__Now that we’re three months into the year, now’s the perfect time to give you my first “first impressions” post of 2017, covering what few movies I’ve seen up to this point. I usually post these on a Saturday, but I felt it was far more appropriate for this one to fall at the end of the month instead of the end of the week. You can sort of think of this as a quarterly report. 🙂
__As always, the best place to start is the cinema. This is what I’ve gone to see so far this year…
La La Land (2016)
__In Los Angeles, jazz pianist Sebastian falls for aspiring actress Mia, and they soon end up having to cope with the pressures of success.
__This has to be one of the most critically lauded films of 2016, hailed as a return of the classic musicals of old. Unfortunately, what impressed everyone else so much, I felt was the film’s weakest aspect. The musical sequences often involve choreographed dances that I couldn’t help but feel looked very unnatural. On stage, it would look fine, but in the naturalistic setting depicted on film, it just looks out of place.
__One thing that did impress me, though, was the film’s use of colour. I think every colour on the spectrum is visible bright and clear in this movie, which makes a welcome change from the washed-out, monochrome colour palate I’m seeing so often.
__But it was the second half that really stuck with me, where the songs become less frequent and it becomes clear that the overall theme is dreams and aspirations, particularly of being successful as a performer. It’s a very profound and hard-hitting message: success in the entertainment industry is just pure luck.
__So I really enjoyed this movie, but maybe not for the same reason as everyone else.
__My rating: 80%.
__Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed twenty-three distinct personalities, and they must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new twenty-fourth.
__I must echo everyone else’s sentiments: finally, M. Night Shyamalan has pulled through and made another good movie! 😀
__I didn’t like The Visit, but I did appreciate the fact that Shyamalan had finally figured out how to get his actors to talk like real people rather than soft-spoken, emotionless drones. That turned out to be a good indicator for what was to come. 🙂 His actors seem more alive and energised than ever here.
__James McAvoy excels in particular. Not only does he have to play several distinct personalities, but in some long, unbroken takes, he actually has to transition from one to another – and he does so seamlessly.
__I know split personality is a real condition, so you could make the argument that this movie doesn’t represent it properly, but I think the twist at the end makes up for all that.
__So on the whole, not bad at all for the first 2017 movie I saw! 🙂 I think it’s, hands down, Shyamalan’s best movie since The Sixth Sense.
__My rating: 80%.
The Space Between Us (2017)
__Gardner Elliot, the first human born on Mars, travels to Earth for the first time and embarks on an adventure with Tulsa, a street-smart girl with whom he had been in contact.
__Movies about Mars hardly have the best track record (in my opinion, there’ve been only two good ones to date: The Martian and the original Total Recall), so I was hoping this one would be an exception, but… alas, no. While still watchable, it is, first and foremost, a hackneyed teenage romance, and the story is thoroughly predictable. I even saw the twist ending coming from a mile away.
__Good old Gary Oldman, God bless him, he’s trying his best, but I always feel sorry for him when he gets landed with these roles that give him nothing to work with.
__So yes, objectively this is a bad movie, but personally I can’t muster that much hatred for it; I just think it’s mediocre. It’s corny, but harmless.
__My rating: 55%.
__In 2029, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X somewhere on the Mexican border, but his attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant named Laura arrives, pursued by dark forces.
__Hugh Jackman has announced that this will be the last time he plays the character that helped shape his career, and man did he save the best for last! 🙂
__Everybody’s talking about how bloody it is… and they’re not kidding! This is the first Wolverine movie to not hold back at all on the violence and gore you’d expect Wolverine to partake in! But there’s so much more to it than that.
__This is probably the most poignant story to ever involve Wolverine, showing him at the end of his rope and finding one last purpose in life, all building up to a wonderfully bittersweet ending. Not to mention, it’s genuinely heartbreaking to see the great Professor X suffering from dementia.
__There’s very little in the way of over-the-top comic book visuals here; it sacrifices fantastical extravagance for raw emotion. It’s basically a road trip movie, a dark, grounded, minimalistic drama.
__In fact, I’m going to make a bold claim here. This could well be Marvel’s The Dark Knight! 🙂
__The performances are all excellent, particularly newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura.
__In short, it’s the perfect swan song for my favourite X-Men member, and easily one of the best instalments in the entire X-Men franchise.
