Fantana’s Film Roundup – November 2018

Last roundup for the foreseeable. Will be back next year with the annual top tens, but the roundups themselves are taking a back seat so I can focus on some actual writing. You can catch any reviews I manage going forward via my profile on Letterboxd.


Welcome Home (2018)

With no less than seven scenes that involved the shower, bathroom or bed, it often felt like the director was taking as much advantage of having cast Emily Ratajkowski as possible. Borderline exploitation. That aside this is an okay thriller that both Ratajkowski and Aaron Paul carry well. Cinematography and tension are capable but the story feels a little too silly, not enough dramatic weight, and the dialogue a bit ordinary for the most part. Nothing new is brought to the table and this ultimately comes off as a mish-mash of borrowed ideas; some it betters, some it doesn’t.



The Haunting of Hill House – Limited Series (2018)

Ultra-hyped Netflix vehicle that doesn’t benefit from said praise. I was waiting for scares that never came in almost every episode, unfortunately, which I know is only half the game here, but this half really lets the side down. The drama aspect fares far better and the filmmakers do well not to convolute things with the multiple timeline angle. Huisman, Gugino and Siegel particularly do well, whereas Henry Thomas really didn’t convince in the flashback father role. Liked the ideas it put forward but also felt like I could pick holes in them till the cows came home if I cared enough. The highlight for me was the episode (forget which) that was made up of several long takes. Expertly crafted and acted, had a real stage feel to it and everyone pulled together to deliver something special there. The rest was all a bit style over explanation. And it possesses that over-clean style that Netflix has a habit of imparting on its series, and that really bothers me. Apply a filter for crying out loud!



Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Another of the better Ghibli crowd that is immersed in fantasy, and this one is high fantasy indeed. Love the ideas at play here; the warring kingdoms, the magical door, the fire demon required to move the castle. It’s all a little different. Traditional but different. The fact it doesn’t spell out the various plot points as well is a mark of quality. Howl’s battle with his own abilities, perhaps the greatest example of this, goes largely unspoken until late on. For an animated film that’s quite highbrow. Of course a couple of the usual anime pitfalls rear… characters professing their love for one another after barely any time at all feels like cumbersome dubbing and an abrupt ending that just wraps all loose plot threads up in an rather unsatisfying oner feels like the filmmakers kind of forgot what they’d set up along the way then took inventory once the dust had settled. These seem to be unavoidable in the medium so it tends to be a matter of putting up with them and hoping they are minimal. This is a good adventure for adults and little ones alike. Certainly among Mayazaki, and Ghibli’s, best.



22 July (2018)

Until this year I had no awareness of the terror attacks that rocked Norway to its core. Now we have two reminders to give us an insight. The first of these was snapped up by Netflix and comes in the form of a straight-up recount with a political angle and the court room drama to see it out after a harrowing first act that reconstructs the bombing and shooting. Told in a matter-of-fact way with some human drama conveyed through the eyes of one of the island survivors. It’s a well-made piece of film but there isn’t much to comment on beyond the way the facts are laid out. Some of the character beats seem a bit saccharine, forced drama, but for all I know they were factually accurate. Lacking in charisma but perhaps it’s a good thing that was sacrificed for the sake of telling the right story.


Welcome Home

Outlaw King (2018)

Netflix is slowly starting to win me over. It feels like the days of venturing into a ‘Netflix Original’ trepidatiously might be shortening. Having seen the trailer for Outlaw King a month back I thought this might be more mid-budget, phoned-in fodder. But this is really good. Pine seems to channel one emotion and cast one look, but that’s fine, he carries it well. It’s the likes of Stephen Dillane and Florence Pugh that give this film some real chops, and it is David Mackenzie who breathes life into it. The opening twenty minutes are incredible and do a real job of drawing the viewer in and setting them up for what’s to come. Per Netflix, the gore quotient is incredulous at times – fine by me – and comparisons to Braveheart are unavoidable. And although it lacks the emotional beats that made Gibson’s epic so damn amazing, it outdoes in the battles and blood stakes. Overall it is a worthy companion piece to the William Wallace volume.



