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!

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.

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. 


If you are interested in more Bond-related content, check out the reviews below. You can also subscribe to the podcast I co-host, THE JAMES BOND COCKTAIL HOUR, available wherever you get your podcasts. 

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?

Monday, 17 December 2018

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

As the countdown to production on Cary Joji Fukunaga's Bond 25 begins in earnest, a picture is slowly forming of what the vision for Daniel Craig's swan song could be.

Before I go further, bear in mind that this is total speculation from a loser who (thinks he) knows too much about James Bond.


Last week it was revealed by The Daily Mail that Blue Is The Warmest Colour star Lea Seydoux, who played the lead role of Madeline Swann in 2015's Spectre, will be returning for the new film - reportedly at the behest of Fukunaga and Craig.

It is an unprecedented move in the series' history. Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson), a secondary love interest, appeared in the first two Connery films, while Maud Adams appeared in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) and Octopussy (1983), but as two different characters.

Never before has a main female character returned in a subsequent film. This move signals that the  focus on continuity established by Spectre will continue, in some form. 

While there is still a lot of context missing, to me this news feels like a portent of something very bad.


One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Bond franchise has been its mutability - continuity and history were always subservient to whatever the filmmakers were interested in. Hence Diamonds Are Forever could pretend that Lazenby never happened, and For Your Eyes Only could say that Lazenby's movie did.

With every movie, it feels like the slate is wiped clean - allowing the franchise to self-correct and adapt, through changing tastes, poorly-received instalments, and different actors.

With the Craig era, there has been a shift from this approach - and not for the better.

Both Quantum of Solace and Spectre have tried to break from the self-contained approach of previous instalments - the former starts minutes after Casino Royale; the latter tries to retrofit all of Craig's movies into one epic narrative. Neither of those movies was particularly successful at this aspect of their narratives - the choice to premise so much of the drama of your story on the events of a previous movie is never a good idea. It means the movie's impact is based on whether the viewer has bothered to watch these previous movies.

It's an accepted trope of Marvel, where characters move between different series, with mid and end-credit sequences linking them to future stories which might be released only months later. It's a holdover from comic books, and - to be frank - not designed for 90-100 minute movies. But the filmmakers have been savvy about how they implement this narrative strategy to enough of a degree to hook a large audience.

The Bond series is always trying to stay current, and Spectre tried to follow the Marvel template. With Seydoux returning, it is clear some version of continuity is being maintained - and a theory that has been bubbling in the ether since the run-up to Spectre's release.  


Before the release of Spectre I remember reading some speculation that Bond 24 was going to be a covert remake of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a story in which Bond winds up falling in love and marrying Tracy (Diana Rigg). Full credit to Matts Mira and Gourley from James Bonding, who picked out the following links between the films:

Both Madeline and Tracy are the children of criminals who have information Bond needs; in both cases, these fathers make deals with Bond that involve their children  (Tracy's father dangles information on the villain's location as an inducement for Bond to marry her; Madeline's forces Bond to protect his daughter in exchange for vital information on the villain's location). And - to varying degrees - both films end with the idea of Bond giving up his job to run away with their new love.

Beyond these connections, one of the final trailers for Spectre employed the OHMSS theme, which felt like a real tip of the hat to what the movie was building towards.

Judging by what I have read of the original script, the connections were meant to be more overt - Blofeld's sidekick was the same lackey he had in OHMSS, Irma Bunt; and the movie originally ended on the same line as OHMSS, "We have all the time in the world". Even the way the movie ends feels like a homage.

Just check out Spectre's final shot (1:11)...


...and see how it echoes the final shot of the wedding scene in OHMSS (2:48).


In the end, these elements were revised or removed, and Spectre ended in a way that kept Bond's retirement/nuptials hypothetical, and allowed for Craig to return in a brand new adventure.

Unless there is some unique idea that the filmmakers have for her, to me Madeline Swann's return means the filmmakers are still determined to follow OHMSS e.g. Bond marries Madeline, she is murdered, and Craig's Bond ends on the same note he came in on - with a dead woman on his conscience.

I'm hoping they have come up with something more original and daring, but I have a nasty feeling they are teeing up to just do another vengeance story. Could they do a good job? Sure.

