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.

Review: 300

So the IFF Surprise Film was 300. Not that much of a surprise. The queue was a bigger surprise - jesus, I’ve never seen anything like that. Even the premiere of the Lord of the Rings movies had shorter queues.

Anyway, 300 completely floored me. It’s a love song to graphic violence and romantic heroism, told with the most stylish visuals this side of Sin City. The movie suffers from more than a few jerky moments with a lot of the dialogue falling apart as hammy and unconvincing, but I personally found that these were mostly in the parts where the screenwriters actually tried to by historically accurate (“Return with your shield, or on it” being the most obvious). The political sub-plot had real trouble hiding the fact that it existed only as ‘filler’ and illicited an inappropriate titter from the audience, which only highlighted its awkwardness.

But who cares about all this? This movie is about the action sequences and these are what make the movie stand out. Probably not the most epic battles ever filmed, but definitely the most beautiful and balletic. The fact that this was filmed in a warehouse means we never see more than a handful of ‘real’ people on screen at any one time but the director works this to his favour, giving each individual skirmish an intimacy that would be otherwise lost.

Tremendous stuff. Gives me high hopes for what Zack Snyder can bring to Watchmen.

Review: The Fountain →

Have you ever had a movie finish and end credits roll, with the entire audience sitting back in stunned silence? Maybe it’s just the type of film I tend to go see, but this has only happened to me a handful of times. The Fountain being one of them.

The Fountain is a love story. Rather, it’s three love stories, told across a thousand years. In the past, a conquistador searches for the tree of life to save his beloved Queen. In the present, a doctor searches for the cure for cancer to save his beloved wife. In the future… well… a guy travels with his tree, in a bubble, to a dying star wrapped in a nebula.

Hey - noone ever said this would be easy.

Arthouse blockbuster or blockbuster arthouse? Either way, this is not a welcoming film. At times, the ambitious storytelling threatens to derail the entire production, and the more cynical among us would almost certainly have trouble giving this film the room it needs to breathe. But for the more persistent, there’s a great reward - something completely and defiantly unique. A sci-fi movie with a very human heart. A film that can leave an entire audience breathless.

I would say this is as close to unmissable as any movie I can think of.

Fast Food Nation →

fastfood5.jpg

For his dramatization of Eric Schlosser’s tell-all expose of the Fast Food industry, Richard Linklater chose to focus on just two points from the book.

  1. The meat packing industry is ruthlessly exploitative.

  2. There is shit in the meat. Although they’re both very important points, they are stretched past breaking point across a two-hour movie. This means, worryingly, that by the fifth time someone on screen has repeated “there’s shit in the meat”, it’s lost all of its emotional impact.

And though there is a token discussion of the morality of the fast-food lifestyle (courtesy of a brief appearance by Ethan Hawke), this thinly-veiled sermon is so naive as to be offensive.

Heavy-handed and overwrought. I wonder if a documentary might have been the better option for this material?

Fahrenheit

Positioning itself as a ‘true’ marriage of narrative and interactivity, and promising a different experience each time it’s played, Fahrenheit has a lot to live up to. It’s a shame then that the game comes off something more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for the 21st century, except perhaps slightly clunkier.

Early on, the game seems to deliver on many of its promises. The initial flurry of interactivity appears impressive and leaves the player with high hopes for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Regardless of what choices the player makes, the game remains largely unaffected. The game provides the illusion of a branching storyline where the players' choices open new paths, but in truth there is just One True Path. This is most obviously demonstrated early on with the option to save a child who has just fallen into a frozen lake, with the police approaching. Choose to save the child and run away, the police find you - continue from last save. Save the child and run away in a different direction, and the police still find you (with the same cut-scene) - continue from last save. On my third attempt, I finally saw what the game wanted me to do. And it’s this distinction that holds the game back: it’s about what the game wants to do, not what the player wants to do.

In a recent interview, Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island) condemned the idea of ‘interactive storytelling’, saying

...I don't believe stories should be interactive. I believe stories should be _participatory_... You're participating in my story, but you're not going to change it, because it's _my_ story. I have a story to tell you.

This makes a lot of sense, and Fahrenheit sits a lot better as a “participatory story.” Hackneyed script aside, it’s as immersive a game as I’ve ever played, and it’s quite capable of tearing away a few hours at a time, while comfortably providing plenty of opportunities to duck out of the game: a feature I wish more games provided.

