Review of Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Best thing: As much as the script forces together the cacophany of elements in the Marvel Universe, the bit that seemed to fit together most neatly for me was Rocket's obsession with stealing prosthetic limbs.
Worst thing: Eposition and fighting. Exposition and fighting. Not enough humour for a Marvel film.
I'm happy to review this, but I can't rate it yet because this is only half a film.
I've learnt from Matrix Reloaded and Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, that presuming that you can judge where a half finished story is going by its first instalment is unwise. (Practically nothing I expected to be resolved from Matrix Reloaded was even addressed in the follow up and instead new characters were introduced. And my favourite thing in the first Hobbit movie was Radaghast and that character has almost nothing to do in the following two films.)
I know this isn't the first Marvel film to end with unfinished plot threads, but seriously, this is a massive cliffhanger and nothing set up in the first act is really resolved by the end.
The problem this film was always going to have is that there isn't enough time for proper character development of anyone. We get a fair few revelations about this new villain Thanos and that's fortunate because this is a character that those of us only familiar with the films know pretty much nothing about. It seemed that he was this super-powerful guy who did nothing but sit on a throne.
This has some cool buildup but the finale is still to come and frankly not everything within this story fully makes sense. Thanos apparently needs all five stones, but one of the stones allows him to “re-shape reality”. Once you can re-shape reality, what more power do you really need?
Infinity War is a film that seems to benefit from being so action packed that you don’t generally have much time to think about the problems. The jokes also help. But this is not a particularly satisfying story (but could turn out to be a perfectly acceptable first chapter) and it is also far from being he funniest Marvel movie.
If there's one thing the follow up needs to do, it's to challenge Thanos' reasoning. The only reply to Thanos so far has been "But that's crazy." Okay sure, but Thanos clearly isn't the crazy mad dog killer that we were expecting and so his rationale needs to be challenged in a more direct reasoned way. I presume that is coming later, even if Thanos won't listen. In the X-Men, Magneto was relateable because he was motivated by revenge and fear. Thanos isn't so relateable... yet. I'm interested to see where the initial character set up leads in a follow up. Still, anyone who was expecting a Darth Vader-esque figure is going to be disappointed.
For a movie that is mostly a series of action sequences (and moreso than normal for a Marvel film) this does a pretty great job. I might well be returning to this fondly, but it all depends on what they do with the second half.
No ratingReview of Suburban Gothic (2014)
Best thing: *Hold up magic charm* “Always use protection!”
Worst thing: The daughter of the Latino gardener accepts the accusation that a particular necklace was stolen by her father pretty easily. Especially considering that the guy telling her this, just broke into her home.
Suburban Gothic is very silly and is a bit of a hodge podge of ideas. It’s not consistently funny, though that’s mainly the script’s fault. There’s no criticising the cast, particularly Matthew Gray Gubler in the starring role
It’s not even like it’s a badly made film. It’s well shot, well acted and well edited. It’s just that it’s a comedy that isn’t particularly consistent in its humour (mixed with horror that is never scary) and I’m not even sure what the film really wants to say. Ray Wise’s character as the dad never feels particularly believable to me. In fact, all the characters feel too quirky for their own good.
There’s a good film in here somewhere, but it’s a little too well buried. Looking forward to seeing Matthew Gray Gubler is something better.
C+Review of The Wrath (aka Trash Fire) (2016)
Best thing: This a clear return to the full-on black humour of Excision after Suburban Gothic was just way too safe.
Worst thing: The dark third act is perhaps it a little too reminiscent of the ending in Excision (only less powerful)
I absolutely loved the wonderfully dysfunctional central relationship in the first half. Horribly dark in a way that Suburban Gothic seemed to be side-stepping. It's a solid bit of black comedy.
But when the female member of the central couple finally learns about the source of her boyfriend's childhood trauma and continuing neuroses, she realises she has made a mistake in asking him to confront them. I think we needed a stronger reason for why our protagonists do not do a runner quite early into the second half and we deserved a better payoff as a consequence for their decision to stick around.
