The GardenA blog by yours truly

Posts tagged as “films”

Stuff i watched recently

A still from “Poor Things”
Poor Things (2023)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959). My pick for family movie night. I’ve been accused of being a bit of a “miserabilist” (i’m sorry, but Synecdoche, New York bangs, and i have no regrets on making them watch it), so i thought i’d kick the year off with something a bit funny, a bit light-hearted, and a bit gay, and cor, was this an absolute classic! A comedy from the fifties about two men cross-dressing to infiltrate a women’s jazz band should be positively radioactive, but this misses all the potential pipelines of “well, you know, back in the day…” sewage and instead hits a gold-mine of timeless commentary on gender relations. I’m on Team Daphne — he’s so much more confident in being a woman than Josephine and does not deserve that terrible toad man. (And, having seen both this and Rear Window, i can finally weigh in: Grace Kelly is a thousand times prettier than Marilyn Monroe. Sorry.) An instant 10/10.
  • “Noöne knows who created skull trumpet (until now)”. Had to click this as soon as it appeared on my feed. There’s really something beautiful about the amateurism of the early web, how a woman with no formal training in graphic design or anything of the sort could make all these wonderful, whimsical images, and have one of them persist into the present day. Rest in peace, Cathy Jarboe, you beautiful diamond, you. 6½/10.
  • The Master (2012). Mama’s pick for family movie night. Philip Seymour Hoffman is incredible in this as an L. Ron Hubbard–style cult leader, to the extent that you often find yourself agreeing with him — i totally get why people join these sort of things now. Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand… man, i hate to say it, but i might be falling off the Phoenix train? He’s always doing that same snivelling Joker thing, even when it’s totally inappropriate like in Napoleon, and it’s getting kind of old. Joaquin Phoenix Play A Character With Social Skills Challenge (Impossible). Paul Thomas Anderson directs the shit out of this. 6/10.
  • The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). Rewatched with mama.1 Loved it even more than the first time, especially Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character. Just a terribly good-natured film that only sits in obscurity because of its obsequious title. It’s a shame Tim Robbins disappeared after this — i looked up his filmography and he seems to have been in bomb after bomb (Green Lantern, Mission to Mars…). 9/10.
  • Poor Things (2023, but didn’t come out until 2024 here). Watched at the Tyneside. I’d been eagerly awaiting this since i saw the bonkers trailer back in September, and it didn’t disappoint. There was a moment 15% of the way through where i thought i might walk out, but good lord, did it ever win me back over! Bella Scissorhands goes on a steampunk adventure across Europe filled with childlike whimsy, discovers herself, has lots of sex, and winds up Mark Ruffalo. Everyone is absolutely brilliant in this — special commendation to Willem Dafoe as a Scottish mad scientist. Already the strong front-runner for my favourite of the year. 9/10.

The 2023 Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™

I would like to kick off the second annual Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™ with an epigraph from myself, at the end of 2021, predicting what lay ahead. I wrote, and i quote:

Avatar 2 will bomb and possibly kill James Cameron’s career. Really: who on earth is actually excited by the idea of an Avatar sequel? Someone? Anyone?

Hahahaha oops!!!

The Laurel Wreath Award for Annual Achievement in Film

And the award goes to… Avatar 2: The Way of Water!
It came out in December and i watched it in January of 2023 — i’m counting it.

Look. Look. I’m not happy about this either. But he got me. That fucking James Cameron boomed me. I’ve never even seen the first one!

Everything about Avatar: The Way of Water puts our decade-long glut of superhero movies to shame. The visuals, thirteen years in the making, are indistinguishable from reality. (You will believe the sexy blue cat people are real, and you will rewatch it three times in Imax and still never figure out how they composited the scrawny human kid in.) Every tiny anthropological detail envelops you in the world of Pandora, meticulously constructed by the new god-king of worldbuilding. But most of all, it’s sincere. There are no tiresome quips of ”well, that just happened”. The characters never make fun of how silly this all is. It just lets itself be itself.

Some might shunt the film’s story and characters to the back seat, and in many ways, that’s fair: nobody goes to see an Avatar movie to find out if Jake and Neytiri get a divorce. But that’s just the James Cameron style, man! He paints with a broad brush, and because of that, his stories connect with everyone from Chicago to Chittagong. Noöne ever complained about Titanic just being Romeo and Juliet on a boat, after all.

So, much as it might bug the poser in me to heap praise upon the fourth-biggest film in history, congratulations to the best film of the year: the one with the smurfs.

The Zoetrope Award for Classic Cinema

And the award goes to… Synecdoche, New York!

I have too many thoughts about Synecdoche, New York and i’ve never been able to organise them all into anything coherent, so i’ve set a timer for fifteen minutes and i’ll just stop when i stop. This is going to be a mess.

So, first of all, this film is only two hours long. I say “only” because it feels like four when you’re watching it. This takes place over, god, what, thirty or forty years? And you feel time slipping away just as Caden does.

Oh, uh, Caden Cotard is our main character, a hypochondriac playwright with ambitions of dizzying scale, played masterfully by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’m not sure he’s meant to be a real person; rather, just as his fictional play (the size of the actual city of New York) balloons to its own world with its own Caden and its own play, he is just the creation of the unseen Ellen1, one world up, somewhere in between him and Charlie Kaufman.

