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A few reviews

mnkykungfu

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Don’t Look Now (1973)
I watched this movie back around Halloween, looking for something edgy and scary, but not a gore/horror film, more like a suspense/thriller.  Unfortunately, I didn't find it too thrilling or suspenseful, other than that your brain is working overtime to try to make any sense out of the story for most of the film.  By the time I got to the end, I thought I had a read on it (more on that later) but it kind of just made me resent what I'd had to sit through for the past 2 hours.

I guess the main issue I have with the film is that there's a lot of craft on display, but it's wasted.  There is huge drama early in the film, but it's not explored in any real depth.  All the rich emotion that could be present in this story is avoided, except to push the plot forward.  There's a great potential story here about a couple dealing with a crisis in different ways, but that's sidetracked by a supernatural/psychic plot.  Or if you wanted to explore that, the film seems to make some stabs at a conflict between those beliefs and religion, possibly hinting at how people could use both beliefs opportunistically.  But both those storylines are thrown away in favor of a barely hinted-at "murderer on the loose" narrative which is incredibly hard to believe.

What the film comes down to is that the main character is essentially a powerful psychic, but he's unaware of it.  He sees glimpses of people in the future mingled with his present, or if he focuses, he can see other places, but without much sense of time.  He seems to have gotten through life as a well-adjusted person so far, so presumably his daughter's death at the start of the film is what kicks off his awareness.  And the entire film after that hinges on this midget murderer wearing the same jacket that his daughter had.  Literally the film falls apart if it was normal-sized murderer or any other clothing.  

With all the potential for rich drama, the reveal just seems like a cheap trick.  Which then makes all the very artsy camera work and Italian editing style also seem like cheap tricks to manufacture drama from a thin plot.  Some very committed performances don't make this a coherent film... only recommended for cinematography nuts.

Mandy (2018)
I thought I was going to love this.  I wanted to love this.  Visually astounding.  Lyrically poetic.  Musically intentional.  There are so many strong, personal choices on display here, and so much craft.  There's also a F*** the System, F*** Everyone counter-culture attitude that at first blush seems pretty punk rock.  But if you really think about this movie (and it gives you enough time to do that), it starts getting problematic.

An almost fable-like tale where the clearest parallel is Dante having to conquer different planes of Hell in order to free his lover from the devil.  This film borrows heavily on that kind of visualization and iconography, and I would've been totally down with a modern myth of a story.  Sadly, they start trying to give real world explanations for why the villains are the way there are, and why the hero can do everything he can do.  It's a big mistake for a film that should've just embraced its craziness whole hog and stayed mythological.  The more it explains, the less it makes sense.

While Cage's performance is a tour-de-force, it just doesn't work in the narrative of the film, whereas he would've been perfect for Cosmatos' original idea as the villain.  As is, the tone is just all over the place, and Cosmatos lays it all on so thick that most of the film feels far too serious.  This gets into the real problem then, because if we have to take this film seriously, then we have to cringe at the bad acting in so many of the supporting roles, like Linus Roache doing an over-the-top Cage impression.  We have to recognize that the women in this story are purely trophies to the men, and our heroine has sadly NO depth other than to motivate the hero's revenge.  There's also a strain of homophobia that runs through the film, and lots of bits of dialogue that suggest a Trump-ian "everybody on both sides is wrong, the only one who gets it all right is ME".  The messaging of the movie is disturbing as hell, if you want to instill any meaning into it at all, which you really shouldn't.  Too bad this is too long and self-serious to just have a few drinks and laugh at.
 

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The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)
I love a Gothic and gory Hammer horror and I was expecting a similar fun experience from this Tigon Pictures release but it's much more serious and dark. The youngsters in a remote village in 18th Century England get possessed by Satan, start growing patches of fur and then sacrificing other children in secret pagan rituals. It brilliantly captures the naked terror that would have gripped a simple minded peasant community with little to no understanding of science, medicine, nature, or even religion, when faced with supernatural events.  Plagues or witchcraft would be equally plausible explanations and the local doctor is no help because he's barely beyond leeches. The use of all natural light sources help with the feeling we are watching something real and ancient. This belongs in a triple-bill with other Folk-Horror genre films like 'The Wicker Man' and 'Witchfinder General' but this might be the best of the three.


