Recommendation: Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse

If you get the chance then I highly recommend going to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

I can’t say I had high expectations for this when I first saw the trailers. My initial thoughts were that this would be a cynical cash grab by a studio desperate to wring out as much money from the IP before Marvel inevitably took back all the film rights. But after glowing reviews we decided to give it a look, and boy was it worth it.

Other than being an interesting and engaging take on the Spider-Man concept (pudgy, tired, over-the-hill, Spider-Man anyone?), this movie is simply a love letter to the comics. The look is amazing, even going as far as using that old fashions colour bleed outside of the lines.

The writing is fresh, the look beautiful, and the characters new and engaging. Sometime you wonder how there can be so many different versions of the same character without exhausting the audience. Then something like this comes out and reminds you of that unique attribute of certain iconic comic book characters that allows them to be reinvented over and over.

But if you’ve ever felt ill watching a 2D film, be warned. I don’t think the camera was still for more than a second for the entire film. It’s a swirl of colour and art. All of it’s beautiful, but the least descriptive word I can think of is “kinetic”.

Film of the Year 2018: Hereditary

I’m not saying Hereditary is a perfect film, but it comes so close. Combined with the sheer ambition and potential it shows in the first time director Ari Aster, it easily takes the spot as my Film of the Year 2018.

HereditaryHereditary tells the story of Annie Graham, a miniatures artist dealing with the recent death of her estranged mother. After hearing that her mother’s grave has been desecrated, Annie begins to feel her mother’s presence in the house in a reflection of how she had hovered over her in life.

It’s one of those films you can’t say too much about for fear of giving away too much of the story. I can say that members of Annie’s family all take time as the central focus; her social outcast daughter, her disaffected stoner son, and her husband trying to do the right thing as his wife, it seem to him, begins to display the mental illness that runs through her family. And a short way into the film there is a massive shift in direction that I did not see coming and completely changed where I thought the story was going. 

Hereditary, as I said, is not perfect. The opening is strong, as are the characterisation and story. However as you get into the second half it begins to lose its focus. This could have been studio interference, but I have a feeling that it was more a case of Aster wanting us to know the full details of his story and worrying the audience would miss bits. What could have been a tight and pleasingly open narrative that left the viewer to piece everything together gets wrapped nice and neatly so we’re in no doubt as to what has happened.

I’m a massive fan of horror stories that manage to leave you guessing as to whether the supernatural element is real or in the mind of the protagonist, and that’s where this film should have gone. The fact that they spell everything out in the final half hour is a disappointment.

However, it’s still an amazing film. It was divisive, and there were friends of mine I thought would love it saying they were completely disinterested. But for me, this just making the whole thing more interesting. And as I said, for all it’s flaws this film shows Aster as a directer well worth watching. I have very high hopes for what he will create once he’s a more seasoned filmmaker with the confidence to leave the audience guessing.

It took 19 films, but it finally happened

I made it through Jessie’s song.
I made it through saying goodbye to Boo.
I made it through the garbage incinerator.
I made it through Andy giving away Woody for the last time.
I made it through Carl and Ellie’s life story. 
I made it through Bing Bong’s sacrifice.

But then he sang Remember Me to Mama Coco.

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Apparently it’s Pixar’s goal to keep making movies until they’ve made everyone, ever, tear up in the cinema.

If you get the chance, go see Coco. I need time to let the immediacy settle, but this may be my favourite Pixar film yet. Certainly this is the first film in years I’ve actively wanted to go see a second time in the cinema.

Wonder Woman

Okay, so a while ago on this blog I officially announced I was gaving up on the DC Cinematic Universe. After sitting through Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, I was fed up of watching films that insisted on squandering their potential. All three of those films could have been excellent. They had so many interesting ideas and could have given us fascinating new takes on the characters of the DC universe. Instead, you could see the tooth marks where the studio executives had chewed them up and spat them out. 

And so I had decided I wasn’t going to waste my money on films whose studios couldn’t treat them or their audience with respect. 


However, with the release of Wonder Woman I decided that I would call myself a liar and go see it. I always try to keep my promises, but I will also change my mind if given sufficient cause. There were 3 main reasons why I changed my mind on this matter: 

  1. I wanted to support a prominent blockbuster with both a prominent female lead and director; 
  2. The reviews were basically universally positive, leading me to think it might be worth my time; 
  3. I had two free cinema tickets to use, so if it turned out to be rubbish I wouldn’t have wasted any money. 

And I am glad I did. I admit I went into this film expecting to be disappointed, but I ended up having a great time. Wonder Woman is a solid, well made superhero movie that makes very few mistakes. Sure, there are plot holes, and in any comic book movie there are elements you have to take with a pinch of salt as the move from the page to the screen – it’s a good job German soldiers never aim for the thigh, where she has none of that useful bullet proof armour – but there is nothing here that ruins the movie by its inclusion. Lighten up, it’s a comic book movie, not a gritty urban drama. It’s not groundbreaking. Plot-wise it gives us nothing we haven’t seen before, and most people over the age of 20 will see the story twists coming a mile away. But in a way that’s why it does so well. It seems that director Patty Jenkins realised that when you need to rejuvenate a failing franchise with a solid success – and when the multitudes of 4chan and internet “men-anists” – or, as they used to be called, “sexist people” – are going to be actively gunning for you to fail –  you need to create a solid, stable film. She didn’t need to take stupid risks or try and be “creative” or “unique”. She needed to show that a woman can direct a big budget action movie, that a woman can be the lead role in a big budget action movie, with that movie being a financial success. 

