Film reviews 88: “Baby Driver”, “After the Storm”, “Colossal”, “It Comes at Night”, “Snowpiercer”, and 9 others…

This month: “After the Storm”, “Baby Driver”, “Barking Dogs Never Bite”, “Berlin Syndrome”, “Bushwick”, “La Cérémonie” (pictured above), “Colossal”, “Gifted”, “It Comes at Night”, “Marjorie Prime”, “Mother”, “Okja”, “Snowpiercer” and “Wilson”.

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After the Storm
(2017) – 8/10

Original title: Umi yori mo Mada Fukaku
Director/Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Yoko Maki
“I’ve never loved anyone deeper than the sea.”

Koreeda’s wonderful new movie is in many ways a spiritual sequel to Still Walking. Abe and Maki once again depict son and mother, although this time it’s the former’s story: the lanky actor plays Ryota, a towering failure who literally has trouble squeezing into certain rooms. He is, among many things, a failed novelist, a crooked private detective and a compulsive gambler. An absent father, though, is one role he’s desperate to prevent, and the 23rd typhoon of the year offers a reunion of sorts with his ex-wife and son.

As with Koreeda’s past films, a sympathetic humanity drives the story (or lack of story) which means viewers and family members alike want Ryota to succeed. Given the director’s typically patient storytelling, it’s like watching someone make poor decisions in slow motion, and his mother – a bravura performance from Maki – knows that mentioning her own impeding death will be a wake-up call for her son.

Each subtle detail, then, feels inviting and special, and the gentle touches (the plaintive musical cues, for instance) don’t overshadow the drama. As such, the storm itself offers a cleansing quality that ultimately doesn’t wash anything away. Everything looks different but is still the same. What’s left is Ryoko’s insistence that a lottery ticket isn’t gambling, but purchasing a dream; with that kind of optimism, even losers can weather their own downfall.


Baby Driver
(2017) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jamie Foxx
“Still has a hum in the drum.”

Baby has the right idea: plug in some earphones and hope the music drowns out the dialogue. Seriously, only two of the jokes work, and one of those is a quotation from another movie. Still, Baby Driver is an action film, stacked with a few entertaining car set-pieces that cut to various songs and plodding plot beats. So the dining room conversations are supposed to be stilted. Right?

What particularly grates is how each gag needs to be spelled out. A Michael Myers punchline works visually, and those around me in the cinema laughed, but then it’s verbally explained – why? Similarly, a really tiresome analysis of Beck’s “Debra” is followed by a performance of the lyrics, and then the actual song itself.

Well, anyway, it’s a shame that a director with a spotless filmography (they all get better and better upon rewatch) has faltered with an original mid-budget movie in a summer when originality is desperately needed. The concept is, to an extent, new, but it’s not enough to carry the film. To be honest, it gets annoying by the third verse of “Bellbottoms”.

No doubt Edgar poured his heart into the film’s writing and execution, but the genre touches are a tad too safe. Perhaps he’s still hurt over the box office failure that met Scott Pilgrim, a film that was esoteric, brilliant and unmarketable. Baby Driver, on the other hand, is simple and direct, delivering girls, guns and gears. That’s how the business works, I guess.


Barking Dogs Never Bite
(2000) – 6.5/10

Director: Bong Joon Ho
Writers: Bong Joon Ho, Song Ji-ho, Derek Son Tae-woong
Starring: Lee Sung-jae, Bar Doon

Chaotic chase sequences, delightful diversions, and a sinister sense of humour. It’s all there in Joon Ho’s doc-centric debut, a sprawling tale of pet-icide and slacker detectives. The director’s skills aren’t fully realised yet: too many lulls occur and the characters are a bit sketchy. Still, it’ll make for a decent double bill with Okja or any home videos about kidnapping noisy neighbours.


Berlin Syndrome
(2017) – 5.5/10

Director: Cate Shortland
Writers: Shaun Grant, Melanie Josten (novel)
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt

Anyone who works at home alone will question the speed at which Clare (Palmer), a kidnapped tourist, starts to forgive Andi (Riemelt) when he departs for a few days. Clare, a journalist with no backstory, finds herself locked inside Andi’s Berlin apartment when the handsome stranger can’t settle for just a one-night stand.

From there, not much happens, considering the running time spans nearly two hours. Aside from five minutes of the aforementioned “Stockholm/Berlin Syndrome”, the psychological aspect is downplayed; meanwhile, the mechanics of such a horrific crime are ignored for atmospheric repetition. If the door’s not locked, it’s the kind of film you could walk outside for a 30-minute break and not miss a thing.


Bushwick
(2017) – 4.5/10

Directors: Cary Murnion, Jonathan Milott
Writers: Nick Damici, Graham Reznick
Starring: Brittany Snow, Dave Bautista
“What if I want to get married?”

Like watching someone play a videogame that happens to be soundtracked by Aesop Rock.


La Cérémonie
(1995) – 8/10

Director: Claude Chabrol
Writers: Claude Chabrol, Caroline Eliacheff
Starring: Sandrine Bonnaire, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Jacqueline Bisset, Virginie Ledoyen
“The fire was criminal, but the criminal runs free.”

Fire Walks With Me opens with an exploding TV, and Chabrol does a similar hit job with how Bonnaire and Huppert are drawn to trash shows on the box. Saying more would be a spoiler (everything else written about this chilling, gripping thriller gives away the ending). Go see it!


