Late again, sorry, same excuse: I’ve been busy, but this time exceptionally so. I’m writing this from a hotel room in China, where I’ll be spending the foreseeable future on a trip for work. How much time I’ll be spending in the room is as yet undefined, hence my references earlier this month with regards to how productive I’ll be blog-wise in September. So far? Not very. Anyway it’s been a busy couple of weeks preparing for this trip, but I do have a fair few films to discuss. So many in fact that I’m going to cut off the diary at this most recent Friday, and I’ll aim to pick up the weekly format this coming Friday, when hopefully I’ll have a little more time to catch you up on, amongst other things, some new releases from this year that I watched on the plane. For now though, here’s what I watched fairly recently, in the latest addition of what should really be called My Fortnight in Films:
The Jungle Book (2016)
I’ve been having my doubts about the recent direction Disney has taken into live-action remakes of their animated classics, especially given the only one I’d seen prior to this was Maleficent, of which the only really memorable aspect was a terrific lead performance from Angelina Jolie. I skipped Cinderella last year on the grounds of really not caring about it one way or the other, but there was no chance I’d be missing The Jungle Book. Of all the Disney classics, this is probably the one I watched most as a child, given it was the most “masculine” we owned on VHS, alongside whichever princess nonsense my sister presumably liked. Nowadays of course I’d be far more likely to watch the likes of Sleeping Beauty or Beauty and the Beast that she would – Beauty and the Beast is easily one of my favourite movies of all time – but back then for me it was all about The Jungle Book, so when a live-action version, with photo-realistic CGI animals talking with A-List voices was announced, my immediate reaction was wariness. When the first trailers dropped a few months ago my wariness increased, because the magnitude of the fame of the chosen stars – Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Bill Murray – made it impossible the distance them from the characters they were playing. For me, in the trailers at least, this felt less like a new interpretation of the likes of Kaa and King Louie, and more like an all-star script-read that felt very wrong when put against the visuals. However, when the film came along this was far less of an issue than I’d anticipated. It helps that the first characters we’re introduced to, the wolves Raksha and Akeela and the panther Bagheera are voiced by Lupita N’Yongo, Giancarlo Esposito and Ben Kingsley, whose voices are recognisable, but to a lesser degree than the stars mentioned earlier. I still had a problem with Johnasson as Kaa the snake and Idirs Elba as Shere Kahn, as I felt they didn’t quite fit exactly with what they were portraying, but everyone else worked perfectly, and Bill Murray as Baloo could be the most perfect casting choice in years. Walken’s King Louie – not an orangutan but instead a gigantopithecus, as clarified in song – felt off to be to start with, but when it became clear he was essentially a jungle mob boss I was fully on board. I approved of restricting the musical numbers to the two original classics, and the small changes made to them worked very well. As did the several very dark scenes – I can see some small children being terrified by some moments revolving around Shere Kahn and Louie – and I think that’s an important quality for family movies to have. Disney has rarely shied away from darkness, and I appreciate the use here. Oh, and of course the visuals are stunning. Simply amazing. I can’t say anything bad about them, they’re fantastic. The whole film, pretty much, was far better than I could have hoped, especially the relaxing-with-Baloo middle third, which was so much fun, and I’m now fully on board with any of Disney’s upcoming adaptations, and Beauty and the Beast has moved up my most anticipated list for next year.
Lists: 2016 Movies
Choose Film 8/10
An American in Paris (1951)
Really over-rated Gene Kelly musical that I reviewed fully here. Would have been passable were it not for the 20 minute ballet climax.
