Films in July and August

I didn’t post in July because I’d watched so few films that it didn’t seem worth it. I did a bit better in August so it makes a bumper crop. I also powered my way through six Fast and Furious films which was quite a slog and (overlapping) I decided to have a marathon of films with Dwayne Johnson. Now The Rock is one of my favourite people and he’s a fun actor, but good grief he’s been in some really rubbish films! Although we start with his new film in the cinema, which was just a delight.

New Releases
Jungle Cruise (Cinema)
I will watch just about anything The Rock is in and this is a perfect fit for his easy chemistry, charm and light touch with drama. The film isn’t going to set the Academy Awards a flutter, but it’s a lot of fun and perfect for escaping the world for a couple of hours. Yeah, the plot may not make much sense if you look too long and there’s rather more CGI than I like, but the Dwayne Johnson is his usual loveliness, Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way and Jack Whitehall is slightly surprisingly charming as the third wheel. I laughed and smiled the whole way through, even at the terrible dad jokes lifted straight from the ride and the “did they just say that?” level of innuendo. 8 / 10

Druk (Another Round) (Cinema)
This is a Danish film about a group of male, middle aged teachers who decide to try to re-find their sparks of life by drinking through the day. That relatively simple description makes for a really brilliant film that’s full of layers and emotions. There were loads of laughs to be had, but also a lot of heart and some challenging questions too. I can’t remember the last time I felt so satisfied by a film, it really is just a complete package. 8 / 10

Limbo (Cinema)
This is a film of three parts:
The first part is hilarious, several beautifully crafted scenes of very quiet and understated humour that blend ridiculous situations with dry responses.
The second part the humour fades away and there’s a growing tension and frustration at the titular limbo the characters are in. This goes on a long time.
The third part is emotionally hard, a lot of the held in emotions come out and boil over.
The problem for me is that I would rather the comedy and drama were blended better, I found myself reaching for any tiny piece of humour desperately. The second section drags so that by the time the storylines comes to a head I was a little bored. It’s a good film and the strong sections are very strong, but I don’t think the sum is as good as the parts. 6 / 10

The Tomorrow War (Netflix)
30 years in the future humanity is fighting a war against invading aliens, and they’re losing. So they go back in time to conscript people from today to fight. Chris Pratt, former soldier is drafted and thrown forward on a mission that’s the possible key to winning the war. At that level, it actually makes sense (well as much as anything involving time travel makes sense) but anything further than 2 sentences and it really starts to crumble. It doesn’t even matter about the science and technicalities of time travel just the way that humans behave makes zero sense and I got increasingly frustrated with that as the film went on and everybody doubled down on stupid decisions. It’s a shame because Chris Pratt is as watchable as ever, the supporting cast is good and there’s a lot of good effects and action sequences. But the foundation of stupidity, drawn out by a clumsy structure and too long run time really annoyed me. 6 / 10

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greeda (Netflix)
I’ve never watched Bob Ross, and am only really aware of him through cultural references, so thought this documentary would be an interesting way to go beyond the parodies an understand the origins. And it was. About half the documentary is about where Ross came from – what motivated him, how his art developed and how he came to be such a cultural icon. There are loads of interviews with friends, family and colleagues and tons of archive footage of his shows, other media appearances and just candid home videos. I got a strong sense of who he was and why people connected to him so much. The second half is the betrayal and greed part of the title and covers Ross’ business partners. The hypothesis of the documentary, and Ross’ son who is heavily involved is that the married couple that Ross worked with in becoming a star were more driven by the money than Ross himself, and particularly as Ross became sick with cancer they made moves to protect their interests and took control of his image and name in a way that means even his own son can’t use it. It does seem very dodgy, but the documentary suffers because a lot of people wouldn’t be involved (reportedly because they’re scared of getting sued) and Ross’ voice was notably absent. I came away feeling that I only had half the picture and everyone was using his name and he had no voice from any of them. It’s a weird documentary where Ross and his art are really uplifting but then there’s a completely sour note that even that joy has misery behind it. 7 / 10

FAST AND FURIOUS SERIES
ITV showed the first six Fast and Furious films and I figured I’d give them a go and see what the fuss was about. It’s astonishing to me that given how crap the first few were the franchise got as far as it did. The films did get better and turned into a passable mindless action series, but I still felt underwhelmed. Also – the naming convention is a nightmare, and the use of scantily clad women in all the racing scenes just made me cross. Are we really still not better than that?

