Category Archives: films

My Week In Writing (30/07/17)

20170730_155734Well, the big bit of news this week is: I found a new (temp) job, starting tomorrow! Which means I’ve spent this weekend a) relaxing and b) buying new shoes. I don’t know what the dress code for my new office is so I’m not sure if the new shoes are strictly necessary, but I figured it was about time I had a pair of smart shoes I can walk in.

All in all, operation ‘quit my job’ has been more or less successful – I was unemployed for five weeks, which is longer than I hoped but not as long as I expected, and I have a (hopefully glowing) reference for what I was doing.

In other news, my data recovery was a success – they weren’t able to recover my entire hard drive but I should be getting back all the writing I lost, hopefully tomorrow after New Work.  Very relieved and very much looking forward to sorting my writing projects out!

This week, I’ve been plugging away on the same writing projects, with variable success – between wanting to relax a bit before starting work and knowing I’ll be able to commit better after getting my files back, it’s been difficult to motivate myself these past few days.

I listened to the first three episodes of Doctor Who: Doom Coalition 1, which I have complicated feelings about. I’m enjoying it more than Dark Eyes, though, which I found grim and a bit disappointing.

I watched Captain America: Civil War, which I found acutely disappointing – I don’t know anything much about the comic arc it’s based on, but as a sequel to Age of Ultron it’s not wholely satisfying and as a sequel to Winter Soldier is a full-on disappointment. It did get me hyped for Black Panther, though.

And on a whim, I watched Psycho and enjoyed it more than I expected to – I was a little nervous about watching it on my own because I don’t do well with scary (I’d been informed that it isn’t scary but I’m very easily frightened) but I’m glad I did because there are certain, um, sequences that the people I generally watch films with probably wouldn’t have taken entirely seriously…

Anyway, the first act is definitely the highlight but I was sort of expecting that. If anything I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the rest of the film – I was half expecting to be bored stiff.

So, next week: new job!

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Review: The Cat Returns

220px-Cat_Returns

(Note: between job interviews and anthology submissions, no time to write a proper blog post this week. So, here’s one I made earlier –  ie, dug out of my drafts from 2013.)

Whisper of the Heart was a reasonably complex and original coming of age story with a perfect blend of fantasy and realism – but evidently the most popular part was the dapper talking cat, Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, for he got a kitty-themed film all to himself.

It’s a much shallower film than its predecessor, with less detailed animation and a straightforward fairytale plot. Schoolgirl Haru saves a cat from being hit by a truck. The cat transpires to be the Prince of Cats, and his father, the Cat King, is so grateful than he insists Haru take the prince’s paw in marriage. Not enthused at the prospect of marrying a cat, Haru seeks the help of the Cat Bureau. Therein enters the Baron, a living cat figurine who is determined to save Haru before she is transformed into a cat forever…

It’s pretty standard children’s fantasy far, with a lot of kitties – and I mean a lot. If you’re a cat person you will probably like this film. If you’re not a cat person you might come out of it hating them.

The ending is something of a disappointment, with Haru having grown as a person by virtue of… I don’t know, adventure? And cats? But it’s worth a watch, partly for the star-studded English dub (Anne Hathaway as Haru, Tim Curry as the Cat King, Cary Elwes as the Baron) and partly because it’s pure kitty-filled fun.

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2013 Film Reviews: More Comedy

kinopoisk.ruThe Way Way Back

Here’s a rare thing: The Way Way Back is a film that can only be described as awkward – and that’s a compliment. Somehow.

It’s a coming-of-age story about a shy fourteen year old boy getting a job at a water park while on vacation with his mother and her boyfriend. And that’s really about it, in terms of plot. The dramatic climax is a ride on a water slide. But somehow it really does work.

The Way Way Back excels at evoking awkward social situations in a manner which is played primarily for awkwardness, not for comedy – though it often is funny. It’s something of a socially awkward fantasy. A recurring theme is apparently awkward situations the protagonist is forced into turning out to be entirely positive. Is that a thing that happens often? I don’t know, but it’s a nice idea, motivationally speaking.

All in all, it’s a really nicely written dramedy that I suspect will be overlooked somewhat – the premise is not an easy sell and its trailers misrepresented it as a rom-com – and very much worth seeing. Especially if you’re a community fan – Jim Rash a.k.a. Dean Pelton co-wrote and directed. If that’s not something to recommend it I don’t know what is.

