Archive for the ‘ Films ’ Category

Films in June

June was an interesting month for me as I started a new job in the middle of it. That meant the first couple of weeks I was looking for distractions and ‘nice’ films to sooth my nerves meaning that I had a lot of re-watches of stuff I’ve seen before. I’m very grateful to the charity shop near me for supplying most of them for just a pound a dvd!

New films
Solo: A Star Wars Story (cinema) – I’d not really been intending to see this film, but I was looking for something to distract my brain for a day and it worked out that I could do a double bill of this and Jurassic World. As it turned out, Solo lived up to my apathy, and failed to work as a distraction.
The film got off to a bad start with a pet peeve of mine – over colourisation and dim lighting. I thought it was just to hammer home the metaphorical dinginess of Solo’s home planet, but it followed him the whole film. Scenes looked grainy, dull, indistinct and colour filtered beyond any believability. With the visual spectacle crippled, there was more reliance on the story and I just didn’t really care for it or the characters. It felt too bitty (a problem I’ve had with other Star Wars films) – go here, get the thing, go there, get the thing. Fun characters were massively underused disappearing far too quickly, leaving only the rather dull ones, nuance was non-existent so if I was supposed to be surprised by anything it was sadly ineffective. This film failed to distract me, I frequently found my mind wandering which is not what I expect from this kind of film. Really disappointing.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (cinema) – I went to the cinema for a double bill of this and Solo, looking for something big and energetic to drown out my brain for a while. After Solo completely failed to deliver, I was very relieved that Jurassic World did the job I needed it to do.
I had issues with the previous film failing to capture the wonder and excitement of the original Jurassic Park and feeling rather soul-less (see below, I rewatched Jurassic World this month too). With my expectations lowered accordingly, I was actually pleasantly surprised that Fallen Kingdom does manage to do something new, to raise some interesting questions about the dinosaurs and tug at the heart strings. The mixture of actual plot and action sequences is just right, never leaving it too long without some excitement, but also not dragging sequences out until they get dull. Yes, there’s plenty of cheesy moments, and the plot doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but the characters are fun, the cast charismatic and the special effects convincing. There wasn’t a single moment of the film when I was bored or my brain escaped back to the real world. Exactly what I needed, wanted, and hoped for.

Ocean’s Eight (cinema) – 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 instalment 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 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 don’t think it will be one I re-watch regularly as I do with Ocean’s 11.

Set It Up (Netflix) – With low expectations for this Netflix premier that I’d never heard of, I was very happily surprised. It’s got a fresh and modern tone, but a story of matchmaking and farce that is timeless and very well delivered. The actors are all charismatic and the chemistry is excellent (where it should be). I laughed and I cared. Just what I needed.

New to me
What Happened to Monday (Netflix) – I’d got in my head for some reason that this was a foreign language film and was looking forward to something quite gritty. Unfortunately it was American, and over the top. It started out ok, but it deteriorated into a bit of a mindless action film that didn’t quite land the emotional punch that it was trying to. The ideas are very interesting, it’s just not very well delivered.

84 Charring Cross Road (dvd) – An utterly charming film, really gentle and easy going, but with a beautiful heart to it. Although released in 1987 it has a much older feel to it, even more so than just the period settings would require. The passing of time from the 1940s to the 1960s is very subtly done, as is the distinctions between London and New York. It’s a lovely film to watch, although I have to warn that it does end on a slight down note which while accurate and a ‘good’ ending technically, does leave me slightly sad.

Dark Shadows (amazon prime) – It started off ok, with an interesting tone and visual style to it as I would expect from Tim Burton and this kind of material, but the substance just wasn’t there. It was played up as a hammy spoof, but it wasn’t in the slightest bit clever or funny enough. I was just incredibly bored by it.

Rewatches
All About Eve (Netflix) – A classic that really still stands up. I wasn’t expecting it to be funny (I never expect old films to actually still be funny) but it had me laughing out loud frequently. The elements of the film work together flawlessly – it’s not really a comedy, it’s just funny; it’s not really a mystery, it’s just intriguing; it’s not really a drama, it’s just occasionally tense. It may have first been released in 1950, and be in black and white, but the characters and bite of the dialogue all feel very present.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (dvd) – I was slightly troubled by this film. On one hand it was all very nice, lovely even, with a group of people coming together and discovering stuff about themselves via exploring a new country. The fact that the people in question were ‘elderly’ (although hardly decrepit!) just meant that the cast was full of a wonderful amount of experience. On the other hand though I wasn’t quite so comfortable with some of the tone of things, it came across as a bit colonial and patronising at times. If you can ignore that, or just not see it, then it’s an utterly lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

Fight Club (amazon prime) – This film is getting on for 20 years old and it’s still as original and stunning as it was in 1999. Stunning in a literal sense almost because it kind of takes your breath away and just leaves you overwhelmed by the violence, the emotions and the logistics of it. I re-watched it, remembering the main points, and I was still engrossed in the twists and turns. I’m not entirely sure it quite all hangs together with the reveal, but it doesn’t matter. Definitely a classic.

Forbidden Planet (amazon prime) – Not bad actually. Of course it looks and feels incredibly dated now, effects and the use of the female character are all definitely “of their time”. The ideas have been reused a hundred times, but that’s because they’re pretty solid storytelling foundations. These days it’s probably more interesting as a piece of history than as a film, but it was actually entertaining enough to hold my attention.

Ghostbusters 2016 (Netflix) -I very rarely find comedy films actually funny and this is no exception. There were a couple of good gags in it (some of which were killed through over-use in trailers) but broadly speaking, it just wasn’t funny enough. That would be ok if the rest of the film around it was good, but I got the impression this film and the actors in it weren’t trying to do anything beyond a comedy. The characters were all too extreme (and annoying), the plot made no sense, the pacing was all over the shop and the cameos just got a bit tedious. I didn’t hate it, I could certainly appreciate the sense of fun it had and I have no problem at all with re-imagining Ghostbusters, particularly with an all female cast. But I just didn’t laugh enough.

The Golden Compass (dvd) – I read the books ages and ages ago and frankly didn’t like them very much, and unfortunately the same is true for the film. The main plot was just too crowded with stuff and I had little understanding or caring about what was going on. It fell into the trap that many of this style of film/book do which was feeling like a long list of names and places, more an itinerary than a plot. The key concept with the demons was very interesting, but was critically let down by some rubbish CGI meaning none of it actually felt real. Mind you, some of the human actors weren’t doing a much better job of feeling real either, with some hammy overacting from the adults and some truly terrible accents from the children. And to polish it all off the story stops dead without much in the way of plot management because they were obviously convinced they’d get a sequel. I’m not surprised they didn’t.

Juno (dvd) – A totally lovely film. It sort of talks about issues like abortion and teenage pregnancy, but almost in a peripheral way, I found myself thinking about the implied issues more than the characters on screen seemed to. I liked that it didn’t bother with the standard pregnancy stuff of morning sickness etc, the jokes that are done in every film. There’s more of a focus on the idea of the connection with the family that will adopt the baby, a connection that maybe isn’t ‘supposed’ to happen. It’s got some dodgy dialogue, but superb acting that pulls it off. Even over 10 years later, it still feels fresh and original.

