Tomb Raider (2018)

2020 #143
Roar Uthaug | 118 mins | download (HD+3D) | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English & Cantonese | 12 / PG-13

Tomb Raider

In this gritty(-ish) reboot of the videogame-turned-movie franchise (inspired by a similar reboot they did in the games), Lara Croft loses her most famous twin assets — her dual pistols (also, her giant boobs) — instead replacing them with a bow & arrow (and muscles, respectively) for an adventure that sees her travelling to a secret island where her father disappeared seven years earlier while in search of an ancient curse surrounding a long-lost tomb. Well, natch — clue’s in the title.

“Movie based on a game” used to be synonymous with “shit”, and to an extent that reputation persists — it takes time to turn such widespread prejudices around — but there have been a few in recent years to buck the trend, like trashy-but-fun Rampage and (apparently) Angry Birds 2. For my money, Tomb Raider is part of that movement. For one thing, it manages to actually feel like the games (or, at least, what I presume the games are like — I’ve never really played any of them), which is a noteworthy point for a genre that sometimes spectacularly failed to understand its source material. Tomb Raider successfully recreates the running, jumping, shooting, puzzle-solving action of its inspiration without too overtly abandoning real-life logic for video game logic. Well, I say “real-life logic” — it’s actually “action/adventure movie logic”, but I think that’s allowed in an action/adventure movie.

As an entry in that genre, it’s fun enough. It’s not going to compete for greatest-of-all-time status with its urtext, the Indiana Jones films, nor does it quite challenge the heights of more-overt homages like The Mummy, but it’s not a bad couple of hours’ entertainment in their mould. On the downside, the amount of preamble the plot goes through before taking us to the island is a tad unnecessary, mainly because there are a couple of early set pieces that feel forced to make sure there’s some action in the first act. I can understand having one or two (as much as anything, it establishes that Lara isn’t completely unskilled in combat and physical endurance), but it feels like padding. Besides, we’ve come for an Indiana Jones-esque affair — a bicycle race around grey London isn’t quite the right tone.

Hanging around

Alicia Vikander is more than capable in the lead role, both as an actress and a physical performer — she’s clearly developed the physique for the part, and apparently did her own stunts. Unfortunately, her accent is a little all over the place, a blend of English and Swedish (rather similar to Rebecca Ferguson’s) with occasional flecks of Irish. It’s kind of charming in itself, and I guess it just passes as “English” to Americans, but it’s too distractingly ‘off’ to truly pass as the upper-crust English girl Lara is meant to be. She’s surrounded by a supporting cast of reliable performers — Walton Goggins (surprisingly understated as the villain), Dominic West, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Nick Frost (just a cameo) — but none leave a particularly large mark.

A quick word on the 3D, which is fairly enjoyable. I’d heard bad things, but it’s not awful, just unexceptionally adequate — a bit like the film itself, I guess. It adds somewhat to the “hanging over a chasm” shots (of which there are more than a handful), if nothing else.

The film ends with a massive sequel tease, which I thought was fairly well handled. I’ve often criticised movies that exist purely to setup sequels/trilogies/franchises, and there are clearly parts of Tomb Raider that have been designed to do that, but it’s managed well enough to not really intrude until the final scenes. That said, it’s an odd kind of tease, suggesting more “corporate espionage” than “tomb raiding”. Unlike so many sequel teases nowadays, this one will actually be acted upon: after some umming and ahhing (the film wasn’t a huge box office hit, but did respectably outside the US, particularly in lucrative markets like China and the UK), it’s going ahead… with Ben Wheatley directing! Colour me surprised. (It was scheduled for release in March 2021, but the shoot was meant to begin in April 2020 and, surprise surprise, got cancelled, so who knows.)

Tomb raiding

A lot of this review has wound up couched in disclaimers but, fundamentally, I enjoyed Tomb Raider. It may not have a surfeit of original ideas, but once it gets going it offers up solid levels of excitement — highlights include a protracted boat crash in a storm, Lara negotiating a plane teetering on a cliff edge, and the titular raiding of a tomb, which occupies the third act. If Wheatley can supplement that with a dash of his trademark oddness, the sequel might well be worth looking forward to.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of Tomb Raider is on ITV tonight at 7:50pm.

The 100-Week Roundup II

I had a nice little introduction written for this post when T2 3D was going to be part of it, but then that got too long and I posted it separately. So, anyway, here are three other films I watched almost two years ago but haven’t reviewed yet…

Laura
(1944)

2018 #93
Otto Preminger | 85 mins | download (HD) | 4:3 | USA / English | U

Laura

This classic film noir stars Dana Andrews as a New York detective investigating the murder of an advertising exec and society girl played by Gene Tierney, the eponymous Laura. And there’s a good twist halfway through that completely turns the film on its head, so I’ll keep this vague. (We can debate the merits or otherwise of openly discussing plot points from 75-year-old films another time. Heck, go on Twitter — I’m sure someone’ll be ranting about it from one side or the other right now.)

As a murder investigation, Laura is a decent little mystery — there aren’t a huge number of suspects, but enough to keep you guessing; though I did eventually wonder if it actually hangs together 100% as a case. But that doesn’t matter when everything else about the film plays out so well. For starters, it’s noticeably well directed by Otto Preminger, with some nice shot construction and editing. Then the screenplay (based on a novel by Vera Caspary, and penned by three credited writers and one uncredited, as per the interweb) boasts lots of great dialogue. It’s rarely show-off-ily snappy, but it is effective and sometimes witty. That’s only appropriate considering one of the characters (Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker) has a rep as a wordsmith — that wouldn’t fly if he didn’t have plenty of bons mots to offer.

The rest of the cast are similarly noteworthy. Tierney is very plausible as the kind of gal everyone would fall in love with, and Andrews is equally so as the solid copper. A key supporting role is filled by a young-ish Vincent Price. (Can we call 33 “young”? As someone who was born in 1986, I’m going to go with “yes”.) It’s an accident of history how effective his casting is — not that his performance is bad in and of itself, but his later reputation brings certain expectations about how things might pan out. Is that warranted? Well, you’ll have to watch it to see…

5 out of 5

Jigsaw
(2017)

2018 #104
The Spierig Brothers | 92 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & Canada / English | 18 / R

Jigsaw

After seven films between 2004 and 2010, the Saw series seemed well and truly done. But nothing once-popular can stay dead for long in Hollywood, and so 2017 saw this revival (and this year will see another, pandemic permitting). It seemed to go down quite poorly, and I’m curious as to why. It’s a Saw film through and through — if you don’t like the series, there’s no reason you should like this — so, I mean, why would you want or expect a Saw film to not be a Saw film? Maybe it’s just people who don’t actually liking Saw films all that much but chose to watch an eighth one anyway? Well, it’s up to them how they choose to spend their time…

Anyhow, as a Saw film, I thought it was one of the better ones. Not the very best (that’s still the first), but definitely top end. I liked the final reveal, which is a big part of these films’ appeal — what twist they’re going to pull in the final moments. Sure, I’d guessed part of it well in advance, but it still had some neat aspects. (I do wonder how many people were fooled into thinking Jigsaw was still alive, somehow? He died many, many films ago; he’s not coming back.) In terms of the whole series, it does raise a load of questions — but digging into them is really getting navel-gazing about the series’ continuity. I’m not sure it’s worth worrying about.

