The Limiting and Emotionally Draining Monthly Review of February 2019

Critique, eh?


#11 Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
#12 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
#13 First Reformed (2017)
#14 High Flying Bird (2019)
#15 Memories of Murder (2003), aka Salinui chueok
#16 Gods and Monsters (1998)
#17 Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
#18 Leave No Trace (2018)
#19 Hereditary (2018)
#20 Zatoichi and the Fugitives (1968), aka Zatôichi hatashijô
#20a Inception: The Cobol Job (2010)
#21 Fences (2016)
#22 Sherlock Gnomes (2018)
#23 Ocean’s Eight (2018)
#24 Rope (1948)
#25 Roma (2018)
#26 Green Book (2018)
#27 Serenity (2019)
#28 The Predator (2018)
Memories of Murder

Hereditary

Rope

.


  • So, I watched 18 new feature films in February.
  • That’s below the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 21.3, now 21.1), but does beat the average for February (previously 12.4, now 12.8), as well as January’s tally of ten.
  • That puts me at #28 overall as the month ends, which is the lowest I’ve been at the end of February for five years, since February 2014 closed out at just #12. On the other hand, 2015 and 2017 were both only on #29 at this point, so there’s nothing to worry about (where I should be to reach my new official target of 120 new films in a year is, of course, #20).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: Alfred Hitchcock’s wannabe-one-shot real-time thriller, Rope.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: true-life Korean murder mystery Memories of Murder. It reminded me of Fincher’s Zodiac, which is high praise indeed.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Roma, First Reformed, Leave No Trace, and my first 4K Blu-ray (see Rewatchathon).



The 45th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There were several films this month that earned five-star reviews — not always a prerequisite for being a favourite; and, I have to say, in most cases that was thanks to rounding up (I don’t believe a film has to be wholly flawless to earn full marks on a ratings system that’s so inherently vague!) My pick of the bunch is probably Korean police procedural Memories of Murder. As I said above, it reminded me of Zodiac, one of my all-time favourite films.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Various films disappointed, underwhelmed, or divided me this month, but lowest among them has to be the battiness of Serenity, which also gets bonus negative points for trying to use the same title as the Firefly film.

Most Meme-able Movie of the Month
In my Velvet Buzzsaw review I noted it was ripe for the picking by meme-makers, but I guess because it didn’t go down very well it hasn’t really caught on. Instead, a drama about a troubled priest from the writer of Taxi Driver might not seem like a meme-magnet… but then again, “are you looking at me?” was a meme before memes existed. Anyway, nothing else this month beats this all-purpose line from First Reformed

Well somebody has to do something

Oh, and thanks to the unpopular Oscar results, this gem has taken off too…

Will God forgive us?

Most Self-Consciously Whimsical Title of the Month
I can kind of see what they were going for with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but they took it too far and now it’s a more horrible mouthful than the pie itself.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Oscar buzz and an Oscar win did little to boost the fates of Roma and Green Book here. Instead, the top two spots were taken by reviews of new Netflix releases (an ever-popular post category), with High Flying Bird coming a distant second to Velvet Buzzsaw.



After a strong start last month, my Rewatchathon falls behind pace a little this time, with just two films.

#6 Inception (2010)
#7 Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Of note here is that Inception becomes the first film I’ve watched on 4K UHD Blu-ray. It looked great, and sounded even better. It ‘only’ has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, though (as opposed to audiophiles’ new infatuation, Dolby Atmos), so I guess the regular Blu-ray sounds just as good; unless it was remixed, because the 4K does make a point of being the “original theatrical mix”. Well, whatever — the 4K disc sounds immense.


I once again have an extensive list of films I was meaning to get round to this month and, well, didn’t.

No trips to the cinema this month, so I haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Alita: Battle Angel, or The Kid Who Would Be King. I was going to rewatch How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2 in 3D before that cinema trip, too, but didn’t get round to those either. I guess I’ll go through the whole trilogy in 3D when the third one hits disc in a few months’ time.

As for stuff that’s already coming out at home, I bought First Man, Venom, and imported the new Suspiria and the 1929 Der Hund von Baskerville, but didn’t manage to get round to any of them (obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t be mentioned here). I’ve also got BlacKkKlansman and Upgrade waiting as digital rentals. The Predator was another rental that nearly earned a mention here too, but then I watched it last night. I actually tried to watch it earlier in the month, but it turned out it wasn’t in 4K (despite that being what I’d paid for) and was cropped to the wrong aspect ratio (I do not recommend Chili!) In the end I acquired it via *ahem* other means.

I also bought a bunch more 4K UHD Blu-rays this month, thanks to various sales and offers. I gotta say, though, 4K is not solving all the world’s problems (or, at least, being the ultimate final physical media format) like it should. By which I mean: although I’ve now bought The Matrix trilogy on 4K, I’ve still got to keep my Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD set for four whole discs of stuff not in the 4K set. And although I’ve now bought The Dark Knight trilogy on 4K, I’ve still got to keep my Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray set for the bonus disc which has a couple of feature-length extras. And although I’ve now bought the Mission: Impossible 1-5 4K box set, I’ve still got to keep all the individual films’ Blu-rays for their various bonus discs. And although I’ve not bought the X-Men trilogy on 4K yet, I know it’ll be the same story, because that stupidly doesn’t include any special features discs at all (at least The Matrix and Dark Knight sets managed the film-specific ones). The only 4K box set I’ve bought that’s done it right is the Jurassic Park one, and I think that’s probably by accident (because none of those films had additional special features discs in the first place). I guess having to keep old editions isn’t the end of the world (selling second-hand DVDs/Blu-rays nets so little money nowadays that you’re not even close to covering the cost of rebuying), but it’s the principle — and wasted shelf space — that gets on my wick. Not to mention the looming possibility that one day they’ll do a re-release that does it properly and I’ll feel compelled to buy my favourites again

Finally, I’ve currently got my annual one-month subscription to Sky Cinema (via Now TV) to watch the Oscars, and there’s a whole host of films I want to get round to currently available on there, including (but not limited to) recent releases like A Wrinkle in Time, Isle of Dogs, Lady Bird, and Love, Simon.


