REVIEW SPECTACULAR 3 (years since the last one)

I’ve been trawling through all of my old reviews in the interest of gathering them in one place, so if you’ve ever wondered what I watched in 2017 and what I thought of it then wonder no longer!
I don’t have any sort of “Jump To:” feature available, so here’s a list of everything posted below:

LOVING VINCENT (2017)
GERALD’S GAME (2017)
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
STRANGER THINGS s02 (2017)
BLADERUNNER 2049 (2017)
mother! (2017)
IT (2017)
SENSE8 s01/02 (2017)
DEATH NOTE (2017)
RINGS (2017)
THE DARK TOWER (2017)
VALERIAN & THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)
THE MUMMY (2017)
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
BABY DRIVER (2017)
WONDER WOMAN (2017)
ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2 (2017)
GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)
YOUR NAME (2016)

LOVING VINCENT (2017)

It took over 100 artists almost 6 years to painstakingly rotoscope every frame in paint of this biographical film regarding the investigation of the death of Vincent Van Gogh, and really this style is the film’s shining achievement.
It’s worth the price of admission to watch the tiny shifts from frame to frame and see Van Gogh’s style brought to life but I still feel as though one wouldn’t get much from the story itself unless they were already interested in the final days of the eccentric artist.
Had the visuals not been so engaging I suspect the film overall would have been… well… fairly dull. Could be enjoyed with no sound, projected on a wall at a party or gallery and not lost much of its effect.
Worth a look for the animation alone though.

 

GERALD’S GAME (2017)

This year’s been a pretty solid 50/50 on Stephen King adaptations (which is actually a pretty accurate summation of his adaptations overall), but fortunately this one falls on the IT side of the fence rather than the DARK TOWER/THE MIST (TV) side.
A husband and wife take a romantic weekend in an isolated house and things turn sour very, very quickly. The less said about the minimal plot the better, really, as the slowly ratcheting suspense is a large part of what makes it so effective – discussing it at any more length falls into spoiler territory. Fair warning though: it plays heavily and uncomfortably with the abuse of women before leaning into some stomach-turningly gruesome horror. I found myself wanting to turn away at both in equal parts.
Carla Gugino’s performance is outstanding and the story is told with a tight efficiency more akin to “MISERY” than to King’s more supernatural tales.
Confronting, unsettling, dark and very well executed. Recommended with a caveat of aforementioned trigger warning.

 

THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

Ok, I saw this nearly a week ago now and still every time I think back on it it raises a chuckle from either something completely outlandish or something incredibly small and subtle.
It’s a comedy that’s just as happy to play broad and cheap as it is to stack layers and subtlety into gags – and better still it’s loaded with that peculiar, particular NZ sense of humour that Taika Waititi is such a master of. A lot of these sailed over the Canadian audience in our screening but it was fun to hear a few people here and there getting a joke from ‘The Castle’. And Korg: the giant rock warrior with the voice of a Maori bouncer. What a treat.
Production design is brighter and stranger than anything in recent memory and it’s really great to see Marvel films finally really embracing Kirby/Ditko cosmic weirdness and checking any self-seriousness at the door.
Refreshingly light, fun and colourful. Some completely left-field cameo appearances and some great characters in the nearest approximation to FLASH GORDON that the MCU is ever likely to get. And the Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo/The Rugrats Theme/etc) soundtrack is pretty bitchin’ to boot. Taika Waititi really feels like he took full advantage of the reach and dollars of The Mouse to make this as over-the-top and utterly packed as his dreams would allow.
Well recommended.

 

STRANGER THINGS s02 (2017)

What a godsdamned delight.
Grows on the first season and arguably improves on it, every character gets more dimension and time to shine and the new additions all work perfectly, though Mike is perhaps a little under-utilised this time around (possibly to do with Finn Wolfhard filming ‘IT’?). The show doesn’t suffer for it at all, more just an observation.
Nine episodes is just the right amount for the pacing, and ultimately the plot works to the characters’ growth and arcs within the season which makes it all the more satisfying – it’s a shining example of the Netflix model playing to its strengths.
The Duffer Brothers and their cast/crew have an absurdly deft hand at continuing to shape an 80’s period scifi/horror thriller that feels completely authentic rather than being a cheap handful of nostalgia gimmes and its awareness of this (misplaced) criticism goes a long way without being cloying or too clever. It’s homage done right, playing out like a lost Stephen King novel in all the best ways. There’s soooooooo many nods to movies from around the 80’s spread throughout, but they’re woven very organically into the world and I never felt that “HEY MEMBA THIS?” frustration even when I was clocking references to anything from ‘ALIENS’ to ‘THE EXORCIST’/’POLTERGEIST’ to Digdug.
Everyone’s great, but personally I call Dustin as MVP. That kid’s comic timing is ON POINT. It’s great.

