Fantana’s Film Roundup – April 2018

April 2018 saw the arrival of my brand spanking new daughter and with her the inevitable changing of my blogging tides. Whilst I readjust to life as a parental unit, I rather expect the movie intake to drastically diminish and the TV show quotient to whipsaw the opposite way.

That sounds like a gripe but it really isn’t. As much as I enjoy nothing more than sitting down in front of a large screen and taking in some cinematic glory, I could sit and watch my little girl all day without ever getting bored.

 

All the Money in the World (2017)

That this is based on real facts is incredible and the story is well told and made, displaying the usual visual quality that makes Ridley Scott one of my favourite directors. Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg deliver their usual solid performances but it was Christopher Plummer grabbed the headlines and nominations and it is the latter that baffles; this is by no means an award-winning performance and had there not been any controversy to precede the film, I doubt Kevin Spacey would have merited a single nomination either. Clearly a message sent by the voting bodies but maybe not the best way to do so given there were dozens of better male supporting performances in a year of very strong movies. An interesting watch but it stops there.

7

 

The Bone Collector (1999)

Classic of the Month Denzel and Angelina team-up to track down a serial killer who has some fairly grizzly ideas. As a serial killer procedural this has something a little different while managing to encapsulate all the things I appreciate about ‘90s cinema. Why it doesn’t rate higher is that it is too easy to call and the reason for that is because of outdated filmmaking conventions (the culprit’s appearances are too superfluous to the scenes in which they show up!), much as it pains me to admit it. Not on the same level as say Fallen or Resurrection, but an okay thriller all the same.

6.5

 

Counterpart – Season 1 (2018)

TV is awesome these days. Variety is up, talent is in and barriers have been broken down. Some shows (<cough>Banshee<cough>) take the lack of restrictions and run with it, cramming in as much sex, drugs and violence as they can, however now that that particular slew has come and gone, and shows are in less need to rope in the masses through cheap ploys such as T&A, we are starting to see a classier breed of show grace our television screens. Counterpart is one such animal, a classy, high science fiction, espionage, neo-noir thriller that expertly weaves a tight conspiracy storyline with human drama and outstanding performances, particularly from J.K. Simmons, who in dual roles creates two similar-yet-opposite characters with outstanding efficiency. The science fiction is the draw, centring on an agency that monitors and manages the only doorway between our world and another, identical dimension that has been affected by a few key differences in history. But the characters and the events make us stay, slowly building complex layers with each episode as we approach a violent and tumultuous finale. Counterpart does nothing wrong, to nit-pick it can be a tad slow on occasion and lacks a certain dynamism, but its style and tone is its own and Simmons alone makes it a must-watch!

8

 

I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

Always great when you find an unsung wee gem that never came close to the radar. This one is a slow burning thriller about a small town boy who thinks he might have psychotic tendencies but soon discovers someone close to home with more commitment than he. Shot on a shoestring, the budget (or lack thereof) seems obvious but not in a derogatory way; the filmmakers actually do very well with what they have and, with the exception of some third act effects that require a bit of forgiveness, this is an engrossing sinister watch that plays with tension and dread effectively.

7.5

I Am Not a Serial Killer

The Stolen (2017)

The prospect of an antipodean western (Australiern??) is always going to be a tough one to turn down for me. On this occasion the narrative follows an English settler who embarks across New Zealand country in search of her kidnapped infant son following an attack at her home, however someone needs to tell the lead, Alice Eve, the stakes because she barely sheds an ounce of emotion from start to finish, instead opting for a look of bewilderment at the increasing odds that stack against her, making her position evermore threatening. Usually quite good, Eve apparently tried to phone this one in but lost the number. The effect, unfortunately is a bit of a domino on every other aspect of the production, although that isn’t much of a shame as the film’s script is as much an offender as its lead.

4.5

 

12 Strong (2018)

A couple of years ago we got 13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi and this year we are given another unsung war hero action movie to think about. Also known as Horse Soldiers depending on your whereabouts in the world, this tells the true story of the first soldiers to respond to the 9/11 attacks, entering deep into Afghanistan in order to counter strike against the Taliban. Can be a bit slow going in the scenes between battles but the action itself keeps the film afloat, anchored by solid turns from Chris Hemsworth, Michael Peña and Navid Nagahban in particular – unfortunately despite his involvement, Michael Shannon is greatly underused and never quite shines in his usual way. Not bad but not one to rue if you missed it.

6.5

 

The Outsider (2018)

Slightly underrated crime drama that looks great, sounds great but gives its lead, Jared Leto very little to do or explore. On the face of it his ex-Vietnam vet is an intriguing character but there is no exploration of how or why he ends up under the ranks of the Yakuza. Action is sparse but well-handled and the casting is well-rounded and capable. The only issue is this feels less like a movie and more like the extended pilot for a TV show.

