The Disaster Artist, 2017

Directed by: James Franco

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco

IMDb

The Disaster Artist was a pretty great film. I can’t recommend it (and the titular Disaster it tells the story of) highly enough.

If you’re not aware, The Room is heralded as one of the worst films ever made, and it has gained an ever-growing cult status in the years since its release. For my Sydney friends, The Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne (not sponsored, I swear) hosts a screening on the first Friday of every month and it’s a great laugh. The cult movie experience is more than worth the price of admission. One of the most striking things about The Room is its Director/Writer/Producer/Star Tommy Wiseau: a vampire-looking man of unknown origins and a notable lack of… any talent, and the way he presents himself is intriguingly strange. He’s a truly interesting and mysterious real-life figure.

James Franco absolutely knocked me out with his performance as Tommy. What a truly captivating character, and what a seamless performance/portrayal. I did not for a moment see James Franco, I saw Tommy. There were times that I totally forgot I was watching a performance and thought it was really the man himself. Truly legendary. One of the most convincing performances I’ve seen of any kind in years.

Everyone else was good too. Dave Franco played the other lead, Greg, very well and very sympathetically, despite being vastly upstaged by his brother. I particularly enjoyed the minor characters played by Josh Hutcherson and Seth Rogen. You really get the impression that tonnes of celebrities were pining super hard to be involved in this production, and their passion is felt very strongly. Everyone feels like they’re having a good time.
If I were to nitpick, I would say that it was actually kind of distracting having so many super-famous people in the movie, it kind of distracted from their characters a little. This isn’t a serious issue though.

The story is captivating in that it makes you immediately curious right from the get-go as to just how The Room came to be. It would probably be less interesting if it weren’t based on a true story, but fortunately for us it really happened and damn is it interesting. The story does get a little cheesy at points in ways that depart from the actual truth of the sequence of events, but I feel that these changes do ultimately benefit the film as a whole.

It’s a really funny movie as well. You will probably appreciate it more having seen The Room though, so if you haven’t I would recommend at least looking up a ‘best of’ list of moments on youtube or something.

Soundtrack, cinematography, editing and directing were all good, but not particularly notable. That’s ok though, this is a character driven movie and it succeeds to a spectacular degree at being that.

Hurry up and go see it. It’s awesome.

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Thor: Ragnarok, 2017

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett

IMDb

Thor: Ragnarok does not disappoint. It’s an immensely good time.

I’ve been super excited for this movie for seemingly ages and it’s payed off pretty well! It’s not Marvel’s best film but it is their funniest. It’s also certainly the best Thor movie (The first one was ok, the second was incredibly forgettable). The plot isn’t really anything to write home about, but the movie doesn’t really seem to care, and is just unapologetically fun.

Short review over. Getting into some more detail: the film immediately launches us into the franchise’s new outright comedic tone and Taika Waititi’s influence is unmistakable throughout from the word go, including the unexplained spike in number of characters with kiwi accents. The comedy is undeniably the film’s greatest asset; the audience was having a great time and it never dipped too deep into superfluous emotional moments (unlike its predecessor).

Chris Hemsworth doesn’t really do anything in this movie that he wasn’t already doing in the previous Thor/Avengers films, besides the accentuated comedic element (which he is admittedly good at), but he didn’t need to. Thor is a captivating lead and he didn’t need anything to spice up his character. Same goes for Loki, who gets a prominent role once again, though unfortunately doesn’t get a real arc. He’s still the Loki we love, but more could have been done. I really liked what they did with the hulk. Putting him in a comedic setting was perfectly ridiculous, and yet somehow this is probably the most true-to-the-comics depiction yet. There was some actual development going on and I really dug it, and the “that is in my brain now” line also killed me. Tessa Thompson’s character Valkyrie was a welcome addition, a much more interesting character than the inexplicably missing Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) or the mildly explicably missing Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). She doesn’t get too much development either, but hey: that’s not exactly necessary when you’re awesome. Speaking of awesome: Idris Elba. I need say no more.

I was left mildly let down by Hella, played by Cate Blanchett. I suppose I shouldn’t have ever really set my expectations too high for a marvel villain. She’s certainly better than the only-nerds-remember-their-names Laufey and Malekith from the last two films. I’ll probably remember her character, but I don’t think I can really give her any more credit than that. Cate is a great actress, and doesn’t make any mistakes or anything, but I wish they went to more of an extreme with her character, either funnier or more savage. To sum up the character: I didn’t dread spending time with her, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it either. Her ambition was also a little lame, despite a decent motivation.

