Chefs, Gods, predators, and men.
Yeah, I know. I know. June and July were really busy times for me. All those gigs piled up which took a lot of my energy; I had a couple of paid commissions and long-chased interviews get set so those took priority; and then, after both of those wrapped, I came down with a flu that my immunocompromised body took in full “MURDER DEATH KILL” mode. I recognise that the nature of the new WIBW format is supposed to mean that I work on it over the course of the month so I don’t need to cram and/or miss deadlines, but I also didn’t see much in the way of anything film-wise in the timespan either. I’m still struggling to work up the mental desire to sit and watch films, something that is definitely not aided by the theatrical landscape just being utterly depressing arse for much of the last three months. I get trapped in negative mental feedback loops very easily, hence why it took until almost the end of August to get a combo-WIBW for June & July done. (Which itself wasn’t turned into a combo-piece until August started, in case you were wondering.)
Because I wanna get this thing out in hopes of it finally unblocking the mental plug on my work capabilities, I’m gonna hold off on giving you the rundown on the State of Callie til our next instalment. The good news being that, with any luck, said next instalment arrives in 10 days, so you won’t have to wait long. Apologies for the lateness of this and faint whiff of half-assery in certain corners.
Here’s what I’ve been watching the last two months.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie [Sunday 5th June]
Dirs: Loren Bouchard & Bernard Derriman
I joked it on Twitter, Letterboxd, and in the relevant BOR, but I’ll keep on reusing the general sentiment until it stops being true. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a 100-minute Bob’s Burgers episode and either that means you’re already sold or you’re a joyless cretin incapable of experiencing a modicum of happiness and I sincerely feel sorry for you. Or, perfectly valid third possibility, you have no prior Bob’s Burgers experience in which case this movie is a great starting point since it functions as an extended greatest hits. It’s a delightfully modest, sweet-natured and class-conscious comedy which focusses on well-drawn, easy-to-understand characters with zippy dialogue that rarely goes for belly-laughs but provides a highly consistent stream of chuckles and warm fuzzy vibes not a whole lot of other shows (or movies) are aiming to nowadays. The character designs are charming and distinct, aided by a nice warm colour palette which avoids the slightly cheap cut-and-paste aesthetic of the Seth MacFarlane conglomerate, and there’s a steady stream of quirky yet catchy musical numbers which are frequent enough to be a core tenant of the show but not so frequent (or lengthy) that they’ll turn off the musical theatre neophytes in the audience.
As for the Movie: it refreshingly refuses to artificially scale up for the new medium. There’s a more considered approach to boarding, some gorgeous shading that adds additional detail without distracting or diluting the show’s visual feel, and a slight bump in fluidity. The immediate peril stakes are a touch higher than in a standard episode, though season finales have occasionally lifted the danger levels to about where this film reaches… But, yeah, otherwise this is an extended episode of Bob’s Burgers through and through. That does mean the pacing can get a little long in the tooth as we amble towards the last third, and the dialogue could honestly have benefited from easing up a little on the motormouth style the show otherwise wields with precision. (There’s a bit during one of the finale setpieces where I made a mental note of “guys, you can let things happen without needing to talk them to death, this will still feel like Bob’s Burgers.”) Otherwise, it’s Bob’s Burgers and I love Bob’s Burgers. Such a fun, funny, good-natured good time.
By time of posting, the film should now be on Disney+ (if you’re outside of America) and HBO Max (if you’re in America), so you have no excuse not to give it a try. Unless you don’t like Bob’s Burgers, of course, but then we’ve already established that there are deeper issues within you if that is the case.
Men [Saturday 18th June]
Dir: Alex Garland
Allusions to SPOILERS
My first thought upon the credits rolling on Men was a long drawn-out “oh, dear.” A similar kind of long drawn-out “oh, dear” that I had upon the credits rolling on It Follows when I finally saw that a few years back and which Men unfortunately shares a lot in common with. Both films work on loaded, ultra-stripped-back feminist horror premises bound with great potential, gaining a lot of their terror from stalking, but completely bork the execution by simultaneously having the thematic depth of a dried-out kiddie pool and a comically-blunt delivery method of that central thesis.
