Tuesday’s Reviews – Okja (2017)

films, fucking beautiful, fucking funny, fucking sad, Netflix, reviews, Tilda Swinton

Since Netflix started making original films there have been more than a few duds. The online streaming site is really good at certain things, like Marvel TV series, documentaries and original sitcoms, but the majority of the original films that I’ve watched have been underwhelming: The Circle was fucking awful; Mascots was fun but nothing to really get excited about; The Fundamentals of Caring was sweet but unambitious; and Special Correspondents was the worst Ricky Gervais film I’ve ever see and that’s saying something. So it was really refreshing that one of its recent releases, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, was competing for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes festival. Refreshing for about 30 seconds, obviously, because, as we all know, the shit really hit the fan soon after. Okja‘s inclusion in the list of Palme d’Or candidates created much controversy when the judging panel suggested that the film’s release on Netflix meant it shouldn’t be eligible. When the film was opened to the press it received boos from the audience and suffered from technical issues. Still, this did nothing for the film’s reputation and, in its official opening, the film got a standing ovation from the audience. Everything was looking good for Okja being a rare Netflix hit.

TBT – Prometheus (2012)

alien, fucking beautiful, fucking creepy, fucking scary, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender, prequel, Ridley Scott, sci-fi, TBT

I’m going to be honest, as much as I’ve defended Prometheus to people it’s a film that I had, until very recently, only watched once and that was just after it was released on DVD. Yes, I didn’t even watch it in the cinema. That, obviously, hasn’t stopped me feeling qualified to defend it and, if there’s one thing you can be absolutely sure of about me by now, I won’t back down in an argument regardless of how much I know/remember about a topic. Especially if I think I’m morally superior. And, when it comes to Prometheus, I am definitely on the moral high ground. A lot of people I know have unduly criticised this film because it wasn’t what they were expecting. It’s a similar situation to the time I nearly ruined an old friendship because of the film Hugo: they hated it because they thought it was going to be a kid’s adventure instead of a love-story to cinema. People were so desperate for another Alien that anything else was bound to be torn apart. It’s nonsense. Ridley Scott always made his intentions for the film super clear and warned audiences not to go in with any stupid expectations. Is it the film’s fault if they didn’t listen and just wanted another Sigourney Weaver type killed massive black alien creatures? No. Look, I’m not a stubborn monster who isn’t willing to listen to people’s reasoned arguments about why it’s a terrible film. I myself think it has a few major issues. However, if you’re only going to negatively compare it to one of the best films of all time… well, let’s just say, in my head nobody can hear you moan.

Prometheus had a lot to live up to when it was first released. It was Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise and it was our chance to finally understand more about the history of the alien corpse that the crew of the Nostromo discovered in the first film. It promised to set us on a path that would answer a lot of questions that have been raised over the years. Strictly speaking, it isn’t a prequel but a film that is related to the later films whilst being a story in its own right. It exists in the same universe but don’t expect too many moments of face-hugging or chest-bursting. Especially after Damon Lindelof got his hands on the first draft and erased as many Alien-isms as possible. Prometheus, as the name would suggests, deals with humanity’s relationship with their creators. Prometheus was the Titan who went against the wishes of the Gods and gave mankind fire. For that act of treason, he was banished and punished by the Gods. He gave humanity fire and was then forced to have birds eat his liver every day for eternity. So, if there’s one thing that the crew of the Prometheus ship should know, you don’t fuck with your God/Gods.
Regardless, the crew set out on a journey to discover where they came from. After discovering various cave paintings depicting mankind worshipping God-like figures and a mysterious star chart. They decide to follow the map and track the beings, who they dub The Engineers, to the distant moon LV-223. After receiving funding from the Weyland Corporation, Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) lead the mission to try and find the creatures they believe created mankind. They are, naturally, joined by a whole host of staple sci-fi supporting characters. The gruff and distant Commander (Charlize Theron), the laid back but dependable Captain (Idris Elba) and the naive biologist and clearly destined to be the first to die (Rafe Spall).
Most importantly, in terms of both plot and scene stealing, is the mega creepy android, David (Michael Fassbender). He was created to be as human-like as possible and is more than capable of feeling those pesky emotions that most robotic creatures tend to avoid. It clearly spells trouble and, despite everyone else being unable to see it, David obviously has his own secret agenda. Fassbender is the breakout star of the show and brings a new level of fucking creepy to androids. Everything about the performance works to make David seem more inhuman and uncanny. It’s amazing. 
Less outstanding are the rest of the performances. I’m afraid, no matter how much I love her, I never really got behind Noomi Rapace in this role. She never quite sells the character or her relationship with fellow scientist Dr Holloway. I realise that we’re trying to avoid comparing this with its predecessors but, when you’re part of the franchise that invented badass, sci-fi women, Prometheus needed Dr Shaw to really pack a punch. She doesn’t. Equally, Charlize Theron is kind of thrust into a underwhelming role where she has little to do other than (SPOILER) die in the most unnecessary way possible, What is it with people not being able to run away from something properly? She and Rickon need to start a club. 
Anyway, that’s not to say that Prometheus doesn’t have some good moments. It’s not that the characters are completely underwhelming, it’s just that they don’t feel as developed as they need to be. And that’s not to say that we needed hours of background and context for them. We know basically fuck all about the crew of the Nostromo in Alien but they felt more like cohesive characters than a lot of these ones. The only one who comes close to Fassbender is Idris Elba’s captain but even he can only do so much with so little. Prometheus falls down under the weight of it’s own expectations. It wanted to do so much that the important details suffered. It was great that Ridley Scott wanted to explore the background of this universe and go a little existential. However, it was huge task. Somewhere along the way it became too much. 
The narrative shows promise but has so many twists, turns and unanswered questions that it feels a little shoddy. Now, I did like the open ending and the secrets that were left unrevealed but it still felt like it wasn’t enough. There is too much predictability at play here and a lot of the dialogue is just awful. There’s so much going on and it never feels like it all forms one major plot. It’s too fragmented and separate. There needed to be more clarity. The big action and horror set-pieces are great but, even with these bursts of excitement, there is no real momentum to this film. It doesn’t feel like it’s moving anywhere and it’s easy to get distracted along the way. It wastes more time on myths and legends that don’t matter than in answering the questions we wanted answers to. It’s still watchable, though. Of course, that is mostly down the fantastic design and Fassbender’s haunting performance. Ridley Scott can still pull some great sci-fi moments out of his hat but this film needed a much stronger script. I commend the idea of what this film should have been but Prometheus could never have achieved everything it set out to be… so it didn’t.