 

BLADERUNNER 2049 (2017)

I just… this might be the most beautifully shot film I’ve ever seen. I’ll have no qualms about being pretty much exactly the target audience for this exact incarnation of a BLADERUNNER sequel and hell if it didn’t just check all the boxes for me. It’s slow, gorgeous, contemplative… it’s all the things I wanted from a follow-up to a personally beloved film and at the same time brings so much more to the table in a way that grows and expands the world of the original in an incredibly organic, rich way. Every shot is worth studying for its lighting, sound and cinematography alone, as well as being that utterly rare example of a film that is happy to let things linger and hold in silence and spectacle, asking you to observe and absorb a world just outside the fringe of our own reality. It’s slow and it’s long and I would have happily spent even more time with it if they’d offered the chance.
Built for something more human than human.
Demands to be seen in the largest, most sensory-numbing way possible.
I fucking loved it.
It’s incredible.

 

mother! (2017)

y tho

 

IT (2017)

I suppose it goes without saying that if you’re not a fan of clowns then this is probably not the movie that’s going to change your mind: Pennywise is horribly creepy, eerily omnipresent and he moves and changes in awfully unsettling ways coupled with a sing-song voice and a cutesy smile that hides many, many teeth.
I know we all have affection for the Tim Curry version from 1990 (27 years!) but really this is the definitive version of the creature and watching the film in a packed-out cinema really gave the sensation of witnessing an iconic horror villain really lurch forward and burn itself into the public psyche forever. Impressive too is just how far they were willing to push some of the violence onto young kids, and the fact that many of the confrontations with Pennywise happen in the middle of the day and just barely out of the range of adult assistance (would they even notice? I suspect not) – indeed I can’t recall a single adult character that wasn’t in some way just outright awful and this just adds to the angle of the kids in the Losers Club having to step up and face this threat or be doomed to living in terror until it finally decides to stop toying around and just eat them.
Much had been said about the kids themselves and damn if they haven’t assembled the perfect cast – the creeping horror of the creature stalking their town is really well offset by how funny the main cast is as they riff off each other and crack a constant stream of profanity-laden insults. The challenge for Part Two (as the film only covers around half of the novel) will be finding a cast of adults that have as much charisma and chemistry together at age 40 as this bunch does at 13.
The tone and execution of the world is great, if I had to complain it would be that this wasn’t longer because I wanted to spend more time with the characters and let it have just a bit more breathing room to instil some real hopeless dread over the town of Derry. The scares were generally pretty well telegraphed in their arrival but were visually arresting and there’s a good handfull of moments that had me yelling “OH HELL NO FUCK THAT” in the cinema that the trailers had very sneakily misrepresented.
Overall, this was REALLY well made and realised, if you can get past the whole creepy clown thing (hooboy do they ever know how to press that button) you’re in for one of the best horror films in recent memory. Highly recommended.

 

SENSE8 s01/02 (2017)

What a wonderful, sincere celebration of individuality, community, identity and diversity it is that the Wachowskis have created in this and what a damned shame that a third/final season is still forthcoming.
A big step up from the (already excellent) first season, the strength here really lies in no longer having to tie the titular cluster of (post? meta?) humans together as per the plot of season one, but rather pushing outwards and reveling in the way that a fighter might help a criminal in a tight spot or how a transgender woman’s personal struggle with identity could give authenticity to the courage a community leader is struggling to find in himself. Watching these people deal handle conflicts with increasing confidence and aptitude is not something that is so deftly executed as often as it is here. It’s not about the connections being made as much as it is about the fabric woven from these threads and it’s really very life-affirming and honest.
Oh, and there’s great action and fun scifi elements.
Do rate.

