Saturday, 22 July 2017

Dunkirk

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Christopher Nolan
Screenplay:  Christopher Nolan
Starring:  Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Running Time:  106 minutes
Genre:  War

This Second World War film deals with the Dunkirk evacuation where 400,000 Allied soldiers were rescued from the beaches of France in 1940.  It deals with three narratives set over three different time frames.  British soldier, Tommy (Whitehead) is one of those waiting for rescue, constantly under threat from bombs and torpedoes. Civilian sailor Dawson( Rylance), his son and employee make the dangerous crossing across the English channel to help with the evacuation.  Two Spitfire pilots try to fend off enemy bombers.

This is a gritty, visceral, intense experience.  It's more like an experimental film with very little dialogue or even story.  It's all about the viewing experience, and this is a film that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible.  The cast, which include pop singer Harry Styles in his first major acting role, are impressive with very little to work with.  Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance provide the noble stiff-upper-lip speeches. This is an unusual war film in that the enemy is barely glimpsed, aside from a fighter plane you never see a German soldier, or catch a glimpse of Nazi imagery.  The characters are under threat from an unseen enemy, with attacks coming out of nowhere.  Also the soldiers are not selfless heroes.  In fact, they are often decidedly unheroic and often unlikable.  I couldn't say I enjoyed this film, but I admired it a great deal.            


Chopping Mall

Year of Release:  1986
Director:  Jim Wynorski
Screenplay:  Jim Wynorski and Steve Mitchell
Starring:  Kelli Maroney, Steve O'Dell, John Terleski, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal,
Running Time:  77 minutes
Genre:  horror, science-fiction

Park Plaza Mall has installed a state-of-the-art new security system including three brand new Protector robots, designed to incapacitate and apprehend thieves.  However a lightning storm causes the robots to become homicidal and track and kill eight teenagers who are trapped in the mall after a party.    

This is the kind of film that if you watch it late enough, drunk enough and in the company of like-minded friends could be comedy gold.  Otherwise it's terrible.  The dialogue is terrible ("I'm sorry, I'm not used to being chased around a mall at midnight by killer robots", and a guy trying to seduce a woman:  "You smell like pepperoni... I like pepperoni"). The robots look like a combination of Johnny Five (from the Short Circuit films) and a Dalek (from Doctor Who) and about half as threatening as either.  They also move so slowly and so loudly, the characters could probably just keep out of their way.  Much of the script also depends on characters getting into trouble by doing very stupid things.  The acting isn't good, but it is about as good as the material deserves.  There is some fun to be had here with appearances from B-movie favorites such as Barbara Crampton (of Re-Animator fame), Dick Miller (veteran of many Roger Corman productions) and Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov (reprising their roles from cult favorite Eating Raoul), alongside many movie jokes and references.

One of the Protector robots from Chopping Mall  

Friday, 14 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Jon Watts
Screenplay:  Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, based on Spider-Man created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee
Starring:  Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier
Running Time:  130 minutes
Genre:  Science-fiction, action, superhero

Teenager Peter Parker (Holland) has his hands full with schoolwork and maintaining his secret identity as superhero "Spider-Man".  After aiding billionaire Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Parker is taken under Stark's wing and given a new, sophisticated Spider-Man costume.  Soon tiring of the small-scale crimes he has been foiling and good deeds that he has been doing in his neighborhood, Peter sees his chance at the big time coming when he runs across a gang stealing and adapting advanced alien weaponry and Stark technology and selling it to criminals.

Spider-Man first swung on to the world's cinema screens played by Tobey Maguire in the 2002 Sam Raimi film Spider-Man, which was followed by two sequels, and then in the 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man and it's sequel, with Andrew Garfield in the role.  Here we have yet another reboot, and, following Tom Holland's debut as everyone's favorite webslinger in Captain America: Civil War, he is firmly part of the ongoing "Marvel Cinematic Universe", the shared universe of various movies and TV shows centered on various superhero characters from Marvel comics.  Here we have the superheroics in the world of a teen movie.  Peter Parker worries about ordinary teenage stuff such as his grades, and his crush on classmate Liz (Harrier).  It's a refreshingly small-scale film, there are no world destroying monsters or maniacs, here the villain (played by Michael Keaton) is quite sympathetic.  He's a man who wants money to look after his family and his employees after they are casually laid off.  He's ruthless and murderous when pushed, however he is kind of likable.  Tom Holland is possibly the best screen Spider-Man yet, returning the character to his teenage roots, his Peter Parker (and Spider-Man) is engagingly awkward and enthusiastic, also the fact that he makes mistakes.  Most of the film's destruction, such as slicing a ferry in half, is his fault (albeit accidental),  he is also surrounded by a fun group of friends and adversaries.  By and large the film is self-contained, although it probably helps if you have seen the other MCU films, it also differs from other Spider-Man films in that it doesn't show Spider-Man's origin story, which is only briefly referred to.   While the action sequences aren't as thrilling as some of the other superhero films, this is still a funny, thoroughly entertaining romp.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming

       

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Late Spring

Year of Release:  1949
Director:  Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay:  Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu, based on the novel Father and Daughter by Kazuo Hirotsu 
Starring:  Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura
Running Time:  108 minutes
Genre:  Drama

Twenty seven year old Noriko (Hara) lives happily with her widowed father, Professor Shukichi Somaya (Ryu).  Until, that is, a meddling aunt (Sugimura) convinces the Professor that it is high time that Noriko got married.  However, Noriko does not want to get married, particularly as it would mean leaving her father alone.

