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In The Heights

In the Heights

I await the sequel about Heidelberg Heights and all the
wonderful people who live there, hop to it, Lin Manuel.

dir: Jon M. Chu

2021

I’m not…the target audience for musicals, that should be fairly obvious. I have been trying to finish watching Cats for over a year in order to review it, and I haven’t been able to complete it, despite trying over 20 times to get through it. When I die and go to hell, among the many other torments available and specially designed for me, Mamma Mia will be playing loudly and on a loop.

I guess there are times when I’m able to unclench my jaw and relax into these strange musical – cinematic hybrids. I really enjoyed Hamilton when it came out last year (the film of the original cast performing on the stage, for Disney+), and that required no particular love of the genre or love of America’s Founding Fathers. And, despite never having been to the New York suburb of Washington Heights or having anything close to Latinx heritage, it’s not impossible for me to enjoy a song-and-dance extravaganza about a bunch of people who live in a vibrant, caring community.

It specifically honours the Caribbean, central American, South American and other permutations heritages of the people who make up what seems to be this most melting pot of melting pots, seeing in them the story that has played out for millennia across the world but in terms of the States the story of migrants aspiring to a better life for them and their families.

Which is the story of chumps everywhere, I guess. Many of these people are trapped within dreams, their own dreams, the dreams of their parents, parental expectations, community expectations, all of which can be pretty far from what real life brings on.

Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) tells a story from what looks like a bar on the beaches of the Dominican Republic, to a bunch of snot-nosed kids. What story is he telling them? Well, it’s the story of how he followed his dreams, or his dad’s dreams, or someone else’s dreams. Anyway, most of the kids look bored, but the brightest of them, an eager girl, listens intently, about the events of one particular summer.

The bodega Usnavi runs with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) is a focal point of the neighbourhood, in that every other single character in the flick comes and goes from the bodega. Across the street is a car hire place(?) called Rosario’s which is also a focal point of the neighbourhood. There’s also a hair / nail salon place which is also the focal point of the neighbourhood. Plus there’s also Abuela Claudia’s (Olga Merediz) apartment, which is also the focal point of the neighbourhood. I think I’ve overused that particular construction, because I think you can see what I’m implying.

Rating:

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

He never once even gets to say "BOO!"

dir: David Lowery

2017

This is such a strange and beautiful movie. I cannot believe it exists.

I cannot believe people convinced other people that this was going to work in any way. If you watch it and describe the premise to people, they will laugh in your fucking face.

I exaggerate often and in extreme ways, but this is one of the few times where my words barely grasp the strangeness on display.

But that’s not to say that the film itself is that out there or trippy. It’s not. It’s really simple. It’s extraordinarily simple. What I’m trying to convey is that something like this is rarely ever made into a film. Maybe a comedy sketch, maybe an animated short, but an actual movie?

That could be part of the appeal. It’s certainly not the presence of Casey Affleck, who somehow managed to become the worst Affleck in a family where he isn’t even the one who played a burly Batman who kills people.

No, his crimes are in the real world, not on the cinema screen. Even before he won an Oscar for playing the lead in Manchester-by-the-Sea a number of women accused him of sexual assault and harassment, and, by the fact that he paid good money to quieten their voices we can rest assured that he is free to do this crap again in future. He didn’t direct the film at least, and though he’s in it, as in, you see him for a bit, for most of the movie you can’t see him directly.

Why? Well, because his character is a ghost, with a Halloween-like sheet over himself, with two dark holes cut out of the sheet for the eyes.

A young couple (Affleck and Rooney Mara) move into a crappy looking house in, I dunno, rural Texas maybe? A couple of unexplained but harmless things happen, a few mysterious sounds, but it’s fine.

Then the chap dies, and something wakes up, wearing the sheet, and walks all the way home.

Rating:

Shadow in the Cloud

Shadow in the Cloud

She is ready to win this war, so get out of her way, scum

dir: Roseanne Liang

2020

So. This movie exists. It was made. And released. Kinda.

And what a bonkers movie it is. When I started watching it initially, and I saw the name “Max Landis” in the credits, I thought, eh. Landis is not best known for being the son of legendary director John Landis, who is not best known for making legendary films like Animal House, The Blues Brothers or An American Werewolf in London – he’s best known for getting Vic Morrow and two child actors killed on the set of The Twilight Zone movie due to unsafe filming practices.

