Monday, 31 December 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: One False Move (Carl Franklin, 1992)

After her boyfriend Ray (Billy Bob Thornton) and his associate Pluto (Michael Beach) murder six people in LA, Fantasia (Cynda Williams) finds herself a fugitive as the trio tear cross-country to her hometown of Star City, Arkansas.

After identifying the perpetrators and learning of their destination, they alert Star City sheriff Dale 'Hurricane' Dixon (Bill Paxton) to prepare for their arrival.

What the police do not know is that Dale and Fantasia have a shared past that could jeopardise an already difficult assignment.


A low-budget thriller released in 1992, One False Move marked an early credit for Billy Bob Thornton, who, as well as playing one of the villains, also co-scripted the film (with Tom Epperson). The movie also gave Bill Paxton his first lead role, and gave director Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress, Out of Time) his big break.

A great example of contemporary noir, distilled and refracted into a new form that does not feel like a homage to the chiaroscuro and fedoras, One False Move embodies the essence of classic noir - the existential dread of being stuck in a situation that you have no control over. In this universe, people make choices, and those choices trigger a series of consequences they have no control over.

No character feels like an archetype. Every character, from Fantasia through Ray and Dale, never fit any of the archetypal boxes: Fantasia is no femme fatale; Ray is a victim of his own addictions and paranoia; and Dale is not the upstanding citizen he initially appears to be. Even Pluto, the ostensible criminal mastermind, is undermined by his associates.


In light of Paxton's passing, watching this movie reaffirmed what a great actor he was. Mostly a character actor famous for his flashy turns in Aliens and True Lies, or his late-career success with Big Love, Paxton always rode a line between everyman and oddball. As Dale, he lends the green lawman a cocksure swagger that feels simultaneously like a macho front for the out-of-town officers he is working with, and a natural state of being.

Initially, Dale appears to be an open book - an honest man without the street smarts or foresight to be ready for the hardened criminals barrelling towards his small town. Paxton gives Dale a guileless optimism that is a refreshing inversion of the typical southern lawman.

When Fantasia shows up, Dale is forced to confront the one skeleton in his closet. Paxton excels in the latter half of the movie, as the 'Hurricane' has to face his past and his present threat at the same time.

What is great about One False Move is the way it effortlessly moves between character POVs, complicating the viewer's sympathies while placing their actions in a broader context that disrupts any clear binary between 'good guys' and 'bad guys'. As Dale is forced to recognise, no such dichotomy exists.


As Fantasia, Cynda Williams is great. Flighty, seemingly helpless yet always calculating, she is the furtherest thing from a 'femme fatale' in the movie. The fact that this movie did not launch her on to bigger things is a sad reflection of Hollywood's inability to diversify its casting.

The thing I loved about her character is how she is incapable of abandoning her companions, yet when given the opportunity, is totally willing to make her own moves that serve goals which go beyond her own self-interest.

I want to go further, but that would spoil an important plot point that really pushes One False Move into the conversation of crime movies.

To sum up, One False Move is a great undersign gem that is definitely worth your time. It is available to rent or purchase from iTunes.

See you in the new year!

Friday, 28 December 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley, 2018)

Frank (Nick Offerman) is in the middle of transition: daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is leaving for college and he is going to have to close the music store he has run for almost 20 years.

The one constant in his life is his love of music.

After a jam session with his daughter results in the title song, Frank has an idea to keep his daughter close and his musical dreams alive...


This movie is a microcosm in all sense of the word - not only does it involve a small cast in a few locations, it is extremely intimate in terms of its theme.

This year, I made a commitment to avoid trailers and plot synopses as much as possible. It has worked out more often than not. Going into this movie, I was expecting something a little bigger: for some reason I thought the pair were going to go on a lo-fi tour of the country, playing gigs in dive bars while work-shopping multiple songs.

Hearts Beat Loud is not that - it is more about the way musical collaboration brings these two people together, at a point in their lives when they will have to separate.

Initially, it feels like the movie could go the other way: Frank's passion is re-ignited by this initial collaboration, and once the song pops up on a Spotify playlist, he begins to imagine a new path forward where he and Sam form a real band and become rockstars (or at least working musicians).

Instead, life goes on: Frank recognises that Sam has dreams of her own, and Frank adjusts his ambitions to a live gig to celebrate the closing of his music store.

