Charlie’s Cinematic Odyssey: April 2018

Welcome once again to Charlie’s 2018 Cinematic Odyssey. You know I’ve been drowning through March and April on the sheer volume of films being released. But I’m a strong and capable swimmer. You bet I can manage everything. Who’s even betting against me? But as soon as Infinity War comes out, it seems everybody’s gone a little shy. “We won’t stand a chance against that film”, they say, “let’s wait a few weeks for everything to die off a little bit”.

Everyone apart from Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, they don’t give a fuck do they?  Coming out at a time like this? I’ve have so much respect for that and you’re gosh darned tooting, I’m going to visit a quiet showing on a  chilled out Sunday afternoon.

Here are the films that I got to see in April. Oh what a time to be alive.

Thoroughbreds

thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds is a dark teenage drama with shades of ooh is it a black comedy? Ooh is it a teenage  feminist tale of two young women making their own way in the world ? Well hey, maybe it’s all these things, maybe you shouldn’t put all the things in a box, maaan. I mean this is certainly the movie’s big message.

Olivia Cooke, last seen in Ready Player One, plays Amanda a young ‘troubled’ woman who was forced to euthanise her horse in a really violent messed up way. For her mental well being, Amanda’s mother pays Ana Taylor-Joy character, Lily to hang out with her daughter and soon become best friends and lo, you have the perfect odd couple pairing, whilst Lily feels too much, Amanda feels seemingly nothing at all. Though they are both rich teens living in upstate New York, they both live in this cloistered world, put in a box by the god darn adults, a mentality personified by Lily’s ass hole step father (played by Paul Sparks) who they decide to murder. With the help of Tim, (played by the late Anton Yeltchin), a local low time drug dealer and all around fuck up.

The movie starts with Amanda staring at the horse, then cuts to her picking up the knife, so yeah from the start it’s that kind of movie and it certainly won’t be for everyone. Though it never shows the actual killing, it’s the thing that pervades everything. This woman destroyed this beautiful creature, which was dying anyway, but the people around her would rather dwell on the way in which she did it – ostracising her for being insane. I guess the film is about these rich communities, people living in these massive houses with material plenty but all battling some kind of psychosis from within.

Written and directed by newcomer Cory Finlay, it’s directed with flair within these grand interiors, coupled with the sound design, the film creates a kind of cloistered slow burning madness. It is thoroughly well acted, especially from it’s two young leads and Paul Sparks is just detestable as the step father despite not really doing that much to rile us. Anyon Yeltchin is also really good, though he plays a bad dude, he is still able to inject this kind of childlike vulnerability into the performance as he is manipulated by the two female leads. Other than that, I just felt as if there’s a nihilistic streak about Thoroughbreds that feels very… adolescent. It’s not Heathers. To be completely honest, I was left a little empty. It’s artfully shot, it’s dark but feels a little meaningless.

Two rich girls finally find their place in modern society. Great! Now what about the rest of us?

A Quiet Place

a quiet place

A Quiet Place is directed, written and starring John Krazinski, best known for playing Jim in the American version of The Office. I don’t think anybody expected Jim to suddenly go make a horror movie. Let alone a pretty good one. But here we are!

A Quiet Place is set in a post-apocalyptic America, where a family of five (soon to be six) struggle to survive against a monstrous threat that is able to hunt through sound. Hence for a good majority of the movie, the central cast are completely silent, occasionally speaking in sign language. You have John Krasinski as dad, and Emily Blunt as mom, they have three kids, one of whom is severely deaf which poses a problem but also maybe a blessing to the family’s continued survival. They all live on a farm… A QUIET PLACE TO CALL HOME you might say and… yeah… they just got to keep really quiet like. That’s the whole gist of the movie.

Silence at all times. Please.

Oh and Emily Blunt’s character is heavily pregnant so serves as the story’s built in time bomb because good luck giving birth to a kid in this post-apocalyptic world let alone raising one. Where is the Church of Scientology when you need them?

The Quiet Place has come from nowhere to become an unexpected hit with mainstream audiences. This is a good thing. It’s good that horror is coming back as a genre and packing out cinemas. We all need a good scare once in a while, even when the world has plenty of real life things to be scared about. However, I wouldn’t say A Quiet Place is a masterpiece – it’s just a perfectly solid horror thriller with some cool looking monsters with the central gimmick of complete silence. Apart from the times when things do get very loud as all Hell breaks lose.

The monsters themselves are well done. Love a monster. They are never really explained. Krazinski shows restraint in showing off the creatures at first, learning from the best in class, namely Jaws and Alien. Throughout the first half we only get fleeting glimpses, the camera moving in between things, or artfully obscuring the full vision. This all leaves us with only a rough idea of what these creatures look like, but always conveying their lethal nature.

