Charlie’s 2018 Cinematic Odyssey: A Tasty Debrief

Before we start, I’ve got to raise something with Cineworld. Who, incidentally, are not sponsoring this post, even though I’d certainly talk up a fair game for the cineworld unlimited scheme (unlimited movies for £17.99 a month, Oh boy! What a bargain!). Going to the cinema as many times as I do, means I have to sit through a lot of the same cinema ads, which means you start to see them in your sleep.

Their most recent ad campaign focuses on one red flannel wearing cinephile, let’s call him Mark. Mark speaks with an air of superiority, completely entranced within the experience of cinema. He’s fully aware of why he goes to the cinema, unlike the rest of us cretins. Cineworld are very clear about explaining why we go to the movies, to escape the humdrum and y’know watch a fuckin’ movie. They do it by going through the genres, a recreation of the Force Awakens forest duel with a shit knight and even shittier wizard. Then there’s budget Magneto, covering the superhero genre. Mark’s in the world with them. It’s like he’s in the movie.

This is how Mark gets off.

One of the perks of the unlimited card is that you can get discounts at nearby restaurants. Again Mark crops up again during the adverts to explain the process. “Your Adventure doesn’t have to end of the credits”, Mark says immediately glancing at his friend with an somewhat unsettling sociopathic look in his eyes, he takes some popcorn and does a half chuckle. Doesn’t look genuine. Notice the way he constantly blocks the woman that sits to his left, yet always engages with his friend on his right. He looks straight at him, and his friend is kind of engaging with the both of them. The woman is clearly looking at the friend and engaging him. Mark’s just kind of stuck in the middle.

Cut to the next scene. We’re sitting in a restaurant. Chiquitos probably.

And then we get to the immortal lines. Mark leans into the camera and says “time for a tasty debrief”. Again exactly same motion, leans backwards, glances at his friend, lets out another half chuckle. Blocking the woman entirely. She’s clearly talking, but Mark is like “No, I’m talking, pay attention to me, only my opinions matter in this tastiest of debriefs”.

Mark’s a bit of a dick, right? I mean it’s not just me?

Oh my God Mark.

Are you the third wheel? Has your love of unfettered unlimited access to the movies made you blind to the fact that your friends clearly wanted to go to the cinema as a couple, not with their friend who will insist on going for a tasty debrief all the time?

Or are you secretly pining for your friend, Mark? Is that what’s going on? What’s your game plan Mark?

So yeah. Cineworld Unlimited. Allowed me to see the next few films all for the price of £17.99 per month. Which is just fantastic.

Deadpool 2

Deadpool 2

He’s not coming alone. Do you get it? It’s a sex joke. Do you get it?

Deadpool 2 is the sequel to Deadpool. I mean that should be pretty obvious, what a completely pointless sentence you’ve just read. There’s probably a lot to be said about the first movie, an R-rated superhero movie with lots of violence and self referential humour mostly at the expense of the heaving glut of superhero movies we are inundated with today. I wasn’t completely bowled over by it, although I guess what I liked most about it was despite it’s irreverent tone, at it’s core it was a pretty solid and affecting love story.  The movie was a superhit finally giving Ryan Reynolds a vehicle for his Ryan Reynolds character. So when people say there is no justice in the world, just remember Ryan Reynolds finally had his day.

Circumstances early on  in the movie lead to Deadpool feeling very depressed and suicidal. Due to his mutant healing factor, he can’t just end it all and must suffer through life and resist the urge to become a saintly X-men represented once again by Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (never gets old saying). Things go from bad to worse, as a routine mission with the X-men leads Deadpool to be incarcerated in a maximum security prison with a troubled kid – who wants to be the first plus sized superhero (Fire Fist played by #scuxlifeforever Julian Dennison). Meanwhile Cable, a gun toting Macklemore hair cutted cyborg mutant, and walking ‘adult’ comic book nerd’s wet dream warps in from the future to kill the kid for some reason with his cool ass future gun. Deadpool must save the kid by putting together a team of superheroes, called X-Force. Together they must stop Cable from killing the kid and… let me check wikipedia… oh yeah, get their collective ‘fuck on’, I don’t know.

