01 May Fantana’s Film Roundup – April 2017
Pregnancies, plastic reality and post-apocalypses abound this month, with a predominant anime flavour…
Georgia, 1992. War is ravaging the Apkhazeti Region as locals strive to break free from the country. In a vacated Estonian village between the mountains only 2 men remain, one of whom, Margus, will only leave as soon as he has harvested his crops of tangerines. When the conflict reaches their doors the other man, Ivo, takes in wounded from both sides. A very touching anti-war drama with some exquisitely written characters, both in the central duo, Estonians who through no fault of their own have been positioned in the middle of someone else’s war, and those that gravitate around them. What resonates the most is the dissection of respect and how it is construed almost identically no matter what side of the coin you call upon.
A Simple Plan (1998)
Continuing my Bill Paxton retrospective is this small town crime drama about two brothers’ discovery of a crashed plane full of ransom money and their subsequent attempts to cover it up and keep the spoils for themselves. At times desperate, at times touching and violent, this is a competent thriller, and certainly one of Paxton’s prouder moments, but it is not without its faults. Paxton’s everyman, Hank, seems to get over the increasing number of bodies he’s responsible for with unrealistic ease, the townsfolk around him and his family all lack an iota of suspicion as clues begin to accumulate, and the general photography and pacing could have been wound a little tighter in defter hands, producing a greater end product. But criticisms aside, this is a worthwhile 90’s crime caper for anyone in need of a Paxton fix.
London Has Fallen (2016)
Aside from one impressive tracking scene through a warzone-hit alleyway – which, by rights is A) blatantly a studio, and B) not even a single take – this is every bit as pitiful as expected. Gerard Butler conveys zero charisma nor chemistry with fellow lead Aaron Eckhart; every single scene merits intensive scrutiny of facts and plausibility, not the least of which is how on earth a terrorist movement managed to smuggle literally hundreds of agents and henchmen into London, let alone integrating them into various emergency services! The effects are crap, the action is crap, the dialogue is crap, the plot is crap, the subplots are crap.
Crap. The below score is being kind because it caught me in a good mood…!
The Late Bloomer (2016)
Rarely do I ever foray into the rom-com arena blind and this is a good reminder as to why. Destined I’m sure for an ‘uncut’ version later down the line, this (half) true story of a 30 year-old man who, owing to a brain tumour, never went through puberty, only to see said tumour removed and said puberty come upon him (sorry!) all at once, suffers from unestablished, uncharismatic leads, an uninspired script and some most uncomfortable moments (the masturbation montage I could really have done without). All the usual rom-com beats are present and correct and the few laughs it does merit – most prominently from best friends, Rich and Luke – seem unscripted and are short lived, but it’s the Late Bloomer’s apparent reluctance to walk on the risqué side that’s the real sin. And for a sexual comedy that could have placed itself amongst Porky’s, American Pie, or Road Trip, that is cardinal.
13 Assassins (2010)
Who knew I loved feudal Japan-era films so much?! The plot is simple and direct: the Shogun’s Justice hires the titular killers to dispose of the Shogun’s own brother, an evil despot laying siege to his own people in a neighbouring province. From the grim opening scenes, depicting the various atrocities performed by evil lord Naritsugu, to the outstanding 13-against-200 battle scene that makes up the majority of the second half and would give any anime a run for its money, 13 Assassins does not offer up a dull moment. At a runtime of 2hrs 21mins, this is an epic that in no way drags. Of the eponymous party the time is given to flesh out the majority and gift them some form of motivation and/or backstory that has you wishing each of them through the nigh impossible task of defeating the 200-strong army of the tyrant they aim to extinguish, a villain that makes Joffrey Lannister look like Mahatma Ghandi. Well worth your time if you find yourself with a few hours to spare on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
Lake Mungo (2008)
Australia’s foray into the found-footage horror is perhaps the most original approach since Blair Witch Project first brought the subgenre into the mainstream, re-packaging the ‘found footage’ aspect as a documentary centring around the tragic death of Alice Palmer, at the eponymous dam, and her surviving family’s subsequent grief. What begins as a standard exploration of family and loss slowly, creepily evolves into something more supernatural, as darker truths about Alice emerge and the signs gradually begin to point to something more sinister and inhuman. Mungo slowly builds the anxiety, builds the horror and where it really impresses is in how little the filmmakers rely on loud noises and cheap jump scares to successfully convey what 9 out of 10 horror movies strive for.
The Void (2016)
Continuing the 80s renaissance is this isolated horror that gives massive nods to so many Barker and Carpenter greats (the Thing, Hellraiser, In the Mouth of Madness, et al). A county sheriff delivers a wounded man to an understaffed hospital, only to find the small group seemingly herded here and surrounded by a cult of hooded strangers whilst strange and gory developments occur amongst them. Personally, this is a favourite subgenre and where the Void really impresses is in its reliance on practical effects to depict the copious amounts of gore and plastic reality*.