Tuesday’s Reviews – First Love by Gwendoline Riley

books, fucking beautiful, fucking sad, fucking tragic, must read, reviews, women, Women's Prize for Fiction

I’ve not read any of Gwendoline Riley’s previous four books and, really, only picked up her most recent one because it was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. It sounded so amazing that I couldn’t resist. I bought this one and The Power as soon as the list was up because I’ll do anything a bunch of literary prize judges tell me to. I’ve been in a bit of reading slump lately so as soon as I finished The Best of Adam Sharp I decided to try and to read Riley’s novel. It’s pretty short and something I’ve been keen to read. Thankfully, this weekend I was in London visiting a friend so I had a train journey to fill with reading. I managed to finish it by the second day. My friend works in publishing so is as obsessed (if not more) with books as I am. So she’s always interested to hear what I’m reading. The trouble with First Love is that I find it so hard to explain what’s going on. I managed to garble out a nonsensical plot summary that really didn’t do the book justice so, when I’d finished it, I decided it was worth another go. Therefore, my Tuesday review this week is either going to be great or just a terrible mistake. We’ll see.

First Love is at it’s simplest a character study. It tells the story of a 30-something female writer, Neve, and her marriage to her older husband, Edwyn. At times the marriage is full of the typically nauseating couple-isms like pet names and affectionate cuddles. However, there is a deep tension waiting just below the surface threatening to bubble over at any second. For every time Edwyn calls Neve “Mrs Pusskins” there will be a cavalcade of insults where she is described as a “fishwife shrew”. It is an uncomfortable marriage that comes out of Neve’s desire to love and need to feel loved. She has spent her life trying to fake independence but is always looking for that relationship to make her feel complete. The steps in her life had lead her to Edwyn who, for all intents and purposes, hates women. Neve knows the relationship is toxic and the novel is her attempt at self-reflection. However, like in real life cases, this self-reflection never quite runs deep enough to self-realisation and an ultimate call to change something.

Instead, the novel spends its time weaving in and out of Neve’s past and present relationships. Her marriage to Edwyn is interspersed with tales of her abusive father and the American musician who would never commit. Her father, who’s death still haunts Neve, found comfort in simultaneously showering his daughter with affection and contempt following her mother’s decision to leave her violent marriage years earlier. Whatever control he delights in taking over the women in his life, Neve’s father has no self control, as evidenced by his death: the man ate himself into an early grave. It is a relationship that has shaped Neve’s adult life and is still holding court over her marriage to Edwyn. It is not exactly difficult to see that her relationship with her husband and her father are linked; it’s something that Edwyn himself is all to keen to remind her of whenever he feels the need.

First Love isn’t the happily-ever-after tale of a young woman who finally finds happiness. Little is written of her first meeting with Edwyn and the growth of their affection for each other. The first snippet we see is her moving her boxes into his pokey flat so it is difficult to understand why she puts up with chaos. This is a narrative that just keeps getting worse and more uncomfortable as it moves on. However, as it descends deeper into a realm of despair most people would be unable to imagine, the novel also gets even more brilliant and engrossing.

There is some light to be found, thankfully, and it mostly comes courtesy of Neve’s self-absorbed mother. There are some fantastic moments in the book where her stream of consciousness monologues take over everything. She’s a fantastic character who, since leaving her abusive husband, has failed to find either herself or a man worthy of her affection. She ties herself to men who don’t have a strong interest in her but she forces her way into their lives one way or another. She lives the kind of happy and solitary existence that is, surely, only served with a side of chronic depression. Whilst the moments the mother and daughter spend together cannot be described as positive, there is something about their sheer absurdity that brings a certain relief to the, otherwise, relentless dim existence of our narrator.

