PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019)

Seldom does a film become a painting, not simply for its impeccable framing of a scene or the composition of its lighting and colours, but really truly understanding a medium outside of itself and existing purely in service of embodying what it is to take time in each stroke, to trap emotion and the totality of a person in an image frozen in time and to yet be utterly alive.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE does this, setting out and utterly succeeding to capture within itself that which is beautiful and mythic and eternal, human and bittersweet and fleeting in the gaze of the artist.

A haunting transient moment of a story within a story and a wonderful film.

ONWARD (2020)

Somewhere around the middle of the Pixars — not as stellar as COCO or even the underrated RATATOUILLE, but comes back in the third act with an unexpected final stretch that puts it above, say, the similarly medium MONSTERS UNIVERSITY or BRAVE.

Feels like a lot of time was spent worldbuilding but then it sort of half-asses doing anything really creative or interesting with the pretense. Whereas something like WALL-E feels rich and vibrant with barely a line of dialogue to drive it, there’s a missed mark in an inconsistency to the logic of the world of ONWARD that feels flat and unremarkable despite its gorgeous design.

Not bad, just suffers from the absurdly high expectations that Pixar fare tends to generate.

BOOKSMART (2019)

One of the best highschool movies ever.

I’m an entire highschool graduate’s lifetime removed from that part of my life now, but this is such a well executed, funny, sincere comedy that I was flashed back to that long gone headspace of hormones and excitement for the next phase of adulthood.

The broad strokes are thus: two best friends, on the eve of their graduation, realise that they’ve spent their whole time being acadamic at the expense of almost anything else and so make a pact to go to the big party at the popular kid’s house and get loose. Hijinks ensue.

So much of the humour comes from an unbridled kind of shameless loving and supportive friendship at the heart — it’s really easy to fall on easy beats of teenagers being awful and cruel and crude so it’s great to be taken on a ride that isn’t mean-spirited and doesn’t punch down while still being hilarious (see also: BLOCKERS).

It’s well written, light and fun. Worth your time.

GRETEL & HANSEL (2020)

It’s actually good!

Like, to the point where it’s really a shame that this will fly under most peoples’ radars entirely — it’s much closer to something like THE VVITCH than to, say, SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN.

Cool visuals, interesting design choices, trippy cinematography and a much darker angle on the fairytale than expected, while at the same time sidestepping tired tropes and not overstaying its welcome at a brisk 87min.

Not perfect, but worth your time.

THE PLATFORM (2020)

CUBE, except vertical and the levels represent society. Low budget sci-fi horror with a decent hook and some visceral, nasty things to show you.

Fairly blunt in its sociopolitical metaphor, but it’s not really trying to be clever beyond making the broad strokes of commentary. It’s fairly plain what it’s getting at, but beyond face-value it doesn’t really say anything much deeper.

Stomach churning at turns, nihilistic at others, ultimately it’s an okay thought experiment that isn’t entirely sure what to do with its premise beyond the obvious.

Worth a watch, just not over dinner.

THE LODGE (2019)

Small scale isolationist horror with a great handling of atmosphere and enough tricks up its sleeve to make you think it’s any one of half a dozen different sorts of movie at any point in time.

Even a cursory summation of plot threatens to give away too much. A cabin. Some kids. Their step-mother, who is the sole survivor of a suicide cult. Some long creeping moments of dread and a few unnecessarily jarring and overly loud bursts that don’t really add much to the guessing game.

Overall: pretty tense, some good imagery and a climax you’ll either see coming a mile away or be completely blindsided by.

Good for a cold, rainy night.

VIVARIUM (2019)

An extended TWILIGHT ZONE episode in all the right ways. If that’s your jam then this is worth a look without reading anything further at risk of spoilers.

What of the plot can’t be extrapolated from the title and the first few minutes of the film are best left untold, since so much of the unfolding events work their magic through a well crafted dive into what the fuck is going on here??

It’s very slow and kinda bleak, building to a hallucinatory climax. Quite grounded despite an otherworldy sort of scifi pretense and solid, minimal production design.

Once its setup is established it spends its time playing out much as promised, bouyed up on great performances of unravelling sanity by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg and a new contender for the most horrible uncanny child performance in a thriller/horror film. I hate him. Great job!

I avoided the trailer, but watching it afterwards I noted that it gives away a lot of the first half, so definitely skip it. Drags on a little in the middle but a bit of tedium is selling the experience of the characters.

Otherwise, this is worth a watch!

(16) ALBUMS OF ENORMOUS INFLUENCE

In the spirit of all these “ten albums that influenced your musical tastes” things I’ve been seeing people post during isolation, I got to thinking about my own and couldn’t reasonably break it down to just ten. Then, seeing the wild disparity between some of the entries I chose to take some more time to look at the context that lead to each one being influential.

So! Below I’ve charted sixteen albums worth of influence, each with a link to the album on Spotify, starting from the very first cassette tape in the early 90s right up into the digital age, in chronological order of their influence on me. I don’t think there’s any notable gaps, but there’s some interesting leaps.

Continue reading “(16) ALBUMS OF ENORMOUS INFLUENCE”

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (2020)

It’s… fine, actually?

I don’t really have any attachment to the character beyond the Genesis games and even then found his Radical 90s ‘Tude to be a marketing department trying too hard, but this isn’t terrible.

It’s kinda just a sweet and simple enough story about friendship, broken up every 15min or so by Jim Carrey hamming it up like only Jim Carrey can.

Honestly I was expecting this to be a hate watch but it’s not hateable, it’s had all that focus-grouped out of it. Your own mileage will vary depending on how much you already cared about Sonic in the first place, I suppose.

Kinda sad that this was what broke some of the VFX houses with the design backlash last year when all it amounts to is in the same ballpark as DETECTIVE PIKACHU – a perfectly servicable bit of branded content and nothing more.

DEVS (2020)

Minimalist contemporary-set scifi with excellent production design and a languid, contemplative pace.

Not for everyone, mostly because it’s very slow and it chooses to skew hard into heady philosophy — pretty standard territory for writer/director Alex Garland. But those inclined towards this sort of thing will love it.

Skirts around the whole “mystery box” approach pretty handily by not being coy with its premise and so spends good time with a host of characters grasping what the devs department at a Silicon Valley tech giant is actually doing.

Nick Offerman and Alison Pill are standouts and the cinematography is top-notch, there’s a good sense of real-time events unfolding as episodes take place roughly over the course of a day each but this can lead to little bits of drag here and there. Can be a bit “telly” rather than “showy” with characters but compared to how clumsily WESTWORLD has swung towards blunt expositional dialogue this season I’m willing to forgive a much smaller show a few faults when it excels in other areas.

Overall, pretty good. I’m always keen for more scifi like this so I’d recommend checking it out.