Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Seriously Red (2022) - Movie Review

There is no such thing as being completely free from outside influence. For as much as people, especially nowadays, just love to extol how much of a unique spirit they are, and how they don’t follow any such dogma that the ‘sheeple’ do, and other such pseudointellectual wankery, we are all in one form or another shaped by exterior influences, the people around us in particular. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, I've made it no secret that I’ve basically modelled myself after The Dude from The Big Lebowski, because that’s the kind of chill I want to exhibit in everyday life, and I could use the rest of this write-up to just list all the different rappers I’ve taken some kind of personal inspiration from over the years.

However, there’s a difference between taking inspiration from others to become your true self, and thinking that you need to be them to become your true self. This is something at the heart of this particular Aussie flick, all about the world of celebrity impersonators and following a dissatisfied real estate agent (Krew Boylan’s Raylene) as she decides to make her own mark as a Dolly Parton impersonator.

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Bones And All (2022) - Movie Review

Luca Guadagnino has a habit of changing my entire fucking worldview with each new film of his I watch and review. Call Me By Your Name, in the years since I first looked at, has become a rather important moment in my personal history as a Queer person, and I genuinely think I wouldn’t be in my current relationship had I not watched it (just one of many experiences that make me love this job). Suspiria, along with being that rare remake that (in my opinion) eclipses the original, is a fascinating example of filmmaking as actual witchcraft, a perspective that I’ve since added to my frequently flowery ideas about the potential of cinema. Whatever he has lined up next has big shoes to fill, clearly, but he has once again delivered an absolute winner.

Monday, 28 November 2022

Millie Lies Low (2022) - Movie Review

Just as Australians know their crime dramas and Italian know their Westerns, New Zealanders sure know their cringe comedies. Only this example is a bit different than what I’ve looked at before. Its depiction of a woman who, after a panic attack, has to miss a plane to New York… but goes to increasingly bizarre measures to try and convince everyone that she didn’t miss it, certainly fits in with that social cringe spectrum, but it’s a lot more anxious this time around. There’s a definite Safdie brothers pace to it, gradually escalating just how much worse things can get for the main character, and with its fixation on social media and social pressure, it fits in with the recent trend towards influencer thrillers.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

She Said (2022) - Movie Review

No other event in recent memory has shaken the film industry as hard as the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It’s the kind of mass shift in public consciousness that warrants treating history in pre- and post- terms. And as someone who has made it their life’s passion to look at and examine the products of the film industry, it’s quite the thing to try and squeeze into my pre-established auteurist way of looking at films. Between feature films, short films, and television shows, Weinstein has his name attached to over 300 products; that’s a lot of influence. And in that time, he’s worked closely with a number of filmmakers I hold in quite high regard like Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez. Hell, my favourite film of all time is a Weinstein Company production… and also stars Rose McGowan. As with any industry that makes products for mass consumption, you can never unlearn how the sausage is made.

When looking at a film that dramatises the efforts of the journalists who first broke the story of Weinstein’s nightmare shitlord behaviour (and that’s me toning it down), naturally, stuff like this comes to mind… but it’s also something that’s part of this film’s production as well. She Said is a product of Plan B, a film studio co-founded by Brad Pitt. Pitt himself was told about Gwyneth Paltrow’s mistreatment by Harvey back in the ‘90s, and he apparently confronted the man directly… only to continue working with him for a conspicuous amount of time after that. That Paltrow herself is part of this film’s story, mentioned several times as one of the women who came forward, only makes this even more uncomfortable to contemplate. Even when creating art meant to point the finger at abusers, Hollywood continues to let them benefit from it.

Not that I’m going to hold that against this film as I do my usual thematic musings on it, though. Pitt’s involvement may muddy the waters as far as this film’s righteous cause, but I don’t see the good that would come out of disregarding the work of everyone else who created this film, just because of his involvement in it. In much the same way that disregarding the work of those who worked on films that Weinstein produced does little as a sweeping movement. Ignoring the efforts of women because of the actions of one douchebag, considering the story being told here, doesn’t feel right. I can understand it if the douchebag in question is the director or the lead actor (and I freely admit that I’ve dodged quite a few releases this year on that basis), but with how varied the role of producer can be as far as contact with the people working on the film directly, I’m not as direct with that.

