Let’s See You Do Better: Update 4

So it’s been a while since the last update. Last time I was still feeling out this story, and now I’ve got it: I’ve done 75 pages, and I’ve got things in my head which will add easily another 10 pages. I’ve got a good sense of the characters (I’ll post more details about that later) with the exception of one. I’ve got one character who I know I’ll have to change. There’s a character called Scott who was a very rich kid (as in, “his parents got him a boat for his birthday” rich) who was pretending to be an abused drug addict as he thought that was more “authentic”. I like the character but I feel it’s not really suited for this so I have to change it, I’m not sure what to do to change it but I’ll think of something.

So I know you’re not that interested in the plotting so far, because then you’ll have to see the whole thing, you want the deaths. So here goes my newest death: Nikki. Background on her character: a wannabe celebrity who has an eating disorder.

I’ve done a few other deaths but this is the most important one I’ve done because it firmly establishes who Freddy is in this universe. He’s not a serial killer in the “I will stab you” way. He’s a god, he sets up a situation in which a death occurs. He lets the situations play themselves out and sits back and observes.

So I was making progress, and then disaster happened. Quick background on this script: it involves pills that can suppress dreams, some of the adults are on them because they’re aware of Freddy, now obviously they die in the film when those pills get taken away. I was writing one of the parents deaths and came up with this (for clarification, Danny is Taryn’s dad, this is his dream, and Taryn is secretly Freddy trying to find information out):

That one section excites me so much. The idea of a town weaponising Freddy to rid the town of criminals is terrifying. It’s a horror dystopia, and it’s disturbing as hell. But whilst I’m excited, I’m also aware that I now have to go through the whole fucking script and change things to set up this society. I’m going to have to write every adult character as having the knowledge that they are compliant in this. How would that effect the town? Well now I have to write it. Damnit! But also: ooooo fun

The New Mutants (2020)

I was very intrigued by this when I saw the first trailer. A horror movie set in the X-Men universe? That’s hella original, comic book movies are usually action comedies, so the idea of one stepping away from that to create something truly original is exciting. Plus, it’s got Anya Taylor-Joy, who is suitably creepy and usually gives great performances, and would be perfect for this.

That was back in 2017. It’s 2020 now (in case you hadn’t noticed), and has a film that’s been delayed as long as this one ever come out and been thought of as good? Those kind of delays are usually a bad sign, especially with a release as quiet as this one, I know there’s a pandemic, but I have not seen ANY publicity for this at all lately. Maybe one day a film will break that curse, and all the delays will be worth it, but not this film.

It’s hard to pinpoint why this film is a mess, I was going to blame the reshoots, but they didn’t actually get done. The core film just isn’t that good. I don’t know if it is the case but it feels unfinished, some of the CGI is embarrassing for a film with a budget like this. The script is, well it’s kind of bad. The bit about “you have two bears inside you” I think is meant to be deep and meaningful (and lead into the big bad), but it’s SO unsubtly done (they mention the narrative of it at least 3 times in the film, two of which are voice overs) that it comes off as slightly condescending towards the audience. It might as well have a flashing light saying “This is symbolism. DO YOU GET IT?” That’s not the most frustrating thing though. Now I know for a fact everybody in this film can, and have, given great performances. I know they’re incredibly talented performers. So with that in mind I have to say this: what the hell was up with the accents in this movie? It’s like everybody thought they were still in rehearsal and they were trying to figure out who their characters were.

Some of the characters are just as inconsistent. With their personalities changing from one scene to the next in an incredibly frustrating manner. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character in particular seems like two characters in one, the writers never quite sure how to make her character work, should they make her a sweet teen who has suffered hardship? A badass warrior who cares about her fellow mutants, or a massive racist bully? In the end they can’t decide, so make her all three, depending on what the plot needs.

On the plus side, the central romance REALLY works. You can tell this because there were moments where the two characters are just sitting next to each other, and you can feel the sexual tension between them. It’s hard to explain how, but it’s definitely there. So when it does happen you’re not thinking “oh God, another romance. how trite. Yeah it’s the first openly gay one in an x-men film (to my knowledge) but still dull”. You want it to happen so you’re glad when it does.

