Meewella | Critic

According to P

QuickView: The Fall Guy (2024)

“I’m not the hero of this story; I’m just the stunt guy.”

Colt Seavers

I have a soft spot for David Leitch, the stuntman-turned-director, who has produced some of the most creative and reliably entertaining action films of the last decade, particularly as the once-staple action comedy has fallen out of favour. Loosely based on an 80s TV show of the same name, The Fall Guy is an ode to Leitch’s former profession, with a stuntman reluctantly returning to work only to find himself immersed in real danger as he hunts for a missing movie star. The subject matter becomes increasingly meta as a number of action sequences flit between moviemaking stunts and the finished cinematic product, a further layer added during the credits which provide the film’s actual stunt crew with their moment in the spotlight. The heart of The Fall Guy is a love story, evident from the opening blast of “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, which is used not only as a recurring needle-drop but woven throughout Dominic Lewis’s bombastic score which combines orchestra, 80s synth and rock. Ryan Gosling shines, by turns charismatic and jaded, with guileless sleuthing reminiscent of his role in The Nice Guys. Emily Blunt’s Jodie is more rounded than a mere love interest, her bitterness selling the romance as much as the pair’s chemistry. Meanwhile the supporting cast provides colourful caricatures of Hollywood archtypes. The acting allows us to buy in, but ultimately The Fall Guy is only as good as its action choreography — fortunately it delivers, from a checklist of classic action shots to fresh variations on familiar stunts with clever flourishes. This is all more than entertaining enough to overlook a few plotholes — expect to laugh and spend a significant portion of the two hour running time grinning inanely.

8/10

QuickView: All of Us Strangers (2023)

“They say it’s a very lonely kind of life.”

Mum

Adapted by writer-director Andrew Haigh from a novel by Taichi Yamada, All of Us Strangers is a haunting exploration of love and traumatic grief in the mind of a struggling author. Andrew Scott is mesmerising as the unravelling Adam visiting his childhood home and conversing with his parents (particularly strange when set less than a mile from my own childhood home), the generational gap reflecting shifting societal attitudes toward homosexuality. Mescal is mysterious as the neighbour with whom he starts a relationship, though the supporting roles are all well-acted sketches, equally unknowable to Adam. Jamie Ramsay’s beautiful cinematography captures loneliness, isolating characters in both the darkness and the daylight. This, in combination with Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s score, provides tonal similarities with Living, to which they both contributed. Much of All of Us Strangers feels ephemeral, with gentle transitions between scenes feeling dreamlike, deliberately clouding what is real or imagined. The trauma Adam carries may be personal but the exploration here is universal — from the lifelong impact of small childhood moments to the discomfort of veiling one’s authentic self.

8/10

QuickView: Perfect Days (2023)

“The world is made up many worlds; some are connected, and some are not.”

Hirayama

Although Perfect Days is overtly influenced by Ozu (40 years after Wim Wenders made a documentary about the acclaimed Japanese director’s vision of Tokyo), it called to mind Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson in its quiet slice-of-life drama about a manual worker with an artistic mind through which we appreciate his world. Hirayama works as a janitor cleaning public toilets but he also appreciates the world through shadow and light as a photographer, whilst his small home is filled with books and cassette tapes — this an ode to the analogue. With a central character who is thorough, diligent, just, and kind, Wenders set out to create a film about “the common good” he saw as Japan emerged from two years of pandemic lockdown. He wrote the role for Koji Yakusho, who delivers an almost wordless performance, communicating largely through world-weary eyes (much like Irfan Khan in The Warrior). Hints emerge that Hirayama has abandoned a more privileged past, coupled with a recurring ill-focused black and white memory on the edge of his mind. A meditation on lonely life, fleeting connection with others allows Hirayama to re-orientate himself; that, and finding moments of beauty in the world, is enough.

8/10

QuickView: Dune: Part Two (2024)

“He’s not like the other strangers. He is sincere.”

