Saturday, 31 December 2022

This Much I Know To Be True (2022) - Movie Review


Teaming up once again with director Andrew Dominik (and I mean in front of the camera, since he also contributed to Dominik’s… interesting Marilyn Monroe biopic), This Much I Know To Be True serves as a follow-up to the 2016 documentary One More Time With Feeling. Where that film captured Cave at his most outwardly melancholic, wrestling with his grief over the death of his son, this shows him in a much better place.

The Good Nurse (2022) - Movie Review


While it may as well be the national genre of choice for storytelling here in Australia, and I grew up with my mother being especially interested in it, true crime doesn’t hold any inherent interest for me personally. I tend to avoid documentaries on the subject, since I don’t particularly like the idea of choosing to occupy my free time with the stories of people who actually got hurt or killed; this is part of the reason why I cling so tightly onto the more speculative genres like sci-fi and horror, where any injuries are pure fiction. But even with that in mind, I went into this hoping for some good just out of the casting, between Eddie Redmayne seriously impressing with his last film The Trial Of The Chicago 7, and Jessica Chastain’s recent career highlight in The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. And yeah, there’s good to it, but I unfortunately struggled to maintain interest in the whole package.

The Wonder (2022) - Movie Review


This has the single most peculiar opening to any film I’ve reviewed on here. It’s peculiar because this is a period drama that begins with a shot of the sound-stage that the sets in the film are located on, panning across while Niamh Algar narrates about how this is indeed a film and asking the audience to believe in its story as the characters will. There’s an initial pang of worry that this is insecurity showing through on the director's part, similar to Terry Gilliam’s introduction for the film Tideland that essentially begged his audience to regress back to the mind-state of a child in order to understand what was really going on. But that fades away rather quickly because, oddly enough, this ends up being an ideal introduction to this film on two different fronts.

The Adam Project (2022) - Movie Review


After the bizarre misfires that showed up in Free Guy, I’ll admit that I’m a bit apprehensive about seeing Shaun Levy and Ryan Reynolds teaming up again, especially so soon. But knowing that these two are also doing the next Deadpool movie after this, I’m also hoping that this serves as a better example of them working with each other’s sensibilities. I’m not expecting a masterpiece here; just something that will restore enough faith that Deadpool 3 has a chance of working, considering I can already see a creative choice for that film that has a high chance of screwing up. But we’ll get to that when that film comes around; for right now, we have this to take a look at.

Friday, 30 December 2022

Poker Face (2022) - Movie Review


I picked this film purely for nostalgic reasons, and I don’t mean that in a fond way. Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, The Water Diviner, was one of the first movies I ever reviewed on here way back in December of 2014. That was back when I was still heavily in the phase of obsessing over people who talked about movies, as opposed to obsessing over the movies themselves, and I still had a lot of growing up to do as a writer and just as a person in general. Chances are there are quite a few films from back then that I’d likely have a different take on if I were to write about them today (hell, that has definitely been the case for a few of them, like The Babadook), but Crowe’s first attempt as a director has never struck me as one of those potential examples. So, let’s see how he goes at his second attempt in the chair, and him now writing the script as well.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever (2022) - Movie Review

I still don’t think Green Book was that bad.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen it since I reviewed it for FilmInk, and I definitely agree that it did not deserve Best Picture at the Oscars (even with how little I care for the ceremonies, that decision still managed to annoy me)… but I dunno, I didn’t mind the film itself. I have respect for the way the Farrelly brothers deal with disability and societal attitudes towards the ‘stupid’ and ‘crazy’, and I think Peter managed to effectively translate that empathy towards the effects of racism in that film. I mean, I recognise that it’s part of a less-than-ideal tradition in Hollywood concerning such stories, but for what it is, I think it got a worse rap than it ultimately deserved. Only time will tell if his latest will suffer the same fate, but once again, I find myself on the favourable side with his work.

