Blinded By The Light (2019)

This is a great film about Bruce Springsteen. I mean, he’s not in it (with the exception of a photo of him in the end credits) but it is very much him. Like, essence of Springsteen (worst fragrence name ever). It’s a film about the power of words and music. About how music can help you make sense of a shitty world. About how it can transcend geographical and genre boundaries, and really make you FEEL something. That’s the films biggest strength; the way it affects you on a pure emotional level.

This film has issues, not really big enough to count as flaws, more slight annoyances. There are times where Viveik Kalra’s performance isn’t QUITE what it needs to be and feels a little flat. There are other times where he completely nails the emotion, so it’s obviously not beyond him, but there are times where his performance doesn’t really work (particularly in the first half). There are some moments which aren’t needed. The opening scene, in particular, serves no purpose. It’s just a “here’s the main characters when they were children”. It kind of showcases the relationships between certain characters, but that could have been done more naturally. The music, whilst it’s good, it is a bit repetitive. There are some songs which are repeated multiple times. As such it doesn’t really compel you to go out and listen to Springsteen in the same way as Yesterday made you want to listen to the Beatles. The story is one you’ve seen before (would it be rude to call a true story “a bit cliche in parts”?). Some of the characters’ motivations aren’t clearly defined in terms of the film’s narrative, you’re not really sure what the end goal, what is the main character reaching for and aiming to achieve etc. It also has moments where entire groups of people burst into song in a way that breaks reality. We can hear the music being playing, but except for the main character nobody else can, they’re just hearing him singing, so how are they dancing to the beat of the music if they can’t actually hear it? I know that’s a really weird thing to pick out, but I’m not the biggest fan of “main characters break into song” at the best of times (which is weird as my favourite television show of the last few years is a musical) and I feel it has to be done well (and for a good reason) for it to be effective (for example, it worked PERFECTLY in Rocketman). It could be argued that it’s alluding to Bollywood tradition, merging Bollywood tropes with western music, but it doesn’t have the right atmosphere and speed for it to truly work. There are other moments with music which work a lot better. When the lyrics come up on the screen at important parts it works wonderfully and it allows you to see how the character is thinking, you can feel him connecting to those parts of the music.

It may not seem like it but I did enjoy this movie. Was incredibly heartwarming, and a lot of the supporting performances were great (Nell Williams in particular). It reminds me of a slightly below-par Nick Hornby at his best. Considering how much I love some of Nick Hornby’s stuff (High Fidelity is still one of my favourite books) that indicates how highly I rate this movie. So yeah I’d go see it. It might not be your favourite movie, but I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Now I freely admit that these reviews are purely subjective, based entirely on my opinion and tastes. As such there are times where my reviews don’t line up with popular opinion. To the point where “Well I Liked It” is an award I give at the end of every year to films which I like but everyone else seems to hate. Previous films I’ve nominated for that have included Gringo, Murder On The Orient Express, Table 19, and The BFG. Conversely, there are times where it goes in the opposite direction, where a film is loved by everybody except me. The best examples of these tend to be horror films; The Shallows, The Gallows, The Marshmallows (I may have made that last one up). Films which I just didn’t get. I mention all of this to provide context for this review. I really disliked this film, for multiple reasons.

Don’t get me wrong, from a technical standpoint it was great, the performances were sublime and it nailed the look and feel of the time. It truly feels like it belongs in the time it’s set in. There aren’t many anachronistic nods and winks, you know, where someone makes a comment that we know has comedic implications, like “Westerns will always be the most popular movie genre”, or “Rosemary’s Baby? That will never work as a film”. As such you’re not really pulled out of the film that often by the dialogue. The film itself, however, is incredibly tedious. Almost 3 hours long with 20 minutes of story. I spent so much of the film bored. 90% of the film was not needed. Actually, entire sub-plots and characters aren’t needed.

That doesn’t compare to two things which push it into dislike territory for me. One was the deification of Roman Polanski. I get he was important in the reality, but this film isn’t about reality, and if he wasn’t mentioned you wouldn’t notice his missing. I know back then people did deify him, but to a modern audience, it’s weird to hear it. It would be like watching a film about a pop-punk band in early 2000’s and they constantly mention how much they love lostprophets.

More jarring than that is something very specific to Tarantino; feet. In case you hadn’t heard, he kind of has a foot fetish. A fact he makes ABUNDANTLY clear during this film. There are multiple scenes where female characters put their bare feet up to the camera. Here’s an example:

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How is that anything but jarring? It adds nothing to the film, it just takes you out of it completely. It’s incredibly distracting and kind of weird. The only thing it adds is more material to the director’s wank bank.

Normally with films like this, I’d say it should have been cut down, with this I think it should have been made longer and made into a TV series instead. It would have allowed it to compartmentalise some of the separate plots into their own distinct sections, with the overarching themes running in the background. It also would have allowed some of the performances to have more meaning. As I said, the performances are REALLY good. Dakota Fanning is suitably creepy, DiCaprio and Pitt are on top of their game. Two performances deserve a special mention though; Mikey Madison and Julia Butters. Two people I’m not that familiar with, but I’ll be keeping an eye on as they are mindblowing in this. Julia Butters, in particular, gives the film most of its emotional weight when she’s on-screen.

It may seem like I hated this film; I didn’t. The closing scenes were too good for me to hate it. They were scenes of chaos with some amazing performances. It’s not good enough to make me like it though. Many people love this film, and I get why they would. It’s just not for me, at all. And that’s okay, I don’t have to like everything, and I sincerely doubt Tarantino will give a shit that one person didn’t like it.

