Thursday, 16 November 2017

Romance is always punished/What a funny little man!

Murder on the Orient Express (1974/2017)
Chosen by me because I like to go to the cinema a lot and because when I got home I had the boring idea of comparing the two films so I sat and watched the '74 version straight afterwards. There will be spoilers. You know for one of the most famous murder mysteries ever.

Both are star studded affairs which stick reasonably closely to the source material.

The Detective
The '74 Poirot is a petty, annoying foreigner ('probably a frog' Connery's doctor excalims in a bit that took me a second to remember that as a racial slur) played with a touch of silliness by Albert Finney. He loses some of his power in this Christie story as his position as outsider is lessened when surrounded by Hungarians, Americans, Italians on a train stuck in Yugoslavia. But he still gets to rub everyone up the wrong way.
The '17 version has a sillier moustache but is played with a little less picque by director Kenneth Branagh. It also seems to suggest his fussiness may be more indicative of something like Asperger's and decides to give a completely unnecessary dark past (it might have played a bit better with a touch more subtlety, though it doesnt ever explain what happened to his  'dear Katherine' him whispering to a photo every other act laboured a point it never quite got around to making). It tries to give him an a character arc (the '74 is just on a train and investigates a crime, not especially revealing) and a personal stake in the investigation, and despite it's hackneyed nature sort of worked.

The Victim
'74's is more jovial, and even nice to his secretary at one point. But Richard Widmark is fairly dull.
'17's is a sneery arsehole through and through. Oh and fuck Johnny Depp.

The Suspects
Michelle Pfeiffer and Penelope Cruz have a weight of good material behind them but still they are not Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman as unfair as that might be (and Cruz in particular is ill served in her film). Willem Defoe gets to make more of his characters reveal than his '74 counterpart (who is barely even in it before his twist - so that lands with a shrug), Josh Gad goes out of his way to differentiate his McQueen from Anthony Perkins earlier take and gone are the pointed tropes towards the characters homosexuality. An interracial relationship angle allows for a person of colour to be in the film and gives Daisy Ridley and leslie Odom Jnr a slightly more interesting excuse for the lies than Connery and a wonderful Vanessa Redgrave have. Ridley's take on the character is allowed to be much smarter than her giggly earlier version too and though it leads to a pointless bit of tension it allows for a nice scene where Poirot asks for her help in solving the mystery, that may be a ruse to see through her lies but also may just be him seeing a kindred mind. The modern Count is given a dancer background not afforded to Michael York as a nod to why Sergei Polunin is well regarded outside of movies but (despite fitting in a couple of kick-boxing moves) he doesnt get to show off here and is not very good (maybe a shoehorned in ballet performance should have been included) and mostly lost against more interesting faces. Everyone else in both versions is generally fine but the large cast and mystery structure means no-one really gets anything to do.

The Reason I have gathered you here today.
The Sidney Lumet version is a straightforward (and possibly defining or influential) gather everyone in the room and dont allow anyone to speak until Poirot lays it all out. It's close to 20 mins of a 2 hour film and cant quite make sense off all the plot (it is very very silly) and the reveal of the complicated version of who stabbed Richard Widmark is too absurd to work as drama as with each holding of the dagger it gets more laughable.
Branaghs version tries to open it up with a last supper style table set up in a railway tunnel which is far sillier but the emotional impact is far better. It ups the ante considerably with a ruse to prove if anyone is a capable cold blooded killer, that combined with his personal connection to the case makes his final decision on the solution of the case make more sense on a character level.
Both have problems coming to grips with the ways clues are presented in the story, as it really doesnt make sense and some of the details dropped in the '17 take (like why the time of the murder is important) are slightly more adequately dealt with in the '74 which doesnt waste time on two very small and pointless action scenes.

Both are fine. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

He's a friend from work.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Chosen by me because I like to go to the cinema a lot 
and hey, it's a marvel movie they pretty much float my boat.

