After seven years of inactivity, I've decided to start writing some reviews again just to get back into the habit. My daily life of no human contact, no creative outlets, and no real impetus to write anything seems to have destroyed a good amount of my brain. So maybe a little writing, weak though it may be, might help me get back some of the ability I used to have. Or it won't. Either way, maybe it'll give me an excuse to get through the huge backlog of movies I've had sitting around while I mostly just watched YouTube videos instead. So there will be daily movie reviews for at least the month of November as a sort of personal non-NaNoWriMo.
I wasn't sure if Tenet was being overhyped back in the summer, when people stupidly thought watching movies in theaters was something that might happen again soon. People are a bit overabundant in their love for Christopher Nolan, who is a great director, though people tend to love him more for his flawed Batman films than his better works, like Memento, The Prestige, and Inception. I suppose, for its part, Inception (and, similarly, Interstellar) can be over-praised or ignorantly derided, depending on personal biases, to the point that it taints the movie with people's bickering. Nolan isn't a stranger to creating controversy by aiming a bit over his audience's head with no apologies or explanations. That's not to say there isn't goofy, nonsensical parts to Inception or Interstellar or The Prestige, but at least they don't even come close to his packed-to-the-brim-with-illogical-horseshit Batman films.
Tenet, in concept and tone, definitely falls into the category with somewhat difficult masterpieces like Inception and Interstellar, though it feels vastly refined, stays away from any of the stupid pitfalls those movies fall into, and delivers a sci-fi Bond movie better than most sci-fi films and pretty much all Bond films ever have been. As opposed to dealing with the nebulous inner-workings of dream logic and people's subconscious minds or abstracting the vast possibilities and unknowns of space and astral physics, Tenet confines itself to time travel, in much more of a Slaughterhouse-Five sense than a The Time Machine sense. Creating a somewhat-realistic time travel mind-bender isn't that difficult; just go watch Primer and then confusedly look up timelines that chart what was actually happening in the movie. But, in Tenet, Nolan somehow manages to make it both high-concept and understandable. Well, at least mostly. I'm sure the movie bears a few repeat viewings, much more than any of his other films except Memento. Unlike that film's confusing and broken narrative structure, this movie is mostly chronological, yet echoes those moments of Memento by tampering with the very idea of time itself. Instead of people moving forward or backward in time using some device, like you'd expect out of most movies, Tenet gives us a world where the future is at war with the past and objects (and people) can be altered so that they move through time in reverse. Even putting it as simply as that, it's hard to really explain or comprehend and, even within the movie, it doesn't ever feel like your mind totally wraps around the concept so much as you just accept it and come to feel that it's normal by the film's end.
Now, I don't think that I can in any way explain anything about the movie without ruining it in some capacity, not that I'm sure it's even possible to explain meaningfully in a brief synopsis. It has layers to it that need to be seen to really be understood. That said, there are a few moments that feel rushed or are cut in such a way that the movie becomes harder to follow. This is particularly apparent in the movie's conclusion, where the cutting is so fast and the pace is so high that it's hard to follow some of the important details between the cuts. At least three characters are being followed in different locations, time not always moving in the same direction, and it's a lot to take in at the rate Nolan cuts the scenes. Honestly, I would have gladly accepted a longer movie that had a bit more deliberate pacing in that final 15 or 20 minutes. It's around two and a half hours but the film doesn't feel like it has an ounce of fat on it, not leaving you much time to dwell on the details while the movie is in progress.
That said, it's a movie you'll keep thinking about and the actors do a great job with it. I still haven't watched Blackkklansman, but John David Washington is an excellent actor. I've never been overly fond of his father, Denzel Washington, though I've enjoyed many of his movies; Denzel always has a cold aloofness, a lack of inherent personality. Not realizing he's Denzel's son, I decided early on in the film that he is basically Denzel Washington with a genuine personality. It's reductive (but true) to say that John David Washington is Denzel 2.0, vastly improved, streamlined, and much more user-friendly. As someone who's seen too much of Robert Pattinson's not-good, phoned-in acting, it was nice to see what he can really do in this movie and he may have one of the best roles of the film. Also worthy of mention is Kenneth Branaugh, who often gets pegged for unsubtle acting or odd choices, but shows off how great he is in one of the largest roles of the film. It's left to him to make a large amount of the plot believable and I feel like he was completely successful.
