What I’ve Been Watching: 26/06/21 – 19/07/21

Lock, Stock (Cars), and Two Surfing Bros.

Ugh, last week was fucking atrocious with that ceaseless heat.  I am not made for hot weather.  Or cold weather.  Or the rain, or snow, or strong winds…  Point is, our climate is fucked and nobody except “loony lefties,” as both the government and my Dad keep calling them in a concerted effort to make me grind my teeth down to stumps, seems to want to do anything about it.  Gonna be a fun couple of decades.  Anyways, let’s get the rest of this catch-up brigade knocked out so I can set about finally delivering that Psychonauts article I promised everyone two months ago.

Here’s what I’ve been watching this month part two.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard [Saturday 26th June]

Dir: Patrick Hughes

Year: 2021

First-time viewing

Long-time readers may recall that, four years ago, I placed The Hitman’s Bodyguard on my inaugural Meh-gnificent 7 list because, due to comical/not-comical-at-all (delete depending on sociopathy levels) shenanigans, I had technically seen the thing in cinemas one-and-a-half times yet not a single part of it stuck in my memory at all nor did it provoke any kind of strong reaction during either viewing.  Well, in the dictionary definition of “one step forward, one step back,” the sequel did manage to provoke a strong reaction from me during viewing – namely by being significantly worse than the original in every respect with inferior jokes, lazier and cheaper-looking filmmaking, insomnia-invoking action, and miserable shrieking performances from everybody involved – whilst also leaving no lasting memory in the month since viewing.  I absolutely despised this thing as it played, but now that I have to write it up I don’t really have anything to say about it cos I don’t remember anything specific about it and, as you can see, it’s not like I’ve seen all that much since to supplant it.  So, err, let’s say everyone involved managed to wipe their face and move on.

You know what’s a really good Salma Hayek action movie?  Everly.  Y’all should go watch Everly.

F9 [Saturday 26th June]

Dir: Justin Lin

Year: 2021

First-time viewing

F9 is Justin Lin kicking in the door, returning with that packet of cigarettes he said he was stepping out to get eight years ago, and with swaggering defiance proclaiming “daddy’s home” as he sets about removing all traces of change in the household during that break with a sledgehammer.  Don’t get me wrong, I have greatly enjoyed the three Fast & Furious affiliated movies since Lin moved on from the series, but just five minutes of him being back in the driver’s seat proves that he gets this dumb camp Greek myth that the franchise has evolved into like nobody else.  It’s definitely still missing the grounding influence of Paul Walker – the person to earnestly state “cars don’t fly!” when Dominic Toretto is about do precisely that, although Roman and Tej’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead routine is a hoot – but Lin also invests much more sincerely in the family drama and inter-group dynamics than any of his successors or contemporaries did.  James Wan, F. Gary Gray, even series scribe Chris Morgan and star Vin Diesel started to see those things as means to an end of sick action sequences rather than an equal partner in the F&F concoction.  With Lin back and Morgan now gone, that balance has been restored.

There is an inelegance in the overall plotting and structure, especially since the pile-up of retcons which have always kept this series going are starting to reach critical mass, and I still don’t think it quite reaches the affecting levels of silly heart that the highest highs of Fast Five and 6 managed.  But I had a friggin’ blast with this thing.  John Cena acquits himself well in the villain role even if it’s not really the best use of his talents, and the Toretto family flashbacks are a lot more successful in the emotional foundation heavy-lifting than they have any right to be.  Even though this is still a Dom-centric tale, Lin and Daniel Casey’s screenplay does a significantly better job at spreading the love across all of their ensemble by giving them plenty of individual and paired time to shine – Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey benefits most from this, getting a hilarious setpiece to herself midway through.  And that action!  Man, that action!  Lin is so adept at balancing outlandish cartoon nonsense with a physical weight which still maintains an impact and never lapses into vacuous lights and sounds, to a degree that almost no other modern blockbuster director can match.  To watch his thrilling and ridiculously fun work on the Montequinto border run or the Tokyo apartment brawl or the magnet chase in Tbilisi is to watch a master flex his craft.  Prospective action filmmakers should study Lin’s work across all of these films, for real.

Plus, y’know, they actually fucking did it.  I’m trying not to specify what “it” is in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen the film yet or been spoiled by the trailers I deliberately don’t touch with a barge pole anymore, but they did.  Oh, boy, did they do it.  I had a blast.  Fast & Furious and Justin Lin and family forever!

