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Recent Films – August 2018

(I try to post reviews of all the films I watch over on letterboxd. Here are the most recent reviews I’ve written)

Jack Reacher – 2012 – ★½

Another Tom Cruise love-letter to himself. Women can’t even look at him without eye-fucking the shit out of him. And once AGAIN, we have “you take your black coffee” as a metaphor for “I bet you have a huge dick” (see also: Pitbull: New Order).

Tom Cruise retire bitch.

Ready Player One – 2018 – ★½

I’ll start this by saying I hated the book of Ready Player One. I think it represents all of the worst parts of nerd culture, where everything is a callback to something else that came before it. You know the way cosplaying can sometimes be really great, but sometimes the person dressing up just ends up doing the one pose the character is famous for and you end up feeling like “what’s the point of that?” Yeah, that’s Ready Player One for me.

The film isn’t nearly as dreadful as the book, tidying up some of the book’s looser ends completely exorcising some of the particularly egregious set-pieces (e.g. completely performing Monty Python and the Holy Grail from memory – my GOD can you imagine anything more insufferable?). So it deserves some praise for this. “Not as bad as the book”. Put that on the poster.

When the film was announced, everyone said how Spielberg was the perfect person to direct a film drenched in 80s nostalgia, since he was responsible for so much of the things we’re nostalgic for. But honestly, the film is so milquetoast and by-the-numbers that it’s impossible to see any of Spielberg’s fingerprints on the finished product. There are no moments of awe that will make the kids of today look back and go “wow, remember that cool film?”

Upgrade – 2018 – ★★★½

I feel like the trailer for this kind of oversold the batshit, overcranked action part of this film. Sure, there was a lot to admire here: the kineticism makes the whole thing feel hypercaffeinated, leaving the viewer uncomfortable for basically the entire film. Not enough films are willing to leave their viewers feeling uncomfortable for an entire film. And I love the little touches that let me create my own head-canon that the whole thing is actually a video game by David Cage.

But in the end (and to be super reductive here), it’s basically just Robocop meets Ex Machina by way of Black Mirror, and while this is generally a good thing, it never manages to rise above and become more than the sum of these parts.

Wedding Crashers – 2005 – ★★★

Re-watching this film in 2018, a few things stand out. The first is how problematic this film is. I’m not trying to lean towards any performative wokeness but the homophobia, racism and rape jokes in this film really date this as a pre-#MeToo film. The kind of film that just wouldn’t get made today.

The other thing that stands out is how (these problems aside), it’s also not the kind of film that would get made today because of the amount of sincerity and love between the two main characters. There’s an affection here that just doesn’t ‘sell’ to audiences today, who demand all male friendships be based on an aloof snarkiness (see Tag for an example of a recent film featuring a supposed group of friends who react to each other with such cold distance that it’s hard to believe they’re friends at all).

Wedding Crashers also has Vince Vaughn giving his best (read: most likeable) performance. And since all R-rated comedies from this era had a contractually obligated Will Ferrell cameo, his appearance in this film is mercifully brief and all the better for it.

I’d say if I was to revisit Wedding Crashers in another ten years, it probably won’t hold up particularly well, but for now, it’s doing okay.

Avengers: Infinity Wars – 2018 – ★★★½

Here’s a thing – when I know I know I’m not going to be able to see a film for a while, I’m quite happy to go off and read the entire plot summary on IMDB or themoviespoiler dot com so that I can at least be aware of the conversation and not be one of those fragile people cowering in corners covering their ears and shouting “no spoilers!” (which, incidentally, is probably my least favourite phrase of the last ten years).

My son was born right around the time Infinity War hit cinemas, so sure, thanks to the intrepid (and thorough — my GOD are they thorough) people of themoviespoiler dot com (this is not an advertisement), I knew every beat of what happened in the film. All the twists and turns, all the emotional up- and down-swings. Nothing, story-wise, in this film was unknown to me.

Which is a long-winded bit of context, because now that it’s been released on iTunes, I have finally actually watched Infinity War. And you know what, it wasn’t bad.

My main thought is that the film is wildly inconsistent in its tone. Scenes of disaster and despair will be immediately undercut by a light and breezy scene — hey, check out our witty banter! — before you’ve even had time to process it. Halfway through the film, I started feeling emotionally seasick.

The next thought I had is that this is not a film for newcomers. My wife has seen exactly four previous Marvel films (two of the Thor films and the two Guardians of the Galaxy films) and she would have been baffled by this film. With such a massive cast, each character gets, on average, around two scenes in this film. Two scenes to establish their entire characters, their motivations, their desires, AND fire off a few funny jokes. Rightly or wrongly, this film decided to leave most of this out. If you haven’t seen most of the previous Marvel films, good luck keeping up.

But the film was still remarkably positive in a number of ways. For one, this is one of the first superhero films where the fight scenes were completely legible. Usually by the time films like this descend into their inevitable all-CGI brawl, it becomes impossible to actually follow the action. Time and space go out the window and you just have to wait until the dust settles for your brain to retroactively make sense of what just happened. Not so much in Infinity War. Here the action made sense and it was possible to keep track of all the key players. So kudos to it for that.

