Thursday, 29 December 2016

Films 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Ultimate Edition

Restoring entire sub-plots worth of Superman scenes elevated Zack Snyder's film from a meandering punch-up to a timely jab at toxic media. We see Superman struggle against Lex Luthor under the microscope of a 24 hour news cycle designed to wilfully misunderstand and misinterpret events and actions. You've got to fill that never-ending schedule somehow.

As if to atone, an implicated Clark Kent pounds pavement, talking to street level observers as he investigates Gotham's brutal vigilante. Naturally, he is scolded by his boss for abandoning his assigned puff-pieces. No-one cares anymore. The Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice weaves this slow-acting poison into the bones of the film, so when a despondent saviour scales a snow-capped mountain to ponder if it's worth continuing his mission, we understand his deep-seated sense of rejection.

Theatrical release review

Ultimate Edition review


Isabelle Huppert plays a woman in total control of herself. Michele is the co-owner of a successful video game company, she lives in a wealthy Parisian suburb and all the people in her life adore her or, at the very least, defer to her opinion. Elle begins with Michele being attacked and raped in her own home. Any presumption that these terrifying events will have a profound, destabilising effect on Michele are immediately silenced by her reaction - she slowly and methodically tidies up, then orders take away.

As the film unfolds we start to understand that Michele has seen (and perhaps even participated in) horror before. It's nothing new to her, she can cope with anything. Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter David Birke string together a series of events and situations in which Michele should register as distasteful - at work she demands her game's interactive sexual assaults be more violent and visceral; she takes time out at her mother's funeral to let her dimwitted son know that everyone is laughing at him for not realising that his long-term girlfriend has been unfaithful.

A lesser film might ask us to hate Michele, but Elle doesn't. Instead, Huppert makes us feel her frustration. The film's other characters, particularly the men, struggle to contextualise their feelings and drives, leading to an unhappiness that pores out of them and infects the world. These men register as ditherers or weaklings, desperately seeking an approval they don't know how to ask for. Comparatively, Michele exudes strength. She understands what she wants, no matter how alien it may seem. Her ability to act upon these desires makes her invincible.

Green Room

Nazi punks. Nazi punks. Nazi punks, fuck off.

Original review

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taiki Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople pulls a similar trick as early seasons of The Simpsons. The film sketches out flawed but lovable characters, then puts them through the wringer, expertly darting back and forth between surreal mischief and all-consuming despair. Waititi makes it look easy too. It helps that his cast are so talented. Julian Dennison, in particular, is delightful as Ricky Baker, able to effortlessly convey the kind of complex emotional damage experienced by someone who has been treated like a nuisance his entire life.

The Nice Guys

Even when you're watching a Shane Black film, it's easy to forget just how talented a writer he actually is. The Nice Guys begins by making this case on two fronts - character and detail. Ryan Gosling's Holland March is one of our narrators, the role implying a certain kind of omniscience within the film. Russell Crowe's Jackson Healy seems to know what he's doing, so why shouldn't March? We assume Gosling's private detective, despite him telling us exactly how burnt out he is, will have some kind of handle on things.

He doesn't. He can't even perform basic burglary without nearly ending his own life. With March's incompetence firmly established, the film motors on, using March and Healy's relationship to put a fresh twist on breadcrumb detective work. Then, just when you think you see where The Nice Guys is headed next, Black pulls the rug and the film darts off in a completely different direction. Black has perfected the 90-minute Hollywood action pal movie. He knows the notes so well he can diverge at will then, when he's finished having his fun, he can pull it all back together to deliver an organic, satisfying finale.

Shin Godzilla

Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi's beautiful, standalone take on the King of Monsters bucks the recent trend of making disconnected sequels to Ishiro Honda's original, choosing instead to reset the series and proceed from zero. Shin Godzilla doesn't take place in a Japan that has weathered kaiju incursions and learned to cope, this Godzilla is an incomprehensible nightmare that refuses to follow the basic behavioural patterns laid out by in-universe experts.

Anno's screenplay repeatedly stresses reality, finding tension in a mundane, human response to a destructive, wandering God. Rather than narrow the film's focus to a couple of charming principal players, Shin Godzilla takes a similar approach to 1984's The Return of Godzilla, locating the unfolding drama in featureless rooms full of printers and stressed out politicians desperately measuring unpopular but necessary decisions against their career aspirations.

