Friday 31 December 2021

No Sudden Move (2021) - Movie Review

And now, for the other Steven Soderbergh feature from this year, and indeed my last proper review of 2021. After how far outside the margins he went with Let Them All Talk, I’ll admit to being somewhat relieved that we’re back in more familiar territory this time around. A crime drama set in mid-‘50s Detroit, it starts out as a small-scale hostage thriller, but ends up ballooning out into a much deeper conspiracy involving industrial espionage and (as is usually the case with Soderbergh) a look at capitalism’s lack of ethics.

Let Them All Talk (2021) - Movie Review

While there are certainly filmmakers out there that I personally like more, I have difficulty thinking of a filmmaker who outright fascinates me as much as Steven Soderbergh. His prolific and endlessly flexible body of work, his revolutionary approach to the art form and the industry that dominates it, his consistent championing of low-budget independent filmmaking; I have all kinds of respect for the man as an artist. So I figured it would be fitting to close out my reviews for 2021 with a double-feature of the man’s most recent films, starting with this little curio of a feature.

Thursday 30 December 2021

West Side Story (2021) - Movie Review

The 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, let alone musical films. And while I definitely get everything that makes it so memorable (the choreography, the music, the reworking of classic Shakespeare), I wouldn’t say it’s among my favourite musical films out there. Sure, that could just be because I’m so accustomed to how much it’s influenced pop culture since its release that I’m not able to appreciate it as much on its own terms, but in my own defense, both the film and the original stage musical feel like dry runs for things that the creatives involved would end up perfecting later on.

As a grand big-screen musical directed by Robert Wise, it’s good… but it’s no Sound Of Music. As a musical with lyrics from theatre extraordinaire Stephen Sondheim (who tragically passed away earlier this year), it’s good… but it’s no Sweeney Todd or Into The Woods.

So, yeah, I’m already a little bit lukewarm on the original production as is… but I’ll be honest, I can at least understand why someone would try and remake the film today. As much as I can sympathise with how the Hays code really did a number on a lot of productions at the time through executive meddling and general BS to do with non-white romantic leads, having a film all about conflict between different racial cultures, while half of the cast is in full brownface, makes it difficult for that intent to ring through.

As such, remaking it at a time when… well, I won’t say that colorism is no longer a thing within the industry (and not just in Hollywood either), but at least when filmmakers are under less pressure to pull heavy makeup tactics, could help revive it for a new generation. Hell, even though Steven Spielberg somehow hasn’t made a musical before this, he’s done pretty much everything else under the sun, so he’s as good a choice as any to give it a crack. And it’s an attempt that seems to have worked out for the better, as it manages to keep everything that makes the original musical what it is, but with just enough modernisation to help translate it into a post-millennium film market.

Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021) - Movie Review

More people should know Questlove by name. As the co-bandleader of The Roots alongside Black Thought, who have spent several years as the house band for The Tonight Show, he’s arguably more visible now than he and his crew have ever been before. But beyond their reliability as a musical act, these guys deserve all the credit in the world for being the greatest hip-hop band (not group, band) of all time. And Questlove is a big part of that, as not only did his production work help define the group’s jam-jazz aesthetic, but his drum work makes for some of the hardest shit ever put on wax, even considering how percussion-focused a lot of hip-hop is. And with his feature-length debut here as director, he is also shining a light on a unfairly underrated aspect of Black music and culture, with a retrospective of 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival.

Shiva Baby (2021) - Movie Review

This film hurts to watch. Not in the sense that it’s bad (far from it, as I’ll get into), but because it is an incredibly visceral representation of an equally visceral reaction to stressful social situations. Or, for quite a lot of people out there (myself included), social situations in general. It’s one of the shorter films I’ve looked at this year (about 78 minutes including credits), and its premise is a seemingly simply one. It involves college student Danielle (Rachel Sennott) attending shiva, along with her extensive extended family, and just happening to bump into Max (Danny Deferrari)… who is also her sugar daddy. Cue the panic.