  1. The Fast and Furious – All zoomy cars, over amplified roaring engines and testosterone but lacking in plot, character, humour and coherence. I felt the lead role was miscast, with the undercover cop being a level of bland that comes from bad acting rather than deliberate choice. Vin Diesel does his usual thing of broody machismo very well but as soon as he has to deliver the woefully bad script it falls apart. The ‘plot’ was all over the place and (spoilers) apparently we’re supposed to be fine that the characters are criminals because one of them has a sob story and his sister is attractive? There didn’t even really feel like there were great displays of driving prowess, just over-engineered cars driving fast. 5 / 10
  2. 2 Fast and 2 Furious – even worse. Plot, acting script… all a step poorer than they were the previous time around and without the brooding core of Vin Diesel there’s just no substance or talent to really hang on for. There are a few flashes of personality in the smaller roles but they’re fleeting and overwhelmed by the pure rubbish of the script and (I’m sorry) Paul Walker’s acting. Sometimes things relax a bit and it feels a little more natural but then there’ll be some plot to deliver, emotions to have, or painfully contrived “bro” relationship and it’s just awful again. And by making the car stunts bigger, they’ve made them unbelievable and that just makes everything feel completely fake and stupid. 4 / 10
  3. Toyko Drift – This film commits a classic mistake, it centres on teenagers but casts people completely obviously in their mid-twenties, there’s a constant mental battle to remember that the issues they have and the stupid choices they make are reasonable for teenagers. Mind you, in some ways it doesn’t matter because other than a couple of scenes in classrooms, they are clearly NOT teenagers because they’ve all got loads of money and loads of driving experience. If it were possible to not just switch your brain off, but lock it in a box in another room, then maybe there’s some fun in here. 5 / 10
  4. Fast and Furious – This film appears to be trying to pretend Tokyo Drift never happened (not a bad approach) and jumps backwards in time. It was made 6 years after 2 Fast 2 Furious, Paul Walker has taken some acting lessons and things actually hang together to the point where I can see why this franchise is popular. The plot still makes ZERO sense and the writing has ZERO subtlety, but it’s possible to ignore that and just appreciate the stunt and action. 6 / 10
  5. Fast Five – Much like the previous installment this film delivers well on the action sequences, has a plot and acting that isn’t completely hopeless and doesn’t fall flat on it’s face… but still for me is lacking spark. It just tries to ladle on the feeling too much (yes, yes, family blah blah blah) and the writing and acting just isn’t good enough to deliver that without coming across trite and cheesy. It’s all just engine noise, shiny cars and consequence-less action sequences. 6 / 10
  6. Fast and Furious 6 – like the previous one, mindlessly watchable. They really do seem to have given up any pretense that there’s logic behind the action sequences, I guess that makes things slightly easier and they’re usually energetic enough to not notice, but the plane one at the end went on and on and on which meant even the most ignorant of people will spot that runways aren’t that long, but also it just got boring which is not what you want in your big finale. 6 / 10

Older films
Instant Family
I was really charmed by this film. The story of a couple who for reasons they don’t even fully understand themselves, decide to adopt three siblings and are instantly thrown into all chaos of young children and a teenager. There’s a lot of very real humour from the situation and an equal amount of heart and truth. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was really impressed. 8 / 10