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels [Thursday 1st July]

Dir: Guy Ritchie

Year: 1998


A friend I once had saw Lock, Stock and their entire review was simply “I’m just watching a student film.”  Which, for as much as I really like/borderline-love Guy Ritchie’s debut, I can’t exactly dispute.  The screenplay, after all, is a surface genre exercise very heavily monologue-driven, the kind of British macho tough guy soliloquy that a certain kind of aspiring writer starts out obsessed with over such things as “having themes” and “making important character details actually mean something.”  More than a few scenes don’t really go anywhere.  Acting levels range all the way up and down the spectrum.  And, whilst there is a conscious stylistic choice to combine Scorsese-esque kinetic camera dollies and Brit farce shot-framing with grungy gangster lighting, a not-insignificant number of scenes are poorly lit and not aided by the deliberately degraded film stock.

This all said, I still have an absolute blast every time I watch Lock, Stock and not just because of the nostalgia in it being one of the first grown-up movies I ever saw.  Sure, it’s more a series of tough guy monologues and classical British sitcom circular conversations between total dumbasses than a coherent story, but they’re really good and really memorable monologues – pretty much everything that comes out of Rory Breaker’s mouth, in particular, is pure gold I have committed entirely to memory – and they’re often really funny Britcom conversations.  Yeah, the acting ranges from “pretty good” to “dreadful,” but almost everyone has a unique charisma in the way they carry themselves which makes them compelling to watch, even the shit ones, and you can immediately see that Jason Statham was destined for bigger things even in his relatively small role.  And, fair cop, that strain for a unique visual style above all else even when lacking the technical skills required to pull it off means things can look downright amateurish in spots, but the ambition sticks out to me and I love the purpose every shot and movement has.

Honestly, the biggest knock I have against Lock, Stock is the simple fact that Ritchie’s follow-up, Snatch, does everything his debut aims for better and has Brick Top, one of British cinema’s best villains.  That’s not a bad critique to have towards a film, frankly.

Bill and Ted Face the Music [Tuesday 6th July]

Dir: Dean Parisot

Year: 2020


So, during the early stages of the pandemic and Dad’s crippling accident last year (once he came out of the coma and was able to speak properly again), we both talked a lot about the prospect of the then-upcoming third Bill and Ted.  The original, in particular, is one of his all-time favourite movies and he made sure to introduce myself and my brother to it at the first age-appropriate opportunity.  It was one of those little bonding experiences we otherwise never fully got from him (at least to my conscious mind).  He’d been aware of news about a trilogy-ender for years with equal amounts great scepticism and the closest thing to actual excitement his manly-masculine man self allows him to be openly in the presence of other people, and I was similarly a mixture of cautious and optimistic about the prospect.  During that early period of recovery and pandemic time, when we had unrealistic expectations of how long both would take, I tried to hold onto the hope that I could still take him to the cinema when Face the Music released so we could watch it together.  Something to keep our spirits up during the daunting unclear road to some semblance of recovery.  He didn’t even need to come home, just a day trip was surely doable.

It wasn’t.  We both saw Face the Music separately; myself in the cinema (as detailed in a previous WIBW which is also where you’ll find actual discussion and criticism about the movie), himself on his tablet in a care-home when it released on Digital.  Another missed experience to add to the list of missed experiences in the sink hole that was 2020.  Eventually, after a prolonged and difficult process, he came home.  To a different home than before, granted, but he came home and we officially moved in together.  The recovery and strides to something somewhat approaching the self-sufficiency his ego and mental state need allowing him to be discharged from suffocating care homes – not to dismiss care homes or the workers therein, they did as good a job as they could and I am very grateful for them, but obviously living there and being reliant takes a toll on certain people.  On this night, Face the Music was added to Sky Cinema and myself and my Dad finally got to watch it together.  May not have been a cinema, may not have been upon initial release, but it was still something and I really appreciated that.

I mentioned this to my Dad afterwards and he, predictably, didn’t care too much about the emotional significance of the whole thing.  …I know that reads like a bitter aftertaste to what’s meant to be a somewhat-heartwarming anecdote, but he wouldn’t have responded much different to such things pre-accident so it means he’s closer to his usual self right now than not.  Emotions aren’t really his thing.