 

DEATH NOTE (2017)

Closer to the live-action Japanese versions than either the manga or the anime, and that is far from a compliment.
In attempting to localise the story to Seattle they’ve fundamentally missed the cultural touchstones that make each of the original characters and the story tick.
As an example:
Japanese Light Yagami is a stone cold killer from day one, arrogant, brilliant and unflinching in his use of the Death Note to cleanse the world, unwavering and guiltless in his manipulation of those who love him for his own ideals and chillingly aware of how to use the media and public opinion to shape the world. It’s very likely that he would have become a serial killer even if he had never had a chance meeting with a death god. He is ten moves ahead of everyone else at all times and unempathetic to the point of cruelty.
American Light Turner is coerced into using the book, is largely reactionary, rapidly starts to unravel after almost being caught out once, gets tied up in the morality of doing evil things for “good” purposes and never once really gives the impression of being in control of his situation. He SHOULD be a white upper-mid class elite, a manifestation of privilege, who doesn’t for a moment believe that he deserves anything less than to be master of those he deems lesser than himself (which is everyone). Instead, he screams and sweats and runs and panics and his girlfriend has him wrapped around her finger.
This adaptation amounts to 40 episodes of tense, intellectual cat-and-mouse hacked down to a two-line synopsis then messily patched together with different coloured tape. It’s a story where complexity and intelligence are an inherent part of the appeal, and it demands a 10-hour series at the very least to lay all its traps and then slowly start springing them until Light chokes himself on his own arrogance, not 90min of predictable teen drama with an over-infatuation for Donnie Darko. The best translation is the boy-wonder detective L, but even then is pretty wide of the mark overall. It moves too fast and everything suffers for it, and worse is probably too confusing in how it glosses over the note and how shinigami (death gods) work for anyone that hasn’t already seen or read the original version to follow along or become interested in chasing down the far superior versions that already exist.
Netflix has the original anime available to stream. Watch that instead. This is a waste of Willem Dafoe.

 

RINGS (2017)

Wastes a high-concept setpiece in the intro then proceeds to add nothing of consequence to the franchise that the original didn’t already do better. Updated technology is hardly explored and never in any meaningful way, which was the only thing this maybe had going for it. Not really scary, barely even creepy, mostly boring. Just watch the first one again instead and forget this exists.

 

THE DARK TOWER (2017)

I wanted to spew forth this whole diatribe about how adaptation is a complex process and takes skill to pull off effectively, creating something new and distinct while offering a fresh perspective on work in another medium. But that would be wasted here. Much like 93min of my life was. This is not an adaptation. This is barely a coherent film. This does not need to exist. BAD SONY *hits with rolled up newspaper*

 

VALERIAN & THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

On the one hand, VALERIAN is willing to throw away high-concept ideas, staggering visuals and brilliantly inventive designs like peanut shells at the circus – there’s more fascinating and inventive sci-fi elements picked up and discarded per minute than most other films can pack into their entire runtime.
On the other hand… none of it works cohesively to tell a damned story. The dialogue is AWFUL and errs on the side of Bluntly Expositional, which serves to grind the world to a complete halt to deliver 2min of characters literally just explaining the plot in the most basic terms before another pretty action sequence kicks off. There’s a huge disconnect between the two elements and VALERIAN frustratingly refuses to use this huge incredible world to do any of the narrative work whatsoever unless someone is standing still against a backdrop explaining what is going on.
As a contrast, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES managed to frequently and wordlessly use its production design and nuance in performance to do much of the heavy lifting of the world and story and the result was immensely engaging and investing, with dozens of lines worth of dialogue conveyed in silence by two subtle shifts of facial expression. VALERIAN is obsessed with outright telling you what people are thinking and feeling and trying to do and it just sucks the life out of it.
Doesn’t help much that the leads are devoid of any chemistry whatsoever (Guess what? They’re romantically involved and not brother and sister like everyone had assumed by looking at them! I use the term “involved” loosely). I like Dane deHaan but whatever Keanu-lite thing he’s trying here is not good, they needed a Han Solo type for the role and he is not that. Cara Delevigne is actually not bad given what she has to work with and I’d even suspect she could have been pretty good if she was given better material, direction and casting around her.
TL;DR – insists on telling not showing, or showing and then immediately telling, which is a shame because what it has to show is impressively inventive and ultimately wasted.
Is it great spectacle? Yes.
Is it a good movie? No.
Put on on the projector with the sound off at a house party.

