Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese (2019) - Movie Review

After looking at the Beyonce concert documentary, and thinking on and off this month about The Irishman, I feel like I need to give Martin Scorsese another look-over. With how much he’s dominated the larger conversation about where the cinema industry is going, and how vindicated his statements have grown in such a short time (the artistic quality of the MCU is still arguable, but its effect on the industry isn't), I don’t want my last thoughts about the man this decade to be filled with disappointment and a want to highlight what has made the man so enduringly fascinating as a storyteller. So let’s look at the other movie he made this year, a documentary about Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé (2019) - Movie Review


With how many new and returning faces have dotted the cinematic landscape over the past decade, pinning down any singular filmmaker as being the definitive artist of the 2010’s sounds like a headache and a half. In the realm of popular music, however, that question is far simpler. Sure, there are a few contenders for that crown on the pop stage like Taylor Swift, but none of them can hold a candle to the breadth of musical talent and utter ubiquity than one Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.

Her paradigm shift into becoming an album artist in 2013 somehow managed to upgrade her already-enviable place in the spotlight, pushing her beyond her girl group/showbiz upbringing origins and revealing her as one of pop’s most singular artists. But the moment that truly confirmed her place in pop history was her performance at Coachella 2018, the setting for Beyoncé’s step into the director’s chair to capture this truly important moment. And man, does she bring a whole new shine to the event.

Sorry We Missed You (2019) - Movie Review


The latest release from British working-class hero Ken Loach is a bleak offering. It’s a portrait of a family in the midst of financial and personal crisis, primarily through Kris Hitchen’s humbling turn as a father who has just started a job as a white van man delivering packages. It carries next-to-no flash and about as humdrum as a release can get these days, and yet it carries an emotional intensity that makes for one of the most crushing films of the year.

Monday, 30 December 2019

The House That Jack Built (2019) - Movie Review


I feel like a john when discussing movies like this. Movies where the main intent at its core is to shock people by any means necessary, in this case made by a man who has basically built an entire career out of playing edgelord for the arthouse crowd. While that methodology has at least brought Lars Von Trier to some actual dramatic engagement on occasion, and even his worst films show a level of effort that is the least I ask for from edgelords (nothing worse than someone trying to shock you while putting in zero effort whatsoever), the man’s status as provocateur makes watching his movies, particularly his most recent ones, feel like I’m just playing into his hand. And unfortunately, the same applies for this one.

The Report (2019) - Movie Review


Much like how Steven Soderbergh couldn’t restrain himself to a single film this year, his frequent collaborator Scott Z. Burns appears to be in the same mode as, along with writing Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, he has stepped back into the director’s chair to do some even more scouring of conspiratorial secrets, this time involving the United States government and their involvement in torturing suspected terrorists in the wake of 9/11. Strap yourself in for some pretty ugly ruminations because, much like the film itself, I’m not going to be holding anything back.

Her Smell (2019) - Movie Review


After how dirty Elisabeth Moss was done with The Kitchen, I was honestly wanting to check this film out mainly because she deserves better than having just that movie as her impact for 2019. And it seems that writer/producer/director Alex Ross Perry has given her a role she can really sink her teeth into, playing a riot grrrl punk rocker who, in expected rock star cinema fashion, crashes and burns under the weight of her shot at fame. Going from a role that outright wasted her talents to something that lets the entire production spin on the axis of her performance is very gratifying to see, and the film as a whole ain’t half bad either.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Extra Ordinary (2019) - Movie Review


Well, this is an odd one. Not just because this is an Irish horror-comedy that makes for one of the weirder entries in that genre hybrid I’ve seen in years, but because of the reception this film has already garnered. It is one of the many films of 2019 that has managed to snag a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a notion only made weirder when it sets in that there have been zero 0% ratings this year.

