The Handmaid’s Tale – Review

I’m going to boldly predict that I’ll not see a better show than The Handmaid’s Tale for the rest of the year.

The tale of Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss), a wife and mother trapped within the confines of a religious fundamentalist society, is consistently tense and horrifying. It’s also expertly told.

Set in a dystopian future America which doesn’t seem as distant a prospect as it once might have, a disease has left most women barren and children at a premium. Those women unaffected by the disease – and therefore, still able to give birth – are enslaved by the new society’s rulers as concubines and breeders.

Moss’ Offred, whose husband is apparently killed and young daughter captured, is given to Fred and Serena Joy Woodford to provide them a child. What follows is systematic rape, physical abuse and mental torture.

p13630185_b_v8_ab.jpgBased on the book by Margaret Atwood, it is almost unrelenting in its bleakness. Whether it’s the Handmaid’s being forced to murder people who’ve fallen foul of the system, or the flashbacks to their indoctrination under the brutal hand of Aunt Lydia, or even the backdrop of hanged men as the Handmaid’s walk back from the shops, there is an image which makes your heart sink at least once an episode.

The new, dark, world of Gilead is seen through the eyes of Offred and, as such, is anchored in the suburban setting; brief trips to city brothels offer only a glimpse of how the rest of the country looks. In setting Offred’s story within the boundaries of the manicured lawns and grand family homes, it follows American Beauty, Desperate Housewives and a multitude of other films and series’ which look behind the perfect exterior of the American Dream to its distorted, dark, reality. The future setting, however, allows The Handmaid’s Tale more scope to explore the disparity.

The Woodford’s – intelligent, attractive and unscrupulous – appear to be the New World’s power couple, but the longer Offred stays, the more she understands the tenuous threads keeping them in control and the greater her own sense of power. Joseph Fiennes’ Commander is a creep with a predilection for Handmaid’s and an inability to provide children, while Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) flips between frustration at her newly ineffective role in life and a cold, malicious streak.

For all the darkness and misery on show, the show would be arguably unbearable if not for Elisabeth Moss. Flashbacks to pre-social collapse provide a welcome breather and show Moss’ June to be headstrong, passionate and brave.

Despite the brevity of time we see her with her husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and best friend, Moira (Samira Wiley), the scenes are written sharply – and acted well enough – to give the audience a real sense June’s relationship to both. As the outside world begins to fall apart, June, Luke and their daughter, Hannah’s, attempted escape from Gilead manages to be tense and heart-breaking.

Moss’ Offred, meanwhile, takes time to extract herself from the downtrodden, abused role she’s been forced to play, but it’s the return of her steel and self-assuredness in flickering sparks which keeps the mood from becoming pitch black.

In a world where Handmaid’s are loathe to speak, Moss conveys so much through facial expressions or a certain look in her eyes. It’s Moss’ show and she delivers a number of standout moments, from her pleading with the Mexican leader, to her resolve in the face of unimaginable horrors.

Unfortunately, the horrors within The Handmaid’s Tale are not an entirely fanciful; each awful experience a Handmaid endures harks back to a moment in history, either distant or recent.  Just look towards Boko Haram or, even, the views of the current President of America (at time of writing) for evidence of how men, unchecked, can act towards women. It adds another level of piquancy and horror to the events on screen.

Ultimately, mercifully, the series ends on a relative high note. The Handmaid’s find strength in unity to defy Aunt Lydia and Offred is taken from the Woodford family home and under the wing of Nick’s Eye colleagues. This is, apparently, where the books ends and there’s an argument for leaving the television series there too. Usually, I prefer shows not to drag out a storyline for a second season (see Stranger Things) but The Handmaid’s Tale has introduced a number of threads that I’d prefer to see resolved and questions I’d like to see answered. Most importantly, I just want another ten episodes of the best show on television.

Review: Alien Covenant (with spoilers)

In space, no one can hear you sigh disappointedly.

The sequel to Prometheus – and the prequel to Ridley Scott’s own Alien – is a ham-fisted affair, lacking a good script, well-defined characters or effective scares.

I went in with some enthusiasm based on Scott’s interviews and a degree of goodwill; I, like plenty of others, desperately want another good Alien film.

alien-covenantSadly, this ain’t it. I highly doubt we will ever see one again.

There are plenty of things wrong with Covenant – which I’ll get to – but it’s worthwhile first mentioning the positives.

The score, for instance, nicely marries Jerry Goldsmith’s score from Alien with Marc Streitenfeld’s from Prometheus, linking old and new in a way which the script struggles to do.

Katherine Waterson does good work as the Ripley-alike, Daniels. She sells the thin time she’s given to grieve over her husband, and comes across as likeable, clear-headed and tough.