The story was just ok. If I were to say I had an issue with this film, it’d be that the plot doesn’t have much to it beyond face value. To compare it to this year’s Guardians Vol. 2, Thor lacks that film’s super integrated theming and emotional core. On the other hand, it’s certainly funnier, but I don’t think those elements have to be mutually exclusive. There are some scenes in Ragnarok that had the potential to be pretty emotionally powerful, but just aren’t, and that’s a bit of a shame. It didn’t really feel like it was avoiding emotion as to not hinder the comedic tone, but rather it felt like it was trying to be impactful but unsuccessfully

The audio and visuals are very nice. Again, it’s nice to see Marvel using a lot of colour, though I think this one could have benefitted from upping the intensity just slightly; it felt weirdly washed out in some bits. The 80’s synth that featured through the soundtrack fit well with the tone and gave the film some unique personality. I felt the Led Zeppelin inclusion was a little tacked on, but it worked fine, nowhere near suicide squad levels. There was also a fair bit of really nice cinematography.

Verdict: Thor: Ragnarok was a really really good time. It’s worth your time and your money. Go see it!

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, 2017

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Pedro Pascal

IMDb

Took me a while to get around to this one, but I finally got to see Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I actually have a bunch I want to discuss, which isn’t all necessary to the criticism of this individual film, so I’ll do my mini review first.

Kingsman 2 is not really a “good movie” per se; it lacks the identity and “classic” qualities of the first one. That said, if you’re the type of person who can enjoy pure ridiculous insanity, there is a lot to enjoy. I had a really great time. It tried really hard to be ridiculous and fun, and it certainly succeeded. I recommend it pretty highly, just don’t go in expecting a quality story.

So what I really want to talk about are the elements that make it “bad”. Certainly its hyper-cliche’d story doesn’t help, but that seems to be completely intentional. The film seems to have no real interest in being “good”, and a lot of interest in getting a laugh out of dialling up the insanity to eleven, which seems to be a pretty common strategy for the film’s production studio: Marv.

Marv is responsible for a pretty inconsistent quality of film. On one hand, they made Stardust which I really loved, and Eddie the Eagle, which I’ve heard is pretty great. On the other, the were involved in the garbage fire that was Fantastic Four (2015). None of these films really fit in with what I would consider Marv’s signature style, which flourishes in the studios most lucrative series: Kick-Ass and Kingsman. I loved both Kick-Ass and Kingsman; they simultaneously contributed in and parodied the Superhero and Spy genres respectively, and they did it really well, delivering satisfying, funny, and extremely memorable films. Both films thrive on over-the-top, high intensity action scenes with creative and interesting cinematography and production, and they’re both a lot of fun, though Kingsman is technically a better film.

Kick-Ass 2, however, kind of sucked. It suffered from a version of ‘sequelitis’ that far too many Hollywood films do, making constant callbacks, often entire scenes, to its predecessor. If one element of the first film was particularly popular/ well recieved, Chloe Grace-Moretz’s profanely violent Hit-Girl in this case, it will be back in force, becoming the most major element of the sequel, where Hit-Girl effectively becomes the main character. This trend rarely ends well, as it usually misses the point of what made it good in the first film, and forces it to be something it’s not. Hit-Girl had a very simple story Arc, and a very simple character in Kick-Ass. Making her the main character of Kick-Ass 2, forced complexity on her, which unfortunately, as the film was a bit phoned in, resulted in her being pretty boring. Most of the film was like that. It tried its best to keep interest by being ridiculously over-the-top, but the cost of any interesting story developments was too steep. They tried to do “the same thing as last time, but bigger” and it backfired bigtime.

Kingsman 2 does the same thing, but is far more self aware. The film pretty explicitly states its thoughts on the crap-ness of its story, openly admitting that it doesn’t care, and just wants to provide pure bullshit insanity. There is more than one scene in this movie involving people being shoved into a meat grinder, both times without even a drop of blood appearing on screen. So if we’re not meant to take it seriously, can we criticise it for bullshit story? I probably wouldn’t, if it were a little more original, and didn’t make so many damn callbacks to the first scene. The “manners maketh man” bar scene is recreated, every major action scene evokes the “church” scene. The Swedish princess gag-character from the last movie is a supporting character now. Not to mention that her only memorable line from the first one is called back to two times. This movie has very very little identity of its own, and I doubt I’ll watch it again, I’ll invariably turn to its predecessor over it. It is, however, way better than Kick-Ass 2, and I think it’s its self awareness that led to this.

It did have some highlights though. Its opening fight scene in the cab was fantastic, and left me with a big smile on my face; the same applies to the film’s climax. The villain was fun, but not very memorable – bar the meat grinder. I had a lot of fun with the US government, despite the paper-thin plotholes in the president’s plan. I also liked the music, I thought the original soundtrack had a very ‘Avengers’ feel, which I thought fit pretty well.