Since Shin Godzilla prizes verisimilitude, Anno and Higuchi use the visual language of fly-on-the-wall documentaries, shooting people either once removed or as part of an uneasy collective, daring us to discern a favourite from the crowd. They are subjects rather than participants. We aren't allowed to get too close to them, their interior lives are extraneous details. All that matters is how they contextualise and react to the bubbling crisis.

Similarly, glimpses of the Godzilla monster itself are captured rather than shot. Unconsciously, we know these images arrive from an observer's vantage point. Street-level views stress his nauseating verticality - a blistered, volcanic giant towering over picturesque rural scenes. In-action shots are data culled from the various airborne antagonists struggling to stay alive in his presence. Regardless of how we see him, Godzilla's behaviour is constant, he's a lurching, cascading disaster that cannot be stopped.

Train to Busan

Gong Yoo's Seok-Woo isn't a great Dad. He's absent, emotionally inert and keeps buying his lonely daughter the same, thoughtless present over and over again. Seok-Woo acts mechanically, defined by an all-encompassing sense of greed. His job involves moving other people's riches around then taking a cut for himself, while the relationship he has with his daughter seems less about love and more about holding onto a prized possession to spite his ex-wife.

Yeong Sang-ho's Train to Busan tracks with this selfish loner, relentlessly placing him situations he cannot exert control over. He expects to thrive, given his wealth accruing background, but is repeatedly thwarted. The slimy leg-up tactics that steered him to financial success in the corporate world offer very little protection from carriages and carriages filled with ravenous body-popping zombies. Seok-Woo's path is clear. If he really wants to save his daughter, he'll have to knuckle down, get his hands dirty and learn what it means to be a real father.

The VVitch: A New England Folk Tale

Even before Satan reveals himself, Robert Eggers depiction of life in pre-industrial America skews dangerous and chaotic. Against all reason, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy)'s family depart from the safety of civilisation to make their own way in the world. Unfortunately for them, the patch of land they choose has no intention of being conquered.

The VVitch: A New England Folk Tale plays from the perspective of a daughter who is undervalued and unceasingly chastised, Thomasin is trapped within a family that barely even pay lip-service to the idea of love. She's just another hand to toil in their rotting fields, chattel to sell off when the harvest fails to come in. When events start spiralling out of control, it's her that the family blame. No wonder she rebels.

Original review

The Wailing

The Wailing takes an unusual but immersive stance when plotting its own emotional pitch, it uses Kwak Do-won's officer Jong-goo as a mood guide, patterning developments in step with his understanding of the unfolding events. So when Jong-goo is dealing with a few scattered incidents of homicidal strife, the film is comparatively comedic and hands-off. After all, it's easy to blame the psychotic episodes on country bumpkins eating psychedelic mushrooms.

When the horror steers closer to home, The Wailing picks up, locking us into the mission mode of an incompetent but determined father dealing with a series of terrifying supernatural events. Writer-director Na Hong-jin weaves a scenario that not only deals with the paranormal in terms of scenes and information but also motive.

The Wailing contains several, distinct players whose intents are, frankly, unknowable. They don't have Jong-goo's simple, earthly ties, each giving the impression of having been summoned. They are chaotic agents, converging on the isolated village to exploit an imbalance, working in service of the incomprehensible. Since the drives of these characters stray beyond a contextual remit based on Jong-goo's understanding of events, Na doesn't waste any of the film's time (or mystery) trying to explain them.

When Marnie was There

Hiromasa Yonebayashi's second (and final) film for Studio Ghibli is a patient, emotionally delicate piece about a lonely little girl named Anna. In terms of plot, When Marnie was There is about a young woman who experiences a brief, powerful bond with a ghost while on holiday.

Yonebayashi's film, adapted from a children's book by Joan G Robinson, tracks a deeper, more glacial progression though, we're watching Anna come to terms with the various aspects of her life and experience that, she feels, have marked her as an outsider. The phantom Marnie gives Anna someone and something to latch onto. Their relationship is complicated and contradictory, encompassing the first, electric prickles of a romantic crush and a deep, enduring love that will linger forever.

Also Liked:

Arrival / Blair Witch / Bone Tomahawk / Captain America: Civil War / The Childhood of a Leader / Creed / Doctor Strange / Hail, Caesar! / The Hateful Eight / High-Rise / Hypernormalisation / The Jungle Book / The Legend of Tarzan / The Neon Demon / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story / Sing Street / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows / 10 Cloverfield Lane / 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi / Victoria / Wiener / X-Men: Apocalypse / Zootopia

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