 

Michael Fassbender, meanwhile, is excellent as both David, and as his fellow synthetic, Walter. He convinces both as the crazed, mad-scientist with a God complex, and as the more sympathetic, caring, upgrade. It is David’s story – the story of creation – which Scott really wants to tell, and David’s obsession with both Gods and monsters is thematically interesting.

Sadly, Scott has tied himself to the Alien franchise and, within that context, it doesn’t really work. A film discussing androids, creation and the role of God is prime sci-fi material, but it should have its own story; a place where it can breath and where plot elements can more comfortably fit around it.

Instead, it’s required to sit uncomfortably within the mythos of Alien. By doing so, as Mark Kermode excellently explains, it also does no favours to Scott’s own 1979 film.

Covenant, too, has failed to learn from the errors with Prometheus. The earlier film was, rightly, criticised from the number of stupid decisions characters make purely to move the plot forward. The same happens here.

Why don’t the colonists wear space suits when exploring the new planet they’ve never heard of, or know anything about? Why does Oram (Billy Crudup) follow David into the basement with the Alien eggs, even though he knows he’s a wrong ‘un? Why do people always go off alone?!

It’s lazy writing which feels cheap and unnessary.

The film treats time with a frustrating disregard too. From facehunger to chestbuster, Oram must have been infected for no more than 30 minutes. Yet, Lope’s parasite is incubated much longer for plot reasons – not only can he get off the planet, but he’s treated back on Covenant.

Meanwhile, character development is hinted at rather than explored. We hear early on – in painfully clunky dialogue – that Oram is deeply religious, but it’s literally never used to any effect. His faith is never called into question and it’s never used in any effective, relevant way.

Similarly, the relationships between the ship’s crew are disappointingly under-explored. Unlike any previous Alien film, the characters are all couples. It’s a new avenue for the script to explore, yet when husbands and wives begin to die it barely registers. We get a few people briefly sad about their spouses death and…that’s it.

I mentioned earlier about there being a separate, better, film within Covenant focussing solely on David’s story – well, there’s another one buried within Covenant about the relationship between couples and dealing with emotional trauma in extreme circumstances. In this film though, we get an underwritten jumble of nothing.

The ‘nothing’ extends to the Xenomorph itself.

It’s treated in Covenant in a way reminscent of Venom in Spider-man 3. On the latter film, director Sam Raimi made it abundantly  clear that he did not much care for Venom and was effectively forced into including the fan’s favourite by the studio. As such, Venom is under-served in a film with two other villains. He’s in the final picture, but it’s clear he’s not much-loved. Similarly, with Covenant, Scott seems to have felt obliged to include the Xenomorph after its absence was criticised in Prometheus.

It’s to the detriment of the film. In some ways Scott was correct to be cautious of using his creation; Covenant proves that the Xenemorph has lost it’s ability to shock or scare. But, even so, the last 30 minutes seem completely flat – the scenes aboard the ship are completely perfunctory, the violence is messily filmed and the climatic battle is over-familiar and un-involving.

Rating: 2/5

Stray notes:

  • As someone who watched the Youtube prologue of the Covenant crew pre-hypersleep, James Franco’s death seemed strangely de-combobulating. I initially thought his death must be a dream.
  • The Xenomorph CGI seemed…bad. There was no point at which it seemed anything other than a collection of pixels.
  • I quite enjoyed the spine-burster. That was satisfyingly gruesome.
  • The scene with the Neomorphs amonst the wheat was fairly effective. Reminded me of the similar scene with the raptors in Jurassic Park 2.

 

 

Review: Mindhorn

mindhornMindhorn is out on my birthday (there is still time to send me your presents) and it seems appropriate.

From Alan Partridge to Nigel St. Hubbins to Clark Griswold, some of my favourite films and shows have been about idiotic men with an inflated opinions of themselves. Welcome to this group, Mindhorn.  Or, to give him his ‘real’ name, Richard Thorncroft (played by The Mighty Boosh‘s Julian Barratt).

Thorncroft, you see, played the hero in the eponymous 80’s detective series set on the Isle of Man. Mindhorn was cool, louche and wore an eyepatch which could literally “see the truth”.

As with all moderately good things however, Mindhorn got the axe, sending Thorncroft into a career tailspin. Twenty-five years later, he is bald, fat and slipping further and further into obscurity when criminal mastermind/lunatic, The Kestrel (Russell Tovey), requests that Mindhorn return to the Isle of Man.  Sensing an opportunity for a career resurgence – and perhaps a television reboot – Thorncroft dons the eyepatch of his fictional alter ego once more.

I saw Mindhorn at the Glasgow Film Festival so had zero expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s not a film that does anything particularly new – it’s part Alan Partridge, part Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and part Tropic Thunder – but it hits its comedy beats consistently and with confidence.