There is the ghost of an interesting resolution to Craig-Bond in Spectre - the man who destroyed his relationship with Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, inadvertently puts him on the path to finding redemption with the one person who can understand him: his daughter.

It could have been great, complicated and weird as hell, but Spectre kinda dropped the ball on that relationship. And now, unless they are going to make up for their error by actually developing that relationship into something more complex, we are gearing up for a revenge movie where we are supposed to be invested in a doomed romance that was not that developed to begin with.

Apparently, the casting breakdown is looking for two new female characters so unless polyamory is on the cards, it looks like Madeline is a goner.

Of course I could be wrong.

The producers are gathering a strong group of filmmakers, and Craig is clearly invested in going out on a high note, which I take as a good sign. And Seydoux is a great actress - I have been a big fan of hers through BITWC, Sister and The Lobster, and in the run-up to Spectre I was really excited that the franchise had snagged an actress of her calibre. Hopefully, the new team will do right by her and not relegate to playing a disposable archetype.

The Craig era has always felt like an attempt to fulfil the promise of previous Bonds that tried to break from the formula - not just OHMSS but For Your Eyes Only, the Dalton movies and 50% of The World Is Not Enough. These movies felt like dry runs for a different kind of Bond, one removed from. most of the gadgets and other surface flash that is part of the fun of these movies, but which is often mistaken for the meat.

Escapism is always at its best when the viewer has a genuine investment in the characters, and the hope that they can get through whatever situation they find themselves in. The best of Bond is when it finds a balance between the Bond formula, and strong relationships with other characters, particularly with the women - it is the reason why OHMSS has had such a renaissance in appreciation and the reason why the Brosnan movies feel less omnipresent than when they were first released.

A large part of the success of Craig's debut was his relationship with Eva Green's Vesper Lynd. His Bond is defined by his interactions with a strong, complex woman, and one could make the argument that part of the reason why Casino Royale and Skyfall succeeded, while Quantum of Solace and Spectre did not, was because those films did not feature a strong woman like Vesper or M (Judi Dench) to clash with Bond.

From the beginning, Craig's era felt like an attempt to really try and stay the course and not revert to straight repetition of the formula. They have not always succeeded, but I appreciate the intent. Now he needs a strong finish. And part of that strong finish is to do right by the female characters.

If you are interested in more Bond-related content, check out the reviews below. You can also subscribe to the podcast I co-host, THE JAMES BOND COCKTAIL HOUR, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Den of Geek articles




Bond reviews

Diamonds Are Forever

The Man With The Golden Gun

Moonraker

For Your Eyes Only

Octopussy

A View To A Kill

The Living Daylights

Licence to Kill

GoldenEye

Tomorrow Never Dies

The World Is Not Enough (2010)(2017)

Die Another Day

Casino Royale

Quantum of Solace

Spectre (2015); (2016)

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

IN THEATRES: Sorry to Bother You

Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) is a man looking for purpose and financial security. After getting a job as a telemarketer, Cash is lost in the cut-throat commission-driven environment - until he discovers his White Voice. Having found his calling, Cash quickly rises to become a 'power caller', making multi-million dollar deals with massive conglomerates.

While his friends and colleagues fight for their basic rights, Cash is increasingly disconnected from reality. When he is offered an opportunity to work for multi-billionaire Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), Cash is confronted with a choice: does he give up the good life to fight for his friends' rights? Or will he let his White Voice dictate the sale of his soul?     


The debut of rapper Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You is a movie bursting with ideas and off-beat visuals. This movie turned out to be a prime example of how a bad venue can taint your viewing experience. I caught a screening of this movie months ago. I was really excited up until the point I entered the massive amphitheatre to discover row upon row of empty seats. Not a good sign - having an audience to share in the experience is a big part of going to the movies. I never really thought much about the communal aspect of it until about ten years ago when I saw Pineapple Express in an empty theatre. it was about as fun as a mausoleum. It was not until I was watching the movie later with some friends that the movie came to life.
The exact same thing happened with Sorry to Bother You - I enjoyed the movie's ideas and style, but I could not connect with it beyond that. Having to sit in a massive empty room absolutely killed the movie for me. I decided to wait and see if the movie came out in my area, and watch it again.
And I am really glad I did, because this movie is now one of my favourite movies of the year.    

