Archive for the ‘ Films ’ Category

Films in October

I actually had quite a quiet month for films, the only reason this film doesn’t look quiet is that I had a day off sick and watched 7 films back to back. I think that may be a personal best.

New films
First Man
There’s a lot that is admirable about this film. The ‘story’ of the first man to walk on the moon is a fantastic one that certainly supports a film. Armstrong is simultaneously the least likely choice and the perfect choice for the history making position – a remarkable man, but also a very down to earth one (pardon the pun). The film’s writers, directors and star Ryan Gosling all fully explore the contrast – telling the story of his daughter’s death, showing everything in lingering closeup and performing everything in an very internalised way. It’s an incredible story, told well. So why didn’t I like it?
Firstly, I didn’t get on with the style. I see why they chose to film it in a period way (basic framing, lots of closeups, grainy texture, flat lighting) but I found it dull. I also often had to close my eyes when the handheld, fast motion got rather nauseating. I can see that the film isn’t about NASA, or even the moonshot itself, but is in fact about Armstrong, but I was disappointed to not get more of the ‘supporting’ characters, most of whom (even Buzz Aldrin) were reduced to single note cliches. I also understand why it played so slowly at times, but I found it boring. Maybe that was because I did already know a lot of the beats in the story and it just felt dragged out. There were a few moments scattered through that really, completely engrossed me (the footage on the moon was beautiful, and the Apollo 1 section was utterly horrific to watch). But my over-riding response for most of it was impressed but slightly bored.

Extinction (Netflix)
There were three phases to this film and I’m going to avoid spoilers, so pardon the vagueness. The first phase is well covered by the trailers – a ‘normal guy’ in a near future looking city is having recurring dreams of some sort of apocalyptic attack. It’s all very flashy, but it’s hard to make out real details. His family, friends and colleagues are noticing his distraction and want him to get treatment, but he feels that they’re not dreams but visions. Then in the second phase it looks like his visions are coming true, when an invasion starts. We start following the fairly standard steps of him trying to get his family to safety – dodging attackers and explosions. At this point I was pretty bored to be honest. While it was trying to look flashy, it felt cheap and unoriginal. Not enough was really made of the vision bit and I was feeling frustrated that the ‘unique selling point’ was being so dramatically underused.
The thing is, the final third explains what’s going on and pulls everything together. Suddenly there’s interesting depth to world and characters which I wanted to spend more time exploring… but having dedicated an hour to the boring bits, we’re now out of time. I can see that you wouldn’t be able to get to the interesting bit without the first bits, but that doesn’t change that they’re quite dull.

New to me
Crazy, Stupid Love – I wobbled about on this film. That’s not necessarily a surprise as it’s a sort of anothology film, with a few different storylines running through, either losely but obviously connected or seemingly disconnected from each other. Some of the characters are problematic, and some of the others also had some dubious moments. But, I did rather find myself charmed overall. The character development is quite sweet and the way things occasionally clicked together was incredibly satisfying.

True Romance – I just didn’t really get into this film, from the very start I found the characters irritating and frustrating. I didn’t really feel it was stylish enough to be a parody or riff, but it was a very long way from being realistic and a credible caper. There were moments that showed flair and originality, but for the most part I was bored and irritated.

The Stepford Wives (1975) – The film does suffer a bit when you know what the secret is, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people who don’t by now know it after it’s been referenced so many times. But I was actually surprised that there’s still considerable value in watching the film, the tension of suspicion and paranoia and seeing the characters work things out. It’s a heavily period piece now – not just in terms of the fashions, but also the film making style, but that just gives it another level of interest.

Panic Room – You could almost use this film as a masterclass of how to make a solid thriller. The sense of dread builds up from the very beginning, not rushed, but also not waiting so long before the drama really kicks in. The sense of claustrophobia is pitched just right – the eponymous panic room is small, but with the use of security cameras in the larger house the scale of the film isn’t too limited. There were times when I was almost shouting at the screen as characters made stupid choices, or didn’t think of obvious (to me, sitting on my sofa) options, but for the most part I think they fell just on the side of reasonable. My only real complaint is that it got a little ‘Home Alone’ at times.