Men, in fact, oftentimes resembles nothing so much as a self-important final year Film School short painfully stretched out to 100 minutes via a lot of dicking around in the woods and faux-symbolism. Especially once the movie reaches its final destination and, in a finale so protracted and ridiculous that I’m almost convinced Garland was trying to murder arthouse horror for good, it turns out that it has nothing to say about the trauma of masculine abuse and patriarchal control besides “yeah, this is a thing, innit?” No insight, no catharsis, no unique take, just wallowing in the obvious. Resultantly, the total lack of definable character to Jessie Buckley’s Harper, besides the copious amounts of abuse and trauma inflicted upon her before and during the film, becomes inexcusable both on a meta-textual level and on a plain old narrative level. Rob Hardy crafts some lush-looking yet wrong-feeling cinematography out of the Gloucestershire countryside which negates the need for cheap jump scares, but without any grander point from Garland’s screenplay or direction these sequences come off in retrospect as timewasting.
Buckley and Rory Kinnear, who pulls octuple-duty as every male occupant of the country village in a bit that is surface-level as an idea and also barely taken real advantage of, commit totally to their parts which is where the film’s few creepy stretches gain most of their effectiveness. And there are flashes of Garland’s prior talent as both screenwriter and filmmaker, particularly a sequence where a naked stalker appears in the estate gardens that Harper is staying at which never goes for the jump payoff and is all the more effective for it. (Tellingly, it’s also one of the few times in the movie with a tangible coherent scene geography; the sequence would not work without that.) But these are mere flashes of fear. Most of the film is just empty and really boring. The religious symbolism infrequently dropped in goes absolutely nowhere, a lot of the movie ends up very repetitive and stuck in a rut, and some of the edit choices are perplexing.
Men suck and so does the movie. Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Please tip your waitress.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande [Saturday 18th June]
Dir: Sophie Hyde
This one really, really, really annoyed the shit out of me. I know that I’m not in the target audience for Leo Grande since I already believed going in that sex workers are people plying a trade and more than a few of them do so because they enjoy it. This movie is not for me, someone for whom its entire hypothesis is preaching to the choir. Fair enough. But, goddamn, even with what were presumably good intentions, do Sophie Hyde and writer Katy Brand make a total fucking hash of things regardless.
Infantilising sex workers entirely to Non-Threatening Teenage Boys Magazine-levels of fantasy wish fulfilment with little outside wants or desires of their own – resultantly, due to Leo being Black, falling into dispiriting narratives of Black characters only existing to help White characters get over their shit. Being way more squeamish around sex than touted; mining its awkwardness and grossness for all the film’s hackneyed comedy, frequently cutting away when it finally happens, and only loosening up when Leo & Nancy form an intimate emotional connection which undercuts the film’s entire point about sex work as natural transaction. Having Nancy repeatedly cross Leo’s boundaries regarding personal details even after the film calls her out on it, stripping Leo’s protective agency but trying to frame it as a good thing instead of incredibly dangerous. Tying Nancy’s arc around her up-tightness with sex to the fact that she’s never had a proper orgasm which pays off in exactly the insulting way you’re expecting. Lacking any actual drama outside of Nancy being the audience stand-in and Leo being the smiley TED Talk messenger, so the back-and-forths have no spark or naturalism and precious little to hang onto if you don’t want preaching to.