There’s a moment halfway through that might be the best single second in a movie ever. Caden goes to Berlin to find his long-lost daughter Olive working as a prostitute — and as he enters the brothel, the door creaks behind him… sounding just like a baby’s cry.

I put off watching this movie forever because i knew it was bloody depressing, and indeed, i spent the last half barely containing a film of salt water behind my eyes. Two main candidates for best scene (spoilers!) — Sammy (the stalker who Caden hires to play himself)’s heart breaking, and the very end, where everything fades to grey.

Jon Brion’s score is incredible, by the way.

That shot, when Caden finds out his dad died, and Sammy’s shadow looms behind the curtains like the Grim Reaper? Brilliant.

The one piece of the puzzle i still can’t figure out is what’s up with Maria. She’s this corrupting influence on everyone Caden loves, but bears the name of the Virgin Mary — which makes it difficult to slot her in, as i tried, as the Devil to Ellen’s God. Hm.

It’s funny how Caden never really gets any sicker, but the world around him does. (There’s some gender identity stuff in there too, but honestly it all seems like the type of thing that could be attributed to other stuff to me. I don’t think Caden’s literally trans, he just happens to be the self-insert of a woman.)

That’s my fifteen minutes up. Synecdoche, New York! Greatest movie ever made.

The Pebbledash Dildo Award for Cinematic Disappointment

And the award goes to… The Congress!
Again, not a 2023 film, but i actually quite liked every 2023 film i watched, and i was annoyed enough by this one to put it on here instead.

It all started so innocently. It was a family movie night, and me and my mam were in the mood for something uplifting. I’d asked on Reddit for movies with the same manic exuberance as The Fifth Element or Elvis, where some strange new colourful thing is thrown at the screen a mile a minute and the viewer is ripped along for the ride.

Mad Max: Fury Road? Seen it. Mandy? Not in the mood for horror. But The Congress? Now that sounded interesting. The reviews were coy, but all praised the psychedelic, mind-bending world crafted by director Ari Folman.

Count us in, i suppose. And so began my journey into hell.

To get the “coveted” Pebbledash Dildo, you don’t just have to be bad. It is, after all, an award for disappointment. You must have a kernel of a great idea within you, one that is so simple to make something good out of, and fuck it all up anyway. That kernel can be found in a single brilliant scene, a diamond within this pile of filmic zirconia.

A live-action Robin Wright stands in the centre of a sphere of cameras blaring at her

The premise of The Congress is more relevant now than ever, in this age of digital doubles, deepfakes, and AI actors. Robin Wright plays herself, who reluctantly decides to scan herself into digital form, so the studio can use her likeness forevermore without her having to break a sweat. As she stands among the blaring lights of the scanner, her agent recounts to her the story of how they first met, bringing tears to her eyes. It’s a genuinely touching moment, and a springboard off of which so many ideas could dive, a trunk from which so many stories might branch.

Then it all goes to pot, and thirty years later, everyone is permanently on drugs, and so the film switches to oh god what the fuck is that get it off get it off get it off my fucking screen

So Robin Wright, now in a world of terrifying Newgrounds Betty Boop clones, attends the titular congress, where the CEO of the subtly named Miramount does a Hitler rally for his new drug. Then she meets generic Prince Charming man, the very person who scanned her in to the system — an interesting idea that they do absolutely nothing with — and they have ugly cartoon sex, she gets locked in a freezer for 300 years, and she goes in a balloon to find her terminally ill son… or… something?

I have never seen a film fumble the ball this badly, and be such an assault on the senses to boot. You won, Ari. Enjoy the money; i hope it makes you happy. Dear lord, what a sad little life, Ari. You’ve ruined my night completely.

Miscellaneous awards

  • The Golden Lyre Award for Excellence in New Music: Edinburgh-based Young Fathers’ euphoric senior album Heavy Heavy stole the show this year.
  • The Broken Link Award for Best Use of Hypertext: The best “miscellaneous thing” i saw online was Atlas Altera, an absolutely ludicrous worldbuilding project dedicated to the surgical maximalisation of global diversity.
  • The Fred Figglehorn Memorial Award for Online Video: Spanning the end of 2022 to the start of 2023, Geowizard’s “How not to travel America” series brightened up my day every time a new one appeared on my feed. People are just nice!
  • The Hubert J. Farnsworth Award for Good News, Everyone!: This one may be a wee bit controversial, but i have to go with the rollout of a new generation of obesity drugs (most famously semaglutide) — which not only finally work to combat obesity, but seem to dull all sorts of other harmful impulses too. One step closer to true freedom of form?

Movie review: Goncharov 2 (Gonchathon day 37)

The internet was lit ablaze last year with the rediscovery of Martin Scorcese’s obscure masterpiece Goncharov, and it’s easy to see why. Accessible yet complex, of its time and yet progressive, it was ripe for a critical reëvaluation.

What people don’t often hear about is its sequel — one that Marvel’s biggest fanboy didn’t even know existed. The rights having fallen into the lap of the bloated corpse of Cannon Entertainment, they dumped it straight to video in 1989, leaving it to be forgotten.… until now!!!

