Wednesday, 28 August 2019

This is a comment to Caroline's Rocketman post as blogspot seems to eat my comment each time I try to post it but a test new post seemed to work. I can't get into my old blogspot blog Planet Probable to post either. Could there be a time limit to post by (Caroline's Rocketman post is dated 30/5 which is nearly three months ago) or is it something to do with my computer being wiped a few weeks ago? I'll keep investigating...

Bohemian Rhapsody was hamstrung by the remaining members of Queen wanting to sanitise the story to make more money. And Rami Malek was hamstrung by those false teeth. A better movie about Freddie Mercury may be made I hope once Brian May and co are no longer on the scene. The evil lover/manager - pretty much the same deal for both Freddie and Elton. I noticed that parallel at the time but not really the differences in portrayals of these characters, both of whom John Reid and Paul Prunter, appear in both movies. Which may just be down to each movie only needing one villainous lover. Needless to say, according to these gentlemens' friends and relations they weren't as black as they are painted.

Really enjoyed the review and I do love Rocketman and think it is a far better film than Bohemian Rhapsody.

Just testing, as I can't seem to publish a comment on Caroline's post.

Thursday, 30 May 2019


Right enough of this nonsense. Time to return to blogging.

(Warning: contains spoilers for Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody)

I'll be honest, it hasn't been a crackingly good year for cinematic film releases as yet. There's been a few that have been good that I simply haven't had a lot to say about ("Hurrah!" says you, dear reader.) But the past few weeks have thrown up a couple of gems, and two in particular have got my inner film critic pondering. One is Rocketman.
Not the recommended way to play a piano...

I've been looking forward to this film with some trepidation. It's been promoted and trailed since about this time last year (which is usually a cause for disappointment, in my experience). I really looked forward to Bohemian Rhapsody and was frustrated by how good it could have been (but wasn't, in my opinion). But I also reasoned that Rocketman hasn't been dogged by the same production and creative difficulties as Bohemian Rhapsody. Plus the trailers seemed to suggest a strong fantasy element to storytelling, which looked interesting. Off to the cinema I traipsed.

I was not disappointed. The film charts the progression of a precocious but shy Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley) - living at home with his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard), dad (Steven Mackintosh) and grandmother (Gemma Jones), and his metamorphosis into Elton John (Taron Egerton) - exploring his limits with increasingly flamboyant performances and lifestyles, making and breaking relationships along the way. Tantrums and tiaras ensue.

The story is peppered with familiar Elton John hits, some performed as a logical part of the story (Elton musingly working out how to turn Bernie Taupin's lyrics into songs), others performed as fantasy sequences that wouldn't be out of place in a musical (I Want Love, for example, being used as a remarkably efficient device to explain the relationship difficulties each of young Reggie's family members has, but will never verbalise). All the songs are performed by Egerton, and the orchestration and remaking of familiar tunes is particularly successful - the scoring of the title track with a full orchestra is beautiful and worth listening out for.

The fantasy sequences themselves work well as a way of chronicling Elton's drug use - for example, Rocketman partially takes place at the bottom of a swimming pool, with Elton so fascinated by the underwater antics that it takes other people to haul him out before he drowns. At a point where he literally visualises himself as a rocket man, we see him crash on to a plane and come to in the middle of a conversation with no idea what's going on around him or where he is. It's a disorienting effect - providing a contrast between real life and hallucination, and giving some sense of the drug-addled mindset in which Elton finds himself. Occasionally it's a little on the nose - Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting didn't have to be literally set to a weekend punch up, but was pleasing nonetheless. It also frees the story from a strict chronology - an unreliable narrator with multiple substance issues can be forgiven for not quite having a tight grasp on the world around him.