All the Money in the World (2018)
It's handy viewing things like this latest Ridley Scott film on a streaming service like Netflix because it makes it very easy to skip backwards when you repeatedly fall asleep ;) . I'd already watched the far superior FX mini-series 'Trust' which came out around the same time, on the same subject (The infamous Getty kidnapping). That had a good 10-hours to explore the complex problems of these characters, had a much better cast and even more filmic. So Scott's 2-hour movie can't really compete, especially when it's got dead weight like Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams doing some sort of hysterical impression of Catherine Hepburn. Naturally I was curious how the movie would hold together after all of Kevin Spacey's footage was replaced at the last minute but Christopher Plummer is excellent, so you forget immediately.

 

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Diego Maradona (2019)
I don't care about football and by extension cared even less about Diego Maradona but I do love the Documentaries of certified genius Asif Kapadia ('Senna', 'Amy'). He does it again, assembling an astonishing amount of vintage footage used to weave it's own story, combined with Kapadia's trademark 'no interviews to camera' style, which keeps the viewer rooted in time and place. Even to somebody not versed in the game, the many sequences of Maradona weaving, evading defenders and being knocked down and springing back up without missing a touch on the ball are astonishing. I was only 5 when the infamous "hand of god" incident happened, so I had somehow never connected it with the Falklands War which had only just happened. Kapadia concentrates mostly on the years Maradona played for Napoli, his greatest triumphs and deepest lows. A lot of his problems were self made but the film makes you feel really sorry for the guy with a whole country, it's legal system and it's criminal underworld turning on their former hero. The quality of some of the material is incredible in HD, from the last era when sporting events were still shot on film. Antonio Pinto's synth score is terrific and feels correct for the period. Highly recommended to sports fans and non-sports fans alike.

 

mnkykungfu

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Couple of movies I caught for some "alternative Thanksgiving" viewing...
The Big Chill (1983)
 "The Breakfast Club" for adults.  And I mean that in a good way (for both films.)
 
I put off watching this for years because it just seemed old and outdated to me, probably because I remember my mom always dancing around to the soundtrack (which is mostly diegetic and characters in the film itself sometimes complain it's too old.)  But watching it now that I'm older, I can say that not only the music, but the stories and characters hold up remarkably well, too.  Through a modern American lens, the film is pretty narrow, like the breakfast club before it.  Everyone is basically white (except Meg Tilly's, who's half-Chinese), and it's very bourgeois.  A minority watching today might find it to be a pretty low-stakes film in terms of how bad any of these people really have it.  The kind of struggles the characters are grappling with too are only things you'd respond to with some age and perspective.  I can see teenagers watching this and finding it mind-numbing.
 
But great performances by nearly all the main cast really pull you into the web of struggles and relationships of each of the characters.  Who always wonders why they never worked out?  Whose career has taken them away from their old values?  Why did all of them let go of their early '70s hippie values and embrace the early '80s Reagan consumerism?  The examination of how The Boomers let go of their chance to change the world might seem particularly relevant now.  I was surprised by how much I dug this.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
 
The good: some of the supporting performances here are great.  It's far and away the best performance by Mia Farrow I've ever seen, and the choices she made to change her physicality for this role really work.  The old-timey comics whose conversation frames the film are just steeped in realism.  The cinematography is pretty great as well, especially when you find out that this "capture" of old New York (the '70s) actually had to be somewhat recreated as sections of these famous areas had already been cleaned up and changed.
 
The bad: Allen almost always plays a very particular type: the stereotypical neurotic New York Jew.  You could be offended by that, or say "it's just himself" or just be bored...I've actually met people very much like that, so I'll roll with it.  But it gets tired to see film after film.  It also doesn't make for a very compelling protagonist, and his comments and attitudes are kind of ugly at times, so it's hard to root for him in this dressed-up Rom Com.  It's also kind of hard to root for the female lead, as she's not a particularly "good" or relatable person either.  So on the romance side, I didn't care if they ended up together.  And on the comedy side, well, here's a typical dialogue sample:
"My ex was a juice man for the Mafia."
"He squeezed fresh juice for the Mafia?!"  (in Allen's shocked, whiny voice)

Aside from how people feel about Allen/Farrow nowadays, there's also just how you felt about his films before... Even more so in the past, they're definitely of a type.  If you're not already a fan of Woody Allen, I can't recommend this.
 

