Charlie’s Cinematic Odyssey 2019: New Year. Same Blog.

I recently went to New York, which most people I talk to are bored of hearing about now. I saw The Favourite at the Nighthawk cinema in Brooklyn and it’s easily one of the best film going experiences I’ve ever had. Not only to they serve food to you directly within the screening room, but before the film starts there are no adverts, only a handful of trailers, which you suspect are only decent movies. They also play a curated clip reel featuring actors from the coming movie and scenes from movies that relate to the main feature. As I was watching the Favourite, we had clips of Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weiz, as well as other tone setters like the Simpsons gag of The Big Book of British Smiles. So here in Brooklyn I was watching some of Coleman’s bits from Peep Show, Big Train and Look Around You. It just butters you up and you are suddenly ready to watch this movie and it was the best. 

Thank you Nighthawk Cinema.

The Favourite

The-favourite

The Favourite is a British period drama with a mischievous sense of humour. The year is 1708 and Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) depends on her right hand woman Lady Churchill – Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weiz) to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to dealing with the order of ruling the country and in particular handling a hanus parade of politicians that are always at her door. The Queen is in bad health, meanwhile Britain is at war with France. Enter Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah’s cousin whose family lost it’s titles after they went bankrupt. Abigail is set to work as a maid, but she begins to catch the eye and fondness of the Queen. Both cousins jostle for power for the Queen’s favour – to be The favourite.

The Favourite isn’t shot in the typical style of most period dramas. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, (The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer) uses quick pans and almost a fish eyed lense to take in the various large ornate rooms of the palace. It gives the film a very different energy, at once things feeling very modern and relatable – but also claustrophobic and overpowering as it relishes in the complete chaos of the palace – duck racing and throwing fruit at fat naked blokes being the sole activity of many of the men in the picture when they’re not trying to influence the Queen’s opinion.

The three central performances are brilliant. Olivia Coleman is never not fantastic. You know that. Queen Anne is quite a pathetic character, at times she is palyed mostly for laughs but there are moments when the tragedy of her life bleed out into this hopeless situation she finds herself in. Rachel Weiz meanwhile plays the formidable ice queen, which she’s always been very good at, she doesn’t just speak for the Queen – she practically is the Queen. Her attire has this romantic masculine highway man vibe to it. It’s very easy to fall completely in line with her. Emma Stone meanwhile is a kind of wildcard, again she has lived through some horror and it’s made her into this kind flippant mischievous character looking to embrace whatever opportunity comes to her. In many ways the polar opposite to Rachel Weiz’s character.

Nobody really outshines the central trio though Nicholas Hoult plays just an awful awful man, probably not too disimilar to the various Tory politicians hoping to succeed Theresa may. He makes a good villain. He’s born for it. The Favourite is frequently funny and at times outrageous, and not without shades of darkness in the background.

Aquaman

aquaman

Aquaman seemed like a bit of a dumb idea for a superhero until someone pointed out that he’s a superhero who can talk to fish (sharks) and occasionally battle sea monsters. Which definitely do exist in the deepest unexplored parts of the ocean. What’s not to love?

Aquaman is the latest offering from the DC cinematic universe. The ‘other’ superhero cinematic universe that has already had it’s fair share of stinkers, the overly serious, overly long, completely charisma-less Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and it’s desperately course corrected sequel Justice League (which still capsized). And of course none of these were as bad as Suicide Squad, which still makes me angry whenever I think about it. Wonder Woman has been the only thing resembling something decent. So maybe there is hope for more standalone outings rather than the big screen teamups?

Aquaman basically plays out like Black Panther and Thor from the other much better superhero cinematic universe. You have Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) born out of the union of an exiled Atlantean Queen (Nicole Kidman) and a humble lighthouse keeper (Jango Fett). Who grows up only to become wrapped up in business regarding the throne of the lost sunken city of Atlantis. He must come to terms with who he is so he may take the throne from his evil step brother Orm as he attempts to unite the seven underwater kingdoms to wage war against the surface for some reason. Also there’s a pirate with a big helmet that can fire red lasers.

Aquaman has more spectacle than any of the other DC movies. It’s ludicrous. Justice League by comparison felt fairly low key and scaled down. In Aquaman you have your Bladerunner esque neon lit underwater cities with flying, nay swimming, cars. You have a chase over rooftops of some Southern Italian village being blown up by lasers. You have Indiana Jones styled tomb raiding. Blink and you’ll miss it, but at one point you’ll even see hollow earth with pterodactyls flying around and dinosaurs!? There’s an epic Lord of the Rings style battle between knights riding sharks and crab people. There’s a Kraken. It gets unleashed. There’s giant James Cameron’s The Abyss styled underwater space ships.

