Review: Lynn + Lucy (2019)

A compelling drama about two friends that is as rigorous in form as it is in character exploration.

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Review: Vivarium (2019)

Vivarium is not a ‘date movie’. It’s probably not for those expecting a child. Or couples about to step onto the housing ladder. It’s also a great little film.

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Review: The Iron Mask (2019)

If The Iron Mask is anything, it’s a lot of fun. Sure, it’s daft and ludicrous. Yep, you’re surprised by how much Arnie and Jackie Chan are actually in it. But it is fun.

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Review: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Much like its title (already altered to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey), Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) contains all the right ingredients but can’t help get in the way of itself.

Following Harley (played by Margot Robbie’s sheer sense of enjoyment), the film centres on a rather basic MacGuffin hunt and simple nasty antagonist (although Ewan McGregor is typically bland especially stood next to Chris Messina absolutely killing it as Mr Zsasz). It also features a couple of outstanding fight sequences that perfectly blend the film’s violence and neon glitter aesthetic. When this film moves, it really moves but where it doesn’t fare so well is in the constant diversion. I understand why it does it, the film is narrated by Harley and she is an erratic storyteller, but it often feels like we are stumbling around rather than moving forwards and there just aren’t enough straight lines for our hero to feel like a genuine agent of chaos.

But the good bits are rather good and if you do like this version of Harley Quinn as much as Margot Robbie does, then I suppose the time spent just hanging out will be just as enjoyable.

Recommended.

Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Directed by Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a fanatical member of the Hitler Youth in the last days of WWII who is forced to question his devotion to the cause when events land closer to home. The gag is that Jojo is a ten year old boy, and Hitler is his imaginary friend. The disappointment is that the film is completely empty.

With an aesthetic that leans heavily on the cinema of Wes Anderson, and Nazi officers that have goosestepped straight out of ‘Allo ‘Allo, the film struggles to find it’s own feel and the few moments of laughter that do pop up have no actual attachment to the context (not hard when there isn’t one). This is also true of the drama. The antagonists in the film are drawn so widely that they have no power and exert no danger whilst one moment of intended heartbreak is so divorced from the perpetrators that is is rendered almost meaningless.

Jojo Rabbit reads like a movie made by a culture so dominated by a comic book sensibility that it is now incapable of discussing actual ideas. A movie where a murderous, nationalist, racial insanity is neatly compartmentalised down to a bunch of cartoon idiots. Of course, cartoon Nazi’s have been done before but spend five minutes in the presence of a film like To Be or Not to Be (1942) and you’ll see the difference. Ernst Lubitsch’s film has a lot of broad strokes, the Nazi’s are preening, idiotic in their devotion, even clownish, the humour is dark, but he never lets us forget the danger. In contrast, Jojo Rabbit just doesn’t seem interested in anything outside of the central conceit and, as a result, there is nothing there.

Their Finest (2017)

Their Finest is now available to buy / rent and I’d solidly recommend it.  It tells the story of a young woman (Gemma Arterton) who is employed to write realistic women’s dialogue (‘slop’ as it’s called in the film) in WWII propaganda reels and starts writing a feature film, based on the experience of two young women, about the evacuation of Dunkirk.

What I liked about the film was that, and this is no claim of documentary realism, it feels like the behind the scenes view of a Powell and Pressburger film… or at least as one would dream it to be.  And that’s the key, the heart and the message are in the right place.  It’s a film that knows the importance of myth and hope.  It’s funny and heartbreaking, there’s love, a bit with a dog and Bill Nighy is on top form doing his best Bill Nighy impression.

Highly Recommended.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Watching Atomic Blonde I suddenly notice that I’m following the shot rather than the action.  The shot, a prolonged single(ish)-take fight scene, is impressively staged but I’ve lost the drama within it because it isn’t captivating.  The problem is that the central MacGuffin, a list (sigh), is duplicated in function and form with no real sense of priority, deadline or consequence.  No amount of 80’s pop music, neon, face smashing or ‘and Toby Jones’ can hide that.

On a positive note, Charlize Theron outclasses the film she’s in and McAvoy hints at a more interesting Heart of Darkness tale buried under the surface.  Also, the opening ten minutes have a great comic book feel but, alas, the film is intent on not being its own thing and jettisons this in favour of uncomfortably sitting somewhere between John and Jason, unable to mesh the two together.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

I walked out of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets grinning from ear to ear and giggling like a child.  Luc Besson’s adaptation of the Valerian and Laureline comic books is a breath of fresh air after what seems like an eternity of drab fantasy comic book cinema.  This doesn’t feel recycled or ponderous, it feels like a comic book brought to life with tonnes of imagination and wit.

It sometimes feels a bit too much, it’s so packed with ideas that I’m wondering what I missed and I think watching it in 3D was maybe one layer too many.  There’s also a problem with length (a regular gripe this summer) and the charm of witnessing a comic serial unfold is lessened slightly by one long segment that side-tracks proceedings and ‘damsels’ Laureline just once too often.  Which is a real pity because the central pairing of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne brings a weird offbeat energy to proceedings that feels much more equitable than similar films.

Slight misgivings aside, it’s still a wonderful film.  It’s brash and fun in the same way as Besson’s The Fifth Element.  I can fully see why other people might dislike or even actively hate it, it’s ‘peak Besson’ and that’s a dangerous place for film makers (Mann and Malick both need to step back from the edge) but, for me, it hit all the right notes.

Highly Recommended.

Free Fire (2016)

So, Free Fire

I like Ben Wheatley in the same way that I like Neil Marshall, I like that he’s there doing his thing.  I’m a big fan of his High Rise (it’s not Ballard’s, which I also love) and Kill List.  His other films not so much but I’m glad someone is making them.  I’m also excited by the idea of Freak Shift and an oft mentioned remake of Wages of Fear.  But I’m here because of Free Fire, his arms deal gone bad gunfight movie.  It’s been sold by various reviews as ‘stylish’ and so on but it’s not really.  It’s a film about a bunch of unlikable people being unlikable that looks a bit too clean to be as disreputable as it might think it is.

And yet I still quite liked it. It moved along, I knew where everyone was in relation to each other and I wanted to know who would be left standing.  Plus the actors are all quite good at being Frank Miller characters.

Had I first seen this film on ‘pan and scan’ VHS when I was too young to watch it then it may have been something really special.  As it stands it’s a good watch but a better poster.