This has the kind of imagery that Zach Snyder wants to be pulling off. A sort of freeze frame prog rock album cover or half recalled Lord of the Rings poster from a long ago childhood memory. But this film knows not to bury that under endless slow motion or the colour brown. It takes it's cue from the wacky science fiction stylings of Guardians of the Galaxy but feeds it through a vibrant 1980s filter (it gets easier with each passing year to forget the awfulness of much of that decade and embrace a retro chic devoid of Thatcher or bad suits) and that sense of fun fuels much of the joy in the film. 
The nostalgia (hugely reinforced by a wonderful Mark Mothersbaugh score which includes a Devo reject tune in the splendid Grandmaster Jam Session) doesnt quite hit an emotional core like the first Guardians, or say something like Lego, did but you're having too much of a blast to care.
Likewise it doesnt really solve Marvel Studios problem of having great actors in the antagonist role and not especially giving them anything to do. Though thankfully Cate Blanchett looks like she is having much more fun than Lee Pace or Christopher Ecclestone ever did. Her Hela gets to preen and crack wise and is a ball but her character never quite gels, the jealousy element a knock-off Loki, her anger never really having direction.
Much of the Sakarr sequence (a major chunk of the movie) is strangely weightless in it's stakes but only after you've finished enjoying it so much does the emptiness register. Gags fly thick and fast, the cast is great, Jeff Golblum is his Jeff Goldblumingest, the action is decent and Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie damn near walks off with the whole movie.
Unfortunately all this new jazz comes at a cost. And the generally pleasant Thor supporting cast from the previous two movies is sidelined, The Warriors Three dispatched too casually to register as an issue and the only sign of Sif is a double in a funny play performed by some noteworthy faces (I'd like to think Loki got the actual actors from Earth and it's just a kind of corporate gig for them).
And honestly Thompson makes up for any loss. A supremely confidant, cool performance she commands the screen every second she is on it, and is just super funny.
Can we have a Valkyrie movie?
Taika Waititi may be a cynical choice by Disney to hire someone cheap that they feel they can control, but it still comes from a place of choosing interesting directors, letting them imprint their personality onto a project seems to work a blinder, even working within the usual MCU framework (which this very much does despite feeling quite different to most of them).

Friday, 20 October 2017

How can you run and plot at the same time?

The Death of Stalin (2017)
Chosen by me because I'm a long time fan of Iannucci 
and it had one of the funnier trailers I'd seen in quite some time.

Iannucci is one of the UKs finest comedic minds. Sharp, satirical but also very, very silly he covers it all and has helped deliver some amazing shows over the years - Alan Partridge (created by others but firmly stamped on by him) may be a lasting legacy but his other works like the Day Today or The Armando Iannucci Show are strange offbeat works and The Thick of It (also the terrific spin-off In the Loop and sort of sequel Veep) are masterpieces of their kind.
There was no doubt he couldn't handle the farcical aspects of Stalinist history (downplayed slightly in this film as time is contracted is just how long old Joe went without proper medical assistance hindered by the fact he had the doctors in Moscow rounded up and tortured shortly before becoming ill) but thankfully he doesnt loose sight of the horror of it all.
Especially as this is Iannucci's first time with real figures and not analogues a concern could have been that by highlighting the bufoonery and absolute narcissism inherent in the Soviet political system (not a stretch to apply this to modern times and differing countries at all, because political satire will always be relevant) it would downplay the brutality and be a disservice to the many who died.
Well on the first part it does not lack. The people here are all monsters, Jeffrey Tambor may be playing the most Jeffrey Tambor type possible, but he is still edged with horror, these scared little men projecting out their insecurities onto everyone around them, infesting the country from the top down. 
The victims here are perhaps given short shrift, occasionally punchlines - like those in an Siberian prison half of whom are shot just before the order comes through to halt the killings, the other half disorientated but alive. It cant quite make sense of the outpouring of grief from a populace hammered by an oppressive regime as factual as that might have been.
Instead it offers up a talented pianist as the only voice daring to confront Stalin, and though well played by Olga Kurylenko she is a touch too slight a character to register much (Kurylenko seems to excel at giving underwritten roles a touch of grit and personality and deserves more).
It is often incredibly funny, though not as much as In the Loop say, but the over-riding tone is more bleak and the final punchline grimly cynical as a black fuzzy eyebrowed man looks down at the current leader of the USSR, plots whirling in his mind and the cycle of political bullshitery continues.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Answer the question Claire!

