Top 7 Films of 2017

Slightly fewer films than usual because 2017 was weird year. I hope to get the number up for 2018.

1 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

2 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

3 – Thor Ragnarok

4 – Blade Runner 2049

5 – Assassin’s Creed

6 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

7 – Atomic Blonde

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Somewhat jokingly, after I’d watched it, I suggested other names for Star Wars: The Last Jedi on twitter. They do sum up my problems with the film quite well.

Star Wars: This Could Have Been So Much Better

None of the problems are with individual actors or characters, indeed, I’d like to single out Domhnall Gleeson and Adam Driver for praise. None of the problems are due to the SFX or technical stuff. Very few of the problems are due to the director. Most of the problems are due to the writing. The writing, in terms of plot and cohesion, is bad. That leads to…

Star Wars: Poor Communication Kills

In the original trilogy, you had evil doing its thing; doing it bureaucratically sure but at least being vaguely competent. The forces of good, meanwhile, were outnumbered and outgunned but using their resources wisely.

Then came the prequels, where yeah, the forces of good were hubristic (I agree with Luke about that) and kept making every possible wrong choice in any given situation, but hey, evil was competent and skillful, and the Emperor basically played the entire galaxy like a fiddle.

The problem with Star Wars: The Last Jedi where you have incompetent evil versus useless good.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to watch the sci-fi office sitcom where someone (probably Captain Phasma) has to cope with their 3 variously incompetent bosses and their perpetual bickering, but it’s not very convincing as an evil empire. Why should I respect/fear them if their underlings don’t?

On the other side, you’ve got good guys who have managed to go from a position of power at the end of Return of the Jedi to being a very small rump against the Empire redux. They’re also marshaling their lack of forces very poorly.

The Resistance are tactically inept!

There’s no good reason for Admiral Hoda not to tell Poe about the plan. Not telling him almost lead to the whole plan failing. It also creates a giant plot hole about how come DJ knows about the plan when Poe doesn’t. Even if we presume he’s read the computer files that suggests it’s only Poe that they’ve deliberately not told which is an odd tactical choice!

I do wonder how much of that is Hollywood having issues with portraying heroic guerrilla warfare.

I couldn’t help but feel that if both sides were lead by robots, like BB-8 and BB-Hate (sorry, I have no idea what the evil robot’s name is), fewer stupid mistakes would have been made.

The story is very fragmented; Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren are the on-going Jedi-Sith-Skywalker saga, the idiot plot with Poe is the driving force of this episode, while Finn’s bit is interesting, and at least emotionally fulfilling even if it moves the plot forward not one iota.

Slimming those three plots down to two would make it a much better film (and I’ll let you guess which one I would get rid of).
Star Wars: ‘Talyn, Starburst’

The feeling that this could have been a better film is not helped by the way it feels like it has borrowed bits from other better films – like the last stand at Helm’s Deep/Krayt or Hoda’s/Crais’s big dramatic sacrifice. That last one wasn’t helped by the graphics looking so similar to the starburst scene.

That was one of the more visually appealing scenes.

Rian Johnson did seem to be trying to do things, but the film seems to be hamstrung by this being A STAR WARS FILM and therefore it NEEDS TO LOOK LIKE A STAR WARS FILM. I think it would have been a much better film if he’d been given more room for artistic expression.

Although, if he was being hamstrung, the script department were too. Which led to …

Star Wars: Maybe We Shouldn’t Have Been Mean About George Lucas’s Dialogue, They’re Stealing It 40 Years Later

Serious recycling, and dull and virtuous recycling at that. Really, who didn’t know that “if you strike me down” was coming in the end fight. Okay, so in the screening I was in, matters weren’t helped by D having a coughing fit right at the least opportune moment – D insists it was an accident.

The film was more interesting when it played with the formula; DJ’s thing about who do you think the Rebels get their weapons from, DJ being a Han Solo who didn’t come back and Kylo Ren not accepting the chance of redemption that his grandfather did take.

