Fantana’s Film Roundup – May 2018

To anyone who thought parenthood would put an abrupt end to my movie-going reputation, to paraphrase Mark Twain: the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. In truth I have surprised even by maintaining such a high intake of celluloid but it’s amazing how quickly one can grow accustomed to an hour less sleep each night…!


God’s Own Country (2017)

Destined to forever be referred to as the Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain, this redemptive tale is immediately gripping and doesn’t let go, whether it’s the nocturnal exploits of our doomed protagonist, his volatile home life on the farm or the stunning beauty of the vales and meadows that surround them, there is little to detract from such sweet romance. Josh O’Connir excels in the central role and his chemistry with relative newcomer Alec Secareanu (also great) is infinitely real and believable. A saccharine finale does little to diminish the impact, making this a cracker.



Last Man Standing (1996)

The over-stylised film noir is admittedly a guilty pleasure of mine, but in this case it is devoid of the broader cast of characters that made the ‘90s so great for me and so does not come across as interesting as other similar films. The design, setting and style or all on point (although would a drop of blood have hurt?) but Willis phones it in and his mysterious stranger isn’t half as magnetic as the cowboy he (and the rest of the film) is based on. It’s pretty difficult not to compare this to A Fistful of Dollars when the parallels are so obvious. Even the massacre outside the burning building feels like a shot for shot re-telling. Nice to shift the story to Prohibition-era but if you’re going to do that at least add something new to the mix that the Western setting couldn’t and make the story your own.



Primal Rage (2017)

From about 40 minutes in it’s clear Patrick Magee’s favourite films are Predator, First Blood… and Harry and the Hendersons, because that is about the entirety of the ingredients of this mash-up. However ridiculous that sounds, this is a surprisingly watchable B-movie. Sure there are hits and misses in almost every facet of it.  The creature – which we see early on and also adorns the poster, so not really a spoiler! – is a fun design but also a bit silly. The script is at times cheesy, at others quite inventive. The casting is a mish-mash of talent and not-so-much. More consistent is the violence, which is reminiscent of S. Craig Zahler and Adam MacDonald, and the patience; this unusual bigfoot riff takes its time to unleash the carnage and benefits as a result. For the budget, this is a commendable effort that harks back to early ‘90s throwaway cinema.



Lost in Space – Season 1 (2018)

Production values are very respectable but there is no edge to this reinvention of the classic sci-fi show and ultimately it carries all the same predictive character behaviours and beats that any television of its ilk might, the only difference being the platform here is Netflix rather than Sky One. The first two episodes are strong, expectedly so given the involvement of Neil Marshall at the helm, but slowly and steadily the pace, the plotting, the predictability all come a cropper, leaving a very cheesy vanilla combination on the palette. Not the best.


Primal Rage

Icarus (2017)

The documentary that inadvertently captured the lid being blown off the Russian doping scandal, would have been a real mouth-watering prospect at the time of release. However one year on, and a full awareness of its aftermath and present status leaves the effects of this expose a little diluted and softened. Well-made and it’s certainly interesting to witness the unexpected evolution of Bryan Fogel’s film, but ultimately I feel as though I may have missed the bus on this one.



Game Night (2018)

If taken as an out and out comedy, this could be deemed a relative failure. However if taken as a domestic riff on the buddy crime thriller (think 48hrs or Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) Game Night does okay. Accentuated by an able cast including Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and Chandler Riggs, the thrills of an evening where a crime-simulated game night turns out to be a real kidnapping far outweigh the hit and miss comedy it is laced with, with a couple of choice exceptions in the final act. Look out for some scene stealing from Fargo’s Jesse Plemons whenever he’s around. All in all a good night-in movie that will appeal to most tastes and sensibilities.



Marcella – Season 2 (2018)

Admittedly I’m only watching this STV drama for the missus’ sake, who was enthralled by the concept of a brash female police detective who frequently suffers ‘black outs’ whereby she cannot recall her activities during those periods, whether it be attacking a fellow parent outside her children’s school or committing murder upon the woman who has been sleeping with her husband. Sounds juicy, yes? Well in part it is, but there is much to complain about with the liberties the writers take with such scenarios, not least of which is why Marcella – played capably by Anna Friel – a detective no less, continues to go about her business whilst keeping such a volatile secret. Too often the show relies on the viewers suspending their disbelief, rather than establishing a sense of grounding. The first series was better as the above question is only amplified one series down the road. That said, the finale, and the subsequent tee-up for a third series, does sound a much tastier prospect than the current season, with the impression the show will embrace its own silliness once and for all, which can only be a good thing.