The Breakfast Club (1985)
I really should have been watching the dvd a friend lent me but instead I decided to properly watch a regarded classic that was on netflix that I'd never watched all the way through and mostly knew from being referenced on shows written by people who were in their 20s in the 80s.

The poster almost acts as a sequel because we don't actually know what happens on monday. This suggests that they do as Claire says and ignore each other. Maybe Bender gets accused of stealing her diamond earring. Hopefully Ally Sheedy whose character name I cant remember if it was even mentioned, chooses to dress however the hell she wants. So Emilio Estevez doesnt recognise her on monday and that romance which comes from having said about three words to each other is nothing but tears in rain. Anthony Michael Hall is presumably pulled out of school for bringing in a gun rather than just getting one days detention, and is given counselling and help.  Claire is clearly suffering from depression but she realises the last thing she needs are this bunch of a-holes around her, berating and abusing her.
I changed primary school half way through the second year. It was a little tough coming into a new place with new people, but I made good friends with the kid next to me - Andrew Stubbings. Some of the others were more stand-offish (or probably I was). Until one kid (William something) slapped me with a glove over some distant dispute and I slapped him back. We were put into a break time detention. One of the first times I'd been in trouble like that (I think i came home and cried). Standing in the coridor outside the Heads office with a couple of other boys from my class, we couldnt stop giggling. And after that we were friends.
So I guess acting like pricks does work like this movie suggests.

But by golly this bunch are just horrid. The nicest one is an entitled rich girl who can see the trap of the clique system but also understands she's at the top of it.
The rest are given various horrible backstories to force us to sympathise with just how nasty they are being to each other.
Though I'm not sure it quite realises how bad they are at times.
The most obnoxious one, Judd Nelson given a triumphant closing freeze frame, sexually assaults one of the others after constantly questioning her promiscuous nature and the film thinks this is charming I guess? What a rogue!
It takes someone who seems absolutely comfortable in her own skin, to the extent of using her dandruff to make art and blands her up (in an echo of the ending of Grease) which miraculously gets her the jock. It's weird and boring and the same time, a potent combination.
Still bits of it are fun, but I will take Jeff, Abed and the pizza delivery guy covering the dance scene any day.


Thursday, 5 October 2017

You've never seen a miracle.

Blade Runner 2049
Chosen by me because I like to go to the cinema a lot. 

This poster is fucking terrible for such a pretty movie

Denis Villeneuve is an interesting director, who had put out some interesting films. Enemy was a terrific mood piece, deeply unsettling but may hold the key to why I did not like his Blade Runner sequel.
Gosling and Ford share space up there on that poster but this is Gosling's movie through and through.
Ford is pretty great revisiting yet another of his iconic roles from decades ago, as is almost his entire stock in trade now, but is on the margins of the film, mentioned early but not appearing for quite some time of the lengthy running total the film has.
Deakins, one of the only cinematographers to routinely be mentioned in reviews, once more works absolute magic. Every shadow, every light source, very mote of dust a work of art though occasionally it turns Blade Runner 2049 into a series of stunning paintings lacking a narrative drive.
But that fine really as the plotting is fairly spotty, and character motivations are slight and lack definition. None of it seems to make a lot of sense and Gosling's blank reaction to everything, though somewhat appropriate, can be infuriating, as you want to just shake him and ask why does nothing matter?

Going to get a bit more plot and character detailed now. 
So. Here's a pretty picture first. 

So the film is pretty fucking terrible when it comes to how it deals with it's female characters. It would be fair to say that they are shallow, lacking depth of motivation but that seems true of the male ones too. But there seems to be no reason to be so consistantly awful to each and everyone. 
Gosling's replicant is given a hologram girlfriend. And the film spends a strange amount of time in playing an angle about AI maybe? How much does she think for herself? And then her only purpose is to be fridged. 
Gosling is beaten up all the way through the film but none of the violence is as vicious as what happens to numerous woman. Robin Wright gets a horrific bit of business with a whiskey glass and a casually violent head/desk interaction that is played almost as a punchline. 
Most of the women are there to be looked at and then dismissed. The camera peruses a lot of naked flesh for no real reason.
Unlike Enemy there is no context to this misogyny, the film wants to explore the issue of what it is to be human but never really considers that females might be human. And doesn't really get around to examining what it means to be human either. It's pretty sloppy.
Why is the story Gosling's and not Deckard's actual child? A woman who is literally locked away her whole life and ignored by the film -to deliver a twist? Why is Rachel so callously regarded by everyone (a stand in actor - with cg i guess face - an example of more of the disregard the film has).
Is Mackenzie Davis (from the terrific Black Mirror episode San Junipero) a prostitute to comment on the way replicants are com-modified as purely physical commercial beings or is it just so Gosling can have a strange prelude to a sex scene with two women at the same time? Spoiler but it's the latter. And says absolutely nothing. 
The film is too long, too ponderous and pretentious to get away with being this dismissive.
Poor show.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