Another thing I liked is how even though this is probably the bleakest superhero film in recent memory, it rarely allowed its tone to become dour. It never used ‘surly grimdark’ as a substitute for genuine bleakness (something that has mostly kept me away from DC films). Even as the characters reach new depths of pain and misery, there’s a beauty behind it all. Maybe it’s because almost none of this film takes place at night, everything happens in the daytime, or on beautiful planets with whimsical gravity and pastel lighting. There’s alway something there to offset the gloom.

The previous two Avengers films aren’t among my favourite of the Marvel films. They’re the ones I return to the least, because it seemed like the writers just couldn’t get a balance between the characters and the action — between introducing these characters while also driving them forward. This is a huge leap forward and I’m looking forward to watching it again.

Or at least reading it on themoviespoiler dot com (again, not an advertisement).

(But if you want to throw some money my way, themoviespoiler dot com, hmu).

Tag – 2018 – ★★

Have you ever watched a film and thought “how and why did this get made?” That was basically all I could think about for every minute Tag was on my screen. How did an entire film get made based on a story from This American Life? How did they fuck it up so badly? Are we actually supposed to believe that these people are lifelong friends when they have all the chemistry of people who have met five minutes before the camera started rolling? And what exactly was the point of the female characters in this film?

I can count the number of times I laughed on the fingers of one hand (don’t need to include thumb), and all of them came from Hannibal Buress who is a gift to disappointing, low-grade comedies like this.

The Endless – 2017 – ★★★★

Not many filmmakers actually “get” what makes Lovecraft so great. And even fewer have the technical skill to be able to translate this to the screen. The Endless is the closest I’ve seen anyone come, even if it the wheels kind of fall off towards the end when their ambition finally exceeds their budget.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout – 2018 – ★★

Tom Cruise retire bitch.

I guess this deserves a more reasoned comment than just a pithy four-letter dismissal. A lot of people smarter than me are giving this four and five star reviews, and so mine is probably going to be an outlier, so I should give more context for why I think this is firmly a two-star film and why I think Tom Cruise should retire (bitch).

We’ll skip over the screenplay for now. The dreadful words the actors are being forced to say to justify the set pieces. The words that feel like they were written by a teenager quite happy to put the brakes on the action for a dreary monologue. We’ll also skip over the acting because, to a person, everyone phoned in their performance. The direction for delivering the terrible dialogue appears to have been “more breathless pls, as if you’ve just run a marathon. Except if you’re actually running a marathon, in which case pls shout at full volume”. Angela Bassett, in particular, looked especially thrilled to be getting paid for a trip to Paris for an hour’s work.

We’ll skip over these things because they’re largely indefensible and even those four and five star reviews skip over them because those aren’t the things we come to a mission impossible film for. The reason we watch mission impossible films is for the set pieces and boy howdy does this film have plenty of those.

“Tom Cruise ACTUALLY hung off a rope! He ACTUALLY flew that helicopter! He ACTUALLY broke his ankle doing that jump!” The thing with Mission Impossible films isn’t just the set-pieces themselves, but the fact that there’s precious little CGI involved. The actors (mainly Cruise) ACTUALLY do these things. I’ve even heard one reviewer suggest Tom Cruise might be the next Jackie Chan.

Fuck that.

In my review of the second Jack Reacher film, I mentioned how that film was such a vanity project that it basically seemed like a two-hour film about how great Jack (Tom) Reacher (Cruise) is. And it’s basically the same here. Fallout paints Cruise in such a messianic light that it could be studied in a theology class.

And this means that all those set-pieces everyone keeps shiteing on about have absolutely no weight, no stakes. Will Tom Cruise’s character survive a HALO jump from 25,000m?! Of course he will. Not only will he survive, he will selflessly put himself in MORE danger to save his buddy (who will also, inevitably, be fine too).

When your CGI-less set pieces are so toothless that they barely register, then maybe it’s time to go copy a page from the Fast and Furious playbook and go VERY CGI to deliver something genuinely spectacular. At least then they’re fun for the audience and I don’t feel the producers tapping me on the shoulders saying “he really did this! Aren’t you in awe?” every five goddamn minutes.

So yeah, this is the worst Mission Impossible film since the second one, another one that was a tragi-comic display of Tom Cruise’s vanity overshadowing what should have been a good film. And coming so hot on the heels of Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, it maybe feels like I’ve just had enough of these Tom Cruise ego-stroking vehicles, and maybe he should think about retiring?

Brawl in Cell Block 99 – 2017 – ★★★

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the people who write the dreadful dialogue for videogames were given the budget to make a film?

No?

Well, that’s what Brawl in Cell Block 99 is here for: to answer a question no-one was asking. And for good measure, why not throw in Vince Vaughn doing the least amount of acting I think I’ve ever seen an actor do.