Space Jam: A New Legacy [Saturday 17th July]

Dir: Malcolm D. Lee

Year: 2021

First-time viewing

I did want to pen a proper review of this for Soundsphere, but last week’s heatwave took away almost all of my drive to do anything requiring consistent longform thought – hell, I barely got that first WIBW out and those give my brain little manageable pieces with built-in break points designed to make it easier to write.  And by the time the heatwave did piss off, it’d been a little too long since the viewing so my desire to devote time to it disappeared.  Happens sometimes, still getting back into the swing of stuff.  Bright side means that I won’t have to struggle with rewriting a full review into something somewhat unique when I inevitably place this at #1 or #2 on my Bottom list in early January because, holy shit, this is awful.  If I saw it again and got suitably riled up (hopefully sans unconscionable heatwave), I could probably perform a full-on autopsy of this thing; its wretchedness is multitudinous.  But, since we operate on reduced times and space here in the WIBW, let me focus specifically on three of the most egregious faults.

Fault #1: it sucks as a commercialSpace Jam was a commercial.  For all the nostalgia it has accrued and few non-caveated positives it has – full disclosure, I am kind of a fan of the original even though I would barely call it a good film – it’s a commercial rather than a piece of creative art.  But it was a good commercial!  It clearly sold Michael Jordan to a family audience as a larger-than-life athlete still capable of sick dunks even after short-lived retirement, and it sold the Looney Tunes to both a new generation and their parents as wacky anarchic cartoons with a near-timeless comedic sensibility you can sufficiently update for modern culture without embarrassing oneself too much.  It made both entities look good.

A New Legacy is also a commercial, but it’s a really crap one which makes everybody look terrible.  LeBron James comes off like a total egotistical asshole and deadbeat dad you wouldn’t want to be around, whose sick dunks honestly don’t look all that special as displayed in this film.  The Looney Tunes are barely-relevant in their supposed own movie, stripped of almost all unique personality and reduced to interchangeable “that just happened”-spouting machines aside from a blessed few individual instances.  And Warner Bros., the real product being sold here, just parades a bunch of their IP across the screen for recognition pops but doesn’t do anything to explain or sell their appeal to anybody, least of all young kids who very likely have never seen Mad Max: Fury Road or Casablanca.  The attempts at self-deprecation, meanwhile – the villain is a Warner-built algorithm which artlessly repurposes the studio’s IP to make new movies, kinda exactly like what this movie is doing right now – are somehow both “how do you do, fellow kids?” and “Sunny D is depressed on main” at the same time.

Fault #2: not one of the film’s SIX credited writers seems to understand that a reference is not the same thing as a joke.  Showing a clip of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and digitally-pasting Elmer Fudd over Verne Troyer is neither a parody nor a joke.  It’s the equivalent of one of those shitty bootleg shirts you find down at slightly disreputable market stalls which paste the heads of Bugs and Daffy onto the faces of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction.  Ditto doing the same thing to Dooley Wilson in Casablanca because having Ingrid Bergman say “sing it, Sam” to Yosemite Sam is not even the outline of a joke.  THAT montage which is already making the notorious rounds is the most egregious example of this – and let me second the call about just how shoddy the filmmaking and editing of this movie overall are – but a good 95% of A New Legacy’s attempts at “gags” are just like that.  References.  Endless references.  Not jokes.  This is shit I expect from Family Guy writers, not people entrusted with my precious Looney Tunes.

Fault #3: nobody seems at all happy to be here.  Say what you will about the original Space Jam, at least everybody seemed to be having some fun during the course of its production.  None of the human cast gave remotely good performances, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves even if they were stiffer than a factory’s worth of wood panels stacked on top of each other, and the screenplay and direction had a lightweight playfulness about the endeavour.  By contrast, every single person involved with A New Legacy looks and feels actively miserable about being here.  The cameos look embarrassed about the life choices which brought them to this point, especially Steven Yeun who visibly wants to be anywhere else during his one scene.  The performances by professional voice actors who have played these characters for decades can barely disguise their phoning-in.  Don Cheadle’s extremely hammy villain turn is one which carries an air of disdain rather than the mischievous fun of good hammy turns.  Lee’s direction is utterly lifeless, weirdly self-serious, and looks like a COVID-era production despite being in the can for over a year with how not a single element in any of his scenes feels like it shares the same physical plane as anything else.  Even LeBron, the man whom this movie was whole-cloth designed for, never sounds like he’s having any fun now that his dream has come true!  That misery becomes infectious since, y’know, why should I be having any fun watching this commercial if nobody else is?