Lists: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Full review here.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Watched in preparation for an upcoming Lambcast in a few weeks time, this is a film I’ve seen several times before, and have already reviewed (find that here). On my last viewing I wasn’t all that keen on the film, finding it not living up to my rose-tinted memory, but this time around the reverse happened, and my lowered expectations resulted in me loving it. I can’t believe I once had a problem with the amount of time it takes to set the team up, as that proved to be my favourite aspect, especially the first interaction between Yul Brynner’s Chris and Steve McQueen’s Vin. The whole scene is great; it sees a funeral director under duress as his latest customer is of Native American descent, but the cemetery is white-only, so some locals have a problem with it and the director’s usual drivers have fled. Two men are needed to drive the carriage, for no pay, and Chris and Vin sign up. The whole conversation leading up to it, between the director and the man trying to pay for the burial, is just terrific. I still think some of the eventual seven (also including Charles Bronson, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz and Robert Vaughn) get short-changed, particularly Coburn, and Buchholz gets far more to do than he should, but that’s always going to be the way in an ensemble like this.
Lists: None (Already crossed off: Empire’s 5-Star 500, Empire Top 500, Steve McQueen Movies)
Choose Film 8/10
Patrick Wilson plays Stretch, a failed actor turned limo driver to the stars, who has just a few hours to raise $6,000 worth of gambling debts, and ends up having one of the most memorable nights of his life in the process. Joe Carnahan’s largely neglected film throws a lot of stuff at the wall – an insane Chris Pine, two largely predictable romantic sub-plots, self-deprecating cameos, Ed Helms as a ghostly conscience, a police investigation, reflections on Stretch’s past acting career, crazy sex stuff, a briefcase maguffin – but fortunately most of it sticks, and I had a lot of fun with this. Wilson is a watchable, sympathetic lead and, seriously, Chris Pine is amazingly off-kilter as his primary customer for the night, had this film gotten more notice then Pine would have been in the conversation for Best Supporting Actor; he steals the whole show. Sometimes the plot gets a little far-fetched, but it’s also always fun. Worth a watch if it passed you by.
Choose Film 7/10
Dad’s Army (2016)
Aisha and I went to visit my grandparents for her birthday weekend, and took along this 2016 remake of the classic 1960s/70s British TV Sitcom about the home guard attempting to defend the small country town of Warmington-on-Sea during World War 2. The team is comprised of those deemed unfit for fighting on the front, so it’s predominantly the elderly and unfit, as well as the youthful and useless. Casting-wise this remake is pretty spot-on, as they’ve nailed almost every character, with the newcomers paying a decent amount of homage whilst still making the characters their own. Toby Jones and Bill Nighy are absolutely perfect as Captain Mannering and Sergeant Wilson, a bank manager and his head clerk by day, and the bumbling, bespectacled Home Guard captain and his bemused, put-upon second-in-command by night. Amongst the supporting members, Blake Harrison is also exactly right to play the most inept of the group, Private Pike, as it’s fairly similar to Harrison’s more famous and equally gormless role in The Inbetweeners. Pike has a familiarity with classic cinema from the day that I found amusing, so this was a welcome addition, as was Daniel Mays as Private Walker, who somehow made a draft-dodger entertaining (though I found it a little in bad taste that the film-makers kept on faking out his death considering the original actor, James Beck, was the only member of the original cast to pass away whilst the show was still running), and Michael Gambon as the kindly but doddering Private Walker is an inspired choice. The only two casting choices I had any issue with were the ones I wasn’t sure about before hand. Bill Paterson lacks the bitterness that made John Laurie’s Private Fraser so endearing, and his catchphrase (“We’re doooooooomed!”) felt very shoe-horned in, and Tom Courtenay as Lance Corporal Jones just felt off in some way. I can’t describe it, other than to say it just wasn’t right. Maybe Clive Dunn’s original portrayal is too iconic, maybe I’m too familiar with Courtenay as a serious actor for this goofiness to work, but whatever it is, I didn’t like it. The same can be said for the film overall, which was disappointingly lacking in laughs. I’d go so far as to say there was probably more comedy in one classic 30 minute episode than in the entire 100 minutes here. Catherine Zeta Jones was a welcome addition as a reporter supposedly doing an article on the Home Guard but really spying on them for ze Germans (not really a spoiler, they give it away in the trailer) and the female counterparts of the Home Guard – including Felicity Montagu, Sarah Lancashire, Alison Steadman, Holli Dempsey and Emily Atack – lent a female element very much missing from the series that was more than welcome. My grandparents, both fans of the original show, seemed to enjoy it, and Aisha, who has never seen the show at all, liked it as well, but I was hoping for more. In my opinion it’s a waste of a very good cast (with cameos from the surviving members, and Mark Gatiss and Annette Crosbie having fun too).
