May midpoint movie roundup

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I’ll blame the continuing COVID-19 lockdown for how many films I am watching and for the fact that this month I think I’ll need to write two posts to adequately cover all the films I’ve seen. I will try and keep my ramblings about the more recently released films spoiler-free.

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) returns to our merry band of zombie-killers ten years after the events of the first film.┬áColumbus (Jessie Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) fight their way to the safety of the White House and we’re reminded of the dynamics between the makeshift team, and Columbus’ rules (rule one is ‘cardio’, rule two is ‘double tap’ etc.).

The zombies are evolving and Little Rock finds a boyfriend and disappears in Tallahassee’s car akin to something out of Mad Max. The rest of the team go in search of her, but not before they’ve picked up a new friend at the shopping mall in the form of the air-headed blonde Madison (Zoey Dutch). She’s a fun addition to the cast and the subject of some good jokes.

With a stop off near Elvis’s Graceland to meet cameo stars Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch in a kind of Shaun of the Dead style alt-Columbus and alt-Tallahassee segment, they find their way to a hippy commune called Babylon, named after the David Gray song. Inevitably zombies follow and they’re are the super-nasty ‘T-800’ versions who are quick and not as dumb as the ‘Homer’ versions.

As I might have mentioned before, I’m not a huge zombie film fan, but I really enjoyed the original movie and was keen to watch the sequel. It is just as good as the original – lots of fun, good special effects, good dialogue, and while I was able to predict most of what happened due to some clear foreshadowing, it was still a great finale. Also if you miss something like Bill Murray’s cameo from the first film hold on for the closing credits.

Extraction (2020) is a Netflix film based on the graphic novel Ciudad by legendary comic book inker Ande Parks. It stars Chris Hemsworth in the gritty role of one gloriously named Tyler Rake, an elite mercenary with a death-wish, paid to rescue the kidnapped son of an international crime lord. The film is directed by, Marvel film stuntman turned director, Sam Hargrave and produced by Joe and Anthony Russo of Avengers fame.

Given the pedigree of the filmmakers and let’s face it the appeal of watching Hemsworth kick some ass without the assistance of a magic hammer, this film is really great. It’s not so much different in plotting and script from those Jason Statham films I keep watching and keep slagging off, but it just oozes quality from the locations, the editing, the choice of camera positions, the quality of the practical effects and the tempo of the action.

One fight is a seeming continuous take lasting over ten minutes and most action sequences rely on a lot of planning and deft camera moves. Unlike a lot of action thrillers there’s little camera wobble and it’s far clearer what’s going on compared let’s say to Michael Bay’s style of filmmaking. If I hadn’t just watched Zombieland: Double Tap, this would have been my favourite film of the month so far.

Phantom Thread (2017) is billed in places as Daniel Day-Lewis’s final film and is a 1950s period piece set around the life of a renowned London dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis). He has a rigid way of approaching his work and his life assisted by his sister (Lesley Manville). Phantom Thread is the eighth movie that director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) has also written.

Woodcock’s fastidious way of life is disrupted by his new muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps who had a minor role in the original Hanna), a young woman who he met as a waitress in a tea room. They have a strange and strained relationship which takes some dark mushroom-based turns toward the end. As finales go it was a little flat but there’s no denying that the film draws you into the strange world of bespoke haute couture, forced manners and the twisted headspace of Woodcock and Alma.

Vox Lux (2018) also has a flat finale where the main character doesn’t appear to have learnt anything or completed a traditional narrative arc. That said it does feature one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from Natalie Portman as troubled pop superstar Celeste. Before the older Celeste appears we follow the life of a young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin), budding singer.songwriters who, following a violent incident compose a cathartic song which goes viral on the internet. The initially very religious Celeste is catapulted into stardom and a life of sex and drugs and pop.

Almost two decades later, the now 31-year-old Celeste has a teenage daughter by a drug-addled rock singer and is trying to promote her comeback album after an out of court settlement for running her car into someone while she was drunk. We are treated to a portion of her live show (with songs written by Sia) which she insists on doing despite there having been a terrorist attack based on one of her pop videos. Writer director Brady Corbet, who also made an unenjoyable film about home intrusion called Funny Games, seems to have made some bad choices in terms of structure and deliberately left Celeste’s story hanging. As a result it left me and Siggy shrugging at each other.

Moving on to another film featuring a Star Wars veteran – Takers (2010) is a stylish movie about a bunch of thieves who knock off banks and their armoured cars. The thieves include mostly two-dimensional characters who despite maybe wanting to be in Ocean’s 11 wouldn’t be out of place in a Fast & Furious film. These mostly interchangeable characters are played by Paul Walker driving a vintage Porsche, Hayden Christensen wearing a hat, Idris Elba wearing a suit and a bunch of other people I didn’t really care about.

Using an idea taken from the remake of the Italian Job they knock off an armoured car but there are inevitable complications over sharing out the cheddar with one of the gang who came to them with details of the job after being released from prison. Scores need to be settled. There’s some good action sequences and there’s not much wrong with the performances, but I found I didn’t really care about the fates of any of the characters. Oh and don’t expect any strong female characters – there’s perhaps only one contender and it doesn’t really end well for her.

On a lighter note, Siggy and I are still making the most of the non-Star Wars content on Disney Plus. Before an inevitable live-action remake completely destroys all the good memories I have of the classic animation The Little Mermaid (1989) I thought I’d give it another watch.

The Disney animations are somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me and I freely admit to going twice to the cinema to see the love story between princess Ariel and her hunky prince. I also enjoyed the songs so much I bought the soundtrack on CD (remember those round silver things we used to use before all the zeroes and ones took over the music industry?).

Anyway, I won’t go on about it too much as I expect you’ve seen it yourself. Suffice to say I can’t really understand why I was so taken with the story which is really at odds with the kind of messaging Disney is supporting these days. Basically Ariel is told that as long as she has got her looks she can win her man despite combing her hair with a fork and stinking of crabs. I still enjoyed the songs though!

Into the Woods (2014) is another Disney film; this time a live action adaptation of a musical which is a mash up of fairy tales Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel. Thankfully not every word is sung, which would frankly do my head in, however there was till at least one song that mentioned ‘into the woods’ so often I wanted to spike my eardrums with sharpened pencils.

The film had a Mamma Mia! vibe to it with some completely overdone performances from the likes of James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep and Chris Pine. It obvious that most of this is meant to be tongue in cheek but it felt really cheesy and indeed there is some rather confused logic in the story which adds to feeling that time spent watching this might have been better spent watching Pixar shorts or an old Marvel film. Perhaps the only redeeming feature is that Johnny Depp isn’t in it too long.

Image by ayoub wardin from Pixabay

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