Yep. Welcome to the London Graphic Novel Network Film Club’s 2022 in Review.
(And the crowd goes wild).
Oh. Thank you.
For those of you who haven’t played before – Here are the rules:
1. Yes. You can talk about any film you like
It doesn’t need to have come out this year. It doesn’t even have to be something that you liked. If there was a film that you really hated then you can talk about that. Or maybe you felt massively lukewarm about it. The only real requirement is that it’s something that you’ve seen in this past year and there’s something you want to say about it. (You’re also welcome to lobby for any particular film that you feel like the LGNN Film Club should do in the future if you feel like it…).
2. Name the film in bold at the start of what you write
That way if someone wants to see it and they don’t wanna get spoiled then they can just skip over it with no harm done. (Also if you can find some images from the film and include them – then that would be cool too).
3. Please don’t just recount the plot instead: tell us what you think
Instead of just writing a synopsis (yawn) try this – Talk about what you liked (or didn’t like) about it. But grabbed you / what left you cold. What it did well / what it could have done better. How it made you feel. What kind of things it made you think about. All that good stuff.
4. If someone else has already mentioned a film then don’t worry – that’s ok
This isn’t a first come / first served thing. If someone else has mentioned a film then it’s not off the table – you can still write about it all you want. Ideally we don’t just want lots of solipsistic thoughts floating separately from each other so yeah – if someone mentions a film and you have a differing view please feel free to share (just you know obviously – try to play nice).
5. If you want to talk about a film that the LGNN Film Club has already done then that’s cool too
I’ve often been told that three weeks is never long enough. So if we talked about a particular film at some point in the past and you felt like there was stuff you wanted to say about it that you didn’t get a chance to say – then now’s the time… Go crazy.
If you’re still a little unsure how it works please feel free to look at how we’ve done it in the past:
So. I think that’s it. Hopefully should be fun and interesting and a cool time for everyone (that’s the idea anyway).
Remember: It’s Not The Plane, It’s The Pilot.
Have fun out there.
Directed by S. S. Rajamouli
“Wait a second – is this supposed to be a comedy?” Maybe this gets asked when the Evil Englishman tells the soldier not to shoot the mother begging for her child back. “Do you comprehend the value of the bullet in your barrel?” etc. Maybe when that one guy leaps headfirst into a rampaging mob in order to arrest one guy. And somehow succeeds. Maybe when the other guy gets chased by the wolf but then a tiger rocks up and then he has to take it on single-handedly. And wins. Or wait – maybe when both guys meet for the first time – wordlessly nod at each other and then jump off opposite ends of the bridge and fly into the fire engulfed water in order to save the innocent child. And do it with a gratuitous amount of style.
On one end of the film spectrum is the winner of the Sight and Sound 2022 poll for Best Film Ever – Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. This is not a film that anyone would mistake for a comedy (unless maybe Chris Morris at his most perverse?). Which is how you know it’s so important and intelligent. There’s a very long scene involving peeling potatoes. It’s serious stuff. This is what cinema is supposed to look like. It’s real life. It makes you think about how much you’re thinking about how much this film makes you think.
In RRR there’s a big climatic scene where the one guy crashes a English party by driving a van full of wild animals through the gates and then releases them in glorious slow motion – after which the animals go around goring and terrorising the guests. Obviously this isn’t real life. It’s outlandish. Almost like a cartoon. This is supposed to be a comedy right?
But just because a film is joyful and wild and inventive and fun that doesn’t make it a comedy. RRR might make you laugh but it’s constructed in such a way that you’re still engaged with the characters and the film always has weight even if sometimes it seems as if the people don’t (piggybacks are exhausting trust me). Just because a film looks like it’s not taking itself seriously that doesn’t mean that it’s not taking itself seriously – you get me?
Avatar: The Way of Water
Directed by James Cameron
I don’t think enough people realise that a film is a multifaceted thing. Even if (most of the time) the image is flat the ways to think about and experience it are numerous. You can look at a film like Die Hard and say that the characters are all two-dimensional and never really change and you don’t get to find out much about their relationships apart from the fact that Die Hard’s wife changed her last name and so he’s gonna go out there and kill a lot of bad guys and quip the hell out of things until his masculinity is restored (or whatever). But I don’t know – if you’re watching it that way I feel like you’re not really watching the movie properly. Like the reverse of that would be watching The Remains of the Day and saying it sucks because it doesn’t have guns and explosions and Anthony Hopkins never says anything as cool as “Yippee Ki Yay, motherfucker.”
Although wait – my point isn’t that there is a right way and a wrong way to watch a movie but more the reverse. You look at the story or the characters or the images or the editing or the symbolism or whatever you want to. They’re all a part of the movie. And a lot of how you experience the movie will depend on which aspects you choose to focus on.
So then – how should we watch Avatar: The Way of Water? And better still: how should we understand it?
Well to answer the first part you should obviously watch it the way God (aka James Cameron) intended it which is on the biggest screen possible wearing massive 3D glasses. Because yeah – as every trailer keeps underlining – this isn’t really a film it’s a goddamn experience.
What does that mean tho?