I'm not sure if this is a movie you need to be sold on, one way or the other. If you've seen Christopher Nolan's movies, you probably have a good idea of your interest level, particularly in regard to how much you did or didn't enjoy Inception. But, while Inception played at having Bond movie flourishes, particularly in its mind heist, this movie reminds us of the promise of a Bourne Identity era where the possibility of doing Bond (or espionage in general) as a serious, grounded idea seemed possible. Somehow, a time travel mindfuck is more realistic than any Bond film, as much as I love Casino Royale. Tenet is beautiful, it's polished, it's seamless; it maybe just needed another 15 minutes to pace out the end, at least for me.
You'll either see it or you won't. Or maybe you already have in some immutable future you're quickly approaching. I guess we'll find out.
What a load of shit this one is. A couple of good ideas, a bunch of bad ones, and a whole lot of padding gets you this flimsy lark. From the trailer, I assumed they were ripping off Cigarette Burns, John Carpenter's first season episode of the "Masters Of Horror" series. I imagine they think they're getting around the comparison by mentioning both it and The Ring films during the faux documentary portion of the film that bookends the "lost" film, Antrum. They obviously got their inspiration from Cigarette Burns, but they didn't learn its most important lesson: no matter what you show, you can never make a "cursed" film look like something someone would actually believe is cursed. And, instead of even attempting that, they just filmed their own boring little short film and called it a "cursed movie". If Antrum had just been the film and had eschewed the lame documentary portion, it might have passed scrutiny as a somewhat symbolic indie film trying to pull off the feel of a lost film from a specific era, much like Beyond The Black Rainbow managed. I'd be more prone to believe that movie as a cursed film than what these filmmakers ended up with.
So, straight off, you're seeing the bar set far too high with the opening (and closing) documentary segments, explaining the nebulous history of the film, the death of those festival-runners who turned down the film, and the tragedies that befell screenings of the movie. When you follow this by seeing the boring, placid movie, it comes across as absurd. I can't think of any reason a festival-runner would turn down the film, except that it's kind of dull, but that's par for the course with a film festival. Especially if you're claiming the movie came out of the late 70s; in that case, the film could have easily been worthy of viewing during that time period. It goes to great lengths to point out the weirdness of the movie, which really isn't there. I don't think anyone would be scared by the pseudo-subliminal negative scratches and spliced in bits of torture footage (mostly implied, since the movie feels very PG-13). The crux is that a film that kills people or makes people go insane should feature visuals equally unsettling and strange. Not just gore, for that matter. The film did some good work with its dark silent-movie-style demon images, often superimposed slightly into the picture. Strange and incongruous visuals combined with something innocent might be good, but this movie-within-a-movie plays like a horror movie itself. In The Ring, they didn't end up watching clips of some arty foreign horror film on the cursed video tapes; instead, you get strange, metaphorical images and, even then, you're not scared as a viewer. You fully accept that the curse exists within the framework of the movie, but only a fool would paint themselves into the corner of saying the whole movie you're viewing is dangerous and could kill you. That's 1950s Barnumesque B-movie showmanship, but no one's going to walk out of that sort of movie impressed, no matter how much 70s grindhouse film grain you put on your digital video.
As for Antrum itself (or perhaps the sub-Antrum within Antrum), it's a supposedly Eastern European-made but obviously very Southern California-filmed movie of exceptionally short length but very minimal plot about a boy and his older sister who go to a local suicide forest to dig a literal hole to Hell. We find over the course of the movie that perhaps the boy was already infected with evil and, attacked by his beloved golden retriever, was forced to euthanize his pet. His mother tells him that his dog was bad and therefore didn't go to heaven, and he begins to obsess over his dog being in Hell instead, which his sister blames for his constant nightmares. (By the end of the film, we're led to believe that maybe that wasn't true and the nightmares had darker origins than a dead dog's misplaced soul.) His sister fakes a grimoire and rituals, telling her brother they're descending through the levels of hell as they dig a small hole next to their campsite. She plans to plant the dead dog's collar, a symbol to show her brother that they've saved the dog's soul from hell, nearby so that he can find it during their search and let go of his obsession. Instead, her brother starts to unravel and they come across the camp of strange foreign killers who cook their victims inside a metal statue of Baphomet; it's often stated in synopses that they're cannibals, but nothing in the movie really gives that impression. The kids wander around, trying to escape the area and somehow failing. The boy is completely lost in delusions about their descent into hell (Or is he? Dum dum duuuum!) and his sister also starts to crack under the strain. They're kidnapped by the potential cannibals, but manage to escape, the sister shooting both of them. The kids get separated, the sister ends up back at camp, beginning to see the demons her brother has been seeing, and the boy saves a dog from an animal trap, giving him his closure. He arrives back at their camp toting the animal trap and making as much creepy noise as possible and refusing to answer his sister's cries, while his sister huddles in their tent and points a gun at the opening, inevitably going to shoot her brother the moment he opens the flap.