3 out of 5

Inferno
(1953)

2018 #107
Roy Baker | 84 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 1.37:1 | USA / English | PG

Inferno

3D and film noir aren’t things you readily associate with each other, but there are a couple of them — see here for a few. Some might count Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, too. Inferno here is another borderline case. The plot definitely has a whiff of noir — a husband left for dead by his wife and her lover, which cause her moral quandaries but him not so much — but the telling is more of an Adventure movie, some might even say a Western, with the husband struggling through an arid wilderness. Plus it’s all shot in brightly-lit Technicolor.

Whether you count it as noir or not, it’s most noteworthy for its 3D. It was one of the last films made in the format during the fleeting ’50s experiment, especially as its studio, Fox, were backing CinemaScope as a TV-beater instead (well, I guess they were right). It doesn’t make blatant use of its 3D — there’s no stuff poking at the camera (until the punch-up finale) — but it often brings a nice sense of depth often, including to the wide-open desert vistas. It was well received, too, with the New York Times saying it was where “3-D comes of age”, and others comparing it favourably to other movies of the era, which treated 3D as no more than a gimmick and squandered its potential. All of that said, a climactic fight does indulge in all the in-your-face aspects we associate with classic 3D movies — but it was a late addition forced on the film by studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, who wanted to see more overt 3D action. In summary up, director Roy Ward Baker commented, “the critics gave it unanimous applause, largely because it has a good story to which the process contributed greatly, as opposed to the usual stereo films which were simply exploitation stunts. However, we did include a few of the cliches, at the behest of DFZ. I guess he was right at that.”

It is a pretty good tale. Baker wanted to make a film in which “the leading character spends long periods alone on the screen, where the interest would be in what he does, rather than what he says.” Nonetheless, we’re given a voiceover narration from the hero, which gets a bit twee, albeit with an enjoyable dry wit now and then, and an interesting pragmatism about his situation. There’s some neat editing to juxtapose his situation with that of his condemners, too: when he’s starving it cuts to wifey enjoying a lavish meal; as he digs in the desperate hope of water it cuts to her lover casually fixing himself a drink. Said wifey is played by Rhonda Fleming, who apparently was known as “the Queen of Technicolor” because of her complexion and vibrant red hair. Everyone in the film is in love with her — even the cops who’ve just met her comment on it — and, yeah, I buy that. There’s an amusing bit where her lover is desperate to throw caution to the wind and visit her room that night simply because it’s “been four days”, wink wink nudge nudge. Men, eh?

4 out of 5

Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D (1991/2017)

2018 #103
James Cameron | 137 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & France / English | 15 / R

Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D

When I’ve previously reviewed 3D versions of films I’d already seen in 2D, I haven’t given them a new number — so why did T2 3D merit one? Partly it’s a ‘feeling’ that comes from it not being the original version. Most of those other re-watches were films that had a 3D release concurrent with their 2D one, but T2’s is a years-later addition. Still, that’s a thin justification. More importantly, however, they chose to perform the 3D conversion on the film’s theatrical cut, which I’m 95% sure I’ve never seen. The extended Special Edition was first released in 1993, which is before I first saw the film, and some of the scenes that have most stuck in my memory are from the longer cut. Is it shorter enough, and therefore different enough, to warrant a new number? Not sure. But combine that with the new 3D and I thought, yeah, that’s pretty different all round.

The film itself… well, it’s an action/sci-fi classic, isn’t it? But I needed to rewatch it to remember how good it is — I left it off my 100 Favourites a couple of years ago because I decided it was on the long-list just because you’d expect it to be there; but, rewatching it, I realise I do agree with the consensus on its greatness. The most interesting ideas in T2 aren’t what it contributes to the series’ sci-fi mythology (though a liquid metal robot is pretty neat), but how it chooses to develop its characters. The T-800 now being a good guy is the obvious one, but check out the humans: sweet innocent Sarah Connor is now a hardened military-vet-type locked up in a mental institution where she rails against the system; and her son, destined to become the great leader of humanity, isn’t a hero in waiting but instead an irritating juvenile delinquent brat. It’s these extra dimensions, not just the sci-fi and the action, that make T2 such a great film.

“Get away from him, you bitch!” ...no, wait, wrong Cameron movie

That said, I think there’s an argument to be made that T1 has withstood the test of time better than T2. The original film is a grounded sci-fi thriller, its low budget working in its favour to emphasise those qualities: it’s fuelled by both big SF ideas and the grittiness of its present-day setting. T2, on the other hand, is pitched as an action-and-effects blockbuster — it was the first movie to cost more than $100 million (according to some reports, anyway) — but in that respect it’s been continuously surpassed by numerous other summer spectacles in the intervening decades. As I said, there are other reasons it endures, but I think on balance I might prefer the first movie.

And talking of preferences, I definitely prefer T2’s extended cut to the theatrical one. There are numerous nice grace notes added to the longer cut, but it really comes down to one scene: the sequence where they take the chip out of the T-800’s head and Sarah considers destroying it, which includes the famous mirror shot. For me that’s one of the most memorable scenes from the entire film. It’s both a good scene in its own right and it’s neatly mirrored in the ending, when the Terminator makes Sarah lower him into the molten steel. I’ve always found it an odd idea that it wasn’t always there, and I continue to feel that way. The film seems incomplete without it.

Now, the 3D… As you might expect from a genuine 3D advocate like Cameron, a lot of the effect is quite subtle — it’s aiming for realistic spacing, not an in-your-face exaggeration of depth. That kind of subtlety is arguably a reason a lot of people feel 3D adds little, because its benefit isn’t obvious. Heck, sometimes you don’t even notice it’s there. Ironically, that’s sometimes amongst the best 3D, but you might need a direct comparison with 2D to notice it. Put a good subtle-3D shot against its 2D counterpart and suddenly you’re aware of the natural awareness of shape and depth the extra dimension is adding. Now, T2 3D is not a prime example of this — it’s a film that was originally shot and designed for 2D, after all — but it does have moments that I think demonstrate that kind of effect. And, at other times, the 3D is much more obvious; mostly during big action set pieces, as you’d expect.

Oh, if he only knew how many times he'd be back...

The big downside is that they felt they had to apply a hefty dose of DNR before doing the 3D conversion. I’m sure there are reasons why film grain would get in the way of a conversion, but sometimes the DNR is too heavy-handed. It’s never at the level of the infamous Predator Blu-ray, where everyone looked like a slightly-melted waxwork, but there are times here when people seem to have been formed from smooth plastic rather than the natural pore-covered texture of real skin. How much this matters is a case of personal preference, but there were one or two times I did find it distracting — the meeting between Sarah and Dr Silberman, for instance, where the DNR has smoothed his skin so much that it looks like he’s been de-aged. If this was just on the 3D version then, hey-ho, that’s a side effect of the process, but I believe the same scrubbed version has been put out as the film’s official 4K restoration. That’s very disappointing.