Good Boys (2019)

They’re kids, but they’re swearing? Hilarious! Hahahahaahahahahaahahahahahaahahah. The story is terrible and sexist, but look, there’s a kid swearing, hahahahahahahahaha.

That’s what I worried this film would be like. That it would focus so much on making these kids seem like adults that it would forget to make them kids. That it would just be a gimmick, and a gimmick which will wear itself out pretty quickly. This film actually worked though, was really funny, heartwarming, and most importantly, it let the kids be kids. It had plenty of moments where it played off their innocence and naivety. The best moments are when it comes to drugs, and they refuse to throw it in the river because of the negative effects it could have on the environment. Moments like that are kind of cute and wholesome, kind of like a season finale of a long-running sitcom. It also has a surprisingly good attitude to women. There is a moment where they fly a drone camera in order to spy on two women, but they get called out on it and are suitably chastised.

Actually, that’s pretty much a good summary of the general tone of this film, a season finale. You feel like you’ve known them for a while. That’s not always good though, the familiarity doesn’t really breed contempt, but it does sometimes seem to breed complacency in terms of the script. There are moments where it is a little bit too by-the-numbers, a little too bland. And then there are moments where they accidentally sell a sex doll to Stephen Merchant. The madcap moments are brilliant, with one notable exception.

There’s a scene where they go into a frat house to buy some drugs (it makes sense in context) and the frat guys are complete dicks, so one of the kids ends up shooting him with a paintball gun. This leads to a scene where a room full of men in their 20s are attempting to beat the shit out of pre-pubescent kids. And the stuff they do should logically kill them. That scene’s a little uneasy to watch, mainly because it completely takes you out of the film, you realise you’re watching something fake and it breaks the immersion.

That’s a shame as the rest of the film is believable to the point of embarrassment. It makes you remember what an idiot (and kind of a dick) you were when you were younger. The situations aren’t universal, but the motivations are. It’s a film about acceptance, personal growth, and adjusting your ambitions. These are things which we all went through as kids, and are still going through now. It’s that kind of relatability which anchors the best moments of the film. None of this would matter if the actors weren’t at the top of their game, thankfully they all are. We all know Jacob Tremblay is talented, but Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon are great too. Noon, in particular, gives a strong performance that carries the film through some of the weaker moments. Molly Gordon and Midori Francis are also great, and share a chemistry which makes me wish they could lead a film together.

So in summary, you don’t HAVE to see this film, but I strongly recommend you should.

Crawl (2019)

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a fun animal-based disaster movie. By which I mean one that’s realistic, so that counts out Rampage etc. Shame as they’re great to see in cinemas and really allow directors to show off what they can do. This is a film about alligators hunting people who are trapped in a house during a hurricane, that sounds fun. Also, it’s only about 90 minutes long and scores very highly on rotten tomatoes. All good signs.

With that in mind, I have to say, I don’t see it. I don’t get the great reviews for this. I was not a fan of it. For a 90 minute movie, I spent a lot of time looking at my watch. It never really engaged me. I think part of that is because it only had 2 main characters who were present throughout the whole thing. For a lot of the movie, one of those characters was in a safe space and wouldn’t get harmed, the other was the main character. As such there was no real sense of dread as you knew that they were going to survive at least until near the end. It’s impossible for a film like this to get a sense of dread if you know that the characters aren’t in danger as the story won’t let them be. This film does kill some characters, but they’re characters who appear for a few minutes, and then die. Their entire purpose is to get some blood in the movie, but since you don’t really know who they are you don’t care about them. This could have been solved very easily; instead of setting it in a house, set it in an office block or a shopping centre. Just SOMEWHERE where you have more characters. That way you can start with a group of 5-6 people and then whittle them down as we get to know them. If you avoid establishing which ones are the main characters then you give an air of “all bets are off” so you don’t know who’s going to survive. The issue with this is because there are only two people, and they’re in a confined space, there’s not much you can do with that from a narrative standpoint. Most of this film consists of the characters making progress, and then that progress is immediately negated. It also features one instance of really weird editing. There’s a moment where a character is struggling to reach a flare, and it flashes back to her in her youth, reaching her hand out to her dad to help her out of a swimming pool. A bit weird but nothing more than that, but there’s then a scene almost immediately after that where she’s literally reaching out to grab her dads hand to help pull her up onto the roof. I feel that’s a much better thematic link and it’s really strange they wasted it. I almost forgot that though as it’s near the end and the closing shot just looked kind of cheap and weird, almost like it was from a video game.

The two characters we do have are kind of intriguing though. Kaya Scodelario’s character veers from really smart to really dumb, depending on what the plot needs at that moment. For example; when she struggles to move the body of her father, she immediately finds some sheets to put him on to help move him. Very smart. But as she drags him she drops her phone where the gators are. That’s not the dumb part. The dumb part is she sneaks to get the phone, and then when she has it, instead of going back to safety with the phone, she stands still and makes the phone call in an unsafe area. There’s also a scene where she gets the attention of someone by shining a flashlight outside, yet when the police arrive a few scenes later, resorts to shouting instead, which can’t be heard over the sound of the wind and rain. There are also MULTIPLE scenes of someone standing in waist-deep water instead of just moving to stand on the thing right near them that gets them out of the water (in one example, a character literally stands next to some stairs).

I’ll admit some of it was good. The aforementioned moments where the characters were smart are great to see. And you can’t fault the acting at all. Also, with the exception of the closing shot (actually most of the exterior scenes) it all looks and feels real. You’re never really too aware of CGI.

So yeah, that’s it. I wouldn’t really recommend this tbh, unless maybe you’re super drunk.