The supporting cast provide a varied background for Egerton to project on to. In particular, Jamie Bell (as Bernie Taupin) and Richard Maddern (as John Reid) give noteworthy performances. Although the story of two friends who want different things from life is a well trodden film path, Bell portrays a realistic bewilderment of not quite understanding how he's managed to get from talking about cowboy songs in a greasy spoon café, to being in LA while his friend dons more and more elaborate outfits and makes more and more outrageous demands. However, he also manages to present a steady influence throughout, and it is unsurprising to find that he's pretty much the only one still standing when Elton hits rock bottom. The film is clearly a love letter to Taupin and John's relationship, two men who clearly understand each other completely on a level that neither really can explain. Richard Maddern offers the exact opposite as John Reid - almost sociopathic, but utterly charming. It's easy to see why people would love him, and be devastated to discover that it's not as much as he loves himself.
Can You Feel the (Plantonic) Love Tonight...?
The artifice of the film is a group therapy session, which Elton stomps into in full rhinestone Devil outfit. This set up had mixed success, in my opinion. That we see the character slowly stripped of his glitter and extravagance as he tried to better understand himself is a good visual aid. However, the therapy setting and his quest for sobriety seemed incredibly easy (in direct contrast to the films concluding remarks that he had managed 28 years sober but continued to struggle with some of his other addictions). I was distracted by the thought that I would hate to be in Elton John's group therapy because no one else got a chance to get a word in edgewise.
Standard dress code for the average therapy session...
Although they're two entirely different films, it's difficult not to compare Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, two films directed by the same director (for the most part), charting the life of two crowd-pleasing male performers during the 70s and 80s, both of whom have an admirable back catalogue of instantly recognisable hits, both of whom change their name, both of whom struggle with their sexual identity and their hedonistic lifestyles, both of whom could be easily identified by their outfits. However, one glaringly obvious difference is that Freddie Mercury is dead, and Elton John isn't. And it's easy to wonder what sort of film Bohemian Rhapsody could have been if Mercury was still alive, because one of the interesting things about Elton John is that he's not afraid to make himself look ugly. He's not interested in glossing over the unpleasantness, he's content to show himself as both a villain and a victim, at points of great weakness and great strength. While Bohemian Rhapsody plays the story straight (so to speak), Rocketman veers wildly into daydreams and delusions, and as such presents with a more realistic person. And when it comes to the music, Rami Malek provides us with Freddie Mercury's swagger but the audience is aware that he's lip-synching all the way. Taron Egerton's voice may not always have the full range of Elton John's, but the performance is more authentic because of its flaws.

For my money, nearly halfway through the year, this is by far my favourite film of 2019. There's plenty of time for that to be changed, but at this moment this is the film that has stayed with me long after the credits have rolled. Yes, even more so than Avengers: Endgame. I'm already looking forward to watching it again.

Additional thoughts, questions and comments: 
  • In terms of box office, Bohemian Rhapsody is making a lot more box office money than Rocketman. One reason for this is the 12A rating, compared to the 15 rating of this film (something hotly argued by the film studios). Why would anyone try to make this story a 12A? Who would that even be for? As Elton John put it "they wanted me to tone down the sex and drugs. But I haven't led a PG-13 life." Fair point.
  • The credit sequence gives a series of images comparing the outfits in the film with the real life versions, possibly as an attempt at saying "no, it was really like this. We didn't make it up." 
  • I like to this was Taron Egerton's audition for the film. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019


I must learn not to believe trailers. Trailers often lie. After watching the trailer for this and seeing the poster of Shazam with his bubble gum I thought  I was going to see a laugh a minute superhero spoof (and how welcome that would have been at this point) but this movie is not that at all.

Of course I should have realised that DC do not really have a sense of humour. And that they were not going to make proper fun of their potentially valuable property and invite fan hatred. Pity.