There’s a lot of water in this movie. Like more water than you’ve ever seen in a movie.

So much is packed in here, it feels as if absolutely nothing can be left for a sequel. Are the film makers feeling alright? Do they not know how these cinematic universes work? They just went for broke and packed everything they could into the movie. I almost respect it. Indeed, it’s the most movie there’s been since Valerian: The City of a Thousand Planets.

One thing Aquaman does have over Marvel, is the fight scenes. At points most of the action feels like a video game. The hyper kinetic fight sequences are pretty entertaining to watch, the camera latched with a close third person shot of the fighter. An early scene has Nicole Kidman defend her homestead against a bunch of aggressors and it’s exhilarating to watch things go flying. It’s how superheroes should look when they’re fighting and it’s always been an element that feels missing in the Marvel movies.

Jason Mamoa, is a highly instagramable personality playing the superhero as a strictly chill dude bro. He doesn’t embody Aquaman like Gal Gadot did for Wonder Woman. Aquaman never really seems bothered with what’s going on. Amber Heard seems to be here mostly for the spouting of exposition as our Atlantean tour guide. There is a romantic relationship hammered in between the two. They don’t really have any real chemistry to speak of, but she has really red hair and he has tatoos.

Aquaman is mindless fun that has lots of sharks and sea monsters – which appealed to my inner 10 year old. It’s a movie where the big bad guy stands at the helm of his sea ship and shouts ATLANTIS RISE! There’s not much going on under the surface, but there is plenty to see.

Bumblebee


Around the time of the release of Michael Bay’s first Transformer movie, executive producer Steven Spielberg described the film as being a love story between boy and his car. Of course, that’s how Spielberg would have done it, but left to Bay what we got was 3 hours of noise, too many characters and a bit in which John Turtorro gets peed on by the transformer Bumblebee. To which Peter Cullen the voice of Optimus Prime has to say “Bumblebee stop lubricating the human’ or something like that. He’s getting peed on and presumably being prepared to shove up a Transformer’s anal cavity.

It’s funny. For some people, it’s worth the price of admission. Getting peed on like that. The voice of Peter Cullen saying that.

Remember when Optimus Prime died in the Transformers movie and it was the saddest thing ever? He was to become one with the matrix.  

Bumblebee is the sixth live action Transformers movie that serves as a kind of prequel and tonal reboot. Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) directs forgoing the various eccentricities of Michael Bay’s directing style and taking more influence from the 80s cartoon show. And you know what? All these changes make for a better, more enjoyable Transformers movie that reminded me at points of E.T with an 80s Guardians of the Galaxy styled soundtrack.

You got the touch…

You got the powerrrrr…

Yeah!

Dum Dum Duh Duh.

A brief prologue shows the Autobots at war with the Decepticons on their home planet of Cybertron. The aesthetic is straight out of the 80s cartoon and some of the 30-40 year old in the cinema almost didn’t make it through this bit almost melting into puddles. Optimus Prime orders his faithful yellow friend B-127 to evacuate to planet earth and await further orders. Upon arrival, B-127 becomes damaged and unable to speak. Transforming himself into an old Volkswagen beetle, he is adopted as the first car by awkward teenager/car nut Charlie (Hailee Steinfield) and named Bumblebee. This likely pair, he suffering from amnesia and she processing the grief of the loss of her father, hilarity ensues as this transforming alien robot becomes supplanted within her already awkward teenage suburban life. Meanwhile two Decepticons are on the hunt for Bumblebee and all other Autobots, also vowing to destroy the world by hailing the Decepticon army. Basic end of the world type scenario.

John Cena is a soldier man as there always tends to be in these movies but he’s a more ironic and self-aware soldier man than has usually been in these movies. “Should we trust the Decepticons?  I mean they’re literally called Decepticons?” This all works well with the real heart of the story of girl meets robot who is also a car.

I found a lot to like in Bumblebee, yes it has to build up to the third act climax in which the good guys have to destroy the tall alien transmitter thing but it is regularly funny and the action has weight and is easier to follow. It is also kind of sweet in places. Yeah that’s right. Sweet. In the way of ET or earnest child/teenage adventures of the 80s. A transformers movie actually made me all warm inside, in the way of ET or earnest child/teenage adventures of the 80s . Undoubtedly there will be fans of the traditional Bay movies that will lament the lack of 3 hours of absolutely weightless action, talk of cubes, racial stereotypes, upskirt shots and constantly clanging clanging clanging noises…

But those people aren’t real people.