You're just in love with how much I love you

Mother! (2017)
Chosen by me as I like going to the cinema a lot though this one took some psyching up to go to.

There is perhaps a key to unlocking what Mother!'s symbolism and plot means. Clearly there is a lot of biblical nonsense going on and at the end it gets very on the nose with relating itself to the pain of the creative process so despite it's what-the-fuckery Mother! is fairly straightforward. In allegorical terms at least - to get there you still have to go along with it's odd (brilliant) pacing, swerves into blackly comic territory and an apocalyptic ending that feels like a Kim Newman novel where society does not need all that much of a push to descend into a bacchanalian frenzy of violence, sex, worship and cannibalism.  And throughout Lawrence is astonishingly good, in almost every frame of the movie she anchors the film's excesses with a deeply committed and emotional performance. Her character may not react the way someone in real life would but you are carried through the film by her anyway.

However what I really want to talk about is what the film meant to me.

We are shaped by the things in our immediate perception. My Nan liked to have the cocktail Snowball. So now forever ingrained in my mind is that a Snowball (which I still don't really know what it is) is an old ladies drink. Even though I've only seen one old lady drink it. We define reality by experience but forget the bias of that experience.
Currently I have been thinking a lot about my mental health. I am often a deeply unhappy and anxious person. I have within the last week sought out therapy for those issues. 
So when I say Mother! is actually all about anxiety I'm aware that it's just something that my bias would be pushing right now.

But Mother! has relayed (and triggered) my anxiety like nothing else.
I'm can't recall if I've talked on these pages about how two people talking next to a road causes me to physically tense up. The screen controls what you can see and without periphery vision (and because of the huge amount of an annoying trope) I'm convinced the people will get hit by a car. Even if it's a charming romance comedy. 
Mother! uses this control of the frame brilliantly, constantly in tight fixed position on Lawrence, the stress comes from never quite knowing what is outside the frame and is deeply unsettling. 
During the film she becomes more and more agitated by people around her. Losing control of the space, not understanding why people won't just listen to her, do the sensible thing. She craves that control, and even when, ostensibly, others are just trying to help, she can't take it, needs them to just let her do it. Every new person that turns up frustrates her more.
And she can't understand why they all like her husband, ignore her, want a physical piece of her work (the house, her child) but make her super uncomfortable.

So yeah, Mother! was super easy for me to understand. 
It's a remarkable, powerful movie, whose ending might be a bit too much but it's more art film than horror story, more a slice of mind than parable. Amazing.

Friday, 29 September 2017

You asked for help, I asked for help. That's how things get done.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017)
Chosen by Faye on netflix. Well technically I recommended it to her because I knew she liked Elijah Wood and him and Melanie Lynskey worked together on Over the Garden Wall which she loves but then she watched it before I had and reminded me to do so. Who even cares about this bit?

Melanie Lynskey has be quietly doing solid work since her debut (and over shadowing by Kate Winslet) in Heavenly Creatures.
She is an actor of some skill and gets to show a huge range in this interesting, funny, offbeat film.
Understanding that underplaying can be especially effective, her depressed nurse who stumbles into investigating a crime that no-one seems that bothered by is a touching and empathy generating creation even whilst being kind of a prick. Especially in the times the film can be deliberately at a remove, without her it's cold dark humour may be too nihilistic to click.
Wood is very funny playing a creepy, skeevy loner and the two of them fumbling around a friendship is at times quite cute but plays second fiddle to the plot machinations for the most part.
A weird, assured first film from Macon Blair.