I’m not sure how I feel about Kylo Ren being beyond redemption. Or rather, I am not sure how I feel about Star Wars saying a character is beyond redemption, given who has historically been redeemed.

The heavy weight of the franchise, and its effects on the plotting and scripting really spoiled what were excellent performances by the cast.

I ❤ Rey, like beyond all reason <3, and I understand Finn.

I ❤ Rose, the way the film wants me to.

I want to smack Poe, probably more than the film wants me too (I have a low tolerance for charming but feckless), but I accept that the stupidest mutiny ever was not his fault.

I think Admiral Hoda is awesome, if strategically stupid (please film, if you’re going to tell me someone is a great general, don’t have them screwing up that much).

General Organa continues to be the only sensible person on both sides.

DJ is oh, he’s interesting, because yeah, he’s what true neutral actually looks like and it’s not a good look. And yet … basically, casting Benicio Del Toro is always a good idea.

Over on team actually evil, um listen, I cannot be reasonable about Domhnall Gleeson. He’s one of those actors who attracts my attention, and Hux only works because he’s a damn good actor and turns froth-mouthed ranting space spiv into someone with motivations. Like that little grab for the gun when he thinks Ren is down for the count and how quickly he moves his hand when it becomes apparent Ren is not unconscious. Because that man is a terrible, terrible coward (as well as being a space spiv).

Adam Driver is damn good. Like, he almost makes me want to sympathise with Kylo Ren, while keeping him the whiny, angst emo sith we all know and want to dip in a lake of lava. I am really impressed.

~~~~

The acting is good. The SFX, the CGI-is-not-good-enough-to-do-feathers-yet of the Porgs notwithstanding, and a couple of Leia scenes that I suspect suffered due to the unfortunate occurrence, was solid. Ditto the direction.

That’s why I get annoyed, because so much of this was good, and it’s let down by the incoherence of the plot.

Thor: Ragnarok

I can see why some people thought it was too broad. Because it probably was, a smidge.

I don’t quite get why people thought it was so wow, but it was fun. Which is something which should never be underestimated or undervalued.

Spoilers begin underneath

I would probably have restructured it slightly, with less time on planet weird so that Skurge got more screentime for his last stand.

Karl Urban is great in the time he does get. Because he makes it quite clear that Skurge is a loser, rather than evil, and that he’s in over his head. Without any dialogue. This use of Skurge also fits in with the overall theme of the Thor films – we all make mistakes, the important thing is to try to fix them, rather than pretend you didn’t make them (or you know, bury them and paint over them with a giant mural).

Thematic consistency, I like it.

The new stuff also makes sense of things from the first film, like why Odin flipped out when he thought Thor was being too blasé about war with the Frost Giants. To have one child go kill crazy is unfortunate, to have two smacks of carelessness.

I love that Thor has learnt enough to push Loki’s buttons back. That scene in the elevator is some of the best work Hiddleston has done as Loki, because he conveys how worried Loki is that this is it and Thor has finally had enough of him and it upsets him.

That’s the thing. Loki would do anything for Thor if Thor made it clear how much he loves him, while Thor just doesn’t get it because of course he loves his little brother. Even if they occasionally stab each other.

I know it was deliberate, but I didn’t like how every serious scene was immediately undercut with a silly bit.

I would also have saved “Immigrant Song” for the last fight only.

~~~~

I had been pre-warned that Matt Damon would appear, possibly so that I didn’t grab L and go “OMG, is that Matt Damon?!” It didn’t stop me from giggling and then going “OMG is that Sam Neill?!” Of course Odin is Loki, you’d think someone else that wasn’t Heimdall would have twigged roughly when the statue was made with horns!

I see that Doctor Strange has taken over his rightful role as explainer of mystic weirdness from Selvig. Which makes more sense than Selvig knowing about mystic weirdness in Age of Ultron.

I did love Doctor Strange inconveniencing Thor and then Thor being gloriously petty back. Particularly Thor’s smile of “sorry, not sorry”.