Lists: 2016 Movies
Choose Life 5/10
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
September’s Movie of the Month over at the LAMB.
Lists: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Empire’s 5-Star 500, Empire Top 500, Empire Top 301, Paul Newman Movies
Full review coming soon.
Eye in the Sky (2016)
A mission to capture very high level terrorists in a hideout in Kenya turns into an international ethical dilemma when it becomes clear they are planning an imminent suicide bombing, with capture impossible and a drone strike on the house almost certainly guaranteeing the death of nearby civilians, including a 9-year-old girl selling bread on the street. A great way to keep me entertained in a film is to make it as tense and as gripping as is humanly possible. Captain Phillips did it a few years ago, Argo did it the year before, and Eye in the Sky has done it this year. Logically speaking there’s only a few ways this film can play out, and cinematically speaking a film like this needs a climax, and if there’s a drone hovering above said climax, then chances are an explosion will be involved, but regardless I was on tenterhooks for much of this film, despite it mostly taking place in closed rooms, hotels and bunkers around the world, with different sized groups of people of various ranks, priorities and nationalities, all watching screens, talking to one another, and avoiding making decisions whilst waiting for someone higher up to take the responsibility. All manner of obstacles are thrown in the way, from the nationality of the targets – one has ties to England, another to America – to the probability of damage at different targets, to one key decision maker being struck by a bout of food poisoning halfway around the world, and I was thrilled throughout. The main stars are Helen Mirren as the colonel running the operation and Aaron Paul as the drone pilot reluctant to pull the trigger, but the cast is full of actors all doing cracking jobs. Barkhad Abdi is the man-on-the-ground surveying the situation and operating a cool but probably implausible bug-shaped flying camera, he also gets a not entirely unnecessary action set-piece in the middle, and is the centre of the most tension in the film – Game of Thrones‘ Iain Glen is the aforementioned British Foreign Secretary with bowel issues, and Alan Rickman, in his final live-action role, is the Lieutenant General attempting to wrangle a room full of politicians into making a decision, which turns out to be about as easy as it sounds. My one flaw is that, other than Rickman’s troubles buying the wrong doll for a young relative and it being revealed that Aaron Paul has never fired a Hellfire before and his co-pilot (Phoebe Fox) is on her first day of the job, we know almost nothing about any of the other characters we see. It helps retain the tension and keep the plot moving at a brisk pace, but it also meant some of the major players had very little to go on character-wise. Also, director Gavin Hood, of Tsotsi and X-Men Origins: Wolverine fame, still has issues with dodgy CGI which often took me out of the film. Fortunately it’s kept to a minimum, but when it was used it wasn’t used very well. Other than that, this is excellent.
Lists: 2016 Movies
Choose Film 8/10
Posts you may have missed:
An American in Paris
Lambcast #338 Lambpardy!: Aaron Neuwirth attempted once again to defend his title against DJ Valentine and Heather Baxendale. Somebody won, but everybody had fun, and you should too by listenign to the episode.
Lambcast #339 Cool Hand Luke MOTM: I couldn’t make the recording, but Kristen Lopez hosted in my place, and was joined by Joe Guiliano, Jess Manzo, Richard Kirkham and Jeanette Ward to discuss the Paul Newman classic.
Aim: Review 8 or 9 1001 List movies each month
Should be on: 71
On Track: No!
Aim: Review 1 “Bad” movie each month
Should be on: 8
On Track: Yes!
Aim: Review 1 “Blind Spot” movie each month
Should be on: 9
On Track: No!
Aim: Review 2 “Film-Makers” movies each month
Should be on: 18
On Track: No!