Charlie’s Cinematic Odyssey: March 2018 (Part 2)

My brand is strong and getting stronger.

Having brought a specialised marketing team to look into ‘my brand’. I have decided to change the title of these posts from Charlie’s Cinematic Diary to Charlie’s Cinematic Odyssey. The reasoning is that Diary sounded too flippant and feminine, they saw the concept art I had scribbled of me embracing a diary to my chest based on a fever dream I had recently of Melissa Joan Hart in hit 90s Nickelodeon show Clarissa Explains It All? Basically, they’ve come in and tore all those concepts up. In fact they actually set fire to it. I don’t think I’m ever going to get those back…

But anyway, Odyssey is judged to be a high falutin’ masculine word that would appeal to the demographic I am apparently supposed to be targeting. Cinephiles with delusions of grandeur and y’know white dudes who like movies and nerd culture. I don’t know if I like the sound of them to be honest, they sound as if they smell, but Alas I’ve spent way too much money on these consultants to just disavow their thoughts and bold new content marketing strategy for #YouHeardGoodThings. They said, I should start thinking about myself as the Odysseus of movies, on a 10 year voyage of cinematic peculiarity. I asked whether I could be Ulysses instead, because I feel more like Leopold Bloom rather than the image of Sean Bean in a skirt they blew up on their mood board. I mean, I am technically Irish – though you wouldn’t know it from my accent, I’m certainly very awkward. James Joyce is nerdy right? Yeah, they just slapped me across the face for insubordination.

I’ll try it out, is what I’m saying.

We are now into April, but here are a few films I saw towards the second half of March. Some good, some bad, some excellent. If you still have screenings of Unsane in your area, you should check it out pronto. Don’t even read any further – Pacific Rim: Uprising is certainly not worth your time. The movie. The review. Just don’t bother.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Pacific Rim uprising

You. I don’t like you. But damn it… I respect you. We’ve got only 3 hours until the end the world, so we’re going to put aside our differences, mesh our consciences together so we can pilot these robot mechs and beat 50 shades of shit out of these godzilla sized monsters stomping over our cities. Together we’ll cancel the apocalypse.

Again.

[Cue that fucking awesome Pacific Rim music, as people stand around looking at ipads judging whether the robot has enough guns. It never does.]

This was basically the core of the first Pacific Rim. People putting their problems to the side to sweat and work together to triumph against annihilation. The whole teamwork is good is the cliched wholesome premise that drives many big movies of this ilk, but in the hands of my dude Guillermo Del Toro, Oscar winning director, pro-humanist and lover of monsters it became a fundamental part of the story. What if the characters literally have to partner up and entwine their consciousness to be able to pilot these colossal robots. What if they have to experience each others memories, experience and insecurities, they have to arrive at a place of complete empathy before they can harmoniously work together to pilot these big mechs? That’s the Guillermo Del Toro difference! He just won multiple Oscars for this movie where a woman falls in love with a fish man! So yes, it is a simple premise that was as good an idea as any to hang the big dumb pitch of robots vs kaiju.

And whilst I don’t think the human drama was perfect in Pacific Rim, if anything it felt like a lull between the truly spectacular monster mash fight scenes. The idea was interesting and worthy of being expanded upon, plus you had Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as two scientists on opposite extremes who have to find a way to apply their crazy ideas to each other’s fields. And so here we are some years later with the hip new sequel geared toward the Chinese market. Guillermo takes a producer role in festivities, with the mantle being handed to Steven S. DeKnight who has some history working with Joss Wheldon and being a part of the… [checks wikipedia] Transformers writing room!? Wait, those movies had a writing room?

Huh.

John ‘so hot right now’ Boyega plays Stacker Pentecost, estranged son of Idris Elba’s character from the first movie who did the whole bad ass speech about cancelling the apocalypse, that’s literally a line taken from the film to help you remember. So you have homeboy Stacker, who’s kind of living a life of excess within the ruined coastlines of the Pacific Rim, which hasn’t been invaded by a kaiju since the ending of the first film. Stacker makes a living stealing special jaegar (the giant robots) tech and selling it to the highest bidder. If only his dad could see how he turned out. He’d be so disappointed. That’s right you can smell the sugary smell of an arc! Obviously things happen, Stacker is called back into the service of Pan-Pacific Defence Corps and returns to jaegar training at the SHATTERDOME (which is probably the single coolest made up word in the English language) to combat an all new mysterious threat that may or may not be linked to the Kaiju.

