A selection of newish films

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Here’s a quick run down of some of the films I watched over the festive period. There are a few spoilers below. You have been warned.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) looked like it was going to be a bit crap, and Siggy and I entered into the viewing experience open-minded but expecting very little. Neither of us were huge fans of the original film but remembered the basic ‘Tron but with a board game’ premise. We were pleasantly surprised to find that, taken for what it is, it’s actually a pretty fun film.

The board game is out of the window. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes the Tron route with an old console game rather than an arcade game providing the portal into the jungle world. The unwitting heroes then appear in the game in avatars where Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black play against their usual types and Karen Gillan (probably best known as Nebula from the MCU films but as Amy Pond by Doctor Who nerds) is thankfully not at all irritating as nerd turned in-game dance-warrior.

The Snowman (2017) is based on the novel by Jo Nesbo and the immediate thing that struck me was the huge lack of Norwegian actors in the film. It’s laughable really. Sure it’s directed by a Swede in the form of Tomas Alfredson who directed the wonderful vampire film Let The Right One In, but where are the Norwegians? Also don’t expect any of the atmosphere of the aforementioned film – the landscapes are pretty chilling but the story is not.

Michael Fassbender does what he can with the script he’s been handed as the alcoholic detective Harry Hole, but the story never gets beyond a kind of bullet-pointed adaptation of the book. Indeed while the snowman theme seems to be overplayed there are key parts missing from the film that I found quite spooky in the novel, and then other stuff added which seemed unnecessary – all told it was a bit of a mess. Nice to see Norway on screen though.

6 Underground (2019) is Netflix film from Michael Bay starring Ryan Reynolds as the rich ring-leader of a band of off-radar vigilantes taking down bad guys that the authorities won’t touch. As you’d expect from a Bay film, there’s a shit-tonne of big explosions, car chases and stunts, plus a bunch of hardware in terms of guns, cars and military gear. It’s a hot mess of a film.

The editing and the way the story is cut together – hopping backwards and forwards between timelines of the six characters – does not lend itself to comfortable viewing. Neither does its treatment of female cast members on screen – the film is hardly ‘woke’ – and that’s fairly typical of Bay’s track record (just look at the women in the Transformer films and you get the idea). This is an action film for simple-minded jocks with a hard-on for guns, bright coloured cars and ass. No amount of wise-cracking from Reynolds can elevate it beyond this out-of-date view of what makes a good action film.

Bumblebee (2018) stars Hailee Steinfeld as a tomboy and budding mechanic who misses her dead father and discovers the exiled Autobot known as Bumblebee disguised as a VW Beetle in a scrapyard. Unlike Michael Bay’s ‘fight in a cutlery drawer’ instalments of Hasbro’s franchise, director Travis Knight has brought with him some of the family-friendly sensibilities from his previous work (ParaNorman and the Boxtrolls for example) and injected some much needed nuance and heart into this film.

So while it is ostensibly about the Autobots hiding from the Decepticons on planet Earth – and so acts as a prequel to the first Transformers film – it is also about growing up and about dealing with grief. I enjoyed it more than I expected to. It might not sound like it but I am a big fan of Bay’s Transformers films – even the bad ones and boy have there been some bad ones, and I was a bit hesitant after seeing the trailer as to where they were going to take this story. I didn’t want it to just be a replay of The Iron Man or elements of the first Shia LaBeouf film. I suppose in some ways it is, but it is certainly more than that. Plus it has some kick-ass effects and a decent soundtrack too! lol

Table 19 (2017) is directed by Jeffrey Blitz who once upon a time directed a small comedy show on BBC called The Office. In this feel-good movie, Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) plays Eloise, who has been dumped by her boyfriend by text but decides to go to his sister’s wedding where she was supposed to have been maid of honour. She finds herself sitting with a bunch of misfits on the worst table at the event – the titular table nineteen.

Other invitees on the table include Lisa Kudrow (Friends) and Craig Robinson (The Office – US version) as the discontented Kepps, Stephen Merchant (The Office – original) as Walter Thimble a parolee, Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as a high school student missing his prom because he thought he’d have more luck cracking off with the girls at the wedding and the bride’s old Nanny played by Margo Martindale (who I only really know from appearing as ‘herself’ in Bojack Horseman).  It’s a fairly formulaic comedy but we enjoyed it.

Downsizing (2017) sees Matt Damon play Paul Safranek who decides with his wife to enter into a community of shrunken people. He does it to save money more than anything else. His wife (Kristen Wiig) bottles out of the process and leaves Safranek on his own and in financial trouble in the protected world of small people. Safranek meets some people including a party-animal and smuggler (Cristoph Waltz) and a Vietnamese exile and cleaning lady (Hong Chau) who he begins to have a relationship with.

Hong Chau’s character and performance is the only redeeming feature from an otherwise pretty boring film. Director and co-writer Alexander Payne seems to have taken a potentially very fruitful sci-fi concept and turned it into a cumbersome essay on saving the planet which is short on laughs. He doesn’t even provide a particularly satisfactory ending to the movie. Paul Safranek’s ultimate fate seems as uncertain as the planet’s. Maybe that’s the point and I missed it?