So, this is in no way my preferred version of the movie; but it’s such a great film anyway, and this re-watch has reminded me of that, that it can be nothing but full marks.

5 out of 5

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

2020 #49
Jon Watts | 129 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Spider-Man: Far from Home

For those not keeping track (who can blame you?), Far from Home is the third Spider-Man 2. It follows in the footsteps of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 from 2004, widely regarded as one of the topmost examples of the superhero genre, and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from 2014, widely regarded as one of the poorest examples of the superhero genre. (As you can see, they’ve ditched the numbers. Probably wise at this point.) Personally, while I agree with the accepted view of Raimi’s film, I actually rather enjoyed Webb’s sequel. That’s important to know when I say that I think Far from Home is my least favourite Spider-Man 2 so far.

This one is the sequel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming… except Spidey’s in the MCU now, so it’s also a sequel to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. And that’s not just a checklist of “other Spider-Man appearances”, either: the events of Endgame are absolutely vital to the storyline of this movie. It may be another Spider-Man 2, but more than that it’s Marvel Cinematic Universe: Episode XXIII.

Some people criticised Homecoming for having too much Iron Man and going too far in making Spider-Man into Iron Man Jr. I felt they got the balance about right, all things considered — it’s not very true to comic book canon, but, as the third big-screen iteration of Spidey in the modern era, it made a reasonable change. Far from Home is where it becomes overpowering. It has to lean heavily on the overall continuity of the MCU, which means all the business of The Blip (as what we call The Snap is called in-universe) and Iron Man’s death is front-loaded into the movie. The former is waived away as quickly as they can; the latter weighs heavy on the entire rest of the plot.

We'll always have Venice

Meanwhile, Nick Fury is trying to get in touch with Peter Parker, who isn’t interested in the big world-saving antics that implies. He’s more concerned with going on a school summer trip around Europe. How a poor kid from Queens is supposed to afford a weeks-long vacation around Europe isn’t even one of my issues with the film, but if you’re a Spidey devotee it might be. But go on this vacation he does, only to have it interrupted in Venice by a giant water man/monster thing, which is battled by a new hero Peter’s classmates reckon is a cross between Iron Man and Thor, and name Mysterio. Turns out he’s working with Fury, and Fury wants Mysterio and Spider-Man to team up to fight the possibly world-ending threat. But Peter doesn’t want to because he’s on holiday goddammit and he has a plan to woo MJ.

So far, so Spider-Man — the conflict between his personal and ‘professional’ life is a regular feature of the character. But it’s the way this story unspools that didn’t work for me, as it drags its heels through every storyline it’s got going at once, indulging in comedic asides from a whole range of characters. Having a comic relief character or double act is fine, but four or five of them? It just eats up screen time. The lack of focus robs the film of impetus or tension, as the characters and plot both meander around Europe and from set piece to set piece.

At least some of those set pieces are quite good. The Venice one is a nice change of pace, because Mysterio is off doing the main fighting bit, so Spidey’s left to tidy up around him. It’s something a bit different in a blockbuster action sequence. The real highlight, though, is an illusion trap Spidey endures, which is imaginative and creatively realised. Tom Holland gives the title role his all, but Jake Gyllenhaal is the standout as Mysterio, waltzing into the film and stealing it out from under everyone else’s noses. His real-life alter ego, Quentin Beck, has a really nice relationship with Peter, pitched as a kind of mentoring, older brother type role, admiring of the kid’s ability but not blind to his flaws. Even better, if you watch the gag reel you get the impression Gyllenhaal is kinda treating Holland like Beck treats Parker, which is… amusing.

Super friends

Like every other MCU film, Far from Home is competently made with occasional flashes of inspiration, so manages to dodge being an outright disaster. But, speaking as someone who thinks Homecoming is pretty great and saw a lot of promise in this sequel’s trailers, I was disappointed by the end result. Future Spidey appearances in the MCU are assured (naturally there’s a post-credits tease for them), so I hope they can recapture more of that Homecoming spark next time.

3 out of 5

Spider-Man: Far from Home is available on Sky Cinema from this weekend.

As Far from Home is officially the final film of the Infinity Saga (I guess it works as an epilogue; or perhaps the saga’s very own feature-length post-credit tease), here are links to my reviews of every other MCU film so far… except for one, which this has reminded me I’ve forgotten to write.

  1. Iron Man
  2. The Incredible Hulk
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. Thor
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger
  6. Avengers Assemble
  7. Iron Man 3
  8. Thor: The Dark World
  9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy
  11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  12. Ant-Man
  13. Captain America: Civil War
  14. Doctor Strange
  15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  16. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  17. Thor: Ragnarok
  18. Black Panther
  19. Avengers: Infinity War
  20. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  21. Captain Marvel
  22. Avengers: Endgame
  23. this one!

I’ve also reviewed a bunch of the shorts and (sorta-)tie-in TV series, but I’ll let you track those down if you’re interested.

…and, in keeping with the style of the MCU, here’s a surprise post-‘credits’ mini-review!

Peter’s To-Do List
(2019)

2020 #49a
Jon Watts | 3 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12

Peter's To-Do List

Sony chose to bill this as a short film on Far from Home‘s Blu-ray release, so I’m going to treat it like one and review it. Let’s begin with a dictionary definition (from, er, a very real dictionary, honest) of “short film”…

short film
noun

1. an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits. “The Silent Child won the Oscar for best short film.”

2. a deleted scene long enough that someone thought they could get away with pretending it was conceived and created as an original motion picture. “The Spider-Man: Far from Home Blu-ray includes a short film called Peter’s To-Do List.”

That pretty much sums up my reaction to this — it’s a glorified deleted scene. To be precise, it’s several deleted scenes, so really it’s a deleted sequence — Peter running various errands before his trip to Europe. If you watched any of Far from Home‘s trailers then you’ll have seen almost all of this already because it’s footage that was used extensively to advertise the movie. I believe they also did some kind of special re-release of Far from Home with this bit cut back into the feature (an option not available on the home release).

So, it’s not a short film, but it is a fun-enough deleted scene. It wouldn’t’ve been out of place left in the movie, but considering the first act is already too long and a trudge as it is, I see why they wanted to lose some stuff.

3 out of 5

The Self-Isolated Monthly Review of March 2020

I hope you’ve got time for a long read (I know you do — you’re stuck at home too, right?) because there’s a tonne of stuff to witter about in this month’s update.

So, settle down with some of the stuff you’ve stockpiled (well, okay, you shouldn’t really need pasta or loo roll to get through this post… I hope…) and while away your isolation with my self-centred lists and stats.