At times, I kept on thinking the movie was going to do more. There is potential there for some truly terrifying scenes, such as aforementioned birth scene. Birth is terrifying as it is I imagine, but within the context of this movie, with all teeth and ear drum knocking at the door, it should be far more terrifying than what it is. I guess the trailer did it better, because it sole the idea.

There are some generic tropes there, such as the videogame thing of writing stuff onto walls for everyone to see which feels a little on the nose. But other than that, there’s just enough family orientated drama that keeps things tense. A nice little arc for the family, that is established just enough to make us care.

It’s fine. It’s getting a sequel.

Rampage

Rampage

I could never predict we’d get a sudden resurgence of giant monster movies. This time last year I was talking on this very blog about how much I loved Kong: Skull Island. However, the thing I really couldn’t predict is that we’d get a movie based on an old video game from the 90s, that absolutely no one of good air and graces would have even heard of. Rampage is the lasted vehicle for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s quest to rule the world. Hot off the heels of his Jumanji sequel which was much better than it had right to be, and before his summer movie Skyscraper, that looks like Die Hard meets Dumb and Dumber. At this rate, it’ll probably be fantastic.

Rampage starts in spaaace, where an international space station styled… space station is blowing up thanks to a scientific experiment gone very wrong. This sends containers of a DNA altering agent flying across mainland USA. One of these containers just so happens to land in the habitat of George, an albino gorilla of the San Diego zoo. After being exposed to the agent, George grows to a gigantic size overnight. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is George’s handler and bro and he wants to figure out what is happening to his friend.

Meanwhile the two leaders of the evil corporation responsible for making the agent in the first place (two people who are totally not based on the Trumps) are planning to cover up their involvement and somehow become filthy rich out of it. Their plan to do this is to activate this radio signal at the top of their skyscraper, which enrages George, sending him on what is called a  ‘rampage’ towards the good city of Chicago. Also affected by the mutagen, there is a giant wolf who can fly  (no really) and a giant crocodile, both of whom are also rampaging towards Chicago where they are likely to beat the living snot out of one another.

Now, I don’t want to give away the plot completely… but that’s pretty much it. Yes.

The thing to say about Rampage is that it isn’t nearly as terrible as it appears on paper. The monster design is really good, the crocodile in particular is just this giant reptilian black holed maw of teeth and horns, looks great in 3D Imax, if you’re into that sort of thing. I think they go slightly overboard with the wolf, who can fly and shoot needles from his back but I guess you’ve got do something different there, otherwise he’s just a giant wolf.  George on the other hand, is expressive and emotive and you will believe that The Rock and a giant gorilla can be bros. The relationship between the two is the reason that this movie actually works, in essence this is a movie where The Rock can fist bump his giant monkey friend and it just feels right.

The Rock is essentially the same character he plays in every movie. Big. Bald. Tanned. Ripped. Charming. Stoic yet sensitive. Self aware of his alpha masculinity but certainly not above poking fun at his bravado but also totally dominating the entire movie with his manliness. Though to be fair, this is George’s movie too and there were times where I really felt sad for the poor monkey as he’s getting beaten up.

Along the way Jeffrey Dean Morris, plays a shady government agent. He is basically doing his Negan schtick (“God damn Rick!”) throughout everything but it’s sly and fits perfectly with all the b-movie stupidity. Naomi Harris also tags along for the adventure as the scientist providing exposition and, I guess, sexual attraction… But y’know, I’ve noticed a trend in the Rock’s movies, he’ll need a strong female sidekick, and sexual attraction is implied but never definitely expressed. Kissing is allowed but only if he’s married or if she is an estranged wife. A woman can’t just kiss the rock. That would be like kissing a god.

You can admire The Rock from afar, but you can’t get down with the Rock just like that. Y’know?

The Rock’s recent box office success is very clearly down to a well managed formula that is designed to deliver his brand of charismatic self aware manliness for box office world domination. At the rate of projects he has currently going I imagine he has a brain trust of people that are able to pickup projects and make them work for him. This is a time where the concept of a single big name star opening a movie is kind of old fashioned. Everything feels like it was made in a boardroom, but just enough care and attention has gone in to actually make it work.

Still… there’s a bit towards the end where the big Gorilla basically asks The Rock whether he’s banging his lady sidekick and it’s a little weird man… Be a man about it and ask her out man. Is this a dumb movie or what, go for the kiss. I mean, I don’t care what happens. I’m just here for the end of credits scene. Wait… what do you mean, there isn’t one?