And Landis junior isn’t best known now for writing the decent script for found footage superhero flick Chronicle, or American Ultra with Jesse Eisenberg as a stoner Jason Bourne / super assassin, he’s best known for multiple accusations of sexual assault and harassment.

So now that I know that, I’ll never watch anything new he’s involved with. I am assured by Wikipedia and multiple interviews online that while Max Landis wrote some script initially, it was completely re-written by Roseanne Liang, but his name still appears because of Writers Guild of America requirements.

Whatever. I think it’s very weird that an essential element of this flick, being some kind of gremlin that lives to destroy planes, is straight out of one of the segments from The Twilight Zone movie, which involved John Lithgow going more and more insane while seeing something on the wing of a plane destroying an engine, with no-one believing him. A movie, though not that segment, that his dad directed and nearly went to jail because of.

The difference here is that the lead character no-one believes at first is a woman (Chloë Grace Moretz), and it’s set during World War II in the Pacific, and she is the living embodiment of Rosie the Riveter, and her fighting a gremlin or bunch of gremlins on a B-17 bomber is the least implausible part of the script.

I don’t know exactly when this was made, but for most of the film her character of Flight Officer Maud Garrett is trapped in the turret underneath the bomber as it flies towards Guam, or somewhere else, hard to keep track. It’s almost as if the flick was trying to find cute work-arounds on how to make a flick during quarantine in a way that doesn’t make it obvious that everyone has to be kept away from everyone else. Or, since it seems like it was probably mostly made in June 2019, maybe it looks like a flick made in quarantine, but really it’s a flick made with a tiny budget.

Rating:

The New Mutants

New Mutants

Meet the New Mutants. Disturbingly undistinguished
from the old ones.

dir: Josh Boone

2020

A cursed movie…trying to come out in a deeply cursed year. Every flick that was meant to come out this year can claim to be cursed now, because of, you know, the floating death in the air thing, but this flick was cursed long before the virus raised its ugly head.

The New Mutants, really, didn’t stand a chance. In a normal year it would have been released in cinemas and then disappeared three weeks later, and accountants and jerks in marketing would have argued for a while as to what went wrong, and then everyone including the people in it would have forgotten about it and moved on with their lives.

It could be that audiences don’t care about mutants or X-Men or X-Men-related bullshit anymore, if they ever did, especially when there’s no Hugh Jackman with shiny claws and sideburns involved. It could also be that they’ve had enough of a crack at it, and they could leave this X-Men stuff alone for a decade or two before endlessly rebooting again and again.

When this was put together, they probably thought having Maisie Williams in it would be pretty great. She is, after all, pretty great. She singlehandedly saved Westeros / Game of Thrones, and created a moment of television history that will be remembered long after the dragons and the endless sexual violence are (hopefully) forgotten. And she was great throughout the show.

But this stupid year is the year of Anya Taylor-Joy, who has completely dominated streaming services and television, be it in perplexing chess dramas, in Jane Austen adaptations and virtually everything else in existence, including this standard mutant fare. She doesn’t have to do much other than turn up, so good luck for her.

This is, to be honest and fair, a fairly shitty, shoddy movie, with a bunch of people in their twenties playing teens and trying to get that YA energy, trying to reboot a franchise with new and therefore cheaper characters, and also, inexplicably, trying to make a horror flick with teen protagonists that makes no sense as horror or a teen flick or a new YA franchise.

It’s not all bad, though. Maisie Williams is great. It hardly matters what her character is called, or what she does, or why she has a Scottish accent, or why she’s being tormented by a Catholic-looking priest, which makes no sense if she’s Scottish. I’m just glad she’s here, in the same way I’m glad to see her in anything.

Rating:

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

About the only thing I liked in this flick was the wallpaper

dir: Charlie Kaufman

2020

I think I used to prefer it when Charlie Kaufman wrote amazing screenplays and other people directed his movies. It’s not a controversial thing to say. I haven’t enjoyed any of the films he’s made as director. I tried getting through Synecdoche, NY, but never managed it, and thus never reviewed it. Anomalisa, the one with the puppets, left me pretty cold.