Total dogshit, and that’s without bringing up the Porky Pig rap battle which gets non-ironically played as genuinely cool “spitting hot fire” and doesn’t even have the wherewithal to work Porky’s stutter into the rap itself.  Look how they massacred my boys and girls and genderfluid rabbit…

Chicken Run [Saturday 17th July]

Dirs: Peter Lord, Nick Park

Year: 2000


Speaking of long-overdue chances to rekindle simple pleasures which 2020 stole from me, here was the first time since March of that year I was able to spend sat around at Lucy’s shooting the shit, fussing the pooch Syd, and then watch a light and easy comfort film one or both of us had seen dozens upon dozens of times beforehand because we’re not looking to be challenged right now.  God, I really missed that.  Not that I wasn’t already massively appreciative of moments such as that pre-pandemic, but finally getting to do so after almost 16 months of not – thanks to plague and her current job I’m not allowed to talk about – was just so… nice.  I don’t get to see people a lot thanks to geographical location and my being poor, so any time I can just sit and have belonging, centring experiences like this helps me so much.

Anyways, Chicken Run is pretty great, in case you somehow weren’t already aware.  I did a long deep-dive into it seven years ago (NO IT HAS NOT BEEN SEVEN YEARS SHUT YOUR LYING WHORE MOUTH) as part of The DreamWorks Animation Retrospective that, whilst dated in certain respects and maybe not as deep in analysis as I would go today, I think still largely holds up so go give that a read for substantial thoughts.  Something I don’t think I gave proper attention to there, though, is the fact that Miranda Richardson gives one of the all-time animated villain performances.  She’s obviously immeasurably aided by some whip-sharp writing and fantastic character design & animation – classic Aardman were really good at intentional off-modelling for maximum creepiness, there’s something high-key disturbing about the way they have Mrs. Tweedy’s mouth grin which adds to the effect – but her vocal work is perfection.  Her line deliveries have the exact ideal mix of genuine loathsome menace and hilarious straight-woman exasperation, like her Queenie from the best Blackadder on steroids.

By the way, as a progressive, I am ashamed that it took me until this viewing to realise the film is a proudly feminist, communist, vegan slice of propaganda.  I mean, y’know, it ain’t exactly subtle about all of those.

(Photo by Richard Foreman/Fotos International/Getty Images)
Point Break [Monday 19th July]

Dir: Kathryn Bigelow

Year: 1991


Dad had somehow never heard of Point Break until about three weeks ago when I mentioned to him as one of those “when was the last time you watched [x]?” feelers I do to set movie viewing plans in motion, let alone seen it.  This was absolutely baffling to me since, on paper, this is a movie that’s prime Dad-bait.  Keanu Reeves!  Patrick Swayze!  Late-80s/early-90s action movie excess!  Testosterone-d up to the eyeballs!  Gloriously cheesy and camp primarily because it refuses to take things anything less than completely seriously whilst still having great fun with the ridiculous premise (this is where the 2015 remake failed dismally)!  A soundtrack of glam metal!  Hell, the man has even seen Hot Fuzz repeatedly and yet still never seemed to be aware of the movie they reference, parody, and show entire clips of repeatedly in-film!  This, obviously, would not stand and, after its failing to appear on a single one of the five streaming services we have between us forced my hand into finally grabbing the Blu-Ray from a CEX, I set about rectifying this ASAP.  His verdict?  “That was ok.  Not really a classic or anything, perfectly generic.”  The shit I have to deal with living under this roof, honestly…

God, I wish this Kathryn Bigelow would direct something again.  Don’t get me wrong.  Serious Prestige Important Kathryn Bigelow is still damn-good, there are few working directors with such a muscular directorial hand unafraid to let audience members sweat in the tension whilst still providing meaty themes to chew on like she can (even when such a hand turns out to be inadvertently wrong for the material).  And I know that the sheer campness of Point Break is an anomaly even in her pre-Hurt Locker career.  But, man, she just owns this kind of action movie.  Campy masculine (yet not-so-subtly subversive and queered) popcorn action filmmaking is where she thrives best, particularly with her camerawork.  There’s an immediacy to that end-of-second-act foot chase, a pulse-pounding forward momentum where every tumble and fall has such tangible wincing weight, so few movies in the three decades since have managed to match.  Every burst of violence shocks without going overboard on the blood splatter or prosthetics.  And she finds such playfulness with how she arranges the lead-up to every major violence beat – most obviously Utah’s blissfully unaware ordering of lunch whilst the Ex-Presidents pile into a bank behind him – and such intoxicating freedom and thrill in the surf and sky.

Absolute classic.  What I wouldn’t give for her to have been the one to direct Triple Frontier like she initially planned instead of J.C. Chandor.

Callie Petch is in your arms in Central Park.

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