Downrange (2017)

A ‘what if…’ horror that initially impresses with its concept and set-up of a car-sharing group of strangers being stranded and picked off by a deranged sniper on a lonely stretch of US big country highway, but gradually falls into the same routine as most other films of its ilk, with questionable character choices, drastic attitude switches and incomprehensibly accurate shooting coming all too thick and fast. It’s dappled with some nice bits and bobs, and the finale is hilarious, but beyond a couple of effective directorial choices, this breaks no new ground.


Last Man Standing

Final Space – Season 1 (2018)

An interestingly adult spin on Futurama, only with a serialised format, faithful continuity and glorious violence to up the ante. Gary Goodspeed is our protagonist, an astronaut with grand aspirations of joining space fleet and acquiring a cookie… just one cookie! He is also an idiot, which makes things interesting and probably should be funnier than he is. That’s where Final Space falls over. The drama that unfolds is perfectly serviceable, especially in 20 minute chunks, and some of the characters are fun designs and good to watch. The continuity aspect also lends it credence, but the humour always feels a little off the mark and that comes back to our hero, Gary, whose idiocy is of a level that makes him… not very likeable. And if you ain’t backing the hero, the whole thing feels a little pointless.



Ready Player One (2018)

I know he’s a class act with the historical dramas but Spielberg really does deliver some excellent adventure movies and this is another to add to the list. A couple of scenes in particular (the race and the Shining) are essential IMAX viewing and, as an ‘80s child, it really is fun to spot as many references as you can; that alone merits repeat viewing. The story is all very Spielberg, meaning the threat never truly feels real; you know where it’s going the whole time, with or without the source material. Another hindrance would be the lack of actual acting, to base more in the film’s ‘real’ world might have been to make us care more about the characters, but like I said, you never truly feel like anyone is in actual danger, even the peripheral protags. Technically and visually a masterstroke, however somewhat lacking in the narrative. See it for the spectacle.



Bullet Head (2017)

After a botched job leaves three robbers laying low in an abandoned factory, things go awry when they encounter a violent, ill-tempered and very large dog. That sounds like a joke of a concept however in actuality the filmmakers have found a very credible canine to put the shits up anyone. This thing is huge! The film itself smacks of various lower tier ‘90s thrillers, which isn’t a bad thing as they had a style and tone all their own, however there doesn’t seem to be enough meat on the bones of this story to tell it without resorting to padding in the form of several narrated flashbacks, the effects of which greatly reduce the tone of the main plotline and its threat. Had this thriller remained on location and in the present it would have been more gripping, especially with a cast that boasts John Malkovich, Adrien Brody, Kieran Culkin and Antonio Banderas.



Revenge (2017)

Uber-stylised thriller that sees a desirable paramour abused and hunted and left for dead, only to mount an exacting retribution upon her attackers in an isolated desert wilderness. A funny one this as it starts quite normally but quickly progresses into an uber-stylised affair. The bulk of the action is alright, if requiring a shit-tonne of belief suspension, but what claws it back to something a bit more enjoyable is the almighty blood bath that is the third act where the style and violence really marry together wonderfully. You just need to get there first…!



Last Knights (2015)

It’s surprising there haven’t been more features trying to benefit from the platform Game of Thrones has put fantasy on this last decade. Last Knights certainly looks influenced and is trying to create a similarly politically-driven world where good doesn’t always prevail and allegiances can switch and diminish on a dime. It looks the part certainly, and the cast is well-formed and put in a shift, but the production falls over slightly with a plodding plot and a limited budget that means action scenes are not very inventive or grandiose, so what should be a punchy, climactic third act results in a damp experience. A good idea but a bit more ambitious than its means allow.



The Commuter (2018)

I can barely comment here. Another carbon copy of just about every other Liam Neeson action film to wriggle into the public eye over the last 10 years, only this time… he’s on a train! Yay.

Not great, Liam. Not great.



Dream House (2011)

A psychological thriller that looks and feels good, starts out masquerading as a haunted house number then rapidly flies into psychosis territory. The transition isn’t as jarring as it would sound but that doesn’t make it any less dreary at times. Once the initial revelation is confirmed the majority of the intrigue is lost, leaving in its wake a dull whodunit mystery. At first this early reveal seems quite clever, as if the creators new the concept didn’t have the legs to play out as a central question for the full run time, however once the answer is there and clear, the remainder of the film lacks a certain something to replace that draw.