Even outside of the complete bollocksing up of the messaging, Leo Grande is a dreadfully-made film. Hyde and cinematographer Bryan Mason completely fail to make the near one-room staging in any way theatrical or engaging. All shots being these flat, stilted, airless vacuums of major impersonalisation would almost be fitting – the story does take place, after all, in identikit Travelodge rooms between two people ostensibly carrying out a simple business exchange – if it didn’t make viewing an utter chore and run counter to the film’s rom-com DNA that requires an eventual fostering of intimacy. The lighting, in particular, is absolutely atrocious both in general and specifically when it comes to Daryl McCormack. He’s a very handsome man, but I don’t think anyone on this movie’s staff has ever had to light a Black man on-camera before because every single shot of him in this movie makes him look like a wax doll version of himself; perpetually distracting.
It has thankfully been way too long since viewing for me to retain the righteous energy required to fuel the penning of such a piece, but I was planning to pitch a compare/contrast between this and Magic Mike XXL to demonstrate all the ways Leo Grande fails compared to Gregory Jacobs’ modern miracle. (TL;DR: actual characters with dreams and desires rather than messaging mouthpieces, celebratory attitudes towards female pleasure and male performance [even if it’s just erotic dancing rather than actual sex], an understanding of the transaction-ary nature of the business, not having the visual and lighting designs of a TK Maxx shop floor at 3:55PM on a November afternoon.) You are much, much better watching that movie instead of this unless you desperately want to see McCormack and Emma Thompson trying their hardest to drag a deadweight movie across the finish line. A movie for people who insist they have a wild sex life because they tried anal exactly once, and nobody else.
Spree [Wednesday 29th June]
Dir: Eugene Kotlyarenko
Spree’s smug, shallow nihilism both in general and its observations about influencer culture can reach truly noxious levels. This is a film with one point to make and is willing to just hammer that basic-ass shit home with zero nuance at full asshole conviction for its entire runtime in dialogue, soapbox stand-up sequences, and the running livestream commentary – which is at least intermittently successful on account of its rapid-fire split-second delivery so doesn’t come off as preachy. Kotlyarenko and his co-writer Gene McHugh display worryingly little empathy towards anybody his camera comes across, let alone the influencer culture they intend to satirise, so there’s little bite to most of the attempts at comedy. Rather than do the work to craft believable character psychologies or really stick their teeth into the inherent depersonalisation of the Internet and effects thereof, they settle for the kind of cheap mockery shared by Dan Houser & Rupert Humphries Grand Theft Auto scripts. There’s a point in the final third where I feared this was going to outright crater the landing, pole-vaulting into self-important insufferablity. Maybe it still does, when it sorta lifts the ending of Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits” without the lacerating self-awareness/critique required to make it work.
When Spree instead focusses on its dark-comedy genre thrills, things are much more enjoyable. Kotlyarenko outdoes most other disciples of the ScreenLife format by rarely cheating in the reality of the film, and also utilising the varying vantage points to stage some tense horror sequence standbys in inventive ways. The finale, in particular, gains an added edge by the various split-screen handheld perspectives and running commentary in the lower-third. Mostly, though, the film lives off the backs of Joe Leery and Sasheer Zamata. Leery naturally gets the showier role out of the two and is magnetic in his believable anti-charisma and anti-chemistry with every single thing he interacts, person or camera. He finds a slightly-pitiable, lived desperation that adds a grounding effect to Kurt which you can see in a certain strain of real wannabe influencer; the grounding Kotlyarenko’s screenplay is otherwise uninterested in. Zamata is his polar opposite, possessing a smooth naturalness that’s everything Kurt wants to be and simply cannot fake. They make a great yin-yang for each other and transcend of Spree’s often low-effort vision of both L.A. and influencer culture.
