It’s been a long time since I blogged on films I’d seen. In part this was because of my sabbatical, during which I enforced a break on myself; in part because I was wondering if anybody was actually interested. Then I had a couple of conversations which made it clear people were bothered about this, so I’m going to get back into it. As regular readers will know, we’re about to become foster parents, and we’re not sure how this will impact important things like movie-watching. Time will tell. For now, here’s a brief catch-up on the main cinema visits of recent months, in no special order. Click the titles for a trailer.
A blistering, visceral thriller about the drug war on the Mexican/American border that’s lifted into the stratosphere by an outstanding performance from Emily Blunt and some astonishing cinematography. It’s about more than drugs, too; it’s about how to stay clean in a dirty world, it’s about the politics of race, it’s about fear. There are some staggering action sequences, and the tensest traffic jam in movie history. I have a slight unease about how women are presented in the movie; though it’s hard to reach a conclusion on what, if anything, the film is saying on that. Otherwise, this remains one of the films of the year.
Spectacular and impressive true story about a group climbing, stranded and suffering on Everest. When it should be moving it perhaps isn’t moving enough, but there are moments of humanity amidst the spectacle.
A gentle, but deceptively weighty, drama about an aged Sherlock Holmes forming a friendship with his house-keeper’s son wrapped around the kernel of Holmsian mystery. Ian McKellan is excellent in the title role, a performance and a film which linger long in the air after viewing, like a fine cologne.
We saw this on what is allegedly the world’s largest cinema screen (Auckland), and what a visual treat it is. This is scorched-earth action cinema, throwing everything at the screen, most of which sticks for a long time. Tom Hardy is a good, almost wordless, reinvention of an iconic action hero; but the film’s central character is played by Charlize Theron in a plot which promises a proto-feminist perspective, marginally undermined by the costume design. You won’t get a more satisfying or artful action film this year.
Ridley Scott’s latest is warm, witty and exciting; far more of all those three than you expect a man-stranded-somewhere-inhospitable movie to be. It’s totally implausible yet somehow convincing on its own terms, packed with generous performances and held together by fine direction from one of cinema’s great creators of worlds.
A true and should be significant story is less than the sum of its parts. Good performances, understated direction, a decent script … all somehow doesn’t quite add up to the moving and ethically stimulating whole this should be. In part that’s because the big plot developments feel somewhat telegraphed; or maybe it’s just because I saw this in one of those cinemas with nice beanbags and good beer and I was a little distracted. It’s not bad; it’s decent, just not great.
This series is still better than it has a right to be, primarily because director Joss Whedon knows how to entertain and the cast are completely committed to making this fun. You can’t shake the feeling, however, that Marvel’s big project is starting to fray at its ever expanding edges. It’s all very impressive and it’s an engaging watch, but maybe everyone needs to take a break now. They won’t, though.
The first movie was a grin-inducing out of nowhere hit that left you with a warm glow. The inevitable sequel has lost some of the charm and under-the-radar quality that made the original so appealing, and some of the jokes really miss the mark here, but this is still funnier than most comedies doing the rounds (not a high goal to aim for, admittedly). Even in an inferior sequel, the world is still a better place with these characters and films in it.
Steven Spielberg’s true-life cold war thriller is beautiful to look at and engagingly acted by Tom Hanks and especially Mark Rylance; but the script passed through too many hands to feel coherent and the result is a very enjoyable film that still slightly disappoints in not delivering the food for the mind its really aiming for.