MV5BMTU0NzE0Mzg3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzY2MDY3OQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_In a World

Now here’s a thoroughly unusual comedy. Lake Bell’s directorial debut and (presumably) pet project, it’s a feminist comedy about trailer voice-overs.

Bell plays Carol, daughter of legendary trailer voice-over artist Sam Sotto. She works as a freelance vocal coach, but dreams of breaking into the male-dominated field of movie trailers. The film is firmly grounded in reality: the gender disparity in voice over work is very real, as is the domination of a tiny number of performers. It even opens with documentary footage introducing the late great Don LaFontaine before seguing into the fictional world. It’s hard to tell exactly where the line is at times: the film trailers Carol voices are entirely fictional, but at least some of the characters are real people.

But the world of trailer voice-overs is largely a backdrop. Much of the film is concerned with Carl’s personal life, her budding romance with her sound-mixer, her sister’s struggling marriage, and her changing relationship with her father as the two of them come into competition for the same job.

In a World is ultimately a meditation on the important of the female voice, literally. Women’s voices are a recurring theme throughout the film and Carol’s voice is eventually heard by the whole world. It’s an important message and it’s delivered, though not perfectly, without being heavy handed.

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2013 Film Reviews: Animation

Despicable-me-2-many-minions-pp33148Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 is more or less exactly what you’d expect from a sequel to Despicable Me. Which is to say: if you liked the first film, you’ll probably like this one too. It has the same tone, the same sense of humour, the same slightly surreal quality. But unfortunately it has many of the same problems.

The action-adventure side is just as good as the first film – possibly even better. It does a good job of fleshing out its world with the addition of an anti-villain league. How’s that for a rarity: an animated film sequel that actually advances the story rather than simply retreading.

Unfortunately, the emotional centre is less solid. The emotional centre Despicable Me was very much Gru bonding with his adoptive daughters. Here it’s the romance subplot. It’s a sweet enough romance subplot, if a little shallow in some places, but romance subplots are dime-a-dozen. The three daughters have less screentime; it would have been nice to see more development of their relationship with Gru, and to see any development at all of their relationship with Lucy (the woman who – spoilers – becomes their new Mom).

Really, though, most of the problems with Despicable Me 2 can be traced back to one thing: the Minions. Don’t get me wrong, the Minions are funny as hell, but they have far too much screentime here. The issue with the Minions is that as cute and funny as they are, they cannot sustain a narrative. They have no individuality. They’re just an endless mass of yellow blobs in dungarees. And yet for some reason they play a central role.

But if you’re willing to put that aside, Despicable Me 2 is a whole lot of fun.

Monsters_uni_post_2Monsters University

A whole lot of people seemed to be a whole lot more excited for this film than I was. I’ve never been that keen on Monsters Inc – I re-watched it lately and I like it just fine, but it’s one of Pixar’s more predictable films. And – though this seems to be a common sentiment – I’d rather have seen a sequel than a prequel. The ending of Monsters Inc was plenty open enough to warrant one.

So in a sense, I was pleasantly surprised by Monster’s University. It has the same flavour as its precursor, the same style of comedy and the same vibrant visuals – the monster designs are truly brilliant – but with a plot that’s actually kind of surprising. I confess I was spoiled for the ending, but I think had I not been it would genuinely have taken me offguard. The climax of Monsters University messes with your expectations in a big way, twisting conventional narrative tropes on their head and arriving at a really unusual Aesop: the ultimate message is that you sometimes have to accept that, no matter how hard you try, there are things you’re just no good at.

But on the flip side, predictable as it was Monsters Inc had a striking premise, some fascinating fantasy concepts, and enough attention to detail in the execution to pull it off. Monsters University has… college movie tropes. Subverted at times, sure, but they’re still standard fare. As much as I enjoyed it, I can’t help but think that there was some wasted potential here.

I’m also really not sure who the target audience is supposed to be. Monsters Inc is very much a family film, with themes tailored for children and their parents. Monsters University is a film that will only really speak to college students and graduates – possibly only graduates, since I have no idea how well it reflects the contemporary American university experience.

However, as is often the case, this is me nitpicking. Pixar is in the unfortunate position of having set the bar very high for themselves. Their filmography is so strong that it’s hard not to measure their recent films against it. On its own merits, Monsters University is a really fun film with a moral message that rings true without being overdone. Thoroughly recommended.

Epic-Movie-2013-HD-WallpaperEpic

I really wanted to like this film. The first trailers had me hooked with their whimsy and (literal) fairytale quality. It looked like it had the potential to be a really great animated fantasy film. But unfortunately, Epic belongs to a class of animated film that is intensely frustrating.