The Decoy Bride
I was browsing Amazon for something easy going and David Tennant’s name drew me in and then Kelly Macdonald’s name completely sold it. She is absolutely the star of the film doing all the big work and is completely charming and wonderful. Tennant was a little underwhelming to be honest, not helped by a non-specific accent and a character that was a bit all over the place, but the two had good chemistry. The nuts and bolts of the story get the job done and the Scottish Island setting is the final piece of the very enjoyable puzzle. 7 / 10

Spider-Man: Far from Home
I like Tom Holland as Spider-Man a lot, it actually feels like he’s a proper teenager thrown into something over his head and this film delivers that very well. It’s a lovely mixture of normal teenage antics, ongoing delight at having super powers, a perfectly judged ongoing freak out about being a superhero with an apparent Destiny, particularly without his mentor around to guide (not that Stark was exactly a role model for that). And the coldly practical thread from Fury and Maria Hill was the perfect contrast to all that high energy. What didn’t work so well for me was the awkward introduction to the villain, I’ll not spoil it but it started out really weird and the eventual explanation didn’t change the fact that the first 1/3 or so of the film was just unsettling. In a way it was clever, but watching it wasn’t quite that satisfying. Jake Gyllenhaal was superb however and slotted right into the multiple threads beautifully. Ignore the plot, focus on the subtext and it’s a really great film. 7 / 10

Space Sweepers
There’s a LOT going on in this full on Korean sci fi film, probably too much to be honest. The set up and core plot are really great, even though they’re not exactly original (about 80% of it is a straight lift from Firefly for a start and that wasn’t exactly original either). A lot of the charm is from the motley collection of characters, and that’s where things went a little off for me. There was just a bit too much going on, too many big back stories, too many complicated relationships and not quite enough chemistry and it just didn’t quite come together. Some of that may be the subtitles, it’s a really busy film and script and it’s hard to read all the subtitles at pace and also keep up with the visuals on screen and trying to read body language etc. I don’t think it’s a great film, but it’s a solid one and well worth a couple of hours. 6 / 10

Journey 2 The Mysterious Island
I found Journey to the Centre of the Earth rather disappointing in that it didn’t feel like it did much with Verne’s material. In fairness having reread the book since then, it’s a better concept than it is actual story and maybe the film was actually being consistent with the number of plot holes. The Mysterious Island doesn’t really bother that much with the source novel and just crafted a film that’s a mash up of all sorts of ideas which, although fairly bonkers, sort of hold together just enough. The characters and performances are big and over the top, again just about working for the film and it’s hard to dislike it, although it’s also hard to love it. 6 / 10

Fantastic Fungi
A random documentary that I picked just because it looked completely un-challenging and uncontroversial, and was both those things. Eighty percent of the visuals are timelapse footage of fungi which is initially beautiful and impressive, but after a while slightly soporific. Voiceover narration is similarly nap inducing, particularly when it drifts into poetry. However the interviews with scientists when they actually start getting into the diversity of fungi, how they work in nature and what they can do for us are absolutely fascinating. A bit more of that would be good because I came away feeling like fungi really were fantastic, but I couldn’t really remember how or why. 6 / 10

Shazam!
I thought this was going to be painful but actually it was kinda sweet, kinda like The Goonies or some 80s kids film like that. The plot is daft but just about hangs together, but the charm comes from the relationships between the kids and Zachary Levi’s ability to perfectly deliver the Freaky Friday body swap of a kid into a superhero body. Good fun. 7 / 10

R.I.P.D
I watched this whole film and it wasn’t until I checked my review database that I realised I’d watched it before. I had absolutely zero memory of it. This so very desperately wanted to be Men in Black, but as usually happens when someone tries to recreate a ‘classic’ all that happens is the audience wants to go back a re-watch the inspiration. The building blocks of R.I.P.D were solid enough, but they were all just too similar to Men in Black and came across as a lower budget version of that, rather than its own thing. Ryan Reynolds was fun, Mary Louise Parker was excellent, and the effects were ok, but it was clearly completely forgettable. 6 / 10