I’m just putting this all out there because, out of respect for the work being highlighted in holding the bastards accountable, this felt like something worth keeping in context. Especially since what has been put together here is really damn good. (Yes, after all that waffle, I promise that we are actually going to discuss the movie now)

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Black Adam (2022) - Movie Review

As much as my growing disappointment with quite a few films that 2022 has had to offer may argue against this, I like to think of myself as the ‘last line of defence’ of film critics. Over the past eight years of writing on this blog, as well as my commissions for FilmInk, I have always tried to find the positives in whatever film I watch. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I genuinely think that I have yet to watch a film that has literally zero merit to it. If a new film has come out, and it has been either disregarded or just lambasted by other critics, chances are good that I have at least one good thing to say about it, if not several.

That goes double for superhero films. While I get the inherent problems with how much of a stranglehold the genre has on the industry nowadays, I personally can’t find it in myself to lambast the art as a result of that. I love superhero stories. When they’re done well, they can make for just the right kind of storytelling that tap into that part of me that holds onto the ideals of goodness within humanity like a life preserver. I may not want every film to be like that, and indeed not every film should, but I usually have a lot of nice words for the ones I come across.

To put it simply, in order for a superhero film to get on my bad side, it has to be a particularly crap example of the genre. I mean, I was able to unironically vibe with parts of Morbius, just to show how lenient I can be with this kind of fare. But then I come across stuff like this, which feel like they exist solely to validate every single criticism that has been levelled at the genre and its effect on the industry over the past decade and a half.

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) - Movie Review

Phase Four of the MCU, the starting leg for the newfangled Multiverse Saga, has been a rather tepid affair. I freely admit that I have a lot of fondness for Phase Three, which is full of films I like, love, even admire for various reasons, and after the thunderclap of Endgame, there are some expected shortfalls in the fallout… but it still feels off. Nothing I would outright consider bad (which is more than can be said for Phase One and Two), but plenty of missed opportunities. One decent film (Shang-Chi), three disappointments (Black Widow, Doctor Strange, Thor), and two admitted greats (No Way Home and Eternals). Although it should be said that, at a time when the MCU is emphasising the varieties of the Multiverse, it says something when the two best films in this Phase had to go outside even that margin to find inspiration (past Spider-Man films and DC-era Jack Kirby respectively).

But then, that’s what I like the most about the original Black Panther: It thrives regardless of any connection to the larger franchise. While its story has some roots in the events of Captain America: Civil War, it doesn’t have the same serialised weight to it that can and has hindered other MCU films. If you go into it not having seen anything of the other films, you will still get its full impact one way or another. It is rather unique in that regard, save for the first Iron Man film retroactively, and it’s part of the reason why I hold Phase Three in such high regard: It was when more unique filmmaking voices started to weave themselves into the patchwork, and through that, allowed for stuff like this to exist. If any film in this Phase would be capable of escaping that rut, a sequel to Black Panther is it.

And thankfully, aside from obvious connections to the first BP film and a brief reference to Endgame, this follow-up holds onto that true standalone stance… save for some tragic real-world background info with the death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020. Much like with Paul Walker and Fast & Furious 7, this film mainly serves as a cinematic eulogy for one of its key actors, and it strikes a similarly heartfelt tone in that tribute. Both in front of and behind the camera, there’s this sense that the people working on it made real connections with Boseman, and the impact of his death went a bit beyond just ‘person we worked with once’. It opens with a funeral procession for T’Challa, with crowds of people decked out in white and dancing as his coffin is carried through the town. Mourning not just as sadness over death, but celebration of a life lived; given the reasons why Boseman wound up keeping his impending death from those around him, it seems like the way he’d want to be remembered.

Indeed, his memory and legacy form the core of this film’s narrative, which both echoes a lot of the original’s theological points while pushing the returning characters further along their respective arcs. Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda especially hits the high notes with her performance here, balancing the grief of losing her son with the added responsibility of now leading Wakanda in a way that, hopefully, would follow T’Challa’s example. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, T’Challa’s widow, admittedly gets less to do here, but when it gets to how much her relationship with him meant to her… yep… yep, that’s me tearing up just from writing that.

And then there’s Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s kid sister, technological whiz, and the beating heart of the story. Carrying guilt over her brother’s death, and struggling with the new crisis on the horizon, she ends up in a similar position to T’Challa himself as far as trying to decide what direction the kingdom should take from here. Her connection to technology adds to the returning ‘tradition vs. progress’ themes from the original, shown as a grieving tool and her own personal connection to Wakandan culture and legacy. The inclusion of Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, AKA Ironheart, gives that a nice boost, along with connecting this to the franchise’s precedents for tributing fallen heroes.