Having not read any of her previous work I’m no expert on her style but if First Love is anything to go by then I’d be a huge fan. It is a bleak work, that cannot be denied, but there Riley is able to pick the perfect words to make everything seem poetic and beautiful in its own right. The prose is, frankly, gorgeous and some of the best writing I’ve read in a really long time. You can’t escape the idea that words have been carefully picked so as to get the exact response that Riley had wanted. There is an effortlessness within the writing that only comes with great care, attention and skill. What is the quote from that Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem? The oxymoronic phrase “so casually coifed”. Riley’s writing can only be described as “so casually coifed” and it’s fantastic. I may only have picked this up because of the Women’s Prize but I’ll never regret having done it.

TBT – Ghost in the Shell (1995)

anime, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, fucking sad, fucking tragic, Japan, TBT

I’m super late getting this post up today because I basically fell asleep as soon as I got home from work today. I’ve basically been fighting to stay awake since about 5pm and I totally forgot it was Thursday. Still, better late than never, right? After watching the remake of Ghost in the Shell last week it seemed only fair to watch the classic 1995 anime for my TBT post. As we saw with Beauty and the Beast last week, the problem with remaking films that are pretty much perfect is that you just remind people of all the great things about the original. The scenes that the newer version lifted directly from the anime just made me want to watch that instead. I understand that the budget and approach were different but it still felt too similar. It’s not that the new films are bad it’s just that they are too tied to what has come before. It’s the thing that made the Ghostbusters reboot so frustrating: it could have been so great but it was too preoccupied with making references to the first film. We almost need these franchises to do what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek and just start completely from scratch. Reset the clock and try again a different way. The only thing these half-arsed reboots are going to do is make the original films all the more popular.

After all, the 1995 anime based on the Manga series is still regarded as one of the best anime films ever made. Now I won’t admit to being vastly knowledgeable about anime but I’ve seen enough to know that Ghost in the Shell is special. Maybe 2029 seemed a long way off in 1995 but we are now ridiculously close to getting to that point. It is also looking increasing more plausible with the continue advances in technology. James Cameron once called the film “a stunning work of speculative fiction” but I, in 2017, speculative doesn’t just cut it anymore. Terrorism is happening virtually and countries are under threat of hacking. This is a future where data and communication are the lifeblood and must be handled with increased care. Hmmm… familiar.

Thankfully, forces exist to keep this information from falling into the wrong hands. One of those forces, Section 9, is headed up by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who as it happens is actually a human brain inside a robotic body. The Ghost in the Shell of the title. This is a world where human beings are enhancing themselves with technology to improve themselves. Major is able to plug herself into the data-stream using her body and find information with relative ease. Which helps in her search for the illusive hacker The Puppet Master, a terrorist who is able to hack into the ghosts of ordinary citizens to force them to carry out cyber crimes for him.

Over the course of the narrative, Kusanagi delves deeper into the question of what it is to be human. This is a very existential film that spends as much time discussing memory and the human soul as it does kick ass. How can Kusanagi be sure that the ghost that lingers inside her mechanical body is actually really her or just a false version implanted by into it? More than the recent version, the Major is a complex character who fights bad guys and her inner demons. The story doesn’t simplify itself or pander to its audience. It is complicated and asks genuine questions about humanity. The opening sequence shows Kusanagi’s transformation in her new body and is presented as a form a birth. It’s a haunting sequence that proves, in this new world, even reproduction has become a mechanical and not a human process. This is a serious film wrapped up in anime action sequences.

But that’s not to say the action sequences are not important. The animation here is fantastic and there are some incredible chases and fight scenes to see. It is a beautifully crafted film that, even without the budget or the technology of the 2017 film, still manages to offer a veritable feast for the eyes. And, unlike the new film, the 1995 version isn’t afraid to keep things melancholic. Where the Scarlett Johannson version craved emotional resolution, this films offers no comfort. There are serious questions on display here and there are no easy answers. The animation goes even further to isolate Kusanagi and show the ultimate emptiness of the world she inhabits. It’s a fantastic film that, no matter what you think of the new film, everyone should watch.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Ghost in the Shell (2017)

anime, films, fucking beautiful, Japan, meh, review, Scarlett Johansson

Ghost in the Shell has certainly made an impact, one way or another, since its release. The film was already under an immense amount of pressure to follow on the popular Manga and Anime film. Hollywood don’t have a great track record when it comes to re-imagining foreign cinema at the best of times but when you add the whitewashing controversy it makes it worse. Much has already been said about the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the role of Motoko Kusanagi. In interviews before the film came out Johansson promised that she would never play a character of a different race but the film continued to face criticism for her placement in the role. Figures from Ghost in the Shell‘s opening weekend suggest that American audiences can’t forget about the issue and are avoiding the film at all costs. However, there is less controversy in Japan with most people not seeing an issue with Johansson’s part and audiences have praised many aspects of the new film. I don’t really want to go too far into this issue because much better people have said much cleverer things than I could. I agree that there is an issue within Hollywood as a whole with whitewashing but there are interesting arguments both for and against the casting of a popular, White actor in the role of Major. The question I’m most concerned about here is: has Ghost in the Shell shot itself in the foot by making this decision and is a gem going to end up being something of a failure?

