TBT – Captain America: The Winter Soldier (20

TBT – Captain America: The Winter Soldier (20

After seeing Wonder Woman last week I claimed it was my favourite DC movie so far. It definitely is but, considering that it’s only the 4th, that isn’t really saying much. It’s not like the mind fuck of trying to work out which is the best Marvel movie. Most of the time my favourite will be whichever was the last film I saw but that’s only because my attention span is the same as a bloody goldfish. It also comes down to what you consider important for making a good film. I mean, a well-made film isn’t necessarily going to automatically entertain you the most. And, likewise, a super fun film isn’t necessarily going to be good. In a job interview a few years ago, whilst discussing this blog, I was asked what my favourite film was. Now, this is a terrible question to ask anyway but in an already stressed environment I almost collapsed. I ended up by garbling an answer like “I know it should be something classic like Citizen Kane but it’s probably more like Space Jam.” It’s a cop out but I think it raises a good point. The films that regularly grace the top of ‘the best films ever made’ lists aren’t necessarily the ones that you watch about 7 times a year. So do I chose something like Thor that I know isn’t the greatest but is so much fun to watch? Or do actually pick the greatest film in the franchise? Well, it’s been a while since I’ve seen that one so it’s probably time I revisited it. Oh, and fancy that, it happens to be Thursday too.

Oh what a difference a film makes. Before I saw Winter Solider I had very little interest in both Steve Rogers and Chris Evans. Now, he’s one of my favourite heroes in the MCU and my love of Chris Evans is threatening to overthrow my love of Chris Pratt. Hemsworth is still top and, I’m afraid, Chris Pine never really stood a chance. This was never a race for the top Chris spot in my heart but it was all about second place. The first Captain America film felt like a super rushed effort to get us to The Avengers before people got too distracted. It wasn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination but it certainly felt a bit too retro and hokey. So, as excited as I was to see Bucky return as the Winter Solider, I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat waiting for the sequel. What a fucking idiot I was back then.

The Winter Solider is, hands down, the greatest Marvel film that has ever been released. Don’t get my wrong, others come super close but this was the greatest all round film to come out of the studios. It was so unexpected. Not only did it completely change the tone of the character after the first movie but it broke the dreaded sequel curse that had afflicted both Iron Man and Thor. Yes, it might not have the relaxed and silly feel that Guardians has and or the great dialogue of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers; what it does have is everything else. It has a narrative that feels contemporary and relevant… or as relevant as a comic book movie can be. There are some great performances and a whole host of great new characters. It has action, excitement and emotional struggle. Cap has lost a lot of the campy feeling that weighed down the first film and is finally ready to show you what he can do. Turns out it’s fucking great.

After the events of The Avengers, Steve is trying to get to grips with the modern world whilst also helping out with any mission SHIELD needs his help with. Until Nick Fury discovers that the agency has actually been infiltrated by HYDRA agents. Turns out the group that Steve thought he had died stopping way back in the War have actually survived and waited until the perfect time to strike. They have possession of an algorithm that can reveal the identity of anyone who would potentially stand in their way and plan on unleashing deadly weapons to take them all out. There’s also the case of the mysterious super soldier that HYDRA seem to have at their disposal: a mam known only as the Winter Soldier. Cap must find out who he can and can’t trust as he tries to prevent the Nazi group carrying out their plan for mass murder. Thankfully, he has Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and new friend, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) by his side, as well as a few more familiar faces.

The Winter Solider is a fantastic narrative that offers a suspense-filled political drama and an action-packed superhero movie. It also features plenty of soul searching for Steve as he comes face-to-face with people from his past. The story feels a lot more grown up than the Nazi chasing plot of the first film and, because it is based in the contemporary world, feels more relevant and cutting edge. There is plenty of action to keep you involved and the tension builds until the epic finale. Although, I will admit that there are certain issues and Winter Solider isn’t immune to the MCU’s final showdown rule where a huge structure falls to the Earth and causes untold amounts of damage. The narrative is full of great ideas but there is a lot going on. Certain sideline characters are introduced clumsily and not really given time to shine. There are a lot of parts to juggle and a lot of exposition to get in. However, for the most part, the film handles itself incredibly well.

Winter Solider is not the perfect film but it is the closest that Marvel has come to perfect. The Russo brothers do a great job taking over the reigns and allow the character to step out of his previously camp light. This is when Captain America stopped being a throwback and started being relevant in the landscape of contemporary film. It was a partnership that worked so well that the brothers returned to direct the equally great third film in Cap’s series, Civil War. I know there will always be disagreements about what is the greatest Marvel film but, for my part, The Winter Solider never fails to entertain me. And that’s all the really matters.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Wonder Woman (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Wonder Woman (2017)

If you’d asked me how I felt when the Wonder Woman film was first announced I would probably have told you I didn’t give a shit. I was never really into the character, despite my love of badass women, and my limited view just made her seem a bit campy and annoying. Then there’s the issue of an endless stream of disappointing DC films. Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice were both just too dark and completely thoughtless. Then Suicide Squad ruined the chance to be something different and fun by being completely obvious and uninspiring. So, yeah, maybe thanks to their insane love of Zack fucking Snyder I was kind of convinced that DC would somehow fuck this up. Wonder Woman had a lot to live up: it’s the first comic book movie about a female superhero. They beat Marvel at showing a woman being awesome front and centre. It needed to be good. With their track record I couldn’t help but feel that was unlikely… but then again I’m old and cynical by now.
Question: how many times did I actually cry during Wonder Woman? Answer: 1. Question: how many times did I nearly cry during Wonder Woman? Answer: a bazillion. From the moment I started tearing up during the opening scene depicting strong Amazonian women training for battle I knew this film was for me. Finally, a female-led superhero film that shows how strong women can be whilst still remaining feminine. I was instantly hooked. It looked like this was going to be the film I’d wanted: somewhere where women can kickass and show they can do whatever their male counterparts can do. Which is probably why this film takes so many pointers from previous superhero films. Just like Captain America: The First Avenger we travel back in time to World War 1 to see where the breakout character of Dawn of Justice came from. Like Thor we become immersed in a world of Gods and great warriors before being planted firmly in a realm away from mankind. Finally, there are plenty of nods to Richard Donner’s classic Superman films.

