Film reviews 92: “Avengers: Infinity War”, “Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom”, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, “Chinese Puzzle”, “Ibiza”, “Mystic Pizza”, “Goat”, “The Cloverfield Paradox” and 23 others…

This month: “L’Amant double”, “Annihilation, “Avengers: Infinity War”, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, “Brad’s Status”, “Chinese Puzzle”, “The Cloverfield Paradox”, “Cutter’s Way, “The Do-Over”, “Eighth Grade”, “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn”, “45 Years” (pictured above), “5×2”, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”, “Goat”, “Hanna”, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, “Hereditary”, “Ibiza”, “Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom”, “Lisbon Story”, “Mute”, “Mystic Pizza”, “Same Old Song”, “Sitcom”, “Swimming Pool”, “Trouble Every Day”, “Under the Sand”, “Vendredi soir”, “Water Drops on Burning Rocks” and “With a Friend Like Harry”.


L’Amant double
(2017) – 7/10

Director: François Ozon
Writers: François Ozon, Philippe Piazzo, Joyce Carol Oates (short story)
Starring: Marine Vacth, Jérémie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset
“Isn’t your therapy based on exploring my repressed desire?”

I wrote an Ozon feature which can be read here.


Annihilation
(2018) – 3/10 for first half, 6/10 for middle, 8/10 for ending

Director: Alex Garland
Writers: Alex Garland, Jeff VanderMeer (novel)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

I’m not saying that you should skip the first half, but everything – the tension, the themes, and especially the music – vastly improves once Annihilation forgets about the background stories and delves into mankind’s relationship with nature. Or rather, nature’s relationship with mankind.

The culminating 2001-ish sequence is exhilarating in the moment, of course, but it’s a perversely positive spin on body horror that really stuck with me. When Oscar Isaac cuts his body open to reveal [spoiler], it would usually be the sight of [spoiler] that causes gasps; instead, it’s the gigantic smile on him and his buddies. One day, that will be me, a complete monster, grinning because I have turned into a tree, and all that can stop me is Paramount and Netflix refusing to let me be seen in cinemas outside of North America.


Avengers: Infinity War
(2018) – 3/10

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Josh Brolin

It’s as if someone, perhaps two siblings, made an admittedly efficient compilation of all the worst bits of the MCU movies. It simultaneously feels like an exhausting three-movie marathon, yet also an incomplete story – part two is still to come. Without Thor and the Guardians, it would have felt like five hours. Perhaps someone should’ve snapped their fingers and sliced the whole thing in half.


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
(2017) – 7/10

Director: Ang Lee
Writers: Jean-Christophe Castelli, Ben Fountain (novel)
Starring: Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin

The 120 FPS technology is too soon in its infancy, and the satire is too dated to have much of an effect. But as a distinctly acted, smartly scripted war movie, Billy Lynn’s deserves better than its maligned reputation. Hedlund should get an acting award for Best Supporting Actor In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.


Brad’s Status
(2018) – 4/10

Director/Writer: Mike White
Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen

30% film, 70% voiceover. I saw Greenberg on 35mm the other week. Brad’s Status is no Greenberg.


Chinese Puzzle
(2013) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Cédric Klapisch
Starring: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile de France, Kelly Reilly
“I came to New York to be near my kids, who I had with a Brit, who I lived with for 10 years, who moved here to be with an American. I had a baby with two lesbians. I married a Chinese woman to become an American. And life’s not complicated?”

I’m out here on my own as a fan of Chinese Puzzle, essentially the Before Midnight entry of Klapisch’s trilogy. Once again, Xavier (Duris) reunites with his old pals, except now he’s older, wiser and a novelist; the drama is sweeter, the comedy is funnier, and the chemistry – unlike in Russian Dolls – is believable. The melting pot of nationalities is, as a filmic theme, integrated with screwball poignancy, and the family element (though he forgets how many children he has) enters emotional territory that the flippant romances could never touch. The only sequel that’s an improvement?


The Cloverfield Paradox
(2018) – 3/10

Director: Julius Onah
Writers: Oren Uziel (screenplay, story), Doug Jung (story)
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, David Oyelewo, Chris O’Dowd, Zhang Ziyi, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

I feel bad for Uziel, whose God’s Particle script wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but the hoops he jumps through to join the Cloverfield universe culminates in a script seemingly made on a dare – a suspicion confirmed by O’Dowd’s hand ripping off.


Cutter’s Way
(1981) – 9/10

Director: Ivan Passer
Writers: Jeffrey Alan Fiskin, Newton Thornburg (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn, Ann Dusenberry
“Sometimes when I wake up alone at night and I can’t sleep, I have to go and look and see if I’m still here. I just stand there looking.”

This film inspired me to write my own “sun noir” – a term invented by Richard Linklater, I think, for Cutter’s Way and Chinatown, both American movies directed by Europeans.


The Do-Over
(2016) – 3.5/10

Director: Steven Brill
Writers: Kevin Barnett, Chris Pappas
Starring: Adam Sandler, David Spade

When Sandler pulls out a pistol, shows off a tattoo and proves to be a proficient action hero, you start to wonder if this is the product of a fever dream. How else can you explain the mid-film revelation that the McGuffin is the cure of Sandler’s literal cancer?