I know they killed off the Warriors Three to make Hela look dangerous but there must have been a better way. Then again, I am probably out of step with everyone else in missing them and the usual Earthers.

That being said, notice that Hogun, on his own, did nearly as much damage as Thor and Loki did in their first confrontation with Hela. Warriors Three represent.

I do love that Thor now has sub-plans for that moment when Loki betrays him. The boy is not as stupid as he looks or pretends to be. I’m also reasonably sure that Loki stole both the tesseract and any other shiny things present in the treasury, because he’s a power magpie in human form.

I also love that Valkyrie is every bit as fight mad as the rest of the Asgardians. I believe Thor when he says that he wanted to be a Valkyrie when he was little. I just get this vision of him running around pretending to be a Valkyrie, Odin going “someone’s going to have to tell him,” and Frigga going “nah, what’s the harm.” Loki is, of course, the one to tell him in the end.

I am trying to decide if Cate Blanchett can do *that* with her voice naturally or if she just has a voice SFX pedal on hand at all times. I want to believe she has a natural reverb setting.

Heimdall is the most polite rescuer ever – “sorry about the violence while I was rescuing you”.

I get why there was almost nothing of the gladiators’ revolt, but I would have liked to have seen a bit of it anyway.

Somehow, Chris Hemsworth looks ever more attractive the more damage he takes. That is voodoo, either from the actor or the director.

I know the scene where Bruce chooses to Hulk out is a counterpoint to the one where Black Widow forces him to, but I think Natasha did the least worst thing there so I am, once again, not the intended audience. It also shows the problem with any Hulk solo film. A goodly chunk of the audience are waiting for the bit where Bruce loses and becomes the Hulk despite himself.

I do love that Thor’s plans involve him doing the risky bit, and total trust in Loki, because he knows that Loki can be trusted, as long as you don’t give him time to think. I wish we’d got the hug that came roughly three nano-seconds after Thor realised that Loki was staying.