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Ford v Ferrari aka Le Mans '66 (2019)
Okay this is fully fueled with sports and race movie cliches but it's so damned entertaining. It's got some of the most exhilarating race photography outside of 'Days of Thunder' and 'Rush'. Story wise it reminded me of 'Tucker: The Man and His Dream', heroic motoring pioneers vs timid corporate management. All the sixties clothes, decor and machines look fab. I wondered if Christian Bale's brilliant performance was channeling the attitude of racer/mechanic Guy Martin. I didn't mind the 2.5 hour run time because I was enjoying myself but there is obviously room for trims. This should ideally be seen on a massive cinema screen with the engines roaring out of big surround speakers.


Maiden (2019)
An excellent documentary about Tracy Edwards and her decision to skipper the first all-female crew in the grueling 1989 Round the World sailing Race. She is a hugely impressive person but the film doesn't shy away from examining her struggles too. The level of sexism and ridicule they experienced from fellow sailors and journalists 30-years ago is astonishing to hear, surprising they agreed to be on camera to confirm "Er yeah, I did say that".

 

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Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
I happened to drive past the train and carriages used in the film the other day, so I was interested in seeing Kenneth Branagh's first Poirot adaptation. It's a very starry all-star cast but some shine brighter than others, Johnny Depp and Sergei Polunin are pretty dreadful, Branagh and Josh Gad are marvelous, the others range in-between. It was shot on 70mm, so the few locations, one or two large sets and the art-deco train look luxurious and expensive but I didn't like the overuse of Disney-fied CGI backdrops. Branagh's penchant for dutch angles and over-active camera movement is thankfully at a minimum. I'll probably climb aboard for the sequel at the end of the year but I won't be rushing to book passage.

 

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
Making my first foray into the H2TYD-verse the third and last film was probably a mistake. The character designs are sooooo bland and two of the central heroes are only distinguishable by their hair colour. It seems like the CGI artists were more interested in excuses for showing off perfect sand, fog, fire, water, hair and grass simulations that telling a memorable story. A couple of sequences where two dragons were falling in love had some charm but that was mostly because all the annoying sarcastic voice actors had no lines. They all sound like hyperactive teenagers, not grizzly dragon riding vikings. I felt sympathy for the cackling evil bad-guy in one scene where he finds one of these babbling good characters so irritating to be around that he actually lets her go from his dungeon. The ending was quite nicely handled but generally I've no idea how this franchise got to a third film on this evidence, or why this is getting good reviews, or award nominations.

 

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That’s disappointing. My kids are currently really into the books. But I haven’t seen any of the movies. I think my kids saw the first one a few years ago before they started reading the books, but I think they’ve forgotten movies exist.
 

TM2YC

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Moe_Syzlak said:
That’s disappointing. My kids are currently really into the books. But I haven’t seen any of the movies. I think my kids saw the first one a few years ago before they started reading the books, but I think they’ve forgotten movies exist.

I'm probably not the target demo and as I said even to somebody who didn't like the movie the ending was good, so to a fan it will probably go over gangbusters.

Short Cuts (1993)
Another L.A. black comedy from Director Robert Altman featuring his trademark myriad interconnected characters across a weekend. The people played by an all-star cast are often unpleasant but there's always a spark of their humanity. Some of the ar**holes turn out to be good people at heart and some of the respectable people are revealed to be rotten. Their stories are united by themes of infidelity, death and dysfunctional relationships between parents and offspring. I was totally gripped for the whole 3-hours by the quality of the writing and performances. The amount of full-frontal female nudity, violence towards women, indifference and levity at the abuse of women and general anger directed at women across the film becomes cumulatively questionable.