Wednesday 29 December 2021

The Worst Person In The World (2021) - Movie Review

This is going to be a tricky film to write about. Partly because this is a Norwegian film, a part of world cinema culture that I know even less about than what I usually cover on here (I covered the literal first Norwegian film I ever saw right here only a few years ago), but mainly because trying to encompass everything this film is going for in my usual style is a tall order. This film is a lot, and where that would normally a warning for others, I mean that in the sense that it deals in ‘a lot’. But if I had to strain and give an early summary of my thoughts on the film in a single sentence, the best I can come up with is “two hours of the most unvarnished depiction of the Millennial experience I’ve ever seen”.

Don't Look Up (2021) - Movie Review

I wanted to like this. I want to like just about everything I watch, but especially this. After Adam McKay found an interesting new direction with ensemble-cast satire based on real-world events with The Big Short, and then slipped in my favour after Vice, I wanted to see him come back on top. This kind of production, a close-to-the-bone allegory for the modern discourse involving man-made climate change and what it’s doing to the planet, is something that could use a bit of levity to clear things up. A splash of comedy to help drive home how important the issue is, and how important it is for us to take it seriously. But that’s not what we get. In fact, for as iffy as I was about Vice, I am all kinds of done with this fucking thing.

Tuesday 28 December 2021

Licorice Pizza (2021) - Movie Review

I’m starting to think this is karma for having anything good to say about Cuties (yeah, don’t @ me, I’m not really in the mood for people being angry at a disturbing film for being disturbing). First there was Red Rocket, which hinged on a grown-ass man’s sexual relationship with a 17-going-on-18 year-old, and now we have a film about a 25-year-old woman and her romance with a 15-year-old boy. I would much rather not have to write about this and spare myself the mental gymnastics… fucking hell, even the notion that something like this would require mental gymnastics on my part is already making me feel sketchy; I don't want this to turn into another Breath. And yet, beyond my usual routine of writing about every new film I watch, there’s still a certain fascination that makes me want to get my thoughts down on paper because, honestly, I really liked this movie.

The Tragedy Of Macbeth (2021) - Movie Review

The Coens have another movie out. Or, rather, a Coen has a movie out. While Ethan is taking a break from movies to try his hand at theatre, Joel is… well, he’s kinda doing the same thing here, with an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Yep, after spending their entire career up to this point working together (albeit without always being credited as a duo, because guild rules are weird like that), one of the leading filmmaking teams is now working apart. Between the separating of the paths, and Shakespeare being all about the staging rather than the writing (which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly how either of the Coens operate), I was certainly curious about how it would turn out, but was willing to accept that things could get a bit shaky. However, nothing of the sort takes place here: Joel can fly solo just as well as he has with his brother up to this point.

Monday 27 December 2021

Being The Ricardos (2021) - Movie Review

A little over a year after his previous feature, and Aaron Sorkin is already back at it with another directorial effort. Only this one is sticking much closer to his own background in television than his last two films, with a biopic on one of the greatest sitcom couples in American history in Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. I once again find myself needing to admit my lack of background knowledge, as I haven’t seen much from any of Lucille’s shows (save for that one conveyor belt gag, which is still one of the greatest sitcoms moments ever in my book), but then again, I didn’t know all that much about Steve Jobs, Molly Bloom, or Abbie Hoffman, and that didn’t stop me from liking Sorkin’s depictions of those people. But while this has Sorkin still doing what he does best, the effect is significantly dampened this time around.

New Gods: Nezha Reborn (2021) - Movie Review

Well, it looks like it’s going to take a bit longer before we get the next addition to the Fengshen cinematic universe that has already given us Ne Zha and Jiang Ziya. But a film along those same lines did come out this year on Netflix, itself also based on Investiture Of The Gods. However, where the Fengshen films went full period-setting in their reworking of the story, Nezha Reborn goes several steps further. Gone is the feudal ancient Chinese setting, and in its place is an industrial, mystically-tinged steampunk setting based on 1920s Shanghai. And instead of the cheeky demon child that used anywhere and everywhere as his own public toilet, we have motorcycle racer and courier Li Yunxiang (voiced by Yang Tianxiang), who must discover the power of his reincarnated heritage in order to save his town and the ones he loves.