#31 The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
#32 Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
#33 The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part 3D (2019)
#34 Harakiri (1962), aka Seppuku
#35 Showman: The Life of John Nathan-Turner (2019)
#36 Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
#37 The Invisible Guest (2016), aka Contratiempo
#38 Godzilla: King of the Monsters 3D (2019)
#39 Hustlers (2019)
#40 Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
#41 Last Chance Harvey (2008)
#42 Red Joan (2018)
#43 Late Night (2019)
#44 Quartet (2012)
#45 The Lady Vanishes (1938)
#46 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 3D (2009)
#47 The Platform (2019), aka El hoyo
#48 The Battle of Algiers (1966), aka La battaglia di Algeri
#49 Spider-Man: Far from Home 3D (2019)
#49a Peter’s To-Do List (2019)
#50 The Mad Magician 3D (1954)
#50a Spooks! 3D (1953)
#50b Pardon My Backfire 3D (1953)
#51 A Man for All Seasons (1966)
#52 The Viking Queen (1967)
#53 Aladdin 3D (2019)
#54 One Cut of the Dead, aka Kamera wo tomeruna! (2017)
#55 Knives Out (2019)
#56 The Breakfast Club (1985)
#57 So Dark the Night (1946)
#58 Missing Link (2019)
Harakiri

The Invisible Guest

The Lady Vanishes

Knives Out

.


  • I watched 28 new feature films in March. Boy, does that give me a lot to talk about…

So, let’s break it up a bit. First, some stats…

  • That’s my biggest month since July 2018, which also had 28 films. They’re now tied as my 4th best months ever.
  • Talking of all-time numbers, it’s my best March ever, with a total that’s double the month’s previous average of 14.4. In fact, it single-handedly pulls that average up by over one whole film, to 15.5.
  • Talking of averages, it also surpasses and increases both my rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 12.75, now 13.3) and my average for 2020 to date (previously 15.0, now 19.3).
  • Talking of numbers that are almost 20, it’s my 20th month ever to have 20+ films, and my first 20+ month since last May.
  • Talking of months with 20+ films, March is the month where I have the greatest consistency at reaching a total of 20+. I’ve done it every year since 2016 — that’s five years in a row now. It means March makes up fully 25% of all months with 20+ films. For comparison, there’s no other month where I’ve done it for more than two years in a row.
  • Another milestone: I reached (and passed) #50, i.e. halfway. Except I’m aiming for at least 120 nowadays, so halfway is another couple of films away yet.
  • Nonetheless, this is the second-furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of March, just ahead of #57 in 2018, but reasonably far behind 2016’s #67. What does this tell us about how the rest of the year might pan out? Bugger all. In 2018 I ended up reaching #261, whereas in 2016 I ‘only’ got to #195. And for another point of reference, March 2015 ended at #44, over 20 behind 2016, but ended the year five ahead, at #200. So, y’know, it’s all meaningless.
  • I also had a really good month for my Rewatchathon (see further down this post for more about that). I really should go back and produce a full set of numbers for every month so I can include that in comparisons too…

Talking of my Rewatchathon, what of my other viewing challenges…

  • This month’s Blindspot films: influential guerrilla war movie The Battle of Algiers; plus, I watched the first of what I’m calling my ‘overflow’ films (unseen leftovers from previous Blindspot challenges), seminal ’80s teen comedy The Breakfast Club. Also Harakiri, which merited a mention in my Blindspot post this year about why it wasn’t included (I’d forgotten about that when I randomly chose to watch it anyway!)
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, Hustlers, The Karate Kid Part II, and Late Night.

Finally, some observations about the other films…

  • It’s fundamentally meaningless, but this month I watched my first feature films of the years whose titles begin with nine letters of the alphabet: F, G, H, I, K, O, Q, V, and W. That’s 35% of the alphabet covered in one month — only slightly more than the seven / 27% in January and eight / 31% in February, but then this task gets harder as the year goes on (January has a massive advantage, for hopefully-obvious reasons, whereas the most any of the remaining nine months would now be able to manage is two / 8%).
  • Another first: The Viking Queen was the first film I’ve watched on DVD this year.
  • Talking of DVDs, I watched Judgment at Nuremberg on the BFI’s recent Blu-ray release, which I bought even though I’d only bought the DVD a little while ago. Well, when I fished out that DVD to put on my “to sell” pile, I found it still had the dispatch receipt inside, which showed I bought it in… 2010. A whole decade ago! Sometimes I worry about my sense of the passage of time…
  • As you can tell (as if you didn’t already know), picture quality is important to me. So I could probably write an entire post about the weirdness I’ve been experiencing with Netflix’s PQ of late. I started streaming The Platform, but after it maintained a speed of just 0.57 Mbps — and looked terrible because of it — I gave up and, er, sourced it elsewhere. I’ve tried it again several times since, at different times of the day and night, and it’s always 0.57 Mbps. The same thing happened with Missing Link, although that was 1.21 Mbps so was somewhat more watchable (I still went and got a better copy from somewhere else, though). That led me to try about a dozen more titles, all of which came through at completely different rates, some reasonable, some not. It doesn’t seem to be connected to them needing different amounts of data or needing some time to get up to speed, either — it appears to be totally random. And it doesn’t seem to waver. I had decided to just cancel my Netflix subscription until all this is over (because I presume it’s connected to the speed-limiting they’re reported to be doing in Europe) — after all, it’s not as if I don’t have enough else to watch… but there’s loads of stuff I really do want to see on Netflix, and some of it is still streaming at a reasonable quality. So, I’m undecided.
  • As you can tell from the lack of blue text in the listing above, I haven’t reviewed a single film from this month’s viewing. I thought this might be the first time that’s happened, so I trawled back through all 118 monthly updates to check, and I can confirm… it’s not. In fact, it last happened less than a year ago, in July 2019. You have to go back over five more years, to May 2014, to find the time it happened previous to that; but it happened once in 2013 and three times in 2012, too. So, yeah, not really news.
  • I feel like the only person in the world who hasn’t (re)watched Contagion this month. If you’re interested, my quickie review from when I did watch it is here.



The 58th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I saw quite a few great films this month, and usually that would make this choice very hard, but I fell head over heels for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. I don’t think it comes up too often as one of his very best, but it’s definitely one of my favourites from his whole filmography.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I know it’s an acclaimed classic, but the film I least enjoyed actually watching this month was The Battle of Algiers.

Best 3D of the Month
I watched six new feature films and two shorts in 3D this month (plus four more features in the Rewatchathon), which I expect is a personal best. Setting aside the quality of the film itself, the one with the very best 3D was The Mad Magician. It’s in black & white, which was a bit weird at first (not sure I’ve ever seen a black & white film in 3D before), but because it’s from the ’50s it was actually shot in 3D, not post-converted, and while post-conversions are often very good nowadays, there’s so much extra subtle detail you get when something’s been shot in stereo for real.

Best Twist of the Month
Who doesn’t enjoy a twist? Filmmakers certainly do, and so they abound this month — even The LEGO Movie 2 has one (kinda). Prime examples include Harakiri (which keeps you on your toes with constantly shifting information), Knives Out (which has more up its sleeve than simply whodunnit), and So Dark the Night (that is a whodunnit, but if you watch it, try to read as little as possible first). But the winner this month is The Invisible Guest, because it managed to get almost as far as the reveal before I guessed what was really going on, in part by peppering plenty of about-turns along the way. Nicely done.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It’s a long-standing observations that TV-related posts do well in this category, especially when they’re given plenty of time to amass hits. So, as I posted my 56th TV column way back on the 8th, it’s no surprise to see it win out easily. (The highest film post was The Lion King.)



