What Movie Have You Seen Today?

#374

Captain Marvel

The demands foisted on this movie are not unlike those placed on Carol Danvers herself in this 21st entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Can she help the Avengers defeat Thanos? Is the movie a beacon for feminism? Does it set the table for Endgame? Is it a social comment on misogyny and sexism for today’s world? The expectations for it were raised by Marvel’s own cultural phenomenon and financial success with Black Panther and DC beating them to the feminist superhero punch with Wonder Woman. There’s nothing supremely controversial about it other than its lead happens to be a woman. Sadly, in 2019 that has become a political statement with factions of the internet going nuts over a movie passing the Bechdel-Wallace test (two women talk to each other about something other than a man.) What it is instead is a fun '90s inspired action comic book movie with some social allegory along with a lot of Marvel fan service.

What the film does well is what Marvel usually does well–great special effects, lots of humor, digital de-aging, post-credit scenes, and plenty of connective tissue to other Marvel films. It also features right out of the gate the best Stan Lee tribute put to film with a cameo still to come! Yet it still can be viewed independently, or even as an entry point to the MCU, its timeline slotting itself rather nicely between CA: The First Avenger and the first Iron Man. There are also more twists in this movie than most any others since The Winter Soldier.

It features two scenes paying homage to (heavily inspired by?) Terminator 2 and Independence Day (which I’m surprised no other review has yet mentioned). Its buddy-road trip vibe in the second act features effortless if not earned chemistry with Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson. Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson is a welcome but underused presence (his digital de-aging not as effective as Nick Fury’s, though 90s pompadour hairstyles were a tad pronounced.) Its comments on the technology of the time are hilarious in hindsight (“What’s happening?” … “It’s loading.”) The soundtrack homage fits though it is not quite as successful as the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. The film score itself, orchestra with some electronic keyboards from the era, did its job during the movie, though as is typical with Marvel, I couldn’t recall its theme once leaving the theater.

Brie Larson is quite good, subtly expressive most of the time, determined and confident, but also witty, smiles, and is capable of one-liners when the situation requires. This despite Jude Law’s character constantly saying she’s too emotional. It’s in the quieter scenes where this pays off–her friendship with fellow Air Force pilot Maria and relationship with Maria’s daughter. Women will recognize the stoic tolerance she exhibits while the men around her put her down or fiddle with tape. The line she delivers to Jude Law at the end fits perfectly, not just for #metoo but in the context of how the Kree have tried to control and re-invent her into “the best version of herself.” But she already is. She doesn’t have a boyfriend, which will anger some, but nor does she have a girlfriend, which may not be enough for those expecting more from Marvel than a big budget movie aimed at the masses.

The movie is set up for her to discover her identity, being left amnesiac from the incident that gave her powers. Unlike Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, and Stephen Strange, she doesn’t seek out these powers voluntarily. Nor was she born into them like Thor, Star Lord, or T’Challa. She already has these character strengths, but now she is given super powers on top of that. Learning that she is the master of her own destiny is something that her best friend reminds her of which wakes her from the brainwashing, the Kree standing in for our modern society not just socially, but also politically and militarily.

But it is Ben Mendelssohn’s performance that resonates the most. He’s funny, has a meta moment about his blue eyes and eye glasses, and succeeds in conveying emotion under a pile of makeup and prosthetics. I would almost say he steals the scenes he’s in except that honor goes to the “cat.”

Captain Marvel is a solid Marvel movie. It won’t be the cultural statement to women that Black Panther was for African-Americans. But it may prove to be better than Wonder Woman, and not just financially (sure to surpass WW’s $100M opening.) It sets the table for Endgame nicely and is one of the better hero origin movies Marvel has produced, above Doctor Strange and Spiderman Homecoming, but well short of Black Panther. The fact that so much more expectation is upon this movie shows how far Marvel has come from its beginnings in 2008, but also how much more it can deliver in the coming decade.