However, Wonder Woman is a key film in its own right as it is the first female-led superhero film by either big comic book distributor. Yes, there have been attempts to cater for women in the world of comic book movies but the less said about either Catwoman or Elektra the better. Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, has the weight of Hollywood on her shoulders as she attempts to prove that women have a place in superhero films. Not just front and centre but in the audience too. There is still an obscene generalisation that it is only men who enjoy action films, which in this day and age if frankly an absurd thing to claim. Thankfully, with Patty Jenkins and the insanely amazing Gal Gadot at the helm, Wonder Woman has smashed all kinds of records to, hopefully, show that 2017 was the moment women made their presence felt in the world of comic book movies.

To briefly sum up the narrative before my endless appreciation of this film: Diana is one of an island of Amazons who were created by Zeus to protect mankind from Ares, the God of War. After Zeus dies attempting to overthrow Ares, the Amazons are sent to a secluded island, Themyscira to hide. They spend their time training for the inevitable battle when Zeus final gift, the God Killer, will vanquish their foe forever. Diana, daughter of the island’s Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to fight but is forbidden by her mother. She is trained, in secret, by Antiope (Robin Wright) until she becomes the greatest fighter the island has ever seen. Just in time, as it happens, because war comes to Themyscira in the form of an American pilot and the fleet of German soldiers chasing him. Diana suspects Ares is the reason humanity if at war and, with the pilots help, goes to the frontline to confront and kill him. There’s also the obligatory romance because, really, what kind of woman can go to war and not fall in love?

Wonder Woman may owe a lot to the films of Richard Donner but it has so much fun subverting them that it becomes a whole new thing. Instead of the dashing heroic man saving the damsel in distress, we see the strong, beautiful woman leaping into danger with the puppy-dog eyed pilot lolloping after her. Not that Chris Pine could be accused to lolloping, of course. We clearly have a flipped arrangement of the classic Clark Kent and Lois Lane relationship going on here and its great. More than that, actually, because Pine’s American Spy, Steve Trevor, has some depth to him. He’s not just the Jane Foster of Wonder Woman; he has his own story arc and everything. Steve has to overcome his own demons about the war whilst also casting his sometimes sarcastic eye over Diana’s way of life. What Chris Pine is essentially doing here is WW1 Captain Kirk but, hey, if it works it works.

Steve is more than a match for the Amazonian Princess, Diana, who absolutely sizzles on screen thanks to Gal Gadot’s portrayal. Diana is both terrifyingly strong and noble whilst being incredibly naive and tender. We knew from Dawn of Justice that the ex-Israeli military woman could handle the action sequences with ease but here she proves that she has the talent to bring the character to life. She is brave, sweet, moral and, though we’ve seen it countless times, an adorable fish out of water. She is also, more importantly, funny. A trait that has been sadly lacking in the DCEU for its last 3 films. The visual and narrative links to Clark Kent are numerous, even down to the clothes that Diana uses to remain incognito in WW1 era London, but it all just works.

Wonder Woman is a film that relishes in tackling the excitement of a comic book movie by ensuring the action scenes are over-the-top and visually stunning. However, it does fall into the comic book movie trap of having a final battle scene that just becomes a heavily CGI’d, garish affair. The final 30 minutes of this film drag and lose the glorious momentum of the previous film. My one criticism is that Wonder Woman is so bogged down in Greek mythology. The rest of the film is kind of silly, very important and glorious celebration of the character and women in general. The hunt for Ares just drags it down into the murky, dark waters currently housing every Zack Snyder film ever made. It’s too much. I would have been happy if Diana and co. just kept rescuing innocent people from German soldiers.

Wonder Woman is the perfect DC film. It overshadows its predecessors and shows them just how easy it could be. It offers important messages about female empowerment and feminism whilst also addressing that pesky subject of humanity doing terrible things to each other. I didn’t expect to enjoy this film but I’m happy to eat my own words. This is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. Gal Gadot is my ultimate hero and Robin Wright is the biggest badass of all time. I sat through this film with a massive grin on my face… until the finale. But, still, it’s a wonder to behold.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Alien: Covenant (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Alien: Covenant (2017)

Before I started writing this review I decided it was time to remind myself of Ridley Scott’s first prequel to Alien. I feel like I’m always having to defend Prometheus from people who thought it was a disappointing addition to the franchise. When I looked at the reviews I was shocked to see that a lot of critics gave the film moderate praise. I mean, yes, that praise was mostly for the aesthetic appeal and Michael Fassbender’s performance but I was under the impression that it had received more of a negative response. I, personally, didn’t mind the film. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be another wild ride of alien escapes and craziness in space. So I went in with realistic expectations. The people that I know who were most disappointed by it are the ones who expected Ridley Scott to pick up where he left off. Before 2012’s prequel, Scott had only directed the original film in the franchise so there were fans who were hoping he would give us the same treatment that Sigourney Weaver got but a few years earlier. Instead, we went on a journey to discover humanity’s existence and find out where the Alien menace came from. The story wasn’t quite as slick as we were used to and, for the most part, Prometheus gave us more questions than it answered. However, it was still enough to whet our appetite for the prequel’s sequel. Although, there was always the chance that we would get another Attack of the Clones here. I mean nobody expected that to be even more disappointing to fans than Phantom Menace but then Hayden Christensen managed to take shit to a whole new level.

