Brief Consideration: Venom (2018)

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Venom is a shoo-in for one of the most bizarre comic book movies ever made. It’s a feature-length Saturday morning cartoon, trapped inside a reluctant midnight movie that slumps through its banally conceived plot with the enthusiasm of a tired and drunken sailor. For the remaining people who are curious about the plot: Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an amiable television reporter who bonds with an alien parasite. The gooey entity in question keeps its host alive by providing superhuman strength, agility, and endurance. Although, depending on the scene, the parasite referred to as Venom, serves as an empowering life coach or a satanic Jiminy Cricket in serious need of a throat lozenge.

Venom is the worst kind of schlock- dull, dreary and boring Though in reality, the film feels like it has been through the studio grinder. The proverbial third act confrontation and conflict is an afterthought that is suddenly remembered as opposed to set up. This is compounded by a tone that seems to be game for a Cronenbergian body horror picture but lacks the courage of its convictions. Instead, it settles for black comedy that frankly feels stale in a post-Deadpool world.

Hardy’s fascinating mixture of Harold Lloyd inspired slapstick and Peter Sellers’ buffoonery is reminiscent of the go for broke performances that graced Tim Burton’s Batman films. But it always comes across as calculated as opposed to natural. His performance wakes up the film, but it never makes you forget about its mediocre nature.

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Personal Post: Updates on Cameron Cloutier’s Queen of Hearts

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Cameron Cloutier’s long-gestating Twin Peaks fan film (Queen of Hearts) hits its most crucial week. Worse then Bob, Dark Coop or even Dick Tremayne, the picture faces the potential of being cancelled. Having fought through a series of challenges last year, including persistent trolling from long presumed supporters and a personal emergency: the film has looked like it might be back on track. However, the double-edged sword of independent filmmaking may result in its death.

While the notion of following a filmmaker on the pure whims of passion carries a sense of romanticism, the harsh realities have unfortunately struck Queen of Hearts. While some parts have been cast, many of the promises made to Cameron by others wanting to work on the project have turned up empty. This coupled with a severe lack of proper assistance, and the film is limping on. But if there is anything that Twin Peaks has taught us, it’s the fellowship that exists within the confines of a tight-knight community.

Despite its luck, Queen of Hearts still has a slim possibility of surviving. Let’s hope the Log Lady takes kindly upon its continued existence and that one day we see it in its full glory.

Here’s the full announcement from Cameron, which comes from the Queen of Hearts Facebook page.

“This is the week…

In a few days, I will take inventory of who and what I have so far in regards to this production and determine whether or not to move forward.

Casting is waddling along* and some days are more productive than others when it comes to finding locations, costumes, props, etc.

(*However, I could not be more thrilled with the casting choices so far.)

Since this project was crowdfunded, I have met and reconnected with a lot of people over the course of pre-production.

Some have been absolutely amazing in helping with what they can. Unfortunately, far too many have been no-shows or flakes (even with the promise of pay) so it’s been difficult to make arrangements when I don’t know what (if anything) is going on—all the while knowing time is a tickin’.

I really want to make this film but as I’ve said in the past, there’s a reason why you see a billion names during the end credits of a movie. One person can only do so much.

Maybe if the film was fully cast and rehearsals were in full swing I’d feel a bit more confident but I’m still in search of actors—which has been like the equivalent of pulling teeth around here.

(Also, finding a few more assistants would be great too.)

Last year I had a window to make “Queen of Hearts” and trolls and others (and finally a family emergency) forced me to postpone it for a bit.

However, if I miss the current window I’m shooting for now, I feel it’s only appropriate to call it a day and refund everyone’s money before too much has been spent to turn back.

This is not a decision that weighs lightly with me. I’ve been on this project for nearly a year and a half already so it would be absolutely devastating to be so close and then not go ahead with it.

But I am willing to pull the plug if I feel the project will be rushed, turn out badly or will bring even more unnecessary chaos to my already busy life.

I know by {canceling} the project the trolls and naysayers will see it as a victory and that truly pains me—so let’s all send good thoughts and positive vibes out into the universe this week for more to fall in line.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out to the woods to throw some rocks at a bottle.

Anyone interested in acting or helping can contact: queenofheartstp@hotmail.com

Thank you!”

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Review: Glass (2019)

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M. Night Shyamalan has made a career of weaving cinematic tapestries that are supported by sentiment and emotion as opposed to logic and sense. His films have always felt like they have existed on the fringe of genre fare as opposed to slot within them comfortably.