As someone who in the last couple years has actually started being listed on the website proper (not for these reviews, but for the ones on FilmInk… for now, at least), and who occasionally wonders if I like too many movies to be considered a credible critic (feel free to decide amongst yourselves which part of that statement is the most ridiculous), this seems off for one of the bigger touchstones of the industry I work in, not to mention intimidating to be looking at a movie that everyone else seems to like without caveat. Thankfully, while I don’t think it’s out-and-out brilliant, I can at least get how it would garner that much positive buzz.

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019) - Movie Review


Sometimes, the best pieces of art are the ones that keep things simple. Sure, I take great pleasure in watching and analysing films that have a lot going on, giving me ample opportunities to look at all the little pieces of the production and story and seeing how they all fit together. However, what can easily result from trying to aim for many things at once is missing all of them. Keeping a story’s scope narrower means that the filmmakers are able to focus on a singular notion, building on it so that it supports the entire production all on its own without the added garnish. I don’t usually vibe with films that are this low-key, but then again, not every low-key film I’ve reviewed is as stone-cold brilliant as this little number is.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) - Movie Review


The formula that made Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle work is so brain-crappingly simple, it’s still bizarre to think that the numerous video game-centric films to come before it hadn’t cracked it. It took one of the most common and innocuous aspects of video gaming, the act of playing as a pre-designed character, and used to deliver some of the best body-swap comedy I’ve ever seen. I still can’t get over that it featured Jack Black acting like a Valley Girl, a combination that should’ve soured me from the guy’s work forevermore, and still managed to bring out the belly laughs. And with its sequel, it doubles down on that same formula and manages to do even better.

Jojo Rabbit (2019) - Movie Review


In June of 2017, in-between being named New Zealander Of The Year and making Thor: Ragnarok, filmmaker Taika Waititi made this video in collaboration with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Waititi making something like this. A video so bursting with ironic social cringe, made by a creative who has built an entire career out of weaponising it, that its discomfort can make it difficult to watch. Being able to sell the message that even the smallest act of racism adds to the larger picture (basically the concept of micro-aggressions in a nutshell) is what immediately won me over that this is the guy who should make a fascist satire in a “you couldn’t make a Mel Brooks movie today” cultural climate. And thankfully, the man does not disappoint.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Cats (2019) [Yes, that one] - Movie Review


This really is the year that keeps proving me wrong in the worst possible ways, it seems. Back when I reviewed the Aladdin remake, I foolishly thought that that would be the worst it could get for instant audience scepticism that a film will be any good. And then in walks this little film, lighting the literate masses’ brains of fire with just how nightmarish it apparently is. It went beyond merely the marketing and went into the post-film conversation itself, not to mention the post-release conversation. I went into this expecting an unmitigated train wreck, the kind that makes for a delirious viewing experience… and admittedly, this is indeed a train wreck. But it’s not even the fun kind.

The Goldfinch (2019) - Movie Review


Films like this made me wish I read more books in my off-time. Not that I’m ashamed of my literary diet mainly consisting of comic books and articles written by my contemporaries, but in terms of literary adaptations, part of me thinks that I should incorporate reading the source material into my pre-viewing background routine. Admittedly, the reason why I don’t as a general rule is so I can more easily let a given film stand on its own merits, since the source material tends to be far superior than any adaptation of the work anyway. And yes, I’ve done the exact opposite for remakes and the like, but different medium, different rules, far as I’m concerned.

At any rate, in the case of this film, I started wondering about this because I genuinely don’t know how much of this film’s faults are to do with the adaptation or to do with the original book.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Brittany Runs A Marathon (2019) - Movie Review


Y’know, for someone who claims to have an entire life philosophy based on making people laugh, I am remarkably out of step with the modern comedy scene. I don’t watch a lot of TV, so I’m not seeing the sitcoms that get these actors their first major platform, and what passes for stand-up nowadays is a bit… well, try-hard. As I’ve said in the past, I’d be fine with the whole ‘safe space to decry safe spaces’ thing is people were at least a little self-aware about it, and it feels like too many are banking on outrage over actually being funny nowadays.

