01 Aug Fantana’s Film Roundup – July 2018
The old certainly defeated the new this month with some shamefully unseen classics now under the belt and living up to their reputation, while elsewhere a lot of new arrivals impressed but didn’t bowl me over. A consistent yet funny old month!
Carlito’s Way (1993)
Classic of the Month I’ve never been a fan of Goodfellas, I’ve never been a fan of Godfather. This is my kind of gangster movie; a bit louder, a bit quicker, a bit slicker. Sure there’s a really annoying voiceover that has no place or need being there, a third act that slightly defies the tone of the first two, and the soundtrack is utterly horrific, but once you’re past those down points, you’re left with outstanding performances from Al Pacino and Sean Penn and some of Brian DePalma’s best work (hates a top-down angle, that guy, but there’s something remarkably recognisable about his films). ‘90s crime thrillers, gotta love ‘em.
Definitely need to dig out Snake Eyes after this!
Dark River (2017)
One of those dark dramas filled with pregnant silences and emotionally dilapidated characters, which can always go either way but in this case the performances of Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley ensure the bleakness is ever watchable. Unlike Gods Own Country, this rural farmyard setting isn’t beautiful, it doesn’t harbour promise or silver linings, it only stores low burning secrets and un-faced demons, and it is when these characters finally come at them head-on that we are rewarded for our patience.
Isle of Dogs (2018)
Any film buffs that know me know I’m not a Wes Anderson fan. I don’t get it, I never do. However with Isle of Dogs we get a more linear tale than his usual eccentric drama. The emotionally disjointed characters are still about, the blank faces are still evident on animated faces and there are more than a couple of questionable details along the way (eg. where the hell does Scarlett Johannsson’s character go and why does she turn up in the first place?!), but Anderson’s style seems to work for animation here, the little nuances of Atari are quite touching for example. When viewed as a linear odyssey it is completely serviceable and even comes with its own style and mannerisms. If you begin to question it, things start to fall apart a little. I prefer the former.
PS. Doesn’t make me a fan.
Like a sub-par blend of Sin City and Guy Ritchie, the dialogue ain’t as slick and the characters ain’t as sharp. The plot is the driver here but the first half is verging on structure-less and incoherent as a result, the set up at the beginning is clunky and ruins a lot of the mystery that could have been built up throughout, and the resolution is a 50/50 between the predictable and the unrefined. Had it been done better this might have been a slick, stylised thriller that merited repeat viewings to catch all the little clues, but because of the inherent negatives the only promise I can make is that I will give director Vaughn Stein another crack of the whip – the neon-saturated style at play here is not an issue, the violence in particular is impressive. It’s just a little bit of a convoluted mess (pretty sure the film even references its own complexity in a meta, tongue-in-cheek finger-poke at one point, but that doesn’t make it forgiven) that needed a few more revisions to elevate it to something better.
Laika’s fledgling effort about a sardonic young girl who finds a mysterious door in her new house that leads to her ‘other’ family is a particularly dark animation that harks on the tone of influences from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Evocation of Return to Oz and the Secret of Nimh abound but there is a certain scruffiness in this, the studio’s initial project that lacks the finesse of its historical peers. That aside the story is perhaps not one for the kids initially, not only for its darker themes and imagery, but also for its somewhat meandering direction and unclear initiative. Much like the pink elephants scene in Dumbo, there are whole segments of Coraline that seem to go on a bit too long, far longer than their contribution to advancing the plot merits. The finale also suffers from Return-of-the-King-itis in that it doesn’t seem to know when to end. On a par with say Paranorman, but certainly not Laika’s best output, if it ever was.
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Classic of the Month Man if only I’d seen this around the same time Boardwalk Empire was chewing up HBO! Prohibition-era America, for me, isn’t the most filmable, with all its sepia-filtered grey and brown sobriety and identically-outfitted characters. Boardwalk really turned that on its head, but before that it seems the Coen’s were first to the punch. With larger than life characters from pillar to post and that trademark Coen quirkiness before it had become the trademark it is today. This is classic cinema – and the Coens – at its finest. An intricately-woven plot that follows Gabriel Byrne’s mob adviser as he negotiates the uneven territory between two opposing gangsters at odds for control of the city. So refreshing is it to have zero dangling plot threads, zero saccharine endings, zero lingering questions. This is far from a simple story but the Coens make it seem that way. A great watch.