Blindspotting (2018)

A really strong and original take on a character study. Love some of the ideas banded about here but felt a lag in the middle bit. After witnessing a black kid shot by a white policeman, Collin – on the last days of his probation – strives to keep a low profile, under persistent threat due to the strains on his friendship with childhood friend, Miles, put upon them by their wider circle and the latter’s reaction to the rapid transformation of their neighbourhood from street-level slum to hipster haven. Begins with an electric crackle and ends with a blistering bang. The second act doesn’t match up but it isn’t dull. Very much worth a look if you want something a little different.



Lucky Country (2009)

Stupendously bleak is this Australian western (bloody love an Aussie western, me!) about a lone father’s battle with insanity while stubbornly raising two kids on the edge of a barren wilderness. Photography is on point and all talent involved are key to its effectiveness, from the father and his offspring to the three soldiers who cross their farm to the travelling tradesman who warns him to give up their plot before it claims them. Lots going on and it doesn’t resort to obvious genre tropes, which is refreshing. Blunt but effective.



Say Anything… (1989)

Early Cameron Crowe isn’t as good as mid-career Cameron Crowe. The wit and individuality is there in the characters, but it’s certainly less mature than Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous or the mighty script of Vanilla Sky. And everyone other than Lili Taylor only barely wield it; Cusack is good but never evolves. Dialogue aside, the way the focus switches midway is something that isn’t done enough, or done enough effectively. To switch from Cusack’s pursuit of Ione Skye’s Diane to the Diane’s balancing act of the two men in her life is an interesting turn and manages to ramp the interest levels like Crowe does. Or used to do…. I’m not sure. Can’t bring myself to watch Aloha, and We Bought a Zoo doesn’t fill me with interest. But I love Crowe, so I’m sure I’ll get there.


Outlaw King

Memoir of a Murderer (2017)

And the award for most outstanding cinematography of the month goes to this little gem. I say little… it is rather sprawling, both in the external scapes and the internal network of the titular killer’s waning mind. Byung-su has dementia. Memories flit and fade on a dime. The only ones that seem to remain rooted in him are the murders he committed years ago, killings he commits to a diary so as to remember who he is, or was. His daughter cares for him but she is seeing a new young man. A young man Byung-su thinks he might know… yes, he was the young man whose car he collided with… the young man with the blood pouring out of his boot…

Very good thriller that feels like Memento stuffed in a blender with I Saw the Devil. See it.



The Happytime Murders (2018)

In a world where muppets live alongside humans, ex-partners Melissa McCarthy and a boring, well-voiced, but unimaginative puppet have to team up when someone starts targeting the cast of an old puppet TV show. On paper it could have been okay, and at times there are some genuine laughs. But this is uninventive and cheap-looking, beyond cheap-looking actually. There isn’t a single scene that doesn’t look like Henson and co. had the space for more than two hours. And Henson’s direction is amateur at best. Could’ve been the next Roger Rabbit had the crew, script and production values been given more love. Didn’t really have the balls to go where others have dared, which, given the crude level of dialogue is really surprising.



Green Zone (2010)

Completely serviceable, if slightly forgettable, politically-charged action thriller. Paul Greengrass has a good eye for a certain style of action. That style isn’t particularly vivid or distinct, so what we get are okay characters following an okay plot, engaging in okay actions scenes on an okay scale with an okay resolution. It’s intricate at times and always pulls you back in after your attention has waned, but a great actoner leaves you breathless. Feels like Bourne joined the US Deltas and went to the Middle East.



All or Nothing: Manchester City (2018)

It helped the ‘All or Nothing’ series no end that they happened to chronicle one of Manchester City’s title-winning campaigns, but whether they had won or not this would still have made great viewing. The insight it gives on Pep Guardiola and the way he nurtures and breathes confidence into young talent, makes them operate as a unit, and brings like-minded personalities into the ranks, is all thought-provoking stuff. The kind of culture any Premier League fan would love to see bred at their own club. An eye pleasing and interesting documentary for the football purists but it doesn’t make me want to watch any of their other series.


