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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What the Hell's It Good For: War for the Planet of the Apes vs Dunkirk

A bit of an odd pairing this but bear with me...


Despite their pronounced war aspects, Dunkirk and War for the Planet of the Apes are two rather different films. One is a fantasy that makes heavy use of metaphor to talk about real-world issues, while one is an on-the-ground look at a real military event of some 300 000 Allied Soldiers being evacuated from German-occupied Belgium. One is actually a war movie with its emphasis firmly on military battles; one just uses its war trappings as the dressing on what is basically a near-Biblical fable. One centres on the trials and travails of ordinary young men during a horrific historical incident; one features talking apes in a rather (one hopes) unlikely future. These are not the same film by any stretch of the imagination and, yet, as I slouched out of Dunkirk in a state of abject disappointment, all I could do was think back to the latest - and best - Planet of the Apes movie.

Both films, you see, are staggering technical achievements; where artistic vision is easily matched by groundbreaking (though completely different) special effects, powerful musical scores, and breathtaking cinematography, but however much I admire what Christopher Nolan achieved with Dunkirk it simply didn't have anything close to the level of intellectual engagement or emotional wallop that Matt Reeves' presumably final film in this act of the Planet of Apes franchise dolled out in spades.

Nolan has constantly been criticized for being a "cold" director: a filmmaker whose technical excellence is never matched by any real emotional investment in the final film, but I've always found that argument largely spurious in the extreme. If you can't find the beating heart at the centre of the Dark Knight and Interstellar, in particular, you're really not trying hard enough. Sadly, Dunkirk was the first time in a Christopher Nolan movie that I absolutely recognized all the criticisms that have been thrown his way for years now.

For all of its genuine spectacle and peerless cinematic artistry, Dunkirk was an extremely odd viewing experience: I would constantly recognize the emotions I should be feeling at any given point in the film but without ever actually feeling any of them. That this should happen in Nolan's most grounded and most theoretically visceral film to date is an irony that is not lost on me.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Another year, another big-screen Spider-man reboot. Things are a bit different this time, though.


For all that people love complaining about the plethora of superhero films, this year has been a rather interesting showcase for why we should be glad they aren't going away soon. For a start, despite appearances to the contrary, superhero films are not the only "tentpole", big budget blockbuster being released, it's just that - for this year at least - they seem to be well on their way to being the only good ones (update: as of a screening I saw today, that's no longer the case!). While the Mummy brought us a stale take on a well-established property, Logan gave us the most genuinely mature take on a "Big 2" superhero to date. As King Arthur lived down to its director's worst tendencies, comics' most classic female superhero got a film of her own that not only more than did justice to the character but deservedly became the biggest movie of the year so far. Meanwhile, however much Baywatch failed to raise so much as a - if you'll pardon the apparently unavoidable double (single?) entendre - titter, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 brought plenty of laughs to go with its thrills and surprising drama.

Now, bucking the trend from Pixar's final fall from grace, Cars 3, and the utter pointlessness of the latest sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers, Spider-Man: Homecoming proves that "yet another sequel" doesn't have to be just "yet another sequel". Following on from his scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War - and, in fact, picking up just before his appearance in Civil War - Spider-Man has entered the Marvel cinematic universe with what is easily his best film since at least Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2.

After the sheer rubbishness of Spider-Man 3, the pointlessness of the Amazing Spider-Man and the messiness of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 (though, for the record, the latter two are still saved by terrific central turns from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone), Marvel's greatest character gets his own back with a movie that takes the best bits from other MCU films and puts a very welcome, if webby, spin on them.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

All Eyez on Me

Well, not all eyez...

This review is also up on Channel 24

What it's about

The life story of Tupac Shakur, the infamous rapper, activist and actor, from his rise as one of the pre-eminent “gangsta rappers” of the '90s to his still unsolved violent death in his mid-20s.

What we thought

Comparisons between All Eyez on Me and Straight Outta Compton are inevitable thanks to both their close proximity and their dealing with fairly similar subject matter. Oddly, though, most people ignore Notorious, which is basically the other side to this particular tale but, considering that I have never actually seen it and that it has been all but entirely forgotten from the public at large, I don't feel too bad hanging onto those particular coat tails.

Despite the major upset surrounding Straight Outta Compton being shut out of that year's Oscars, I was never a big fan of the film and I stand by my belief that there's a great ninety-minute film to be found in its tiresome 2.5 hour runtime - though in terms of major music biopics released that year, incidentally, even that imaginary ninety-minute cut wouldn't hold a candle to the exceptional Brian Wilson biopic, Love and Mercy, which was similarly shunned during that awards season. Credit where credit is due, though: in comparison to All Eyez on Me, Straight Outta Compton really does start to look like, well, Love and Mercy.

All Eyez On Me (and that spelling is really starting to get on my nerves... really, what's with the 'z'?) isn't a disaster by any means as it is a perfectly competently, albeit blandly, put-together pop biopic with a nicely solid performance by Demetrius Shipp Jr. at its centre but it nonetheless fails to be anything but a shallow retelling of Shakur's short life.