Sunday 26 December 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) - Movie Review

I know this is far from the first time Marvel Studios has done me, but fuck me, the marketing for this film has been extremely annoying. No joke, I saw two ads that were promotional tie-ins to this movie in the pre-session of the actual movie. Because buying a ticket for it apparently wasn’t enough; they had to keep trying to sell it to me. There’s also how flat-out ridiculous the session times for this movie have been, where it assimilated between 75% and 95% of all available screenings at both of my local cinemas, with one, maybe two sessions that were taken up by the eleven other films that are supposedly showing now as well. Anyone trying to use this film’s success as a gotcha for the 'wokeness' of other MCU films, or the MCU in competition with the DCEU, or even as a sign that the industry is picking back up since COVID first broke, are leaving out that the odds were stacked substantially in the production’s favour to get those box office receipts.

To be honest, I deliberately put off watching this movie for its first week because, as much as I love superhero movies, I really didn’t want to reward this overbearing, “Scorsese might have been underselling the problem” kind of behaviour.

Anyway, now that I’ve got my initial gripes out of the way, let’s get into how fucking brilliant this movie is.

Bo Burnham: Inside (2021) - Movie Review

I won’t claim to be the biggest Bo Burnham fan out there; I haven’t watched everything the man has ever done or anything. But with everything I have seen of his (Country Song, Eighth Grade, his performance in Promising Young Woman, his work on Chris Rock’s Tambourine), I’ve always walked away with a sense that this is a dude with talent to burn and a willingness to try different things. And while his latest comedy special might not technically count as a film… well, as I’ll get into, that distinction doesn’t really mean a whole lot, considering the how and why of its creation.

Saturday 25 December 2021

Annette (2021) - Movie Review

So. Now that I’ve gotten a good eyeful of what Sparks tick, let’s take a look at their other big cinematic contribution from this year. Not only have they written the lyrics and music for this musical (yes, 2021 has been a hell of a year for movie musicals), they also wrote what can be considered the book for this musical, all about the turbulent relationship between a stand-up comedian (Adam Driver) and an opera singer (Marion Cotillard). It provides another splash of variety to what this year has already had to offer, and it’s also the kind of idiosyncratic and enthralling work that, after watching The Sparks Brothers, I have come to expect from the duo.

The Sparks Brothers (2021) - Movie Review

I know next to nothing about the band Sparks. My mother played This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us once, and Weird Al Yankovic did a style parody of them with Virus Alert off of Straight Outta Lynwood (incidentally my favourite Weird Al album); that’s pretty much it. But knowing that director Edgar Wright has already got a winner this year in Last Night In Soho, and his ingrained fandom sensibilities certainly make him a good fit for this kind of documentary, I’m certainly interested in learning more. I mean, I’m basically the kind of filmgoer this was seemingly designed for: A casual observer who might have heard about the band before, but probably doesn’t realise just how much influence Ron and Russell Mael have had on the music landscape worldwide. And while it definitely does its job, that comes with a few caveats.

Friday 24 December 2021

Red Rocket (2021) - Movie Review

I got into this briefly when I looked at Bodied a few years ago, but Simon Rex has had an… interesting career. After his mainstream breakthrough as the lead in an extended 8 Mile spoof in Scary Movie 3, he then proceeded to embrace the meme and became a self-styled hip-hop artist. He’s done collabs with Mickey Avalon, the White Girl Mob, Riff Raff, Andy Milonakis, and other human-shaped memes from the late ‘00s and early ‘10s, and while he’s still been getting acting gigs during all this… the dude is always going to be Dirt Nasty to me. But then this came along and pulled a Best F(r)iends, bringing in an actor who has either been mildly ignored or laughed at instead of with up to this point, and giving him a role he could play perfectly.