As for the acting, the child is... as children are, kind of annoying. But he's believable, at least. His sister, played by the very pretty Nicole Tompkins, really gets the best of the movie and is the only one that really comes out of it looking good, mostly because she acts the hell out of what little they gave her. The rest of the actors who briefly appear have histrionic performances of varying calibers that mostly aren't worth mentioning.
I feel like there was possibly an idea that could have worked in here somewhere, but they didn't find it. Initially, I thought there was a rifle on the sister's pack and that perhaps the digging and ritual would lead to her shooting her own brother, the hole becoming his grave. That might have been more interesting than the very horror-cliche-standard running around and screaming that followed. There's odd imagery that works at times, but the tryhard film scratches, very lame and cliched spliced-in torture footage, weird distorted sounds and noises, and unnecessary mid-movie villains just make it seem like they really didn't know what they were doing or trying to go for. Shouldn't a cursed film feel more like something that manifested itself and is inscrutable, possibly maddening, to the human mind? Why would it feel like it was scripted, cast, filmed, and edited like every film ever? Maybe without the bad premise and the fucking shitty "The Deadliest Film Ever Made" tagline, it could have survived on its own merits, but that wasn't how they conceived the film. They wanted to explore the idea of a cursed film and a cursed film wasn't the movie they made. They should have just made the faux-retro metaphorical short film and called it a day.
It was dull enough that I stopped watching it, went to bed, and finished it the next day. It's shocking how little of interest makes it into the movie and the attempts to make it seem spooky made me audibly groan. As a film, it's boring and mediocre, but as a film with a larger, unsuccessfully grandiose concept and framing device, it's even less than that.
You think writing a month's worth of movie reviews isn't going to be that hard. You'll watch some films; you'll write about them. Of course, you forget how hard it can be when you force it and don't have much to say about a given movie. And you really forget how, sometimes, you walk away from a movie barely remembering what you just watched, much less having an opinion about it.
The Outsider isn't the most boring movie I've watched this month. It's not too long. It's not too bland. It's not too anything at all. And, yet, I walked away feeling like I'd barely watched it in the first place. Not to say anything about it is bad, really. It's got an Academy Award-winning director helming it. It's got a cast of pretty good actors. The story initially starts out intriguing, before sort of petering out into all the cliches you usually see around a yakuza movie. But there was no plot points that made me angry, that made me tune out, that left me wanting. There's just something about it that feels a little hollow.
I often get that feeling from yakuza crime films, but that's usually because they're Japanese-made and I don't usually find many Japanese films to be worthwhile. This is a more Western take on the yakuza film, but it somehow ends up feeling the same. Jared Leto is in prison in 1950s Japan, where he saves the life of a yakuza gangster. Once he's out, he's given work and slowly becomes intertwined into the family, leading to its destruction and dissolution. He finds meaning in a forbidden relationship that leads to violence and tragedy. I'm sure the appearance of kabuki theater is not just an aesthetic touch and there's some connection to Japanese tragedies here. But all that is beyond my scope.
While the pace, like Leto's character, is slow, quiet, and methodical, with a few bursts of violence (kind of like a Refn film), I wouldn't say that it ever lost my attention. It's got a style that harkens back to the time period nicely. It's got all the components that should make it a good watch. Maybe the script just isn't quite interesting enough, but it never quite gets there. Maybe if the vengeance of the third act wasn't quite so hollow and muted. It felt realistic, but maybe some bombast would have gotten my attention. It's true to what it is, but maybe that isn't enough for me. But it looks good, it feels real, and it does what it needs to do. I'm just not sure why that doesn't really resonate with me. I guess I'm left feeling like the real outsider here.