7

 

The Breadwinner (2017)

In what world does this go up against Coco at the Oscars and lose?! Bearing similar themes but much more relevant is this tale of a young Afghan girl who poses as a boy in order to feed her family after her father is imprisoned. This beautiful animation does a fantastic job of painting life in an extremist-laden culture without taking sides but simply showing us the civilian side of a culture so far detached from ours in the West. Fantasy certainly graces the screen but not in a Disney way and this is a well-grounded story that conveys real themes and issues at the same time telling an emotional and compelling narrative. Should be on everyone’s watch list.

7

 

Bad Genius (2017)

Out of Thailand comes this educational spin on Ocean’s Eleven, which, despite seeming over-long, is actually quite an entertaining and enjoyable ride. The premise sees a promising brainiac teen enter into the dark world of exam fixing, with escalation and consequences sure to ensue. Handled with a style that pulls off the various cheats as if they were bank heists, at times this is every bit as exciting. The tone shifts a little sharply now and then, and there is a zany style element early on that is dropped and forgotten about, but other than that and the duration that may not be for some, this is an engrossing ride.

7.5

The Breadwinner

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Rob Zombie’s third and final chance to win me over and this is another failure, making it two strikes and one that got to second base (his Halloween remake ain’t bad). He certainly has his supporters but they are clearly an easily pleased bunch as there is nothing to applaud in this jarring, unoriginal, badly-written, edited and acted would-be horror, other than perhaps the shoestring upon which it was made. That said, all films, good or bad, start with a script and putting pen to paper costs nothing. I’m all for a bit of sadism in horror now and again, but when the villains are seemingly the protagonists, and lucky as hell protagonists at that, it just gets annoying. This was an annoying watch. I came away annoyed and I’m annoyed writing about it again. The end.

4

 

The City and the City – Season 1 (2018)

Having read and enjoyed the source novel, I was quite excited to find out BBC were planning (what I thought was) a miniseries for 2018. However the end result is rather tepid at best, changing quite a fair whack of the source material and not for the better. The concept of two cities sharing the same overlapping space is a fantastic opportunity for some high science fiction. Instead we are fed all the usual beats and twists that befall your run-of-the-mill BBC procedural, and the base concept is never truly defined or explored. And of course there is David Morrissey who sits on top of this mediocre cake like a soggy, badly-acted and flaccid cherry. If this is to be the first series in a series of miniseries, my journey with it ends here.

6

 

The Walking Dead – Season 8 (2018)

Like the reign of Arsene Wenger, I never thought this would end. Oh what a better place the world would be if AMC did away with that poxy mid-season break. Once upon a time, when the show was binge-worthy, this marketing tactic was a master stroke. Now it seems like this shit show is never off our screens. Season 8 demonstrated further the usual criticisms that have marked the show’s decline; nonsensical character decisions; nonsensical character personality switches on a dime; nonsensical ignorance of basic physics or logistics; the total unbelievable Rick/Mishonne relationship; the offing of the strongest personalities in the show; very few zombies; that bloody King character; and how the f*ck is Negan still alive?!! There is almost no one left to support. Dwight and Carol remain the strongest surviving personalities left to explore; the rest are threadbare archetypes and/or facsimiles of each other. If it were me and this show had to go on I would rebuild from the ground up – jump forward in time a good decade and give the new protagonists a renewed purpose. Much like the walkers that seldom pop up anymore, this show is quickly decomposing to a standstill. The one positive we have is a bookend to the All Out War storyline. The bad news is the show will go on and there seems to be little place left to venture.

3

 

Peter Rabbit (2018)

You can forgive anyone for wanting to put a fresh spin on the very definition of a classic, but to put your foot in your mouth so many times in doing so is atrocious. This ‘modern take’ on the Beatrix Potter legend needed only look at the Paddington franchise to find a family-friendly, respectable iteration, paying enough homage not to offend any die-hard fans at the same time injecting a humour and charm that makes it feel up to date and universal. No. Instead we get a charmless, dislikeable rabbit frat-boy who you can’t help but hope ends up in a pie by the end of it. James Corden adds nothing to the proceedings, instead detracting from an already awful conceit. In a world where Deep Impact and Armageddon come out the same year, or three Steve Jobs movies come out in fewer years, this property needs an immediate and simplified reboot.

4

Batman Ninja

Red Sparrow (2018)

Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton put in solid work in this more sobering take on Atomic Blonde that sees J-Law’s ruined Russian ballerina inducted into Sparrow School, systematically de-sensitising her to violence and sex in order to make her a more efficient agent. Her mark, Edgerton shakes things up however, as raw emotions threaten to destroy the complexities of her mission and the loyalties embedded within her. Quite a dry affair but there is something inherently watchable about this slow-burning thriller that has me curious for a second viewing. Action is sparse but impressive when it graces and the plot is winding and requires attention. Keen to give this another go as I’m sure it’s better than it appears on first viewing.

