August was quite a tough month so I busied myself with work and found comfort in films. I ended up watching 33, another hefty amount, from a whole assortment of different periods and genres. Dark Horizons’ Garth Franklin set me a viewing challenge before the end of the year – ten ’80s/’90s classics shamefully on my blindspot list. Amongst the ones I have checked off so far: Wargames, Big Trouble in Little China and They Live.
I also caught up on quite a few films I missed in cinemas (The Meddler, Maggie’s Plan, Miles Ahead and Mia Madre included). Incredibly, this month includes not a single episode of TV.
My favourite books this month were Poirot & Me, David Suchet’s fascinating autobiography about portraying Agatha Christie’s iconic Belgian detective on TV for a quarter of a century, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, soon to be adapted into a TV series. If you haven’t watched the trailer things are looking promising.
Thoughts on some of the films I watched in August after the jump.
The Wailing – What a film. Extremely tense and unpredictable for, like, the last two hours. It gets unwieldy, sure – I had a lot of questions that have since settled into some satisfactory order – but one of my cinema experiences of the year. From the director of The Yellow Sea, which is also incredible. (4.5/5)
Sausage Party – This exists and that fact provokes consistent shock and awe. High-crass, visually and theologically layered, and often overwhelmingly insane. It might have been the bliss of the new weekend assisting, but I laughed a lot. There are some rough, annoying patches, but certainly a gag-barrage worth confronting. (3.5/5)
The Shallows – Reviewed (3.5/5)
Bad Moms – Has ample laughs and I loved Kristen Bell, who was the most true character in the film, but disappointingly dialled-up to the ridiculous and as a result the vital relatability and resonance suffered. (2.5/5)
Suicide Squad – Phenomenally incompetent. Leaden by exposition, clunky action/effects, a wasted soundtrack, a truly awful turn from Jared Leto as The Joker, and some unforgivably neglected characters. Such a mess. Seems like a lot of serious creative disagreement. Hacked to within an inch of its life, and clearly desired to be R-rated. And that soundtrack is used appallingly. Not appalling songs – great songs! – just used in an utterly hopeless fashion. (1/5)
I also watched War on Everyone and Hacksaw Ridge but cannot discuss thoughts for professional reasons.
Kubo and the Two Strings – A stunner. Laika Studio’s (Coraline and ParaNorman, also great) finest film to date finds a delicate balance of being a thoughtful and wonderfully-animated mature-age fable and a colourful, funny and boldly emotionally-challenging kid-friendly adventure. The voice-cast – yes, considering the Ancient Japanese setting, they shouldn’t have been so ‘white’ – do a terrific job. McConaughey is a revelation. The animated film of the year. (4.5/5)
RoboCop (1987) – This seriously chunky dystopian sci-fi action thriller is a legit classic, probing into a handful of scarily-relevant themes; including the influence of media in masking the truth, the gentrification of a crime-riddled city that its high powers have given up on, and the privatisation of public services such as law enforcement. The effects are exceptional, and the performances are all perfect. Holds up remarkably well, and I thought that remake was decent. *Hides* (4.5/5)
Boy and the World – Stunning hand-drawn animation trumps any of those Hertzfeldt shorts that everyone has lost themselves over. This tells of an extraordinary quest of a very young boy who is searching for his father who has left to work in the city. He meets a number of individuals along the way, who take him into their care, and observes collective action opposing mass-production, the destruction of rainforests and various other global concerns. This film was made for just $400k, a fraction of the budget of say, Inside Out, and it takes a viewer on a trippy, beautifully scored journey through this stunning imagery. It is lined the entire way with powerful messages that are only occasionally presented in heavy-handed fashion. Must-see. (4/5)
War Games – A sweaty palm-inducing cold-war thriller, drawn from the use of household telecommunications in mischievous, yet entirely innocent ways, that results in the threat of global war. Sure, this technology looks dated now but back in the ’80s it was cutting edge. That main control room at NORAD, with the wall of screens – very impressive. Matthew Broderick, when he was the hottest young star on the planet, is perfectly believable as the computer geek with a conscience, and his banter with girlfriend Ally Sheedy is great. Smart, inventive, and ridiculously entertaining. (4/5)
