Wonder Woman

A lot of good things about this, even though I didn’t love it quite as much as others obviously have.

The opening section is one I loved. The colours and action put me in mind of Christopher Reeve’s Superman, and took me back to my childhood. The training sequences set up Diana’s combat ability for future events, showing us that she hasn’t just inherited a range of superpowers, but she has also worked damned hard to be able to fight with such skill. We learn about her inherent belief in right and wrong, which underpins her choices later in the story. And we learn the backstory to her community via a really creative exposition sequence in which, for once, the voice over didn’t get in the way.

The second act has a good mix of cultural commentary (on women’s position in the early 20th century, on the rights and wrongs of war) and action, and the sequence in which Diana climbs out of the trench and into the battle is outstanding. Her naïveté is both comical and understandable, in the same way that Thor is – their interest in this new world and the trials they face to comprehend it and assimilate are charming, funny and genuine.

But the third act is where everything began to fall apart. The colours darkened, the Big Bad is revealed, and the showdown reverts to DC mayhem *yawn*. Even before this, I’ll admit to struggling with the relationship between Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and Diana – something about it just didn’t convince me, and I think on reflection it was Pine, or the writing of his character at least. I haven’t seen him in too many things, but I am a Star Trek aficionado and think he was far too Kirk most of the time. And by the time we reached the finale, all that “I believe in love” stuff had me cringing.

But I adore Gal Gadot, and I love what she’s doing with this character, and this is definitely going to be rewatched.

The Christopher Nolan thing

I’ve long believed that Christopher Nolan has no clue as to how to write female characters.

But it seems he’s solved this problem by choosing to make a film with no female characters in it.

OK, I lie.  IMDb lists two female characters. TWO. The first is 24th on the cast list, and she’s a nurse. The other is 43rd on the list and she’s … a nurse.

So at least he won’t have to worry too much about writing interesting dialogue for two military nurses who are clearly less-than-minor characters.

Fine. Just don’t expect me to have any interest in seeing it.

 

Umi yori mo mada fukaku – After the Storm

Another slice of domestic Japanese life seen through the lens of director Hirokazu Kore-eda.

In many ways this is nothing new from the Japanese director, yet at the same time it is a different domestic arrangement which provides the backdrop for the narrative.

Uncontrollable natural elements force together a broken family and we end up completely understanding every single person’s point of view by the end.

The two stand out performances for me were the father (Hiroshi Abe) and his elderly mother (Kirin Kiki). He is a loveable, shambolic failure – his career and marriage floundering, he is out of place everywhere both emotionally and physically; he is unusually tall and appears squashed in the doorways of his mother’s apartment.

His mother is perhaps one of the most authentic characters you will see on screen – physically ageing but with the wisdom of longevity, she reminded me so much of my own grandmother, who died before I was advanced enough in years to begin to understand what it is like to get old.

And this is the essence of Kore-eda. His films return repeatedly to every day life, to situations and people who we can instantly recognise. It’s a shame that only those with the patience to allow him into our lives benefit from his observations. 

Revolution (1985)

Rewatching for my The Complete Pacino list.

Where to start? Let’s start at the end. Why on earth would you cast Annie Lennox in a film and then have her voice dubbed when her character sings a song? In fact, everyone seemed to be dubbed or ADR-ed at some point, and accents wandered all over the Atlantic.

It’s well-known that this film was an almighty flop, and whether that was due to its rushed editing, poor script or odd casting, it certainly doesn’t hold up over time either.

What’s really sad is that at the very end there’s a technically great sequence where the camera follows Pacino for quite a while as he moves through crowds, an alleyway and across boats all in one take and I was so bored and willing it to be over that I almost missed it.

For whatever reason or combinations thereof this didn’t work, and it’s small wonder that Pacino hibernated for four years before returning to the screen.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Well, I didn’t get on with the first of these films, but I read many people saying this one was even better, so I had vaguely raised hopes.

But it looks like you have to have liked the first one to think that this one is better because I thought this was even more tedious. Sorry, but there it is.

I got sick and tired of cute, shoehorned musical cues and references to popular culture. And I was annoyed with the multitude of comic interjections just at the point when something serious was about to happen or had just happened. The opinion I expressed after the first film still stands:

It tries far too hard to be funny, to set up jokes. The funniest things in, for example, Thor or The Avengers Assemble emerge naturally from the characters’ reactions to various situations. They don’t need a punchline to be funny.

So many characters, mostly yelling at each other. And how many times did this end? (And I’m not talking about mid/end-credit scenes either.) Dead mothers (again). And someone like Gamora would never be interested in that pathetic Quill.

Everything Dave Bautista did was perfect, and I laughed every time he said something. And Baby Groot is cute, yes.