Missing Link (2019)
Following on from the masterpiece 'Kubo and the Two Strings', I had high expectations for the latest Laika Studio film but 'Missing Link' is merely very good. Hugh Jackman stars as an English adventurer (Phileas Fogg in all but name) who acquires the last Bigfoot as his Passepartout. The script has all the usual animated family movie plugin story beats about self-discovery, friendship, self-belief and teamwork, so you always know where the plot is going before it gets there. There are some interesting comments about colonialism though and the jokes really land. The stop-motion animation and design of the world are utterly gorgeous, the voice acting is delightful and Carter Burwell's score is magical.

 

mnkykungfu

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Yeah, I watched Short Cuts maybe 10 years back and even then was just like "WTF is up with the messaging in this movie?!"  They just seemed oblivious.  I don't need something "P.C." or where every character is perfectly nice, but I also don't get the torture drama of populating a film with reprehensible people.  Give me someone to root for.
 

mnkykungfu

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For Your Consideration (2006)
I watched this as an "alt-Thanksgiving" film, but really it's less about those themes (family, gratitude, food) and more about Hollywood.  A dead-on skewering of everyone in the industry, this is like a 90 minute version of all the seasons of The Wire, but for film-making.  The verisimilitude is masterful.  The problem is, it's just not all that funny.  Some of Christopher Guest and company's humor is just too dry for me generally, but especially here it often falls flat.  I've also never really responded to the type of cultural humor like in Mel Brooks films where they over-dramatize very Jewish things for a laugh.  They're the equivalent of bad dad jokes for me.  So, each to their own, but this film just made for interesting enough head-nodding for me, but not belly-laughing.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)
The surprisingly awesome first Goon, in the end, has to be attributed to that Evan Goldberg magic.  The writing/directing partner of Seth Rogen, Goldberg helped Jay Baruchel write the screenplay based on the true story for the first film.  They managed to make Doug "The Thug" Glatt a lovable simpleton with a big heart and some wacky and f'd up people around him.  There are a lot of great comedy bits, and a solidly stoic supporting performance by Liev Scrieber that make that film... a triple play.

But Baruchel directs here, and Goldberg's writing touch is nowhere to be found.  Doug becomes just a simpleton, but not particularly lovable, and all the wacky antics of the supporting cast are just that, antics.  Baruchel in particular has no one to reel him in, and his scenes are like a 13-year old's idea of adult comedy.  It's obviously a bunch of actors improv-ing on the set to see how far they can push the scenes, and Baruchel always goes for the "too far", leading to some pretty unfunny and unbalanced scenes that don't do anything for the narrative.  And the narrative in itself largely re-treads ground from the first film, but this time making Eva (Allison Pill) a grating caricature instead of an interesting 3-dimensional character.  Even another solid performance from Schrieber can't stop this film from being almost offensively bad.
 

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Knives Out (2019)
Definitely Rian Johnson's most creatively successful film, he aims to both celebrate and subvert the Agatha Christie style murder mystery and does so with skill and flair. The all-star cast are excellent but Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans are the stand outs. The solution to the death is ingenious but I thought the accelerated pacing was too fast to really enjoy the plot details and savour the performances. There were quite a few points where I was questioning the logic but the film whipped me onto a new bit before I could fully think it through. Perhaps on a second viewing the case will collapse like house of cards but I'm unable to make any accusations right now. If the clever premise wasn't enough, there is a political subtext to tickle your brain.


Hustlers (2019)
Director Lorene Scafaria (she also writes) makes this story about New York strippers/criminals look almost impossibly glossy and visually seductive. I very much felt the influence of 'Goodfellas' but it lacked the same probing of the characters. It literally takes until 15-minutes from the end of the film to show any negative consequences from what the ladies are doing (drugging men and stealing their money) and makes only a couple of flimsy attempts to question it before that point. I doubt presenting their crimes as some form of uplifting self-empowerment story would have been the route chosen if it was a movie about men drugging women. Main character Constance Wu's performance was a bit flat but thankfully Jennifer Lopez is the best she has ever been. Lopez is electric in every frame and makes the film worth the watch.


