Saxon Bullock

Writer, Journalist, Copy-Editor and Proofreader

Tag: movies (page 1 of 3)

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.

Blue Remembered Hills

So. I’ve seen AVATAR. And here are a few short thoughts. Continue reading

Stuck on Repeat

So, I had a weekend in London. What happenned? There was action. There was drunkenness. There was a fantastic night out with friends. There was some of the most delicious Chinese food I’ve had in my life. There was a visit to Essex. There was plenty of exchange voucher action. There was an evening with the frankly incomprable Mr David Devereux. There was a two-and-a-half hour walk back across the wilds of North London in the middle of the night thanks to engineering works on the Tube and the lack of a decent Rail Replacement Service. And above all, there was plenty of socialisation and fun, which has left me blinking somewhat in the aftermath, and reacclimatising myself back to a world where I spend most of my time on my own. I’ve also come to the realisation that about 80% of the TV I’ve been watching is either made by HBO or the kind of stuff HBO would have no problems about showing, meaning that I’ve been somewhat in need of fun (I like The Shield, but the first two episodes of the second season left me feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach, and I know it’s only likely to get more extreme…) and have taken shelter in the simple joys of season 3 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (god bless Fopp and their £3 offers).

So I’m back, in the right frame of mind, and working on a new project. My main aim is to just get myself writing consistently. If I can do that, I’ll be able to feel like I’m going about things the right way. I’ve chosen my project, and I’m sticking with it until it’s done, no matter how hard it gets.

I’m flirting with the idea of going to the SFX Weekender next February – and I have the extra advantage of getting 15% off admission thanks to being an SFX freelancer. Although I do have the problem that I can’t go on my own (Well, I could, but it would be absurdly expensive – there are no single tickets available. It’s for sharing groups of 2 and above…). Anyone out there like the idea of coming along?

A friend of mine has also proudly announced (in a slightly Braveheart, “Come on lads!” stylee) that he’s going to the San Diego Comic-Con next year. And I’m ever so tempted to say that I’ll join him. It’s certainly something I’d like to at least do once – and if I was ever to do a convention on another continent, I’d rather go to one where the Geek-Out levels would be at optimum for me (frankly, bugger the movie-related stuff – the chance for Comic related geeking out is still epic there).

I’ve also discovered some absolutely hilarious annotations to a truly appalling comics adaptation of Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter. The only downside is that they’re in reverse chronological order, which results in a bit of brain-melting if you’re reading them all in one go,but they’re truly funny stuff that deserves a look.

There’s a truly massive (and really expensive) Strangers in Paradise omnibus coming out. Truly, my love of gorgeously packaged comic books is one day going to get me into big trouble…

A fantastically odd trailer for the new Coen Brothers movie, A Serious Man.

Gracious. Too many links. Must go and lie down at once…

Further Trek Talk

You know those times when you come out of a film having really enjoyed it, and end up giving a fairly detailed but largely positive run-down of the film to your friends – but when you hear someone else actually talking about what didn’t work and why, you find yourself thinking “You know, I don’t actually disagree with them…” Well, people like Abigail Nussbaum and Adam Roberts have been going into major detail on the new Star Trek film in a way that’s far more intelligent (and entertaining) than my general burblings, and they’ve also put into words some of the things that have been bothering me about the film. Because once I’d calmed down from the nostalgia sugar rush and let the good aspects of the film settle in my head, the more idiotic aspects have been a lot harder to ignore. There’s a monologue about 2/3rds of the way through that’s there to bolt together various disparate levels of plot, and it does it in a way which even with my “I am enjoying this film” hat on I found somewhat troubling and messy. It is the kind of film that basically moves so quickly that it hopes you don’t notice the problems until they’re long gone – and I have the worrying feeling that in trying to broaden Trek out, they’ve ended up shaving off just a bit too much of the original ethos. (And yes, after my mostly gushing previous post, this probably sounds like desperate backtracking. So sue me…). The one thing that all this reassessment does bring into focus (other than the fact that the genius of Spock was that he was a balance between humanity and logic, where the film marginalises the logical nature of the Vulcans in favour of can-do, all-American heroism) is the one aspect that really sat badly with me while I was watching the film – Chekov – and why it bothered me. The new version of Chekov is, to be honest, all about the funny accent – alright, Chekov was hardly blessed with the most rounded character, but it’s as if they looked at the “Nuclear Wessels” scene from Star Trek IV and said “That’s all we need!” He’s a comic character and nothing more – when, as Adam Roberts points out in his review, it was actually kind of a daring thing to have a Russian character in the original series, back in the Sixties when Russia was the enemy (and that the modern-day equivalent would be having someone on the Bridge from Afghanistan or Iraq). It’s the trouble with a nostalgia trip like this – the Trek movie is driven by tapping into the precise formula of what Trek was, but by sticking so closely to that formula they end up missing the point. It’s still an entertaining film – but it’s a very 2009 blockbuster, and anyone who actually says this is ‘top quality science fiction’ (a phrase I’ve seen thrown around a few times) really doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Trek Talk

Okay – the new Star Trek movie has been seen (It’s one of the few films I simply didn’t want to wait around for) – and there’ll be some non-spoilerific words, followed by some more in-depth stuff behind the cut.