This still doesn't have the genius of Excision, but it's an improvement on Suburban Gothic. Richard Bates Jr is definitely one to continue to keep an eye on. (Also pleased to see a returning Matthew Gray Gubler and AnnaLynne McCord though neither really had enough to work with.)
B-Review of Loving (2016)
Best thing: When the lawyers advise as to what the main content of the opposing lawyers' argument is likely to be, it really hit home how horrible the situation is.
Worst thing: The characters aren't the most distinctive, but my biggest problem is that the information provided in text on screen at the end actively contradicts the depictions of the characters in the film. Mildred Loving is said to have always been shy of the press, yet we see her actively inviting the press to interview her during the main story.
This has some great acting and it is absolutely beautiful, but in the end it feels like it is missing character. Our central actors are doing their best with the material but in the end they are playing quite quiet and somewhat withdrawn people.
I do feel good about the fact that this doesn't do the Oscar bait thing of having the characters build to self-righteous emotional outbursts. These are ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. They aren't interested in taking big risks or making a stand. They just feel a connection to one another and a connection to their home and their roots, so they act accordingly and are shocked that anyone else should take issue with these those actions.
Arguably our protagonists are a little naive. But when a lawyer is offering to take on their case, they are sensibly cautious.
As much as the characters felt a bit too ordinary for me, I did get caught up in the story. Yet the information that appeared on screen at the end made clear that even what we were shown here, as low key as it was, may still have misrepresented some small details.
In the film, the female member of our central couple persuades her husband that they need to invite the media because it serves an important purpose and is in their interest to do so. The text in the final moment of the film insists that this character later refuses to talk to the press because she has always been shy of them. This suggests her arc where she gains the strength to share her personal life and become a public figure did not unfold in real life in quite the way it is depicted.
I'm personally going to say this is Jeff Nichols worst film and that is a real compliment to Jeff Nichols. This is, at least, a better than average biopic. It has strong acting, beautiful shots, solid pacing, compelling storytelling but in the end it doesn't go the extra mile.
Biopics are often rather less impressive because filmmakers are limited by the source material and often it takes a big bombastic character or a unique visual approach to make a serious impact. (Bronson and American Splendour come instantly to mind, though Capote is one that I think succeeds using a more traditional approach.)
This is a solid biopic about one couple's struggle for their marriage to be legally allowed in their state. Well worth your time, but not exactly a thrill ride.
B-Review of Coco (2017)
Best thing: Absolutely beautiful. It almost goes without saying with Pixar movies now, but seriously this is the most visually stunning Pixar movie yet. Gorgeous patterns and colours, including the beautiful spirit animals.
Worst thing: I guessed the third act 'twist' well in advance. The world building we see in the land of the dead was not predictable, but the basic storyline definitely is.
Less a musical and more a film that happens to involve people performing music. Really good music too. When we did the Letterboxd Oscars I looked up the song "Remember Me" on Youtube and I must have stumbled on some kind of horrendous remix because it was cheesy and terrible. The version of Remember Me as performed in the movie is a lot better, but it's not the best song in the film.
It's a pity that the plotline is so obvious. It's a neat little plot and very sweet, but don't expect to be surprised.
That being said, unlike the Pixar movie Up, they save the super-tearjerker scene til the end this time. Coco might not be the best Pixar movie, but it has the stunning visuals and emotional depth we expect from their better efforts.
The world of the dead is a fantastic landscape for the filmmakers' creativity and it puts the lousy Book of Life film from about 4 years ago to shame. Fun, beautiful and powerful. Loved it.
A+Review of All The Money In The World (2017)
Best thing: Christopher Plummer. Frankly it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.
Worst thing: Mark Wahlberg. He is completely eclipsed by the rest of the cast. I simply had no sense of what kind of person he was trying to portray beyond what is revealed in the lines of the script. There is absolutely no depth to his performance.
A fairly run-of-the-mill Ridley Scott movie. The ideas are interesting enough but frankly the plot just plods along.
That's not to say there aren't good moments here, but it feels rather baggy overall. This is a solid film but I didn't feel it had the Ridley Scott magic this time.