Finding Your Feet – I felt really cross about this film. I put it on because I was looking for some feel good, easy entertainment. I should have known better because any film with ‘older’ characters seems to endlessly feel that they must have a death in it somewhere. So rather than smiling and tapping my foot, I’m reaching for the tissue box. The film is solidly written, the cast is superb and everything is very well delivered, so if you’re looking for a big dollop of heartbreak along with your feel good, then it’s a good film. But I do think films should come with a warning label that realistic but depressing life events may occur.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Somehow, I’ve managed to got seventeen years without seeing Bridget Jones’s Diary. And after all that time I find that I wasn’t really missing much. I can see that it could really speak to some people, but personally I just found Bridget incredibly irritating and the choices of men that she’s presented with deeply underwhelming.

Rewatches
Scream 1-3 – I’m not a fan of horror films, but I’ve always loved the Scream films, maybe it’s because they’re as much a film for film fans as they are for horror films. Scream is now over 20 years old but is holding up quite well, it was a new take on teen slasher movies at the time and it still feels surprisingly fresh. The self-awareness of the characters still feels appropriate and the pacing is well managed to build and release tension. I think the fact the elements of the plot are so straightforward but delivered at such speed means there’s never time to start questioning how things fit together, or even to notice aspects that are now dated (at no point did I actually even think about them using mobile phones). Sadly the next two films in the trilogy have dated less well. The second one is still delightfully self-derogatory (“by definition sequels always suck”) with the characters realising they are in a horror movie and a sequel at that. It’s not as tight as the first film, but it’s still fun, which is more than can really be said for the third film. With Neve Cambell in a reduced roll it falls to the Arquettes to carry the movie and they just can’t manage it. The cannon fodder is numerous, interchangeable, and not very good; the villain is convoluted and unpredictable and the script predictable and cheesy. I couldn’t face watching Scream 4.

The Hateful Eight
I say over and over again that I’m not a Quentin Tarantino fan. I have a respect for his style, and frequently actually like it, but as a film maker I think his flaws override his strengths and I’m endlessly frustrated that he hasn’t learnt better. Hateful Eight is classic Tarantino. It’s a small (largely familiar) cast, it’s dialogue heavy, violence heavy, set slightly out of its time, with a spectacular soundtrack and some gorgeous visuals. It’s also classic Tarantino in that it’s waaaaay too long and that completely undermines the otherwise extremely good film.
I first saw this film digitally projected in a cinema and it was over 3 hours long with an intermission in it. An actual intermission! For a start, that just made the film even longer, for a second it gave you a chance to realise just how much more of the film there was to go and how much of your day was evaporating, and for a third, it completely broke the flow of the film. I next saw it on Netflix and had to watch it across two days. While every scene had something interesting in it (even if that was just Jennifer Jason Lee pulling faces in the background) as a whole it was baggy and draining.
I wish I spent longer in this review talking about how good it was, how funny it was, how original. How good the performances were. How interesting it was to have much of it set inside just one large room and be able to watch all the cast members in the background. But instead Tarantino shoots himself in the foot and all anyone talks about is how it’s too long. Learn Quentin! Learn!

Gosford Park – A great film that really benefits from multiple viewings. There’s about 30 different characters to try and track and most of the first viewing is spent trying to work out who’s who and how they relate to each other. However they are all well developed and have their own stories to tell. It’s definitely worth giving it a chance as it is a truly superb film with so many great performances and different layers to it. This is one of my top picks for a sofa day and I watch it almost annually and I never fail to be entertained and gripped.

The Woman in Black – The film is built around the scariness of long drawn out silences followed by things jumping out at you. The problem with that is, that if something goes wrong with either the tone of the movie, the casting, or just the interest level of the viewer, the long drawn out silences don’t so much build tension as just make you bored. This film was boring. Maybe it’s the relentless grey, the slight miscasting of Daniel Radcliffe (he’s good, but the character needed to be older), or just the fact that I was too easily distracted by other things… but I found this film not scary, but boring.

Before I Go to Sleep – Although I had read the book and been completely gripped by it, I couldn’t remember the details of the plot, so was equally gripped by the film (even the second time around). The story is very well told (in both book and film) with twists and turns constantly keeping the audience on edge right along with the main character. The real success of the film though is the casting which sees Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong switching back and forth between their rather typecast personas and the polar opposite. The whole thing played with audience expectations very slickly. The plot isn’t without holes and stretches, but it’s so atmospheric that you don’t really think about it while you’re watching.

Death Becomes Her – This film was a staple in my family growing up (I have no idea why!) so despite not having seen it for years, I found I could quote most of the dialogue and was laughing at things before they’d even happened. That does make it rather hard for me to objectively assess whether it’s any good, I have a suspicion it probably isn’t. But I don’t care.