I mean – mostly I think it means that if you’re looking for subtleties of story and character you may be looking in the wrong place. Although actually wait maybe that’s doing James Cameron (aka God) a disservice. There are actually plenty of moments of nice understated drama happening here on the edges of things. Sam Worthington does sterling work as a lug headed dude trying his best to Be A Father. I can’t remember the exact line but there’s a moment when they first get to their new digs in the Water People Village when he sounds less like an alien on a distant world and more like just some guy trying to make the best of a bad situation. I’m hoping in Avatar 3 they give him a few cans of beer and let him veg out and watch a game on the TV with his other buds…
Actually – script note: Jake Sully needs some proper buds. Sadly irony of the first two movies is that the one guy who really gets him is evil square-headed marine dude (Colonel… Lang?) who’s made it his life’s mission to kill him and his entire family. Which you know – sucks a bit obviously. Here’s hoping at some point they can just hug it out and put things behind them.
Additional script note: if it was me there would have been a scene at the end of the movie of the Sully clan all sitting around a table having a big celebratory feast together with everyone swapping stories of what they did during the big final battle. Close-up of Spider: “So erm yeah… I guess I… saved my Dad from drowning?” Cut to Jack Sully: “YOU DID WHAT NOW?”
Also yeah – there’s just lots of nice moments where you know what characters are thinking just from how they look at each other which – for me – is basically advanced level storytelling. Cliff Curtis and Kate Winset’s Husband and Wife Team deserve their own spin off sit-com. There was a woman sitting behind me in the cinema who was cracking up every time they came on screen and I’ve gotta say – I think she kinda got the spirit of things. There’s this nice understated feeling in parts of this multimillion dollar entertainment Behemoth that feels like it’s been beamed in from another movie altogether. Where the stakes aren’t Saving The World From The Sky People but more just Making Sure That We Get On With Our New Neighbors.
I feel like for most people (and these are the ones who will enjoy it the most) the big thing of Avatar is the underwater alien lushness of it all. And why those who say that if you haven’t seen it in 3D then you haven’t really seen it will be completely correct (sorry). Like it’s basically Blue Planet with extra fucked up alien stuff. And for those people who piss and moan and say “well yeah but there’s not enough story and character stuff” I’ve gotta say that maybe the problem isn’t with the movie but how you’re choosing to come to it. Like you can say that it’s just the visuals or whatever but then I’ve gotta ask do you listen to music and say it’s just the sound or eat a meal and say it’s just the taste?
For me tho the absolute best part of the movie (and here I’m being totally serious) was the best towards the start when the Sky People Return and it’s basically the most fucked up Sci-Fi Shit you’ve ever seen. Spaceships hanging over planets. Forests being burned away by rockets coming into land from hundreds of miles up. Bulldozers and people in hazmat suits striding through infernos. Yes please. Shut up and take my money. Immense Futuristic Technological Equipment doing Fucked Up Shit is basically what I want from a movie like this and for me it’s the moment where I really feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. (Oh and Space Train blowing up and Flipping Over? Outstanding). I realise this is going to sound like a fat kid sitting in front of a giant chocolate cake asking for me but the interesting thing about Avatar: The Way of Water (and also the first film) is that I felt like it didn’t go Big Enough. Like yeah ok the ship crashing and flipping over and going on fire was cool and everything – but you know: it was just one ship. And hell – this is the same guy that sunk the Titanic right? So you know: I was kinda hoping for something a bit more Epic. There’s a whole futuristic city that we get introduced to in the first act full of techno spiders and we didn’t even get to see a little bit of it go make some explosions? Well – now I feel blue.
Although yeah – I get it. God is playing the long game. There’s gonna be (at least) 5 of these babies so I guess he’s gotta parcel out the treats bit by bit. And hell it is quite an accomplishment to make The Biggest Movie Of All Time that leaves you feeling hungry for the next one. (Script note: Colonel Lang really should have shouted out “I’ll get you next time Jake Sully!” as he flew away because if you’re going to do – you should do it properly).
Final thoughts: I feel bad that they didn’t give Zoe Saldaña more to do. Although her Rageful Mother in Full On Berserker Mode was quite a sight (cut back to the celebratory meal. “Oh yeah erm Spider? I’m sorry about the whole… threatening to murder you thing ok? Bygones?”) And shout out to the guy who spent FOUR YEARS developing the Na’vi language only for Cameron to Red October it away in the first few minutes. That’s gotta hurt.
But yeah – if you’re looking for a movie that looks cooler than anything else you’ve ever seen in your life plus a random appearance from New Zealand’s 4th Folk Parody Duo (cut to Pointing Rick Dalton) then I don’t really know what more you could ask for. And if you’re not going to the movies for an experience then I don’t know – maybe you should read a book instead?
Avatar 2: Way of Water (2022)
“Strong female character” is one of those phrases that get tossed around when talking about James Cameron movies. The most basic reading is that these are characters that are peers of their male action counterparts. Sarah Conner to Arnie’s Terminator, Ripley to Hicks, or the Alien Queen to the er Predator(?).
But what makes these characters “strong” is not merely physical prowess but their ruthlessness. Sarah Conner, Ripley (and let’s be honest Rose) will do whatever what they have to survive. Not just that, they will turn the fight around. The loader scene in Aliens is an all timer because Ripley, having spent the entire movie telling everyone how terrifying the Aliens are, has finally had enough and is now gonna kick some chitinous ass.
Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri is also a hardened killer who teaches the notional hero of the films all his Navi skills. She has seen her home destroyed and her father killed before Avatar 2 even starts, and then having seen it destroyed again and her children threatened she pushes back against her husband’s instinct to run. And this could have been an interesting point of conflict in the film, because there is no correct strategy. Jake is completely sensible, especially having proven himself as a capable general to say “it’s time to go to next location” and Neytiri could also be the one getting madder and madder, desperate to go full Malcolm X, (we didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on Mars!) and that would bring a much needed edge to the movie because all the goodies are too good and too nice.
In the Planet of the Apes reboots charismatic leader Caesar is not Gandhi, he is Trotsky, he is ready to fight a brutal war and take casualties. So why is it only when her son dies that former Queen and Vietcong style guerrilla warrior Neytiri decided to get angry and get even? My hope is that by movie 4 while Jake is fighting the ground war on Pandora, Neytiri is leading the counter invasion to Earth and bringing new meaning to the phrase Alien Queen as she strikes down upon humanity with righteous vengeance and furious anger. Or alternatively while Jake is looking after the kids she is leading the radicalised Navi Republican Army, burning every village that has ever spoken to the humans to the ground.
And credit to the movie that it left me with a desire to see more, despite being 90,000 years long, because although it would be easy to poke holes in the paper thin plot, this is a franchise that goes beyond the phrase “world building” to actually feel like Pandora is somewhere you could visit, and a ducking gorgeous place at that. As it happens last month’s Wakanda Forever also had an ocean kingdom which had about as aquatic verisimilitude as wearing glasses in the rain. But in the end my greatest frustration with Avatar was that having broken the classic sci fi rule that each planet is one thing (yeah Dune!) I really wanted to see what was just over the horizon.
Directed by John Ford
For some reason everything I watched and read kept referencing The Searchers. “One of the best movies of all time.” “The best western ever made.” “Since its release it has been considered a masterpiece and one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.”
Well ok then. I mean I had a half memory of half watching it on TV about a million years ago when I was a kid and finding the whole thing kinda slow and boring? The Indians steal a kid and these guys go and look for her and then at the end they manage to get her back but it’s a little fraught? The end. I didn’t really remember it being some big amazing cinematic triumph. But I don’t know – maybe I was dumb as a kid? Maybe it was just too sophisticated for me or something? Maybe now I was a fully grown adult with thousands of films under my belt I’d be able to properly appreciate it?
Sad to say that did not turn out to be the case. In fact having watched The Searchers as a proper grown up I kinda feel like it’s one of those magic eye pictures. I’m turning it around and closing one eye and moving it backwards and forwards but I’m definitely not able to see what other people can see. In fact mostly I just kinda found it… slow and boring? With a few odd bits of comedy thrown in here and there that felt wildly out of place. (Is it really funny to roll a woman out of her sleeping bag and down a hill especially when she’s like basically been sold to you as your new wife? Or wait – am I turning into a prude?)
Like yeah I get it – John Wayne is Bad Uncle. He’s never around. He’s always giving people shit for no reason. He’s racist beyond the point of all reason. To the point where he learns the ways of the Indian just so he can fuck with them even more. (I’ll admit it – the shooting the eyes bit is a pretty brilliant bit of hardcore hatred). And he’s obviously not the best brother in terms of how he looks at his brother’s wife – dude: THOU SHALT COVET (hell so much so that even the cameraman is in on it).
You dirty dog you.
But here’s the thing: yeah I get that at the time it must have blown people’s minds a bit. A bit like if Tom Hanks released a movie where he talked about how the problem is that there’s too many goddamn immigrants and then launched into a tirade about how much he hates rap music. Only more so and also not really like that at all. Because this is John Wayne still very much doing the John Wayne thing only this time the mask is off and it’s like “oooh this is probably a lot closer to what it was really like.” And yeah I get that’s all cool if you want to write a book of interpretations or whatever about white toxic masculinity privilege in the Old West because this movie is obviously generating all of that kind of stuff by the bucketload (remember kids – when the white man steals an indian child that’s just progress and the calming influence of civilisation but when the indian man steals a white child – well – that’s a moral abomination and a crime against God for which they shall all be punished).
But none of that really changes the fact that well – the movie is kinda slow and boring?
Like yeah – the scenery is amazing. Everyone does good acting and all the rest of it. But apart from that opening shot and that closing shot there’s very little in this movie that’s actually you know – cinematically interesting. In fact if I was going to describe my problems with The Searchers in a single sentence it would basically be: is there anything this movie does that wouldn’t just be exactly the same in a book?
But hell – maybe there’s intricacies and layers that I missed and I need to give it another rewatch in order to fully and properly appreciate it?
That’ll be the day.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
I know that I probably shouldn’t say this – but I don’t think Guy Ritchie gets enough credit for being an interesting film maker. And please note that I used the word “interesting” rather than good. Because yeah The Man from U.N.C.L.E. man – I mean I’ve watched it twice now and I still can’t get over how interestingly it’s all put together.
The only way I can really describe it is that it’s kinda like an American Movie if it was made by an Italian.
