Mega Move Catch-Up #17

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I cancelled my Netflix months ago and only pay for one streaming service (for now), however some of the free Aussie TV stations have movies on their apps too!

A Haunting in Venice (2023)
Loosely based on one of Agatha Christie’s lesser known novels, Hallowe’en Party, the third instalment in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation is kinda off-kilter and appropriately so.

The previous film, Death on the Nile, felt more like the closing chapter of a saga so it’s rather strange to see another sequel. However, the film begins with Hercule Poirot (Branagh) retired from solving murders and hiding away in Venice and then being reluctantly dragged back into society and to a séance by mystery author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) to help debunk a medium played by Michelle Yeoh.

This is the closest a Poirot murder mystery gets to being a horror film or a supernatural thriller. The way it’s shot, the camera angles, the tone, the atmosphere, slowly becomes more and more unhinged to reflect the story and it feels comparatively Avant Garde. Although, I guessed the murderer correctly about halfway through the film, admittedly that really was just a guess based on cynicism and gut feeling. In hindsight there are enough little clues that one can come up with an answer but in any case it’s a very thrilling and entertaining mystery with enough twists that work well enough to hold your attention.

Currently streaming on Disney+

Elemental (2023)
Directed by Peter Sohn, whom I always feel compelled to point out, was the designer and inspiration for Russel in my favourite Pixar movie UP.

Because it’s a movie aimed at younger audiences it’s best not to overthink the logistics of elements living and working side by side like this but overall this is a really fun, sweet, and lovely movie. Yes, the immigrant experience allegory is a little too on-the-nose but it still works for the intended audience.

Sohn used his own experiences being the child of Korean immigrants, whose parents had their own grocery store, as background for this movie so those aspects feel authentic and we seem to be seeing a lot more of these stories the last few years, which is really wonderful. Having said that, this didn’t hit me as hard as Turning Red did and while there were plenty of laughs and fun moments, very little sticks around and lingers in my brain about this. Still, it was a really cute story and a fun way for the little ones to understand differences and diversity.

Currently streaming on Disney+

The Little Mermaid (2023)
A delightful live-action adaptation that feels surprisingly like a “traditional” Walt Disney movie…

I’m not attached to the original 1989 animated movie nor do I have any sort of erroneous belief that remakes are instantly a bad idea, so I came to this movie with a much more open mind that most and I found The Little Mermaid to be a rather delightful musical adventure. Halle Bailey made for the perfect Ariel in all her wide-eyed determination and naivety and a wonderful voice to match. And it “felt” like a traditional Disney film too to the sets, the music, the way it was shot (even the day-for-night scenes). It was a wonderful homage to the old school (there was even a surprise cameo by Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel).

I will admit that while the movie looks fantastic, some scenes underwater (the well lit ones) seemed a touch janky, and I think I’m very much over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s style of song-writing for quite a while. Also, Melissa McCarthy is definitely giving it her all as Ursula but her performance still felt comparatively understated, which is an issue that often plagues the transition from animation to live-action. I do wonder just how much bigger this film could have looked had it not been for the pandemic.

Like the original, this was definitely aimed at a family audience (which obviously include children) just like the original and I think this adaptation hits the mark very well.

Currently streaming on Disney+

The Menu (2022)
This dark comedy is horribly undercooked and deeply unsatisfying.

At its heart is a great idea with a lot of potential and (to labour the food metaphor) a heap of good ingredients but unfortunately the final dish feels unevenly proportioned, undercooked, and pretentiously plated. Every character is varying levels of unsympathetic, even Anna Taylor-Joy’s audience POV “working class” character isn’t much of a hero despite the framing, so there isn’t really anyone to side with or root for. The snobbish, greedy and elitist clientele are all arseholes and most of their “sins” are mentioned in passing yet in contrast Ralph Fiennes’ celebrity chef and his staff are more death cult rather than “avenging angels” so there’s no real satisfaction in any of the punishments especially considering how uneven they are.

And when it wants to convey its supposed “message” about art and criticism, appreciation and sycophancy, and whatever else, it’s a fucking mess. Because there’s no “moral authority” character, no proper “hero”, the importance of the message falls flat (especially the whole bit about those to give and those who take aka service industry vs customers schtick). There is also a clear attempt at satirising upper class restaurants and foodie culture too but again it’s not saying anything meaningful other than “isn’t this a bit much?”

Benefit of the doubt, I don’t think the film is being pretentious in of itself but its portrayal of pretentiousness, whether it be from those who call themselves artists and those whose job it is to criticise, doesn’t work and clashes with all its other elements and results in a bit of a shit sandwich.

Currently streaming on Disney+

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022)
Of course the guy known for song parodies is going to parody biographical movies!

Early on there is a tiny temptation to try and figure out just how much may be true or fiction despite the obvious ludicrousness of the first act but nothing will prepare you for how absolutely unhinged the movie becomes and it’s fucking hilarious! This is a piss-take of every music-based biopic you’ve ever watched and then makes a sharp right-turn into the unexpected because of course it does.

Produced by Funny or Die there are certain scenes that feel like internet comedy skits but at the same time it does actually make for a compelling and coherent story despite the lunacy. Some of it is trying to spot the famous celebrity being depicted, some of it is trying to spot the famous performer trying to play them. And then of course it’s fantastic just hearing snippets of ‘Weird” Al’s most iconic songs. Daniel Radcliffe has pretty much made a name for himself in choosing off-beat roles and he’s just perfect here, especially in the context.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, AppleTV, Paramount+ and for free on TenPlay

23:59 The Haunting Hour (2018)
This anthology of horror stories from Singapore is a sequel to its 2011 original.

It’s not great but it can be creepy when it really tries, however, I found it more fascinating than I did frightening. As I keep saying, there is something to be gained from seeing familiar stories and tropes through the lens of another culture and many of these stories are more based on south-east Asian sensibilities but dyed-in-the-wool horror fans will likely find this movie timid and watered down.

It’s a handful of different ghost stories framed within a much larger ghost story and their presentations feel somewhat aimed at a young adult audience, sometimes serious, sometimes comedic, kind of like watching an episode of Goosebumps if it were much more adult. It has a jarringly 2008 attitude rather than a 2018 one and can be a tad juvenile but I will admit I was sort of drawn in wondering where this was all leading to. Not sure I was satisfied by that ending but I think the movie wants me to think I did…?

Currently streaming on Disney+

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