Oops, I never uploaded my summaries in October, so a bumper crop this time. I’m also adjusting the structure a bit, so I’ll keep putting the new releases at the top, but then for the rest I’ll roughly sort them with the good ones at the top and the bad ones at the bottom.
Frozen 2 (cinema) – I adore Frozen (see review further down the page). I’ve seen it at least half a dozen times, including twice in the last month, and I never get tired of it. I love the songs, the characters, the message and the humour. Sadly Frozen 2 is not quite at the same level. It’s absolutely fine, maintaining the excellent characters, animation and humour, but it’s missing the high expectations in two crucial areas. The first was the plot, it just felt like there was too much going on. There was new backstory, new locations, new explanations of how magic worked, and new characters. It just got a bit crowded. The second problem was that the songs are mediocre. I watched the film yesterday and have had the soundtrack on today, but they’re with the exception of the powerful (possibly overwhelming) Into the Unknown, I can’t remember any of them. Frozen is a steady stream of solid hits, but there aren’t really any here that I’d seek out. It’s still an entertaining film, but I can’t imagine myself coming back to it over and over again. That said, I would very much like a baby reindeer and an adorable fire spirit please.
J’ai perdu mon corps (I Lost my Body) (Netflix) – I wouldn’t normally do this, but I’m going to post the summary of the film from imdb – “A story of Naoufel, a young man who is in love with Gabrielle. In another part of town, a severed hand escapes from a dissection lab, determined to find its body again.” Yup, you read that right. This French animation is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from that description (and the fact it’s a french animation). It’s very sweet, but also very bizarre. The animation style is fairly minimal and artistic, but works well with the straightforward approach of the story. I was going to watch the subtitled version but spotted the English dub had the wonderful Dev Patel and it worked beautifully. It’s both very lovely and very odd.
The Farewell (cinema) – There’s a style of film, it’s not a genre as such, but more of an overall approach, I don’t know whether it’s fair but I associate it with arthouse and indie films a lot. Those that love the style seem to talk about the “show don’t tell” method, rather than have lots of dialogue the films focus on showing how characters feel generally through long lingering shots, interesting framing, and noodling music. My response is the opposite to what it should be, yes you’re showing, but you’re spending too much time showing and I get it – she’s angry, he’s conflicted, she’s sad – I don’t need to see her staring out of a car window to understand that, just get on with it.
I think I’d been over-hyped on this film, people saying how wonderful it was with lots of laughs and lots of tears and there just weren’t quite enough of either for me. There was a lot of good in it, the concept was fascinating, the characters well built and acted, and some interesting direction. But I think a more ‘mainstream’ version of this film could have kept all of that, and added a lot of richness to the supporting characters (the poor bride and groom!), bringing out more emotion and still leaving a lot of space for more laughs. I’d been expecting something really special, and I got something that was ‘only’ pretty good.
The Laundromat (Netflix) – I had high hopes for a film made by Steven Soderbergh, starring Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Meryl Streep. But the film is a mess of different bits thrown together without enough care and attention to either uniting them, or making them distinct. The way the plot sort of stepped through different sections was also a nice idea, but it wasn’t well delivered as each chapter wasn’t self contained enough, it just felt like an excuse to drop threads of the story. The ‘human story’ elements were delivered well, but felt neither removed enough, nor connected enough to the bigger story. All the actors were playing slightly differently, some hamming it up, some playing it straight; each doing a good job, but inconsistent with each other. I really loved the fourth wall breaking pieces to camera by Oldman and Banderas, they were funny, interesting and actually informative, although I could have lived without Oldman’s accent. By the end, I just didn’t feel like the film had really earned the preachy lecture it delivered and I still wasn’t entirely clear on what anyone had done wrong legally.
In the Shadow of the Moon (Netflix) – I loaded up Netflix determined to not waste all my evening trying to decide what to watch, so as so I just picked the first thing that appeared in the featured window. It’s got an incredibly overblown name, but the idea of a female serial killer was interesting and the suggestion of a sci-fi/time travel/weirdness element was slightly intriguing. It had all the ingredients of an interesting little genre film but it didn’t quite elevate itself beyond mediocrity. The plot barely held together, it was clearly made on a very limited budget, and none of the characters really felt like they had much depth to them, everyone just had 1 or 2 key characteristics and they never really evolved beyond that even when shown over multiple years. It was ok enough, but unremarkable and disposable.
OLDER FILMS (roughly best to worst)
Tully – This is a beautiful film, stunningly well observed and delicately written and directed to present the quiet, everyday struggle of being a mother. Charlize Theron is amazing. When I think of her I automatically think of her in films like Mad Max and Atomic Blonde where she’s playing incredibly powerful women. But in Tully she’s playing a woman no less powerful, but pushed to her limits. I was absolutely blown away by this film, even if the ending was a bit movie magic and I saw it coming a bit, it’s still beautifully crafted to reflect the kind of everyday experiences of millions of people that never really makes it to the big screen.
