Fantana’s Film Roundup – March 2018

Happy Easter, everyone. Probably should’ve watched something appropriate for the occasion but I haven’t quite been in the mood for films about the resurrection or Rise of the Guardians. Instead I watched this nonsense…

 

Ballers – Season 3 (2017)

Blah blah blah… the Rock being composed and controlled… blah blah blah… first world problems…. blah blah blah… rich people, rich people, richer people…. blah blah blah… two-dimensional women… blah blah blah… Rock loses his cool… blah blah blah…

Same old, same old in this third season and I am still waiting for Spencer Strasmore and his social circle to start facing some real problems and an episode – never mind a season! – where things don’t just… work out. At least Entourage ended the ‘good times’ after season 2 and started injecting some, you know, actual drama.

It’s also high time Dwayne Johnson started to stretch his acting chops rather than play the ultra-poised and diligent man’s man. He’s capable of more and he knows it.

6.5

 

47 Meters Down (2017)

“Wait. How can they hear everything if their ears are outside the masks?”

And if that isn’t enough to inform you as to just how woeful this shark attack ‘horror’ is, here’s a few more: sharks that transform into CG torpedoes the moment the music goes silent; inch-thick steel cabling inexplicably snapping…. snapping!; oh, and Matthew Modine.

And I’m out. Can’t believe I made it to the end. Avoid.

4

 

Waco – Miniseries (2018)

Given how little clarity there is surrounding this most harrowing of events it’s actually quite satisfying to see the filmmakers taking a stance on this one. Taylor Kitcsh may have had a rough few years a while back but has been on a gradual incline since Sole Survivor and Waco here marks something of a peak as he embodies cult leader, David Koresh. Hats off to the filmmakers for not making this come across as preachy but rather as obscure and unclear as the real events seem to have been. Still this is an interesting watch with great performances, questionable acts and a horrifying finale.

8.5

 

Ravenous (1999)

Classic of the Month A ‘90s classic for the ages. Guy Pearce’s soldier survives the Mexican American War through cowardly acts and, as just reward, is posted to an isolated wilderness fort with a small regiment. When Robert Carlyle stumbles upon their doorstep telling tales of cannibalism and survival, Pearce and a number of others set off to investigate. Touted as a dark comedy, nothing conveys the humour more than the very off-kilter soundtrack, which seems to poke fun at early westerns such as McCabe and Mrs Miller. The cast are well appointed and Carlyle regularly steals the show as the somewhat unhinged Colqhoun. Set design and photography are just great and should be given due recognition given the late appointment director Antonia Bird, who ensures there is never a dull moment throughout and pulls together an effective ensemble and a deceptively gruesome thriller.

8

Ravenous (1999)

The House (2017)

My wife made me do it. Just another comedy built on piss-poor improv, delivered by a bunch of lower tier comedic actors and gravitating around the hot-or-not stylings of Will Ferrell and the overrated kookiness of Amy Poehler. Utter drivel. The upshot is it’s only 88 minutes. Still… could put up some IKEA furniture in that time…

4

 

Into the Grizzly Maze (2015)

Bit of a mixed bag, this. I certainly wasn’t bored. With a cast consisting of James Marsden, Thomas Jane, Billy Bob Thornton and Piper Perabo, they were deserving of better production values. Bad bear effects and not enough integration with the live action, the camera cutting away just before the money shot, can all be a bit frustrating but I am a sucker for a B movie, and the Jaws of bears is most definitely that. A little cheesy at the end of the day but the cast make this much more… bearable than your usual straight-to-streaming nonsense and the cinematography is quite good.

6

 

Only the Brave (2017)

Didn’t know anything about this true story. Wish I had otherwise I wouldn’t have watched it with an 8-month pregnant wife sat next to me. Very sad stuff but also a good story of redemption and character primarily focussed on the central duo of Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. As is the way with true stories of this ilk, seemingly made as faithful as can be, the drama isn’t always a draw and there is a bit of clock-watching as you wait for the inevitable events that inspired the re-telling to get underway.

6.5

 

Cronos (1993)

After Guillermo del Toro’s (debatable) Oscar win, I thought I’d go back to his roots and complete the back catalogue. There’s only this and Devil’s Backbone to get through but in honesty I expected less of a chore. Not even in 1993 would I have considered this an original take on the mythos and, although the likes of Ron Perlman keeps the script feeling lively, the make-up and effects look badly dated and the plot just trudges along without ever interesting. Slightly miffed this one wasn’t better. Fingers crossed for the Devil’s Backbone….

6

 

Last Flag Flying (2017)

From the king of shooting the shit, Richard Linklater, comes a meandering road movie that reunites former brothers-in-arms Bryan Cranston, Lawrence Fishburne and Steve Carrell as they travel cross country to bury the latter’s dead son. In typical Linklater fashion the plot is simple but made more by way of his trademark dialogue that explores various tropes such as age, parenthood and the hardships of war. Doesn’t resonate as well as Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! or the Before trilogy but perhaps that’s because it’s slightly off their pace and also I, and I expect many others, cannot relate to it. That said, this certainly improves in the second half and the characters are well-rounded and well-played and do what they can to bring the script to life effectively.

