Feb 17th ~ Movie Monday

So much has been written about 1917, (2019) accolades galore for director Sam Mendes and his collaboration with Roger Deakins to make it look like a continuous take. Phil and I don’t like going to the cinema, uncomfortable seats, can’t go to the loo without missing the plot, can’t pause or rewind to take in what you are seeing, but we took note of everyone saying you have to see it on the big screen, so we went on the afternoon and did it.

For anyone living under a rock the movie follows 2 young soldiers on a mission to cross no mans land, get through a german occupied village and deliver a general order to a General on the front line to stop an intended attack on retreating Germans, as it’s really a trap and the 1600 British soldiers will all be massacred. It’s an arduous journey that they undertake, but no spoilers so I’ll shut up about the plot.

My bum started hurting 1/2hr into the film, the seats at cineworld are the worst, which kind of takes you out of being immersed in the film but I hadn’t drunk anything since 10am so at least I didn’t need the loo. The movie was so interesting in how it looked, the continuous shot trope very effective at taking you along with the 2 lads. Realistic looking trenches, shell craters, and a devasted French countryside are a feast for the eyes. You don’t see very much fighting and legs been blown off etc, but the dead bodies are embedded in the landscape, rotting carcasses of blown up horses, and everywhere the rats making the most of this bounty. Phil really wanted to pause and have a good look at some of the scenes. (Bluray on the way 🙂 ).

The acting is spot on, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman play the 2 soldiers, I kept thinking I recognised Chapman from something but couldn’t figure it out, I looked him up to find he played Tommen in Game of Thrones, he’s come a long way since then! Some great actors have tiny parts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, to name a couple only have fleeting scenes, but they make the most of them.

So great cinematography, directing and acting makes this movie well worth seeing, but somehow I was not inspired by the actual story. It wasn’t quite believable. As Cathy Templesman of The New York Times wrote, the story gives a “dangerously misleading” picture of the War, suggesting “a concern for the sanctity of human life from the top down”, whereas the reality was “an appalling indifference as the British high command sent hundreds of thousands of their young men to die”. She adds that the “false heroics and filmmaking feats of wonder“ serve to provide an “escape from the true carnage of the ‘Great War’”, and that in reality the scale of the casualties was such that the potential loss of 1,600 men would not have excited the response portrayed in the film.”

But I’ll happily watch it again when the Bluray comes, the plot is incidental to the visual awesomeness really.

Our Saturday night fun movie was Spiderman Far from Home. This follows on from Avengers Endgame, and we went in with a little trepidation as the first Spiderman in this series was annoying. I’m glad to say things are much improved in that Spiderman/Peter Parker as played by Tom Holland has calmed down somewhat. There’s a lot more going on with him this time, no longer the happy, gobby teenager, but deeply affected by the loss of his mentor Tony Stark, and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being the last Avenger standing. He just wants a normal life and to get together with a girl he likes, M.J played by Zendaya. There’s a lot of pathos, a fair amount of laughs along the way, and of course the brilliant special effects and CGI. Jake Gylenhall had a blast (literally!) as the deceptive villain, with Samuel L Jackson reprising his role as Nick Fury, Marissa Tomei as Peter’s Aunty, and Jon Favreau as Happy. Anyway on the whole we liked this a lot more than the previous Spiderman and even Phil could follow the plot!

Midway through the credits we get the set-up for the next Spiderman movie to come, and at the end a fairly big surprise which I presume is the set-up for the greater MCU, whatever that’s going to be.

Feb 10th ~ Movie Monday

Phils choice this week was Sicario, (2015) directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin. Not a bad cake mix, but the cherry on the icing is the cinematography by Roger Deakins ~ often cited as one of the greatest and most influential cinematographers of all time. I think any serious movie geek knows his name. I wonder though how many know that his wife Isabella, but known as James Ellis Deakin (for some reason I have no idea about) has collaborated with him since they married in 1991, and is listed as Digital Workflow Consultant deep in the small credits at the end of the movie.