The new Ghost in the Shell takes moments from the 1995 anime but reworks it into a new and original narrative. There are many traces that are similar but it makes things a bit more Hollywood. It still takes place in a future where humanity is using technology to upgrade their bodies. People are enhancing their physical forms without any fear of reprisals. However, there are those who fear these changes and worry what it will do for humanity and individuality. Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) was the sole survivor of a terrorist attack that killed her family and left her on death’s door. The only chance for her survival was a secret project that implanted her brain into a robotic body. Instead of Artificial Intelligence, the mechanical body is controlled by Mira’s ‘ghost’. A year later Major is working as part of a counter-terrorist group, Section 9. They end up tracking a terrorist known as Kuze who is hacking both robots and the enhancements of people to gain information about Hanka Robotics, the company that saved her life.Whilst she and her team are following their leads on the terrorist, Major starts to realise that Hanka haven’t been completely honest with her.

Ghost in the Shell has many scenes that will be instantly recognisable to people who have the seen the original anime. It lifts moments directly from the film and utilises them in its own story. It also melds the villain from the previous film, the Puppet Master, with another character from the manga, Kuze. The end result is an interesting but fairly underwhelming story that skips many of the intricacies that made the original source material so great. The terrorist storyline is fairly gripping as it is essentially just an edited version of the original film. However, the writers have decided to give the film an emotional side by having Major take a trip down memory lane. There is, apparently, a worry in Hollywood that film’s won’t reach an audience unless it tugs at your heartstrings in an incredibly sentimental and obvious way. The final scene of the new film is, frankly, horrendously twee and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the film. But it fits the standard desire for closure that studios think we all crave.

Ghost in the Shell isn’t a bad film but it is a bad update. It is far less subtle than the original and doesn’t take enough time to deal with the existential crises that littered the source material. Major is supposed to constantly question her existence and wonder about her humanity. How can a human brain in a mechanical body be human? How much of her soul is left? It is a great discussion and adds much needed complexity to the story. The new film glosses over that in favour of more fighting, special effects and spider tanks. Now, I’m not naive enough to think that this film could have been made without fighting, special effects or, indeed, spider tanks. However, it would have been nice if it could have been more faithful to the original and given the characters some depth. The result is a superficial affair that, I have to admit, I cam super close to falling asleep in.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it at all. Ghost in the Shell is absolutely stunning to behold and every scene is breathtaking in its own way. The rendering of the futuristic world is super cool and there is something interesting to look at wherever you turn. It’s a brilliant job but it’s still not enough to hide the fact that, underneath, there isn’t much going on. It doesn’t help that the cast are given such a small amount to work with. I know the controversy is nothing to joke about but it is Scarlett Johansson who carries this film through. Her performance, though hampered by a shitty narrative, is still pretty special. The way she carries herself as the character and takes the robotic nature of her movement into account is great. It would just be nice if, as well as acting like a robot, she was asking the right kind of questions. It’s a good job the visuals are as amazing as their are because, without them, audiences wouldn’t make it through.

TBT – Beauty and the Beast (1991)

animated, animation, childhood favourite, Disney, fucking beautiful, fucking funny, music, musical, rom-com, romance, TBT

I went to the cinema with a friend today and she happened to mention that she’d just seen the remake of Beauty and the Beast. When I asked her what she thought about it her answer was “I really liked it because it’s exactly the same.” Anyone who has read my review from Tuesday will know that, whilst I didn’t hate the film, I didn’t exactly feel blown away by the new film. Especially after we’d been promised such great things by its director, Bill Condon, and its star, Emma Watson. My issue with the film is exactly the reason that people love it so much. The reviews have been great because it is exactly the same as the film they love. The film took no risks and added nothing new to the narrative, except for a wife for Cogsworth and a husband for Mrs Potts. There’s been great feedback from audiences but it’s mostly because it just reminds them how good the original film is. It feels like cheating. Why would you want to watch an imitation when you can still watch the real thing? It’s like tribute bands to real bands that are still touring. Yeah, it’s fine in a pinch but you’d much rather see the real deal. So, for TBT this week, I did.

Beauty and the Beast is getting older now. It’s only 3 years younger than I am and I’m fucking old. However, saying that it’s old does not mean that it is in anyway inferior. You can tell that isn’t because the updated film is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film. Of course, for all of the nostalgic warmth that Emma Watson and co. may have been able to drum up, there can be no substitute for the real thing. No matter how dodgy the story at the heart of it is deep down. I mean, I know that Coke is really bad for me because of the sugar but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start drinking Diet Coke with it’s shitty tasting sweeteners, does it. There is so much charm within the ’90s animation that just couldn’t be replicated with a cavalcade of CGI household objects.

There’s a reason that Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s possible it could be because 1991 was a shitty year for films but, looking at the evidence, it’s more likely that it was because Beauty and the Beast is a fucking great film. It’s a triumph of animation, voice acting, and soundtrack. Everything comes together perfectly to create a truly magical experience that helped strengthen a new era in terms of Disney’s movies. Emma Watson may be desperately trying to convince us that her version of Belle is a super feminist but, the fact is, Belle kind of broke the Princess mould back in ’91. Yes, the story is all about love but Belle doesn’t spend all of her time mooning over a guy. She craves adventure and bravely steps into dangerous situations to save her family. She’s intelligent, creative and wants to make something of herself. She’s always been inspirational.

