Another batch of reviews from the last couple of weeks:
The Nest : B
Vivo : B-
UK Film Review
Underground (French: Souterrain) : B+
What The… (short film) : B-
Running out of ideas on round four, Sylvester Stallone gives up on filmmaking to create a series of sweaty training montages set to ‘80s AOR. And to be fair to him, this is the best series of sweaty training montages set to ‘80s AOR you’re ever likely to see, drenched in unintentional camp and buttressed by characters I’ll continue to like even if the set-up has grown stale. Also contains a gloriously kitsch cameo by the Godfather of Soul.
Over the last couple of months, film reviews have been littered across the internet as if by some kind of manic cyberspace litter bug. Here they are all in one place.
Grades displayed below won’t necessarily match those on the sites, which use their own rating systems (or none at all), so there can be some approximating involved. This is simply my translation of those scores using my own.
Battle Royale With Cheese
Martin Eden : C+
French Exit : B-
Old : C+
UK Film Review
2088 (short film) : C+
Petrichor (short film) : B+
True Calling : D
Three reviews for you:
— Mark Wahlberg Talks To Trees, Mark Wahlberg Runs Away From A Light Breeze, Mark Wahlberg And The Suicide Breeze, The Breeze of Doom, Plant Wars, Al Gorefest, The Trouble With Triffids, Foliage Party, M Nightmare On Elm Street, Mark Wahlberg And The Deathly Willows, Lawn Of The Dead.
— You’ve got to hand it to him. M. Night Shyamalan has pulled off his greatest plot twist with The Happening, a film in which absolutely nothing happens.
— A couple of jump-scares, coupled with the premise’s fear-fuel of a gruesomely fatal contagion spreading uncontrollably ensure that better horror films are less scary than this. But it’s lead by the weakest of weak screen-couples. Mark Wahlberg plays a science teacher, which might be more implausible than the notion of plants hyperevolving an invisible neurotoxin that makes people mad for seppuku. Wahlberg’s counterpart Zooey Deschanel mumbles through a half-arsed performance with the floaty angst of a Xanax-patient. No chemistry, no chops, and in Deschanel’s case, dead annoying.
After wasting years on an airbender, M. Night Shyamalan rediscovers his sixth sense for cinema with a supernatural horror film that crucially doesn’t suck. His suspense-building and creepy camerawork works new life out of genre clichés, though not without a little help from his friends. Shyamalan’s successes display a huge gulf in casting quality compared to his duds—sour memories of nepotism and whitewashing are banished here. James McAvoy manages to wrestle what could be a bunch of silly accents into a deadly serious organising principle as “The Horde”, a man with 23-personalities. If anything however, it’s Anya Taylor-Joy as kidnapped teen Casey Cooke who’s the real star of the show, holding her gaze with fractured sorrow, projecting her body-language with the no-nonsense demeanour of someone with far too much lived-trauma. McAvoy has to put so much work into persona construction that his character’s pain is comparatively submerged. Both well-acquitted stars are served by an adroitly-threaded narrative, as well as Shyamalan’s signature twist—a great idea signalled just enough to be cottoned on to. For those who do, it’s a thrill to find out whether your hunch is right (if you can avoid spoilers that is. This viewer did not).
The film that established Jesse Eisenberg in the mainstream, and simultaneously trapped him in a mode no one’s sure he’ll ever escape. Our prayers continue to wish him every favour in his battle with Zuckerbergitis. At least for once the affliction works in his favour—in The Social Network he’s actually playing Mark Zuckerberg. For the Facebook founder’s theatrical treatment, director David Fincher positions his own timbre in a way that’s thematically thin but dramatically engaging, while master-of-esoteric-verbiage Aaron Sorkin fires words like they’re machine-gun rounds. Visually however, it’s dead. The grading has no dynamic range, creating a heavy monochromaticism that’s unfortunately artificial for a film that’s based on real-life. By extension, the artifice feeds into Fincher’s vacuous, particularly Hollywood depiction of Zuckerberg’s life—a lot of supermodels, a lot of revelry, not a lot else. You’re almost batting for the real MZ by the end. But there is one important thing to consider. This is a biopic, not a documentary. Entertainment is the name of the former’s game; the truth is just along for the ride.
One part parable about the US Army creating a new generation of Charles Whitmans and Lee Harvey Oswalds, one part Vietnam action set-piece. The parable is fine, but something felt amiss during the second act, something I couldn’t quite pin down. And then it struck me. This didn’t look like a Vietnam movie. Stanley Kubrick’s stab at the genre clearly hadn’t been filmed in South East Asia. Rather, it looked like it had been filmed on a damp industrial estate in Western Europe (Beckton Gas Works, as it turns out). Nobody expects the opulence of Apocalypse Now from every depiction of the war, but at the very least, every movie has to convince as to its environment. The shoot’s failure to do so inhibits any hope of viewer immersion. Furthermore, the way the script treats the soldiers is equally unconvincing; they behave like morons when faced with a crack-sniper. Not idiotic in a way that suggests the extreme mental pressure of their situation, but in a way that suggests flimsy writing.
