Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Star Wars VIII - The Last Jedi

I saw this a week ago and quite enjoyed it. I can' remember it perfectly as over the festive period I've since watched Bad Company, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and Spiderman: Homecoming.

But what I can remember is that the film has the standard Star Wars setup of rebels on the run against an enormous enemy. In that sense it particularly parallels the second film in the original trilogy, Empire Strikes Back, most obviously for the scenes on the salt planet, which look very similar to the ice planet Hoth.

There are also Jedi training scenes, but this time they are the other way round, as Luke is the master. And the training goes rather differently. In fact it is the presence of old Luke Skywalker that sets this film apart, and his progression is the most satisfactory.

There is also a recurring theme about the nature of hope, which at its worst consists of Leia repeatedly talking about hope, but at its best is the boy at the very end offering hope for the future, and perhaps a hint of what will come in the final chapter.

The humour is acceptable but not particularly funny, but I suppose audiences expect it now. I think if you're making a Star Wars film you should be aiming for the sort of thing other people want to parody, not parodying yourself (I'm thinking of the visual gag with the iron).

Perhaps because I saw the film at a late showing I found the pacing of the film slightly wrong, and there are two more acts than I expected. I'm all for long epic films, as long as they build up correctly and you don't think "Is it about to finish?" then it carries on for another half hour.

I need to watch this again, to see how it connects to the other films. It was enjoyable, but I think the off-shoot films (like Rogue One) might actually provide more hope to the Universe than Episode Nine.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - Danny's Review

Last night I watched the original Blade Runner. It's very atmospheric, there's no cheap special effects, and you feel for the characters. So I was a bit worried about the new version. If it was too ponderous then without the weight of history making it a classic it might just seem a bit slow and pretentious, and if it was too fast with too much CGI I would certainly dismiss it too.

The basic plot [SPOLIER ALERT] is that thirty years ago Deckard and his android wife Rachel gave birth to a child, the very first replicant baby. That baby has now grown up and everyone wants him. The Replicant underground want to rally round him as proof that replicants are More human than human and start a revolution. The Wallace Corporation (the new Tyrell Corporation) want him so they can figure out how it happened and make loads more replicant as slaves. And the police want him destroyed to prevent unrest. This all takes a long time to play out, with lots of large nearly empty orange rooms and spooky music.

The slowness is at times slightly irritating, but is mostly OK if you don't know what's going to happen so there's some tension. There's a big sag is in the middle where the hero (Ryan Gosling) goes to meet a woman who makes the artificial memories the replicants are given. There is some irrelevant and annoying CGI here with a birthday cake, only rescued by the thought that Harrison Ford's face was pretty big on the poster, and since he still hasn't turned up yet he must be arriving pretty soon.

When Ford does lumber onto screen there's some more CGI rubbish then him and Gosling finally team up, to reach a reasonably satisfying conclusion. There's a lot more plot than in the original film, which doesn't all seem to add up, but has plenty of depth and some interesting ideas on what it means to be human. I particularly like the deep affection Gosling has for his Virtual Reality girlfriend, only to realise that she's just programmed that way.

If the replicant army hasn't enslaved me I'll watch it again in 2049.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Valerian - Danny's Review

Given the young age of the protagonists, and the fact that it's a comic book adaptation, I expected this to be a child's film. And it was.

But it started well, with the International Space Station getting bigger and bigger into the future. All of a sudden it's 2130 and there's aliens. Then more aliens, tall thin blue ones looking happy on a beach. More than happy, overjoyed. You can tell they're happy because they constantly spin round with their arms aloft, grinning beatifically.

Unfortunately, things get worse, as we are introduced to super-agents Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne, flirting clumsily on a hologram beach. Their banter is poor, and continues throughout the film. "Everyone knows you're a ladykiller" purrs Cara. Each time things heat up, then one of them coyly mentions getting back to the mission.

