Films in June

June was an interesting month for me as I started a new job in the middle of it. That meant the first couple of weeks I was looking for distractions and ‘nice’ films to sooth my nerves meaning that I had a lot of re-watches of stuff I’ve seen before. I’m very grateful to the charity shop near me for supplying most of them for just a pound a dvd!

New films
Solo: A Star Wars Story (cinema) – I’d not really been intending to see this film, but I was looking for something to distract my brain for a day and it worked out that I could do a double bill of this and Jurassic World. As it turned out, Solo lived up to my apathy, and failed to work as a distraction.
The film got off to a bad start with a pet peeve of mine – over colourisation and dim lighting. I thought it was just to hammer home the metaphorical dinginess of Solo’s home planet, but it followed him the whole film. Scenes looked grainy, dull, indistinct and colour filtered beyond any believability. With the visual spectacle crippled, there was more reliance on the story and I just didn’t really care for it or the characters. It felt too bitty (a problem I’ve had with other Star Wars films) – go here, get the thing, go there, get the thing. Fun characters were massively underused disappearing far too quickly, leaving only the rather dull ones, nuance was non-existent so if I was supposed to be surprised by anything it was sadly ineffective. This film failed to distract me, I frequently found my mind wandering which is not what I expect from this kind of film. Really disappointing.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (cinema) – I went to the cinema for a double bill of this and Solo, looking for something big and energetic to drown out my brain for a while. After Solo completely failed to deliver, I was very relieved that Jurassic World did the job I needed it to do.
I had issues with the previous film failing to capture the wonder and excitement of the original Jurassic Park and feeling rather soul-less (see below, I rewatched Jurassic World this month too). With my expectations lowered accordingly, I was actually pleasantly surprised that Fallen Kingdom does manage to do something new, to raise some interesting questions about the dinosaurs and tug at the heart strings. The mixture of actual plot and action sequences is just right, never leaving it too long without some excitement, but also not dragging sequences out until they get dull. Yes, there’s plenty of cheesy moments, and the plot doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but the characters are fun, the cast charismatic and the special effects convincing. There wasn’t a single moment of the film when I was bored or my brain escaped back to the real world. Exactly what I needed, wanted, and hoped for.

Ocean’s Eight (cinema) – I’m a huge fan of the Clooney/Pitt/Damon et al Ocean’s 11, even if 12 and 13 did then get progressively sillier, so I was quite looking forward to a female instalment and the cast was more than enough to inspire enthusiasm. I sadly found myself a little underwhelmed. The first half was a little slow (someone a few rows back in the cinema was snoring!) and then the heist itself a little fast, then slow again for the post-heist follow ups, and then a final twist that came too far out of nowhere. The comedy wasn’t quite as easy as Ocean’s 11, and one of the early reveals about the connection to the previous films (staying vague for spoilers) actually struck quite a negative blow that really felt like the wrong tone to set. The plot was fairly precarious (I was spotting holes/needless complexity as it went) and overall neither characters nor movie as a whole felt quite as smooth and slick as they needed to be. Oh and who’s idea was Helena Bonham Carter’s terrible accent? Was that supposed to be an homage to Don Cheadle’s terrible cockney? Solidly entertaining, but the cast can do a lot better and I don’t think it will be one I re-watch regularly as I do with Ocean’s 11.

Set It Up (Netflix) – With low expectations for this Netflix premier that I’d never heard of, I was very happily surprised. It’s got a fresh and modern tone, but a story of matchmaking and farce that is timeless and very well delivered. The actors are all charismatic and the chemistry is excellent (where it should be). I laughed and I cared. Just what I needed.

New to me
What Happened to Monday (Netflix) – I’d got in my head for some reason that this was a foreign language film and was looking forward to something quite gritty. Unfortunately it was American, and over the top. It started out ok, but it deteriorated into a bit of a mindless action film that didn’t quite land the emotional punch that it was trying to. The ideas are very interesting, it’s just not very well delivered.

84 Charring Cross Road (dvd) – An utterly charming film, really gentle and easy going, but with a beautiful heart to it. Although released in 1987 it has a much older feel to it, even more so than just the period settings would require. The passing of time from the 1940s to the 1960s is very subtly done, as is the distinctions between London and New York. It’s a lovely film to watch, although I have to warn that it does end on a slight down note which while accurate and a ‘good’ ending technically, does leave me slightly sad.

