02 Nov Fantana’s Film Roundup – October 2018
October. Halloween month. Some good horror abounded and some not-so-good horror snuck in there too, but the scariest thing about this month was the worst film I’ve ever seen that found me, stalked me like a lumbering zombie, waiting for me trip up before it slumped on top and sunk it’s awful, amateur teeth in. Truly horrific.
Fear the Walking Dead – Season 4 (2018)
Whose fault it lies with is by the by, the fact remains Fear the Walking Dead… is dead. Gone are the original characters that made it so refreshing; gone are their original outlooks, mind-sets and conversations; gone are their innovations. Gone is that vibrant, west coast, orange-saturated hue that set it apart from its eastern cousin so distinctively; gone are their contrasting locations and supporting characters.
In its place we have… the Walking Dead! We have depressing grey-blue filters and Morgan and facsimile conversation pinched straight out of the original show and comic book villains. We have wiped-clean versions of any characters that survived the Fear genocide, re-programmed and re-packaged into Rick’s gang-a-likes, ready for integration should the time come.
As per their usual bad habits, logic is inexplicable, the strongest characters are the ones that die first and the ones that remain are barely worth giving a shit about, dialogue is trite, cheesy and forced. Characters talk when they should shoot and shoot when they should talk, without reason, without sense. Forced. Forced from top to bottom. These are the things seasons 1 through 3 avoided. Shit felt real, and now…
There’s a consistent level of quality still at play here, but that’s not what Fear was about. Fear carved its own path, with infinitely more interesting characters just waiting for an awesome defining story arc. Opportunity lost. There is far too much quality television elsewhere to explore rather than spend any more time following this repetitive bore-fest. I’m done. What a waste.
Grizzly Man (2005)
As a documentary this is quite interesting but also quite unintentionally humorous, and I think the latter owes to the character of Timothy Treadwell, who was just a bizarre individual, not without issues. I wouldn’t go so far as to say engrossing but it was fascinating to see the various opinions on Treadwell and what he was doing – spending over a decade in Alaskan national preserves, living among bears – many of whom thought he crossed a line, and also the unsympathetic view the film takes against him. Something I agree with having seen a lot of his footage. An interesting portrait but one I was not on side with.
The River Wild (1994)
Remember this being much better in my youth but on repeat the only things that stand up are the performances of Streep, Bacon and Strathairn, and the photography, which is far and away the greatest aspect of the movie. Some of the shots are simply gorgeous, some of the best photography committed to screen. The plot is okay but slow to get going; the characters are okay but, particularly the villains, switch too drastically in demeanour, tone and morals to feel real; the peril seems missing more often than not. It looks good, it looks amazing! And this carries it quite a long way alone, but overall it sorely lacks in almost every other aspect.
A Most Wanted Man (2014)
With the emphasis of this John Le Carre adaptation predominantly on quiet, pensive realism over all-out espionage action, the risk here is that the subject matter gets a little dry and attention starts to waver. And it does. But where other brooding counter terrorism dramas may not recover, A Most Wanted Man has the cast to do so. And it does. Hoffman, McAdams, and Dafoe in particular are impressive. The plot gets a boost in the second half that carries through to the frustrating end but it all feels consistent with the tone Anton Corbijn – and Le Carre – are going for.
Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)
Feels a little odd how segregated the Ant-man movies have been from the rest of the MCU chronology, odder still that it is apparently set before the events of Infinity War. Feels slightly disruptive to the perfect road map they had maintained thus far, even when you consider the mid-credits stinger. The opener feels like a post-credits scene they couldn’t allocate elsewhere and there is a slight disjointed feel to it when considering it part of the bigger picture. As a self-contained duology™ it is perfectly serviceable in the action stakes but far superior and at home in the comedy section. Some of the laughs are out loud fare as both Rudd and Peña compete for show-stealing bragging rights. The comedy elevates this sequel to something more than average – without it, this would not sit so tall. Good to see the MCU embracing the laughs but would love to see these characters serve a greater purpose at some point… otherwise it would feel more apt to put them amongst Daredevil and company over on Netflix.
