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?!
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All about the moments…

Moments can lift or sink a film.  Ten seconds can make ninety minutes seem like time well spent or kill everything that went before.  Last night I watched Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and for better or worse the moments were in full swing.

Bone Tomahawk is a rather slight western tale of kidnapping and the posse that goes to rescue the girl.  It’s standard stuff with square jaws, old timers and Kurt Russell’s moustache and then there is a moment, a moment that harks back to the glory days of pre-cert ‘did you see that film where..?’ VHS.  You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the film, you probably won’t forget it, if you haven’t it’s worth watching and it lifts the film and carries it, perhaps throws it, over the finish line.

Then there was Rogue One, the first in a planned series of Star Wars side stories and fingertips away from being perfect.  Visually it’s stunning, with great practical and CG effects.  It also has the characters, in particular the central pairing of Jyn Erso and Cassien Andor and their team, the actors, the director, the story, the themes and ideas and Forest Whitaker, my word Forest Whitaker!  It’s brilliant and fun and then there’s the fan service, moments of redundant film buried in the uncanny valley and a fancy dress approximation of a classic character (or did he always look stupid and I’ve only just noticed?).

I’m going to go back for a rewatch because the good stuff is wonderful, it’s just such a shame that the current cinematic obsession with the miscellany of fan culture gets in the way of a perfect object.  As for Bone Tomahawk, I’ll never watch it again but absolutely, heartily recommend that you spend some time with it.

Son of Saul / Saul fia (2015)

The problem with representing the Holocaust on film is that you are making entertainment, and that is uneasy when you are talking about the 20th Century’s greatest scar.  I’m not suggesting that the Holocaust is sacred amongst all obscenities but it’s a defining event for a number of reasons; firstly the murder, secondly the mechanisation of murder talks to us about the danger of progress and, finally, I think guilt plays a part, not only in the ‘people like us’ nature of both perpetrator and victim but also the underlying feeling that had the Nazi’s not had a racial insanity and poured resources into their clinically, bureaucratically, named ‘final solution’ or viewed Eastern European people as lesser, they may have won.  The Reich broke itself on the Soviets and the victims of the Holocaust and the Western world reaped the benefit.  Treading carefully feels like the least we could so.

So how do films adequately deal with this? 

Most don’t.

Of all the Holocaust / Nazi atrocity cinema (discounting documentaries) there’s three that really stand out.  Good (2008) is interesting in that it follows the proverbial ‘good German’ who makes small compromises until he finds himself in the Bosch like madness of a concentration camp.  Come and See (1985) is a stunning work that shows the SS war machine at it’s most unchecked.  The village massacre scene acts as a counterpoint to the too controlled, too aesthetically neat ghetto clearance that features in Schindler’s List (1993) and, years later, would find itself mirrored on Jake and Dino’s Chapman’s art work Hell (2000).  Now we have Son of Saul (2015).

With a perfect match of form and content Laszlo Nemes’ film puts us right into Auschwitz as it follows a member of the Sonderkommando (Jewish prisoner’s forced to carry out manual labour in the camp) who finds the body of his son amongst the dead and sets out to give the boy the decency of a funeral.  Nemes uses a 4:3 frame (recalling Shoah (1985))  and rarely moves away from keeping the central character in shallow focus.  This simple technique keeps the sights but does not wallow in the detail, allowing the film to rival The Revenant (2015) in terms of it’s visceral feel whilst, crucially, keeping humanity centre stage and reminding us of the sheer human work that went into the machine.

Son of Saul is a great piece of cinema that, despite the constant presence of death and suffering, is so much more alive than similar films as it forgoes the cinematic comfort of survival and instead offers a tale of a person reclaiming agency and purpose in a man made hell.

Highly Recommended.

Force Majeure (2014)

So we watched this a couple of nights ago and we’re still talking about it.  Based around a great ‘what would you do?’ premise, or more accurately ‘what do you like to think you would do?’, Ruben Ostlund’s film is a genuine talkie in that it compels you to talk.  And talk.  And actually think.  And talk some more.

Superbly scripted, acted and shot, the film grabs you with a moment that you could almost miss and then re-examines that moment as the family deals with what they think it means and the wife, seemingly irked by the husband’s denial rather than the moment itself, invites other characters to share the situation and, in turn, drags the viewer in.  One can imagine this as a Neil Labute or David Mamet play but they would miss the point.

This is a great example of dialogue moving a plot, of rounded characters defined by actions rather than exposition, and how a skilled filmmaker can raise an issue and hand it over to the audience.

This is easily one of the best films of the year.

Highly Recommended.

Trainwreck (2015)

I just don’t understand the vanity.