As I mentioned in this month’s viewing notes, I didn’t rewatch Contagion; but that aside, my Rewatchathon is going rather well this year, racing ahead of target. Mainly, I’ve been revisiting in 3D films I’d previously only seen in 2D.

#9 The LEGO Movie 3D (2014)
#10 The Lion King 3D (2019)
#11 Godzilla 3D (2014)
#12 Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942)
#13 Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
#14 Mission: Impossible – Fallout 3D (2018)

Starting with the 3D, then, that Fallout link takes you to my full review of it in 3D, so no need to repeat myself. My Lion King review isn’t expressly about the 3D, but, as I do discuss in the review, I was impressed by it, and it led me to even enjoy the film a little more. As with most computer animated films, The LEGO Movie looks awesome in 3D. Indeed, the skilful way the filmmakers emulated the scale of LEGO is only emphasised by the use of depth here. Despite the fact I already owned the (2D-only) Special Special Edition, I bought another copy in 3D on the strength of the 3D presentations of the LEGO Batman and Ninjago movies, and I wasn’t disappointed. (Now I just ought to watch some of the SSE-exclusive bonus features to justify that purchase…)

Godzilla‘s 3D didn’t generate much comment from me, which is a shame because you’d think the scale would lend itself. It’s not bad, just not special. The film itself is not perfect either, but it’s a darn sight better than most people give it credit for. One thing that’s often criticised is how sparingly Godzilla is actually in it, but I think writer-director Gareth Edwards paced it just right — when the big guy finally turns up, it’s an electric moment.

I totally forgot that I’d randomly rewatched Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon in December 2017, but colourised. This time was the original black & white version, as part of my rewatch of the whole Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series on Blu-ray. I more or less stand by my original review, which I also stood by in 2017 (though I’m back to being less keen on Lionel Atwill’s Moriarty again), so I guess my opinion on this one is fairly certain. However, I liked Sherlock Holmes in Washington more than I’d remembered; though my original review (linked above, obv) isn’t that damning, so clearly its poorness had self-inflated in my memory. That said, I do still think it’s one of the series’ weakest outings.


I normally begin this section by looking at the stuff I failed to see on the big screen last month, but, well, that’s dried up, hasn’t it? However, though it may feel like Coronavirus has been denying us social experiences for, like, ever, it’s actually only been a couple of weeks — before everything went completely self-isolating-tastic, cinemas were full of Onward, Military Wives, Misbehaviour, Bloodshot, Fantasy Island, and Dark Waters. Even My Spy actually came out over here (in the US it was pushed back into Bond’s vacated release slot. Presumably they’ll be abandoning that now too).

Now, of course, you have these “direct from the cinema” rentals popping up, including Emma (which I’ve seen), The Hunt, and The Invisible Man, plus Bloodshot and Military Wives from the previous list (no Onward this side of the pond). They mostly cost £15.99 for a 48-hour rental (though Bloodshot has gone straight to £13.99 to own, suggesting they don’t expect anyone will want to). At that price, it isn’t worth it to me. For comparison, a ticket at my local cinema is £5.75 — I’m interested in seeing most of those films, but not almost-three-times-what-it-would’ve-cost-me-at-the-cinema interested. I’ll wait ’til they drop to a sensible price and/or hit disc.

Some digital rentals have drawn me in, though — the cut-price ones Amazon offer as a perk of being a Prime member. For either 99p or £1.99 a pop I’ve got Aniara, End of the Century, It: Chapter Two, Rambo: Last Blood, and Ready or Not all ticking down to expiry dates throughout April.

I have less compunction about splurging money on disc purchases. Last month I mentioned that “I got a bit carried away with Blu-ray purchases”, with 16 films on disc among my failures. This month puts that in the shade, with a ridiculous 40 films added to my Blu-ray collection (and I actually watched some new stuff I bought, so the true total acquired this month is even higher). Specific splurges include an Arrow sale (mostly noirs, like The Big Clock, Nightfall, and Phantom Lady, plus the Sister Street Fighter collection); an Indicator sale (their seven-film Samuel Fuller box set, plus A Dandy in Aspic, Footsteps in the Fog, The Legacy, and No Orchids for Miss Blandish — none of which I’d even heard of before Indicator released them, but they do make things sound so good); and a bunch of 3D discs of films I’d already seen and enjoyed to some degree (Bolt, Tangled, Pan, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Noah, which is available from Germany in a well-reviewed 3D conversion). Talking of Germany, I also just discovered they’ve had Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris on Blu-ray for a couple of years, so I imported that too (for a very reasonable price, I must say, from Amazon UK). I also bought Criterion’s release of The Blob at an offer price from them, and Bong Joon Ho’s The Host at an offer price from HMV. While trying to fill out a different multi-buy offer I upgraded my old DVD of the X Files movie to Blu, which I knew would put me on track to upgrade the whole series eventually… and it did, just a week or two later, getting it for a good price secondhand on eBay… and then I upgraded I Want to Believe, just to complete the set. I also upgraded The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — yeah, I know, but I actually quite liked it back in the day, and I saw this article on Twitter that swayed me. And that’s not even everything, but dear God, it’ll do.

Back to streaming, then, and the big names have been trotting out plenty of content this month, only spurred on by everyone being stuck at home right now — and by the launch of a major new competitor in Disney+. I haven’t subscribed, nor taken the free trial (yet), so I don’t really know what’s on there besides what everyone’s been talking about, i.e. a months-late release of Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian (which they’re sticking to releasing weekly, even though it’s all been out in the US — and on piracy sites — for months), and the live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp.

Over at the usual suspects, Netflix had their second back of Studio Ghibli films, which for me means Arrietty (though I own it on Blu-ray), The Cat Returns, and My Neighbours the Yamadas. I also want to rewatch Spirited Away, and as I only own it on DVD, HD on Netflix is tempting. Most of their original additions this month seemed to be TV series, although there was Mark Wahlberg in Spenser Confidential, but it was so poorly reviewed that I don’t intend to bother. From the back catalogue, they just recently added The Death of Mr Lazarescu. I remember that getting recommended a lot back when it came out. I never really knew what it was about, but the Netflix blurb begins: “Amid a pandemic”, so I can see why they’ve acquired it now.

As for Amazon, they could offer up recent stuff like The Aeronauts (one of their own, so I think it even bypassed disc), Blinded by the Light, and Midsommar. Other additions catching my eye included sci-fi drama Marjorie Prime (I heard about this somewhere only recently, but I forget the context other than it was a recommendation); The Immigrant (Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner in a film from the director of Ad Astra); Antiviral (a sci-fi-horror-thriller written & directed by Brandon “son of David” Cronenberg); and Intacto (a film I’d completely forgotten all about, but the poster image struck a deep memory of something that had once been highly recommended and I really wanted to see, probably right back when it first came out, 18 years ago(!) Well, now it’s on my watchlist again).

Both of those added a lot more than I’m bothering to list here, so if you’re a subscriber to either, do be sure to keep an eye on sites like New on Netflix UK or this Amazon equivalent.

