Fantana’s Film Roundup – October 2017

Tried to fit a few films appropriate for Halloween given the season, and a few neat surprises in amongst a particularly strong month of viewing. Grab a pen, people, I have recommendations!

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

All the marketing, all the promotional material pointed towards an abysmal buddy action comedy, but to label the Hitman’s Bodyguard would not be entirely fair. Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds predictably play themselves, but that isn’t as bad as it sounds. The plot is swiss cheese but somehow, in not taking itself too seriously, it flows and doesn’t invite too much scrutiny. In fact its charm is in the fact it knows how silly it is and that really gives it a lift. At the end of the day it’s a bearable buddy action comedy; not an abysmal one.

6.5

 

The Beguiled (2017)

When Colin Farrell’s wounded Union soldier is found on the grounds of Nicole Kidman’s girls’ school, the cat is truly set amongst the pigeons as simmering desires lead to jealousies and darker actions. Coming from Sofia Coppola, the Beguiled expectedly offers nothing over the top, but more a sense of smouldering tension as Farrell craftily goes about playing the various women of the school – cast exceptionally well – off each other like a game of chess. The visuals are fantastic, the framing and palette used to depict the grounds make them seem otherworldly at times but never less than stunning. The interiors are dark and brooding like Farrell’s soldier as he grows closer to full health and, subsequently, reluctantly, a return to arms.

The talent on show kept things interesting, however the ending seemed to miss the brief, not truly capitalising on the emotional tension it had crafted so well, nor offering clarity to certain character choices. That said it’s worth a look for the very effective slow burn alone.

7

 

Eddie – Strongman (2014)

A film crew followed budding strong man, Eddie Hall, for two years, documenting his life, love and dream to be the World’s Strongest Man. A brash but charming character, based out of Stoke, Eddie has gone on to become one of the most popular competitors in the competition and what this documentary does is give us a glimpse into the mindset and physical attributes it takes to compete.

While it doesn’t delve too deeply into themes such as doping or the mental and physical constraints of the lifestyle, what it does achieve is a portrait of a straightforward man with straightforward dreams and the straightforward way in which he reacts to the challenges, failures and successes that his chosen path entails. Does a documentary have to be a cutting expose in order to be entertaining? No. Do you need to be interested in the World’s Strongest Man to get any enjoyment out of this? Not necessarily. This is about a local man striving to become a local hero.

If it helps, the completion of this documentary wrapped one year before Eddie Hall went on to win the World’s Strongest Man title. So if you want to get an idea of the hard work, the sacrifices and rewards for success, look no further.

7

 

Gerald’s Game (2017)

In a bid to rescue their fading relationship, Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood retreat to an isolated lake house for a weekend of hanky panky, only hubby dies shortly after the ‘game’ begins, leaving his frantic wife handcuffed to the bed. Oh and there’s a rabid wild dog outside and they left the front door open. As a set up it’s pretty good, and Carla Gugino delivers a fantastic performance, going up through the various gears of initial panic, denial, all the way through to outright hysterics, as the situation worsens. The subplots that come into play ensure this one-trick pony doesn’t run out of steam, adding depth to Gugino’s character and the plot as a whole, keeping us interested. There are also some effective horror gems to lap up, both effectual and visceral (one sequence in particular is quite horrendous) and although it feels as though the movie goes on perhaps 10 minutes too long, I can only presume it stays true to the subject matter, adding an extra layer of revelation and dread to an already horrible experience. My only personal quibble would be that I didn’t think she tried very hard to find an easy solution, seeming to go from feeble attempts to madness to outright extremity without due consideration. That said, it’s easily one of the stronger movies on Netflix’s team sheet and well worth a look.

7

Blade Runner 2022: Black Out

Blade Runner: International Theatrical Version (1982)

Yes, that Vangelis score! Yes, re-mastered, beautiful, beautiful cyberpunk dystopia! Yes, more violence! Yes, “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?”!

No, that voiceover! No, that ending!!!

It’s hard to believe that such a seminal work of science fiction cinema could have its detractors, but the features that were exclusive to this original theatrical release do it no favours and it is far too easy to see why Ridley Scott chopped it so much for the Director’s and Final Cuts. The voiceover is just plain awful, unnecessary and virtually shouted by Harrison Ford’s titular agent, Deckard, with no apparent filter or layering to make it feel an integrated part of the movie; the ending is just as loathsome, underpinned by the same tacked on narration and completely switching the tone of the movie for something unnaturally saccharine. Neither work and this ultimately affects the flow and feel of the film to the point it’s nigh on unrecognisable. All of the good stuff is still present, but as soon as Ford’s yelling starts to encroach over the top of proceedings it sucks you right out of the experience.