Ant-man and the Wasp
Black ‘47 (2018)
A western set in Ireland in the midst of the Potato Famine. An unexpected setting for a revenge thriller but Black ’47 largely pulls it off. I haven’t seen James Frecheville since the outstanding Animal Kingdom, but yet again he brings a quiet brooding presence to the proceedings, albeit ill-defined. Once he sets off on his quest for justice, following the death of his brother and family, there isn’t enough exploration of him to get behind. Instead we’re rooting for his brand of justice and the ruthlessness with which he enacts it, but that also feels ill defined. A violent film but much of the violence is depicted off screen, which feels like a decision of class over anything else, but when you follow Hold the Dark, it’s is just not the same. That said, there is plenty to be provoked by, with director Lance Daly often showing us the aftermath of the aforementioned wrath. What he has done on a budget is very commendable, there’s nothing more fun than a manhunt movie and this hunting party is constructed of a watchable array of characters. There’s some decent action and the character chemistry adds a lot. It’s just a bit predictable to shoot such an era in drab greys and bleached whites.
Makes me think of the Walking Dead…. I don’t want to think about the Walking Dead.
Not quite the horror movie I was expecting but that’s not to say it was a disappointment. Anna has been raised in captivity by genre stalwart Brad Dourif – chewing up the scenery – but finds herself in adolescence brought back into civilisation and far from the supernatural threats Brad was ‘protecting’ her from in the forest. But is she free of them? Ooooh. Low-budget and you can tell but first time director Fritz Böhm wrings enough out of the story to make the visual blemishes forgivable, especially with some of the aesthetic achievements made on a shoestring (the final 10 minutes are well worthy). Where it needs improvement is the script, which feels stripped a little too bare, at times it ignores obvious dialogue in order to preserve its own secrets and that doesn’t go unnoticed, certainly not when the simplest questions are the ones going unanswered. There’s also the biological impossibilities of the third act that seem to be put in place for the sake of adding new stakes to the thrills and this really frustrates. But the cast commits so overall it ain’t half bad.
Lake Bodom (2016)
Halloween Special – Week 1 A Finnish slasher that subverts the tropes of the genre and twists on a dime halfway through, transforming it into another kind of horror altogether. Think Friday the 13th meets Wrong Turn, Halloween meets Death Proof. It’s an interesting combo that could easily be taken as jarring and uneven, but I enjoyed the freshen-up this movie gave the genre. The first act is standard stuff, the third feels rushed and incomplete, but the second is really interesting and makes the whole thing worth it.
Ozark – Season 2 (2018)
There’s a scene, no, there’s a shot, early on in season 2 of Ozark, episode one or two, directed by Jason Bateman, where the camera starts half a mile away from a speedboat whizzing across a huge lake, the conversation of the couple on board playing out for us to hear. Quickly, fluidly, the shot closes in on the boat, low, close to the water. The shot goes on for what feels like two straight minutes, creeping in on the boat, closer and closer, to the point we are gliding above it, watching Laura Linney and her associate discuss strategy and politics, before releasing them again, holding our position and watching them zip off across the rippling water.
It’s one of the most outstanding shots I’ve ever seen. The kind of quality you rarely, RARELY find on Netflix. But this is one of their own, one of the Originals. And it is good. Character arcs unfold in this season that overthrow everything from the previous season… Ballers hasn’t managed this in four seasons. Several characters bite the dust in exciting and excruciating ways, but in each and every case it was a character who had overstayed their welcome; Ozark kept the good ones. They kept the good ones. Walking Dead has been killing their most interesting characters for years now. Years!
This is TV done well. This is exciting, cinema-worthy television. This is the filler for the Breaking Bad-sized hole in your life. Get involved.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
Robin Williams finds his son dead and in a most compromising position and so stages a suicide, writes an apt note and watches his little web of lies explode. His quasi-girlfriend is impossible to read and only become more so with the introduction of the lies; his competition for her affections is equally as ambiguous, seeming to relish rubbing Robin’s face in it, or is he? Perhaps not quite. We’re never quite sure and the problem is that it all feels too unremarkable to get me to care about clarity. Some of the comedy is decent – the haiku class is a great joke – but the satire of it all feels a bit too forced and lacking in empathy.