2019 is Marching on already.

(D’you see what I did there? Do you? Do you? Do you?)

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Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

2019 #11
Dan Gilroy | 112 mins | streaming (UHD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Velvet Buzzsaw

The team behind neo-noir modern classic Nightcrawler (writer-director Dan Gilroy, stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, cinematographer Robert Elswit, among others) reunite for this direct-to-Netflix genre mash-up — it’s part art-world satire, part mystery-thriller, part horror. The Verge described it as “Robert Altman’s Final Destination”, and that so succinctly articulates what the film reminded me of that I decided to just lift it. Well, just pilfering someone else’s work is in-keeping with the film’s themes, at least.

Set in the world of high art, it stars Gyllenhaal as all-powerful critic Morf Vandewalt, whose reviews can make or break sales worth millions of dollars, plus the careers that go along with that. One person his tastes always align with is prominent dealer Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), whose assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton) is falling out of favour due to relationship woes. But when her reclusive neighbour dies, she finds his apartment full of striking and original artwork, which she promptly steals. Mort is bowled over by their quality, Rhodora muscles in on the sales, and soon the deceased artist is a sensation. But there’s more to his disturbing work than meets the eye, and soon people start dying…

So far so Final Destination, but not very Robert Altman, I know. The latter comes more in the execution than the subject matter, in particular that this is really an ensemble piece — the marketing pitched Gyllenhaal as the lead, I guess because he’s the biggest and most marketable name, but Ashton’s role is at least as large and central, if not more so, for example. Plus, as well as those two and Russo that I’ve already mentioned, there are significant roles for Toni Collette (as an art buyer for a museum), John Malkovich (as an uninspired elder-statesman artist), Natalia Dyer (as an intern struggling to break in), Billy Magnussen (as a handyman who wants to be an artist), Tom Sturridge (as a rival dealer), and Daveed Diggs (as an up-and-coming artist everyone wants to sign). Before the thriller and horror elements come into play, this spread of characters makes the film seems much more like a portrait of the art world from multiple different perspectives.

Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining

Gilroy has specifically cited Altman’s Hollywood satire The Player as an influence on how he approached things. By complete coincidence, I watched The Player just a few days before this, and so that similarity was very clear to me. That said, Gilroy’s lack of experience relative to Altman perhaps shows through. Where The Player was very pointed and effective in its satire, Velvet Buzzsaw takes more of a vague, scattershot view of the contemporary art scene. Gilroy does have a specific theme in mind — specifically, the disjunct between art and commerce, and their negative effects on each other — which manifests in various ways (it’s part of the film’s horrors as well as its satire), but that seems slightly disconnected from the Altman-esque “different perspectives” approach. Having so many key characters does lend a slightly different feel from what you might expect, but it doesn’t lead to the same kind of forensic dissection that Altman was capable of.

It’s just one aspect of the film that seems somewhat muddled. It’s not fatally flawed, but there are things about it here and there that just don’t seem to add up. It’s almost as if scenes had been arbitrarily removed; not ones that particularly affect the plot, but maybe ones that affect the details. For example, at one point Mort exclaims that he’s been seeing strange things recently, but the only evidence we’ve seen of that came with the thing that prompted his exclamation. These kind of vague, not-quite-right bits pop up now and then. You’d almost wonder if it had something to do with the film’s horror side, like it was trying to be disquieting, but it doesn’t correlate or connect up to the actual horror bits.

About to connect with the film's horror bits

And yet, despite that, it’s so good in places. In particular, it looks gorgeous, especially in UHD. That’s how Elswit has shot it, of course, but also some of the striking visual ideas Gilroy throws into the mix. His screenplay definitely has its moments also. One of Mort’s first reactions to the startling work Josephina has unearthed is that “critique is so limiting and emotionally draining,” which is just begging to be quoted in reviews. That line was in the trailer, so it’s already threatened to take on a life of its own outside the film, but it’s certainly not the only meme-in-waiting that’s thrown up. “The admiration I had for your work has completely evaporated” is another choice example. Heck, about half the rest of the dialogue is as well, never mind some reaction shots.

Sometimes, star ratings really aren’t nuanced enough to represent one’s reaction to a film. There are bits of Velvet Buzzsaw I adored — performances, scenes, individual lines, the cinematography — at a level normally found in a five-star film. But there are other things it fumbles, like the way the story sometimes jumps as if scenes have been deleted, or the way it doesn’t seem to have an answer for some of its mysteries, or the way the trailer spoilt pretty much everything (not a fault of the film itself, I know, but still a grievance). Some of those err down towards a three-star experience. It’s quite frustrating in that respect. Overall, there’s enough I liked that I’m going to give it a four, albeit a cautious one.

4 out of 5

Velvet Buzzsaw is available on Netflix now.