Anyway, the cinematography is predictably wonderful. The direction is spot on, and although I found Emily Blunt’s goody two shoes FBI agent character implausible, she acted her socks off doing it. Benicio del Toro as the titular Sicario, which means ‘hitman’, is dark and menacing and cooller than ice and James Brolin as a flip flop wearing CIA officer was more than equal to the part.

The plot revolves around the American’s desire to revert the drug cartels in Mexico back to how it used to be when one cartel ran the whole shebang and was therefore easier for them to control, and in order to operate in foreign fields the CIA need an FBI presence to legalise their participation.

Johanne Johannsson deservedly won an oscar nomination and a BAFTA award for the soundtrack which really added to the ambience of the movie.

We thoroughly enjoyed this movie and as there is a sequel that also got good reviews, we will get to that too at some point.

Our Saturday night fun movie was Avengers Endgame. For the sake of continuity for Phil, I missed out Antman & the Wasp, and Captain Marvel, both of which he saw when I first got them, and as we watched Infinity War last week it made more sense.

Endgame deals with the fall out from Infinity Wars and what’s left of the Avengers attempts to reverse the destruction caused by Thanos, (James Brolin again) in that movie. There is a lot of sadness and pathos in the first half of the movie, which at 3 hrs and 2 minutes is one of the longest Marvel has produced. Everyone in the enormous cast brought their A game, whilst Joe & Anthony Russo’s directing skills kept everything tight. It’s funny in a lot of places and sends itself up as well as ribbing other time travel movies such as Back to the Future. Although there is always the CGI action and spectacle expected from an MCU movie there’s less here than in Infinity Wars and a lot more character and emotional scenes that show how invested the actors have been in this franchise, the love and friendship they have for each other shines through.

Critics have mostly been positive, Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter agrees “what comes across most strongly here, oddly enough for an effects-driven comic-book-derived film, is the character acting, especially from Downey, Ruffalo, Evans, Hemsworth, Brolin and Paul Rudd” . Rotten Tomatoes critics said “Exciting, entertaining, and emotionally impactful, Avengers: Endgame does whatever it takes to deliver a satisfying finale to Marvel’s epic Infinity Saga.” The neighsayers have criticised it for being overly long, but always mention the good acting from all involved.

At the box office it became the fifth highest grossing movie of all time worldwide, not bad going for a bunch of superheros.

Phil, good sport that he is, has stoically gone through the MCU with me, and at the end of Endgame told me it was the only one he’d really like to see again, another win!

Next week Phil hasn’t yet chosen his Thursday night movie, but we will be finishing this phase of the MCU with Spiderman Far From Home, which answers a few questions and sets up for the next phase, which starts in May with Scarlett Johanson reprising her Black Widow character as we get the origin of her story. I’m really looking forward to that one as it also stars Florence Pugh who is getting a lot of accolades for her performances in Midsommar and Little Women. Also this year in November The Eternals will be released with Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie and Kit Harrington taking major parts, eye candy all round!

Jan 20th ~ Movie Monday

This week Phil has continued with Joe Pesci /gangster movies and we did Goodfellas (1990). Another Martin Scorsese movie and another movie based on a true story, this time of Henry Hill, and his rise and fall as a mob associate. Ray Liotta plays the part, and is joined by Robert De Niro, who suggested Liotta to Scorsese for the role. The movie is based on a book, ‘Wiseguy’ by Nicholas Pileggi, with whom Scorsese wrote the screenplay.

De Niro plays James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway, an Irish-American truck hijacker and gangster; whilst Liotta and Joe Pesci start out as juvenile delinquents doing minor jobs for the mob and working their way up to more senior positions. The cast is spectacular, with Paul Sorvino as Paul “Paulie” Cicero, the head man, and Lorraine Bracco as Henry’s long suffering wife Karen.