Memoir of a Murderer

Venom (2018)

Dear Venom, the late ‘90s called. They want their effects and script back. Phoned in by all involved, top to bottom, and a prime example of what you get when you have no love for what you are doing. The direction is aimless, the editing erratic, the effects on a par with Alien3. The script is pockmarked with gouges where whole excerpts of context, character and world-building have been kicked to the wayside. What is Hardy doing in this? Mumbling through dialogue with minimal eye contact like some visionary auteur is behind the camera and going to piece his fidgety performance together to something great. The design department also failed him; even before his ‘great fall’ he looks a sweaty, dishevelled mess. And where was his arc? The comedy falls flat, the action suffers as a result of the above editing and directorial issues, and what the hell was this film doing with anything less than an 18 / R rating?! It’s only saving grace is that it’s Venom! He has cool points. We’ve waited years to see a good version of the character on screen… unfortunately we’re still waiting.



The Night Comes For Us (2018)

This style of action film is quickly growing on me but I am yet to see this done better than The Raid 2, and unfortunately it does feel like every film featuring Iko Uwais is trying to outdo the last, which in this day in age is the unreasonable expectation. But the reason Raid 2 eclipses the simplicity of the first is because it builds on the stakes of the first, technically it sets out to achieve greater spectacle but also strips it down to its rawest form, and it adds the element of character to the mix. The Night Comes For Us has the character elements there, although not as balanced but it takes too many liberties at times, with characters enduring some of the most ridiculous punishment for the sake of the stunts, henchmen dancing around in the background waiting for their cue to strike is just annoying these days. There is also some real invention but the balance isn’t right. Better than Headshot and perhaps on a level with the first Raid film but far from the sequel.



Mulholland Falls (1996)

Classic of the Month Saw this in my teens but couldn’t remember anything about it other than Jennifer Connolly. Coming back now I’m glad I did as this is a great stylised noir with plot points that reach farther than the scope of the genre. The involvement of the nuclear arms testing is an interesting and dynamic addition to the plot and the final act showdown is quite original in the realms of the quintessential flat foot noir. Nolte is nice and vulnerable in the lead role, and his cohorts all stand out as characters; Madsen and Penn seem to disappear inexplicably late in the second act, which is a shame as I would have liked to see them involved as much as they were early on. That aside it’s decent, unforgiving and not all rosy. As hard boiled as they come.



Papillon (2017)

Granted I haven’t seen the original, this felt quite fresh because of that. No idea what has been retained and what is new, given this is based on a memoir I would think they are both quite similar and one day I’ll find out but for now Hunnum does Hunnum but in a less Hunnum way. This time we get the Lost City of Z Hunnum, the good one. And Malek does Malek, which is good. Could’ve done with some more charisma in other roles, the facility warden felt a bit wet and would have been a scene stealer if another name, and the script could have popped if given more character. At over two hours it still felt too short, with not enough context or backstory, but to have me wishing for more is only a compliment I suppose. An incredible true story but in execution it perhaps pulls its punches a bit.



Juno (2007)

Diablo Cody’s script is everything here, like blue touch paper it sets characters alight, brings them together, makes them all pop as a group entity. The story of an underage, illegitimate pregnancy isn’t anything original, but her dialogue makes it so. Lends a level of realism to the proceedings but also creates characters that seem larger than life. Would have looked for more resolution around the Jason Bateman character but the way his arc ends seems intended and rounded enough so as not to disappoint too much. The rest is decent. Didn’t set my world alight but it’s an enjoyable hour and a half with a cast who have all gone on to great things. Fun to see some of their turning points.



Top of the Class

Bodied (2017)

For a film about battle rap this has some pace. Feels frenetic, without being too energetic, like an effortless slap in the face. Produced by Marshall, who we know is partial, to a little self-reference. The lead is a new breed, a geek seed, who shows them all the meaning of reverence. Love how he breaks it down, dissects the game, makes it change, takes it to other levels. While we watch, but not the clock, too in shock, too dishevelled. Wittiest film since White Men Can’t Jump, laugh out loud at some original sass. Looks the piece, photography’s neat, but what’s with all the cats?

Original stuff, none of it fluff, if you need to get pumped, this is the one.



On the Horizon: Somersault, Australia Day, Halloween, Racer and the Jailbird, the Evil Within, the Act of Killing, Suspiria, the Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Made, Rampart…

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