Before I Go To Sleep (2014) based on a novel by S. J. Watson has been on my Amazon watchlist for ages. In the film Christine (Nicole Kidman) suffers from a condition where she forgets everything when she sleeps. So when she wakes she remembers nothing about her life and has to relearn everything about her identity. It’s like a cross between Memento (using a video camera in place of tattoos to record reminders) and 50 First Dates (but without the laughs).

As the film progresses Christine learns that the story her husband (Colin Firth) is telling her every day about her life isn’t necessarily the truth. She uncovers a web of deceit and has to fight to free herself from it. If you liked Girl on a Train then you’ll no doubt like this. We did.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019) is a must for fans of the YouTube series hosted by Zach Galifianakis. In the film Galifianakis and three of his misfit crew take a road trip, after a plumbing disaster at the public access station studio, to record a bunch of celebrity interviews in the hope of earning a network series from his sponsor (Will Ferrel). In some ways it’s rather like the David Brent movie.

As you’d expect if you’d seen the online show, there’s a raft of funny celebrity cameos, including: Matthew Mcconaughey, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Rudd, Keanu Reeves, Jon Hamm, David Letterman, the aforementioned Hailee Steinfeld, plus celebrity couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen. It’s on Netflix, here’s the trailer:

Siberia (2018) like Downsizing suffers from a flat ending. Before that, we get Keanu Reeves playing Lucas Hill, an illegal diamond trader, who is searching for his Russian partner who has gone missing with a bag of rare blue diamonds which Hill has promised to sell to a Russian mobster. Hill, a man of few words and most of those oddly delivered, flies to Siberia in search of his partner, begins a sexy affair with a local woman behind his wife’s back (it’s Molly Ringwald – how could he!) and then ends up getting himself and the woman in a whole heap of trouble.

Having seen all the John Wick films recently, Siggy and I were expecting Keanu’s character to kick some Russian ass, but ultimately it is Hill that pays the ultimate price for welshing on the deal. It’s not exactly what you want after an hour and a half – there’s no redemption, no hero’s reward and the new status quo is death. Screenwriting 101 this is not, and as a result it is fundamentally flawed. No surprise the film only gets 4.3/10 on IMDb.

The Irishman (2019) is around three-and-a-half hours long and Siggy and I were initially set on watching it as a mini-series in four parts (there’s a Twitter post doing the rounds which tells you how). We did dip in and out of it but watched the first three sections in one day and then the final forty-five or so minutes the following day. As you might expect from a Martin Scorsese film starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, the film is based on American organised crime over decades of the Twentieth century.

Told through the eyes of WWII veteran Frank Sheeran (De Niro) who becomes a hustler and a mob hitman, the film tells the story behind the mysterious disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). The de-ageing effects on the principal players aren’t too distracting and their performances are great. In my opinion the film features one of De Niro’s best performances in a long time and Pesci certainly hasn’t lost his acting ability while he’s been out of the game.

The film is a little self-indulgent and slow at times, but it is certainly a must-see for fans of the main actors and/or Scorsese (and really the two can’t really be separate can they?).

Olympus Has Fallen (2013) is the same kind of ‘Die Hard in the White House’ silliness as White House Down which came out the same year. Trying to compare the two is pretty pointless – like trying compare two different dollops the neighbour’s cat has left in your recently weeded flowerbed – so I won’t.

In Olympus Has Fallen Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) manages to get past a terrorist cordon and secret himself John McClane style inside the White House which has been overun by terrorists intent on taking the President hostage. He manages to pretty much single-handedly thwart the kidnappers and save not only the President (Aaron Eckhart) but also America (from a nuclear attack).

London Has Fallen (2016) sees the return of Banning reinstated as the President’s number one bodyguard. In an ill-advised trip to London for the Prime Minister’s funeral the duo are caught up in a plot to assassinate all the world leaders at the event. This sequel is even more far-fetched than the first film and sees the same kind of blase attitude to basic logic and real military operational protocol and tactics as the first.

The action is admittedly quite exciting, the practical stunts quite impressive and the computer effects of notable landmarks falling down easy on the eye, there are some not so quite impressive CG helicopters and the like, which kind of let slip the tight budget the film must have been made on.

Given how silly the first two films were (especially the second film) I didn’t hold out much hope that Angel Has Fallen (2019) was going to be anything but another dumb-ass action film. However, I was very nicely surprised. It’s actually the best of the current …Has Fallen trilogy despite Butler looking like he has gone method and actually got himself addicted to painkillers like his character. His face is round and puffy, and some of his moves seem a little laboured, but it all fits.

This one is a bit like Shooter in that Banning is framed for the attempted assassination of President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) – who was the Vice President in the previous two films. Banning has to avoid capture by the FBI and various other agencies (including some mountain militia guys in a very Jack Reacher style scene) as he tries to uncover who is behind the attack. Danny Huston plays the typecast bad guy who is a reasonably complex character compared to previous foe, Nick Nolte is brilliant as Banning’s estranged off-grid father and there’s even a nice turn from Jada Pinkett Smith as an FBI agent.

There’s more character development in this film than the other two films put together mostly thanks to the inclusion of Banning’s dad, a bit more fun with the interplay between the old and new army veterans, and relatively complex themes of family and recognising when to quit or not. By the end of the film the story has devolved into a mano-a-mano knife fight to the death on a fake office block roof – standard fair for this genre – but there’s still plenty to like about the film.

 

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