Colossal
(2017) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson

Anne Hathaway is a monster. Really. In Colossal, the former Oscar host does her best as Gloria, an unemployed drunk whose movements under specific circumstances are paralleled with a dinosaur in Seoul. Similarly, Jason Sudeikis, as Oscar the grouch, discovers his own Korean avatar, except his is a robot. This amusing conceit lasts for 30 minutes before it dissolves into petty disputes and killing off strangers to make a point. Why the sci-fi aspect if it’s a dull non-relationship comedy? Another neat hook goes to waste. Add this to Vigalondo’s list of “timecrimes”.


Gifted
(2017) – 3.14159265 3589793/10

Director: Marc Webb
Writer: Tom Flynn
Starring: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Lindsay Duncan

A sappy family-drama that calculates its emotional beats to a fault. It tries – and fails – to endear us not only to maths, but to people who care about maths, and also people who care that people care about maths. (And also people who care about maths but also care that their child – who cares about maths – should care about maths but in a school that does not care about maths, even though their mother – who does care about maths – is insistent that the child should care about maths in an environment with others who care about maths.) Did people really fall in love on this film set? If so, that chemistry did not make it to screen.


It Comes at Night
(2017) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Riley Keough

A virus has wiped out more than just your hard drive. Civilisation is depleted except for a handful of people, each trying to survive on scraps while avoiding this mysterious disease. Shults’ unexpected follow-up to Krisha isn’t about solving these mysteries. It is, in fact, concerned with a very human storyline: how far does one go to protect their own?

Some reviews have applauded its apolitical nature. Which is weird: why is that a positive? And how can you not see the 21st century problems reflected back on screen? Anyway, I’m rambling because it’s best not to give anything away. Go see it!


Marjorie Prime
(2017) – 3/10

Director: Michael Almereyda
Writer: Michael Almereyda, Jordan Harrison (play)
Starring: Tim Robbins, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, Jon Hamm
“The future will be here soon, so will might as well be friendly with it.”

Gah, I hated this film so much! I was kinda surprised to learn that it’s based on play as I assumed it was just a rejected episode of Black Mirror. (There’s even Jon Hamm looking at a snowglobe.) But the clues are there: too much dialogue in a confined space that runs down its idea in the dullest way possible. Someone really should have pulled the plug.


Mother
(2009) – 7.5/10

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Park Eun-kyo
Starring: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin
“How could a 5-year-old remember that?”

With overlapping shots and casting, it’s hard during Mother to not recall Joon-ho’s earlier murder mystery, Memories of Murder – although that’s a high watermark, not a criticism. Kim Hye-ja plays the resolute parent of the title who doubles as an amateur detective rescuing her mentally delinquent son from murder charges. “I know he’s innocent,” she insists. For the police, though, sticking on handcuffs simply saves time.

What drives the thriller along is the mother’s tough unconditional love. With Joon-ho’s natural gift for visuals, she’s often a dot in an expansive South Korean valley, where town folk’s journeys easily go undetected. Elsewhere, she marches through the rain – no umbrella necessary – to take on the single, near-impossible task on her hands. And when she clutches onto an insignificant piece of evidence, wearing a glove just in case, the image is doubly heartbreaking for the lack of sympathy she receives.

The film’s slight weakness is at first a strength. The musical opening, a Twin Peaks-esque dance in the hills, is ghostly and beautiful, yet utterly baffling, setting up a story that’s as much about a parent whose actions are irrationally informed by her maternal instincts. Her investigation is a ballet among mistrustful locals and lazy policemen. But the strange twists, first poetic, are too much when her solo adventure feels constructed for a big finish. It’s still a fine film; it just didn’t grow up into what I was hoping. I blame the parents.


Okja
(2017) – 8/10

Director: Bong Joon  Ho
Writers: Bong Joon Ho, Jon Ronson
Starring: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Jake Gyllenhaal

Here’s my interview with Bong Joon Ho.


Snowpiercer
(2014) – 7/10

Director: Bong Joon Ho
Writers: Bong Joon Ho, Kelly Masterson, Jacques Lob (novel), Benjamin Legrand (novel), Jean-Marc Rochette (novel)
Starring: Chris Evans, Kang Ho Song, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton
“Wilford!”

To be honest, we probably are overdue an ice age. Joon Ho’s dystopian thriller imagines the last surviving humans on a never-ending train, a sort of horizontal High-Rise, with carriages separating upper and lower classes. In the poorest end are the third class passengers/prisoners, including Evans and Bell, left with scraps (black protein bars) for survival.

Rather than real life where you can just walk up to the First Class section and take a comfy seat without anyone really caring, the future has wised up: making your way down the corridor is rather like the hammer scene from Oldboy, but with a political allegory which, also like Oldboy, is hammered home repeatedly – it’s interesting stuff, though, especially how a revolution only serves to maintain the political imbalance. The episodic adventure is more hit than miss, which allows for some memorably grotesque touches, especially Swinton’s Thatcher impersonation.


Wilson
(2017) – 5/10

Director: Craig Johnson
Writer: Daniel Clowes
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara
“You don’t know shit about shit.”

It ain’t Ghost World, because what is? Still, the character of Wilson feels like too much of a caricature. There are brief moments of humanity – his overreaction to discovering he has a daughter, for instance – but these scenes are merely grains of sand on a beach of lame gags about a surly grump. Also, Laura Dern is miscast here. I thought she could do anything – I was wrong!

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About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Feeling pullovered apart by clothes horses. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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