So instead of a hilarious slapstick-rich superhero takedown we get an almost reasonable if cliched juvenile superhero movie, that can't decide what age kids it is aimed at (but it is not aimed at adults, that's for sure). I think most kids would be bored by the first hour and be wondering like me, when is the action going to start? When will we actually see our superhero?
  • The first hour, or at least it seemed that long, was a slow set up (see above) about a more or less old-time Disney style (foster) family and a boy's journey of self-discovery. This was quite well done if that is what you are looking for.
  • We get school bullies who are not given any characters, or resolution or comeuppance
  • There is a lovable disabled character (the best actor in the movie) who is healed when he transforms into a superhero - this maybe raises a few questions for anyone with a disability in the audience. He has a crutch, just like the son in Breaking Bad, and likewise looks touchingly delicate and likewise is extra smart
  • There is a bargain basement wizard and some monsters that are very lacking in inspiration or originality. Maybe they should have moved a bit further from the comics with these? I haven't read the comics so I'm sticking my neck out a bit here
  • There is a villain who is a straightforward old style supervillain not a million miles from Lex Luthor. His shtick is that he is voluntarily possessed by an evil power enabling him to call up the monsters. He is competently acted and does have the best outfit in the movie.
  • The odd bit of attempted humour like the hero complaining that he can't hear the villain's speech during their final showdown falls flat because it doesn't fit in with the tone of (nearly all of) the rest of the film. I would like the film to have been full of this sort of thing and stuff like Shazam splatting against the skyscraper. And the wizard staff joke? Just no. OK I admit that made me smile in a sort of nostalgic-for-Carry-On way. Even Rob Jones only chuckled gently here and there though he was quite happy with what he saw
  • Oddness - maybe it's me but why were the two boys playing an ancient game on the computer? Looked like Street Fighter or Mortal Combat. The movie is clearly set in the present day. Probably a comics reference that went over my head, right?
  • I did get the 'Big' reference with the floor keyboard. That was quite a nice one.
  • There was a woman scientist near the beginning of the story who is disintegrated by the magic door. She knows too much about the villain so this is just plain convenient. And leaves no adult female characters in the film except for the foster mom. Also some hapless person on a train gets disintegrated later on. No one seems to care about this.
  • Some of the FX look cheap (not watched in 3D) and I gather the budget was not enormous.  
  • I can honestly say my favourite part of the movie was the end credits with cartoon drawings accompanied by The Ramones. This should have been way more fun. It was far from 'too facetious'.
The cinema staff turned the lights up after the credits so it was hard to see the final scene of the villain in prison. But I don't think I missed much.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Oscars 2019

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for most of the Oscar nominated films of this year.

Well hello there.  It's been a while.  Apologies for the radio silence - poor life planning on my part.  But the return of the 2019 Academy Awards seemed like a good place to jump back into blogging.  So here we go...

It's been an odd year thus far.  There's been a lot to see, and lots of strong performances, but no one film that's particularly jumping out at me.  Nothing that I'm particularly raving about.  Where last year I was recommending Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to anyone who would stand still long enough, this year doesn't seem to have the same abundance of riches that previous years have offered.  That said, it doesn't mean that the films up for nomination are without merit.  Also of note is that I don't think there's any categories that are definitely nailed down.  Where last year, Best Actor and Best Actress were pretty much nailed down from the outset, this year the competition could go in pretty much any direction.
So shiny...
So let's take a look at some of the main categories.

Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity's Gate), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) are battling it out in this category.  At the start of awards season, it seemed that A Star is Born was due to dominate everywhere, but it's star seems to have waned somewhat as the weeks have gone by.  I don't know why.  It's certainly not my favourite film, but the acting and directing are strong.  And yet, I don't think it will get recognised for it's acting or directing (Bradley Cooper inexplicably missing out on an Oscars nod).  Mortensen gives a good performance, but is utterly eclipsed by Mahershala Ali in Green Book.  I haven't seen or heard of At Eternity's Gate, and it's distinct lack of buzz suggests Dafoe is out of the running.  The competition here will be between Bale and Malek, and my money is on Malek.  Christian Bale has given a solid performance as Dick Chaney, and has already scooped a number of awards for his performance.  But Malek's combination of mercurial strut and swagger, vulnerability, and giant prosthetic teeth will more than likely be the winner.  That's the performance that have really had people talking, which in itself is astonishing given the difficulty there has been in getting Bohemian Rhapsody to the screen at all.
Who do I want to win?  Rami Malek
Who will win?  Rami Malek
I challenge the mighty titan and his troubadours...
Best Actress
Another strong category which essentially comes down to two.  Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born) and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?).  Colman and Close seem to have carved up the awards between them.  Colman's nomination is an odd one to me.  Not that she shouldn't be nominated - she is tremendous as the damaged and tempestuous Queen Anne - but to my mind, she is not the lead actress in The Favourite.  It's a three hander between Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and Colman, and if anything, Weisz and Stone are more central performances than Colman's.  That said, I do want Olivia Colman to win, because I think she's great and I think she'd give a wonderfully accidentally sweary acceptance speech.  Glenn Close is on her seventh nomination for an Oscar, and now holds the dubious record for actress with most nominations without a win.  For that reason, I think she'll walk away with the statue tonight.
Who do I want to win?  Olivia Colman
Who will win?  Glenn Close

Best Supporting Actor
I think this is the closest thing to "nailed on".  Mahershala Ali will win for Green Book and deservedly so.  If/when he wins, it will also be the quickest an actor has won the same Oscar twice since Tom Hanks' wins for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994).
Personally, I am a little sad for Richard E Grant who has seemed so delighted to be part of the Oscars bandwagon this year on his first nomination for Can You Ever Forgive Me?  A really enjoyable performance, which I choose to read as a continuation of Withnail and I where Withnail moves to America, continues to drink copiously and cause mischief with whomever he meets.
Who do I want to win?  Richard E Grant
Who will win?  Mahershala Ali

Bring me the finest wines available to humanity
Best Supporting Actress
Again, a tough call between the two actresses from The Favourite.  Neither performance stands without the other, but I think Rachel Weisz just - just - tips it, and should be adding her second Oscar to her mantlepiece.  Honourable mention to Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk.
Who do I want to win?  Rachel Weisz
Who will win?  Rachel Weisz.  But all eyes should be on Olivia Colman who will be freaking delighted about it.
Who was your favourite?
Best Director
This is where personal choice and critics choice diverges significantly.  The critics are very excited about Roma and it's tipped for a lot of the main awards.  I'll be honest, I didn't care for it.  I thought it was perfectly fine, but when I recently read a review where the reviewer hadn't yet been able to watch the films climactic scene without weeping, I struggled to even identify what the climactic scene actually was.  I know it's a pet personal project of Alfonso Cuaron, a director that I have enjoyed a lot.  But for me, the award should go to Spike Lee for BlackkKlansmen.  The direction in it is arresting and innovative, constantly changing the story up from dreamy fantasy sequences to stark, punchy reality.  Cuaron is the master of long, tracking panoramic shots, but they leave me wanting to look away.  Lee holds my attention throughout.
Who do I want to win?  Spike Lee
Who will win:  Alfonso Cuaron

The Favourite should clean up on some of the technical awards (Cinematography, Costume, Production Design) - and rightly so.  It's visually stunning, full of sumptuous grandiosity.  But the more computer based technical awards - Visual Effects, etc. should go to Black Panther.  The spectacle of Wakanda and the world created around it is deserving of at least a few shiny gold trophies.

Best Original Score
Black Panther's score stands above the other soundtracks in the MCU, for being something bombastic and superhero-y, but also entirely of it's own.  Which seems to be descriptive of the film itself.  Ludwig Goransson has done a tremendous job.  But my personal preference would be Nicholas Brittell's score for If Beale Street Could Talk.  Sadly, a film that I believe will come away with very little, so I want it to get what it can.
Who do I want to win:  If Beale Street Could Talk
Who will win:  Black Panther

Best Picture
Which brings us to The Big One.  I'm between two - BlackkKlansman and Black Panther.

The Favourite, much as I enjoyed it, looks great, sounds great, has outstanding central performances, but it's storytelling falls away somewhat towards the end.  Likewise with A Star Is Born - I would speak about it a lot more favourably if it was half an hour shorter and didn't seem to be (unfortunately) to be a film about a woman being told what to do entirely by men.

