’t pay for you low-level shmucks; it only pays off for the fuckers at the top, to whom all money will flow regardless of the outcome.

Although, honestly, me saying that’s the point based on the outcome, and based on a speech a strange character delivers towards the end about how easily the $375,000 he’s being forced to give up is going to flow back to him anyway, skips the point that this film is really about showing us how the people doing stuff, legal or illegal, aren’t the ones that benefit from it. That everything is constructed thus to always benefit those who constructed the way the world works.

There’s a word that describes that view of the world, I just can’t put my Marxist finger on it just this second…

This was a pleasure to watch, most of the time, because there are a bunch of great actors in this, and they’re given time and room to breath and just exist as these people. I don’t mean that there are contemplative scenes where people shoot the breeze and talk at length about their motivations and histories and lives / personal philosophies. Way too much happens in this flick from a plot perspective, way too much, so there’s no time for such scenes. But what you have is people discussing what their next move should be, and why, in ways that might be consistent with who they are, and it’s plenty.

Three crims are hired by a handler to terrorise a family and force the jerk dad of that family (David Harbour) to go in to his work and steal a document from his boss’s safe.

It sounds simple enough, but everything perpetually goes “wrong” that you can imagine. The patriarch of the family, Matt Wertz, isn’t completely blameless in what’s happening, and is sleeping with his boss’s secretary, who expects him to leave the family now under siege.

Of the three crims, Curt is straight out of prison (Don Cheadle), the other is some kind of young psychopath (Keiran Culkin) and the third has the thickest head of hair I’ve ever seen on a human male (Benicio Del Toro). Del Toro’s character, Ronald Russo, is uncomfortable working with an African-American, because racism. He never utters the word you’re pretty sure he wants to say, but he often summarises an entire group of people with massive generalisations about greed and other dumb shit.

Rating:

Night in Paradise

낙원의 밤 Nagwonui bam

I wonder if there will be smoking and drinking in Paradise?

(낙원의 밤 Nagwonui bam)

dir: Park Hoon-jung

2020

Ah, the blessings of Netflix be upon you. I had heard about this film recently, and, wouldn’t you know it, it was on my local streaming service, so I watched it when I found a spare 2 hours and 15 minutes to myself, which are admittedly hard to come by these days.

So I watched it, and, well, now you have to suffer too.

Not that it’s bad, it’s just that, when you hear about it, you think it will be a certain way, and then when you watch it, it turns out to be something completely else. And that’s okay, that’s just a difference in expectation versus what you actually get.

I didn’t have any particular high or low expectations, but perhaps I had some preconceived ideas based on other South Korean films I’ve seen over the years.

And no, this is nothing like Parasite, in case you were wondering, a film that won Oscars and that people have almost completely forgotten about due to… well you know.

This was also clearly made some time in 2020, because there are some people with masks, and references to social distancing, but other than that it doesn’t play much part in the story.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on South Korean films, culture, politics, history or crime, but I’m telling you this for free – this flick in its manner of telling a story about a young gangster is indistinguishable for any other number of flicks I’ve seen about young yakuza, young triads or any other jerks in organised crime set in other countries. The setting and the window dressing are different, but, really, the specificity of the location belies the fact that this could have been told universally.

Tae-gu (Park Tae-goo) is a loyal gangster in his gangster clan. He is respected and admired and all that crap, but, most importantly, he is feared by the jerks in the opposite clan called the Bukseong, who tried to recruit him, which he regretfully declines.

After a meeting with those rivals, Tae-gu gets to spend a few brief moments with his sister, who is unwell, and his niece, who’s cute as a button. And it’s her birthday!

Despite being a cold emotionless robot in all his work dealings, Tae-gu loves his sister and his niece. He gives her an expensive present, and waves like an idiot (though not as idiotically as one of his fellow henchmen) as they drive off.

His sister is ailing, and in need of a transplant of some sort, but he is not a suitable donor. What’s to be done?

