Sunday 11 August 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home and other recent movies

So far this year my movie-going experiences have oscillated ( and that's a word I don't use enough! ) between MCU blockbusters and assorted classic re-releases. I'm just going to do a quick rundown in roughly reverse order, starting with super-hero shenanigans...

Spider-Man: Far From Home ( 2019 )
James and I saw this at our local Cineworld last weekend, and probably just in time too as the film is down to one showing a day now. We'd missed seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming at the cinema so really wanted to catch this sequel on the big screen, especially because there were scenes set in Venice, as the poster above demonstrates. After the huge, world-saving, time-travelling Endgame where everything was about the BIG STAKES, this movie was lighter and smaller scale but a lot of fun. Again going for the John Hughes teen-comedy vibe this took Peter Parker and his friends on a wild school trip around Europe, taking in beautiful Venice ( sigh! ), Prague, Berlin, somewhere unspecified in the Netherlands ( we knew that 'cos there were tulips and windmills on display ) and ending up in London. Some fine action sequences, Jake Gyllenhaal having a ball as anti-hero / villain Mysterio and some great performances from the young cast. I'm still uncomfortable with Peter being Tony Stark's bitch and not really his own man but this movie went some way to move the character onwards in the wake of *SPOILER* Stark's death in Endgame.
So, I'd rate this a solid Three and a Half out of Five Web-Shooters

The Matrix ( 1999 )
Sarah, James and I went to see this 20th anniversary re-release in Southampton while we were on holiday down in Hampshire. This was at the Showcase Deluxe cinema which boasts a 70 ft (!) screen which was perfect for a film like The Matrix in which you need to be totally immersed. For a film that is two decades old ( I still can't believe that! Surely it came out in about 2010? ) and has been almost constantly imitated ever since, The Matrix stands up really well. Apart from a few wobbly effects and some obviously outdated cultural references it's still a visually spectacular thrill-ride, with its cod-philosophy more integral to the plot than the endless navel-gazing in the sequels, and lots of fun to be had in the interactions between the lead actors. Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne are still impeccably cool, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano are hilariously slimy and Keanu is... well, he's Keanu. Playing a hacker-turned-action hero who seems to be simultaneously the smartest guy in the room and the dumbest dope on the block, the role of Thomas Anderson / Neo is absolutely perfect for the former Ted ( Theodore ) Logan. And, bizarrely, Keanu is of course an action hero again all these years later in the John Wick series. "Whoa!" indeed.

Avengers: Endgame ( 2019 ) ( SPOLERS! For anyone who hasn't etc. etc.)
What more can be said about The Most Successful Movie Ever Made TM? ( Until the next one, anyway. ) There's not much I can add except to say it was hugely entertaining, with the Russo brothers somehow managing to corral the immense cast, spectacular action scenes and emotional payoffs to this long-running MCU saga into a convincing, and mostly coherent, whole. After the intense setup of Infinity War this last chapter in the Thanos saga was surprisingly light and comedic, although the early scenes of post-"Snap" trauma were suitably anguished. Most of the characters received appropriate screen-time and were given fitting ends / next chapters in their stories. Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo easily walked away with the acting honours... or hobbled away, in Cap's case... but it was also suitably sad, if inevitable, to see Robert Downey Jnr's Iron Man meeting his heroic downfall. ( Also, as Doctor Who fans, James and I both laughed when the concept of a "time heist" was unveiled but, of course, nobody else in the cinema did. )

Captain Marvel ( 2019 )
More super-hero action of the cosmic variety next with the latest iteration of Captain Marvel. It's certainly past time the MCU focused on a female hero and its previous applicants ( Black Widow, Scarlet Witch ) have never been strong enough characters to carry their own movie. Carol Danvers, on the other hand, former test pilot - turned - Kree warrior, is far more interesting and worthy to be Marvel's answer to DC's successful Wonder Woman. The film showed huge confidence by instantly plunging the viewers into the middle of the intergalactic Kree / Skrull conflict with very little hand-holding by the way of exposition. Brie Larson was the definition of "steely" as the good Captain, trying to discover the secrets of her past and to escape from the toxic shadow of Jude Law's Kree mentor Yonn-Rogg. Her scenes with Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury were a delight, their spiky, acerbic chemistry being the best parts of the film. Larson brought a subtlety to her character which many nay-sayers confused for blankness but I thought was refreshing after the often over the top stylings of many other super-hero actors. The action scenes were well handled and surprisingly not too gratuitous, while the 90s soundtrack was a blast. Hopefully, apart from her short appearance in Endgame, we won't have to wait too long for this gutsy, empowered hero to return.

A Clockwork Orange ( 1971 )
Another classic movie re-released, this time Kubrick's controversial adaptation of Anthony Burgess' equally controversial dystopian novel. James and I saw this at Stroud's Vue cinema with only about a dozen other people. Maybe another Fast And Furious movie was out or something.Anyway, it was a lovely print of the film, lending extra clarity to Kubrick's eye-popping visuals and, as often when you see a familiar movie on the big screen for the first time, all the little details of the set design just sang out, enhancing the experience. I hadn't seen A Clockwork Orange for some time and I found "the old ultra-violence" to be as shocking as ever ( especially the sexual abuse scenes ) but I was surprised to recall just how much of a pitch-black comedy the film really is. From Malcolm McDowell's alternately charming and sneering performance, to all the typically Kubrickian grotesques that make up the supporting cast ( "P and M", Mr. Deltoid ) to the juxtaposition of horror and farce, this was a film that had you laughing at some "real horrorshow" situations, then feeling suitably uncomfortable that you'd found it so funny. Viddy well, O my brothers, viddy well...

A Matter Of Life And Death ( 1946 )
And finally, another re-release, in complete contrast to the last one  -  Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's romantic fantasy masterpiece A Matter Of Life And Death  -  or Stairway To Heaven if you're American. This has long been one of my and Sarah's favourite films and we jumped at the chance to see it on the big screen at the Cheltenham Playhouse, part of a season of "fantastic films". We dragged James along too and I think we converted him.
I should probably do a whole post on my love for this movie, and for P&P's other classic films, but I'll just state for now that it's one of the most beautiful, heart-felt, witty and wise films ever to be made in this country. The direction by Michael Powell and the cinematography by Jack Cardiff are absolutely perfect and the wonderful script by the Hungarian Emeric Pressburger is a total joy, masterfully capturing aspects of the British character as only an outsider could see them. The story of a WWII airman who jumps from his burning plane without a parachute but survives and then has to justify his life to a maybe-imaginary Heavenly court is a triumph  -   a sweet love story, wrapped up in a fantasy, underpinned by philosophical ideas and touching on darker themes of war and mental illness. There really isn't anything else like it. And the lead actors  -  a never-better David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Marius Goring and Raymond Massey  - are all sublime. I have to admit, I've never watched the last scene of this movie without getting a bit misty-eyed... and I hope I never do.


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