Kubo and the Two Strings – Visually, this film is absolutely stunning. It’s beautiful to look at with an original and strong style to it, but throughout I had to keep reminding myself that it was stop motion, and when in the credits they show a tiny snippet of the scale and detail of the work that went into the film, it’s absolutely breath-taking. Fortunately the film is also entertaining and meaningful, taking fairly standard themes and building and twisting them. The visual style is original and gorgeous and the humour subtle but lovely.

Advertisements

Films in September

New Films
The Miseducation of Cameron Post – While I was watching, I was gripped by this film. Even in some of the more ‘arty’ moments of lingering, moody shots, I was entirely there – mostly I suspect due to the extraordinary talent of Chloe Grace Moretz who can say so much without opening her mouth. Afterwards, as I though about the film however I felt a little more frustrated that threads of story and other characters hadn’t been better developed. Each character effectively had a single moment that gave them depth, but then it wasn’t really extended at all and so they all came across as two dimensional. That’s better than one dimensional, but it’s still frustrating. I wish that thought hadn’t lingered as much as it has, because as I left the cinema itself I thought really highly of the film.

New for me
From Up on Poppy Hill – A Studio Ghibli film that I’d not heard of, so a rare treat to be introduced to a new film. It’s a fairly straightforward story of a young girl with responsibilities beyond her age, getting involved with a new group of kids. There’s no fantasy or magic beyond some improbable behavior and lax schooling standards. I quite liked the contrast of a straight story but with the beautiful, delicate illustrations of Studio Ghibli. It’s not outstanding, it’s not hugely original and it’s pretty predictable; but it’s also gently lovely.

American Psycho – The 80’s-ness of it is rather painful and undermines the film a bit, it’s very hard to not laugh (unfairly) at the giant mobile phones, fashions and music. The central themes are chilling, but it’s hard to entirely buy into any of it. There are moments of shock, and it’s well done that there’s more shock in the anger behind the actions than in the violence of the actions themselves. Bale is superbly unpredictable, and the way the film closes surprised me too, but it didn’t really impact me once the credits finished.

Lean on Pete – I was strangely unaffected by this film. Despite being on subjects that would normally have me emotionally gripped, it felt oddly cold. This is possibly deliberate as the lead character is quite emotionally closed off and spends a chunk of the film in various states of shock. Without the emotional connection, I was a bit bored by the film, at one point I checked to see how near the end I was and was shocked to find myself only half way through the two hour run time. I don’t think it was a bad film, the structure kept things moving (I was glad they went for a straight linear timeline rather than jumping around) and the performances were excellent. But it just didn’t work for me for some reason.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool – This did not work for me at all. I just didn’t get on with any of the characters, the eponymous film star was played for almost a single character trait – lack of acceptance of growing older. The boyfriend meanwhile had no personality of his own at all (and I spent a good amount of time just trying to reconcile him as Jamie Bell from Billy Elliott), and although Julie Walters is of course lovely, she is 100% Julie Walters rather than an embedded character. Without any character development the story is too minimal to support the film and it’s just boring.

The Lady Vanishes – Sometimes I’m surprised by films. This was made in 1938 and frankly about the only thing that has dated is the aspect ratio and film quality. The story, characters, and even direction are as fresh and polished as many modern films. The finale is maybe a bit cheesy and improbable, but the twists and turns to get there were gripping. Alfred Hitchcock truly was a master, who directors even today are struggling to emulate.

Rewatches
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Absolutely brilliant. It’s so vivid- loud with music, alive with characters, bright with colour, and sparkling with dialogue. It’s not pure frothiness, it (and the characters) has a line of hardness running through the middle, not losing touch with the reality of the world around them. The characters are hilarious and heartbreaking, the dialogue exquisitely quotable (in the right company) and by the end I had a giant smile on my face and my heart felt completely full.

Spotlight – This is an incredible story – both the facts that the journalists are trying to uncover, and the process they have to go through to get to the bottom of the cover-up. The film focuses on that without particularly embellishing it with style or creativity. It’s not a glamorous collection of star-turns, it’s instead an incredibly solid ensemble cast and very straightforward writing and direction letting the story (or rather the history) stand on its own. It’s not flashy, artsy or overdone and that’s exactly what the events deserve and what makes the film utterly compelling.