This is one of the great works of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, and, like many of his films, it deals with themes of tradition versus modernity, family life and conflict between the generations, as well as the philosophy of mono no aware (the pathos of things), an awareness of the impermanence of all things.  Nowhere is it better exemplified than in the film's powerful closing scene.  The film also comments on occupied Japan (the film was made at a time when Japan was occupied by the Americans following World War II), contrasting images of Coca-Cola advertising with traditional Japanese pursuits such as a noh play and a rock garden.  It's not a plot driven film, and it moves at a slow, meditative pace.  There is also the theme of duty to others versus the individual needs, Noriko wants to stay and look after her father, her father, while he values Noriko's kindness and companionship, knows that she must set out and lead an independent life, even though it means him being alone.  It demands a lot of patience from the viewer, being largely filmed, like many Ozu films, by static cameras, with beautifully composed shots and characters often seen at a remove from the audience, framed in corridors and doorways.  If you have the patience to go along with the film's gentle rhythms than you will be richly rewarded.

             
Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu in Late Spring

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Hot Fuzz

Year of Release:  2007
Director:  Edgar Wright
Screenplay:  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Starring:  Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton
Running Time:  121 minutes
Genre:  Comedy, action

Police Constable Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is one of the best officers in London's Metropolitan Police.  Fed up with Angel constantly outshining the rest of the force, his superiors transfer him to the sleepy, rural village of Sandford.  Angel reluctantly resigns himself to a life of turfing underage drinkers out of the local pub, collaring shoplifters, mediating disputes over garden hedges and occasionally finding lost swans.  However, it soon turns out that Sandford suffers from a disproportionately high number of fatal accidents.  Angel soon suspects that there is something deeply sinister going on in the village, but the only one of Sandford's lazy and incompetent police force who believes him is eager, childish Danny Butterman (Frost), whose idea of policing seems to largely come from American action movies, and who also happens to be the son of the head of the Sandford Police, Inspector Frank Butterman (Broadbent).

This film forms the second of Wright, Pegg and Frost's "Cornetto Trilogy" (the others being Shaun of the Dead (2004) and The World's End (2013)).  It can best be envisioned as being like a big Hollywood action movie plunked down in the middle of a quiet, Miss Marple style English village.  The film constantly references action movies, frequently spoofing the cliche's of the genre.  It's consistently funny, and the jokes keep running thick and fast throughout.  The sometimes graphic violence and over the top action are played as almost slapstick comedy, and Wright is a great visual director, and he choreographs the carnage very well.  Pegg and Frost perform very well together and their bond provides the emotional core of the film.  However the film feels about ten minutes too long and lacks the resonance of Shaun of the Dead and The World's End.  Also female characters barely get a look-in.  The eagle-eyed may spot cameos from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson (as a man dressed as Santa Claus) and Cate Blanchett (as a forensic investigator, with her face alomst completely concealed by a mask).

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bring the noise in Hot Fuzz 

Friday, 30 June 2017

Shaun of the Dead

Year of Release:  2004
Director:  Edgar Wright
Screenplay:  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Starring:  Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Dylan Moran, Lucy Davis, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Peter Serafinowicz, Jessica Stevenson
Running Time:  99 minutes
Genre:  Comedy, horror

29 year old Shaun (Pegg) is an electronics salesman with little to no ambition or direction in life.  his free time is torn between the two great loves of his life: his girlfriend Liz (Ashfield) who is increasingly frustrated by what she perceives as his laziness and lack of ambition, and his best friend Ed (Frost) an even bigger loser than Shaun, who prefers to spend all his time in the local pub or playing video games.  Finally losing patience with Shaun, Liz dumps him.  Heartbroken, he determines to win her back.  However, the course of true love never did run smooth, and Shaun's romantic quest is hampered, not only by the fact that Liz's friends, obnoxious David (Moran) and his dippy aspiring-actress girlfriend Diane (Davis), obviously hate him, but also by the fact that London is overrun with flesh-eating zombies.

Following their success with the cult sitcom Spaced (1999-2001), writer-director Edgar Wright reteamed with writer-actor Simon Pegg and actor Nick Frost, with this lively, dark and hilarious blend of comedy and horror.  The film opens as an almost conventional romantic comedy, with only slight hints initially of what is to come, and the characters are so wrapped up in their own lives, they don't notice the disturbing signs around them until it is too late.  Comedy and horror are two deceptively difficult genres to make work - it's hard to make people laugh, and even harder to scare them.  Combining the two successfully is like catching lighting in a bottle.  However this manages it.  The comedy is genuinely funny, and the horror elements are genuinely disturbing; the zombies are threatening, and when characters die, there is real weight to it.  The film shows off Wright's hyper-kinetic style of film-making, full of pop-culture references.  Fans of British comedy will no doubt recognize cameos from Martin Freeman, Reese Shearsmith, Tamsin Greig, Julia Deakin and Matt Lucas among others.  It is a hugely entertaining film that will appeal to hardcore horror fans, but also to general audiences.  It forms part of the so-called "Cornetto Trilogy" along with Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World's End (2013).

     Dylan Moran, Kate Ashfield, Simon Pegg and Lucy Davis prepare to battle the undead hordes in Shaun of the Dead

Wednesday, 14 June 2017