Saturday, 26 February 2022

Benedetta (2022) - Movie Review

I have been eagerly looking forward to seeing this movie and reviewing it. Hell, I’ve been itching for the chance to talk about its director for quite some time. Filmmaker Paul Verhoeven has one of the most fascinating, if not outright legendary, filmographies of any cinema creative I’ve come across. After some modest successes in his native Holland over the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Verhoeven moved to the United States and had one hell of a hot streak. RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Starship Troopers, and Hollow Man, all one right after the other over the course of thirteen years. This is why I love auteur theory: So many of the idiosyncrasies in those films suddenly make a bit more sense once you realise they’re from the same mind.

And after a brief return to the Netherlands for 2006’s Black Book, he has since settled down in France where he put together the immensely uncomfortable (and I say that as someone who sat through Una and The Nightingale) Ella. For as much as I can appreciate the characterisation in that film, it also shows a darker side to Verhoeven’s iconic lack of taste that is not easy to sit through, and not exactly for the best of reasons. As someone with a serious admiration for the man’s work at his peak (Showgirls isn’t a so-bad-it’s-good movie, it’s a legitimately great film, and I will die on that hill), I was truly hoping that his latest wouldn’t be more of the same unpleasantness. And indeed, this is quite a different beast from the likes of Ella.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Cyrano (2022) - Movie Review

Well, Universal sent me to another preview screening, and even though I have some… uncomfortable history with the director behind this particular feature, I’ll admit that I was actually quite hopeful that this would turn out good. The last three write-ups I’ve done on the works of Joe Wright have been, in a word, disastrous. Pan and The Woman In The Window are so amazingly bad that they almost reach genius from the other side, and Darkest Hour ultimately didn’t pan out because it came out too soon after the similar (and superior, at least to me) feature Churchill.

But over time, I’ve at least made peace with the fact that these films exist, as the bread of that turd sandwich is the result of Joe Wright trying to work outside of the classically-minded, accessibly-presented, ‘ideal for high school classes studying the original text’ framework that made up the bulk of his filmography pre-Pan. They were failed experiments, but experiments nonetheless, and as soon as the trailer for his latest reached my attention, I was hoping he’d make a comeback by reminding audiences why his debut with Pride & Prejudice made as big a splash as it did: The man is talented, if given the right story to work with.

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Here Out West (2022) - Movie Review

Even from an early age, prejudice along the lines of race or ethnic background never made much sense to me. Not because I’m any sort of profoundly enlightened individual or any such ponce like that; it’s more the result of what I understand to be the cultural makeup of where I was born and where I have spent the entirety of my life so far: Australia. It is, and I say with all the love I can muster for a geographical location, a mongrel nation. A former prison colony that has since become a hub for all manner of multicultural communities and existences, from the indigenous population that the ‘settlers’ fucked over, to our umbilical cord connection to Europe as a British colony, to our proximity to the rest of Asia. Our national identity (well, the parts of it that aren’t a result of our criminal ancestry) doesn’t make sense if not through the context of being the product of basically everywhere else on the planet, just filtered through the kind of laidback attitude that can take a word that is among the most visceral in the English language (cunt) and find a use for it in pretty much every single conversation.

And for as much as I understand how fraught that history of multiculturalism is, as we don’t have the best history when it comes to white Australians interacting with other cultures, that kind of ethnic melting pot is one of the reasons why, for all its faults, I still fucking love this country. And it’s one of the reasons why this particular film, an anthology co-produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, hits me right where I live. Almost literally, since the title and its setting are in Western Sydney, not that far from where I reside and work.

Friday, 18 February 2022

Death On The Nile (2022) - Movie Review

With how a lot of mainstream films have been collecting dust while the pandemic kept mucking up the release schedule over the last couple years, this film arguably has gone through the worst aging of any film caught in that shuffle. Between when filming wrapped up in December of 2019, and its official release in February of 2022, at least four of the actors in this ensemble film have become embroiled in controversies. Actual Cannibal Armie Hammer, Letitia Wright’s ‘vaccine scepticism’, Russell Brand’s descent down the conspiracy YouTube rabbit hole, even Gal Gadot’s nauseating cover of Imagine (which, in her defense, she has since admitted to being… out of touch, to put it mildly); this is the kind of PR clusterfuck that could end up burying a film in release limbo indefinitely, COVID or no COVID.

