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poet Anonymous


I just saw David Fincher’s new film, Mank, and I’ll probably need to see it again before forming a rounded opinion on it, but as for now, I’d give it a 3/4. It's a surprisingly straightforward piece in structure and tone, fitting snugly into the biopic subgenre. I say ”surprisingly” because I associate Fincher’s name with violent and harrowing psychological thrillers (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, Gone Girl, etc.), though he has ventured into drama before with The Social Network and Benjamin Button.

The function of Mank, about the writing of ”the best film ever made”, Citizen Kane, is clearly to draw a parallel between the politics of the late 1930s and now. Though it was written by Fincher’s late father to be filmed in the ’90s, that never happened, and it’s much more relevant in 2020. My favourite scene is set in the large Gothic drawing-room of an Old Hollywood castle, as various industry players discuss this Adolf Hitler chap and decide that he's not a threat. It has more than a whiff about it of discussions in 2016; wherein many voices dismissed that ridiculous Donald Trump as unlikely to win the primaries, then the Republican ticket, and then the White House...

That was the stuff I found most interesting in Mank. Though it's always presented itself as liberal and benefitted from the presence of racial and sexual minorities, women, and unionised workers, Hollywood has never been liberal itself. It feeds on those it employs, rakes in its money, and promotes policies which protect its private interests. There's a nicely nasty scene where our hero gatecrashes a dinner and berates the assembled celebrities for their hypocrisies, for abandoning their liberal ideals once a seat at the dinner table of power was within reach, before violently vomiting, literally out of drunkenness, figuratively out of sheer disgust.

A fascinating commonality between then and now appears in scenes where studios hire actors to portray widows, farmers, and the like for attack ads on the new socialist candidate Upton Sinclair, to ensure the incumbency of a Republican president, Franklin D Roosevelt. Fake news is not a recent phenomenon.

The rest is relatively typical biopic stuff, shot in black-and-white and punctuated with titles written like screen directions (i.e. EXT - HOUSE - FLASHBACK) so that it resembles films of the period. If there's nothing as inspirational as the endlessly discussed directorial flourishes of Citizen Kane, you still get some flashes of Fincher grotesque, a la a stilt walker dressed like Uncle Sam striding through a smoky nightclub on election night.

Gary Oldman steals the show as Herman J ”Mank” Mankiewicz, even if he is visibly too old to be playing a man in his early 40s. Knowing nothing about Mankiewicz, until his age was mentioned I clocked him as about 60 or so. Oldman is ironic and bitter and kind and caring, a good but self-destructive man whose professional undoing is his integrity. I don't know much about famed producer Louis B Mayer either, but he's depicted here as an unprincipled runt, whose attitude to his Jewish heritage is in contrast with Mankiewicz’s. Where ”Mank” does what he can and helps both his kind and underpaid industry folk, Mayer is obsequious to power and funds its politics, indifferent even to his tribe.

poet Anonymous


I just saw Wonder Woman 1984, and it’s the best superhero movie I’ve seen since Shazam! Although Marvel is considered the experts on this film genre and DC the screw-ups, I’d rather see a DC than a Marvel. (Well, I’d rather see neither if there’s anything else on, but if I had to choose.) DC’s label is stuck on a LOT of stinkers, but even those are much more interesting to think and talk about than the majority of Marvel’s boilerplate product.

Plus, Wonder Woman 1984 is a masterclass in telling a superhero story. Remembering that Patty Jenkins directs it, I thought of Bret Easton Ellis’ statement that men are just better directors because they’re not as emotionally insecure. (Or something like that.) Jenkins’ WW84 is ten times more coherent, organised, structured, and thematic than David Ayers’ Suicide Squad, or any DC movie churned out by Zack Snyder. The emotions are clear and well-developed. There isn't any nonsense about characters bonding at a crucial moment because their mums are both called Martha, or a scene where a shrink falls in love with a patient after he drops her in chemicals.

The film’s antagonists, wannabe oil-tycoon Maxwell Lord and plain Jane academic Dr Barbara “the Cheetah” Minerva, are fantastic and a large part of what makes this film work. I cannot say how refreshing it is to see a superhero movie where the villains get proper characterisation, and thought is given as to why they’re the bad guys. This is the first superhero film I remember seeing where the solution to the problem isn’t just to snap the bad guy’s neck or put his face through a wall as bloodlessly but brutally as possible. Neither Lord nor Minerva is innately evil and the wicked things they do, they do for actual reasons beyond “I’m the baddie, muahaha!”