The loudest laugh I gave was when the Grandmaster landed amidst the people he’d held under. I live in hope he got his the same way the Beast Rabban got his.

~~~~

In other important news, I’d like to give a shout out to EJ at the BFI IMAX. He deserves any Nandos that he got from the blue forms.

Also, just an FYI, if you position yourself just right, the subway tunnels running from the BFI IMAX to Victoria have fantastic acoustics if you’re singing along with Robert Plant. It’s possible that I don’t need the help on the volume though 😉

Blade Runner 2049

 

A lot of the points I am going to mention cover the same ground as Selenak does here.  She explains what I liked and disliked better than I can, in fewer words, so I recommend reading her take on the film, and then coming back to read this for the couple of points where we disagree, and a few more specifically-me points.

 

  • I maintain my feeling of unease about a film about 30 years in the future of what people 40 years ago thought now would look like. Where are the films about what people now think 40 years in the future will look like?

 

  • Denis Villeneuve is a stonkingly good director.  He keeps a lot of the visual language from the original, but imbues it with his own feel which is a lot softer than Ridley Scott’s.

 

  • The BBFC rating includes a warning for sexualised nudity.  Anyone who finds any of the nudity in this film arousing has issues.  I think it was very well done, and thematically works but yes, the director deliberately went for “the commodification of sex and bodies is bad” and it worked.

 

  • The film works best when deals with the flipside of Blade Runner’s “what does it mean to be human”.  2049 asks “what does it mean to not be human?”

Everything below this is a spoiler.

Because the “what is it to be non-human” bits do work, I am more than a little bit miffed that the film’s main answer to the question is reproduction makes you human.  

My miffed is four-fold.  

1) I like to believe that I am not any less human than my friends who have reproduced.  

2) Of all the facets of humanity to choose, the film choose the one we share with animals.  Birds do, bees do it, even educated bacteria do it and so on.  

3) I am sorry to put this quite so bluntly, but in terms of the replicants wanting their freedom, I’ve never known the ability of their slaves to reproduce ever stopping slavemasters keeping their slaves enslaved.  

4)  It goes against the message of the first film, where being human is what you do, not what you are.  The replicants were more human than the humans, quite literally.  Leon and Pris’s willingness to risk what lifespan they had for Zhora and Roy Batty, Pris and Roy Batty’s love for each other and Roy Batty letting Dekker live are all more human than any act of the humans in Blade Runner.

I’m not sure some of the background of the story works with the information from Blade Runner.  Do you believe that a technology that had already been banned from Earth after several previous rebellions would suddenly become legalised just because someone said the technology was now safe?  I don’t either.

I presume that they let the replicants live out amongst humans to try to tie them in closer to humanity so that they’re less likely to rebel.  That’s also reflected in the words that Joe is expected to repeat in his check-ups.

I’m pleased that they decided that Joe wasn’t a human, mostly because you know, Ryan Gosling only has the one facial expression.  It also meant that something I thought was a plot hole wasn’t.  (I’ve gone with calling him Joe because I am terrible at remembering alphanumerics.)

I guessed that the child was actually the girl because the quickest way of hiding someone is saying that they’re dead.  I should have guessed who the child was because such an extreme immunodeficiency suddenly cropping up at 8 is … unlikely.  But I didn’t.  The DNA section threw up another plot hole though because if Joe has the DNA sequence of the child, it should be easy enough to compare it with his own, and, depending on what DNA segment is recorded, he should have been able to check if the female identity or the male one was the real one.

Joi is probably the most human of the characters, in one of the bits where the film decides humanity is the ghost in the machine.  Which is interesting, given that she’s the only unembodied/disembodied character.  She’s the one who makes decisions about herself and chooses danger rather than being forced to betray Joe.  She’s so lovely. And also opens up a whole vista of philosophical questions. Like is she any less human because she’s disembodied? Why does Joe choose her over another replicant (presuming, of course, that as a Replicant he’s not allowed to date humans – did I mention whole vistas?)?  Does Joi choose Joe as a name because it’s the name she’s been programmed to use it as a name or because she likes it?  How much of Joi is Joi and how much is the programming, and is that any different for Joe?

My favourite scene is the one where Joe is going back to Los Angeles and sees the advert for Joi.  He looks at her and it’s so full of love and sadness, because he knows that a new Joi would not be his Joi, and the ghost is in the electrons.  (Okay, so Gosling actually has three expressions, but he’d be more effective if he used the other two in more than one scene each.)

The odd thing is that the weakest scenes in Blade Runner 2049 are the ones that tie it into Blade Runner.

I feel bad about saying that because Harrison Ford is exceptional in his scenes.  The silhouette of Rachel was possibly the most terrifying unseen person since Joyce in “Forever” (Buffy, episode 17 season 5).  And yet, they slow an already slow film down and add nothing, because trust me, I already hated Wallace.  It feels like there were two scripts, one a direct sequel to Blade Runner, and one a more general sci-fi “what measure is a human” one, that they smushed together.

I am not sure what they were trying to do with Wallace, who was so much just Tyrell that D and I just called him not-Tyrell when we were talking about the film.  He’s just so unnecessarily horrible that I was hoping that dear, unstable Luv was going to gut him.  I am most sad that no-one gutted him.

My uncertainty with Wallace begins with his casting.  Given that he’s surrounded by faux-Japanese cultural motifs, why they didn’t just cast a Japanese actor is beyond me.  That was one of the things that did strike me, the film had much less of an Asian influence than the first one (even if I do understand the complaints that for all the Asian set dressing, there were no Asian characters in Blade Runner), and much more of a Soviet one.  It felt odd since I don’t think the Soviets were mentioned even once in Blade Runner, possibly to avoid dating the film.  I suspect this is partly a hangover from filming in Hungary.

On to some more general points:

  • I know why film-makers have characters use axe kicks in films.  They look cool.  I am willing to go with “rule of cool”, even if I don’t like axe kicks.  What I don’t get is why the characters being attacked by axe kicks never use the “proper” defence against them, even if that character is supposed to have fight training.  Axe kicks are so easy to defend against, why does nobody ever do it?!

 

  • I say this about every film he’s in, but when did Dave Batista get so good?  He’s a foot taller than me and about two of me in weight, and yet, when Sapper Morton put his glasses on I wanted to protect him.  That’s a neat trick.

 

  • I really like Hans Zimmer’s work.  If you need a film composer who can ape someone else’s style and rework it into something new, he’s the best choice.  The problem isn’t him, the problem is when the soundsystem of the cinema you are in can’t take all those tones at once, and you get massive reverb even when the soundtrack doesn’t want it.  Also, I’m reasonably sure that chunks of the soundtrack could be used for soundboarding people.  I know it’s deliberate but some of that really messed with my brain.

 