There’s all these beats when you expect it to zig and instead it just – takes a step sideways, tweaks its suit and laughs at you. Case in point – there’s this heist bit in the middle of the film which climaxes with our two heroes racing around on a speed boat whilst being chased by the bad guys. Pew! Pew! Pew! etc. And then… Henry Cavill falls off the boat into the water. He makes his way on to the land where he finds a truck. He gets the keys and starts it up and the radio starts to play. He looks through the stations until he finds some music he likes. Then he spots a picnic hamper. Oh – there’s a nice bottle of wine. He opens it. It’s good. Oh – and look – there’s a tasty looking sandwich too. So he starts chomping into that. And whilst all this is going on In the background you can still see the speedboat chase and a bunch of explosions but you’re mostly just enjoying the sight of Henry Cavill drinking wine and eating his sandwich.
(You can check it out here if you don’t believe me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89TQv8APUIY)
Like: what the hell? That’s not how this type of scene is supposed to go. But fuck it – it’s kinda glorius? And the whole frigging movie is like this. It just never does what it’s supposed to do. Even the climax is weird. Like Ozymandias’s “I did 35 minutes ago” speech – only it’s the good guys this time.
Obviously yeah it means that you kinda feel like you’re watching a GQ article rather than a film where the fun isn’t so much with the hitting all of the familiar tried and tested beats that you’re expecting but instead is about this feeling of luxuriating in the mood and the style and the sensations of the whole thing. But damn it – it does mean that the experience of watching it is an interesting one and when it wants to put it’s foot on the accelerator (gotta say – that first chase though Berlin is superlative work) it’s pretty fucking groovy.
Directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
This one I’ll admit almost passed me by. Mostly because of the stupid trailer I saw. I mean – my image of John David “Nepo Baby” Washington was mostly formed by Tenet. Which is a horrible movie yes but he does give a strong performance in it even tho it’s not much more than “Black James Bond.” And then I saw the trailer to Beckett and it kinda tries to sell it as this hardcore exciting action movie with this fast hard pumping music but all the clips just make it look kinda… lame? Like it’s John David Washington jumping into… a tree? And there’s a bit where he gets on to a… train and he’s like sitting down on his seat. And then a bad guy gets on to the train too? Like it kinda makes it look like they had a budget of 10p and John David Washington just kinda looks weak and tired and a little bit pudgy? Less like James Bond and more like… the guy who watches from home.
Although – DUR – it turns out that’s the whole frigging point of the movie.
John David Washington isn’t playing the suave sophisticated cool guy here. Instead he’s like the Hitchcock wrongly accused man who’s being hounded by unknown forces for reasons he doesn’t understand. His only licence is his driving licence and I doubt he’s ever even seen a vodka martini in his life. Etc. Instead he’s the guy who’s way out of his depth, sinking fast and there’s a stranger putting their foot on his throat. And yeah the whole film is basically electric and left me feeling both shaken and stirred and completely strung out. The director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino is Italian (if his name didn’t give it away) and the whole thing has that taut European thriller thing going on where it feels like the whole film puts a knife up to your throat and dares you to breathe. Have you ever seen Tell No One? The one with the French doctor? It kinda reminded me of that. Which hey you know – is praise indeed.
Or in other words – it’s a “Fuck You” type of movie where you spend pretty much the whole thing saying “fuck you” to everything happening on the screen because it just winding itself tighter and tighter around you until your head pops.
And yeah – it does make me very interested to see where John David Washington goes next… I can forgive him for Tenet now because dude obviously knows how to pick a screenplay.
Although come on: they really should have picked a different name for the film. Yeah yeah I get the whole thing is about the bleak, impersonal and tragicomic experiences of life etc but you know: I feel like you shouldn’t make allusions like that unless you’re really going to commit them. It’s like going to watch a film called Beethoven and turns out it’s just about a dog or something you know?
Directed by Julia Ducarnou
Overall this is an intriguing, compelling piece about a deeply unorthodox relationship. And if that was all Titane was, it would have taken its Canne plaudits, I would have said “oh I should probably get round to that” and that would have been it.
But Titane is also known as the car fucker movie and that is a reductive as fuck way to describe it, but it helped get me into the cinema during Omicron and it speaks to why the movie burnt itself into my brain so powerfully back at the start of the year. Titane grabs you by the throat and reminds you that the cinema can still (and should be a) theme park ride that drags you to a place in the center of your brain you didn’t want to go.
The first twenty minutes of this film revel in the violence, eroticism, fear and sheer shock value of a woman who has sex with cars and the rapid, yet gradual, reveals of how far her violent psychology will go – is quite possibly the best 20 minutes I’ve spent in a cinema in the last five years. My view of the film would regularly be obscured by silhouettes of people jerking their arms in shock, clasping their hands to their face to try and hold back Ducarnou’s thesis of storytelling by brute force. For a time in that room, it felt like gasping was more popular than breathing.
Inevitably, what follows that 20 minute blast, can’t quite escape feeling like the sluggish cost of a sugar rush. Which is unfair – it’s intriguing, compelling and richly fucked up. It asks you to bear witness to it’s lead characters being warped at an intimate level. Still though, it feels like trying to appreciate fine dark chocolate after you’ve annihilated a bucket of tangfastics.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
I think I only watched one film in the cinema this year and I’m pretty happy it was this one. It’s very funny. It’s inventive. It has lots of feels. The latter may have been unexpected for some but I was forewarned that this thing has a heart and might make you tear up and it still got to me too (in fairness I’m a more weepy film watcher than I used to be). Also I feel pretty confident in saying this has the greatest example of a Chekov’s gun in all of cinema.