WALL-E – I was lucky enough to see this in the cinema again, 10 years after its first release and it absolutely took my breath away. It is stunningly beautiful in every way – visuals, story and sentiment. Pixar (as usual) have managed to infuse so much character and heart into things with minimal faces and make them seem more human than the human characters. So much of the communication comes from expressions and sound effects and yet you always know exactly what the robots are saying. The visual style is approached as if it were filmed with cameras and lenses – it has lighting, focus and textures that must be constructed for animation and they are breathtaking. It may not be the funniest Pixar, or the slickest plot, or the most exciting, but I think it might actually be the most beautiful one, and it may just be my favourite one too.

The 39 Steps – Not Hitchcock’s best, but an engaging mystery, adventure type film. In many ways it’s an early version of North by Northwest and the later film does many elements much better, including the chemistry and the actual drama. I have to admit I found it quite difficult to get into the film and was very easily distracted.

Films in August

New Films
Christopher Robin
I really wanted to love this film, but it did make it hard. I found the opening half hour or so of the film incredibly bleak. We start with Christopher Robin saying goodbye to all his friends in Hundred Acre Wood as he goes to boarding school then we see a collection of flashbacks including the death of his father and going to war, while the toys slowly fades away as he forgets them. There’s a flash of cheeriness as he marries Hayley Atwell, but then he becomes obsessed with work and providing for his family, losing sight of fun and being present for those he loves. By this point I was pretty miserable to be honest.
The second half picks up as the toys come back into his life, but Christopher Robin still takes a lot of convincing to be a decent human being and is pretty mean to poor old Pooh. There’s eventual redemption, but it’s a very long time coming.
It is a truly stunning film to look at, with hints of arthouse style direction and technically beautiful animation, even if it didn’t always feel quite grounded in the landscape. The same with the voices, even with members of the original Disney voice cast, it felt like a slightly off copy. There is some lovely stuff going on, but it just doesn’t all mesh together. It’s very much a film of two halves, with the first half really not being much fun for kids (or adults really), but then the second half being a bit too much of an easy fix for it to really work as just a grown up film.

Mission Impossible: Fallout – I went to the cinema in search of distraction, to quiet the anxious voices in my head and just escape the world for a bit. I figured a Mission Impossible film would be almost perfect for that. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of the films, but I do think they’re good at what they are. I was slightly disappointed with Fallout compared to previous MI films. The plot seemed even less coherent than usual and it felt like they spent too long trying to explain it which just slowed the film and drew attention to the nonsense of it all. It doesn’t matter if the plot makes no sense (or even if there isn’t much plot at all) but don’t waste so much time on it and leave the audience enough time to spot the holes. I also didn’t feel that it had the humour or character of previous films. Obviously Tom Cruise is the star under the thin disguise of his character Ethan Hunt, but I’d like a bit more interaction with the more than capable supporting actors (both good guys, bad guys, and somewhere-in-the-middle). The action sequences were utterly spectacular, but everything in between was mediocre and bordering on dull, it therefore failed on its basic mission to distract me.

Ant-Man and the Wasp – The Marvel universe always manages to impress me with the sheer variety it brings in its different threads of the franchise (and then astonish me when it weaves the threads together to form an even vaguely coherent joint offering). Ant Man is on the comedy end of the spectrum and it knows it. It is just plain FUN. I was utterly immersed from the first scene to the last, there was always something going on for the eye, the ear, and the heart, although the brain can happily take a bit of a nap for a lot of it. Often I am bored watching fight scenes, but the creativity here had me watching every second and even wishing I could re-wind to catch more detail. I love how everyone involved plays with the ideas and possibilities, fully exploring the potential. But the characters are never forgotten and Marvel’s stunning casting strikes again, with everyone delivering a rich portrayal of everyone as somewhere in the middle of the hero-villain spectrum. It’s a nice change that it’s not the end of the world being threatened; the more intimate stakes make a nice change and fit in the wider pacing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe perfectly. This was exactly the distraction and the entertainment I was looking for.