I admire Ridley Scott for making this film. I mean, he was responsible for making one of the single greatest sci-fi films of all time. Hell, I’d happily say that Alien is one of the single greatest films of all time. The last time I watched it I was still scared shitless and I know exactly what’s going to happen at this point. So, he could have bowed out gracefully and let that be his legacy. Instead, he risked pulling a George Lucas and decided to show us the background to a much loved classic. Now, I know a lot of fans weren’t too keen on Prometheus but, if you take away all of your expectations of a film in the franchise, it is actually not that bad a film. There is a great cast and an interesting, if slightly overreaching, narrative. It has fantastic visuals and attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the alien that caused so much grief on the USCSS Nostromo. I enjoyed it and, with every repeat viewing of the Alien: Covenant trailer, I was really looking forward to its sequel.

A sequel which appeared to go out of its way to make connection to both the original Alien and its own sequel Aliens. We are introduced to a colonisation ship, the Covenant, in the midst of its journey to a distant and habitable planet. When an accident causes a few issues, the crew are awoken from hyperspace and discover another habitable planet that is closer to their current location. Now, because the crew have never seen a science-fiction movie before, new Captain Oram (Billy Cruddup) decides it is worth checking out this mysterious, new planet. He goes against the wishes of his second in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterson) for the good of the audience. So we see most of the crew head down to the weird planet whilst a small minority remain to keep things in order.

Unfortunately but not unexpectedly shit starts to go down in typical Alien fashion. The crew starts to be infected by a weird spore that, strangely, causes creatures to burst from their bodies. Hmm, I feel like I’ve heard of that happening before. Luckily, though, David (Michael Fassbender) the creepy android from Prometheus, is on hand to give the crew his new expertise on the creatures. Turns out he became stranded on the planet 10 years earlier and has spent his time alone studying them. The scenes in which he takes Orman through his weird museum of Xenomorph skeletons is super creepy and just amazing.

In terms of plot Alien: Covenant still isn’t exactly as tight as Ridley Scott’s original but it feels as though it is reaching for something within its grasp. It attempts to answer as many of the questions that Prometheus left us with whilst getting closer to the structure of the earlier parts of the franchise. We see glimpses of both Alien and Aliens as the action moves from the wide open spaces of the planet to the confines of the ship. We have the inevitable nods to the very first facehugger and chestburster scenes but with the added gore of CGI. This film certainly pays fan service and will delight for nostalgia alone. However, it may still feel kind of empty to those who are used to this kind of thing. Just as Prometheus was a bigger hit with younger audiences, I believe those unfamiliar with the series will get a bigger kick out of these moments than lifelong fans. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a watch of course.

The problem isn’t that Covenant is a bad film; it’s just that it doesn’t feel new enough. People criticised Prometheus for being too dissimilar to anything that had gone before but this is starting to feel like a step back. The cast is great and, I have to say, that Katherine Waterson makes a much more convincing lead for the film than Noomi Rapace did before her. Waterson has more of the Sigourney Weaver feel about her and handles the character well. Michael Fassbender, in the dual role of David and his contemporary Walter, is still on fantastic form and is clearly having a blast making these films. The film, as its predecessor was, is absolutely stunning. However, there is something missing. The first Alien made so much of such a small concept but, since that point, the concept are getting bigger and less terrifying. I get that Scott wants to handle bigger ideas but, if this is to continue, everything needs a bit more clarity.

TBT – Sliding Doors (1998)

TBT – Sliding Doors (1998)

I was sorely tempted to put off this TBT post and do it tomorrow. Today was the General Election and, as I was working from 9 until 630, I decided to go before I set off this morning. That’s fine in principal but, as always happens on such occasions, I got caught in a YouTube cycle last night and went to bed far too late. I’ve been walking around like a zombie for most of the day because of the lack of sleep. I managed quite well but there was a point this morning when I dropped pretty much everything that I picked up. Something that would be quite funny were I part of the circus or in some kind of farce but less useful in a kitchen setting. Still, I am determined to finish this tonight and get to bed, relatively, early. I’d love to stay up and wait for the results to roll in but, as vital as that seemed back in my early twenties, now I’m nearly 30 it seems utterly stupid. Especially when I’m starting work at 7 tomorrow morning. I don’t have time for that… Dimbledore or no Dimbledore.

When The Versions of Us first came out pretty much every article and review about it referenced Sliding Doors. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense but it always felt like kind of an obvious comparison. It’s as inevitable as the moment when anything that is set in space is compared to Star Wars. Yes, both are about the concept of different timelines and the importance of one moment on your future but that doesn’t mean they are obvious partners. Still, if was good enough for those guys then I feel like it’s fair to talk about that 1998 romantic-comedy for today’s TBT post. It helps that I have a bit of soft spot for the film thanks to my undying love of John Hannah. He’s lovely and Scottish. And he’s made more than enough terrible films better just by being on screen. Okay I’m mainly talking about this one, The Mummy series and Four Weddings and a Funeral but I’m sure there’s more I haven’t seen.