But this is too long, and too not my taste.

Scarface (1983)

Rewatching for my The Complete Pacino list.

I admire this film somewhat, but after this rewatch I’ve decided I don’t like what it’s doing too much.

Perhaps I’m looking at it with 21st century eyes. But to cast so many non-Latinos as Cuban or Bolivian seems ridiculous. This gives rise to a second issue – accents. Sadly, Pacino is one of the worst culprits here. Many times I couldn’t actually understand what he was saying.

The timeline was strained – we see huge leaps forward in Tony’s wealth and position, yet I couldn’t work out how long it had taken him to get there, or sometimes even how he’d managed it.

Female characters? Only really two of note, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, glamourous junkies both, with little agency. One meets a horrible end, the other just disappears from the narrative.

And unfortunately the Giorgio Moroder soundtrack dates it horribly.

So while it is iconic, it’s also a Brian de Palma film which should not be forgotten.

Ah-ga-ssi – The Handmaiden

I wasn’t expecting to laugh as much as I did in this tale of grifters, oppression and eroticism.

Director Chan-wook Park has reframed this story from Victorian England to 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea, and it looks gorgeous. It’s clever in the way it uses flashbacks and replays scenes from different viewpoints, gradually letting the audience in on the twists and turns of the relationships and plot. For there are twists a-plenty.

I’ll be honest and say that the final third didn’t quite keep up the suspense, but by then I was with the characters and wanted to see how things played out for them. I didn’t feel like I had been sitting in the cinema for 2 and a half hours either.

Personally I didn’t need to see as much of the intimate scenes as we were shown – not through any sense of prudery or feeling uncomfortable, but because I felt it wasn’t required. The actors clearly yet delicately show us their feelings for each other, and once this has been established, the rest feels like a touch of unnecessary voyeurism.

A beautiful, sometimes over-the-top creation – would we expect anything less from Chan-wook Park?

A Quiet Passion

It must be me.

This is the second of Davies’ films that I have been looking forward to as a result of amazing reviews by people whose opinions I respect, and that I have failed to like, let alone love.

That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate some of the beautifully filmed shots, and a truly excellent performance from Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson; but there were some very irritating performances or characters (I couldn’t work out which it was) and an over-abundance of Oscar Wilde-infused sharp exchanges which left me bewildered and longing for a swift end.

I just don’t think Terence Davies and I are meant to be.

Arrebato – Rapture

I’ve just about picked my jaw up off the floor. I was not expecting anything like that! That’s what happens when you book tickets weeks in advance, then don’t check up on what you’re going to see.

In the pre-screening introduction, I learned that Arrebato was a movie which had immense difficulties in filming, had a short run, and disappeared into oblivion before becoming something of a cult.

It’s a film which can’t properly be described, as it needs to be seen – or better, experienced – first hand. It’s certainly nothing I would have picked out on my own, but that’s the beauty of film festivals.

Filmmaking is a drug. Filmmakers are vampires.

City of Tiny Lights

Riz Ahmed is absolutely what people describe as a captivating screen presence. He looks fairly unassuming, a regular kind of person, but he inhabits his roles so completely and with such charm that it is intoxicating.

That was a major factor in my enjoyment of City of Tiny Lights, which is solid but unremarkable – with the exception of Ahmed and the actor playing his younger self (newcomer Reiss Kershi-Hussain, who for some reason is not listed in the cast on IMDb).

Riz Ahmed is Tommy Akhtar, a small-time private investigator who is approached in true film noir fashion by a woman who needs his help to solve a mystery. There’s a voice-over, blinds at the window casting shadows, and a lot of rain. It feels like we’re going to get a 21st century, London-set gumshoe story. But what Akhtar begins to uncover takes him back to events from his youth, which intertwine with modern day religious tensions, the CIA, drugs, murder, and which becomes just a little convoluted. There are so many threads that it’s quite difficult to hold on to them all – but fortunately we have Riz whose charming presence is enough to carry things through to the end.

Alongside Ahmed, Roshan Seth is again everybody’s favourite Asian cricket-loving granddad, Billie Piper is a blast from the past who appears to only have one dress to her name, and Cush Jumbo is unfortunately the rather stereotypical tart with a heart.

The cinematography has succeeded in exquisitely capturing an atmosphere of London as the city of tiny lights, and I am curious as to what audiences outside of the UK will make of this. Some of the dialogue may be tricky for a non-London ear (I struggled myself on one occasion) but perhaps it was age and not accent which was the stumbling block!

Overall a solid presentation, but one which hadn’t entirely decided whether to be full-on film noir and as a result didn’t quite hit the mark – but saved by the firm wicket-keeping hands of Riz Ahmed.

A version of this post first appeared at http://www.filmdispenser.com