Goncharov 2: The Quest for Gonch (sold in the USSR as The Quest For God) is the biggest piece of shit since the fat one i laid in the McDonald’s deep fryer last weekend.1 The Gonch himself is no longer played by Robert DeNiro — clearly too good for this shit — but an up and coming Danny DeVito, wearing an unconvincing latex mask which sits somewhere in between Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky and that one I Think You Could Leave skit.

Personally, I think this was one of Devito’s better roles. Casting Devito to replace Deniro was an odd choice, but that’s what happens when the Farrelly Brothers direct a mafia film.

Yes, this was the Farrelly Brother’s first picture. They tried taking a more serious film for their first work, but it falls flat on its face in many places. I found the scene where the Gonch huffs thirteen cans of glue to be quite amusing for all the wrong reasons. Devito put his heart—

I neither know nor care who you are but please stop defending The Quest for Gonch™. The Goncharov Cinematic Universe does not need this sort of slander, and neither does this blog!

Listen, there is TONS of potential for the Goncharov Cinematic Universe to expand from this film. It’s not the best film, sure it’s… well… 

…..

…well, it is definetly2 a film.

Well if you’re going to get technical, it’s not a film! It’s a video! I’d say it was shot on a potato, but that’s an insult to potatoes — when you compare it to the beautiful composition of Gonch 1™’s ending clock shot, this was shot on a yam.

Ok, sure, the picture quality wasn’t the best, but I’d blame that on the film’s rushed development. It was first approved by Scorceses in the late 1980s as a fallback in case he was killed by a conservative lynch mob during the production of The Last Temptation of Christ as a fallback.

You have no understanding of the complex lore behind /The Quest for Go(nch|d)/, you absolute fucking nitwit. You fool. You Fucking Nimrod.

The Last Temptation of Christ was released in 1988, and Concharov II was released in 1989—

Martin Scorcese had no involvement in this. This was that fucker Matteo Bunchofnumbers’ idea. You know how i know that? Because if Martin Scorsese knew about the existence of Goncharov 2: The Quest for Gonch, he’d have not only killed himself, but figured out how to kill himself twice.

You’re half-right; he had no involvement in the film, but he did approve its creation solely to profit off of any VHS sales. I know this because a friend’s cousin’s nephew’s sister-in-law’s boss’ son’s great uncle knew a guy who worked for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and did an interview with Scorsese not long before the film’s release.

I guess killing yourself twice just results in you coming back to life. Look — regardless of Marty McFly or whatever his name is’ affiliation with it, can we focus on the end product? I mean, that scene where Kremlinova trips over her high heels in that blue dress, and then when it cuts to the next shot, it’s orange! Orange! Don’t you try and fucking pretend it’s some deep symbolism that predicted the rise of every movie poster in the 2000s, it’s just the director having a fucking washing sponge6 for a brain!

Actually, I thought it was one of the more insightful scenes of the film. The dress colors symbolize the slow and gradual fall of Russian society from great pride in an idealistic world to the growing realization that said utopian dreams will never fruition, and the subsequent moral collapse 127.192.34.27 therein.

They could’ve used a better dress for the scene, though. 73 West Boulevard, Ocala, Florida8

So then Goncharov gets aids. You know — given how tenderly G1 / Gonch Wick Chapter 1 handled its gay love scenes, there’s a real opportunity there! But since this is being directed by Thomas Ouiseau (no relation? I think?), he “catches aids from a government cactus”, starts coughing up blood, and immediately says “i have the aids” and dies. Yes! I’m writing over you! Fuck you!

My least favorite part of the film would be the scene where Goncharov punches an Albanian consort woman. It was not necessary to the plot at all, and just felt like a dated excuse to throw in a bar fight scene. Oh my god, are you seriously writing over me? Wha- how is this even possible?

Fine, you know what, here.

You’ve heard of Marsyas and Applo before, right?

You’re in Comic Sans now.

hhhNOOOOO

when the goncharov is the the gonch goncharov

You know what, hang on, this is my blog. I don’t have to put up with this crap. I can just tell you to leave. Or whatever.

That feels rude, actually, now i think of it.

I was never invited, so telling me to leave simply doesn’t work in the first place. Algorian logic. Pretty deep stuff interdimensional. Don’t think a normie like you would understand.

Look, can we just agree on a rating out of 10 and then go? The people need to know if G2® is worth the purchase!

0.85/10.

I think you’re being too nice with that 0.85. I mean, what is this? IGN?

Thrembo/10. Too many overly long sex scenes.

That’s not even a real number. Not since the incident.

Anyway — i give Goncharov 2: The Quest for God (God never shows up, incidentally, unless you count the Kandinsky painting in the beach scene) an (e+1)/10.

I revise my earlier rating. Rational numbers are better for ratings.

I give the film a -b±√(b²-4ac) 2a/10. Has the potential for greatly expanding the Goncharov universe, but its attempts at being both a psychological thriller and a slapstick humor film wrapped into a mafia film are simply too confusing for most viewers.

Thankfully, the first Goncharov11 film on VHS was also the last. And it’s stayed that way ever since. (We don’t talk about the Blockbuster trilogy.12) Good night.

