05 Dec Fantana’s Film Roundup – November 2017
And as expected, the latter half of the year continues to glean more quality… it’s as if they know awards season is nigh, eh?!
Good Time (2017)
After outstanding turns in the Rover and the Lost City of Z, Robert Pattinson yet again transforms himself, more than ever before on this occasion as a grimy, completely unrecognisable street hustler. A street hustler who spends a long arduous evening trying to break his brother out of Rikers Island, the Manhattan jail where he is being held after a bank heist they embarked upon goes awry. What unfolds is a fast-paced, very kinetic journey through the night as R-Pat works his way frenetically through one obstacle after the next with a series of adaptations and lies that only serve to worsen his ‘good time’ as the night rolls on.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
Not so sure what all the complaining was about when this one hit the cinemas earlier in the year. Sure, it’s no Fifth Element, but conceptually it’s great fun. Sure the leads have very little chemistry, but that could easily be blamed on whoever wrote the hackneyed romantic slant between Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne), which is as natural as real pigs in real blankets (getting festive…. we’re getting close, you see). Sure the plot is side-lined more than once to focus on unnecessary ‘rescue’ missions that hamper the flow of the main narrative, but there’s enough alien eye candy and humour to keep you entertained while you wait for the storyline to right itself. A good one for a Sunday afternoon when you’re busying yourself and don’t need to focus too much.
Bleed for This (2016)
As far as true stories of overcoming adversity go, we have had better. Bleed for This is a fine addition to the true story sub-genre, and an impressive real life achievement by its subject, Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), but simply lacks something the likes of the Fighter had in abundance: charisma. Teller is ever-watchable and supported by solid acts in Aaron Eckhart and Ciarán Hinds, but there is something in the telling of this story that simply doesn’t convey just how special an achievement this truly was. Whether to downplay was the filmmakers’ approach is beyond me, but even just a more emotive score might have helped propel this to another level. Worth a watch, but not likely to blow you away.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
If you’ve seen the original, or any subsequent remake over the decades, then Kenneth Branagh’s refurb will hold no surprises; I was in the fortunate position of having not, but having enjoyed this version I do intend to go back to the 70s original at some point. Really beautifully shot and acted throughout, but not everyone gets enough to do and the plot didn’t quite build to a climax the way you would hope a ‘whodunnit’ thriller might. It just thrusts the final showdown upon you without properly establishing a growing amount of clues or presenting misdirection. Not knowing how faithful Branagh has been to the original, some small part of me wouldn’t have minded seeing a new twist in the narrative along the way. That said, as a piece of cinema the scenery and framing was magnificent, made for the big screen.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Happy Death Day (2017)
Never would have come near this if not for a couple of mildly favourable reviews out there. Having taken the plunge, I’m not at all regretful that I did. There’s plenty on hand to criticise: for a take on the well-mined slasher genre, there was little-to-no gore. This could have been much shlockier and likely might have benefited from it, in a similar vein to the success of say Scream or the original Final Destination. There are also a few moments of unnatural, unnecessary exposition that really took me out of the movie for a moment, the character stating the obvious aloud when the actions and direction would have been enough for us (“Where’s the remote?”….. ugh!). Worst of all is the ridiculously implausible villain of the piece. But on the whole it’s quite good fun… for a Groundhog Day knock off.
Happy Hunting (2017)
After fleeing a drug deal gone bust, Warren winds up passing through rust-bucket town, Bedford Flats, an old hunting community now bare and defunct after government intervention, laden with creepy doll-headed scarecrows. One night of alcohol and substance abuse later and Warren learns the hard way just how difficult the town has found it to let go of old habits. Direction is solid here but a bit mucky at times, going too close where a wider establishing shot might have served better, and occasionally compounded by some really lacklustre effects. In the hands of a more ambitious film maker and a more talented cast, this would have been a much more effective addition to a popular horror/thriller sub-genre that hasn’t really been done justice since… well… read on.
Surviving the Game (1994)
Classic of the Month #1 Back in the day this was an 8, or even an 8.5, but the first act has aged pretty badly, no thanks to the horrific score in said segment, and Ice T’s acting being shaky at best, still early on in his career (although I have not followed him and would suspect he hasn’t improved overmuch). That said, all the things I loved about this in my teens I still love today: the isolated wilderness setting; the quiet madness of Gary Busey; the outright madness of John C. McGinley; the unexpected character beats; Charles S. Dutton throughout! And that isn’t even mentioning the entire cast as Rutger Hauer and F. Murray Abraham round out the madmen who hunt and Ice T’s homeless quarry through the woods, underestimating him all along the way. An all-star remake would be a cracking thing if kept as simple as the original, but that said, the original is a fine thing in its own right. Maybe just needs a new soundtrack.