At any rate, between all of this, I find myself questioning why I keep seeing certain actors popping up in comedy films. Actors like Jillian Bell, a comedian I don’t have any experience with outside of the films I’ve reviewed, and someone who has never really made her case as a recurring comedic presence for me. Until now, that is.

Earthquake Bird (2019) - Movie Review


The latest feature from former gay porn director and current frontrunner for best queer filmmaker working today Wash Westmoreland certainly fits into his main oeuvre. It’s a psychosexual thriller about a Swedish expatriate in 1980’s Japan, played with simmering anguish by Alicia Vikander, one that is basically bisexual aesthetic on blast. As I got into earlier this month, we stan the Bisexual Bard in this house, and between his previous efforts Still Alice and Colette, I’ll admit to looking forward to this. Not sure if that was the best move, though.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Klaus (2019) - Movie Review


This film, an animated Netflix-exclusive release, is the product of an alternate reality. A reality as gleamed at by writer/director Sergio Pablos, an animator who assisted in some of Disney’s later Renaissance efforts and the man behind the source material for last year’s Smallfoot. It is a reality where, instead of CGI becoming the standard, traditional animation continued to be the norm. I am no nearly well-versed enough in multiverse theory to even attempt to figure out how to see this reality for myself, but if the films of that timeline looks half as good as this, then hot damn, we’ve been missing out.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (2019) - Movie Review


Well, so much for thinking that Joker would be the most contentious cinematic release of 2019. Sure, the reactions to this one haven’t been nearly as alarmist, but for a film at the centre of one of the largest-waged fan wars of the last decade… is it just me or is no-one vibing with this? People who saw Last Jedi as a healthy direction for the franchise aren’t happy with it, people who thought Last Jedi was a betrayal of the series aren’t happy with it, and looking at the critical response, it is currently the second-worst reviewed entry in the series, only 3% higher than The Phantom Menace.

Add to that how fucking exhausting the discourse has been around this entire series, and quite frankly, I was dreading having to watch this. And in fairness, I can definitely see where its detractors are coming from… but I can also see why there’s quite a bit to like about it as well.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Under The Silver Lake (2019) - Movie Review


The latest from It Follows writer/director David Robert Mitchell is… a tough one. Like, this is the kind of film designed to be looked at over the course of several months just to figure out what in the fresh hell is even going on. It’s a puzzle film, and like the best of its kind, all of the pieces are presented to the audience, even if it isn’t entirely obvious that what is being shown is part of the completed picture. After having to admit to my previous critical shortcomings a few times already this past month, I’m in the mood for some serious deep diving, so if the following review comes across like the desperate scribbles of a madman, not only is that likely accurate, it’s also fitting for the film itself to be analysed in this way.

The Nightingale (2019) - Movie Review


Much like with Ari Aster and Midsommar, this review is basically going to be me admitting that I severely underestimated the director on their previous work. Except I can’t even blame the density of the material this time around; I legit just wasn’t experienced enough in cinema to give Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook its fair due.

For the incredibly unconventional and confronting work it was, one that dealt with parenthood and depression in a way that truly blind-sided me on first viewing, it really took me a second viewing to properly get over what were ultimately some rather minor grievances with the film’s tone. Or, more accurately, my inability to understand the tone. And much like with Midsommar, I’m not leaving anything to chance now that I’m fully aware of what this director is capable of. And oh boy, is this one hell of a follow-up to one of the greatest horror flicks of the 2010’s.

Monday, 23 December 2019

High Life (2019) - Movie Review


Well, this is certainly a change of pace from what sci-fi space flicks have been lately. Writer/director Claire Denis’ first step into English-language cinema finds her looking at all the monumental idealism baked into features like Interstellar and The Martian, and questioning whether such things would really play out that way. The result of that is a very different, very moody, very fucking depressing take on the isolated-in-space thriller.