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#375

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Won’t do a full review for this one at the moment since it’s late and I would want to see it again before doing so, but just on my initial impressions after having just finished it: WOW.

Brilliant from the jump. Loved the darker, more serious tone the film sets in its opening sequences, aided by some solid cinematography that looks different from what we’ve seen before in the franchise, and the hospital sequence at the beginning was excellent.

This is what Bond should be doing. After Cruise retires from M:I, I’d bring both him and McQuarrie in and have them help guide the Bond franchise for a bit. They started to sneak out in front of Bond with Rogue Nation, but barring a return to Casino Royale form with the next Bond, Fallout has led the M:I franchise out front as the spy franchise to beat as we head into the 2020s.

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#376

Coco (2017)

Beautifully animated, this one is visually stunning and also is an emotional, as well as fun movie.

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.

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#377

Triple Frontier (Netflix original)

Men on a mission…

It’s a tricky movie to review because it’s very much a film of two half’s.

The first half begins with the ‘getting the band back together’ trope. But it’s made interesting via the tribulations of life after an army career. It does a good job of this, without getting too preachy and keeping up the pace of the developing plot throughout this examination.

Then we’re in the Men On a Mission section which almost hits a home run. With the characters well established it’s very enjoyable seeing them at work in the jungle and seeing relationships stretch but not break.

The jungle location looks spectacular and one particular scene, shot in torrential rain looks glorious, reminding me, aesthetically of the William Friedkin masterpiece Sorcerer. (If only that infamous final act of SP had been in the rain as intended… ok, it would still be awful, but it would’ve looked a lot better.)

Of course not everything goes to plan, or it’s a short movie. This is where things dramatically shift gear from a heist movie to a survival movie that focuses upon the team’s relationship. And this, for me is where it falls apart.

The relationships are well drawn - it’s functional in terms of the aspects of character the filmmakers obviously want to examine. However it’s a totally different genre to the one you’ve just spent the last hour and a half with. And… at the end of the day this worthy relationship stuff isn’t as good as it thinks it is - ultimately it’s highly predictable tropes, however worthy they try to be. When it’s a men in a mission heist flick those tropes are fine - it’s why you watch such a movie and it illustrates them well. But once the immediate threat is out of the picture and the new threat is the awesome landscapes and one another it’s frankly a little boring.

When this ‘in the wilderness’ section finally ends and the final act ensues with an immediate threat returned it needs to return with a vengeance. It doesn’t! The final act feels more like an episode of The A-Team with a couple of barrel rolling pick up trucks and very little sense of jeopardy.

It seems to have had a decent budget so I can’t see why they couldn’t come up with a far better final act, with high stakes and challenging scenarios for the lads, instead of an A-Team fan movie. It feels like the writer just ran out of ideas. Or maybe they blew the budget on the first half and concerns meant a last minute rewrite to the final act. It’s cheap and without any content whatsoever.

When you look back at the movie there really was very little risk throughout; there’s plenty of foreshadowed risk in the set up, which is great, but it never delivers on it. The boys are far too good at the job and the bad guys too few, too anonymous and too easily dispatched.

In the end I don’t really know what this movie was. I’m guessing that Netflix commissioned an action movie and director JC Chandor signed up for a character driven buddy-survival movie. It ends up as both and yet neither.

As well as failing at its genre mash-up, it makes things worse by contriving a totally misguided moral thread - a ‘message’… Dear, oh dear:

…It throws into the mix a condescending treatise upon the nature of soldiering: Going into the private sector, or becoming a Mercenary can turn you from ‘warrior-patriot’ who kills bad guys into damaged destroyer of anything that gets in your way… The former is sold as the morally ‘right’ path. But both seem pretty questionable reason to go around shooting people with the far from perfect imperialist US hierarchy deciding who the ‘bad guys’ are. History’s proven, both sides of the Atlantic, that government mandate is not a reliable source from which to derive one’s ethics. Since when did the moral high ground reside in the excuse that you were ‘following orders’.