6.5

Only the Brave

DeKalb Elementary (2017)

One of two Oscar-nominated live action shorts caught this month and well worth the £1.50 investment on YouTube. Relevant in more ways than one at the minute, as this covers an incident at a school where a troubled kid enters the reception and produces a semi-automatic rifle. What follows is an all-too realistic exchange between him and the school’s receptionist as police mount outside and teachers protect classrooms within. A quietly sinister set up that uses the element of the unexpected to keep the viewer guessing how it will pan out.

7

 

McMafia – Season 1 (2018)

James Norton’s hedge fund manager does a Michael Corleone in this freshman season from BBC that sees the Anglo-Russian businessman at first resist courtships from Israel and his homeland only to be sucked in and adapting quicker than he thought he was capable of. The first half of this series was a slow, laborious thing but once it found its feet, and sub plots found form, the pace quickened and the result improved. It also leaves enough at the final curtain to have you keen on what comes next.

7

 

The Silent Child (2017)

A very worthy winner of the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film at this year’s awards, the Silent Child touches on a very relevant and very overlooked issue in the UK; the support (or lack thereof) for deaf children in our schools. An impressive spotlight is shined upon the issue and we can only hope it does some good, because if this kind of thing is going on around the country, it needs cleaned up quick and fast. Powerful stuff. Ruined the missus’ afternoon.

8

 

Ravenous (2017)

No I didn’t watch it twice (although the ‘90s version I might well still!), this 2017 movie comes out of France and is their own take on the 28 Days Later…/Walking Dead motif, depicting a zombie-like outbreak and follows the survivors of a rural township and how they deal with their own isolated predicament. Laden with unexpected – and often out of place – humour, one wonders if this might have been a bit better had they played it a little more seriously but as it stands it’s tough to breathe any fresh life into this over-played sub-genre at the minute and the filmmakers do a decent job of issuing a watchable entry. Given the Walking Dead is currently a pile of incoherent dribble, the timing couldn’t have been much better.

7

 

Love, Simon (2018)

Fortunate enough to catch this at a Cineworld Mystery Screening and so glad I did as, although on my radar, on paper this is the kind of movie I would catch on Netflix a few years after release and kick myself for not seeing sooner. Nick Robinson is a talent to look out for as the titular Simon, who is yet to come out but is encouraged to do so when a classmate does so anonymously, spurring Simon into a search for this intriguing kindred spirit. With all the charm of Edge of Seventeen or the Breakfast Club, this is a triumph even if you take away the cultural relevance. A highly watchable dramedy that isn’t without nit-picks but remains engrossing a touching nonetheless.

7.5

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

As a concept I couldn’t wait for Joaquin Phoenix’s long-delayed neo-noir and the self-contained, violent thriller it promised. In execution I am less enthused. Firstly there is far too much time given to the PTSD aspect of the lead, to the extent no other character feels anywhere near as rounded or real – we just seem to sit on Phoenix’s troubled shoulder the entire time. The violence is also an issue, on two occasions delivering, as expected, a visceral experience – the kind a film like this deserves given the crimes at hand – but on the whole feeling somewhat restrained. Overall it doesn’t feel like a film that takes its chances, which is a real shame.

7

 

Allied (2016)

A decent WWII-centric spy thriller that ultimately looks far better than it tastes. The action sequences are great when they land but unfortunately are too few and far between, the best coming in the first half where the story follows Pitt and Cotillard’s assassins in North Africa. It is when the narrative switches to London and the real cat and mouse game gets going that the film falters. The pace slows and the themes switch to trust and relationships – it all just grinds a little too close to a halt – with slightly jarring effect, meaning that by the time you get used to this new tone, the film is almost over.

7

 

Spoor (2017)

Man and beast alike aren’t safe in the woods surrounding this small Polish community. At the centre of it all is an elderly animal rights activist who rebels against the community’s hunting culture in a variety of bipolar ways. A little confused in that I’m not sure if there is supposed to be a comedic element to this plodding whodunit. Predictable but the cinematography is stunning and the setting beautiful. If nothing else, a great advertisement for rural Poland.

6

 

U Turn (1997)

There’s a good ‘90s crime thriller here. The problem is that it is hidden under a pile of distracting Oliver Stone direction, complete with trippy overlays, jump cuts and negative filters that are not at all necessary. It also isn’t helped by Sean Penn’s dislikeable coward of a lead who had me shouting at the screen more than your standard episode of Walking Dead! But there is a good ‘90s crime thriller under there somewhere. I’m sure of it.

Great cast by the way.

6.5

 

Paddington (2014)

As a slice of family fun this ticks all the boxes, with humour that both kids and adults can appreciate. The story is nothing new to anyone over the age of 30 but it is executed with quality CG and a simple script. Good to see Sally Hawkins and Nicole Kidman having fun and frustrating to see Paddington decimating a fancy London townhouse with reckless naiveté but if you’re in no way OCD you should be fine. Does nothing special but remains a good source of wholesome entertainment.

