Saxon Bullock

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Films of 2017 (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Logan, Thor: Raganrok, Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049)

These aren’t all the movies I saw in 2017 – and admittedly, I didn’t see much – these are just the ones that stuck with me, in no particular order. (And looking at this list, it’s interesting how many of these are definite, rule-breaking, outside-the-box blockbusters. Nice to know that kind of thing is still possible…

STAR WARS – THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars is weird.

It’s easy to forget that the original Star Wars movies – especially A New Hope – are odd, personal, deeply idiosyncratic movies. It’s also easy to forget that the initial critical reaction to The Empire Strikes Back was a little mixed and muted. It’s also my personal theory that even if Lucas had managed to get the dialogue and characterisation a lot sharper and stronger on the Prequels, people would still have mostly disliked or hated them because they “weren’t enough like ‘proper’ Star Wars”.  The franchise has become such an impossibly huge cultural lodestone that it’s easy to go to a Star Wars movie in the wake of The Force Awakens and just expect roughly the same as what we got last time.

The Last Jedi doesn’t do that. It swings for the fences in a whole series of bold strikes, not all of which hit, but which are all fascinating for what they’re trying to do, which is blow the mythic structure of Star Wars wide open. Where The Force Awakens was a joyful sugar rush of nostalgia, The Last Jedi digs deeper into the story and the characters for a movie that’s singularly bonkers in a number of unexpected ways.

It’s a bit too long. There are a few moments where the storytelling gets a bit vague and hand-wavey (although these are NOTHING in comparison to some of the world-building plot chasms in The Force Awakens), and it’s a very particular kind of movie that ain’t necessarily going to land in the same joyful sugar-rush Force Awakens style for everyone. But it’s amazing to see a Star Wars movie this willing to take risks and do weird, unpredictable things, and tell a story that’s chewy and thematic and personal. Some will love it. Others will be nonplussed by it. But I’d rather have that than a franchise that’s stuck being a late 1970s George Lucas cover band until the end of time.

WONDER WOMAN

Possibly the best superhero origin movie since Superman: The Movie, which is ironic since Wonder Woman also shares a number of the same weaknesses – it’s at least twenty minutes too long, it’s tonally all over the place at times, and it comes close to falling apart in its big dramatic climax. But despite this (and some choppy action editing and overdone speed-ramping), this is also a beautifully earnest superhero epic that gets the thematic weight of World War One right, and brings the character of Diana to life in a way that emphasises her humanity and compassion. It’s a superhero tale, a war epic, a fish-out-of-water comedy, and a charming-as-hell love story as well. And the fact that it did all of this while being part of the otherwise shambolic DC Movie Universe only makes it more remarkable.

LOGAN

The moment I saw the Johnny Cash-scored teaser trailer above, I thought “Oh heavens, this movie has a good chance of completely destroying me”. And I was pretty much right. An R-rated, hyper-violent Wolverine movie sounded like a bad, potentially gratuitous idea in theory, especially one that was inspired by a Mark Millar comic, of all things – what I wasn’t expecting was an amazingly well-crafted bleak near-future superhero western that takes an unflinching look at ageing, mortality and the true cost of violence. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have rarely been better than here, and it’s one of the few superhero movies that genuinely transcends its genre. Just make sure you’ve got something happy to watch afterwards, for heaven’s sake…

DUNKIRK

There’s an opinion that gets hurled around a lot online that Christopher Nolan is a Stanley Kubrick-style emotionless Vulcan who makes movies that are absent any human feeling, and it’s heinous bollocks of the highest order. Yes, there’s a chilly, steely precision to a lot of Nolan’s films and he isn’t the best at BIG emotion (as proved by some of the weaker moments of the flawed but wonderfully ambitious Interstellar), but I don’t think an unfeeling Vulcan-style filmmaker would have been able to make this portrait of the Dunkirk evacuation quite such a traumatic and terrifying experience. Simultaneously a stripped down, experimental arthouse movie, a historical epic and a suspense flick, Dunkirk isn’t the place to come for historical context – this is an experiential, almost backstory-free movie that’s all about making you feel what it would be like to be in that situation, and Nolan makes every second count. He’s also one of the only filmmakers around who can still get away with doing deeply experimental movies on a blockbuster scale and actually get people to watch them.