And I’m Thinking of Ending Things is his latest offering, and another flick that does very little for me. It’s not entirely from the fevered brain that brought us Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Adaptation previously, because it’s based on what I feel must also be a very tedious book by Iain Reid. I will never read the book to find out if I am wrong (apologies to Mr Reid, who I’m sure poured his Canadian heart and soul into his novel).

When this glorious waste of 2 hours and 15 or so minutes starts, a character is sitting in a car pondering in voice over whether she should end the relationship she’s currently in, with the guy, Jake (Jesse Plemons) who happens to be driving the car. They are driving to the farm he grew up on in order to have dinner with his parents.

Wherever they usually live, this is far away, and it’s snowing, heavily. They engage mostly in tedious talk in the car. I cannot emphasise it enough: whenever they’re in the car, their talk is profoundly tedious. They are in the car for most of the film. At one point, she, being Lucy (Jessie Buckley), is goaded into reciting a poem she just wrote, and she does, and it’s about the bleakest thing you’ve ever heard. Jake thinks it’s wonderful, of course. Lucy is such a good poet.

But she also wants to get back tonight in order to start work on her essay about how the rabies virus attaches itself to the ganglia of an infected person. But she’s also a painter. And she also studies gerontology, and quantum physics, and her name changes a lot. People try to call her, and sometimes it’s her, apparently, trying to call herself.

Rating:

Aquaman

Aquaman

When a Fish is A Man, I'll Hold a Candle for that Man,
Because That Fish Is The Man!

dir: James Wan

2018

See, I hate travelling for work.

It’s about the only time I get to travel to cities interstate, with work paying for it, but then I have to do work things and stay in work designated places. These places designated by work are usually known as hotels.

Hotels, gods love the industry and all the minimum wage people that work in them and for them, are loathsome places to stay. They’re generic and antiseptic but they still feel permanently unclean.

The only virtue they have, and that is some of them versus all of them, is that some of them have a dedicated movies channel. Sometimes they’ll even have fairly recent movies on them!

What this basically boils down to, which explains both the existence of this review and the point of the preamble, is that on these work trips where I can’t really do much else other than go to the work thing, wander around a strange and sometimes quite boring city, then retire to the confines of a hotel room until the next day or departure. So I watch a bunch of stuff I ordinarily would never watch, because the standards that apply when you’re on a plane or trapped in a hotel room vary vastly compared to when you’re endlessly scrolling through Netflix trying to find the perfect choice that ‘everyone’ will be happy with at home.

Rating:

Glass

Glass

I find myself feeling very nervous for all of you

dir: M Night Shyamalan

2019

The truth is, we’ve been sucked in for a very long time by this guy. Like a televangelist or a very online Russian model looking for love who’s really a catfishing guy with stuff falling out of his beard who hasn’t seen daylight in weeks, it keeps working over the long run because many of us are just dumb enough to not want to admit that we keep getting fooled, again and again.

That’s a long way of saying that, even as people (with a hint of desperation in their voices) may claim this represents a return to form for someone who’s had bad film after bad film for over a decade, it still betrays an incredible level of dumbness in a way that can only make you laugh at the end product. There are scenes in this flick where you just wonder to yourself whether people tried to point out to the director just how inane some of his ideas are, or whether he just covers his ears and wails “nah nah nah can’t hear you” until they stop trying to point out the horrifically obvious.

Glass is, apparently, the third part of a trilogy to do with people in the ordinary world having superpowers. I didn’t see the second instalment, and never will, let’s be honest, because I cannot for the life of me imagine myself doing so. The first part was called Unbreakable, and was a pretty good flick, I thought, way back in 2000. The second part that I’ll never watch is called Split, and is about a lunatic played by James McAvoy who has the honour of playing host to 23 distinct personalities. Unfortunately, the only way movies like to use such a character conceit is as fodder for a serial killer flick where a jerk kidnaps and murders cheerleaders.

Very important for the character development that they be cheerleaders, for sure. One of those personalities, which the others fearfully call The Beast, is not only some demonic-sounding cretin, but, when the “feeling” comes upon the jerk, he seems to manifest supernatural abilities (like veins all over the place, and being able to dance on the ceiling).