Road Games (2015)
The relevance of the name is a bit lost on me, as most of this thriller takes place in and around a French stately home; there are very few road games at play beside the urban legends discussed throughout. That aside this is a fun little ride that has some nice ideas even if they are predictable. In fairness you have to be pretty damn inventive these days to do anything remotely surprising, but the clunkiness of the script means that characters feel unnatural for the sake of preserving the film’s secret, which can only give rise to criticism. It’s shot well, and the French acting talent is standout against some mediocre English-speaking thespians. It has a nicely retro soundtrack and a self-contained feel to it and the vistas are gorgeous, but how this is marketed as a horror is beyond me.
The Rider (2017)
Docu-style films aren’t really my bag, I much prefer a defined script and some stylisation, but I do love Westerns and the parts of the world they are set in, so this one was hit and miss for me. The story would make a great sub-plot on Yellowstone and as a drama it also works. There’s a real sense of authenticity at play here and I don’t know if it is genuine or just good acting, but it doesn’t go un-appreciated. The cinematography is up there with some of 2017’s best but the improv-style delivery requires a little too much patience. Having looked into this a little, none of the actors are, in fact, actors, the lead family all actual son, father and sister, which makes sense. To get this kind of display out of non-professional actors is commendable, but as the first half of this review suggests, it definitely takes something away from the drama and one need only look at a couple of the more emotive scenes to see where a professional could have given more to the scene. That said there’s much to be admired in the factual elements of Brady and his family.
Eighth Grade (2018)
How much easier would it be if we could all go back in time and tell our younger selves to just fucking relax! While I can’t personally relate to any of the anxieties and issues Elsie Fisher’s Kayla Day experiences, I had my fair share of uncertainties in school. I’ve also seen enough teen angst movies to get the gist. This is a slightly different take on familiar territory as, in Kayla, we have a protagonist with a flaw that is rarely explored, particularly not at place in the Age of Information. There’s a really powerful scene at the end of the second act where she posts her final YouTube video that epitomises the issue this film addresses and, having become a new parent myself, is quite terrifying. Terrifying to think how powerless parents can feel and how teenagers can feel, when all it takes to overcome their problems is a little encouragement. It’s a sad film, it made me sad. Sad and worried. I didn’t love it but it was nice.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Can’t see them coming any more bizarre than this and I’m not even 100% sure I liked it. It interested me then let me go, then hooked me in again, then lost me, then went off the rails and I feel like the last half hour was watched out of curiosity rather than anything else. I get the originality angle, but it also left me thinking that all it takes to make an original film these days is invent an alternate reality and do whatever the hell you want in it…!
Honestly just watch this one for yourself and form your own opinion. Personally I though the performances were great, the cinematography was great, the allegories were heavy handed and the plot as mad as table of hatters. I don’t know.
Killing Eve – Season 1 (2018)
After the humdrum fare of Bodyguard, the BBC deliver something of much finer quality. Sandra Oh plays the titular MI5 agent, unhappy with her desk-based existence. Enter Villanelle, an enigmatic contract killer with a proficiency for charming the socks off of anyone who crosses her path, including Eve and including us, the audience. Jodie Comer delivers a career-best performance as the eccentric assassin, hilarious in her little mannerisms and habits, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see the Bridge’s Kim Bodnia back on our screens – sorely missed he has been. The show is equal parts thrilling and hilarious, the comedy elements are balanced to perfection and the cast of characters all contribute in individual ways. The pace is quick and punchy and cliffhangers are exactly that. All in all this is the best BBC drama to grace our screens in a long wee while.
Snake Eyes (1998)
Felt like experiencing that opening 20 minute shot one more time and stayed on for the whole thing. Looking back on what is probably now known to Nicholas Cage as ‘the salad days’, it’s pretty fair to say he didn’t bring much to the table here, giving us the cutting room floor version of Castor Troy. 2 mins in he screams into a live TV camera “Raaaoww, I’m Ricky!”, but never fulfils the bravado or arrogance such a display implies. And the buck doesn’t stop there as Gary Sinise delivers a cardboard cut-out of himself and Stan Shaw shows us how to pantomime a faint with all the finesse of a drunken donkey; only Carla Gugino walks away with any credit. Despite that though, the plot is intricate and fun to follow. I’d live without the first person viewpoints throughout but that’s a personal preference. Ricky Santoro’s story arc is rounded and rewarding and it all looks rather nice. So it ain’t all bad.