A surprisingly subtle aspect of the film is its feminist angle. Commonly in popcorn-munchers like this “strong” women are depicted as thugs who’ll break a guy’s ankles because he interrupted her to ask for directions, since that’s how the screenwriters see female strength. Long, tedious ramblings about girl power then redress the gender imbalance.

Here, Minerva is a real and vulnerable person. (Played by the gorgeous Kirsten Wiig, who’d never pass as a plain Jane in life, but that’s Hollywood.) When she gets her powers, she takes revenge on a serial harasser who previously attacked her while she was walking home because he felt entitled to her attention. You see both the sadistic pleasure and the uncertainty in her while she beats this drunken creep to a pulp, but pulls back on seeing that she might be enjoying herself too much, that she might easily take things too far. For a mass-appeal superhero movie like this, it’s a tense scene, and much more effective than if she’d shouted “this is for the sisters, bitch!” and kicked some poor guy in the balls for asking what time it is.

Equally, Maxwell Lord isn’t just a sleazeball. He’s damaged in a way that an audience can relate to, a Beta male repeatedly shoved back down when he tries to assert himself.

The plot is a re-telling of the old Monkey’s Paw story. A magical stone grants wishes but takes something away for everything it gives. Lord takes the stone and finds a way to become it, essentially becoming a genie. There are probably a million holes in the system behind this MacGuffin. Still, it has a motivational logic (person A wants thing A, but must give up thing B to get it, and give up thing A to get B back) to it and the movie generates so much goodwill that I just didn’t have the urge to pick it apart.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman feels like the successor to action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Like them, she’s not a subtle actor but brings a physical presence to the role that sells it better than subtle acting probably could. She’s not as charismatic as Arnie or Sly but ranks higher than say, Dolph Lundgren and Chuck Norris. (And leaves, ugh, Steven Seagal in the Dark Ages.) Sometimes the role asks for an emotional complexity that she’s not able to convey. I didn't buy her love affair with the resurrected WWI pilot played by Chris Pine, and their romantic moments might be the weakest stuff in the movie. Poor Pine, he does his best, but there’s no chemistry there. Still, Gadot at least contorts her face to get across what her character should be feeling, which is more than Chuck Norris ever did in his movies.

The action set-pieces are fun and exciting. The first 1984 scene depicts a mall heist which is colourful, quick, and inventively staged. It does the obligatory “adorable moppets in peril” trope even better than some modern classics of this genre. (Ugh, flashbacks to Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman saving a schoolbus while New Yoikers throw rocks at the Green Goblin. “This is New Yoik! Youse mess wi’ one of us, youse mess wi’ ALL of us!”)

The film isn’t a complete success. Scenes of WW introducing Pine to the modern world could have been trimmed to a sixty-second montage, especially since the fish-out-of-water comedy falls flat. The child acting is abysmal, which it usually is unless the director has time to coach the kids. And it’s too long at two and a half hours, although that’s the standard now and complaining about it is pointless.

Yet this is a 150-minute superhero movie that I’d happily watch again, something that’s as rare as a unicorn. 3/4.

JohnnyBlaze
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These reviews are great, Jack!

And i had just read a review about WW84 that was unbelievably negative. I trust yours a helluva lot more.

One thing that has to be kept in mind about superhero movies based on comic books is that bottom line, they are meant for a young audience. A huge mistake that Marvel has been making lately is catering to adults, especially with Deadpool and whatever the last god awful Wolverine movie was.

poet Anonymous

JohnnyBlaze said:One thing that has to be kept in mind about superhero movies based on comic books is that bottom line, they are meant for a young audience.

That is very true, though it’s something I first noticed in a DC movie, Batman v Superman. There's a scene early on where Batman liberates a bunch of sex slaves and it was so relentlessly grim and harrowing for a superhero film that a little boy in the audience I saw it with burst into tears. Honestly, tho, that seems more like a Snyder than a DC decision, and the studio does seem to be bucking that trend lately. Shazam! was a really fun movie, and WW84 improves on it with better villains.

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The_Silly_Sibyl said:

That is very true, though it’s something I first noticed in a DC movie, Batman v Superman. There's a scene early on where Batman liberates a bunch of sex slaves and it was so relentlessly grim and harrowing for a superhero film that a little boy in the audience I saw it with burst into tears. Honestly, tho, that seems more like a Snyder than a DC decision, and the studio does seem to be bucking that trend lately. Shazam! was a really fun movie, and WW84 improves on it with better villains.