But, let’s be honest, the story itself isn’t what made this film so memorable. It’s a story about a girl meeting a guy and the story of how they fall in love. Just like every other Disney film. This film holds up because it is so incredibly well made. When we look back now and remember that, in another timeline, Beauty and the Beast could have been made as a non-musical it seems insane. The soundtrack, created by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, is pretty flawless. The compositions are rich and memorable, whilst the lyrics are funny, emotional and really clever. It helps that the voice actors give such solid performances. Angela Lansbury’s version of the title song can not be surpassed for the understated simplicity that makes is so romantic. I love Emma Thompson but she lacked something the ’91 version had oodles of.

It’s one of the reasons that ballroom scene is such an iconic moment in film history. The grandness of the animation next to Angela Lansbury’s almost timid performance is quite spectacular. To be honest, the song didn’t need to be something too extravagant because the visuals were so impressive. This was the first Disney film that used any digital assistance in its creation and it remains an impressive feat even to this day. The details on Belle’s dress as she twirls round the ballroom is still some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The world of Beauty and the Beast is a classic cartooony Disney world but it was a revolutionary step into their golden age. This was film made by the best people that could be found and it has stood the test of time. Call me cynical or biased but it’s not something I expect to be saying about the latest version in 26 years time.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Lego Batman (2017)

animated, animation, Batman, Channing Tatum, DC, films, fucking beautiful, fucking funny, Lego, Ralph Fiennes, review, silly, Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis

Let’s be honest, Batman has something of a chequered history when it comes to live action adaptations of the comic book character. Aside from the supremely cheese but colourful television show of the 1960s and the best forgotten Joel Schumacher films of the late 90s, the Dark Knight has provided something of a literal interpretation. The films created by Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan and, Zack Synder are all part of that super cool, edgy and moody brand of superhero film. Batman has long since shed the image of his cartoony caper when Adam West was the man behind the cowl and has transformed himself into an angsty longer who most probably listens to MCR and muttering about people just don’t “get him”. So, when Lego Batman, voiced by the supremely funny Will Arnett, became the breakout star of the 2014 The Lego Movie nobody was sure how his solo outing would fit within Batman’s canon. Especially cause, as we know from the past, comic book fans are massive dicks about this kind of thing. A colourful, family friendly and comedy filled story is hardly on a even playing field with the politically heavy and mature narratives on display in Nolan’s trilogy. After all, the sillier that Batman became the more his fans complain. I mean are we still not ready to admit that there is something so gleefully bad about Batman and Robin that we kind of don’t completely hate it? No? Okay then.


I was excited about Lego Batman and I could never understand the people I met who weren’t. The signs were all there that it could end up being magnificent. The Lego Movie was great, Will Arnett is always super funny and Lego leads to so many possibilities. Like all the other Lego video games I’ve played over the years, the Lego Batman one were full of in-jokes and silliness that made my heart leap. The only thing that could go wrong are the fans. As we’ve seen before, there are certain Batman fans out there that take their shit very seriously. They don’t like the idea of someone taking the caped crusader and making a mockery out of him. Which, when you think about it, is kind of silly considering what he’s put himself through over the years. He is an ageing billionaire who dresses up at night and plays with expensive toys in the streets of Gotham. If that doesn’t deserve even some gentle ribbing then I don’t know what does.

And Lego Batman is full of references to the character’s past. There are multiple references to the comics as well as each film adaptation and the, now, infamous television series. We see flashbacks to previous costumes and mentions of iconic moments. We are in no doubt that this is supposed to be the same characters who, as he points out himself, has aged remarkably well since his first appearance. There will be people who will fan this continual fan service annoying and will become irritated by the endless in-jokes and self-parody. I, however, have always been one of those people that loves it when these Easter Eggs appear.

Of course, none of this means that Lego Batman doesn’t know who it’s main audience is. There are plenty of jokes for the older members of the audience who remember where Batman has come from. However, it is, at its heart, is a children’s film. It is filled with the same sort of action and adventure that the first one offered and it hammers home its major theme with exuberant force. That moral being “it’s better to face things together than alone”. After all, Batman is the solo hero who never plays well with others and avoids significant relationships. There is a beautiful moment, after he has once again saved Gotham, where Bruce Wayne sits alone in his mansion eating Lobster and watching Jerry Maguire. He doesn’t celebrate with her super-friends but microwaves his dinner and reminisces about his dead parents. He’s sad, wounded but has too great an ego to realise it.

Until he finds himself unwillingly taking on partners. When Commissioner Jim Gordon retires at the start of the film his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) offers the masked vigilante a chance to work with the police instead of against them. He, unsurprisingly ignores this offer and, when his nemesis the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) hands himself and his evil colleagues over to the police, Batman, against Barbara’s better judgement, decides it is time to rid the world of Mr J once and for all. When sending him to the Phantom Zone only results in the escape of every famous villain of film, television and literature Batman must finally accept help to get things back to normal.