Jurassic World (dvd) – I’m a huge fan of the original Jurassic Park and although 2 and 3 went downhill at least they were trying to build the franchise and do something different. Jurassic Park 4 is just a new version of the original but with all the magic and soul taken out. A key moment for me came very early as I was watching the film. The music swelled into the familiar theme, one that in the first film played as the helicopter swept over the beautiful landscape, eventually coming to a climax as the herd of brontosaurus are revealed to audience and characters for the first time. John Williams’ genius score carried us along with the power of nature, the joy of the palaeontologists seeing dinosaurs walking around – the majesty, the surprise, the delight, the wonder. In Jurassic World, it plays as we pass over a sweeping landscape of shops at a theme park. The music automatically made me feel all the old emotions and then made me hate myself because I was connecting them with commercialisation. In the movie makers’ defence I think they may have done it deliberately, to show us the wonder being turned into a dollar sign, apparently a lot of the product placement is meant ironically. But just because it’s intentional doesn’t make me like it and frankly that comes across as smug rather than self-aware.
The rest of the plot is just basic Jurassic Park – dinosaurs get out, chaos ensues, kids end up by themselves, heroes save the day blah blah blah. Using dinosaurs against dinosaurs was a slightly original trick but it wasn’t enough to make this film feel worth the effort. The only thing I really liked in this film was Chris Pratt who’s rapidly turning into the go-to guy for this kind of charming, slightly insufferable hero. He injects an energy and a heart to the film that is otherwise sadly absent.
On it’s own, it’s not an awful film, and after my initial disappointment in the cinema, I’ve watched it a couple of times on DVD and it always holds my attention and makes for a distracting couple of hours. But I always miss the emotions that I get from the original. In fact, after seeing it in the cinema I went straight home and put the dvd of Jurassic Park in, and 22 years after it was made, it still entertained, moved and had me on the edge of my seat more than Jurassic World came even close to.

Made in Dagenham (dvd) – A film that (I hope) will go down as one of the great British films – alongside things like The Full Monty which tell some important history in a massively entertaining way. There were a couple of minor hiccups with the plot where things didn’t quite follow through properly but for the most part the writing is really very good. The characters are all fun and there are a lot of laughs, but maybe most importantly, it made me want to go and look things up on wikipedia when it was over.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (dvd) – Even as I was reading the book, I was thinking the whole time that it would make a good film, then when I saw Tim Burton was making it, starring the wonderful Asa Butterfield and Eva Green I thought it couldn’t be more perfect. The problem I found with the book was that it didn’t quite manage to really convey the style and atmosphere, and if there’s anyone that can deliver that it’s Burton, and he really did. There are still a few problems that carry over from the book – sadly they didn’t find a way to elegantly explain/show how the time jumping really works, and that still came across as very clunky. If you start thinking too hard about things it also falls apart, there was also no real consideration of how they age while going round and round in timeloops and what that means for their real ages. But it’s an entertaining film that’s lovely to look at, with wonderful casting and acting and enough originality to stand out from the crowd.

Moneyball (dvd) – I love a good sports movie infinitely more than I actually love sports. The only problem is that I know nothing about most of the sports being talked about so the writer needs to either explain things pretty carefully or make it not really matter… unfortunately Moneyball doesn’t quite manage that. I clung on for a bit, but by the end of it I really did have very little idea what was going on, what any of it meant and what the ‘win conditions’. That’s a real shame because I liked everything else about the film so much that I’m giving it a 7 out of 10 when I didn’t have a clue what was going on!

Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) (Amazon Prime) – When I first saw this film over 10 years ago in the cinema I didn’t really know what to make of it – “I think it was very good, but I didn’t exactly enjoy it. It’s wonderfully atmospheric and creepy. It’s really very brutal at times and there were a number of bits that I didn’t want to watch. It doesn’t really fall into any particular category or genre, one of the most unusual and innovative films I’ve seen in a very long time.” That’s all still true, but I now appreciate those things, rather than feel uncertain about them. The film still stands out as original and fresh, the practical effects and costumes haven’t aged at all and the ideas are still crisp and challenging. A true classic.

Watchmen (Netflix) – I think this was a superb re-creation of the graphic novel, look and tone were spot on, any changes stayed true to the theme if not the details. It delivers the themes of the novel well and there’s a lot of detail in both visuals and characters, but that detail means a much too long 2 hour 45 runtime. I think there were also times that the quality of the acting was maybe not quite up to the material, it often came across as hammy rather than gritty. Some of the effects look a little dated now, but overall its still quite enjoyable.

When Harry Met Sally (Netflix) – A really sweet romantic comedy that by now also acts almost as a period piece. The sheer amount of hairspray used is amazing, the fashions are occasionally horrendous and some of the concepts are a bit laughable now. But for all that it’s a nice film to watch, a couple with genuine chemistry where the every step in the evolution of their relationship makes perfect sense.

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Films in May

New releases
Avengers: Infinity War
I would generally say that I’m a big fan of the Marvel cinematic universe. I’ve always been impressed with how they can make each character completely real, and each film completely its own style, and yet then blend them together to make one coherent whole. The Avengers films have always been the biggest challenge in that regard, and Infinity War sets a new level of insanity on that front having to bring about 2 dozen characters together, crossing genres and personalities to bring all the individual stars together without losing their individuality. Just like the previous films, I think it’s an almost impossible challenge and yet somehow, it works. The gradual coalescence of the groups supports both characters and audience through the transition, personalities can still shine through and relationships can be established before it turns into a giant scrum.

There are casualties. Many characters get little more than a cameo, very few get anything resembling character development and some previous characters didn’t make the cut at all. There’s also not much depth to the plot, it’s a fairly straightforward quest story and it is a little rushed, even in the longer run time. But I was never bored, never confused and always entertained by the dialogue and the visuals.

My personal problem was that knowing the overall runtime of the film, knowing it was the first of two parts, and knowing the rumours of major character deaths (the trailer lays it on pretty thick), I had expectations. So early moments that seem to solve the problem were obviously not going to work, I knew there wouldn’t be a tidy ending (although I was impressed with the way they did close out the film).

I didn’t love this film as much as previous ones, but that’s possibly almost all down to the fact it’s not the end, so it’s hard to come out feeling complete. I did enjoy it a lot, and was certainly impressed that they managed to make it work. I think though I won’t be able to judge it completely until part two next year.

Deadpool 2
Deadpool 2 is unfortunately two films mushed together and it doesn’t work. On the plus side, there’s the Deadpool bits. The hilariously inappropriate violence, language and crudeness that you’d expect alongside the breaking of the 4th wall and in jokes. So many elements of the film work so well together and feel fresh and original, everything from the music choices to the brilliantly directed and choreographed action sequences that were genuinely interesting to watch for a change.
But you know there’s a but coming, and it’s a big one. There’s just too much emotion at the forefront of the story. From the ‘unfortunate event’ and the theme of parenthood that runs through the film it just didn’t feel like Deadpool. There were a lot of scenes that I was waiting for the punch line and was left with just a pure emotional moment that didn’t feel at all in the right film. It wasn’t even done very well, it was utterly lacking in subtlety and the kind of story that we’ve seen play out hundreds of times before.
There were plenty of scenes and moments that were brilliant, but there were a number of places that I was bored and the film dragged and overall I came away feeling rather disappointed.

Cargo (Netflix)
Zombies are a crowded genre, so it’s hard to find a new take on them, particularly once The Walking Dead has covered so much ground. But this Australian, Netflix film somehow manages to feel original, while not really being terribly original at all. As with most zombie films, there’s no pre-amble, we’re thrown straight into the post apocalypse with a couple of survivors and almost immediately their just-about-stable existence is thrown out again. The only truly original thing is the Australian outback setting which is used to very good effect (although levels of population density don’t necessarily play to any rules except dramatic necessity). The other thing that holds the whole thing together is the incomparable Martin Freeman who brings not just the expected humour, but absolutely heart-breaking emotion too.

New for me
God’s Own Country (Netflix) – Really good. It’s a slow burn and there were times early on that just left me a bit bored and rolling my eyes. After 10 minutes I thought I was going to hate it, but after 30 minutes I was utterly engrossed, getting used to the different characters and seeing the depth in them. The intensity of the relationships combined with the visceral work of farming create something incredibly powerful, and works incredibly well with the beautiful but unforgiving landscape. Although not one to watch while eating dinner or with the grandparents!

Plan 9 from Outer Space (Amazon) – Just as awful as everyone says it is. I wondered briefly whether it was just the terrible directing and acting that was making it bad and whether the story would have been salvageable with a bit more money for effects and talent. But I think the story was doomed as well, certainly by the time the aliens finished the interminable explanation of the plot towards the end I was wishing I’d never bothered finding out what the fuss was about. It wasn’t even entertainingly bad, just boring.