The mission is pretty flimsy, and involves overturning obviously evil General Clive Owen. It's no spoiler to say he's evil, you'll work that out as soon as you see him, and his mysterious private guard of big black robots that he personally programmed.

However, the joy of a film like this is the individual scenes, a few of which work really well. My favourite is when Cara is captured and dressed up to present a big lemon to an alien king. But he licks his lips, squeezes the lemon on her, and prepares to eat her head. It's a good visual surprise. At the other end of the scale are numerous CGI journeys through space, which don't do much for me. And Rihanna's cameo was super-weak.

I might partly be grumpy because it was an 845pm showing and I was tired. Having said that, it was quite enjoyable. Big-budget fast-paced Sci Fi can't go too wrong.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Dunkirk - Danny's Review

First time I've been to the cinema since last October. This one was worth a trip; the sort of film that's better on the big screen. The most impressive big vistas were the beach, with loads and loads of soldiers on them.

It's a fairly short war epic, and it's not over the top with drama. There were only two staged moments, one where a pilot runs out of fuel (which you can spot a mile off as there are numerous warnings in advance about keeping an eye on the fuel level) and one where an eager boy on a civilian vessel gets accidentally hit by a shell-shocked Cilian Murphy. Apart from this silliness, it felt like a fairly honest slice of history, with the drama building up slowly throughout.

There's very little dialogue, and a fairly sparse pulsing soundtrack. The plot explanation is minimal (I struggled as I didn't know what a mole was), and like all war films it's hard to tell who's who.

It takes place on land, air and sea. On land the British soldiers stand around doing nothing, while the French heod the line. In the air the RAF pilots are suitably calm and chipper, "Afternoon!"" says one cheerfully after being rescued from near-death. At sea it's no fun at all, as every rescue leads you to another boat which is shortly sunk.

This being a historical film I was expecting lots of writing on the screen at the end about what happened, but instead I had to read all the Wikipedia pages. The main historical point seems to be that the Germans missed a trick in not finishing off the British when they had the chance. It's believed Hitler thought that once the British returned home they wouldn't come back to mainland Europe. The film could also do more to show that Dunkirk was in fact a stonking German victory (which is how it was described in Nazi Germany), as the British had to leave so much behind, for example 20,000 motorcycles.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

I, Daniel Blake - Danny's Review

It was a rare treat to catch the 18:20 showing of this film at the Grosvenor. It's the first time I've been to the cinema since a disastrous Watch with Baby experience in August, and I think I may be a little starved for entertainment. For example, the other day I found an old episode of Waterloo Road absolutely gripping.

I, Daniel Blake is Ken Loach's latest film, which he made after coming out of retirement because he was so upset with the re-election of the Conservative Government in 2014 (he's now 80). It's therefore a strongly political tale, of a Newcastle joiner who has a minor heart attack so is out of work. But the Healthcare Professional he meets doesn't like his attitude so deems him still fit to work, and he has to seek Jobseeker's Allowance even though he clearly can't work. He spirals towards poverty, meeting others along the way in a similar situation.

The film is thus a pretty blatant attack on the unfair benefits system, not unfair in the Daily Mail sense where Polish people steal all our money, but unfair in that hard-working people are constantly struggling against bureaucracy and silliness of an unfair system. Daniel is such a straight-forward and honest man and he is humiliated by a ridiculous system, so you're rooting for him all the way through.

What undermines the power of the film is that in order to create this sense of injustice, that motivates the entire film, there's the ridiculous premise that someone with a heart attack would be deemed fit to work. There are plenty of legitimate things to be upset about, without needing hyperbole. I only say this because the rest of the film seems so real, and almost feels like a documentary. There's no famous actors - the other main character is a displaced Londoner and her two children, played by Hayley Squires, who I was sure I'd seen before but think I must just have been thinking of Lily Allen.

Although it's set in Newcastle there's a bit of Glasgow humour, as a foul-mouthed Weegie befriends Daniel during his protest. A nod to Ken Loach's other films (my favourite is Sweet Sixteen).