In the comic book movie engulfed landscape, Unbreakable now stands as a sobering and deconstructing superhero drama that wields the origin story as a form of therapy for soothing middle-age malaise, and existential dread about one’s place in the world.

Split was an effective Hitchcockian inspired chamber piece about a captor and victim dealing with their abuse-filled past. One chooses to use it as a fuel for survival and the other chooses ascend to the most horrific version of himself to prevent it from ever happening again.

Unfortunately, Glass shatters under the weight of being a sequel to both of these films, making for an uneven and at times frustrating experience. Touted as the final film in The Eastrail 177 Trilogy: the 2019 film is about the coming together of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Kevin Wendell Crumb and friends (James McAvoy) as well as Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). After Dunn thwarts Crumb’s recent abduction of four cheerleaders, they are both captured and placed in a mental institution alongside a comatose Price. They are all under the supervision of Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who attempts to convince them that their superpowers are a result of delusion as opposed to a miraculously bestowed gift.

Initially, Glass starts out with promise, boasting a premise that owes a great debt to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest as much as the deliberate pacing of Unbreakable. Crucially, the first half engages as a metatextual exercise in untangling the pop mythologising of the previous instalments.

This is accentuated by Shyamalan creating an intriguing status quo for his characters, in the near two decades that have elapsed since the first film. The picture is at its best in these small moments where we see how time has affected the characters.

In some regards, Shyamalan matches the intriguing aesthetics that permeated his earlier work. One standout sequence is a psychotherapy session in a pink room where the colour greatly juxtaposes with Staple’s authoritative scepticism about the group’s bold claim of being superheroes.

The performances also lend the film with some occasional weight. In particular, McAvoy’s Brechtian juggling of personas is particularly impressive when the character is conveying a palpable sense of torment and pain.

Sadly, disappointment abounds in Glass. Shyamalan trades in existential weight for comic book mythologising that never feels as particularly resonate or sharply drawn. This is a far cry from the deft balancing of both elements in the previous films. Now, the mythologising is like a needless indulgence that does not advance or take its characters in, particularly interesting directions. In this regard, it feels as though Shyamalan has nothing else to say with the medium, other using it as a prop for the supporting cast to look mildly excited by.

Worse yet, the twists feel wrapped around so tightly that it strangles the creativity out of the film. The film indulges in the worst instincts of universe building to tie films that thematically felt interesting together, but in reality, never coalesced into a cohesive film trilogy. This would be understandable if Shyamalan’s conclusions elicited some sense of pathos. However, in its final moments, Glass can’t help but feel hollow and empty.

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Initial Impression: Last Flag Flying (2017)

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Richard Linklater’s preoccupation with time reaches its most poignant heights in Last Flag Flying. The film is about Vietnam veteran, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carrel) who reunites with his former war buddies, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Lawrence Fishburne) in the hopes that they accompany him to pick up his son’s body for a home funeral. During the course of the film, we learn that Doc’s son was killed in the Iraq War.

In Linklater’s previous films, time has been depicted as a snapshot for the audience to learn how it has affected his characters. This is most evident in the Before Trilogy, where we see how the years have changed Celine and Jessie’s worldviews as much as their feelings for one another.

By comparison, time in Last Flag Flying is used as a form of paralleling, as the experiences of the Vietnam veterans are juxtaposed with the soldiers who fought during the Iraq War. Aside from the correlations between both conflicts, Linklater’s most salient points are about how time does not change the nature of war, and how it’s sadly still used as a form of character and masculinity building.

In other regards, the concept is used as a ticking clock as to how long the audience have to wait to see the veterans regressing to their old personalities. This culminates in an amusingly protracted comic sequence with all the characters reminiscing about how they spent their downtime during the war.

The scene along with a line from Sal, “With time ticking fast away… so if there’s one minute that’s not too terrible, I’d like to try to enjoy it” shows that Linklater is equally playful with time.

Last Flag Flying is a real slice of life picture. It’s a film that is propelled by its characters having a rare sort of every-day authenticity that makes them feel like fun and charming people to be around. Bryan Cranston, in particular, impresses with a no-nonsense stubbornness that can both frustrate and delight in the same moment.

Though the picture is occasionally deflated by some unnecessary moralising, such as an awkward scene when Doc reacts to a news broadcast of Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush, as well as a slightly clumsy ending. Linklater’s trademark genuineness flies high here, and his grappling with time and the personal meaning of being a soldier resonate exceedingly well.