Gnomeo and Juliet (Amazon) – I put this on because I needed something relatively short and un-intensive to watch while eating lunch and couldn’t be bothered to browse too far on Amazon. I’m not sure why I feel the need to justify watching it, as actually it was pretty good. It managed to do something fresh with the tired Romeo and Juliet structure with an incredible number of Shakespeare references spread throughout. It’s bright and colourful, the voice acting is charismatic and it really did make me smile.

House on Haunted Hill (Amazon) – I’ve seen plenty of references and even spoofs of this over the year and although I’m not really a horror fan, figured I should probably see the original. Particularly given that it’s only 75 minutes long. It did feel a little like an episode of the Twilight Zone or something rather than a film, and to be honest, not a particularly outstanding episode at that. The viciousness of the husband and wife was possibly the most interesting thing going on, the horror itself just a bit cheesy and the plot was sadly riddled with things that made no sense at all. Still, with that runtime, it’s worth a watch.

The Intern (Netflix) – I’d completely blanked this film thinking it was going to be cheesy at best, and insulting at worst. A friend recommended it and I am delighted I listened to her. It was utterly charming. At every point that they could have made a character annoying, or made fun of them, they stepped to the side and made every character well rounded, believable and the star of their own story. It would have been so easy to make the female manager a bitch, or the loud intern a sleaze, or the senior returning to work dismissive and bitter. But they didn’t and it made the film an absolute joy to watch.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (Amazon) – I enjoy the opportunity to catch up on classics like this, particularly ones where I have managed to avoid being spoiled on the plot and ending. All I knew about it was a bit of the background on the making of the film from the TV series Feud about the relationship between the two lead actresses, but as I’d never got to the end of the series I didn’t know more than the set up really, which added to the nuance of the film nicely I thought. Crawford and Davis are superb and the back and forth, twists and turns between the sister are fascinating, even if the various motives for how the car accident happened never made any sense.

Soylent Green (Amazon) – Even being spoiled on the ending, it’s still very possible to enjoy the film. Watching the characters work their way towards the answer is just as satisfying, and frankly I’m not sure how much of a surprise the ending actually is. Charlton Heston is reliable as ever, but it’s Edward G Robinson’s final performance that is absolutely heart-breaking. The grit and haze of the world is visceral and still very relevant today, although the complete avoidance of discussion of the use of women as ‘furniture’ passed from owner to owner of a building is pretty depressing.

The Conjuring (Amazon) – A perfectly fine horror film, but it didn’t really stand out for me. The cast is full of actors from TV that are very good, but made it feel a little televisual, I think also due to the constrained location and the 70s setting as well the whole thing just felt a little on the cheap side. There were a lot of bits that made me jump, and some really creepy stuff, but by the end it felt like it was just throwing everything together and I rather disconnected.

Rewatches
Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo) (Film 4) – Studio Ghibli films are pretty weird at the best of times, but I think this one may have freaked me out the most. The weird fish with human faces really creeped me out for some reason. Other than that, it’s everything you’d expect from Studio Ghibli, very heavy handed environmental messaging combined with an imaginative and lovely story and charming characters. I watched the dubbed version and other than finding Liam Neeson irritating (as I always do) it was very well done.

The Blind Side (Amazon) – I first saw this a year after Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for it, and 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. I’m not sure anything about Sandra Bullock’s performance really deserved an Oscar, but she deserved it completely just for being able to play this kind of real world character in such an understated way that she just breaks your heart. A really, really, utterly wonderful film, that’s just as good on a second watch.

Films in April

New releases at the cinema:
Love, Simon: At face value, this is a solid teenage coming of age/romance flick with all the extremes of characters, improbably large houses, apparent lack of actual school work and endless stream of beautiful people that you’d expect. It knows exactly what it is, and it does it extremely well. Yes, the cast are all clearly in their twenties playing teenagers, but they’re charismatic and good together. It’s completely emotionally manipulative and knows exactly what strings to pull at every point so that all the emotions of joy, sadness, frustration and anger are delivered like punches. I loved it. I loved it even more because it does all that with a gay teenager at it’s core and showing the awful additional pressure of having to come out, on top of all the usual horrors a teenager has to go through. It’s taken too long for this movie to be made, but it’s finally here and it’s a beautiful triumph.

Isle of Dogs: I was apprehensive going into this, I find Wes Anderson a bit much sometimes and from the clips I’d seen the animation looked a little hard to like. But I was wrong. I really loved the film. The level of quirkiness was amusing rather than irritating, the odd style of animation worked really well to hold the attention, and the story was both entertaining and original. The only thing I wasn’t a fan of was using a lot of big Hollywood names in the cast, which I found a little distracting and hard to engage with some of the characters rather than just thinking of them as “the one voiced by Bryan Cranston” etc. What really surprised me though was that there were so many kids in the audience and they seemed to really engage with the film, no talking or squirming and hardly any toilet breaks, which I really wasn’t expecting. Heartily recommended then for the whole family.

Ready Player One: I really loved the book, but I can’t say I remember any of the details, so I didn’t feel frustrated by any of the changes. I was excited when I heard that Steven Spielberg was making it and what has resulted is a really good, fun Spielberg film. It’s a family adventure film with bright lights, big performances, wit and excitement. I can see that some might be frustrated at the popcorn-ness of the whole thing, but I found it a really entertaining romp. I was never bored, I smiled at the references I got and didn’t notice the ones I didn’t. It’s not a work of art, but I don’t think the book was either. It does what it sets out to do and with Spielberg at the helm, it had the perfect guide.

Funny Cow: I don’t know whether I misunderstood the point of this film going on, but I was expecting the story of a woman trying to be a comic in working class northern England. It’s really really not. It’s the story of a woman growing up in that environment, with the poverty and acceptance of domestic violence. The story around her being a comic is barely there at all, there’s no sense of how she learns her trade, or develops her jokes. The inter cuts of her as a comedian in the future aren’t even showing her being actually funny for the most part. The character development are thin, the metaphors are laid on with a trowel and even though it was only 100 minutes long it felt desperately over-long. That Maxine Peake’s performance still managed to be outstanding even with that mediocre material is truly a marvel.

New for me
The Florida Project
(amazon): This film is worth watching for the visuals alone. It’s a really stunningly beautiful looking film, the vibrancy of the colours and the light of the Florida sunshine are shown off with creative framing and long lingering shots. The way the small children inhabit and completely own the large open world around them is wonderfully shown through the cinematography.
This film follows a structure that I tend to find frustrating. The first half, possibly even two thirds, doesn’t really seem to have any structure. It’s just following some characters around on a seemingly endless summer. I found this a little tedious, but I can also see that by just immersing in daily life, you get a much better sense for the situation and people than if anything was forced through narrative. By the time the plot actually reveals itself (some of the threads of which of course were laid in the first part) it feels like both a relief to finally be going somewhere and a disappointment to see the characters get thrown even more challenges, even if you don’t actually like them very much. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the ending. I see what they were trying to do, but I found it jolting and frustrating.

Detriot (amazon): While an incredibly powerful and horrific historical event, I think this was desperately let down by the choices the film makers made. At 2 hours 20 long it lacks the intensity it needed, it felt like an eternity before it actually reached the key events. I lost track of all the characters repeatedly, struggling to join them up in different sections of the film. It would have been much better to either just focus on seeing all the events through one character’s eyes, or maybe to inter-cut the timelines to spread out the different phases (set up, ‘the incident’ and the court case).

Borg vs. McEnroe (amazon): There wasn’t enough to this film to justify it really. It’s pointed out early on the contradictions in the characters and that’s basically the entire premise. It’s just not enough to keep interest over that length of film. The comparison to Hunt vs Lauda as depicted in Rush is obvious, but that film made more of the characters and had a series of ‘matches’ between them (plus, I just find Formula 1 infinitely more interesting and exciting than tennis). Borg Vs McEnroe presents only one match between them. Yes there’s the emotional build up to it which of course plays into the actual tennis, but it’s just not enough. I was utterly bored.