So overall, a film that didn’t have reshoots, but probably should have. And you have no idea how frustrating it is that this is probably the last film I’ll see in cinema in 2020. Just about sums the year up. It’s just disappointing, they had a chance to do something different and exciting, instead it’s so pedestrian I want to run it over with my car.

Bill And Ted Face The Music (2020)

Yeah I love this film series, I love it so much I’ve even read the comics (I didn’t buy them, I’m not mad). I get they’re not the best films in the world, and I will still argue they didn’t deserve a passing grade for their history presentation (they didn’t do anything, they got the historical figures to do all the work). But there’s just something so damn wholesome about the whole thing. The characters are dedicated to each other, and to their partners. Seriously, across three movies they are never tempted to be led astray in their relationships, it’s so comforting.

So does that continue now? In a world where they are trying to make dark and gritty superman movies, is there really space for a Bill And Ted movie? Or will it just seem out of place, a relic of a bygone age that the modern cynical world will just laugh at?

Of course it works. Of course there’s still space for lightness and stupidity, in fact in times like this you could argue it’s essential. We need this movie. We need a movie devoid of cynicism, that we can just watch and enjoy ourselves for the duration of. In my review of Brahms: The Boy 2 (worst title ever btw) I mentioned that it seemed like nobody involved gave a shit, that’s definitely not the case here. I’m not saying this is definitely the case, but it seems like this role is the one that Keanu Reeves has some of the most love for. Despite The Matrix, John Wick, etc, this is the most comfortable you see him, it’s like he’s having the time of his life. Alex Winter, too, is relishing this role. The way the two perform it’s like they’ve lived these characters constantly since the last film. It doesn’t feel like they’re performing, it feels like they are.

The supporting cast is great too. I still can’t tell the difference between Samara Weaving and Margot Robbie, but that’s more my fault than theirs. There are two great surprise performers though.

One, I suspected would be the case from the trailer. Brigette Lundy-Paine, NAILS their part as Ted’s daughter, completely. I don’t know how much research they did into the part, but they got the mannerisms down 100%. You completely buy them as related and I really want to see them do more stuff. One that did surprise me, was Anthony Carrigan as a killer robot sent from the future. I’d only seen him before as Victor Zsasz in the Gotham TV series, so when I saw he was playing a robot assassin in this film I thought I knew what to expect. I won’t spoil his character here, but trust me you have to see it as it provides some of the funniest moments in the film.

Now onto the negatives: it doesn’t do quite as much with the general concept as it could. One of the highlights of the first one was seeing them use time travel to their advantage (when it comes to hiding keys etc). You don’t get any of that smartness in here which is a shame. Also, there’s an extended musician performance which I feel will really date this movie in a few years time.

So in summary, please see this, it’s wonderful and you’ll enjoy it.

Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

I’ll freely admit I did not see the first film, but I don’t think that matters as I’m not entirely sure the people who made this one did either considering how it seems to completely retcon the ending. Which raises the question: who is this film for? People who enjoyed the first one won’t like the change, and people who didn’t like it aren’t going to see this film as they would have been put off by the first one.

I suppose it would have been okay if the film was a remarkable improvement, but I doubt that’s the case. Like I said, I haven’t seen the first one, but there is no way it can be worse than this. It’s strange for a toy doll to not be the most wooden thing in a film. Nobody gives a good performance in this, and it’s not due to a lack of talent, it’s lack of effort. It’s nobody giving a single shit about this film. It’s directed without flair, how can someone who has directed 5 or 6 feature films before this seem so inexperienced? They’ve all been horror films too so it’s not as though he’s trying a new genre, he should be great at this by now. He should know how to subtly scare the audience and not be dependent on jump scares and babys-first-scares style of horror. This does not seem like it was directed with passion, by somebody who wants to make it the best he can. This seems like it was directed by computer, no emotion, no idea of why certain horror techniques are used, it just uses them because it feels it should.