Red, White & Blue (2010)
Picked this up as part of Halloween month, but it isn’t strictly a horror. A lot of this is straight up drama, splitting the narrative between three self-destructive individuals as their lives intertwine in horribly bleak ways. As we progress from act to act, the drama amps in kind and before we know it the genre shifts to something more akin to thriller and again into a most horrific finale. Hats off to director Simon Rumley here as he never show us more than he has to but still manages to sicken and provoke. At times quiet, at times in danger of losing my attention, but the final scenes will be burned in my memory for a while yet.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Letterboxd tells me this is the 3,000th new film I’ve ever seen, so I’m pretty chuffed at this because, despite a tendency to go against the grain when something’s been overhyped, Princess Mononoke is the best anime I’ve seen in close to a decade! Okay, okay, Your Name. still holds that accolade but this is a respectable second, depicting a great level of fantasy that proves you don’t need to go epic to do great things. The character and creature design is simple and effective, and the same could be said of the story, with each of the forefront characters given their own arcs and creating shades of grey between good and evil long before most of us had heard of George R R Martin. And the plot and script are largely devoid of the standard convolution of your typical anime translation. As far as anime goes it has a long way to go to being ‘beautiful’ (Your Name. and the Garden of Words will forever put all others to shame in that respect), but it has a vision and an identity all its own and I’m glad that a film so identifiable can be marked as such a milestone in my viewing history.
Halloween Special – Week 2 Anyone with Netflix will have heard of this period thriller about a man (Dan Stevens) who travels to a remote island to infiltrate an idyllic cult community and recover his sister. From the Raid’s Gareth Evans, the horror element isn’t profuse but when it does rear it is executed effectively. There’s a Wicker Man-like discomfort that permeates from start to finish, creating general unease well, and when action and gore crop up – and in the second half there is plenty of both – you know instantly who is behind the camera. Stevens channels Legion here as a fidgety opiate addict and Sheen does cult leader very well. The vision is vivid – with some cracking set design – but one can’t help but wish for another half hour wherein certain characters and plot devices are given depth and texture. But it looks and feels suitably dread-drenched and definitely resides in the upper echelons of the Netflix Originals.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
I’m unfamiliar with the work of Noah Baumbach, until now I have only known him by reputation on forums such as Letterboxd and IMDb. This, my first foray, was a mixed bag of laughing at his style of comedy, being charmed by the intimate moments he creates – if the first 15 minutes of this had been the last 15, I would have probably been in floods – and being unnerved by the jumpy, jerky nature of the stories contained in these two hours. Like a series of vignettes centring round this eccentric family, some of them work and others do not. As a whole it feels disjointed but I was very impressed by the performances of Sandler, Stiller, Marvel and Grace Van Patten. I liked its tone and its characters but not it’s editing or structure, not my bag. If Baumbach’s work is consistently like this I’ll have a very unusual viewing relationship with the man…
Watchmen: the Director’s Cut
I’ve seen a few films like this now. Open Windows comes closest to this but Cyberbully also bears strong similarities before you delve into the trough of horror that have destroyed the style before it even gets going.
With so many others coming before it, it’s difficult to consider Searching as original, but it comfortably eclipses all those others in this pocket of the thriller genre and that is due to a few factors. #1: John Cho. Carries the weight of this ride on his shoulders capably and charismatically. #2: Product placement. Not usually something that works in a film’s favour but having Google, Apple, Microsoft et al. all on its side makes this an authentic, relatable experience. #3: Commitment to its rules. There are only a couple of instances where the film devolves into uncharted territory (eg. the journey to the lake seen through a SATNAV) but even then it maintains its style without sacrificing logistics (see Chronicle for an example of a film bending the rules). #4: Emotional beats. Absolutely charged, particularly at either end with the Up-like introduction and the simple-yet-effective score.
I’d like to say the twists were a 5th point, however I called a lot of the plot developments throughout, but that didn’t sour my enjoyment. The story is a windy one so if anything it gifted a sense of achievement…. I did call it though. 😉
More of this new cel-shaded anime that Netflix is touting. After the mediocrity of Godzilla: Monster Planet, the streaming service had a lot of making up to do and in truth it manages to save some face. Despite some tedious and mediocre downtime in between, there are many tense and exciting sequences throughout, channelling shades of Aliens and the Matrix. It’s clearly derivative but it looks the part. The animation is sumptuous and fluid, but the overall design feels a little lacking in variety. The colour palette a bit samey, the characters a bit samey, some seem like the same design only with a different hairstyle. It’s far too difficult to differentiate between them at times, especially when none of them have an individual personality or voice. The concepts are great, the tech, the environment, the monsters. But even all of the above are lacking in variety and there is nowhere near enough character differentiation for a story such as this. It just serves to upset the mood and tone throughout. Just a little comic relief, sarcasm or pessimism, a coward or a leader, would have added balance, but instead it’s the same anime archetypes, all of whom are too understated with no standouts. The animation really makes up for a lot, as does its influences, which happen to be two of my favourite films of all time, so that does it some favours.