Movie review: Vanilla Sky

Title of movie: Vanilla Sky

Year of release: 2001

Starring: Tom Cruise

Director: “Cameron Crowe” (possibly Tom Cruise in a latex mask)

Plot: Rich prick gets in a car accident, has some nasty dreams, and then Mr Exposition shows up in the great glass elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the last 10 minutes to explain everything

Director’s taste in music: Same as mine; you can tell because this film has like fifteen pointless needle dropsa

Does it contain a Tom Cruise Triathlon™?b No, although he does do a Tom Cruise Run™ at least once

Does it at least have good ideas? It has the germs of things that might be called ideas, but none that haven’t been done better before

Overall review:

WHEN YOU BUY ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND ON

ON WISH DOT COM

My first love

A shuttle and a destroyed spacecraft framed in shadow against an ice-white planet

When i was eleven, my dad told me to come downstairs. (I was on holiday at the time, you see, on my semiannual Divorce Custody Trip® back to the fatherland, where i could gorge myself on as many sweets and spit out as many cuss words as i wanted.) He had something to show me on his home cinema setup.

Normally it would be some documentary about watchmaking or nuclear waste storage or any number of things that took his fleeting fancy. Neither of us were much for fiction, and my young self especially wasn’t much of a cinephile. I don’t think my taste in movies had updated much since i watched Finding Nemo on a loop at age three.

Two and a half hours later, there i was, on his lily-white fake-leather sofa, my jaw agape, needing a lie down to take it all in. That was the day i met my first favourite film: Interstellar.

Dust storm

Christopher Nolan has a reputation for mind-bending bombast, but his directing is actually quite plain when you get down to it. His palette of colours would be more at home in a hardware store than an art department.a He has little time for the fancy camera trickery so beloved by his fellow mass-market auteurs like Spielberg and Zemeckis. He shoots his pictures as they are, not as a painter might like them to be.

It works to his detriment as often as in his favour. The Dark Knight trilogy’s dedication to surgically removing every ounce of colour and whimsy from its inherently campy source sucks it dry of life and fun. (Whenever Heath Ledger isn’t on screen, all the other characters should be asking, “where’s the Joker?”) But in the intervening years, it seems that Mr Nolan figured out how to use his un-style to his advantage.

On Earth, he shoots everything like, well, a Christopher Nolan film — a look that perfectly suits such a drab, dying world of omnipresent dust storms and weltering crops. When the plot shoots past the stratosphere and into the stars, he anchors his fantastic alien worlds and black holes of tantalising beauty against that same pedestrian style; devoid of his peers’ tricks and flourishes, you get the sense that if his gargantuan star-eaters and tome-tiled tesseracts were real, this is exactly what they would look like.

Matthew McConaughey crying

Much has been made of Interstellar’s Achilles’ heel: lurve. I'd like to offer a lukewarm defence. Many take Anne Hathaway’s speech about love as a force “transcending dimensions of time and space” as exposition, seeing her character, Amelia Brand, as a simple mouthpiece for the Messrs Nolan’s hamfisted platitudes. I would call this a severely mistaken interpretation.

Dr Brand’s lines come at the lowest point in her life. She has spent years — decades, from Earth’s view — floating alone in space; now, the crew have to decide how to use their one remaining shot to save all mankind. She isn’t making any profound statements or logical arguments. She is desperately trying to explain to the two men beside her why she thinks, right or wrong, that they should take the risk and visit her former lover’s last known location rather than the closer world the other two prefer. It’s clunky and melodramatic, but that’s the point: she’s grasping at straws, willing to do anything to see her love again. Her speech gives balance against her comrades’ assumption that cold, hard logic is all that matters, throwing gut feeling and emotion out the airlock.

When Cooper falls into that black hole and finds himself wall to wall with a myriad versions of his daughter, it isn’t some literal fundamental force of “love” that brings him there. It is his acceptance of Dr Brand’s romanticism over Mann’s enlightenment. Cold calculations have brought him nought but ruin, forcing him to watch his daughter grow up in front of his eyes and nearly killing both him and the whole human race; so, he lays down his mask, dives into what science tells him is certain doom, and lets the man who wept at those 20 years of messages take control.

I’m not sure that it all comes together in the end. Matthew McConaughey is a fine performer, but the role of Cooper deserves someone who can give it the gravitas (heh) and sensitivity his trauma deserves — not just screaming “Murph!!!” over and over. Mr Nolan’s script is utilitarian as ever; misunderstood as it may be, Dr Brand’s tangent fits into the rest of the film about as well as a cat fits into a baseball glove.

That slack-jawed night on the sofa would begin a new tradition. Every time i shuttle back and forth between England and Holland, i queue up Hans Zimmer’s score on my earbuds, and try to time it juuuuust right, such that the second the jet takes off, “Mountains” comes to its peak or “No Time for Caution”’s organs begin to blare. There’s a lot of flicks i like better these days — Interstellar would probably barely scrape the top ten — but there’ll always be a warm place in my heart for my first love.

A cool wormhole

The 2022 Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™

Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, but they both have ram’s horns crudely drawn on

Welcome, one and all, to the 2798th annual Horny Awards! Every year since humans figured out how to count them, the Satyrs’ Forest has presented hand-made, custom trophies to the best works of the year that was. It’s an astoundingly long-lasting tradition, and definitely not something i made up just now.