Having said that, it’s not an entirely awful film. It’s trying to evoke the style and the mood of a cheap and scuzzy exploitation film, and in 2017 I think that’s at least something to be commended.

The Cave – 2005 – ★★

Not going to lie, I was very excited by the setup in this film. It reminded me of Jeff Long’s book The Descent in which a group of explorers find a cave which leads to an underground world, an enclosed ecosystem with demon-like creatures in an entire society that might be “hell”.

Unfortunately, after a promising setup, the film then goes off in an entirely pedestrian direction with endless, tired genre cliches and MY GOD the worst-filmed action sequences I’ve ever seen.

What a waste.

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Recent Films – June 2018

(I try to post reviews of all the films I watch over on letterboxd. Here are the most recent reviews I’ve written)

A Quiet Place – 2018 – ★★★★

Since my daughter was born, certain films hit me way harder than they otherwise should. Anything involving a child in peril is danger territory for me. Throw in a father trying to protect the child-in-peril and I’m completely screwed. I’ll be a wreck. For example, War for the Planet of the Apes had me absolutely sobbing in the cinema.

A Quiet Place is exactly the kind of film that hits me harder than it probably should, what with John Krasinski’s kind-faced father bringing the pathos like a doe-eyed hammer. Throw in a nihilistic pre-credits sequence to establish the stakes and, yeah, I hadn’t a fuckin hope.

Some late-game rule-changing to score a cheap emotional hit kinda ruins it a little, but it’s still a tight, tight film.

Super Troopers 2 – 2018 – ★★½

The only thing really missing from this film was a Rodney Dangerfield cameo where he comes out and tells the cops and the mounties to lighten up before turning on really cheesy hair rock music and starting an impromptu dance party.

As light and nutritionally void as the first film, but slightly shorter on charm.

Pitbull. New Order – 2016 – ★½

My continuing education in the less-“worthy” Polish film canon continues with this, a sub-Love/Hate gangster film set in Warsaw. The writer-director, Patryk Vega, is described as the Polish Guy Ritchie. And from what I’ve seen of his films so far, maybe people mean Revolver-era Guy Ritchie? I dunno.

The film itself is a regressive, homophobic and insecure piece of filmmaking. The main character, “Miami”, is a quote-unquote “tough” quote-unquote “sexy” quote-unquote “cop”. No woman can look at him without wanting to fuck him. No man can look at him without wanting to fuck him. “That was the best sex I’ve ever had” says one of his lays. “Coffee?” a detective offers him. “I bet you take it black.” Yes, he’s a hard-fuckin, hard-drinkin cop. Oh, and when the suits in internal affairs take away his badge, he tells them to give it back or he’ll kick the shit out of them. And they do.

It’s that kind of film. The kind we haven’t really seen since Joel Silver cut down on his cocaine intake.

I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that based on this film, it won’t be long before Hollywood comes knocking at Patryk Vega’s door. And I don’t doubt that’s true, but only because they just need any new blood. But the real person who should be tapped for better things is the cinematographer. This film is total garbage, but at least it’s handsome garbage.

Supersonic – 2016 – ★★★½

I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Oasis. Their music does nothing for me and their personalities are so ugh (although I love reading interviews with Noel Gallagher). So why am I giving three-and-a-half stars to an Oasis documentary? Well, because it’s not a documentary about Oasis. I mean, not really. It’s really a documentary about a period in time. It’s a documentary about success. It’s a documentary about regret.

The music is just helpful context.

Blockers – 2018 – ★½

Why does everyone keep saying what a great comedian John Cena is? Or even Leslie Mann, for that matter? All these huge comedy stars playing the parents and they got DEMOLISHED by the kids in this film. Very weak.

Sneakers – 1992 – ★★★★★

I fucking LOVE this film. It’s my ultimate comfort film.

BUT.

There’s a bit, a plot point, where Mary McDonnell was pretending to be hooked up with Stephen Tobolowsky on a computer date to get his office access card and his voice print and stuff and she gets stung. Except they make it look like she’s not stung. And then, being a pro grifter, she goes “This is the last computer date I go on” and Ben Kingsley mafia-hacker goes “A computer would never match her with him, I SMELL A RAT”.

BRUH IT’S 2018 AND NETFLIX STILL KEEPS RECOMMENDING I WATCH THE BIG BANG THEORY I THINK YOUR SHITTY 1993 COBOL DATING PROGRAM IS PROBABLY NOT AS FUCKIN SOPHISTICATED AS YOU THINK IT IS.

Gotowi na wszystko. Exterminator 2018 – ★★½

My first legit Polish-language film I’m watching for language homework rather than because of ‘merit’ or whatever and it’s about a middle-aged man-child who spends too much on old videogames and gets berated by his partner. Oops!

The film started to lose me in the middle when they suddenly turned the “plot” dial up a thousand notches. But it really lost me when a guy tried to convince his girlfriend to leave the mental hospital she was checked into. “But I need my meds! If I don’t have them, I don’t know what will happen!” “It’s okay because we’ll be together”.

Nope.

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