Aug 012016
 

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You may have seen an announcement that Sam and I made a few weeks back. We are significantly trimming back the content on An Online Universe, as a result of various influences that are limiting our time, and affecting our inspiration to write.

I have simply not had the time or the energy to review the films I am seeing, or write much about anything. I did, however, watch quite a lot of movies. Almost entirely home viewing – a mix of DTV titles, 2016 catch-up, and a few recommended ’80s and ’90s classics. I ended up watching 31 films, and 11 episodes of TV (including the entire season of Stranger Things).

I spent many hours gaming this month – completing Witcher 3: Wild Hut and starting and finishing Uncharted 4, two of the greatest games I have ever experienced. I read Dan Brown’s Inferno – average, what you’d expect from Brown but conceptually thinner and less inspired than his earlier best-sellers – Presumed Innocent – an exceptional psychological whodunit that was adapted into a 1990 film starring Harrison Ford – and three Agatha Christie novels: Three Act Tragedy, Nemesis and Curtain. My next challenge is American Gods, in preparation of the upcoming TV series.

Album of the year update: things are getting quite crowded at the top. 2016 is becoming perhaps my favourite year for music since 2010. In order of discovery, here are my current top 10 albums of the year so far:

Malibu – Anderson .Paak

D-J-Kicks – Moodymann

The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

Singing Saw – Kevin Morby

Paradise – White Lung

A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

The Colour in Anything – James Blake

The Glowing Man – Swans

2 – Mudcrutch

Love and Hate – Michael Kiwanuka

After the jump, check out my thoughts on all of my fresh viewing for the month. 

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Theatrical Screenings

Love and FriendshipWhat fun. I have never read an Austen novel – I still have not seriously considered her work ‘essential’ reading, which is, no doubt, ignorant on my part – but this pitch-perfect cinematic treatment makes wonderful use of her glorious language. There are so many lines I want to steal and use here. Kate Beckinsale – perhaps never better? – is radiant as the flirtatious Lady Susan – but the fine supporting cast (led by a miraculous scene-stealing Tom Bennett) are often howlingly hilarious. Its playfulness and razor sharp wit takes a few minutes to acclimate to, but once you find the wavelength it is all splendidly entertaining; a cheeky romantic caper that in-turn catches one easily off-guard with its deftly sweet touches. (4/5)

Ghostbusters – Against all expectations – the ’84 original is ‘fine’ (a product of the ’80s), the trailer for this film was not good, and Spy is the only Feig joint I had fallen for – I had a great time. The humour is operating, and succeeding, on many different levels, and from the cast Kate McKinnon absolutely OWNS. Also, the effects manage to be both daggy, throwback-cheesy and quite spectacular. A obvious thumbs up. In fact, I expect I will come back to this more often than the original. Even if that film didn’t exist – and this does throw in a LOT of service, so we *know* – this stands on its own quite nicely. (4/5)

The Conjuring 2A distinct, meaty and highly competent two-handed sequel that proves James Wan is a magician with his camera, suggesting potential terrors lurking at every corner of his frame. Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, again excellent) are called to Enfield, UK to lend their insights to that infamous malevolent-invader case. Themselves tormented by a demon, that has latched on to Lorraine following a prior case, there is substantial groundwork laid for the nerve-shredding finale to be satisfying. While not as consistently jump scare-y as the predecessor, there is a clear attention to building character, and slowly creating an enveloping unease – through faultless aesthetic choices – in the audience, before rolling out the truly nightmarish moments. (4/5)

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New-at-Home

The Exorcist III – Has sparked inspiration to marathon underrated horror sequels around Halloween. I knew about *that* scene but it still got me. Obviously not as good as The Exorcist – that’s about as good as movies get – but this is still terrific and [importantly] doesn’t try to re-create that film. Brad Dourif is incredible. (4/5)