Alpha is an exceptionally middle-of-the-road film. Effort and craft was obviously put into it by many people and, yet, it barely registers in one way or another. At least it's more or less family fare and my child was interested to see after I explained the theoretical origins of the human/dog relationship (and, hence, their horrifying inbred devolution into modern day monstrosities).
The movie centers around Keda, a spindly, dewy-eyed teen living at the end of the last ice age. He is finally becoming a man and is taken on his first hunt, during the rare period in the year where the snows melt and animals gather. After trekking what seems like about 50 to 100 miles to hunt a relatively small number of what looks like bison or oxen, despite the fact that not living near a reasonable food source is idiotic and basically a death sentence for these people, the meager handful of hunter that they brought sneak up on the herd and stampede them off a cliff. They didn't bring enough people to bring back nearly any of the bovine massacre at the bottom of the cliff, but they mostly ignore that, as one of the angry animals decides to run down Keda, who pulls a Charlize Theron in Prometheus and tries to run away from the charging animal in a straight line, in the direction it was already going. (If this is what they're teaching, perhaps it's best if his tribe dies out.) The creature makes a second charge and him and, against all logic, decides it's going to kamikaze its way off of the cliff with Keda hung on its horn. He manages to get a handhold, but the cliff face is unnaturally smooth and sheer, like it had been created in a computer instead of erosion. He falls, bounces off a few ledges, and comes to rest a short way down the cliff. He doesn't awaken and, being unreachable and unresponsive, he's left for dead by the tribes, who assumedly take their meat and go home to await the fast-approaching winter.
After the vultures finally come to start on his body, he awakes to find himself in a precarious situation. He tries to climb down, only to get stuck, hanging by his hands with nowhere to go. Obviously, he would have lost his grip within minutes and fell to his death. Instead, he holds on for what seems like hours, until a torrential downpour and flash flood arrive. By the time he loses his grip, the canyon below is a raging river that carries him away and deposits him on a muddy bank.Alive, far from home, and with a broken ankle, foot, or some such part, he splints himself up with unnatural efficiency and starts heading for home, with no spears, no food, and only the knife on his belt.
He moves as quickly as he can, sleeping in trees to avoid animal attacks. We've already seen the wild life in early scenes: saber-toothed tigers, hyenas, and packs of wolves. Before the hunt, his father had explained the pack mentality of wolves, the fact that their leader is the "Alpha", whose leadership and strength of will allows him to control the pack. Apparently his father is very tied into horseshit 20th century theories about wolves not actually based in reality or science at all. It's also supposed to be an allegory for leadership of the tribe, but both are exceptionally poor and pseudoscientific. Nevertheless, the wolves catch up with his hobbling and he's forced to climb another tree. One wolf manages to grab his leg and he quickly stabs it before scrambling into the branches. The other wolves wait at the tree, check on their fallen pack member, and then leave.
The rest of what you're left with is the too-soft-hearted boy deciding to leave the wolf alive, then to take it with him to a nearby cave, where they both spend time healing as winter approaches. They develop a bond, because the movie is ultimately about the mythological bonding of men and wolves to create a symbiotic relationship. The wolf, who Keda lamely names Alpha, eventually comes to like and rely on the boy, they heal, they travel, they work together, and spend what feels like another several months to get back to Keda's village, somewhere a million miles away, where they can't hunt for meat apparently.
The allegories are weak, the premise is thin and unimpressive, the plot sometimes doesn't make sense (if you can tell me why the fuck that ice lake scene happens about two thirds of the way through the film, I'd really like to know), but it's not going to detract much from the boy-meets-dog nature of the film. It doesn't look bad, the acting is fine, the writing is sub-par, but the choice to do all the dialogue in a created language based on proto-languages of the region was a nice touch. More troublesome to have to read subtitles to a child every once in a while, but it made the movie feel a bit more "real" to not have modern English pouring out of some caveman's mouth.
It is undoubtedly not how relations between wolves and men commenced, but it's an easy, inoffensive watch.