Featured

M.O.

Terse, perceptive, and sometimes even witty film reviews from a critic without portfolio.

Collated under Film Reviews is a library of every review I’ve posted to date, ordered alphabetically. Alternatively, for those who like to live life on the edge, you can scroll below to read each in the all-but random order I posted them. I trust you’ll file yourselves accordingly.

Reviews

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

I love Queen (who doesn’t?), and a couple of hours in the company of their music is always going to have its pleasures. That said, this is the film equivalent of Brian May and Roger Taylor writing their own Wikipedia entries. C+

EMPIRE OF THE SUN

If there’s one man you can trust to turn a Japanese internment camp into a Dickensian theme park, it’s Steven Spielberg. B

THE FRENCH CONNECTION

Sleuthy Friedkin thriller which is pepped in three important ways. Giving it a great sense of place, there’s its use of location filming and photography, slaloming in and out of the streets and skyscrapers of New York City. There’s an innovative runaway train-meets-car chase set piece which livens up the middle act. And finally, there’s an abrupt, spooky “where are they now?” coda set to spooky, industrial tones that has a satisfying, well, spookiness about it. It’s a good thing these assets were there to call on, because the thrillerish aspect of the film doesn’t amount to much more than a lot of people following a lot of other people around town till someone falls asleep or slips away or something. In a sleuthy manner of course. B+

The Departed

Pop music and pop violence as Martin Scorsese slips into self-imitation from the off by starting yet another crime movie with The Rolling Stones. It’s shallow as you often expect from him, though at least it’s entertaining. Remarkably, Mark Wahlberg is responsible for all the best moments, the highlight coming when he drops a C-bomb in front of President himself Martin Sheen. B

Million Dollar Baby

[spoilers]

70% of this Clint Eastwood actor-director job is a formalist sporting movie, from the blue black and white of its colour palette, to its rags to riches journey from a boxing gym to a world title bout. And at the core of this familiar story is a sweet dynamic between coach Frank, a man with daughter issues, and spunky underdog Maggie, a woman with father issues. No prizes for guessing where that goes.

The other 30% of it is so horrible, so totally and utterly abject, it’s a wonder how anyone imagined it could have been reconciled with the optimistic genre cinema that preceded it. At least some part of the blindsiding shift is deliberate, but then again, it followed what for my money was an unintentional Darth Vader reference. Genre cinema stuff in other words. Not: a broken spinal column, quadriplegia, attempted suicide, followed by assisted suicide from surrogate father to paralysed surrogate daughter. C+

Downfall

It doesn’t take a genius to work out the reasons behind Hitler’s evolution into a devil-horned historical caricature, but the galling truth is he was just a man–like you, like me. The incomprehensible evil of his actions has to be understood in relation to that fact, and by and large his depictions in cinema range from mockery to vilification, without any attempt to address his character head on. What marks this out as a different kind of movie is made clear in its disarming first scene, in which a bumbling, even charismatic Hitler is introduced to several candidates to be his new private secretary. No megalomaniacal speeches or crooked Hollywood grins, just an avuncular professional pottering around in his office.  

By humanising him, something that didn’t come without controversy, the steady peeling back of his complex of neuroses and delusions, his fits of rage and his simmering hatreds, becomes all the more impactful. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s choice of this angle allows Bruno Ganz to steer clear of rehashing the versions of Hitler everyone has in their minds–a unique infamy which makes him an extremely difficult figure to portray. Ganz’s Hitler–trapped in the bunker with his co-conspirators as their world collapses–is diminished and suicidal, swinging between flights of fancy that the war could still be won, but ultimately abdicating responsibility for the horrors he’s unleashed.  

Naturally, Downfall isn’t just about its most notorious son; it’s about the collapse of an empire, and the sense of apocalypse both inside and outside the bunker is keenly felt. The naturalistic dialogue and documentary style of the direction impose a sense of reality on what are extraordinary events. If there’s one criticism to be made however, it’s somewhere between the docudrama direction and the visuals. Realism is one thing, but it’s got the mundane look, limited camerawork, and tone, of a very good TV movie. As it isn’t a TV movie, we’ll have to forgive the cast and crew, because they’ve shown some huge balls in recreating this history.  A-

Reviews:

AD ASTRA

Brad Pitt looking sad in space. B-

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER

Difficult to focus on an otherwise perfectly decent Cold War thriller with a more than decent widescreen sheen when you’re so transfixed by the majesty of Sean Connery’s facial hair. A landmark moment in the history of male grooming. B

MEN

The Woker Man.