Gold (2022) - Movie Review


Considering the summer heat is officially kicking in down here in Australia, I’m probably in the most ideal state of mind to engage with a film about a guy trying to survive in the desert. And considering this first came out near the end of January of this year (deep in the middle of the last summer), I’m willing to bet that that timing isn’t a coincidence. Trust me to be both timely and late to the party at the same time.

Thursday, 29 December 2022

Spirited (2022) - Movie Review


Up until just a few years ago, writer/director Sean Anders seemingly did all he could to push mainstream edgelord comedy to its breaking point. Hot Tub Time Machine, That’s My Boy, We’re The Millers, Horrible Bosses 2, Dumb And Dumber To, both Daddy’s Home movies; I don’t even outright hate all of these, but they are all grown out of the same cynical view of us as a species. We’re all shit, the world is shit, so just turn it all into an even sicker joke than it already is; not exactly the kind of perspective I can get behind.

But then Instant Family happened. I reviewed it for FilmInk and was genuinely surprised by it because… well, it saw Anders turn over a new leaf. While it still carried some of his tendencies as far as comedic timing, it was also way more wholesome at its core and was made not because he wanted to point out the worst of us, but highlight the good we can do through the foster care system. I’ve mentioned before that I love redemption stories like these, and Anders’ might be one of my favourites in recent memory. It’s why I ultimately decided to give his latest a chance, and it’s also why I really, really enjoyed myself with it.

The Gray Man (2022) - Movie Review


In an ideal world where everything that works on paper functions the same in the real world, getting involved with the MCU for a time should be a good thing. Get studio attention off the back of indie productions, go mainstream and grab collective eyeballs by working within the biggest franchise in Hollywood, and then use that momentum to branch out into passion projects that benefit from being trusted with enough of a budget to make it all work. But again, that’s just the ideal, and since the Russo brothers struck it huge with what was, for a time, the highest-grossing film ever in Avengers: Endgame, they’ve been branching out into their own shit in directing, producing through their AGBO studio, and Joe Russo getting more into scripting. And now, Netflix has handed them a budget even bigger than their last wannabe-blockbuster Red Notice, and like with Red Notice, it’s raring to be the beginning of a franchise for a streaming service that… well, quite frankly, they need that kind of IP security. However, there are a number of glaring issues with what they’ve put together here.

Mr. Harrigan's Phone (2022) - Movie Review


With how badly his last attempt at darker storytelling turned out with the woefully mishandled cop thriller The Little Things, the prospect of writer/director John Lee Hancock taking on a Stephen King adaptation is a worrying one. Films based on King’s books can be very hit or miss, and this year has already featured a particularly big miss with the Firestarter remake. But hey, it’s starring Jaeden Martell, who was a key part of one of my favourite King films with It: Chapter One; maybe this will actually work out. Well… it kinda does?

Wednesday, 28 December 2022

The Pale Blue Eye (2022) - Movie Review


Scott Cooper knows a good idea when he sees it. As much as I’ve been pretty lukewarm on the films of his I’ve reviewed in Black Mass and Antlers, they’re both built on sturdy foundations. With the former, it was a different take on the standard crime drama that must’ve clung to Joel Edgerton’s brain since then, seeing as his recent turn in The Stranger turned out quite similar in purpose and thematic drive. And with the latter, it was a creature feature that used a wendigo as a monster metaphor for parental abuse and the trauma associated with it; a properly fascinating direction to take such things. And with his latest, he’s found another potential gold mine in the 2003 Louis Bayard novel The Pale Blue Eye, a detective story set on the American frontier and co-starring Edgar Allen Poe, serving as much a tribute to his style of American Gothic horror as it is to his lineage as the godfather of detective fiction at large.

Of course, this also brings in the main problem I keep running into with Scott Cooper as a filmmaker: He can recognise good story ideas, but isn’t necessarily well-equipped to make the most out of them on the screen. Black Mass, in better hands, could’ve been the gangster answer to Citizen Kane with its storytelling, but Cooper kept settling for more bog-standard tropes within the genre. And in Antlers, he kept burying the best aspects of the story underneath everything else he wanted to get into, watering down the potent ideas at its core. And unfortunately, the same is true of this, which shows Cooper once again losing track of the story’s strong point in favour of… well, just more of the usual.