Chani

My only real complaint with the introductory Dune: Part One was structural, its truncated story resulting in an unsatisfying ending, yet it provides Part Two with a perfect in-built arc as Paul Atreides learns the Fremen’s desert ways and rises as a rebel leader. At its heart, Dune is a warning about following charismatic leaders and the corruption of power (Herbert professed a view not that power corrupts but that it attracts corruptibility). Villeneuve’s most effective choice is a shift in perspective from Paul in Part One to Chani in Part Two, allowing us to watch as Paul’s fears of the violence that will ensue from messianic prophesy become subsumed by his desire for revenge. The camera frequently sits with Zendaya as Timothée Chalamet enters or exits a scene, making the subtler expressions in her performance pivotal despite Paul being the central focus of the story. Indeed Villeneuve’s adaptation is notably light on dialogue, putting faith in his actors’ ability to communicate their interior thoughts wordlessly, aided by the camera. Javier Bardem is the exception, clearly revelling in the satire of religious zeal that can interpret any events as fulfilment of prophecy. The production design remains stunning, contrasting Fremen religious archecture with the austere Harkonnen planet, its fascist overtones escalating to a near-monochrome military parade. Austin Butler’s Feyd-Rautha provides a deliciously brutal villain as much a product of his environment as his parentage. The film’s weakest element is the Emperor himself, Christopher Walken proving a slightly odd choice given his distinctive style. Part Two may accelerate toward its slightly rushed ending but, unlike its predecessor, it has a satisfying conclusion even as it sets up the adaptation of Dune Messiah that Villeneuve wants to make. In its scope, vision and execution, Dune Part Two is the best kind of science fiction epic.

9/10

QuickView: The Warrior (2001)

“There’s blood written on your face.”

Blind woman

British-born director Asif Kapadia is now best known for his award-winning documentaries Amy and Senna but he ambitiously opted to shoot his first feature in the deserts of Rajasthan and the Himalayas. Kapadia’s influences are immediately evident — the warriors in service of a a tyrannical lord echo the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa (an early draft was set in Japan) whilst the stunning desert landscapes draw from Sergio Leone’s Westerns. Blending these styles in a new location feels sufficiently fresh, and Kapadia crafts a meditative and mythic atmosphere around a lone warrior seeking redemption. The titular warrior, Lafcadia, is the role that established Irrfan’s Khan’s career at a time he was considering quitting the profession, and he is perfectly suited to it — with scant dialogue, The Warrior relies on his world-weary face to do much of the storytelling, and Kapadia rarely misses an opportunity to focus on the weight behind Khan’s eyes. This requires the audience to fill in the narrative history and much of his inner struggle. In one scene the sight of a knife and the swell of music seem to incite Lafcadia to violence but what makes The Warrior stand apart is that he is ultimately a man finding his way to peace rather than vengeance.

7/10

QuickView: The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

The Many Saints of Newark

“After he murdered me, Tony gave my wife and baby his pocket change. But that was much later.”

Christopher Moltisanti

There are considerable similarities between The Many Saints of Newark and El Camino: both provide an extension to a beloved prestige TV drama, both expertly recreated the tone and visual identity of the series, and both feel somewhat superfluous. At first I gave The Many Saints of Newark a wide berth, expecting banal fan service in a world without James Gandolfini. Although this prequel is filled with younger versions of familiar characters (including Gandolfini’s son playing a teenage Tony), its best decision is the focus on Dickie Moltisanti who never appeared in the show — this affords Alessandro Nivola the freedom to build out the character without paying homage to another performance, as well as delivering a full arc. Despite the 15 years that have passed, the involvement of creator David Chase as well as veterans from the show in directing and production design capacities makes this feel entirely set in the same world, notwithstanding the shift in era, beginning with the 1967 Newark riots. The script explores familiar themes: the dangerous tension between family and mob life, with infidelity and betrayal punctuated by explosive violence without indulging in it. Unfortuantely this is offset by what seems to be a half-hearted attempt to set up future story options, including a black American perspective (something decidedly absent in The Sopranos) that leaves incomplete storylines with thinly sketched characters. The resulting period gangster movie is something that begins to feel more like a Scorcese short film (at “just” two hours), compelling but without the nuanced depth of character and relationships that made The Sopranos such a landmark, an enduring legacy that The Many Saints of Newark neither tarnishes nor revitalises.

6/10

QuickView: Duck Butter (2018)

“I want to know you. For real.”

Sergio

Co-written by director Miguel Arteta and star Alia Shawkat, Duck Butter is the story of two women who are disillusioned with the dishonesty in dating and decide to spend 24 hours together in an effort to force a real connection. There is something very modern in the inane idea of speedrunning a relationship but I would also venture that spending 24 straight hours with a new lover is no longer that unusual an experience. What follows between reserved actress Naima and free-spirited singer Sergio feels less like a narrative arc than a series of mood swings between bouts of sex. Cinematographer Hillary Spera captures physical intimacy free of the male gaze through a focus on touch and skin contact with little explicit nudity. However the emotional intimacy feels artificial due to the script and unconvincing chemistry. Laia Costa is no stranger to portraying experimentation in romantic relationships — I first came across her in Newness, which had considerably more to say — but here her character seems to vary wildly from scene to scene. Perhaps the filmmakers intended to show the couple discovering each other’s emotional triggers and inevitable dishonesty in a compressed time period, but it feels hollow. There is considerable irony in an early scene when Naima tells the Duplass brothers (playing themselves) that a scene they are directing feels forced; that is true for most of Duck Butter.