In its focus on how creativity can be catalyst for personal development, this movie reminded me a little bit of Brigsby Bear. Whereas that movie uses its main character's creativity as a vehicle for navigating the world, in this movie Frank and Sam's music is an emotional release. Frank's journey is ultimately about recognising that his daughter has her own dreams, and that he does not need to become a rockstar in order to enjoy doing what he loves.

While I liked how small the movie was, it does feel slightly undercooked - there are a few beats which could use more connective tissue. While I loved where Frank and Sam ended up, I felt like I needed a few more scenes to make that finale really hit.

I love reading about how music is made, and the initial jam session, where father and daughter build 'Heart Beats Loud', from the initial hook through the vocals and the rest. It is not that long, but it was nice to get a sense of the craft involved.

Overall, Hearts Beat Loud is a fun little indie boosted by strong performances, and a mature approach to the way creative endeavour in and of itself can be a catalyst for personal happiness and connection.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.


Thursday, 27 December 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: The Villainess (Jung Byung-gil, 2017


After a violent rampage through the men who killed her loved ones, Sook-hee (Kim Ok-vin) is captured by South Korean Intelligence, and is put through a rigorous training regime to become one of their covert operatives.

Released into the real world with a new name, a child and a passion for non-killing skills like acting, Sook-hee has the building blocks of a new life.

But this fresh start is put in jeopardy by her latest target - a ghost from her past who does not want to be forgotten...



I have been skimming through Netflix, trying to find something - anything - to watch. 

This is the first movie I have not switched off after five minutes. The opening sequence is shot from first-person. It has been a bĂȘte noir of mine in recent action movies, but here it feels totally necessary, especially when the stunts appear to have been done in-camera: There is a sequence involving a sword fight during a chase between speeding motorbikes on a highway, and the the movie's finale involves another one-take inside a moving bus.

The one downside to the movie is the title. I was expecting something more deconstructive and satirical - a true inversion of typical action movie dynamics. If you feel the same way, forget it. The Villainess is not that movie.

The movie's original title is Have You Been A Good Girl?, which makes it sound like a lost Sion Soon movie (and frankly feels more appropriate to what the movie winds up being about).

In terms of story, the movie is a variation of Nikita, except our anti-heroine starts as a hyper-skilled killer who is snatched up and re-trained by a covert organisation. Also unlike Nikita, she falls pregnant, has a child and gets involved in romantic hijinks with her boyishly handsome neighbour (Sung Joon).

The one aspect of the movie that I wish had been expanded more was the love story she has with a neighbour. What she does not know is that her love interest is really a member of the organisation who has been observing her during her training and is presenting a version of himself based on what he knows will appeal to her. It's disturbing, and the one subplot that made me think the movie was about to live up to its (English) title, but it goes in a different direction which -while brutal - felt like something out of a Cannon movie.

Watching the romance subplot, I pondered whether a movie could exist that centred around a 'villain', that did not try to make them sympathetic - where notions of 'good' and 'evil' are replaced with protagonists and antagonists. It could just be that I am overly familiar with the shorthand action movies use to make their protagonists 'relatable'.

Overall, The Villainess is a really fun movie: the action is jaw-dropping and Kim Ok-vin (Thirst) is great in the lead role. My bugbear is the familiar plot, but if that does not bother you, then you'll be in for a good time.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

IN THEATRES: Aquaman

When his half-brother King Orm of Atlantis (Patrick Wilson) threatens to wage war on the surface world, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) returns to Atlantis to challenge him and save mankind from catastrophe.



As far as the actual story goes, the movie kinda falls flat. The script never cracks what being a hero means to Arthur, and so it is difficult to figure out what the conflict is that forces him to put this belief system on the line. It does not help that the movie plays out scenes of Arthur's childhood that never provide any backbone to his adult personality. 

Playing the titular character, Jason Momoa has solidified in my mind as an accent piece - he’s fine at light comedy, and can do action, but as the lead of a potential franchise, his limitations are laid bare by a script that never figures out what his character is about. 

The disconnect really solidified for me in the scenes where Arthur and his brother/enemy Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson) are reunited with their mother - who they believed had been executed by Orm’s father decades ago. 

From a visual standpoint, the overtly cartoonish elements (mer-people, Xenomorph-like trench dwellers, an octopus playing drums) are really fun, and occasionally striking - the sequence of Arthur and Mira trying to escape their boat as the trench dwellers swarm over it is legitimately haunting.