Coraline – I’ve not read the book, and I’m clearly a long way from a the target age of the audience, but I thought this was a really wonderful children’s film, on that should probably go down as a great classic of our time. It’s really beautiful – the story, the design, the structure, the music – everything about it was utterly lovely. The depth and style in the stop motion animation kept me absolutely riveted to the screen, it’s the first film by Laika studios (Kubo and the Two Strings, Boxtrolls) and it’s clear even in their first work they’re going to be an impressive. Coraline is weird and wonderful, funny and frightening and all the things a great children’s film should be.
Frozen – Another beautiful Disney film, that never fails to make we laugh, sing along, smile, tear up a little and cheer. Just like Tangled this is a great blend of humour, character, sappiness, spark and action. The relationships, particularly between the two sisters, are really wonderful and while the overall direction of the story was predictable, the detail of the twists and turns felt original and inventive. The visual style is absolutely stunning and actually made me slightly regret not seeing it in 3D. I could have done with a little more humour (maybe more use of Olaf and Sven – although it’s possible that would have been overuse) and maybe a couple less songs, but overall a wonderful addition to the Disney catalog.
This is Where I Leave You – This is one of my favourite genres, watching a group of relatively normal adults turn into moderate messes when back in the family home with their siblings and parents. There’s so much opportunity for humour, angst and love, and with a talented group of actors you can often have all three at exactly the same time. This is Where I Leave you puts all the right ingredients together and makes something hilarious, moving and really lovely. The combination of wonderful actors and careful script bring complicated networks of relationships and histories to life with elegant simplicity. My only regret was that it was over too soon.
50 First Dates– A very sweet romantic comedy. It gets a bit silly in places, but the core story line is really well played out with a fundamentally believable and reasonable journey through a complicated relationship. It managed to avoid being creepy (compared with something like Groundhog Day) and also not get repetitive. Sandler and Barrymore have wonderful chemistry together and the supporting cast are also really charming. I can’t believe I’ve missed out on this film for so long.
Colette – I had absolutely never heard of the writer Colette, which may be me showing incredible ignorance, but did mean I could be intrigued about the direction the film was going to go. The film, and Keira Knightley did a wonderful job creating a fascinating character, but I’m not sure it did as good a job guiding me through her life. It felt like there were a lot of gaps in the story, that we jumped from one stage of Colette’s life to another and I never quite understood how she got there. Each dramatic new step she took felt slightly incoherent, zigging and zagging unexpectedly. I couldn’t keep track of who the supporting characters were, and didn’t really understand the core relationship with her husband. One of those films where the parts are better than the whole.
US Marshals – This is a great film, more a spin-off than a sequel to The Fugitive focussing on Tommy Lee Jones’ team of marshals. Another great stunt gets the ball rolling with a brilliant plane crash, then it settles into chasing their fugitive across various locations. The team of characters works really well together led by the brilliant TLJ and the surprisingly understated Robert Downey Jr. Witty remarks, running around, shooting things, big stunts, intelligent plot and likeable characters… what’s not to love.
Corpse Bride – A gloriously quirky and creepy film that’s perfect Tim Burton. The animation is amazing, it’s so beautifully done that I found it hard to work out how they were doing it and works perfectly for the nature of the film. I wasn’t expecting it to be as funny as it was, but between puns, subtle visual jokes and blatant gags there’s never a dull moment. At just 75 minutes, it feels more like a tv movie than a big screen release, but that just means that you’re not given long enough to settle in and be forced to wait for things to happen. I much prefer this to Wallace and Grommit!
The History Boys – This is a strange mixture of theatre and bbc drama thrown into a big movie without losing any of its charms and passion. The cast is pulled straight from the West End play and though the young actors may not have had a lot of screen credits to their names at the time, they have certainly gone a long way since, and it’s clear why that’s the case when you see their performances here. With Richard Griffiths anchoring it the characters all absolutely jump off the screen. It’s a compelling (if slightly far-fetched) story which pulls you in and balances the different elements very well, right through to the extremely well crafted ending.
Stardust – A charming, quirky and brilliantly funny film! The only thing I can compare it to is The Princess Bride, it has a similar self-knowing attitude to it, very aware that it’s a somewhat daft fairy tale and having a lot of fun with it. The second half seemed to lose some of the spark and dragged a bit. The humour felt isolated in the bickering ghosts and the story threads more predictable. However it’s still a lovely film, and a firm entry on my comfort watch list.