~~~~

In short (too late, I know), Blade Runner 2049 is a good film.  It’s not as good as Blade Runner.  It may or may not be a good sequel to Blade Runner.

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde is a great soundtrack in search of a film.

I think my anger with the film is because of its wasted potential. It could, and should, have been so much better.

The acting is solid, as is the directing and the technical stuff. The make-up department deserve an Oscar nomination. No, seriously. A character goes into shock and they made the character up to the right shade of pale.

The problem is the plot.

It makes no sense. No, seriously.

Without the last two “twists” (neither of which is a twist if you’d paid any attention during the film), it just about makes sense, because of some serious legwork by the actors, mostly Charlize Theron.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

With the penultimate twist, it becomes a solid entry in the gay spy drama category.

Think about it, young British agent, commits a lesbian indiscretion and is blackmailed by the Soviets, becoming Satchel. In protecting herself, she loses yet another chance at happiness and gets Delphine, who is very much the girl she was, killed. But she’s got to see it through to get her freedom. It’s all very bleak and actually works with the story.

Unfortunately, that’s when they throw in the last twist.  Which isn’t a twist and ruins all that has gone before. I’m not joking about it not being a twist. If you’ve ever heard John Goodman’s voice before, you’ll get it about halfway through the film.

With the last twist, a CIA op has killed 3 Allied agents, and one defector, mostly because of a lack of communication by the CIA. And we’re supposed to be happy about this and think it was a successful operation.

Also, MI6 is so incompetent that it didn’t notice a CIA mole, who was pretending to be a Russian mole, for about 10 years.

You’ve got poor Spyglass, killed trying to do the right thing. Then poor David Percival, who is a see you next Tuesday, don’t get me wrong, and in the throws of the traditional British spy middle-life crisis, who finds out that a friend of his was killed by the Russians to protect someone who has betrayed Percival’s government, and therefore goes all dark side. We’re supposed to be happy she kills him, and that he gets blamed for the whole thing, even though she’s the mole and there isn’t a mole, she’s actually triple-agent but the CIA didn’t bother to tell anyone. And I’m like … no.

In short, when your most sympathetic character is a Stasi agent, there is something wrong with the film!

I’m not even going to go into the really weird thing where there is only 1 German actor, who gets no lines in German. All the other Germans and Russians are played by Scandinavians. Now the amassed Vikings all do a damn good job (no, seriously, all my love for Roland Møller and Bill Skarsgård) but if you’re actually filming in Germany, which this was, it’s a bloody odd casting choice.

 

 

Film Locations

An update of this post. Includes films watched up to the 15th February 2015.

First things first, I really do like the new pie chart layout from google docs. It’s much neater and easier to read.

Showing locations of films, only including real places

The number of films set in the US is the section that’s increased in size the most. As before, there’s a much greater spread of locations than in the books I read.

Locations for UK based films

Are completely skewed towards England.

Film locations, including fictional places

The outer space set films still haven’t overtaken French-based films.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

Which I enjoyed. It might not have been as good as the first but it made me cry as much.

The main thing I disliked was that the characters were too broad in the first half so the reconciliation in the second half would work. But it did work. Probably better than the equivalent scene in the first one.