2022 was one of the years ever. Things, i’m told, occurred. People were born; people were taxed; people died. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released several albums. It will go down in the history books as “the year between 2021 and 2023”. On with our show.

Film

The Laurel Wreath Award for Annual Achievement in Film

Our first category marks all the wonderful movies that were made in this past year — which is quite a lot, so my apologies to all those films who i either didn’t mention or didn’t have time to see!

There can only be one winner, but i’ll start off with a lightning round of honourable mentions. Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis was like being locked inside a room with an insane person for two and a half hours, and i loved every ridiculous, extravagant, kinetic minute of it. Tom George’s See How They Run and Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery were brilliant and funny throwback mysteries which really needed more time and appreciation in the cinema. And i dearly hope David Letich’s Bullet Train becomes the new Fast and Furious2Bullet2Train! Bullet Train 3: This Time it’s a Plane! Bullet ISS! The possibilities are endless.

An especially honourable mention goes to Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, a tender horror romance which almost made it to the main list before i realised that i hadn’t actually all that much to say on it. It’s a metaphor for something, i tell ya hwat…

It could have done with less of the hot-dog fingers, but anyone who would leave our first “official” runner-up off of their year-end list is a heartless bastard. On paper, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a recipe for everything everywhere to go totally wrong: a riff on The Matrix with a tenth of the budget, directors whose last work was a movie where Daniel Radcliffe farts a lot, and a sense of humour firmly dated to Reddit circa 2012. Yet it pulls it off.

This is a movie where people beat each other up with dildos, where a hallway of people literally explodes into colour and light, and where the equivalent of the Death Star is an everything bagel. It is also one of the only movies to have made me bawl like a baby in the cinema. Everything Everywhere is an anti-cynical, anti-nihilistic manifesto for our time. Yes, nothing matters! and yes, you might not write the next great American novel or paint a masterpiece! but the world has so much joy and beauty, so many minuscule details that you pass by every day, so for goodness’ sake, even if you’re just doing laundry and taxes, take your time to enjoy the little things in life.

I need to go hug my mum.

Blockbusters aren’t what they used to be, are they? Ever since Endgame, Marvel have been running on autopilot, releasing a steady stream of snarky CGI sludge made more out of obligation than passion. They don’t even work as escapism anymore — the fantastical isn’t fantastic when every billion-dollar release is set in a world of superheroes and sci-fi.

Like Everything Everywhere, our other runner-up is a prime example of a movie that just shouldn’t work. It’s a sequel to a 40-year-old film so mediocre i turned it off halfway through, made as a cynical cash-grab recruitment ad for the navy, with a topic and plot designed to appeal exclusively to Your Dad.1 Yet, through sheer dumb luck, Paramount hit the jackpot on Top Gun: Maverick.

Obviously, Tom Cruise is an absolute charisma magnet and the best part of every movie he’s ever been in. But that seductive Scientologist smile only goes so far (just look at The Mummy), and that’s where our director comes in. Joseph Kosinski doesn’t have a particularly long track record; it would be easy to mistake him for a typical director-for-hire. His dialogue scenes don’t stand out from the pack, and he’s not particularly creative with the camera, but that doesn’t matter. What he excels at is spectacle.

2010’s Tron: Legacy is a profoundly middling film in terms of its plot and characters, but it gained a cult following thanks to the delicious combination of Daft Punk’s killer score with Mr Kosinski’s brilliant visuals and action. He took that computerised world of bits and bytes and gave it stakes, weight, and a sense of scale, where a Marvel hack would have told the VFX guy to just press render and go with whatever comes out.

So you take a director whose most known work is a spectacular CG effects-fest and a lead actor famous for his insistence on doing all of his own stunts, and what do you get? The best blockbuster film of the decade, that’s what. The original Top Gun’s plane scenes drag and drag with no real purpose; in Maverick, every flight has something at stake, with non-stop action — but the film still knows when to pull back and take a breather to give its characters heart. My icy, cynical heart knew that i was being manipulated every step of the way, knew that every pull of the strings was planned out in advance, knew that this film was made for money and nothing else… but i’ll be damned if i didn’t start crying at that Val Kilmer cameo.

Go and see Top Gun: Maverick on the biggest screen you can, whether that’s a 1080p computer monitor or an Imax cinema. You won’t regret it.

Our two runners-up were films that i would recommend to anyone, anywhere, of any age, and at any time. They have something for everyone. First place, on the other hand…

If you believe the lame-stream media, our winning film was the result of arthouse horror hero Robert Eggers being given a blank check by Universal to make a big period action movie. This is false. It was created by scientists in a lab in Durham to appeal to me and me specifically. (You can tell because i was the only person who actually went out and watched it.)

Based on the Norse legend behind Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman is an epic following Large Scandinavian Man as the viking Amleth, son of a deposed king, on his journey to avenge his father with the power of Odin and testosterone2 on his side.

When i call Amleth a viking, i do not mean that all-too-common sanitised Hollywood depiction of a 20th-century Christian in pagan clothing. No; his society and its ways are portrayed as they were, warts and all, regardless of what the audience might feel about it. The vikings of this film keep slaves, burn down houses, consult witches (memorably played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, and Björk, in decreasing order of screentime), mock Jesus, and pray to Gods as a fact of life. (The film never particularly demeans them for the latter three, which i found a welcome reprieve from paganism’s usual relegation to the villains of horror schlock.) The only concession to modern mores is the absence of polygamy, because splashing people with period blood and cutting off heads is okay but good heavens a second wife?????

