Month: December, 2018

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse

smitsvThe well-trodden Marvel universe gets some further Spiderman love with a film that packs more superhero fun than all the other Spiderman films put together. Here you get not just one but seven web-slinging Spideys … and they’re all from different universes.

I’m sure the superhero fatigued will be rolling their eyes about now. But stay with me here, because this Spidey universe flick is the perfect tonic for the Marvel weary.  Take it from me—an ardent eye-roller of the spandex clad—this movie is brilliant!

An origins story of sorts, this animated tale introduces a new Spider-man, teenage Brooklyn graffiti artist Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who is (yes) bitten by a radioactive spider, endowing him with special powers.  New to the webbed gig, Miles struggles with his new-found powers but when a crack opens in the space-time-continuum, five other Spidey iterations from wildly different parallel universes pour in to help. Among them a female version, Spider Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), and her male counterpart, Peter Parker, both offer their assistance.  One problem; this version of Peter Parker has gone to seed and is a burger scoffing, sweat pant slob who’s given up on hero-ing (Jake Johnson is perfectly cast here).  Reluctantly though Peter helps Miles harness his powers as the posse of arachnid heroes battle to get back to their own parallel universes.

Plot-wise, its fairly standard procedure, but where this tale excels is in its delivery. Drawing on its comic book roots, the same producers who brought us The Lego Movie have gone with an animation style that fizzes and crackles with explosive energy, creating the genuine feeling of a comic book leaping onto the screen. The banging soundtrack will have you buzzing and writer Phil Lord (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) brings a level of quick-witted irreverence and humour that manages to ground this preposterous tale. The result is an unconventional, vibrantly fresh and laugh-a-minute loving ode to the comics.  It’s really something special.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Favourite

tfThe darling of deadpan, Yorgos Lanthimos has once again worked his enigmatic style to deliver a film that is part period piece and part anachronistic satire. Anyone who has experienced the quirkiness of The Lobster or the uneasiness of The Killing of a Sacred Deer will know that the writer/director has a cynical view of humanity. His unique style, often touted as a humorous Kubrick, twangs on the raw nerves of his audience as much as his dark humour tickles their funny bone. The Favourite is no different and tonally this film snuggles comfortably in between his two previous outings.

Rabbit rearing, peculiar dance sequences, duck racing, opulent sets, outlandish costumes and more wigs than a drag queen’s wardrobe flesh out the Lanthimos world. The Favourite straddles that surreal space between spoof and serious period drama and is a satirical glance at a warring nation as well as a direct stare at the human condition.

The story takes place in 18th Century England and focusses on three deeply flawed characters; Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) as the incompetent, needy and childlike monarch Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz (My Cousin Rachel) as her ruthless but trusted adviser Lady Sarah, and Emma Stone (Birdman) as the interloping, scheming social climber, Abigail. 

Refreshingly, men for the most part are cast to the margins, sent to war, or form impotent chattels which Abigail and Sarah use in their contest for Queen Anne’s affection. 

It is a delightfully venomous pair of performances from Weisz and Stone who serve and volley salvos of shrewd deceitfulness at each other.  But it is Colman’s portrayal of Queen Anne that steals the show with a pained but often hilarious performance that packs equal measures of giddy glee and pathos.  Lanthimos’s cinematic flourishes further enhance proceedings, with intentional camerawork that manages to reduce giant sets into cloying and claustrophobic spaces. 

The absurdist dark humour won’t appeal to everyone—depending on your level of cynicism, you will either witness a masterful work of profundity or an overcooked piece of silliness. I loved it.

The Favourite opens Boxing day.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

My top 11 films of 2018

ok here goes …

11. The Breadwinner. (not reviewed) An animated tale about female empowerment in a patriarchal society. Vivid, honest and brutally beautiful.

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The Breadwinner

10. Paddington 2. (not reviewed) A delight from start to finish.

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Brendan Gleeson and co. in Paddington 2.

9. Hereditary (not reviewed). A powerful examination of grief and anxiety and easily the best horror of the year. Let down slightly by its ending, but I still shat my pants. Collette is superb.

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Toni Collette in Hereditary

8. Phantom Thread. Might be a touch too slow and emotionally cold for some, and I suspect the slightly peculiar and unexpected ending could leave a sour taste for those wanting things more conventional. But for myself, I found the film to be an absorbing battle of wills wrapped up sublimely in a gothic love story.

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Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps Phantom Thread

7. Roma (not reviewed). Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity) heads back to his Mexican roots delivering an artful love letter to the women who raised him.

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Roma

6. McQueen. A glorious symphony for the senses that runs the gamut of emotions; occasionally amusing, often macabre … but always fascinating. This is bravura filmmaking of the highest order and begs to be seen on the big screen.

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McQueen

5. Lady Bird. A superb solo directorial debut from Gerwig, who has managed to get the balance just right—it is smart yet doesn’t feel preachy, is tender yet bristles with humour, and above all feels new and fresh.

