Films in July

New Films
Incredibles 2 – I have always felt that The Incredibles was one of Pixar’s quietest gems (see review further down the page). For some reason it never seemed to get the rabid response that Toy Story or Finding Nemo got, but for me it was always one of my favourites. The story, the characters, the voice work, the understated humour, and most of all the visual style all just really spoke to me and I was thrilled when I heard a sequel was on the way. I’m even more thrilled that it was everything I hoped for and more. The story and the quality pick up seamlessly from the end of the first film and just keep improving. I can’t remember the last film where I laughed out loud so much; scenes, phrases and even just wordless looks became instant classics. At two hours long, it’s apparently the longest Pixar film yet and I didn’t notice time passing at all, I would have cheerfully sat there for another 2 hours. Absolutely wonderful.

New to me
A Ghost Story – I sort of sank into this film. At first I was a bit eye-rolly and bored by it. Everything took so long, each scene lingered and dragged, and although the cinematography was very beautiful, rather than pull me into the story and the characters, it pushed me away from an emotional engagement. But the film went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and that drew me back in a bit. I wouldn’t say I entirely fell in love with it, or thought it was a revelation, but I didn’t hate it anywhere near as much as I thought I would.

Dark Skies – I seem to have watched a few of these theme of film recently, family terrorised by supernatural and/or aliens and/or their own paranoia. They’re all much-of-a-muchness with most of the success resting on whether the kids are annoying and whether the parents make dumb choices. Dark Skies is a middling success. The kids are just slightly the wrong side of the line, but the parents are sufficiently sensible to average it out. There are some genuinely creepy setups, a couple of acceptable jump scares and a fairly well managed conclusion. But I suspect in a few days time I will have completely forgotten it.

Frida – I knew nothing about the artist Frida Kahlo’s life and to be honest I don’t much like her art. But this is well put together character study of a very interesting woman. I was a little frustrated that so much of the story of her life was told as the story of her relationship with Diego Rivera, I’m not entirely convinced it actually passes the Bechdel test. But I was completely engaged with the film throughout, the little animated sections providing an interesting contrast, and was inspired to read a little bit more about her life.

Get Shorty – I probably wasn’t in the right mood to watch this. From very early on I lost track of the plot and couldn’t be bothered to pick it up again. I really do think this is more me than the film, because I liked the idea of the story a lot, and the characters all seemed to work, I just didn’t engage with it at all.

Misery – A quite minimalist and very well constructed creepy horror film. The gradually building tension and unpleasantness is well paced although slightly undermined now by the fact that it’s been parodied so many times. I particularly liked the well timed interjections of lightness from the local sheriff which broke the tension. Kathy Bates is superb.

Rewatches
The Social Network – When I read a few years ago that my favourite writer, Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, Sports Night, The American President) was going to move on from the flop of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (I liked it a lot more than most, but could still see it had big problems) with a film about Facebook, I really thought it was a joke. A couple of years later and I’m watching the unlikely scene of a fast paced coding and hacking session unmistakably written by Aaron Sorkin. I was engrossed from start to finish. The different ‘truths’ are intertwined flawlessly, jumping points of view and back and forth in time effortlessly. It’s not a simple film to watch, you will need to pay attention to keep track, but if you do, you will understand. The only problem the film has is that it’s a bit difficult to feel sorry for most of the characters, while they’re not necessarily assholes, they all have reasons for behaving as they do, they’re not particularly pleasant to be around. And by the end of the film all these extremely young, arrogant, fairly obnoxious characters are all richer than you will ever be.

The Incredibles – Remembering that this film came years before the Marvel cinematic universe really re-energised the superhero genre makes it even more impressive. It fits into the modern take on superheroes so well, simultaneously respecting and parodying the tropes and cliches. Rewatching it for the nth time, there are still lots of little moments, references and background bits that surprise and delight. The animation is a little dated and over simplified compared to current films, but given it was made in 2004, that’s not surprising. While the movements and the textures may be basic though, the style is still gorgeous and the voice acting is everything you’d expect from Pixar.

Wind River – I was extremely satisfied by this film. For a start, it’s beautiful to look at, with a dramatic setting that looks great on the big screen. Another thing I found very satisfying was the treatment of the principle characters. None of them were stupid or small minded, they all had respect for each other and behaved professionally and competently. Too often that’s not the case, petty rivalries or incompetencies are used to drive the plot along or create tension. The personal weaknesses and issues of the characters were well deployed into the story without feeling like they were being overly manipulative. The crime itself maybe lacked originality or sufficiently credible motivations, and I think the reveal could have been made a lot more elegantly, rather than degenerating into flashback and way too big gun battle. All-in-all however it was a really satisfying watch.