Finally, I went to cancel my Now TV Sky Cinema subscription at the start of the month, but they offered me a great deal: three monthscompletely free. You can’t turn that down, can you? Even if I only watched one film on there during those three months, the cost-benefit ratio would be fine. They add a new premiere every day, plus a handful of other titles now and then, but, despite that, only a couple of newcomers were worthy of note to me: The Goonies (yep, never seen that), Her Smell (people seem to keep recommending it), Robert the Bruce (the unofficial sort-of-sequel to Braveheart), and The Secret Life of Pets 2 (the first one was alright, so why not?)

(Whew, this section is getting damn long nowadays — and that’s without the further 50 films I had on my long-list but decided not to mention. Maybe I should start doing it as a standalone post — this month it’s over 1,000 words, which is about the same length as one of my longer film reviews!)


Right now who knows what next week will bring, never mind next month? Though if things carry on as they are (and it looks like the will for a good while yet), perhaps it’ll be a record-breaking month. Or perhaps not. Who knows!

Mission: Impossible – Fallout in 3D

Rewatchathon 2020 #14
Christopher McQuarrie | 147 mins | download | 2.39:1 + 1.90:1 | USA, China, France, Norway & UK / English & French | 12 / PG-13

Mission: Impossible - Fallout 3D

Despite Paramount’s best efforts to screw over 3D fans by not releasing it on Blu-ray anywhere in the world, there is a copy of Fallout in 3D out there if you know where to look (and you do have to hunt for it a bit, because it’s not on the best-known torrent sites).

Like so many modern blockbusters, Fallout was not shot in 3D but was converted during post-production, at the request of the filmmakers (including director Chris McQuarrie) to tap into the box office potential of that format in certain markets (I believe 3D remains very popular in Asia, primarily). Paramount agreed to that, but didn’t think there was enough market to bother releasing it on 3D Blu-ray (a view clearly not held by other studios, who continue to release 3D discs in some countries (although which countries varies by studio, strangely)). However, the 3D version was quietly released for streaming rentals in some places, which is the source of the copy I found.

Most streaming rental services don’t offer 3D, and those that do tend to be TV-based and stuck on older, lower quality standards. So the original source for this was probably 720p, which was then ripped, squashed (to what’s known as half side-by-side 3D), and recompressed. It’s wound up looking almost DVD-ish in resolution. But it’s better than literally nothing, which (given Paramount’s irritating refusal to release it on disc) is the only alternative. And it’s watchable, so long as your focus is on the 3D rather than the overall PQ. (The thing that really amazed me while watching this is that there are people who think such DVD-like levels of quality are perfectly acceptable on their 4K TVs, and they see no need to upgrade to Blu-ray / an HD Netflix subscription / etc. Those people really should’ve gone to Specsavers.)

It's even more vertiginous in three dimensions

As a 3D fan, it’s worth enduring the lower resolution, because the 3D itself is superb. It may be a post-conversion (and, at that, one the director not only didn’t supervise but has never even watched) but it’s really well done, in particular during the action sequences — which, in fairness, is most of the movie. The skydive; the Paris bike chase; the helicopter stuff; perhaps most of all the clifftop fight — they all gain something from the third dimension. In some it’s a sense of scale — Hunt and Walker suspended in space as they freefall; an almost similar sensation during their climactic fight on the cliff, which now feels so high up. Other times, it puts you right in the heart of the action — the low-angle shots and speeding camerawork during the car chases mean that surrounding traffic whooshes at and past you in 3D, like being on some sort of rollercoaster. There’s not much poking-out-of-the-screen action (though I rarely notice it in home 3D viewing even when others praise a film for it, so I won’t swear to there being none), but at appropriate times you can feel bullets or debris flying out of the screen at you. It’s a literally engrossing experience.

I’m thrilled I finally managed to find and watch it. Though that’s a mixed blessing, because while the 3D didn’t disappoint, the lack of disc release still does. If the 3D had been a bit rubbish, I could’ve written this viewing off to experience and been happy to never see the film in that format again. But as it’s great, I’m now even more disappointed by the lack of a 3D Blu-ray. I’m going to find it frustrating to go back to watching some of the action scenes in boring old 2D. Whenever I next watch Fallout it’ll be in 4K, and I’ll console myself with the fact that’s how it was actually shot, and I’m sure it’ll look great because it’s a very well-shot film… but the third dimension will be sorely missed.

5 out of 5

My full review of Mission: Impossible – Fallout is here.

The Lion King (2019)

2019 #103
Jon Favreau | 118 mins | cinema | 1.85:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

The Lion King

The Lion King might be the best Disney film. It’s that or Beauty and the Beast. (I’m sure many classicists would plump for something older, but sorry, I’m a ‘90s kid.) (Also, by “Disney film” I mean their animated output. Obviously Disney release tonnes of other stuff, and have for a long time, but by “Disney film” we really mean the animations, don’t we? Not “any film that happens to be released by Disney”. I do, anyway. Especially in this context.)

Sorry, let me start again: The Lion King might be the best Disney film. So when they started down this road of live-action remakes of their beloved classics, it was inevitable their attention would turn to it. Of course, you can’t really do a live-action version of a film whose characters are all lions and hyenas and warthogs and stuff — not without going down the puppetry/costumes route of the stage version, anyhow, which apparently is gangbusters in the flesh (I’ve never seen it; that’s changing in August, Coronavirus permitting) but I can’t envisage working for the mass moviegoing audience. So instead they did the obvious thing and went for photo-real. CGI. Heck, most “live-action” blockbusters nowadays are 50%+ CGI anyway, especially Disney ones (they didn’t even design the Avengers’ costumes for Endgame until post-production, ffs). But, at the end of the day, “photo-real CGI” is just another kind of animation. So what Disney have done is remake the animated Lion King in the totally different form of… animation.

Yeah, you probably knew all that already, and maybe had similar rants in your own mind / reviews / Twitter feeds / in Wendy’s / shouted at tea, Sue (delete as culturally appropriate). But it remains a relevant perspective on this film, because it indicates the essential question one keeps coming back to when watching it:

Why does this exist?

The cub who would be king

Obviously, the simple and true answer is “to make money”. These Disney live-action remakes have been financial successes, otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing them. The more popular the original animated movie, the more successful the remake. The Lion King is one of the most popular of them all, ergo it was a safe bet to be big hit. The biggest risk was that “why bother?” question — audiences might’ve felt it was pointless and stayed away — but that didn’t happen: it made $1.656 billion worldwide, making it the 7th highest-grossing film of all time. The original film is down at a lowly 47th. If you were the kind of person who thought box office numbers were the be-all and end-all, you might conclude that this film is even better than the already-classic original. It is not. That it did well at the box office is no surprise — I think there’s a massive curiosity factor involved in these remakes (how faithful will they be; what will they have added or taken away; how will this familiar tale look and feel in a new medium) — but that would only get it so far, and most of it would come from opening weekend. Something obviously worked for audiences, because they must’ve kept coming back.