Pesci won a best supporting role Oscar, and the movie was nominated for 6 awards, and also won 5 awards from the BAFTA’s including best film and director. The movie is widely regarded as one of the best movies in the gangster genre, and in 2000, it was deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation in the National Film Register by the United States Library of Congress.

We so enjoyed this movie, such a different feel to The Irishman, which of course it is impossible not to compare it with. The Irishman I feel really went in depth into the characters and had a more serious vibe to it, and a slower pace. I really felt the emotion of the characters, especially Pesci and De Niro,whereas Goodfellas, had a lot of laugh out loud moments that offset the appalling violence that went on. (Hmm, maybe we weren’t supposed to laugh!?)

With The Irishman, Scorsese took his time with the characters and their scenes, in Goodfellas we are jumping about with quick cuts and fast changes to different locations with lots of detail, which is what Scorsese wanted to give the audience – the feel of ‘punk attitude’. He stated ~ “I wanted lots of movement and I wanted it to be throughout the whole picture, and I wanted the style to kind of break down by the end, so that by Henry’s last day as a wiseguy, it’s as if the whole picture would be out of control, give the impression he’s just going to spin off the edge and fly out.” That worked really well and Liotta did a cracking job of going down the pan.

Goodfellas gives no quarter, there is no emotional attachment to any of the characters, which is how Scorsese wanted it, but in the Irishman, I found a warmth in the relationship between Peschi & DeNiro, which I hadn’t expected. Both movies have very many merits.

Our Saturday night movie continues the run of Marvel movies, and this week we did Black Panther (2018) directed by Ryan Coogler, who also helped write the screenplay. What I like most about Marvel movies is the calibre of actors who star in them, and Black Panther is no exception. Chadwick Boseman takes the title role, with a supporting cast including Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. Sure the CGI is awesome, but it’s how these actors bring depth and nuance to their characters that really pulls me in, and to me it seems a shame that those attributes are dismissed by ‘serious’ movie people who like to slag off Marvel & DC movies as being silly or meaningless. But each to his own, I’m quite disparaging of horror movies, which are, of course, really stupid. 🙂

Black Panther is an origin movie, and shows how Boseman as King of Wakanda becomes the Black Panther. We learn that over centuries, the Wakandans use a special material called vibranium to develop advanced technology and isolate themselves from the world by posing as a Third World country. Andy Serkis plays the baddie who finds and steals vibranium and opens up the secret of Wakanda’s location to the CIA (Martin Freeman). No spoilers so I’ll leave that there and say we thought the director really excelled in this movie, it moved along at a good pace, the choreography of the fight scenes was excellent and fun to watch, and in this particular movie no ‘hammy acting’ going on, everyone played their part so convincingly, and it was all the better for that. The costumes were gorgeous and the designer Ruth E Carter referenced several south African tribes, as well as Issi Miyake, Donna Karan & Yves Saint Laurent. The all female special forces of the movie were dressed in Massai inspired warrior costumes.

This movie isn’t just ‘another superhero movie’ though, and seems almost secondary as it deals with issues about what it means to be black in both America and Africa—and, more broadly, in the world.  I’m caucasian so really not entitled to spout off about this, so I looked up what has been said about it by black writers and movie critics. Jamil Smith in Time magazine – “This is not just a movie about a black superhero; it’s very much a black movie. It carries a weight that neither Thor nor Captain America could lift: serving a black audience that has long gone under­represented. For so long, films that depict a reality where whiteness isn’t the default have been ghettoized, marketed largely to audiences of color as niche entertainment, instead of as part of the mainstream. ” Jamelle Bouie of Slate – “is fair to say that Black Panther is the most political movie ever produced by Marvel Studios, both in its very existence… and in the questions its story raises. Black Panther could have been just another Marvel romp [but] Coogler and company had the power, and perhaps the responsibility, to do much more. And they did”

Not all were positive though, and Patrick Gathara of The Washington Post wrote the film portrays a “regressive, neocolonial vision of Africa”, which – rather than a “redemptive counter-mythology” – offers “the same destructive myths”. Gathara highlighted the Africa that is portrayed, still essentially a European creation, as being divided and tribalized, with Wakanda run by a wealthy and feuding elite that despite its advanced technical abilities does not have a means of succession beyond lethal combat. 