Not that I'm holding any of that against the film myself. It’s rather unfair to hold Kenneth Branagh or indeed any of the other cast members responsible for actions that not only weren’t even of their own doing, but took place quite a while after the work itself was finished. Don’t get me wrong, it’s more than a little hilarious thinking about this four-car pile-up in hindsight, but… I have no other way to say it: This is a situation where separation of art from the artist absolutely applies. Hell, this isn’t even a new phenomenon for this specific series, given how controversial the casting of Johnny Depp was in Murder On The Orient Express. And that’s also taken on new life considering new information regarding his and Amber Heard’s… disastrous relationship, and how the film itself framed the death of his character in an ultimately positive light, as part of the story’s larger examination of the concept of justice.

I’m bringing all this up because, this early into 2022, it’s the kind of production snafu that threatens to overtake the film itself in terms of sheer interest, more so than possibly any film to come in the next several months. But honestly, as someone who went into this thinking that it would pale in comparison to Branagh’s Belfast, and who wasn’t that into Orient Express to begin with, I walked away from this very surprised by the results. Like, I think I liked this more than Orient or Belfast.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Belfast (2022) - Movie Review

After how well our last look at the work of Kenneth Branagh turned out with All Is True, and considering how self-reflective that film was, I was quite looking forward to this new feature. Where All Is True showed Branagh contemplating his future and his place as an older thespian that was becoming more known for gun-for-hire work than his more theatrical fare, Belfast is primarily about his past. It’s a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about young Buddy (Jude Hill) growing up in the midst of The Troubles, although it’s not as overtly dramatic as that may make it sound.

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Jackass Forever (2022) - Movie Review

As was likely the case for a lot of suburban Millennials growing up in the 2000s, Jackass ruled my world. We had the first film on VHS back in the day, and I got into it right around the time I discovered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and I was dangerously hooked. I went and saw the second and third films when they came to cinemas, and I devoured the DVD box sets of the original show, Wildboyz, and Viva La Bam. It’s difficult to really put into words just how much fun it has been watching these guys keep finding new ways to hurt themselves and each other over the past two decades, but it is one of the most joyfully meaningless media franchises I have ever encountered (and I mean by design, not as a criticism of such things).

Which makes the prospect of writing a review for the newest theatrical release a bit daunting, since I usually spend my time on here diving into thematic ideas and how it relates to the world when it was released. I know I have a habit of chronic navel-gazing in my writings, but just how much writing material is there to be found in a film that is inherently plotless and not big on ideas beyond “Watch this guy and wince”?

Saturday, 12 February 2022

Parallel Mothers (2022) - Movie Review

Pedro Almodรณvar has a new film out this year. And that name had damn-well better sound familiar to my readers, given how much I gushed over his last film Pain And Glory, my favourite film of 2019 and one of the best films about filmmaking of the entire 2010s. But with that same enthusiasm I showed not that long ago, there’s a good chance that I’m just setting up whatever he has next to fail. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this film is still very, very good, but take my minor gripes to follow with a grain of salt, as I may have already spoilt myself when it comes to this guy at his best.

Friday, 11 February 2022

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye (2022) - Movie Review

After two far-from ideal releases from Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films in the form of Ava and The 355, I damn-near used every last hope reserve I had left and aimed it directly at this film because I want something good to come out of Chastain as a name-brand producer. And truth be told, she seems to have finally found a production worth having her name on it, both as producer and as title star. Having been somewhat familiar with her work since seeing her in Zero Dark Thirty all those years ago, I’ve always thought of her as a good actor but never one that had a central mind-blowing performance to her credit. Until now, that is.

Saturday, 5 February 2022

Nightmare Alley (2022) - Movie Review

Having managed to contextualise his entire career with his last film The Shape Of Water, it somewhat stands to reason that Guillermo Del Toro would then decide to stretch out into new territory with his following release. Stepping away from the more speculative genre fixtures that have populated his filmography up to this point, he’s now stepping into down-and-dirty film noir, with a sideways-remake of the 1947 Tyrone Power film of the same name (itself adapted from the William Lindsay Gresham novel of the same name). However, out of a want to keep whatever plot revelations are in this story intact so I can get the most out of them (after The Witches, I want to give Del Toro the best chance possible for a rebound), I have not watched the original nor read the source material. But even in that gap, this film has more than enough going for it to be worth recommending.

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Spencer (2022) - Movie Review

Well, this should be interesting. Another biopic drama from the director of Jackie, a star turn from Kristen Stewart that has gotten her legit Oscar buzz for the first time in her career (I’d wouldn’t normally bother mentioning such things, but with how long she spent as a critical punching bag, it’s more than deserved by this point), and it’s written by the mental giant behind one of last year’s worst films in Locked Down, and 2019’s Best Worst Film in Serenity.

Oh.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad. (RIP Meat Loaf)