The Long GoodbyeA New Hollywood masterwork I didn’t have access to when I worked through Robert Altman’s most acclaimed works a few years back. Too slack and laid-back to abide by any sort of genre rules, Marlowe is a portrayed by Gould (effortlessly) as goof of a man who has the swagger to suggest control, but is never in possession of it. The mystery is low-key, but personal (and obsessive), as Marlowe navigates the corrupt, morally murky haze of ’70s California. (4/5)

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) – Early Carpenter. Recently been fascinated by this man, and all of the skills he would bring to his later horror/sci-fi works are on display here. On a shoestring budget he achieves a grungy cult miracle – exceptionally well directed (and edited), and amongst the violent siege and ensuing shootouts, he manages to explore a sweltering clash of race, class, morals and legal grounds. (4/5)

Total RecallNarratively complex and chunky virtual-reality sci-fi shoot-em-up seems to be stuck in a time warp. Considered excessively violent for its day, it still shocks now, but its relentless energy and fusion of unusual visuals and compelling ideas makes it a quintessential ’90s classic. Features some of Arnie’s best work, some gruesome Academy Award-winning effects, and a killer score from Jerry Goldsmith. (4/5)

Who Framed Roger RabbitA hoot of a gumshoe noir, and remains a remarkable technical achievement to this day. Lloyd is unforgettable. (4/5)

Embrace of the Serpent I watched this just yesterday, and I liked it. I can’t recall being challenged by more alien subject matter this year. Still processing and ordering thoughts – it is certainly tiring, but also haunting, hypnotic and breathtaking. Joins the canon of great river movies. (3.5/5)

HushHasn’t provoked much further speculation, but this is likely due to its relatively straightforward narrative. Has many strengths; the palpable suspense, the conviction in the establishment of Maddie’s sound-less world, the expansive use of the house, and follow-through of its familiar premise in an interesting, and commendably un-exploitative way.  Still, the attention to detail is the key here, with not a second, or an introduced item, wasted. Terrific performances from Siegel (whose co-writing credit, and seemingly complete-ownership over her character, makes absolute sense), a dramatically transformed Gallagher Jr, and Trucco, in limited time. (3.5/5)

TriangleA taut, neat and underrated time-bending thriller is set up as a nautically-set disaster story/murder-spree, but becomes something more fundamentally complex; a rather disturbing probe into the failings of motherhood, grief, and the inability to accept responsibility for your actions. The acting is patchy, but Melissa George carries it fantastically, and the modest budget is utilised cleverly – for the ideas, not comparably useless effects etc. (3.5/5)

The Boy and the BeastIt’s too long, but at the same time some of the developments feel rushed. I was bored for stretches, certainly, but once it all came together I’ll be damned if I didn’t tear up. The emotional payoff is substantial, and the animation is frequently astounding. Watched with English dubs. Not ideal. (3.5/5)

Everybody Wants SomeHmm. Ultimately disappointing, for Linklater, but still a very solidly crafted film. It is a good dude-bro college film, but I’m not sure we need another dude-bro college movie right now. It doesn’t seem to justify its existence. The cast camaraderie is strong – Glen Powell is great! – and the baseball team angle differentiates it from the common frat-king entries, but it was just intermittently compelling. (3/5)

Hello, My Name is DorisIt won’t happen, but Sally Field deserves an Oscar nomination for this. She’s remarkable, Doris is likeable, her loneliness and longing sympathetic, and her attraction to her younger colleague surprisingly believable. It’s funny, but a few running jokes prove tiresome, and there are some developments that are simply implausible – and co-writer/director Showalter shows his lack of touch with the youth of the day. Field is faultless, even when she’s not supported by the writing. (3/5)

Scream 4Enjoyable, and not at all bad, but always seems to be striving for the meta-touch of Scream & Scream II without ever quite getting there. But it doesn’t back the self-aware winks/genre commentary with enough genuine thrills, and most attempts resemble the preceding entries. (3/5)