 

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

On paper, a reboot/prequel series to THE PLANET OF THE APES (1968) sounds like everything terrible about Hollywood decision making – there’s just something about it that makes most people initially think along the lines of TRANSFORMERS or something of that ilk. Middle-of-the-road, hollow CGI spectacle about talking monkeys and wars and stuff? Yeah, no thanks.
And I’ll preface this whole review with this: I hate war movies. With a small handful of notable exceptions I find them played out, rote and frequently leaning into an awful fetishisation of self-righteous violent conflict peppered with the occasional schmaltz-nugget of The Power of The Human Spirit blahblah etc etc. I’m not going to watch DUNKIRK. I think HEARTS OF DARKNESS is a better film than APOCALYPSE NOW. My mind completely disconnects during any climactic, large-scale battle, including fantasy fare like LORD OF THE RINGS.
So how did WFTPOTA even get made? How in the hells did this whole trilogy manage to avoid falling into every single trap laid out for it without some coked-up executive pushing it in a hole and setting it on fire? That the third one is even the best of the three? Surely there was enough money behind this to make investor-type people nervous enough to meddle and ruin it. That’s how we expect this to work now.
And yet, it’s a fucking wonder to behold, not least of all because the production design is phenomenal and the motion-captured performances are just beyond incredible. There’s realism and then there’s whatever witchcraft they’ve pulled out here. Perfect amalgamation of performance and digital FX centred squarely on engaging characters and emotional story beats. Where are the awards for Andy Serkis and his people? Throw them at him. Throw them at all of them. You don’t see people performing, you see a community of creatures communicating in sign language that had I not known the digital process behind them I’d have said “fuck off, those are trained animals”. Heck, even the trailers and the title have mislead you if you think it’s going to be anything resembling a modern action film. It is not. It is dark, and it is bleak, and the only “war” is that which smoulders in the hearts of men and ape alike.
It’s really fucking good.

 

THE MUMMY (2017)

Meh. Don’t bother.

 

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

SHORT VERSION: Nailed it.
LONG VERSION: They did it. They finally captured the awkward, bitten-off-more-than-he-can-chew wannabe, John Hughes high-school comedy, friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. The stakes were at the right level for a 15-year-old overreaching his own ability in an attempt to impress his heroes, there were a tonne of subversions and setups of comic canon and lore, the humour was on point, and the villain is arguably one of the best motivated and realised in the whole MCU now.
I really, really enjoyed it – basically, this is the version of Spider-Man I had in my head when I was reading the comics and watching the cartoons as a kid. For those of you that don’t have that sort of attachment to the character, it’s a hugely fun and nicely grounded superhero film that keeps the stakes, drama and action close and personal enough to the ground that Peter Parker feels like he’s overextending himself without blowing up to abstracted cosmic/world-ending threat.
Highly recommended, best cinematic incarnation yet.

 

BABY DRIVER (2017)

I’m really struggling to describe what this is like – I mean, did DRIVE get it on with a bunch of music videos and birth a little 50s teen diner romance, or is it more like what if OCEAN’S ELEVEN were violent assholes but their getaway driver was a quiet young StarLord?
The difficulty explaining what makes this great is… well… specifically what makes it great. It’s like a mash-up of 5 different movies cut together with a style and flair that would make most directors froth, but because it’s Edgar Wright you almost have to take that for granted, right?
I usually find car chases the dullest part of an action film, but DAMN the team on this pulled off some utterly glorious to witness sequences.
Cast is killer (even if the girls could have had a bit more to do), the soundtrack is potentially the best of any film ever and overall it’s a tense, hilarious good time.
Highly recommended.

 

WONDER WOMAN (2017)

A new gold standard for WB/DC, and miles better than their other recent efforts – which SOUNDS like a backhanded compliment, but really! Wondy’s great! Not without its flaws, most notably the very out-of-left-field and hammy CGI shark-jump in the last 20min or so, but otherwise it’s mostly really good.
I feel like the issue with the final fight scene really just comes from the complete and abrupt tonal shift from the rest of the film and it would have overall been better served without it – you can all but see the WB/DC execs’ fingerprints. I guarantee you’ll be able to point at one very specific moment and say “that’s where they should have left it”.
But WOW is Thymescira gorgeous, Diana as a child has this brilliant, barely contained itch to start wrecking stuff and so so much works that these quibbles don’t matter so much. Overall a VERY refreshing superhero film.
Really good, just this side of great, definitely recommended.