The Villainess (2017)
On paper this reads like a distant cousin of Oldboy, with a hearty blend of impacting action and emotionally-charged drama, with a heavy emphasis on the former, and in person it certainly channels the same energies. However it is actually in the drama where the Villainess wins over, as Ok-bin Kim’s Sook-hee, attempts to re-integrate into maternal life after leaving the government-sponsored assassin’s guild, only to be used as a sleeper cell in a job that leads her to a dangerous figure from her past. The action, unfortunately, is where the film stumbles, as director Byung-gil Jung tries a little too heavy-handedly to deliver cutting edge sequences but ultimately fumbles. Ideas are sound but badly-edited ‘single-take’ fight scenes that take place over motorbikes and down the sides of buildings and in moving buses and through the first person view of the protagonist are all a bit nauseating and, due to the aforementioned clunkiness, just look plain bad. Had they been filmed in a normal style, this could have been an absolute heavyweight as the unflinching bravery of the drama certainly gets it very right.
The Interview (2014)
In fairness, when this is funny it is laugh-out-loud funny. But the genuine laughs are few and far between and the rest is made up of the cheap and offensive. Ironically the hero of the piece is Randall Park’s Kim Jong-un, the only actor on hand who isn’t phoning in a facsimile of every other character he’s ever played (<cough>Seth Rogen!<cough>) and frequently hilarious throughout. Aside from the off and on comedy there really isn’t anything to rescue this hum-drum attempt at stoner comedy and the only thing it really achieves is signalling the death knell of the sub-genre.
Logan Lucky (2017)
There’s nothing overly special about this hillbilly Ocean’s Eleven about a pair of brothers that decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR event, but coming from the very same director it’s a safe bet if you liked that then you’ll like this. Soderbergh injects the same ensemble cast and gleans the same hilarious results. There’s lots of hijinks and seemingly stupid decisions to be witnessed but, like its cinematic descendent, Logan Lucky never feels like it doesn’t have a plan, which is possibly to its detriment ever so slightly, as in turn it never feels like Channing Tatum and Co. aren’t going to get away with it. That said what it does, it does very well and all the players bring their best to the proceedings.
Daddy’s Home 2 (2017)
A fun follow-up to the surprisingly okay original, and an unexpected Christmas movie thrown into the deal. Ferrell sure does love his festive season. For anyone that’s seen the original it’s much more of the same and perhaps then some as Mel Gibson and John Lithgow join the banter as the original dads’ dads. Lithgow is particularly hilarious and should do much more work like this. Here’s hoping they don’t milk it now and go out on a high. Two is enough.
If you saw the Belko Experiment earlier this year, this is much of the same, only with less ultimatums and more violence-inducing diseases. Steven Yeun (Walking Dead’s much missed Glenn) takes the lead as a fired employee who, catching the aforementioned disease on his way out the door, makes an about face and heads for the boardroom to make the ones responsible for his severance pay, hooking up with Samara Weaving’s scorned client along the way. Funnily enough this falls foul of the same pitfalls as Belko: violence that isn’t violent enough; deaths that aren’t creative enough; paper-thin characters, yada yada yada. Mayhem also suffers from over-stylisation, blowing everything and everyone out of realistic proportion and really trying too hard to play everything for laughs without really succeeding.
American Made (2017)
Doug Liman might be one of the most underrated directors about at the minute. Rarely does he make a stonker but rarely does he make a turkey (Jumper and Fair Game the obvious blips on the CV). What he has been excelling at recently are good, solid watchable movies with a pace that keeps you interested. In this instance he has taken the true story of Barry Seal and made it a frenetic, exciting piece of popcorn cinema, which is an achievement in itself. Friends of Narcos should view this as a companion piece to the show as it channels the same energy and tone. Even if you’re not a fan of the Cruiser, every now and then he goes off-piste and more often than not, when he does (like on this occasion), it’s a rare treat.
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Classic of the Month #2 “I travel. How I make my living. Data storage remember?” The first words uttered by Keanu Reeves’ titular courier, and the fact he’s talking to a sex worker we will never see again, tells us everything we need to know about how bad this script is going to be. Honestly the very next line, asked by the very same nondescript prostitute, is “Where is home, Johnny?” Within the first 10 minutes we are overloaded with exposition and nonsense, it’s about as painful as Mr. Mnemonic breaching his storage capacity! Oh dear.