All Is True (2019) - Movie Review


After spending most of this decade adding his approach to period fidelity to a wide range of other literary adaptations, from the Arthurian tinges of Thor to the whodunit conservatism of Murder On The OrientExpress, filmmaker and thespian Kenneth Branagh has returned to his Shakespearean roots to direct and lead a production all about the man himself. Specifically, a story covering the last three years of the Bard’s life, from the destruction of the Globe Theatre to his untimely death.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Stockholm (2019) - Movie Review


Stockholm Syndrome, much like PSTD, schizophrenia and autism, is a term that has been so consistently overused in the popular consciousness that you’d be forgiven for completely forgetting what its original meaning even was. Hell, it even makes for one of the most under-discussed on the flip-side, both in actual psychiatric academia and in how there are far too many romantic films out there that require that condition to make any bloody sense, yet never get brought up in the narrative proper.

Considering all this, this film about the incident that gave the condition its popular name could serve as a refresher for those who use it too willingly to describe real-world scenarios today. Shame it doesn’t really turn out that way, or turn out much of any way by film’s end.

The Art Of Self-Defense (2019) - Movie Review


There are few things that can immediately bring out the fragility in a self-supposed alpha like daring to utter the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ in their presence. Bonus points if their rebuttal to the sheer idea of the concept involves some combination of ‘beta’, ‘cuck’ and ‘soy’.

Even as someone who has discussed the topic in past reviews, in particular my look at Only The Brave, I keep getting the feeling that there’s far too many out there unable to see or even comprehend the distinct between masculinity at its best and at its worst. For its best, the archetypal protector and provider has his place and as tempered by genuine human empathy and compassion, it remains a true showing of strength. For its worst… well, let’s get into this film.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Black Christmas (2019) - Movie Review


The original Black Christmas is one of the classic slashers, a film that helped mould the genre into what it remains to this day. It even has the prestige of being a slasher that influenced another seminal classic in the genre with Halloween, both operating with the same type of inhumane beast as the killer. Black X-Mas, the 2006 remake, went so far in missing the point of what made the original work that it devolved into a movie about killers who were brother and sister as well as father and daughter. No information right into all kinds of TMI; it really says something when it came out in the midst of the U.S. remakes of Japanese horror movie craze, and it still stands as one of the most misguided remakes of its time.

The Queen's Corgi (2019) - Movie Review


Oh, nWave Pictures; welcome back, old friend. Having covered two of this studio’s previous features, and considering their 2013 effort The House Of Magic was part of my rather formative initial year at this reviewing biz, I can make a pretty solid claim that they are one of the most unnecessary animation houses working today.

At their worst, they can provide aggressively annoying nonsense meant to placate kids, and even when they find their groove, they usually only end up shining when it comes to animating chase scenes. Everything else ends up in the realm of dead-eyed plastic (or, in the case of The Wild Life, dead-eyed pottery). With all this in mind, their latest is somewhat of a surprise, as it’s definitely a lot riskier than their usual. However, chasing that risk results in one of the most horrifically misguided ‘family’ films I’ve ever watched.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Mid90s (2019) - Movie Review


Coming-of-age stories seem to take on a more meta aspect once it sinks in that, over the last couple years, they’ve served as ample ground for actors to come of age in their own way and become filmmakers in their own. Greta Gerwig went out on the solo tip with Lady Bird, Bo Burnham struck gold with Eighth Grade, and Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart is one of the single best things she’s ever been attached to. And it seems that Jonah Hill, a figure at the nexus for the rises of filmmakers like Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, is stepping into the arena with his own take on when a kid starts to learn how to be an adult. And fucking hell, I don’t know what it says about me that this film appeals to me so damn much, but yeah, that’s what we get here.

True History Of The Kelly Gang (2019) - Movie Review


After bringing Shakespeare to the big screen with Macbeth, and delivering a much-maligned but still admirable attempt at video game adaptation with Assassin’s Creed, director Justin Kurzel has reunited with screenwriter Shaun Grant to once again step into Australia’s dark history to bring us a film about the quintessential Aussie legend: The outlaw Ned Kelly. The two have already proven their salt as a team with Snowtown, and Shaun Grant’s writing did a great service to the cultural hiding featured in Jasper Jones, and true to form, their efforts here make for a powerful piece of cinema.