Movie roundup – August 2021

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The last two weeks of this month were dominated by my rewatching some Star Wars films on Disney+ but I did also get the time to watch some new stuff. There are some spoilers below but I will try to avoid them for the newest films. To read about what I saw earlier in the month please check out this post: Midpoint movie roundup – August 2021.

Cruella (2021) came off Premier Access on Disney+ recently and I had heard through the grapevine that it was worth a watch. Having enjoyed Maleficent, I was fine with watching a live-action origin story for an animated character and had every confidence that if Margot Robbie wasn’t available then Emma Stone would work wonders with the lead role. Simply put, she is excellent. The story itself pretends to have some twists and turns, but follows the 15 beats of Save the Cat closely. But it is a Disney film so what would you expect.

Apart from Emma Stone the film also stars Emma Thompson (perhaps doing a better job of acting like the Cruella from the original animated version of101 Dalmatians ) as Cruela’s rival fashion designer and nemesis, Joel Fry who has come a long way from White Van Man and Plebs, and a very funny Paul Walter Hauser as Cruella’s friends. There are also a couple of cute dogs and some rather piss-poor CG dog doubles which are not easy on your eyes if you worry about that kind of thing.

Another star is the fashion – the costumes are brilliant. Oh and there’s a trio of uncharacteristically vicious Dalmatians and a reference to a raccoon that so famously appeared in the live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians despite it being set in England (no raccoons here folks). All told the film is a lot of fun but might not have been so enjoyable without a very strong lead performance definitely comparable and perhaps eclipsing Angelina Jolie’s turn in the Maleficent movies. Fabulous!

The Mule (2018) is a very enjoyable Clint Eastwood film about an old guy whose horticultural business goes bust and who needs to earn his money somehow, anyhow. Rather than cook like Walter White in Breaking Bad, he gets involved in smuggling drugs across America in his station wagon. While he’s popular among his friends he’s not a great father or husband and it’s ultimately this side of things he needs to fix by the end of the film as well as somehow extricate himself from his work for the Mexican drug cartel. I won’t say anymore than that about the story to avoid spoilers, and will just say that Eastwood is really great in the titular role and hasn’t lost any of his acting chops as his years advance.

Fanboys (2009) is a film that you’d think I would’ve seen ages ago given the subject matter of a group of Star Wars fans going on a road trip across America to break into Skywalker ranch and watch Episode 1 before it hits the cinemas. It’s a really well-rounded comedy with some great in-jokes for Star Wars fans.

There’s a whole host of fun cameos from the likes of Kevin Smith (indeed it feels a lot like the type of film he would make in his View Askewniverse), Jason Mewes (as Jay to Smith’s Silent Bob), Seth Rogen (playing a Star Trek fan and a drug dealer), Danny Trejo, Ethan Suplee, Billy D Williams, Carrie Fisher, and William Shatner (as himself). There’s also good lead performances from Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel and an unexpected Kristen Bell. The only bad thing about this film is that it is a Harvey Weinstein production which casts a bit of a shadow. Anyway moving on…

Reality Bites (1994) is a film I saw at the cinema and distinctly recall not enjoying a whole lot. Once I’d watched it again I realised what it was about this ‘slacker’ story that bugged me. Basically it’s that Ethan Hawkes’ character Troy is an absolute first class prick all the way through the film but still somehow manages to end up with Lelaina, my beloved Winona Ryder, by the end of the film. Christ.

This was the first of a batch of Winona films I bought on Amazon, so apologies if she features a lot in next month’s posts. Anyone who has followed me long enough will know I’m a big fan despite her acting being a bit up and down. Ben Stiller plays the successful non-slacker guy who tries his best to get along with Lelaina’s clique but ultimately fails to win her over. He also directed the film. Watching it again at the age of 50 (yes I’m that old folks) made me feel old and kinda glad I never knew anyone like Lelaina or Troy in real life.

The Age of Innocence (1993) is an opulent Martin Scorsese film that also stars Winona Ryder but is really dominated by two great performances from Daniel-Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer. Based on the book by Edith Wharton this is a tale of high society in 19th-century New York. Lewis plays Newland Archer a lawyer who falls in love with a childhood friend Countess Olenska ( Pfeiffer) recently returned from Europe under a black cloud of gossip because she separated from her husband. The problem is that Newland is engaged to May (Ryder) the Countess ‘s cousin.

Similar to Pride and Prejudice this is a story of a man (as opposed to a woman) struggling to break out of a stifling establishment where everything has to be so prim and proper it’s painful to watch at times. Lovelorn Newland spends most of the film squirming at the thought of even touching the Countess’s hand, never mind kissing her. There’s some strange touches from Scorsese with coloured scenes fades, lingering shots of the posh food being served and Newland’s lost opportunities literally flashing before his eyes in the final scene of the film, but overall there’s a lot to like. Ryder’s performance, when she actually gets a chance, is quite admirable and there’s also some fun scenes with Miriam Margolyes as an elderly member of high society. Also great attention is paid to period detail.