When faced with making a sequel, the usual practice is to go bigger in the hopes that things will also be better. Many sequels go bigger, but never better. Go too big and you lose what audiences latched onto in the first place (Hello Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom!). In the case of Deadpool 2, they definitely have gone bigger with everything, in both the action and humour department. This is a movie that has a Bond esque musical prologue, featuring an original song by Celine Dion! It’s a movie that lampoons the big superhuman team up with the formation of X-Force. It’s a case where, in my opinion, bigger does mean better.

Yet at it’s core, for those who did appreciate the love story at the centre of the first movie, Deadpool 2 does basically throw that out of the window, but there is still enough drama within this highly irreverent character to make him somebody you actually side with. Usually, superheroes that are either invincible or capable of healing themselves from the point of death are kind of boring especially when they have to anchor their own story, as evidenced by the first two Wolverine movies. However, like Logan, Deadpool 2 is about our death proof hero begging for nothing more than the sweet embrace of death to carry him off from this world of mortal pain and suffering.

Sounds kind of heavy for a Deadpool movie. And it is, but it kind of pulls it off – to the film’s credit.

Deadpool 2 in the end is ultimately about the hero overcoming this kind of depression and figuring out that life is worth living. And it pulls it off quite effectively in amongst all the jokes, all the references, all the cameos, it’s whole anarchic tone. In many ways, Deadpool 2 is the perfect come down after Infinity War.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo, *CARL, PLEASE FILE UNDER A STAR WARS STORY BEFORE END OF PLAY TODAY is the latest  side step away from the episodic Star Wars series, that builds upon what were previously just minor points of backstory used to colour the world in the numbered episodes. Remember how Han said the Millennium Falcon was the ship that made the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs to Old Ben and Luke in the Cantina? Ever wondered whether that could be a basis of a movie? Well here it is The Kessel Run: A Star Wars story.

Solo had a troubled production which became quite public – first you had the removal of original directors Chris Lord and Phil Miller, then you had a number of expensive reshoots under new director Ron Howard and then there were all the rumours that Alden Ehrenreich had an onset acting coach to help him be more Harrison Ford. This led many to expect Solo to be a massive dud and the first fully fledged bomb for Disney’s new Star Wars machine. In addition, following the somewhat turbulent fan backlash to The Last Jedi (the greatest star wars film we don’t deserve), some fans have even decided to boycott the film and make sad little videos parroting the typical language of the entitled white male fanboy, a world of words including virtue signalling, social justice warriors, and feminazi agendas under the believe that Lucasfilm head honcho Kathleen Kennedy is actively steering Star Wars away from it’s core fan base/ Basically, in some Star Wars circles, Kathleen Kennedy is what Margaret Thatcher was to the working classes. Just a movie right?

So Solo.

On the planet Corellia, young Han lives under the suppressive regime of the Empire and the local crimelord who is also a fish who burns in sunlight. As with any youth in these kinds of movies, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) has lofty dreams of becoming a pilot and leaving the planet in a spaceship with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emila Clarke) where they will make their fortune in the stars, become who ever it is they’re supposed to be, live long and prosper. Circumstances early on, see Han and Qi’ra attempt to get off world, but then fatefully separated, leaving Han with no other choice than to enlist in the Empire as a pilot under the vague notion that he will return one day with a space ship to rescue his girlfriend.

There’s a lot of story here, that begins to play out at breakneck speed, but suffice it to say, Han quickly drops the Empire, teams up with Chewbacca, then joins old gunslinger Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who is ‘putting together a team’ to pull off a train heist. From there, Han reunites with his beloved Qi’ra, now working as a lieutenant for Intergalactic crime lord Drydon Vos (a dastardly Paul Bettany) who sends them on another big heist, whereupon the crew teams up with a young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) pilot of the Millennium Falcon, and hey, something something Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs and maybe we see Han learn the lesson of always shooting first just like real fans remember. Right?

Oh they’ve come up with their own hashtags…

#NotMySolo

#BoycottSoylo

Despite everything – the much publicised troubled shoot, the lack of any real marketing campaign to sell the film with any confidence. Solo is actually pretty good. A fun filled Star Wars romp through the seedier side of the galaxy populated by gangsters, rogues and scoundrels pulling off elaborate Western esque heists with a Star Wars twist. Unlike Rogue One that felt a little formulaic and boring right up until the third act battle, Solo hurtles along at quite a pace, moving from set piece to set piece, from one cool Star Wars locale to the next.