* For those of you who are wondering what plastic reality is…
Free Fire (2017)
Where the trailer suggests a frenetic battle of bullets and wits, what actually plays out on screen is something much more meditated. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the contrast between expectation and actuality can’t help but jar – once you get over that initial deception, Free Fire is still quite an enjoyable ride. The only difference is the emphasis on the humour as opposed to the action, the film itself almost becoming a parody of every shootout you’ve ever seen on the silver screen. A great cast, if a bit flimsy, that makes the narrative somewhat predictable, but what it lacks in surprises it makes up for in charisma and humour. Worth a look.
The Godfather Pt. I (1972)
Probably the most obvious claim to shame on my film-going CV, I have never seen the Godfather trilogy. Worse yet, I never understood why the first two were so high on the Best Films Ever lists that come out every year. Having taken in Part 1, I have been rewarded for getting that one under the belt. I had no idea of how tense this film gets at points (Michael Corleone awaiting his father’s assassin at the hospital; and again at the restaurant where he prepares to take out McCluskey and Sollozzo at the restaurant), or the humanity that Brando channels through the titular patriarch, resulting in some very touching moments. Although this doesn’t come close to my Top 10 (or even 20 for that matter), it did evidence to me why it features so highly for so many. Roll on Part II.
The Bye Bye Man (2017)
Every so often a movie comes along that begs the question how in the world did that script ever get green lit? This is the first of 2017’s offerings to do so but also pose the bonus question of how in blue blazes did they get Carrie Anne Moss to sign up for this shit? I mean don’t Netflix pay that well? She’s in near as many Marvel shows as Rosario Dawson, it can’t be that bad! Sweet Jesus, this was tripe. Nothing made sense, least of all the modus operandi of the titular villain (utter his name and he’s in your head; once there, he’ll make you do terrible, terrible things – got it), which the filmmakers it seemed didn’t bother to suss out the rules of before embarking on this shit show. And if you can’t get that right, you’re in real trouble.
Here Alone (2016)
A worthwhile indie spin on the all-but-wrung-dry zombie trope that subverts stereotypes in favour of an emphasis on humanity, the result of which seems to ring much truer than the post-Walking Dead horde. Nothing to write home about, but the film’s decision to put its focus on the trauma and adaptation that might result in the face of such adversity offers a realistic – if restrictive – perspective on the sub-genre.
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Always going to be a task to live up to the source material and Rupert Sanders’ adap doesn’t quite make it. Sure it looks pretty, the effects are seamless, but the world created here lacks a lived-in feel and the photography doesn’t offer the film an identity or anything particularly dynamic, coming across as something more of a blockbuster-by-numbers than an uber-budget noir. The penultimate confrontation lacked punch and peril, landing somewhere between ‘meh’ and ‘hmm’ (when compared to the intensity of the anime original is beyond sub-par) and the supporting cast lacked development as well as screen time. SacrJo and Michael Pitt impress in particular and there are a couple of impressive sequences (the opening restaurant sting a standout), but the whole thing felt like the best TV movie I’ll ever see, rather than a piece of epic sci-fi for the ages, setting multiplexes alight the world over.
Not the best dark comedy to come out of the UK in recent years, but not the best either. Written, directed and starring Alice Lowe as a psychopathic mother-to-be, driven by the malicious machinations of her unborn to a series of vengeful and violent confrontations, there are obvious similarities to her last scripted effort, Sightseers. Detached everymen and women with a penchant (and aptitude) for homicide, seemingly simple situations turned upside down by unprovoked bouts of violence, turning scenes of realistic normality into sinister depictions of the macabre. In wittier, more experienced hands, Prevenge could have been much better. The violence plays out well, but the deadpan nature of the comedy falls flat under the lack of charisma on offer and as a result the film is left unbalanced as much as its lead is unhinged.
The Discovery (2017)
It seems quite clear that, after cornering the TV market, Netflix are putting a real emphasis on delivering some quality movies in 2017. Following the release of last month’s darkly comic hit, I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, they have dropped this contrastingly sombre sci-fi/drama. Set in a near future where science has evidenced the existence of an afterlife and society has reacted by way of a suicide epidemic, the story follows the jaded Will as he returns home to reconcile some familial difficulties, meeting the suicidal Isla along the way. Jason Segel is interestingly cast against type here, but whether or not it works is another question. Worth a look if you fancy something in the vein of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Vanilla Sky, although be advised to lower expectations on the back of that comparison, as it is quite an interesting concept in its own right.
Top of the Class
Your Name. (2016)
The anime that cleaved my 2016 Top 5 in two. A city kid and a country mouse body swap to dramatic and comedic effect, setting out to find each other along the way. A concept that seems convoluted on the face of it yet surprises by establishing its own rules quite clearly and sticking to them. An evocative score by RADWIMPS that elevates the narrative at every beat. A fearlessly bittersweet plot that doesn’t hesitate to invoke the pain of reality upon its animated subject matter. Gorgeously animated, delicately handled and simply delightful from start to finish. An absolute treat.
Didn’t Finish: Rings (2017; 4/10).
On the Horizon: Sand Castle, the Godfather Pt. II, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Elle, Mr. Nobody, the Assassin, Baywatch, War Machine, 99 Homes, Personal Shopper, Primer, Colossal.