Action movies have the capacity to be “good” and fun at the same time. ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ doesn’t even try to do this, and it somewhat suffers from this. There is a lot to enjoy, but turning your brain off is a must. I personally recommend it, but it’s not a must for seeing in cinemas.

IT, 2017

Directed by: Andy Muschietti

Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis

IMDb

I saw IT, a horror movie outside of October, at an 8:45pm Monday night showing. The theatre was packed to the brim. So the question is: Why is IT so popular?

It really shouldn’t be. The 1990 version is pretty bad. Not only was it bad, but it was long, boring and had a disappointing payoff. Its only real saving grace was Tim Curry as Pennywise, who appears to be having an absolute riot at any given moment, as to be expected of Tim Curry. My answer really must come down to the iconography and meme-ification of Pennywise, the continuing prevalence of the fear of clowns, misplaced nostalgia and some pretty great marketing. Regardless of WHY it’s so damn popular, my recommendation is to take advantage of the popularity and see it in a big audience. The audience will scream, laugh and overall have a great time. IT is a literal crowdpleaser.

IT, however, is not without flaws. The biggest of which is its story. Excluding the prologue, the plot only really starts after a full hour, with that first hour being used for world-building and establishing the (rather large) list of main characters. And even then, some of the characters feel really underdeveloped, to the point where their inclusion more seems to be out of fear of backlash at their removal than an actual desire to utilise the character. Once the plot gets going, it still doesn’t deliver anything stellar. I liked the themes of grief and abuse specifically, but I don’t think anything else was really worth even bringing up.

Somehow, though, the film still remains highly entertaining all the way through. Performances were mostly great. All of the kids (especially Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things) and Sophia Lillis) were very well played, except for the Stanley character, who stuck out like a sore thumb to me. This film made the excellent decision to cut the entire adult plot from the original and just focus on the kids, who were much more interesting and fun to spend time with. It was especially cathartic to see kids with realistic conversational language. The simple fact that I can’t recall another movie where I heard a kid make a ‘your mum’ joke made it funny. And this is a funny, funny movie. I also appreciated the 80’s aesthetic, this particular story would only be more dated by trying to modernise it. Plus it’s 2017, it’s only natural for me, being born in 1996, to be nostalgic for 1987 right?

Bill Skarsgard did a fantastic job as Pennywise. I personally prefer Tim Curry’s “I don’t give a shit” attitude, but this new Pennywise has just enough new to keep it fresh and just enough kept to keep it being the same character. Good adaptation. One nitpick I have is that they use this weird shaking effect whenever he’s running at someone (you can see it in the trailers) which I found really obnoxious, and I wish there was less of it.

Ultimately, IT was a good time and I recommend IT. I guarantee that IT will be a good time if you see it in a large group or in a big crowd. IT was a surprisingly good movie.

Baby Driver, 2017

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx

IMDb

Edgar Wright is one of the best comedic Writer/Directors working today, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint with his latest film, Baby Driver.

It’s the kind of movie probably best seen with as little knowledge about it as possible, so my very short review is to go see Baby Driver. It’s funny, fast paced and extremely well composed. It also has one of the best incorporations of soundtrack into film that I’ve ever seen.

For those who don’t care about not knowing, I’ll get into a little more detail.

My biggest criticism of Baby Driver is that it’s tonally inconsistent. The three acts are very distinct from one another, and can pretty much be judged individually. I adored the first act, I liked the second, and I really liked the third. I really want to emphasise that at no point did I stop liking it, but I feel like the differences, especially between the first two acts were quite jarring.

The first act is hilarious. It’s packed with everything I love about Wright’s style and is honestly a masterpiece of film composition. I laughed really hard. The stunt work, as well, was pretty damn fantastic.
The second act really slows down into more of a crime/action/drama. While it’s still filled with a lot of excellent film making, it’s undeniable that it’s less fun and therefore less enjoyable than its predecessor. What it lacks in comedy, it makes up for in tension, which to be fair don’t really go hand in hand, but it was just less satisfying. That said, its only real issue was that it followed the first act.
The third act breaks the tension from the second spectacularly, providing one hell of an action packed climax. The stunt driving, action and music use here are particularly excellent, and the ending is pretty satisfying.

If the film stuck to the style shown in the first act, I think it would have ended up my favourite Edgar Wright film. As it stands, it’s probably my number 3, behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. It’s miles better, however, than The World’s End (and Ant-Man).

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but the soundtrack use was really excellent, appropriate given the importance of music to the protagonist. I’ve seen plenty of films do similar things, but Baby Driver runs with it and takes it to the nth degree. It’s awesome.