Brazil (amazon) : I’ve been meaning to get around to watching this film for years and years. It started off well, I was fascinated by the unique style of it and the quirkiness of the world that somehow still seemed to make internal sense. But after a while the novelty of that wore off and I just got a little bored of the actual plot.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (amazon): There are some interesting choices here and although by the end I could see why those choices were made, there were times I came very close switching it off. The story is terrifying and horrible, forcing a family to chose someone to die, or lose everyone. The problem is that all the characters are played slightly unreal. No one talks or acts like normal people. They all seem to speak incredibly openly and frankly, without real emotion. As the film goes on you see that there are things that there are things they don’t talk about, and also that there are feelings there. That contrast is very powerful, and also the un-relatability of the characters makes the film something other than the expected emotional thriller that it might otherwise be. But that cleverness doesn’t make the film any easier to watch and the uncanny-valley aspect may be a complete turnoff for some. This may be one of those films where it’s too clever for its own good.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (netflix): How did this happen? How do a huge number of people, spend a lot of time and money making a film and at no point realise that their two lead actors are horrifically miscast. I don’t think it was the actors’ faults, they seem competent enough, but they were completely wrong together and in this film. They just never seemed comfortable or really grounded in the film around them. The script they were working with was pretty rubbish too in fairness to them, not giving them much to go on to justify the apparent relationship or supposed professional experience when they’re endlessly floundering around. Really it should have been the set up that was the most unbelievable thing, but that actually worked in a bonkers kind of way, with impressive creativity, vibrancy and flavour crammed into every scene. It was certainly beautiful to look at, and there were some well done pieces (the opening handshake sequence in particular). But every time the two leads were on screen (or the OTT Clive Owen or random Rihanna for that matter) the whole thing just fell apart.

Risky Business (amazon): This is a tricky one. I mean it’s not aged hugely well and the attitude towards prostitution, particularly when it’s exploiting teenagers on both sides is pretty horrific. There’s a lot of incredibly ‘problematic’ activity. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Even though it completely ignores the issues around sex trade, it does have some interesting things to say about the pressure on kids to get into good colleges, with the implication that they can screw up their whole futures just by making childish errors. It’s also entertaining and funny, largely thanks to Tom Cruise back when he was charming rather than a rather dull action hero. It’s a shame Rebecca De Mornay didn’t have quite the same charisma, although she was hamstrung by the endless flip flopping of her character and the film’s lack of investigation into her horrible situation. It’s hard to give a positive review of a film that focuses all its energy on the rich white guy who may not be able to get into Princeton rather than the teenage prostitute .

The Bodyguard (amazon): I’d really never seen The Bodyguard. I can’t say I feel that I’ve really been missing out on anything for all these years, but it was a good example of the genre. Made in 1992 it falls in that slightly odd inter-decade style, not quite big enough hair for the 80’s, but too cheesy and soft focus for the 90’s. Predictable as anything, but solidly entertaining.

Films in March

I said a while ago that I was going to start including films and books here, so I think it’s time I delivered on that. So, I’m going to try to do a quick monthly round up of what I’ve watched and read.

New releases:
The Square (cinema): There’s some great stuff in this film. Some properly laugh out loud observation and humour, particularly in the weird reality of a modern art museum. It would have worked really well as a sitcom in the vein of W1A or The Thick of It. Unfortunately it was in the wallowing pretension of a 2.5 hour long film, which was determined to ram home some messages and morals as well. There were too many strands, and many of them were just left hanging or forgotten. So the film was both too long and incomplete. It’s a shame because the funny bits were incredibly well done.

Mute (Netflix): The style will be incredibly familiar to anyone who’s seen Bladerunner or Altered Carbon, but it’s a solid entry into the genre that kept me engaged the whole way through. I can’t think of anything else to say really, it’s not a classic for all time, but it’s perfectly satisfactory.

Annihilation (Netflix): I thought this film was absolutely rubbish. It took me two attempts to get through it because I was falling asleep on the first viewing, and that was even before I reached the part where everything got completely bonkers. I didn’t mind that the overall setup was weird, I objected to the fact that they kept trying to explain it with science (which was both dubious and boring), and that the characters made no sense at all. I actually watched the whole thing a second time because I read so many good reviews that I was beginning to think I’d missed something. I watched it with someone who’d read the book and added some background and context that made things make a bit more sense… but I still didn’t particularly like the film and from the sounds of it I wouldn’t like the book either. Some people may say that it didn’t get a cinema release because studios are scared that people won’t watch ‘smart’ sf. But the problem isn’t that this is too smart, it’s that it’s too stupid!

New for me:
Colossal (Amazon Prime): The concept at the centre of the film is bonkers, but that really doesn’t matter because, like all good science fiction, it’s about the fallout from the central idea. The character development here is fascinating and the things go in directions that you might not predict, but that still make perfect sense. The whole thing is smart, original, witty and incredibly satisfying.

Once (was on Amazom): I gave this film two attempts, the first time I wasn’t feeling it I assumed it was because I was in a grumpy mood, but even a couple of weeks later in the middle of a relaxing day, it still didn’t work for me. The biggest personal problem was that I didn’t really like the music in it, but I think even without that I would still have been slightly irritated by the noodling tempo and awkward characters.

Hampstead (Amazon Prime): Twee. There really is no other word for this than twee. It’s passably entertaining thanks to the always wonderful Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson but they’re struggling with a clunky script and the supporting cast are bogged down with ploddy characters.

Rewatches
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DVD): This is the kind of film that’s just joyous to watch, I had a smile on my face just about the whole way through the film and at one point laughed so suddenly I choked on my ice cream. The world is immersively vibrant, the character are completely alive, the story is completely engaging and the script is hilariously snappy, the whole thing is just a complete joy. I will admit that there were a couple of scenes that dragged a smidge and surprisingly I found Cate Blanchett’s the weakest performance (and accent) of the bunch, but those are really very minor quibbles. I could cheerfully have gone straight back and watched this a second time!

The Terminal (Amazon Prime): This is a very sweet comedy with a slightly uncomfortable thread of xenophobic drama. The concept of someone living solely in an airport is quite a cute one, but the way they manage to get the character stuck there, and the way he is treated by immigration is pretty horrific. The film is very much a throwback to Tom Hanks romantic comedies of the past, which in some ways is good, but in other ways seems like a bit of a waste of his and Spielberg’s talents. I like that the film avoids some of the standard cliches and I really enjoyed the first 1/2 but there’s some more dramatic stuff in the 2nd half that felt a little misplaced within the overall tone. And dear lord there’s a lot of product placement! Still, I will happily watch Tom Hanks do just about anything.

90th Academy Awards

Yesterday I posted my full reviews of 8 out of the 9 nominees for best picture and my thoughts on what should and will win (tldr – I think Dunkirk should win, although I didn’t see Ladybird which might have been a contender, but I think Shape of Water will win). By my count there were 4 films which received at least one nomination, and I saw 23 of them, a very respectable 52% (the same as last year). In terms of nominations there were a total of 106 slots, and I saw the films that contributed to 82 of them, 77% which I’m very happy with (7% higher than last year). I’m just kicking myself I haven’t seen Ladybird which is the only film with more than one nomination that I haven’t seen (plus it looked good and I really want to see it). Below are my thoughts on the nominations, occasional mentions of missed nominations and my predictions for what will win.

Lead Actor:

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name – He did a good job with a very mediocre script, forced to talk in a way that no real human person would ever talk.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread – I never got a sense of what this character was really like, whether he really loved or cared about any of the other characters or was even self aware of what he was like. Not sure if that’s script or performance, but either way, it didn’t make for a strong nomination.
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out – Interesting. This didn’t occur to me while I was watching, but there’s a huge range to the performance from quite cheesy comedy and the kind of ridiculous situations that appear in horror films, but also there’s real depth to the character and the quality of Kaluuya’s performance make this more than ‘just’ a cheesy horror.
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour – unrecognisable physically and completely inhabiting the role, far from just a caricature
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. – Sorry Denzel, I haven’t seen it. Although I’m sure he’s superb as usual
  • Wouldn’t it have been something to see Hugh Jackman here for Wolverine in Logan. It really was an impressive performance in Logan, that delivered incredible emotional punch. Tom Hanks gave a storming performance in The Post as well, maybe that’s just what is expected from him now though. Of course it wouldn’t have mattered because the award should and will go to Gary Oldman. For the record my runner up would be Kaluuya.

