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7 stars

Violet

Violet

This poster... does not give a good sense of what the
flick is about.

dir: Justine Bateman

2021

Violet feels, at least from my limited perspective, like one of the most insightful and realistic depictions of what it could be like trying to survive in life while coping with severe anxiety. I say this not because I have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, and nor am I trying to co-opt the lived experiences of the many people I know living with them. Or those no longer living with them.

I don’t know, I don’t pretend to know, but I do have two things: a level of hypochondria that at least, when I’m watching something, convinces me I must have the thing a character is experiencing, which fades a little while after a film ends, and a capacity for feeling very overwhelmed and anxious when watching movies about people experiencing overwhelming anxiety.

While I can reel off a whole bunch of films that have made me feel very anxious while watching them, through editing choices, cinematography choices, sound editing or performance, I’m not so self-involved that I think that is the same, or even comparable to the experience of generalised anxiety or the other myriad variations on the disorder. Getting anxious during a roller coaster ride makes sense. The real issue is experiencing that level of anxiety when you’re NOT on the roller coaster ride, and people are wondering why the choice of dairy milk or almond milk for your latte has reduced you to sobbing in a café, and you can’t explain it because you don’t know yourself.

If there are aspects that I can relate to, well, they’re more universal. Paralyzing self-doubt, self-consciousness, lashing out at people trying to help – many of us do that shit even without anxiety, so, yeah, can relate. This, being a character study of a person with extreme anxiety, brings us into the mindset of the main character, Violet (Olivia Munn), with extensive use of voiceover, but also with some other stylistic tricks, like having words appear on the screen, in cursive writing, sometimes letting us see how Violet really feels or what she really wishes, when her words, and the voice of her inner critic, are saying the diametric opposite.

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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