5/10

QuickView: The Untamed (2016)

“What’s there in the cabin is our primitive side. It’s never going to disappear.”

Marta’s husband

Amat Escalante’s Mexican sci-fi horror is a sexually provocative exploration of the self-destructiveness of relinquishing oneself to desire. Its original title La Región Salvaje is literally “the wild region”, referring to both the physical and the interior. The Untamed features a tentacled alien creature (partially revealed in its opening scene) that serves as a metaphor for unrestrained sexual desire, offering an addictively pleasurable experience marred by the risk of harm. This parallels the human relationships we see, particularly a husband cheating with his wife’s brother fulfilling a hidden urge despite the risk it poses. The sexual acts between humans feel distanced rather than intimate, fuelled more by need than by affection with one partner taking a passive role. These are all interesting concepts to examine but The Untamed discharges most of its ideas in the first 15 minutes and is then content to let the meandering plot unfold without developing its ideas further. A foreboding atmosphere and beautiful portrayal of rural Mexico are sufficient to hold attention but the story fails to engage, its mysteries — like the alien’s origins or the couple who keep it — going unanswered.

6/10

QuickView: Poor Things (2023)

“I found nothing but sugar and violence.”

Bella Baxter

Where The Favourite lulled viewers into a false sense of security before indulging in Yorgos Lanthimos’ sly humour, Poor Things is open with its weirdness from the start. Adapted from Alasdair Gray’s novel, Poor Things is at its core a film about a young woman’s discovery of herself and the world, told through a kind of steampunk historic fable with a visual style reminiscent of Terry Gilliam. The opening chapter is steeped in gothic imagery, a scarred Willem Dafoe embodying both Dr Frankenstein and his monster, literally playing God as he shortens his name, Godwin. Lanthimos reunites with Emma Stone as Godwin’s creation, Bella, who begins undeveloped despite her adult body, toddling and prone to tantrums, the puffy shoulders of her costumes creating an unstable, top-heavy silhouette like the strange chimeric animals that fill the lavish house. I opted to see a rare 35mm film screening which faithfully recreated the cinematography choices, like lenses that provided distortion and mismatched sizing to heighten vignetting, replicating the effect of early cameras. Colour arrives as Bella sets off to travel Europe, accentuating the film’s painted backgrounds. Bella’s immaturity grants her the freedom typically commanded by men of the period, freed from societal constraints as she applies logic without understanding. Emma Stone’s performance is fascinating as Bella evolves over the course of the film in both knowledge and capability, whilst the men around her stagnate — it is a rare opportunity for a single actor to take a character from early childhood to realised adulthood. In the abstract many of the intermediate scenes are bizarre and uncomfortable — particularly given the quantity of sex — and Poor Things must have required extreme trust from its actors that Lanthimos would successfully tie this all together. He has always been a director of singular vision but here it seems stripped of pretension, producing something sly yet whimsical, witty yet haunting.

9/10

QuickView: Bait (2019)

“I haven’t lost me temper yet!”

Martin Ward

Mark Jenkin’s debut utilises similar experimental techniques to his follow-up Enys Men yet it is not only more accessible in its storytelling but also more successful in tying together its cinematic idiosyncrasies with its themes. Bait follows an irascible fisherman without a boat in a small Cornish fishing village in economic turmoil as its industry gives way to seasonal tourism. It sounds like traditional Ken Loach fare, but Jenkin’s choices in cinematography shroud Bait in thick atmosphere. Shot on 16mm monochrome film with a vintage hand-cranked Bolex camera, the images are filled with strobing and scratchy imperfections, coupled with the slightly dream-like quality of post-synchcronised audio. The dichotomy between Bait’s modern setting and its anachronistic low fidelity reflects the friction between locals and the encroaching city folk, the medium elevating the dramatic tension. Structurally, Jenkin telegraphs early on that some form of violence and arrest must ensue, repeatedly splicing in a handful of flash-forward frames. However, Bait ends with a more poetic epilogue that is slightly less satisfying, but leaves the audience to draw out their own conclusion to the piece. This is the very best kind of experimental cinema that is purposeful with its exploration of the form rather than merely curious.

9/10

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"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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