Shyamalan has combined the earlier good flick with the latter tedious flick and brought back the Samuel L. Jackson character from Unbreakable as well, known as Mr Glass, for this third flick, where they are held captive in a psych institution by a psychiatrist (the always luminous Sarah Paulson), who tries to convince them all that what they think of as almost supernatural abilities can easily be explained away by science and the ways the mind deals with trauma, being the creation and adherence to a delusional worldview in order to avoid the sad reality that the rest of us live with.

Rating:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts

Don't come around here no more, Newt Scamander, your kind ain't welcome

dir: David Yates

2016

Oh, pointlessness, thy name is an ersatz Harry Potter movie without Harry Potter or any of his cronies. Is Warner Brothers so desperate for money that they have to keep plundering a cupboard laid bare, such that anything with JK Rowling’s name on it can still make them drool Pavlov’s dog style?

Whilst I abhor endless franchises that never seem to end that aren’t called Star Wars or Star Trek or Marvel's or - wait a second I guess I don’t abhor them - one could say that the natural place to let the Harry Potter phenomenon die off was at the end of The Deathly Hallows Part II. A natural end. The perfect place to let it gently fade into the background of the pop cultural ether.

But money needs more money. It gets lonely. It needs new friends, always. It is a gold plated diamond encrusted guarantee that more will come, because Pottermania cannot be allowed to die.

As such I think that this will be the first in probably a new unkillable series, which will function as a prequel to the Potter movies / books, that will be overflowing with not so sly references and Easter eggs for the devoted masses. For me, honestly, I really don’t care. I’ve never read the books and my ten-year-old daughter refuses to even vaguely entertain the prospect of ever reading the books together or watching the flicks.

Rating:

The Jungle Book

Jungle Book

Look at these lazy good-for-nothing layabouts just laying about in the jungle

dir: Jon Favreau

2016

It may be a remake, but the current incarnation of the Jungle Book playing in cinemas is far more enjoyable and successful than I ever would have thought it deserved to be.

Jon Favreau isn’t really that respected as a director, and is more mocked for his existence as a shorter, fatter version of Vince Vaughn; an actor I have come to truly loathe. I don’t loathe Jon Favreau, in fact I’ve liked most of his flicks except for Chef, which was a terribly self-indulgent mess, I thought. Saying “I thought” at the end of that sentence seems awfully self-indulgent, but, you know what, I’m just trying to keep things conversational, okay?

I think he does okay as a director of comedic – actiony kind of flicks. I wouldn’t want him to direct adaptations of Wuthering Heights or Anna Karenina or nuthin’, but he seems to be, at least to me, a dab hand at light action fare. Most people probably remember him as a director of the first two Iron Man movies, and perhaps laugh a bit uncomfortably when the topic of Cowboys and Aliens is brought up.

Rating:

Pan

Pan

This was terrible in ways Huge Ackman has rarely ever been, which
makes it something of an achievement

dir: Joe Wright

2015

Did I want to like this? Did I go into this determined not to like it, like I had an agenda?

I’m not sure. I think I was predisposed towards liking it, because I have a nostalgic love of the original story, or at least earlier versions of Peter Pan (that don’t include Spielberg’s Hook, which I still loathe with every fibre of my being to this day, like all good-hearted people). The thought of a ‘prequel’ didn’t particularly excite me, because it just seems lazy to me, or like a boring stealth way of trying to ‘reboot’ Pan without having to do too much work.

I’ve liked a lot of Joe Wright’s movies thus far, I think he’s a pretty impressive director. Atonement, Hannah, even his sweaty Pride and Prejudice would have been solid had there not been a Keira Knightley at the centre of things. And his Anna Karenina would have been a decent experiment (had there not been a Keira Knightley at the centre of things). Okay, well I loved at least two of his films outright, and tolerated the others. That’s better than most of the other directors you can think of.

Alas, now he’s made a flick I downright disliked. My problem is not the direction per se, since it’s probably as well directed as crap of this kind could be. I just feel like the script itself is a misbegotten and awful thing that should never have seen the light of day.

Rating:

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