The Unforgivable (2021) - Movie Review

After how well the remake of The Guilty turned out, I was more than willing to give this film a chance. An American remake of a British TV miniseries, starring Sandra Bullock in a consciously-against-type role of a woman who has just been released from a 20-year stint in prison for murder. It certainly caught my attention just from that setup, and I can already see all manner of possibilities for thoughtful translation between cultures. But unfortunately, just about every major decision here feels backwards.

Thursday 23 December 2021

The French Dispatch (2021) - Movie Review

This might be the first time I’ve been apprehensive about reviewing a film, not because of the film itself, but because I doubt I’d be able to improve upon what a certain other critic has already said about this feature. And here it is: A piece written by Aussie critic Grant Watson that might be the best review I’ve ever read for any movie. The act of critique is built from one’s unique perspective on art and the environment that fosters it, and while I certainly have my own thoughts on this film, part of me is kind of jealous that I wasn’t able to come up with something that all-encompassing on the subject. So, basically, in addition to forcing this write-up through a haze of molten summer brain, I’m also having to fight back the first time I can recall having writer’s envy over another reviewer’s work. I might as well be a character in a Wes Anderson film myself.

Antlers (2021) - Movie Review

This film should’ve been an easy lay-up for someone like me. A Guillermo Del Toro produced creature feature about Indigenous mythology and the purpose of cultural storytelling. I know I can end up digging myself into my own navel with these kinds of topics, but I genuinely find them to be fascinating, so I was definitely curious to see how this film would turn out. Well, while it definitely has its points of interest, it also suffers from a real lack of focus that ends up hindering its juicier aspects.

Luca (2021) - Movie Review

The year just doesn’t feel complete without looking at what Pixar has to offer. I understand that looking forward to a Disney product nowadays is like looking forward to a sunset (it’s difficult to get too excited about something that happens with clockwork regularity), but outside of the first two Cars movies, Pixar has never really steered me wrong as an animation studio. And with their latest, they’ve offered one of their most uncomplicated stories of the last several years, which itself is part of what makes this work.

Wednesday 22 December 2021

News Of The World (2021) - Movie Review

I get the feeling that if I keep actively seeking out Westerns like this, my reputation is going to shift from “guy who won’t stop bitching about movies with talking animals in them” to “if even this guy likes this Western, it’s gotta be good”. I guess I’m just trying to break the barrier of this not being my cup of tea as far as genre settings go, and still being able to dissect them efficiently as I (at least try to) do with any other kind of film on here. Well, banking on Tom Hanks in another warm and comforting lead role certainly helps with that, but honestly, this is easily one of the best Westerns I’ve seen all year. And it’s not as if this is all that fresh or creative with its setting either.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) - Movie Review

Another feature that Universal Pictures Australia sent me an invite to see early, and as truly thankful as I am for getting the chance to do so… I’m kinda intimidated by the prospect of critiquing this film and giving it its fair due. I’ve gone on record about how the original Matrix is one of my all-time favourite films, and I can vividly remember where I was when I first watched it, but I’ve also mentioned that the sequels didn’t really measure up to it.

I bring up that last point because, after rewatching them just a few days before going out to see the latest instalment, that opinion has drastically changed; not only are the sequels genuinely great films, but they make the first film that much better by expanding on everything that made that film work. I’ve been watching those sequels on and off for more than half of my lifetime on this earth, and it’s only now that I properly appreciate what they were going for.

As such, I’m getting the uncomfortable feeling that this will be a similar deal, and I don’t really have the time or mental capacity to squeeze several years’ worth of hindsight into my perspective on a film that will be out this week. But I must press on, because even if I end up missing a few things here and there, this is still a very interesting feature to be writing about.