Despite its breezy, self-contained nature, this time-travel thriller isn’t without excess. Superfluous nudity and questions of logic, however, do not detract from the positives and Karra Elejalde as an everyman caught in a vicious time cycle is not your usual hero. Like watching your cynical uncle be mistaken for James Bond. Without scrutinising too deeply – which is what you do with time travel, isn’t it – the majority of it sticks to its own rules and the resolution is as satisfying as it is dark. Fun to watch and piece together even if some of the timing is a bit suspect.
Classic of the Month In the league of ‘90s crime thrillers this probably sits mid-to-top table, just outside the top six but definitely knocking on the door. Like Everton.
Friedkin doesn’t shirk on the gore and the graphic here – the opening crime scene is surprisingly horrific – and the plot balances well between procedural and personal, frequently revisiting the relationship between David Caruso’s lead investigator and Linda Fiorentino’s estranged lover-cum-suspect. There’s a fun car chase in the middle and a real sense of the sleazy throughout. What lets it down is the repeated issue I have with Friedkin’s editing and Caruso’s lack of leading man chops. But both detractors pull it down lower than it deserves.
Before Midnight (2013)
Having loved Sunrise and enjoyed Sunset, although not in the same way, I was eager to see which of the two previous iterations this final chapter might resemble. But it resembles neither. Ten years have passed and Jesse and Celine are long past the passion of their first encounter and the flirtation of their second. Now they are steeped in the angst of a ten year marriage. Kids, doubts, contradictions, criticisms have all set in and now these drawn-out conversations we’re used to seeing between these two are laced with bitterness. It’s not as fun as its predecessors but it keeps with its habit of maintaining realism and the conversations, as any penned by Linklater, are engrossing, engaging and watchable. This trilogy as a whole spans some twenty odd years and two countries, yet it still manages to feel quite small and self-contained and entirely accomplished. As a triptych it’s a 9 or a 10, but broken down to the sum of its parts, it feels diluted.
Once Were Warriors (1994)
After hearing so much about this film and its power over the years, I was excited to finally experience it, but if I’m honest it was all a little bizarre. The drama and the cultural elements are heavy but every now and again the film devolves from gritty real issues into outright musical…! The effect is jarring and very, very odd. The acting is similarly mixed, quite woeful in parts, most often the lighter scenes, the mother’s wistful hope-filled monologues, it verges on soap acting at times, only for some powerhouse emotional beats to follow. It’s a very unusual mix as several themes and scenes are the epitome of darkness, and these are utterly compelling. Warriors embraces the darkness. Gets it right. The rest of it just feels entirely out of place and half-arsed.
Over the Garden Wall – Miniseries (2014)
A miniseries from the Cartoon Network, this ten-parter follows Wort and Greg, two brothers who find themselves in some kind of Wonderland-Narnia-Oz hybrid land searching for a way home through a number of gothic and surreal situations. Accompanied by a frog and a sarcastic bluebird, the brothers encounter some real darkness on their travels, reminiscent of those ‘80s cartoons we all know and love for their willingness to challenge and frighten children. The middle three or four episodes dip a little but the bookends on either side are filled with memorable and creative characters and scenarios, the writing is top notch with an abundance of punch and snap, and the creative team do a great job of making every episode appear not as it seems. Very clever.
Watchmen: the Director’s Cut (2009)
Oh if this had been directed by anyone else. On first viewing I found much to love, but my deteriorated appreciation for Zack Snyder’s style has played a part in this second viewing. The story, the writing, is incredible, much helped on by the source material, whatever Alan Moore might say, but the inserts, the Vietnam segments, the New York riots, the inter-movie vignettes covering backstories and contextual references, carry too much of that obvious green screen feel that follows Snyder around like a bad smell. It’s funny because the live action sets and scenes are impeccable, if only that level of detail could have been transferred to the oh-so-obvious sets. Why a shot of Manhattan needs to be achieved via CGI is beyond me!