The all-too-brief clips from the television show are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and Barrett and writer Simon Farnaby (who also appears as ridiculous Dutch stereotype, Clive) make the most of the actor-as-detective moments. A scene in the police station as Thorncroft goes ‘full Mindhorn’ is excellent.

Mindhorn Trailer

As with all these films, there’s a need for a redemptive arc and the middle section, in which Thorncroft unravels, is the least satisfying part.  It’s too predicatble and, with Thorncroft shorn of his aloofless, struggles for gags.

Thankfully – and unlike many comedies – many of the biggest laughs land in the final third as Thorncroft finds himself trapped inside an over-sized Mindhorn costume, chasing the film’s Big Bad. It comes close to being too ridiculous, but it falls on the right side of silly.

Mindhorn is not a perfect comedy, but it’s charming, funny and makes the most of it’s unusual location.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review: The Walking Dead (Season 7)

The sci-fi television show, Falling Skies, was rubbish. The series, about a group of survivors in the aftermath of an alien invasion, was filled with sub-BBC CGI, leaden dialogue and average-at-best acting. I didn’t make it past the second episode before I realised I had (many) better things to do with my time.

At the time I also read a forum which had a whole thread dedicated to Falling Skies.   Those who posted – almost universally – hated it. They panned every episode, every plot twist, every stupid character decision. But something – maybe the initial time they invested, or maybe the forlorn hope it would improve – kept them coming back. Mostly, they pined for the day when the network would finally cancel it and they’d be put out of their misery, free again to watch something good.  It was my first experience of hate-watching.

Which brings me onto Season 7 of The Walking Dead.

The only reason I didn’t throw in the towel this year was for one of the aforementioned reasons those poor souls stuck with Falling Skies – I’ve spent so long with the show I want to see how it ends. But, by God, have they made it hard to keep going.

The final episodethe walking dead of a patchy season 6 offered something interesting, if not new; a nemesis for Rick Grimes. We’d had The Governor already, but the long-foreshadowed Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) had a swagger and a sense of unpredictability that made him seem more interesting.

Unfortunately, his debut appearance also marked his zenith.

Rather than the posturing towards Rick’s defeated group at the end of Season 6 being a front of sorts – a confident display of who’s boss – it transpires that it’s Negan’s entire personality. He is all posture; all swagger; all peacock. We are supposed to view Negan as the biggest, dangerous threat in the show’s history. Instead, Morgan’s performance is too cartoonish and too irritating to find terrifying. Sure, he does scary things like bashing in faces with a baseball bat, but he does it in-between quoting nursery rhymes and walking in that weird, hip-jiggling way he does.

It’s partly Morgan’s fault – he seems to acknowledge this by playing down some of the tics in the second half of the season – but the writing is poor too. There’s no depth to him; no sense of weakness or of who he is. He’s a 2D impression of a bad guy.

I’ve mentioned the writing and, even ignoring Negan, it is the worst it’s ever been. The Glenn fake-out in Season 6 was perhaps the most egregious mistake in the show’s history, and while nothing as bad’s been repeated in Season 7, it’s settled into a painful torpor.

This year, we’ve been introduced to a number of new colonies – Sanctuary, Oceanside, The Hilltop, The Kingdom, that Rubbish Tip – which all needed fleshing out. Leaving aside the bizarre geography of The Walking Dead – how can these places all be so close but never been aware of each other? – the writers spent much of the season focusing on individual outposts and individual characters for full episodes at a time. Sometimes it worked, like the first episode to be set in The Kingdom, but mostly it was a real slog. Thin characters would be drawn marginally thicker and often very little happened to propel the overall story forward.

Let’s look at Rosita as an example of the writing malaise the show’s found itself in: She was never a particularly well-drawn character, but the writers substantially beefed-up her screen time this season 7. And what did we get for that? A character now in a perma-sulk, who cannot shoot a guy from five yards and who makes a ludicrous kamikaze decision later on.  If you’re going to sacrifice plot propulsion at the expense of character development, at least make it a) interesting and b) semi-realistic.

Glacial – often stupid – plotting has been a major issue throughout The Walking Dead, but it’s never been as evident. The show’s strongest suit is its action and it’s criminal that it took 16 – 16! – episodes to get to the battle with Negan.

The show also seems to have a problem with it’s main character. I’ve always liked Andrew Lincoln and he’s done his best with Rick Grimes, but the show has floated so far from it’s moorings that Rick has become a problem. At one point, he was the brave, moral core of the show; he could be relied on to make the right decision. By this point though, Rick as a character is almost irredeemably tarnished. He’s made too many stupid mistakes and he’s made too many uneasy, dictatorial decisions to be the hero any more.