The film is concerned with individuals and their impact on larger systemic processes and problems. The movie's title is really an encapsulation of contemporary society's relationship with larger issues (such as climate change, crony capitalism and gender equality; insert your own here). As Steven Yuen's character explains, most of the time people do not do anything to fix problems - they just figure out how to live with them.

That moral flexibility is the dilemma facing our lead character. He is unemployed, living out of his uncle's garage, and his car is so crap he has to manually pull the window wipers back and forth when it rains.
The big selling point of the trailers has been the 'white' voices which characters use to navigate the world. It is a neat, funny idea and a great extension of the movie's focus on the idea of passing: Our hero is willing to abandon his identity in order to move up the ladder.


The acting from the ensemble is great. Lakeith Stanfield, most well-known for his roles in Get Out and Atlanta, manages to make Cassius's journey from lowly telemarketer to 'power caller' relatable and affecting. Even when he has sold out, Stanfield has a wavering quality which makes his weakness understandable.
Tessa Thompson plays Cassius's girlfriend/conscience Detroit. Still sporting her Thor Ragnarok abs (which gives a clue as to when the move was shot) Thompson's character is a visual and agit pop artist, with a committed belief system who is willing to put herself in harm's way (literarily) for her art.
    On re-watch, she is one element that felt confusing on both viewings. Despite her radical credentials, Detroit never really challenges Cassius, and when she does, it comes long after they have moved into a big apartment and bought a flashy car - it is hard to track what her motivations really are. There is a sense that her reactions to Cassius are motivated by a need to force him to confront what he has become, but if so, why did she take this long to challenge him? Thompson is good, but I did not have a lock on what Detroit's personality, motives or function within the movie were. Check out Jourdain Searles's essay about the character. It is far more in-depth than I could write.




    As Cash's friend and leader of the strike, Squeeze, Steven Yeun is good - he just needed more screen-time. With the success of South Korean drama Burning, he's starting to break out, but Yeun should be leading more movies now - his unrequited(?) attraction FOR Detroit made me want to see him and Thompson in a straight-up romantic movie. His character only really suffers because of the lack of development for Detroit - their romantic flirtation feels random and never resolves in a way that makes sense.
    If you have followed this blog long enough, you know how much I love a good bad guy - Armie Hammer's Steve Lift - a CEO who has come up with a modern form of slavery - is terrifying and hilarious. Hammer is really amazing in this movie.


    Playing a self-absorbed megalomaniac he is hilarious and terrifyingly close to feeling like a real person. It is a credit to his abilities that the scene in which he reveals his plans to create a race of horse-human hybrids feels repulsive rather than ridiculous. It is hard not to compare his arrogant befuddlement at the public backlash to the sociopathic tone-deafness of certain tech bro billionaires like uh... Melon Tusk. Hammer seasons this monster with a superficial charm that feels a little too strong - he puts you on edge from the first moment he is onscreen.


    Sorry to Bother You is brilliant. I am so happy I watched this movie again - with an audience, it just came alive. The time in between viewings also helped - it gave the movie a chance to marinate in brain for a bit.


    It does not look like the movie will be expanding to other venues outside of the Academy, so if you are keen, book your tickets ASAP.


    If you are interested in more Bond-related content, check out the reviews below. You can also subscribe to the podcast I co-host, THE JAMES BOND COCKTAIL HOUR, available wherever you get your podcasts.





    Tuesday, 4 December 2018

    IN THEATRES: Creed II


    Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has made it to the top - he is the Heavyweight Champion of the world, and he is starting a family with his love Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Life could not be better.

    That is, until a new challenge appears in the form of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of the man who killed his father Apollo. 

    After taking a horrific beating in their match, Adonis has to go back to basics, and with the help of his family and trainer/erstwhile father figure Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), re-discover his eye of the Tiger.


    I was really worried about this movie.

    a) Ryan Coogler was not writing or directing
    b) Stallone was (co) writing
    c) It was a sequel to Rocky IV

    Rocky IV feels like it is in a completely different universe to Creed. How could it not be garbage?

    While it is not as good as Creed, like its predecessor Creed II does a really good job of taking something from the original Rocky series (Ivan Drago) and re-contextualising it in a way that deepens it.