I mean to say, it’s the Kaiju. You don’t really care if I spoil it do you? I mean it was always going to be the Kaiju.

The first half of the story involves a big corporation looking to replace the human piloted jaegars with drones. Can raw cold machinery be as effective as the real human bond at the heart of the jaegar? It’s an interesting idea, but personally I’m here for the big sea monsters, and you have to wait until the last third of the movie, before the actual Kaiju re-emerge. Whereby the humans hastily work out that they plan to destroy Mount Fuji which will release a poisonous gas cloud that will kill all live on earth…  yadadadada we’ve only got 10 minutes to save the world.

Going to the cinema as much as I do, means you start to learn all the adverts that appear before the trailers. In the prelude of this film’s release, one of these adverts was for a Microsoft tablet, which some clever woman used specifically to create the special effects in the final confrontation of Pacific Rim. I mean, it’s great that film making has become more accessible, film makers like Sean Baker and Steven Soderberg hare making feature length movies on an iphone. This is all great but now that I know the effects of Pacific Rim were made on a Windows tablet, the romance and mystique of the work into making these special effects died a little bit? The ending fight scene of Uprising pales in comparison to any of the set pieces from the first movie. It’s shot in broad daylight, there is a far greater emphasis on needless urban destruction. It all lacks heft and feel. I think last year’s Power Rangers movie looked better honestly.

I didn’t hate Pacific Rim: Uprising. I’m glad that monster movies are back. And you can’t truly hate a movie in which Charlie Day becomes the puppet of inter-dimensional alien masters and thereby sets upon destroying the world. If you squint a little, it’s almost an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Unfortunately Pacific Rim: Uprising didn’t astound the way the first film did. Boyega has charisma, probably more so than anybody in the first movie did, but… that’ll only get you so far. Boyega’s character isn’t one for speeches, which means the writers get around doing the whole cancelling the apocalypse mark 2 speech. But if you can’t even declare you’re going to cancel the apocalypse in the sequel to Pacific Rim, what’s the point?

We’ll take a rain check on the rapture. We’ll tell Domesday to go do one. We’re going to tell the Armageddon that we would rather to wash our hair.

Ready Player One

ready player one

A lot of people have recommended that I read Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One, because they identified me as a nerd and wanted nothing less to bring a little joy into my life. I guess I should be more thankful of the people around me. I always liked the premise of the book. Another dark dystopian future, in which human endeavour has peaked and is now free falling with natural resources all but exhausted and there being a massive deficit between rich and poor. It’s not all bad because the people have video games, or specifically a virtual reality dream world in which they can subside and be whoever they want to be, do whatever they want to do. But at what point is this liberation from the real world or regression into a virtual world? As I got into the novel, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with all the pop culture references, so many are in there, but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. It was like being stuck in a lift playing pop trivia with a competitive nerd. As a pop culture unicorn, it made me look inward and question myself.

“Fuck do I sound like that when I talk about movies and video games?”

“What’s the point of all this useless information about movies and video games I have in my head? Where is it going to get me?”

Meanwhile the dude in the elevator is telling me how his Delorian plays the Metal Gear alert noise every time he indicates or something.

The movie adaptation of Ready Player One was always going to be an interesting event just from a copyright standpoint. How are they going to pack in all these nerdy references, from Star Wars to Star Trek, Back to the Future to Wargames? Whose going to pay the big bucks to have their spot in the movie. It appears Blizzard Entertainment went all in. With Steven Spielberg at the helm, the film appeared to be in safe hands but there was still trepidation on my part, was Ready Player One simply going to be “I understood that reference” the movie.

Did you understand that reference?