At a full thirty minutes longer than it needs to be, Trainwreck has a decent amount of laughs but standing in the way is the need for Amy Schumer to be the best and brightest person in the room.  Sure she has some things that need sorting, like being a bit obnoxious, by the end of the film (by meeting the right man apparently) but we’re also supposed to find it all perfectly charming / liberating and she is still just the best etc.

There are three key scenes; 1. Amy drinks a carton of wine in the cinema, apparently unable to spend a couple of hours without drink.  Her boyfriend (a game, self-mocking turn by John Cena) then gets in an argument with another movie goer and Amy remains the best person in the world. 2. Amy and her sister meet for brunch and Amy starts drinking, her sister’s husband and stepson are there so Amy gets to be hilarious again. 3. Amy is shown pouring alcohol down the sink in the traditional last act redemption montage.  These three scenes suggest a better, more interesting avenue but why have actual problems when you can just be smarter than everyone else?  Why put in the extra work when you can just use your stage persona and pretend that when it’s transposed to interactions it doesn’t just seem a bit awful?

It’s the same when Rogen (etc) does it and that is perhaps the biggest disappointment.

But there are some decent laughs and Schumer and Bill Hader do make a plausible, normalish couple.  Meanwhile, Tilda Swinton shows us what it is to disappear into a character and we all want to watch that film instead.

Pixels (2015)

The problem with Pixels isn’t that even Adam Sandler looks like he’d rather be somewhere else.  Nor is it the much discussed ‘woman as trophy’ trope that the film offers up (an off-note that also melds with the film’s inability play within it’s own rules).  It isn’t even the ‘oh, was that a joke?’ thought that runs through your head far too many times as the gags fall flat or get thrown away by the cast.

The problem with Pixels is that it’s wholly misconceived.  Who’s it for?  Someone old and nerdy enough to like the references and yet undiscerning enough to not care about the childish scripting?  Junior retro-gaming enthusiasts?  The eleven year old sat a couple of rows in front of me started playing with the seat next to him about forty minutes in and no one said anything, like a silent acknowledgement that we felt his boredom and why not let him take his mind off it.

It’s a film without purpose and because of that it’s also a film without imagination or heart.  Nice CGI and a decent central conceit wasted.

Southpaw (2015)

There’s a great moment in Southpaw when boxer Billy Hope (played by Jake Gyllenhaal and his weight gain) gives a speech at a charity event.  It’s supposed to be a ‘look at me now’ moment, ‘I climbed the ladder out of poverty’, ‘this foundation made me what I am’ etc.  And you can’t help but look at him.  Broken and used, the poor boy who gets to drink with the powerful because he’s willing to take a beating.  He’s got money but I don’t wake up with blood pouring out of my mouth so I can live without that.  That’s one of a number of things that this film could have been about but isn’t.

Moments after this speech the film becomes something very different indeed, or at least it keeps threatening to.  It keeps wandering down side roads but falls flat because it keeps finding it’s way back to only the most well trodden paths.  Oh so Forest Whitaker is different to other coaches so lets throw in a last minute cynical emotional spanner to get him back on board.  Billy looks like he might change, nah because we want to see him punch someone.

Director Antoine Fuqua has never quite recaptured the energy or interest of Training Day (2001).

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

As summer action movies go the 5th instalment in the Mission: Impossible franchise is a fun couple of hours in the cinema.  From the spectacular, vertiginous opening set-piece, which almost equals the Burj Khalifa climb from the previous film, to a finale which pays of some well placed character beats, the film hits all the notes that you would expect from Cruise’s ongoing answer to Bond.  Like the rest of the series it’s also a fully formed whole with new villains and the actors effectively playing themselves (if you’ve seen Simon Pegg before then you know Benji and don’t need to catch up on the other movies etc) with some well placed humour at their expense (Cruise’s height is well used).

Its also all pretty much replaceable and nothing really seems intrinsic to the film.  Many of the stunts could easily be swapped out with something from the previous films… apart from the first movie because that was something special and during a magnificent Opera based sequence, meticulously set up and executed, it’s De Palma’s daring flourish and skewered reality that’s missing.

But I’m moaning about something being great fun rather than spectacular.

Recommended.

Ted 2 (2015)

Ted 2.

What is there to say about Ted 2?

It’s 115 minutes.

The bear does some swearing.

Patrick Warburton.

It would be 100 minutes if it didn’t contain the same establishing shot of the outside of the apartment building every time that they have a scene in there.  We know.  We get it.  If you didn’t show the outside of the building every time we wouldn’t get all confused.

I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters.

More just a list of stuff than a review but, to be honest, what’s the point?