Perhaps it's not so surprising that I found this a little underwhelming. It is essentially a biopic and that can often be a challenge to adapt. Often we all too easily accept incredible elements in films either because we don't know they really happened or because we presume the storytellers are taking creative license with events.
The story of the richest man alive is interesting, even to the point where the scenes with Christopher Plummer are more interesting than the scenes involving the kidnapping.
B-Review of A Dog's Will (original title: O Auto da Compadecida) (2000)
Best thing: There are so many great characters, but a farcical sequence where the baker's wife finds she has double-booked her lovers is absolutely hilarious.
Worst thing: While I think it works just fine this does go VERY Catholic towards the end. Even then, however, the jokes keep coming.
When I was looking through most popular movies on Letterboxd, this one came up. Most reviewers seem to be from Brazil and my one Letterboxd friend who had even seen it comes from Brazil (shoutout to Daniel Rodriguez). Nearly everyone really liked this film with the word 'classic' coming up quite often in reviews.
Quite honestly, this movie is blooming hilarious. It's a fast-paced farce, but absolutely brilliantly constructed.
But there is some pretty cool satire here too. I mean seriously, this film shows the clergy as money-grabbing and pompous. It even starts with a joke about the Jesus story as our loveable prankster protagonists promote a religious film as if it were an action movie. This film also features Jesus Christ asserting that government organisations are useless. Yet for all this subversion against authority figures, there is no way this film could be accused of being impious.
Frenetically paced and wonderfully silly, yet with real heart too. Brilliant!
A+Review of Arena (1989)
Best thing: While much of this feels like a very limited budget, some of the alien designs are superb.
Worst thing: "There's an old saying: 'When it's over it's over.' And guess what? It's over." Oh my goodness, such lame dialogue!
More like a really great tv pilot than a mediocre stand-alone movie, Arena has a bit of a cheap but fun Star Trek feel to it. It's therefore fitting that Armin Shimerman who played Quark in Deep Space Nine appears here as a character called Weezil.
Arena has some great world building but gets really cheesy and annoyingly predictable in places. If there'd been a more interesting payoff in the third act I might have been recommending this one. It was fun watching it unfold and this film has no shortage of charm, but unfortunately the story never goes anywhere that exciting with its premise.
C+Review of But I'm A Cheerleader (1999)
Best thing: When it is noted that our protagonist's mother was the main breadwinner at one point, her father gets horribly and so unfairly berated by the leader of the anti-gay camp.
Worst thing: The idea that a masochist is enjoying her 'negative reinforcement' using a shock stick is funny enough. However, it's horrible to think there are kids out there who are basically being conditioned to avoid physical contact through similar means (physical contact with anyone, not just one gender) and this film dodges the full horror of anti-gay camps. That being said, this is able to make some important points by being a movie we can comfortably laugh at.
Solid comedy in the vain of Clueless, Easy A or Edge of Seventeen. Great fun. Very silly but in a wonderfully deliberate way.
I particularly love how absurdly colourful the movie is. The absurdity of the whole situation is elevated by the bright garish colours. The cruel truths behind this story of how gay people are not tolerated by their own families is not something this film can ever fully address (though it does so more than the movie “Saved” which seemed to entirely dismiss anti-gay camps as harmless), but the visual style makes clear that this is a cartoon version of the situation.
When I was at university I spent a while living with mostly gay or bi housemates and But I'm A Cheerleader held pride of place on their DVD shelf (though they wrongly thought I wouldn't like it). In spite of this, I’m told that the SJW crowd are not pleased with this film. That being said, my own google search on the film seemed to show widely positive views on the film. I guess if you search for people with negative opinions on something on the internet, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find them.
So, even if there really are SJWs condemning this positive life-affirming lesbian romantic comedy to the flames, I am going to side with nearly all my Letterboxd friends and some gay, lesbian and bi friends of mine in adoring this piece of comic genius.
A+Review of Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)
Best thing: “Bali Ha'i may call you!” *mimes as if holding a telephone*
Worst thing: The whole psychological block of Nicolas Cage's character, preventing him from committing to a marriage, feels like lip service. It's not really something we are supposed to take too seriously even though it is central to the plot.
