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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Marvel’s Runaways: Season 1

I don’t know how to write this review. I watched this series last week, I’d let them build up on my Sky box until they were all there then worked my way through the 10 episodes in a few days. I know I enjoyed watching it enough to watch 2 or 3 back to back, but a week later and I can’t really explain why, because all the things I can think to talk about are more on the complaint end of the spectrum.

Even just describing it makes it sound pretty poor. A group of privileged teenagers see their parents go into a secret basement room, don red robes and seemingly murder a girl. Some of the kids then seem to reveal super powers, there’s a scientology-esque church, a magic staff, advanced technology and a dinosaur. Yup, a dinosaur. I really can’t explain it any way that doesn’t make it sound ridiculous. Oh, and of course because it’s teenagers there’s also a complex array of relationship statuses between the teenagers which they seem more than happy to pursue while also dealing with the discovery that their parents are murderers. It’s a mess.

But, it does sort of work. You have to go with it and let it wash over you a bit, but if you engage at just the right level, it’s entertaining. It’s not going to be for everyone because if you want too much from it (ie coherence) then you’re going to be very frustrated. The young actors are pretty good, feeling like teenagers and responding appropriately to the craziness. The adults aren’t quite so well balanced, some playing it for laughs a bit more, others trying to take it seriously and failing.

A brief read of wikipedia and it seems that it’s reasonably close substantively to the comic strip and maybe this kind of chaos just feels a bit more acceptable in comic form. The series feels a bit like they’ve thrown everything together desperately hoping someone interesting will come from it. I’m not entirely sure that it succeeds, but there’s enough there to keep me watching for the 10 episodes of the first season. The season sets up for a somewhat different second season that has me intrigued enough that I’ll be back.

Four Second Seasons and a Miniseries

There’ve been a few things over the last few months (or half a year – oops) that I have ailed to get round to reviewing. So in order to tidy them off the to-do list I’ve just quickly grouped them together and gathered some rather fuzzy recollections.

Dirk Gently: Season 2
If you liked the first season you’ll like the second, but if you didn’t like the first season you’ll probably like the second season even less. The storyline was even more wacky than the first, but I think it still made sense within itself if you really think about it, although to be honest I just let the whole thing wash over me. The overall effect is to leave you kind of numb and stunned, but in a good way. I think.

Preacher: Season 2
The first season had a momentum of insanity to it that really carried it through. The second season had almost the opposite. All I recall of it now is a lot of time spent in a rundown house with characters growling at each other. Oh, and an entirely separate thread involving Eugene and Hitler in hell, which seemingly had no interaction with the main storyline at all. I plodded through it because the actors are good, but I was completely disinterested in the story.

Jessica Jones: Season 2
I loved the first season of Jessica Jones. It had so many levels to it that I still think about the characters and the ethics of it now. So it’s particularly disappointing that about three months after watching season 2 I have absolutely zero idea what happened in it. After a bit of wikipedia-ing, some of it is now ringing bells, but none of them prompt any particular fondness or enthusiasm; it’s just fairly generic superhero story stuff, nothing particularly original or innovative.

Stranger Things: Season 2
I wasn’t nearly as blown away by the first season as most people seemed to be, and the same is true of the second season. It did at least go somewhere with the plot and commit to some of the ideas rather than endlessly hedging its bets, but I also found myself zoning out of the plot. For some reason I don’t really connect with the characters either, although the young actors are doing good jobs, I just don’t really like any of them enough to be really emotionally invested. It’s a solid series, but to me, it’s nothing particularly special.

Godless
It’s getting on for 6 months since I watched this miniseries on Netflix, but unlike some of the things listed above, it’s really stuck with me. I like TV based westerns a lot more than I like films, because I think they really benefit from getting more time with the characters and the feel of the town itself and that is particularly well done in Godless. The setting, characters and story all feel original, but also familiar enough to be comfortable; and the cast is absolutely superb. My only disappointment was that it was so short.

The Rain

The Rain is effectively a Danish, post-apocalyptic young adult novel, there was really no way I wasn’t going to watch it. It ticked all of the boxes for the type of things I gravitate towards, but then have no idea why I’m really watching it. I guess Britain and America can make any amount of shows that are fairly mediocre and yet still get audiences, why shouldn’t Denmark.

Don’t go in expecting a plot that really makes any sense. The setup is that the rain makes people get sick, one drop and you’re a foaming gibbering dead person walking. Simone and Rasmus are just children when they find themselves all alone in a bunker as the world outside disappears. 6 years later they emerge, join a passing group of other young adults and set off on a slightly incoherent quest.

The eight episodes play out pretty much as you’d expect, hitting as many tropes as they can along the way. Most of the characters get little flashbacks to show you who they were before the disaster, and there are some glimpses of interesting ideas there, but none of them go anywhere. How any of them survived any length of time is a bit of a mystery as their decision making is dubious at best and they are very easily distracted by a whole network of love triangles and secret crushes. The acting is all solid and Alba August as Simone is particularly interesting to watch doing a really good job portraying someone who is still a child, but also has to be the adult for everyone. Netflix offers an option of a dubbed version, but you lose too much of the characters and I lasted less than 5 minutes before it drove me to distraction and I reverted to subtitles.