Mr Eggers and his crew schlepped all the way to Iceland for filming and made good bloody use of it. Whether its long shots are focused on nature’s rolling fields and bursting volcanoes or humanity’s flame-lit funerals and grimy oarsmen, the result is consistently one of the most beautiful things of the year.

It’s not for everyone. It’s long, and those just there for the action will find themselves asking when they’re going to get to the fireworks factory. It’s gory. It’s grim. But it’s definitely for me.

The Zoetrope Award for Classic Cinema

Hey, did you like the Matrix sequels? Do you want to watch a three-hour-long film where every character is played by the same six actors? No? Well, too bad, because the best film i watched in 2022 that wasn’t released that year was the Wachowski sisters’3 Cloud Atlas.4

There was a point, about 60% of the way through this three-hour-long movie, where i started to wonder if it was all worth it. I’d seen Tom Hanks attempting a Cockney accent, Hugo Weaving in unconvincing Asian prosthetics, and a lot of people saying “tru-tru” a lot of times. Surely it was impossible to tie this all together into a satisfying conclusion.

I started having flashbacks to The Matrix Resurrections, an endlessly creative film plagued by its own self-obsessions and Lana Wachowski’s inability to not put the first thing that came into her head into the script. Was this going to be the same? Are the sisters trapped in an endless cycle of almost-but-not-quite?

And then there was a point, about 90% of the way through, where i started crying. They’d squared the circle, tied all six stories up into a neat bow; an epic told on the scale of centuries, where actors cross boundaries of time, nationality, race, and gender; a film that would be their magnum opus were it not for the long shadow of The Matrix. I don’t know how they did it, but they did — and thus nudged their record of hits against misses slightly to the positive side.

The Pebbledash Dildo Award for Cinematic Disappointment

2022 was a good year for bad movies. Moonfall was the peak of so-bad-it’s-good Emmerichian excess. Morbius morbed all across the internet. And the usual Marvel schlock was even shlockier than usual. But nobody thought those films would be any good anyway — it’s hard to be disappointed when you don’t have any expectations in the first place.

So, by God, was i disappointed in Nope. From Jordan Peele, critics’ favourite rising star, this sci-fi Hollywood horror brims with so many creative ideas and metaphors that they all boil over and don’t go anywhere. I can only imagine that a quarter of the script got sucked up into a UFO and they decided to just keep shooting. There are so many great ideas in this film, and it’s a darned shame they wound up such an anticlimax.

The Comfy Sofa Award for Peak Television

I don’t actually watch much television; i’ve always found it hard to get invested for the “long haul”. Ben Stiller’s Severance, made for Apple’s floundering streaming service, is a slow burner, the sort of thing i despise — but its slowness is methodical, carefully drip-feeding you bits of information whilst never wasting its time on fluff and filler.

It’s strange. It’s puzzling. It’s brilliant. And the final episode is some of the best TV i’ve ever seen. If i could, i’d sever myself — just to watch it all over again.

Music

The Golden Lyre Award for Excellence in New Music

It’s The 1975.

Well, no point in dragging that out. They may not be the best band in the world, but they are my favourite band in the world; their eclectic pop-rock sensibilities are what got me into music, and i’ll always appreciate them for that.

This isn’t just a sentimental pick. Being Funny in a Foreign Language sees the band trim away the fat and bloat of their previous works and hold back on the eclectic experimentation of the Music for Cars era, settling on a distilled, refined version of the sound that defined their first record. There are no bloated instrumentals, no experimental noodlings; just, as their international tour proudly suggests, The 1975 At Their Very Best.

No album came close to blowing them out of the water — because i’m a soppish fanboy — but to whet your appetite, here are some more of my favourite songs of 2022. (In no particular order.)

The Hurdy-Gurdy Award for Enduring Musical Resonance

It was with some trepidation that i typed the word “Pagan” into RateYourMusic’s charts function, knowing the reputation that explicitly religious music has. The words “Christian rock” have always been accented with a sneer, and the most well-known Pagan musician of the modern age is an unrepentant church-burning neo-nazi.

Right at the top, after i’d filtered out all of the metal (apologies, metalheads; it just isn’t my bag), sat XTC’s Apple Venus Volume One. You won’t find it on streaming — frontman Andy Partridge has few kind words for the likes of Spotify — but i made do with a pirate Youtube playlist until i tracked down a physical copy at the shops.

Apple Venus is the group’s penultimate album, and even knowing nothing about them, I could tell. It drips with aching sincerity, the kind that dips into corny pastiche, in that particular way that only happens when a band who have spent their whole career dripping with snark and cynicism realise that they’re getting too old for this shit.

And that’s all i wrote.

Some other favourite old songs i discovered this year:

The Sad Trombone Award for Most Disappointing Music

I’ve been getting into post-rock recently, and there are a few albums which seem to be near and dear to fans’ hearts. Sigur Rós’ Ágætis byrjun, a surprisingly accessible masterclass. Godspeed You Blank Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists, the best soundtrack for a movie that never existed. Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, a bit too jazzy for my tastes. A few more that i’ve yet to listen to.