Well, that’s exactly where this movie’s morals rest. So long as you’re killing the folk Uncle Sam tell you to, then you’re one of the good guys. You have to buy that notion 100% or this whole movie is laughable. Haven’t they seen Star Wars? That’s exactly what the Empire tell the Storm Troopers… I digress… It’s a naive, over simplistic world view, which one can stomach in a simplistic heist movie, but becomes quite distasteful when that movie tries to aim higher.

This navel gazing is all within heist, buddy, survival, soldering action movie trappings… Oh my! Perhaps in better hands (or probably miraculous hands) these disparate elements could compliment one another, but here they seem to sabotage each other and tbh that’s to be expected, isn’t it?

A real shame because the cast are excellent; the chemistry really works and they all give a enough detail in their performances for us to believe in them.

Part 1: 7/10 A really enjoyable 80s throwback.

Part 2: 4/10 The pace and genre is as lost as its characters, but the acting and landscape are good.

That final act: 1/10 After given 1hr 45 minutes to this story it’s a lazy slap in the face.

Ps. I’m in a dilemma about whether to rate it ‘thumbs up or ‘down’ on Netflix. The end is so lacklustre and the ‘message’ so dumb that it’s definitely a thumbs down movie. But I want Netflix to continue to produce this kind of ambitious stuff with great ensemble casting and exotic location shoots. Giving it the thumbs down surely only contributes to the torrent of factory line YA dirge that Netflix is already flooded with.

Tip: If you can get a copy, then 80s movie High Risk is the ‘men on a mission ripping off a drug lord in the jungle’ movie you should watch (which Triple Frontier totally rips off - only with added boring bits and infantile ethics). High Risk knows exactly what it is: lots of fun. It stars James Brolin in his Bond casting era, James Coburn and Anthony Quinn and is a blast throughout. And The Rolling Stones’ track Satisfaction scores the finally… take that, Triple Frontier!

EDIT: All the edits I’ve done to this review just goes to show how hard I found it to dissect this mess; the good, the bad and the really, really ugly. I look forward to reading someone else’s better attempt.

#378

I first saw him in the Superb film, The Contender.

A US political film with Sam Elliot as Jeff Bridges’ US President’s right hand man.

A film blessed with a stellar cast, lead in part by Gary Oldman’s creepy protagonist. Love it to bits.

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#379

The Old Man and The Gun

I really enjoyed this movie. Everything about it is in perfect balance; the script, direction, edit, score and especially the performances.

The score by Daniel Hart is absolutely wonderful, recalling the likes of The Thomas Crown Affair. Set in the early 80s, but about a man already old by then Hart’s score hits the perfect period note. Very Stylish, yet sentimental, just like its protagonist.

David Lowery’s direction holds everything in it’s place. He allows the scenes to take their time, whilst the storytelling never loses it’s kinetic pace. I’m guessing that it’s thanks to his experience as an editor he seems to have known exactly how he wanted to tell this story (as in Cut it). There’s well placed tangents from the mis en scene with montages and graphics which all serve to turn exposition into aesthetic highlights and sometimes joyful in their to-the-point brevity. Like the characters, the story makes the most of it’s time with us.

Last and the furthest thing from least is the cast. There’s Danny Glover and Tom Waits bringing up support with nuance and gravity. Casey Affleck creates yet another absolutely authentic portrait of an everyman; no showboating at all, he always lets the script and story breath. Same goes for Sissy Spacek - as solid as ever.

Redford turns in a truly poignant performance as a simple man who’s in love with what he does and when he’s getting to do it he’s the nicest gent to be around and wouldn’t ever hurt a fly. If he does retire from acting after this, then he’s gone out on a high.

Honestly, it’s so good to watch a movie in which no one needs to be a cut-out villain. Everyone in it is trying to be a decent person making the best of what life’s presented them.