All the while Bruce must come to terms with his issues with family when he accidentally adopts an orphaned boy, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), his father figure and butler, thinks it will help him to accept the boy but Batman just uses him in the same way the Lego Star Wars games used young Anakin: to get into small spaces. The back and forth between Batman and Robin is fantastic and their relationship is a perfect melding of both sides of the coin. We have a sidekick who is straight out of the 60s TV show and a brooding hero that has more in common with Christian Bale than Adam West.

There are moments when Lego Batman loses its grip slightly and some jokes that just don’t land properly. There is an awful lot going on and a huge range of characters to contend with. A usual criticism of super hero movies is the final act when the big bad is suddenly joined by more big bads to up the tension. Here, we see every possible bad buy stepping forward to cause chaos and, whilst the end results is exciting as fuck, it proves to be a tricky thing to pull off. It doesn’t quite work on a visual basis and there are perhaps one too many irons in the fire. However, I feel as though it’s worth it for Eddie Izzard’s Lord Voldemort and Jermaine Clement’s Sauron. The final action piece is another of those moments that has so much fan-service to contend with that the story gets lost a little. It could have done with some refining.

Watching Lego Batman is not the same as watching The Lego Movie. But it’s not supposed to be. This isn’t a sequel and it has dropped several of the themes that made the previous film so refreshing and original. It is, instead, a celebration of an iconic character using the same beautiful animation and propensity for fun that it’s predecessor was so loved for. This is a Batman film like we’ve not see before. In a sea of endless bleakness where Bruce Wayne is concerned, this film puts him back in the fun zone and shows us that superheroes don’t need to take themselves so seriously, Who else but Will Arnett could get away with rapping his way to victory? Not Christian Bale that’s for sure. Unlike everything we’ve been programmed to believe, Lego Batman shows us, once and for all, that silliness is best and being broody and dark is not the best way to achieve anything. Wouldn’t you rather microwave Lobster for four instead of one? This isn’t the Batman we know but he is the one we deserve. And, after the abysmal Batman vs Superman, he’s also the one we desperately need right now.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Logan (2017)

comic books, films, fucking beautiful, fucking sad, Hugh Jackman, Marvel, Patrick Stewart, reviews, super powers, superhero, X-Men

We’ve known for a while that Hugh Jackman was on his slowly moving towards his final outing as the character he’s played since 2000. For 17 years Huge Ackman has continued to prove that nobody could have been cast in the role of Wolverine and has gained a phenomenal number of fans. So when the first details of Logan were announced it became a clear the whole thing was going to be fairly emotional.., and that was before the trailer sound-tracked by Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt’ was even released. I’ve been excited about this film for a long time but I was also faced with a certain amount of trepidation about seeing it. Not because I thought it was going to be bad (everything we were shown pre-release destroyed any fears regarding quality) but because it’s the end of an era. It’s a bittersweet sensation that Hugh Jackman is finally able to do great things in the character’s first R rated outing just before he leaves the role (almost certainly) forever. Suffice it to say I was struggling to hold back the tears as the film went on and was only prevented from bawling like a baby thanks to the awful guy we were sat next to and his inability to shut the fuck up. It’s weird but I can’t help mourning the loss of this character. He’s become so iconic through Jackman’s interpretation and the X-Men movie franchise is always going to feel like it’s missing something now. Thank fuck the big guy went out on a high though, eh.

Logan was primarily billed as an adaptation of the Old Man Logan storyline. I think that description is taking more than a few liberties but there are some distinct similarities. The year is 2029 and mutants have become a rare breed. They are no longer being born and the remaining few are slowly dying out. Amongst them are two familiar faces; Logan (Hugh Jackman), now ageing and losing his healing factor, and Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whose deteriorating brain function is causing his mutant power to get out of control. They are also joined by a new face; Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who is able to sniff out mutants. The three are in hiding in Mexico where Logan has the Prof holed up in an old water tower and pumps him full of drugs to hold off the seizures for as long as possible. The end goal is to make enough money ferrying drunks around in a limo so the group can buy a boat and sail off into the sunset.

Of course, things have never been that simple where Logan is concerned. He is soon left in charge with the first mutant to be born since everything went tits up. This young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) is being hunted by a team of mercenaries lead by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who is working on behalf of smarmy scientist, Zander Rice (Richard E Grant). In order to escape the bad guys with guns, Logan takes his new charge and the dangerous nonagenarian on the mother of all car journeys to take her to safety. Whilst Logan is already struggling with his deteriorating powers, he must also come to terms with his new found role of father as he attempts to keep Laura and the Professor safe.

When it was announced that Logan would be Wolverine’s first R rate movie experience audiences got excited. Last year Deadpool showed us that comic book movies and adult only violence could mix really well. However, Logan is an entirely different film. Whilst Deadpool still appealed to the child in all of us, Logan is all maturity. If it wasn’t for the frequent unsheathing of adamantium claws and bionic hands, this wouldn’t feel like a comic book movie at all. This is The Road or The Last of Us. It is a tale of survival but not on the global scale that the X-Men are used to. It’s a very clever and emotionally wrought film. The focus is on ageing and responsibility. It is a character driven narrative that features big action sequences rather than the action based X-Men films we’re used to. Thor the violence, that has been such a huge talking point in the run up to the film, is really neither here nor there. Yes, there is a lot of fight sequences where arms get chopped off and metal claws pierce people’s skulls but it is completely secondary to the story. It’s almost as if it’s there because it has to be. Rather than Deadpool, which almost made the violence it’s biggest draw, Logan relies on its emotional resonance to leave the biggest impact.