Then there’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place.

Explosions in the Sky’s third album is widely beloved. It tops lists with the big guns. It often shows up on genre “starter pack” lists. There is a teensy, tiny problem with this: it’s shite.

Well, alright, i thought, two tracks in. Maybe it picks up by the end? Everyone is raving about that closing track, “Your Hand in Mine” — and then that was shite too!

This is music for a car commercial. It is the Imagine Dragons of post-rock. It’s the sort of music a TV network might play as inspirational backing for their Paralympic coverage. It is sappy, insipid, and uninspired dross of the purest and vilest sort, and it boggles the mind to think how it ever got the reputation it now has. See me after class.

The electronic arts

The King’s Dice Award for Interactive Entertainment

Just one game found its home amongst my digital shelves this years, and i have yet to find the opportunity to complete it. Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn wins by acclimation — so far it’s stylish, intriguing, and fun to solve, but again, i’ve not finished it! We’ll see if it sticks the landing.

The Broken Link Award for Best Use of Hypertext

Homestuck isn’t very good. It has an undeniably appealing cast of characters and charmingly naïve art — you don’t get millions of fans without doing something right — that are sadly weighed down by its author’s baffling decision, faced with all the sprawling multi-media possibilities of the web, to tell its story entirely in walls of unreadable monospaced text.

Wired Sound for Wired People isn’t my thing. It has undeniably mastered a medium: its flickering pink pixels and eerie soundscapes build an unmistakable mix of intrigue and unease, beckoning you to follow it down the rabbit hole. But it lacks a message to go with it — there’s no story to speak of, just a collage of strange and trippy scenes.

So what if someone were to combine the best bits of both, and undo their shortcomings? Idiosyncratic, eerie audiovisuals, with relatable dramatis personæ, and a compelling story which uses the power of hypertext to its fullest?

Enter Corru.observer. Linked to me by someone whose homepage i’d complimented — with no other comment than that it was a friend’s “personal site” — Corru puts you in the seat of an archæologist(?) some decades(?) in the future(?), trying to piece together the memories of an alie… i’ll let you find out the rest. There’s only an “episode” and a half out right now, and i can’t wait to see where it goes.

The Fred Figglehorn Memorial Award for Online Video

2022 was not short of epically un-short videos. Internet Historian put together a fully animated retelling of the story of Floyd Collins, a 1920s farmer who found himself stuck upside down in a treacherously narrow cave. It clocks in at an hour and ten minutes. Kevin from Defunctland’s weirdly emotional investigation into the Disney Channel theme runs an hour and a half. Stuart Brown’s Xcom retrospective? 1:40.

But in the age of Tiktok and Vine, it pays to be succinct. Our winner by no means reaches the six-second nirvana of those two platforms, but at 25 minutes, it would fit comfortably into a half-hour broadcast slot on telly — not bad on a site increasingly dominated by 7-hour videos about people watching sitcoms for children.

That winner is Michael Stevens’s video on the origin of selfies. In it brief runtime, it answers every question i never knew i had about the selfie, while spinning in a number of fascinating tangents and eyebrow-raising questions (in the typical Vsauce house style). It even got me to renovate the gallery just to add that photo by Anastasia. Cheese!

The real world

The Spruce Panflute Award for Outdoor Splendour

I perused many places during my walks out and about this year, but none so consistently provided me with so many new sights as the Ouseburn, a small but mighty stream which winds its way in the east of Newcastle from suburbs to leafy woods to industry to hipster vegan cafés. Every time i thought i’d seen it all, the Ouseburn revealed a new cranny, some quirky establishment or warp in the city’s fabric, something different to explore.

Dusk falls on the river Tyne as all five bridges which span it are seen in the background
This is what we in the industry refer to as “the money shot”.

The Crackling Heath Award for Indoor Wonder

Affleck’s Palace is the beating heart of Mancunian counterculture; a labyrinthine maze of shops which across their three floors sell everything from rose ice cream to bath bombs to incense to Hatsune Miku–themed fizzy drinks… and i can’t tell you any more than that, because i haven’t finished my post about it yet!

Really, though — Affleck’s has it all and more, and i’ll be sure to stop by next time i go down south.

The Hubert J. Farnsworth Award for Good News, Everyone!

Day in, day out, we are flooded with the latest news of disasters and terrors from around the globe. It gets the views, it gets the hits, and it gets the clicks; it’s no wonder journos love to accentuate the negative.

The Hubert J. Farnsworth Award is an antidote to doom and gloom, honouring the best thing that happened in 2022. It was a late entry, but it could hardly be anything other than…

…The National Ignition Facility, the U.S. government lab who reported that, for the first time, they’d gotten more energy out than they put in via fusion power. There are hiccups, of course; the facility’s magnets guzzled dozens of times more power than the reactor itself. But every stepping stone has its imperfections, and this is the first great step to a truly prosperous future — where energy is too cheap to meter, where power is so abundant that there will be hardly a grain of economic sense in the idea of tapping any more of Gæa’s precious little black gold.

Happy belated new year, everyone. And as always — may it be better than the last!