Otherwise, the movie suffers a bit from too much green screen. Because the movie takes place underwater, that means a lot of CGI - so a lot of the action suffers from feeling weightless (no pun intended). This is fine when the action is below the surface, but during the film’s extended land-based action sequences, the lack of tactile reality really undermines the sense of danger.

The set piece of Arthur and erstwhile love interest Mera (Heard) running from Atlantean goons across the rooftops of a Sicilian town should feel far more visceral than it does, but there is never any doubt that Arthur and Mera will win.

I would have liked more grounding in Arthur’s upbringing, and what being a hero means to him. The movie pays some lip service to why he should return to Atlantis, but I never really had a sense of what he got out of being a hero. It did not help that one of the early scenes is based around Arthur saving his dad (Temeura Morrison) from a tidal wave, yet after he has done so he makes no move to help anybody else from the town nearby. 

But if you take it as a pile of ridiculousness, Aquaman kind of works - Momoa gets introduced in slo-mo to a super manly guitar riff, a trope that is sadly not continued for the duration of the film; Julie Andrews voices a leviathan monster; wine gets weaponised into daggers.

A goofy movie about the ultimate surfer dude fighting monsters with a trident, Aquaman is fun in patches, although it might be a tad generic and dramatically undercooked to get you punching your fist in the air.


If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

New podcast discoveries, 2018 edition

This year was a case of quality over quantity when it came to podcasts.

The New York Times Podcast
A weekly podcast on the goings-on in the music industry, the Popcast is the first podcast related to music I have listened to. I love music, but I am not that familiar with contemporary tastes, so the Popcast has been a great primer.


Buoy-ed by host Jon Caramanica's good humour, the podcast covers contemporary releases, issues and trends. Filled with great guests from across the critical and industry spheres, the Popcast is vigorous and incisive in its exploration of every topic, and a lot of fun. This podcast got me into country music, something I never thought would happen.

Star Trek: The Next Conversation
I am not the biggest Star Trek fan - I've watched a couple of the movies, and a couple of the key episodes on Netflix, but it has always been a franchise I respect more than I am enthused to explore.


Co-hosted by comedians Matt Mira and Andy Secunda, the longline of The Next Conversation is perfectly designed to hook old fans and neophytes: Mira is a fan who has watched the show before; Secunda has never watched TNG before, which is great for someone like me, who will probably never get around to watching TNG (at least Seasons One and Two).

It also helps that both hosts work as TV writers, and so bring a level of technical expertise to their criticism that is really great. They are also hilarious, which is a godsend during Seasons 1 and 2 as the show struggles to find its feet.

Comedians of Wrestling
As with The Next Conversation, this is a case of great execution over content. I do not have a great affinity for pro wrestling - it was not something that I grew up with. I became more interested after a college friend showed me some matches and gave me a run down on the then-current roster, but my interest is largely restricted to occasional binges of promos like this one.

Thanks to CoW, I'm getting more onboard.


A recurring theme of the podcasts I listen to is humour - it does not matter what the subject is, it always helps when the hosts can show some level of self-awareness. CoW is the brainchild of improv comedian Dan Black

Black's POV is great - he is a lifelong fan, but he utilises his background as an improv comedian to take apart the key components underpinning the story-telling in professional wrestling. Hilarious and informative, even if you are not interested in pro-wrestling, Comedians of Wrestling is worth a look.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Related

2016 list

2017 list

Saturday, 22 December 2018

IN THEATRES: CLIMAX!!!

Yes, I watched it again.

Words cannot even begin to describe my feelings toward this movie. I love it, I am repulsed by it, I am completely hypnotised by it. The movie gods decided to allow a second screening in Auckland and I went along to have my noggin re-pulverised.




Watching Climax for the second time, I really appreciated how brutally simple it is: a group of people gather in an isolated location. Something insidious infects the group and soon they lose any sense of social compact.

With its narrative simplicity, archetypal characters and emphasis on visual style, the film feels like a descendant of 70s alt-genre freak-outs like Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981). Sofia Boutella’s protracted breakdown feels like a homage to Isabella Adjani’s  berserk explosion in that film.

Though set in 1996, the movie evokes the style and atmosphere of Euro-horror circa 1977-1981: One of the opening shots is framed by old VHS covers for PossessionSuspiria and other films from the same period.

As Noe’s camera tracks and prowls after his cast, I was reminded of Angst (Gerald Kargl, 1983), the film Noe has claimed as one of his chief inspirations as a filmmaker. There is something very similar going on in terms of the unity of a simple story & a hyper-real visual style: Angst is about a murderer who is released from prison and commits a home invasion on a family - like Climax, it’s an unrelentingly from story told in extended long takes, which are either too intimate or isolating. 

