Films in July 2020

New Releases – only one this month, and it wasn’t very good. I did try to watch How to Build a Girl but I lasted just 10 minutes before the cringiness and the accent drove me away (I checked with someone who lives near Wolverhampton and they agreed the accent was poor).

The Old Guard
A small band of immortals come together to make the world a better place. Good concept, unremarkable execution. There’s some nice ideas about what it means to be 100’s of years old, and how you approach combat (and life) if you can’t die. The fight scenes are impressive and really play with the idea that if you’ve been fighting side by side with the same people for hundreds of years your team work is on a different level. But it didn’t quite come together, I think maybe if it had been a more starry cast, a more polished script, a big screen experience, it might have been a really interesting addition to the super hero genre… but it just felt a bit too unremarkable. Fine, but nothing more.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Older films / Rewatches in ranked order
Prevenge
This is so good! I had so many emotions while watching it. Alice Lowe wrote, directed and starred in it and she excels in all three aspects. The script is a with a beautifully judged script mixing tones classic horror film types with incredible creepiness, genuine gore and plenty of psychological unpleasantness. But there’s also some really funny observational comedy blending seamlessly with the other aspects. The directing is just interesting enough to make it interesting but not intrusive (the scene in the tunnel for example). But it’s the acting that most impressed me, playing a character that’s both complex and simple, committed and uncertain, playing roles but still herself. And all that packed into just 88 minutes. This film is an absolute masterpiece.
Ranking: 9 / 10

Little Women
Little Women is probably my favourite book of all time, I’ve read it more times than I can count and know the characters, storyline, dialogue and even the descriptions incredibly well. It feels like there’s an adaption of it for pretty much every generation of actors and I can’t actually remember any of them disappointing.
Greta Gerwig clearly knows and loves the book just as well as I do and it shows in every single frame of this movie. The book is beautifully, faithfully and lovingly retold, finding aspects that could be highlighted and emphasised to connect to themes of feminism and freedom that feel modern, but are in fact universal. The only significant change from the book is to shake the linear narrative up and use overlapping timelines and flashbacks. The first time I watched, it didn’t work for me as I felt it spoilered some of the storylines, big moments of character development were lost because we already knew how things would turn out. My companion didn’t like it either, he wasn’t familiar with the story and lost track of characters and ‘when’ we were. But on the second watch through (and with the help of some DVD extras) I understand what Gerwig was doing, focusing on the women that the characters would become, rather than getting bogged down in the childhood events that shaped them.
This film brought me an overwhelming sense of joy – at the quality of Gerwig’s writing, the talented performances of everyone in the cast, the beautiful design of the period setting and the stunning cinematography. The only word of warning is that, while watching in the privacy of my own home I cried so hard I gave myself a headache.
Ranking: 9 / 10

Behind the Candelabra
This film immediately grabs you, filling the screen with sequins and the other-worldly behavior in Las Vegas. The film was engrossing from the very first few moments, the directions the characters and their relationships went was absolutely fascinating. The most phenomenal thing however were the performances. I’ve never really rated Michael Douglas that highly, but he was incredible in this role. The highest praise I can give him is that I forgot who the actor was. I’ve been a fan of Matt Damon for longer, so never quite lost sight of the actor behind the action roles, but it was also a transformative performance. The actors and writers gave depth and empathy to the complex relationship, never taking the easy route of making one party the ‘bad guy’. If there’s one criticism of the film it would be that it didn’t always seem to know what it was – comedy or drama, biopic or romance. But then that’s what life is, a muddle of everything thrown together. It may make the film less satisfying in the end, but it certainly makes it interesting.
Ranking: 8 / 10

The AristoCats
I doubt this Disney film is top of anyone’s favourites, but The AristoCats is one I come back to every now and then since my childhood – never outstanding, but consistently watchable. The story and characters are charming, the songs relatively few but still fun and the moralistic elements are fairly discrete. As an adult though two things stand out, firstly the beautiful style of the artwork which is slightly more hand-drawn feeling then certainly recent Disney films, the animation of the cats is stunning – carefully observed and then delivered with an absolute minimum of pencil lines. The other thing was the amount that was re-used from other films of the era – voices, music snippets, even whole animation sections from films like Jungle Book and Robin Hood. I don’t blame them for the efficiencies, and it doesn’t diminish the film, but it does make it slightly disconcerting in places.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Trolls
I went into this film pretty cynical, I mean the Trolls were annoying enough as toys the first time round, turning them into a film of peppy singing creatures… how could that possibly work. The main way it worked was by putting a character in that basically had exactly the same attitude as I did and having him mercilessly negate all the perkiness. And by doing that, completely selling the cheerfulness. On top of that, the voice acting was spot on and the design and style of it absolutely gorgeous. It was impossible to not be charmed by it, and believe me I tried.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Brave
Here’s the review if this film had been made by anyone but Pixar: Brave is a very solid little animation. While the over-exaggerated Scottishness gets a bit grating at times, the voice acting just about carries it off. The story is a little clumsy at times, but gets the job done and bounces along with enthusiasm. The ‘princess’ is a suitably modern offering, rebelling against tradition and handsome princes and wanting to make her own way in the world. The animation itself is absolutely gorgeous.
BUT because the film is a Pixar production, I found myself disappointed. I was asked on Twitter whether I cried, and had to say that I really didn’t. I rather expect a Pixar film to have me in embarrassing floods of tears, but this one just didn’t have that level of connection for some reason. It’s not that the film was bad at all, it just wasn’t the sort of ‘special’ that I’ve come to expect from Pixar.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Ocean’s Eight
I’m a huge fan of the Clooney/Pitt/Damon et al Ocean’s 11, even if 12 and 13 did then get progressively sillier, so I was quite looking forward to a female installment and the cast was more than enough to inspire enthusiasm. I sadly found myself a little underwhelmed. The first half was a little slow (someone a few rows back in the cinema was snoring!) and then the heist itself was a little fast, then slow again for the post-heist follow ups, and then a final twist that came too far out of nowhere. The comedy wasn’t quite as easy as Ocean’s 11, and one of the early reveals about the connection to the previous films (staying vague for spoilers) actually struck quite a negative blow that really felt like the wrong tone to set. The plot was fairly precarious (I was spotting holes/needless complexity as it went) and overall neither characters nor movie as a whole felt quite as smooth and slick as they needed to be. Oh and who’s idea was Helena Bonham Carter’s terrible accent? Was that supposed to be an homage to Don Cheadle’s terrible cockney? Solidly entertaining, but the cast can do a lot better and I was wanting more.
Ranking: 7 / 10