Tomb Raider (2018)
At times this really looks the part. The wide shots, the dusty hues lacing the foreground as torchlight strafes, it has moments of cinematic quality, but unfortunately this latest adaptation of the Lara Croft franchise is laden with inertia. It lacks diversity in character, the emotional cues never land and at times are completely mishandled, there is too much time spent in getting to the island that the actual action feels rushed and disjointed once we get there, the editing is shoddy and nothing feels original. I haven’t played the game but got a general sense that 90% of everything that took place on the island was directly taken from it. With some of its own ideas, maybe this would have been a better, more dynamic experience. Vikander in the title role is an inspired choice but even she alone can’t squeeze more life out of a script in need of a serious charisma injection and vanilla direction.
The Square (2008)
Bleak as can be in this monochromatic exercise in sadism as we witness an adulterous pair conspire to off one of their significant others only for all that can go wrong to go wrong. It should be funny but Nash Edgerton paints a sobering, straight-faced tale of guilt and consequences and that is probably it’s problem in that, like a drony, miserable uncle, who can’t find the fun in anything, it doesn’t come across as a film you’d want to see all too often.
Not a film to take out for a beer, but it’s made well.
In the Fade (2017)
Feels like an opportunity for an emotional powerhouse of a movie missed. First two acts are very strong, carried almost solely by Diane Kruger in a career best performance, and give early promise of a crushing finale. But in the end it goes out with a bit of a fizzle. Did I expect more heart-wrenching interactions? Yes. Did I expect more powerful depictions of vengeance? Yes. Did I expect less courtroom drama? Yes, but only given the run time. It’s not often I come away from a movie, certainly not a drama of this nature, wishing for another 20-30 minutes so that we may build to a better release in the third act, but this was the case with In the Fade. I suppose that is testament to the handling of the filmmaking, which is very strong, but seemingly rushed and, in the end, without impact.
In the Fade
Swinging Safari (2018)
To Australian Generation X-ers what Ready Player One was to Millennials the world over, overloaded with ’70s cultural references and outrageous Aussie sensibilities (bit worrying that quite a few have never gone away!), only here could an fourteen year-old kid say, “Liz, get the funnel webs out of the pool,” with plain-faced nonchalance while a girl four years his junior removes the offending arachnids with equal indifference and get away with. It’s just plain barmy as we explore the sexual revolution and the suburban Aussie lifestyle through the eyes of an adolescent filmmaker’s coming of age against a backdrop studded with Australian talent (Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue and Radha Mitchell to name but a few). It’s good satire but nothing great, the madness of the first half outdoing the quiet introspect of the last act. Couldn’t be more Australian if it tried though…
From the premise you wouldn’t think it would take too much to predict how this comedy was going to play out. Three parents discover a secret pact their kids have pledged to lose their virginity on prom night and go to extreme lengths to intercede. It’s not rocket science, in fact you’d probably not be too pushed to guess what subgenre of comedy it would fall under. However Blockers pleasantly subverts expectation in plot, style and delivery, shying away from overt crassness and obligatory grossness and just goes for straight up laughs. It does it well too. Leslie Mann is always fun and John Cena gives surprisingly great support, Ike Barinholtz has his moments and relative newcomer Geraldine Viswanathan steals the show. It won’t set your world alight but in an age where comedy seems to have run out of ideas, this is a welcome addition.
First half looks and feels like an extended music video dedicated to Paula Patton’s cleavage, which, reaching the end I understand they had to get over her sex appeal and attractiveness, but overdo-much? The second half is okay but not what the trailer suggested, that being a home invasion movie. Given the amazing and huge house as the backdrop here that might have equated to a better idea and a better film but I get that the point here was to shine a light on human trafficking… I just don’t think it does so in an effective manner. In that respect it doesn’t remotely seem realistic and perhaps a bit of research into the subject matter, and how it transpires in reality, might have been of use.
Westworld – Season 2 (2018)
Picking up where Season 1 left off, Westworld leaps immediately into dual-timeline mode, having fooled us once before with this trickery they do not attempt to repeat the feat – good. What follows is a ten-plus hour movie, such is the standard of writing, acting, cinematography, direction, sound and effects, all working in tandem to bring us a beginning a middle and an end, all in an insightful and provocative way. It’s been a while since I’ve had a page-turner such as this, to the point I felt binging may be a dying breed, but Westworld pulls it back, provides a resolution but also leaves the door very much open. Do I think it’s better than the first season? No, that would be nigh impossible to beat. But in terms of world building, character development and plot expansion you’d be hard pressed to find a better example.
How it Ends (2018)
What now seems a trademark of Netflix acquisitions (and most likely the reason most aren’t picked up elsewhere) is that, although based around a particularly interesting idea, there seems a lack of original characterisation. Dull characters written without conviction, offering nothing to the actors tasked with bringing them to life. All feels a bit by the numbers. By the time the inciting incident hits, the damage is already done and, in this case, the credits are inexplicably rolling!