The script……I watched this film four days ago and I still couldn’t tell you much of the plot. It left nothing on me. Nothing stood out in a positive way, and trust me, considering I’m writing a horror film, I pay attention to horror film scripts, even if only so I can get inspired. For a film to give me NOTHING I can use is almost admirable. Not a single shot, not a single moment, nothing, it gave me zero to work with. That’s incredible for a film that is nearly three hours long.

Wait, what’s that? It’s only 86 minutes long? Then why did it seem like it was taking ages to watch it?

Oh, okay.

Artemis Fowl (2020)

I was REALLY looking forward to this. I LOVE the books, they’re fun, unique, and have a great plot running throughout the whole series. Sure, it made some missteps (one character in particular was set up to be a major part, and then just ignored for the rest of the series). Part of my love for the series comes from the complex characters. Artemis himself starts off the series as the antagonist, he’s essentially a child sociopath. If he was an adult he’d be a Bond villain: calm, calculating, and incredibly vicious, willing to do anything to achieve his goals (the series starts with him shooting and kidnapping a fairy, being the first person in millennia to do so). Which is why I was deeply concerned by the casting call, which described him as:

“warm hearted and with a great sense of humour; he has fun in whatever situation he is in and loves life”

It then got worse with the casting of Judi Dench as Commander Root, gender-swapping the character. Now I know how that sounds: “bloody SJW’s ruining everything, James Bond has to be a straight white male who’s hair colour, body, and personality keeps changing”. But it’s not that, it’s that it ruins one of the core dynamics of the book. In the book, Holly Short (who, incidentally has “nut-brown” skin in the book, yet is very white in the film) is notable for being the first female captain, and her relationship with Root is based on that, as he has to be harder on her than everybody else because if she fails, people will use it as a justification for keeping women away from the position forever, she has to be perfect, and he has to make sure she is. With Root also being a woman, that dynamic and backstory is gone.

Also gone, is Butler. I mean, he’s in the film, but it’s not the same character as in the book. Firstly, he’s black, not eurasian (and in the books his family have served the Fowl’s for generations, and having a black family serve a rich white family for generations is……unfortunate). Also in the books he is highly secretive of his real name, only mentioning it when he’s about to die, he insists on being referred to as “Butler”. In this, it’s the opposite, he insists on going by his first name. This is a confusing change, it adds nothing to the story, so I can’t get the justification for changing it. It seems like it was just changed for the sake of changing it. He also does a little spin for no reason, and everybody who reads the books knows how he detests that, he specifically mentions it.

So aside from being a TERRIBLE adaptation, is it a good film on it’s own merits? Lol, no. The plot is incredibly dull (and I’m still not entirely sure what the thing they’re searching for actually does outside of “driving the plot”), the characters are dull, the performances, well I feel if I said how I felt it would verge on bullying.

I detest this film for what it was, for what it wasn’t, and for what it could have been. I saw it for free on disney+, and still feel cheated. This could have been something great, instead it’s just an example of how bad Disney are at their job sometimes.

Palm Springs (2020)

I went into this pretty blind. I knew it existed, I knew Andy Samberg was in it, and I knew the poster. The first minute or so were pretty much as I expected: he wakes up and has sex (attempts to) with his partner the morning of a wedding.

Then it gets weird. He seems a little too bored, a little too like he knows exactly what is going to happen at all times. There’s a reason for that, he’s in a Groundhog Day situation and has lived this day multiple times. The good thing about this is the film drops just enough hints that if you’re paying attention you can figure it out before it’s revealed. Before the reveal it is kind of a standard romcom, and then he gets shot by someone who hates him because he caused him to go through the loop too.

So yeah, the opening section sets in stone the notion that this is not a typical romcom. It has far more jokes about suicide than the typical romcom (well, the typical romcom not written by me, at least). It also has a much darker undertone than it appears. He brings up how he behaves knowing nothing has consequences, bringing up the fact that it doesn’t matter if other people don’t remember, you do. So if you do something awful, you will be haunted by it. As he says

“Being a source of terror is not fun and it’s not fulfilling, I know from experience”

That one line gives us so much potential backstory to that character. It hints that he went through a stage where he killed people, where he viciously tortured those who annoyed him (and considering he knows his girlfriend is cheating on him, that gives us some VERY dark possibilities). I love that it hints at that backstory, but never shows us. It gives us the impression that the characters have lives outside of this film, these characters and this world seem real (except the random dinosaurs).