The Lion King (2019)
I wouldn't have gone out of my way to see this one, the other Disney live-action re-rashes were a waste of time and this is the worst offender. It's practically the exact same film, line for line, shot for shot, song for song. Except the colourful and magical hand-drawn animated animals are replaced with emotionless cold CGI recreations. There is a total disconnect between their stiff, realistic animal mouth movements and the wise-cracking, sarcastic, improving voice actors, it's like you have the cast and crew commentary on by mistake. It has to be said that the CGI is spectacular and virtually photo realistic, if you had the sound off, you might very well think you were watching a David Attenborough nature documentary. This made me think how much bolder and more interesting the film could've been if they made it as a 21st Century silent film. Just allow the animators and Hans Zimmer's score to tell the story, like you were watching a documentary about animals that just happened to have a narrative.

 

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Murmur of the Heart (1971)
Again French Director Louis Malle draws from his own childhood in this evocative coming of age piece set in a mid-50s middle-class home. Benoit Ferreux is superb as 15-year-old Laurent, his adolescent confusions not helped by two mischievous older brothers, his distant gynecologist father, a suspect catholic priest and his (too) close relationship with his beautiful and promiscuous Italian mother. The backdrop of Jazz LPs and angry debates about the 1st French offensive in Vietnam set the mood. Sure to please fans of 2017's 'Call Me by Your Name'.


After the Thin Man (1936)
Part-time sleuths Nick Charles and his dependable wife Nora must once again solve a murder mystery. This time the commission is from Nora's pompous upper-class family (including Jimmy Stewart in one of his earliest roles), who have a low opinion of Nick because he comes from working-class, immigrant stock. That point leaves William Powell plenty of room for hitting back at them with cutting drink fueled witticisms e.g. When asked "Is he a friend of yours?", Nick replies "On the contrary... a relation". Predictably I didn't think this post-censorship sequel was as deliciously misbehaved as the 1934 pre-code debut. The rate of cocktail consumption was way down.

 

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She's Gotta Have It (1986)
I've only seen a couple of Spike Lee joints, and what I've seen mostly hasn't been my speed (though I did quite like Inside Man, but that seems like an outlier).  Watched this as another alternative Thanksgiving movie.  haha  Honestly, it's pretty ahead of it's time.  I don't really know how much it spoke to any kind of typical black experience, but it does definitely mark Lee as a unique voice.  He's by far the best part of the movie, both behind the camera and in front (as the above trailer shows).  The dialogue for the film is a little bluntly realized at times, and hard to deliver, though Lee makes it seem natural.  The other actors don't have the chops though, and the film kind of clunks along without anyone really pulling you in.  I was never really sure what the motivations were of any of the characters too, as everyone seemed pretty 2-dimensional.  But it's an interesting little indie film, and I'm sure it spoke to some people quite loudly back in the day.

Black Mirror: S2E4 - White Christmas (2014)
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I'm not really a huge fan of Black Mirror and have only watched a few episodes.  The ones I've seen, well...I don't know a nice way to say this.  They seem like what dumb people think "smart" writing is.  Don't get me wrong, there's always an interesting idea at the core, but the writers never figure out a way to see that idea all the way through.  There's a beginning hook, and then a big pop ending, but somewhere in the middle they jump the shark with character decisions or logic conveniences that are completely unbelievable.  It if were a big, dumb action movie, I could look past it.  But when the whole point is that you're cleverly envisioning a wicked future, then the emphasis had really better be on the clever.

Well, this particularly standalone mini-movie came quite recommended, so I decided to give it a shot for some Christmas viewing.  And it does really have its moments.  There is a Russian nesting doll type story structure so that the 3 short-stories in this film actually continually relate to each other, despite appearing to be separate.  If you're paying attention while watching, it is quite clever that what you see in one section comes to have a greater impact on the others.  The performances in each are quite good as well, in particular Jon Hamm of course, who brings the right combination of cool confidence and dark cynical humor that makes the role shine.

Where the film falls apart a bit is in it's portrayal of human psychology.  It's a common flaw in the series.  At a certain point, they just assume that people will go along in a behavior that allows the story to continue, and the audience is so interested in seeing how the idea pans out that they just let them get away with it.  But real people aren't so simple, and that's what holds this series back from really being great.  There are examples like this in the choices people make in the 1st and 3rd stories (the logic of giving consent to view recordings of people is wildly inconsistent for example) but the most glaring case is the 2nd story.  It essentially posits that solitary confinement turns people into compliant computer programs when we presently have lots of evidence to the contrary.  As much as the show posits what might happen in the future, I'd like them to ground it a bit more in present day research, and a bit less in a kind of clingy nihilism.
 