It would be fine if we were moving into Walter White territory but The Walking Dead has steadfastly refused to acknowledge this. In the show’s eyes he’s flawed, but inherently good. In reality, he’s an anti-hero closer now Negan than to Darryl or Glenn (RIP x 2). It’s so frustrating that, as a viewer, we can see it – and even some of the C-grade characters can see it! – but the show can’t, or doesn’t want to.

A sense that resolution is close would be a balm on the varied sores, but we’re not even given that relief. I read somewhere that the moment Eugene admits he’s not capable of developing a cure is the exact moment the show collapses. Since then, there’s been no forward movement; no sense of an ending. Things happen, but in a vaccum. If The Walking Dead was real life, there would be no neat, happy ending, but this is a television show – shows are supposed to end, one way or another.

We’re at a stage where Rick’s crew either find a way to a happy ending or die. As it is, we’re stuck in a post-apocalyptic Groundhog Day where Rick’s group find solace, face danger, beat the danger, find solace etc etc ad nauseam. For all Negan’s supposed danger, the audience know he’ll be beaten and replaced by Season 9. That’s not interesting.

Audience numbers would suggest that fans are losing interest and losing confidence, so maybe the showrunners will eventually cut their losses.

As it is, The Walking Dead is probably at its lowest ebb in it’s history.  It’s prediliction for cheap thrills, it’s incoherent, labourious plotting and writing and it’s reliance on unpopular characters has meant Season 8 will start with a minimum of goodwill.

Stray Observations:

  • Those Rubbish Tip  people were a weird addition, eh?  Why did they all speak in broken English? Their deception in the final episode was fairly fun, but they seem like they’re in the wrong show.
  • I did like King Ezekiel.  Initally it seemed completely stupid, but the backstory was a nice touch. And the CGI tiger isn’t too bad.
  • The writers seem to think their B-list characters are more beloved than they are. Abraham and Sasha’s relationship lasted about 15 minutes of screen-time, so making it a big deal in the final episode seemed odd.
  • Lennie James and Melissa McBride are still the best actors in the show.  Both did well with occasionally ropey material.
  • The guy who plays Eugene continues to be a terrible actor.

Review: Free Fire

I’ve long-championed Ben Wheatley.  Kill List was easily the scariest film I saw that year and his darkly funny Sightseers was the main (only) reason I wanted to visit the Keswick pencil museum.

While Highfree-fire Rise didn’t quite live up to expectations last year – it was an ambitious but messy affair – it showed a director willing to broaden his horizons.

Free Fire marks Wheatley’s rise into the (almost) mainstream.  He’s moved away from his English roots and filled his cast with A-list Hollywood talent –  Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, to name but three. It’s a shame then that it turns out to be his weakest film yet.

Set entirely in a 1970’s American warehouse, the ‘plot’sees an arms deal take place between disparate groups of criminals.  Predictably, things quickly go south and a shoot-out ensues.

Wheatley’s garnered a talented ensemble cast for the showdown, but  baring an entertaining turn from Sharlto Copley, they are almost criminally underused.

His previous films have been known for creating complex, dark, characters who still manage to tug at your sympathies.  Here, they never seem more than stock character traits –   there’s the violent Irish one, the druggie one, the cool American one and the female one.

Brie Larson’s character is especially egregious.  The Oscar-winner’s role is drawn so thinly it’s easy to forget she’s actually there at all.  ‘I’m in it for myself’ she says at one point.  And that’s all we get.  There aren’t even late third act wrinkles to flesh her out.

Sharlto’s Copley’s gobby, faux-peacock is the only character who rises above the morass and his performance is enjoyable, if broad.

As for the action itself, it feels like a long 90 minutes.  The opening 15 minutes successfully create some tension and even when fighting does initially break out, it’s relatively fun as the participants try to gain an early advantage.  Unfortunately, nothing much happens after that.  For the next hour it’s bang-bang-shouting-bang-witty retort-bang-bang. Repeat until fade.

Wheatley seems to have too much confidence that the dialogue alone will see him through large sections of static action, but he’s no Tarantino.  While the bantering is sporadically funny, the brush strokes are too broad; he’s at his best with dry wit and the type of subtlety.

The film lags painfully into the final stretch.  There’s an attempt to inject some movement into proceedings, but it doesn’t really change the dynamic. Indeed, the cinematography becomes muddy and it’s often unclear who’s doing what to who.

A more effective third act might have rescued the film – something, perhaps, which took it out of it’s warehouse environs – but instead it drags itself slowly, on it’s belly, to an unsatisfyingly bland end.