I have very mixed feelings about Bohemian Rhapsody - it has led to a resurgence of Queen songs on the radio, which I have no issues with.  But for a band that was groundbreaking, controversial and innovative, the story told by Bohemian Rhapsody is too...easy (Queen: "we've decided to write a 6 minute epic song with an operatic middle section and we've invented the music video and our lead singer was gay at a time when it really wasn't considered ok to be so"  World according to the film: "No problem to us.  We immediately accept this unquestioningly.").  Plus, as has been documented extensively elsewhere, the timeline is all over the place and the story is, at times, wildly inaccurate.  If so, why is it a biopic?

Roma - as I have mentioned, I just don't get what the hype is about.  Although I did like the option of seeing it on Netflix rather than having to go to the cinema.  But that isn't enough to get Best Picture.

Green Book would be a "safe" win rather than, say, something more politically contentious like Vice or BlackkKlansman.

Black Panther is arguably the film that caused the discussion about introducing the Favourite Picture category.  It's the 9th highest grossing film of all time, the highest grossing film by a black director, highest grossing film for a predominantly black cast, and the first superhero film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  Plus, it's fun.  It's a good story, told well.  Roma is worthy, but Black Panther  is enjoyable.  It looks great, it sounds great, and it winning would do a lot to redress some of the damage of #Oscarssowhite.
Superhero film up for Best Picture - strange new worlds...
But the film that has most excited me this year has been BlackkKlansman.  It feels important, it feels timely, and it pulls no punches in pointing out how an undercurrent of racism in society that has allowed the Ku Klux Klan to grow and thrive has also led to the current incumbent of the White House and the Charlottesville riots.  It is funny and it is frightening.  It is a film based on a true story in which a black police officer infiltrates the KKK.  See - now you want to see it.
Also a win for best hairstyles
Who do I want to win:  BlackkKlansman or Black Panther
Who will win:  Roma

But: Best Picture for the past few years has always been a surprise.  So who knows what this year holds...

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Forgettable Film

Warning: contains mild spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron

What makes a film forgettable? There have been two occasions in recent memory where both my husband and I sat down to watch a film we hadn't yet seen...only to realise part way through that we had actually seen the film before.

The first film was Avengers: Age of Ultron. As a general rule, we enjoy Marvel films, although we haven't seen all of them and we haven't watched them in date order - admittedly, this may be part of the problem. We saw the original Avengers film in the cinema, and really enjoyed it, but missed Age of Ultron in the cinema. Recently, it appeared on Netflix and we decided to sit down and watch it one Saturday evening.

We recognised The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, but were convinced we had been introduced to these characters in a previous film. It wasn't until someone lost an arm that we both twigged that this was not our first viewing, although we carried on watching as we still couldn't remember the plot.

The second film was Star Trek: Beyond. Again, it appeared on Netflix and we sat down to watch it last Saturday. We realised a little sooner this time - as soon as the crew landed at Yorktown - that we had seen it before, although again we couldn't remember any of the plot and continued to watch it anyway.

But this prompted a conversation - what was it about these films that meant neither of us remembered that we'd seen them already. Neither film was bad, in fact a bad film (or a film that is disliked anyway) sticks in the brain somewhat. I vividly remember the entire plot to Dogville, a film I feel I wasted three hours of my life on. So what makes a film forgettable?

Image result for asleep in front of a film
I googled 'asleep in front of a film' and this was one of the top hits...I'm a bit scared to ask why.

There are some similarities between the two films I've named. Both are from larger franchises, and neither was the first in its series. The first of the series may be new, fresh, different. The subsequent films may...fade into the background a little. When we thought about it, we realised neither of us could really recall much about Star Trek: Into Darkness either, apart from the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch was in it. Neither could we recall many details about The Matrix Reloaded.

