Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Non-Review Review: Under the Silver Lake

There is far too much masturbation in Under the Silver Lake, of both the literal and figurative variety.

To be entirely fair to writer and director David Robert Mitchell, this is entirely the point. Under the Silver Lake is many things, but a large part of it is a genre hybrid between existential slacker drama, anthropological journey through the eccentric and self-absorbed spaces of Los Angeles, and absurdist investigative thriller. Those sorts of genres lend themselves to excessive self-indulgence and self-importance, the sorts of grand-sounding-yet-completely-empty philosophical treatises on the human condition that seem to have been written by those high on their drug of choice or simply themselves. With that in mind, the amount of literal masturbation in Under the Silver Lake seems pointedly self aware, a tacit acknowledgement of the figurative masturbation.

Lost Angeles.

Under the Silver Lake does have a few good ideas. More than that, it has a couple of legitimately great scenes, moments that demonstrate the same skill with the uncanny that made Mitchell’s It Follows so effective. There are moments when Under the Silver Lake walks that fine line between being darkly, bleakly funny and also being uncomfortably, hauntingly unsettling. However, the issue is that these moments are far too fleeting and far too ephemeral, frequently lost amid long and listless passages in which Under the Silver Lake indulges in well-worn cliché and obvious ideas. Under the Silver Lake is shrewd enough to acknowledge and even try to deflate some of its sense of self-importance, but there’s an awkward seam of self-assuredness that runs through the film.

As much as Under the Silver Lake might brutally and incessantly mock its lead character for his assumption that he can figure out the secret code of the universe, it often feels like Under the Silver Lake is convinced that it has a much more insightful perspective, even as it packages well-worn ideas as profound revelations.

This is all going swimmingly.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Non-Review Review: What Men Want

What Men Want is probably as solid an execution as the title premise could expect.

To be clear, What Men Want is very trite and straightforward. It is a movie that is largely defined by cliché. As the title implies, it’s essentially an exercise in broad gender stereotypes. There is very little novel and exciting in What Men Want. In fact, the most frustrating aspect of the whole film is the consistent refusal to work for a joke when the opportunity for a cheap lay-up presents itself. What Men Want is in no way an exceptional piece of work.

“Are you psychic?”
“No, I’ve just seen a rom-com before.”

At the same time, there is a certain charm to all of this. What Men Want is effectively an exercise in familiar formulas. Audience members will recognise all the stock romantic clichés employed here: the absurd lie that spirals into a brutal personal betrayal, the gay supporting character and sounding board, the third act separation and reunion, the protagonist’s journey towards realising that they need other people. However, there is something to be said for hitting those marks in a manner more effective than many modern films in the same subgenre.

It also helps that What Men Want is driven by a powerhouse central performance from Taraji P. Henson, who demonstrates a commitment and energy that the film can seldom match.

Catching up.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: The Highwaymen

The Highwaymen is an uneven and clumsy piece of work.

In many ways, The Highwaymen positions itself as a logical extension of the modern deconstructive western, the tales of men on the edge of the frontier grappling with the challenges of modernity. Sometimes, those stories are set in the old west as it faces massive social shifts; The Sisters Brothers is a recent, effective example. Sometimes, these stories unfold in a more contemporary setting featuring characters still processing how the world has moved past them; Hell or High Water may be the best of the recent examples. The Highwaymen positions itself somewhere on the spectrum between the two; an early scene has the Governor of Texas offering an elevator pitch for the entire film, “It’s 1934, Lee, and you wanna put cowboys on Bonnie and Clyde?”

This is the basic premise of The Highwaymen, and it is a good one. It is two different American archetypes thrown into stark opposition with one another, a story that pits two of the last cowboys in the old west against a newer and hungrier breed of American outlaw. The Highwaymen is the story of the two Texas Rangers drafted out of retirement to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde. Forget Monsters vs. Aliens or Cowboys and Aliens or Alien vs. Predator, this is a pop cultural match-up for the ages. It is cowboys versus gangsters. (It might be more accurate to describe Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as “public enemies”, but “cowboys versus public enemies” is not quite so evocative.)

With all of this in mind, it is disappointing that The Highwaymen feels so hollow.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Triple Frontier

Triple Frontier feels very much like a J.C. Chandor grab bag. And that’s no bad thing of itself.

The film runs on a variety of different concepts and ideas that run through Chandor’s other films. On a purely plotting level, the idea of a story about five guys trapped alone in the wilderness trying to survive on hostile terrain evokes the survival drama of All is Lost, albeit with more men carrying more weapons. The thematic underpinnings of the story, particularly its preoccupations with the dangers of greed and the consequences of unchecked avarice, resonate with Chandor’s earlier work like Margin Call or A Most Violent Year. There is a sense in which Triple Frontier feels of a piece with the body of work that Chandor is building for himself.

Even more broadly, Triple Frontier feels like the kind of older sort of film that rarely gets made in the current studio system; an ensemble cast dropped into a fairly standard premise, anchored in the recognisability of the actors rather than the familiarity of the intellectual property. Triple Frontier is a film build around the closest thing that modern Hollywood has to star wattage. The film reunites Chandor with Oscar Isaac, who anchored A Most Violent Year and the secondary lead role is given over to Ben Affleck, who is arguably one of the rare remaining movie stars. There is no small irony in the fact that Triple Frontier should end up on Netflix, despite being the sort of mid-budget, actor-driven, basic-concept action thriller that studios used to churn out on a regular basis.

Triple Frontier is perhaps Chandor’s weakest film. It lacks the raw urgency of Margin Call, the desperate intimacy of All is Lost and the claustrophobic anxiety of A Most Violent Year. However, it is still a well-constructed survival parable driven by a likable cast and confident director with a clear affection for an older style of Hollywood film-making.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Captain Marvel

The biggest problem with Captain Marvel is one of spoiler culture.

