Their Finest (2017)

Their Finest is now available to buy / rent and I’d solidly recommend it.  It tells the story of a young woman (Gemma Arterton) who is employed to write realistic women’s dialogue (‘slop’ as it’s called in the film) in WWII propaganda reels and starts writing a feature film, based on the experience of two young women, about the evacuation of Dunkirk.

What I liked about the film was that, and this is no claim of documentary realism, it feels like the behind the scenes view of a Powell and Pressburger film… or at least as one would dream it to be.  And that’s the key, the heart and the message are in the right place.  It’s a film that knows the importance of myth and hope.  It’s funny and heartbreaking, there’s love, a bit with a dog and Bill Nighy is on top form doing his best Bill Nighy impression.

Highly Recommended.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Watching Atomic Blonde I suddenly notice that I’m following the shot rather than the action.  The shot, a prolonged single(ish)-take fight scene, is impressively staged but I’ve lost the drama within it because it isn’t captivating.  The problem is that the central MacGuffin, a list (sigh), is duplicated in function and form with no real sense of priority, deadline or consequence.  No amount of 80’s pop music, neon, face smashing or ‘and Toby Jones’ can hide that.

On a positive note, Charlize Theron outclasses the film she’s in and McAvoy hints at a more interesting Heart of Darkness tale buried under the surface.  Also, the opening ten minutes have a great comic book feel but, alas, the film is intent on not being its own thing and jettisons this in favour of uncomfortably sitting somewhere between John and Jason, unable to mesh the two together.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

I walked out of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets grinning from ear to ear and giggling like a child.  Luc Besson’s adaptation of the Valerian and Laureline comic books is a breath of fresh air after what seems like an eternity of drab fantasy comic book cinema.  This doesn’t feel recycled or ponderous, it feels like a comic book brought to life with tonnes of imagination and wit.

It sometimes feels a bit too much, it’s so packed with ideas that I’m wondering what I missed and I think watching it in 3D was maybe one layer too many.  There’s also a problem with length (a regular gripe this summer) and the charm of witnessing a comic serial unfold is lessened slightly by one long segment that side-tracks proceedings and ‘damsels’ Laureline just once too often.  Which is a real pity because the central pairing of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne brings a weird offbeat energy to proceedings that feels much more equitable than similar films.

Slight misgivings aside, it’s still a wonderful film.  It’s brash and fun in the same way as Besson’s The Fifth Element.  I can fully see why other people might dislike or even actively hate it, it’s ‘peak Besson’ and that’s a dangerous place for film makers (Mann and Malick both need to step back from the edge) but, for me, it hit all the right notes.

Highly Recommended.

Free Fire (2016)

So, Free Fire

I like Ben Wheatley in the same way that I like Neil Marshall, I like that he’s there doing his thing.  I’m a big fan of his High Rise (it’s not Ballard’s, which I also love) and Kill List.  His other films not so much but I’m glad someone is making them.  I’m also excited by the idea of Freak Shift and an oft mentioned remake of Wages of Fear.  But I’m here because of Free Fire, his arms deal gone bad gunfight movie.  It’s been sold by various reviews as ‘stylish’ and so on but it’s not really.  It’s a film about a bunch of unlikable people being unlikable that looks a bit too clean to be as disreputable as it might think it is.

And yet I still quite liked it. It moved along, I knew where everyone was in relation to each other and I wanted to know who would be left standing.  Plus the actors are all quite good at being Frank Miller characters.

Had I first seen this film on ‘pan and scan’ VHS when I was too young to watch it then it may have been something really special.  As it stands it’s a good watch but a better poster.

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD

I’m massively biased in favour of Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, I would probably like it no matter what.  2000AD is one of the biggest cultural influences I can recall.  It’s found in my politics, the films and books that I like, my sense of humour, my sense of fairness.  I fell into it, following Eagle and Action annuals, at just the right age, just as I was also starting to buy music and discover cinema past Star Wars.

This documentary really gets to the pulse of it and tells an entertaining story thanks to the decision to let the creators themselves tell the story and their frankness.  It you are into comics you’ll recognise every name here but the mvp is Pat Mills who truly gives no shits.  It’s funny, eye opening and utterly fascinating.

Future Shock! has been available for a while now but it’s just come out on blu-ray courtesy of Arrow on a disc stacked with extras and extended interviews.  I haven’t managed to view all of them yet but so far they’ve been just as good as anything in the film.

Highly Recommended

Bushwick (2017)

Whilst not entirely successful, Bushwick is an interesting, scrappy little movie that suddenly finds itself relevant… I’ll say ‘spoilers’ at this point because, although the relevance is now the selling point, I enjoyed watching this with no knowledge of what was happening and, given the form the film takes, I imagine this was the intention.

Anyway: spoilers.