Brian and Charles [Friday 8th July]
Dir: Jim Ward
Just an utterly charming, sweet, delightful little film! Very unassuming, very simple, yet packs in so much character and earnest heart. David Earl and Louise Brealey have a believable kind of meek energy that’s endearing, staying on the right side of pathetic. Chris Hayward, meanwhile, puts in an incredible and unique kind of physical performance which fully resists a “quirky” label and communicates so much of Charles’s burgeoning personality. I love the lo-fi lo-tech look, in all of the movie’s facets not just the obvious Charles design. The analogue, small village, rusty warm vibes of the Welsh countryside bring such a specific and unique feel to the story. Daniel Pemberton’s perky 70s synth score is a keeper. It’s a film which works in broad emotions expressed in straightforward and super-effective ways with such sincerity that the results transcend the modesty of the component parts. I get why this could roll off most people or outright wind them up – it has a very specific tone and often just the one joke it tells every possible variation of – and Ward is definitely hamstrung by the shoestring budget when staging the finale, but this really spoke to me. I loved it. Will hopefully write more about it in the future.
Thor: Love and Thunder [Saturday 8th and Thursday 21st July]
Dir: Taika Waititi
First-time viewing and Rewatch
Allusions to SPOILERS
So, here’s the thing. I think the rewatch I only did as a promise to a friend – we were gonna see it together very soon after opening day but she kept having to push back for various life reasons, so I got my DISCOURSE viewing in before going back with her later – has made me ultimately warmer to the Love and Thunder which has ended up in cinemas. I still do not think it is a good movie. Far from it; it is definitely the worst MCU film since Thor: The Dark World – yes, I know what my review said at the time, but neither the film nor the review hold up.
I still think that the overall energy, despite moving much too quickly for any of its character or emotional beats to really hit, is tired; running on the leftover fumes of Ragnarok with substandard material which simply does not hit. I still don’t find the film funny, which makes the attempt to replicate Ragnarok’s trick of exploring heavy colonialist-critique themes via a smokescreen of wacky comedy at times actively obnoxious. At a certain point, I realised I was forcing myself to chuckle at bits like Stormbreaker’s jealous girlfriend characterisation or the screaming goats in an effort to stave off the encroaching disappointment that I just wasn’t having fun. I still think said efforts to interrogate the self-interest of romanticised uncaring ruling empires and how people respond to them are half-baked at best, lacking in commitment due to being pulled in so many directions by lore-brain that both it and the resulting conflict of love v. nihilism often go AWOL from the movie in favour of self-indulgent padding or have the required connective tissue lopped off entirely.
I still think the macro-scale edit work is horrendous. Story and character developments have no time to breathe, the pacing is simultaneously breakneck and stop-start due to (at least on first watch) the eventual intersecting destination of those two thematic conflicts being unclear for so long, and even the stinger just awkwardly cuts out in a manner which calls to mind none other than Morbius. I still think a lot of the movie doesn’t look very good outside of a few key and brief sequences; too much unnatural green-screening and confused blocking, action scenes so bizarrely low-lit that you can barely make out what’s going on. I still, quite simply, didn’t laugh when I was supposed to laugh, wasn’t excited when I was supposed to be excited, and failed to be moved by scenes which really wanted me to be moved.
However, that second viewing did erase my belief that Love and Thunder was a movie “powered by inertia… a sequel which exists for the sake of existing,” as my Letterboxd scrawl put at the time. Going back with my expectations severely tempered and a clearer sense of what the journey’s destination was, I better saw that Thor’s real narrative issue comes more from Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson trying to do too much and failing to properly structure or pace what did make it into the “finished” film. Resultantly, the whole feels like a first-draft which, thanks to noted major re-tools midstream and the accelerated production of Marvel content, hasn’t had time to properly bake.
For just one example, Thor, Jane, and Gor should be a really interesting triage dynamic. Gor and Jane having polar opposite responses to cruel uncaring gods (literal and metaphorical) taking away their reasons for living, the former falling into selfish destructive nihilism and the latter using what time she has left to keep on trying to help others at the cost of her own health, with a wayward purposeless Thor in the middle who could swing wither way. But the film takes its entire atrocious first act to get our characters to that point, then barely has them interact with each other for the rest of the runtime. The scene where Gor has Thor & Jane captured and sympathetically states his belief that, because Mijonir was bestowed to Jane by divine rights but is also the very thing that’s metastasizing her cancer, are merely using her and will cast her aside without a second thought once done is rich with potential thematic and character conflict. But neither the scene nor its effects on the character’s psychologies are lingered on for more than a few seconds because there is literally no time to do so; the final action sequence has gotta start yesterday and we still need to finish up Gor’s Child Catcher routine (for some reason).