Of the new scenes I’m largely oblivious having only seen this once before, but nothing disrupted the flow except for one segment, where a gang of topknots decide to attack and kill one of the retired heroes. The attack itself is fine, well-choreographed and quite unnecessary, however it is the preceding scene where the gang makes the decision. The acting and script is downright atrocious. Shockingly bad. Like Snyder dropped a concrete barricade onto train tracks.
The mystery itself seems to unravel fairly quickly in the final third, after two thirds of character and world building. Perhaps this is Moore’s issue because I certainly found some irritation in it. More noir in this superhero noir. As an event movie it’s too highbrow; as a thought-invoking neo noir it is sorely gaudy and overexposed. I enjoyed it for the things it does right but grew impatient with its unnecessary creative decisions. My fingers remain crossed for HBO to work their magic on this and produce the Watchmen this almost was.
Police State (2017)
I’d been looking forward to this since halfway through 2016. My intrigue was entirely based on the poster and the tagline and the fact it was touted as a sci-fi, action, adventure. Zero promotion and even Letterboxd doesn’t have many details to go on, however I found this wallowing in the depths of Amazon Prime.
Here are my stream of conscious thoughts as I watched…. Main guy is appalling. Appalling. I could start acting tomorrow if this is the acceptable standard these days… Nauseating camera work. Not shaky cam, not handheld, something far worse… Jumps into a doomsday/conspiracy/I’m-not-too-sure-what plot with absolutely no explanation, progression or development… Jumps from scene to scene inexplicably, missing out whole scenes of development… Director’s mates found some shockingly bad police uniforms and decided to join in… Black woman going “mm-hmm”, Christ!… No transitions of any kind, no lighting of any kind, no sound effects of any kind… Gunshots sound like cap guns… No set design of any kind… The main character’s shoes are two or three sizes too big, his hair changes length, style AND colour with each passing scene. Never seen a film where the time between shoots was clear as day… Misrepresents mental illness to offensive levels… Characters just appear!… Slow mo pigeons… Every single contextual element was either cut or not filmed at all. Shit just… happens. No explanation. No transition… I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the director did every single job outside of the acting on this piece of shit… The first shot is a top-down view of Manhattan. And I think the budget was blown right there. The rest of this is outstandingly bad.
I would love to say there was a good film in here somewhere struggling to find it’s way out, but there isn’t. None of it makes sense and is compounded by Chris Riggi’s APPALLING acting. Eyebrows jumping all over the place, zero consistency in look or behaviour. It felt like a practical joke. By far the worst film I have ever seen. Makes the Room seem like a masterpiece. Like a bad improv class were given a camera and a one-sentence idea to play with. Utterly shocking. How did this see the light of day? Only saving grace is a runtime of 72 minutes.
My jaw is still on the floor.
Blood Fest (2018)
Halloween Special – Week 3 As a horror it is pretty poor, it pulls its punches, delivering unsatisfying gore and zero scares. As a tongue in cheek, comedy it makes up in part, with Cabin in the Woods-like meta commentary on the genre and its rules. Kinda fun but by no means a horror. Doesn’t achieve what the likes of Better Watch Out due to its own stupidity but Jacob Batalon (Spiderman: Homecoming) really saves it face in some consistent scene stealing.
Also, for a film with a sold out park full of victims, where are all the damn people?!
Having read the book some time ago I was keen to see how a film adaptation might look. It’s a mixed bag. Where Ben Foster does great bringing life to the character of Roy, Elle Fanning seems slightly miscast as Rocky. She already looks young so to play a prostitute that frequently puts on ‘the young’ act, is a little disconcerting. The film looks great, looks as I expected, looks desperate, equally ugly and beautiful. I expected violence and we do get it, but I’d have thought more graphic would suit the tone and feel of the movie. It’s a worthy adaptation and falls in with the likes of Sweet Virginia and Bad Day for the Cut as a second tier neo noir; lacking a little charisma but doing the underdog proud.