Supersonic (2016)

A completely biased opinion from someone whose youth was saturated with the rise and rise of Oasis and all the headlines that came with them, this is a fantastic recount of those first two heady albums, following the Gallagher’s and their tumultuous relationship against the backdrop of their bandmates from the pre-Oasis days to their record-breaking Knebworth gigs, still considered the apex of their careers. Drenched in their greatest hits and most popular B-sides, this documentary doesn’t tell me much, personally, that I didn’t already know, but is just a huge wave of nostalgia that I could barely look away from. It really takes you back and gets you thinking about what you were up to in those pre-internet, pre-reality TV, pre-YouTube and iTunes and Spotify days.

And slightly pine for them if I’m honest.



Song of the Sea (2014)

After last month’s the Breadwinner, I felt compelled to backtrack down Cartoon Saloon’s creative output and this was next in line. Swapping Muslim culture for Irish mythology, Song of the Sea is a sumptuously delivered piece of classic animation, following the journey of a brother and sister as they try to find their way home after their mourning father delivers them to their stern grandmother in the wake of their mother’s death. Adult themes are not shirked here and parents will have as much fun as their kids with this one, the latter should be more than entertained by the Færie songs and Cú the fluffy dog and Macha, the Owl Witch. There’s a real sense of nostalgia here and – as with the Breadwinner – a deepness beyond the images on screen. Very clever.



Roadgames (1981)

Australia’s answer to Duel is a typically ‘80s take on a psychological thriller. Stacey Keach headlines as a truck driver who becomes drawn into a cunning game of cat and mouse with another motorist who may or may not be a serial killer. As a concept it’s very intriguing and plaudits should be given for dragging the answer out to the bitter end, however the handling now seems a mite dated, with an overuse of the protagonist talking to himself or his dog becoming a bit tired along the way, where visual cues and clues today would probably be the way to go, adding layers of complexity and quality. It’s wort ha look but Roadgames foes have a habit of falling into a couple of potholes along the way and watching it claw itself back out again is a bit of a chore.


Song of the Sea

Cargo (2017)

After looking forward to this one for almost a year, having seen the original short film and being quite impressed, I was glad when Netflix announced the release almost out of the blue. And while the feature-length interpretation – brought to us by the same director – is an enjoyable, alternatively quiet take on the zombie apocalypse, it does feel padded out with unnecessary scenarios, characters and solutions that detract from the simplicity of the source work. To its credit the emotional beats are all still intact, but if you’ve seen the short, this might come across as a step too far.



The Imposter (2012)

A mind-boggling documentary that recounts the story of an American family who lost a son only to be contacted three years later by someone claiming to have located the boy in Spain. When the boy is returned to them, no one seems to address the elephant in the room: that the boy looks nothing like his younger self, has an inexplicable accent and – put plain and simply – is not the same person! To watch the way in which the family and friends react to this imposter is nothing short of bewildering but that makes this film – the dramatization segments of which are feature film quality – all the more engrossing.



Apt Pupil (Year)

Classic of the Month Remember Brad Renfro? Teen sensation of the nineties, looked like a young Ethan Hawke? Hasn’t done anything since 2008? Whatever happened to that dude?

Here we find Renfro at his peak, fresh off the success of the Client and Sleepers, as a dark-minded school kid with a morbid fascination for the Nazi war criminal living across town, played immensely by Ian McKellen. The tension that builds between the pair is expertly crafted by Bryan Singer at the helm, injecting a look and feel here that epitomises why I love ‘90s cinema so much, who should also be commended for delivering an engaging thriller involving two antagonists. Neither Renfro nor McKellen are likeable characters here, yet they command our attention and have us willing their individual plights forward, if for no other reason than to see how far they’ll go. Their chemistry and venomous dalliance makes this unsung gem essential viewing. Where it could improve is with more visceral violence and an additional scene at the end to wrap up a leftover plot thread, but all in all it’s a really decent watch.



Thoroughbreds (2017)

Despite the two lead characters being the calibre of emotionally-void teens that only exist in films such as this, Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke do the roles justice, adding another layer of cement to the foundations of their careers. I have no doubt both will be names that dominate household and pub table conversations within the next half decade, the same way Streep, Sarandon, Roberts, Berry, Johannson and Lawrence have before them. Here they add depth to a classy, stylish and composed thriller that simmers with dangerous intent, which, we’re never sure will materialise or remain teenage fantasy until almost the final scene. In one of his final roles before his untimely death, Anton Yelchin compliments their quiet menace well and Paul Sparks threatens to steal all scenes he graces as one of the most measured antagonists of recent years. If you can withstand some drawn-out scenes of silence, Thoroughbreds can be most rewarding.



