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20. Queen of Earth

If the pretentious, writerly aspects of Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip weren’t to your taste (as they were to mine, somewhat predictably), then Queen of Earth might be a welcome shift into a different kind of pretension.  Taking on the relatively low key psychological horror of a woman going mad genre, Elisabeth Moss (the highlight of Philip) walks the tight wire of over-and-under playing someone coming undone.  Katherine Waterston also proves herself more than capable with deliciously ambiguous deliveries that further question the mental state of Moss’ Catherine while laying out the unspoken depths and, more importantly, longevity of their friendship.  The most surprising aspect is Perry’s visual style, which makes great use of the spaces in the lake house with eerie, sometimes subtle (and sometimes not) framings that blur the line between head space and physical space.  A late turn into overt Polanski-aping can be forgiven, then, considering just how well constructed and deeply understood Queen of Earth and its genre are, especially when it initially seemed like an afterthought of a film given the relative bigness of Philip. 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 »

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 31, 2015

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“Prepackaged Star Wars characters still in their display box? Are those limited edition figures?”

“What’s a diorama?”

“Why, it’s Luke and Obi-Wan.  And my favourite, Chewie!  They’re all here!  What do you think?”

“It’s lunchtime.”

“We have a winner!”

-Principle Skinner, with interjections from Ralph Wiggum and Groundskeeper Willie, from The Simpsons episode “Lisa’s Rival”

As Star Wars: The Force Awakens careens into the pantheon of all-time box office champs, rubbing elbows with the likes of…well…the previous Star Wars films plus Avatar and..um…Jurassic World, it seems that Disney can feel pretty pleased with the biggest sure-thing $4 billion investment in the history of motion pictures.  This is not terribly surprising, and yet it still begs questions:  How can, two weeks after its release, this movie still pull in over $30 on a Tuesday?  It’s one of those eternal questions, like how could there have been enough people in the country who decided, 14 weeks after it hit number one, that they liked Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do it For You)”, that they liked it enough to buy it and propel it number one for a fifteenth week running.  Still, it’s not quite there yet, but the fact that it’s racing to beat Jurassic World gives you an idea of the playing field in 2015.  Read the rest of this entry »

Furious 7

April 8, 2015

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It’s one of the many contradictions of the Fast and Furious franchise that it has one of the deepest memories of any film series around despite any vague recollection of previous films – style, tone, plot, world – only increases the absolute absurdity of the world that has been created in the 14 years since the original, schlocky neo-classic by Rob Cohen hit the screens with its surprisingly successful attempt to cash in on a bright and boisterous subculture.  The fact that, 7 movies in, each movie (save the third) has managed to make more money than the previous, must be some counterfactual marketing teacher’s example to their class.  Things don’t trend that way, do they?  Or maybe the age old tradition of Hollywood milking its properties until absolutely nobody cares anymore are true.  Hell, you can sort of see it happening in the Fast films, where cast members were lost quickly because it seemed below the stars’ dreams of ascendance.  But I digress.  From its beginnings as a mid-budget actioner about a fresh faced fed infiltrating a ring of minor hijackers to its current form as a series of risky, usually heist related, set pieces of an ultra elite squad of international superhumans taking on world-threatening plots, you’d think the series would desperately try to draw attention away from its original and, comparatively, minor interests.  Read the rest of this entry »

It Follows

March 27, 2015

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The low budget horror genre is the tried and true way for young, aspiring filmmakers to get noticed and, just maybe, recoup expenses.  It’s also one of the ripest –and tiredest – areas for metaphorical ruminations on the state of youth, society, politics, or whatever is topical or just easily exploited to give us chattering cinephiles a way to legitimize our interest in violence and gore.  I’m a little glib, but that’s one of the most rational ways to approach the news that David Roger Mitchell followed up his little-seen, ultra-sensitive indie portrayal of youth, The Myth of the American Sleepover, with a horror film.  As a great admirer of the former, it was natural to have doubts – the combination of the desire for him to make more of what he’s good at with the fear of that film’s more, shall we say, precious moments could see a turn into a wryly knowing, dareisay condescending attitude, towards the material.  Happily, Mitchell knows what he’s doing, and if the latter concern is occasionally flirted with – mostly in the music – it’s evident that he’s put himself in the genre rather than stand above it.  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 »