A new term in film

I like to think of September as the start of a new year when it comes to films. the summer blockbuster season has finished, the Oscar contenders are lining themselves up and we know what we have to look forward to with regards to Christmas and next years franchise installments. So, I’m going to do a quick recap of last year and list some highlights that I’m looking forward to.

RECAP

The best film of the last 12 months I’ve seen has got to be Moonlight. I came out of the cinema after seeing it feeling fairly unimpressed. However I couldn’t shake it from my head and it persisted. The cinematography is beautiful, the storytelling simple and direct. It is one of the most beautiful, delicate pieces of cinema I have ever seen and a worthy Oscar winner.

I watched quite a few of the Oscar nominees and liked Jackie, Hidden Figures and Arrival. Each of those are worth seeing, as is La La Land, though that has been over-hyped whereas the other three have been tossed aside.

I’m a big fan of superhero films and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has been my highlight. Wonder Woman was a very good film, but sadly it’s ending let the whole film down in my opinion. With GOTG2, the ending gives the whole film (if not the two films) purpose. The sequel is definitely darker, but that’s because it explores the characters deep emotional scars. It is at times a difficult watch (something which should not be a surprise if you’ve seen James Gunn’s Super) but I found such a strong character piece that for me it surpasses the first Guardians. Also, the film is really colourful, like Wonder Woman, making it a lot of fun and a joy to behold. Below is a clip from the opening, so minor spoilers.

The biggest disappointment for me was Rogue One. I never expected much from it, but it was barely a competent film, with so many plot holes. The characters were unengaging, the story dull and the action boring. Characters from a New Hope were forced into a story they didn’t belong in and so it had the feeling of bad fan fiction.

Finally, I have to mention the only film that I saw twice at the cinema; Baby Driver. I love Edgar Wright as a filmmaker and his latest is more of a straight action film. It has comedic beats, but it is mainly about the car chases and gangster drama. The flaws are common to other films of the same genre, in that some of the supporting characters are subservient to the story. However, given the convention’s limitations, the film is masterful. His commitment to directing in time to the music is phenomenal and makes for a really intense ride. After each viewing I left so pumped on adrenaline that I struggled to sleep.

HEADS UP

For those who liked Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 looks set to be gorgeous. The original was a stylistic landmark and the sequel will try to modernise that style. The trailer looks beautiful, not long till it arrives at the beginning of October.

The other major blockbuster I’m looking forward to is Ready Player One. Steven Spielberg adapts the book whose mix of geek fandom and critique I enjoyed thoroughly. The Bridge of Spies and the BFG were both good films, so I know it’s in good hands.

As far as superhero films are concerned, Ant Man & the Wasp will be the first Marvel film with an eponymous heroine. Ant Man was fun, so it will be interesting to see what they can do with a second one. (See below for 2017’s body shrinking comedy film.) The Incredibles 2 will finally arrive, which should be great. Black Panther looks interesting, but Thor Ragnorok looks the best of the bunch. If you haven’t seen director Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople or What We Do in the Shadows, then watch those now. He has such a comedic light touch and looks set to reboot the Thor franchise in style.

While on the subject of blockbusters, I have a couple worth mentioning which could do really well. The Jumanji reboot looks like it will be a lot of fun. My hopes are high for that, as they are for a Wrinkle in Time. I’ve not read the book, but the trailer intrigues me. It’s the first film with a budget over $100 million to be directed by a woman of colour, so for that reason alone, its worth a watch.

The Oscar contenders seem to cover a mix of tastes. There are two tennis drama’s coming out, and the Battle of the Sexes looks the much more interesting. I don’t understand why you’d want to watch actors play a sport they’re not very good at, so any sports film has to be about the drama off the pitch affecting their game. This looks like it will be a decent heart warming drama.

The Shape of Water looks like a beautiful cold war version of Pan’s Labyrinth. I love the idea of having a deaf lead character and this period romance looks stunning.

Aardman studios are giants in their field and their next film looks set to be a claymation classic. The original story of stone age community versus iron age looks set to be a lot of fun.

My top pick, for just sheer nuttiness is Downsizing. If you’ve seen the Descendants or Sideways, you know to expect a dry comedy. This looks intriguing as there are so many places that it could go with such a ridiculous concept.

