Friday, 17 February 2017
Mega 2016 Catch-Up ( Very Brief Movie Reviews )
( These aren't all the films I saw from last year as I already reviewed The Revenant and The Danish Girl back before my old PC went to silicon heaven. )
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
A different view of the Star Wars universe - no opening crawl, no Skywalkers, no Jedi - which worked surprisingly well as a (wo)men on a mission movie. After the full-on return to the ST mythology in Episode VII, this film got down and dirty with the boots-on-the-ground grunts of the Rebellion who do the unsung fighting and dying. Some great action scenes, beautiful space and planetary vistas and some charismatic ( if slightly undeveloped ) characters. About as gritty as a Wars movie will ever get, it was interesting to see these expendable rebels allowed to live and die within one small corner of the saga. Maybe we will see some of them again in pre-prequel stand-alones?
Captain America: Civil War
Over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ( turn left at Aldi, past the petrol station ) we found Captain America and Iron Man at each other's throats in a loose adaptation of the much-hyped comics series. They dragged half of the MCU characters into the story to take sides, with the Hulk and Thor not being invited to the party unless it was all decided in about two minutes.Team Iron Man were all about control and regulation of admittedly dangerous super-types, while Team Cap were all about freedom, baby... and protecting former Soviet drone / assassin Bucky Barnes from the rightly pissed-off authorities. The moral ambiguities of the story worked a treat, with Cap virtually becoming the villain in his own movie by refusing to toe the government line. The returning director team, the Russo brothers, did a sterling job in keeping all the plotlines and action concise as well as spectacular, and in giving all the characters in the sprawling cast something useful to do. Probably the most exciting thing about this movie was the introduction of Spider-Man ( at last! ) and the Black Panther ( yay! ) to the MCU... groovy times ahead...
In complete contrast, Suicide Squad was an object lesson in how NOT to handle a large cast of super characters... and, in fact, how NOT to make a decent movie. This was my first visit to the grim, gritty and edgy DC Universe since the grim, gritty and edgy Man Of Steel depressed the hell out of me and put me off seeing the grim, gritty and edgy Batman VS Superman. The film started off badly with seemingly endless, stodgy info-dumps to introduce the "characters" and then continued in a sludgy smear of poorly-lit action scenes, appalling dialogue and general laziness. None of the characters were remotely interesting, with some ( hello Slipknot! ) appearing and disappearing with so little fanfare they might not have bothered turning up. The much-vaunted Method performance by Jared Leto as some kind of Gangster Rapper Joker was just painful and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn was sparky and cute but didn't have one single memorable line. And the less said about the generic, undeveloped Big Bad the better. Will Smith almost saved the day with his preternatural charisma shining through the predictable character-work of the assassin with a heart of gold... but it wasn't enough. Anyway, here's a totally gratuitous pic of Harley to brighten up this grim, gritty and edgy review:
I'm going to cheat somewhat here because this is a movie that came out in 2016 ( in the UK anyway ) but which I didn't see at the cinema. In a time of identikit teen-horror movies, first time director Robert Eggers has created a skin-crawling study in unease. Set in 17th century New England. Of course. A Puritan family are ostracised by their community for their extreme views and set up home on the edge of a dark wood, only to find Bad Things Are Happening.
I thought this was a fantastic movie - slow-burning, intelligent ( with dialogue from contemporary transcripts ), atmospheric and genuinely creepy. Excellent performances from Ralph Ineson ( Finchy from The Office ), Kate Dickie ( last seen being dropped out of the Moon Door in Game of Thrones ) and breakout star Anya Taylor-Joy, who was just stunningly good. Oh, and some hot goat action from the terrifying "Black Philip". Some felt the ending went Too Far but I thought it was a fitting, dreamlike finale to a great little film.
Star Trek Beyond
The third in the rebooted Star Trek series saw Captain Kirk and co. go, er, beyond. ( Beyond what I'm not quite sure. ) After the general disappointment with Into Darkness ( which I have to say I really enjoyed ), this installment of the Five Year Mission seemed far closer in spirit to an episode of the classic series. The Enterprise crew were stranded and separated on a strange alien world and had to contend with an enemy who had a grudge against Starfleet. Again.