    Lead Actress:

  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water – an impressive performance with the restriction of zero dialogue
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – McDormand for me was about the only thing that truly worked in this film.
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya – Just like her character, I don’t think she’s got as much attention and praise as she deserved. It’s a brash performance on the surface, bordering on comedy sometimes, but there’s also depth to it.
  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird -I haven’t seen it, but she’s 23 and this is her third nomination (this, Brooklyn and one for supporting in Atonement 10 years ago!)
  • Meryl Streep, The Post – I was expecting a powerful character and performance and was hugely surprised and impressed that the character was nowhere near as forceful as expected, but the performance was exquisite as usual
  • Again, it’s bad luck to be nominated this year against Frances McDormand, but Robbie is the runner up for me. I would have put Jessica Chastain in for Molly’s Game too, seems odd that Vicky Krieps wasn’t nominated for Phantom Thread given she actually had a more interesting character than Day Lewis. I’m also a bit surprised that Judy Dench wasn’t nominated for Victoria and Abdul.

    Supporting Actor:

  • Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project – not seen.
  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – a quiet performance, mostly quite unremarkable, but with some very nuanced scenes in the middle. Shame his character didn’t make much sense. The nice guy he played didn’t go at all with his actions – why did he not do a better job of communicating with the family of a murdered girl, or dealing with an out of control subordinate?)
  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water – wonderful as ever. Many of his scenes look on the surface to be the comic relief, but there’s a depth to him that’s heartbreaking.
  • Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World – not seen, but it’s an impressive achievement to turn in a performance at such short notice
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – he played all the extremes of his character expertly, despite the fact the plot made very little sense for him.
  • I think Sam Rockwell will win, and I don’t think I disagree. I could also have put Patrick Stewart in here for Logan

    Supporting Actress:

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound – I didn’t think there was much nuance in the role or the film as a whole.
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya – hilarious and terrifying, this is a long way from CJ and a great comedic and dramatic performance all at once.
  • Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread – a performance as someone restraining their feelings is only impressive if they also reveal what it is they’re restraining. I didn’t know whether Manville’s character loved or loathed those aorund her, or just didn’t give a crap and was thinking about her pay cheque or what was for lunch.
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird – She’s one of the reasons I’m annoyed I haven’t seen this.
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water – sorry, but there wasn’t enough here to warrant a nomination for the always excellent Octavia Spencer.
  • I align with popular opinion again and will be happy to see Allison Janney lift the award. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to see Carrie Fisher in here for Star Wars

    Director:

  • Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan – the scale of the filming was phenomenal. The sheer number of extras, special effects and visual effects, stunts, sets and locations that required coordination breathtaking. And then to not lose the individual stories in there, was a true marvel.
  • Get Out, Jordan Peele – was there anything outstanding in the direction of this? I don’t really think so. The script and performances, yes. But the direction, while well done, wasn’t anything special that I recall.
  • Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig – I wish I’d seen this so that I could offer comment beyond “only the 5th woman to be nominated for best director”.
  • Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson – It was stylish, in the way that you’d expect a story set in 1950s about fashion to be stylish. The richness and attention to detail, focus on stitches and the perfection was very real.
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro – if the director is to blame for a runtime, then I think this is where the film fell down. The pacing was too slow, spending too much time really drilling home every look, every bit of body language, until all subtlety was lost and I was bored.
  • I think this one should go to Christopher Nolan, it’s the bigger achievement to deliver a technically difficult film and make a film that’s more than just a technical achievement. The absolute cynic in me wonders if they’d give it to Greta Gerwig for political reasons, but I think they’ll award Guillermo del Toro. Missing – I wasn’t actually a big fan, but wouldn’t it have been fantastic for Patty Jenkins to be nominated for Wonder Woman and double the number or women director nominations

    Animated Feature:

  • The Boss Baby – I didn’t like the trailers so didn’t bother. There seems some surprise it was nominated.
  • The Breadwinner – not even heard of it I’m afraid
  • Coco – There was a lot of good in Coco in terms of the bigger stuff – style, message and heart; but I was slightly underwhelmed with the ‘small’ stuff like plot and pacing.
  • Ferdinand – looked unremarkable
  • Loving Vincent – this looked like an incredible artistic achievement, although I’ve got no idea of the plot etc.
  • I rather hope Loving Vincent wins from the point of view of the greater artistic achievement, but I think it will go to Coco.

    Adapted Screenplay:

  • Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory – awful. No one talks or behaves like real human beings.
  • The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – Not seen
  • Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green – I was impressed at this film, a moving character piece about aging, while also still an entertaining superhero film.
  • Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin – the master of dialogue is on fire here, except for a miss-step (on a park bench) that I found unforgivable.
  • Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees – the dreary narrative was completely unnecessary and spoilt the film.
  • Of that list, I think I’d vote for Molly’s Game, but I suspect the Academy will go for Call Me by Your Name. Death of Stalin should have been nominated.

    Original Screenplay:

  • The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani – I know it’s based on a true story, rather limiting the creativity, but the structure didn’t work for me, I just didn’t see the couple in it, they had too little time together for this to feel like the romance was justified.
  • Get Out, Jordan Peele – both classic and original, a by the numbers horror film with the twists and turns you’d expect, but with a modern look at race that just adds to the horror.
  • Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig – not seen
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – solid idea, but I just don’t think there’s anything remarkable here.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh – sorry, but this didn’t work for me. I didn’t feel that the story made any sense, that the characters (including the off-screen ‘town’) behaved logically and threads were raised and dropped indiscriminately (particularly the race element and the criminally underused ‘black best friend’ cliché)
  • I would have like to see I, Tonya here, the creativity of mixing interviews and live action, and breaking the fourth wall was really innovative and worked incredibly well. Get Out is the winner for me, but I think the award will go to Three Billboards.

    Cinematography:

  • Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins – beautiful. I was bored almost to tears by the film, but at least that gave me plenty of time to appreciate the visuals.
  • Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel – I didn’t think there was anything special here
  • Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema – completely immersive in each of the settings
  • Mudbound, Rachel Morrison – the cinematography does stick with you, you can almost feel the mud and the rain and the dreariness of the environment. Also, the first ever woman to be nominated for cinematography. Yup, really.
  • The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen – the tone of water throughout was quite mesmerising, it did have a very interesting and immersive style to it.
  • Roger Deakins for Blade Runner surely, if for no other reason than this is his fourteenth nomination and he’s never won!

    Best Documentary Feature:

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail – not seen
  • Faces Places – not seen
  • Icarus – the revelations of the Russian state driven doping scandal were breathtaking, but the documentary structure was muddled and confusing given the filmmakers seemed to stumble into the revelation by accident.
  • Last Men in Aleppo – not seen
  • Strong Island – an incredibly powerful and personal account of the murder of the filmmaker’s brother.
  • Of the two I’ve seen, Strong Island would be hard to beat.

    Best Foreign Language Film:

  • A Fantastic Woman (Chile); The Insult (Lebanon); Loveless (Russia); On Body and Soul (Hungary) The Square (Sweden)
  • I haven’t seen any of these, despite having seen several really great foreign films last year, but I suspect that the year of release is different. I’ve heard great things about both Loveless and A Fantastic Woman so i think I’ll guess at A Fantastic Woman.

    Film Editing:

  • Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss – the key thing about this film is the editing and the sound, keeping many of the sequences feeling like music videos without making it gimicky or annoying is an impressive achievement.
  • Dunkirk, Lee Smith – there was a huge amount to be pieced together here, but I wouldn’t think it was anything that other blockbuster action type films do.
  • I, Tonya, Tatiana S. Riegel – there are some clever edits for the ice skating segments, and some very well timed edits for the pieces to camera
  • The Shape of Water, Sidney Wolinsky – I didn’t notice the editing at all. Is he responsible for how drawn out it was?
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jon Gregory – Ditto
  • I think Baby Driver was the one that was doing the most interesting and original work here.

