Films in November 2020

No cinema trips, and the only ‘new’ release I saw via online platforms was a very mediocre animation on Netflix that is right down at the bottom of this list. Instead I plodded through a couple of film series – the six Mission Impossible films and the three Robert Langdon films. One of those series was much more a plod than the other…

Mission Impossible Franchise
On the surface the Mission Impossible films are all the same – complicated plots, Tom Cruise saving the world and convoluted stunts. But each one has some nuances, including a rotating group of sidekicks, some of which work and some don’t, there’s not actually a trend either, the series goes up and down rather than learning from the good and the bad.

Mission Impossible: The first film is actually quite different to the later films. It’s got a lot more emphasis on spy work and plot; it feels more thoughtful and careful. Cruise feels relatively fresh and the action sequences aren’t as flashy, but they still hold up remarkably well considering they’re over 20 years old. The plot is predictable as anything and it’s a real shame the supporting cast for the majority of the movie never delivers the charisma that the team in the first sequence do. Ranking: 7 / 10

Mission: Impossible II: Tom Cruise and director John Woo are both more focused on stunts than on plot or character leading to a charmless character and a film that is more a sequence of stunts than a coherent or interesting film. Thandi Newton is criminally underused, she starts off pretty fiery, quickly reverts to a damsel in distress. Ranking: 6 / 10

Mission: Impossible 3: A bit of a bridge. Most of the film is very much the dumb action film that Mission Impossible 2 was, brainless action sequences, convoluted and irrelevant plots, an underwhelming supporting team, a glowering Tom Cruise and old school female characters who get kidnapped, tortured and killed just to motivate the male character. However there are some flashes of what the future holds with moments of humour, splashes of personality from the likes of Simon Pegg and a few moments of self-awareness of how daft everything is. Ranking: 6 / 10

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: Ghost Protocol is the high point of the series, and one of the best action movies out there. I was properly on the edge of my seat for most of the ‘mission’ sequences, they were perfectly paced, beautifully choreographed, stylishly directed (without drawing attention to the direction) and entertainingly creative. The plot holding the missions together was fine (making enough sense without really making you have to pay attention) and the performances were all convincing and charismatic. The biggest success of the film though was remembering to make the most of humour, Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner are great at the action hero/spy thing but could have become irritatingly serious if not balanced by Simon Pegg’s banter. Ranking: 8 / 10

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: The plot which is as meandering, convoluted, and hole ridden, but then that’s not really the point. The giant action sequences are still some of the most impressive out there. There’s no overloading of cgi like you see in the superhero films, all the action feels painfully real. The franchise is finally addressing the failings of the first few films in its approach to women, they save the men just as much as the other way around. I wouldn’t mind a bit more of the humour and character moments that occasionally flash past, and I don’t quite know why the plot can’t make sense, but overall it’s a thrill ride from start to finish. Ranking: 7 / 10

Mission Impossible: Fallout: A step backwards. 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 ambiguous). 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. Ranking: 6 / 10

Robert Langdon Series
A trio of films based on Dan Brown’s novels. They are that rarest of things – bad Tom Hanks films. A lot of the problems come from the nature of the books, puzzle solving just isn’t a very cinematic affair, it’s mostly watching people think and listening to people explain what they are thinking, which just isn’t very interesting.

The Da Vinci Code – Well, I hated the book, so at least the film is consistent. They probably actually did a pretty good job adapting it, because it’s just as clumsy, ridiculous and boring as the original is. There are so many ideas thrown in that that film feels like it’s a repeating sequence of exposition and running. At least we got to see some nice European locations I guess. Ranking: 5 / 10

Angels and Demons – There’s a little bit more interest here than there was in The Da Vinci Code, but that’s a pretty low bar to step over. The plot of the antimatter bomb and the conspiracy to undermine the election of the Pope makes sense in a kind of movie way that makes ridiculous things acceptable, and it required considerably less exposition, and slightly less suspension of disbelief than the century old conspiracy theory at the heart of The Da Vinci Code. Ranking: 6 / 10

Inferno – The least convoluted of the plots and Inferno also manages to deal a little bit with the issue of alternating running and puzzle solving by shaking the order up a bit to start with running and then introducing puzzles. It did at least make the start of the film a lot more engaging to throw characters and audience alike right into the middle of things with no idea what was going on. That was a very clever move. Everything else was a bit so so, but this may actually be the best of the series (which isn’t saying much). Ranking: 7 / 10

Finding Dory
Thirteen years after Finding Nero, a sequel eventually came along, and after that long wait, it was absolutely everything that Finding Nemo was. It’s consistently laugh-out-loud funny and it’s emotionally manipulative as anything leaving me sniffling basically from start to finish. Yeah, it gets a bit daft at times, but it’s just so much fun that it’s hard to care. The new characters and voice actors are absolutely brilliant and I didn’t even find myself missing the characters from the tank in the previous film. Heart breaking and hilarious. Everything I want from a Pixar film. Oh and Piper, the short in front, is all of those things in 5 minutes without a single line of dialogue. Perfection. Ranking: 9 / 10

Into the Woods
The style of this film can take a bit of getting used to, even amongst musicals the Sondheim style takes a bit of getting used to. Songs flow into each other and overlap, a lot of the music and singing sounds almost incidental rather than following traditional structures. This inter-twining matches the storyline with characters and plots coming and going, passing each other by and occasionally colliding. The tone also take some getting used to, a wry and dark take fairy tales, but incorporating some of the happy Disney elements. The first time I watched it I didn’t particularly get on with it, but this time I appreciated it a lot more. The lyrics of the songs made me laugh out loud and the performers absolutely nailed the shifting and different tones. Ranking: 8 / 10