9/10

(It does nothing wrong, but if i give it a 10, what’s left for the likes of Kubrick and Leone)

And for those interested, heres a Q&A with cast and director:

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#380

Goodnight Mommy (2014)

Creepy Austrian film about 9 year old twin boys whose mother comes home from hospital with bandages covering her face. After a couple of days the boys begin to doubt that the woman in the bandages is actually their mother.

Well worth seeking out. Austrian with English subtitles.

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#381

Saw PETERLOO (2018) last night followed by a Q&A with Mike Leigh.

As the film began, I wondered what a Mike Leigh massacre scene would look like, and it turned out to look exactly as one would expect a Mike Leigh massacre to look: it built slowly and deliberately to a powerful conclusion in the same fashion all of his films are made. Dick Pope’s cinematography was a wonder to behold as always, and Leigh’s brilliance with actors was as strong as ever. I was impressed all over again at how whatever genre Leigh puts his hand to, he makes a wonderful film that works as both a genre piece and a Mike Leigh film (much like Joseph L. Mankiewicz in this regard).

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#382

"Ghost Stories" (2018)

Wonderful, British psychological horror starring Martin Freeman, and Andy Nyman reprising his role from the play, as a man devoted to debunking fraudulent psychics, who is tasked with solving three unexplained paranormal events.

Slow-moving, but well worth sitting through the first 30 minutes as the pace picks up. Lots of interesting visuals and creepy foreboding.

#383

Shazam!

Fun, but kind of dumb. Good if you have kids, but a bit scary if they’re under 10. Best scenes were when they were testing the new super powers. Zachary Levi does a good job channeling a 14 year old. DC always goes for the other-worldly powers (Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Suicide Squad) and so does Shazam! Batman seems to be the one exception to this rule. Its villain’s motivations aren’t really spelled out, despite getting a lot of Dr. Sivana’s backstory. And in parts it seems more reminiscent of Spiderman Homecoming than a DC movie, despite numerous easter eggs and a lame semi-cameo at the end. More successful as a comedy than a superhero movie.

#384

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. First time I’ve seen it since the theaters. It has some issues, but it’s actually a very good film and dares to be different unlike The Force Awakens. If you haven’t, definitely give it another watch with an open mind.

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#385

Good Time (2017)

A really good movie set over a single night. The cast, script and direction are all top notch.

It’s witty, inventive, moving and highly entertaining.

The score is particularly good, winning Cannes soundtrack award. Influenced mainly by Tangerine Dream and a little John Carpenter, it’s by Oneohtrix Point Never, which is basically a guy named Daniel Lopatin. He also scored The Bling Ring.

I’d love to see him collaborate with the likes of Zimmer on a Bond score.

I digress… Great movie that’s well worth an hour and a half of your time.

#386

Arrival (2016)

Very interesting sci-fi film which I’ve only just gotten around to see. More Close Encounters than Independence Day.

#387

Mandy


This. Movie. Is. Bonkers…!

But bonkers in a wonderful way! A nightmare that’s beautifully rendered and with performances as committed as you could wish for. Despite some great reviews I put off watching this, not being a fan of torture porn. But Mandy isn’t torture porn, so I would allay those fears for anyone else put off for this reason. It’s probably one of the best looking movies of the year and if you roll with the tone it’s quite a ride.

Operation Finale (Netflix production)


Great cast. Isaacs is solid; charismatic and believable as usual. Kingsley gives a character who’d be 1 dimensional in most hands a degree of wit and humanity. It’s another Kingsley masterclass in the sometimes simmering, sometimes explosive evil that he portrays better than any other actor (see Sexy Beast and polanski’s Death and The Maiden; the latter captive aspect is very similar to this film).

However, the direction is workman like and the script ok, but undistinguished. I gather it’s based on a true story, but it felt like they took too few artistic liberties, particularly and ironically in the finale. It would all read nicely on paper, but lacks the spectacular that it needed on screen.