Rating:

Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man

he might just get a bit of blood on that suit of his

dir: Guy Ritchie

2021

What happened to you, Guy Ritchie? You used to be fun, man.

The chap who made Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch has gone too far in some other direction in order to want to still make fun films. He’s made massive budget Disney flicks and other crap, so me hoping, yearning for something fleet and funny like Lock Stock is a fool’s pipe dream.

The Gentlemen from last year was not entirely my cup of tea, but it did strike many viewers as a return to charming form (bleurgh). This film, though, is not like that at all.

This flick does not fuck around. Though a long film, it does not even have time for having the definite article “the” in its title. So it’s not even “The Wrath of Man”, it’s the somewhat ejaculatory and abusive “WRATH of MAN”. You can maybe even, as an Australian, imagine a few curse words after it, as in “what movie did ya watch last night?” – “Wrath of Man, ya fucken dickhead”.

I don’t really imagine that that’s what conversations are like on construction worksites, because I’ve spent a fair bit of time on construction sites, and the guys are mostly talking about Married at First Sight or The Bachelor or how one of their co-workers was recently crippled and unable to work and didn’t get any help from their employer because they lied to WorkCover, that sort of thing.

But they have a strong union, so maybe that will help. Wrath of Man is also a movie set at a very blokey workplace, where men test each other’s masculinity constantly and threaten each other with vague and specific threats of sexual assault. You know, like most male dominated workplaces.

But that only persists for what must look like the strangest new starter / induction video ever filmed about someone starting a job with a new employer.

A man so stern that he would make the Easter Island statues cry if he just glared at them for too long, starts a new job. They call him “H”, as in “haitch”. But he’s played by Jason Statham, so… H does the absolute bare minimum communication-wise to let people think he’s a normal person. He has to do shooting tests and driving tests, and it’s clear he’s making sure they don’t know how awesome he would really be at these things if he was doing them for reals, so he just sneaks through.

This is for an armoured truck security firm, you know, those absolute fuckheads too fucking stupid to even be security guards at a mall. I’ve had work interactions with them and their supervisors, and let me tell you, generalisations and stereotypes are unfair at the best of times, but these fuckheads take the cake. They are often steroided-up soldier of fortune types that feel they’re on a par with military types and it rarely if ever goes well for anyone involved. I’ve seen one of these jerks push over an ancient pensioner who got too close at a Myki-travel card machine because the fuckhead thought the woman was going to somehow attack and steal the coins they were taking out of the machines, and menacingly kept his hand on his holstered gun like if she gave him shit, he was going to finish the job.

Rating:

I Care a Lot

I Care A Lot

She doesn't, not really. She is not being entirely forthcoming with you

dir: J Blakeson

2021

This is going to blow your mind, but the main character in this film called I Care A Lot, called Marla Grayson, played by Rosemund Pike, doesn’t, actually.

This is the REALLY mindblowing part: She doesn’t care at all.

Marla is a lawyer who, through manipulating the legal system around the guardianship of oldies, and bribing the right people, forces old people into old folks homes and then drains all their assets over the years until they die penniless and alone.

Piece of work, right? And we all thought Rosemund Pike perfected playing psychopaths back in Gone Girl. Turns out there are even nastier characters for her to play in the Rosemund Pike Cinematic Universe.

At movie’s beginning, over scenes where a distraught bearded chap is trying to visit his mother in an old folks home, and being pummeled by the security, we hear in voiceover Marla tell us that this world ain’t shit, victory is for the ruthless and the weak can go fuck themselves.

This is the movie’s mission statement. It does not shy away from equating the monstrous ruthlessness of the protagonist with American late-stage capitalism, with the American Dream, with doing what people need to do not to get by but to destroy other people for shits and giggles.

Marla has a wall covered in the photos of the people for whom she has organised to be appointed as their guardian. It’s a lot of old people. It’s not really to give her a sentimental attachment to the people she gives not one fuck about. It’s to remind her of who her cash cows are. Once they die she scrunches up their photos and throws them in the trash.