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My Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2019

10) Captain Marvel

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Marvel Studios’ first female-led superhero film boasts an enticing 90s period piece, an Invasion of the Body Snatchers esque premise and a heavy influence of RoboCop. I’m curious to see whether these various elements will result in an engaging and interesting film.

9) Avengers: Endgame

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Despite its massive scale and a cast of characters as large as the catering staff at a Royal Wedding, Infinity War impressed in making death feel meaningful and weighty for its heroes and central antagonist. With this in mind, can Endgame carry on the promise of Infinity War’s sobering exploration of death? April can’t come soon enough.

8) Toy Story 4

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Frankly, a part of me wishes Toy Story 4 did not exist. But alas this is not the best of all possible worlds. What we are left with is Pixar potentially doing a near two-hour victory lap to see off a charming and poignant trilogy. Or perhaps it might be a meaningful continuation. Time will tell.

7) It: Chapter Two

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In many ways, It: Chapter One was a loving embrace of Amblin’s eighties output as much as it was a homage to A Nightmare on Elm Street with its gripping hallucination sequences. This ascetic melange will be fascinating to see through the lens of It: Chapter Two’s adult characters returning to Derry to face their childhood fears.

 

6) Us

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Us promises a seemingly bloody and vicious version of The Stepford Wives from the director who made the socially potent Get Out. In the words of Kevin Smith, “Take all my money.”

5) The Irishman

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If 2018 proved anything for movies, then it was that Netflix is a haven for filmmakers to make unique and personal films. Their most significant investment is Martin Scorecese’s long-held passion project about “a {labour} union official with mob connections, {recalling} his involvement in the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa, an American {labour} union leader.” Touted as Scorcese’s largest budgeted and most effects-heavy film, the Irishman promise a tantalising dance between an old master and the modern advent of De-aging technology within the confines of a genre he left an indelible mark upon.

4) Knives Out

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Rian Johnson makes films that affectionately picks at foundational genre conventions and builds them back up with the eye and precision of a sculptor. It will be interesting to see how his approach fares with the murder mystery genre.

3) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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Quentin Tarantino’s last few period films have been revenge films that have taken the plight of oppressed people and used their empowering as fuel for violent genre thrills. By comparison, the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood film looks to be an epic in the vein of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, and this seems like intriguing territory for the acclaimed indie auteur.

2) The French Dispatch

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Wes Anderson’s last two films have pushed the boundaries of his ascetic, whether it was the aspect ratio juggling in The Grand Budapest Hotel or his kinetic camerawork in the Isle of Dogs. This trend seems to be continuing in The French Dispatch, which has been described as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in 20th-century Paris.” It could be Anderson’s response to the Trump era or a mere charming curiosity. Either way, I’m there opening day.

1) Star Wars: Episode IX

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Honestly, The Last Jedi reinforced my love of the epic space franchise. It was a potent parable about failure and a sombre rumination on the series’ spiritual soul. The film spoke to me as much as the series did when I was a child and teenager.  It’s as visionary as Star Wars is ever likely to get in a generation. Torturous gushing aside, Episode IX has a lot to live up to, and its hard not get cynical about its chances of wrapping up the Skywalker saga, successfully. But I would be lying if I said my excitement did not burn with the intensity of a crimson coloured lightsaber.

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My Top Ten Films of 2018

10) You Were Never Really Here

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You Were Never Really Here is a blistering and stark character study of a man whose violent existence is no longer soothing the traumas of his past. Instead, it entrenches him further into hopelessness and suicide. Lynne Ramsay directs the film with the careful precision of a conductor, with present moments awakening horrifying memories of the past. The choice reinforces the film’s approach of favouring the exploration of inner anguish over the precision and bloody nature of Joe’s hired gun occupation.

9) The Shape of Water

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The Shape of Water is an enchanting fairy tale drenched in Americana. Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning film is many things, sweet, sincere and strange in all the right places. But its most sly trick is framing the central creature as an embodiment of New Testament values against the antagonist who represents the prescribed fire and fury of the Old Testament.

8) Lady Bird 

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At their worst, coming of age movies are fraught with the over-egging of bludgeoning teenage antics that make their journeys seem severely unremarkable, as maddening hysterics are favoured over sobering personal growth. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, bridges the gap with effortless ease. The picture captures the teenage experience in all its endearing and frustrating dimension.