So much of this film rests on the actor’s involved and thankfully the 3 main characters are superb. For the most part, Laura is mute but newcomer Dafne Keen does incredibly well to with bringing the character to life on screen. She is silent but deadly and super cool. Her relationship with Logan is slowly realised as the pair come to rely on each other. It’s adorable and loving. However, it can’t hold a candle to the main relationship on screen: namely the one between Logan and Charles. We are faced with a situation almost directly opposite to the one that emerges from the first film. In X-Men Logan comes to Xavier as a dangerous weapon with no idea of his history and the Professor teaches him how to control his powers. In 2029, it is Charles who is the dangerous mutant who Logan must keep controlled using drugs. The pair have come through so much but have a deep love for one another. It is a testament to the actor’s friendship off screen that the onscreen partnership is so strong.

Logan is unlike any other superhero movie out there. It is darker and more brutal that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It lacks the requisite lashings of hope to keep an audience happy at the end. It shows the dark side of humanity and an incredible bleak future. This film is the best comic book movie offering I’ve ever seen. In fact, Logan is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, Rather than dealing with mass death on a unrealistic scale, this focuses in on the all-too-real issues of mortality and the legacy we leave behind. Just as Jackman is moving on from the character shrouded in the respect and adoration that comes with it, Logan is faced with a reputation that he is struggling to live up to. He can no longer be the man that he once was and, instead of facing off with the bad guy, he aims for a quite life taking care of his elderly father figure. Logan still suffers from some questionable decisions and is far from being the perfect film. However, considering the other solo offerings we’ve seen, it is certainly the best outing we’ve had for the character. Hugh Jackman dominates in the role of weary ex-superhero and, if this really is to be his last onscreen appearance as the mutton-chopped anti-hero, I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better way to end his tenure.

Tuesday’s Reviews – A Monster Calls (2017)

death, Felicity Jones, films, fucking beautiful, fucking sweet, fucking tragic, review, sad, Sigourney Weaver

I’ve literally just got back from watching Logan and am desperately trying to finish today’s review. My original plan was to watch something yesterday and write it up ahead of time so I wasn’t rushed. Instead I spent most of my day off asleep and only just had time to watch today’s film. As I have such a small window here I’m waiting until next week to write up Logan because I want to do it justice. Although, spoiler alert, I fucking loved it! I knew I would but it was so good. Despite the fact the we waited for a post-credits scene and there wasn’t one. It was just nice to sit and take events in whilst listening to Johnny Cash. I guess it’s good that there wasn’t actually anything after the credits. It ensure that the ending was as powerful as it needed to be. Gah, it was an emotional experience which means after watching A Monster Calls yesterday means I’ve been emotionally drained for the past 2 evenings. I need to start watching some happier films.

I’ve only ever read one Patrick Ness book and, if I’m honest, I really didn’t think that highly of it. It was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which has to be one of the most disappointing reads for me. It sounded like such a good concept but it was wasted. So I haven’t bothered with any more of Ness’ works because it just seemed like the type of YA nonsense that gives Young Adult fiction in general a bad name for me. I know there must be good YA out there but I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of it. Anyway, as a keen member of the Bookstagram community I have heard plenty about his children’s book A Monster Calls. Certainly enough to get kind of excited when I saw the trailers for the film and heard Liam Neeson’s voice coming out of the titular monster. However, I knew it was going to be sad but I wasn’t prepared for just how bloody sad it is.

A Monster Calls is the story of a young boy, Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), who is dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal cancer, his overbearing and stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), the school bully, and his absent father (Toby Kebbell). After waking from the same nightmare night after night, Connnor encounters a monster (Liam Neeson) that springs to life from the Yew tree that he can see from his bedroom window. The monster will visit Connor and tell him 3 true stories. After the third tale, Connor must tell his own story and reveal his truth. The stories help Connor come to terms with his situation and force him to face the awful truth that he has been trying to suppress.

A Monster Calls is such a simple and heartbreaking idea. What must it be life for a young boy who is watching his mother die of cancer? It deals with very dark and mature ideas but does so in such a tender and beautiful way. The fantastical elements and the Monster’s animated stories all work well against the bleak nature of the tale to make it a deeply engrossing and incredibly poignant film. Everything builds toward the final act and when the payoff comes it has the ability to absolutely destroy it’s audience. It may slightly hammer its point home but it never loses sight of what it’s trying to do. It is offering wisdom about an important and horrible topic whilst never losing it’s compassion for the character’s involved. It’s not quite perfect but it does what it needs to.

I think my only thoughts would be that the film is still slightly too dark for a very young audience but older members will be drawn in with the visual aspects and engrossing tale. The monster itself, played by Liam Neeson using motion capture, is incredibly realised. There can be no denying that the film is a technical marvel. Everything integrates together to create something that is very unique but perfect for the story it’s trying to tell. It is a tale about art, legacy, truth and humanity. It is the story of about the love between a mother and child and the impact that can have on the people involved. The visual aspects of the film help give this a sense of fairy tale and allow it to transcend reality.