Rating: 2/5

Review: La La Land

I should make clear before I talk about La La Land that I don’t like musicals.  Specifically, I don’t like the songs. There’s something about that particular brand of song that I can’t get on board with; a combination of the lyrics, the intonation and showy theatrical nature.

Anyway, I bring that up purely to give you some background ahead of reviewing the film.

Despite my show tune aversion, I was genuinely looking forward to La La Land.  The reviews were great; I loved Damien Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash; and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are consistently good (and good together in Crazy, Stupid Love).  This was going to be the exception to the show tune rule.

And then the first 15 minutes happened.

I didn’t enjoy the opening song on the freeway, nor the Emma Stone song with her flatmates, nor the song with Stone and Gosling after a party.  I spent the minutes in-between dreading that someone would suddenly break into song.

My worst fears proved ultimately unfounded.  In a sense, it’s strange that La La Land so casually leaves behind the traditional musical.  Justin Hurwitz’s theme for Mia and Seb floats delicately in and out of the film, but there’s arguably only four show tunes in the whole film, and three of them are very early on.

After that, its structure becomes looser.

Chazelle throws in a fantastical dance number here, a passionate defence of jazz there.  It’s a hodge-podge of ideas and strikes of a writer/director keen to throw in as many of his interests into two hours as possible.  It probably shouldn’t work and – and maybe if you wanted a straight-up musical or another Whiplash, it might leave you somewhat disappointed – but Chazelle’s passion and the sheer brio of the production sees it through.

It’s also helped by a witty script and, in Gosling and Stone, two perfect leads.  It’s one of those scripts that suits both to a tee – Gosling is dashing and snooty, but as showcased in The Nice Guys, is entirely at home with rat-a-tat dialogue and physical comedy too.  Stone, meanwhile, is on home turf with a character who cracks wise to shield her sensitive side.  She is, of course, winningly good.

The film wouldn’t work without some spark between the pair, and it’s in evidence here as it was in Crazy, Stupid Love.  There’s aren’t many modern day on-screen couples with as much vitality and chemistry as these two.

Although, like Whiplash, there’s a bittersweet nature to the final third, it’s a film infused with sheer joy.  If you like your films cheery and musical – and even if you don’t like musicals – make sure you go before it leaves cinemas

Rating: 4/5 (5/5 if you like show tunes)

What to avoid in 2017 (possibly)

Look, going to the cinema is great.  You should go to the cinema and put money back into the film industry.  Saying that, there are films coming out this year that do not look good and may be a waste of your money.  To help you navigate these/steer clear, I’ve put together a list of some of the potential stinkers.  They might ultimately be great, but just advise some caution before booking your tickets.

Alien: Covenant

I’m nearly done with the Alien franchise to be quite honest.  The last good film was Alien 3 (come at me, bro) and although I enjoyed Prometheus at the time, it unraveled really badly on a second viewing.  So, I shouldn’t be getting excited about Alien: Covenant.  The trailer wasn’t even particularly good – it seemed like it was just hitting nostalgia buttons – but I live in hope that one day we’ll get another decent film involving xenomorphs.

xxx-3-return-of-xander-cage-character-poster-1

XXX: Return of Xander Cage

Remember Xander Cage?  Come on, you know? The bald guy that drove some vehicles and did stunts back in 2002?  No, not Dominic Toretto, the other one!

Yes, that’s right, 2017 marks the return of the Vin Diesel character no one remembers or cares about.  This’ll be a met by a collective shrug of the shoulders when it’s released later this month.

The Emoji Movie

Remember when The Lego Movie was announced and we all scoffed?  As it turned out, it was funny, smart and had Will Arnett as Lego Batman.  So maybe we should give The Emoji Movie the benefit of the doubt?   Hmm.  There’s no Lord or Miller behind the script this time and the voice cast includes James Corden (he’s the High Five emoji), so forgive me if I don’t get too excited.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales

The fifth in an increasingly terrible series, Pirates sees the return of Johnny Depp’s Keith Richards impression and everyone else who’s ever been in one of these films.  It also includes Javier Bardem as some sort of pirate who has a beef with Johnny Depp and his treatment of women, or something.  It will be 5 hours long.

The Mummy

The first Mummy, with Brendan Rodgers Fraser, was an enjoyable 90’s romp.  The rest were garbage and the series’ defining image was the terrible CGI effect which transposed The Rock’s head onto the body of a scorpion.  ‘Thankfully’, Universal have resurrected the series as the first in a Monsters Cinematic Universe (urgh).  It stars Tom Cruise, which means this will be low on laughs and high on impressive stunts, but time will tell if it’ll make the story interesting enough to justify a series.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Have you seen this trailer?  It is bonkers and not in a good way.  King Arthur, World War 2, the Nazis, Mark Whalberg and flying robot dragons all feature and it does not make a lick of sense.  In a series that struggles for coherence at the best of times, this feels like chucking a lot of shit at a wall and hoping it looks like a painting.  What you can be sure of from Michael Bay’s latest is borderline offensive ethnic characters, tin-eared comedy and leering shots of women in skimpy clothing.