Well, I can’t explain that one for you. On my first viewing, I didn’t think it was a particularly good film. I rewatched it last night, this time in 3D, and enjoyed it a little more second time round. In part that was because it has really good 3D. Indeed, the praise I’d read for that version was the only reason I was tempted to give the film a second look, and it didn’t disappoint in that department. Whatever you make of the rest of the movie, the photo-real CGI is undeniably a phenomenal technical achievement, and it’s only improved by the life-like dimensionality brought by 3D. With a screen-filling 1.78:1 aspect ratio, it really is like looking through a window. Beyond that, though, I liked the film itself a little more. That’s probably down to expectations — not that I was expecting great things on my first viewing, but knowing exactly what was coming, being fully aware of all the disappointments in store, mitigated them somewhat, and so I was able to enjoy the bits it did well.

Be prepared for disappointment

Nonetheless, I think the best way to sum up the experience is to say it’s like a cover song from a TV talent show: a reasonable approximation of the original, although clearly not as good, with unnecessarily added riffs and tricks as the cover artist struggles in vain to “make it their own” while not fundamentally deviating from what made the original so beloved. The trailers made it look like a shot-for-shot remake (possibly deliberately), but director Jon Favreau insisted it wasn’t. He’s right, but it might be better if he had been slavishly faithful, because when he strikes out in a different direction it undermines some of the best bits of the original. At least two songs are rendered as damp squibs by less-imaginative staging, while Can You Feel the Love Tonight is for some reason staged in the afternoon. But even more poorly handled is Be Prepared. It’s perhaps the greatest villain’s song in the Disney canon. You might’ve thought it was impossible to ruin a song so inherently fantastic. I certainly did. Sadly, Favreau has proven us wrong.

The voice cast are uniformly adequate, with a couple of standouts. The major one is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who gives a suitably menacing and conniving performance as the treacherous Scar. It’s at least the equal of the original, which considering that was performed by villain par excellence Jeremy Irons is saying something. (Be Prepared is obviously a black mark against this interpretation, but it’s not Ejiofor’s fault he was lumbered with an underpowered rewrite.) James Earl Jones reprises his commanding performance as Mufasa from the original movie. Actually, I don’t know whether he performed it anew or they just recycled his original recordings. You assume the former, but the film is so faithful that the latter may have sufficed. Elsewise, it’s the comedy parts that are given room to shine, with a nice double act from Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, and John Oliver nabbing the lion’s share of the best lines as Zazu (pun very much intended).

The box office king

This remake has enough residual quality leftover from the original film to tip the scales into the “didn’t hate it” category. More critical viewers may not be so kind — indeed, they haven’t been. Conversely, those who are less demanding may find the result reasonably likeable (I first saw it with my mum, who thought it was a pleasant couple of hours at the cinema). Still, even with all the technical prowess on show, it can’t replicate either the magic or the majesty of the original animation.

3 out of 5

The not-live-action live-action Lion King is on Sky Cinema from today.

Aquaman (2018)

2019 #55
James Wan | 143 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 2.40:1 | USA & Australia / English | 12 / PG-13

Aquaman

DC Comics have had a turbulent time of it on the big screen these past few years. After Zack Snyder’s Marmite Superman reboot Man of Steel they tried to get in on the Marvel-inspired “cinematic universe” boom with the unfairly-derided Batman v Superman and the behind-the-scenes mess that was Justice League, in between which the similarly “buggered about in post” Suicide Squad did them no favours. But they also attracted a lot of praise for Wonder Woman, mainly because it starred a female superhero (not unheard of, but a rarity on screen, and even rarer for a female superhero film to be good), and, earlier this year, Shazam! So maybe their fortunes are on the up again, especially as anticipation is high for both of their 2020 efforts, February’s Birds of Prey and June’s Wonder Woman 1984.

In amongst all of that, in pretty much every respect (release date, critical standing, etc), we have Aquaman. Like Wonder Woman, its tied to the Justice League attempt at launching a shared continuity between these films; but, also like Wonder Woman, it doesn’t seem to have been tarnished by that association, grossing over $1.1 billion at the box office (Justice League maxed out at just over $650 million). While something about it obviously clicked with the general audience, in some respects it’s as much of a Marmite film as Man of Steel — although, tonally, they could hardly be further apart.

For thems that don’t know, Aquaman is Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), a half-human half-Atlantean chap, who was raised as the former by his lighthouse-keeper dad but has the underwater fish-communicating powers of the latter, which he uses to do superheroic things like rescuing submarines from pirates (those being modern high-tech pirates, natch). Arthur also has claim to the throne of Atlantis, but he doesn’t want it and there are plenty in the kingdom who would dispute it. But when the current king, Orm (Patrick Wilson), attempts to unite the undersea kingdoms to attack the world of men, his betrothed, Mera (Amber Heard), goes in search of Arthur, to convince him to return to his rightful place and blah de blah de blah.

Searching for something. An understanding of the plot, probably.

Yeah, the plotting is mostly sub-Game of Thrones fantasy gobbledegook, attached to an Indiana Jones-inspired quest plot that sends this sea-based superhero to the Saharan desert (in which he arrives to a rap-based cover of Toto’s Africa. I shit you not). That’s just one reason the film stretches out to a mind-boggling 143 minutes (aka almost two-and-a-half hours). It does feel like several movies stitched together; like someone couldn’t quite decide whether they wanted to do “medieval fantasy but under the sea” or “a globetrotting Indiana Jones adventure”, so just did both at the same time.

Along the way, some of it is thoroughly cheesy — the dialogue, the outright fantasy-ness, the vibrant colour palette, the music choices (see above). It’s hard to know if it’s being deliberately cheesy, or if someone felt this stuff was a good idea in seriousness. Whether or not it works is a matter of personal taste, but at least it’s noticeably different from its po-faced label brethren or the slick factory-produced adventure-comedy tone of the Mouse House competition.

There’s an odd vein of ’80s-ness, too: some of the plot directions, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score, that aforementioned song choice again (whether you despise that song or find it kinda tackily amusing is perhaps a bellwether for your opinion of the film.) This feels like the kind of undersea adventure movie someone would’ve made in the wake of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Conan the Barbarian, if only they’d had the effects tech back then. Except, of course, by using all the CGI that current tech allows, it’s also very much a modern graphics-laden blockbuster. Those two eras, the 1980s and the 2010s, kind of butt up against each other — it’s not being outright an ’80s emulation like, say, Stranger Things; it’s more this weird influence that sometimes rears its head.

Imagine this in IMAX 3D. Just imagine.

That includes in some of the action scenes, which were shot on real sets with real actors (gasp!) Not all of them, naturally (there’s a mindbogglingly massive undersea battle involving thousands of soldiers and sea creatures), but those that were done for real are incredibly staged and shot — a running rooftop fight in Italy is beautifully done. The general imagery is often fantastic, too. Not always (sometimes it’s just fine; sometimes it’s too much), but there are incredible, impressive, comic-book-panel-on-screen shots here. So it’s a real shame that Warner have forced a choice between 3D or a shifting IMAX aspect ratio on Blu-ray. As regular readers know, I enjoy 3D and I love a shifting aspect ratio, so being forced to pick is upsetting. Marvel normally tick both those boxes by including the IMAX ratio only on their 3D releases — annoying for 2D-only IMAX fans, I know, but I’m well set. Warner have done the opposite, however, with the 2D releases including the IMAX ratio and the 3D remaining locked to 2.40:1. To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement, because the 3D adds so much to the big sequences, but I can imagine the IMAX ratio shift would too — together, they’d be perfect, but Warner won’t let us have that. So, I did enjoy the film’s 3D a lot, but at some point I’m going to make time to watch it again in 2D for the ratio shifts. I’ll plump for it in 4K too because, considering that the film’s colours are already pretty vibrant in SDR, I bet they’d pop delightfully with HDR.