When it comes to Sliding Doors I have 2 strong memories of the film. Number 1: a very good friend of mine absolutely loves this film so I’ve always felt the need to bite my tongue about it. Number 2: Gwyneth Paltrow is made to say the word “shagging” over and over again in order to convince people she’s British. More than anything else, I think it’s the use of the word “shagging” that really pisses me off about Sliding Doors. It’s one of those awful British stereotypes that Americans have but, in actuality, is a stark contrast to the way people speak. Of course, it could be a 90s thing; I was only 10 when this film first came out. Although, I’m still fairly certain people didn’t use the word “shag” in the many varied contexts that Gwyneth Paltrow does.

Anyway, it’s hardly the most important thing about the film. That is the gimmick that we see the two difference paths that Paltrow’s PR Exec, Helen, could take depending on whether she does or doesn’t make it onto The Tube on time. As gimmicks go it’s pretty interesting and it is quite fun to see the two versions of Helen lives play out alongside the other. In the first, she makes the train and gets home to discover her boyfriend cheating on her. This pushes her into the path of the charming and silly, James (John Hannah), who encourages Helen to move on with her life and pursue her dreams. In the second, Helen doesn’t find out and lives in blissful ignorance whilst bankrolling her boyfriend’s infidelity working two jobs.

You see, Sliding Doors, above all else, is a fairly bland romantic-comedy with a gimmick that raises it above the rest but that only succeeds because of its cast. It is an imaginative take on a tired genre but there still isn’t a great deal of creativity. A woman leaves her cheating man and gets a new haircut in one strand whilst she remains dowdy and brunette in the other. This doesn’t try and use the premise for anything interesting or deep. It’s literally just about which man she ends up with. It’s a rather shallow narrative that is able to hide behind its charming cast and feel like a much better film. Really, as I’ve always sort of suspected, it’s nothing I should waste time with. It’s a shagging travesty.

TBT – Stardust (2007)

TBT – Stardust (2007)

When it comes to romantic comedies I can’t say that I’m a huge fan. I’m much too cynical and, if we’re being honest, it’s all been done a thousand times before. Boy meets girl. Boy tries to make girl fall in love with him. Stuff happens. Happily ever after. I just never find it an incredibly inspiring to sit down and watch them so I avoid them. However, if ever there was going to be a writer who could change my mind about the whole concept it would be Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is the much loved fantasy, horror, science fiction, anything else you can think of writer who has penned such notable works as The Sandman comic book series as well as numerous novels and short story collections. Stardust is, in a way, Gaiman’s own The Princess Bride  (incidentally, this is one of the few romantic comedies that I genuinely adore). Now, I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing and I would recommend his books to anyone. His writing is like magic. There’s nobody quite like him. Yet, I’ve never really been a massive fan of any adaptations of his work. Well, that’s not quite true. I like them but I can’t say I love them. I could read and reread Gaiman’s work any number of times but I don’t think I’d ever watch one his films or TV shows more than once. Except maybe Coraline because that was fucking awesome. There’s something that just gets lost in translation and I don’t have that same connection with them. It’s why I never rewatched this film until I needed something to review for today… and it’s why I’m in no real rush to watch it again.

We’re all pretty familiar with swashbuckling romances, right? A handsome young man goes off on an adventure to win his fair maidens heart and must overcome all the obstacles in his way. Stardust follows that basic plot but gives it a decidedly Neil Gaiman spin. The plot, adapted from Gaiman’s original novel, follows Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) a resident in a quiet little village called Wall.The village has been named for the stonewall than runs along it that, legend tells, separates merry old England from the magical realm of Stormhold. Tristan has fallen in love with the beautiful but selfish Victoria (Sienna Miller) but is about to lose her to his rival Humphrey. Until, after spotting a shooting star in the sky, Tristan promises to bring his love the fallen star in exchange for her hand. Unfortunately, this means a trip beyond the wall and into the unknown.

It also turns out to be rather difficult as the star has turned into a stubborn and sassy young woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes) and Tristan has a hard time persuading her to come with him. Then you have the added problem of a trio of witches, headed up by the vicious Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who want to track down the girl, eat her heart and receive immortality. Finally, as if that weren’t enough, Yvaine has taken possession of a ruby that belonged to the recently deceased King of Stormhold (Peter O’Toole) who has declared that the first of his make heirs to find the stone will be the next rightful ruler of the land. All parties end up chasing down the hapless pair as they slowly make their way back to Wall before Victoria’s birthday.

That’s the main problem with Stardust really. There is a lot going on and it all gets a bit haphazard on screen. The plot manages to stay fairly faithful to the book but, in a desire to manage this, everything moves quite quickly. It gets pretty confusing and there are some liberties that are taken to ensure that some sort of narrative structure exists. Things don’t naturally fit into place and there are several awkward moments that are intended for the sole purpose of holding things together. It’s a tad messy and could easily have been fixed with a bit of careful editing.

There are plenty of star studded cameos throughout the film with supporting characters popping up to play their small part in Tristan and Yvaine’s epic journey. It is an inspired cast but some of these moments just feel unnecessary or uncomfortable. By far the best and the worst is Robert DeNiro as Captain Shakespeare, the man in charge of an airship that farms lightening. Though he has the reputation of a fearsome pirate, Captain Shakespeare is a campy relic that should have been left in the 70s. As fun as DeNiro is in the role his performance just feels a bit like an outdated relic.

Aside from that we have turns from fantastic British comedians and comedy actors which work in varying degrees. The ghosts of the the Kings dead sons, all of whom have fallen in the family tradition of brother killing brother in the race for succession, just about work as they hang around like Hamlet Snr. and weigh in on their siblings failures. Ricky Gervais’ time on screen just seems like a desperate attempt to let him be the same character he always plays. I could have done without it. Ultimately, it feels as though the sheer number of famous faces is a bit of a gimmick and it just adds to the already complicated nature of the film.