It’s a well acted movie, with a huge ensemble of great actors. My personal highlights would have to be Paul Bettany as the baddie, a kind of smooth talking gangster elite who is able to sound caring and sincere in one moment and then completely psychotic in the next moment. Jabba the Hutt he ain’t. Donald Glover, meanwhile, purrs his way through his lines as Lando and is played mostly for comedic relief as a space faring dandy gambler. L3 played by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller Bridge is one of the funniest characters, a robot that is sure to rile up the anti-SJW brigade so we may better drink their delicious delicious tears (there really isn’t anything Star Wars can package and sell these days). If I had one misgiving, Emilia Clarke’s character eludes to having done some real shady stuff, but we never really get a sense of what that is exactly, unless we were supposed to subtextually take into account her work as the mother of dragons.

Alden Ehrenreich is perfectly fine as a young Solo, he has the cockiness and the look of the character. Could anyone really succeed Harrison Ford in the role? Probably not. To even approach Han Solo, one would need to cast an actor who doesn’t give a shit about Star Wars but has the charisma to make any audience sit and listen. Harrison Ford would frequently reject the script and improvise something that was ultimately much better than anything the script writers could come up with. Han Solo was always the prototype of Indiana Jones, making it up as he went along. This was probably a similar case with the film’s overall production. I just wish some of this spirit had actually made it in the movie, I guess I’m still left wanting of the vision Chris Lord and Phil Miller originally had – which supposedly did have a lot of improvisational comedy.

The humour probably doesn’t land as well as it could in places. Which is surprising because the script is written by Lawrence Kasden (and his son) who has always stated how much he loves writing for Han. When you consider how funny The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were, it seems a little strange that Solo lags behind quite significantly. Not that it is too serious, Han has plenty of buffoonery up his sleeve, but there is so much story to get through, it feels as if there is no time to stop and have a laugh.

In addition, visually everything looks very dark, where the previous Disney Star Wars offerings all looked amazing, Solo has a habit of looking muddier and feels on a much smaller scale. Which may or may not be the point. I’m not sure if it’s a move to hide the film’s production limitations, or a move to make the film appear darker and grimier as per the universe it is set.

Other elements feel too on the nose, a last minute character reveal made me shout at the cinema screen in anger and probably means that the future of Star Wars is going to do away with the old trilogy format altogether and be yet another never ending inter connected cinematic universe. There is perhaps too much emphasis on hammering in the buzzword of the day #rebellion into the story’s conclusion, much as there was in Rogue One with #hope.

Solo is obviously not as profound as the Last Jedi, but it’s not as serious and po-faced as Rogue One – it’s a dose of Saturday morning cartoons – the matinee serials that were the original source of inspiration for the series back in the day. Han Solo probably never needed to be explained in any meaningful way – he arrives in New Hope as the cynical rogue, he goes on to become a war leader who believes in the force, (he gets murdered by his son) that’s all the character arc he ever needed. But for what it’s worth Solo is a good Star Wars time. It’s a movie that does perhaps tick a lot of the Star Wars boxes. The Kessel Run for example, a rollicking spaceflight through uncharted space plays through all of the John Williams Millennium Falcon hits – bombastic renditions of the Tie fighter attack from A New Hope, the asteroid field from Empire all spliced together but dropping into the Star Wars theme when young Han and Chewie strap themselves into the pilot seats of the Falcon and grin at each other like they’ve just inherited the entire universe.

You can’t help but grin yourself. So yeah, it was safe fun in the Star Wars universe.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Before I loved movies, I loved dinosaurs. I was slow to talk and learn, I’d run circles around the classroom without fail every morning rather than socialise with the other kids. I still remember my mother crying over my first school report. The teacher had picked up my fondness for running around the classroom rather than sitting down with the other kids to play with stickle bricks. After I learned about dinosaurs however, from an entry in an encyclopedia which saw a T-Rex eating a Corythosaur (awesome) I was reading books and learning big long words like metriacanthosaurus. Had I not learned about dinosaurs, maybe I’d never have stopped running around in circles around that classroom.