    Ironically, Drago's subplot is my favourite part of the movie. Post-Rocky IV, Drago lost everything. In the last 30 years he has poured his hopes and frustrations into his son Viktor (newcomer Florian Munteanu).

    Largely silent, their relationship is the most interesting and well-realised character development in the movie. It is too bad they do not have more screen time, but Lundgren and Munteanu convey a lot in only a couple of scenes.


    On the flipside, Creed II is operating without a good reason to be a Creed movie - Adonis's whole motivation in the original was to feel like his life had meaning. Having completed that arc, there is no room left for him to grow.

    Jordan is great, and manages to make this character turn less jarring, but the character feels different - more self-involved, and driven by vengeance.

    Ironically, Adonis's motivation in Creed II makes far more sense in context as a sequel to the events in Rocky IV than as a sequel to Creed. I was half-expecting/hoping/praying Bianca would be singing 'Living In America' as Donny entered the ring for the final fight.

    While this movie works as a sequel to the fourth Rocky movie, the basic set-up is a re-run of Rocky III: Adonis starts the movie full of bravado, and being humbled in his first bout with Drago, re-trains himself to take the giant on again.

    While not on the same level as Coogler's original, Creed II is a solid sports movie, and a good time at the movies.

    If you are interested in more Bond-related content, check out the reviews below. You can also subscribe to the podcast I co-host, THE JAMES BOND COCKTAIL HOUR, available wherever you get your podcasts.

    Friday, 30 November 2018

    IN THEATRES: You Were Never Really Here

    After a lifetime of violence (both personal and professional), Joe uses his skillset to rescue kids. Joe's life is - at least on the surface - simple and discreet. Underneath it all, he is a wreck, re-enacting the traumas of the past.

    When he is hired to rescue a politician's daughter, Joe's finds his life upended.


    I love genre movies made by people who have not made their bones in them before. the results may not always work, but they are usually interesting. And when it works, it’s like watching one of those videos of an octopus work it’s watching one of those mazes



    Written and directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here has the bones of a thriller - a loner with a traumatic past takes on a seemingly simple case that spirals out into something bigger and more dangerous.


    Phoenix is great - a quiet, understated performance punctuated by abrupt moments of economic brutality. The title is as much a statement on his interior life as it is on his career as a covert retrieval expert. 

    Ramsay keeps the camera close to Phoenix, framing other characters in the corner of the frame or out of focus. Joe is almost completely checked out from the world. 

    Nothing about the story is new - Ramsay’s focus on emphasising Joe’s trauma goes beyond the easy signifiers of loners past. 

    Conveyed through disjunctive editing and sound design, Ramsay shows snippets that add up to a picture of Joe's inner psyche. This is a man who is constantly trying to pull himself together, while his past and present continually collide.  

    If you are coming for Jack Reacher-style hobo action, this is not it. There is a great set piece shot from POV of security cameras. Cutting between them at deliberate intervals, we get glimpses of Joe as he makes his way through the guards and patrons, either in media res-hammering or post-hammering. The movie is a slow burn, but always feels like it is moving inexorably toward some kind of explosion (either literal or metaphoric, it is going to be messy).

    Ramsay’s approach to violence is fascinating - generally speaking, we watch revenge movies for catharsis. Bad people have done something terrible, and we want to see them die. We want order restored to the universe. 

    In You Were Never Really Here, the violence is not cathartic - throughout the movie, Ramsay offers fragmented glimpses of Joe's past, including flashbacks of the violence he endured as a child at the hands of his father. Violence for Joe is the means to an end, but it does not act as a salve for his wounds. He is not some 80s action hero, who will be reborn and purified by the tortures he endures (Rambo, Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon). It just means more scars on his body, and ensures that he remains stuck in an endless loop, replaying the violence he has already endured.

    The film is ultimately a meditation on violence, and its limitations a means of resolution. The movie ends with Joe's desire for vengeance derailed, and replaced by a new connection with another human being.

    Easily one of the best movies of the year, You Were Never Really Here is a quiet, disturbing and deeply empathetic portrait of a violent man finding a way out.


    If you are interested in more Bond-related content, check out the reviews below. You can also subscribe to the podcast I co-host, THE JAMES BOND COCKTAIL HOUR, available wherever you get your podcasts.