The viewer is meant to feel helpless, both immersed and distanced from the action: Unflinching long takes, Dutch angles and the cramped setting all combine to make the film feel like a literal nightmare.

On this viewing, I found it interesting how - at the outset -the visual style feels perfect for capturing the troupe’s choreography. As the film progresses, Noe deploys the visual vocabulary he has established at the beginning to document the dancers disintegration from rehearsed performance of ecstasy to states of panic, desire, rage and terror. 

Rules and norms become meaningless. Violence, death, sex, dance become as one.

There is a moment I referenced in my initial review in a which an injured woman crumpled on the ground looks straight up at the camera hovering directly over her and screams for someone to cal an ambulance.

It is a horrific moment, both drawing attention to the voyeurism of Noe’s camera and our own position as viewers. 

There is a sense that Ot feels like the film is trying to agitate the viewer - from the shots that linger too long, to the driving, repetitive music, to the screams of Tito, a poor little boy who ends up trapped in the building’s generator. 

At one point the camera turns upside down, followed soon after by the subtitles.

Credits appear almost in the middle of the picture, including all the names of the acts on the soundtrack, and with Gaspar Noe’s name appearing multiple times (in different fonts and backwards, to boot!).

This movie is tough to take it times, and is genuinely disturbing at times.

Yet despite the extended shots, there is little sense that the camera is lingering on the characters misery. The camera is more fixated on the characters' increasingly frenzied reactions to what other people are doing - or their growing detachment from reality.

The horror comes from the group's increasing disengagement from the horror around them (including the acts they commit to each other)

The movie also has moments of pitch black comedy: at one point Two characters stumble into a bathroom where another dancer is standing naked in the short, covered in blood. They immediately close the door and keep moving.

David, the self-proclaimed sex god finds all his attempts to get some rebuffed, and winds up either rejected or (repeatedly) beaten up. The only white cishet man in the company, his bravado is revealed as a paper tiger once the cohesion of the group collapses. Considering the critiques of homophobia in Noe's past work, could this be a bit of self-immolation?

Climax is one of my favourite movies of the year. A disaster movie in all but name, it is a singular experience that demands to be seen on the big screen. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The latest episode of the JAMES BOND COCKTAIL HOUR is out now!

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

In our latest episode, my co-host Hugh, I and our mate Graeme review MOONRAKER (Lewis Gilbert, 1979), the fourth film to star Roger Moore.


Bond goes to space, Graeme ponders whether Moore really is merrier and Tim manages to offend Brazil and the city of New Orleans in this review of 1979's Moonraker!

If you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review.

AND IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PAST EPISODES...


Links are below, but you can also subscribe to the podcast on all platforms, including iTunes and Spotify. For regular updates, check out the Facebook page, 'The James Bond Cocktail Hour podcast'. 


Middle-aged libidos, white actors in brown face, and clowns deactivating nuclear bombs: It's chaos onscreen and off as our heroes introduce special guest Ashton Brown to the world of James Bond via 1983's OCTOPUSSY, starring the eternally youthful Roger Moore!




Hugh reveals his love of scrambled eggs, Tim picks a fight with a ghost and Ashton marries a tiger. They also review Ian Fleming's OCTOPUSSY & THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS!




Our heroes continue their journey through the world of Bond with reviews of the latest Bond flick SPECTRE starring Tim's man-crush Daniel Craig and the novel NO DEALS MR BOND, written by John Gardner!



Special guest Benjamin Teh joins our heroes to review the 2011 Bond book CARTE BLANCHE, written by Hugh's favourite human Jeffrey Deaver!




Our heroes to take a look at where it all began, with reviews of Ian Fleming's original Bond novel CASINO ROYALE (1953) and Bond's cinematic debut in DR NO starring Sean Connery!  




Millennium bugs! Monica Lewinsky! Garbage! Time to party like it's 1999, because Pierce Brosnan is here to tell special guest Benjamin Teh and our heroes why THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH! 


Hugh has a theory that he can explode Tim's brain. He does. 


Our heroes check out the Bill Clinton-starring documentary about the history of James Bond!




Tim and special guest Graeme Bibby are lost Down Under while Hugh takes the high road to China in this review of Raymond Benson's Zero Minus Ten!

Related

Bond 25 speculation: What could Lea Seydoux's return mean?