I thought I’d had a very quiet month for films (compensating for the increase in books being read), but when I looked at the list it looked pretty healthy. Then I remembered that I had a weekend of lego building and film watching which accounts for eight out of the eleven films.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
I have a great many conflicting thoughts about this film. I’m going to broadly approach them chronologically as they hit me.
As the film started, I immediately settled into it, warming to the characters and wanting to know more about them and spend time with them. DiCaprio and Pitt are both playing characters that are comfortable for them and the audience, just enough depth and complexity to be interesting, but neither massively challenging. After a while I also began to appreciate the style of the film, the loving way 1960’s Hollywood was presented. It as shot with a creative eye, but not an “overly arty” one that felt contrived. I was also lucky enough to see the film on 35mm which just added to the period feel.
I forgot it was a Quentin Tarantino film. It was smart, but not in the smug or deliberately shocking way that his other films were. It was also gentle and felt safe. Even with Sharon Tate as a central character and the knowledge of what happened to her, it still felt as if everything was controlled, not as chaotic as Tarantino usually feels.
Then I got bored. It was still interesting and pleasant spending time with the characters, but it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. Tarantino’s lack of ability to edit was showing again. I began to wonder whether the film was actually not going to show what happened to Tate as we were still firmly stuck 6 months before that date and noodling around.
Then suddenly we were back in a Tarantino film. The dry narrator reappeared, the events edged from quirky but believable into more extreme and the violence cranked up to levels that I actually closed my eyes for. I’m not going to spoil it but I’m genuinely not sure how I feel about the ending, whether it’s a cheap trick or a clever twist. I genuinely can’t decide.
Overall – There were bits that I loved, bits that I found frustrating and bits that I have no idea about. If you watched the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes I don’t think you’d ever connect them as the same film and I don’t think that the transition is managed very well. It’s an interesting film, and almost a film that’s designed to be studied and talked about, but there’s also a lot to enjoy in it.
New for me
A Simple Favour
This film covers the full range from daft physical comedy to fairly tragic drama and I really cannot decide whether it’s a complete muddle, or a delicious mixture. In Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively it certainly has a charismatic pair of actresses, both mostly playing to type but adding in a twist of something unusual. Kendrick is the perfect soccer-mom, simultaneously insufferable and lovely, but develops (or reveals) a thread of ruthlessness. Lively is all glamour and attitude, but with a thread of vulnerability buried underneath. The plot and the actresses just about keeping the guessing game going of who is the victim and who the aggressor. I don’t think the blending of the black comedy quite worked, but if it fails, it’s an admirable failure, and the actresses make it an enjoyable watch anyway.
First off, this is definitely not a film to watch while eating dinner, I’m not incredibly squeamish, but I did avert my eyes from the screen quite a lot while watching and I certainly wouldn’t want to watch it at the cinema. The film is a very slow build, it feels like each scene lasts a long time and each step of the story is a long time coming. During that time I did get a little bored and it gave me too much time to start thinking about what people should be saying, asking and doing. If the film had moved along a bit faster, or supporting characters had been fleshed out a bit more (pardon the pun) I wouldn’t have had the time to find the flaws.
This film is a roller-coaster. There are bits that I found utterly charming, refreshingly truthful and pleasingly self aware; but there are a few bits that I found myself getting very cross about (playing stalking and attempted sexual assault for laughs, some gender double standards that aren’t challenged quite quickly enough) that rather soured it for me. There were times I completely believed in the characters and their vulnerabilities, but other times they just tipped out of credibility for me. I think it’s probably a ‘good enough’ – solid rom com set up, charismatic leads and a tight pace thanks to all being set in one day. But it’s not going to be one I go back to.
Shaun of the Dead
A brilliantly entertaining film from the first second to the last. There is so much going on, packed in something that on the surface is quite small. To say it’s funny is an understatement and not a surprise, every single second is packed with visual gags, directing jokes, one-liners, long running jokes, callbacks, fart gags and wit. More surprising is that there’s real drama being delivered, commentary on different aspects of life and being out of step. My only frustration is that Nick Frost’s character pushes too far into caricature at times to be believable even in this slightly out of reality setting. I’ve also previously felt that the ending was a bit abrupt, but actually I can now see it’s perfect as the film has done all it needed to do and doesn’t need to outstay its welcome. Every time I watch this film, I love it a little bit more.
Kung Fu Panda
The quality of the animation of this film is really very beautiful – it has a lot of style to it, creative ways to ‘shoot’ action sequences that really make if feel like a kung fu movie. The story is fairly standard fair, but occasionally manages to swerve around a couple of cliches in a pleasing way. Unfortunately it’s the dialogue that lets the side down a bit, it’s just a bit flat and unremarkable, not using any of its voice cast to their full ability, but most key is that there is absolutely no spark from Jack Black at all which was incredibly disappointing.
I wasn’t expecting this to be quite as dark and violent as it turned out to be, I was expecting a fairly disposable fish-out-of-water style comedy of a couple of Irish blokes stuck in Belgium. The deep emotional trauma thing came a bit out of left field. That said, once I got over the mental gear shift, I found myself completely immersed, laughing out loud at the comedy and quite moved by the drama. The farce elements were really well done so they were utterly believable in a Murphy’s Law kind of way and it was refreshing to see such a smart and funny film.
I loved this film. The story was original and relevant but grounded in classic literature (as is called out), raising interesting questions and playing with them to extreme but just about credible conclusions. The cast were utterly charming and all had great chemistry, with both adults and teenagers actually feeling realistic. The direction is bright and fresh feeling without being overly arty or fussy, and the dialogue is absolutely hilarious. One of the best teen/high school films of recent years.
The Lion King
Another real gem in the Disney catalogue. I opted to watch this film on dvd rather than going to see the new version in the cinema, because the trailers left me craving the film but uncomfortable with the new photo-realistic animation (impressive, but too uncanny valley for me). The story blends an emotional plot with some entertaining characters, with the very talented and well cast voice actors mixing and alternating humor and seriousness effortlessly. The songs are catchy and clever (I’d forgotten that even the sappy Can You Feel the Love Tonight had an entertaining top and tail). The ‘diamond edition’ blu-ray I watched did a beautiful job of showing off the animation and the animators clearly spent a lot of time on how to combine realistic animal movement with more anthropomorphic actions. All in all, a joy to watch a truly timeless classic.
Life of Brian
This film is 40 years old. 40. I (like many people) can quote chunks of dialogue from it by heart and have probably seen it a dozen times. But it’s been a good few years since I last saw it and put the dvd in thinking I was going to be disappointed, or even bored. But it is still completely brilliant. Somehow even 40 years on (40!) the material is still shocking and challenging, the jokes that I remembered are still comedy gold and there are hundreds of jokes and visual gags that I had forgotten or just not noticed. The thing I was most surprised about was the production quality – the scale of the sets, costumes and number of extras that make this a proper film rather than jut a collection of sketches. If you haven’t revisited Python recently, I can really recommend it.
I’ve just seen this film for the first time and it’s 15 years old. In the meantime Daniel Craig has become so familiar as James Bond (a character and film series I have some substantial reservations about) that it’s hard to think of him as anything else. The character he plays in Layer Cake is actually a far more interesting one, or allowed to be so without the pressure of a massive franchise and bevy of fans that refuse to see Bond as the morally ambiguous historical artefact he really is. Craig is charming and likeable, a ruthless criminal capable of violence, and a real person who’s shocked and emotionally impacted by what he sees/does; it’s easy to see why casting people would see a huge star. The film itself is no slouch either, it’s got style, pace, humour and shock, still feeling fresh after 15 years.