Eighth Grade
(2018) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Fred Hechinger

It’s a sequel to Kicking and Screaming. Wrote about it here.


An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn
– 2.5/10

Director: Jim Hosking
Writers: Jim Hosking, David Wike
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Jermaine Clement, Emile Hirsch, Maria Bamford, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson

If you weren’t a fan of The Greasy Strangler, then stay very far away. In one sense, I admired Hosking doubling down on his comedy voice – weird for the sake of being weird – but I left empathising with people don’t get Yorgos Lanthimos.


5×2
(2004) – 7/10

Director: François Ozon
Writers: Emmanuèl Bernheim, François Ozon
Starring: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi Stéphane Freiss

Rewatched it for my Ozon feature which can be read here.


45 Years
(2015) – 7/10

Director: Andrew Haigh
Writers: Andrew Haigh, David Constantine (short story)
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
“It’s hardly the sort of thing you tell your beautiful new girlfriend.”

Not your traditional ghost story – for ghost stories imply fun, jumpy scares, or the exciting possibility that there is a life beyond death. In 45 Years, a couple come to terms with a one-sided Sliding Doors scenario, as Rampling learns – or at least theorises – she was, in a way, the backup for her husband’s fiancée who met an icy death.

The relevant horror trope, then, is the baddie who won’t die; the villain who springs to life against the odds, to be stopped temporarily, only to return at a later date. Except there are no baddies or villains, just other people trying to live the same lives as everyone else. No one is alone – and that’s the frightening thing.


A Futile and Stupid Gesture
(2018) – 3.5/10

Director: David Wain
Writers: Josh Aboud, Michael Colton, Josh Karp (book)
Starring: Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson, Martin Mull, Joel McHale, Emmy Rossum

Doug Kenney, one of the founders of National Lampoon, was a comedic rebel, a counterculture icon who firmly stood with the latter in the snobs-vs-slobs debate. So how would he feel, beyond the grave, watching a biopic that too often opts for a sappy, bland approach? Quite well, apparently, given Mull’s appearance as “modern Doug”, the only innovation in this straight-to-Netflix snoozefest.


Goat
– 5/10

Director: Andrew Neel
Writers: David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel, Mike Roberts, Brad Land (memoir)
Starring: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, Virginia Gardner, Austin Lyon, James Franco
“Class of 2000, craziest motherfucker to have graduated.”

Somewhere between a traditional horror and Dazed and Confused, Neel’s campus drama slightly fumbles a rich premise, but is often a gripping showcase for its cast, all too believable as macho jerks. A lot has changed since the 70s of Everybody Wants Some!!. Everybody stills wants some; they’re just willing to put up with a lot more shit.

Brad (Schnetzer, excellent) is one of many freshmen whose path to a fraternity involves vomit, piss and at one point a goat. When the hazing seems to be over, the mud-stained saps are told to set the alarm clock. Even then, there’s no guarantee of acceptance. Each agonising second is felt, and the accumulation is undoubtedly the film’s strength, as there’s anxiety during downtown that more torture is just around the corner.

I would say it’s unclear what their motivations are. But that’s not true. The script, originally by DGG, is the major weak point, often unnaturally shoehorning lines like (I’m paraphrasing this): “I have to go through the rigmarole you’ve just been watching for 30 minutes because I get to have sex and stuff.” Even so, it’s still murky. Sure, that’s the point, but it’s not executed gracefully.

Similarly, the potential masterstroke of Brad’s trauma, is overdone. Assaulted by strangers the previous summer, Brad is more affected by those scars, and the hazing is extra pummelling that’s nothing in comparison. He stares at a cracked reflection, repeatedly, and it’s all a bit too much. Still, there’s plenty of potential in Neel’s debut and its excellent cast – especially Franco, in the McConaughey “alright, alright, alright” role, whose intimidating energy blurs truth and fiction around a young ensemble.


Hanna
(2011) – 5/10

Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Seth Lochead, David Farr
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett

Saw it for the first time on 35mm. The action sequences (scored by the Chemical Brothers) are particularly electric (again, they’re scored by the Chemical Brothers), but the rest is as mind-numbing as The Darkest Hour (I did not see The Darkest Hour – I’m just guessing).


Hedwig and the Angry Inch
(2001) – 7.5/10

Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Writers: John Cameron Mitchell, Stephen Trask
Starring: Michael Pitt, John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Andrea Martin, Stephen Trask

I watched it to prepare for my interview with John. It rocks.


Hereditary
(2018) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne

My interview with Aster is here.


Ibiza
(2018) – 3/10

Director: Alex Richanbach
Writer: Lauryn Kahn
Starring: Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer, Phoebe Robinson

The most Netflix-y film imaginable. Visuals designed for your mobile app, a plot that barely challenges whatever else you’re doing at the same time, and a cast who deserve better than blacklight humour. The entire film is constructed so that individual lines can be converted into GIFs. Perfect if you’re a former Buzzfeed writer now employed to run the Netflix Twitter account.