Back to the Future (2024)

POV: Robert Zemeckis just died and you are a cynical Universal exec with dollar signs in your eyes.

Back to the Future
A poster showing a DeLorean with the tagline “You're gonna see some serious stuff”.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay by
Based on
Starring1
Music by
Production
companies
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • June 7, 2022 (2022-05-27) (United States)
Running time
152 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $200 million[2]
Box office $985 million[3][4]
Sequels

Don’t Worry Darling is not the greatest film ever made

I was bored the other day, so i thought i’d go see a film. The problem, my dear readers, is that i have this terribly unlucky habit: 70% of the time, when i go see a film at the cinema, it’s not very good — and i can confirm that Don’t Worry Darling is, indeed, not very good.

If you’ve heard anything about Don’t Worry Darling, it’ll be about the juicy, juicy behind-the-scenes drama, involving saucy affairs between director Olivia Wilde and the film’s leading male star, an exasperated Chris Pine, and Shia LaBeouf. But we’re not going to be talking about any of that — instead, we’ll be talking about the topic everyone is desperately avoiding: the movie itself. Oh dear.

A promotional still showing Florence Pugh making a confused and terribly concerned face at the camera
© Universal or whoever distributed it i don’t really care.

The film boils down to a thin Truman Show pastiche following a troubled couple in an idyllic American suburb, wherein a 1950s housewife, imaginatively named Alice Warren, questions what her controlling husband, the inexplicably British Jack Chambers, actually does at his mysterious government job. The wonderful Florence Pugh, hot off of 2019’s Midsommar, gives her all with the script she’s given as Alice, and is easily one of the standout parts of the film. Jack, on the other hand… Jack is played by Harry Styles, a man who should not act. (Every pop star nowadays seems to think they can walk the tightrope between music and cinema as easily as Lady Gaga does, and it never quite seems to work out for them.)

So, let’s put ourselves in Ms Wilde’s shoes. You have one common plot structure, one brilliant lead actress, and one so-so lead actor. How do you make this movie… good?

Well, first you load up the secondary cast with talented people. KiKi Lane and Chris Pine both absolutely kill it in their respective roles — Margaret, a troubled neighbour to Alice, and Frank, Jack’s hammy villainous boss — but neither character feels fully fleshed out; Mr Pine in particular finds himself with not much to do despite ostensibly being the driving force behind the plot.

You can also pour piles upon piles of money into your film’s technical aspects. The quaint suburb in which Jack and Alice live is designed to within an inch of its life, and every shot is clear, crisp, and packed with colour while not being too overbearing — like a James Bond film or, if you’re being unkind, a perfume commercial.

Alright. You’ve got your cast, you’ve got your style, now you just need to… ah, god, what was it? You look down at the smudged writing on your hand — ah, yes, the script! You have to write a script, with, like, a plot and stuff.

You wake up from a terrible dream. You are no longer Olivia Wilde. You are once again the handsome reader of the blog of an even handsomer webmixter, who politely informs you that the film’s one-block-wide Jenga tower of a storyline, while it seemed to be setting up for an interesting conclusion, falls apart completely in the third act. The film’s writers pull out every cliché in the book — “it was all in VR!” “our protagonist’s best friend was in on it!” “if you die in the game you die in real life!” — in the space of about ten minutes, with barely any of it given room to breathe. (In fact, that third revelation comes after a pivotal death scene.) Just as the audience wonders what impact this will have on the plot going forward, the film just… ends, with a distinctly unsatisfying resolution to our hero’s story, and an air of “well why did they even bother?” about the villainous plot.

All in all, i really can’t recommend watching Don’t Worry Darling — perhaps catch it on streaming when it comes out if it piques your interest, but don’t spend your heard-earned Lizzies on going to the cinema to watch Harry Styles gaslight his wife for an hour and a half. (5/10)

Pass notes: some other films of note

See How They Run is a fun, Wes Anderson–lite romp of a mystery story that gets in and out and does what it needs without making too much of a fuss about itself. Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell drive around in a tiny blue ’50s police car; what more could you possibly want? (7½/10)

The Woman King is a fine enough (alternate-)historical epic carried on the backs of some terrific performances by Thuso Mbedu and Viola Davis. (6/10)

I wasn’t expecting to be so spellbound by a seventy-year-old drama film of a bunch of people talking in a room, but i absolutely could not take my eyes off of 12 Angry Men, which you should really just go watch right now. (9/10)

I think Morbius might legitimately be the worst film i’ve ever seen on the big screen. The basic idea has potential, and for the first 15 minutes or so, i was cautiously optimistic — but then it all gets smothered by a mountain of pure gobshite and some of the worst dialogue ever put to screen.i

Letter of recommendation: Censor

A film poster split into two parts by a VHS ripple effect ; the top, a conservatively-dressed woman in 80s style, the bottom, a madwoman holding an axe. The film is called "Censor", starring Niamh Algar.

I recently had some downtime and, since ’tis the season, watched Censor, a small British horror film about a film censor during the “video nasty” panic who investigates a strangely familiar scene.

It’s tense, stylish, and scary — all the more impressive coming from its first-time director, Prano Bailey-Bond — becoming more and more surreal the further it progresses. Give it a watch, why don’t you?