BIRDS OF PREY (2020)

A movie with an identity crisis: trying at once to step away from the pre-existing DCU while at the same time still allowing itself to be shaped by it in all the wrong ways.

I don’t really care a whole lot for the sort of post-production face-tattoo neon-edgelord style that SUICIDE SQUAD had going on, and I really feel like this was a pretense deserving of a few more polish and tighten passes on the script and some snappier direction more akin to a SCOTT PILGRIM or a DEADPOOL than the fairly middling thing that’s happening here.

The titular “Birds of Prey” don’t even really enter into it until the last part of the final act for some fairly stagey action sequences and it never really coheres into the sort of character piece it wants to be. Everyone except Harley (Robbie, who looks like she’s having a blast) is just sort of “in the movie” for the most part.

There’s some good stunts and the performances hit all the notes but it’s cut together in a way that feels like an afterthought rather than an intention.

Low mid-tier DCU, not the worst, but felt (like Harley herself) to be too defined by the shadow it’s trying to escape from under.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019)

The two MALEFICENT movies exist in a weird tangent of the Disney live-action reboot universe.

On the one hand they’re an interesting perspective shift on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale with a surprisingly A-list cast (Jolie! Pfeiffer! Ejiofor! Fanning!) mixed in with some surprise appearances (Warwick Davis! Ed Skrein!). They’ve got the sort of largely well-done fantasy special effects that only a swollen purse and high-grade talent pool can produce.

On the other hand they’re overly melodramatic, exposition heavy and self-serious in a way that doesn’t serve much more than generic fantasy cliche tropes. Also, the humans (with few exceptions) are quite unambiguously the villains, especially in this film, so there’s little conflict in siding with this supposed “Mistress of Evil” who never does anything considerably evil at all. It sort of gets handwaved away as being the perception of her by commonfolk, but I still feel like Angelina Jolie must have signed on expecting something vampier and more fun than the little she really gets to do.

Characters are paper thin, plot goes nowhere interesting, action is pedestrian and stakes aren’t engaging, even the design is at most blandly pretty. The first one was okay but this feels unnecessary.

BRIGHTBURN (2019)

What if Superman hadn’t been sent to Earth as a refugee but rather as a kind of sleeper agent to a race of cruel alien warmongers?

Alternatively: Superboy the movie but he’s creepy and psychotic and it’s vaguely a methaphor for puberty.

A further case for the notion that the origin story is the least interesting part of a hero/villain fable, particularly when the morality of the protagonist is implied to have been decided for him by his host planet’s programming and no amount of nurture from his adoptive family will sway him back to “good”.

Kinda predictable despite being mostly well executed with some disgustingly visceral horror stuff in there too. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t quite live up to the potential of the premise in any way that something like CHRONICLE hadn’t already managed.

REVIEW SPECTACULAR SIX

Somehow I’ve managed to run up a backlog of stuff to review while editing my novel, and I’ve not the time to paint up something for each of these so here’s a handy bundle all in one place!

JOHN MULANEY & THE SNACK LUNCH BUNCH
UNCUT GEMS
MARRIAGE STORY
UNDER THE SILVER LAKE
THE GOOD PLACE (finale)
BOJACK HORSEMAN (finale)
FINAL SPACE (s01)
WHAT DID JACK DO?
TITANS (s01/02)

Enjoy!

Continue reading “REVIEW SPECTACULAR SIX”

READY OR NOT (2019)

Basically Hide & Seek: The Movie with a dark sense of humour and rapid ramp up into a grand and bloody crescendo.

Never once takes itself seriously, the cast is great, the plot’s a rolling good time right through and Samara Weaving makes for an iconic figure, splattered with blood in a torn wedding dress and bright yellow sneakers.

If horror comedies are your jam at all, this one comes highly recommended.

TERMINATOR: Dark Fate (2019)

Yeah, it’s fine.

Much more promising at the start with good characters old and new, some absolutely belting fight sequences and a legitimately great evolution of the Terminators into the new REV-9 model.

Gabriel Luna is pitch perfect as a faster, meaner twin machine, and the physicality of the role makes for some awesome battles with Mackenzie Davis’ augmented protector that feel right out of a kids’ imaginary action figure showdown.