For the amount of love and effort and attention to detail poured into the animation is just breath-taking. It’s so fluid and so colourful and so creative that really it’s worth watching the film just to get a look at it. The water! The motion! The colours!

But the writers… did not follow suit. Epic is hopelessly generic. You can predict the plot almost blow for blow. The only real surprise for me was (spoilers!) relationship between the lead antagonist and his son – which is, despite initial appearances, loving and mutually supportive. I’d actually liked to have seen it developed more. For the most part, though, Epic is a film with generic, bland leads and all the interesting characters shoved to the sidelines.

What I really wanted from Epic was Ferngully done right. I’ve heard that the director does not like people comparing the two – to which I would tell him that if he didn’t want comparisons to be drawn he should not have used almost exactly the same plot (human teenager gets magically shrunk down, befriends pretty fairies, wacky animal sidekick, almost gets eaten by giant version of small animal, helps save the forest from decay-monsters, learns valuable lesson – c’mon). In some respects it’s what I wanted, but bizarrely Ferngully actually has a stronger moral message.

The villain of Ferngully is pollution, and hence a very real threat to the ecosystem. The villain in Epic is… rot. This is played as the antithesis of life. I don’t quite understand the logic here; yes, decay can kill, but it is itself driven by living things. The weapons wielded by the Boggans mostly seem to be fungal life. Then there’s the use of ‘evil’ animals like bats and crows to characterise the villains – it’s clumsy.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. It’s generic in a reasonably appealing way – plus there is a lot of creativity and there are some interesting characters (see: Colin Farrell as the steely-jawed leader of the Leafmen). It’s not a masterpiece (dare I say it’s not the masterpiece it could have been), but it’s decent enough.

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Only Lovers Left Alive

only-lovers-left-aliveAs much as I enjoyed Only Lovers Left Alive – and I really did enjoy it – I was surprised to realise that it just barely tops two hours. It feels longer. It feels like at least two and a half hours; and I’d swear half the run-time was composed entirely of Tilda Swinton’s character dancing while the camera spins around her and Tom Hiddleston’s character moodily playing the guitar and the drums…

This is not a fast-paced film. I’ve seen it described as ‘languid’, which seems like the right word. It’s rarely dull, but it’s slow and meandering and for the first hour almost entirely plotless. Actually, it’s a pretty effective demonstration of how you don’t actually need a plot to tell a story. There’s no exposition; we never learn how Tilda Swinton’s Eve and Tom Hiddleston’s Adam became vampires, or how old they are; or how they’re related to Mia Wasikowska’s Ava or John Hurt’s Christopher Marlow; and their fates after the film are equally ambiguous. It’s implied at times that they might be the real Adam and Eve (and Ava Lilith) but this isn’t dwelt on.

It’s a meandering slice out of a much longer and more sprawling story that we only need to see one slice of, because it repeats itself constantly. Adam and Eve have parted ways and come back together before. Adam has been through depressive periods before, and been pulled out of them. Encounters with Ava always end in a bloody death. The recurring spinning imagery (spinning records, Eve dancing, the rotation of the earth) implies the cyclical nature of the story, and of both human and vampire life more generally. Things are bad at the moment; they’ll get worse; they’ll be good again in the future. ‘This place will rise again,’ Eve says of Detroit.

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are both fantastic; they were made to play vampires. They have the perfect faces for it, equal parts beautiful and creepy, when they want to be. These are vampires that feel truly old and inhuman while also being warm and relatable. Adam broods and isolates himself, but Eve has a constant zest for (eternal) life; if his character is perhaps a cliché, hers is endlessly refreshing. And when did you last watch a film about a vampire who was passionate about science?

But I hesitate to call Only Lovers Left Alive too refreshing, because it does fall into some of the usual traps of vampire fiction. These are the all-to-common vampires with the mysterious ability to befriend only people who will be famous in the future – although Adam does also name-drop a few old friends who aren’t household names any more, which is a nice touch. And these vampires don’t drink their blood out of bags because it’s more ethnical; they do it because killing humans is ‘so fifteenth century’.

In a word: these are hipster vampires. Classy hipster vampires who have absolutely earned the right to their intense pretentiousness, but hipsters nonetheless. That’s not a complaint; Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as hipster vampires. What’s not to love about that?