Here are a few more that on my radar that haven’t got a trailer yet:

  • Pacific Rim Uprising, for more giant robot v giant monster mayhem.
  • Mission Impossible 6, as that series is far above Bond in my eyes.
  • Mortal Engines, the next Peter Jackson vehicle based on the popular books.
  • Holmes & Watson, a Will Ferrell comedy that should fill the hole until Robert Downey Junior makes another one.
  • Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s next feature, a stop animation project set on a island populated solely by canines.

All in all, it looks set to be another good year.

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Who’s that girl?

So, Doctor Who is going to regenerate into a woman. And boy, does the internet have a lot to say about it.

Firstly, I must say I have no issue with the casting of Jodie Whittaker. I’m not very familiar with her work, having only seen her in Attack the Block. Her performance in that was quite comical and I thought she was one of the standouts in the film. I know she has been in Broadchurch, a show not known for it’s laughs and so I am unsure what to expect from her Doctor. The costume revealed in the short teaser, while being refreshingly different, is not her final costume for the next series. We therefore really know very little other than physical appearance about the thirteenth. I’m therefore excited by something fresh, as the show was starting to get stale.

Image result for thirteenth doctor

Gender swapping is being talked about a lot at the moment. It’s nothing new though, as you can see with the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Salt, James Bond (Judi Dench as M) and even Alien (Ripley was originally a man).

The film industry is very aware that it has a problem with female actors being underpaid. I also think lead roles for women are in short supply, particularly in blockbusters.

Female representation in film (Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Female_and_male_characters_in_film.png)

The simple solution being considered by some is to insert women into existing male franchises. For example, there are calls for James Bond to be recast as a woman.  I struggle to see that working. The character is quite misogynistic and arrogant. I think this role would be hard for any woman to play.

The more complex and more thorough solution is that the production needs to consider gender actively, particularly in blockbusters. That Marvel has not released a film with a female protagonist and are 16 films in is shocking. Wonder Woman has silenced any financial and artistic arguments that may have existed that necessitate a male lead.

It’s not just about the leads however, its about the quality of parts. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the female roles are all a little one note. You may have heard of the Bechdel Test or the Mako Mori test, both methods for preventing female characters existing purely to support the men. I think the situation is so bad that 50% of the world’s population are under represented, so something actively needs to be done.

I think as long as a role is written either for a woman or as genderless, which the Doctor is, then a woman can play it. The inequality is real and we need to change it.

And if you think actors have it bad, pity the directors. I bet you can’t name 3 female directors?

Fantastic Four trailer debuts

One of my favourite superhero franchises is the Fantastic Four. I love how the story embodies the ideas of friendship, family, power and responsibility all in one. It offers one of the most interesting dynamics of superheros interacting with the real world that any series can offer. As far as I’m concerned, Fox has the best groups of heroes, Sony has the best single hero and Marvel is doing the best with what properties it has left.

Despite not even images from on set having been released until last week, there is a new film out in August this year. I liked the previous series, fun and light as it was, but I’m quite excited about the idea of starting again with one of Marvel’s original set of characters.

The footage looks a lot more serious and grounded than before, but I like that. The effects look modern, the characters real and the scale looks large. This looks less like it was made for the MTV generation, but one that it is struggling to find its place in the world, or possibly out of it. This is definitely my most anticipated superhero film of 2015.

Review: Noah

Before I get to my review, I think it is best to add some context. As you can see from my previous posts, I’m a guy who likes the story of Noah. Genesis is without doubt my favourite book in the Bible and Noah is one of my favourite stories in that. It’s very short I know, but it has such an epic scope. I have had thoughts about adapting it as a science fiction film myself, with the ark being a spaceship and our planet being completely destroyed.

When it was announced that there was to be a film based on the character, naturally I was curious. I followed production eagerly, fully aware that the man creating it was not a christian. His first comments on the news was that he saw Noah as a great environmentalist, which I couldn’t quite understand. Having seen it, I now get his point (and agree with it), but from the very start I knew that this was going to be someone’s reaction to Noah, not a traditional adaptation. I was still curious though, and wanted to see what makes someone who questions the Bible want to make a film about it. I kept updated with news, laughed when filming was halted by flooding and was wowed by the first trailer.

When it eventually came out (I heard of it being an option back in 2007) I was too busy to see it immediately. I therefore saw the reviews before I got to see it myself. To put it simply, they are mixed. Some love it, singing its praising for acting, scope and bold scriptwriting, while others criticised all of those things and more. Christians too were divided on what they thought of it, with some praising it, others condemning it as evil. I asked my friends on facebook, and all were negative, some of whom hadn’t even seen it. I’ve made that mistake before (see Sucker Punch here) but in short, the reactions were overwhelmingly hostile.