New to Me
Spider-Man: Homecoming – I didn’t bother going to see this in the cinema because frankly I was bored of going to see Spider-Man films. I eventually picked it up on dvd after being relentlessly told how good it was by people, and they were right. It did manage to be a fresh take on the story and felt more like an actual teenager than I think the previous ones did. It’s interesting how Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has been pre-embedded in the Marvel universe BEFORE getting his own film, and having Tony Stark appear in this film further grounds him in a known universe so his character makes more sense and is both more accepting and more acceptable as a teenager with superpowers. Despite having so much behind it, the film still felt fresh, original and vibrant and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rewatches
The Hobbit films – ITV have been showing all the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, so I decided to marathon my way through the Hobbit films on a wet bank holiday as I haven’t seen them since I was somewhat disappointed by them in the cinema. I remain disappointed. I won’t bother reviewing each one individually, as it’ll be quite repetitive, just like the films. It feels like they missed all the heart and soul that was present in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and just shamelessly tried to make as much money as possible. Primarily, that meant dragging a very limited story out into three over-long films and forcing in cameos and references that just didn’t feel right. I also think they skimped on the special and visual effects, more scenes were obviously green-screened and CGI’ed and it didn’t feel like there was the richness that the original trilogy had. The actors are doing their best and there are some nice moments but it mostly felt cold and mercenary.

Kiki’s Delivery Service – I was lucky enough to see this during the Picturehouse’s Studio Ghibli season and it’s a lovely film to see on the big screen. Some animations work on the big screen because of the amount of detail (Zootopia or Big Hero 6 for example), but this one works because of the simplicity of the animation. The simplicity of the lines, character design and the colours are so elegant on the big screen. It’s a pure kids film, a slow burning fairy tale but there’s enough touches of humour to keep it interesting for adults too. The majority of the film is a very gentle, slow ride which builds to an ending which felt a little rushed, but maybe watching things play out over the titles is the best way to gently break away from the lovely world.

Heathers – This film has had a cinema re-release for its 30th anniversary, which makes me feel a bit old because it was one of the films when I was at school that would do the rounds on vhs for sleepovers and the like. Admittedly it was already a few years old at that point, but it certainly spoke to teenage girls even in the early 90’s. The messages at the heart of the film are still somewhat relevant even if the styles are now horrifically dated. It’s a weird film wandering between fantasy and reality in a way that didn’t feel entirely coherent. It suffers as many of these films do by having actors who are clearly far older than the characters they are meant to portray, and not all are quite up to the depths that the writers may have been aiming for. It’s certainly not a great film, and I’m not really sure it deserves a ‘classic’ label either, but it is interesting to think where it fits into the overall timeline of teen films and how it inspired films after it.

Doctor Strange – A film of missed opportunities. Benedict Cumberbatch was perfectly cast, except for the fact that he’s perfect casting because he’s basically been playing a small variant of the character in Sherlock, so all you’ve really added is magic and a weird accent (it sounded just like Hugh Laurie on House to me, that odd mid-atlantic non-specific american accent that doesn’t quite work). Then the magic stuff. OK, it’s an interesting add on to the Marvel universe, but stop trying to explain it! There was SO much exposition and explaining of things that really didn’t make any sense, I kept getting bored. Then I struggled to really follow the action sequences, maybe it’s something about my eyes, but I found them too complicated, too fast moving and too layered to really focus on and get a hang of what was going on (I think if I’d seen it in 3d it would probably have made me feel ill). The bits that weren’t action OR exposition were quite interesting, but I just kept zoning out of the rest of it. On the plus side – Tilda Swinton was absolutely fantastic and the line about the ‘mantra’ is possibly the funniest thing I’ve heard all year. But I think the rest of it was a bit mediocre, and it shouldn’t have been.

Hercules – Easily the best thing about this film is the songs, as soon as they start playing (actually as soon as I even think about them playing) I get a big smile on my face and want to sing along. The mixture of ancient Greek setting and the gospel music is absolutely genius. The rest of the film is solid enough with some good comedy from the familiar side-kick slots and a satisfyingly spunky female lead, but it’s the music that’s the real joy.

Films in July

New Films
Incredibles 2 – I have always felt that The Incredibles was one of Pixar’s quietest gems (see review further down the page). For some reason it never seemed to get the rabid response that Toy Story or Finding Nemo got, but for me it was always one of my favourites. The story, the characters, the voice work, the understated humour, and most of all the visual style all just really spoke to me and I was thrilled when I heard a sequel was on the way. I’m even more thrilled that it was everything I hoped for and more. The story and the quality pick up seamlessly from the end of the first film and just keep improving. I can’t remember the last film where I laughed out loud so much; scenes, phrases and even just wordless looks became instant classics. At two hours long, it’s apparently the longest Pixar film yet and I didn’t notice time passing at all, I would have cheerfully sat there for another 2 hours. Absolutely wonderful.