Moana
I have watched this half a dozen times and it never ever fails to leave me laughing, crying and singing the songs for days on end. Moana’s focus on a very different culture from traditional Disney is respectful of traditions while still feeling light and progressive. Like Frozen there are complexities in who the ‘baddie’ is which adds a lot of depth to the story. The animation is stunningly beautiful and natural, and the voice acting is superb – completely integrated with the animation, never feeling like celebrities putting on voices and disjointed. The songs are catchy, and actually grow on me every time I hear them. The strength in the characters, story and messages are incredible, properly inspiring and uplifting and the film just brings me joy every single time. 9 / 10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
What a brilliant film! First up, the concept of teenagers getting transported into a video game is a solid one – plenty of opportunities for great action sequences, a built in excuse that the plot of the ‘game’ doesn’t need to make sense, and lots of teenage character building to thread through the whole thing. But there are then two important factors that raise the whole thing to another level. First is the script which is witty, charming, respectful and self-aware. The writers clearly know video games and throw in loads of nods to the genres, write teenagers that feel like present day teenagers and deliver character growth that’s honest and relevant. The second thing is the cast who take that script and deliver it pitch perfect. The adult stars all take the piss out of themselves and really feel like teenagers in other people’s bodies The film is absolutely charming, hilarious and a real joy. 9 / 10

Jumanji: The Next Level
I really enjoyed the previous Jumanji film, it was self aware, threw loads of stuff in, poked fun at itself and was just fun. This film does all the same things, and yet somehow fell a little flat. I think maybe the problem started when the older characters who were dragged into Jumanji just didn’t embrace it in the same way as the teenagers in the previous film. They didn’t get it in the same way, and (weirdly) just didn’t seem to have the depth. The jokes just fell a bit flat and lost strength through repetition and that whole side of things just felt like it didn’t spark as well. It’s still a fun film to watch, very well acted by everyone playing multiple characters, and the way new ideas were introduced will feel very familiar to anyone who’s played long running game series desperately throwing in new features. 7 / 10

Crazy Rich Asians
I tend to not like comedies that much, so when I say that this one was absolutely fine, that’s actually pretty good going. There was a pretty good mixture of melodrama and actual drama. There were characters that were comedic, ones that were over the top, and some playing it pretty straight – but also enough twists where comedy characters would cut the truth of a drama, or straight characters would be put into a ridiculous situation. The only thing that I felt let it down slightly was sometimes it felt a little forced – I never quite worked out whether it was clumsy dialogue, or actors that couldn’t quite land the nuance, but it just felt a bit clunky at times. 7 / 10

Suicide Squad
What a pickle. The DC comics movies keep chasing after Marvel and just missing at every step. Before Marvel got to the Avengers they had 5 films that established most of the big players. Suicide Squad rushes to try to establish about a dozen new characters all at once and although the introduction sequence kind of worked, it still felt rushed. Like a “previously on” where you realise you’ve not actually seen the previous season at all.
DC are also starting off on the back foot, because they keep reinventing characters, which leaves me already bored by the characters and slightly confused as to which version is which. Yet another Batman and Joker – how tedious. DC just cannot seem to get its casting right. They keep taking great actors and just slightly missing the mark. Margot Robbie felt like the only one here really comfortable in her role, everyone else felt like they were trying too hard to force the darkness of the characters, endlessly confused about whether they’re heroes or villains.
So it all comes together for a mess of a film and a wasted opportunity. I mean it’s not a disaster like Batman Vs Superman, but it was resoundingly ‘not very good’. The best thing I can say for the film is that the soundtrack is phenomenal. Sequences are incredibly well choreographed and with a thumping tune over the top it’s hard not to smile, but it’s all surface. The best things about this film are the exquisitely edited trailers. In fact I just went and rewatched them, seriously watch this and this and skip the film. 5 / 10

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