However, thanks to the fantastic performances from the human characters, the harsh reality of Connor’s situation always remains. Connor is a boy who is having to grow up too fast and deal with emotions that he is not ready to deal with. He has nobody to turn to and is left unsure of where to turn. You can’t help but be drawn to him and Lewis MacDougall’s performance is vulnerable and hard to ignore. Something that works so well with Felicity Jones’ role as his mother. She is both strong and weak. A mother wishing to shield her son from pain but realising that she no longer can. It is a heartbreaking performance that, along with MacDougall’s, will have everyone weeping before the credits role.

A Monster Calls has a difficult job to do and a difficult story to tell. Whilst it doesn’t always manage to establish the type of tone it was striving for or achieve the purpose it wanted. However, it always manages to keep you guessing and always avoid being predictable. It is repetitive and unsubtle but is manages to be something that will keep you watching. It’s the kind of dark and creative kid’s that will no doubt be mostly appreciated by an older audience. I’m just glad that I didn’t watch it in the cinema. It would have been a pretty messy affair.

TBT – A Single Man (2009)

Colin Firth, films, fucking beautiful, fucking tragic, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, TBT

As I mentioned in my previous posts this week, I’ve been away for a few days this week. I got back home yesterday evening and it was my intention to watch something for today’s post once I was unpacked. What actually happened was me lying in bed for an hour unable to do anything. There was a point when I had no energy or inspiration to even contemplate completing something to post. Still, as I’m such a consummate professional I managed to get my act together and rewatch a film I hadn’t seen in ages. Following on from Tuesday’s review of Carol I wanted to revisit another beuatiful film that deals with LGBT issues… cos, you know, neatness. A Single Man was a film I loved when I first watched it but, clearly, just never felt the need to watch again. I’m the kind of person who watches certain films to death and eventually start to resent them for being so familiar. Although, the films in that category don’t tend to be the best films. They’re normally the guilty pleasures that I have a craving to watch. As much as I’d love to watch Oscar winning films again and again, my love of cheese and simple humour overrides everything. So, it turns out, this TBT post is actually doing me a favour and giving me the chance to remember films that I might otherwise have never watched again. It makes me super glad I summoned up the energy to get this review written.

I have a confession to make: I’m not the biggest fan of Colin Firth. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate his skills as an actor but I’m just a bit biased against him. I think it’s mostly due to how many women fawn all over him because of Pride and Prejudice. He was a fine Mr Darcy but I definitely didn’t go weak at the knees when he emerged from that lake. I kind of feel that Firth’s misplacement as a sex symbol has affected my opinion of him. I’m not saying it doesn’t make me a terrible person but it’s the truth. So, I never get too excited about seeing him do something dramatic and serious. I forget that, actually, he’s really good. There are moments in Tom Ford’s A Single Man in which the actor is effortlessly able to get a complex mixture of emotions across to the audience without ever opening his mouth. It’s quite breathtaking.

In A Single Man, Firth plays George, a college professor, who is still dealing with the death of his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). The film marks one day in George’s life as he goes about his daily tasks having just accepted that they will be his final moments on Earth. As George sets about sorting out the loose ends in his personal and professional life, he flashes back to his life with Jim and the massive hole he has been unable to fill. In between the final errands, he has encounters with his lifelong friend Charley (Julianne Moore), who has been in love with him for years, and his young student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). George starts to see the world in a different way and isolates the brief moments of beauty and life that he sees, supposedly for the last time.

A Single Man is one of those films that, on the surface, seems simple and unexceptional. However, it has the ability to get into your head before you know what’s happening. It will speak to so many familiar and long-forgotten feelings in everybody. The way it handles the themes of life, love, and loss make them all seem new instead of the same old thing. A Single Man takes a fairly ordinary story and allows it to transcend to something greater. The main reason for this being Colin Firth. His performance is the thing that holds the narrative together and gives every scene such depth. So much of this film is held on Firth’s face and it manages to hold back everything whilst telling us everything we need to know. George, as a gay man in 1960s America, is used to hiding his true feelings but, after being shut out of Jim’s funeral, he has finally reached a point where he no longer wants to be invisible. Firth’s performance is strong, affecting, and heartbreaking.

Of course, everything about this film is beautifully put together as one would expect from fashion designer Tom Ford. However, despite what a few miserly critics may have said at the time, this isn’t just style of substance. Yes, the aesthetic in A Single Man has been carefully considered and is fantastic but it all serves a purpose. This is a film about people who paint a picture for the outside world to hide the truth bubbling away under the surface. It is a film that deals with the most gut wrenching grief and portrays it in such an astonishingly beautiful way. Ford understands the bitterness to this story and the visuals only help to make them stand out. We see George acting as the person that he needs to be to get through his life and that includes the picture perfect lifestyle. In order to remain safe and invisible, everything in George’s life must be perfect. It is only in his grief that things start to fall apart and George’s actions start to stand out against the picturesque backdrop.

A Single Man might seem like the kind of film that you don’t need to watch a second or third time but, as it turns out, is exactly the kind of film that you should watch again and again. There are so many details and minutiae to the tale that demand a better look and the performances are definitely worth repeated attention.