The year is 2045 and we follow Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who lives in the stacks of Columbus Ohio. Effectively a trailer park stacked on top of one another. His life sucks mostly, living with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend (Yes that is Finchey from the Office. No that American accent is not good). Luckily, like the rest of the human race, Wade immerses himself within the Oasis a virtual reality dream world created by legendary – now deceased game designer James Halliday (Mark Rylance channelling Garth from Wayne’s World). On his death the creator left a message to all those within the Oasis, that he had hidden an easter egg within the Oasis that can only be found by solving a series of riddles. When found, the player will receive most of Halliday’s wealth and the keys to the Oasis and the means to control it. Wade is a full time Gunter (now there’s a word) dedicated to solving Halliday’s secret which means knowing everything there is to know about the man, his life and his passion for 80s culture that stretches across music, film and video games. All this supposedly pointless knowledge will be key to getting further to the Easter Egg. During the quest he is aided by his friends and a love interest known as Artemis (Olivia Cooke). Meanwhile the big evil corporation led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendolsohn in full on corporate creep mode) is also seeking Halliday’s Easter Egg, hoping to impose their own profit driven plan of monetising the Oasis and all those who use it.

And so begins a heady sugar coated techni-colour descent into a pop cultural video game esque maelstrom. The book was heavily referential to Spielberg’s films, but the director himself utilises more restraint that you would expect. That doesn’t mean he is lost for references or even using his own easter eggs from movies not used in the book. There is one particular use of a famous movie in which the characters must interact, which is immensely entertaining to watch. It almost makes me want a whole new post modern genre in which weird video game characters interact with famous movies they haven’t seen before.

Whereas in the book, I found the multiple references very grating, in the movie it’s… kind of beautiful man. I saw Battletoads, Tracer from Overwatch, multiple Master Chiefs at one point Parzival uses the railgun from Quake 3!  I definitely heard a TIE fighter in there too. And I’ve probably missed loads of others. Ultimately, I found all the many references to be far reaching and exclusive of many different genres and cultures. It felt endearing more than anything. At one point towards the end of the movie, you could hear a small fraction of the audience gasp when their favourite IP made a surprise appearance.

Good for you guys. Your favourite thing on the big screen there!

In the end, Ready Player One is Spielberg at his most populist and sentimental. I never really had a problem with Spielberg’s trademark style. The film is made with a lot of passion and love for all the silly things we nerds of every subset cling on to. In the wake of other films based on video games, like the latest Tomb Raider, Ready Player One seems to get video games.  It’s a depiction that does despair a little, as we probably should every now and again, at the prospect of real people choosing a virtual world rather than the real one. But one that understands the good of games, as a kind of community where you are free to express yourself and make friends with people you wouldn’t otherwise interact with. Where you can just play and have some fun. Pure escapism – and that’s the entire film in a nutshell really.

I entered the film as a bitter nerdy cynic, but came out a jubilant nerdy mess. I had a complete blast. Ready Player Two anyone?

Isle of DogsIsle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs is the latest movie from Wes Anderson, not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson or Paul WS Anderston. Hang on I’ve done this bit two blog posts ago…

Isle of Dogs is a stop motion animated film, similar to Wes Anderson’s previous adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. It’s set in fictional Japanese metropolis called Megasaki City in the not too distant future. A canine flu has engulfed the populous, leading the city’s authoritarian mayor Kobayashi to banish all dogs to Trash Island whilst scientists work on a cure and other parties work on a more permanent or final solution to the canine problem. The plot begins with The story is told through the perspective of a pack of dogs on Trash Island voiced by Wes Anderson regulars, Bill Murray, Ed Norton and Jeff freakin’ Goldblum. Whilst these dogs all had masters before they were banished retaining hope that their humans will come back to them. They are led by a stray dog (voiced by Bryan Cranston) who is less sympathetic to humans.  From there the plot involves Kobayashi’s nephew crashlanding on Trash Island in search of his beloved dog Spots. And so begins a journey in which man must reconnect with man’s best friend effectively.

Based on his track record of dog related violence in his previous films, you may think Anderson must hate dogs. However Isle of Dogs feels like a fitting tribute to man’s best friend. It’s probably not a movie for cat lovers. Cats are loved by the fascists, whilst all the dogs are relegated to a hopeless life on a island of garbage. Dogs are used as the vehicle for the ideal concept of human kindness, the everlasting flame of goodness that dogs connect us with. Even whilst the humans are in the grips of a conspiracy and rigged elections that plan to wipe dogs off the face off Megasaki City, the canines still retain hope that their masters will come back for them and they must do everything they can to support their masters.