This may be symptomatic of Netflix processing of script and production, since it’s other Oscar Isaac movie Triple Frontier suffered the same issue (though to a far greater extent). It all feels a bit production line, much like the old studio movies; quantity trumping quality. Makes one appreciate the extra time taken to do Bond.

Glass


I’ve been looking forward to this sequel for about 20 years. Can anything satisfy such a wait?

More yes, than no!

Glass isn’t really a sequel, but the third part of a trilogy.

Unbreakable is for me a perfect movie; I’d change nothing about it. But it did leave huge questions and begged a continuation.

Split was a very fine return to form for Shyamalan after making increasingly awful films for almost 2 decades (few filmmakers come back from such a run). But thanks to material, characters and a subject that are a muse for Shyamalan, he’s more or less achieved that come back.

Set in a mental institution, Glass’ central thread is the question: are these ‘super powers’ real or in the minds of our 3 protagonists/antagonists? I certainly won’t answer that here - you’ll have to watch it - but this thread is imo a triumph. Shyamalan works miracles here and the cast all deliver.

What’s pleasantly surprising with Glass is its scale. It could’ve gone big and epic, but instead it’s a tight character study; a meditation on the character’s motivations and a welcome antidote to the increasingly banal and derivative Marvel tent poles.

Being the third in the trilogy does it wrap things up to a fan’s satisfaction. Pretty much, yeah! There’s a few surprises that are welcome and a few beats that are disappointing. I can see why the story needs these beats, but there may have been ways of presenting them in a less trivial way (I guess it’s one beat in particular I’m talking about here). For a movie so long in the writing it seems oddly lazy - unimaginative. It serves the plot rather than the character and that sadly is a staple of Shyamalan’s bad movies.

The whole comic book angle seems at times crowbarred into the dialogue because it’s part of the brand and Shyamalan is obviously keen to keep reminding us of that. I think that he gets this wrong; it’s essential to Mr Glass’ interpretation of events, which is an interesting angle. But when it also becomes other characters interpretation it unnecessarily saps an essential realism from the the world they inhabit. That realism is the very thing that made Unbreakable and Split so outstanding.

But on the whole Glass works very well and is another brave, smart, grown up movie about people with ‘super powers’.

One last thing… Glass includes By far Shyamalan’s worst acting. He likes to do a Hitchcock and write himself into his movies. The guy is a terrible actor, but often it’s a fleeting part and he gets away with it. Here it’s a part that if another actor had played it would have been 20 seconds tops. Shyamalan’s apparent delusions of grandeur see him stretch this part out to what seems like and eternity of self conscious shifty eyed, grimaces and stilted dialogue. I’m guessing it’s about 3 minutes… that’s 3 pages that adds nothing and could’ve gone altogether without effecting story or character… the man’s got a screw loose, surely!

I can imagine how crushing that must be for the editor, to make the best film they can, but have to massively over extend this scene, because it’s the filmmaker is sat next to you saying, “Gee, this stuff’s great! Make it longer, let it breath, it’s got Oscar performance written all over it!!!”

The movie’s psychiatrist states that her speciality is Delusions of Grandeur… I wonder if Shyamalan is aware that he suffers this himself when he sabotages his own movies by over extending his terrible acting?

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#388

SOut Of Blue

Astrophysics and quantum mechanical musings delivered via a neo noir murder mystery… what’s not to like?

This is a fascinating meditation on memory, identity and the nature of reality. It’s a hugely ambitious attempt to fuse these dilemmas in a more conventional plot.

On the whole and ultimately it’s successful. There’s a few creaky moments; either too vague (the red scarf in the bedroom!) or too on the nose (the out of sync reflection is far too out of sync; could’ve been far subtler).

It also employs a trope that’s obvious at the outset, yet revealed as a supposed surprise in the finale. However, when attempting to fuse such high concept, complex subjects you have to pick your battles. So perhaps Director Carol Morley was absolutely right to allow the less complex tropes to be less complex.