This film does so much right, the performances are all spot on, and overloaded with unsaid character motivations and beliefs. Everybody is on top form, it doesn’t have as many comedian cameos as you think it would. Truth be told I only remember recognising three of the cast members, but even the “unknowns” do their job incredibly well, all meshing together to form a cohesive unit. I firmly believe this may be one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in a long time, not a single weak link.

Now the downsides: visually it doesn’t really do much. There is some impressive stunt work in it, but the location itself never feels as paradisiacal as you feel it could. I don’t know whether it’s set design, or directing, but the location itself doesn’t “pop” as much as you feel it should. Also I feel the music could be better, I can’t remember a single song from this film, and considering it’s a summer-based horror-comedy that’s a disappointment. Also some of the montages aren’t quite fun enough. There are some moments where they’re genuinely sweet and funny, but then there are others where they just feel kind of standard. Overall though, well worth a watch. If you have a hulu account (or have a friend with one), it’s on there so you should definitely check it out on there.

The Lovebirds (2020)

Earlier this year I reviewed Fantasy Island, and in that review I said “the”,which was probably the only word I used in the review which wasn’t insulting it. It’s time to admit there was something good from that film, before it I had the trailer for this. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t know about it, which would be a shame.

I mean, it’s also a shame that this film got put on netflix, it would have been nice to see this in the cinema (and I get the feeling I’ll be saying that A LOT this year), as I feel it deserves that.

It’s not the best film in the world, but it is pretty solid with nothing to truly hate about it. The characters are well-written and all their decisions make sense, even when they are stupid decisions they have a certain logic to them.

The core of this film is the central relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae (while we’re on the subject; how refreshing is it to see a film like this being lead by two non-white performers and not have that being their defining character trait?). This film does the smartest thing I’ve seen in a while in how it shows their relationship, it shows them first meeting and awkwardly flirting, and then cuts to years later when the relationship is in turmoil. The fact we see them happy means that we are invested in their relationship as we know what they can be together, otherwise we’d just be sitting there screaming “FFS just end it”, but because we know how happy they can be, we want them to work it out, and you need that. Trust me, you do need that, because the break-up scenes hit HARD. Much much harder than you’d expect a film like this to. You genuinely feel like both characters are a single comment away from a complete breakdown. Whether it’s criticising their work on documentaries “documentaries are reality shows that nobody watches”, or their personality types. When they argue, they aim low, and it’s painful to see (in a good way).

Now onto the actual story, about them attempting to uncover the truth behind a stranger getting in their car (who they think is a cop) and running someone over, repeatedly, to incredibly uncomfortable silence. Since it’s in their car, and they get found by two hipsters (one of whom takes a photo of the body, called it) who call the police “I’d like to report a murder or whatever”. They assume they’re going to be blamed for the murder, so run away and try to solve it themselves, all the while arguing. It’s not exactly the most original plot, but it is a lot of fun to watch. It does become original at the end though where the police say that they were never suspects, the original murder was caught on camera (obviously), and they just wanted to speak to them as they were witnesses. I like when films twist the common tropes like that, it was also done well in Keanu where the main characters were arrested because despite being innocent of murder, they still broke a lot of laws trying to clear their name.

So should you see this? Well it’s on netflix so you really should. The director’s previous film was The Big Sick, and whilst it’s nowhere near as good as that, it is still worth a watch.

Tenet (2020)

I’ve seen quite a few films since the cinemas reopened, some good, some very very bad, but this is the first “cinema” film. The first film where I felt it needed to be seen on a big screen to be appreciated.