It will come as no surprise that what I appreciated about the film was how its multiverse-jumping premise, which might well overwhelm the viewer with its complexity, was used as a metaphor for being overwhelmed. Michelle Yeoh has too much to deal with and suddenly she has a whole lot more. Not only that, the branching paths are an opportunity to confront past decisions and their consequences. One of the dark depressive spirals you can sink into is thinking over all the alternatives that could have made your life better that you didn’t take. This film literalises that tendency, and steeps you into that sense of poisonous regret. Finally, Yeoh’s daughter Joy’s own depressive spiral is in part inflected by a typically teenage feeling of an awesome insignificance in the face of an uncaring universe – which is multiplied by the the fact that we’re in a multiverse rather than just a universe.
It’s all just very clever, isn’t it? But that’s almost by-the-by. This film works because its characters’ struggles with anxiety and depression feel real, and the way they find their way through all that stuff feels earned. And it does all of that while cracking two jokes a minute and featuring the kind of inventive comedy martial arts routines that Jackie Chan would feel jealous of. Idk with any justice in 10 years it might crack the Sight & Sound top 100 films list.
Directed by Matt Reeves
As is tradition with Batman movies the least interesting character is Batman, who is even more depowered and de-clevered in this film than in other iterations. But that seems to be a feature rather than a bug as he is up against arguably the best Batman villain the Riddler, who has the chance to take his place as Dr Klaw to Batman’s Inspector Gadget .
The Riddler is a great villain because much like the Joker he just exists to annoy Batman. He doesn’t really want want anything other than to show off, but unlike the Joker who always has to be the “I’m so random” meme, the Riddler can have Batman running around like a rat in a maze and dancing to his tune. And the Riddler in The Batman is very well conceived as a very creepy John Doe rip off, who hides in plain sight while Colin Farrell’s bafflingly cast Penguin steals all the attention.
But while the Riddler does well as a horrible bad guy thanks to Paul Dano being Paul Dano even the movie doesn’t have the confidence of his conviction when it comes to his plan which is something about a big fight in a flooded stadium apparently being the great reckoning Gotham has been waiting for. What’s sad about the finale is not only does it let the plot down, but it lets down the carefully crafted emo mood. The main theme is a haunting slow Nirvana tune, with a main character wearing black eye liner and so so much rain against a dark city scape. The comparison to Bladerunner is not idle, just watch the trailer, and hope you find someone who loves you the way Matt Reeves loves Bladerunner. This was a plot and vibe leading directly to a Batman Vs Riddler showdown in the style of Bladerunner: two flawed kindred spirits battling out alone, and both doomed whatever the outcome. Or it could have been Man with the Golden Gun as Batman’s street smarts finally overcome the Riddler’s Jigsaw like labyrinth of horror. But imagine now if at the end of Nirvana’s Something in the Way Kurt Cobain suddenly put on a big Slash hat and stood on a cliff to do a lengthy guitar solo while moshing with some youths and foxy ladies and that is kind of what the Batman does. But so can’t just lay the blame for this at the current creative team.
A habit of the whole Batman franchise is the need to have a numerous nemesis in every story. Not just the movies which have a minimum of three major villains on any given occasion, but also Hush, Court of Owls, Long Dark Halloween just stacked with formidable bad guys to justify the hundreds of friends Batman has acquired despite being a famously intolerable loner. And so the Batman has Carmine Falcone taking up space in for absolutely no reason other than for Batman to rush up to every character and accuse them of murdering his parents, which [forehead slap] is the opposite of the point of Batman.
I think this leads to my not particularly new or insightful diagnosis of the DCEU shitshow and possible all comic properties is that there are constantly multiple creative forces at play, which leads to confusion. None of the individual elements are bad, but somehow trying to glue them all together just feels meaningless. Maybe that’s why we have to bark back to Killing Joke or Dark Knight Returns or Time Burton which were driven by the sort of singular creative voices happy to tell everyone to go away.
Perhaps that’s why some of the less well known properties like Shazam turn out to be more enjoyable, because there isn’t a chorus of people saying “wouldn’t it be awesome if Batman fought Wolverine riding a Pterodactyl in Atlantis”. But blaming “fan service” is the movie franchise equivalent of blaming the referee. Firstly one would hope that everyone working in a creative capacity on these movies is a fan of Batman in some way, but trying to pretend that there is some hegemonic social media hive mind demanding that all movies have all bad guys is just not true. Sure some people want might want Batman to be pansexual furry whose approach to crime fighting is renouncing violence to concentrate on developing class consciousness in Gotham (no? just me then?!), but this would at least have consistency compared to a sort of “cool action scene goes here” approach as the director desperately tries to stitch all the tropes together.
Directed by Danny Boyle
Watching this movie now is a little like looking at photos of yourself back at university and just being overwhelmed by how fucking young everyone looks. Cillian Murphy looks more like a school kid than a scientist. Captain America looks like he’s just grown his first beard. Benedict “Wong” Wong looks positively virile. And Michelle Yeoh… well – she kinda looks the same. But whatever.
