A really very pathetic selection of films in October, and frankly not a great deal more in November. But at least I’ve been getting back to the cinema so there are plenty of new releases at least.
I read the book years ago and really loved it, a proper classic sci fi novel although it occasionally drifted too far into the mystical for my tastes. Then I saw the original Dune film and was utterly underwhelmed, it had already aged very badly and seemed to focus on all the bits of the book that I didn’t like. But I was quite enthused with Denis Villeneuve taking it on, and decided to push the boat out and see it in imax. I wasn’t disappointed.
The film is stunning to look at for a start, design work that builds from all that has gone before it, both Dune itself and every other science fiction series since. It’s definitely worth seeing on the biggest screen possible to get the scale of it. Also the soundscape is phenomenal and benefits from a massive sound system. But all that would be nothing without a decent story, characters and performances and it’s solid on that too. Frank Herbert’s world building supported an epic series of books and the film’s writers have carefully crafted something that demonstrates that richness without overloading with exposition or complexity. The acting is similarly well done, personalities, relationships and emotions shown not told.
My only challenges to the film is that despite all that richness it sometimes felt a little flat and cold. Dream sequences are integral to the plot but can make it a bit hard to engage with emotionally – what’s real, what’s certain, what’s destiny that cannot be changed? There is a sense of wonder from the characters, and strong connections between them, and yet they lacked warmth and humour. Everyone felt like they were characters with specific roles in an epic story, rather than real people living their lives. So overall, wonderful to watch, intellectually engaging, but just a little cold to really care that much about.
Ranking: 8 / 10
There’s plenty to love about this film. The whole thing is bright and beautiful, vivid characters, a plot that charges along, full of energy and spark and with some lovely sentiment in it. But it didn’t work. I think the problem is that there’s just too much in it, too many characters, too much colour, too much backstory, too many sentiments and even too many words in the songs. It was hard to connect with the film and I felt overwhelmed rather than immersed. I think that last one was the one that made me saddest, the idea of new Lin Manuel Miranda songs makes me excited, and the reality was that they were hard to follow and also I think a little too grown up for the audience. In fact the showing that I went to one parent and child left after about 20 mins, and the other two families had frequent long bathroom visits, so it wasn’t gripping the kids either. I was disappointed, particularly because Mirabel, the hero of the film was such a lovely character that I felt she deserved better.
6 / 10
I have fond memories of the original Ghostbusters, but also having re-watched it as an adult acknowledge that it was actually rather naff and shoddily put together in places. I thought that Afterlife actually plays perfectly to connect into that memory and nostalgia and I really enjoyed the experience of watching it in the cinema. I liked that it’s put children at the centre of the story, that feels more ‘right’ than the original’s weird mix of serious scientists and con men (was Bill Murray’s character for real?). I enjoyed the action sequences, I liked the call backs, I even laughed at the lame jokes, much to the horror of my brother. It’s not an amazing film, but if you’ve got a fondness for the original, then I think you’ll find this a lot of fun. 7 / 10
The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson films are incredibly obviously Wes Anderson films, between the visual style, the storytelling, the recurring cast members, the music… you can’t miss them. This is not only a VERY Wes Anderson film, but it’s actually 4 short Wes Anderson films lightly glued together. I’m not a huge Anderson film, so I knew going in that I may struggle, but I didn’t expect that about 2/3 of the way through I would be properly struggling to not fall asleep. I wasn’t even not enjoying the film, it was beautiful to look at, well directed and acted, original and charming, and yet I wanted to sleep (and so did my brother who I saw it with, so it wasn’t just me).