6.5

I Kill Giants

I Kill Giants (2017)

Destined to forever be compared to A Monster Calls, despite the source material for this being two years older, I wouldn’t say the comparison is completely unfair. I would also say Monster Calls is executed better (perhaps with more of a budget?) but do not let that be interpreted negatively against I Kill Giants. Madison Wolffe delivers an epic performance that carries us forward with the narrative, supported ably by the likes of Imogen Poots and an underused Zoe Saldana. If there is a criticism it is that the trailer gives away the only real money shot and that there isn’t enough giants or fantasy in a film whose titles promises so much. Perhaps a second viewing with lower expectations might find me more favourable but of what magic and monsters are on show is done very well and I particularly appreciated the clear use of practical effects mixed in with the CGI; it offered a real sense of nostalgia and seemed fresh as a result. Certainly worth a watch.

7

 

Pyewacket (2017)

Since seeing Adam MacDonald’s Backcountry last year, I have been anticipating his sophomore effort with bated breath… and it doesn’t disappoint. MacDonald has a deft and individual style that lends exceedingly well to horror, predominantly in his ability to amp the anticipation to boiling point, letting our dread spill over and even after that he continues to mount, delivering unseen fears in place of cheap jump scares and very real threats masquerading as boogeymen. In this case the unseen is a dark presence in the woods, awakened by an uprooted teen who, in a bid to seek revenge on her mother, turns to the occult for a solution. The photography and the very simple effects are enough to add this to an already impressive horror slate that 2017 can boast.

7.5

 

Narcos – Season 1 (2015)

Well it started well and the first four or five episodes whizzed by, leaving me hungry for more, however, the second half slows down quite considerably as politics and strategy take the place of good old fashioned assassination. Wagner Moura is excellent as Escobar, as are Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal as the DEA agents pursuing him. It’s just unfortunate the energy saps so early on – if this had the same ferocious style or pace of removed cousin, American Made, this might not have ended up as quite the chore. I think it will be a while before you see any other seasons reviewed here.

7

 

Stake Land II (2016)

The first movie is a well-constructed, well-shot vampire thriller that blends Walking Dead and Daybreakers ably. The second continues the ideas and themes and, for the first half, delivers a similar tone and look; the photography in the first 45 minutes is gorgeous at times. However in place of the original’s Jim Mickle, we have Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, who have yet to demonstrate the same directorial mastery over action sequences as they do the grandeur of sweeping landscapes. A solid B-movie vampire thriller with good casting choices and some nice ideas mixed with the predictable variety. Wouldn’t watch without seeing the first film, but if you get that down you, the sequel could have been much worse. A solid continuation.

6.5

 

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

A series of almost-but-not-quite set pieces interspersed with actually quite good comedy. The problem is I wanted more of the first film and less Hollywood hokum, CG backgrounds, predictable romantic riffs and estranged friend stereotypes. Christ, Hollywood, you really do suck the life out of everything! Oh, I also never thought it would end. About half an hour longer than a film of this ilk should be.

5.5

 

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

The good news is it’s better than Cronos. By some margin actually. Backbone carries all the del Toro cinematic hallmarks we’ve come to recognise; extravagantly-gothic sets, unflinching lack of bias towards children, the darkest of villains graced with layers of sympathy. As a horror it is wrongly classified; del Toro (for me) has never been a master of that sort of atmosphere, but as a dark fantasy, a straightforward ghost story, it is what he knows and it works. All too predictable but when it looks this good, that’s hardly a concern.

7.5

Pyewacket

Top of the Class

Annihilation (2018)

If you were aware of Annihilation prior to its release on Netflix, you might have a vague awareness of the debacle that saw it forego a cinematic release this side of the pond; you have the production studio to thank for that, who had no confidence in director Alex Garland’s ending pretty much think we’re all idiots that deem Geordie Shore and Real Housewives real entertainment.

So the question here is whether Garland’s second foray into high sci-fi would have been better placed on the big screen and the answer is most certainly yes. The intricately-crafted visuals, from the alien atmosphere known as the shimmer, to the plant life and beasts that dwell in it, to the carcasses of those that have died in it, are at times sumptuous, begging for a better format to display their richness. The world created here is a real mind-f*ck and the cast bring it to life admirably as they try to reach the centre, and the presumably the source, of this alien landscape. There is a real burning sense of dread building throughout, which is released almost cathartically in one of the tensest scenes you’ll see all year, but again this would have been so much more effective in a darkened theatre and played out upon an all-encompassing canvas. It’s a real shame.

Critically speaking, the reason for the studio’s withdrawal is the ending, and admittedly the third act suffers from perhaps being ten minutes too long – there is also the issue of the CGI, which at times looks incomplete… on the small screen anyway – but like his first film, Ex Machina, Garland delivers an interpretable sci-fi masterclass, which is destined to be re-watched and studied by film students for years to come. Conceptually magnificent and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

8.5

 

Didn’t Finish: Beast of Burden (2018) (5/10)

On the Horizon: Coraline, City of God, In this Corner of the World, Mother, Blame!, Supersonic, Red Rock West, Song of the Sea, Bad Genius, Sweet Country, A Quiet Place, Victoria…

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