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
(2018) – 5/10

Director: J.A. Bayona
Writers: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Isabella Sermon, Daniella Pineda, Jeff Goldblum for 30 seconds
“Sorry, I’ll be directing Star Wars IX instead. But by any chance did you see The Impossible?

The first half is 2/10, the second half is 6/10, the twist is 10/10. The cliffhanger, too, has me excited for Jurassic Park 6, even if it’ll be written and directed by Trevorrow. If you can walk in 40 minutes late, you’ll find that this Jurassic sequel, after its midpoint, attempts something new with its Spielberg DNA: featherless dinosaurs go rampant in a facility lab and a gothic-y house. It’s as if the by-the-numbers opening act – running away from dinosaurs on the island – serves as fodder purely for a trailer or contractual agreement, and that this whole torturous exercise was for a 30-minute domestic dino-horror from the director of The Orphanage.


Lisbon Story
(1994) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Wim Wenders
Starring: Rüdiger Vogler, Patrick Bauchau, Teresa Salgueiro
“Pointing a camera is like pointing a gun.”

Legend (the Wikipedia page) has it that Wenders was asked to shoot a documentary about Lisbon and instead produced this semi-sequel to The State of Things. Gone is Bobby Mueller’s roaming black-and-white cinematography, and here is Liza Rinzler’s more plaintive, poetic take on the city. As such, the film is more about the Portuguese atmosphere, and Vogler plays a soundman exploring the local noise.

There isn’t much more to it than that. Though there’s a slight detour in the plot, it’s nothing like the bizarre turn in The State of Things, and it’s more a mood piece about capturing what Bauchau will later refer to as real cinema. It sounds dull, and a lot of it is, but the staying power of Salgueiro’s voice, the warm blues of the wallpaper and his playful interaction with the kids is undeniable.


Mute
(2018) – 3/10

Director/Writer: Duncan Jones
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux

We need to give Jones some credit here. A hard-boiled noir with a non-speaking detective is, in itself, a gutsy move, let alone the fact that it’s set in a futuristic version of Berlin (if it’s been taken over by a Secret Cinema screening of Blade Runner). But the bravest folk here are the executives who funded this nonsensical, often insensitive calamity, presumably with minimal interference – surely even Theroux would have said, “My character is a what? And there’s no justification for it?”


Mystic Pizza
(1998) – 7/10

Director: Donald Petrie
Writers: Amy Holden Jones, Perry Howze, Randy Howze, Alfred Uhry
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish, Vincent D’Onofrio
“Wipe your conscience.”

Toss in a murder and it could be a cult movie like Heathers. It’s already got the one-liners: “Babysitting for the babysitter? I think I’m going to puke.” It could play the PCC with “Eat-pizza-along” screenings, where you cry and pour bottled water over yourself and realise how much better this is than Gilmour Girls. Also, that’s where I saw it, on 35mm.


Same Old Song
(1997) – 8.5/10

Original title: On connaît la chanson
Director: Alain Resnais
Writers: Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri
Starring: Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Sabine Azéma, Lambert Wilson, Pierre Arditi, Henri Christiné, Bruno Fontaine

Saw it on a 35mm print with a Lambert Wilson and Sabine Azéma Q&A.


Sitcom
(1998) – 7/10

Director/Writer: François Ozon
Starring: Évelyne Dandry, François Marthouret
“You think it’s normal your son left school to have in-house orgies?”

Rewatched it for my Ozon feature which can be read here.


Swimming Pool
(2003) – 8/10

Director: François Ozon
Writers: Emmanuèle Bernheim, François Ozon
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance

Rewatched it for my Ozon feature which can be read here.


Trouble Every Day
(2001) – 8/10

Director: Claire Denis
Writers: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Béatrice Dalle, Alex Descas

Rewatched it to prepare for my Claire Denis interview, which can be read here.


Under the Sand
(2000) – 7/10

Original title: Sous le sable
Director: François Ozon
Writers: Emmanuèl Bernheim, François Ozon
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Cremer

Rewatched it for my Ozon feature which can be read here.


Vendredi soir
(2002) – 8.5/10

Director: Claire Denis
Writers: Claire Denis, Emmanuèle Bernheim
Starring: Valérie Lemercier, Vincent London

Rewatched it to prepare for my Claire Denis interview, which can be read here.


Water Drops on Burning Rocks
(2000) – 7/10

Original title: Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brûlantes
Director: François Ozon
Writers: François Ozon, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (play)
Starring: Bernard Giraudeau, Malik Zidi, Ludivine Sagnier, Anna Levine
“This is Vera, an old friend. I mean, a former buddy who cut his dick off in Casablanca.”

Rewatched it for my Ozon feature which can be read here.


With a Friend Like Harry
(2000) – 4/10

Original title: Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien
Director: Dominik Moll
Writers: Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand
Starring: Laurent Lucas, Sergi López, Mathilde Seigner
“With a chill. He could kill.”

Worse than a standard “bad” film as, for nearly an hour, it seems to be going somewhere, when actually it – like the character of Harry – is a massive deception. I’m being vague and not really offering anything; I’m just working with what I’ve been given.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.  Unfollow @halfacanyon for less.

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. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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