Love and Thunder as a whole has that kind of problem, it genuinely feels unfinished. (My banger meme tweet that NONE OF YOU CRETINS INTERACTED WITH wasn’t just me being glib.) And nearly every single issue I have the with the released movie – the unfunny jokes, the deflated energy, the hacky edit job, the bad look of the thing, the failure to more smoothly weave the two central plot strands (Gor and Jane) together into an effective whole – can be traced back to overstretched filmmakers not having the time to fully hash out their vision. (I swear, I’m not just parroting Film Crit Hulk’s essay on this back to you but worse; these are my own thoughts.) So, I still think that Thor: Love and Thunder is not a good film, but I’m more sympathetic to it and more interested in its missed potential after a second viewing.
PLEASE let Black Panther: Wakanda Forever be no-qualifiers good. We’re on course for a full strike-out with Phase 4, otherwise. Plus, y’know, those other things hanging over Wakanda which need for it to be good.
Predator [Sunday 31st July]
Dir: John McTiernan
Hot damn, now this is a movie! Not really got much more to say about it than that, honestly, besides the obvious immediate regret of having taken 27 years and 9 months to watch Predator for the first time. The thing rules, goes from basically frame one, the genre switch is sublimely done, the gore is fantastic, Arnie does surprisingly great and convincing fear given that his action career was all about playing on his unflappable God-like figure, and that entire last 40 minutes is *chef’s kiss* after *chef’s kiss*. Rather than just using this as a document of my having finally seen Predator (almost four years after I said I was going to), I also just wanted to note the difference between my reactions and Dad’s reactions.
In both the build-up and the aftermath, he kept talking up the film’s cheesiness and ridiculousness in ways that come off rather defensive, like he’s trying to pre-emptively cut off the machoness of the film from accusations of being dated by the likes of me, noted cineaste with allegedly more-refined tastes than him. But, well, I disagree that Predator is, by his own assertion, “a cheesy stupid action movie” and that’s all. Sure, it has moments of B-movie schlock and that 80s coke testosterone which is super-homoerotic – and, to be clear, even if the film were entirely those, I wouldn’t have considered it a bad thing; just gonna leave a hot-link to my effusive Road House praise here and say no more. But much of that machoness doubles as an Aliens-style feint, being shown up as a smokescreen the instant that our masculine-ideal mercs don’t have total control of the situation in a manner which works as both a critique and something effectively empathised with to make the team’s gradual deaths rather moving. Combined with the fact that, in a metaphor for the Vietnam War, even killing the enemy and getting to come home is a hollow victory due to the team’s very presence having been caused by morally-dubious CIA manipulation which ended up being for nought anyway… Predator’s a pretty rich text if you wanna engage with it that way.
I’m always humbled in a way when reminded that the vast, vast majority of people don’t watch movies the way that I and my friends do. That even the people who say they like watching films, as my Dad does, don’t watch movies in the same analytical, thematic-diving, craft-appreciating manner, no matter whether the film in question is something new or one of their self-professed nostalgic old favourites. It’s interesting and maybe even necessary to be made aware of that perspective from time to time. Explains how he can love Predator because of its moments of macho cheese, and I can love it for its magnificent control of action moviemaking craft. Can also explain how – spoilers for next month – I can adore Prey because its nerve-fraying command of tension and tone, whilst he can vocally claim it being rubbish because “it’s just Predator with bows and arrows.” (He would later walk back the “rubbish” part of his assessment a bit.) The more you know!
Callie Petch does push-ups nude on the edge of cliffs.