7) Mission: Impossible- Fallout

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The sixth entry in the enthusiastically boyish and death-defying action franchise marked the first time that a director returned to the series. Christopher McQuarrie melds the various facets of the series together in a gripping and well-constructed film. Fallout is a seductive spy thriller in the vein of Brian DePalma’s first entry, a post-modern justification for the series’ elaborate disguise antics and a wonderfully edited stunt spectacular that never ceases in its excitement.

6) BlacKkKlansman

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While BlacKkKlansman is undoubtedly a crowd-pleasing comedy that will often unite audiences in regular fits of laughter and disgust, the film is also a potent parable for our times and a reminder of how movies have helped in shaping it.

5) Mandy

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Mandy is a film that presents the manly revenge thriller at its most artistic and visionary. It seems less concerned with enticing the audience with its genre fueled comeuppance then startling with its heightened reality.

4) Black Panther 

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Black Panther is a brutal, stirring and nourishing film that provokes fascinating questions about equality and isolationism. It was one of those few movie experiences in which I felt a tinge of surrealism in witnessing and contemplating that a major studio produced a film like this. Like the outliers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film is made with firm confidence. But unlike many of those pictures, it dares to consider the world and its many morphing contradictions.

3) Phantom Thread

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Much like the lavish and regally constructed dresses that the renowned central character makes throughout Phantom Thread: Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature is a nimble and cunningly made drama that has many surprises woven within its fabric.

2) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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In The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Coen brothers conceive of the West as puckish, frightfully cruel and tragically ironic. It’s remarkable that after No Country for Old Men and True Grit, the directing duo has an engaging vision of the genre. It’s even more miraculous that they use the Western as a jumping off point for absurd and poignant stories that illustrate why we enjoy such tall tales.

1) Suspiria

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Undoubtedly, Suspiria is an ambitious horror film. It may be trying to some, baffling to most, but for those who are seduced; it is a persistently engrossing and unnerving experience that admirably attempts to combine historical weight and primordial pathos.

 

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Brief Consideration: Aquaman (2018)

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Aquaman is the best superhero movie that George Lucas never got to make. The film impresses as a grandiose four coloured epic that is unexpectedly moving and wholly surprising. Taking inspiration from Geoff Johns’s New 52 comic book series; the aquatic superhero tale is about Arthur Curry, (Jason Momoa) a reluctant heir to the sea sunken kingdom of Atlantis. He must embrace his heritage and family to prevent a political plot against his home; frequently referred to as the surface world.

If Johns’s comic run was a postmodern response to the persistent ribbing of Aquaman’s power set, then the 2018 film is a meta-exercise in justifying the heroism of its fishy title character. In Justice League, Momoa’s one-note dude, bro persona was a particular source of irritation. In Aquaman, the persona is frequently questioned and eye-rollingly acknowledged as an ill-fitting choice for Atlantis’s one true king. If anything, the film goes to great lengths to illustrate how much Arthur is out of his depth as his punch first attitude gets him into trouble, resulting in many Wile E Coyote esque punchlines in the action sequences.

Like Arthur Curry, the film is goofy, awkward, heavy-handed, but well-intentioned and heartfelt. Though its narrative is steeped in the conventional territory of a protagonist being a bridge for two races to unite, the lens it is viewed through is fun. It’s the comic book movie equivalent of Star Wars; if George Lucas swapped Saturday matinee serials for Saturday morning cartoons and new age spirituality for every inspirational 80s movie.  

The director of the film is James Wan, an often overrated director whose horror movies contain impressively constructed sequences, but are never fully effective bone chillers in their own right. Fortunately, this proves to be an asset for Aquaman. I felt a great amount of joy in seeing Wan’s penchant for creative set pieces being unencumbered and frequently employed throughout the picture. A memorable section is Aquaman’s first appearance, which depicts the character dispatching a group of pirates who have taken control of a submarine. 

The series of scenes are directed with the headbanging energy of a Metallica music video- as a shirtless Momoa is wielded like an action figure with heavy guitar riffs punctuating his amusing facial expressions and actions. With frequent uses of slow motion and a 360 panning shot from the point of view of a gun, the sequence presents a rare form of male objectivism that somehow manages to retain an innocent cartoony charm.

In moments like this, Aquaman proves to be subtly bold and spirited in its presentation of its central hero. In other regards, the film commendably portrays male anguish with genuineness and allows its characters to bemoan their choices with real weight.  

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