Big Trouble in Little China – I spent most of this wondering what the hell I was watching. And enjoying every minute. This is Carpenter farting in the general direction of B-grade action-fantasy filmmaking conventions, and the idea of ’80s cinematic masculinity. Relentless and frequently hilarious, this wild, bizarre ride is ruled by Kurt Russell’s iconic performance as Jack Burton – a man whose unbridled sense of self-importance is only matched by his complete ineptitude. I can see annual re-watches in my future. (4/5)
Don’t Think Twice – I laughed a lot – the camaraderie of the core group of improv comedians pitch perfect – until their various successes and failures, and the ensuing selfishness and sacrifices, fractures their friendship. Then it becomes tremendously sad. Big fan of the wonderful Gillian Jacobs here, but pay attention to Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk with Me). Dude can direct. (4/5)
The Black Dahlia – This is the De Palma people shit on? I have issues with the filmmaker, but this was actually great. Gorgeous Oscar-nominated cinematography from Zsigmond, and the recreation of 1940s LA has this otherworldly-feeling. The performances have been ripped to shreds, but only Eckhart seemed to struggle for me (not unusual), and I can’t recall a better performance from Hartnett. This is a thoroughly engaging mystery, with a labyrinthine sinisterness and morally disturbing soul that run deep through this film’s celluloid; and the final act revelations are genuinely shocking. Eckhart’s obsession with the case, and a subplot involving a soon-to-be-released criminal, are the victim of the editing room – but this is severely under-appreciated. Especially when shit like Body Double is applauded. (4/5)
They Live – A most strangely-paced film – like Prince of Darkness lengthy sequences play out patiently in rhythm with Carpenter’s synth score, slowly absorbing us into this world and revealing little hints of what is to come. A hilariously subversive critique of class imbalance and consumerism. That lengthy back-alley brawl between Roddy Piper and Keith David (who should be in everything) is an all-timer, and the ending is also perfect. (4/5)
The Meddler – Lorene Scafaria’s new film made me so happy. What a delight. Susan Sarandon is wonderful, and deserves the Mirren/Dench/Smith loyal following that’s been happening (The Lady in the Van made $9mil at the Australian box office!). Above all, this feels true and is a pleasure throughout. Like Ricki and the Flash from last year, an under-seen little gem. (4/5)
Maggie’s Plan – Light and fluffy, but substantial. Taps into the challenge of balancing loyalties to your partner and family, when passionate professional pursuits become your life, and the messiness that follows those priorities colliding. Shines scrutiny on every character’s decisions, but also leaves open the chance for sympathy and understanding. You’ll find yourself liking everyone here, and that’s largely due to the excellent ensemble. Also, extra points for the costume design and art decoration. (4/5)
Showgirls – Originally gave this three stars because my attention seriously waned in the second half, but the film is so jacked-up and busy, and loaded with colour rushes that it could only become exhausting. It had to. I can’t think of too many films with this much energy – The Wolf of Wall Street comes to mind recently, and then I started thinking that both Nomi and Jordan start out as wide-eyed, innocent pipe-dreamers and opportunists in their respective worlds, easily seduced by the glamour, and are willing to bully and scheme their way to the top. Their arcs are not dissimilar, except Noni’s rise is actively under the influence of men, and Jordan’s…well, men. Verhoeven knows exactly what he is doing here, and the dance choreography and simulated back-stage activity is incredibly well done. And Berkley’s performance is for the ages. Who am I kidding, this is a good movie. (4/5)
Mia Madre – I am still thinking about this film, so its lingering impact is potent. Turturro is ridiculous, but the emotional centre – the challenge of maintaining professionalism in a stressful role, as your personal life is in turmoil and your self-esteem is hurting – is anything but. Lovely performances from Buy, Lazzarini and Moretti. (3.5/5)
Joshy – A California-set buddy comedy-drama about a young man who tries to reconnect with his closest friends following a tragic incident in his life. In their attempts to help Josh deal with the turn of events – at what was meant to be his bachelor party – they turn the getaway into a raucous weekend of drugs and debauchery. Rings true because of the freewheeling, looseness of the script, and the relatable characters. Very funny, and also perceptively poignant, offering a fascinating depiction of how men deal with life’s traumas and their natural instincts on how to support one another. The ensemble cast runs deep, with single-scene, mere-minute cameos from Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Lauren Graham and Joe Swanberg (similar to Swanberg’s own films), but the core group are all excellent – particularly Nick Kroll and Alex Ross Perry. (3.5/5)