I feel Nolan is aiming his films squarely at cinema use now, which I really appreciate. I love how his films are ambitious and full of spectacle, with jaw-dropping practical effects (in this one he actually crashed a plane). On the downside I think his characters tend to feel a little flat. With the exception of the main characters, nobody in his films tend to stand out as particularly well written. That’s definitely also the case in this one, the main character is literally called The Protagonist. It’s weird as it’s got a lot of big actors in it, but they barely do anything. There are a lot of actors in this film who are not really needed. Michael Caine, for example, is in a single scene which could be cut entirely from the film and it wouldn’t effect the plot. It would effect the enjoyment of the film though as it would take away from the excessive runtime. It’s two and a half hours and you feel every moment.

Make no mistake, this is a BIG film, and you will be amazed, but you will also be slightly frustrated. Not so much at the plot which isn’t anywhere near as clever as it thinks it is, not so much at the complete lack of character development, and not even at the handwaving of the science integral to the plot (seriously they just say “don’t try to understand it), but you will be frustrated by the audio. It sounds like they’ve just made a song go backwards, I don’t know if they actually did that or not but that’s the definite intention they meant. Now in Inception they slowed down Non, je ne regrette rien until it was unrecognisable, and that worked. But melodies don’t always work backwards, they’re jarring and uncomfortable to listen to, so if you have your entire soundtrack be like that it’s just kind of annoying. Also, the sound mixing is atrocious so a lot of the time dialogue is impossible to understand. I wasn’t going to mention this at first as I thought there’s a chance it might have just been an issue with the cinema I saw it in, but then I saw other reviews mention it. So either every cinema in the country has got it wrong, or there is an actual problem. Supporting the “it’s an issue with the film, not the cinema” theory is a post from sound designer Richard King who has worked with Nolan on seven films (including this one). He said:

“He wants to grab the audience by the lapels and pull them toward the screen, and not allow the watching of his films to be a passive experience.”

Far be from me to criticise Nolan, but what the fuck is he thinking? I know they did something similar in The Wire, where they had characters use a lot of slang and didn’t explain it, so that people would have to pay attention to it. But that’s done realistically, people do speak in slang, and they don’t often understand it. Watching a film where they intentionally muffle the dialogue is not the same. If reality was like that then 50% of conversations would consist of the words “sorry, can you repeat that?” It doesn’t make you lean in to the film, if anything it frustrates you so you lean out. You don’t make a film entirely in shadows “so the audience has to really focus with their eyes and get drawn in”, no, you make shit that people can actually see (I understand darkness is an effective tool in film, I’m not talking about singular scenes and motives, I’m talking about in general).

None of that can compare to my biggest issue with the film: I just didn’t give a shit. I didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t care about the plot, I just did not care at all. I was completely passive when viewing it.

I get I may be one of the few people who didn’t love this film (and after the response to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I know my viewpoints don’t always match the general public), but I did like it. The performances were good, visually it was superb, it had a great concept, and the fight choreography was incredibly unique. The plot….I feel if I watched it a second time I’d notice lots of foreshadowing and realise how intelligent a lot of that is, I love when films do that. The only issue: I don’t particularly want to watch this film again. I don’t want to spend another 3 hours in a cinema, and I don’t want to watch this at home. It just…..it did absolutely nothing for me. I felt the same way about Interstellar to be honest, and Dunkirk. I sat there thinking “this is an absolute masterclass in film-making that I will never ever have the desire to watch again”.

Vivarium (2019)

I remember when I watched The VVitch years ago and was amazed at how it made somewhat standard scenes seem creepy and scary. A shot of a tree would somehow be one of the scariest moments in film and you have no idea why, it’s just great film-making. This is similar. It has a moment where they drive up a street to a house, that’s it. Nothing happens to them, nothing jumps out at them, it’s just them driving up a street. It’s also the creepiest scene I’ve seen in a LONG time. The houses are identical, like they’ve all been copied and pasted in an unnatural manner. The whole film is like that, the mundane made incredibly creepy through FANTASTIC film-making. Normally in horror it’s darkness that makes things creepy. This is the opposite, everything is so well-light and normal and bright that it’s that that makes it creepy.