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^ You thought Spike Lee was the best actor in (insert name of any of his films) !!! :D To be fair the standard of acting from the rest of the cast is a low bar in that first joint.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
I've been excited about seeing this 15.5-hr TV/Theatrical film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder since the DVD first came out in 2007. I rented the first episode from LoveFilm at the time but the transfer looked atrocious, so I didn't watch anymore. When it got a blu-ray release last year I bought the boxset but have only now found the time to watch it. The blu-ray has a lot of 16mm detail and texture but the source itself is unrelentingly sepia and hazy, like it was shot through some sort of refraction process. If almost every scene and every episode didn't look the same shade of brown, I think it'd be a much easier watch. So do I get a medal of achievement for sitting through it all? :D

The first 13.5-hrs follow the trials and tribulations in the chaotic life of Franz Biberkopf and the strange characters he encounters in late 20s Berlin. It begins with the simple-minded Franz being released from Tegel prison for beating his girlfriend Ida to death in fit of rage (a scene that plays out again and again for him and us the viewer). Most hour-long episodes (although it's one continuous narrative) are about him getting a new girlfriend, losing a girl, getting a job, losing a job, getting blind drunk and depressed, or being joyful and sober. These ups and downs have negligible impact on his situation because his landlady Mrs Bast supports him regardless of what he does, even her having been a witness to Franz killing Ida hasn't dimed her motherly affection for him, nothing would. The narrative goes round in circles but it's occasionally sparked off by Franz's odd friendship with the psychotic Reinhold and his gangster friends. The story (very) slowly gathers steam towards the end when it focuses in on Reinhold and Franz's true love Mieze, like a devil and an angel.

The final 2-hour "epilogue" is the really infamous bit that I was looking forward to, Fassbinder called it 'My Dream of the Dream of Franz Biberkopf'. Franz has been driven mad by what he has experienced, so this last section takes us into his mad visions of the past, processing his traumas in a surreal and kaleidoscopic landscape. Franz imagines himself being slaughtered like a pig (silently watched by Fassbinder himself), being flagellated on hot coals and fighting a boxing match on a rapidly spinning carousel. A constantly changing soundtrack of Kraftwerk, The Velvet Underground, Janis Joplin and Leonard Cohen play softly in the background throughout. One scene features Franz being crucified on a nudist beach, which is also the nativity scene, against a backdrop of a giant Hieronymus Bosch painting which changes to an atomic bomb exploding, while Glenn Miller's upbeat 'In the mood' plays. Just your standard stuff ;) . Dropping acid while you watch the last part is either a great, or terrible idea. Watching the epilogue is definitely worth it but is it worth watching what precedes it? I don't know but you need to watch both, or neither.


The main harmonica theme is really lovely and sad:

 

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A double-bill of Taika Waititi films centered around two incredible child actors...

Jojo Rabbit (2019)
This is right up there with Taika Waititi's best film 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'. The packed cinema I saw it at was laughing and crying all the way through. Roman Griffin Davis' innocent little face caries almost the whole film in a pretty complex role. Sam Rockwell is a highlight as always, funny and tragic. A film which fans of 'Life is Beautiful' will appreciate. Taika and Roberto Benigni have both shown us how wonderful and how terrible people can be when they are put into the worst of circumstances. Might be the best Cinematography all year, colours popping off the screen but always balanced and realistic (naturally it's not nominated).


Boy (2010)
Taika Waititi second feature and more emotionally mature and nuanced than his debut 'Eagle vs Shark'. Young James Rolleston plays the title character, an 11-year old Maori kid who idolises his absent father (played by Taika), creating ludicrous fantasies about him being some sort of renegade legend. When his man-child father returns from prison, Boy begins to see he isn't the hero he has built him up to be. The tragic state of this broken family is deeply moving but like all of Taika's films I laughed so hard it hurt.