But where Shuri shines brightest is when put next to this film’s… well, much like Killmonger in the previous film, calling Tenoch Huerta’s Namor the ‘villain’ is a bit oversimplistic. Both he and his domain of Talokan, a society of underwater-dwelling Mayans, are reflections of Wakanda in their isolationist ways, their technological advances combined with rustic lifestyles, and, ultimately, their reasons for wanting to strike out against the rest of the world. However, where Killmonger wanted revenge for the injustices happening beyond Wakanda, Namor is fueled more directly by fear for his people. As a result of T’Challa’s climactic decision to share his country’s wealth with the world, Talokan and its own veins of vibranium are on the brink of being discovered and… well, colonizers gonna colonize.

I should mention here that the way the residents of Talokan are visualised is… familiar. I mean, they’re a tribal people who spend a lot of time underwater and also have blue skin; comparisons seem rather obvious. However, to this film’s credit, I will say that I got more out of the depiction of their home than I wound up getting from anything on Pandora. Where a lot of Avatar felt like CGI-assisted sightseeing, the underwater villages and temples here look more like places where people actually… well, live. Making that kind of connection adds a lot to the tragic sense of dread at the thought of these people going to war, aided by Ludwig Gรถransson’s eclectic yet harmonious soundtrack. It sonically backs up the central idea that these seemingly disparate things can work together, but only with the right minds putting them side by side.

For in that conflict, between Wakanda wanting an ally and Talokan wanting a war asset, we come back to familiar notions of self-defence and how proactive one can be before it becomes all-out aggression. Both Shuri and Namor have experienced trauma as the result of outside forces interfering with their worlds, and both are near the breaking point where vengeance is all they can see. It’s here where the idea of this film as a tribute to its own main character goes beyond what F&F7 provided, and becomes proper thematic texture. While T’Challa’s direct connection to others makes up the bulk of the surface emotion here, it’s the weight of carrying on his ideals that forms the muscle underneath.

He fought for his people, for his way of life, for his land, and while he realised that his ways weren’t perfect (To quote Shuri, “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved”), he took that on board and used it to become a better leader and hero. And in his wake, he continues to inspire others to work for the same goals. To fight for peace, not scorched earth and water.

While I can understand the nuances of the fan-led desire for T’Challa to be recast rather than killed off to mirror Boseman’s own passing (although I am nowhere near qualified enough to comment on them at length), I prefer to just evaluate the creative decisions that have already been made. I’ve seen too much nonsense in the DC film discourse to want to add to the growing audience insistence of dictating art from the sidelines.

But if this is the direction they’re going to take (unless they decide on a sudden resurrection, which wouldn’t exactly be out-of-character for Marvel), Ryan Coogler and company are at least going about it the right way. Wakanda Forever is a film that relies on attachment to character over mere spectacle (although, once again, the action scenes and world-building are solid as hell), and because the performances and writing are more than strong enough to deliver on that, it makes for the kind of wholehearted engagement that has been lacking from the MCU over this past year.

Sunday, 20 November 2022

The Woman King (2022) - Movie Review

Films like this make me kinda nervous as far as writing what I actually think about them. Yeah, there’s my previously-mentioned insecurity when it comes to discussing stories and ideas connected to Black cultures, which I genuinely think I’ve dropped the ball on around here a number of times, but there’s also the historical side of things as well. Long before this film saw release over here in Australia, it came under heavy controversy for its historical inaccuracies, to the extent that it airbrushed the involvement of Dahomey, the West African nation that the film is centred on, in the Atlantic slave trade.

Now, whenever dealing with films based on historical events, I tend to lean on the side of “this is a film, not a documentary” when processing what’s on-screen. I often feel like I’m stretching my abilities when talking cinema as is (hello imposter syndrome, my old friend), let alone feigning knowledge about history that I do not possess, outside of some light Googling out of sheer curiosity; this should not be mistaken for a lengthy education on such things. Between that and the regularity with which cinema, particularly in the mainstream, glosses over the messier parts of the subject matter, I don’t feel comfortable judging it on those standards. I especially don’t like the idea of a film like this being put under some ‘model minority’ scrutiny bollocks, where it’s expected to do better than those whose diversions tend to fly under the radar more times than not.

So, what I’m going to do with this film is to discuss it and analyse it as is. While I have done a bit of looking-into concerning the real-world history being shown (and yes, it is a lot to deal with), I am only going to be talking about what is in the film itself. Partly because of my aforementioned reluctance about judging films on anything greater than that, but also because I’m hoping to surprise at least one reader as far as what is actually in the film that everyone and their dog(whistle) is talking about.