7

 

Batman Ninja (2018)

When Gorilla Grodd (taking a break from tormenting the Flash) creates a time machine, he sends himself, along with several Gotham rogues and heroes, including Batman, back to feudal-era Japan in a bid to re-shape history in his own image, but both allies and nemeses threaten to throw a spanner in the works. For any fan of the Batman mythos or just spectacular visuals, you shan’t be disappointed; this is a work of conceptual magnificence, with every character re-designed by Afro Samurai’s Takashi Okazaki to fit their new setting. Delivering an eclectic selection of characters, including the Red Hood, Deathstroke and the underused Penguin, in a cel-shaded style no less, with some of the most dynamic action scenes committed to animation, there is much to admire. Where I find the animated Dark Knight outings, and Japanimation in general, falters is in the scripting, however the plot and dialogue do not let this one down and it is great to see the various progressions of the storyline unfold, through several battles on various scales and even the down time between never grates. This just took over Mask of the Phantasm for me as the best animated Batman movie and it did it comfortably.

8.5

 

Winchester (2018)

Entirely unoriginal period horror. Nowhere near as scary as the Woman in Black, nowhere near as interesting as the Lodgers, it only has Helen Mirren and some quality set design to lend it credence. Once that has been stripped away, or gotten used to, there is nothing left but a hum-drum horror that uses every cheap trick in the book and offers no original terror to speak of.

5.5

 

Kodachrome (2017)

I love a good road movie. The soundtrack is always awesome and the subject matter usually some kind of charming re-discovery exercise, whether it be oneself or another. Kodachrome meets both these expectations, although in respect of the former, the soundtrack is sparser than say Almost Famous, however what music does show up is very catchy and compliments the look and feel nicely. Nothing original here but the formula is tough to get wrong so why muck about?

7

A Quiet Place

The Titan (Year)

An easily forgettable attempt at high sci-fi that neglects to delve into anything remotely interesting thematically. From character to action it all falls a bit flat, never fully exploring its own ideas and coming over a tad cheesy. Sam Worthington never seemed to reach the intended heights his casting in Avatar suggested and nothing epitomises his decline more than this. An interesting idea but not delivered very well at all.

5

 

Santa Clarita Diet – Season 2 (2018)

Pretty much the same hokey cokey comedy that the first set season set up. It doesn’t try anything new or daring but delivers the same gratuitous blood baths (sans actual violence) and is peppered with enough genuine laughs (Timothy Olyphant steals this show episode after episode) to keep us interested. It’s also short enough and stupid enough to be a worthwhile background show while you’re dealing with all manner of baby dramas, so… definitely one for the parents out there!

6

 

Taking Lives (2004)

Lost in a swathe of serial killer thrillers that did the rounds in the wake of Se7en, although that might not be the best or worst thing, here we have an atmospherically suave effort with some great acting talent on board but unfortunately that comes at the cost of predictability. Every aspect of Taking Lives is easy to read. It’s all done well, but it’s easy to read. With no less than three key rug-pulls, you know it’s doing something wrong when you’re three for three on your first guess. Still it ain’t bad and an early Angelina Jolie is a watchable Angelina Jolie – worth a look if crime thrillers are your bag.

7

 

Top of the Class

A Quiet Place (2018)

I’m convinced writers Brian Woods and Scott Beck read Josh Malerman’s Bird Box and Joe Madureira’s Battle Chasers, mashed them up and put their own spin on them… and it’s just damn lucky for us that they did. Set in a world where an unseen threat has reduced the populace to post-apocalypse status and continues to hunt the survivors using sound, this makes for an engrossing concept. Co-written, co-starring and also directed by John Krasinski, the photography is simply stunning as he opens in what’s left of a small rural town on what looks like the rust belt and quickly moves from here to the main location, a wooded farm in the hills where he and family use sign language to communicate, lettuce leaves as plates, they eat with their hands and use knitted pieces when playing Monopoly. Oh and there’s the small issue that the missus is 8 ½ months pregnant… in a world where sound can mean life or death… yeah that’s gonna be a challenge.

Effects are used sparingly and to great effect. The threat is largely left unseen but, unlike last year’s Pyewacket, things don’t stay that way and for this movie at this time, it’s the right decision and it works. The real surprise here is how much emotion A Quiet Place is charged with, opening with tragedy and using it to fuel the proceeding hour or so, but mainly this is a lesson in suspense and for his first shot at it, you’d be forgiven for thinking Krasinski (yes, Jim from America’s the Office) had been doing it for years.

If you take the bear attack scene from the Revenant and stretch that tension across 90+ minutes, this is what you get. Just stunning. If I see a better film this year I’ll be most surprised.

9.5

 

Didn’t Finish: The Hurricane Heist (2018; 4/10)

On the Horizon: Coraline, City of God, In this Corner of the World, Mother, Supersonic, Red Rock West, Song of the Sea, Sweet Country, Victoria, Loving Vincent, Avengers: Infinity War, Downrange…

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