Technorati Tags: Fahrenheit, Games, Reviews

Review: Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D →

Regardless of how you try to justify it, Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D is a bad movie. Spy Kids 3D (the obvious comparison) was the weakest of that series and yet it still towers over Sharkboy in terms of plot and well… sense of fun. Even worse is that Sharkboy commits that cardinal sin of children’s movies: actually talking down to its audience.

And yes, I know it’s a kid’s movie and all, and I shouldn’t have high expectations but none of the kids in the cinema with me seemed particular engaged. In fact, most seemed bored by the story, although completely wowed by the 3D effect. The standout moment came for me when Lavagirl died (In children’s movies, all heroes are contractually obliged to die or appear to die) and some kid behind me shouted out “Deadgirl”.

Genuinely poor.

Technorati Tags: Movies, 3D, Reviews

Retrospective: Stop Making Sense

Talking Heads were the first band I was can remember being ‘aware’ of.

I mean, I understood music in a general sense. I understood “songs”. I understood that there were songs that scared the crap out of me (I used to challenge myself to listen to Ray Parker Jnr’s theme from “Ghostbusters” in the dark, alone. I don’t think I’ve managed to do it yet) and I understood that there songs whose videos made me laugh (Dire Straits' “Walk of Life”). But I really didn’t understand the concept of “bands” until quite late.

When I was about four or five, my sister - ten years older than me and a die-hard Prince/Adam Ant fan - challenged me to name the bands I liked. So I named “Talking Heads”, the only band I was aware of.

“Arty wanker.”

(I was five)

It wasn’t until much, much later that I understood what she meant. Talking Heads did their best to skirt the line between art and commercialism, occasionally pushing one more than the other. Sometimes this produced something difficult and awkward (like the deliberate nonsense-language of “I Zimbra” on “Fear of Music”). But sometimes, it produced something beautiful. Like “Stop Making Sense”.

The few concert videos that stand out as something special do so because the artist and the director have a clear definition of what they want to achieve (and both have the talent to support it). Other examples, such as Prince’s Sign O' The Times and Scorsese’s The Last Waltz are both as entertaining to watch as movies as they are to listen to. Stop Making Sense represents a band at the peak of their abilities with enough of a vision to, if nothing else, produce something completely unique.

I’ve always been just a casual fan of Talking Heads. I’d never seen Stop Making Sense, but I thought I’d gotten everything I could out of their music. Until a few weeks ago. I was at a Skinny Wolves night in Bodkins. At these things, they usually accompany the music with movies projected on a big screen without the sound - things like the Clash’s Rude Boy and Devo Live. This particular week, they were showing Stop Making Sense.

Now, it may have been the copious amounts of booze sloshing around my system, but I was completely mesmerized. I must have come across as a rude sumbitch because I think I spent most of the night ignoring all attempts at conversation. I was completely transfixed by these bunch of complete… well, there’s no other way to put this… geeks doing the coolest things I’d ever seen on stage.

Throughout the entire thing, David Byrne moves his gangly body in strange, hypnotic ways. And the entire band puts out enough energy to power the show themselves. For example, the entire band jogs its way through Life During Wartime. During the guitar solo, David Byrne jogs around the entire stage, again and again and at the end, goes back to singing without being even slightly out of breath.

There are set changes, costume changes, instrument changes, but none of it seems forced. It seems progressive. It gradually, sensibly builds up. Rather than blowing its load right at the very start (like U2’s technically impressive Zooropa and Popmart tours), Stop Making Sense has a structure. It starts off with David Byrne coming out to a bare stage in a suit, with an acoustic guitar and boombox, and announcing to the crowd that he’d like to play a song. He launches into a version of Psycho Killer that is so different from the album version as to be almost unrecognisable.

For the next song, part of the band comes out. For the next, the backing singers come out. And so on. By the end of the show, there’s a small country on the stage.

And, like Psycho Killer, each song on Stop Making Sense is radically different from the album versions which makes them instantly compelling. And more significantly, they’re arguably better than the album version. When it came to producing a “Best of”, Talking Heads chose to present two songs from Stop Making Sense instead of their album versions, that’s the kind of quality we’re talking here.

It’s easy to understate just how amazing this movie is. Even if you’re only a casual fan of Talking Heads, I’d encourage you to hunt down this movie and be won over for yourself.

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