This is a road movie sitting pretty under an apocalyptic veil. A clear example of a big idea trying to get the most out of a sub-par budget and, for the life of me, I don’t understand why Netlfix keeps wasting money on this type of drivel. A film like this really could have taken more advantage of the landscape. David M. Rosenthal gives us some truly stunning shots of the Midwest and eventually creates a sense of the epic, but it’s as if he only realised the potential for this vision about 40 minutes in. At least we got something I suppose.
The script is pretty horrendous. The set up unimaginative, the exchanges throughout un-charismatic, the denouement a muddled mess with no justification or meaning. And the final scene… oh dear oh dear oh dear.
An extra point out of kindness and appreciation for the photography in the second and third acts, but oh my days…..!
To Live and Die in LA
To Live and Die in L.A. (1984)
Classic of the Month William Friedkin is far from my favourite director – he’d be lucky to make the top 20! – but I do very much appreciate the projects he picks up and the subject matter and tone that attracts him. The Exorcist is an overrated classic, but a classic nonetheless; Sorcerer I would argue is even better; and now I come to this cop movie, which feels a little all over the place but weirdly kind of benefits from it.
Photography is stunning, with red-soaked horizons of the Hollywood Hills casting epic silhouettes of telephone wires that would put even the ending of Se7en to shame. It’s gorgeous and creates the ultimate backdrop for this most unforgiving crime thriller. The plot is nuts, led by nuts characters on every side and you can see the influence this has had in more contemporary works such as Heat and Infernal Affairs / the Departed. And there’s an overt compulsion in the way events unfold, blurring the lines between good and bad beyond identification. Out and out insane and I loved every second of it.
Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014)
A talking heads documentary with some of the legendary British comic’s most revered and admired creators, tracking the magazine from its origin in a tumultuous 1977, through their ascendency and the birth of so many superstars of comicdom, through the highs and lows of their professional relationships and the hardships the magazine faced at various points throughout their lifespan. All interspersed with some visually stunning animation, pulled directly from the titular mag’s pages. This evoked only a few memories for me as I was a bit too young for them back when I first got into the medium, but it certainly leaves you hankering to pick an issue up by the time the credits roll. If I had a gripe it’s that there wasn’t any archive footage to pepper the proceedings with and take a break from the anecdotal style, but overall it’s very insightful to hear from such big characters who have made such an impact into comic culture and the lasting influences they have left.
Ghost Stories (2017)
A well-crafted anthology without being an anthology (thank God!) that delivers three tales of paranormal suspense and horror, at the same time bringing their respective threads together in an interesting way. At times creative, at times cliché, at times predictable and at times most interesting. Martin Freeman and Alex Lawther steal the show here, delivering magnetic characters for Andy Nyman’s investigator to bounce off. In the end it has question marks and logic issues, but that aside it’s not often we get a decent horror movie anymore so this gets a tick for effort and accomplishment.
Charlize Theron goes chameleonic again to take on the role of a tired mother of three, the third of which is a new born that gives her no sleep until the arrival of the titular night nanny. It didn’t rock my world but holds a charm that will appeal to a lot of people. At times I thought this might pull the rug out in some kind of Tyler Durden twist (I’m still not sure it didn’t…!) but it all ends up quite ordinary. As a new father myself I’ve no idea how Ron Livingston got away with playing the X-Box while Charlize fended for her sanity, but it’s never addressed. And that bothered me slightly.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
If the Office (US) hadn’t spoiled the last act for me this might have been rated higher, however I was always anticipating the horribly bleak ending and much of the effect was lost on me as a result. That aside this is a good film that stands up with Eastwood’s best, the characters are brought to life by excellent performances from the central trio of Eastwood, Swank and Freeman, and it’s fun to see the likes of Michael Peña, Anthony Mackie and Jay Baruchel in early roles. Never fun to have the impact of such a potentially powerful film stolen from you but there’s no denying the bravery of the narrative nor it’s desired effect. Had I gone into this cold there’s no doubt I would have been something in my eye – dust or something – by the credit roll.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Hotel Artemis (2018)
It doesn’t possess an abundance of style, character and bravado, but it does possess some style, character and bravado. Enough to entertain and maintain an interest. As a long-form Netflix number this would have fared even better, but for the two hours it exists, it is fun. Like Altered Carbon meets Four Rooms fun. Sure the action could be better composed and there are inexpicables all over the shop, it’s shallow as hell, but what do you expect from a live action comic book?
