The Twentieth Century Review

The biopic genre is one of the more predictable out there. Even outside the musical-biopic subgenre, now so heavily coded that films functionally identical to parodies still get nominated for Academy Awards, there are expectations, and most of them are filled most of the time. Chief among them is fanatical reverence for their subjects, painting them as the most important figures in their respective fields through slick, gauzy, prestige-project filmmaking.

Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century, a biopic of legendary Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, doesn’t do any of that. It’s among the least-conventional biopics in existence – and it’s all the better for it. If you didn’t know the backstory, you’d never guess it’s even based on a true story, and if you do know the backstory, you might be furious at the liberal treatment of the subject. But The Twentieth Century being a biopic is merely the icing on the cake of Rankin’s incredible artistry, craft, and utterly bonkers comic and visual sensibility.

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Avengers Endgame

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Disney fandom has become a powerful tribe – how did we get here?)

It’s natural to seek out people who share our interests. Those are the people with whom we’re most likely to get along. But after a point, tribalisation becomes a negative force: when supporting your tribe comes at the expense of other tribes. We see that everywhere, from fandom to global politics. And this year has seen a dramatic and disturbing spike in pop-culture tribalisation – largely centred around the company that needs it least.

Fandom rivalries have existed forever. Star Wars vs Star Trek has more or less come to an equilibrium, with most fans admitting that they like both, to some degree. The Marvel/DC rivalry has been around for decades, though it’s become much more visibly unpleasant since the birth of the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes. Now that superheroes are a dominant global cultural force, and not a niche for enthusiasts, the scale and fury of these rivalries has escalated to at-times horrifying levels. 

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Ghost Killers vs Bloody Mary Review

Ghost Killers Vs Bloody Mary is a very stupid movie, and I don’t mean that as a judgement of its quality. It is stupid in the way that Dumb & Dumber is stupid: it’s about stupid characters doing stupid things, and it generates some stupid fun along the way.

The heroes of Ghost Killers Vs Bloody Mary are no Ghostbusters. They’re the Ghoulbusters, a knowingly IP-breaching squad of paranormal investigators, known mostly for their YouTube channel of middling repute. Their nominal leader is played by one of Brazil’s top comedians, which should be a lesson not to write off performers English-speaking audiences haven’t heard of. Behind on rent and low on morale, the Ghoulbusters’ days are spent fending off angry commenters and thinking up new ways of faking ghosts. 

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Why Don't You Just Die Review

Earning points for its title before it even started, Russian director Kirill Sokolov’s debut Why Don’t You Just Die? won the audience award at this year’s Cinepocalypse Film Festival in Chicago. For genre fans, it’s easy to see why: the film is a screaming crowd-pleaser, fast-paced and extremely bloody, full of cinematic and narrative tricks. If ever there was a film determined to keep its audience’s attention, it’s this one.

Like the films it clearly takes after, Why Don’t You Just Die? starts small, then spirals outward. Without a hint of buildup, young antihero Matvei shows up at a detective’s apartment, bearing only a hammer and an instruction to kill. His target Andrei, however, senses something’s up, and their tense initial greeting rapidly becomes a no-holds-barred deathmatch, with any object in the apartment up for grabs as a weapon. Matvei is beaten and imprisoned, then escapes, then the conflict continues.

That’s all within the first twenty minutes or so.

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Mope Review

The Steve Driver story is one of the strangest true-crime tales of the past couple decades. Taking place in the world of low-rent fetish porn, it concerns a wannabe porn actor who, after trying and failing to make a name for himself, became increasingly unhinged, murdering his best friend with a sword before killing himself by falling off a cliff, surrounded by police. The story is so packed with bizarre details, and it’s the kind of thing that could only be either a true story or a fiction from a seriously deranged mind.

It’s fitting, then, that Lucas Heyne’s Mope – a dramatisation of Steve Driver’s story – is both one of the funniest movies of the year, and a movie that will make you absolutely fucking despise yourself and all humanity. Not many films have started this funny and uplifting, while ending this bleak and depressing.

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The Last to See Them Review

For much of Sara Summa’s debut feature The Last To See Them, I questioned why I was watching it. Why should I care about these characters and their trivial day-to-day activities? Why should I sit here watching nothing happen for an hour and a quarter? This is dull.

Then I realised that that’s the point, and suddenly I loved the film.

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Us behind-the-scenes

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Jordan Peele’s Us explains itself too much and that’s a big problem.)

Note: Us hits Blu-ray and DVD today, but this article assumes you have already seen it. Spoilers ahead.

Mysteries are hard to write. A good mystery needs a compelling opening hook and a satisfying or shocking conclusion, but more importantly, it needs to parcel out the right amount of connecting information, at the right pace. Can the audience follow the story? Do they get ahead of the characters, or solve the clues right alongside them? Do they get confused? Is that intentional or unintentional?

Jordan Peele’s Us is horror first and social commentary second, but it contains more than a little mystery. Opening with young Adelaide discovering a “mirror” version of herself, it continues to puzzle the audience with the years-later appearance of Adelaide’s complete mirror family. Mirror Adelaide, labeled Red in the credits, calls these people the Tethered, and her exact origins and motivations are revealed over the rest of the film. Twists abound.

Us’ script is structured in a way that seems designed specifically for today’s age of YouTube explainer videos, “Things You Missed” articles, and Reddit fan-theory boards. And yet, even understanding that the film demands active, participatory thought from its audience, the film’s story is missing clarity. But Us’ issue isn’t that it doesn’t explain itself enough.

Rather, Us explains itself too much.

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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: people say they want original and fresh movies and, well, they seem to be lying.)

How many times have you heard people complain about Hollywood not having any new ideas? In my case, it’s “a lot.” You hear it especially in the context of blockbusters, where everything’s the third or fourth or ninth entry in a long-running franchise. But what this complaint misses is that original blockbusters (or attempted blockbusters) do get released, on a fairly regular basis. They’re typically not significantly worse than many franchise films, but they’re different. They’re unfamiliar. And more often than not, they crash and burn at the box office.

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The Case For Tyrion and Varys

(Welcome to Debate of Thrones, where a panel of Citadel-trained experts explain why someone deserves, or doesn’t deserve, to sit on the Iron Throne. In this edition: forget kings and queens – bring on the Imp and the Spider!)

It’s time to do away with the very concept of the autocratic monarch, and embrace a co-leadership arrangement. An arrangement more about the good of the many than the power of the few. We needn’t shift to full democracy – to suggest as much would be both political suicide and actual suicide – but for once, it’d be nice to have leaders who serve the Realm, rather than their egos. That’s why the dynamic duo of Tyrion Lannister and Lord Varys is what we need in the Red Keep.

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Welcome to Marwen and Marwencol

Adapting true stories into feature films is a tricky task. It’s even more difficult when audiences have already seen the actual subject – in documentaries, for example. More difficult again is the process of adapting a story that does not conform to conventional story structure. Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today, is a prime example: a film with admirable intent and concept, but devastatingly clumsy execution that does a disservice to its subject material.

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