Dark Shadows (amazon prime) – It started off ok, with an interesting tone and visual style to it as I would expect from Tim Burton and this kind of material, but the substance just wasn’t there. It was played up as a hammy spoof, but it wasn’t in the slightest bit clever or funny enough. I was just incredibly bored by it.

Rewatches
All About Eve (Netflix) – A classic that really still stands up. I wasn’t expecting it to be funny (I never expect old films to actually still be funny) but it had me laughing out loud frequently. The elements of the film work together flawlessly – it’s not really a comedy, it’s just funny; it’s not really a mystery, it’s just intriguing; it’s not really a drama, it’s just occasionally tense. It may have first been released in 1950, and be in black and white, but the characters and bite of the dialogue all feel very present.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (dvd) – I was slightly troubled by this film. On one hand it was all very nice, lovely even, with a group of people coming together and discovering stuff about themselves via exploring a new country. The fact that the people in question were ‘elderly’ (although hardly decrepit!) just meant that the cast was full of a wonderful amount of experience. On the other hand though I wasn’t quite so comfortable with some of the tone of things, it came across as a bit colonial and patronising at times. If you can ignore that, or just not see it, then it’s an utterly lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

Fight Club (amazon prime) – This film is getting on for 20 years old and it’s still as original and stunning as it was in 1999. Stunning in a literal sense almost because it kind of takes your breath away and just leaves you overwhelmed by the violence, the emotions and the logistics of it. I re-watched it, remembering the main points, and I was still engrossed in the twists and turns. I’m not entirely sure it quite all hangs together with the reveal, but it doesn’t matter. Definitely a classic.

Forbidden Planet (amazon prime) – Not bad actually. Of course it looks and feels incredibly dated now, effects and the use of the female character are all definitely “of their time”. The ideas have been reused a hundred times, but that’s because they’re pretty solid storytelling foundations. These days it’s probably more interesting as a piece of history than as a film, but it was actually entertaining enough to hold my attention.

Ghostbusters 2016 (Netflix) -I very rarely find comedy films actually funny and this is no exception. There were a couple of good gags in it (some of which were killed through over-use in trailers) but broadly speaking, it just wasn’t funny enough. That would be ok if the rest of the film around it was good, but I got the impression this film and the actors in it weren’t trying to do anything beyond a comedy. The characters were all too extreme (and annoying), the plot made no sense, the pacing was all over the shop and the cameos just got a bit tedious. I didn’t hate it, I could certainly appreciate the sense of fun it had and I have no problem at all with re-imagining Ghostbusters, particularly with an all female cast. But I just didn’t laugh enough.

The Golden Compass (dvd) – I read the books ages and ages ago and frankly didn’t like them very much, and unfortunately the same is true for the film. The main plot was just too crowded with stuff and I had little understanding or caring about what was going on. It fell into the trap that many of this style of film/book do which was feeling like a long list of names and places, more an itinerary than a plot. The key concept with the demons was very interesting, but was critically let down by some rubbish CGI meaning none of it actually felt real. Mind you, some of the human actors weren’t doing a much better job of feeling real either, with some hammy overacting from the adults and some truly terrible accents from the children. And to polish it all off the story stops dead without much in the way of plot management because they were obviously convinced they’d get a sequel. I’m not surprised they didn’t.

Juno (dvd) – A totally lovely film. It sort of talks about issues like abortion and teenage pregnancy, but almost in a peripheral way, I found myself thinking about the implied issues more than the characters on screen seemed to. I liked that it didn’t bother with the standard pregnancy stuff of morning sickness etc, the jokes that are done in every film. There’s more of a focus on the idea of the connection with the family that will adopt the baby, a connection that maybe isn’t ‘supposed’ to happen. It’s got some dodgy dialogue, but superb acting that pulls it off. Even over 10 years later, it still feels fresh and original.