It tries desperately to let the narrative survive but it comes at the expense of good storytelling. There are obvious comparisons to The Princess Bride and the work of Terry Gilliam but Stardust neither has the original of Gilliam nor the heart and soul of Rob Reiner’s great romantic adventure. Stardust is a sweet and perfectly enjoyable film. There are some great moments and, thanks to Pfeiffer and Mark Strong, couple of incredible villains to amp up the tension. However, it loses itself in the scope of what it is trying to achieve. It’s trying to be a bit of every genre it can think of and it tries to flit between drama and comedy without any real thought. It’s silly but neither it’s not quite silly enough. It’s scary but not quite scary enough. It’s romantic but not quite romantic enough… oh, you get the idea. It’s not a bad film. It’s just not a great one either. I mean, it’s not a great sign when the thing I love most about this film is the Take That song that plays over the credits.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (2017)

This week there was Cannes controversy when audiences booed the film Okja during its screening at the festival. It comes within a week where the French film festival has condemned the online streaming service despite 2 of its current titles being included in this year’s line-up. It all started when Cannes changed its rules to only allow entries from films that have been shown in French cinemas. This year’s jury president, director Pedro Almodóvar, made a statement proclaiming that nothing can stand in for the real experience of watching a film in the cinema and said that it would be a huge mistake to award the Palme D’Or to a film that audiences watched at home. Netflix has changed the way in which we are all digesting film and television but Hollywood is still trying to catch up. There are some bigger issues at play here, including French laws, but it should open a debate on what counts as a film. Netflix is loved by certain creatives because it gives them more freedom and room to create. However, it can sometimes come across as the company who make the films nobody else would bother to make. Especially with it’s comedies. There have been numerous times when trailers have caught my attention only for the final product to be really underwhelming. So when I first saw the trailer for Jeff Garlin’s Handsome I was in two minds about it. Surely it wouldn’t be as wonderful as the trailer was making it seem?

Handsome is the third feature film from comic Jeff Garlin, . The trailer set up Garlin’s classic deadpan delivery and the ability to keep his poker face in the midst of absolute absurdity. In the film, Garlin plays Detective Gene Handsome as he investigates the murder of his new neighbour babysitter. The day after Gene first meets the young woman in question he is faced with her chopped up remains on the front lawn of famous actor Talbert Bacom (Stephen Weber). Considering this films calls itself “a Netflix mystery movie” it isn’t so caught up on an investigation narrative. It’s more like a selection of sketched set in Los Angeles that are interspersed with talk of murder and lies. This is fine in itself but it doesn’t really push an audience into staying glued to the screen. The narrative plods along never quite committing itself to be anything specific.

Although, there are a handful of great moments within Handsome but it’s unfortunate that all of these moments are separate from the plot. This film is at it’s best when Detective Handsome is going about his daily business or having quiet interactions away from work. There is a lovely moment when he discusses hopes and dreams for the future with his neighbour. It’s a sincere and moving scene that could easily have been the basis for a much more entertaining film. Intersperse some deep and meaningful moments like this with a few scenes of Handsome giving too much attention to his dog and we’d be on the right track.

Instead, we have a film that paradoxically manages to be both too long and too short. The story develops too slowly to keep your attention but ends so quickly that you don’t really have time to realise what’s happened. There are plenty of absurd moments and outrageous comedy but the actual laughs are few and far between. There are plenty of running jokes that are just uncomfortable and never really land. Like the cheap jokes about Gene’s super horny partner, Fleur Scozzari (Natasha Lyonne), and the super awkward and unfunny moment when his superior officer (Amy Sedaris) sexually harasses him at the office.

I get what Garlin was trying to aim for with this film. There was potential for a murder mystery that was more laidback and sedate. A cop drama that was wholly uninterested in the cop or drama part . This could have been a super quirky, interesting and character driven affair. Instead it has neither enough characters, enough quirk or enough interest to keep you occupied. Every choice made about this film just seems off slightly. I don’t mind the lack of narrative in a film but Handsome needed something else to make up for it. If all of it’s attempted jokes had landed then it would have been fine but most of them are weak. It needed more identity and more confidence in itself. Instead it’s just another in an increasing line of forgettable Netflix original comedy films.

TBT – Big Fish (2003)

TBT – Big Fish (2003)

When it comes to my Thursday post I basically just trawl Netflix for a while until I find a film that I really want to watch. It means I’m just rewatching films that I’ve loved for years but I’m okay with that. It’s the best of both worlds I suppose. Although, it does mean that I mostly just end up writing gushing reviews for the films I wholeheartedly adore. I watched this week’s film when it first came out in the cinema nearly 14 years ago and have had a soft spot for it ever since. A friend bought me the book it was based on after we saw it but, if I’m honest, I never finished. For one thing, the author had the same as a boy in my class and it was a bit too weird. Basically because he was a bit weird. Secondly, I think it was a mistake reading it after seeing the film because, due to the changes, the film’s narrative was tighter. I think I lost my way with the book when the vicious dog turned up. I know I know. As a bookish person it should be “the book is always better” but sometimes it has to be okay to prefer the film. Especially when Ewan McGregor and Tim Burton are involved.

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions is a novel by Daniel Wallace that retells the life of a great storyteller. Throughout the narrative his son tries to get his father to tell him the truth and connect these tall tales with reality. At it’s heart, Big Fish is just the story of a man trying to understand his father before he dies. When it was made into a film it seemed like the perfect story for Tim Burton to tell. Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) has spent his later years retelling the stories of his youth to his son, Will no matter how unbelievable they appeared to be. As he grew up hearing the tales over and over, Will (Billy Crudup), started to see them as more annoying that exciting. Constantly hearing his father’s outrageous stories caused barriers to come between the pair and, upon returning home to say goodbye, Will attempts to find out more about the man behind the myths.

