Films in July

New Releases
Yesterday
Review 1: This is a classic Richard Curtis – sweet, funny, and escapist. The construct (everyone except for one struggling singer-songwriter has forgotten The Beatles) is daft, but just about holds together and provides a solid driver for the rags to riches storyline, as well as an excuse to play lots of great Beatles songs. I’ll confess that I fall in the middle ground of Beatles fandom – I’m very familiar with their songs, and I like them, but I’m not overwhelmed by them. That meant when they came on in the film, I smiled, but I didn’t feel the sense of joy and desperation to rush out and listen to their back catalog the way I did with Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody. It will not have a lasting impact on me, and I can’t imagine it becoming a classic, but it’s entertaining mush for a lazy brain.
Review 2: This is classic Richard Curtis – contrived, wafer thin and sexist. If you don’t think about anything too hard it’s ok, but it’s all surface polish over something darker. The concept was fun, but the details were inconsistent with an erratic approach to what/who were so influenced by The Beatles that they no longer exist. The central love story meanwhile is deeply problematic, I didn’t get a huge amount of romantic chemistry from the pairing and the lead female is reduced to a besotted groupie following him around. She just about rescues some agency for herself but it’s presented as making his life difficult. The resolution of the plot was a lot less satisfying than the set up of it, including a scene late in the film (in a cottage) that I felt rather uncomfortable about and an ending that tied everything up in an utterly improbably neat bow. Haven’t we moved on from this stuff yet?

I Am Mother
One of the annoyances I have with Netflix (or maybe it’s just on the xbox Netflix app) is that it automatically starts playing the trailers whenever you even hover over anything AND that so many trailers give away too much of the film. That’s the case with I Am Mother and it spoiled the film for me because I knew too much of where it was going and it’s a film that would be much better to just naturally grow the tensions instead of being one where you’re waiting for the inevitable. Excepting that there’s a very solid science fiction story here which works on multiple levels. I was surprised by the quality, even if the surprise of the story was spoiled.

New to me
McQueen
This is one of those rare documentaries that in the space of just 111 minutes gives you a startling informative and emotive look into a world, even one that you know nothing about, and possibly care even less about. I probably somewhere in my brain knew that there was a fashion designer called Alexander McQueen, I’d maybe even read news stories that he had commited suicide (and the tone of the film is immediately doom laden enough that it’s obvious his story is not going to have a happy ending), but I had no idea that one of the UK’s leading fashion designers was in fact a Lewisham lad from a very ‘normal working class family’. The documentary had me absolutely gripped, the candid interviews with his friends and colleagues and lots of archival footage digging in to how and why he was such a superstar, and how that effected him. For the first time I really feel like I understood fashion as an art form, an expression of ideas rather than something to wear. I was completely engrossed and deeply moved.

Ghost Rider
If I were being charitable to the film I would point out that I was exceptionally tired when I started watching, but it was only 7.30pm and I hoped that I’d at least make it through the 2 hour runtime to make it a reasonable bed time for a grown woman. I gave up after an hour and decided that the grown up choice was to not torture myself with any further drivel. I had to double check the year this was made as it looked and felt like a low budget 80’s film, not something that apparently cost only 20% less than Iron Man and was released a year earlier. It was truly terrible – awful script, stunningly bad acting and utterly horrific special effects (unnecessary blue screening meant even simple scenes were polluted by this). The basic plot would have been fine, but without even a quarter way decent scripts or performances then it’s just painful. I rarely quit a film in the middle, but this was just unbearable.

Den skyldige (The Guilty)
I watched the first half of the film thinking that this was something very special, but unfortunately I gradually turned to thinking that the film was trying to be something very special, but was actually falling slightly off the mark. The film is almost a single performance, Jakob Cedergren giving an absolutely storming performance as the less-than-perfect police officer who is on the receiving end of an emergency call from a woman reporting that she’s being abducted. He is constrained to the end of the phone, engaging with different people involved in the case – the public and other police officers. It’s a great set up and a great performance (also by the people on the unseen people on the phone), but the plot just slightly under-delivers. I found it predictable and frustratingly slow; the lack of proper process left me irritated and detracted from the drama rather than improved it. It’s still a really very good thriller, the tension at times almost painful, but it falls slightly short of being the outstanding piece that it felt like it was trying to be.

Atomic Blonde
What a great film. It’s fun and stylish, with a quirky tone and great soundtrack; but it’s also a really incredibly solid spy thriller that kept me guessing. The action sequences are exquisitely choreographed and performed, you can feel every hit along with the characters. It did occasionally wallow in the stylistic elements which I found distracting, but as soon as things started moving again it immediately grabbed me back again.

The Happytime Murders
There is a really great noir detective movie here, set in a world mixing puppets and people. It’s got all the necessary elements, traumatic pasts, Hollywood glamour and the darkness just behind it, stories and relationships with lots of history. It’s a real shame that they decided to make it a crude comedy rather than just telling it straight (see Detective Pikachu) or even just a knowing spoof. I don’t like crude comedies generally, but I don’t think this was a very good one. The design and creativity of the world they’ve built though is fascinating and still worth watching the film for, but it’s a missed opportunity for something clever.

The Dark Tower
Despite a lot of interesting stuff going on with this film, my over-riding thought during most of the film was “what is going on with Idris Elba’s accent?”. When Matthew McConaughey is in a film I know I’m going to have problems with understanding people, but I didn’t expect to have problems with Idris Elba! Writing my review 5 days after watching the film and that’s still my abiding memory. When I really think about it I can remember some stuff about the plot and some nice ideas, but they’re really fading from my memory leaving just a bit of a gap where something more substantial should have been.

Houseboat
I really wish I could let it go about the age differences between the romantic leads in films of this period, but it just taints them all. Added on to this is the discomfort of the lead character being pretty mean to his children at the start and there was a bad taste in my mouth that never quite recovered despite the sharp script and charismatic leads.

Rewatches
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Some classics, particularly science fiction ones, really don’t age well. Either the ideas become outlandish, or the filming styles and technology begin to look really scruffy, best case scenario is sometimes that the film ends up being so influential that everyone else builds on and parodies the ideas so much that the original ends up looking weirdly derivative despite having actually been there first. None of this happens with Close Encounters. Through some form of outright magic, Spielberg’s 1977 film is as much a masterpiece today as it was then. The characters and performances are all so grounded, the themes and filming techniques are so simple that they don’t really age, and the emotions are as real today as they were over 40 years ago. Even the simple 5 note refrain that is so incredibly familiar lands in the movie in a way that gave me genuine goosebumps.

The Illusionist – The challenge with films about magic is that it’s hard to make the tricks seem impressive while not making them unbelievable. Unfortunately The Illusionist does not manage this, several of the tricks presented on stage and off it did not seem possible, pushed just a little too far to be truly credible and therefore undermining the whole story and breaking my investment in it. The other pet peeve of mine they hit were unnecessary and eratic accents – set in Vienna, some attempted accents while others didn’t and it was just jarring. It’s a shame because everything else is there and really drew me in.

Memento – An excellent film that tries to be clever and actually not only *is* clever, but is also enjoyable to watch! The twists are numerous and the plot complex, but it is followable on the first viewing, although I suspect it will gain much from a second viewing. The principle idea of a character with no short term memory is fascinating, and Guy Pearce is outstanding in the lead role.

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