    Sound Editing / Sound mixing – the same films are nominated for both and I still don’t understand the difference

  • Baby Driver – As for editing, the sound landscaping is integral to the film, perhaps the entire point of it.
  • Blade Runner 2049 – I watched this on one of the superscreens with the boosted sound system and I do remember a lot of deep rumbling noises that helped me not fall alseep
  • Dunkirk- the sound was absolutely key to the immersiveness of this film, the gunfire and explosions, the sound in the plane and the relative peace of the chugging boat engine.
  • The Shape of Water – so much dripping that I noticed a higher than normal percentage of the audience taking bathroom breaks
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi – a lot of created noises blending together
  • As usual, I’m going to completely guess here. Let’s go Dunkirk for mixing and Star Wars for editing.

    Production Design:

  • Beauty and the Beast – if you’re just developing an animated film into a real life, I’m not sure you can really take credit.
  • Blade Runner 2049 – yup, lots of interesting design.
  • Darkest Hour – nothing special I thought, lots of recreating historical stuff and not much creativity that I could see.
  • Dunkirk – ditto.
  • The Shape of Water – Very beautiful and interesting to look at, the mixture of period industrial, with the detailed homes of the characters and the theme of water across absolutely everything.
  • I sometimes wonder whether animated films are eligible here, the design of Coco was absolutely stunning. I think Shape of Water was the most creative and original.

    Original Score:

  • Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer – another one of the excellent and complex elements building this film
  • Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood – sorry, I can’t remember the music.
  • The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat – the tonal wateriness of this was impressive, blending with and supporting the style of the film.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams – still managing to bring something new to the Star Wars score after all these years. A legend.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell – I’ve got no memory of the music I’m afraid
  • I do love John Williams, but I think I’d have to vote for Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score. I suspect the academy will reward Jonny Greenwood, but for the There Will Be Blood soundtrack which was disqualified on a petty technicality a few years ago.

    Original Song:

  • Mighty River from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige – unremarkable, and I’m not 100% sure that it went with the style/tone of the film, I think it just played over the end credits.
  • Mystery of Love from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens – I at least remember this song being in the film and the tone matches much better. I wouldn’t chose to listen to it, but I also wouldn’t necessarily switch the radio off.
  • Remember Me from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez – not only matching the film in tone and style, but a really integral part of the story. Not my favourite Disney song, but it’s a solid entry.
  • Stand Up for Something from Marshall, Diane Warren, Common – I’ve not seen the film, but I like the song and it seems to match the subject at least.
  • This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul – a catchy tune, with a powerful message and the absolute heart and soul of the film.
  • This is Me should and will win.

    Makeup and Hair:

  • Darkest Hour – I presume this nomination is all about making someone who looks nothing like Churchill a dead ringer for him. Which was impressive.
  • Victoria and Abdul – I have no memory of anyone’s hair or makeup.
  • Wonder – some heavy prosthetics work I understand, particularly challenging on a young child I would imagine.
  • I find this category baffling. Only 3 nominations, but where are films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars which have a huge amount of complex hair, makeup and prosthetics, requiring skill and creativity. Or even just Shape of Water for the monster design and making it something the incredible Doug Jones could work in. Guardians should win this one, but Darkest Hour will.

    Costume Design:

  • Beauty and the Beast – does it really count if you’re just re-creating something done in animation?
  • Darkest Hour – similarly, it’s all just straight period costume, and not exactly an exciting period (costume-wise) at that
  • Phantom Thread – given that the costumes were about as much a part of the film as any of the characters, there really was some outstanding work
  • The Shape of Water – unremarkable
  • Victoria and Abdul – more recreating period pieces, but they’re a lot more varied and impressive
  • What I think should win, and what will win – The Phantom Thread

    Visual Effects:

  • Blade Runner 2049; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; Kong: Skull Island; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; War for the Planet of the Apes
  • By this point, I’ve lost the will a bit, I’m not sure how to really compare those films. I’m semi-randomly going to pick Star Wars. They turned puffins into porgs

    Shorts
    I watched 4 out of the 15 shorts, which is pathetic to be honest, but I ran out of time to seek the documentaries and live action shorts out on youtube.

    Animated Short:

  • Dear Basketball – stunning. Stunningly animated, a beautiful poem and a powerful message. Less than 4 minutes long and so powerful.
  • Garden Party – odd. The animation is a little uncanny valley, but it’s cleverly constructed.
  • Lou – cute idea, nice animation on Lou and everything you expect from Pixar.
  • Negative Space – trailer only. The animation looks original and nicely animated.
  • Revolting Rhymes – based on Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake’s work, this trailer really made me want to watch.
  • Dear Basketball is the clear standout.

    Best Documentary Short Subject:

  • Edith+Eddie – available on Youtube but I only watched the trailer. It looks heartbreaking
  • Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 – as above.
  • Knife Skills – unlike some of the others here that I felt I should watch, I actually wanted to watch this based on the trailer
  • Traffic Stop – not sure that I feel I need to watch the rest of the film after watching the depressingly familiar trailer
  • Heroin(e) – availabie on Netflix. A fascinating case study of an American town that has a catastrophic drugs problem, but not with the standard from the point of view of the violence or criminality, but from the point of view of the people trying to save lives. Very interesting
  • A hard group to compare, particularly only based on the trailers, Knife Skills, because I think more people would watch it.

    Best Live Action Short Film:

  • DeKalb Elementary; The Eleven O’Clock; My Nephew Emmett; The Silent Child; Watu Wote/All of Us
  • I’m out of time, so I pick The Silent Child entirely randomly.

    90th Academy Awards – Best Picture Nominees

    My thoughts on the nominees for Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards, tomorrow I’ll share my picks and predictions for the other awards.

    Call Me By Your Name
    I wasn’t enthusiastic about seeing this, I thought the trailer was tedious and the name ridiculous. But there was nothing else on and it’s getting a lot of award nominations, so I gave it a try. It was insufferable. I was bored, annoyed and irritated by hokey writing and cheesy direction. The characters never talked like normal people, the development of the relationship never felt natural and it was so slow I was begging it to be over. The film makers made a critical error when they didn’t spell out the age difference, they did eventually indicate that Elio was 17, but Oliver’s age was never given (apparnetly he’s 24 in the book) and Armie Hammer is 29 and looks considerably older, so I wasn’t sure how creeped out I was supposed to be. The acting was good though, even if they were delivering a nonsensical script.

    Darkest Hour
    This is a film of a performance. Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill is nothing short of miraculous. The physical transformation is key to it, I don’t believe that anyone but his closest friends would have recognised Oldman beneath the prosthetics and makeup. However this isn’t just an impersonation, because Oldman also delivers depth to the character. I’m sure the physical transformation helped him find the character, and mimicking the intonation and phrasing helped the voice; but it is the realisation of complex, contradictory and fully rounded person that is gaining him the awards. I don’t think the film around the performance really rises to the same level. The rest of the characters are sorely under-developed, with people either for, or against our hero; heroes and villains. The narrative itself indicates just how precarious events were, and just how easily Churchill could have been wrong; but the emotional presentation manipulates you to villainise the critics anyway. While the period sets and costumes were very impressive, much of the direction was unremarkable, bordering on twee at times, and there were some clunking scenes and lines in the script. Really this is a 10/10 performance in a 7/10 film.