The short version? They’ve done what seemed like an impossibility. They’ve actually made Star Trek matter.

The tidal wave of positive reviews the film has been getting is rather overwhelming, and it is best to approach the new Trek movie with expectations at a healthy level. Go in expecting a mind-blowing work of cinematic genius and you’re going to be disappointed – but what we do have is a lively, energetic and downright fun blockbuster that taps back into the dynamic that powered the original series and shows that it still works. And it also proves that the success of Trek was a combination of the upbeat, positive worldview, and the characters themselves – particularly the Brawn/Brain relationship between Kirk and Spock. After so many years of Trek being mainly defined by the Next Generation’s beige world of “Hey- something dramatic’s happenned! Let’s go to the Captain’s ready room and talk about it for ten minutes!”, it’s a gigantic relief to get a movie that understands what was so fun about the original series – that there may have been something terribly ridiculous about William Shatner tearing his shirt and snogging the women, but that underneath it all the character worked. And the film manages to do this with almost all the regular characters, to greater or lesser degrees, while making a film that’s fun and action-packed enough that you don’t have to be tapped into forty years of continuity in order to enjoy it.

It’s ended up a similar situation to The Wrath of Khan, where a filmmaker who wasn’t that familiar with the Trek universe is brought in to give it an adrenaline shot, and here it’s exactly what the whole Trek universe needed. While the whole idea of a prequel sounded alarm bells in my head, the fact that J.J. Abrams was helming it did give me enough confidence to think that it had a chance of being good – and the end result is a hell of a lot better than I initially expected, featuring the kind of strengths that Abrams is good at, particularly with the casting. I was actually a bit worried about Zachary Quinto as Spock – he’s only rarely completely blown me away in Heroes (although I think that’s just as much to do with that show’s over-dependence on the Sylar-as-unstoppable-bad-guy factor), and while the resemblence was obvious, Leonard Nimoy’s work as Spock is one of those performances that looks a lot easier than it actually is. And I’m happy to say that Quinto is really, really good – capturing exactly the right tone and making every single scene work. And then, of course, there’s Chris Pine, who arguably has just as major shoes to fill, and he carries it off even better than Quinto – Pine somehow manages to channel all of Kirk’s cocksure arrogance, swagger and confidence and even carries off the occasional moment of ridiculousness without ever feeling like he’s impersonating Shatner. He owns the role, and one of the best things I can say about the film is that it makes you want to see the next adventure of this crew right now, this instant. There are wildly different approaches in the rest of the cast – Karl Urban is as brilliantly close to Deforest Kelley as you could ever want, while Zoe Saldana as Uhura is very different to the original (although considering how thin Uhura’s character was, it’s no surprise…) and the only cast member I really had a problem with was Anton Yelchin as Chekov, whose Russian accent really just needed to get dialed back a couple of notches.

The scale works. The action (mostly) works. And, above everything else, the ethos they’ve applied to the approach to Trek works. There’s plenty of edge, and there’s even a few hints of Battlestar Galactica in the hand-held approach to the space battle sequences, but they’ve gone big, bold and positive and it works. They’ve created a world where the primary colours of the uniforms and having all the female starfleet members in the Sixties-style short skirts and go-go boots feels completely normal, and where the characters feel like living, breathing people and not just epithet-spouting stuffed shirts. In fact, there’s something decidedly New Who about this re-invention/reboot/remix – the way that this is updating a classic show in a way which will probably annoy the hell out of the purists, but which is – underneath it all – still the show it always was. Because yes, if you have a love of the original series or particularly the ‘Classic Crew’ movies (I have a serious fondness for Star Treks II-IV, and VI), there may be moments that don’t quite sit right. It’s certainly the fastest Trek movie ever, and arguably could have done with slowing down to give the story time to breathe (a flaw it shares with Abrams’ Mission Impossible III). It’s also worth remembering that this is written by the same men responsible for Transformers – and there are moments where the humour could have done with being a little less goofy, and where the storytelling could have been a lot clearer. But ultimately, none of these problems make a gigantic amount of difference because you care about the characters. For me, Star Trek isn’t at the top of my favourite Trek film list (some of which, admittedly, is coloured by fondness and nostalgia), but it’s riding extremely high. There may be moments of cheesiness and a handful of points that don’t quite work, but they’re over in a flash, and the overall experience is a big, bold and brassy pulp SF blockbuster that drags you along in its wake.

Rating: * * * *

And now, having avoided any major spoilers, I shall now add a few spoilerific thoughts…

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