The character-is-a-screw-up-because-of-missing-Dad is a trope I could live without, but at least Peter Quill has a better reason than most. Peter Quill is still the one of the gang I like the least but that is not Chris Pratt’s fault, as he does a damn fine job.

The film struck all the “I’d still rather have the Farscape film this isn’t” chords that the first one did. Not helped by bonus Ben Browder. (Who got this film’s giggle of recognition.)

And also every other Australian actor I sort of recognised. Although I want Elizabeth Debicki in all the films. I really like how they did the Sovereigns (or however one is supposed to pluralise that), that mixture of dangerous and silly.

The cool thing about the Guardians of the Galaxy films is that they acknowledge that they’re based on comics so they occasionally go “stuff physics and reality”. It is glorious. As is James Gunn’s direction. Can he direct all the things? Because he makes everything look so pretty.

Spoilers begin below

There was no real twist to the story. The obvious thing was obvious and Yondu was far too cool to live. Also, he’s a father in a Hollywood film. But that’s okay. See Hollywood, films don’t need twists. What they need is character and motive.

This film is totally going into evidence as to why you never trust a guy who woos you with someone else’s song lyrics. I do like that they make it clear that Ego is lying while he’s lying, just from the sculptures he shows.

I love Baby Groot less than grown Groot, but there are few characters I like more than grown Groot. (I am Groot). That being said Baby Groot’s fighting technique and mine are horrifyingly similar. And he is adorable. I especially loved that scene with Baby Groot and Peter at the end when Father and Son was playing (hey, film, that’s cheating). I think it’s because Peter was so worried that he’s going to screw up like his father and Yondu did (accidentally on the part of Yondu) and eeee!

Gamora is such the big sister. And loves Nebula despite everything. I also ❤ Nebula and her grim determination and her knowledge of who the major problem in her life is (Thanos, always Thanos).

I am totally here for the Expendables in Space with Michelle Yeoh if anyone wants to make it. Really, please 🙂

All those who suspect Craggle is yet another lost boy Yondu picked up somewhere along the line say yeah.

Drax is my favourite (if we ignore Groot. Temporarily.) Although that highlights one of the things I like about GOTG is that I do actually like all of the good guys. Drax is hopeless in the best possible way. He’s the character that suffers the most from the broadening in the first half. But when it comes down to it, Drax is there for them, utterly. I loved the shot where he lifts Mantis up as they’re being eaten by the Ego-planet. Because he’s literally using the last of his energy to try to save her.

Of course I love Mantis, as I was supposed to. The film does something interesting. Normally, when there’s a character who is “not pretty”, the character is played by someone who is either 1) actually pretty and we’re supposed to ignore that or 2) there’s a reveal scene where they’re “prettied” up and we’re supposed to be shocked. GOTG2 avoids this by making it clear that Drax is crazy, but it’s cultural crazy so Drax can’t help it. I loved that that Drax doesn’t love Mantis any less just because she is hideous to his eyes.

Rocket is a hard character to love, and that’s deliberate. I did love the scene with him and Yondu, because Yondu is right, they are so very similar. I’m intrigued by the way Yondu has enough self-knowledge to recognise Rocket’s brand of self-sabotage, but not enough to stop himself for doing it. Because at least half of his downfall is him being an arsehole to his crew (don’t be mean to your underlings is a lesson many people should learn).

At the same time, Rocket’s Rocketness is what helps him save the others because you know Gamorra and Drax would have waited for Peter even if it had meant death. Drax especially. Which Dave Batista really sells. At some point Dave Batista has become a more than passable actor.

Anyone who knows me can guess the precise second when I started crying. And you’d be right with your guess. The film viciously goes for my button of “doing a good thing with no expectation of reward”, and then Yondu gets his reward and a proper Ravager funeral and … well yeah, I cried and hard.

While it didn’t quite work for me, I like that the film went full bore on its themes and linked everything together.