Somehow I never noticed the over the top craziness of Nicolas Cage's performance in this film before. It seems like prior to his action films like Face/Off and The Rock I didn't think of Nicolas Cage as a punchline the way he often seems to be viewed today. But perhaps that's actually because Cage's style of acting is more suited to comedy?
Certainly Cage's style of acting fits right in with films like Raising Arizona and Adaptation. In films where there is a wacky aspect anyway, even if it's just your normal comedy tone, Cage fits right in.
Sarah Jessica Parker is actually pretty great here playing almost the opposite of a damsel in distress as she is led away by James Caan who is fantastic as usual.
I suppose it could be funnier but the jokes seemed pretty consistent to me and the whole thing is rather charming.
Simply great fun. Very glad to find this still holds up so well.
A+Review of Audition (1999)
Best thing: That's some unorthodox acupuncture there... Also, right at the end the time shifting dream-like structure seriously pays off.
Worst thing: That wire really cuts through bone like that? I mean, even accepting that she is wearing gloves, wouldn’t you need to be supremely strong to exert that kind of pressure? Then again, I’m not sure this movie wants us to take it so seriously. There’s somewhat of a comic book style to all this.
The only other Takeshi Miike film I've seen is Thirteen Assasins. I was quite confused by the move from incredibly dark and brutal drama to somewhat goofy action with a bit of magical realism thrown in. The awkward mixture of tones prevented me from being able to fully enjoy the long chaotic battle at the climax of the film.
Audition is another film with a mixture of tones, but somehow I could totally run with it this time.
As much as I don't want to spoil the film, it would be irresponsible not to reveal that this is a horror film. It's been said elsewhere on Letterboxd that our central villain is so much hotter when she is being sadistically evil; and it's so true!
The nightmarish time jumps and loss of reality reminds me a bit of Italian horror, but I guess it is more the influence of anime behind this. In Italian horror it often feels like the randomness shows a lack of care. In Audition, by contrast, each shift into madness and grotesque violence is a meticulously crafted note in a terrifying symphony.
Superbly haunting and one of the greatest horror films of the century.
Kiri kiri kiri kiri! *shudders*
A+Review of Essex Boys (2000)
Best thing: Great performances and well constructed relationships between characters. Tom Wilkinson is always great.
Worst thing: We all love Alex Kingston. She's brilliant. We know this. But her role in this film is conspicuously contrived. I'm sure it seemed like a great idea to introduce a femme fatale but her actions in the third act are not plausible.
The cast is pretty great. So it's a pity the story is not more compelling. Certainly we get a clear impression of how horrible the Essex gangsters are, but rather than becoming more complicated the plot actually seems to become more clear-cut and contrived as the film goes on.
Initially there is so much we don't know. Sean Bean takes savage revenge on a man for being a 'grass'. But this man is working in a warehouse storing gutted fish and that's all we know about him. And we are introduced to this world through Sean Bean's driver who is himself a bit of a mystery.
The problem with this film essentially lies with
Alex Kingston. And it's really not her fault. She is absolutely magnificent. But I wonder whether if the filmmakers thought "More
Alex Kingston, make her role bigger." They end up making her so central to the plot that it becomes utterly ludicrous.
Let's talk about the central premise of the film. We are told right from the start that there was a real incident which left three dead, two with life sentences and one going into witness protection. The further we go into the film, the clearer it becomes that this is ALL the scriptwriters knew about this real life incident too.
Another great talent here besides Alex Kingston is Tom Wilkinson. And yeah, Sean Bean is cool too. There's no lack of good performances. But the plot wants us to believe it's all true to life and that just makes it seem all the more contrived. There is certainly room for some suspension of disbelief, but when the movie throws in a 'clever twist' it is encouraging us to consider the plot in more depth leaves itself vulnerable to scrutiny as a result.
C+Review of Moonlight (2016)
Best thing: I suppose the best thing is probably the love scene half way through the film. It plays out in a way that is tasteful and realistic while also having a good sense of cinematic style.