The Final Cut is a legendary piece of work and would merit at least a 9, however this mediocre version gets no more than a very generous…

7.5

 

Blade Runner 2049: The Years Between (2017)

As a precursor to the release of Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve sponsored three short films to supplement and provide texture to the world in which these characters live and to bridge the 30-year gap between 2049 and Ridley Scott’s original;

2022: Black Out is a 20 minute anime production, directed by Cowboy Bebop’s Shinichirô Watanabe, that chronicles a global black out that will re-shape certain aspects of the 2049 world.

2036: Nexus Dawn, directed by Luke Scott (Morgan), focusses on Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace character as he promotes the new model of replicant to the LAPD.

2048: Nowhere to Run, also by Scott, shines a light on Dave Bautista’s character, Sapper, and what drives him into the world of 2049.

All three are spoiler-free and serve only to enrich this cinematic universe. If you haven’t seen a single frame of 2049 before now, they might feel a bit jarring and alien, however each standalone very well, benefit from star power and sets taken directly from Villeneuve’s production. All films are available on YouTube.

Black Out (7); Nexus Dawn (7); Nowhere to Run (8)

 

Mother! (2017)

Jennifer Lawrence just wants to be left alone and, after watching this 2-hour harangue, I’m with her! I’ve never been sold on Aranofsky and Mother! does little to sway my opinion on either side of the proverbial fence. He’s certainly capable, has a good eye for detail and how he wants a scene to look, but here he has a bad habit of sticking too closely to his central character, in both literal and figurative senses. Too often there is lots going on yet we remain in close frame on Lawrence and her reactions, as if the director is trying to channel Son of Saul a little too obviously. While performances and the ever-escalating sense of one woman’s world eviscerating about her at times feels like a physical thing – and Aranofsky should be commended for evoking such a reaction; I’m sure it was his intention – the script ensures that the world built here never feels like a real place, populated by real people. As a result, from the moment Ed Harris arrives, I’m never truly invested.

6.5

 

Daddy’s Home (2015)

Surprisingly entertaining comedy about a step-father (played by Will Ferrell) coming under threat when the father of his wife’s children (Mark Wahlberg) comes to visit and ends up hanging around a little too long. Ferrell and Wahlberg have great comedic chemistry, which helps this a lot, and there are a ton of half-decent gags in here to chortle at. Ferrell might not be the draw he used to be but he still has few wee gems kicking about, and with the sequel due out this month, now might be a good time to acquaint yourself with this as a primer.

7

The Boxtrolls

Primal Fear (1996)

Classic of the Month alert! Wow, I forgot how good this was. Not to be mistaken for your average dry courtroom thriller, Richard Gere chases runaways around Gotha– I mean, Chicago’s underbelly; Edward Norton engages in sordid home sex videos; Laura Linney attempts to smoke in not one, not two, but several indoor venues to no avail! Seriously though, if you haven’t seen nor heard of this ‘90s gem of a thriller, do yourself a favour. When an archbishop is found mutilated at his townhouse home, and Norton’s blood-soaked altar boy caught fleeing the scene, Gere’s attorney steps in to defend the un-defendable. To say anymore would be to give too much away. Norton is in the form of his life in this early career role that put him on the map and made this movie what it is.

And if you don’t know the twist, don’t let anyone spoil it for you. Gold.

8

 

Girls Trip (2017)

A decent barrage of jokes abound in this familiar comedy given new legs in the hands of Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and a scene-stealing Tiffany Haddish, but that doesn’t save it from being exactly that: familiar. Estranged friends reunite, get up to hijinks, address each other’s changes and shortcomings, fall out, fall back in again; there’s nothing new here. That said, there are enough similarities to the likes of Bridesmaids and Old School to keep most satiated throughout the majority of the 2-hour runtime. If 30 minutes had been shaved off, we might be talking about a better film.

6

 

The Bar (2017)

A neat concept and made with talent, a handful of downtown denizens are trapped in a small Madrid café when the street outside is laid siege to by an unseen gunman. The group of prisoners then begin to unravel as theories and clues abound. An interesting slant on a well-trodden genre, but not without problems. The cast are a varied bunch, with some over-acting to the detriment of all. Elsewhere the direction is fine but the editing is another beast entirely, chopping the more tumultuous scenes with nary a second between cuts, sometimes cutting between several different angles of the same subject. It’s headache inducing! If you can get through the first nauseating act, the film actually becomes something of a decent watch, darkly funny and tinged with horror elements. It’s just getting through that first act that’s the rub.