Venom (2018) isn’t a terrible film but neither is it on a par with any of the recent offerings from the MCU. Stan Lee (RIP bless his cotton socks) has an obligatory cameo appearance but don’t be fooled, this isn’t Marvel as we know it. I rewatched this with Siggy and I think I have mellowed toward it since the original post I made after seeing it at the cinema.

Tom Hardy is excellent. Tough action hero when he needs to be. Dazed and confused everyman when he needs to be. The lines of dialogue exchanged between Eddy Brock and his parasite (Venom) are very funny, and so his performance – as you might expect – is the best bit of an otherwise rather formulaic film which admittedly is funnier the second time around.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) (2017) continued my reverse Star Wars in 4K marathon and is undoubtedly my favourite instalment in the new batch of Star Wars films. After having an awful adverse reaction to The Force Awakens, regardless of how many dimensions I saw the film in, my expectations forThe Last Jedi were lower than a Jawa’s gonads and that perhaps went a long way to explaining why I really enjoyed the film when I saw it at the cinema. But it wasn’t just the initial low expectations and each time I watch it my love for the film grows and grows, and Christ does it look cool in 4K. Wow.

Sure the story has it faults – the sideshow of Finn and Rose going to find the slicer for instance seems totally pointless – but in terms of turning the series on its head the movie delivers in truck loads. Also it’s so darn funny – by far the funniest of the Star Wars films. The film is pitched at an uncomfortable angle that demonstrates what the force-ghost of Yoda says in the film – “the greatest teacher, failure is” – plans go awry, character expectations are not met and still the struggle against the First Order goes on. I don’t mind that Luke comes across as a grumpy ol’ git in the film, he gets his moment of heroism against a barrage of First Order fire power and ex-student Kylo Ren. He helps the team despite his misgivings about the Force.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII) (2015) continues to garner a grudging appreciation from me as the years take the edge of the huge feeling of disappointment at the squandered opportunities this film represented to me when I saw it twice at the cinema – once in 3D once in 2D when I used the m-word – “meh”. Watching it in the context of a reverse-order marathon in 4K on Disney+ made me appreciate the brilliant special effects, Daisy Ridley’s performance and of course the man, the legend, Adam Driver.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) (1983) is my least favourite of the original trilogy simply because of those flesh-eating teddy bears, the Ewoks, like creatures from a childhood nightmare, who would’ve barbecued our heroes on the forest moon of Endor if they hadn’t mistaken C-3PO for a golden god. It would’ve made a lot more sense if they had been Wookiees as Lucas had originally envisioned. Also the changes made in the special edition to the end of the film are quite cringeworthy, we get an injurious CG song and dance inserted into Jabba’s palace and an insulting cut of the Ewoks original song at the end. Sure there’s some lovely space battle improvements but you can’t make up for the silliness of the sticks and stones battle against technology at the heart of the third act.

That said we do get the original fulfilment of the prophecy of the one who would bring peace to the galaxy in the form of Darth Vader who kills the Emperor to save his son from being zapped to death. Shame, the sequel trilogy basically craps all over that idea with the Emperor surviving to get super-zappy at the end of The Rise of Skywalker. Seems like the only good third film in any of the three original, prequel and sequel trilogies is Revenge of the Sith, which although my favourite of the prequels has plenty of detractors.

Watching the film in 4K with Dolby Vision and surround sound on Disney+ was enjoyable from an audio point of view if little can be done to the special and digital effects which are showing their respective ages on an OLED TV. But that’s part of the fun I guess – laughing at the effects that don’t stand the test of time while appreciating the effects that really do – the miniatures are still amazing. It’s a pity Disney haven’t thought to provide an archive of the original unadulterated versions of the original trilogy for fans to enjoy. I have them on DVD, but I can’t remember the last time I actually used my player.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V) (1980) is obviously the best second film of any of the trilogies if I put aside my love for the controversial The Last Jedi and try and be a little objective about things (if that’s possible when it comes to opinions about Star Wars). There’s so much more story in this film, the love story between rogue and princess, Luke meeting Yoda and beginning his training as the last Jedi, Luke discovering one of the biggest secrets of cinema and being more upset about that than getting his hand chopped off, us learning that ‘there is another’ and the sheer brilliance of the opening battle on the Ice Planet Hoth.

The music, the sets, the special effects are just great and what jiggery pokery you can see in the special edition actually helps the film rather than making it look a bit patched together. Some scenes benefit greatly from 4K and the sound is certainly better. Admittedly, the lightsabre duel between father and son isn’t as lame as the one between Vader and Obi Wan in A New Hope, but it’s still pretty daft looking compared to the fights we got in the new trilogy, but it’s 100% times more dramatic. And of course we get to see fan-favourite Boba Fett a lot more in this episode. Love it.

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