Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Screen time - a catch-up

A batch of (moderately) recent films:

Solace (2015)

In this 2015 thriller, Anthony Hopkins stars as a psychic who has retired from assisting the FBI but is recalled by his old partner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to work with him and his new partner (Abbie Cornish) to track down a serial killer. It soon emerges that the killer is psychic too...

The plot sounds ordinary enough but this is a very good film, dealing successfully with some fundamental issues concerning good and evil, life and death. The acting is excellent, the dialogue thoughtful and intelligent, and unlike most "superpowers" movies, this one is firmly aimed at adults. Well worth watching.


 Deadpool (2016)

This is a rather different contribution to the Marvel universe, featuring Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, a terminally-ill former special forces soldier, who is given an offer he can't refuse – not only a cure, but boosted capabilities including the ability to heal from any injury almost immediately.  The treatment leaves him hideously scarred and too ashamed to return to his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), so after escaping from the fate planned for him, he goes hunting the man who deliberately left him scarred. He adopts a costume to cover his appearance, along with the name Deadpool. What follows is the usual mayhem, with car chases (and crashes, of course) fights and explosions.

What makes this film different is that it is played with tongue firmly in cheek – the "hero" has a sardonic sense of humour and frequently comments to the camera. In fact, there is a classic superhero in the film – the X-Man Colossus – but he is shown as rather ponderous and slow-witted, and so prudish that he recoils in horror when Angel Dust (Gina Carano) suffers a "wardrobe malfunction" while fighting him. While this is accurately described as a comedy thriller, some of the content might not be regarded as suitable for family viewing. The rest of us can enjoy it, though – it's one to watch again sometime.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

This is a real oddball of a movie based on a book of the same title: a version of Jane Austen's famous Regency novel about social life, transplanted into an alternative universe in which zombies have taken over central London and are a constant threat to humanity. So the young women who are centre stage in the story are no longer just hunting suitably eligible husbands, they are also highly trained in martial arts so they can deal with any outbreaks of zombieism. I must admit that it would not have occurred to me to cast Lily James as a lethally feisty Elizabeth Bennet, but she makes a remarkably convincing job of it. And as a bonus, the film also features Lena Headey, enjoying herself after the gloom and doom of Game of Thrones. It's rather difficult to identify the target audience for this story – it seems unlikely to appeal to fans of either Jane Austen or zombie films, but I rather enjoyed it just the same!


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

I still recall the enjoyment with which I watched the very first Star Wars movie on its release – I have even seen it twice, a rare accolade. I watched all of the rest of the series with varying degrees of enthusiasm, ranging from diminished to non-existent (I am a natural completist, and have had to learn the iron discipline of giving up on a declining series). The 2014 film Episode VII - The Force Awakens (reviewed on this blog in June 2016) showed a worthwhile return to form, so of course I had to see the next one in the franchise.

Rogue One, for those few who haven't been paying attention, is a stand-alone which slots into the Star Wars story just before the original film (which is now Star Wars IV following an intergalactic renumbering epic). Various familiar characters make cameo appearances, including Darth Vader, Princess Leia and, of course, the Death Star. The focus is on Jyn Erso (a rather curiously cast Felicity Jones), the daughter of the Death Star's unwilling designer, who has to retrieve the contruction plans to discover exactly how to get at the vulnerability created by her father.

There is a lot going on in this film. It starts by jumping around between several different locations, each with its own crop of characters, and continues at a breakneck pace thereafter. There is lots of action, lots of shouting and lots of the frantic loud music which characterise Star Wars films. There is therefore very little time for character development, or a strong story arc. As a result I found it rather unengaging, and didn't really care about what happened to the characters. Not as good as Episode VII, but just about worth it for a wet evening with popcorn. It is unusual in one respect: it thoroughly stomps all over Hollywood's normal preference for "see-you-in-the-sequel" or, at worst, "happily-ever-after" endings!


Valerian (2017)

Luc Besson has had a prolific career as a director, producing a lot of interesting films which are well worth seeing. So when I settled down to watch Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets I expected a couple of hours of entertainment.

The bad news starts with a credibility problem concerning the hero, who is supposedly a major in a special police unit with nine years of experience, but is played by someone who looks, behaves, and sounds like a teenager – and a rather irritating one at that. The film is 95% action, with the usual good CGI which is routine nowadays, but for once I thought there wasn't enough action; because when the characters talked instead, their dialogue was amongst the most excruciating I've heard in years, and had me cringing in my seat.

I soon concluded that the target audience must have been 13 year old boys with a fondness for special effects and no interest in real people. Quite often, in films made for youngsters, there are elements that adults can appreciate – but not this time.


Wonder Woman (2017)

I really don't have much to say about this one, because I can't find anything to criticise. Everything about it is at least good, and in the case of the two leads, excellent. The magnificent Gal Gadot was born to play this role, and does so with great conviction. She dominates every scene she appears in - around 80% of the film. More like this, please!

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