THE FAREWELL (2019)

A Chinese-American family returns home to attend a cousin’s wedding, except the wedding is fake and the family are really gathering to say goodbye to their grandmother whom they haven’t told is dying.

Awkwafina should have received more than just the hushed critical attention she got for this — she really anchors the perspective of an outsider watching a familiar yet alien culture navigate a complex situation, and does so with gravity and a genuine, moving charisma.

Each of the family members offers some insight into the clash of culture between East and West, but seldom do we really get to see that conflict from the modern Chinese perspective and what their own misconceptions of Western culture are like, especially regarding something as universal as a death in the family.

Deserves all the praise. It’s a wonderful film, highly recommended.

PAIN & GLORY // DOLOR Y GLORIA (2019)

I’m starting to think this Antonio Banderas guy might have a bright future ahead of him.

This only really lost attention last year because it was up against the fantastic PARASITE and PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE — it’s a warm, understated and craftsmanly slice of film with a mesmerising lead performance and a mellow, retrospective tone to it.

As much a meditation on a long life of storytelling as it is a story within a story of itself. Doesn’t have the dazzle of its rivals but isn’t aiming for that sort of thing, and is no less a beautiful film.

Recommended.

FUTURE MAN (s01-03)

A slacker janitor beats an impossible videogame that turns out to be a recruitment tool from time-travelling warriors that need him to be their saviour.

What ensues is a ridiculous romp across multiple timelines, the most callous disregard for the dangers of time-travel, a whole episode dunking on James Cameron and some of the funniest, wildest character arcs in recent memory. The cast is great too!

It’s really silly, really fun, really entertaining. Season three was the last as well so you’re not on the hook for too big a ride and it’s constantly changing itself up in new and bizarre ways.

Definitely worth your time.

LITTLE MONSTERS (2019)

An Australian horror comedy quite unlike anything else — you’d be forgiven in the first half hour for thinking you were in for a sort of quirky dramedy or even a romcom.

And then there are zombies. And suddenly this has become a seige movie with a bunch of five year olds trapped in the gift shop of a petting zoo slash minigolf attraction along with their teacher, a television personality and a failed musician.

Has a lot of heart, a surprising amount of gore, an against-type appearance from Josh Gad and an effortlessly charming Lupita Nyong’o.

Shame the Aussie industry is so underfunded and sidelined on the international stage, stuff like this deserves as much attention as any of the more mediocre comedies sneezing out of Hollywood a few times a year.

It’s on streaming services now, if you can find it I’d recommend giving it a go.

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.