Welcome to Marwen

Welcome To Marwen is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who made Back to the Future, Forest Gump before going more into animation – making The Polar Express and Beowulf.

Welcome to Marwen is based on the true story of artist Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carrel) a former WW2 illustrator who loses the ability to draw after a band of neo nazis beat him to the brink of death and leave him in the gutter. Years later, he has no memory of his life before the ordeal and substitutes his skill for drawing for photography. Specifically, he has constructed this elabourate model village around his home, based on an old WW2 era town in Belgium populated by dolls that are based on people from his life. First up you have Captain Hogie, who is basically this idealised version of Hogancamp in the form of this fighter ace. Hogie is surrounded by a fighting band of women all representing different women in Hogie’s life. They fight a recurring band of Nazis. He stages photographs of the various storylines he imagines. Suffering from PTSD Marwen becomes this way in which he can connect with the world in a way he can’t do himself. But it’s also a place that he retreats to in an unhealthy way.

Over the last decade, Zemeckis has turned his attention to a lot of animated features revolving around performance capture, which perhaps never truly felt alive, always suffering from cold dead eye syndrome. Welcome to Marwen includes sequences in which the actors appear as dolls within these far fetched stories that Hoagie is imagining in his head as he stages the photographs. They’re funny in their own kind of way but also weird.

Welcome to Marwen is a weird movie.

It’s about a guy who has a fetish for women’s shoes, which gets him into trouble with a bunch of right wing shit heads. Though I can see how everything is meant to work, I’m not quite sure if things do work. Though it is based on a true story. As the film begins to wrap up the conclusions are all so convenient. And yet it’s dealing with a man with severe, crippling mental illness, which there can be no silver bullet into healing, which the film leans into.

It’s heart is in the right place, it is such an odd little movie about fetishes for women’s shoes and it pushes for a societal acceptance of people’s fetishes and taboo subjects. Most of the men in this movie are portrayed as paragons of toxic masculinity. Through Hoagie’s inability to effectively connect with the people around him he begins to project his own sexual desires upon the real women in his life that become active parts of his own fantasy.

An odd little feel good movie movie, that despite all it’s inherent weirdness plays it too straight and formulaic by the end.

Stan & Ollie

I’ve spoken a number of times on this blog about the British prestige flicks. Last year it was Darkest hour, this year it is Bohemian Rhapsody.
In my opinion, both films were pretty dull, all pomp but no substance. The Oscar nominations came out today and though I was expecting Stan & Ollie to get a look in, since it does fit the bill of those prestige movies, made by the BBC with two great actors playing legendary icons of comedy at the focalpoint of their career. Stan & Ollie didn’t get a look in.

Bohemian Rhapsody did though. Of course…

The film opens with Laurel & Hardy (Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly respectively) at the height of their popularity. They walk through the studio to their set. Despite their instant fame and popularity, they’re not making as much money as they think they should be, or at least as Laurel believes they should. Laurel has bold plans to have the duo go independent and own their own films. However, Hardy is suffering from overspending and would rather have the security of their current position. Already sowing the seeds of discontent.

Cut 16 years later, the duo have fallen on hard times but still retain the ingenius creative spark of their double act. They are in the midst of their iconic farewell tour of Britain. Their show is not selling out, they’re not staying in the best hotels, Laurel has lofty ideas to make another Laurel & Hardy film based on Robin Hood. However, Hardy is suffering from health problems. Though they earnestly perform for their public there is tension there and a kind of penultimate sadness, that this is it.

Firstly Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are absolutely magical as Laurel & Hardy. Steve Coogan plays Laurel as the classic fool on the camera, but very clearly the brains behind the act. John C. Reilly just has this beautifully warm charisma about him, an easygoing attitude who exists to cheer people up, even when his body is giving out. Throughout the film they have to perform as Laurel & Hardy both on and off the stage. Despite all the tension between the two, it’s the scenes in which they just naturally come together with impromptu sketches or writing scenes for their movie. I think you could rewatch the film and have different opinions of their relationship, was it friendship or business that kept them together, but at the centre there is just this thing between the two, this talent for entertaining, that is undeniable.

I really liked Stan & Ollie. It stands as both a magnificent tribute to Laurel & Hardy and a meditation on performance, comedy and the double act. The Favourite may be the best film on this small list but Stan & Ollie is definitely my favourite.

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