Dude – this cast is absolutely stacked. I mean compared with this much star talent the Sun itself looks pretty faint. I mean take a look: Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, and Mark Strong (Half the people reading this right now are going OMG That’s Mark Strong?!). The only person who doesn’t really ring a bell is Troy Garity but I think that’s because he’s still floating around in space somewhere.
Watching it now Cliff Curtis is the second delightful surprise after Mark Strong seeing how it’s like all in Avatar: The Way of Water and all. But it always just feels kinda funny when you know an actor from one place and then you connect it up with all the other places you know them from. Like for years the dude was the “WHAT CAN YOU SEE?” guy in my head – but now it’s like oh wait: he’s in all of that other things too (incomplete list includes: Training Day, Die Hard 4.0, Bringing Out the Dead, The Insider, The Fountain and – oh – The Walking Dead I guess. But no matter no matter).
But anyway yeah – the film itself. I mean – I have very conflicted feelings about Sunshine. I’ve never really been that much of a Danny Boyle fan. But it does feel like a definite shame that this film did so badly at the box office and then his next film was the hyper successful Slumdog Millionaire which basically meant that he gave in to all of his crowd pleasing instincts and never really tried doing anything difficult or daring ever again (Trance anyone?).
(Although I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that this movie was written by Alex Garland who also has a very patchy track record when it comes to making movies endings in particular – Ex Machina and Dredd being the only two things that I think he actually manages to get things right – but that’s a whole other story).
Like I have to say – there are whole stretches of this movie which are basically my absolute favourite things ever. The first 25 minutes or so? All of it leading up to “WHAT CAN YOU SEE?” with Adagio in D Minor by John Murphy playing over the top? I distinctly remember seeing that in the cinema and thinking that I’d watched the best film ever created and wondering how the hell they were going to top it for the rest of the movie. It’s just… perfect. No notes.
Even all of the bits leading up to it. I’d completely forgotten what a perfect beautiful dick Chris Evans plays. There’s the whole thing when they’re like: oh we should go and save the other ship – there might be some people still alive. And he’s like: Are you fucking kidding me? Erm. Hello?? We’re on a mission to Save The Entire Human Race!? What are you even thinking?! Just the best audience insert character of all time – who keeps making all of the tough calls because no one else will. I mean – a big part of the fun of watching it (especially now) is that nearly all movies tend to tip towards the idea that emotions and feelings are more important than anything else and we should try and do what’s right damn it and it’s a very rare thing indeed to get a character who’s like “No. That’s stupid.” and even tho you kinda resent him for saying it – you do have to nod your head and go “actually fuck – he’s kinda right.”
And yeah also – the whole movie just looks and sounds totally beautiful. Like I don’t know my technical terms – but just in terms of how it’s lit and framed and all the wide angle lens stuff and the all background hums and noises and the soundtrack it’s all just as totally and completely lush as Michelle Yeoh’s cute little garden. That bit when they’re all just sitting there looking at Mercury? I mean – that’s me watching pretty much most of this movie. Slack jawed with how gosh darn pretty the whole thing looks. At the risk of being “that guy” – it’s like fuck – most movies nowadays just look like they’re getting coverage so you can see the actors speak. Sunshine actually feels like a whole and complete world. The difference between looking at a piece of paper and looking… at the Sun.
And yeah just going back to Kaneda’s death scene. I mean – if you’ve seen it then you already know what I’m trying to say. But it’s basically one of the best scenes in movie history right? Just everything about it. That sense of inevitability. And growing horror. That feeling that you’re watching someone meeting death in the coolest way possible – but also the fact that it’s a death that’s more destructive than anything you’ve ever seen before. I mean – it’s like watching someone about to meet God or something. And in terms of what I watch movies for – it’s basically that. The sense of the Epic. Shock and Awe. To the point where it’s almost transcendent. I’m wracking my brain to think of any other scene that comes close and I’m coming up empty.
It’s very cool is what I’m saying.
(Sorry. Poor choice of words maybe).
And so yeah – you have this amazing movie that’s blowing your mind and thrilling your senses. It feels like it’s about everything (Infinity and God and Human Perception and Higher States of Being and all of that kinda stuff) and then what happens?
It ruins everything with the single most stupid decision I think I’ve ever seen in a movie.
And no I’m not talking about the fact that (sigh) they decide to make it into a slasher movie in space (for some reason). Because – fuck it – you know what? I think that could have worked maybe? Like obviously the best antagonist is the Sun itself (maybe in the third act it could have started speaking to them in the voice of Morgan Freeman or something?) but obviously you do need something more at the human scale to make things make more sense. And hell yeah – casting Mark Strong as your Insane Russian Bad Guy is a decision I’m totally onboard with. It’s obviously the role he was born to play.
But yeah that’s not the stupid decision.
The real stupid decision which really is so bad that it makes my toes curl up so much that they’re touching my legs and makes me think that this movie was directed by a complete moron (and gosh darn it why didn’t someone at some point just say “erm actually – maybe this isn’t the best idea?) is the decision to film Command Pinbacker out of focus.
Like – what? Why? WHY??
