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They keep moving just out of the range of our guns
The original Star Wars, now 40 years old, was always presented as a complete but fairly sterile universe. We enjoyed the heroics of the first 3 films, but were largely nonplussed by the CGI laden effects of the next 3. Like the last film, this is a return to form.
And however enjoyable this romp is, it effectively admits that there is nothing much more that can be done with the franchise at the moment. The film is probably as entertaining as any of the other Star Wars films, and even shows occasional flashes of strong film making. But the fresh stuff cannot quite escape the weight of it's own familiar format.
The Star Wars pieces are deftly moved about in grand sweeps, but with surprisingly little outcome. The character arcs seem strangely un-epic.The humour is deployed well, but just serves to reduce the size of the characters, because there is little counter-balancing in tension. At no time do we learn anything new about the Star Wars universe, or anything about where we are today in the real world. It is stuck in a fixed moral code. The attempted theme of renewal splutters along careful tramlines, and just about keeps the show on the road.
Overall the film is satisfying, and is more than just filler for the video games and McDonald's toys, but it needs something fairy strong to make it anything more than an echo of what it was.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
So Blade Runner gets a remake, the hero is called K (and indeed he is partly on Trial) and we still don't know or care whether Deckard is a replicant. But the journey is wonderful.
Of Hollywood directors, I thought it was only Tarantino who believed that film making was more art than business. While all the narrative is in service to the story, the film has enough space to lets things unfold. (Yes, it is bloody long too)
The first 10 minutes of Blade Runner 2049 are already better than most films I've seen from that last few years. It focuses on no more than a cooking pot. The cinematography throughout is stunning, but not in the hamfisted throw it at the screen way of the remake of Ghost In The Shell for example. The budget and the imagination are actually in sync with visions of vast desolate eco corrupted landscapes and cityscapes. It was a reach in the original, but in this film it is complete.
I'm not actually a big fan of the original. It was far too stagy even with the bits of philosophy sewn into the action plot. One thing the remake manages well is not to keep digging into the original source for meaning. Where they do meet the remake comes off better. The signature Voight-Kampff test for instance has a truly unsettling equivalent. K's sexual relationship is embarrassingly modern, not noir romantic.
The most pivotal scenes are all brief and between women (though they all fail the Bechdel test quite dramatically) and in fact the plot revolves around birth giving the film a kind of Children of Men vibe.
The elan showed by the film is remarkable even for such a high profile remake. Everything has a heft and quality. The design is great. We get a few glimpses of other sci-fi hits (a lot of Matrix type scenes, a few Minority Report fixations) but all in service to something, not just a fancy trailer. The film drops hints, but then muddies them leaving quite a few things mysterious. Another film could follow, but there is no feeling of incompleteness to power a franchise.
A remake is a remake, but this has enough about it to be a classic.
Shin Gojira (2016)
a tall tail
Viewing Godzilla as a political disaster gives this monster flick a far greater reach and meaning. We laugh as the Japanese politicians failing to take control, but feel for the city under threat.
This is a Godzilla film at heart, and the effects of Tokyo being laid waste district by district are well shot, as are the attempts to do battle. But the heroes are politicians, scientists and firm noodles. (Much of the humour is on screen text, so if you don't like subtitles then give it a miss)
But the joke is very much on us, as we realise that the monster is our own decisions come to life, and Donald Trump could indeed destroy Tokyo through a stupid decision.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
The white picket fence
I gave this documentary a slightly higher score than it might otherwise have because of it's timing.
Perhaps it would be good at anytime, but it has an added poignancy because the message of American self destruction (there is even a little Trump excerpt) is the also the story that James Baldwin tells with the notes from his unprinted history of civil rights.
Within the pantheon of the black movement, Baldwin was not similar to either Malcolm X or Martin Luther King; he was a transgressive wordsmith - not a fighter or a stoic example. But he is the perfect foil for this documentary that melds the 60s with today, as he understood that racial hate was a self hate that cannot easily be quenched.