Isle of dogs is peak Wes Anderson. It’s quirky of course, there are frequent playful tangents from the action, and other more formal tangents that revel in process and structure, such as the preparation of sushi. Being an animated film means that the director has even greater control over the visuals and applying all his trademark quirks. And so, you have shots framed within frames with an OCD level of symmetrical opulence, whilst stories within stories are told by a deadpan narrator. It’s unsympathetically old school with it’s retro stop motion and all the dogs looking like puppets from an old kids show from the 60s. And there’s a quirky original soundtrack from Alexander Desplay as well as other artists. Then there is the dizzying roster of actors all lending their vocal talents.

It’s like Wes Anderson doing Nick Park. For some, Wes Anderson’s style may be a turn off but even within the genre of his own films, Isle of Dogs does stand out. Something about the film, perhaps a slightly contrived third ending, didn’t make me enjoy it as much as The Grand Budapest Hotel or even the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

And I love dogs, man.

I think it needed more Bill Murray.

Unsane

Unsane

Unsane is a little movie made by big name director Steven Soderbergh, who seems to be on fine form of late delivering last year’s Logan Lucky and about to release his all female Ocean’s 11 reboot Ocean’s 8 of which he is producing.

(Fuck, I sound like a football commentator)

Unsane stars Claire Foy (The Crown) as Sawyer Valentini, a woman with a bright and promising future who is living a life where she has built several layers of protective boundaries. She’s recently moved city, got a new job, but has no friends and is coy about her reality when questioned by her well meaning but concerned mother (Amy Irving).

The reason for Sawyer’s regression is that she has been the victim of a stalker, a bearded weirdo (played by Joshua Leonard), a man she is constantly living in fear of.  In the face of other men she sees the face of her stalker – despite displaying a hardened exterior, she is in great psychological distress in which she is constantly paranoid and questioning her perception of reality. After being proactive about her wellbeing, she visits a psychologist in a nearby hospital where she admits to having had suicidal thoughts. But after signing some papers following a seemingly harmless talk she finds herself being admitted into the mental ward of the hospital against her will. What’s worse is that she begins to once again see her stalker as one of the orderlies. Is she going insane or is this one great big cocktail of shit she is being forced to drink?

Soderbergh apparently shot Unsane on 3 Iphone 7s – utilising an app that cost about £15. Earlier, I had a go at Pacific Rim: Uprising earlier for using a windows tablet to create the special effects. But here the more accessible technology fits the format and the story the film makers are telling. We close in on Claire Foy’s character. The camera is invasive of her space, it’s all closeups, sometimes face on, sometimes askew from behind her shoulder, conveying the feeling that she is being watched, we feel as Sawyer does that she is paranoid and constantly looking over her shoulder. It disorientates as it constantly switching between three different angles, it’s conjures up this feeling of claustrophobia. The grading and colour initially gives off this mustard tone, heightening the fact that things aren’t quite right, things are rotting, and this sense of debilitation is omnipresent and inescapable.

Now, because I am  a literary ubermind (I once was an English lit student) I kept on thinking of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilmore’s, a short story about a woman’s descent into madness confined within a room where she imagines the yellow wallpapered walls are shifting. Because of this the whole tone of the film just feels off, leading you to doubt the sanity of Sawyer.

Claire Foy is the ultimate reason you remain invested in the film, she fierce and smart, but she’s still a victim. There’s a desperation in her eyes, and the feeling of structural flaws upon the tough veneer she displays to the world. All the lingering dutch angled closeups on her face have you constantly questioning Sawyer’s sanity and the film is constantly making you second guess yourself. Is Sawyer going mad? Is it just because she is a woman we may presume she is becoming hysterical? Is it just because I just happened to read the Yellow Wallpaper as a student that I’m thinking that?

It’s a great little movie, an extremely solid and intense thriller that I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. I may even liken it to Get Out. Soderbergh’s mad iphone skills keep things uneasy, but Claire Foy runs the show. I think I’ll probably be watching anything she appears in the future.

 

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