The Cry – Miniseries (2018)
The BBC are really smashing it in 2018 and it’s good to see them condense a narrative into a more digestible size of four episodes (looking at you, Bodyguard) for a change. As a fairly new father it also hits home a little to watch events here unfold, when a couple lose their baby son after wandering into an Australian supermarket for a couple of minutes, and the subsequent fingers that get pointed and the media circus that soon follows. It’s harrowing. Jenna Coleman does an amazing job in conveying both the stress of a struggling mother followed by the guilt of a grieving one. The narrative jumps in time quite frivolously but quickly makes sense of itself and identifies its threads to the viewer. After seeing him first in Top of the Lake: China Girl, Ewen Leslie also continues his good work. And I just love to look at the Australian country, so this was just moreish drama for me.
North by Northwest (1959)
Finally getting round to this. A neat concept and one that is borrowed from frequently today, with snatches of iconic scenes and dialogue I’ve only ever seen sampled elsewhere. Fun to finally see all the pieces in context. The overriding thoughts here were “not very Hitchcockian” and “Cary Grant ain’t that great”. True enough the set up feels like the makings of a tense ride, but come the second act train sequence it’s all gone a bit flaccid and tongue-in-cheek. Silly and unbalanced. Assassins throwing knives with pinpoint accuracy across busy lobbies and Grant conveniently plucking said knife from the victims back, stood next to a photographer ready to snap… that was a joke, right? The exchanges at times feel like they should be comedy but I’m really not sure, interspersed with amazing scenes such as the crop duster and Rushmore sequences. Grant himself has one expression from start to finish. It’s frustrating to watch given the range of dilemmas and plot developments the character of Roger Thornhill goes through. And the information dumps are heavy handed and compressed into too short a time. Some of the dialogue is fantastic then can switch on a dime to the kind of clunk that would not be accepted today. I don’t see why this should get a pass. The end result is a great idea caught up in an uneven execution.
Ballers – Season 4 (2018)
Let’s be honest, this show has never been better than this;
The conflict that was largely absent from Season 3 makes itself known a little more this go round, but millionaires worrying about multi-million deals falling apart isn’t my idea of conflict. Entourage put Vince’s entire career on the line, his reputation as an actor, his success. Spencer’s biggest problems are bad partners and the inability to close. It’s not quite the same. Of the support characters, the problem is largely the same. “Ooh I didn’t get that £10M contract with the LA Rams but I’ve got £20M in the bank so it’s all gooooood!” How about bankruptcy? How about a lawsuit? Something threatening, something big. It all feels too samey season after season, and if this is an accurate depiction of the NFL behind the scenes, where players only play for the green and absolutely no love for the game, that’s also pretty disgusting. Looks good, feels good, possesses good characters, but right now this show is on repeat. And that is a dull thing.
The Incredibles 2 (2018)
The first has been my favourite Pixar for a long time now so anticipation was high for the sequel. It looks outstanding, characters have been tweaked but remain consistent with their previous designs; textures and rendering is a much welcome improvement; set design and backdrops are much richer and doused with detail; direction is dynamic and worthy of the superhero genre. Visually it’s spectacular. The narrative is familiar, flipping the focal point to Elastigirl instead of Mr. Incredible and essentially giving her the same plot. Writing is solid but the repetition niggles. What also niggles is the sparsity of the villain and the predictability of their particular plot point. I called it fairly early on but just wanted a villain for the family to battle rather than a plot to foil. Heroes are only as good as their villains, so when there is no antithesis of Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, et al, it feels like an empty space. That said the sheer dynamism on display here is captivating, there are plenty of new heroes to get familiar with, the Violet sub-plot is fun and interesting and the Jack-Jack scenes are gold, each and every one.
The Collector (2009)
Halloween Special – Week 4 Or ‘Home Alone 10: Kevin’s Revenge’, where we see Kevin McAllister grow up to become a psychopathic killer who invades people’s homes, takes them prisoner, tortures them and rigs the place with dozens of booby traps to prevent escape! In a nutshell that is the premise of the titular monster in this horror-thriller that sees a burglar stumble upon the worst home invasion imaginable. The direction and editing make it overly jumpy and even a little amateur in the first act, framing, and sudden character introductions don’t work at all, and even some of the acting is surprisingly bad given a couple of recognisable faces on the cast list. The concept and its timeline are also greatly implausible and downright unnecessary; why does a man who has captured an entire family need to still rig the house with traps exactly? Those looming questions aside, this is actually quite a decent horror, not shirking on gore or darkness, and the way it subverts predictability with the introduction of a presence – the burglar – that our monster is never one step ahead of is something different and makes for an interesting dynamic.
