In our latest Quickfire Reviews segment, Lee and Darren discuss some of the films they’ve watched this August: Fant4Stic, Chef, 50 Shades Darker, Dune, Frau Im Mond and Mulholland Drive.
I enjoy bad movies, something about them just calls to me. One of my go-to movies for pure enjoyment is RoboCop 3, so perhaps I shouldn’t be allowed to write film reviews. Regardless, 2015’s Fantastic Four was a quietly panned superhero movie that was lost in the wealth of ‘good’ superhero movies. Are they wrong?
This is what I like to call a ‘millennial movie’. Its focus is on being broadly anti-authoritarian, with tropes such as found family, outcast types and disappointing family members. Add to this attempts to be as diverse as possible plus barely competent heroes who muddle through and find that they can at least survive what previous generations have messed up and we have a film that isn’t a revelation by any stretch of the imagination. Each teen-focused movie has its own tropes per generation but I think that this generation has its own nuances that haven’t been seen outside of the last five years; see Power Rangers for another example of these same tropes.
So as this movie goes, it isn’t as bad as reviews said at the time. The first hour is actually pretty solid, though the character interactions need some work. It falls down in the last third, feeling rushed, lazy and with an action scene that comes out of left field. It’s a shame because historically the one thing Fantastic Four has always had going for it was a great villain, Victor Von Doom, but in this he actually muddies the message of the tone by being both correct about his anti-government stance and yet favoured by the end as a straight-forward, to the letter comic villain playing his villain role.
From the point in which the characters gain their powers (again like Power Rangers) the film falls flat. Maybe it would have worked better as a TV show; the idea of a young team of heroes finding their footing and running from a government that wants to use them as military firepower against its enemies is engaging enough without having to add much else. It would have captured the upcoming zeitgeist if nothing else.
Jon Favreau is one of those secretly talented directors that hides within the summer blockbuster crowd. With audience pleasers like the first two Iron Man movies under his belt but never quite hitting all the right notes with his critics, it was a surprise to see him off the third outing, citing ‘creative differences’.
So Chef becomes an autobiographical movie, the favourite of authors everywhere, a meta-movie that hides what it means behind a thin veneer. Following the life of ‘El Jefe’, a top chef who after getting a bad review, blows up at his critics and eventually sees himself getting fired, he must relearn why he loves cooking in the first place by going indie and getting a food truck all the while trying to patch up his tenuous relationship with his son.
While not a perfect movie by any stretch, the meta-ness and real joy of its source material makes it a delight to watch. There is a real heart to this, easily reminding everyone why they fell in love with movies, or food as the case may be.
With an all-star cast more for cameo purposes than plot purposes, it focuses more on both the relationship with jefe and his son, and the relationship entertainers have with their audiences and critics.
And that is where it really works, this question of what the ‘chef’ owes their audience? Can they cook artistically or purely for the masses?
The movie doesn’t know but it asks, and that’s more than most.
When someone asked Hitchcock what three things were needed to make a good movie he apparently replied “a good script, a good script, a good script”. 50 Shades Darker is an adaption of a book, itself fan fiction of another book, so I suppose the further from the source material the better, right?
Right off the bat I am going to confess to two things:
- I have read all of the books
- The first movie is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me
The books are terribly written, clunky and unsexy works of fiction that are widely lambasted by the BDSM community (apparently) and speaks right to that central demographic of depressed white middle-class housewives that it was undoubtedly aimed for and written by.
The first movie in the series captured this in a breakneck pace movie that was as faithful a movie could be without being an audiobook. So why did I like it? Because it is so gosh-darn funny. With speedy line deliver, deadpan acting and beat-by-beat awkward scenes that seem completely unintentional juxtaposed against the actual intentional awkwardness, 50 Shades was a laugh a minute.
So I settled in for this one hoping for more of the same, but in truth I think this is a lot more insidious a movie. Cinema has often been criticised as anti-women and with the propensity of the male gaze in movies it’s hard not to see why. Then when a movie is made ostensibly for women and their own sexual needs, it’s a strange choice to give it to a man. There are attempts made to control the male gaze but it always drifts back, putting Ana as the sexual object instead of the sexual subject. And even when she is the subject (in one brief power role reversal) the shot is still dominated by her ‘becoming’ a man, not really being physically able to enjoy the act but the power that comes with it.
Compared to something like the complex, tender and manipulative sex scenes in, say, Patty Jenkin’s Monster, you have a shallow and confused ‘sex’ flick that seems to miss its key demographic.
A later problem also comes in the form of watering down the script to make it more palatable for mainstream audiences; something, somehow, the book does much better. From here, spoilers.