6.5

 

Better Watch Out (2016)

A Christmas movie with a thriller spin. A thriller with a neat twist. A surprise treat of a movie for the coming festive season whereby a babysitter and her 12 year-old ward is set upon by intruders one evening, only to discover the invasion is far from the conventional. From the logline you would be forgiven for thinking this might be Home Alone with violence, however they couldn’t be more different, although there is a cracking nod to the Macaulay Culkin adventure. The tone is suitably dark and tinged with appropriate humour, however the violence is watered down and lacks the courage of its convictions, which surprises given the film’s certificate. Had this not been the case, the end result would have been more potent, but this is still quite enjoyable if your bloodlust isn’t up.

7

 

The Boxtrolls (2014)

From Laika, the studio that most recently brought us Kubo and the Two Strings, comes this fable about a city infatuated with eradicating a colony of subterranean, trash-obsessed gremlins, and the orphan boy that falls into their care. Harking back to classic Grimm fairy tales, Boxtrolls delivers a darker breed of animation, filling it to the brim with adult themes of class, child/parent relationships and acceptance but also ensuring the kids have lots of fun too. There is something timeless about the stories Laika tell and the stop-motion style they employ is a joy to behold in today’s CG-saturated landscape. Never change and long may you reign.

8

Incendies

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Bone Tomahawk’s S. Craig Zahler returns to retain his crown for most disturbing movie violence with this throwback to the exploitation pics back in the day. A near unrecognisable Vince Vaughn dominates scene after scene as a former boxer and mechanic turned drug runner incarcerated after a botched job only to be blackmailed into assassinating an inmate in another jail lest he wish to see his unborn child dismembered in the womb. If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about the type of film this is, you might be in denial. After a slow build the action sets off and doesn’t relent, albeit at Vaughn’s pace (he’s no spring chicken) but that again feels as though it was designed to emulate the peers of its past, as does the violence and the concept. The weak-stomached should avoid, but those after a mindless couple of hours and an on-form Vaughn doing something different, look no further. A cult classic in the making.

7.5

 

Paranorman (2012)

Norman can see the dead, he often converses with ghosts and even plays with the spectres of dead animals run over in the street. As a result his small town has labelled him a freak and even his own family are embarrassed by him, but when he uncovers a witch’s plot to terrorise the town with an army of walking dead, he sets out to stop her at all costs. Although a decent watch, this is certainly the weakest of Laika’s line-up so far… that said I’ll be watching Coraline shortly and completing the set, so will keep you posted. Paranorman takes cues from the likes of the Goonies, Monster Squad and, more recently, Odd Thomas, all films of high quality so the narrative is something we can trust in, as is the animation, which as always is gorgeous. Where Norman fails where Boxtrolls and Kubo have succeeded is in its array of characters, who (aside from best friend, Neil, who gets all the best things to do!) all feel a little uninspired by comparison. That said, it’s good fun, and there is a lot to be said about the darkness of the themes Laika are unafraid to use. Gives them a real retro edge.

7

 

Atomic Blonde (2017)

So I remember posting my excitement after seeing the teaser trailer for Atomic Blonde earlier this year. Unfortunately the fight scene director David Leith uses to promote his WWII spy action thriller is never bettered and as such my anticipation only ever goes unsatisfied. In actuality, Atomic Blonde is a bit lustreless, slow and dry, which is disappointing from the John Wick co-helmer, who had style oozing from every pore of his original franchise. Perhaps it is something in the backdrop and the subdued greyscale of WWII Berlin playing a part, perhaps it is the needless timeline hopping (never a fan of a film that starts with someone recounting how they got to that place – removes any sense of peril for the majority of the film), perhaps it is the telegraph-able revelations. Whatever it is it doesn’t matter; the first error is the lack of regular action and by then the damage is done.

6

 

The Ghoul (2016)

Intriguing on paper but downright dull on screen. This British slow-burn burns a little too slow as we follow an undercover cop posing as a psychiatric patient to investigate the most unusual of murders. Acting is solid, direction a little too steady-cam at times, but above all the script seems deprived of character, of impetus and of clarity, making this a rather tough premise to chew, even after the (what should have been game-changing) third act has played out. Psychological thrillers that blur the lines between reality and imagination need to do so in a coherent manner, otherwise they baffle. They also need to be thrilling, so… nope.