Could Rampage be the best video game adaptation yet? Probably. Maybe? but I wouldn’t consider Rampage a video game because no one else would. Does this mean we’re suddenly going to see more adaptations of forgotten video games from the 90s? What’s next? Legend of Shinobi? Streets of Rage? Syphon Filter? Descent? Time Crisis? I for one hope the floodgates are flung open

Ghost Stories

ghost-stories

Ghost Stories is a British horror movie, based on a play written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Together, they both direct the film version, Nyman himself stars in the film as the central lead playing Professor Philip Goodman, one of these TV paranormal investigators who go out to debunk perceived supernatural activity. In short, he is an unbeliever.  Raised by a religious father, who in a rather empty means of protest has devoted his entire life to debunking any traces of the supernatural. One day, he is contacted by the paranormal investigator that originally inspired him into the profession. To his astonishment, has now become a believer. The old man gives Goodman three of his unsolved cases, cases which were enough to convince him that there is more to the world that meets the eyes.

So we have three different hauntings affecting three different people of whom Goodman visits. First up is retired night watchman played by Paul Whitehouse, who was witness to a haunting in a derelict factory once woman’s asylum. The second from a nervous teenager, who had a brief encounter with a demonic presence during a harrowing night in the woods. Thirdly is rich investment banker played by Martin Freeman who has some problems with a poltergeist. During his investigations, Goodman asks questions of each of the witnesses, judging them and instancing that they are each disturbed individuals who see what their respected brains show them. At the same time, he begins to witness sightings himself, which lead him to question whether he is going insane himself or there is something else happening.

When it comes to horror – ghost stories always are the ones that wreck me. It’s not just a genre of schlocky scares, it’s the implication of the existence of something else. The implication of an afterlife, the implication of all those things a ‘reasoned’ atheist community would reject. It’s the idea of that our actions in life can imprison us across eternity and that atheism itself can divert you from having a moment of emotional or spiritual catharsis.

For the most part, Ghost Story delivers the scares with a sprinkling of dark humour, it all takes place in dowdy locations in the North of England, which themselves  feel haunted from the start. The three individual cases are very well executed, each effectively standing as a rollercoaster ride in themselves. There is buildup, there is brief relief before the film has you in it’s grips once again building up once again to a sighting. It’s everything you would come to expect, but done well.

It’s probably a spoiler to even say, but the film does have a twist which I sort of half guessed throughout, there are various clues and visual ticks that I picked up on which started to tie things together. It kind of unravels the movie, and at first I wasn’t particularly won over by it, I was almost disappointed, but it did stick with me in the days after my viewing and left me thinking. Ultimately Ghost Stories is not just a movie featuring ghost stories, it’s a movie about ghost stories and why they scare us, it’s about guilt and the emotional baggage we all carry, it’s about the need for rational explanations as a means of defence against the things we don’t want to talk about.

It’s a good little British horror movie, lots of black humour, really well acted, lots of scares. Ghost Stories does project this sad atmosphere that lingers like a ghostly presence afterwards. At the same time, I kind of wish I had first experienced it as a play.

Avengers: Infinity War

avengers-infinity-war

Avengers: Infinity War is a big thing. The culmination of 10 years and some 17 interconnected movies forming the Marvel cinematic universe. Normal movies won’t cut it anymore, not where people will binge watch an entire series in a weekend or spend hours immersed in video games. Many studios have attempted to emulate Marvel’s style, but up until this moment, mostly everyone has failed in such epic form.

For some people, this movie is the biggest thing. The movie event of the year. As a result Infinity War is not a movie you can really judge on its own standalone footing because it would be complete nonsense. There isn’t really a central theme or a premise beyond the mixing together of all these characters and whether the film makers can possibly make it all work. People have pointed to Thanos as the one that pulls the film together, but I don’t know about that one… Over the last year especially, from Guardians of the Galaxy through to Thor: Ragnorak and Black Panther, the movies have surprised me in that they are actually about things. Infinity War by comparison is a massive delirious spectacle piece, the coming together of everything the studio has created over the course of 10 years. Infinity War is Wrestlemania. A giant crossover event for the franchise, another few more levels being added to the Marvel skyscraper, which ultimately is not going to be finish construction anytime soon.

Are you coming into Infinity War without having seen the previous movies? Forget about it! Go see The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s delightful I’m sure, probably has a start, middle and end, there is conflict, misunderstandings, there is resolution and you’ll be done in less than two hours.