Without doubt this is an accomplished attempt to pair the abstract with the figurative; something you can follow, while plenty to stir the imagination.

It’s also wonderful to have a female protagonist playing a role that’d usually be the reserve of the grizzled male. For me the best female roles are the ones that don’t wear their gender on their sleeve; playing a character rather than a gender. High bench marks for this in the mainstream are Ripley (Alien) and Sarah Connor (Terminator). Mike Hoolihan joins their ranks.

Highly recommended for those with an appetite for life’s biggest questions.

… …

Speaking of great female roles, you don’t see one for ages, then 2 come at once!

Destroyer

It’s a gritty crime movie that reminded me of Friedkin’s excellent 1985 To Live And Die In LA. That was a portrait of life in the grime of LA drugland law enforcement; William Peterson portrays the detrimental effects upon the mental health and relationships his job inevitably incurs. This time round Nicole Kidman sends herself to these and perhaps greater depths of the sole.

I struggle with the entity that is Nicole Kidman; she’s a good actress, but it’s difficult to take her seriously with the amount of work she’s had done on her face. But to her credit as an actress she often manages to suspend disbelief despite the ‘plastic’, but only so long as the role is a good one. She was great in Big Little Lies and here she is stunning. She goes the full Christian bale/chalize Theron, transforming her appearance to really convince us that this is a women barely clinging to life out of sheer habit and stubbornness.

The movie has some great imagery and a considered pacing and nuance that raises it far above most movies with this subject matter. Like Out of Blue it uses its genre trappings and narrative to convey a far deeper subject matter; in this case loss and sadness. Something we can all relate to in that despite our best efforts life always beats us. Kidman’s character has already figured this out and this narrative is her waiting for us to catch up.

That does all sound very depressing and by no means is this movie ‘fun’. But thanks to Karyn Kusama’s artistic choices, her imagery and perspective it’s actually a celebration of life being delivered by this sad tale.

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#389

Watched " The Man who killed Hitler and then Bigfoot" , and was pleasantly surprised it was a great vehicle for the considerable charms of Sam Elliot ( would have made a superb Felix Leiter) and a very decent performance from the chap that might be 007 Aidan Turner.
It was a really fun popcorn genre mashup and as a 90 minute diversion I heartily recommend

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#390

The title had me hooked from the start. Need to check this out.

For my own indulgence, enjoyed a double feature of the last two Shaft films. “Shaft’s Big Score” and “Shaft in Africa”. Wish Roundtree had gone for a few more.

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#391

Me too, they are Fun movies. Shaft in Africa might well be my favourite

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#392

Went through the Star Wars saga in episode order, including Rogue One (but not Solo). It brought up some interesting issues. First of all, IMO watching in episode order doesn’t work for Star Wars. It ruins some of the big reveals of the OT, mainly that Vader is Luke’s father. I prefer the machete order: IV, V, I, II, III, VI, VII, VIII (Rogue One can come whenever you want). That way, we get the father reveal and then a flashback to show how it came to be. One issue that does crop up though when watching TFA directly after RotJ is that you go from the Empire being vanquished to all of a sudden existing again with no explanation. It’s a bit jarring. Also, I don’t like the machete order that omits Episode I. I disagree that TPM doesn’t add as much to the saga as people claim. It sets up the prophecy and the Jedi’s self-centeredness. Obi-Wan goes from a hotshot kid to a wisened master. Yoda’s speech to young Anakin is a great bit of foreshadowing and the Maul fight is excellent (though I wish he wouldn’t have just been dumped and instead kept returning in the prequel trilogy). Not to mention too, TPM is loads better than Attack of the Clones.

#393

The whole saga does work better in release order rather than chronological setting, as it keeps plot twists and also allows breathing room between ROTJ and TFA

Also it occurs; the prequels assume you’ve seen the original trilogy, whilst the sequel trilogy assumes specific knowledge of the prequels events that the original trilogy relies on you not knowing, The history of palpatine for example…