(There’s a sense of missed opportunity that this–not even really that woke–Mummerset horror shares with Last Night in Soho, in providing a platform for some quality cinematic man-bashing, only to largely squander it. Settle in for some randomly interjected misogyny, which takes the place of thematic groundwork; a reel of folk horror clichés masquerading as symbolism; Rory Kinnear’s head CGed onto a small child; and Rory Kinnear giving birth to himself more times than you’ll ever need to remember. ) C+

TOP GUN: MAVERICK

What it lacks in its predecessor’s accidental kitsch supremacy, it compensates for with spectacular fighter-jet action, utilising effects tech which the ‘80s original couldn’t dream of. Also complementary is its accurately assembled cast. Ed Harris gets a cameo (which should’ve been more), while Jon Hamm deputises as the stick-up-his-arse authority figure whose sole purpose is to bust Mav’s balls. Tom Cruise has a bumpier ride however. Faced with the same romantic obligations he had when he was a 29-year old film star, 59-year old Cruise grimaces when confronted with Jennifer Connelly’s contractually obliged flirtatiousness–the palpable awkwardness of a leading man who’s left that period of his life and career behind.  But he gets back into his groove once the action gets into its groove, something I doubt he’ll ever lose his talent for. B   

Boxingdaypost

LOVE ACTUALLY

It’s fine, but lose focus for one second and you’ll swear you’re watching John Lewis’s 2003 Christmas advert. B

THE MATRIX: RESURRRECTIONS

Cult sci-fi/fantasy—packed away after two dour sequels—is resurrected for a much brighter but substantially formulaic reboot, which is a shame given how left-field its “what the?” first act is. The answers were always going to have to come eventually, and it was always going to be hard for them to be as satisfying as the pleasure in not knowing them. B

THE THIN RED LINE

Pearl Harbor for philosophy sophomores. D+

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO

Canny wokeist horror succumbs to confused traditionalist slasher, though the twist along the way does at least grant Diana Rigg one last wicked opportunity to steal the show. B-

Denis Villeneuvepost

Reviews of the Denis Villeneuve films August 32nd on Earth, Enemy, Maelstrom, and Polytechnique.

AUGUST 32ND ON EARTH

Several of the ingredients that typify Villeneuve’s later triumphs are identifiable in his 1998 directorial debut. Immediately he displays his acumen for shot framing, as in two instances of beautifully lined up phallic symbolism, or the striking scenic photography that turns the Great Salt Lake Desert into a surrealist play area. Props too to DP Andre Turpin for how good it looks, with the elegance belying this indie oddity’s modest means. It’s a fun romantic oddity at that; in many ways a companion piece to Maelstrom, containing strong use of colour (in the former it was all blues, here it’s yellows reds and whites), a fantastical bent (more subtle here), and yes, a twist. I could really have done without the necrophilic au revoir, but I will take the wicked cabbie who abandons his customers in the desert, its blunt ”put a baby in me!” premise, and the static electricity and comic awkwardness of a love unrequited. B+

ENEMY

There’s double Gyllenhaal in a doppelganger feature that feels like a short film. A single gimmick at its centre, sparse dialogue, with each inherent delimiter stretched out to 90-minutes they can’t fully sustain. Visually, its conspicuous grading—not black-and-white but yellow-and-black— is less effective in its use of colour than Villeneuve’s other low-budget efforts. The final act does however match the visual opacity by finding genuine darkness in the plot thread it pursues, before ending in yet another car-crash and another aggressively inscrutable twist. There’s no escaping Enemy’s ephemerality, and in any case, the first of Jake and Denis’s 2013 collabs had already delivered the goods by the time of its release. B+

MAELSTROM

This one goes over my head. Abortions, ocean operatics, a French fish narrating a fairy tale in a medieval abattoir. At first it looks like it’s going to be an allegory about the first (with cod?) before it briefly becomes a dark fantasy, and by the end it’s an existential romantic drama. Popular music of all description is spraywashed everywhere: Oliver’s “Good Morning Sunshine”, Charles Azvanour’s chansons, with the key signature being Tom Waits at his most submarine. It’s all about the sea you see. I don’t really. B

POLYTECHNIQUE

In 1989, a self-declared male misogynist walked into the Polytechnic School of Montreal armed with a rifle and murdered 14 people, 10 of whom were women. That tragedy is depicted here by Villeneuve, whose most significant stylistic decision is to film it in black and white. By doing so, he turns the ordinary corridors and spaces of the college into an oppressive jungle—all parallel lines and darkened corners. The characters are slightly underwritten, a consequence of a circumscribed runtime of just 77-minutes, and the plotting is unnecessarily elaborate, jumping around in the middle third between different perspectives and times. In doing so, it interrupts the intensity and shock of the massacre itself. But Polytechnique is built not just around the massacre, but around Val, a fictional student who is denied a place on a mechanical engineering internship because of the classically misogynistic conviction that a woman can’t be committed to her career because of her commitments to childrearing. It’s clearly an artificial narrative, and fair enough too. There’s a solid logic to building it from the perspective of a female student, who in an everyday scenario has to confront the same discriminatory belief system that toxified the killer’s mind. Decisively, her story leads to a deeply moving peak, as years after surviving a massacre that was committed to extirpate her sex, she walks across the floor of an aerospace factory. Villeneuve though, not content with a Spielberg ending, displays his intelligence by tempering this poignant victory with a parting acknowledgment of the intractable, dilemmatic pressures women are forced to contend with. A-