New releases at the cinema:
Love, Simon: At face value, this is a solid teenage coming of age/romance flick with all the extremes of characters, improbably large houses, apparent lack of actual school work and endless stream of beautiful people that you’d expect. It knows exactly what it is, and it does it extremely well. Yes, the cast are all clearly in their twenties playing teenagers, but they’re charismatic and good together. It’s completely emotionally manipulative and knows exactly what strings to pull at every point so that all the emotions of joy, sadness, frustration and anger are delivered like punches. I loved it. I loved it even more because it does all that with a gay teenager at it’s core and showing the awful additional pressure of having to come out, on top of all the usual horrors a teenager has to go through. It’s taken too long for this movie to be made, but it’s finally here and it’s a beautiful triumph.
Isle of Dogs: I was apprehensive going into this, I find Wes Anderson a bit much sometimes and from the clips I’d seen the animation looked a little hard to like. But I was wrong. I really loved the film. The level of quirkiness was amusing rather than irritating, the odd style of animation worked really well to hold the attention, and the story was both entertaining and original. The only thing I wasn’t a fan of was using a lot of big Hollywood names in the cast, which I found a little distracting and hard to engage with some of the characters rather than just thinking of them as “the one voiced by Bryan Cranston” etc. What really surprised me though was that there were so many kids in the audience and they seemed to really engage with the film, no talking or squirming and hardly any toilet breaks, which I really wasn’t expecting. Heartily recommended then for the whole family.
Ready Player One: I really loved the book, but I can’t say I remember any of the details, so I didn’t feel frustrated by any of the changes. I was excited when I heard that Steven Spielberg was making it and what has resulted is a really good, fun Spielberg film. It’s a family adventure film with bright lights, big performances, wit and excitement. I can see that some might be frustrated at the popcorn-ness of the whole thing, but I found it a really entertaining romp. I was never bored, I smiled at the references I got and didn’t notice the ones I didn’t. It’s not a work of art, but I don’t think the book was either. It does what it sets out to do and with Spielberg at the helm, it had the perfect guide.
Funny Cow: I don’t know whether I misunderstood the point of this film going on, but I was expecting the story of a woman trying to be a comic in working class northern England. It’s really really not. It’s the story of a woman growing up in that environment, with the poverty and acceptance of domestic violence. The story around her being a comic is barely there at all, there’s no sense of how she learns her trade, or develops her jokes. The inter cuts of her as a comedian in the future aren’t even showing her being actually funny for the most part. The character development are thin, the metaphors are laid on with a trowel and even though it was only 100 minutes long it felt desperately over-long. That Maxine Peake’s performance still managed to be outstanding even with that mediocre material is truly a marvel.
New for me
The Florida Project (amazon): This film is worth watching for the visuals alone. It’s a really stunningly beautiful looking film, the vibrancy of the colours and the light of the Florida sunshine are shown off with creative framing and long lingering shots. The way the small children inhabit and completely own the large open world around them is wonderfully shown through the cinematography.
This film follows a structure that I tend to find frustrating. The first half, possibly even two thirds, doesn’t really seem to have any structure. It’s just following some characters around on a seemingly endless summer. I found this a little tedious, but I can also see that by just immersing in daily life, you get a much better sense for the situation and people than if anything was forced through narrative. By the time the plot actually reveals itself (some of the threads of which of course were laid in the first part) it feels like both a relief to finally be going somewhere and a disappointment to see the characters get thrown even more challenges, even if you don’t actually like them very much. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the ending. I see what they were trying to do, but I found it jolting and frustrating.
Detriot (amazon): While an incredibly powerful and horrific historical event, I think this was desperately let down by the choices the film makers made. At 2 hours 20 long it lacks the intensity it needed, it felt like an eternity before it actually reached the key events. I lost track of all the characters repeatedly, struggling to join them up in different sections of the film. It would have been much better to either just focus on seeing all the events through one character’s eyes, or maybe to inter-cut the timelines to spread out the different phases (set up, ‘the incident’ and the court case).
Borg vs. McEnroe (amazon): There wasn’t enough to this film to justify it really. It’s pointed out early on the contradictions in the characters and that’s basically the entire premise. It’s just not enough to keep interest over that length of film. The comparison to Hunt vs Lauda as depicted in Rush is obvious, but that film made more of the characters and had a series of ‘matches’ between them (plus, I just find Formula 1 infinitely more interesting and exciting than tennis). Borg Vs McEnroe presents only one match between them. Yes there’s the emotional build up to it which of course plays into the actual tennis, but it’s just not enough. I was utterly bored.
Brazil (amazon) : I’ve been meaning to get around to watching this film for years and years. It started off well, I was fascinated by the unique style of it and the quirkiness of the world that somehow still seemed to make internal sense. But after a while the novelty of that wore off and I just got a little bored of the actual plot.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (amazon): There are some interesting choices here and although by the end I could see why those choices were made, there were times I came very close switching it off. The story is terrifying and horrible, forcing a family to chose someone to die, or lose everyone. The problem is that all the characters are played slightly unreal. No one talks or acts like normal people. They all seem to speak incredibly openly and frankly, without real emotion. As the film goes on you see that there are things that there are things they don’t talk about, and also that there are feelings there. That contrast is very powerful, and also the un-relatability of the characters makes the film something other than the expected emotional thriller that it might otherwise be. But that cleverness doesn’t make the film any easier to watch and the uncanny-valley aspect may be a complete turnoff for some. This may be one of those films where it’s too clever for its own good.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (netflix): How did this happen? How do a huge number of people, spend a lot of time and money making a film and at no point realise that their two lead actors are horrifically miscast. I don’t think it was the actors’ faults, they seem competent enough, but they were completely wrong together and in this film. They just never seemed comfortable or really grounded in the film around them. The script they were working with was pretty rubbish too in fairness to them, not giving them much to go on to justify the apparent relationship or supposed professional experience when they’re endlessly floundering around. Really it should have been the set up that was the most unbelievable thing, but that actually worked in a bonkers kind of way, with impressive creativity, vibrancy and flavour crammed into every scene. It was certainly beautiful to look at, and there were some well done pieces (the opening handshake sequence in particular). But every time the two leads were on screen (or the OTT Clive Owen or random Rihanna for that matter) the whole thing just fell apart.
Risky Business (amazon): This is a tricky one. I mean it’s not aged hugely well and the attitude towards prostitution, particularly when it’s exploiting teenagers on both sides is pretty horrific. There’s a lot of incredibly ‘problematic’ activity. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Even though it completely ignores the issues around sex trade, it does have some interesting things to say about the pressure on kids to get into good colleges, with the implication that they can screw up their whole futures just by making childish errors. It’s also entertaining and funny, largely thanks to Tom Cruise back when he was charming rather than a rather dull action hero. It’s a shame Rebecca De Mornay didn’t have quite the same charisma, although she was hamstrung by the endless flip flopping of her character and the film’s lack of investigation into her horrible situation. It’s hard to give a positive review of a film that focuses all its energy on the rich white guy who may not be able to get into Princeton rather than the teenage prostitute .
The Bodyguard (amazon): I’d really never seen The Bodyguard. I can’t say I feel that I’ve really been missing out on anything for all these years, but it was a good example of the genre. Made in 1992 it falls in that slightly odd inter-decade style, not quite big enough hair for the 80’s, but too cheesy and soft focus for the 90’s. Predictable as anything, but solidly entertaining.