Characters constantly talking to each other as if they have just met or just landed in this unusual future (or alternate present!). It’s tough going, not helped by the hammy overacting (although not by Keanue, who at this time was obviously still discovering his craft), the dumbed-down violence and the amateur direction that makes it feel about 20 years older than it is. It’s a shame as the idea is a decent one and, in other hands, this could have been a decent companion piece to Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days; tonally they are quite similar.
If ever there was a film in need of a modern remake… well… here we are.
I’d been looking forward to this since festival season and only recently realised it was a Netflix joint. This would normally have worried me, but the streaming service has produced a fair few decent wee gems this year so my fears were placated. Yet again Netflix deliver. The story is heavy going and the pace quite ponderous, the majority of the dialogue delivered in the form of various characters narrations, adding context and depth to the texture on screen, but this is a fine commentary on the many historical injustices applied to race, particularly in the southern states, where it was particularly rabid. Occasionally (but not often) difficult to watch, Mudbound draws its lines quite frankly, offering us clear heroes, villains and in-betweens. Most surprisingly it is the in-betweens who frustrate the most and really get you thinking as to just how we got through some devilish times in history.
The Limehouse Golem (2016)
Looks and plays like a polished BBC period thriller. It’s just a bit of a pity the filmmakers didn’t try and set themselves apart by demonstrating and reflecting their greater budget in things like hair and make-up, set dressing and grittier photography, which at times equals said same standard. On the flip side, the talent on offer and the script at times lifts proceedings above such comparisons and what emerges is a decent, if a bit clean, crime thriller. A slow start that picks up significantly in the second act, so hang in there.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Another one of those classics I feel like I might have missed the boat on. As much as I love a good Western, there is something a little lacking in the tone Sergio Leone’s trilogy opener, grit or a real sense of trouble, that doesn’t present itself until the close of the second act. I’m just glad it came along at all as, once it does, the film lifts somewhat. Eastwood is fantastic as The Man With No Name, bestowing an everyday air to an otherwise mythological figure, seemingly impervious. Laden with decent shoot outs (although the sequence where an entire company of cavalrymen are wiped out by a machine gun is downright laughable) and charisma, courtesy of Eastwood, the final showdown is a bit of a damp squib and here’s hoping the trilogy picks up from here.
A Fistful of Dollars
Not as bad as the reviews would have you believe… but certainly not that good either. For a film filled with promising concepts (weather-controlling satellites gone haywire, massive space station under siege, etc.), there is almost no capitalisation on them. For a film that has been influenced by so many end-of-the-world blockbusters, you’d expect the actual destruction to look like it means something. Where so many have gone wrong where Independence Day succeeded (and set the bar) is in combining a global threat that actually felt threatening and human elements that were believable and relatable. While I can overlook Gerard Butler as an über genius, I can’t forgive the lack of even an Armageddon moment between he and his daughter when the do or die moment comes.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
Another one that got a bit of a critical pasting but ain’t actually that bad. Eggsy, Merlin and co. are back for pretty much more of the same. Which means awesome action choreography, decent jokes delivered by colourful characters, a fun villain and some nifty gadgets. This is 007 for generation X and it knows it. Where it falters would be in an overlong middle third that doesn’t deliver enough action after a promising start, owing mostly to a sub plot that drags on too long and should (given the spoilerific promotional material!) have been addressed and resolved within a few scenes. Other than that though, this is good, fund cinema and should be received as nothing more.
The Babysitter (2017)
Didn’t expect much from this Netflix fodder and apparently benefitted from it. This is utter nonsense, but very, very fun. Can’t say too much as this would spoil some surprises, but if you can put all the obvious stupidity and question marks aside and just enjoy an absolute bat-shit crazy horror-adventure-comedy for what it is, it won’t disappoint. Man, if Better Watch Out had this level of gore that would have been something!
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Top of the Class
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
To say anything about this movie would be to give away key plot points, and this is a film best left to witness with your own eyes, so what I’ll say is that the script and acting and direction are great, very different and very watchable. Fans of the Lobster will no doubt love this, too. The photography is sumptuous, evoking an almost the Shining-like quality as cameras creep slowly along hospital corridors and scour parking lots from on high. The narrative is terrifying and haunting and confusing, and if there was a criticism it would be that the film did not establish its own rules – in the same way the Lobster established a world where the possibility of men being turned into animals was commonplace – so that we the audience knew whether or not it was sticking to them. As a result, questions come and go unanswered and when the final pay-off is delivered, it frustrates rather than provokes.
Still, the good certainly outweighs the bad here quite easily and my heart hasn’t beat so fast at a movie in a very long time, so that’s saying something.
On the Horizon: Darkland, McCabe and Mrs Miller, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Thor: Ragnarok, Red Rock West, Gleason, Detour, the Last Jedi, the Life of David Gale, Bright…