There have been a lot of claims that this film is unbiblical. That is a big claim, especially since the bible passage is very short. For example, in the film fallen angels help Noah build the ark.  This is not mentioned in the Bible at all, so does that make it unbiblical? I suppose it depends on your definition on what that word means. It is as unbiblical as dinosaurs are I guess, which in my opinion is not at all; they have just been left out for some reason.

After doing more research, I have found out that this is following the Jewish tradition of midrash, where they use their imaginations to fill in the blanks from stories in scripture. This is not done to set the record straight on what actually happened but to give flesh to the bones provided and see what holds up in context of the details we know.

In this light, I think the film makes a lot more sense. The director has a strong emotional resonance with the story, there is no doubt about that. He wants more than the Bible says and has spent years imagining what those look like. Coming from a Jewish background, now being an atheist, his view is not fully formed, but it has a lot of interesting questions. This is what frame of mind you should see it in. This is a film of one man’s reactions to the story which has been told as a sweet story to children in churches but when thought about as an adult has a lot more depth than simply getting all the animals onto a boat.

With the parts he has imagined, there are details which contradict the Bible but I believe the film’s core holds true to the story. Aronofsky employed someone to ensure that he did just that. The contradictions to the text are always used to illustrate a point, either about humanity or about God. The story speaks of judgement and mercy, two things that are rarely covered by Hollywood.

So what did I think of it? In short, I loved it. It was simply superb and while I can see people’s objections, I thought that it was excellent filmmaking and a must watch. The acting is for the most part very good with each character coming across as fully formed, complex and believable. The story is grand in scope and mainly serves to highlight the theological ideas and questions that Aronofsky has.

What I particularly loved about it was that Noah was a real person. He has very big character flaws, something which many people have found difficult. All that we know about Noah from the Bible is that he was a man of faith, deemed righteous among his generation. This film focuses on the first part, showing a man who did amazing things without ever seeing clearly. The latter is harder to explain, as he most definitely sins. This is shown in the Bible though, when he gets drunk and naked in Genesis 9. This is shown in the closing moments of the film and it’s clear that the director has extrapolated backwards to try and explain why Noah would have turned to drink after leaving the ark.

I know that some people fear that because Noah is a more unconventional film it will turn people away from God or confuse them. I would disagree for several reasons. At the core, it is the same God being presented and I truly believe that only a few details have been changed. Secondly, this film is not intended to replace the Bible; only that is the word of God. Also, I believe that God can use a negative reaction, one of repulsion, to the parts which are not of Him to drive people away from what is wrong and closer to Him. And finally, I think that people with questions are likely to ask people about them and that conversation will have greater impact than a blockbuster ever could.

I know of another christian film released at the same time, the Son of God, an adaptation of the Bible television series for cinematic release. I’ve heard nobody talk about this, know nobody who’s seen it and only one person, a christian, who wanted to. That I imagine would most definitely falls into the safe conservative film category, something Noah would not do. This is a risky, controversial film that definitely leads to a reaction. It does not present a God that most people know, but shows them another side to the God called Creator.

I would highly recommend this film.  It is worthwhile film making that made me spend 2 hours engaging with big questions and with God. A film studio have never spent as much (a reported $125 million) on adapting a biblical story before. Even though the director was not a christian, there would have been many working on it, praying for it and hoping that this would be a success.

Please, if nothing else, give it a chance. Don’t write it off without having seen it; God can work miracles. If you’d like to watch it and live in the UK, you can currently get a 2 for 1 offer all this week if enter the code NOAH at this website and is accepted at most major cinema chains.

 

Batfleck!

Earlier in the week, Zak Snyder revealed the first image of Ben Affleck as Batman in the Man of Steel sequel, stood in front of the new Batmobile.

batmobile

I really like the new look. It’s exactly what I hoped for when he was cast; a brooding middle age Bruce Wayne with a lot on his mind. The new logo on his chest has yet to warm on me, but this is a minor detail. The silhouette is exactly right and the mask couldn’t fit better. The new batmobile looks great. I especially like Wonder Woman’s jet in the back fo the shot.

One of the consequences of this has been the sad batman meme. The internet has gone wild over taking this image out of context and the results are hilarious! I’ve included a few of the best below, enjoy!

batflume

batbarbie

batcoffee

whatsupbatman

batswing

 

Superheroes 2014

With Thor: the Dark World now out in cinemas,  there are now no more superhero films left to be released this year. It is therefore time to look forward to 2014.