I think the problem was the structure of multiple short stories, the 3rd story didn’t really spark my interest and because my brain knew it was only going to be short I think it decided to just take a bit of a nap. But the story actually went on for quite a long time and by then my brain didn’t really fancy waking up properly, even though the 4th story was more engaging. I think I’d actually have enjoyed the film a lot more split over 2 showings on tv in the evening, and throw myself into it more fully for shorter periods. 6 / 10
The Harder They Fall
I don’t like westerns. I keep trying to watch them but I just don’t get on with them. There’s something about the pacing, the strong silent type characters, the long lingering landscapes that just makes me disengage. The Harder They Fall is a different kind of Western, an almost entirely black cast for a start playing the types of people who absolutely existed at the time, but are written out of the history told by Hollywood westerns. The style is heading in the direction of Quentin Tarantino, with a bit more flash and less romanticism than traditional, and some better female characters at least. A lot of that worked for me, but the 2.20 runtime killed it, and I was (as usual) un-engaged and bored by the end. 6 / 10
Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot in a heist movie. I should have loved this. But I didn’t and I don’t know if it was the film, or if it were me. I can’t think of anything that was wrong with it, at least not for the type of film it is. If you’re expecting gritty realism then you’re definitely going to be disappointed, but that’s not what the film is trying to do, it’s supposed to be style over substance, the plot doesn’t need to hold up to scrutiny so long as it gets from one action sequence in a beautiful location to the next, and provides opportunity for wise cracking along the way. And it does that. So why was I bored? Maybe I was just completely in the wrong frame of mind. 6 / 10
The Green Knight
What on earth was that?! I watched it because of Dev Patel and it was only him that made me keep watching thinking there must be more to it than the apparent low budget, dreary looking, pontificating tedium that it started with. There wasn’t. I got all the way to the end and that was even MORE disappointing and incoherent. I genuinely have no idea what the film was talking about, why anybody made it, or why I continued to watch the whole thing. 4 / 10
Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)
This kind of slow burning, subtle film, particularly one with subtitles, would often have me struggling to focus and losing patience; however this one really held my attention and moved me. Maybe it was because although the focus was on the central relationship, there were a couple of other significant characters and relationships that added richness. As the central plot driver was that one character was painting a portrait of the other, the lingering visuals felt fully part of the film, rather than just indulgent or frustratingly slow. I also liked that it wasn’t really presented as a romance, but as a study of a relationship, neither the film nor the characters really lost sight of the reality of the period, which meant I felt a lot more immersed in the film, not getting distracted by a frustration of “that’s nice, but it’s not how things were for these women in the 18th century. 8 / 10
The Blind Side
Not what I was expecting. As I caught this on dvd a year after Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for it, I was expecting one of those films that’s their only to support the lead actor/actresses in their quest to win an award, films with superb performances at their core, but surrounded by an aura of worthiness and angst that often doesn’t lead to a very interesting package. The Blind Side however was absolutely wonderful. As the opening speech started I literally stopped eating my dinner and became engrossed. Then I rewound it to watch it again. When I got to the end of the film, I rewound it again and could happily have watched the whole thing over again. It was a really lovely film, full of far more humour and excitement than angst or worthiness. The lead character is doing something wonderful for a kid, giving him a chance, but she doesn’t want to make a fuss about it, so the film doesn’t either – it’s just the way it is. . A really, really uplifting, utterly wonderful film. 9 / 10
A pretty solid Disney Halloween film. The plot is predictable and the effects and visuals look quite dated now, to be honest, I’m not sure they would have looked that great at the time. The two teenage leads are a bit meh, although the 9 year old Thora Birch was already demonstrating her talents, making this a rare occasion when the small child is NOT just there to be irritating. But Bette Middler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are hamming it up gloriously as the three witches and it’s hard not to be swept along with their enthusiasm. 6 / 10
We Bought a Zoo
Utterly shameless fluff. It’s got animals, cute kids, a dad trying his best, socially inept teenagers, a little bit of heartache, happiness via hard work… it’s just a whole collection of things that make a family friendly fluffy film work, and work it does. 8 / 10
The Darjeeling Limited
I have a hit and miss reaction to Wes Anderson films, there are some where the weirdness works for me and I find them really charming, and then there are ones that I just don’t get. This is one of the latter. There was something unsettling about the setting in India, it felt slightly mocking, disrespectful maybe? The three central characters also felt a bit flat, none of them much fun to spend time with. 5 / 10
The only word to describe this film is “joy”. It is that extremely rare occurrence of a relaunch of an old favourite that captures all the magic of the original, all the warm feelings people have, acknowledges the flaws and then sprinkles some new energy on top. The makers all clearly respect and love the original and there’s plenty of sentimentality that had me crying throughout; but there’s also plenty of self-aware mocking and modern attitudes that make it feel like a new thing, not just a remake. I laughed and cried the whole way through and it is possibly, the most perfect thing ever. 10 / 10
I’ve watched this a dozen times and it never fails to make me laugh, sing along, smile, cry and cheer. 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. 9 / 10
Frozen 2 is not quite at the same level as Frozen. It’s absolutely fine, maintaining the excellent characters, animation and humour, but it’s missing the high expectations in two 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 aren’t as good, each one is just slightly inferior to the steady stream of solid hits. It’s still an entertaining film with a beautiful sentiment, but it’s not quite the timeless win that Frozen was. That said, I would very much like a baby reindeer and an adorable fire spirit please. 7 / 10