5

 

Jungle (2017)

An enthralling true story of survival and yet another example of the ever-improving Australian film industry. Daniel Radcliffe does great as Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli backpacker who decides to follow a geologist into the Bolivian rainforest in search of lost tribes and adventure, only for their trek to grow increasingly challenging until eventually the group are separated and Yossi must struggle to find his way out of the jungle again. There has been some criticism of how Yossi’s mental fractures are portrayed, but these seem a little harsh. Of course there were mental obstacles to contend with but there were also physical threats and theses are handled very well indeed and make for a very watchable thriller, and haunting; be sure not to miss the hackle-raising final crawl before the credits begin to roll.

7

Super Dark Times

Justice League Dark (2017)

Another one off the conveyor belt of DC animated movies. JL Dark gathers the DCEU’s magic-centric anti-heroes and throws them together in a somewhat bland narrative that doesn’t really deliver anything new. Comparing this group of characters to the Justice League is a bit cheap, especially given they barely relate as a team throughout, some of them utterly wasted, turning up for a mere scene or two, adding ‘Justice League’ to the title in hindsight seems like a mere marketing ploy and an excuse to add Batman to the mix. Besides a pretty exciting action-horror sequence at a hospital at the midway point, the rest is forgettable, fleshing out none of the new characters nor adding new layers to existing. Action sequences lack punch due to vacant and static backgrounds and the idea that even these anti-heroes come round to the good side of the Force in the end is a bit off-point. Great for the kids, but not one for the fans at all.

6

 

Incendies (2010)

Before Denis Villeneuve made a name for himself with the likes of Prisoners and Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, he fashioned this outstanding drama about a brother and sister who, at the behest of their dead mother’s will, set out to locate the father and brother they didn’t know they had and deliver a letter to each of them. This takes them on a journey to the Middle East and also into their mother’s past, of which it becomes apparent they knew very little indeed. Told in parallel timelines, what starts as a fairly sedate tale gradually picks up in pace and intensity. Before you know it you’re barrelling along with these children, towards revelations with devastating ramifications for those impacted. To say anything other than this would be to give hints and Incendies is a film best watched knowing the basic premise and nothing more. I’m currently tracking back through Villeneuve’s CV and I’m yet to find a bad film on there.

Scratch that, I’m yet to find an average film on there. Brilliant.

9

 

Super Dark Times (2017)

After a tragic accident, a group of school kids are thrown into the quiet chaos of grief, paranoia and fear as they negotiate their final days at school. Not an obvious addition to the 80’s renaissance, Super Dark Times is delivered with a lot more subtlety, but boasts a decent soundtrack and a look that is comparable with War Games, which is saying something. This deeply engrossing drama/thriller is a fascinating study of trust and grief in the face of terrible circumstances. Director Kevin Phillips does an excellent job in his debut feature, building the most sinister of tensions, all the while juggling the human drama of high school life carrying on ignorant to the secret turmoil going on under the surface of a lowly few. Very interesting stuff and well worth a watch.

7.5

 

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Aubrey Plaza is cracking as an emotionally and mentally unstable stalker, obsessed with social media and the Instagram starlets it propels to the mainstream. Having inherited a small fortune from her dead relative, she ups stakes and heads to California to ‘befriend’ the latest object of her affection, Elizabeth Olsen. A decent watch this, if mainly for the performances. The narrative is standard lies-building-on-more-lies dark comedy, which at times is hilarious, but there’s something lacking here, perhaps a full character arc or a failure to go all the way dark, that left me a bit dissatisfied in the end. Funny, but so-so.

7

The Bar

Wheelman (2017)

Another month, another middle-of-the-road Netflix thriller. Wheelman should be applauded for at least trying something different, crossing Locke and Drive to create a heist thriller set almost entirely within the confines of the titular driver’s vehicle. The problem is this sort of works and sort of doesn’t. Frank Grillo is great in charging the drama, in constant conversation with various characters such as his contract man, his teenage daughter, his estranged wife, and the mysterious individual who tells him to leave the gunmen he has just delivered to a bank job and make a run with their take. It’s his charisma that carries the film forward and not the filmmaking gimmick, which seems like a nice attempt but too much of the action is lost because we are viewing it from inside the car. Points for trying.

7

 

Top of the Class

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

An absolute master class of cinema by Denis Villeneuve, who is untouchable at this point. All aspects of the production are at the top of their game and this might be the best film since the Dark Knight. Full review and score lies yonder.

 

On the Horizon: Loving, High Plains Drifter, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, First They Killed My Father, Very Bad Things, Jeepers Creepers 3, the Villainess, 1922, the Limehouse Golem, Coraline…

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