“Spoiler culture” is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, and one that is interesting as a facet of cultural consumption that arose parallel with the internet. It is perhaps a logical extension of the manner in which information flows these days. Information travels instantly and in all directions, quickly consumed and quick disseminated. In the nineties, it was easy (or easier) to avoid spoilers to films like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. After all, there was no Twitter or Facebook to share information. If somebody had already seen the film, they had to be physically talking to somebody else to discuss it, and it was posisble to establish the ground rules for the flows of information before the conversation progressed.

In an era where simply being on the internet exposes a person to torrents of information, the advent of “spoiler culture” seems logical and rational. People want to be surprised. People don’t want to know the finer points of a story before witnessing it first hand. People do not want the easter eggs given out or the finer details dissected. This is an understandable response. Having an experience described is no match for actually having that experience first-hand. So a culture has grown up online about preserving surprise and controlling the flow of information. This is fine. This is healthy. This is good. Mostly “spoiler culture” is just common courtesy and common sense. A reviewer should not reveal anything to a reader that they themselves would not want to know.

As with any philosophy, there is a tendency to take things too far. Sometimes “spoiler culture” descends into self-parody. Reviewers were famously told not to reveal any information about the plot of Blade Runner 2049, which ironically made it very hard to sell the movie to a potential audience. Some more extreme adherents felt betrayed when Sony released a trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home before Avengers: Endgame, as if the fact that Sony was making another Spider-Man movie would give away the resolution to the cliffhanger from Avengers: Infinity War. Naturally, Infinity War came with its own massive spoiler-warning from the studio, with reviewers told that “Thanos demands [their] silence.” This despite the fact the ending was lifted directly from a comic.

Captain Marvel embodies the worst impulses of “spoiler culture” because it confuses a logical and organic narrative development for a big twist. There is a reveal that comes around the half-way mark of the two-hour film which fundamentally changes the nature of the story being told. It plays against the story that had been set up to that point, and is positioned as a game-changer. It is a “twist.” It is a “big” moment. It is the kind of development for which Thanos would demand silence. Except it’s not really. It is not an actual twist. It is a plot point. It is a story beat. It is a part of the story that makes a great deal of sense in the context of the story as it is being told. However, Captain Marvel decides to play this game-changing story beat as a revelation.

There are a couple of big issues here. Most obviously, the actual narrative development is quite literally the only way that Captain Marvel could go without becoming something completely and irredeemably monstrous, so it is entirely predictable. (The twist is only a surprise to audience members who genuinely believe that Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie is likely to play out as extreme white nationalist propaganda.) More than that, though, it creates a larger problem with the flow of the story. The decision to play this story beat as a twist means the film has to conceal its hand for the first hour and fifteen minutes. This means that Captain Marvel is almost half-way over before any member of the cast gets any real character development.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Serenity (2019)

Serenity is the story of a grizzled middle aged man and a tuna fish. A tuna fish named “Justice.”

There are many, many problems with Serenity. Indeed, fixing the most obvious problems with Serenity would just reveal a whole new set of problems. It is all recursive. Serenity does not work in either broad stroke or finer detail. It is flawed from the foundation through to the finishing touches. The basic concept of the movie is spectacularly ill-judged, but this impulse towards poor-decision-making branches out to smaller and more intimate moments of dialogue. It is hard to think of a major cinematic release that has been this obviously and fundamentally broken since Book of Henry. Indeed, like Book of Henry, there is a sense that Serenity might possibly live on as a cult bad movie, the kind of film so committed and thoroughly wrong that it becomes a source of pleasure.

The most obvious thing to criticise about Serenity is the central twist, because that is the hinge upon which the movie turns and central point from which so many bad decisions flow. It is big and glaring, flashing like a beacon. Indeed, one of the characters in the film who identifies himself as “the Rules” might describe it as a lighthouse. However, the central twist often feels like a distraction. There have been successful movies that have pulled off bigger twists than Serenity, and which have worked. There are beloved movies that are built around nominally insane plotting developments, but which have managed to walk that finest of lines; The Sixth Sense, Memento, The Usual Suspects.

The issue with Serenity is not so much its admittedly endearingly insane central revelation. The issue is absolutely everything else, including what it does with that major plot twist.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (“The Man Who Feels No Pain”)

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

The Man Who Feels No Pain is the best film at this year’s Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Vasan Bala, The Man Who Feels No Pain is a delightfully self-aware Hindu action comedy which focuses on a young man who – as the title suggests – was born without any capacity to feel pain. Surya has lived a sheltered life, raised by an over-protective father and an over-eager grandfather. Surya’s life has been shaped and defined by the steady stream of popular culture that his grandfather has fed him, in lieu of access to the outside world. Surya’s moral compass is shaped and defined by comic books and eighties action movies, instilling in the boy a very firm sense of right and wrong and giving him a moral certainty about how best to respond to injustice.

When Surya is thrown out into the world as a twenty-year-old adult, there is a serious question as to whether Surya or the world is ready for the experience. The Man Who Feels No Pain is many, many things. Most immediately and superficially, from its opening scenes, it is a loving and knowing parody of eighties action movies and the superhero cinema that they spawned. It works incredibly well on these terms, managing to expertly balance the demands of both the action sequences and the comedic beats. However, the most endearing and engaging aspect of The Man Who Feels No Pain is the way in which it blends this celebration of contemporary pop culture into a broader exploration of growing up.

At its core, The Man Who Feels No Pain is an exploration of that old C.S. Lewis adage that growing up means putting away childish things; including the fear of being seen as childish.

Continue reading