THOR: RAGNAROK

The moment I heard that one of Taika Waititi’s touchstones for Thor: Ragnarok was the 1980 version of Flash Gordon, my interest was sparked – and the moment I saw the first trailer, I felt confident I was going to love a lot about this film. The end result is a gloriously kooky superhero movie that balances out some so-so storytelling and weird pacing with day-glo visuals and some incredible comedy. It’s a healthy up-side of Marvel’s continuing success that they’re able to push the envelope as far as they do here , and it was around the extended homage to the insane ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ tunnel sequence that I realised exactly how insane this film was prepared to go. The Jack Kirby-inspired production design is a delight, Chris Hemsworth is clearly having so much more fun getting the chance to flex his comedy chops, and it’s great to get a Thor movie that taps into the splendour and weirdness of classic runs like Walter Simonson’s Surtur Saga, while also adding its own deeply bizarre humour.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

I have extreme difficulty believing this film exists. A Blade Runner sequel was mooted for so long, and so obviously a bad idea (especially after the messy results of Ridley Scott returning to the Alien universe for Prometheus). It felt like a project doomed to failure – and then Denis Villeneuve came along, and ended up delivering a moving, absorbing and stunningly gorgeous 2 & 3/4 hour sci-fi tone poem that took the mood and themes of the original movie and pushed them even further. Visually and conceptually there is some utterly brilliant stuff here, and some major surprises as well – most notably, Harrison Ford giving a great, nuanced turn as an older, sadder Rick Deckard. I’m not in any way surprised that it didn’t do well financially – moody, dark SF that’s heavily influenced by the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky was never going to be a major box office draw, especially when it’s a 35-years-later follow up to a noted financial bomb turned cult favourite. Yes, it’s too long, and it doesn’t manage to capture the original’s suspense or intensity, but I’m just glad that a lot of people took a risk on something quite so bizarre, and that I’ll soon have the chance to buy the Blu-Ray and immerse myself in those intoxicating Roger Deakins-shot visuals once again.

Movie Trailer: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The-Dark-Knight-Rises-2012-teaser-poster-batman-Christopher-Nolan

Blimey. Okay, given that I’m not going to be seeing the prologue for at least the next few days, this is my first proper glimpse of Christopher Nolan’s upcoming third Batman film The Dark Knight Rises, a blockbuster for which the phrase ‘hotly anticipated’ is an insane understatement. Nolan set himself a huge hurdle to leap with The Dark Knight, and it’s perfectly possible that the ludicrous levels of expectation may in some terms end up working against the film – but the trailer has gone live over at Apple (and is available in an embed below, which may or may not get yanked soon…) and what we’re seeing so far looks pretty damn impressive; certainly a massive improvement over the “Oh crap, we’d better throw together a couple of shots along with a sequence of Gary Oldman mumbling incoherently in a bed” teaser trailer we got a few months ago:

From advance reaction to the prologue, it looks like one of the more divisive elements (unless there’s some serious fiddling happening in the next few months) is going to be Bane’s voice – and the one line we get here isn’t exactly the model of intelligibility, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

And while we don’t get a full look at that controversial costume, we do get to see Anne Hathaway in action as Selina Kyle (including an oh-so-appropriate mask), and as I suspected, whatever she may be wearing, it looks like Hathaway is going to be giving a seriously impressive performance as Catwoman. There’s eye-candy here, and spectacle (which promises to be pretty amazing in the IMAX format, especially considering the film will feature almost fifty minutes of IMAX footage) – although, as with the first The Dark Knight trailer, and almost all the publicity for Inception, there’s very few signs of exactly how this all fits together – but what’s really surprising is exactly how political that speech from Selina Kyle feels. It’s one of those moments where art accidentally coincides with real life (after all, the screenplay for The Dark Knight Rises would have been finished long before the Occupy movement got going), but it certainly looks like Nolan isn’t backing away from melding real life issues with superhero action in the same way he did with The Dark Knight. On top of everything, there’s some very interesting hints at how time has moved on for all the characters, and a general sense that whatever happens, even if The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t top The Dark Knight, Nolan is currently at the top of his game and would probably have to really try hard to completely mess this up. Whatever happens, July 2012 feels like a very long time away right now…

 

Movie News: Selina’s Big Score (Thoughts on the Catwoman costume in The Dark Knight Rises…)

Anne Hathaway The Dark Knight Rises Selina Kyle Christopher Nolan 2011 Batman

Ah, the predictability of Comics Fans – they complain bitterly if a comic or a character remains the same for too long, and then they complain even more bitterly when someone comes along and does something different. I’ve been largely away from the internets for the last week, but it’s safe to say that there’s been a certain sense of “Huh?” in reaction to the first officially released picture of Anne Hathaway in the role of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, from Christopher Nolan’s upcoming ludicrously anticipated third Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises. It’s no surprise to find some people are going “I don’t like it!” and “It looks cheap!” and “Betrayal!” amongst many other reactions – and I have to admit, my first reaction to the picture was (a) good lord, Anne Hathaway looks wonderfully bad-ass in that shot, and (b) It doesn’t look tremendously Catwoman-y, does it?