Entergalactic (2022) - Movie Review


Put this one next to Bo Burnham’s Inside for borderline “does this count as a movie?” picks for reviews. Whatever; it’s a feature-length production on Netflix, and I counted Crazed Gender Twisters From Planet X, which was as much of a series as this is, so yeah, this is a movie review. It’s one I got curious about when it first popped up as, while I’ve never rated Kid Cudi that highly as a rapper (Kids See Ghosts slaps tho), he’s been showing up in movies that I’ve really liked in recent years like Bill & Ted Face The Music, X from earlier this year, and even making for the best (as in the only good) part of Don’t Look Up alongside Ariana Grande. And I’m on a bit of a musical kick at the moment, so let’s see what he’s cooked up here.

Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical (2022) - Movie Review


Matilda, both the Roald Dahl book and the Danny Devito-directed film version, were foundational texts for me as a kid. One of my first real exposures to autism-coding in storytelling, Matilda was something of a hero of mine growing up. A child brilliant beyond her years, struggling to grow against apathetic parents and a cruel headmistress, at the center of a story all about the evil that is letting children down. Add to that the iconic depictions offered by the film, between Mara Wilson as the ultimate ND avatar in Matilda and Pam Ferris as the stuff of nightmares in Miss Trunchbull, and you’ve got a story that has a sizeable place in my heart. I figured a musical version of that same story would be decent, but only decent. Not something that could wrestle control away from both of those foundations to become… well, my new favourite version of the story.

Tuesday, 27 December 2022

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (2022) - Movie Review


Y’know, if you’re going to insist on having a singer be a lead character in a film, and they aren’t exactly well-known or even all that capable of acting, having them play a character who literally only sings seems like a da-doy moment for musical movies as a whole. I mean, when the alternatives are trying to get the likes of Adam Levine to be in any convincing as an actor, or saddling actual actors with painfully-obvious dubbing, it’s a wonder why more productions don’t aim for this.

Spiderhead (2022) - Movie Review


Fresh off the smash success of Top Gun: Maverick, a rousing display of American pop cinema that felt like a return to normalcy after the last couple years’ worth of COVID calamity, Joseph Kosinski’s other film from 2022… kinda feels like a rebuttal to his own work.

It’s set in the titular prison complex, where the inmates are given a degree of freedom and leisure in return for participating in drug trials run by the charismatic Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth). The story primarily focuses on the idea of emotional modification, and pharmaceuticals in general, as a deconstruction of the very idea of control and free will in the face of something capable of so utterly altering a person’s state of mind. A bit odd that this comes hot on the heels of what is essentially military propaganda as cinematic art (not saying it’s bad, just calling it how I see it), but makes a little more sense with how limp the commentary gets here.

I mean, the circumstances behind the people who are in Spiderhead as volunteers raises some interesting ideas. Wanting to alter themselves as a kind of retroactive correction for past sins (an idea that I have quite a soft spot for), what it says about standard American prisons when this is seen as the better alternative, or even taking the self-punishment aspect of imprisonment further through some of the scarier applications of chemical influence shown here. The actors do well with their roles here, from Miles Teller as one of the inmates Jeff, Jurnee Smollett as his love interest Lizzy, Mark Paguio as the complicit bystander in the experiments, and Hemsworth especially brings some of that El Royale swagger to his presence here as the guy overseeing the whole thing.

However, those performance high points are often the result of trying to work against the material given, rather than with, and I don’t exactly blame them for doing that. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are capable of fine work when they’re being sly or subversive or just straight goofy, but cold and calculated satire isn’t exactly in their toolset. As such, their feature-length adaptation of what was originally a short story published in the New Yorker comes with some pretty juvenile moments. The ‘Shitfingers’ running joke felt entirely unnecessary, and as much as I kinda get the gratuitous sex scenes as part of the overall theme of emotional manipulation, the framing ventures a little too close to my Berserk Button concerning ‘sexual abuse towards men = comedy’. It’s like an adolescent attempt at a Black Mirror story, and even when that show was at its silliness, it never got quite to this point.