Justice League

justice-league-first-image

I never ended up doing my worst films of 2016, but Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice was right up there.  Po-faced, utterly boring, overlong, lacking in emotional investment and with a guff final act, it was everything superhero movies shouldn’t be.  The Justice League trailer gave some sense that it’ll at least be slightly funnier, but let’s be honest, it’ll be all the same things I mentioned about BvS: DoJ because Zak Snyder is not a good director.

 Fifty Shades Darker

I watched the first one and it was genuinely unpleasant.  Honestly, how can anyone think that Christian Grey character is appealing?  He’s an emotional (and physical) bully and his relationship with Ana Steele was about as sexy two dead cats being pushed through a letterbox (sorry about that image).  The less said about the direlogue (not a misspelling) the better.  Fifty Shades Darker will be more of the same, but obviously ‘darker’ and more rubbish.

The Great Wall

Matt Damon stars as a white person saving lots of Asian people on the Great Wall of China in medieval times. It’s not quite The Last Samurai 2 though, as this film also involves lots of CGI monsters.  Great.

Kong: Skull Island

Another film shoehorned into a bloody Cinematic Universe (no one cares, studios), Kong: Skull Island sees the artist formerly known as HiddleSwift, Brie Larsen and John Goodman (good cast) rock up on the eponymous island in the 1970’s, only to discover it’s home to King Kong and some other monsters.  The CGI of Kong or the monsters doesn’t, to be honest, look that impressive in the trailers and, although the post-Vietnam setting is interesting, it’s doubtful whether they’ll be able to do much new with a Kong film.

Friday the 13th

With an expected release date of Tuesday 9th October*, Friday the 13th and Jason Voorhees shamble into view. According to Wiki, this appears to have been on the slate for 6 years, so comes with all the low expectations that dog ‘development hell’ films.

 

*made that up for a cheap joke.

Andy

2017 Highlights

First off, Happy New Year (unless you’re reading this in February, in which case, ‘hello’).

Secondly, if you took time to read any of my posts in 2016, thanks!  I’ll hopefully do a bit more with the blog this year, but 2016 was all about getting started and trying things.  If you’ve anything you’d like to see (features, format, pictures!), or if something doesn’t work, let me know.

Thirdly, it’s now 2017, so that means I can highlight some of the films or events I’m excited about over the next 12 months.  These are in no particular order – and it’s not exhaustive by any means – but feel free to get annoyed anyway.

La La Land

I really can’t be doing with most musicals.  Some of the Disney animation ones are good, but the theatre-style singing makes me grind my teeth. Despite this, the reviews for La La Land have been almost universally excellent, it’s from the guy who did Whiplash and it stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, so I have fairly high hopes it’ll be the exception to the rule.

Logan

The final Hugh Jackman Wolverine film looks like it might be one of the best in the X-continuity.  It picks up with an older, greyer, Wolverine in an world where no new mutants are being born and throws a young girl into his midst.  Jackman’s always been great as Wolverine, even in the ropier films in the series (the last two solo films, for example), so hopefully he gets to bow out in style.

Free Fire

Ben Wheatley’s High Rise didn’t quite live up to my (very) high expectations, but it was partly to do with the oddness of the source novel.  With Free Fire, Wheatley’s dealing with original material again as a meeting between rival gangs descends into chaos.  This has a cracking cast, including Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy, and it could be both really good fun and totally bonkers.

 Foreign language films I don’t yet know about

Last year, it was the likes of Train to Busan and Mustang that came out of almost nowhere and left an impression.  For obvious reasons, the buzz about foreign films is fairly quiet, but Robbie Collin in The Telegraph and Mark Kermode in The Observer are the best people to point you in the right direction.

Dunkirk

Up until Interstellar, Christopher Nolan couldn’t do wrong in my eyes.  And while Interstellar was interesting and looked amazing, it didn’t quite work on an emotional level on the way it was meant to.  Dunkirk, I’m guessing, will be on a much surer footing.  Its huge, impressive, cast suggests it might be more of an ensemble than an individual story and I’d wager it’ll be a pretty full-on, immersive experience.

Fast & Furious 8

That’s right!  F&F8 (or The Fate and the Furious if you’re both unlucky and American) is out this year and I am jazzed.  While the first four F&F films are, at best, average, the movies since Fast Five have been tremendously good fun.  In reality, Five remains the best of the entire series, but F&F 8 promises Jason Statham teaming up with The Rock, Charlize Theron and people talking about ‘family’ at least 3 times every conversation.