Fahrenheit 451 (2018)

Can’t help but think this HBO movie would have been better served as a HBO miniseries. Maybe then we would have received actors who weren’t phoning it in. Maybe then we wouldn’t have rushed, failed characters and a script devoid of energy or charisma. Maybe then we would have more authenticity, in set design, in effects, and in costuming. Maybe then we would have had action and stunts. Maybe then we would have a film worthy of comparison to Blade Runner rather than Demolition Man (both are infinitely better films).

Alas, they gave us this.



Gringo (2018)

From Nash Edgerton (brother of Joel), a director whose short films, Spider and Bear, I very much enjoyed, comes his second feature and his first to hit the mainstream. Taking large cues from the post-Tarantino sub-genre of crime thriller (see: True Romance, Two Days in the Valley, et al) and adding a big fat dollop of comedy, the end result is a breezy, enjoyable watch. Edgerton has a great eye and a good cinematographer at his side – I would expect decent things from him in future. The cast is an eclectic – yet could be more so I think – array of talent, centred around an awesome David Oyelowo who owns this movie, keeps it grounded and provides the majority of the laughs. My gripes include that there could be more violence and more surprises, but the pacing and the tone make up for any detriment these weaknesses inflict. A bit of a dark horse this, given the critic’s reviews at first release.



12 Angry Men (1957)

Seeing this for the first time it’s easy to see why – in its day – this became one of the best films of all time. But today I can’t see how it holds up to such high standards. Engrossing for sure and the feverish build-up is magnetic throughout, Lee J. Cobb in particular is a show-stealer, but not all jurors carry the 90 minute run time with the same level of charisma. Fonda is too staid and pedestrian, gently manipulating things, although I felt this may have been a kind-hearted gesture on his part to sit back and give the other men their times to shine. Some do, others seem too flimsy to seem real at times. The overarching criticism is how these 12 men unearth so many flaws in a case that a skilled defence lawyer missed…! But that aside this is akin to watching an impressive stage play (which it is, funnily enough) on screen, right down to behaviours, nuances and verbal techniques, and sometimes there’s nothing better than taking it in.



Red Rock West (1993)

Fresh off the back of my U-Turn review the other month, comes another coincidental crime thriller about a drifter who rolls into town and gets caught up in a deadly game of marital double-cross. Oliver Stone’s effort was a little bit of a trippy mess. John Dahl’s version of the same story – this time starring Nicholas Cage back when he did decent films – is the version I would rather see. A bit more coherent, much better looking, and a more supportable protagonist. The cast ain’t as great, Dennis Hopper aside as a cool-as-Elvis hitman, and the ending less creative, but it just does more right in every other respect.

If it were made today, this would be a Netflix movie. God I miss the ‘90s…!


Avengers: Infinity War

Top of the Class

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

The second film in as many months – and in the same year no less – to have me salivating for another watch the moment it finished. The last film to do that to me was Blade Runner 2049, and before that the Dark Knight. That’s saying something. The culmination of 20-odd MCU movies does not disappoint, finally introducing us to long-gestating villain, Thanos, and giving him his own movie essentially. The Russo Brothers do a fantastic job of conveying a masterful villain and applying the shades of grey that make the Game of Thrones characters so rich and interesting. This is a Thanos movie wrapped in an Avengers dress and that decision is a masterstroke. Note to DC: this is how you do a villain.

Absolutely littered with so many amazing little moments in amongst the grandiosity of the various plot streams, none of which falter. The pace is amped from start to finish with no more than three or four moments of down time in amongst glorious set pieces, high octane action and thrilling drama. At two and half hours, there is no time to waste here and none of it is – in fact it would be interesting to see what ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor.

There’s a sense of the ‘90s here too. Thanos’ henchmen aren’t here to make up the numbers, they’re genuine threats. They get shit done. Sure, they could do with more to say, but their presence is felt, and I can’t think of a movie that conveyed that sense since the Masters of the Universe movie!

With an ending that has you thirsting for the next instalment – and effectively wishing away a year! – this is a cracking event movie that finally rewards us for sitting through so many hum-drum precursors (let’s be honest, Ragnarok aside, the last handful of MCU movies ain’t been ground breaking) and reminds us what a summer blockbuster can be. Roll on Avengers 4.



On the Horizon: Coraline, City of God, Mother, Sweet Country, Victoria, the Cured, Manhunt, To Live and Die in LA, the Life of David Gale, Tomb Raider, Unsane, Attraction…

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