Originally many of these characters were meant for adults too back in the days of WWII propoganda, but afterwards the gears of marketing were shifted towards children. So fighting Hitler and Nazis, sure. That's staying true to origins and origin stories. Liberating sex slaves? Yikes.

poet Anonymous

JohnnyBlaze said:

Originally many of these characters were meant for adults too back in the days of WWII propoganda, but afterwards the gears of marketing were shifted towards children. So fighting Hitler and Nazis, sure. That's staying true to origins and origin stories. Liberating sex slaves? Yikes.


You raise an interesting point there. I'm more familiar with pulp than superhero comics, and those were aimed at an adult audience, of labouring men who weren't extremely literate and needed pictures to guide them through the story. I think although superheroes may have been aimed at adults too, as with (say) The Simpsons there was an understanding that children would be consuming it too. Hence the freakout in the ’50s that comics were making your kids delinquents and homosexuals

poet Anonymous

Feel free to discuss movies on this thread, guys. I didn’t start it just as a repository for my crap!

nomoth
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Thanks for the brilliant Mank review....I was so excited  to watch this film....Fincher - seriously  for me the most creative 'subversive'  provocateur in anything-anybody mainstream...a perfect storm....this was Wells/Kane, Oldman and a passion project all in one roll...  it was probably a too perfect match to be as mind-blowing as i wanted. It did not deliver...but i want time...I know it was Fincher's father who wrote the script...i want 2 yrs on this before I get a handle on it because there was so many estranged oblique subtleties .

Fincher never makes a bad or in any way a flimsy film and I am sure the questions he asks ( and why he asks those)  will endure.

poet Anonymous

nomoth said:Thanks for the brilliant Mank review....I was so excited  to watch this film....Fincher - seriously  for me the most creative 'subversive'  provocateur in anything-anybody mainstream...a perfect storm....this was Wells/Kane, Oldman and a passion project all in one roll...  it was probably a too perfect match to be as mind-blowing as i wanted. It did not deliver...but i want time...I know it was Fincher's father who wrote the script...i want 2 yrs on this before I get a handle on it because there was so many estranged oblique subtleties .

Fincher never makes a bad or in any way a flimsy film and I am sure the questions he asks ( and why he asks those)  will endure.


That’s a fair assessment. I think he was restrained by the requirements of the biopic genre, but little flashes of brilliance poked through.

poet Anonymous


It’s been a while since I’ve watched some crap, so I thought as it’s Christmas Eve I’d treat myself to a stinker that sunk like a stone back in 2015, despite a cast including Rose “Scream” McGowan and Ray “Twin Peaks” Wise. McGowan plays a radio psychiatrist who returns to her late father’s home and is menaced by a demonic local paperboy. The residents of Rosewood Lane fear and try to have nothing to do with him, though there's a chance that he might have been involved in the death of McGowan’s father.

I don’t even know where to start with what’s wrong here. The plot has a Stephen King quality. Only King would have set it within an authentic American community and added gruesome events to raise the stakes. The community of Rosewood Lane is bland and featureless. At one point, McGowan visits an elderly male neighbour, and his house looks the same as hers, without much in the way of pictures or decor.

Nothing happens for much of the runtime, and the paperboy character is, I have to say, hilarious. After a reasonably effective introduction where he shows off one pitch-black, pupil-less eye, he’s shown again in McGowan’s basement, and there are shots of him running away and being chased by dogs that made me burst out laughing. The way he moves and acts just isn't intimidating, the only slight frisson coming from little jolts on the soundtrack, without which any scene with him would likely come across as pure comedy.

Worse, his horror-monster schtick is that he recites nursery rhymes in a “scary” cadence, but his boyish American voice sounds like a kid trying to sing lead vocals for an emo band. I guess that the director was aiming for a Freddy Krueger motif, but didn’t understand that in A Nightmare on Elm Street it wasn’t Freddy himself singing “one, two, Freddy’s coming for you”, it was little girls playing jump-rope. This suggested that the myth of Freddy was in the back of people’s minds and had permeated the community’s collective unconsciousness, their dreams. If he were singing it himself, he would have seemed like just a pizza-faced poser.

Although realism isn’t a requisite of the monster movie genre, it helps if the characters react to the monster plausibly. The characters are poorly drawn to a degree where they don’t even work as basic archetypes. McGowan plays her character haughty and stuck-up when, as a health professional who works with troubled teens, she should be at least somewhat approachable. To be fair, though, the script gives her lines like ”it’s Doctor, not Miss”, so she might have been encouraged to interpret her character that way.