The Glasgow Film Festival

The Film Festival‘s been getting bigger every year and this year promises to be another belter.  The Opening and Closing films have been announced:  Handsome Devil for the Opening Gala and Mad to be Normal, starring David Tennant to close.  Also announced so far is their series of free morning films, this year on ‘Dangerous Dames’.

The various Marvel/DC films

To be honest, I’m not really that excited about most of these.  If Justice League isn’t a dog’s dinner I’ll be surprised, Thor 3 has a lot of work to do to convince me after the 2nd one and there’s yet another Spider-Man reboot.  But, on the plus side, Guardians Vol. 2 will probably be fun and it would be nice if Wonder Woman gets the film her appearance in Batman Vs. Superman deserved.

 Blade Runner 2049

Ridley Scott! Harrison Ford! Ryan Gosling! Moody visuals!

Not much else to go on yet, but hopefully the Blade Runner sequel lives up to its predecessor.

Moonlight

A potential Oscar front runner about a young black man growing up in Miami during the War on Drugs and dealing with his sexuality, it’s currently sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.

It

Will It, the story of a group of teenagers – and, later, adults – who confront an ancient extraterrestrial being who transforms into your worst nightmare, be good?  It possibly depends on whether or not it has Stephen King’s seal of approval.  If the original author likes the adaption, chances are it’ll be terrible.  If he hates it, we’ve got a horror classic on our hands.

 

Andy

Films of 2016

Oh look, another Films of 2016 feature!

Zero points to me for originality, but there are a couple of reasons for doing it  – 1) It’s fun for me to do (and hopefully fun to read) and 2) I’d be genuinely interested to hear your favourites from 2016 (so please, post below, Twitter or Facebook!).

Disclaimer: I have missed loads of films this year, so there’s no Nocturnal Animals or Paterson, for instance.  Sorry.

Also, i’ll do a Turkeys of 2016 afterwards.  This post is only the good stuff:

10.  Son of Saul

One of my favourite things about working at the GFT was seeing films I otherwise probably wouldn’t have.  Son of Saul – a black-and-white Hungarian picture set in Auschwitz – was one of them.  The style – shot in narrow focus behind the main character – meant some of the horrors could only be heard which, in some ways, made it more terrifying.  Grim, but massively impressive.

9. Deadpool

I’m beginning to get a bit bored of superheros.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe films are all well done, but they feel very similar (peppy dialogue, terrible baddies, occasionally dull action sequences).  The DC versions, meanwhile, are outright dross and even X-Men couldn’t tempt me back this time.  So, thank f**k for Deadpool.  It wasn’t a brave new re-invention of the genre – it was still an origin story, after all – but it’s self awareness, entertaining main character and 18-rated action made it the most enjoyable superhero film of the year.

8. Anomalisa

Anomalisa is an interesting idea, really well executed.  It’s also one of the most visually unique films of the year, using puppets to tell the story of Michael Stone, whose life has become so bland that everyone sounds the same.  Ironically for a film using puppets, it’s beautifully judged in terms of human actions and dialogue. It also had the best, most natural, sex scene I’ve ever seen*.

*Once you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean.

7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I reviewed it elsewhere on this blog, but to sum up, this buddy story between a kid and his curmudgeonly foster parent is both very funny and utterly charming.  It loses it’s way a bit towards the end – it doesn’t quite know how to finish – but the first 3/4 are perfectly lovely.

6. Spotlight

An un-showy Oscar winner, telling an important story with an excellent ensemble cast.  Feels like an ‘old Hollywood’ film.

5. The Revenant

It looked stunning, the soundtrack was hauntingly good and it had a stellar performance from Leo Di Caprio at it’s centre.  The Indian attack at the beginning of the film was also one of the best scenes of the year.

4. 10 Cloverfield Lane

I loved 10 Cloverfield Lane.  John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were great and it was incredibly effective at both ratcheting up the tension and making you question what was really happening outside.  The ending was the only thing that let it down; not the final twist – I liked that in a The Outer Limits way – but the fact it showed you a bit too much.

3. Sing Street

I had to watched this twice in quick succession at the GFT and didn’t mind one bit. A film about growing up and chasing your dreams, it had an often funny, warm-hearted script, an excellent young cast and the best soundtrack of the year.

2. Hell or High Water

Both the best Western in ages and a sharp indictment of the American financial system, Hell or High Water saw two brothers rob banks to save the family ranch from being re-claimed by those very same banks.   With great performances from both Ben Foster and Chris Pine, as well as Jeff Bridges as the Sheriff hot on their heels, it pulled off the tricky feat of making you care about all the characters in almost equal measure.