And she has succeeded. 

And while I really don’t want to single out a guy for a main point of praise in a film where the emphasis so much needs to be on the women who made and starred in it, Chris Pine needs a lot of credit here for showing how you can take the leading male role in an action movie and keep it as a secondary character to a woman without any sort of male ego. This is Gal Gadot’s movie, and at no point does he try to take it from her. Unlike, I’m sure, a lot of Hollywood actors out there, I fully believe he had no problem playing second fiddle. 

So yeah, despite myself I had a great time. I still don’t know if I’ll go see any more of the DC films. The trailer for Justice League promised to be everything the previous movies were and less. But I’ll probably go see Wonder Woman 2 if the same team are behind it. 

Oh, and if you have a young daughter and you don’t take her to see this film, you’re missing out something that will likely stay with her for life. I haven’t seen a cinematic role model for girls like Gal Gadot’s Diana in a very long time. Screw it, you should take your son as well. 

Recommendation: Free Fire

When you’re pretty certain that a film is going to be good, but then when you start watching you discover Sharlto Copley is in it…


We had a great time watching ‘Free Fire’ and highly recommend it. It’s wonderful to see a film that sticks to a nice, tight 90 minute run time. The plot of this film couldn’t be simpler – a gun deal goes bad and turns into a multi-sided shootout – and with no padding or unnecessary vanity, it’s a slick, fun, exciting movie.

It’s also a reminder that if you put good actors together they spectacle or computer graphics to make the scene watchable. When you boil this film down there is hardly anything to it, but the actors work together so that you don’t even notice. I know very few directors who could pull that off. The great thing about Wheatley as a writer and director is that he never gives you anything more than you need to get the film. It’s always there, but he’ll never put it out there or draw attention to it. His films don’t even know the word “flabby”. It’s a Ben Wheatley action movie. With Sharlto Copley. Why wouldn’t you go and see it?

I’d happily watch a *bad* movie with Sharlto Copley and go away happy.

The best trailer for Trainspotting 2 was made 20 years ago

I had forgotten just how good Trainspotting is.

When a film is as enduring as this, it can be easy to allow it to slip into a strange category of “good” that doesn’t do it justice. I haven’t actually watched it in what must be over 10 years, but I “know” Trainspotting is a “good” film. I remember the plot, and the characters, and the music, and the style. All of it. I remember the impact it had. The way it resounded as a snapshot of our culture at that time.

But I actually sat down and watched it again this weekend, and suddenly it all came back with an immediacy that I had lost in the intervening years. Experiencing this film again, for the first time in over a decade, it’s impossible to ignore just how good it is! It’s no longer a “classic movie” in a dusty, academic sense. I’ve seen and felt it all afresh. The storytelling is just so tight and clear. The characters fleshed out and real. The world a gloriously aware snapshot of the dark side of the “Cool Britannia” world of twenty years ago.

I hadn’t really been that excited for the sequel before this. I had categorised it as just another throwback by studios lacking in original idea that would, at best, be a rehash of the original but with the actors twenty years old. But now I find myself hoping against hope that I’m wrong. I remember how good the director and the actors are and can be, and I’m aware that I trust them enough not to ruin it for everyone. That they’ll want to do right by the original as much as we what them to do so. Maybe even more than we do. That it’s quite possible that they will create something new that resonates just as much to the same generation it electrified twenty years ago.

If they fail, I feel it will be because the task was impossible, not because they didn’t try.

I’ve allowed it to give myself hopes and expectations that T2 will be worth the wait.

Danny Boyle, please don’t let us down.

 

Because there’s only one real choice

There are many movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol, but only one that you have to watch each year. 

Likewise, there are hundreds of Christmas movies we watch again and again every year. We all have out own traditions. But there’s only the one that you have to see each year. 

It’s very useful that it’s the same film. 

How about you? Disagree? What Christmas films do you really have no choice but to watch each year, whatever happens? 

Halloween Countdown: 11 Days

11 days to go in my Halloween Countdown, and it’s time to introduce you to ‘The Smiling Man’, from A.J. Briones

I hadn’t seen this one before doing research for the countdown. It does do the one thing that usually annoys me in horror films – both long or short – by lingering on the monster, but here they manage to make it just about work. I’ve been watching quite a few short films for this list, and so many of them fail to be effective because the director lets the camera linger on the monster. You can tell they’re so proud of the makeup – often justifiably so – that they want to show it off, but if you have time to look you realise it’s just a person in a costume.

But it can be done well. The Smiling Man itself manages to hold on to its sinister feel, despite the lingering gaze. And I do love the creepy, primeval clown motive they create.