The set-up is simple, a young couple arrive in Bushwick by train to find the platform deserted.  After a couple of minutes someone comes down the stairs, they are on fire.  As the couple near the exit the boyfriend goes ahead and says he’ll be right back…  We follow the girl (Brittany Snow) as she makes her way through a city under attack by secessionist forces and becomes paired up with an ex-marine played by Dave Bautista.  All the while the film rolls forward in a series of protracted hand held takes (the first intended visible edit being 28 minutes in) designed to place us in the action and only give us the information that the main characters are privy to.  For the most part the film makes a decent fist of this but you can see the patches of the low budget (some bad performances, muddled and muffled dialogue, cgi explosions), and the verite shooting isn’t a friend to Bautista who seems cramped and caged by the frame.

But it’s got heart and that counts.  One of the co-writers is Nick Damici (writer / star of Stake Land (2010), who possibly should have taken the Bautista role here) which is a plus and it gives a simple but hopeful take on the weakness that the purveyors of divisive politics project on those they would oppress.

Recommended.

Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk is, so far, the best of this Summer’s big hitters.  Engineered to within an inch of it’s life by Nolan, the film tells three separate stories (land, sea and air, spanning one week, one day and one hour respectively) that intersect during the evacuation.

The film succeeds because it tells a visual story that would remain intact without the dialogue and has characters that show us, rather than tell us, who they are.  It also has the confidence to remain under two hours, telling a story that casts time as the enemy and chooses visceral experience over sweep.  When Nolan does sneak in a moment of beauty, a gliding aircraft, a shipwrecked soldier shrouded in a blanket like the sea was a desert, it’s always shared with the characters and never exclusive to the viewer.

This is what it feels like when we don’t treat the past with dead-eyed biscuit tin reverence.  You never get the feeling that Nolan thinks his characters are better than us and he isn’t in the business of mythologising war.  The past feels alive in Dunkirk and, although we experience about 1% of what it must have been like, we get it.

Highly Recommended.

Monkey Business

If we’re being honest, once you strip away the technical wizardry (and it really is), War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) is all rather too familiar.  It feels like a film cobbled together from parts of more energetic and original genre movies.  Its being spoken of as the antidote to the rest of Summer’s ‘event movies’ but, like all of them, it falls apart brilliantly in a final third that sees the film stretched well beyond its logical runtime.

Imagine if this actually had the stones to be a small revenge movie?  Or a large war movie?  (Why are none of these films named correctly?)  Or a retelling of Exodus?  Or if they had even just shown Woody Harrelson’s ‘Colonel’ actually being the antagonist that he spends so much time telling us about..?  It would be spectacular, and in ten years’ time we might have had a movie that was remembered as more than a technological milestone.

What none of these films do that the original series did (even in the much weaker entries), is anything remotely startling.  Obviously it’s hard to compete with a series kicked off by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling but I think there are a couple of other reasons.  The first is Charlton Heston.  His performance in the first film turns a few throwaway character lines into a deep vein of cynicism that makes the ending feel tragically inevitable rather than melodramatic.  It seems to infect the whole series and can be heard long after Heston’s departure.

The second is the apes themselves.  The modern films are technical marvels, stunning even, but the old ape makeup was abstracting and allowed room for symbolism.  Like the most recent Jungle Book movie it’s all too literal and surface level.  Sure the films have meaning but there’s no iconography, there’s no moment of shock or mirrors being held up.  There’s nothing as chilling or interesting as Heston’s laugh.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

90 – 100 mins of Spider–Man: Homecoming (2017) are one of the best movies that Marvel has made, the remainder of the 133 min runtime is filler, most of it featuring Robert Downey Jr.  It doesn’t kill the film but it does make it drag and serves as a reminder that Marvel’s worst tendencies are not going anywhere.

To be honest, it would take a lot to kill this movie.  Tom Holland is good in the central role and the film plays as a solid adventure comedy.  It helps that the events are more grounded with the main antagonists being a gang of robbers, led by the fantastic Michael Keaton, who are trading in weapons made from the debris left in the wake of the Avengers’ work.  This world has more in common with Jessica Jones (2015 – ) than Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and that is a major plus, as is the move away from the dead eyed ‘classic banter’ of the Avengers towards a more situational, personal and slightly odd style of humour.

But there is a bad taste here.  As the movie is essentially the view from the cheap seats in relation to the events of the previous films it also has interesting political ideas.  The real disappointment is that although the world logically suggests push back against these billionaire wizards and new gods, the industrial model in which the film is made can’t abide this.  In another context the suggested Icarus tale (escaping a rigged game through determination and technology only to be brought down by hubris) would be a tragedy, in the Marvel Cinematic Content Delivery System its labelled villainy and must be stamped out.
After all, what would happen if we didn’t love Tony?!