This is the film that Tim Burton was destined to make. Who better but the visionary director to help bring this book to life? Edward Bloom, like Burton, is a natural storyteller who believes real life could do with a bit of help from more magical elements. It is a film that explores the relationship between real life and fantasy and how the two can work together. The narrative speaks to Burton’s sensibilities as a director and allows him to be whimsical, funny and dark but gives him a constant grounding in reality. It gives him every chance to create the kind of visuals he has become known for and the quirkiness he inevitably brings to every project without feeling disjointed. We see small towns that look like something out of Edward Scissor Hands or creepy forests that could easily be used in Sleepy Hollow. He takes Wallace’s already fantastical tale and gives it a proper Tim Burton spin.

Big Fish is a clever film that, in other hands, could easily have fallen apart. So much depends on the representation of Edward and Will that you need a firm hand at the wheel. It was important not to present Edward as a crazy old fool who repeats his fantastical ramblings about events that never happened. The audience needs to love him and see why people love his stories. Thankfully, the film is presented as flashbacks with Ewan McGregor stepping into young Edward’s shoes. McGregor is able to bring as much charm and effortless likeability to the character that it’s impossible not to get swept away with the tall tales Mixed with Albert Finney’s held-back performance as the elder Edward, we see a man who you want to believe no matter how hard it is.

However, Burton is not trying to champion a way of life that relies solely on fictional representations of real events. Finney does showcase the irritable side of Edward’s personality to the extent that you can also understand where Will is coming from. Stories are all well and good when you are a child but, eventually, it would be nice to hear the truth. Crudup plays his part well and gives a subtle approach to the father son rift. However, it is Will’s final moments with his father that really shine out. A lesser actor would have built up the emotional aspects of the scene but Crudup holds back. He allows the final meeting of the minds to speak for itself and lets the story do it’s job. It’s a fantastic performance.

Big Fish is one of those films that can easily divide opinion. To someone it may seem schmaltzy and twee. To me it skirts the two without ever falling into the danger zone. There are some excellent supporting performances from Hollywood greats like Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, and Danny DeVito. Jessica Lange gives a brilliant performance as Edward’s true love, Sandra, who is played by an equally fabulous Alison Lohman in her younger days. It is a truly Tim Burton production with his usual cast of players and his traditional visuals. It is constantly very funny and gut wrenchingly sad. No matter how many times I watch it, that final scene has me in an stream of tears. However, it is a more sophisticated story… or at least a different kind of story. Exploring the relationship between father and son and the acceptance of their little foibles. It is a film that tells us, fact is all very well and good but sometimes it’s better to bend that truth.

TBT – Escape From LA (1996)

TBT – Escape From LA (1996)

One of my biggest fears before watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week was the change in Peter’s parentage. In the comics, Quill is the son of the Spartoi J’son. He’s a complicated character who eventually becomes a villain who puts a bounty on his son’s head. I can see why Marvel and James Gunn wanted to find an easier solution. That solution, as we now know, was to introduce Ego to the MCU. It initially like a bit of a risk but Kurt Russell’s character quickly became the most memorable Marvel villain in years. He revealed a super dark and sinister side and rocked Pete’s world for ever. Kurt Russell is fantastic in the role and it only got me keen to rewatch some of his classics. Now, it’s not like I have the greatest knowledge of all of Russell’s career but I know what I like. And what I like is Snake Plissken. He’s the gruff, rough anti-hero who rocked an eye-patch way before Samuel L. got in on the act. It might not be Russell’s finest hour but the two Escape films are some of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

The 1981 film, Escape from New York is one of John Carpenter’s best films. It’s a weird mess of an action film set in a futuristic New York city. It’s a fantastic watch and is brilliantly headed up by Kurt Russell as wanted criminal Snake Plissken. It’s writer/director teamed up with the actor to write a sequel that was released 15 years later. It’s safe to say that the sequel didn’t quite live up to the first film and audiences were left feeling disappointed. And I can kind of see why. On the face of it, Escape from LA is nowhere near as good as it’s predecessor. However, it just happens to be one of the best pulpy type parodies of all time.

For his return, Snake Plissken goes on a very similar journey to his last one but, this time, he’s in LA not New York. Genius. At the film opens, we learn that an Earthquake has left part of Los Angeles covered in water and the rest has been cut off so the worst members of society can be shipped off and left to their own devices. The rest of America is controlled by a Theocrat who believes it was God’s will to forsake the people of LA. When his daughter hijacks Air Force 3 and steals the codes to a series of satellites that can control and destroy every country in the world’s power supply. She then heads to island to meet her lover, its de facto ruler Cuervo Jones. Snake is charged with getting the codes back without worrying about the president’s daughter. If he doesn’t, the criminals stuck on the island will revolt and destroy the world. Oh, and the deadly virus that has been injected into Snake’s system will kill him.

So, it’s kind of the same story but with some slight changes. However, the film had a larger budget than the first film and is full of all sorts of CGI wizardry. Obviously that looks dated now but, even by 90s standards, it was always falling a bit short. This is much less of a problem than most seem to believe, though. Surely, it’s part of the point? This film doesn’t claim to be the best action film of all time. It’s a film that is determined to have fun with that premise and make it as loud, obnoxious and preposterous as possible. And that’s what is is. It’s not a clever or original film but it’s a film that you can’t help but enjoy. The plot is thin to allow Carpenter to have as much fun in the big set-pieces as possible. Why bother having a complicated plot when you could just watch Snake play basketball for his life? Who needs depth when you can watch Kurt Russell and co. descend over LA in gliders and shooting automatics at the people below?