1. Arrival

Sometimes films just come along at the right time.  I saw this a few days after Trump was voted in, so to watch a story which placed value in knowledge, compassion and co-operation was just what I needed. That’s not to say it doesn’t deserve to be Best Film anyway – it’s beautifully crafted, with an intelligent script that pack real emotional heft; it has a brooding, atmospheric score; the visuals are impressive and Amy Adams is terrific in the lead role.  Brilliant.

*

It was pretty hard picking 6-10, and there were a bunch of films that were almost as good this year.  So shout out to The Big Short, Love & Friendship, Train to Busan, The Witch, The Lobster, Green Room, Everybody Wants Some!!, Weiner, Room and The Nice Guys.

Comments/your films of the year welcome!

Review: Arrival

Before I talk about the film, I’ve linked below to a couple of other online pieces about it:

http://thetalkhouse.com/how-i-wrote-arrival/

http://www.vulture.com/2016/11/arrivals-twist-is-more-than-a-surprise-ending.html

One, from thetalkhouse.com, is screenwriter Eric Heisserer describing the process he went through in adapting Ted Chiang’s book and the other is a Vulture article on the twist within the story (with spoilers).

I’m linking these because both describe aspects of the film better than I could and are worth a read.

As for my thoughts, my two pence below:

Arrival revolves around the appearance of 12 alien spaceships which suddenly appear in various locations across the globe.  Amy Adams’ linguist is brought on board by the U.S. Army to communicate with the inhabitants of the ship hovering a few feet above American soil and understand why they’re here.

It’s a film about, among other weighty issues, communication and co-operation and, in that sense, it could not be more timely.  Films are all all products of their time – be it content, language or look – but they do not necessarily say anything important about the era they’re from.  Other than the CGI advancements, the Transformers series, for instance, could just as easily have been from the 90’s as the 2000’s; ditto Pirates of the Caribbean.

Many films though are a snapshot of history.  Delve into a film and you’ll understand more about the period they were made.  Look at Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956); a film about the fear of people not being who they initially seem.  It appeared a couple of years after the McCarthy trials and in the midst of the Cold War, where people could not be sure their neighbours weren’t Communists in disguise.  Films about Godzilla and other gigantic monsters were inspired by a fear of nuclear proliferation and apocalypse; The Matrix riffed on fear of technology in the era of the Millennium Bug.

Into this conversation comes Arrival.  It’s an incredibly uncertain time, when international relations are especially strained; when people vote for Donald Trump or Brexit on the back of scaremongering about ‘the other’, when the fear of apocalypse is probably closer than it’s been in the past 50 years.

Arrival plays on these themes and harnesses them.  Unlike some of the films mentioned above though, it shies away from violence and terror.  Indeed, part of the success of the film, from this reviewer’s perspective anyway, is that it plays into the liberal beliefs about working together and understanding what we can’t explain.  It provides a comfort blanket against the reality outside of the multiplex.  Anger and fear might be working out there just now, but in front of the screen Amy Adams is saving the world with patience, tolerance and understanding.  It suggests that maybe, in the real world, we should do the same.

In that sense, the film might not have the crash, bang, wallop that some filmgoers will want from a sci-fi film, but it’s exactly the type of film we need right now.

The scenes with Adams’ Louise and the aliens are the most captivating of the picture.  Heisserer is not afraid to delve into linguistics, to explain how Louise will communicate with the beings.  Forrest Whittaker’s U.S. Army character asks the questions we as the audience are also asking, but the explanations don’t talk down to either him or us; it assumes a level of intelligence on the audience’s part – we’ll understand the general process, if not necessarily all the technical details.   It also means that, once Louise finally converses with the Heptapods, we can join in with her excitement when her work begins to bear fruit.

Adams has been touted for an Oscar for her role and it would be entirely merited.  She’s always good, but it’s terrific to see her hold a film practically on her own (even Jeremy Renner’s character is largely side-lined).  Her actions – from the nerves before every contact, to the steel with which she completes her mission – are entirely believable.   In a period of history where experts are routinely mocked or dismissed in the media, it’s also heartening to see such a person not only be portrayed as a hero, but a very human one.

Denis Villeneuve, who has made three of the best films in recent years (this, Sicario and Prisoners), lends a typical stillness to the proceedings.  It’s a film that could have chased the blockbuster crowd with guns and action, but he’s clearly confident in both the story and his abilities to hold the attention without it.  The twist adds a sucker-punch that’ll live with you long after you’ve left the cinema.

It’s also worth noting that Arrival also looks superb and the soundtrack from Johann Johannsson aids to the sense of oddness and discombobulation during those early scenes, much as his work on Sicario did.

In summary, Arrival is a beautiful, intelligent film and well worth your time.

5/5