Aladdin (2019)
When I reviewed the Beauty and Beast live action remake I was deeply critical. I didn’t see the point of remaking an absolute classic almost word for word, it brought absolutely nothing new, just messed some things up. Either Disney listened to me, or they struck lucky with Aladdin because it has none of the same problems (although it does have some new ones).
The film felt like a new version, the same nuts and bolts but some new bits that made it sing. Firstly Will Smith is brilliant as the Genie, no one can replace Robin Williams, but this is a new Genie with his own style and I loved him. The rest of the cast is also absolutely superb and Naomi Scott shines as Jasmine who has a MUCH richer involvement in the story (as well as the STUNNING new song Speechless). The tweaks to the story worked well, both to flesh out characters and move things along. And the live action recreation of both the normal characters and settings and the Genie created magic were vibrant and richer than the simplistic (but effective) animation of the original. The only thing that occasionally didn’t work were the transitions into and out of the songs and a couple of the musical numbers that just felt produced rather than a natural part of the world. I think that’s probably the outcome of a having a director who although very good, had no experience of musicals. That’s a minor complaint though and I can actually see myself re-watching this as often as I do the animated film… maybe even more. Ranking: 8 / 10

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I’d been fairly convinced before I saw Spider-Man Homecoming that the last thing the world needed was yet another Spider-Man reboot. I was wrong, because they did something fresh and interesting with the concept, so I wasn’t so presumptuous as to say the same thing about the awkwardly named Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse, and yet I still wasn’t going to bother seeing it in the cinema. Then the reviews started piling up and everyone said it was brilliant, so I gave it a try, and the reviews were almost entirely right. The film is great fun, it’s got the heart of Spider-Man but still manages to do lots of fun new stuff with it (all grounded in the comic lore from what people say). It’s charming, funny, sweet, exciting and completely unexpected. The only thing I’m torn over is the animation style. Most of it I really liked, it’s got a lot of different styles to it, really feeling like an animated comic book. Many of the individual frames are utterly stunning. My only problem was that I found it too much at times, particularly the odd effects used for the backgrounds which I found so distracting and weird that I actually checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally gone into a 3D showing without glasses. I see what they were trying to do, and I completely respect the attempt, but that didn’t quite work for me and sadly slightly spoiled an otherwise utterly wonderful film. Ranking: 8 / 10

Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary)
A completely and utterly beautiful film. The characters immediately grabbed my attention and held it throughout, I wanted to spend time with them as they just lived their lives, and I could happily have stayed in their company well beyond the 2 hour run time. This isn’t a story that has a huge amount of plot, but it’s made up for in character and relationships that evolve. The gradual revealing of the history of the direct and indirect families is elegantly paced, never feeling manipulatively secretive, but just incredibly naturalistic. It does occasionally drift into melodramatic moments towards the end, but I’ll forgive that as everything else was so constrained that a bit of a release of emotions (positive and negative) felt well deserved. I believed in these characters, fell in love a bit with the family and house and just simply adored the time I spent with them. Ranking: 8 / 10

Game Night
I always approach comedies with caution as I seem to be out of step with the general film audiences and am more likely to find popular comedies annoying or embarrassing than I am to find them funny. I’m not sure why I gave Game Night a try, but I’m actually glad I did. While I may not have laughed continuously or loudly, there were plenty of scenes and ideas that made me smile and mostly importantly only a couple of small moments that made me cringe. I was impressed at the number of switches in the storyline, nothing lingered too long to stretch credibility to breaking point and the plot moved along really quickly. Similarly the characters were ‘bigger’ than reality, but they weren’t completely out of touch. I enjoyed it. Ranking: 7 / 10

Sorry to Bother You
What an utterly bizarre film. It’s very elegantly made – gradually introducing the weirder elements, kind of continuously lulling your brain into a false sense of security then each time dialing things up a notch so you can be unsettled all over again. I’m not sure that I exactly LIKED it as it’s quite intense, jarring and challenging; but I was certainly impressed by it.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Coco
I went into this film with simultaneously high and low expectations. High because it’s a Pixar film and many critics have raved about it. Low because I didn’t really jump with enthusiasm at the trailer, and the whole Day of the Dead thing feels a little over-done recently. That mixed feeling going in carried through the film. It was certainly beautifully animated and voiced, and the characters were vibrant and complex. But the overall story just fell a bit flat. I saw everything coming a mile off and it felt like there were just an arbitrary number of steps in the quest – how many chunks do we need to make up a reasonable runtime? Far from a terrible film, but not up there with the best.
Ranking: 7 / 10

The Girl in the Spider’s Web
The problem with having a main character who’s closed off and removed from connections is that it’s very hard to engage with her as an audience. It’s not that Claire Foy’s performance was bad, it’s just there was nothing to really connect with and I got a bit bored. I think this series is better when Lisbeth Salander is partnered with another character who can do the emoting, and connecting to the audience, for her. The film isn’t bad, there’s some good sequences and the plot is ok enough, but it’s missing a heart. Ranking: 6 / 10

Over the Moon
This feels slightly like an animated film made by committee, throwing all the cliches and animated staples into a pot giving them the slightest of stirs and then assuming the finished product will work. But I don’t think it did. I really liked the first section, getting to know Fei Fei and her family, the animation was beautifully detailed and it didn’t matter that nothing particularly original was happening. But then we went to the moon and I almost immediately lost interest. The style was lost, everything just became multicoloured and chaotic, characters came and went, different quests overlapped, it didn’t seem to make sense and I couldn’t be bothered to try. The final nail in the coffin was that the songs were just a bit rubbish (and notably Frozen-derivative at times). Ranking: 5 / 10

2 thoughts on “Films in November 2020

  1. Pingback: Films I Saw in 2020 – Narrative Devices

  2. Pingback: Oscars 2021 – Narrative Devices

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