Although, there is a certain amount of depth to this film. It asks important questions about morality and government that, certainly in this day and age, seem quite prescient. I mean, we’re dealing with a psychopathic autocrat who wants to get rid of the people he doesn’t see as truly American by building a massive wall and stationing guards all the way along it. Anyone who says this film doesn’t have depth or point is a moron. It’s just that every interesting and clever thing this film has to say is hidden behind the cheap tricks and attempt to push the genre to the limits. It’s all wrapped up in garish and fun packaging but this film really is something.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Tuesday’s Reviews – Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Last week I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 with a friend. Before I saw it I was filled with fear and doubt about how good it was. The trailers hadn’t really done much to suggest that Marvel were doing anything other than call-backs and in-jokes mixed with loads of shots of Baby Groot. I was sure it was going to be super fucking cringey and just ruin my love of the first one. I mean, Baby Groot is cute and all but I need something more than a CGI’d tiny tree to keep me happy, you know. So I was concerned but I loved the first film so much. It wasn’t perfect but, really, what Marvel movie is? We don’t love them because they’re flawless films; we love them because they’re awesome regardless. Anyway, this film boasts Kurt Russell as Ego and I’m not the kind of person who can happily walk away from that situation. Two powerhouses coming together in one place? Yes, please. Especially when accompanied by still buff Christ Pratt. Really, it didn’t matter if this film was good or bad as long as Star Lord was as easy one the eye as the first time.

Whilst Guardians of the Galaxy is now well-known as being part of the lighter side of the MCU, it’s important to remember that it opens with an incredibly emotional and dark moment. It opens with the very real and human sequence where young Peter Quill is faced with the death of his mother. It is something that soon gets lost in all the fun and quips but it hangs over Quill’s life and the film. It showed that, despite seeming like being nothing more than a jolly good time, Guardians was willing to deal with some deep shit. This is something that is also true of it’s sequel. Seriously, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be walking in to but I definitely didn’t expect there to be quite so many feels.

But we’ll get there, Guardians of the Galaxy starts off as everyone wanted it to and proved that director James Gunn was still going to approach this in the same way he had the first one. We dive headfirst into an impending battle between out hapless heroes and a huge beast. Unexpectedly, however, we see the battle take place in the background as tiny Groot dances to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. It’s a fabulous opening scene that had me grinning from ear to ear and caused all of my doubts to dissolve in the overriding sweetness on show. It’s a great opening scene and makes huge promises to the audience. Unfortunately, it can’t deliver on all of those promises.

Where Guardians 2 really flies is within Gunn’s dialogue and in the interaction between the group at its core. When the main 5, plus Yondu, get a chance to really shoot the breeze everything just feels right. There’s such a great chemistry on screen and Gunn has a wonderful sense of how the relationships should work. In an ideal world, this film would literally just have been a rambling film where the gang fly around space and banter with each other. However, films of this type generally require plots and action to keep an audience interested. So, thanks to a clunky plot device, we are quickly introduced to Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) estranged father, Ego (Kurt Russell). Turns out, Quill comes from very good genes as his immortal, planet God father is all too eager to tell him. Whilst Quill loves getting to know his only living family his team mates have bad feelings about this.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) doesn’t trust the newly discovered father figure and as it turns out, she has good reason. When Ego showcases a desire for some doomsday level shenanigans, the gang must save Peter from falling under his spell. Before we get there, of course, there’s some other stuff with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) getting caught up in a coup on Yondu’s ship and a shit load of adoptive sisterly tension between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan). Plus, plenty of times where Drax (Dave Bautista) is able to be fucking hilarious. After the super slick and fun opening sequence the rest of the film starts to run away with itself. Gunn always manages to reign it in but there is the inescapable feeling that everything is rushing towards the inevitable CGI filled climactic showdown. Really, it kind of seems that Gunn was so desperate to outdo himself that it ends up being a bit desperate and over-the-top. There’s just so much drama and action and it’s just not necessary. Then there are the endless pop culture references that, whilst fresh in the first one, just seem relentless now. It feels like all those YA post-apocalyptic books that reference 80s music to hide the fact that the author doesn’t have the creativity to build a fleshed out post-apocalyptic world. Missing something in your narrative? Just reference a classic sitcom or song. It feels like Gunn’s constant referencing is just an attempt to paper over some cracks.

This isn’t a bad film, though and, even in it’s dodgier moments, always maintains that sense of fun and heart. There are some fantastic scenes and the expansion of Michael Rooker’s Yondu is a fabulous edition. It was a surprising turn of events that this film ended up having one of the most emotionally fraugh ending of any film I’ve seen recently. More than any film in the MCU so far, Guardians 2 has some fucking hard consequences… and it’s brilliant. The sequel may not be quite as good, clever, or original as the first film but it’s still well-worth a look. I mean it was never going to reach the heady heights of the first one because that was such a shock. We knew what to expect here and it delivered exactly that, which was, in a way, its undoing. It’s the awful irony of success I suppose.

Despite everything I really loved this film and was super happy with how Gunn and co did in creating a sequel. It was funny, exciting and visually interesting. The main 5 are getting better and better together and I look forward to future films. I just hope they reign themselves in a bit. Both in terms of the actual film and the post-credits scenes. I mean fucking 5 clips? This whole Marvel tease is getting out of control. Although, it would be fine if they were fulfilling clips but most of them add nothing. I guess one was funny but most just felt unnecessary. A brief tease to a future character, a glimpse to appease comic book fans and a teenage Groot moment that just fell flat. Guardians 2‘s greatest sin was putting the final nail in the coffin of the post-credit bonus clip. Marvel, it’s time to stop this nonsense now. Thanks.