While they live but are declared mentally incompetent, this set up allows her to sell their houses, drain their bank accounts, basically get them institutionalised and cut off, and make it impossible for them to leave, or for anyone related to them to help them out. It’s shocking, and bracing, and from the perspective of the people it’s happening to, I guess this is like an awful horror film, from which someone has to go to extraordinary lengths in order to beat Marla at her game.

Rating:

The Little Things

Little Things

Nice poster. Nicer than the film THAT's FOR SURE

dir: John Lee Hancock

2021

Well isn’t this flick a barrel of laughs.

It’s a bit of a throwback to police procedurals of which there used to be a dime a dozen. I’m not sure what changed, because there were a million on the teev before and there are even more now.

They’re not really my cup of tea. Of course, like billions of people I’ve watched so many episodes of Law & Order that I confuse it with reality, and think all the time about stuff that happened in the show as having happened in real life, but my capacity for watching crime these days is pretty limited.

So I can’t really say why I was drawn to watching this flick. Sure, it’s got Denzel, and that’s usually a great drawcard, but, honestly, he’s been phoning it in for years. And Denzel playing a tortured cop trying to figure out who some murderer is, is like such a cliché it’s beyond cliché. Almost every actor who’s ever acted has this role on their resume.

But I watched it anyway. It’s set in the early 90s, so no mobiles or internet, which honestly sometimes comes as a bit of a relief. Sure it’s the past, but it’s recent enough for those of us who were alive then to be able to remember a time before doomscrolling or getting hourly phone updates on what the dumbest people around the world are doing every day.

Now, that doesn’t mean life was actually any safer back than. If the opening of this film is any indication, even driving around in your car meant serial killers were going to come after you.

A young woman is driving a car, and gets weirded out by some guy in a car that she doesn’t see who drives near her. She gets so freaked out that she stops the car, and gets out, presumably because she’s going to reverse-psychology the serial killer into thinking killing her now would be too easy?

Anyway, things aren’t looking that good for her.

Rating:

The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen

This is one of the most awkwardly arranged group shots
I've ever seen. It's like something out of the Royal family

dir: Guy Ritchie

2019

I don’t know what Guy Ritchie’s deal is, and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to see things this way, but when you make a flick that seems like it’s all about getting revenge on those dastardly tabloid editors and jerk – crim reporters, it seems a bit personal.

And when one of the main characters you have in the film is Hugh Grant, playing the sleaziest version of the kinds of slimy paparazzi / private detectives / tabloid reporters that made his life a living hell for decades, again, you seem to be making a statement.

Statements are all well and good, but they don’t always make for entertaining cinema. This film here, The Gentlemen, goes out of its way to be entertaining. Perhaps almost even too entertaining. It flirts with breaking the fourth wall plenty of times, with Grant practically winking at us as he refers to camera lenses and anamorphic aspect ratios and fade outs and other narrative / stylistic techniques as he tells his barely believable tale to a captive audience.

There is even a scene involving Guy Ritchie playing a very Weinstein-esque looking exec at Miramax’s offices. You remember Miramax, don’t you? They made all these great movies, and ruined all these women’s lives?

If we’re all really honest, no Guy Ritchie flick has been as outright enjoyable as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in all these years. Some of his other flicks have come pretty close (maybe Snatch, maybe RocknRolla, maybe the first Sherlock Holmes flick), some have been meh, and some are flat out dumb. His flicks are only getting more convoluted in their plots, with that frustrating proviso that any situation faced by a character can be gotten out of because of something else we didn’t see happen beforehand done by someone we didn’t know was around.

That might seem like an artless way to describe the complicated plotting on display here, but in some ways this kind of overwrought overwriting is really underwriting. It’s the equivalent of someone with little to say who tries to hide the fact by yelling the little they have to say very loudly and with different phrasing a lot of times, and occasionally backwards.

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:

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