There are four major releases to consider, but only two of these have released any footage.

First up, due out in April, is Captain America The Winter Soldier.

Cap is definitely my favourite of the Avengers, and this seems like it will test his moral courage (a term I heard on a recent training course and have become fond of). I’m slightly worried that the rest of film will be a bit by the numbers and that the Marvel formula is becoming tired. The scene with Black Widow is all too similar to the one between Tony and Pepper in the Iron Man 2 teaser, though this was later cut.

In August, their reputation could be saved by the bonkers Guardians of the Galaxy. This is Marvel’s riskiest film to date and the one I am most excited about. One of it’s main character is a gun-toting raccoon while another is a tree voiced by Vin Diesel. The footage shown at Comic Con was very humorous and I think this has potential to be as fun a ride as the original Iron Man.

Guardians of the Galaxy concept art

Before that the seventh film in the X-men series is due out in May.

This I’m also very excited about, as X-men is one of my favourite franchises. Sure there have been duds (Wolverine, I’m looking at you) but this film intends to unite them all. This is why the original director, Bryan Singer, is back and has promised to address some of the things in the films following his departure. You can see in the video that Wolverine has his bone claws as introduced in Wolverine origins, something I think will rile the purists.

The trailer however is frustrating. it has the makings of an awesome teaser with some well chosen dialogue which makes me eager to see these guys in action. The polish is missing though; I felt the music change and Wolverine’s scream were particularly clunky. I am hoping this is a symptom of the trailer being rushed out for excited fans and not due to studio pressure.

Also out in May is the Amazing Spider-man 2. A trailer is due to come out in front of the Hobbit Desolation of Smaug, so it will be a while yet before we see Spidey in action. There have been plenty of stills released though, including some showing Jamie Fox’s original take on Electro.
First Look: Electro in Amazing Spider-man 2
He’s not the only villain though, as Rhino and Norman Osborne are also to be introduced.  Whether this ends up going a bit Spider-man 3 remains to be seen, but I’m going to reserve judgement until I see it.

DC are only noticeable by their absence. Though with Batman Vs Superman (current working title) coming in 2015, I imagine that will dominate the year.

Sucker Punch returns

It’s been a while since my last film review. This is partly because I’m watching fewer movies these days but mainly because there has been one blog post in particular I’ve been needing to write and haven’t wanted to. This is that post.

Just over 4 years ago (yes, it’s been a while) I wrote a blog called Sucker Punch will suck! In it I tried to persuade readers that this was a film worth avoiding. I made the judgement that based on the trailers it would condemn truth and just be about making your own little world.

I wanted to kind of apologize for that post. I made a snap judgement, which though a little better than judging a book by it’s cover, was not based on a full viewing.  A trailer may contain footage from the final film (but may also contain some shots which are later cut, see. Iron Man) but it’s out of order and context. It’s like saying all the words in the blurb for War and Peace will be used in the book so I don’t need to read it in full. I was misguided to think I could make such a call and will never make that mistake again.

While on holiday in India, Sucker Punch was showing on TV and as it was monsoon season I decided to stay in and watch it. If it really was as bad as I thought it would be, I could always change the channel, so I watched it.

I loved it truth be told. While it is very dark and the characters do reject truth for easier lies, the overall film was superb. Snyder is a gifted director when it comes to making a visual statement and this is no exception. The fight sequences are often compared to music videos and that’s because they are practically dance routines. Each move is precise and the lead actors look like ballet dancers more than warriors. While some dislike this, I believe it is entirely intentional.

The other part of this film which has divided fans is the female protagonists. In each scene they are unarguably overly sexualised. Bustiers, hot pants and fishnet stockings are the order of the day and this is very clearly a conscious choice. Whether this is to serve as eye candy or criticize it is the question we can never truly answer, but I believe it is the latter. This film has little good to say about sexual desire and the male characters (bar the wise man) all seem to be perverted with lust. I think the film is asking the audience to question their own reactions to these provocative but exploited women and take responsibility for their reactions.

To say more about this film and why I like it so is to creep into spoiler territory. If you don’t object to the incredibly sexual and violent nature of the film, I would suggest it is worth a shot. If you can’t bear those scenes, then you should probably avoid this film.

In other Zack Snyder news, a third Man of Steel trailer is out. This looks good, but  I’ll wait until I’ve seen it before I make any recommendations.