I mean – number one: it just looks stupid. Like a work experience kid got a job holding the camera and they couldn’t really work out how it works. Like I’ll admit it almost works when you’re first introduced to the character when he’s standing in the Observation Deck bit and it’s too bright to really see anything. That bit is kinda cool. But then when you realise that – oh god – they’re going to keep it up for the whole movie so that you never get a good look at him it’s just… stupid and ends up completely undercutting the movie. Like you’re trying to take it seriously and you want to immerse yourself in it and believe that you’re watching something real but: oh god why are they doing this out of focus thing?
Number two tho – it just doesn’t really make sense in terms of what a movie is. I mean unless you’re making something really out there – nine times out of ten when you’re watching a movie you’re kinda seating yourself in the God’s Eye Point of View and everything that happens is the stuff that’s Objectively Happening in the world of the movie. When Kaneda gets burned to death by the cleansing nuclear power of The Sun – that’s not an interpretation – that’s actually what happened.
So like basically that means that my question is: what the fuck is happening that means that Pinbacker is out of focus??
Like I get the artistic interpretations – he’s so insane that he’s out of focus with the rest of humanity (LOL) etc. Yes. Well done. Very clever. But it still doesn’t make it make any sense why he would look like that in the Objective Movie World. It’s just… dumb. Like the only thing that makes it make sense is that those 7 long years along meant that – I don’t know – he phase shifted out of the normal world and into their weird unstable state where he can’t make himself stay fixed in place. Or something? Except that you know what – that’s dumb.
In fact like I was trying to think of any other movie where they do something similar and the only other example I could think of was the Out of Focus bit in Deconstructing Harry and you know what? The whole bit is played as a joke. Because it’s so obviously dumb.
It’s so dumb.
But hey anyway – yeah: that’s Sunshine I guess. The movie that manages to hit highs that few other movies even get close to and then also manages to be be dumber than anything else I’ve ever seen.
And that’s without even getting into the whole ending which kinda aims for this supercool moment where the laws of physics breaks down and everything gets weird and twisted except it just feels kinda unfinished and you can’t really tell what’s going on and Mark Strong is still running around the place and getting erm the flesh ripped off his arm (!?) which just means that it’s hard to take things seriously.
Oh well – I guess we just have to dream of what could have been.
Directed by Rian Johnson
Glass Onion: The film that had everyone asking “where has Ed Norton been all this time?” But seriously, here he is just walking around. I looked back and was like “oh no it’s OK he was in Birdman” but then realised that came out 8 years ago! He isn’t even particularly amazing in Glass Onion, but why isn’t he just in everything? Is he worried he’s taking roles off Guy Pearce, because there’s enough sneering “he seems nice but probably evil” work to go round lads.
Glass Onion: The film that had everyone, even my children, doing the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme. “Look it’s Drax standing between James Bond and Agatha Harkness!” My 11 year old declared. “Wait is that Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim?!” Exclaimed my seven year old. There is something luxurious about having all these recognisable faces, and also a weird point of feeling slightly short changed. I wanted more from all of them, and it’s mostly just bite sized reaction shots. Gosford Park did this first (well maybe JFK did) and better, and still swings wildly in and out of my favourite films of all time list. And the difference between them is that Knives Out and Glass Onion try so hard to be meta, while the spiritual siblings Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express try to line everyone behind Poirot. Gosford Park was just a murder mystery where the murder was an inconvenience to the characters lives and concerns. You didn’t want them to be guilty because you wanted them to get on with their sorting out their issues. Glass Onion is so busy with the “mystery” that it forgets that you could have this cast just playing giant Jenga and it would be entertaining. So why not give them something to do? It hasn’t helped that it’s been released in the same month as White Lotus which is essentially the same gimmick (what if beautiful rich people in nice locations where stupid and selfish?) but with a longer run time to allow people to do their stuff. And it hasn’t helped that it’s come out int be same year as RRR and Andor where this cute mockery of rich people feels like weak sauce compared to throwing an entire truck of tigers at the ruling class and beating them with bricks made from the ashes of your ancestors.
Glass Onion: The film that had me worrying about The Discourse. Maybe it ‘twas ever thus but, as someone whose writing is heavily influenced by Twitter rambling it hurts so much to see it in films. Glass Onion has a whole piece about the pandemic, which despite being relevant barely a year ago (remember [check Google] Omicron being a word?) feels like a different time now. Similarly the Matrix 4 has a whole scene discussing its own marketing which was also very online, and was like listening to children describing the plot of the original Matrix. Twitter by design does not create very much, and exists to cannibalise other media (much like the Film Club), so if you are going to social media for inspiration, you are just reheating the hastily summarised leftovers of something else. But of course if you are a writer you are drawn to it like a moth to a flamethrower.
As with all cinema Glass Onion is entertaining but has contrived to be both waaay too long and not long enough.
A Clockwork Orange
Directed by Stanley Kurbrick
I watched some films in 2022, and one that made a huge difference to me was Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. I’m not actually a Kubrick fan, but I think A Clockwork Orange discussed a subject I hadn’t seen before, and I think it gave me a whole new way of thinking about things. Forgive me for not being a big reader; perhaps there are other books that already have a point of view on this topic, but I felt like I was learning this information for the first time.I will now discuss the film A Clockwork Orange on a superficial level and the main ideas it explores.