And poor Ray Wise. He's one of the best actors working; he shouldn't be playing ”idiot cop who doesn't recognise a threat until it's physically attacking him.” I get that cops in movies like this are supposed to be a touch antagonistic or just unhelpful, but the ones here are memorably incompetent.

At one point A DISTRICT ATTORNEY (and McGowan’s love interest) GOES MISSING, and they’re still scratching their heads, trying to decide if McGowan’s making it all up. Even though at this point a whole yard full of people have witnessed the paperboy fling urine in the DA’s face, the DA’s been knocked down cellar stairs and hospitalised, and he can corroborate McGowan’s claim that they were alone when they both heard a third person in the house. And the paperboy’s been calling her radio show with creepy messages that her producers and God knows how many people in the audience (she’s popular) would have heard.

I'm sorry, I know I'm harping on this, but these might be the dumbest movie cops I’ve EVER seen, and I’ve watched slasher flicks where their entire purpose is to not know what’s happening. There’s even a bit where Ray Wise screams in Rose McGowan’s face that she’s going to get him ”busted down to meter-maid” because she made a 911 call to her home! A DISTRICT ATTORNEY IS MISSING AFTER A SERIOUS ASSAULT AND EVEN WITHOUT THAT YOU’RE LEGALLY OBLIGED TO RESPOND TO 911 CALLS. YOU PRICK. Forget slashers; I’ve seen PARODIES of films where the cops aren't this stupid.

Going back to attempts at using other movie’s tricks, we get a nod to the scene in A Clockwork Orange where Alex de Large punctuates a rendition of Singin’ in the Rain by kicking a helpless victim. Here the paperboy recites Hickory Dickory Dock while beating a man, with a vaudeville cane. I half-wanted him to change the lines to that obscene Andrew Dice Clay version’s (”hickory dickory dock, some bitch was sucking my c***”). At least then the moment would have been funny on purpose.

Story-wise we never get an explanation of who/what the paperboy is, nor any motive for what he’s doing. No doubt because the filmmakers were hoping to get sequels (lol). Honestly, though, that feels like one of the film’s lesser problems to me. It reminds me of a ’90s horror novel by Bentley Little called The Mailman, about a demonic postmaster who drives good people to violence by tampering with their mail. (i.e. He makes a guy believe that his beloved late brother, a Vietnam vet, was in truth a sadistic war criminal.)

That story was also unsuccessful because it didn't properly escalate the threat towards a satisfying conclusion. Still, it stands head and shoulders above Rosewood Lane because it had a genuinely creepy antagonist with an intriguing psychological approach. I'm giving the movie 1/4 because the shots were at least in focus and there’s a baseline of coherence where nothing makes much sense, but you still know what people are doing and why. The bit mentioned above with the kid showing off one black eye (and then rolling it up into his head) was entertaining, and I liked the paperboy's description as ”a trick of the light”. That's it, though, and even that's too generous.

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Jack, I hope to holy God you are going to publish a book of these reviews. They are too comprehensive not to!

nomoth
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The_Silly_Sibyl said:

That’s a fair assessment. I think he was restrained by the requirements of the biopic genre, but little flashes of brilliance poked through.


Agreed. I have a lot of admiration for the film...imagine being able to adapt a script written by your father...with the  kind of  budget and freedom that Netflix is giving, seemingly these days. It was definitely a love project...I loved your critique...I could not add more.

poet Anonymous

JohnnyBlaze said:Jack, I hope to holy God you are going to publish a book of these reviews. They are too comprehensive not to!

Thanks! I don't really know what to do with them. The reason I made this thread was so that I’d have somewhere to store them where I could come back to them.

poet Anonymous

nomoth said:

Agreed. I have a lot of admiration for the film...imagine being able to adapt a script written by your father...with the  kind of  budget and freedom that Netflix is giving, seemingly these days. It was definitely a love project...I loved your critique...I could not add more.


Thanks! And I agree, directing your dad’s work must be a dream for a guy whose family are heavily entrenched in media.

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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo currently on Netflix.

Uhm ... yowzers.

Okay, great movie, but was the rape scene really necessary? I get that it helped solidify Lisbeth's character as a woman who not only refuses to be a victim, but also champions victims of sexual violence, and is not above delivering her own brand of justice, but ... ugh.

It felt like at least 30 minutes could have been stripped from the film with simpler scenes of implied activity.

As an aside, and I am straying from movie to book here, I also feel like Daniel Craig's character and his personal troubles did not enhance the story one iota. Lisbeth might as well have been hired to do the job he was hired to investigate. Right? Given Lisbeth was hired by the same people to investigate him ..?

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