In 2017, Fletch saw 48 films at the cinema. We’ve chatted about a third of ‘em, here’s the first part of a rundown of the rest.
(dir. Sean Foley)
Julian Barratt arrives sadly late to the party with an overly familiar and regrettably derivative aggregation of everything his Boosh and Baby Cow mates have already done this century, hung across a joke Conan and Smigel made 25 years ago (and another, similar joke Stiller made 15 years ago).
The Red Turtle
(dir. Michaël Dudok de Wit)
This was by far the least engaging of all the films I saw this year in which a bloke fucks a turtle.
(dir. Hallie Meyers-Shyer)
I’ve roughly zero time in my life for “so bad it’s good” because I’m not yet so nihilistically perverse that I get my jollies off playing with dogshit. Perhaps my only guilty pleasure is every three years skipping to the cinema hand-in-hand with Lisa Kerrigan for two hours in the sickening Hollywood confection of Nancyland; this one’s only by her kid but we said fuck it, and golly, does it deliver!
In a tasteful pastel Los Angeles locale just two gated communities over from Apatow Boulevard, a youthful filmmaking troika in the blandest clothes imaginable fall backwards into houseguesting with Reese Witherspoon and her terrible jeans. Plot downtime amounts to a cinematic thank you card from indulged scion to cooing parents – convulsing in admiration for the auteur legacy of Witherspoon’s deceased director father (thanks, Charles Shyer!), the abiding sex appeal of her ageing ingenue mother (thanks, Nancy Meyers!), and an airless and ambiguous affinity with “‘70s” cinema (thanks, like, California Suite?).
Movie biz privilege in jaw-dropping action – a vanity project for daughter and parent (multi-multi-hyphenate first-time writer-director Meyers-Shyer secured Dean Cundey as DP!) that largely plays as a gentle porno for affluent fortysomething Brentwood single mothers with absent husbands and fantasy non-jobs involving throw cushions. Though it eventually musters a morsel of charm, Home Again is an accidental comedy that deserves your derision from the very first viewing. Cannot wait for Nancy’s next!
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Wank
(dir. Ang Lee)
Bizarre. The year’s most eclectic cast, including an ultra-rare dramatic role for Vin Diesel, Steve Martin’s first film in five years, and only Chris Tucker’s fourth appearance this century; led by a British teenager cast in his film debut as an Iraq War vet from Texas; shot at 120 frames per second, in 4K HD, and in 3D, as if Ang Lee and DP John Toll were recreating that camera rental gag in The Disaster Artist; utilising ground-breaking ‘invisible’ make-up to interact with the demands of the high resolution; and mostly in single takes, because of the exorbitant expense of shooting at a frame rate considered vastly experimental by even Douglas Trumbull; all in service of a pleasant but routine coming-home drama that because of its bleeding edge spec could only be seen properly at five cinemas on the planet. Peter Jackson, you gotta up yer game.
(dir. Stephen Gaghan)
Another so-so iteration of the period-set rise-and-fall dodgy-deals coke-encrusted crime caper that mainly makes me want to watch Casino again. As with Jonah Hill in 2016’s lamentable Gun Bros, suffers further for foregrounding an actor (here, Matthew McConaughey) who only serves to reminds us that they did the same work but better for Scorsese. Still, him and Edgar Ramirez do everything they can.
(dir. Taylor Sheridan)
Underwritten, overscored, plodding murder mystery utterly invigorated by one smart decision a full hour in which wrested back control of both the film’s theme and my own waning attention. Adam Manning says he was bowled over by the photography, designed by Joe Swanberg’s DP, Ben Richardson, and by the sheer marvel of its subject, the Rocky Mountains. A worthwhile companion to Sheridan’s script work on Sicario and Hell or High Water and a decent sophomore effort.
The Last Jedi
(dir. Rian Johnson)
I liked that little feller at the casino. Adam’s dope. Leia doing her Mary Poppins was ridiculous.
CULT ENCOUNTER #1: Get Out
(dir. Jordan Peele)
Horror can be a satirical, sickening delight when it grabs an abstract anxiety and absconds. Not ghouls and ghosts but ideological, something existentially unsettling. Society takes a disaffected teen and asks, what if they really are different to you? They Live’s protagonist reveals the compliant consumerism of Reagan’s Los Angeles actually is a capitalist plot. It Follows grants corporeal form to the emotional burden of our sexual histories, has it literally follow its characters to death. What about Get Out?
In all our relationships we hope for symmetrical levels of respect. Feeling commodified without consent is unwelcome, no matter your status. Donald Trump is President of the United States, but I’ll bet that in those periods of quiet reflection for which he is renowned, the Commoder in Chief worries whether wife Melania maybe merely loves him only for his very stable genius covfefe. Harvey Weinstein is a millionaire movie mogul, yet you can’t tell me that in moments of self-doubt he doesn’t fret that his ripped physique was all that those women he definitely didn’t rape really cared about. And away from the mic, of course Luke and I agonise that our partners stick around for no reason other than our moderately successful pop culture podcast.
So then, it’s a universal fear: what if people only want you around for what you can do for them?
Now, imagine you’re also black, ensconced in white America. What if your Anglo girlfriend only wants you around for what you being black says about her?
Okay, then what if whitey in general only wants you around as an accessory, for what you being black says about whitey?
What if whitey only wants you around to exploit your talent, to monetise your ability for its own gain, to use you?
What if whitey only wants you around to literally use you?
That terrifying high-concept premise, the crescendo to which the plot builds, is one of a dozen things Get Out said to me. Jordan Peele has presented an essential angst within contemporary blackness and extrapolated to a deranged but honest conclusion. It speaks to a culture in which young African-American talent is welcomed by Anglo institutions, appropriated, packaged, sold, used up and then thrown away. As in the film’s brain-swap procedure, the victim’s vestigial consciousness remains – depicted suspended screaming in “the sunken place” – but physical autonomy is lost. The vassal vessel serves its new master – your speed, your strength, your eyes belong to whitey.
Peele is a director with a point of view and his superbly cast, modestly marvelous debut is thoroughly entertaining and, thank goodness, about something.
Stay tuned for Part Four!