Monthly Archives: August 2019

The Nightingale — 5/10

THE NIGHTINGALE (2019, Jennifer Kent)

Kent’s sophomore feature is not a horror movie, like THE BABADOOK, but perhaps this is a meaningless semantic distinction. There are no supernatural elements, no creatures, no serial killers, and no jump scares. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a horrifying movie. On the contrary, this is one of the most sadistic, bleak, cruel, ugly motion pictures you’re bound to see all year. There may be no Monsters, but there are plenty of monsters — i.e., human beings.

It’s hard to think of a horror movie antagonist more villainous than Sam Clafin’s Lt. Hawkins — an incompetent soldier with a bilious temper, and zero moral compass. He and his cronies (those around him act more like victims than colleagues, as he uses his authority and intimidation tactics to order people around, shaming them into following commands) spend most of the movie raping women left and right, and murdering black people and small children. Whenever you think Kent isn’t going to go there, she goes there.

So why are we putting up with this barbaric nightmare for over two hours? That depends on who you are — if you need a movie to draw an analogy between the 19th century colonialism that led to British imperialists slaughtering the Aboriginal peoples of Van Diemen’s Land during the Black War / Tasmanian War and today’s genocidal atrocities committed by governments East and West, then Kent’s got you covered. But if you want to see an aesthetically brave, nuanced film with good performances and material that challenges previously held beliefs, this is not the movie for you.

Aisling Franciosi and Clafin are fine as two of the three leads, but newcomer Baykali Ganambarr struggles to appear natural. This is his first credit as an actor, and although he has a certain presence, there isn’t a scene in here where you don’t catch the man behind the character trying to “Act.” His amateur performance constantly takes you out of the movie, even when the narrative begins to follow the road-movie buddy formula of two people who just can’t stand each other at the start but grow to form a bond and respect by journey’s end. (It doesn’t help that there’s a thin layer of Magical Black Man / Noble Savage Syndrome to Ganambarr’s character too). As for Kent’s filmmaking choices, the dearth of score or stylistic touches (aside from repetitive, inert dream sequences) makes it naturalistic, but not very interesting to watch — and the 4:3 academy ratio works in disharmony with the Tasmanian wilderness as opposed to in service of it.

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Hobbs & Shaw — 6/10

HOBBS & SHAW (2019, David Leitch)

The more serious the FAST & FURIOUS movies are, the worse — generally. As series producer and now head writer Chris Morgan’s stories have ballooned from the franchise’s POINT BREAK-meets-street-race-culture beginnings to its current iteration as cartoonish MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-level super heroics, the best ones (FURIOUS 7, this one) have also been leavened with a sense of humor. The more they can wink at the audience, the easier it is to digest a sequence where The Rock almost pulls a helicopter out of the sky with his bare hands and a chain.

Thanks to Johnson’s friendship and frequent collaboration with Kevin Hart, and Leitch’s resume as director on DEADPOOL 2, we get a couple of amusing supporting roles by Hart and Ryan Reynolds (the latter’s face when he expresses delight at the closed diner was maybe my biggest laugh of this movie) and a well-established and effective frenemy relationship between Johnson and Statham, who is as funny (and good) here as he’s been in anything since SPY.

The plot makes almost no sense, but it’s also refreshingly skimpy and simplified, so that leaves room for just 130 minutes of insane stunts, ludicrous CG setpieces, and wry wisecracking. I do miss the days when summer blockbusters were this (relatively) lean, superficial, and weightless, but still entertaining and graceful. I saw this almost a week ago and can barely remember any specifics (except some weird changes during a climax that lasts 30 minutes in movie time but covers night to day and sunlight to rainstorm) but even if it evaporates like water in August, it goes down just as easily.

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