    Dunkirk
    I had a couple of problems. First – I didn’t understand the structure of the film until near the end. I’ve had a couple of people suggest that I’m an idiot, but a similar number of people have agreed that it’s confusing. Once you know that the there are three stories woven together but that each is covering a different period, it makes sense. But without that knowledge, I was distracted by the fact it was dark in one scene and light in the next; everything seemed to be happening too fast in one of the stories and that meant it lost some emotional impact (it’s not an incredibly bad day, it’s an absolutely horrific week). The second problem was that I couldn’t keep track of the young soldiers, I think that was intentional, after all these are just a small representation of the thousands of men there, they are just faces to some of the numbers. But it did mean, in a practical way, I couldn’t keep track of some of the action and connect bits up.
    Everything else about the film however is incredible. Literally breath-taking, I can’t remember the last time I jumped or gasped so much in the cinema. It’s an immersive and intimate experience that shows up in your heart rate. Every actor gave it their all, but also showed restraint – there are very few moments of big emotion, for the most part everyone is just too tired and resigned for that. It’s a superb piece of film making.

    I, Tonya
    The early months of the year are always a mixture of optimism and slog for film watching. The wave of award nominated films make for some real jems, but also some dull pretentiousness. I seem to have had a bit of a role with films that I’m told are Good, Important and Worthy, and that I have found underwhelming and frankly a bit dull. Thank heavens for I, Tonya. Finally I got to watch a film that I found both impressive and thoroughly entertaining. I knew the headlines of the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, but none of the details or the backstory. A mark of the success of the film is that by the time it came to the ‘incident’ I had sort of forgotten about it. The background is absolutely fascinating and that, and the quality of performances would probably have been enough to make this a good film. But it’s the construction of the film with interviews to camera that really make it stand out. I laughed out loud throughout the film from the humour, the ridiculousness of the situations and occasionally the horribleness of the characters. Despite the number of award nominated films I’ve watched in recent months, I can’t think of one I’ve been so happy to have seen.

    Ladybird
    I’m kicking myself because this is the only film that I haven’t managed to see. It doesn’t actually seem to have got a very wide release in the UK, neither my local Cineworld or Odeon are showing it which is a real shame, particularly as it has only been on release a week and it’s been snowing pretty much the whole time limiting my desire to travel. I am looking forward to seeing it, the trailer had a nice balance of humour and drama, and also looked quirky and stylish without being irritating.

    Phantom Thread
    I was uninspired by the trailer, but my favourite film reviewers both vouched for it – Mark Kermode has a tendency to like rather pretentious twaddle, but Simon Mayo is usually more reliable for knowing what ‘normal’ people actually like to watch. So given they both gave it an enthusiastic review for being both meaningful AND enjoyable I gave it a try. They let me down.
    Firstly it committed the cardinal sin of being boring, I continually wanted to look at a watch I wasn’t wearing to see how much longer I’d have to endure, and while it wasn’t quite bad enough that I would have given up on it, I certainly was wishing for it to be over faster than it was. There were brief moments of wit, but they were too small and too dispersed to give any real enjoyment. I didn’t quite get a handle on the characters, I never felt like they had a strong enough core to define them. I didn’t really know whether they liked each other, let alone loved one another. The style of it was vaguely interesting, and some of the ideas too, but neither was well enough developed to really make that the centrepiece of the film. I was utterly underwhelmed.

    The Post
    It’s somewhat astonishing that Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have never worked together before, and when you add on an excellent supporting cast and an interesting, and topical, historical event you’re on to a winning formula. I would suggest that the film doesn’t really do much more than put those ingredients together and let it go, there’s not much in the way of embellishment or decoration to it, but then good ingredients do speak for themselves. Everyone is on solid form and the whole thing trips along nicely, just about keeping me understanding a story and background that I knew almost nothing about. I don’t think there’s anything particularly remarkable about the film, but when it brings so many greats together, it can’t help but be something a little bit special.

    The Shape of Water
    I’d been looking forward to this film. I’ve enjoyed many of Guillermo del Toro’s films and been impressed by the style and blending of fairy tale and horror. For the first half hour or so of the film I tried to immerse myself in the beautiful look of it, the quirky characters and the unusual pacing of the dialogue with chatty characters balanced by the silence of the lead characters, who still managed to say a lot even if they weren’t speaking. But after a while I realised that I was trying to immerse myself in it, and trying to enjoy it, rather than actually being immersed or enjoying it. It felt like it was trying to force feelings that weren’t there. After I realised that, the rest of the film became a little bit of a slog. When the dream sequence started my brother and I looked at each other and just rolled our eyes. I was actually very glad it was over when it eventually trudged to a halt.
    There’s something bugging me about the whole film. At its heart it’s a basic monster movie, I know a lot of people have related it to Beauty and the Beast, but for me it was more King Kong. I don’t know at what point it was decided to try and make it ‘more’ than ‘just’ a monster movie, but I think that was a real mistake. Monster movies, or science fiction, or horror already have all the scope to say more than just “the monster needs to escape”, there is always subtext and metaphor, but they don’t have to make a song and dance about it. Yes, they can form a connection without speaking, we get it, we don’t need long drawn out scenes to make the point. You can still get all that power without sacrificing pacing, action, comedy or character. And you can certainly integrate those things without having to have each scene and character fulfill one aspect. For the amount of talent, money, and runtime that this film has, it actually had less impact than something like Hellboy, or Pan’s Labyrinth. Fundamentally – I was bored. Also the constant sound of trickling water left me quite distracted by my need to go to the bathroom.

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    A film which is hard to really describe, and I find hard to decide whether I liked it or not. I think for me it fell a little too much in between a lot of different posts, but I know that is the very thing that has worked for a lot of people. I laughed, cried, gasped and flinched in all the right places; and each with a depth and enthusiasm that isn’t often found in films; but somehow the combination left me cold. The elements of farce driven by the underlying tragedy is certainly deftly delivered by cast and crew. However there seemed to be a lot of unanswered questions and unexplained character steps that didn’t really sit right with me. At the start characters were hated and excused and I didn’t understand why, and then by the end there seemed to be forgiveness and redemption that likewise didn’t seem explained. I didn’t understand (and still don’t) why a town would be so angry at the mother of a murdered girl, why the town wouldn’t be scared at the idea of a rapist, why they wouldn’t be questioning the sheriff more. I didn’t understand why such a ‘nice’ sheriff would do a bad job liaising with a murder victim’s relatives, or why he would do nothing about a staff member who was clearly completely out of control. I think to me this is a film where all the individual scenes were excellent, but bringing them all together and understanding the underlying context of the characters and the community around them, just made no sense at all.

    What I think should winI’ve found this a rather disappointing year for best picture nominees to be honest. I thought Call Me By Your Name and Phantom Thread were actively bad; Three Billboards and Shape of Water were flawed, and Darkest Hour was clunky. The Post was a solidly entertaining film which i would happily recommend as a good film to watch, but not as remarkable as the names behind it might have inspired and not really Best Picture material. I haven’t seen Ladybird which is massively annoying me as I come to write this. So I’m left with Dunkirk and I, Tonya. What a bizarre choice to have to make. While I really, really enjoyed I, Tonya, and actually found Dunkirk a little confusing on first watch, I think I have to go for Dunkirk in the end. It’s the far greater achievement in terms of filming the un-filmable and deserves the accolade.

    What will win
    I think it’s down to Three Billboards or The Shape of Water really and I’m not sure which way it would go. Would the Academy give it to a ‘monster movie’ or is it actually time that people are looking beyond the simple labels. I think Three Billboards will be recognised in the acting categories, and that might be where the emphasis is. So, I think The Shape of Water will win.

    Films I watched in 2017

    Overall 176 films watched this year, 133 (76%) of them were films that were new to me, which I’m pretty pleased with, including 31 cinema visits. I joined Picturehouse and regularly go to the Central which is generally a really lovely experience (we even refer to it as the Happy Place). 89 of the films from the now sadly departed Lovefilm, that was about £1.12 per film. I’m really missing the service, my film watching plummeted after it ended. It was such an easy way to watch films, no faffing about trying to decide what to watch (something fun, versus something worthy) from the limited selection available between Netflix and Amazon. Without Lovefilm I would never have come to love film so much. Between Netflix and Amazon I watched 23 films. The rest are a combination of normal TV, my own DVD collection or other sources and are often watched in bulk with days where I just decide to watch films, barely moving from my sofa and binging through 6 or 7 films. Bliss.