In the awards season the movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture,the first superhero film ever to be so, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original score, Best Original Song (for “All the Stars”),Best sound editing and Best sound mixing.

The deeper meanings for black people didn’t really affect me, and Phil and I enjoyed the movie just as a part of the marvel universe continuum, it is though, one of the best they have done.

worth a read https://time.com/black-panther/

Jan 6th – Movie Monday

Here at Fraggle Towers we have 2 movie nights a week, Phil’s ‘Grim Movie’ night on a Thursday, mostly consisting of war movies so far, and my ‘Fun Movie’ night on a Saturday, so this year I’m going to tell you what we’ve been watching, and maybe you’ll be inspired to see one, or most probably inspired to miss them!

Last weeks Grim was possibly the grimmest yet that Phil has subjected me to, the title of which is City of Life and Death (2009. It is a chinese production directed by Lu Chuan and is set in 1937, not long after the start of the 2nd Sino-Japanese war. It tells the story of what happened when the Japanese Imperial Army overran Nanking, and the dreadful acts carried out over several weeks by the Japanese on the Chinese civilians, and captured soldiers, historically known as the Nanking Massacre. The only other film I’ve seen about this is another chinese movie, Flowers of War (2011), but that had Christian Bale starring as John Rabe, the priest trying to save chinese refugees in the city, so that it would appeal to western audiences. City of Life and Death does not pander to Hollywood. It is beautifully shot in black and white, and won several awards for the cinematography by Cao Yu. There is no music soundtrack, and it didn’t need one, you can’t set this much awfulness to any score. The acting is far beyond anything I’ve seen in other chinese movies, and the actors and actresses involved invoke emotional responses that touch the depths of the soul. It caused a fair bit of controversy in China when it was released, as part of the movie is told from the perspective of a Japanese soldier, and he is humanised, compassionate even, and conflicted by the events unfolding around him. It was nearly pulled from theatres and the director received online death threats. The movie is both brutal and gentle at times, visceral and sensitive. It is one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and if you can handle it, so worth seeing.

Most of you know I’m a Marvelholic, and for several Saturdays now we’ve been doing the MCU movies starting with Iron Man, and we will eventually end with Spiderman Away From Home. This Saturday we watched the first in the new Spiderman movies, Spiderman Homecoming (2017). Firstly I’m going to have to say Phil is not a Marvelholic, but he has a softspot for Spiderman from when he was a lad and he has mostly enjoyed the movies we’ve done so far. Unfortunately this version of Spiderman in the MCU is really disappointing, and neither of us were sad to see it end. The cast is fine, lovely to see Marisa Tomei as Spidermans Aunt, and Tom Holland as the new Spiderman does a good job with what he’s given, but for us it was all a bit juvenile (I know, he IS a teenager!). Spidermans sidekick Ned is played by Jacob Batalon, and the dialogue between them is annoyingly superfast and hard to follow, and quite asinine , unless you are under the age of 12 when perhaps it sounds cool. It was funny though to see a former Batman, Michael Keaton playing a bad guy in a ridiculous flying wrap around tank. Spiderman Far From Home has had a much better reception, so I am hoping it is a damn site better than this junk. I have seen the earlier Spiderman movies with Andrew Garfield in the 2012 and 2014 versions, much better than the 2017 one, and also the Tobey Maguire 3 movie series which kicked off in 2004, and those are far and away the ones I would recommend.

Back to work today, and the rather droopy plant, (some kind of orchid I think) that I chucked some water on before I left my clinic, has produced a copious amount of flowers whilst I was away, somethings are better left alone it seems. Especially Spiderman. 🙂