At the top this pyramid is Kubrick. His slow pans, deliberate pacing and calculated direction are not a natural fit for action or war-filmmaking. It’s all too pristine, too careful. And I’m sure one day his relish of the psychologically twisted will stimulate an emotional response that goes beyond mere recognition of his method. Just not today.
I have a problem with the aggressive monochrome colour-grading Whiplash employs. It flattens out image contrast, needlessly distracting attention from the content it paints over, and for about 20 or 30 minutes that was a quite a big quibble. But as the minutes ticked on, that quibble got smaller, and smaller, and smaller, until it was pulverised by an unannounced thrill-ride, and a supporting actor unleashed. J.K. Simmons creates the most outstanding monster as jazz-tutoring orchestra conductor Terence Fletcher. The character’s psychological barbarism shocks and thrills because of Simmons’ poise, his bottomless voice, his aura of hurricane-like inevitability. You never know what he’s going to throw next, be it at the body or the mind. Together with an edit that never lets up, this completely dangerous adversary realises a brutal script about how far a mentor should push his students to achieve greatness. For the plot’s uses, that mentor could be teaching swimming, painting, yodelling, on the face of it anything. So the chosen drumming could be no more than a story-device. Yet not only do the drums generate a propulsive rhythm of their own, they also make for an original, highly cinematic visual, and it’s a credit to director Damien Chazelle for recognising their potential as a linchpin. Chazelle’s complex thematic conclusion matters less to me than the drama of which conclusion he’ll reach. That is to say, an undeniable, emotionally ferocious knockout.
The opening scene. Directing brilliance. A set-piece in performance and dialogue rather than special effects and action. The camera waltzes around Christoph Waltz, who waltzes around the screen with all the camp charm and darkening menace you want from an actor playing a movie-Nazi. And the scene keeps going and going, and it works because of that. Such a long scene at the start of a movie acts as an unexpected palate cleanser. When it’s over, we’re hooked in and ready for its gears to change up. Except they don’t. Soon it becomes clear every single scene in the film is going to be a half-hour conversation with a quarter of content, and always likely to culminate in a bloodbath. The pacing’s lifeless then, which means boredom, but it doesn’t have to mean anything worse. Except the reason every scene is so long is worse than you could possibly imagine. The pace has been killed to make way for Quentin Tarantino to extend his huge filmographic boner. Every other line is an indulgence to his internal monologue, every other shot an indictment of his auteurship.
Not even the plot is spared. Get this. Hitler gets blown up, in a cinema! And the cinema’s going to be burnt down by combustible film. Did you know 1920’s film was combustible? Here’s Samuel L. Jackson to tell you what nitrate film is. The 1920’s. Are you familiar with 1920’s German cinema? By the way this scene’s going to have some blues guitar in it, because even though the movie is set in World War II, it’s also a Western. Did I mention German cinema?
Ejaculating your encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema onto a script of infantile historical-revisionism doesn’t make you a modern day Orson Welles. It makes you Michael Bay—with a film studies degree.
Heist comedy that’s so innocent and simple that it’s almost escapist, while also functioning as a time-limited portal to London in 1951. Inevitably then, the social etiquette on display feels quaint, but instead of dating the picture, its old-fashionedness proves key to its most moving scene, with philia between the two proponents — Pendlebury and Holland — cemented by the pair feeling close enough to introduce themselves on first name terms (“Al” and “Dutch”). Other highlights include a well-choreographed escapade on the Eiffel Tower, and a poignant denouement that succinctly inverts the opening. Plus it’s technically a mob movie.
Point off for Spike Lee affixing a non-fiction broadcast as a coda that shouts his film’s already explicit message at the audience. The racial politics of the 1970s are as woefully relevant in 2018 as ever. Received, processed, acknowledged, and concurred with. If Lee felt the need to spell it out with a coda, what was the point of the film? Only an ignoramus could miss its explicitly post-Trump parable – just take these excerpts of dialogue: ‘America would never elect somebody like David Duke as president’ // ‘For America to achieve its greatness again…’. And of course, chants of ‘America First’. As it happens, increasingly convoluted plotting and a ‘70s rock melange of a score were steadily distancing the subject matter’s vitality anyway. Ultimately superficial, Steve McQueen has done this better.