O Brother, Where Art Thou
I rather odd film, but I think I liked it, it’s one of those films that I can’t really be sure. The combination of offbeat ramblings and oddly formal dialogue matches pretty well for a modern(ish) retelling of The Odyssey with the mixture of hard reality and whimsical fantasy. It occasionally gets a bit bogged down, the pacing is maybe a little off, and there are rather too many bit part characters that are a bit hard to track, but overall it’s pretty entertaining, and the soundtrack is worth the price of admission (free on Netflix) alone.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Silver Linings Playbook
This film absolutely monstered the awards nominations in 2013, it was nominated for all 4 acting categories, as well as best film, directing and adapted screenplay at the Oscars, but in the end the awards themselves were a bit thin on the ground. And that’s I think because the film isn’t actually very good. It never seemed to know whether it wanted to be a hard hitting drama on mental illness, an improbable but sweet romance, or a comedic look at how crazy absolutely everyone is regardless of whether they have a diagnosis or not. Although the actors were all doing their very best with the material, I just don’t think they were able to rise above the inconsistencies. The final act did sort of suck me back in, finally seeming to settle into a more standard and quite lovely romantic comedy. Unfortunately that doesn’t really balance out the first two thirds of the film where I could have been very tempted to switch off altogether.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Straight Story
The most accessible David Lynch film, although that’s not a particularly hard challenge to win, and while he’s taken out a lot of the weird that puts me off his films, I think he forgot to really replace it with anything. I think we were supposed to be hypnotised by the scenery, or the music, or the grizzlyness of the main character, but to be honest none of those held my attention at all. There are some nice scenes as the main character encounters a few people on his travels, but those interesting points were surrounded by endless boring scenery, and irritating music.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Battle Beyond the Stars
There’s a lot going on here. It’s obviously The Magnificent Seven (or Seven Samurai) in Space, but it feels a little like each character was from a slightly different version of the film and the actors, makeup, costumes and script went with each variation. There were people playing it straight, people playing it for laughs, a character that seemed like she came straight out of Barbarella and people playing it as if they were had a tax bill due and this was the best their agent could find. Some of those elements worked well in isolation, and some of them even worked together in a contrasting way, but as a whole it was a bit of an incoherent mess.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Roadhouse
This starts off ok, I mean it’s cheesy as anything and so 80’s it hurts, but the idea is solid and Patrick Swayze is charmingly monosyllabic as the bouncer (sorry – ‘cooler’) who comes in to clean up a dive bar through professionalism and calm. But just as I was settling in, two terrible things happen. The first was Kelly Lynch who delivered a performance that was wooden even by trashy 80’s standards and infected Swayze with her lack of spark. The second problem was that the film decided it wanted to be a mindless action film instead with increasingly ridiculous fights and a complete break from all the rules that it had originally set itself. As a laughably stupid 80’s action film it was probably ok but I’d foolishly thought it was going to be more than that.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Radioactive
I’d been looking forward to this for three reasons – Marie Curie, Rosamund Pike, and that it’s based on a graphic novel and used the same graphic style. Of those three, only Marie Curie didn’t disappoint. She is a fascinating person, her scientific achievement alone is incredible, but the fact that she was a she makes her story worthy of telling. The relationship (personal and professional) with her husband, and her daughters brings the emotion to the story and is equally original. Unfortunately everything else about the film was a bit mediocre. Rosamund Pike is doing her best, but the script is so clunky that she comes over very hammy at times, and Sam Riley as Pierre Curie is just a bit bland. With the exception of one scene, I really didn’t see any attempt at any visual style at all and the opportunities to explain and showcase the science visually were completely missed. A wasted opportunity.
Ranking: 4 / 10

The Seven Year Itch
A film made famous by the scene where Marilyn Monroe stands on a grating and her dress blows up. One of the most iconic visuals in movie history and the full shot doesn’t even actually appear in the film, only close ups. Which pretty much sums up this film. It’s supposed to be a comedy and yet frankly isn’t funny at all. The wry voiceover and Monroe’s quirky performance are doing their best, but I struggled to find any humour in a man carefully deciding to cheat on his wife and a female character that’s simply there to wear tight clothes and act ditzy.
Ranking: 4 / 10

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