    2017 films
    I’ve slightly modified how I track dates so it’s now going by UK release dates, not the year that IMDB gives by default, this will stop films falling between the gaps at the beginning of the year. I watched 52 films from 2017 and my film of the year was Hidden Figures. I’ve watched this film 3 times and it has never failed to make me laugh, cheer and sniffle a little. It’s a very rare thing unfortunately – a film with an important dramatic core that’s also hugely entertaining.

    Honourable mentions:

    • Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Courgette) – a Swiss, 65 minute stop motion animation about abandoned/rejected/alone children and it’s absolutely beautiful.
    • Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi – I’m a little surprised to see this on the list, but I can’t deny that it did everything a Star Wars film sets out to do (which comes with its own constraints), and it did it well.
    • Paddington 2 – this is one that maybe says more about me (and possibly the world of 2017), but the easy humour and HUGE heart of this film really spoke to me.
    • Bar Bahar (In Between) – an Israeli film about three women living their lives in Palestine. This film was immensely satisfying to watch and has really stayed with me since I saw it.
    • Dunkirk – literally took my breath away. Even though I didn’t understand the construction it was still a stunning enough film to get 8 out of 10, and I suspect if I watched it again and understood the interweaving timelines, it could go higher.
    • Kedi – a Turkish documentary about stray cats. Beautiful cinematography by and about people who love the city and love cats.
    • Wind River – a very well put together thriller that easily avoids a lot of the annoying cliches that lesser writer/directors would have fallen into and therefore deserves considerable praise

    Worst of 2017
    14 films go only 4 or 5 out of 10 which counts as ‘bad’ in my book. Some ‘standouts’:

    • Bad ‘good’ films – I seem to be in the minority, but I really didn’t like Jackie, La La Land or The Big Sick; respectively too narrow a focus, unsympathetic unrealistic characters, and a film about a relationship where one half is unconscious most of the time.
    • Not funny enough – The Party, and The Lego Ninjago Movie
    • What a colossal waste of talent and idea – Suburbicon (two different stories, one of which was interesting but completely smothered by the other, which in turn is trite compared to the other), and The Greatest Showman (so many good elements and so completely botched in delivery).
    • Just plain rubbish – Power Rangers, Life, Bright

    Foreign Language (16, 9%)
    When I looked at the long list of films a set that really stood out to me were some of the ‘foreign language’ films that I saw. Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary) and Mustang, alongside the above mentioned Bar Bahar (In Between) are all incredibly powerful and enjoyable watches, each about groups of girls/women living in very different locations, cultures and contexts and how they live. Each film had me completely engrossed and sad when they ended that I wouldn’t get to spend more time with the characters. Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) meanwhile was one of the best zombie films I’ve seen in a long time, a masterpiece of the genre. Mind you, there were still some turkeys in there and while many people raved about them I found Toni Erdmann absolutely unwatchable due to the cringe factor and The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge) boring beyond belief.

    Documentaries (12, 7%)
    Film documentaries are as varied in tone, subject and quality as the rest of the film landscape. While Kedi was my favourite of the year, I have to acknowledge that it was literally and figuratively fluffy. Similarly The Beatles: 8 Days a Week gives a wonderful insight for those of us too young to experience Beatlemania was like, but is hardly challenging. Unfortunately the films that were more hard hitting slightly stumbled for being obviously one-sided in their investigations, but 13th and Where to Invade Next are both still worth a watch. Somewhere in the middle areLife, Animated; Weiner and Williams all of which get unprecedented and fascinating access to talk to respectively an severely autistic who engages with the world via Disney films; a disgraced-redeemed-disgraced politician; and the incredible man and family who runs the Formula 1 team. I wouldn’t bother with either Notes on Blindness or My Scientology Movie though, the first was INCREDIBLY boring and the second which was too broad and one-sided.

    Animation (18, 10%)
    Animation is another genre that is a microcosm for film as a whole able to deliver any genre, just through the medium of hand or computer drawn, or stop motion animation. On the pure fun side of things I really enjoyed Sing and Trolls, neither doing anything particularly original, but they were enjoying to watch. For something with a bit more depth I’d recommend Kimi no na wa (Your Name) or Kubo and the Two Strings, the latter in particular had an utterly gorgeous animation style. Weird to have a whole year with no new Disney or Pixar films.

    Comedies (26, 15%)
    Given that I don’t like cringe comedies, or gross-out ones, there’s often not much in the comedy section that I’d recommend, but this year’s viewing felt a little better. From this year the standout was The Death of Stalin which had a very weird tone whereby the comedy was absolutely hilarious, but it was combined with some horrible historical tragedy that was rather bizarre. A trio of films about men also gained 8’s out of 10 – Eddie the Eagle, Swiss Army Man and The Nice Guys. For a bit of gender balance Bad Moms was a lot better than it sounds.

    Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror (30 in total, 17%)
    I couldn’t be bothered to tie myself in knots about whether something is SF or Fantasy, so I’ve lumped a load of stuff into this broad bucket, and still haven’t ended up with much of note. Except for Star Wars, and very well put together horror film Get Out there were no 2017 films scoring above a mediocre 6. In fact overall there were only two 8/10 films – Age of Adaline which surprised me as a surprisingly rich storyline and subtle performance from Blake Lively; and WarGames which holds up really well despite being over 30 years old. Sadly there were far more disappointments – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 just seemed to lack the magic, I think thanks to a trudging plot. Wonder Woman did absolutely nothing for me, boring me like the other DC universe films that fail to balance humour, plot, character and action. SF was responsible for some of the big turkeys I saw this year – Life, Power Rangers, Bright and The Circle; and some older awfulness from Ghosts of Mars, Gods of Egypt, Assassin’s Creed and The Love Witch.

    Action (20, 11%)
    A broad genre of ‘films where stuff happens’, often at volume and with explosions. To be successful in this category I should not want to take my eyes off the screen and ideally be on the edge of my seat; a bonus would be actually caring about the outcomes. That’s more of a challenge than it should be, many of the superhero films for example failed to have me engaged in the battle scenes due to the lack of jeopardy with seemingly invulnerable characters (Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad). Dunkirk is the outstanding offering in this category though, I was completely engrossed in every moment and fully engaged with the characters as well. Free Fire meanwhile took the other extreme basically committing almost every moment to a protracted gunfight to entertaining effect. I gave bothThe Accountant and The Legend of Tarzan 8/10 as well, but now have almost no recollection of them; but that’s not necessarily the nail in the coffin that it would be in other genres.

    Other (53, 30%)
    For stuff that doesn’t fall into the other categories I’ve just grouped them together, everything from hard hitting message movies, to films almost without plot that are just letting you share in the characters’ lives for a while. The standout here was I, Daniel Blake will have you feeling all the emotions with an intensity that will leave you exhausted – I raged, cheered and laughed out loud and sobbed my way through half a box of tissues. Amazing characters – Sully: Miracle on the Hudson gives Tom Hanks full potential to show his mastership of this, and the structure of the film had me gripped; Captain Fantastic took me on a complete rollercoaster of emotions about how a single father raised his children – confusion, support, respect and horror. Hell or High Water is a film that almost defies description but I would highly recommend it. There are a lot of films in this category that could easily be unremarkable but shine because of the performances – 20th Century Women, Lady Macbeth, Manchester by the Sea, Trumbo, Battle of the Sexes and Weekend.

    Rewatches
    These are films that I can watch over and over again and they never disappoint me, they’re all good at what they do, which may not always be about being outstandingly challenging films, but they always leave me happier after I’ve watched them. Musicals (Kinky Boots, Singin’ In the Rain, Moulin Rouge!), Disney films (Zootropolis, Lilo and Stitch, Moana, The Incredibles) and other animations (How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me) tend to fall into this category. And just to prove I don’t dislike all comedies, there are a fair few of those too – Hot Fuzz, Deadpool, The Full Monty, The Birdcage, A Knight’s Tale. And the ever reliable Ocean’s Eleven and Gosford Park

    The full list
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