Thursday, 17 November 2022

Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris (2022) - Movie Review

I don’t know if karma is actually a thing. It’s a nice idea as a general principle, and it would certainly help the world make a bit more sense, but... well, that’s just it: It relies on things in the world having a logical progression to them, and I’m not so sure of that. Bad people get rewarded for their dickery all the time, while those trying to do good often run at a deficit because altruism isn’t exactly a profitable endeavour. We should be good to each other and to ourselves, but that doesn’t mean getting recognised by some nebulous universal force is going to be part of the deal. Not that it isn’t a dream worth striving for, though, and dreams are bountiful when it comes to this particular film.

Friday, 11 November 2022

Everything In Between (2022) - Movie Review

Well, we struck gold with an Aussie production last time, so let’s go for another one. A suicidal teenager (Jordan Dulieu’s Jay) meets terminally-ill 20-something Liz (Freyja Benjamin) and they teach each other about life and love and all that good stuff. Sure, it all sounds a bit sicklit-y, but hey, Babyteeth turned out great, and I seem to be on a good roll for films lately, so maybe this’ll turn out alright.

I don’t even know why I’m even pretending to give this the benefit of the doubt. In the minutes since leaving the cinema, I’ve already taken to calling this Nothing Nowhere Never, because that’s what it made me feel while watching it.

Saturday, 5 November 2022

Sissy (2022) - Movie Review

This film has a lot in common with Bodies Bodies Bodies. It’s a black comedy-horror slasher type deal that takes the piss out of social media influencers and the kind of attitudes they engender. Except, where Bodies Bodies Bodies had a bit of a voyeuristic bent to it, treating the influencers with some distance between them and the audience in terms of relatability, this one is more of an inside-out affair. It focuses on Cecilia (Aisha Dee), a mental health advocate on social media, who is invited to the hen’s night of her school bestie (Hannah Barlow’s Emma, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film with her husband Kane Senes). Shit accidentally goes wild.

Friday, 4 November 2022

Decision To Leave (2022) - Movie Review

So, while still floating on my little cloud of happiness after watching Bros, there was a moment in it that stuck with me for… other reasons. It’s when Bobby talked about gay romance films like Call Me By Your Name, where the appeal is out of things not ending happily because mainstream audiences like seeing Gays be miserable. And while there’s some truth to that (same deal with white audiences and Black cinema; the depressing shit tends to get more pop traction), I feel like it leaves out a weird truth about romantic media: The better stories tend to be the ones that don’t end well. Mulholland Drive, Romeo & Juliet, Her, Phantom Thread, Being John Malkovich, Chasing Amy, Behind The Candelabra; either they end with the main couple not being together, or they are together despite how unhealthy the relationship is for them both. 

Okay, I’m going with examples of the stuff I like here, and I could probably make another connection between that and my love for edgy shit… but that leaves out how these kinds of stories are just more interesting than the more idealistic romances. Maybe it speaks to the more toxic ways that affection can manifest in people, maybe it feels more realistic if it doesn’t have a happily-ever-after conclusion, or maybe we just like seeing fucked-up people find love as some perverse pat on the back that there’s still hope for us; whatever the case, there’s a certain pull to these stories. And the latest from Korean auteur Park Chan-wook falls into this same broad category.

Thursday, 3 November 2022

Terrifier 2 (2022) - Movie Review

Art The Clown (David Howard Thornton) might be one of the greatest slasher villains ever. Like, legit, this creation is something special for modern horror. He’s like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Crazy Joe Davola; this murderous mime that shows more personality just through gestures and facial expressions than a lot of main characters in other horror films. And over the last several years, his creator Damien Leone has been slowly but surely building up this new face, from short films, to anthology wraparounds for short films, to starring in his own solo feature. A solo feature that turned out pretty damn good, all things considered, and with its follow-up on limited release in cinemas… hell yeah, I was going all-in with this. But even though there’s certainly a lot to like about it, I have to admit that I prefer the first film over this one.

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Bros (2022) - Movie Review

I feel like people sleep on Nicholas Stoller as a filmmaker. Sure, he has a few duds to his name (Sex Tape, Night School, the missed opportunity of Storks), but both as a director and as a writer, the man has been putting in work for damn-near two decades. It was his efforts in 2014’s Neighbors that first got me hooked on the Point Grey Pictures aesthetic, and his contributions to family films like the Captain Underpants movie, Dora And The Lost City Of Gold, and even helping to produce the little miracle of Smallfoot, have shown him to be quite versatile in appealing to different audiences. And now, it seems like he's met his ultimate challenge as the only straight man helming a film that is predominantly about, and majority-starring, Queer people. And holy shit, I fell head over heels for this like you wouldn’t believe.