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2013 Film Reviews: More Summer Sci-Fi

prPacific Rim

I’m just going to get this out of the way first: I am honestly shocked that so many people thought ‘G*psy Danger’ would be a good name for a giant robot. I can see something like that making it into early drafts of a script, but all the way to the cinematic cut? Truly baffled. Had I known G*psy Danger was the lead robot rather than just a throwaway detail I’d have been much more reluctant to go see Pacific Rim at all.

But that nasty little detail aside, Pacific Rim is a really excellent sci-fi film. Giant monsters begin crawling out of a dimensional rift beneath the Pacific. The governments of the world come together and decide that the best way to deal with the situation is to build giant robots and punch the problem till it goes away.

If you want to see a giant robot beat up a sea monster with an ocean liner, Pacific Rim might just be the film for you.

It’s not the most imaginative premise, but it’s lavishly detailed, from the workings of the Jaeger technology to the dog-sized mites that live on the monsters. It’s big, it’s visually stunning and all-round awesome. Probably my favourite film of the summer.

weThe World’s End

The World’s End, the final installment in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s ‘blood and ice cream trilogy’, is really two films. There’s the sci-fi bro-comedy it was marketed as – and a much darker, much bleaker science fiction film. Though really, one could say it’s three films: a bro-comedy, a sci-fi comedy, and a science fiction film. But I doubt many people watched it without knowing the reveal. (Spoilers: there’s alien robots.)

Five schoolfriends get together to complete ‘the Golden Mile’ a legendary pub crawl in their home town – only to discover that the town has been taken over by sinister alien robots. It’s a very funny film, but likes its predecessors – in particular Shaun of the Dead – it’s not without its darker and more poignant moments.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost change roles here, with Pegg playing the slacker manchild and Frost playing his straightlaced friend. Pegg’s character was played very much as a comic figure in the film’s trailers; in the film itself he is from the beginning as pathetic as he is funny and as events play out his behaviour becomes genuinely disturbing. There’s a truly shocking reveal late in the film, carefully hidden behind all the robots. It may take you by surprise.

Then there is the ending. To avoid spoilers as much as possible: there is an abrupt, bleak and shocking swerve in the final minutes of the film that will almost certainly take you offguard. It comes out of nowhere, is completely at odds with the tone of the rest of the film, and to be honest I wish it had been cut. The World’s End might have been a stronger film had it ended one scene earlier. So it goes.

 

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Recently Released Films: Comedy

heatThe Heat

I went to see The Heat partly because my friends wanted to see it, partly because I really enjoyed Bridesmaids and partly because it was a film I kind of wanted to support – it’s a buddy cop movie with female cops. You don’t see that very often

And I can say that, if you liked BridesmaidsThe Heat will not disappoint. It has the same brand of comedy, but here with a more dramatic flare and sans the gross-out humour – though there’s one scene that seems calculated to make up for the lack of grossness by packing as much as it can into a few short minutes. (Word of advice: if you’re squeamish about blood, don’t see The Heat.)

That one scene aside, the comedy is all top-notch – the Boston accent confusion (knock/narc?) is funnier than it has any right to be – and the dramatic scenes have a real emotional resonance. The happy ending and its partnership between the two leads really does feel earned.

So my only real complaint about The Heat is about that rocket launcher. You know, the one on the poster and in the trailer – that does not get fired even once in the whole film. For shame.

We’re the Millers

millersWe’re the Millers is a film with a really good concept. After being robbed, a low-level drug dealer is forced to become a drug mule to get back in his boss’s good books – and gets the idea to fool the U.S. border guards by putting together a fake family and playing tourist. There’s a whole lot of potential there, the trailer was reasonably funny – and hey, that’s Jennifer Aniston and Will Poulter (of Son of Rambow and Voyage of the Dawn Treader)!

Unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – it falls apart on the execution. It’s not that it isn’t funny; it’s very funny, though most of the best laughs are in the trailer. It’s that We’re the Millers doesn’t seem to know what kind of comedy it is. Is it the heartwarming kind of comedy where its characters learn the value of family? The darkest kind of comedy with jokes about incest? Or the kind of comedy that’s all dick jokes?

It succeeds only at the latter. We’re the Millers never goes beyond the fringes of truly dark comedy and it’s happy families message is confused. The ending – which has the ‘Millers’ staying together as a family through the witness protection program – falls flat because you just don’t buy that these people have really become a family, nor that all of them want to. (With the exception of Kenny. Kenny is truly lonely.)

It’s not a bad comedy. The funny moments are (for the most part) funny, the touching moments (for the most part) touching – it’s just confused and unbalanced.

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