Monsters – At some point it apparently became possible for just a handful of people with an off the shelf camera and a computer to put together this kind of near flawless piece of cinema. This apparently cost just $800,000 and is a brilliant piece of film making. It’s impossible to label really, it’s a monster flick, a road movie, a disaster story, a romance and it all comes together so slickly with such a light touch that you almost don’t notice how good it is until it’s finished and you want to watch it all over again immediately. The only complaint I have is that on a second viewing, the characters do come across a little underdeveloped, I didn’t get a huge sense of history to either of them, and the romance element didn’t quite resonate.
Now You See Me – This is cool, slick and fun, it’s like Ocean’s 11 but with magic. Ok, that’s overstating it a bit, it lets itself down in a few aspects, most notably the failure to develop most of the characters, particularly the magicians themselves, beyond a one sentence blurb. But that in itself is part of the layering of tricks, because eventually you realise they’re just the distractions while the main character is in fact Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent. Like Ocean’s 11 if you start studying the plot too closely there are big holes, but as a popcorn movie it’s very well done.
Vox Lux – I really liked the simple construction of this film. It’s a biography, but rather than jumping about in time, or showing a sequence of events, it just shows how the ‘story’ started and then where it gets to. The first half or so of the film shows a fourteen year old girl surviving a school shooting and the following few months as she becomes a pop star. Then we jump forward 20 years and see just a single day in her life now. Although you’ll see Natalie Portman on all the posters, it’s actually Raffey Cassidy who plays the young Celeste and then the older Celeste’s daughter who really carries the film. Unfortunately I don’t think the outcome is as strong as the idea. There were a lot of threads hinted at that I wanted more from, how did all the characters get from the first half to the second half. I think it needed stronger writing to really pull off the ambitious structure. I was left unsatisfied at the end, particularly given rather than spending time on those threads, there was just an extended concert sequence at the end.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – I had absolutely no idea that there the story of the creation of Wonder Woman and the early years of the comic were so interesting and I’m not quite sure that this film completely does the story, and the people, justice. The film isn’t in fact about the comic itself, but in the 3 people instrumental to its creation and the relationship between them. The loving and long term relationship between the man and two women is beautifully told and the challenges they face, individually and as a family, are fascinating. The psychology behind Wonder Woman is also interesting, but (like the comic itself) gets a little too leery at times which undermines the last section of the film a bit. But it’s a window into a very interesting part of history.
Geostorm – The plot is an astonishing amount of rubbish. I mean the science is beyond ridiculous, and the levels of conspiracies make no sense at all either. If you can ignore that, and some scenery chewing from a bunch of actors who should know better, Gerard Butler just about manages to drag some entertainment out of things. The effects look pretty too I guess. It’s not offensively bad, it may have been quite entertaining on the big screen with some popcorn, but on the small screen it just about passes the time if your brain is only operating at 20%.
Sucker Punch – There was a lot to like in this film, but also a fair amount to be angered by. I really loved the style of it, the weird concept of layered reality was well done and well used. The visual style was mesmerizing at times, with the violence and gore dressed up like a music video. But the sexualisation of the scenarios and costumes made it feel dirty and exploitative rather than empowering. I almost feel like I need someone to tell me whether it’s ok to like the film or not.
Shaft – This is pretty much just an excuse to watch Samuel L. Jackson in an array of really great coats being exceptionally cool, sweary, violent and somehow also charming. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I got a bit bored of the plot towards the end when it felt like it just turned into a standard action film without enough of the trademark style, but that may just have been that I was tired, and I certainly never get bored of watching Samuel L. Jackson do his thing.
King of Thieves – A film that suffers from meandering tone. The film starts, much like the headlines from the real crime, taking great joy in the absurdity of a bunch of OAP thieves undertaking a huge heist. There’s a lot of fun merging planning the crime with suffering the challenges and indignities of old age. It’s set up like they’re cheeky heroes, proving that there’s life in the old ways. However it takes a swerve half way through – the group starts to fall apart (for no reason that I can see) and things start to get really very nasty as it becomes clear the ‘good old days’ weren’t really that pleasant. The transition could have been interesting, but it just felt disconnected. Either half of the film is well done, with the cast of legends completely living up to expectations, but the swerve in the middle is crippling.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties – I didn’t get on with this film and came close to giving up on it a couple of times. There was too much going on that I didn’t really get. Maybe if I had more awareness or appreciation of the 80s punk scene I would have connected more, but I didn’t care about any of the characters and found the alien weirdness just too weird and muddled to really engage with. I’m not sure whether there was more going on under the surface that I was missing, or if I was supposed to just wallow on the surface of it, but neither worked for me.