Jurassic World (dvd) – I’m a huge fan of the original Jurassic Park and although 2 and 3 went downhill at least they were trying to build the franchise and do something different. Jurassic Park 4 is just a new version of the original but with all the magic and soul taken out. A key moment for me came very early as I was watching the film. The music swelled into the familiar theme, one that in the first film played as the helicopter swept over the beautiful landscape, eventually coming to a climax as the herd of brontosaurus are revealed to audience and characters for the first time. John Williams’ genius score carried us along with the power of nature, the joy of the palaeontologists seeing dinosaurs walking around – the majesty, the surprise, the delight, the wonder. In Jurassic World, it plays as we pass over a sweeping landscape of shops at a theme park. The music automatically made me feel all the old emotions and then made me hate myself because I was connecting them with commercialisation. In the movie makers’ defence I think they may have done it deliberately, to show us the wonder being turned into a dollar sign, apparently a lot of the product placement is meant ironically. But just because it’s intentional doesn’t make me like it and frankly that comes across as smug rather than self-aware.
The rest of the plot is just basic Jurassic Park – dinosaurs get out, chaos ensues, kids end up by themselves, heroes save the day blah blah blah. Using dinosaurs against dinosaurs was a slightly original trick but it wasn’t enough to make this film feel worth the effort. The only thing I really liked in this film was Chris Pratt who’s rapidly turning into the go-to guy for this kind of charming, slightly insufferable hero. He injects an energy and a heart to the film that is otherwise sadly absent.
On it’s own, it’s not an awful film, and after my initial disappointment in the cinema, I’ve watched it a couple of times on DVD and it always holds my attention and makes for a distracting couple of hours. But I always miss the emotions that I get from the original. In fact, after seeing it in the cinema I went straight home and put the dvd of Jurassic Park in, and 22 years after it was made, it still entertained, moved and had me on the edge of my seat more than Jurassic World came even close to.

Made in Dagenham (dvd) – A film that (I hope) will go down as one of the great British films – alongside things like The Full Monty which tell some important history in a massively entertaining way. There were a couple of minor hiccups with the plot where things didn’t quite follow through properly but for the most part the writing is really very good. The characters are all fun and there are a lot of laughs, but maybe most importantly, it made me want to go and look things up on wikipedia when it was over.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (dvd) – Even as I was reading the book, I was thinking the whole time that it would make a good film, then when I saw Tim Burton was making it, starring the wonderful Asa Butterfield and Eva Green I thought it couldn’t be more perfect. The problem I found with the book was that it didn’t quite manage to really convey the style and atmosphere, and if there’s anyone that can deliver that it’s Burton, and he really did. There are still a few problems that carry over from the book – sadly they didn’t find a way to elegantly explain/show how the time jumping really works, and that still came across as very clunky. If you start thinking too hard about things it also falls apart, there was also no real consideration of how they age while going round and round in timeloops and what that means for their real ages. But it’s an entertaining film that’s lovely to look at, with wonderful casting and acting and enough originality to stand out from the crowd.

Moneyball (dvd) – I love a good sports movie infinitely more than I actually love sports. The only problem is that I know nothing about most of the sports being talked about so the writer needs to either explain things pretty carefully or make it not really matter… unfortunately Moneyball doesn’t quite manage that. I clung on for a bit, but by the end of it I really did have very little idea what was going on, what any of it meant and what the ‘win conditions’. That’s a real shame because I liked everything else about the film so much that I’m giving it a 7 out of 10 when I didn’t have a clue what was going on!

Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) (Amazon Prime) – When I first saw this film over 10 years ago in the cinema I didn’t really know what to make of it – “I think it was very good, but I didn’t exactly enjoy it. It’s wonderfully atmospheric and creepy. It’s really very brutal at times and there were a number of bits that I didn’t want to watch. It doesn’t really fall into any particular category or genre, one of the most unusual and innovative films I’ve seen in a very long time.” That’s all still true, but I now appreciate those things, rather than feel uncertain about them. The film still stands out as original and fresh, the practical effects and costumes haven’t aged at all and the ideas are still crisp and challenging. A true classic.

Watchmen (Netflix) – I think this was a superb re-creation of the graphic novel, look and tone were spot on, any changes stayed true to the theme if not the details. It delivers the themes of the novel well and there’s a lot of detail in both visuals and characters, but that detail means a much too long 2 hour 45 runtime. I think there were also times that the quality of the acting was maybe not quite up to the material, it often came across as hammy rather than gritty. Some of the effects look a little dated now, but overall its still quite enjoyable.

When Harry Met Sally (Netflix) – A really sweet romantic comedy that by now also acts almost as a period piece. The sheer amount of hairspray used is amazing, the fashions are occasionally horrendous and some of the concepts are a bit laughable now. But for all that it’s a nice film to watch, a couple with genuine chemistry where the every step in the evolution of their relationship makes perfect sense.

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