OrphanIt has a hell of a twist, and there is something about this film’s very purposeful pacing – the significant time it takes to develop all of the relationships within the family, and how they are effectively manipulated – which offers more to admire than the grisly (and somewhat sleazy) final act terror. Vera Farmiga and Isabelle Fuhrman are exceptional. Jaume Collett-Serra is a skilled filmmaker, looking forward to what he brings to The Shallows.  (3/5)

ColoniaNot amazing, and the final act stretches plausibility (even more so), but a fairly gripping, and certainly under-appreciated romance-come-prison escape thriller. Bruhl and Watson give their all, and this fictionalised exploration of a true, dark chapter of Chilean history does not hold any punches in its depiction of religious fanaticism, and the evils of the Pinochet military coup. (3/5)

10 Cloverfield LaneMost viewers have had a problem with the ending – which is a problem – but this had lost me well before then. Goodman’s performance is really the only memorable feature, but even he leans too heavily on creep. A fascinating, but kinda bungled, exploration of what constitutes the bigger threat – an unknown and unprovable foreign invader, or an accommodating stranger who offers sanctuary and food, but may hide more sinister intentions – in the guise of an Apocalyptic thriller. (3/5)

The Trust – Surprisingly weird, amusing and…not bad. In the realm of the Nicolas Cage DTV stuff, this has to be top tier. Becomes a little tedious in the second half, but the chemistry between Cage and Wood (who always makes interesting role choices) ensures its always watchable. (3/5)

Backtrack It’s alright. I liked the photography; Brody’s grasp on reality feels like a cobweb-infested photograph found in the back of dusty cupboard, and it has some creepy sequences. A late first-act twist switches the tracks elegantly enough and the ensuing unraveling probes into grief, repressed memories, and literally being haunted by your past. (2.5/5)

The Death and Life of Otto BloomI love the idea, and it provoked a lot of post-film discussion and quite the headache, but I have come to the conclusion that this (quite consistently) didn’t work. (2.5/5)

Batman: The Killing JokeI spent the first 30 minutes wondering if I was watching the right film. Apparently the Batgirl-centric prologue isn’t part of the source graphic novel. Take that out, it’s pretty thin. Also, is it just me or are we getting further and further removed from [my fav] Keaton’s Batman – never to return? This one rivals Affleck’s portrayal as the dullest portrayal I have witnessed. (2.5/5)

Bastille Day – Idris’ audition for Bond – his imposing physical presence a successful enough distraction from the corny dialogue, and the fact he’s saddled with a phenomenally thin character. Bland, mostly, with a few energetic sequences (a rooftop chase, a scuffle in the back of a moving van) here and there. (2/5)

The BronzeAggressively unlikeable, and that’s a calling card it wears – somewhat blindly – with pride. Has a hilarious sex scene, but Rauch’s presence in every scene makes this an unforgiving slog. (2/5)

One Wild MomentFrankly…ridiculous. Why am I so committed to watching every Vincent Cassel film? The guy makes about five films a year, and he’s usually the best thing about them. (1.5/5)

Kill Your FriendsVile, awful, smug stuff. Christ, how did this even get made? (1/5)

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Re-watches

Apocalypse Now – 5/5

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 4.5/5

Synecdoche, New York – 4/5

This is the End – 3.5/5

Pineapple Express – 3.5/5

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TV

Stranger Things S1 Complete After a couple of underwhelming episodes, I came around to this obsessive new show. Hooked, and genuinely on edge, I loved the nods to Steven Spielberg, Steven King and John Carpenter, and found that patience is a virtue well served. There are some sloppy bits (Matthew Modine’s hopelessly thin character, and most sequences involving the school bullies), but it manages to bring together the initially very loose disparate story arcs into a cohesive and emotionally satisfying conclusion. Of course, it leaves questions open for a new season, but it doesn’t force them in. I am genuinely intrigued by what could be in store next. Winona Ryder struggles early with some terrible overacting, but under the direction of Shawn Levy (eps 3 & 4) she seems to settle down and is actually quite superb the rest of the way. (4/5)

The Affair S1 E4-5 

Blunt Talk S1 E1

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