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
I’m by no means a sucker for the classics, but there’s something to be said about Spielberg’s early work that almost has me begging for more simplicity in his newer stuff. At over two hours I wondered where this could possibly go after about 45 minutes in but that’s not what it’s about. The characters are central here, beyond UFOs and the army and the scientists. The deconstruction of family in the wake of an event both fascinating and devastating is in turn fascinating and devastating to watch. That glorious Spielberg vision is there, with outstanding framing, use of light and shade and the environment to create a sense of the epic.
And noise. Lots and lots of noise. Kids screaming, TVs screaming, Richard Dreyfus screaming. A Spielberg staple back in the day.
When it’s all said and done, 2 hours plus does seem unnecessary, but Spielberg simply uses as much time as possible to squeeze out every last bit of frustration and intrigue that is brewing steadily in these characters. There aren’t any archetypes at play here, no unnecessary quasi-love triangles or meaningless subplots, or dangling plot threads all tied up in a bow or studio-enforced exposition or unnecessary use of effects. Big budget storytelling told simply. Didn’t rock my world but it didn’t feel like a waste of time either.
The Cleanse (2016)
The runtime for this is listed as an hour and twenty minutes, however if you cut out the (inexplicable) 9 minutes of credits, this revised duration gives you an idea of just how unfinished the Cleanse feels. Never before have I seen a film – a good idea no less – so lazily executed, with nary a thought given towards exploration of its own ideas or character depth or even subtext. It feels as if the filmmakers thought that delivering a flat piece of emotionless fantasy-drama-comedy would tell its own tale and that the viewers would create the depth in their own heads.
I didn’t. Open letter to Bobby Miller: you forgot to finish your film!
Back to back disappointments is a tough pill to swallow. What made for a good – if over expository – trailer was only good enough for half a decent movie in the end, as the set up for Extinction is quite good and the finishes feel of a decent quality. However the halfway mark comes and goes and the yawns kick in. Some of the talent on hand here is completely wasted on a guessable and unexciting plot development. From that point on it’s a laborious descent toward an ending that competes with Netflix’s other recent effort, How it Ends (see above), for worst non-ending of the year. Honestly this feels like an elongated television pilot for a show I would have no interest in seeing! Avoid.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
I knew going in that the trailer gave the entire plot away, the entire plot. So I didn’t watch it. That kind of trailer has no place in this world and I’m angry at the studio for allowing it to air, but I didn’t hate this movie as much as I expected to as a result of their sins. It’s quite an enjoyable ride. None of the sequels have ever come close to the original so they should be treated as a separate franchise to increase one’s own enjoyment. There are aspects of this that grate, obvious plot points that have been laid now to facilitate later entries in the franchise and velociraptors being compared to human intelligence (no, stop that – you know what their bones looked like for crying out loud!), but I might be in the minority when I say I liked where the ending looked to be taking things. I have waited for a film to present this idea since I read a comic called Cadillacs and Dinosaurs when I was ten years old. Parts of the series I could do without but parts of it I definitely couldn’t!
Top of the Class
Exactly what I needed after enduring a lot of poor to slightly-better-than-good cinema. This sequel ramps up everything, the comedy, the action, the characters, the plot, the effects and the meta commentary. Recruiting John Wick’s David Leitch was a real coup for a potential franchise that has been criticised recently for not holding up on repeat viewings. I haven’t seen the first movie more than once so my opinion on that is pending, however I can understand the stance, with a weak villain and uninspiring finale, in hindsight the first two acts seem to build to an underwhelming finish.
That is not the case here. Ryan Reynolds is in his element. Born to play the role, if you can call it that. It feels as though he has just been given free rein to be himself – albeit an immortal version of himself… an observation even he is quick to acknowledge several times throughout to hilarious effect.
The levity is a breath of fresh air. I struggle to remember the last comedy that made me laugh out loud and Deadpool 2 managed this frequently. It isn’t without sin, however. Like much of the X-franchise, the casting of peripheral universe characters seems great on paper but end up looking like school play characters on the screen (I’ll struggle to shake the image of Shatterstar – a personal favourite – for some time!), which is a massive detracting factor for me as it cheapens the movie as a whole. There are also moments where the mask/facial effects look unfinished or not applied at all.
That aside, it’s a great watch. Packed to the gills with uproarious lines and visual comedy. The fourth wall breaking is outstanding at times and it even manages some genuine moments of pathos along the way, which I never thought I’d see. If Disney adopt this character as part of their Fox acquisition, they must keep Deadpool intact.
On the Horizon: the Cured, Detour, Princess Mononoke, First Reformed, Snake Eyes, Australia Day, North by Northwest, Romanzo Criminale, Lowlife, the Last Seduction, A Prayer Before Dawn…