The story is good, but ultimately frustrating sometimes as there are multiple questions which don’t get answered. Normally I’d call that annoying and lazy, but with this it works. The tone is perfect for that kind of narrative. It’s supposed to be a confusing mess as that’s what the characters are feeling. It makes you feel as helpless and trapped as the characters. There’s not enough focus on how character empathy can be tied into the narrative structure. I’ve made a conscious decision to do this when I made Poppy Blooms. I intentionally kept everything in that building so that the audience would feel as limited as the character was. The best case I can think of where the opposite has been the case and the narrative structure has been hurt by it will be The Mercy, aka, the film where Colin Firth is stuck on a boat. As I said here the film was supposed to be about how isolated he felt, but it kept cutting back to other characters, and had a lot of flashbacks of him interacting with people, as such you never felt as isolated as he did.

This is the opposite, it’s a confusing mess, because the characters are confused. I refuse to believe the confusing nature isn’t intentional, the film-maker is just too talented for that to be the case. I’m basing that off one film, yes, but it is a very good film. Plus, anybody who made this scene is certainly one of the most talented film-makers the world has.

I highly recommend this film, I’m not going to want to watch it again but I’m very glad I watched it. Well, maybe “glad” isn’t the correct word but you know what I mean, if you have shudder (and if you don’t, you should), it’s available on there.

Bloodshot (2020)

I was going to cough on the woman who lives next door the other day, then I remembered that the bible says you shouldn’t COVID your neighbours wife.

There it is, possibly the worst joke I will make all day, maybe. But what does it have to do with this film? Absolutely nothing. So was there any point in me making it? Not really. So why did I do it? I don’t exactly have a word count here, I just go until the review naturally stops. I do know, though, that I don’t want a review to just be a single paragraph as that will be a bit weird. But that might be all I can manage for this review so I have to pad it out somewhat. It’s a difficult review to write. Not for any personal or deeply emotional reason, I just can’t remember much about it. I can’t remember any of the characters names, much of the plot or sequences etc, it left absolutely no impression on me.

I think part of that is due to the advertising, it made it clear that the backstory about his wife being killed was a lie so that he would hunt down and kill people in revenge. This takes A LONG TIME to happen in the film, so for a large portion of the film you don’t pay attention because you know it’s fake. You know that what you’re watching doesn’t matter so you don’t care. A smarter thing to do would have been to either not have that in the advertising, or to change it so it happens much earlier in the film.

Don’t get me wrong, predictable can still be good if it’s done well. If it’s either stylish enough or funny enough so that the predictability doesn’t effect it too much. This doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have enough impressive action set pieces and the ones it does have don’t really work. The best example of this is a scene set in the aftermath of a truck carrying flour crashing. The flour causes the scene to look like snow. It’s being bathed in the light from a red flare so it looks kind of cool. There’s just one small problem: flares are fire, and flour is flammable (trust me on this). This would have been a cool moment if he set fire to the flour and used that, but nope, they just it for a cool visual, and sacrifice realism and logic to do so.

I would mention some of the background characters but with the exception of two characters nobody was given anything to do. There are 3 more enhanced individuals but the enhancements they have are not really given any focus so it’s easy to forget what they are (I think one had robot legs, and one could breathe underwater, a skill which doesn’t really factor into the plot at all, despite it being very easy to do so). Obviously the script thought it was more important to spend all it’s time showing things the audience already knows is false when it would have been a better use of the time to develop the side characters.

So yeah, that’s Bloodshot, and I can’t even be bothered to write a joke about bloodshot eyes through alcohol consumption. I would not recommend this at all, a huge disappointment (well it would have been if I had any expectations of it to begin with) that just leaves you asking questions. Mainly:

  1. Who edited that trailer?
  2. Who thought it would be a good idea to try and start a franchise with a first time director?
  3. Why did they keep his ex alive? They should have known he would attempt to find her and then find out how long ago they split. Actually, why did they use a real person at all? They could have just fabricated one in a false memory like they did everything else. Was it an attempt to get emotion into the film? Why would you attempt to put emotion in a Vin Diesel action film? FFS