 

ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

In the original ALIEN (1979, wait, holy shit! Nearly 40 years ago??), there’s a certain ominousness about the crashed spaceship that the crew of the Nostromo find on LV-426: the sensation that something terrible had happened on that alien vessel, an infestation that had brought down a species far more advanced than our own in events that were about to repeat themselves. And that they did, and again in ALIENS (1986), where the same infestation of nightmare creatures obliterated colonists and the military alike and had to be nuked from orbit to stop it from accidentally (or intentionally) being found again.
A large part of the terror in these creatures, besides the implantation/gestation and body horror elements, was the notion that they were a force of nature, an embodiment of the cruel potential of space. Something developed in an unimaginable environment somewhere, accidentally picked up, lost for a time, then found again by a species so utterly unprepared for their lethality that swift death was the only possible outcome.
ALIEN: COVENANT fucks that. In fact, by explaining the origins of the creatures so specifically and making them explicitly, ego-centrially designed around eradicating humanity while positing itself as a prequel to the other, FAR superior films, it actively works to make the classic first two movies WORSE by completely undermining the very aspects of the things that made them so intriguing and terrifying to start with.
This is doubly disappointing, because so much of the film is STUNNING in its design and realisation and this just draws more attention to the fact that both this and PROMETHEUS (2012) would be much much MUCH better off if they weren’t connected to the ALIEN universe. There’s enough material in the concepts of these two films to make for their own distinct stories and it’s inevitably the point in each of them that the original creatures are crammed into the proceedings that all the little stumblings trip the whole damn thing up and slam it face-first into the mud. A much better approach would be to keep the Weyland-Yutani Corporation as the only connective tissue and tell separate stories of OTHER alien encounters throughout the galaxy – hell, it’s implied by the marines in ALIENS that they’ve been on “bug hunts” before. From a purely business perspective they’ve already lost a lot of expensive personel and resource trying to obtain the xenomorphs, maybe cut those losses and try one of the other avenues for your evil scheming. Just stop making classics worse with prequels and inbetweequals.
GOOD: Cinematography and design is GORGEOUS. Danny McBride is probably the best in the film, though James Franco lucks out by not even surviving the opening scene to have to deal with being in the rest of the movie (yeah, his appearance in the trailers is a total fake-out). Connective tissue to PROMETHEUS is interesting, and it DOES answer some of the infuriating questions that film asked, but this is immediately ruined by both of them trying to explain the origins of the alien creatures and by trying to connect to those films instead tanks the whole lot of them together.
BAD: Pretty much everything else. For every jaw-dropping piece of environmental design is some really janky CGI animation, even extending to digital blood being painted onto what are clearly wasted practical effects. Once again the teams of humans make staggeringly bad decisions such as landing on a planet and walking around without any protective apparatus – OF COURSE you got infected by something, you colossal fucking morons. Some of the dialogue, especially the Walter/David stuff had the entire theatre facepalming at once. You’re better than this, Fassbender. Every “twist” can be seen a mile away so that the last half hour of the movie just becomes a matter of waiting for the inevitable “lure it to the airlock” move that is so utterly devoid of any stakes or threat that I actually just wanted the creature to win faster so it would be over and done with. People in the theatre were asking it to hurry up at this point when they weren’t giggle-snorting at some of the dialogue or throwing their hands up at some bafflingly idiotic decision.
VERDICT: Don’t. Or do, but drink.

 

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2 (2017)

At some point early in production, director James Gunn must have just asked if it was cool for him to put All Of The Things in his film, only to have Marvel nod agreeably and give him millions of dollars to make it happen.
So here we are: with an immediate follow-up to the great original that focuses on giving all the team members a greater depth while absolutely cramming in dazzling colour and visual spectacle on a level so vibrant and hectic it’s almost exhausting to watch. Which is in no way a complaint!
It’s no secret that I’m essentially the target market for this sort of thing and it was hard to walk out of 2+ hours of this and not feel spoiled, and that’s not even considering wall-to-wall easter eggs, running jokes, incredibly high-level unexpected cameos, pop-culture references and the best Stan Lee appearance yet.
This is blockbuster filmmaking at its most irreverent, comical and fun.

 

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)

Impressions from 5min in: Fuck this script.
Impressions from the following day: None. I forgot I’d watched it.

 

YOUR NAME (2016)

Shamefully denied so much as a nomination despite a very well deserved Oscar push from Japan, this is already well on its way to establishing a solid legend for itself for seamlessly blending a whole handful of genres into a single, heart-tugging tale that playfully and repeatedly defies expectations – to name even one of them would be to give away any number of twists as the film shifts course again and again, morphing into a completely different creature over and over while still remaining at its heart one of the most honest and affecting tales about love and distance ever made.
I haven’t been able to shake it for days, and a repeat viewing only reveals just how well crafted and haunting it truly is.
The trailer will (blissfully) give you very little, so go in blind.
Instant classic, highly recommended.

 

I also watched LIFE, BEAUTY & THE BEAST and POWER RANGERS and they were fine.

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