On a Superficial Level
First of all, I want to state that I’m really not a pervert. I turned it off five minutes into my first viewing, thinking how Kubrick always liked to make such pornographic stuff, how creepy. After watching, I did find some of the following points that I like.
About the Script
The structure of the story: I prefer a segmented story, several connected vignettes, or a non-linear narrative to a long one. It has three clearly divided sections: Alex and his companions acting evil, Alex in prison, and Alex after being released. You could say it is divided up according to the different stages of Alex’s behaviour as well as coming down the line in chronological order. In terms of characterization, I liked the contrasting setting of the evil man drinking drug milk. It is on the formalistic side in terms of the sets; in those days, sets would have been considered modern futuristic layouts, so strange but so cool.
About the Scene
There are some violent pornographic scenes with audio-visual counterpoint and classical music playing in the background. It feels like you have to be wary of people who like classical music in your everyday life, Mozart must have slowed down to a question mark when he read this Lol. It feels like in quite a few films, perverts like to kill people over classical music. Also be wary of men who are as sophisticated as urban beauties; the lead character in American Psycho has a full skincare routine every morning, and Alex in A Clockwork Orange applies fake eyelashes.
Lol Anyway, I was in therapy, just like Alex, and when I heard Singin’ in the Rain, I thought of the poor writer’s wife.
One thing I didn’t like was that the director seemed to be rationalising the assault of women in the film. In the original story, the woman who is assaulted at the beginning of the film was a little girl and is not really that grown up. For example, the dancer has a Dick-shaped sculpture in her house, and I wondered what kind of decent person would have such a thing in their house. (Is this modern art?) Perhaps the set-up helped to gain the audience’s sympathy for Alex. But I didn’t like the way it was done; it was a bit pornographic.
Reflections on the Main Idea
Where are the boundaries of free will? In the first of the three sections of the story, Alex is completely free, even if the things he does are disgusting, they are literally uninhibited, and his mother doesn’t bother to buy a purple wig to wear on her head when she can. It’s a bit like Freud’s concept of the ego, where pleasure reigns supreme and reality is never taken into account. Some people can relate to Alex because they remember that aspect of their own ego. According to some psychology videos, Alex falls into the classic category of antisocial personality disorder. I learned that it is very difficult to cure, and in fact, my first thought when I saw electrotherapy was that mental illness treatment was invented in the 1930s with electroshock therapy. This barbaric approach, so to speak, completely deprived him of his free will and his ego, and on a psychological level, he was no longer complete.
There is also something about fascists and very leftist anarchist writers. The deprivation of Alex’s free will was made by the very leftist writers, an act that I don’t think is too leftist. I don’t really understand the content of these. It seems a bit contradictory to me. When a very leftist person sits in the position of judge and treats people with brutality, is he not considered evil? And I don’t know why the writer later changed his partner to a fit male assistant; what was the irony of that? I didn’t get it.
Directed by Rian Johnson
Knives Out is a very sharp little movie. And it smiles at you as it slips in the blade. A family of rich people where everyone has a motive and they’re all as bad as each other and by the end the catharsis feels like some kind of revolution. Because the Thrombeys are so specific – they’re every rich family. A point that becomes a circle.
Glass Onion is in some respects very much a retread of the first film. There’s a bunch of rich people that we’re all meant to hate and despise. The hero is a meek under-achieving poor person who at the end delivers an apocalyptic comeuppance (take that Mona Lisa!) and yet left this viewer feeling empty and hollow inside. Like a… crystal shallot.
I mean I know it might be a little bit rich / bad form to use a movie’s own quotes against it but I can’t stop this from swirling around my brain:
Because – what is the truth of Glass Onion? What is it thinking about? What does it show us that we haven’t seen before? Apart from a whole bunch of rich and famous people swanning around in the sunshine on a beautiful exotic island doing a thing about how actually rich and famous people don’t really deserve your attention?
Instead of taking a shot at rich people as like a class – this movie is instead about billionaires in particular. And instead of it looking at the ways money can shape your view of the world and other people it’s more about how – billionaires aren’t actually quite as smart as you might think you are. Which after about two hours or so just kinda leaves me feeling like – so what? Does that mean that if they were smart then everything would be ok? I mean – call me crazy – but I don’t think that anyone deserves a billion times more than what an average person has? Even if they are good at doing business things or whatever. And as a final reveal it feels much less like a knife and much more like a… cocktail stick?
It’s so dumb it’s brilliant!
Whoops. Sorry. I did it again.
Like – you’re very welcome to enjoy it as much as you like. And Daniel Craig sure looks like he’s having fun. But it’s a shame when the entirety of the movie rests upon the idea that saying someone is stupid has some kind of deeper resonance than a shrug emoji. I mean you could say that maybe I expected too much but Knives Out showed what was possible with this kind of set up.
The movie ends with Janelle Monáe smashing stuff for no real reason which feels like an accurate summation of the film itself. Like ok – it’s angry about stuff and it’s pissed off. But – to what end? What’s really being achieved here? I mean maybe if Elon Musk watches it then he’ll feel sad (ha ha take that Elon Musk!) but for me it’s just a bunch of sound and fury signifying… well – what exactly?
Instead it’s like a circle that collapses into a single point. But the point isn’t even a “fuck you.”
This post was created by our Film Club email list.
If you’d like to join the conversation send an email marked “Film Club” to here.