New to me
A Ghost Story – I sort of sank into this film. At first I was a bit eye-rolly and bored by it. Everything took so long, each scene lingered and dragged, and although the cinematography was very beautiful, rather than pull me into the story and the characters, it pushed me away from an emotional engagement. But the film went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and that drew me back in a bit. I wouldn’t say I entirely fell in love with it, or thought it was a revelation, but I didn’t hate it anywhere near as much as I thought I would.

Dark Skies – I seem to have watched a few of these theme of film recently, family terrorised by supernatural and/or aliens and/or their own paranoia. They’re all much-of-a-muchness with most of the success resting on whether the kids are annoying and whether the parents make dumb choices. Dark Skies is a middling success. The kids are just slightly the wrong side of the line, but the parents are sufficiently sensible to average it out. There are some genuinely creepy setups, a couple of acceptable jump scares and a fairly well managed conclusion. But I suspect in a few days time I will have completely forgotten it.

Frida – I knew nothing about the artist Frida Kahlo’s life and to be honest I don’t much like her art. But this is well put together character study of a very interesting woman. I was a little frustrated that so much of the story of her life was told as the story of her relationship with Diego Rivera, I’m not entirely convinced it actually passes the Bechdel test. But I was completely engaged with the film throughout, the little animated sections providing an interesting contrast, and was inspired to read a little bit more about her life.

Get Shorty – I probably wasn’t in the right mood to watch this. From very early on I lost track of the plot and couldn’t be bothered to pick it up again. I really do think this is more me than the film, because I liked the idea of the story a lot, and the characters all seemed to work, I just didn’t engage with it at all.

Misery – A quite minimalist and very well constructed creepy horror film. The gradually building tension and unpleasantness is well paced although slightly undermined now by the fact that it’s been parodied so many times. I particularly liked the well timed interjections of lightness from the local sheriff which broke the tension. Kathy Bates is superb.

Rewatches
The Social Network – When I read a few years ago that my favourite writer, Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, Sports Night, The American President) was going to move on from the flop of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (I liked it a lot more than most, but could still see it had big problems) with a film about Facebook, I really thought it was a joke. A couple of years later and I’m watching the unlikely scene of a fast paced coding and hacking session unmistakably written by Aaron Sorkin. I was engrossed from start to finish. The different ‘truths’ are intertwined flawlessly, jumping points of view and back and forth in time effortlessly. It’s not a simple film to watch, you will need to pay attention to keep track, but if you do, you will understand. The only problem the film has is that it’s a bit difficult to feel sorry for most of the characters, while they’re not necessarily assholes, they all have reasons for behaving as they do, they’re not particularly pleasant to be around. And by the end of the film all these extremely young, arrogant, fairly obnoxious characters are all richer than you will ever be.

The Incredibles – Remembering that this film came years before the Marvel cinematic universe really re-energised the superhero genre makes it even more impressive. It fits into the modern take on superheroes so well, simultaneously respecting and parodying the tropes and cliches. Rewatching it for the nth time, there are still lots of little moments, references and background bits that surprise and delight. The animation is a little dated and over simplified compared to current films, but given it was made in 2004, that’s not surprising. While the movements and the textures may be basic though, the style is still gorgeous and the voice acting is everything you’d expect from Pixar.

Wind River – I was extremely satisfied by this film. For a start, it’s beautiful to look at, with a dramatic setting that looks great on the big screen. Another thing I found very satisfying was the treatment of the principle characters. None of them were stupid or small minded, they all had respect for each other and behaved professionally and competently. Too often that’s not the case, petty rivalries or incompetencies are used to drive the plot along or create tension. The personal weaknesses and issues of the characters were well deployed into the story without feeling like they were being overly manipulative. The crime itself maybe lacked originality or sufficiently credible motivations, and I think the reveal could have been made a lot more elegantly, rather than degenerating into flashback and way too big gun battle. All-in-all however it was a really satisfying watch.