Along with the music, the cinematography and shot composition is also great, distinguishing itself from Wright’s previous films with its use of long takes, but pulls them off excellently, and never excessively. There is still plenty of the dynamic editing I’ve come to love from the director.

All the performances were good, Kevin Spacey was a little typecast I think, but worked effectively anyway. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between Ansel Elgort and Lily James.

Baby Driver is absolutely worth your time. Go see it as soon as it comes out next Thursday.

Get Out, 2017

Directed By: Jordan Peele

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams

IMDb

Get Out is the best film that I’ve seen this year so far. I highly recommend you go see it. If you were avoiding it because you don’t like horror, rest assured that is more of a thriller, featuring more comedy elements than it does horror.

The characters and writing were great, and I really enjoyed the genuine suspense the plot had me in. I had no idea exactly where the film was going to go until it went there, but it didn’t cheat, there were plenty of clues. I don’t get that experience very often, so it was a real treat.

I also enjoyed the film’s aesthetic, using classic horror-esque techniques in colour palette, soundtrack and cinematography to get the audience on edge. The use of comedy in its first two acts to establish the racial themes in a lighthearted manner, before twisting them into the horrifying reality in the third is freaking brilliant.

Speaking of Comedy, the comic relief character is fantastic, one of the best parts of the movie. It really shows that the writer/director, Jordan Peele, is a comedy veteran. The more intense tones aren’t undercut by the comedy though, the balance is masterful.

Go see Get Out. Please. I want Jordan Peele to make more movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 2017

Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker

IMDb
I think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 bares many similarities to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both films had a lot to live up to, both tried valiantly to outdo their predecessor in every aspect, both are very entertaining movies. Both don’t quite live up to the impossible expectations.

How does one outdo Guardians 1? Apparently the answer is take the aspect most praised and play them up tenfold. As a result, the soundtrack is back and more prominent than ever. The humorous tone was praised, so the sequel was given many more jokes. To be perfectly clear, each of these aspects taken individually make for a really good time. The issue is balance. The first film worked so well because it managed to balance its own quirky style with the typical marvel movie formula. Guardians 2 feels overloaded, unbalanced.

Not helping in the slightest is the story, which I feel is Guardians 2’s biggest shortcoming. Instead of one story, the film opts to tell about three or four, and none of them are really all that original. Honestly, they’re all pretty predictable. The first film wasn’t really anything all that special when it came to story, but what I can give it is that it was one thing, it was pretty tight.

All this said, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I’m still working on my ability to communicate my feelings towards movies, especially while criticising them. To be as clear as I can: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t even a bad movie that I enjoyed bits of à la Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. It’s a good movie, that entertained me thoroughly, but I couldn’t help but feel a tad let down. My expectations were a bit too high, and I criticise because I care.

The film did better its predecessor in a few respects, however. Depictions of much of the peripheral cast was much better. I really enjoyed spending more time with Drax, Yandu, and Rocket. Also, in its attempts to out-scope the previous film, it actually succeeded in setting up some awesome scenarios. Overall, the cinematography was also better, some really beautiful shots. The movie was really colourful and was overall really enjoyable to look at.

If you were planning on see Guardians 2, I say go right ahead, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Colossal, 2016

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis
Colossal came right out of nowhere and really surprised me. Before last week I hadn’t even heard of it, but after seeing it, I think it’s disappointing that it’s gone so under the radar.
 
To those that don’t know, the premise is that a failing alcoholic writer (Anne Hathaway) returns to her small home town after her boyfriend kicks her out. At the same time, a giant monster appears out of nowhere and starts attacking Seoul. After noticing a pattern, she realises she was the monster all along.
Not metaphorically, she is literally the monster. It’s weird, hard to describe, and super original.
 
I have to applaud the movie for its originality, it’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, plot-wise, which is so rare in hollywood. It also falls into a sub-genre of film which I have a particular affection for: Films with a sci-fi/fantasy element, but are ultimately very human stories set in a real-world environment. Stories that focus on the human condition through the lens of the fantastical element. Notable examples of such films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, Inception, Chronicle and Swiss Army Man. (Almost all of these are among my all time favourite movies btw)
 
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis both give great performances as the leads, and not to spoil the plot, they develop a very interesting dynamic.
 
The film gives a really satisfying blend of tones, balancing funny, charming, intense and honestly kind of horrifying at points. Not to say it’s without flaws: I didn’t love the side characters, Dan Stevens plays Hathaway’s boyfriend and he’s a bit of a typical controlling, untrusting boyfriend. Also, there were a few points that the film was trying portray horrifying situations, but they came off a bit silly and hard to take seriously. They, however, were only small blemishes on an overall really good product.
 
 
Anyway, if you can catch it before it fades into obscurity, I definitely recommend you go watch it!