Isolation: A time for 12 hour movies

Isolation. Lockdown. It’s not a great time right now. There’s a lot going down, and we’re all dealing with issues ranging from actually dealing with the problems the world is facing to being locked away from it all.

But what is it useful for? Watching those films you never have time to see otherwise.

I’ve owned each of the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions since the week they came out. And as they came out when I was in university both the films and the DVD extras were watched and rewatched multiple times.

Except for Return of the King. I did sit through an all night viewing of the films at the IMAX in Waterloo, but they used the standard editions, so it didn’t count.)

The Lord of the Rings films are not three separate movies. You can’t watch one of them in isolation. They make up a single story that needs to be watched together for the full experience.

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Return of the Kings came out in my third year of university. When this happened we had a viewing party, but for a reasons I cannot remember I got called away and missed chunks of the film.

We had another viewing party a few years ago. But again, for some reason I was pulled away and missed sections of the final film.

But you can’t just rewatch the third film. You have to watch all three in order. So, despite having bought the DVDs fifteen years ago, I had never watch the extended edition of Return of the King.

Until Lockdown! Over the course of one week we watched one disc a night, meaning six nights of Tolkien goodness. And now I’ve finally see the full, extended Lord of the Rings Experience.

 

 

Film of the Year 2019: ‘Midsommar’ (Dir. Ari Aster)

So, last year my film of the year was Ari Aster’s debut Hereditary. This year I’ve chosen his follow up. I think I might be a bit of a fan.

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I know a lot of people had issues with Hereditary. Many of these I will happily admit were valid. The second half lost focus, and the ending was very disappointing after the promise of the first act. But I chose it as my film of the year for 2018 as I was so impressed by the power and ambition it showed. Especially for a debut feature. There was something about it that made me think Aster would someday produce something truly amazing.

Midsommar isn’t that masterpiece I’m waiting for, but it’s another step towards it. Again, this film isn’t perfect. But the important thing is the issue with this one is different to the last. Aster hasn’t repeated the same mistakes.

This time the main issue is predictability. The story has a bunch of American students visit a remote commune in Sweden to study their isolated community and ancient rites. If you feel you can guess the entire plot from that one line, you’re probably right.

But that’s not the point of this film. The story isn’t bad. It’s just predictable. And it’s the style and the characters that make this film. It’s grand. It’s beautiful. And the characters and plot are so fleshed out and developed it doesn’t matter if you can work out where it’s going. The journey itself it so satisfying.

What this film did was cement my belief that somewhere down the line Ari Aster is going to create a horror masterpiece. A touchstone of the genre. There may be a few more movies along the line as he hones his skills, but if each of these are as good as Hereditary and Midsommar then I’m more than happy to be along for the ride.

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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