Honestly, the main problem is that it goes so big so fast and then doesn’t really have anywhere to go — the stakes have been so protracted and epic action fatigue sets in. There was at least two points where I thought we were at the end only to keep on rolling on again into something more huge and bombastic but the stakes hadn’t upped to reflect it.

For example: Did we really need the whole crashing plane bit? It really desensitised me to the ACTUAL peak of the film some 30min later. Like, I get that everyone played UNCHARTED 3 and that part of the game was fantastic, but I think we’ve done all we can with planes falling out of the sky as a dramatic setpiece now.

Overall, chop out at least one action sequence or condense their more creative parts into one of the other scenes, remove flashbacks so you’re 25+ min shorter and you’d have a much more satisfying ride.

Still, FX are great, it’s an interesting parallel (alternate?) timeline and it’s better than about half of the other TERMINATOR films.

Worth a watch, even if it does drag a bit in the back half.

HAIL SATAN? (2019)

The most fascinating thing about this documentary is that going into it you likely have these very entrenched cultural ideas about what Satanism is, and you very quickly learn that none of it is in alignment with what The Satanic Temple actually practices or stands for.

In fact, many of those who regard themselves as defacto Christians might actually be surprised to know that they have much more in common with a bunch of secular trolls who formed their religion on the principles of humour, postmodernism, performance, absurdism, community, transparency and the time-honoured tradition of Keeping The Bastards Honest.

Aside from a brief history lesson on the modern interpretations of Satanism and the formation of a fledgling religious organisation, the bulk of the film follows the group as they go about petitioning for the installation of a statue of Baphomet alongside a motif of the Ten Commandments that is being built in a public space — their argument running along the lines of religious freedom that no single ideology should take dominance over others, and should the Commandments be removed then they will withdraw their statue in accordance with their own principle.

It’s funny, in a seriously comical way that belies a mischevious streak to those who would call themselves Satanists while advocating for the right of others to call them out on their own bullshit. They don’t want to convert anybody, they just want everyone have the freedom to be themselves.

It’s a complicated worldview and well worth the watch because as strange as a foreign ritual can appear to someone on the outside, it’s actually far less challenging to grasp than you might think.

It’s on Netflix now. Recommended.

FROZEN 2 (2019)

In some ways more charming than the first, in others less inspired.

Kind of a mixed bag — half the songs were forgettable and the overall story felt like a bridging episode between a strong first film and a bigger, more creative third one.

But the visual design is wonderful, painted on an autumnal Scandinavian pallette and the colonialist narrative touched on some darker concepts without really confronting them, which I suppose is understandable as this is still ostensibly a film for kids.

Doesn’t really transform the franchise in any meaningful way despite heaping on new elemental mythology and expanding the world, something that plays more like the setup to a more interesting trilogy rather than a really solid standalone in its own right.

That said, Kristoff’s 80s power ballad backed by imaginary reindeer harmonies is a brilliant bit of tonal anachronism and I like that the fundamental messages are of community support and reparations.

Overall not bad but I assume the next one will be better.

JOKER (2019)

I took a while getting around to this largely because the hyperbole was exhausting, and look, having literally just watched it, I still don’t really see the need for an origin story for a fundamentally enigmatic character, even if this is the best version of that story we were ever going to get.

It’s incredibly well shot and put together, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is fantastic and there are real moments of greatness… but it didn’t really elevate into some magical realm of reverence for me like so much of the conversation about it was trying to convince me that it was.

It’s good, worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of TAXI DRIVER. It’s a film that people are bound to take the wrong messages away from – every generation has a FIGHT CLUB except this is not quite as dark or brilliant as it wants to be.

SIDE NOTE: I’m interested to see if Matt Reeves/Robert Pattinson’s THE BATMAN is going to pick up in the continuity given this box office success.

PROSPECT (2018)

A post-goldrush story on a micro budget that makes use of every dollar — the spacesuits and tech are charmingly analogue and cumbersome, medical treatment is harsh, the people are cruel and brutal and happy to kill for the possibility of a fortune.

Held aloft by the boundless charisma of a morally ambiguous Pedro Pascal and finding a resourceful lead in Sophie Thatcher, this is a frontier tale with a minimalist scifi angle.

Enjoyed it, worth a watch.