Plotwise, we have Thanos, the big purple bad teased in previous movies collecting the six macguffin infinity stones to power up his golden gauntlet. His plan is to bring balance to the universe by killing 50% of life within it. Some members of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ think Thanos actually has a point into solving real world problems. Which is… okay. When fully powered the infinity gauntlet will allow Thanos to end life on a cosmic scale with just a click of the fingers. The only people who can stop him getting the stones are our extensive roster of Marvel heroes, now scattered across the universe. Circumstances lead to Thor meeting up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Iron Man teams up with Doctor Strange and Spiderman. Vision and Scarlet Witch erm… are holidaying in Scotland whilst Captain America is… yet to be seen, presumably lying low but poised to make a truly crowd pleasing entrance.

Infinity War is big. Yes I know, I keep saying that. Under the management of anybody else, it would be a complete mess. The Russo Brothers manage to keep things somewhat focused, delivering both on what the audience wants – massive IMAX 3D spectacle, big Lord of the Rings styled battle scenes as well as lots of amusing interplay between the established heroes. I wasn’t a huge fan of Doctor Strange, but it’s genuinely fun to the ego of Tony Stark meet the ego of Doctor Strange. It’s fun to see Chris Pratt’s perpetual man child Star Lord try to compete for the position of alpha male with Thor. There’s a surprising amount of added depth to some of the heroes. Mark Ruffalo yet again is able to take his character into a new interesting direction – a kind of Hulk orientated erectile dysfunction. Thor as well, it seems amazing, because before Ragnorak, it seemed nobody really knew what to do with the character, he was headstrong and spoke in silly pseudo-Shakespearean language, his eyebrows were peroxided the same colour as his hair, which was a little bit offputting quite frankly. Heck the last Avengers movie had him writhing around topless in a magic rock pool for no good reason except to vaguely setup the events of this movie. There is however once scene in Infinity War where Thor experiences a minor breakdown, unsure of what he is doing, but putting faith in an idea of himself that seems to be falling apart and has no meaning anymore. Chris Hemsworth may in fact be the MVP of the movie.

Second only to Drax, of course. Though James Gunn serves as an executive producer. The Guardians still feel like the Guardians. Drax steals one of the scenes at least.

And though inevitably some characters get served a short hand. Black Widow probably most of all and though it’s nice to be back in Wakanda so soon after Black Panther, it does just feel like dressing. There are a lot of payoffs for the people that are invested in these movies. I guess I am invested in these movies. One moment has Bucky Barnes and Rocket Racoon team up together on a battlefield against hundreds of monstrosities. They don’t really have any superhero powers, they kind of just shoot guns. And so at one point, both characters end up back to back blasting lead indiscriminately. Bucky picks up the Racoon with his metal arm and they spin around together like a John Woo film just blasting fools… it’s absolutely ludicrous and hilarious but then there’s the added dimension… these two characters are essentially the same but from separate parts of the universe. They’ve been broken down and put together again reconfigured be nefarious forces to do their bidding, yet here they are sharing a moment, supporting one another serving hot lead to everyone who wants it. It’s glorious. But again, you’d have to have seen all the movies for it to make sense, and be invested within all of them, to have that kind of payoff.

If you don’t have that, most of Infinity War is going to fall flat for you.

Then you have Thanos, an enigmatic presence thanks to Josh Brolin who is just able to inject enough performance through the heavy purple CG makeup. There is a degree of ‘humanity’ within him that make him a somewhat layered villain. I’m not sure if his backstory completely works, his relationship with Gamora or his ambitions to balance the universe. Likely there is more story yet to be told. The movie does play it fast and loose with major characters being killed off by Thanos, indeed a lot of commentators have described the film as ballsy for taking so many ‘risks’. But this is still a world in which death has no real tangibility. It ends on a cliffhanger with many heroes seemingly down for the count, except they aren’t are they? I got the same feeling as watching the first part of a two part Doctor Who season finale. There are some major character deaths, if you are invested in the fiction, these can come across as shocking, but you know this is a world where death isn’t permanent, you know that next week the Doctor will figure out some clever way to turn back time and save everybody. Death is only a minor inconvenience within this reality. Maybe the doctor will sacrifice himself ultimately to save the others. But hey ho, in which case he’ll only regenerate into something new allowing the franchise to continue in a completely different direction.

When we get to fifty movies, what will Infinity War look like within the grand scheme of things? Does it really have anything to say, to all of these movies have anything to say apart from, look how many characters we can get on screen at once? In the moment, it’s epic spectacle and often laugh out loud funny. It’s easy to get swept away by it, as the audience cheers and winces on mass.

It’s good.

It’s just not Last Jedi good.

YOU’RE GOD DAMNED RIGHT I’M STARTING SOMETHING.

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