The setting is at least something different from the usual America, and some of the scenery and even rundown city settings are really stunning, definitely making a change from the usual filming locations of warehouses in Vancouver. At eight episodes long, it’s a short sharp burst that doesn’t really set the world alight, but it is passingly entertaining. N

Books in May

Edgar Cantero – Meddling Kids
A group of kids (and a dog) solve local mysteries while on their summer holidays, they set off in search of supernatural and invariably find a guy in a costume. But 15 years later where are the kids, and what if one of the mysteries still haunts them? It’s a great idea for a story, with lots of fun opportunities to play with the ideas of Scooby Doo, Enid Blyton. Nancy Drew and who knows how many other things that almost everyone grew up with, whatever their age now. It’s a really great idea and Cantero develops it very well. The only problem I had was that I really didn’t get on with his writing style. The writing just didn’t seem to flow, I kept getting bounced out of sections because I’d lost track of who was speaking, or where they were, and for some reason he chooses to drift into script format occasionally, like he got bored with writing it out in full. Slightly disappointing, but overall I think it’s still worth reading for the ideas.

Joanna Cannon – The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
I found this book irritating. Having a 10 year old as one of the primary narrators is just plain annoying. I’ve not had much to do with kids of that age, but I don’t think I’d like to spend a lot of time inside their heads, and this one seems particularly obnoxious and bad company. There are a lot of characters and I found them incredibly hard to keep track of, even with the stereotypes they all fall into, keeping the names straight was hard. It also has the problem that it’s hard to maintain a mystery when you’re doing first person point of view of people who know some of the answers. They had to keep referring to everything cryptically, even when they were only thinking things to themselves. It just made it incredibly artificial. Mind you, the mystery itself was rather poor, and frankly even when it was explained there were so many questions left unanswered that it was very unsatisfying.

Spencer Johnson – Who Moved my Cheese?
This is a very short book (circa 100 pages of large print) which I had recommended to me via a couple of change management courses and experts. It’s an odd structure, in the middle is a children’s style story of creatures dealing with change (the eponymous moving cheese), wrapped around that is another story of a group of friends that are telling the story and reacting to it, and then around THAT is a bit of blather telling us how amazingly transformative the story can be. After all that setup it’s hard not to be underwhelmed and I was. I actually read the core story a second time a couple of weeks later just to try and get the key point of the book without all the Americanised sales waffle. There is a lot of good change management stuff in the story, illustrating different attitudes and actions. But the delivery is so bad that’s it’s a real effort to get to the points. I would have much preferred a proper, grown up book about change management with the key story surrounded by actual psychology and sociology instead of salesmanship. The ideas are excellent, the delivery is terrible.

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.

13 Reasons Why: Season 2

Could I ask that before you read this review, you go and have a look at my review of season 1? I normally try to make reviews of individual seasons stand alone, but there’s a lot of things from the first season review that I’d like to build on.

OK?

Some of the more problematic elements of the first season are not only still present in season two, but are even more problematic. I use the word ‘problematic’ quite pointedly, because this isn’t a show that can be taken lightly and evaluated just as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s talking about incredibly serious and delicate issues – harassment, assault, sexual violence, and suicide and it has to take responsibility for that. It can’t just be discussed as a ‘teen show’, that can sweep bad writing and story choices under the rug and shrug nonchalantly that it’s ‘only’ a silly high school drama. Glee just about got away with its wild lurches between cheesy insanity and punchy drama. A show who’s very title is referencing reasons why a teenage girl killed herself cannot get away with it.

The characters in the second season are asking who is responsible for Hannah’s suicide, and if anyone could have stopped it. Hannah’s mother is taking the school to court because they did not act to stop the bullying. The responses to that action are the fundamental flaw of the series which made me furious. After a student commits suicide and a second attempts it (and a host of other serious incidents such as a fatal car crash) how did anyone think it was appropriate to have all of these children testifying in open court with minimal support? I’m sorry, but how is it possibly acceptable for adults to be putting children on the stand when they know they will be talking about physical, emotional and sexual abuse, in front of their accusers? Then sending them back to the very place and people who are accused of failing to respond appropriately.

The issues of the first season come back again. None of the characters act or look like they’re high school students (16-18?). They’re all covered in tattoos, they drink and swear like proverbial sailors and seem to have complete freedom with hardly a glance or a word from their parents. Every now and then an adult makes a sudden declaration of responsibility, but it’s so little, so late that it’s just insulting. There is an interesting discussion to be had around who is responsible for a teenage suicide, but that’s not what happens. Everyone is covering up and playing stupid and unnecessary games, and the worst offenders are the adults who utterly utterly fail to even try to learn any lessons, instead compounding them further. Maybe this is a true reflection of the insanity that goes on in schools (in America), but if it is, then reality is unbelievable and this needs to be a documentary series not a drama. I spent the whole season in a complete sense of disbelief, angry at characters and writers alike.

Quite beyond all the above problems, the second season is considerably weaker because it lacks the structure of the first season. Each episode focusses on one person’s testimony, with their voice acting as a narrator. It’s good to hear their points of view (unreliable narrators that they of course are), but it feels fake. The narration does not actually sound like it’s their testimony, it jumps around in time and is just not believable. At first it looks like the polaroid’s will form a set of things, but that structure is even weaker and quickly falls aside. We find out there was a huge amount of additional relationships and stuff going on during the timeframes in season 1 that we’d never seen any indication of, and I really don’t think that it would hang together if you actually check people’s actions. Oh, and there’s a ghost, that’s never a good sign.

I’m being very critical of the series, but I can’t deny that I watched the whole thing the weekend it came out. The actors may not be teenagers and the material may not make any sense, but they deliver it incredibly powerfully. If the setting had been a small university, making the characters just that little bit older and more reasonably independent from their parents and teachers, that would have made it all a bit more believable. Instead there is a lot of talent going into something that’s fundamentally flawed, and more importantly the incredibly important stories of what teens are going through is undermined and left untold.

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