Star Trek: Beyond – When I was going to the cinema to see this the first time, I re-watched the previous two Star Trek films before going to see this one at the cinema, and my expectations were therefore mixed. I anticipated a continuation of the big blockbuster pop-corn flicks that we’d been getting. Big effects, respectful nostalgia, excellent casting, not quite enough one liners, and dumb as rocks plot. Happily though, they seem to have managed to keep the good and actually fix the problems with the writing! This film actually makes some sense, or at least it made enough sense while I was actually watching it, which is more that the last two did. It’s still fun, it’s still spectacular (although the effects are all a bit digital and over-processed for my tastes), the characters all still have soul and it really felt like a Star Trek film.

Notting Hill – Sometimes you have to decide whether you’re going to enjoy a Richard Curtis film before you really start watching it. Most of them have a central problem that they’re about rich people having problems that we could only really dream of having. if you go with the posh charm than all is well and they’re funny, sweet and like a warm blanket. But if you can’t let it go they can be massively frustrating. The Julia Robert’s character at the heart of Notting Hill makes it extremely hard to just let the irritation go by complaining about her massively successful but demanding job, while making no movement to actually take control of her own life. Of course seemingly successful people can be miserable, but it never seems to occur to her that she is choosing to remain in the miserable situations and instead just grumbles and snaps at people around her. Everything beyond that character manages to be lovely, but the black hole at the centre really dragged this film down for me.

The Boat That Rocked – This is possibly the least Richard Curtis of Richard Curtis’ films. I enjoyed this film a lot, it’s hard not to get swept along by the feel good soundtrack but the collection of characters were also just fun to spend time with. I found myself wishing that it was a sitcom instead of a film as it was almost more fun to just see the little day-to-day activities than it was to pay attention to the plot. It avoids Curtis’ usual problems of “posh people problems” and felt like there was something important at the heart of it. It’s very silly in places, which I’d usually find irritating, but for whatever reason, it worked for me here.

The Death of Stalin – An odd film. Armando Iannucci is a superb comedy writer and this is certainly a laugh out loud funny. The hilarity of a well timed swear word, of a well timed silence, of physical comedy, farce and wordplay – it’s a masterclass. There are loads of characters with complicated backstories and relationships that can be a little hard to track, but thanks to some brilliant ‘character actors’ they all leap off the screen. The problem is that, while the farcical elements of the grabs for power are inherently funny, the overall situation is not. The film doesn’t entirely shy away from the fact that thousands of people are being routinely rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and killed; but by interspersing it with comedy it does be-little it and leave a very bad taste in the mouth. It’s not like you can watch the film and ignore it, because it’s integral to the story; so I’m not quite sure what reaction we’re supposed to have. Overall I think I just wish that Iannucci and the cast made a different film.

Big Hero 6 – Like Wreck it Ralph, this is a film that doesn’t look like a Disney film, but actually when you think about the story and the characters, it’s Disney through-and-through. It’s a lovely story looking at loss and what it means to be a hero, it’s quite heart breaking at times, but balances it with some good-old-school superheroes and robots. The animation is absolutely beautiful, the level of detail on the city is contrasted with the minimalist style used for the characters. You completely forget that Baymax is nothing more than a couple of eyes, he’s so elegantly expressive. Another really great movie from Disney.

My Best Friend’s Wedding – What a horrible film. On the surface it appears frothy and fun, big characters played well, a snappy script and some great actors and Rupert Everett absolutely stealing the film. But when you actually pay attention to the plot and the characters – they’re almost all horrific. The central story is pretty nasty – a woman realises she’s in love with her best friend just as he’s about to marry someone else, so she decides to split them up. The tactics she uses are awful, and her acknowledgement that she’s being horrible don’t excuse that. Even worse though was actually the relationship between the best friend and his fiance, which felt even more uncomfortable. She is a student, considerably younger than him and seems pretty sweet and lovely. But she’s going to drop out of school and ‘suspend’ her dreams to be with him while he travels for work and when she tries to present an alternative, he shouts at her in a crowded restaurant until she cries and promises to never mention it again. I’m sorry, but that’s not something I want to see presented as absolutely ok. The fiance should have run for the hills and left the two horrible people to each other.

Good Will Hunting – I’d forgotten how good this film was, even more outstanding considering how early in Damon and Affleck’s career it was. I wish they would write again to see whether this was the only story they could tell. The acting of all parties was inspired with Robin Williams doing an outstanding job playing it (mostly) straight and Stellan Skarsgard also doing a good supporting role.

Romancing the Stone – Twee 80’s action/romance. Indiana Jones with slightly more smarm, slightly less charm, a bit less humour and a lot less polish. Passes the time.

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