Probably wouldn’t be writing the blog right now. That’s for damned sure.

So when Jurassic Park came out in 1993. It was a BIG deal.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World, which successfully rebooted the Jurassic Park franchise for a new generation whilst tapping into 1993 nostalgia for the older generation. Back in 2015 I wrote a big piece on why I loved Jurassic World so much, with hindsight that piece was perhaps a little too flowery and too forgiving of some of the film’s main flaws. I was perhaps just drunk on all the dinosaurs. Just… so many dinosaurs. And the same can probably be said about my reaction to the sequel. Jurassic World was a big dumb movie, that mainly excelled in the spectacle of reintroducing dinosaurs to cinema screens even though it lacked the focus on human characters that made the original so good or any of the bigger science fiction questions about man meddling in the forces of creation. Don’t expect any depth to proceedings, but do expect more dinosaurs on an island that is about to explode.

On the Isle of Nublar, location of the failed Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, an active volcano threatens to make all the free roaming dinosaurs extinct again. Meanwhile on the mainland, government authorities debate on what to do with the island, does mankind choose to save the creatures or simply let nature take its course? We join Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) now an activist with the Dinosaur Protection Agency (where can I sign up?) who is trying to persuade the authorities to save the dinosaurs. She is contacted by Lockwood (James Cromwell) a former business partner of John Hammond who helped him hatch the idea for Jurassic Park in the first place. She meets with his younger business associate Eli (Rafe Spall) who explains that they have their own plan to rescue all the dinosaur and place them upon another island sanctuary. It’s a rescue mission and it’s leaving right now. Specifically, the group must save the Velociraptor Blue – meaning Claire has to draft raptor wrangler and estranged love interest Owen (Chris Pratt) to join her on yet another excursion to the world’s most dangerous island. Which is also about to blow up as well. I don’t think I mentioned that.

This is really just the setup for the first half of the movie which plays out like a Jurassic Park greatest hits compilation. You’ve got the T-Rex chasing yellow anoraks in a torrential rainstorm, you’ve got everyone making Spielberg eyes at the Brachiosaur, you’ve got fair representation from many species of dinosaurs, not just the T-Rex but a Baryonyx! A Carnotosaur! An actual ALLOSAUR! BE STILL MY BEATING HEART! And then there’s my boy Stygimoloch, who just wants to party and smash things with his head. The second half of Fallen Kingdom takes another direction that effectively plays out like raptors in the kitchen for 60 minutes but in a big old creepy mansion.

Though I still rate The Lost World as the best of JP’s sequels, a movie that doesn’t really get much love outside of the JP enthusiasts, I’d say Fallen Kingdom is an improvement over Jurassic World – the same level of stupid, yes definitely – without reservation – but director JA Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls) delivers it with better craft and a starker sense to visuals. Bayona is one of Guillermo Del Toro’s proteges, and the second half of Fallen Kingdom, with it’s big old stately mansion definitely begins to ramp up the gothic haunted house setting with Nosferatu like mutant dinosaurs howling at the moon and infiltrating bedrooms, which is a new and somewhat surprising direction from the tropical island chaos that these films are usually built upon.

In addition, as Owen Grady, Chris Pratt is allowed to be more Chris Pratt. Claire is allowed to ditch the high heels in favour for a good set of running shoes. And yes the bad guys are a little thin in character, Rafe Spall is basically rich slime ball who will definitely get eaten by the T-Rex by the end. Indeed, there is a lot of Rex Machina in this film. Ted Levine, a great actor, plays a nefarious big game hunter who is basically there to abuse dinosaurs making him worthy of the stickiest of ends. Jeff Goldblum reprises the role of Dr Ian Malcolm again, but is really there to say “I told you so”, at the start and end of the film. Again, there is none of the nuance the characters of Jurassic Park had, but I wonder if this movie did have it intact in favour for less of the rampant dino-spectacle – would it still be accepted? We live in an age where films of this scale are contractually guaranteed to deliver the spectacle before they deliver the nuance. And I’d be lying if a small part of me (okay maybe a big part of me) said, screw the humans! dinosaurs forever! I want a film from the perspective of the Baryonyx. As where this franchise is going (the clue has always been in the title). It’s definitely a more interesting premise that the inevitable third movie walks into, it’s a theme eluded to in Crichton’s novels and is probably the direction the second movie should have taken all those years ago.