Star Trek: Beyond – When I was going to the cinema to see this the first time, I re-watched the previous two Star Trek films before going to see this one at the cinema, and my expectations were therefore mixed. I anticipated a continuation of the big blockbuster pop-corn flicks that we’d been getting. Big effects, respectful nostalgia, excellent casting, not quite enough one liners, and dumb as rocks plot. Happily though, they seem to have managed to keep the good and actually fix the problems with the writing! This film actually makes some sense, or at least it made enough sense while I was actually watching it, which is more that the last two did. It’s still fun, it’s still spectacular (although the effects are all a bit digital and over-processed for my tastes), the characters all still have soul and it really felt like a Star Trek film.

Notting Hill – Sometimes you have to decide whether you’re going to enjoy a Richard Curtis film before you really start watching it. Most of them have a central problem that they’re about rich people having problems that we could only really dream of having. if you go with the posh charm than all is well and they’re funny, sweet and like a warm blanket. But if you can’t let it go they can be massively frustrating. The Julia Robert’s character at the heart of Notting Hill makes it extremely hard to just let the irritation go by complaining about her massively successful but demanding job, while making no movement to actually take control of her own life. Of course seemingly successful people can be miserable, but it never seems to occur to her that she is choosing to remain in the miserable situations and instead just grumbles and snaps at people around her. Everything beyond that character manages to be lovely, but the black hole at the centre really dragged this film down for me.

The Boat That Rocked – This is possibly the least Richard Curtis of Richard Curtis’ films. I enjoyed this film a lot, it’s hard not to get swept along by the feel good soundtrack but the collection of characters were also just fun to spend time with. I found myself wishing that it was a sitcom instead of a film as it was almost more fun to just see the little day-to-day activities than it was to pay attention to the plot. It avoids Curtis’ usual problems of “posh people problems” and felt like there was something important at the heart of it. It’s very silly in places, which I’d usually find irritating, but for whatever reason, it worked for me here.

The Death of Stalin – An odd film. Armando Iannucci is a superb comedy writer and this is certainly a laugh out loud funny. The hilarity of a well timed swear word, of a well timed silence, of physical comedy, farce and wordplay – it’s a masterclass. There are loads of characters with complicated backstories and relationships that can be a little hard to track, but thanks to some brilliant ‘character actors’ they all leap off the screen. The problem is that, while the farcical elements of the grabs for power are inherently funny, the overall situation is not. The film doesn’t entirely shy away from the fact that thousands of people are being routinely rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and killed; but by interspersing it with comedy it does be-little it and leave a very bad taste in the mouth. It’s not like you can watch the film and ignore it, because it’s integral to the story; so I’m not quite sure what reaction we’re supposed to have. Overall I think I just wish that Iannucci and the cast made a different film.

Big Hero 6 – Like Wreck it Ralph, this is a film that doesn’t look like a Disney film, but actually when you think about the story and the characters, it’s Disney through-and-through. It’s a lovely story looking at loss and what it means to be a hero, it’s quite heart breaking at times, but balances it with some good-old-school superheroes and robots. The animation is absolutely beautiful, the level of detail on the city is contrasted with the minimalist style used for the characters. You completely forget that Baymax is nothing more than a couple of eyes, he’s so elegantly expressive. Another really great movie from Disney.

My Best Friend’s Wedding – What a horrible film. On the surface it appears frothy and fun, big characters played well, a snappy script and some great actors and Rupert Everett absolutely stealing the film. But when you actually pay attention to the plot and the characters – they’re almost all horrific. The central story is pretty nasty – a woman realises she’s in love with her best friend just as he’s about to marry someone else, so she decides to split them up. The tactics she uses are awful, and her acknowledgement that she’s being horrible don’t excuse that. Even worse though was actually the relationship between the best friend and his fiance, which felt even more uncomfortable. She is a student, considerably younger than him and seems pretty sweet and lovely. But she’s going to drop out of school and ‘suspend’ her dreams to be with him while he travels for work and when she tries to present an alternative, he shouts at her in a crowded restaurant until she cries and promises to never mention it again. I’m sorry, but that’s not something I want to see presented as absolutely ok. The fiance should have run for the hills and left the two horrible people to each other.

Good Will Hunting – I’d forgotten how good this film was, even more outstanding considering how early in Damon and Affleck’s career it was. I wish they would write again to see whether this was the only story they could tell. The acting of all parties was inspired with Robin Williams doing an outstanding job playing it (mostly) straight and Stellan Skarsgard also doing a good supporting role.

Romancing the Stone – Twee 80’s action/romance. Indiana Jones with slightly more smarm, slightly less charm, a bit less humour and a lot less polish. Passes the time.

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.

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.

Advertisements