After all, this is Catwoman we’re talking about – a pretty-much iconic role, one of the major parts of the Batman mythos and a character who’s been the subject of more absurdly sexy and over-the-top comic book art than the brain can comfortably encompass. From the moment it was announced that Selina Kyle was going to be appearing in The Dark Knight Rises, there’s been massive speculation about what sort of look they’d go for, with most people expecting something along the lines of the relatively recent costume redesign courtesy of artist Darwyn Cooke:

Darwyn Cooke Catwoman Art

It’s a look that’s much more practical than the original skin-tight Catwoman suit (and which the Hathaway look actually sticks relatively close to, apart from the fetishy helmet with the cat-ears); it’s a look that’s stuck in the comic books ever since, and is also strongly featured in the upcoming Batman computer game Arkham City (along with a truly insane amount of cleavage). There’s also the jaw-dropping and iconic art from comic artist Adam Hughes, that’s pretty much cemented the idea of what Catwoman’s supposed to look like – (in short, Audrey Hepburn with bigger cleavage):

Catwoman Cover Art Adam Hughes Issue 46 DC Comics

And that’s the version of Catwoman everybody’s used to – confidant, daring, riding the line between heroic and ever-so-slightly-amoral, and unashamed about using her sexuality to get what she wants. A woman who can get away with wearing a catsuit complete with tail and ears, because she’s so goddamed sexy she can get away with it. A woman who’s so cool, that instead of trying to defeat or arrest her, Batman ends up dating her. An icon.

I can understand people looking at the Hathaway photo and being disappointed. I can understand that Catwoman is one of those iconic characters who audiences have major, major expectations for, and if their expectations aren’t met, there’s going to be trouble. And yet, I like the photo. I like the look. I’m still just as excited about The Dark Knight Rises as I was before, and it’s partly because we’re not getting the version of Catwoman we were expecting.

And really, when you stop and think about it, why is anyone surprised by this? The ‘classic’ version of Catwoman is a ridiculously distinctive character, but she’s also very definitely the kind of character who fits best in a comic book universe. In a world where people like Superman, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter, it doesn’t seem too unconvincing that a girl might dress up as a cat to aid her life of crime. The most recent version of Catwoman’s origin has her as a prostitute who turned to a life as a costumed criminal to claw her way out of a life she hated, and eventually got herself into the world of the super-rich. She’s even, of course, been a mousy secretary brought back to life by cats and turned into a demented vigilante, in the frankly rather bonkers Batman Returns. And let’s not even talk about the insanely awful horror that was the 2004 Catwoman movie…

But I don’t think any of these iterations of the character would work work comfortably if you just dropped them down in the middle of Christopher Nolan’s version of the Batman mythos. Love them or loathe them (and I know there are plenty who don’t care for Nolan’s Batman movies), both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight give us a rigorously thought out and incredibly grounded version of Batman, to the extent that The Dark Knight frequently feels like a Michael Mann crime thriller where Batman keeps wandering into shot. There’s a deliberate attempt to keep things as real and believable as is possible, and not to throw chunks of the mythology and iconography of the comics in just to please the fans. From the way the Batman costume is introduced to the use of the Joker in The Dark Knight, these are films that are going about their business in a real and serious way – the kookier members of Batman’s rogue’s gallery were automatically out of bounds (Could anyone really see the Mad Hatter or the Riddler making an appearence?), and even the familiar ones were going to be reinterpreted (It’s worth remembering that Heath Ledger’s scar-faced Joker is a bit of a leap from the way the character is normally portrayed).

Basically, I think it was pretty damn unlikely that the wildly sexy, ‘look at me, I’m dressed as a Cat and making sexy cat-noises and I JUST DON’T CARE’ version of Catwoman was ever going to turn up in a Christopher Nolan movie. For better or worse, this is going to be a realer take on the character – it may not be as attention-grabbing or iconic, but it’s what happens when you build a costume to fit the character, rather than moulding a character in order to fit a costume. Plus, it’s what happens when you drop a character like this into a world that’s already strongly laid down after two films – sometimes, the character has to be shaped to fit the world. Another thing that’s important thing to remember – we still have absolutely no idea what kind of Catwoman character we’re actually getting in The Dark Knight Rises, and from the look of this they’re deliberately avoiding the attention-grabbing sexiness, and instead going for what they think a supercool female thief would wear for practical gear (the fact that, as confirmed in other paparazzi-taken photos of a stunt double, she’s wearing flat boots rather than stilleto heels is a very good thing). I’d hazzard a guess that we won’t hear Anne Hathaway say the word “Meow” once. My own personal speculation on this is that this may even be a version of Catwoman who doesn’t even call herself Catwoman – she’s a female cat burglar in a city where a bloke dresses up as a bat; I think it’s perfectly possible a tabloid Gotham newspaper could run a very grainy picture of her crawling across a rooftop with the headline ‘CATWOMAN!’ (A theory I expect to be completely wrong, of course). The point is, anything goes. And they wouldn’t have gone with that costume if there wasn’t a specific reason for it.

