A few days late for my review of February in film, but I’ve been at the Sci-Fi Weekender (which I hope to review in the next few days). For a while, I thought the theme of this month was essentially going to be Americans being douchebags – as that was certainly the case with a lot of the films watched.
The month started off with Django Unchained. This had terrible, terrible trailers, so I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope. I was quite pleasantly surprised that it was a lot of fun, with Christoph Waltz being truly excellent and thoroughly deserving his Oscar. Like many films of late, it was very long – but take my advice – there is a bit that seems like the climax. If you watch this film, stop watching it there. It goes on for another half an hour or more after that but NOTHING OF IMPORT HAPPENS in that final act – just a repetition of things that have already happened and a hideous abomination of a cameo from Quentin Tarantino before ending pretty much the same as the initial climax but with some more ‘splosions.
Zero Dark Thirty was one of those films where I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d heard about it glorifying war and torture – but I think it’s more complicated than that. Certainly, the torture scenes make you want to side with the tortured, not the torturers, but I suppose you could see the torture as being a key to them getting the intelligence they needed. Jessica Chastain was excellent, but be warned – UNEXPECTED BARROWMAN CAMEO lurks within. It’s not a film I’d rush to see again but it was well made and gripping.
Flight is a curious beast. It starts looking like it’s going to be one thing and then has a huge tonal shift into another. The first act contains a high-action crash sequence aboard a plane which is brilliant – scary, thrilling and visually arresting. The rest of the film concentrates on the alcoholism of Denzel Washington’s character, pilot Whip, and a trial to determine whether his drinking caused the flight accident. He has a half-baked sort of romance with Kelly Reilly’s Nicole, a drug addict with a poorly-fleshed out story. At first the film suggests it will be her story as much as his, but then her plot essentually fizzles out for much of it. Also: the establishing shot of her? A tattoo, so we know she’s fallen on bad times. Oh, Hollywood. In fact, women in this film come out dreadfully for the most part – they’re either a pair of tits (one of the flight crew who, inexplicably, has been having an affair with Washington’s character), a damsel in distress or marginalised – one of the female flight attendants seems like she might be an interesting character… then she mostly vanishes. The rest of the film is men talking and thinking they’re being important, save a token female judge at the end. The moral/legal dilemma at the heart of the film is a good one, the crash sequence is excellent and Washington gives a strong performance. However, his character is utterly unlikeable and the film’s rampant sexism is just not necessary. I’m so sick of films with men in suits talking being lauded. And it’s not the only film about men in suits talking this month…
Warm Bodies was one of the more enjoyable films this month – thankfully. Nicholas Hoult plays a Zombie who falls in love with a human girl, Teresa (Julie Palmer), and Romeo and Juliet style shenanigans ensue. It all sounds fairly standard and predictable, but it has a nice subplot about zombies vs ‘bonies’ (the more ‘extreme’ zombies), is warm and funny and is just a likeable film. I’ve not read the novel it’s based on, but I think I will at some point.
I Give it a Year sets itself up as being an alternative romantic comedy, one where you’re meant to root for the couple to split up – however, they didn’t appear to be ‘wrong’ enough as a couple for the conceit to work, and their ‘alternative’ partners don’t seem perfect for them either – although Anna Faris does a great job of playing a character who isn’t another dizzy blonde. This is a weird film – some bits are very funny indeed, some bits have humour that’s just too crass. Some scenes are realy unusual (one with doves is a stand-out), some are far too bog-standard. At one stage it looks like it might actually go somewhere more interesting than it does – the conclusion it comes to is just not very convincing. There’s also a very funny WTF moment when an Australian (who is famous for often playing Americans) playing a Brit (Rose Byrne) has a conversation with an Australian playing an American (Simon Baker) about the differences between British and American culture. Minnie Driver is great value as a raucous sister to Rose Byrne’s character and it may just be worth checking out for her alone. It’s flawed, but it’s one of those films that will pass the time well enough if you’re looking for a DVD/download.
This is 40, like I Give It a Year, was perhaps not the most conventional of films to release around Valentine’s Day (Warm Bodies neither, but it was the most conventionally romantic). It’s a spin-off/sequel to Knocked Up (albeit one that seems to pretend the lead characters from the first film don’t even exist) and it’s been said that a lot of it is based on Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann’s home life – the daughters in the film are their real-life daughters, who are relishing their roles here. It’s very long – too long, really, given there’s not a huge amount of plot. The characters are often quite horrible, especially Paul Rudd’s character, although I will generally watch Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in anything. If it doesn’t contain Adam Sandler. I quite liked a lot of scenes in the film, but I think that’s the problem – scenes work very well, but the film as a whole is less successful, and the problems are very much rich white people’s problems – which is probably the point, but I think that might alienate people.
Wreck It Ralph is more successful than the last couple of films – for a few reasons. The conceit of a bad video game character wanting to change is good – although the group therapy is a straight and pointless snatch from the Toy Story universe. The cameos from other game characters are exciting, especially in the first half, and the world created in the arcade is lovely and feels very Pixar-esque (unsurprising given some of the creative team are old Pixar hands). The voices are great and there’s a thrill to be had from Sue Sylvester being flirted with by Jack from 30 Rock who play the two main support characters to Sarah Silverman and John C Reilly’s leads. Silverman’s Venelope is a pleasing kind of Disney Princess – if she joins their pantheon, she’d be a welcome addition to counter some of the saccharine – despite coming from the most saccharine of all worlds, a candy and sugar themed world in the ‘Sugar Rush’ game (guess the writers hadn’t heard of a certain Sapphic book/TV show… or had they?). The lack of gaming references in the second half does make things a bit samey, and the plot is formulaic, but it’s fun and lovely and after all the nastiness in other films this month, a bit of sweetness was a nice change.
Like pretty much everything this month, don’t go watching Song for Marion for any spectacularly ‘exciting’ plots. Do go to see the lovely Gemma Arterton being sweet (who is ace in real life going on her Graham Norton appearance), Terence Stamp being a loveable grump, and Vanessa Redgrave being utterly wonderful as Marion, coping with a diagnosis of cancer, the ageing process and the joy of singing in a choir. Part Gareth Malone, part The Zimmers, part Quartet and part Brassed Off, there’s nothing especially original here, but it’s quite fun even if it is sentimental and predictable, and there are cameos from Anne Reid and Porkpie from Desmond’s.
If a film about Americans being AWWSAHM had to win the best picture Oscar/BAFTA, then it was probably better that it was the pacey and suspenseful Argo rather than the tedious worthy-fest that is Lincoln. No denying that Daniel Day Lewis is excellent, but the film itself? Well, it’s mainly white men in suits talking, which, as we all know, is WHAT IS TRULY IMPORTANT IN THIS LIFE. There are some good moments but mostly this is a bit of a drag and both the abolition of slavery and the role of the president have been covered elsewhere and done so far more interestingly.