Setting format complaints aside, I had a lot of fun with Aquaman. The spectacle is so genuinely spectacular, and the humour and/or cheesiness is so don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-groan fun, and the overlong running time stuffed so full with so many different ideas, that I couldn’t help but find the whole heady mix downright entertaining.

4 out of 5

Aquaman is available on Sky Cinema from today.

Rampage (2018)

2019 #61
Brad Peyton | 107 mins | download (HD+3D) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Rampage

A big-budget live-action movie adaptation of a 32-year-old arcade game that I’m pretty sure only old and/or hardcore gamer geeks remember? Was that the wisest moviemaking decision? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being old, but is a PG-13 CGI-fest like this really aimed at that age group? Well, I guess these days it is, so maybe it wasn’t such a poor commissioning decision after all — and it made over $428 million at the box office, so someone knew what they were doing. And, before this year, Rampage was tied for the honour of being the best-reviewed video game adaptation ever made… though as it achieved that with a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 52%, it’s certainly damning with faint praise.

Anyway, I don’t really care about all the video game-y stuff. I’m here because it’s a The Rock movie, and I tend to find his stuff pretty entertaining nowadays (as do many others — I bet he’s a bigger part of that $428 million than “based on a video game” is), and it’s about an ape, a wolf, and a crocodile who get mutated into giants and set about destroying Chicago. I mean, who doesn’t want to see that? (Yes, I know: well-adjusted adults who actually grew up.)

If you think I’m being facetious, nah, that’s the plot; or it’s the climax, anyway, and the rest of the film exists as a way to find a narrative reason for said climax to happen. Naturally, with such a batshit barmy climax as the end goal, the story that gets us there is thoroughly daft also. It involves corporate skullduggery and genetic experimentation and all kinds of stock plot-building stuff like that, but at least it’s all executed with a certain amount of humour. No one is taking this too seriously.

Monkeying around

So it’s a little odd, then, how gruesomely violent and gory it gets, and sometimes kinda unnecessarily cruel with it. But there are no nipples and only one use of “fuck”, so, sure, PG-13! I would describe the gore, but a lot of it is kinda spoilery so I’ll refrain; but the film’s opening shot features a drop of blood floating into a dead guy’s empty eye socket, and later we see people ripped in half, one character falls into the mouth of a monster in slow motion, we see another get beheaded and the head get eaten… Yeah, okay, it’s all ridiculous CG BS, but still.

The Rock is truly the closest thing we have to a genuine Movie Star right now, I think — a guy who can still lead a movie on the strength of his name and likeability alone (look how many original or near-as-dammit-original movies he’s done in the past few years that’ve made bank). He’s got just the right level of charm to keep us engaged and on side without it tipping over into smarminess. He also has a remarkable skill (or at least I think he does) whereby, without breaking character or immediately undermining what’s happening, he lets us know that the story and its antics shouldn’t be taken too seriously because, hey, it’s just an action movie. Or maybe that’s just something I inherently infer from his very presence, considering the kinds of movies he stars in and the fact he always plays more-or-less the same character. Anyway, in this one he convinced me that he had a tight brotherly bond with a giant CGI ape, and consequently made me care about the fate of said collection of pixels, so that’s an achievement in itself.

“Jeff, stop chewing the scenery — that's the CGI's job.”

This time, most of the rest of the lead cast are in on the gag too, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan chewing more scenery than the monsters as a cowboy-ish government agent, and Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy hamming it up as the corporate bitch villain and her halfwit brother. Naomi Harris pops up as The Rock’s love interest cum sidekick, who’s a clever scientist lady and can hold her own in a verbal slanging match with him, but, yeah, is still primarily there to be the love interest.

Rampage is not big and it’s not clever, but it is kinda fun. Although it is actually quite big — that’s kinda the point. But anyway, it’s mostly big dumb fun, and naturally a lot of that looks pretty awesome in 3D. I liked it as a thoroughly ludicrous, brain-off entertainment.

3 out of 5

Finding Dory (2016)

2018 #122
Andrew Stanton | 97 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 1.78:1 | USA / English | U / PG

Finding Dory

I was never that big a fan of Finding Nemo. I mean, I like it well enough — it’s a very good movie — but I’ve never loved it. My rewatch last year confirmed that feeling. It was something of a surprise, then, that I mostly really enjoyed this sequel. It’s a weird thing where I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better than the first film, but I think I like it more.

Made 13 years later but set not too long after the events of the first movie (I don’t know what the lifespans of these fish are in real life, but I imagine considerably less than 13 years), the plot revolves around Nemo comedy sidekick Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) — in the first film her memory loss was a comedy bit, but here it’s front and centre, as Dory goes searching for the family she forgot she had. Accompanied by Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and his dad Marlin (Albert Brooks), she heads to California and the theme park-ish Marine Life Institute.

Like so many Pixar movies, Nemo didn’t desperately need a sequel, so I was worried this would seem like little more than an excuse to return to these characters. In fact, the plot actually works very well. Far from being a desperate stretch, it actually feels like a worthwhile development and follow-up from the first movie. Alongside the worth of the narrative, it’s also just a lot of fun to watch, even if it gets a bit outlandish in the final act (fish driving cars…?)

Something fishy going on...

Another concern I had was that I remember thinking Dory was a bit irritating in the first film, so making her the central character could’ve scuppered it for me (other people seem to find her endearing, so I can see why Pixar went with this concept). But no, she makes for a likeable enough companion. The film does a really good job of handling her memory loss, too. It’s more than just a joke this time round, what with Dory being the central character. The easiest route to take for the filmmakers would’ve been to cop out of it somehow, either by flat-out fixing her memory, or at least not being wholly true to how short-lived it was before. Instead, they’ve put the problems and the scariness of having no memory at the forefront of the film. For example, at one point Dory needs to enter a network of pipes to get somewhere vital within the Institute, but she won’t go in because she knows she’ll forget the directions. A more constant fear is that she’ll forget about her family or friends, the people she loves, which I think is the kind of notion a viewer of any age could empathise with.

As a Pixar movie, it goes without saying that it looks superb, but I’ll nonetheless take a moment to mention that I thought the 3D aspect was really great too. It seems to be pot luck with this stuff (I found Nemo’s rather underwhelming, and I wasn’t that impressed by Coco’s either, for example). I guess most people don’t care anymore, but there we go.

Finding Dory was a pleasant surprise all-round. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is Pixar’s best non-Toy Story sequel. Maybe that’s not saying much (half its competition is Cars movies), but I mean it positively nonetheless.

4 out of 5

Pixar’s latest sequel, Toy Story 4, is out in the UK and US next Friday.