TBT – Attack of the Clones (2002)

TBT – Attack of the Clones (2002)

I know that it’s a very subjective thing but I think we mostly all agree that, when it comes to Star Wars films, the second ever film in the franchise is the best. I know over the years I’ve changed my mind on the matter many times and can still switch whenever I’m a bit hungry or my mood changes slightly. However, The Empire Strikes Back, ended up being a far better film than A New Hope and it was certainly not surpassed by Return of the Jedi. If you were to ask me, Empire is up there with a limited number of sequels that were better than the original film. This fact may have given fans a glimmer of hope after the disappointing prequel The Phantom Menace by suggesting that lightening could strike twice. We all madly hoped that Attack of the Clones would show us how great Star Wars could be with lashings of CGI and plenty of stupid characters to keep the kids entertained. Unfortunately, it did the opposite and managed to make the first film look like fucking Shakespeare. Just as we can pretty much all agree that the original sequel is the best film in the franchise, I think we all know that the worst is the prequel sequel. So, in honour of this great day, I decided to re-watch it and rip it to shreds.

As you may remember, back in 2015 I wrote a blog post in which I defended the prequels and offered several examples that I believe were genuinely good about them. There are a fair few good things about Revenge of the Sith and some aspects of The Phantom Menace that really worked well. The only things I could think of for Attack of the Clones? The Jedi battle on Geonosis and Obi Wan’s face. Now Ewan McGregor’s face has got me to watch many questionable films over the years and definitely will do again. His casting was the best thing about the prequel films and has caused me to re-watch specific scenes in all of the prequels way too many times. He’s bloody beautiful and super talented despite the god awful lines he’s continually forced to spout. Still, there is only so much that his good looks can cover up.

For the most part, Attack of the Clones is just a long and slow continuation of Anakin’s story where very little happens until the final half hour or so. The tale picks up 10 years after the end of Phantom and Anakin is still Obi Wan’s padawan. He is cocky and still unable to control his emotions. Even if you weren’t aware of the future events in his story, it’s super obvious that he shouldn’t have been allowed into the Jedi order and I spend most of the film wondering why people didn’t realise the outcome sooner. I mean he just comes across as a fucking creep the entire time and looks as though he could kill at any minute. It’s insane that Yoda let him just wander around the galaxy freely carrying a weapon.

Unlike it’s counterpart for the original films, The Empire Strikes Back, there is no dramatic and exciting opening to this film. Instead of a great battle on Hoth, we have an introduction to space politics and a really boring assassination plot. A plot which only serves the purpose of messily putting  Anakin and Padme together to allow them to fall in love. Which is basically all this film cares about. It pushes the romance angle way more than it should, especially because it’s two stars have absolutely no chemistry. Hayden Christensen is incredibly wooden and unemotional throughout his 2 Star Wars films but when he is attempting to woo Natalie Portman there is just nothing there. It doesn’t help that the lines are the worst kind of cliches imaginable but you can’t really tell from the on-screen talent that these two characters are falling in love. It just kind of sneaks up on you and doesn’t make sense. Remember how, the more you think about it, the love story in Beauty and the Beast is super questionable and weird. This one makes that look like fucking relationship goals. It’s just not good.

Thankfully, there is Obi Wan’s side-plot to keep people interested but even that veers off into dull territory from time to time. We see some new worlds and meet some interesting new characters but it isn’t until way down the line that the excitement really kicks in. He goes on a rather tame Space tour and follows bounty hunter Jango Fett to Geonosis. It’s not much to write home about. Until he, and in a painfully laboured way, Anakin and Padme get captured by Separatists and forced to fight in a massive death arena. It is here that the fucking awesome Jedi battle I mentioned as the main positive takes place. It’s a great sequence that really, for the first time in the franchise, shows us the real scope of the Jedi Order. We see why they are considered the Space Police of the whole Galaxy and understand why they were remembered as great warriors.

Still, that’s only 1 scene. We have to wade through an immense amount of shit to get there. We all wanted to love Attack of the Clones and, if it’s sequel brother was anything to go by, it should have been great. Instead it featured and some really boring narrative points and some of the worst writing in cinematic history. The lead couple never really gels enough to sell the only part of the film that George Lucas gives a fuck about and there just isn’t enough of Obi Wan’s face. This film, even more than Phantom, is just a mess of CGI backdrops and awful cartoon characters for the kids. There are moments when I start to feel embarrassed for the people involved in making it. I mean the scene between Obi Wan and Dex the Diner owner is just pure children’s cartoon. Then there’s the moment that could fit in any B movie or soap opera when the director attempts to trick us into thinking Padme is about to be melted. Or, finally, the laughable moment when Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku is speeding along on a CGI space scooter. Who the fuck signed off on that visual? Lee looks super uncomfortable and the end result looks so shitty.

Ultimately though, the problem with Attack of the Clones is that nobody really gave a shit about it. It was just a placeholder. It didn’t matter to the story and was just the inevitable 3rd movie to let the whole double trilogy thing come to life. Phantom was about introducing us to Anakin and explaining how he became a Jedi. Revenge would show us the moment Anakin became Darth Vader. Attack? Nobody really knew what that needed to be about so it was just about nothing really. It was let down by lack of plot and sense of direction. It’s aimless so there is nothing it can do to make up for any shortfalls. If it weren’t for a couple of great moments and some decent acting from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee and Samuel L Jackson then it would have completely crumbled. Also, CGI Yoda is the fucking bomb!