It doesn’t help that the script doesn’t really go anywhere with its ideas. Or, at least, anywhere that hasn’t already been explored in other stories. Much like Steve himself, it seems to be a lot more focused on just how people react to certain stimuli than getting any deeper into the implications and ramifications of such stimuli. The examination of the importance we place on emotions is decent enough, and I like how it manifests in Steve mainly as someone with more money than stability desperately looking for approval (again, quite a familiar read for today’s high-and-mighty), but as sci-fi meant to provoke thought, it doesn’t do a whole lot.

This whole production feels like a middle-of-the-road side project for all involved. Nothing too daring, nothing too intense, nothing too thorny, and yet nothing too objectionable either. The cast are alright, the visuals get a lot of mileage out of the Queensland landscape, and even if it’s unfortunately shallow, it makes at least some decent points about the human desire for a cheap fix to their emotional problems. This was always going to feel smaller in comparison to Top Gun: Maverick, both as cinema and as pop culture impact event, but I was hoping that it would be a little more substantial than this.

Monday, 26 December 2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) - Movie Review


In response to the myriad of fan theories about the secret meanings behind the Beatles’ music (backmasking, “Paul is dead”, that kind of shit), John Lennon wrote the song Glass Onion, which would be included on the group’s self-titled White Album. It’s basically a troll set to music, referencing other Beatles songs to give fuel to the people who think that they intentionally put in all these cryptic messages in their art... when in reality, it meant pretty much fuck-all. Many layers, but all of them see-through right down to the core: a glass onion.

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood (2022) - Movie Review


2022 seems to be the year where a lot of filmmakers got super-nostalgic and wanted to share that with their audiences. This will mark the fourth film I’ve looked at in the last twelve months involving a director dramatising their childhood, and the fifth involving a director dramatising themselves in general. Except what Richard Linklater has put together here goes further into the fictionalised side of things than his contemporaries, as it starts out with Stanley (Milo Coy) being picked out of the school yard by NASA to be part of their space program, but then reveals itself to be much less fantastical than that would imply.

Sunday, 25 December 2022

Hocus Pocus 2 (2022) - Movie Review


There’s nothing inherently wrong with a film being made with a very specific audience in mind. In this case, it’s for fans of the 1993 cult classic Hocus Pocus, one of the odder parts of Disney’s storied history. I only got around to watching it fairly recently (on insistence from my significant other), and while I don’t entirely get the hype for it, it’s still quite fun. Looking at it through a modern lens, it’s quite easy to see why the Sanderson sisters would become so iconic, since they are the perfect intersection between Drag theatricality, Gothic subversiveness, and just plain hammy performances. I mean, yeah, the amount of time the narrative fixates on the virginity of teenagers is… a bit much, but it has its place in pop culture. A place that Disney has now seen fit to add on to with a decades-removed sequel.

Enola Holmes 2 (2022) - Movie Review


Following up on 2020’s rousing Netflix success with the first Enola Holmes, this sequel builds on a lot of what that take on the Holmes detective formula so fresh and exciting: A different perspective on that same kind of analytical genius, with a warmer heart and a need to ask questions about the roles of women in the Victorian era. And through that building, this manages to… well, it might take a rewatch of both films to be absolutely certain, but there’s an argument to be made about this doing even better than the first film.

Saturday, 24 December 2022

Thirteen Lives (2022) - Movie Review


I was initially planning to just skip this one entirely. After how badly Hillbilly Elegy turned out, I didn’t want to run the risk of Ron Howard screwing the pooch on a story that is far more important than the humble brag come-up of a venture capitalist. I even raised this same issue with fellow critic and top bloke Travis Johnson over at Celluloid & Whiskey, who understood my apprehension but suggested I still check it out. I’ve been to many a screening with this guy, and he knows his shit, so I figured it was worth giving a burl. And man, am I glad I did, because this is some of Howard’s best narrative work in ages.