I've now watched all of Waititi's six films and I'm looking forward to his future projects, 'Next Goal Wins' and 'Thor: Love and Thunder'. Even though I love them all, I'd narrowly rank them as follows:

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
2. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
3. Boy (2010)
4. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
5. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
6. Eagle vs Shark (2007)
 

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You Season Two (2019, Netflix)

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(Season One thoughts here)

Well, hot damn, they've done it again. Someone please invent us a time machine, because I very much want for Jane Austen to be temporarily diverted from her later years, shown this series, and have her reactions recorded for posterity. Season Two of the deliciously unnerving romantic thriller You, based on the second book in the series by author Caroline Kepnes and starring Penn Badgely, manages to revisit the themes, tone, and general WTF-ery of its first outing while also offering something very different, and the result is a wild ride I'm sure Hitchcock would have loved. Can the spell me maintained for the recently announced third season? Who knows, but I'll be watching, for sure. If the notion of a rom-com imbued with David Fincher vibes intrigues you at all, you owe it to yourself to give You a spin.

S1: B+
S2: A-
 

TM2YC

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Two Cars, One Night (2004)
This 11-minute short black & white film from Taika Waititi could play as a prelude to his 2010 feature 'Boy'. It also stars James Rolleston in a similar role and the scene of kids sitting in parked cars, while their parents get wasted in a bar is repeated in 'Boy'. The cheeky dialogue between the three kids is so charming and natural. You can watch it free on youtube.


1917 (2019)
Two soldiers must take a message across no-mans-land to warn a Battalion it's walking into a trap. Refreshingly that's the whole plot, it's more about what they encounter on their way there, told in (sort of) one shot. This device creates an astonishing effect in the first section because it helps us the audience feel the increasing distance from home and the growing isolation and chilling silence. It's like the two lads are walking through a vast crime scene, the evidence of past war atrocities sinking into the mud. It's a shame Director Sam Mendes didn't have a little more guts and stick with this powerful approach for the whole run-time. I suspect he feared audiences would get bored, so eventually lots of eventful action, drama and running around happens. The one-shot device becomes largely irrelevant at this point and '1917' stops being something truly unique and becomes just a very good war film. George MacKay (damn he picks some great films to be in!) and Dean-Charles Chapman work so well together, like a big and little brother relationship. The Cinematography is beautiful in a couple of places, like when a ruined town is lit by flares but overall the film looked so dark and so lacking in contrast that you I was in danger of eye-strain injury. Even in a pitch-black cinema there were some scene where I could not tell what was even on the screen.

 

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Ad Astra (2019)
'Ad Astra' reveals it's pretensions of being smart but playing it dumb approach before it even starts by translating the Latin title for the audience. It then opens on a breath-taking 'Gravity' style action-sequence, before settling back into the slow, dour, introspective mood that was clearly where the movie wanted to be. This does serve to grab the viewer's attention but also shows us how exciting this could've been. It continues in this vain for much of the rest of the runtime. 10-15-mins of introspection and then an artificially created action-scene to keep people awake, repeat, repeat. Early on, I noticed the similarities in style to 'Apocalypse Now' and once you have that in your head, the whole plot looks like a thinly veiled re-write of Francis Ford Coppola's film. Every one on the production is doing great work so it's a shame it's in aid of a half-baked script. I reckon one more critical pass to remove 'Smart characters doing and saying stupid things' could've nailed it. When a minor character suddenly dies in what is intended to be a shocking way, I spontaneously burst out laughing because it was caused by such idiotic and unbelievable behavior (quickly followed by more ridiculous decisions and fatalities).

I got the impression that a lot of doubles (human and digital) were used because it often weirdly looked like the actors faces were floating in the helmets. Also lines were clearly added when actors were faced away from the camera. Afterwards I read that "Following poor initial test screenings, reshoots were conducted (although Pitt was unavailable)" which makes sense. Those dodgy looking helmet shots were in those annoying out-of-place action scenes, which could have easily been created in the computer without much involvement from the actors. If 'Ad Astra' had stuck to it's guns, not bothered with trying to be exciting and just gone all out on the lonely bleakness of space it could've been something pretty special. It's innovative vision of near future, near earth, space fairing, felt intriguingly different from other movies.


I'd be tempted to do a fanedit of this one.
 
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