Manhunt: Unabomber – Limited Series (2017)
Only thing I don’t like about it is the ’80s fades at the end of scenes. That’s my criticism. Okay it doesn’t have the dynamism of certain shows, there aren’t any chases or fights or shootouts. But there’s punchy dialogue, there’s great pace, there’s a tragically-flawed lead and a challenging antagonist, there’s Sam Worthington actually acting! There’s great imagery and a finale that doesn’t encumber the pace. It’s a self-contained story, as going forward this will be an anthology series, if indeed it goes forward. Great production values, great drama, magnetic cast. Lots of thumbs up.
Halloween Special – Bonus Screening A very arty horror-drama with an impressive central turn by Sean Harris as a haunted man child with a shady past, channelling the horrors that have haunted him through a monstrous arachnid puppet. Quite a jarring exercise this. The run time is short – hour, twenty – but the first 60 minutes are symbolism and shrieking soundtrack that bends over backwards to disarm, and it works on some level, skirting fairly close to annoying. The last 20 minutes are where the heart of the story lies and is indeed the most engrossing. A lot of what comes before doesn’t make enough sense and feels more obscure than interpretive. The puppet also dallies between genuinely disturbing and laughable, but that owes to the budget, which shouldn’t be laughed at, as the filmmakers deliver a descent allegorical horror on a pittance, elevating Harris to new realms of execution. It also features the most disturbing nursery rhyme since the Babadook.
Hold the Dark
Castle Rock – Season 1 (2018) (Year)
Yet another show that thinks it needs ten episodes when six-to-eight would suffice. This takes way too long to get going, with the troughs lasting three or four episodes between the peaks. This is actually an okay horror-drama at the end of the day with some outstanding scenes in the later episodes, but it is bogged down by some needless filler of inane chatter, characters that could have been so much more but come and go within and episode and a half, and questions (central fundamental questions) that go unanswered. Great cast and the cinematography is dynamite at times but meanders too much for a ten-episode piece. The next entry in this anthology should learn a lesson and get sharper or denser, but it needs to use the time it is given to the fullest.
Top of the Class
Hold the Dark (2018)
If this is a sign of the tide turning in respect to the quality of Netflix films, they really need to think about concurrent cinematic releases because that is where Hold the Dark belongs. Narrative aside for a moment, this film is gorgeous, brought to bleak and terrifying life in all its remote and ominous glory, married to a haunting score that is a perfect fit. Alaska looks cold, lonely, bleak and dangerous, but Jeremy Saulnier has me itching to near kill myself trudging through its arctic wastes. And that’s just how it looks, the cinematography is possibly the best of the year for me, but Hold the Dark succeeds in every department.
The characters are varied and flawed. Wright’s pensive and morose tracker the focal point, surrounded by depression (Keough), uncertainty (Badge Dale) and rage (Skarsgård). There is no optimism on hand here, and that’s fine, that is this place, where the sun rises at 10 and sets at 3. The plot does not go where expected and a heavy development blow is dealt before the first act is out that gives it new direction, but that’s a good thing. To skirt around the expected, the generic. The script is loaded with tension and hatred, absolutely loaded, and once Skarsgård lands the violence quota abruptly leaps off the charts. This is Saulnier’s bread and butter. He does it so well and has promptly fixed himself to the top of my new-directors-to-watch list, a place previously occupied by the likes of Fincher, Villeneuve and Nolan.
Hold the Dark evokes the epic scope of something Taylor Sheridan might put out there, only less direct and more interpretational. It’s visually gratifying and tonally challenging, raises questions and just gives you barely enough to try and form your own answers, but boy it doesn’t give its clues freely. And why should it? A film that makes you work for it and commands respect as a result. Up there with the very best of the year effortlessly.
Didn’t Finish: Ironfist – Season 1 (2018) (4/10)
On the Horizon: Somersault, Australia Day, Backbeat, Racer and the Jailbird, the Evil Within, the Act of Killing, Suspiria, 22 July, Operation Finale, Howl’s Moving Castle, Made, Four Lions…