I don't think this is simply because they are films from a series, as in a strong series, each film is memorable in its own right. For example each Toy Story film (those so far anyway) is very memorable. My husband argued that an animated film was perhaps more memorable, simply because animated styles tended to differ more between films than live action can - confusion with 'similar' films is therefore less likely. However the Indiana Jones films, and those in the Back to the Future series are also all memorable - the second film in each of these series is perhaps the weakest, but the plot of the film is not forgotten, even after only one viewing.

Are the forgettable films too formulaic? Are they too dictated by what viewers enjoyed about the other films - 'this bit worked so let's do it again'? Although I can't remember much about the plot of The Matrix Reloaded, I do remember the fuss about the car chase, built from the audience reaction to the lobby scene in the first Matrix. When it finally came out in the cinema, the scene was visually quite stunning, but the film itself fell flat.

The Marvel universe has been around for a very long time, although its main success in the film industry is relatively recent. Although the films are based on the various comic book series (and admittedly I don't know enough about these series to know how true the films are to their originals), it appears to me that their films are perhaps suffering from the same issue. Audiences like the big battle scenes, the camera panning from one character to another, so that's what we get. In every film. So they all start to merge into one another until we can't distinguish between them. It's difficult to create a freshness in a film that's been done before. Having said this, I haven't seen them all (no spoilers for Infinity War please!), so perhaps there are some that stand out more than others that aren't the first of their series. If so, I assume they have broken this formula perhaps a bit more than the rest.

Image result for avengers lego
Which film is this scene from? I bet you can't tell.

Of course, the difficulty with writing about 'forgettable' films, is there are likely many more films like this that I've...well...forgotten about. It's entirely possible that I'm blaming the 'franchise' incorrectly. There may very well be single, standalone films that also suffer from this problem. I can't say for sure - I'm afraid I just don't remember. 

Monday, 30 July 2018

Best Viewing of a Film - the First Time or the Repeat?

I think I've mentioned this before, but my husband isn't a big fan of re-watching films, whereas I love it. I sometimes enjoy a film more the second time around because I notice things I didn't appreciate the first time around. Yes, when I re-watch a film I know what's going to happen, but that doesn't stop me cringing at the awkward parts, or laughing at the jokes.

If there's a twist in the plot, it will seem so obvious during the second viewing - how did I not realise when I watched it the first time? I am in awe of film makers that leave several clues along the way, yet are confident that the plot twist is well hidden until they are ready to reveal it - how do they do that? Think of Frozen, or The Sixth Sense, and the subtleties throughout the film.

I appreciate more the level of detail that the film makers have gone to. The set designs in Team America: World Police, made of milk bottle tops and dollar bills amongst many other things I've read about, but which don't appear long enough in the film to even be in focus, never mind noticed by the audience. The many, many hidden gems in Flushed Away - I've seen that film a lot and there are probably still Easter eggs that I've missed. I think my favourite may be the sandwich board made with real (toasted) bread.

Image result for flushed away film easter eggs
A kind internet person has provided this still. My Big Fat Greek Bottom anyone?

Sometimes I appreciate a film more the second time around - perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind when I saw it first, or perhaps I the story means more the second time. I remember seeing Brave in the cinema and feeling a little let down by Pixar - now it's a film I love. My sister was adamant that Inside Out was over-rated until she watched it a second time - 'I was wrong. It is lovely', she messaged.

Sometimes there is a comfort in knowing what will happen - it's a cosy blanket, maybe if I've had a bad day, or I'm home alone one evening. I know how I will feel when I watch that film. Sometimes there is a great joy in introducing a friend to a favourite film and seeing their 'first time' reaction, while trying desperately not to laugh ahead of the jokes or give the game away. 

And even though I know that character is going to make the wrong decision, I almost hold my breath and wait for them to do it right this time. Almost. 

Still, there is something magical about watching a really good film unfold in front of you for the very first time. It's not quite the same the second time round. Although 'not quite the same' doesn't mean 'worse', does it? It just means different.