It was a full house in the cinema I watched it in, and I think we were all quite moved by the end. On my way home I gave money to several beggars, and bought some sanitary towels for the first time in my life to donate to a food bank (in Waitrose).

Overall, a powerful and affecting film.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Finding Dory - Danny's Review

I saw this at a Watch with Baby screening at 1030 am. I would not recommend the experience. We were a bit late and when the cinema door swung open it revealed a madhouse of babies; screaming, feeding and rolling on the floor. By now it was too late to turn back. Our nine-month old doesn't like busy and loud places, so I spent much of the film holding her at the back and walking up and down the corridor. As a consequence I missed some sections of the film, and might have an unfairly dim view it.

I am confident though in saying that this is a much weaker effort than 2004's Finding Nemo, which I believe has become the biggest selling DVD of all time.

Finding Dory is a further underwater adventure, with some new characters but not a huge amount of charm. The main novelty is that the missing fish this time is ever-forgetful Dory, who tells everyone she has a short-term memory problem. It's a bold decision having a mentally deficient protagonist in an animated film, and is sometimes quite effective, as there is extra pathos when Dory gets lost and feels alienated, but mostly it's a bit annoying with the repetitive gag of her forgetting things and being reminded of them.

There is much madcap chasing, including through a marine centre. The extra scenes on land present a problem for the fish, so various devices are put in place. These include an octopus named Hank, a whale whose echolocation lets him see through walls, and numerous jars and buckets. I'm not a fan of chases in general, and found this a bit tiresome.

The first half of the film is better; the second half gets extremely bogged down with 'tags' and fish being in quarantine and not being in quarantine, and about half of the dialogue is clumsy explanation. The toddler behind me had no clue what was going on, and even her Grandmother's explanations weren't quite right (I read the plot summary on Wikipedia while holding the baby so knew what was going on).

The best thing in it is the grumpy octopus, who piqued my flagging interest. I also enjoyed the Londoner seals, who were voiced by British (but usually American) actors Idris Elba and Dominic West, putting aside their differences from The Wire. Of course the film looked good too, but after the first two minutes you get used to that.

Overall, unlike some other Pixar efforts, this one's just for the kids.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Money Monster - Danny's Review

I had to go into town to pick up some train tickets today, so to make it worthwhile went to the cinema too. Looking at the listings, this was the only that appealed to me. The rest were kids films, or adult films that are basically kids films. But this one looked like a meaty prospect, with George Clooney and a hostage situation. My main concern was Julia Roberts would be too lightweight, but she was actually good as the low-key director of Clooney's madcap money show.

Rather like films that are on a submarine or in space, you can't go wrong with a hostage film. And if that's combined with live TV in a studio setting it's even better. The actual TV segment called Money Monster was entertaining too, and I remember thinking ten minutes in that I would be quite happy just watching Clooney ham it up as a celebrity TV host. He is of course deliberately superficial, and that starts a theme of satire that runs through the film. There are twin targets modern culture of social media, and the obscure world of financial markets.

My favourite part was at the denouement when the classic bar-scene of ordinary people following the action on the bar TV are all transfixed, then after a decent pause, they go back to playing table football. It was a nice point quite subtly made, and I'm sure lost on the women next to me who were giggling and trying to stop a mobile phone from ringing, until she got another call and actually answered it, and I angrily whispered for her to put the phone away.

Back to the film - this was the first time I've been to the cinema in months and I enjoyed it. Clooney is magnetic, Roberts isn't annoying and it's a very well-paced plot. Every time the tension sags it immediately builds back up again. My only gripe was that in order to create a neat story it turned out that the evil CEO (Dominic West) really was hatching a meddling plan, whereas the film might have made a greater impact in the long term if they simply accepted that the financial world is murky and intractable. I also didn't feel any sympathy for the everyman kidnapper.