Windfall (2022) - Movie Review


With how badly things went with director Charlie McDowell’s last film The Discovery, a bloated and undercooked mess of a sci-fi story, seeing him go in the complete opposite direction for his latest certainly inspires some hope. It’s a single-set thriller with a minimal cast and a run time of about 88 minutes without counting the end credits, co-written by one of my favourite screenwriters in Andrew Kevin Walker. Sure, it’s also co-written by Justin Lader, one of the culprits responsible for The Discovery, but maybe this will work out better. Well, to its credit, it does, although I still don’t think it’s making the most of what little it has.

Friday, 23 December 2022

The Curse Of Bridge Hollow (2022) - Movie Review


Okay, I’ll be honest, my brain still feels cooked after looking at Neptune Frost, so I’m going for something a bit simpler to digest here. As per usual, I’m going by the names attached to this thing first and foremost, and this has got some doozies. Director Jeff Wadlow, who is to horror what a Big Mac is to a toilet seat, and star Marlon Wayons, who seems to be gunning for Tyler Perry’s thronemade of human shame. Add to that writer Todd Berger, whose work on The Happytime Murders had its moments that were ultimately let-down by the basic-bitch approach to its core genre, and I’ll admit that I’m not expecting great things from this. But let it be said I genuinely checked this out in good faith, as I have a lot of space in my heart for film creatives being able to redeem themselves for past failures; I am nothing if not hopeful. And while I can’t say that this isn’t quite that good, it’s still a hell of a lot better than I was anticipating.

Neptune Frost (2022) - Movie Review


Well, this is going to be a challenge. A film that seems specifically engineered to defy easy descriptions or classifications, made by a Hip Hop artist who has made an entire career out of making such things. Saul Williams is one of the culture’s true original and unique talents, as it’s difficult even fathoming anyone else attempting half the shit he pulls on record. Like fellow slam poet and MC Sage Francis, he doesn’t so much engage in wordplay as he does word-bullying, deconstructing and then reconstructing the English language over the course of a few lines, let alone a verse. On top of that, his choice of production blends old-school Hip Hop, rock, electronica, industrial, and about a skrillion other things to create a sonic whirlwind that is as verbose as it is fascinating to engage with. And now he’s made a movie.

Thursday, 22 December 2022

Goodnight Mommy (2022) - Movie Review


Okay, I know that remakes are far from new for Hollywood, but when I think about how this is now the second time I’ve looked at the remake of a film I’ve already reviewed… I feel old. Thinking back to when I first watched this back in December of 2015, even though it wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things, I can’t help but feel every one of those seven years hit me like the Ghost of Amateur Blogging Past just plopped down and sat right on my chest.

Anyways, it’s also another English-language remake of a foreign film, and considering The Guilty managed to do pretty well in translating its narrative as well as its filmmaking ethos, maybe this’ll work out too. Or maybe it’ll just be more ammo for the “just learn to read subtitles” crowd.

Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths (2022) - Movie Review


Alejandro G. Iñarritu, who we last checked in with way back at the start of 2016 with The Revenant, now joins Branagh, Gray, and Spielberg in releasing a film this year that comes with a heavy dose of autobiography. I can understand how wanky this can come across to some people, having a filmmaker devote so many hours to their own story (with varying degrees of varnish), but as an auteurist, there’s something I find quite fascinating about these kinds of productions. They take the idea of film as a personal form of art (ignoring how each and every film is the result of collaboration in one form or another) about as far as it can go while still being in the context of a work of fiction. And with this film, we find the director… well, in a pretty dark place.

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

White Noise (2022) - Movie Review


Up to this point, writer/director Noah Baumbach has operated in the chattier sectors of American indie cinema. We’ve look at three of his films on this blog already, and they have all involved intimate and unvarnished looks at families with a shared interest (or even disinterest) in the arts. And despite a couple disagreements here and there in the film craft or the framing of their central ideas, I’ve come to look forward to seeing new films from the guy. So you can imagine my surprise when his new film is a major switch-up from his usual wheelhouse.