Worst thing: With a super-simple plot, this is basically a short film padded out to feature length. As such it's a long build up to very little. The film even essentially misses out the second act and still feels slow.
Initially when watching this film I was horribly aware that this big Oscar winner was every bit the film I feared it would be. Slow pacing, inexpressive central protagonist, and clearly coming across like misery porn in the way our protagonist is most clearly defined by his lousy circumstances rather than his unique personality or his interesting life.
When our protagonist grows up, the story seems to finally have an opportunity to move forward properly. Our protagonist is still withdrawn, but it feels easier to understand why he is being quiet. In this stage it feels like he has some agency rather than passively allowing things to happen to him.
But just when it feels like we finally have a personal story with proper stakes, the film makes a huge time jump. The protagonist has massively changed body type, the mother's situation has also changed enormously, and it's all happened out of sight.
I know most people presumably won't have much issue with this one classroom scene. However, as someone who used to work in a school, it bugged me.
The bully won't stop talking when asked, but is quick to leave the classroom when asked. Okay, maybe, but I didn't find the scene played out very convincingly.
But why is the protagonist picked out as if his lack of focus on the lesson is unique, even though we can see at least two other students paying no attention to the lesson either? Was I supposed to think the protagonist was especially unfocused by comparison to the others, or is it perhaps that he's just known for being inattentive and that's why the teacher addresses him first?
Moonlight has a very slow start, quite a slow middle, skips a whole important section of the protagonist's life, before quite a slow end. This a very simple story told in a very simple way. It's fine. I can't say I really enjoyed it all that much. I give the movie credit for the tastefully made love scene on the beach but besides that I don't really understand what the fuss is about.
C+Review of Shin Godzilla (2016)
Best thing: The Godzilla sequences are fantastic. Godzilla fires lazers from his back now?
Worst thing: The characters aren't really the focus. We are simply introduced to all of the officials in charge of handling a crisis, but not in an interesting personal way like in Eye In The Sky. There's certainly no romantic subplot like in the original 50s Gojira movie.
Do we need a Japanese Godzilla reboot? Well, no. Godzilla is a classic. But do we want one? Sure! Bring it on. With so many Godzilla movies already, mostly with a fairly low budget and/or trashy, there's always room for a Godzilla movie that looks as polished as Shin Godzilla to add to the pile.
For all the criticisms I might level at this film, I will say right now, it is way better than the American movie. Gareth Edwards, I love your work, and you had a lot of ambitious sequences that the Japanese were not trying to match here. But with that being said, there are effects sequences here that are astounding and the plot is much more engaging.
You might not think this is going to be the one with the better effects when Godzilla first turns up. Godzilla initially looks very weird, but there is a good reason for this. Stick with it, because eventually you will see the Godzilla we know and love. And as the plot unfolds we get some absolutely amazing confrontations between Godzilla and the military.
It has been noted that all Godzilla does it move, but frankly that's all Godzilla ever did. Godzilla doesn't eat people. Godzilla just walks around and causes havoc. And it's no surprising to hear that Godzilla's source of energy is nuclear fission. He's like a 20th century dragon. A fire breathing reptile that can easily fend off the might of a modern army.
The new take on Godzilla explored here parallels the reactor leaks that Japan had to deal with. We see Godzilla from the perspective of the government countering a disaster.
Every figure involved in the process and the bureaucratic red tape inevitably involved is all shown in, frankly, way too much detail. I started trying to ignore the titles of the various figures in order to have a hope in hell of keeping up with the subtitles of actual speech.
One awkward thing is that the main English speaking character, playing the American ambassador who happens to be Japanese herself, is clearly an actress who has Japanese, not English, as her first language. For the Japanese audience, there isn't much issue here, but I whenever she is speaking English I felt I would still be better off with subtitles.
Instead of a relationships as in the first movie, we have Japanese politicians making career plans. It's nice to have a change but it's a very different sort of drama.
I still prefer the original Gojira but Shin Godzilla is definitely one of the better Godzilla movies and if you are monster movie fan you shouldn't miss it.