April and the Extraordinary World – Its rather long, and very unusual. Certainly not for kids. Loved the fascination with science and invention, April’s talking-cat sidekick Darwin and the steamy, soot-coated, industrially-plagued dystopian visuals. (3.5/5)
Miles Ahead – Don Cheadle takes the list of the dull, tried biopic commandments and burns them. A very very unusual, sensorial tribute to the Jazz legend with nice supporting work from Ewan McGregor. (3.5/5)
Poirot: Sad Cypress – Some of these are unwatchably dull, but this one was quite good. Has a palpable sense of foreboding. Genuinely chilling. And, out of left field, possesses an image capable of nightmares. I’m still trying to shake it. (3.5/5)
Poirot: After the Funeral – Like the above. Another Christie I had never read. Has an absorbing mystery, spectacular work from David Suchet (as Poirot) and another strong supporting cast – including Michael Fassbender (?) (3.5/5)
Money Monster – I…liked it? Preposterous, with an embarrassingly half-baked sub-story involving a greedy CEO, but I enjoyed the live-on-air, single-location hostage premise and the fact that it went for some incisive satire surrounding the direction of media-instruments to manipulate the truth into a commodifying narrative. Jack O’Connell is easily the best in show, but it does feature some pretty great George Clooney showboat-dancing. (3/5)
The Secret Life of Pets – This film is an insane and therapeutically predictable distraction. A derivative – think a Toy Story/Shaun the Sheep-inspired hybrid – adventure that plumbs the depths of pet behaviour-related humour, and then sends the characters on a crazy city-spanning rescue quest. Not a classic – though better than, say, Minions – but it has eye-popping visuals, zany characters and a breathless pace. It’s making money. (3/5)
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – I like Andy Sandberg a lot – and he goes full-Bieber here – but this was a mixed bag. Pretty much worth it for this song, though. Sporadically amazing, but has a loosely stitched-together sketch feel about it. I guess that is its drawcard, the fact that it is a near-plotless bombardment of absurdity. Not enough sticks, though. (3/5)
Goodnight Mommy – I appreciate the filmmaking craft – this is frequently chilling high-art horror – but I got less interested, and more sickly disturbed, the further it went on. The *twist* didn’t leave much impact, and because it didn’t leave much to chew on I have almost forgotten it entirely. (2.5/5)
Jason Bourne – Pedestrian Bourne – you’ve seen all this before, but far better executed. It ticks all the Bourne boxes, but flat and obvious and doesn’t justify its existence. Some great chase sequences, but a thin plot…and truly baffling work from Alicia Vikander. (2.5/5)
The Sea of Trees – It isn’t *TERRIBLE*. Actually rather moving at times and McConaughey’s restrained and humble performance is a surprising change of pace for the prolific performer. But the story gets increasingly silly and emotionally manipulative, and its technical aspects are dull across the board. (2.5/5)
Thirst – Struggling with Park of late – didn’t care for The Handmaiden, and since I had been meaning to watch this for a while I thought it might offer the bounce-back I was hoping for. It didn’t. Someone needs to reel him in – why are all his films so long? (2.5/5)
Captain Fantastic – Might have pipped Me & Earl & the Dying Girl as the most ‘Sundance’ movie ever. God, this was insufferable. ‘Sigur Ros-accompanied Montages The Movie’. A laundry list of aggravations – most notably the lack of criticism for Mortensen’s character’s dubious parenting – and despite a handful of occasions I was tempted to bail I stuck it out (mostly out of respect for the Mortensen). (2/5)
In a Valley of Violence – Pointless. Ransone is typically terrible and Ti West, incredibly, does absolutely nothing interesting with this goofy Western. I don’t what it is about these guys – the Ti Wests and Adam Wingards of the world – but they rub me the wrong way. The score is excellent, however – well beyond this – and Taissa Farmiga is quite good in a supporting role. (2/5)
Red Billabong – Was hoping there was something in this to throw some support behind, but it’s simply not good enough. With the low-budget considerations there are some genuinely well-earned scares; and it does offer a uniquely Australian twist on the monster movie, but aside from Sophie Don the acting is ordinary, the script needed a lot more work, and the use of music was horrendous. (1.5/5)