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I’m not angry, DC, I’m just disappointed

Last week I saw Suicide Squad. I went in with very low expectations, and the film met them. So, I’ve made a decision.

I’m officially giving up on the DC Cinematic Universe.

Making a film isn’t easy. Often I hear people wonder aloud about how bad films get made. The truth is that filmmaking is such a fragmented, compartmentalised process that it can be impossible to get a true image of the final product until it’s too late to change anything. There’s no formula that can be followed to guarantee success.

And while I may bitch about a film being terrible when I leave the cinema, I’m willing to forgive the filmmakers in the long run. They tried, and they didn’t quite succeed, but hopefully, they’ll at least have made enough money to carry on, and learn and do a better job next time. If they make a truly terrible film, then they should try something else. If they make an okay film, they should be given another chance. If they make a great film, then they will be given another chance. It’s an industry and – at least theoretically – a free market one.

What I can’t forgive, and what gets me remarkably angry, is rewarding mediocrity.

Which is what we have with the DC films.

This is the way this should work: you make a film. If it’s a success it gets greenlit for a sequel. If the sequel is a success, and the IP is suitable, the studio can make the decision to continue building until you have a franchise. You can plan for a franchise, but you can’t just decide you’re going to make one happen. Money follows success, and success – at least in a perfect world – follows quality.

But what we have with the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) is the studio deciding that as franchises make money, they will simply create one. And because they know they have a guaranteed audience, they don’t worry about quality.

(Yes, this isn’t a problem just with DC. It’s an issue pervading the industry as a whole at the moment, but DC is the most obvious culprit right now – and the particular subject of this post – so I’m using them as an example.)

The DCCU has so far given us three films; Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now Suicide Squad, and each of these has been equally mediocre. None of them at bad. I came out of each of them thinking they were perfectly workable films, but nothing worth writing home about. But none of them deserved any kind of sequel or follow-up. If it hadn’t been for this guaranteed audience they would have each been a box-office flop and any plans for sequels would have been quietly swept under the rug.

Remember Superman Returns back in 2006? I didn’t think so. It was a decent but forgettable movie, and justly warranted no follow ups. Man of Steel was no better, yet all those involved will be a major part of the following franchise. The world is a different place than is was in 2006. We live in a world of IP franchises. Now that Marvel has the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating the cinematic landscape, DC can’t afford not to emulate them because (a) it would damage their reputation, and (b) they’ll make money anyway.

I know about the guaranteed audience, because I’ve been part of it. I really wanted these films to be good. I wanted there to be a second MCU, and I was willing to forgive the lack of quality shown in the hope that the later ones would be better. I really wanted DC’s movies to be just as good as Marvel’s. But they’re not. In each case, I could see exactly what DC was aiming for, but in each case, they were widely off target.

And it rankles. It comes across that they don’t care about earning anything from us. If the next MCU film is rubbish, or even just mediocre, I’ll still go and see the next one, as they’ve earned enough trust from me to do I. I’ll have reason to believe that this misstep will be a one off. They started the MCU off slowly, allowing us to get to know each character one at a time. Now we have films crammed with characters, but we’ve got to know them well enough that they can do a lot with the small amount of screen time each gets.

DC don’t seem to care that they don’t have this. Even though I really want the upcoming Wonder Woman movie to be awesome, I no longer trust that it will be. It will do well at the box-office because it will be driven by that guaranteed audience who desperately want it to be something it won’t be. There’ll be the same sense of disappointment followed by DC shuffling their creative team around, doing some reshoots for whichever film is currently in production, and promising that the next one will solve all the problems we had with the last. And even if it isn’t – even if Wonder Woman turns out to be the greatest superhero movie of all time – this would be the anomaly. I still wouldn’t trust that the next one had as much chance of being that good.

I could go into detail as to my opinions on the reasons behind all of this – studio interference, pressure from Marvel’s success, oversaturation of the genre, overused characters – but there is already so much more of that online already I don’t see the need to do so. A quick Google search will throw up more than enough opinions for you.

I’ll just state my own personal decision: I have decided that I don’t want to waste my time anymore.

I’m giving up on the DCCU. I might want Wonder Woman to be the strong, empowering movie it has the potential to be. I might want to see more of Ben Affleck’s older, burnt out Batman. I might want to see these actors – now tied into multi-movie contracts – be able to do something interesting and exciting with their characters. But I don’t think that will happen.

Mediocrity isn’t a crime, but it shouldn’t be rewarded. DC haven’t earned the franchise they’re giving themselves. They’ve just decided they deserve it. Instead, I’m going to invest my time and money on something that I believe might actually impress me. Something that has my trust or something new or interesting that deserves a chance.

I don’t want to judge those of you who actually enjoyed the films, or who still wish to remain part of their audience. This is my own decision, not yours. I just hope I’ve explained my thoughts clearly enough that you at least take a moment to think about whether or not you want to carry on enabling DC to do such a poor job.

So, enjoy the films. I hope they get better. (Spoiler: they won’t).