Christian has been abused as a child. He was the victim (albeit willingly) of a child abuser. She takes advantage of his fragile emotional teenage years to coerce him into sex and ‘converts’ him into the BDSM lifestyle. She is sexually dangerous to him and uses this power throughout the book. In the movie however, they somehow brush over that this was child abuse. Ana never calls her out for this and most of their interactions can be summed up as jealousy and feeling a lack to give Christian what he wants, again making a man the central figure in this story, instead of defending him against a manipulative abuser.
Accidentally this should perhaps be a movie that is looked at under more critical or academic light. It unknowingly brings up real issues in the modern culture and in film, about the sexualisation and objectification of women, their lack of agency, and lack of power.
Beleaguered by fans and critics alike, one is often advised when discussing David Lynch’s Dune to do two things: don’t watch it and read the book of which it is based. But is it not the essence of surrealism to submit thyself to challenging perspectives of material and the world you live in? To automate your thought-process and expectations, and to accept the warped outcome as something closer to the world’s truest essence?
And so, here comes a tentative prompt to watch Dune without any introduction to the world it’s based on, as it truly does offer an interesting insight into what expanded universe blockbusters must sound like to a child, learning yet to develop their grasp on their given language.
Dream-like, eerie, gross, spectacular, bizarre and abysmally long, beneath it all there does seem to be a disconnect, as the actual story seems shocking straightforward and artificially stretched with nonsense lingo rather than nonsense content, but it doesn’t make the ride any less fun – at least as a one-off.
If for nothing else, the experience was unforgettable.
Fritz Lang is, unfortunately, best known to film critics and historians; those pretentious twits who I sometimes claim to be a part of, continually harping on about the genius of his works such as Dr. Mabuse or, most notably, Metropolis, with its amazing imagery and effects that still dazzle even now.
Frau Im Mond, however is one of his less talked about films, despite possible being among the first ‘scientific’ sci-fi movies ever made.
Wolf Helius is a wealthy industrialist who wishes to travel to the moon after his good friend Professor Manfeldt, a destitute man who has ruined his career with talks of a moon filled with gold. Will he make it to the moon, or will a dastardly organisation of crooked capitalists and businessmen steal his plans and make it there first?
Ok, perhaps that summary makes it sound a lot more fanciful and less ‘serious’, but it’s a great tale, equal parts pulpy sci-fantasy, hard sci-fi and spy thriller with a small love story thrown in for good measure.
Without being able to use sound , except the piano accompaniment, the acting has this great vivid feel, sometimes overwrought but never cartoonishly so, giving every scene a great emotional air. Something as simple as expressing hunger then becomes a more visual affair, with the tightening of the collar and the licking of the lips, making for an engaging watch. For example, early on there is a heist scene and it has this great intelligence to it, as it has to sell the audience on it facet by facet, showing each step in great detail instead of simply explaining the plan. Pair this with a villainous introduction that is equal parts congenial and odious and you have a scene that hooks you right from the get go.
If you have three hours to kill, a love for classic cinema, the silent era or even just want to see some of the earliest beginnings of the sci-fi genre, then this has to be on your to watch list.
Knowingly clever movies attract praise by virtue of their obtuseness; better still the knowingly clever movie that cleverly lets the audience in on its secrets. Yet perhaps we value too much the intellect involved in a well-told puzzle, for often what more do we gain than a reason to clap the ego of the consciously smug? No, better to praise the knowingly dumb movie; a film whose layers of intrigue and intellect are nothing but red herrings to shake off the clever while the rest of the audience have fun having fun.
Lynch’s version of Pulp Fiction goes pretty much as expected: full of dreams, inverted character identities, interlocked stories that transcend logical storytelling, and lofty mysteries that only reveal further mysteries rather than any real insight to questions. Is it frustrating? Sure, if you want to play the game that way, but it really is much better to just relax and let the film take you somewhere rather than you take it.
Flashes of human understanding, of real emotional connection, of genuine pathos rest under a vaguely malicious and confounding interpretation of Los Angeles, and no film comes closer to evoking the myriad of feelings one battles subconsciously when living in a place you share a love-hate relationship with.
Each character battles against a system that is at once devilishly simple and yet infinitely unassailable, whether it be their inability to do so that hampers them or the sheer towering height of the task ahead. And yet, all the while, the film maintains a gentle sense of humour about itself, knowing full-well that if you can’t laugh at such things, then you are truly lost.
Mulholland Drive may not look, sound, feel or think like any masterpiece you know of, but then it really doesn’t matter what we think about it.