Is it as sexy or iconic as the classic Catwoman costume? No it isn’t. But I suspect it’s going to work brilliantly for the character that we are getting in The Dark Knight Rises. Honestly, my first reaction to the costume was similar to my first reaction to Matt Smith’s costume as the Eleventh Doctor Who (a guarded ‘oh’ and a ‘Hmmm… maybe it’ll work’), a look that grew on me to the extent that I now can’t imagine the Eleventh Doctor any other way. Comic fans are a little too used to the ‘But it’s got to look EXACTLY like the printed page otherwise it isn’t real!’ approach – I’ve noticed a similar level of grumbling relating to the new Judge Dredd movie adaptation and its costume redesign, with fans complaining “The helmet looks too big!” and “Hmm, I’ve seen better cosplay costumes”, when Dredd is a $20-30 million indie-produced movie that’s going for a grungier, looser visual adaptation, and simply doesn’t have the budget to make the entire film look exactly like a 2000AD strip. It’s also worth remembering that slavishly following the comic is an approach that doesn’t always work (most recently, in the case of the rather ridiculous Green Lantern costume). Nolan and co are doing something different – and whether or not it works in the final movie, the fact that they’re being daring enough to steer away from the iconic look of a character like Catwoman is something I think should be applauded.

And, finally, there’s two other things to bear in mind:

1: Anne Hathaway still looks damn cool in that picture.

and

2: It could be worse. It could be this:

Catwoman Halle Berry 2004 Movie

*shudder*

Movie Trailer: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises Teaser Poster Christopher Nolan 2012 Batman Christian Bale

Despite the collosal trailer deluge of the last week, there was one I was looking forward to more than any others – the first proper glimpse of Christopher Nolan’s upcoming third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Well, it’s finally online at the film’s Facebook page (an official workable embed on this page will, hopefully, be coming soon…), and what are my thoughts? Well… I have to admit that it’s surprisingly low key, and I’m not sure if the accidental echoes of the first trailer for Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace are a particularly good idea (mainly in the use of captions). However, it’s worth remembering that the first teaser for The Dark Knight was pretty damn low key as well – dialogue from Michael Caine over a disintegrating bat-symbol, followed by a bit of Heath Ledger’s laughter – and this does its job, giving us plenty of old clips, and the very smallest glimpse at where the story of The Dark Knight Rises may be going, with a hospitalised Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) pleading for Batman’s return (which, I’m assuming from this scene, means that he’s figured out Bruce Wayne is Batman). Plus, a very quick look at Tom Hardy as Bane in full dramatic stomp mode. And that’s our lot. It’s possibly the least intriguing trailer for a Christopher Nolan film that I’ve seen for a very long time, but it’s also the most traditional – and that’s possibly because with so much information flying around (even for someone who’s doing his best to avoid spoilers), it feels like the trailer isn’t really telling me that much I didn’t already know. Whatever happens, though, I’m thoroughly intrigued, and the one-year countdown to the July 2012 release of The Dark Knight Rises starts now…

Movie News: Cities! Explosions! Abstraction! The Dark Knight Rises teaser poster arrives!

It’s started. So far, Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film The Dark Knight Rises has been proceeding in the usual state of near-lockdown that he always seems to manage. We’ve seen an official picture of Tom Hardy as Bane, we’ve gotten a whole selection of casting news… and that’s been about it. Well, there are strong rumours that a first teaser trailer will appear on the front of the final Harry Potter movie this week, and now we’ve got the first Dark Knight Rises teaser poster. And they’ve certainly stuck with the abstract route – it’s attention-grabbing, very Inception-like, and certainly seems to be saying that no matter how positive the title may sound, Gotham is going to be taking a serious pounding. I’m not expecting the teaser trailer to tell me much more than this, and I’m perfectly happy that way – one of the reasons Inception was so much fun was that I simply didn’t know that much about it when I went into the cinema, and the trailers were brilliant examples of being intriguing while telling the minimal amount of detail. Whichever way the publicity for Dark Knight Rises goes, Summer 2012 still feels like a long way away…

The Dark Knight Rises Teaser Poster Christopher Nolan 2012 Batman Christian Bale

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