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Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

4. The Square. Deserved winner of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Ruben Östlund appears to be at the peak of his powers and has directed a film that is hilarious, fiercely intelligent, and encourages a healthy amount of self-examination.

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Elizabeth Moss and Claes Bang in The Square

3. American Animals. Have you ever daydreamed how to engineer the perfect heist? Just a harmless fantasy for most, but American Animals considers what happens when such reverie flirts with reality.

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Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan in American Animals

2. Annihilation. A beautifully rendered sci-fi head-scratcher that will have you pensively juggling theories long after leaving the cinema.

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Natalie Portman in Annihilation

1. First Reformed (not reviewed). Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) has delivered a thought-provoking film about minister grappling with despair. Ethan Hawke’s career best to date.

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Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried in First Reformed

Aquaman – a brief review

aquaman3An aquatic Steven Adams lookalike suits up to quell infighting among the H2O breathables in a film that has more eye-rolling moments than a conversation with a petulant teenage valley-girl.

As far as superhero flicks go Aquaman is everything the excellent, but thematically similar, Black Panther isn’t; disjointed, bloated and boring. Jason Momoa, while plenty of screen presence and handy with a smarmy snark, doesn’t have the acting chops to draw you into his plight.

There’s too much world building and not enough character building. Waaaaay too much posturing and, again, not enough character building. To be clear … there’s not enough character building.

Aquaman floats like an unflushable turd.

Go see Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse instead.

At Eternity’s Gate

aegThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly director Julian Schnabel’s take on Van Gogh’s life places us deep inside the disquieting mind of the Dutch genius in this film which is part biopic, part fever dream, part expressionist cinema.  It’s mesmerising, if somewhat nauseating stuff; a rich tapestry of movement and colour that feels as painterly as cinema gets.  Attempts to capture Van Gogh’s work through cinema is nothing new, most notably the recent effort, Loving Vincent, which literally painted each frame of his story. But where that film seemed gimmicky (albeit painstaking) here Schnabel’s vision feels authentic and true to Van Gogh’s pursuit to capture light on canvas. 

A word of warning, though, to those who suffer the uneasy effects of a shaky handheld camera; this film is constantly on the move, and following Vincent’s crazed exploits through the rural French town of Arles might be a bit much for some. I was both wowed and sweating with motion sickness; a strangely uncomfortable but rewarding experience.

The film traces Van Gogh’s most prolific period but tends to gloss over many of his more infamous exploits, focussing instead on his relationship to his art. Rather than ply us with a forensic understanding of the Dutch master, the film concerns itself more with the world of experience. 

Willem Dafoe’s turn as Vincent is spell-binding. His face, itself a richly creased canvas, delightfully communes with the world around him capturing Van Gogh’s’ array of anguish and wonderment with an impassioned depth. The excellent supporting cast are worth noting too with Oscar Isaac (as Paul Gauguin) and Mads Mikkelsen (as a consulting priest) bringing two memorable performances.

Ultimately though, the main star is Benoit Delhomme’s (The Theory of Everything) deeply rich cinematography. Undoubtedly, some will find his bold camera work a distracting annoyance and might consider At Eternity’s Gate to be a victim of its own style. Depending on your tolerance, At Eternity’s Gate will linger in your mind or uneasily in your tummy long after viewing.

At Eternity’s Gate opens in theatres 20th December.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Anna and the Apocalypse

aataAh, Christmas. There’s no better time to release a zombie-musical-comedy. That’s right, a zombie-musical-comedy—Christmas themed, no less. But before you scratch your head in confusion, remember that seasonal zombies are a timely metaphor for consumerism.  Their mindless march and veracious appetite for braaaaains provide the perfect allegory for the Christmas shopping period. Director John McPhail (Where Do We Go From Here?) celebrates this “feastive” season by gift-wrapping for us a splatter flick that is delicately tied together with musical curly ribbon and a comedic bow on top. Think High School Musical blended with Shaun of the Dead and you’ll get the idea, although this medley of harmony, humour and horror doesn’t have anywhere near the same polish or comic wit. 

Anna and the Apocalypse doesn’t muck around though and it’s not long before the undead spill into the streets. Or should I say stagger into the streets … these are the slow brand of zombies; the twitchy, Micheal Jackson Thriller kind and as with most movies of their ilk, the story focusses on a small group of high-school students who are inexplicably unable to outrun them.   Enter Anna (Ella Hunt), a zombie-bashing songstress in her final year of high school. Her plans for a gap year OE to Australia are thwarted by these walking dead. Finding themselves separated from the safety of their school grounds, the group proceed to bash, wallop and sing their way back in order to save friends and family holed up there. 

It’s all fairly tropey stuff, but where this film stands out is the odd but rewarding decision to lace the action with musical interludes.  Unfortunately, this is where the fun ends as poor writing combined with questionable acting cedes the remainder of the film to be stilted and awkward. The poppy musical numbers are catchy enough but ultimately more should’ve been made from its promising mixture of music, mirth and mayhem.  It’s neither scary nor particularly funny, but you might find yourself tapping your feet.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.