__My rating: 85%.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
__A team of scientists and soldiers explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.
__We have a surprising winner for the title of my favourite movie of the year so far! 🙂 I know it’s weird to say that about a giant monster movie, but let me explain. A monster flick is all I expected going in, but I underestimated just how well this particular one would do its job. It absolutely succeeds in making Kong and the other monsters seem gigantic; the camera work captures their size and weight perfectly. The result is that the movie truly thrilling, and it never stops being entertaining, not even for a second. There wasn’t one second of this movie where I was bored or begging it to move on.
__The human characters are nothing to write home about, but I don’t care. They fill their roles just fine, and I like how none of their actions are blatantly stupid.
__For as much as I rag on Michael Bay movies and other similar blockbusters, this should prove that I don’t automatically hate them all; I’m just as prone to mindless entertainment as the next guy, as long as it’s done correctly. I think this is a damn near perfect example of that.
__I’d even say it’s better than Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which I consider to be one of the best remakes ever.
__My rating: 85%.
Get Out (2017)
__Chris, a young African-American man, visits his Caucasian girlfriend Rose’s mysterious family estate.
__Wow, it is insane how much praise this movie’s getting! It currently stands at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s in the IMDb Top 250! And that seems to be because of how cleverly it makes its point on a very touchy subject.
__I may not be the best qualified to discuss the issue of racism, but I love how astutely this movie asks why it’s still a thing. Everyone, including Chris himself, draws attention to the fact that he’s black, but at the same time is kind of nonchalant about it.
__It plays out like a mystery story: you know something’s wrong with this family and their servants, and you’re not even sure you want to know what.
__It even stands above many horror thrillers on the market today in terms of craft, for one simple reason: it doesn’t rely on jump scares. In fact, I only recall jumping out of my skin once.
__The one thing holding it back for me is that, even though Chris’s interactions with the family are supposed to be awkward, that still doesn’t make them any more bearable.
__But aside from that, I can’t deny how well written it is, I didn’t see the big revelation coming, and I’d happily see this movie again.
__My rating: 75%.
__A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form in the soil samples from Mars, which now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
__This movie, I’d say, is just generally competent. The script is well written and keeps the tension going, but the characters aren’t really interesting enough to separate it from the myriad of sci-fi horror out there. Though again, I do like how none of them are overtly stupid; whenever someone does the wrong thing, it’s merely out of ignorance. Also, thinking about how much time they must spend in each other’s company, how close they must become, makes it easy to feel their heartbreak when one of them dies – let alone two within the space of half an hour!
__There’s nothing cartoonish about the violence; it feels very grounded and grisly.
__So I spent most of the movie admiring the craft but hardly on the edge of my seat. …And then the ending happened! I’m not going to say exactly what happens, but I have to say, it came across like a cruel, sick joke! That was a “fuck you” ending! However, I don’t think it detracts from the enjoyability of the film as a whole.
__Overall, it’s good, but nothing special.
__My rating: 70%.
Power Rangers (2017)
__A group of high school kids get infused with unique superpowers and harness their abilities in order to save the world.
__First, let me answer the most obvious question. I did not grow up with Power Rangers. I was the right age for it when it came out, but I was just never interested. But the few reviews I saw for this movie, oddly enough, recommended it more to non-fans than to fans. I can see where they’re coming from.
__By far the film’s biggest strength is the characters. It really takes its time to set them up, flesh them out and make them genuinely likable.
__And, while it’s refreshing to see a blockbuster that’s driven by characters rather than action, the visual aesthetic lets it down for me. The bulk of the film looks dark and monochromatic, and the camerawork is pretty shaky, so it’s not very appealing to look at.
__Then, in the third act, when they finally become the Power Rangers and the action kicks in, it’s every inch the CGI shitfest I surmised from the trailer. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I am so tired of effects that are supposed to be live action looking like video game graphics – and PS2 graphics, at that!
__So I commend this movie for successfully taking a very silly franchise seriously, but it still falls into many of the same traps I complain about with movies these days. For me, the end result is just okay.
__My rating: 60%.
__Now for the other movies, the ones I’ve watched on a whim. This section is relatively short this time, because I haven’t been watching that many movies in my spare time lately; I’m going through a TV show phase instead. I’m thinking of going through all the DVDs on my shelf and watching all the films I haven’t yet, but there are a couple of TV shows I need to watch first in preparation, namely The Muppet Show and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Anyway…
The Wolverine (2013)
__When Wolverine is summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, he is embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.
