Films in August

New Films
Christopher Robin
I really wanted to love this film, but it did make it hard. I found the opening half hour or so of the film incredibly bleak. We start with Christopher Robin saying goodbye to all his friends in Hundred Acre Wood as he goes to boarding school then we see a collection of flashbacks including the death of his father and going to war, while the toys slowly fades away as he forgets them. There’s a flash of cheeriness as he marries Hayley Atwell, but then he becomes obsessed with work and providing for his family, losing sight of fun and being present for those he loves. By this point I was pretty miserable to be honest.
The second half picks up as the toys come back into his life, but Christopher Robin still takes a lot of convincing to be a decent human being and is pretty mean to poor old Pooh. There’s eventual redemption, but it’s a very long time coming.
It is a truly stunning film to look at, with hints of arthouse style direction and technically beautiful animation, even if it didn’t always feel quite grounded in the landscape. The same with the voices, even with members of the original Disney voice cast, it felt like a slightly off copy. There is some lovely stuff going on, but it just doesn’t all mesh together. It’s very much a film of two halves, with the first half really not being much fun for kids (or adults really), but then the second half being a bit too much of an easy fix for it to really work as just a grown up film.

Mission Impossible: Fallout – I went to the cinema in search of distraction, to quiet the anxious voices in my head and just escape the world for a bit. I figured a Mission Impossible film would be almost perfect for that. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of the films, but I do think they’re good at what they are. I was slightly disappointed with Fallout compared to previous MI films. The plot seemed even less coherent than usual and it felt like they spent too long trying to explain it which just slowed the film and drew attention to the nonsense of it all. It doesn’t matter if the plot makes no sense (or even if there isn’t much plot at all) but don’t waste so much time on it and leave the audience enough time to spot the holes. I also didn’t feel that it had the humour or character of previous films. Obviously Tom Cruise is the star under the thin disguise of his character Ethan Hunt, but I’d like a bit more interaction with the more than capable supporting actors (both good guys, bad guys, and somewhere-in-the-middle). The action sequences were utterly spectacular, but everything in between was mediocre and bordering on dull, it therefore failed on its basic mission to distract me.

Ant-Man and the Wasp – The Marvel universe always manages to impress me with the sheer variety it brings in its different threads of the franchise (and then astonish me when it weaves the threads together to form an even vaguely coherent joint offering). Ant Man is on the comedy end of the spectrum and it knows it. It is just plain FUN. I was utterly immersed from the first scene to the last, there was always something going on for the eye, the ear, and the heart, although the brain can happily take a bit of a nap for a lot of it. Often I am bored watching fight scenes, but the creativity here had me watching every second and even wishing I could re-wind to catch more detail. I love how everyone involved plays with the ideas and possibilities, fully exploring the potential. But the characters are never forgotten and Marvel’s stunning casting strikes again, with everyone delivering a rich portrayal of everyone as somewhere in the middle of the hero-villain spectrum. It’s a nice change that it’s not the end of the world being threatened; the more intimate stakes make a nice change and fit in the wider pacing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe perfectly. This was exactly the distraction and the entertainment I was looking for.

New to Me
Spider-Man: Homecoming – I didn’t bother going to see this in the cinema because frankly I was bored of going to see Spider-Man films. I eventually picked it up on dvd after being relentlessly told how good it was by people, and they were right. It did manage to be a fresh take on the story and felt more like an actual teenager than I think the previous ones did. It’s interesting how Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has been pre-embedded in the Marvel universe BEFORE getting his own film, and having Tony Stark appear in this film further grounds him in a known universe so his character makes more sense and is both more accepting and more acceptable as a teenager with superpowers. Despite having so much behind it, the film still felt fresh, original and vibrant and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rewatches
The Hobbit films – ITV have been showing all the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, so I decided to marathon my way through the Hobbit films on a wet bank holiday as I haven’t seen them since I was somewhat disappointed by them in the cinema. I remain disappointed. I won’t bother reviewing each one individually, as it’ll be quite repetitive, just like the films. It feels like they missed all the heart and soul that was present in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and just shamelessly tried to make as much money as possible. Primarily, that meant dragging a very limited story out into three over-long films and forcing in cameos and references that just didn’t feel right. I also think they skimped on the special and visual effects, more scenes were obviously green-screened and CGI’ed and it didn’t feel like there was the richness that the original trilogy had. The actors are doing their best and there are some nice moments but it mostly felt cold and mercenary.

Kiki’s Delivery Service – I was lucky enough to see this during the Picturehouse’s Studio Ghibli season and it’s a lovely film to see on the big screen. Some animations work on the big screen because of the amount of detail (Zootopia or Big Hero 6 for example), but this one works because of the simplicity of the animation. The simplicity of the lines, character design and the colours are so elegant on the big screen. It’s a pure kids film, a slow burning fairy tale but there’s enough touches of humour to keep it interesting for adults too. The majority of the film is a very gentle, slow ride which builds to an ending which felt a little rushed, but maybe watching things play out over the titles is the best way to gently break away from the lovely world.

Heathers – This film has had a cinema re-release for its 30th anniversary, which makes me feel a bit old because it was one of the films when I was at school that would do the rounds on vhs for sleepovers and the like. Admittedly it was already a few years old at that point, but it certainly spoke to teenage girls even in the early 90’s. The messages at the heart of the film are still somewhat relevant even if the styles are now horrifically dated. It’s a weird film wandering between fantasy and reality in a way that didn’t feel entirely coherent. It suffers as many of these films do by having actors who are clearly far older than the characters they are meant to portray, and not all are quite up to the depths that the writers may have been aiming for. It’s certainly not a great film, and I’m not really sure it deserves a ‘classic’ label either, but it is interesting to think where it fits into the overall timeline of teen films and how it inspired films after it.

Doctor Strange – A film of missed opportunities. Benedict Cumberbatch was perfectly cast, except for the fact that he’s perfect casting because he’s basically been playing a small variant of the character in Sherlock, so all you’ve really added is magic and a weird accent (it sounded just like Hugh Laurie on House to me, that odd mid-atlantic non-specific american accent that doesn’t quite work). Then the magic stuff. OK, it’s an interesting add on to the Marvel universe, but stop trying to explain it! There was SO much exposition and explaining of things that really didn’t make any sense, I kept getting bored. Then I struggled to really follow the action sequences, maybe it’s something about my eyes, but I found them too complicated, too fast moving and too layered to really focus on and get a hang of what was going on (I think if I’d seen it in 3d it would probably have made me feel ill). The bits that weren’t action OR exposition were quite interesting, but I just kept zoning out of the rest of it. On the plus side – Tilda Swinton was absolutely fantastic and the line about the ‘mantra’ is possibly the funniest thing I’ve heard all year. But I think the rest of it was a bit mediocre, and it shouldn’t have been.

Hercules – Easily the best thing about this film is the songs, as soon as they start playing (actually as soon as I even think about them playing) I get a big smile on my face and want to sing along. The mixture of ancient Greek setting and the gospel music is absolutely genius. The rest of the film is solid enough with some good comedy from the familiar side-kick slots and a satisfyingly spunky female lead, but it’s the music that’s the real joy.

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