Queen of Katwe

October 5, 2016

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Coming into existence under the Disney banner, it’s easy to dismiss Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe at first glance as your typical, live-action inspirational sports film. Easy going, the expected story beats and climax, and the fuzzy feeling at the end with just a bit of guidance and some determination anyone can achieve their dreams. There’s a fair amount of that, though only occasionally does its sentimentality get the better of it, but what’s surprising is just how much it, if not subverts the formula, it takes a sideways glance at it. Indeed, the film’s most significant problem is the way it tends to rush through the expected plot points and scenes just to get them overwith. In a lot of ways, Queen of Katwe is the kind of coming-of-age drama we’ve come to expect from the art house circuit rather than the Disney feel-good production line. Read the rest of this entry »

The Neon Demon

July 15, 2016

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Nicolas Winding Refn begins his latest, The Neon Demon, by stamping his initials on the background of the opening credits.  Not just for a moment, but through virtually the whole thing.  His supreme sense of authorship could evoke a great sense of pride in his work or a high level of pretension to his own abilities.  I’m not against the notion, per se, though it does strike me as a little gauche to do underscore every other credit by making sure nobody forgets this is your baby, but to do so puts the audience in an almost combative sense of expectation.  “This better be some high art, dude, because your lack of humility is jarring.”  There’s no doubt Refn has a sense of style, even if he’s a little reliant on Kubrickian camera moves to evoke his states of dreamlike dread.  His larger problem is his lack of self control, something he wears as proudly as Lars Von Trier (another filmmaker I run very hot and cold on), though lacking the latter’s occasional sense of cutting introspection.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hail, Caesar!

March 15, 2016

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“This is real.”,  the Lockheed representative tells Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the Capital Pictures studio “fixer” while holding a picture of the detonation of the hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Atholl.  It is part of a somewhat ill-conceived headhunting ploy, where the rep tries to hide his contempt for the pointless frivolity of Hollywood and the job Mannix does.  He wants him to leave the studio and work for them, ironically explaining that it’s actually a much easier job with better benefits and more reasonable hours.  Mannix is up at all hours putting out fires for the contracted studio players so as to protect the studio’s image and assets.  Hail, Caesar! follows roughly 24 hours in Mannix’s life in a job that is, quite frankly, glorified babysitting.  An unmarried pregnant star, the bizarre decision by the owner of the studio to promote a B-list Western singer/stuntman into the leading role of an elegant drama, and most pressing of all, the kidnapping of the studio’s biggest star in the midst of filming the titular epic.  Read the rest of this entry »

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  1. Blackhat

Okay I know, but please, bear with me.  So it’s essentially a globetrotting cyber-thriller about a hacker determined to sabotage water pumps, but the plot (which I do actually find interesting) is incidental to the style, as is Michael Mann’s want these days.  The opening, featuring a CGI run through a computer terminal and down and down and down, sets the predominant theme of where the digital meets the physical.  As convincing as the scenes where various characters go through lines and lines of code to determine authorship, it’s really about someone leaving prison and walking onto a sunny tarmac, or the way a completely expected romance happens unexpectedly quickly, with the emphasis on physical touch while the ‘getting to know each other’ exposition is treated with ellipses.  Read the rest of this entry »

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I did not do an end of year list last year.  There were several attempts, and probably three initial drafts and even a finalized rundown of the top 20, but due to work and social commitments I never found the time to sit down and write it out.  The same could be said for everything to do with this blog this year, which was sparsely updated at the beginning of the year and not even touched for a majority of the rest.  Part of the problem was my increasing knowledge of other lists, which came out earlier and earlier and, crucially, before I had a chance to see a lot of the big contenders given release schedules and the early access privilege of critics on the studio mailing lists.  Whereas there was a time I felt I should wait until February to really have a go at it, I had been doing it earlier and earlier through sheer list fatigue.  It was also the case that so many lists were so similar that the only difference was the placement of the top five.  This isn’t always the case, of course, but there’s enough broad consensus on the top thirty or so films of the year that it would almost be more interesting to go through the main contenders and explain why I wouldn’t have chosen some of them.  So my list felt eerily similar to everyone else’s and there was just nothing I felt I could say that was unique without boldly pandering to some minor films that nobody saw that I thought might have been “pretty good” and thought I’d outlandishly rep for hard, like putting Beyond the Lights in the top 3 or something.  Read the rest of this entry »

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There’s something queasy about the bright, digital dullness of Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Matthew Vaughn’s style worked well enough in his (other) 60s throwback pastiche, the singularly interesting if not terribly exciting X-Men: First Class – and it’s a testament to his particular visual sense that the similar era wasn’t nearly as fun or vivid in Singer’s Days of Future Past installment – but here he runs into the same trouble as he did with his previous Mark Millar comic book adaptation, Kick-Ass.  The contrast of extreme violence with the bright, silly worlds created isn’t, for the most part, shocking enough to register as anything other than nihilist geek gore.  Read the rest of this entry »

American Sniper

January 21, 2015

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On the phone with a friend some months ago I talked about being keen to see American Sniper when I found out it was in production. I remembered Chris Kyle, the much touted “deadliest sniper in US military history”, doing the rounds of some talk shows a few years back and being a particularly odious, unreflective individual. When I read about the tragic irony of his death, I thought it would make an interesting movie and, with Eastwood at the film, a Rorschach test for the politics of those who saw it. American Sniper is, for me, not a particularly good film, and though it betrays a certain Conservatism, the back-and-forth we’re getting over its politics, especially after it’s huge box office opening, suggests there’s something to the Rorschach element. There are many good and nuanced arguments available on this topic, as well as a great many that are pretty dunderheaded from both sides. Much of it comes down to the issue of the morality of art: does it have a duty to condemn? Read the rest of this entry »