__I thought I should at least watch one of the other Wolverine movies before Logan, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine has such a bad reputation that I didn’t even think twice about choosing this one.
__If you’re just expecting an action movie, a string of cheap thrills, that’s pretty much all you’ll get. The narrative doesn’t really do anything compelling with Logan’s character aside from raising the stakes by taking away his healing ability, leaving him much more vulnerable.
__Personally, I was far more interested in figuring out where this movie fits in the X-Men film series timeline. Well, the Jean Grey hallucinations answered that pretty early on: it takes place after X-Men 3. There’s also a teaser at the end that finally bridges the gap between the original trilogy and Days of Future Past.
__Overall, I’d say it’s the definition of good but not great. It’s a lot of fun, but not much more.
__My rating: 75%.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
__Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg policewoman, and her partner Batou hunt a mysterious and powerful hacker known as the Puppet Master.
__This movie, often considered one of the greatest anime films of all time, has been on my watchlist for a while now, and the new American remake gave me the perfect excuse to bump it up the list. 🙂
__Much like Get Out, this is another one that I felt, while still fun to watch, was far more interesting for its themes and topics for conversation. In fact, I watched Chris Stuckmann’s review after seeing the movie, and his insights and analyses are just superb, bringing up stuff I would never have even thought of.
__As a casual viewer, my impression is that the narrative is solid, and of course the animation is consistently outstanding, but the sequence before the unidentified female cyborg shows up serves no apparent purpose and just grinds the movie to a complete halt.
__One thing that threw me off was that it ended far sooner than I expected. It turned out the DVD cover had given a much longer run time than the film actually has: 125 minutes instead of 83.
__In conclusion, I enjoyed this movie, but I don’t quite think I’m ready to consider it one of my favourite animated films, at least not yet.
__My rating: 80%.
Mowgli’s Brothers (1976)
__This animated short by Chuck Jones is said to be the most faithful adaptation of The Jungle Book to date, telling the first chapter of the book almost word for word. I tried reading the book in my teens, but the writing style lost me very quickly, so I decided this would be a good way to see the original story, how it started out and what Disney changed from the source material.
__My favourite moment was the explanation for the term “red flower”: because the animals are so terrified of fire that they don’t like to use its real name.
__Roddy McDowall tells the story admirably, and of course Chuck Jones’ animation is brilliant.
__The only thing I didn’t like was the ending. I get the message it was going for, but I don’t understand why Mowgli started acting the way he did.
__On the whole, not my favourite version of the story, but still an entertaining and interesting experience.
__(And on a side note, I have to wonder what the upcoming Jungle Book directed by Andy Serkis is going to be like, how closely it’ll follow the book.)
__My rating: 75%.
__And finally, I don’t get much time for reading these days, but I’m starting to get more free time on the course I’m currently taking, so I did find time for this one…
Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
__You all know the story: sailor Ishmael tells the story of the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler the Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale that once crippled him.
__I’m sure this goes without saying, but this is considered one of the all-time great literary classics. However, I confess, I’m not talking about the original text here, but a retelling from Usborne. I tried to read the original, but I’m afraid the old-fashioned writing style was incomprehensible to me; I’m not a scholar by any means.
__So I don’t know how much of the text the new writer, Henry Brook, kept intact, but he certainly conveyed the build-up to the voyage, the enormity of the ocean, the sense of isolation, the passage of time and, most importantly, Ahab’s ever-growing obsession.
__Some lines can be taken as great life lessons, like how no one should be too proud to obey a few orders because, “All of us are slaves to our stomachs, aren’t we?”
__Many people have noted the book’s Shakespearean influences, and I’m no different. In particular, the idea of Ahab thinking he’s invincible because of the apparently nonsensical prophecies is right out of Macbeth.
__All in all, this Usborne Classics Retold version is the ideal way to experience the story for a casual reader like me. It’s not perfect, but I can now see what made Moby Dick so influential, and it’s still an engaging read.
__My rating: 80%.
__Plus, on a bus journey from Sligo to Dublin, I read the published screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. One of the key things that prevented me from enjoying the film was that I could barely make out the dialogue, which may have simply been a problem with the cinema’s sound system, so I figured a written version would be a big help there. While it did indeed help to be able to see clearly what the characters were saying this time, it still didn’t fix my issues with the story – or rather the title. I still think it really shouldn’t have been called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.