There were some very impressive set-pieces, including the destruction of the Enterprise ( although this has been done before... ), a cool new character in female alien warrior Jaylah ( Sofia Boutella ), fun scenes between the bickering Spock and McCoy, and an extremely satisfying appearance of Sabotage by the Beastie Boys on the soundtrack. ( Also a poignant tribute to the late Anton Yelchin at the end of the film. ) But apart from all that the story was mostly just average, while the villain
( played by the overrated Idris Elba ) was underwhelming and not a patch on Benedict Cumberbatch's icy John Harrison / Khan. Let's hope for a proper appearance in the next movie from the Klingons and a meatier story...
And speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch...
James and I managed to drag Sarah along to this movie... mostly due to the charms of the estimable Mr. Cucumberpatch. Doctor Strange has long been one of my favourite characters ( super or otherwise ) and I was fervently hoping that Marvel wouldn't drop the ( crystal ) ball with this one. Luckily everything turned out very near to perfect, praise be to the Vishanti...
Benedict Cumberbatch was spot-on, both physically and personality-wise, as the Sorcerer Supreme - convincingly portraying the changing aspects of his journey: the arrogant surgeon, the skeptic and the magical novice who all combine to become the seasoned defender of our earthly realm. I liked the fact that, even after attaining cosmic consciousness, Stephen Strange still retained hints of his original sardonic attitude. Solid support also came from Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Eijofor and Benedict Wong although Mads Mikkelsen as the main antagonist was under-developed ( a bit of a recurring theme in superhero movies! ) - ho hum.
The mind-bending, Inception-referencing special effects were suitably psychedelic and made a good fist ( whatever that means ) of duplicating the out-of-this-world comic book stylings of Steve Ditko, Frank Brunner et al. We saw this at the Cheltenham Imax which was absolutely perfect for this movie. Can't wait for the Blu-Ray!
The Wicker Man ( 1973 )
We saw this on a re-release at our fave venue, the Gloucester Guildhall, on the night of the Solstice which was very appropriate. This wonderful movie still stands up as one of THE great British horror movies and as the perfect example of the mini-genre known as Folk Horror. It was a lovely, sharp print, showing all the film's details in all their rustic glory, and was accompanied by a fascinating and very odd BFI short film about British folk customs. As always, I got to the end of the movie and hoped Sergeant Howie would escape his "appointment with the Wicker Man" but sadly he didn't. Maybe next time. ( It always amazes me that this movie originally came out on a double-bill with the equally fantastic Don't Look Now - another film with a shockingly down beat ending. Can you imagine seeing those two in a row? Not exactly ideal date material... )
Fantastic Beasts And Where To find Them
Sarah and I went to see this new installment in the Potterverse at Christmas and I have to say she enjoyed it more than I did. It was good fun in a light weight kind of way, with the expected great special effects and a lovely evocation of a magic-tinged Jazz-era New York, but I found the story and the main character very weak. I'm still not convinced by Eddie Redmayne in anything he does and I thought his Newt Scamander was far too passive, whereas the supporting characters were more interesting. Hopefully the projected sequels will delve deeper into this world and also into the lead character. The real star of the movie was the Niffler, the strange mole-like creature who had a liking for shiny things - I bought Sarah one of these for Christmas and it was definitely her favourite present... leading to such unlikely phrases as "I need to dust my Niffler..."
UPDATE ( 17/02/17 19:10 pm )
I'm absolutely gob-smacked that I've had over 700 page views for this post in the 8 1/2 hours since it first appeared. This is a first for me! Of course, my first thought was "something's gone wrong here" - maybe this is a sign that this 'ere blog is finally getting back on track...
( Of course, having Rogue One at the top of the post probably helps when it comes to Google searches )
By the way, here's a quick mention for my son James who has finally started blogging ( I've been pestering him for ages to have a go ) - he's got a film review blog he calls ( far too modestly )
I Criticise Because I'm Not Creative. Check it out here for some damn fine writing ( I know I'm biased but I really like his style ) and some interesting opinions - 3 1/2 out of 5 for Aliens?? Can't say I agree with that one ;-)