Okay one question that may undo everything the film is about.

If there was a volcano about to make dinosaurs extinct again. But you live in a world where you could just genetically engineer more dinosaurs. Doesn’t this make the whole rescue plot of the film pointless?

A-ha! The old logic to make an otherwise big dumb movie completely and utterly redundant. I bet you’re fun at parties!

As with Jurassic World. I enjoyed Fallen Kingdom immensely. The Park may be gone, but the film feels more like a theme park ride than ever. So keep your hands and legs inside the train and don’t forget to scream.

Hereditary

hereditary

When your quite done with all the big summer time blockbusters, here comes Hereditary from the thinking cinephile’s studio A24, so drop your 3D glasses, forgo the popcorn, and prepare yourself for over two hours of sublime film making that is designed to challenge you and creep you the fuck out. Welcome to serious town.

Annie (Toni Collette) is an artist who specialises in making doll houses in which she recreates traumatic events from her own past – some would say it’s a form of compartmentalisation, a method of processing her own trauma of which there is an ocean. She lives with her husband (Gabriel Byrne) and her two children, stoner teenager (Alex Wolf) and tomboy daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro. At the beginning of the film, Annie has recently lost her mother with the family attending her funeral. As the film goes on, Annie’s tumultuous personal history with her mother is peeled back like the layers of a rotting onion. Even in death, the grandmother still hangs over the family. As if something dark and sinister has been passed on and lives on threatening to break this family apart.

Hereditary is a film of two halves, the first half owes more to A24’s established house style as with The Witch and It Came At Night. It’s understated, it’s shots linger on visuals, it’s very specifically made to unease you, it’s constantly having you question whether the horror is for real or all in the head of the story’s central characters. Whether it’s shots of dead grandma standing in the corner of the room, smiling out of the darkness, or the fairly innocuous sound a child makes growing to become soul ravagingly terrifying.

It’s a relatable horror, which makes it challenging because it made me reflect on my own life as I was watching the movie. I lost my last living grandparent this year and although I don’t think Nana was into the stuff of Hereditary’s matriarch, I do have an understanding how some of the tragedy of her own life affected things further down the line, even though she tried so very hard to keep it locked away out of sight but always on her mind. We’re always told when we lose someone dear that they never truly leave us, and this usually is used as a form of comfort, so much of our own behaviour and mannerisms, our very appearance, can be traced back through our ancestry. But no one’s truly perfect, and though out of respect we’re expected not to speak ill of the dead,  everyone has their own demons. Hereditary is all about those demons. And how in death, these demons do not die, they maybe are passed down and inherited by the next generation and the next.

It’s a great premise for a horror movie.

And so the second half of Hereditary takes this concept but takes a very deliberate leap, which is a different kind of challenging to what went before. It’s a leap the film expects you to make with it, but a jump I had difficulty in accepting. It starts to play out like a checklist of classic horror, Don’t Look Now, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining. At times, it almost feels silly in how it all plays out, at one point some of the audience even started laughing. I mean when it becomes clear that there is a paranormal dimension to proceedings, that it’s not just all in your head, when you are asked to read from a scroll a strange ancient language before a seance… that’s…

…that’s not something you should do. I mean Paranormal Activity taught us that and that movie was rubbish. So once the horror does become defined, the old horror movie logic comes kicking in and the film just feels like it is getting further away from you. However, it all leads up to an ending that makes a big impact.

Enjoyed, isn’t the word I would choose to describe my experience watching Hereditary. Hereditary was a gruelling and when I reflect back on it, a challenging experience. It ramps up the tension from the outset and creates this impenetrable atmosphere of dread. It’s a horror movie in which it’s themes felt very relatable, it’s conclusion and visuals still linger like ghostly apparitions. It’s probably a film that I would need to see again, before talking anymore in depth about, because there is so much to unpack and maybe that second half makes a bit more sense with distance. It’s immaculately made, but it won’t be for everyone.

Though I’m certainly up for a tasty debrief to all those who have seen the film already.

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