His important point is that American white society cannot square it's myths and dreams with reality. Samuel Jackson's narration adds to this solidly put together documentary that keeps the viewer engaged all the way.
This film has a slight family superficiality sometimes, with little depth attempted with the lives of the black heroes who already have several films dedicated to them. A good knowledge of the time line is assumed, as the film jumps up and down it regularly.
Many images, old and new are (still) shocking - though Baldwins diagnosis remains the bitter pill that America cannot swallow.
More Belgian veterinary violence
If you've seen Bullhead, then you know to expect some cattle mutilation and more in a Belgian film.
This does not disappoint, with the vets college backdrop hosting lots of human and animal flesh for a potential alternative diet to get started.
The film moves towards visceral, not so much weird or humorous (Get Out) with a family connection that doesn't quite cement the film but does act to explain some of the narrative.
Get Out (2017)
I don't see too many of these type of teen horror movies as they are rarely good or original.
There have been a few original ideas that made good small films - "it follows" was a shining example. But Get Out comes at things quite differently - being both political, occasionally funny and appropriately weird.
In the end you are presented with a cross between Being John Malkovich and The Lobster, with not quite enough developed material to pull it through. The performances give it a little gravitas, but the ambition tails off.
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Ghost trapped in the Shell
From a technical standpoint, the world of New Port City is well transcribed. It's a tribute to the film that it takes quite a long time before the first minor inconsistencies arise. But the spirit of the original has been replaced with the spirit of a police procedural. The shell however is well executed - and suffers only from the inevitable feeling that this should be a series not a film.
The Japanese original material was far more technical and much less emotional than this adaption - where you get the feeling that most of the characters are the usual Americans with mummy issues. Most of what is good is almost certainly dragged in from Beat Takeshi (who gives not a f*ck about Hollywood).
In some ways this is both reasonably faithful and perfectly watchable. That it is a squeezed into the formal corset of a studio picture you already knew and can't seriously complain about. Watch, enjoy, forget, and keep the original on DVD.
This continues the chain of great Korean films that thankfully come over to the West. Violence, intrigue and somewhat strange pacing all play their part.
This horror film plays with aspects of ghosts and shamanism, when bad mushrooms are blamed for something that looks far worse. There are reminders of things as far apart as Peter Jackson's Braindead and Spanish horror film Rec.
One aspect to watch out for is the use of an initially pathetic character in the lead role, a device used to lead you into the happenings in the small town of Goksung. A knowledge of Korean culture may help you decipher what is going on, but you will be running for the internet either way to work out what just happened.
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Fool on the hill
This is a great looking film, that has perhaps diluted itself by trying to tell two stories at once.
The bland and cold LA lifestyle intercepted by unreality in a very Lynch type of way is finely done, but is inferior to the visceral story within a story that gives the film its nerve. The vista view from the Hollywood hill is always good cinema - even though we know that we are being fed a stereotype.
For this reason the ending, which is - one supposes - the connection between these two ideals falls ever so slightly flat. There are times where we are spoon fed unnecessarily, and times when detail is strangely lacking. The different styles of film communicate in different ways.
It is nice to see a real adult film in the independent American cinema tradition, and repeat viewing would likely even out some of the crinkles. The quality is there, but the substance may have needed some more work.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Commonsense will tell you that this Marvel material is beyond any sensible retelling, as there is not enough acid to go around. So relax and enjoy the ride.
The plot and screenplay are totally built by the numbers, so you will feel as if you have seen the film many many times before. It shares with most bad films a feeling that it is just a flow of disconnected scenes.
And yet the reason why this works is entirely because the special effects and the actors meld into the MCU so nicely that all the scenes lose concrete meaning. In a film about mystic dimensions, this works in the films favour. Your lack of engagement kind of backs the premise, and the relaxed pace draws you into a stupor. But unlike the overly silly Guardians of the Galaxy, this takes itself seriously enough.
Even the fact that the film is copying Batman Begins, Big Trouble in Little China, the Matrix and to a lesser extent Inception just let you relax into it even more. You will learn nothing, yet be entertained.