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Gunpowder Milkshake (2021) - Movie Review

I’d make a joke about needing this to get the taste of Vanquish out of my mouth, but this is actually me clearing up some unfinished business. Like, more so than usual when it comes to my December catch-ups. I was originally set to see this film at a preview screening for FilmInk earlier in the year but… well, you can probably guess what happened that caused the screening to be cancelled. Which was really a shame because, beyond the deliciously idiosyncratic title, the cast is quite enticing, and I could do with some more consistent female-led action material from this year. And sure enough, I feel quite cheated not getting the chance to see this on the big screen, because this is dynamite.

Vanquish (2021) - Movie Review

What makes a film “good”? What objective metric is there to judge whether a film qualifies as being “good” art? Does such a metric even exist? I have to ponder questions like these when I look at just about any film on here, and even though I am fully aware that “good” and “enjoyable” aren’t necessarily the same thing, I do try and highlight aspects of a film that work/don’t work when I’m mainly okay/not okay with the film as a whole, just to keep things balanced. And then I run into something like this, where whatever actual praise I can muster for it feels like I’m just insulting it even further, since all that talent is being buried by everyone else fucking up.

Sunday 19 December 2021

Daisy Quokka: World's Scariest Animal (2021) - Movie Review

Time to take a trip back into Sanctuary City, our own little slice of the talking animal market and, judging by the previous two films set in this world, a welcome reprieve from what I’m convinced is the ‘norm’ for this sub-genre. Having already gone over the visual quality in those past reviews, with this sticking firmly to the series standard, I probably won’t be talking much about the animation for this animated film. Instead, I’m probably going to spend most of this write-up hung up on the title, which is one of the most misleading and, the further into the film I got, befuddling titles I’ve seen in a long time.

Now, on the surface, it makes total sense. It’s about the titular quokka (voiced by Angourie Rice) who, rather than fitting into the cute and non-threatening role that society has laid out for her, wants to become the champion of the World’s Scariest Games, just like her idol Frankie Scales (Sam Neill). It’s a nice juxtaposition, aided by some species-ist subtext since literally every other quokka in this world is in the tourism industry, which mainly consists of taking selfies with said tourists.

However, even with the ultimate message about rejecting societal expectations and redefining who can and can’t excel in a certain field, it really feels like the film missed a trick with its title and its repeated use of the word “scary”. Like, if this was some kind of Monsters Inc. situation, or even just a Halloween-set story about competitive trick-or-treating (an animated film could easily turn that into an Olympic-level event), that would make sense. But the actual World’s Scariest Games are closer to American Ninja Warrior than anything else, with athletes competing in increasingly-hazardous terrains and obstacle courses. I’m just saying, ‘World’s Strongest Animal’ would make a lot more sense and would still fit with the main themes of the story.

I usually try and focus just on what a film is, rather than what it could be, but it’s rare when I get the impression that a film is repeatedly using the wrong word to describe itself. Especially when what really describes this film, to be brutally honest, is likely the reason why I found myself so fixated on that one word: It’s just another sports movie. An underdog athlete is trained by a disgraced former champion, facing resistance from their competition who think they don’t deserve to be there, but gradually winning their respect through their determination and skill at the sport; we’ve all seen this before. As fun as it is to hear Frank Woodley returning as Flightless Feather, here serving as colour commentator on the Games, that nostalgic connection isn’t enough to get past how tired and, even with the animation quality and the plentiful background gags, uninteresting this all is.

I get that I’m not the target audience for these things, as I’ve likely proven with my track record for films about humanoid animals, but I can’t shake the feeling that I wouldn’t be the only one disappointed by this flick. Kids are just as entertained by being scared as adults, and I do think that a film all about a cute little quokka learning how to be proper scary could still work as a family film. But no, it just succumbs to cliché that, unlike Wishmas Tree and Combat Wombat, doesn’t have enough of its own flair to keep things interesting. The additions to the world-building that are made here definitely open up the world of Sanctuary City, but I’d be lying if I said I was super-hyped for where things go from here.