Eye in the Sky

2017.49: Eye in the Sky (2015)

It’s a ridiculous comparison, really, I know it is, but it’s so telling to compare the traditional warfare depicted in Saving Private Ryan with the hi-tech, almost detached warfare of Eye in the Sky. Although the whole point of Eye in the Sky is to show it isn’t really quite as detached as one might think, shooting bad guys via joystick from thousands of miles away. Whatever the other merits or cons of this film, it is fascinating to see this new kind of warfare and appreciate it isn’t as science fiction as it might seem. Distressingly so, really.

In any event, this film was surprisingly watchable, as I wasn’t expecting very much going in (the beauty of random rentals/choosing films on a whim). It was tightly directed, fairly well-cast (caveats below) and quite tense too and it thankfully took a few welcome twists and turns- turning out to confound my initial expectations.

Perhaps a little dry, it’s hindered a little by the casting of Helen Mirren as a British Colonel in charge of the military operation. I like Mirren but sometimes her familiar, charismatic persona from earlier films impacts on her appearances, as I think it does here. It feels like casting-by-numbers, her performance rather phoned-in, almost as if she’s still in some old Prime Suspect episode. It is a joy, though, to see the late Alan Rickman in something ‘new’ again.

A pretty good film though, and certainly well worth a rental.

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Big Hollywood Giant

2017.48: The BFG (2016)

This is a decidedly lightweight movie. Far from Spielberg’s best, it’s serviceable enough I suppose, which is about the best that I can say about it. But it is rather depressing really, how Hollywood takes a simple children’s story and blows it up into a cgi blockbuster with sophisticated effects and art direction. Like it’s commonly assumed it’s the only  a way to do it, going the ‘wow’ route. Naturally in 3D too, I reflected, noting how many of the films shots were choreographed. It’s funny how 3D movies have impacted how we watch films, in that they so easily telegraph what they are when we watch them in 2D. My suspicions were confirmed when I later noticed that The BFG was available in both 2D and 3D on disc, but at the time viewing the film it was rather distracting. I suppose we are stuck with that distraction for awhile but that’s depressing in itself, that we can’t watch films on 2D without being beaten over the head with ‘immersive POV’ shots etc.

Of course so much of this film is cgi (characters and sets) that it feels more an animated film than a live-action film. Reminded me a lot of the (superior) Tin Tin film that Spielberg shot a few years back.

I’m sure this film was made with all the best of intentions but it was too big, too overblown and exhaustingly ‘Hollywood Blockbuster’ for me. Spielberg can’t even refrain from recruiting John Williams to compose an overly saccharin score much akin to his misguided Hook score.

It’s just… too functional, typical. It’s a whimsical, rather silly children’s story gone all Hollywood.

The Race of the Iron Throne

game72017.47: Game of Thrones Season 7 (2017)

Well, it certainly wasn’t Game of Thrones‘ best season. Which is a pity, but in many ways it was inevitable. The trouble with stories is how they end.

In a sense, a story’s end is almost arbitrary. I often think about films or tv series and about their endings. A film might end in a moment of victory or validation, but I often consider what happens afterwards, after the film fades to black and the credits roll up, the story of the film is over but the meta-story, if you will, beyond that, continues. The trick for a screenwriter and a director is in finding a satisfying place to end a story, but it’s always an artificial ending, that meta-story continues.

And of course finding that satisfying ending, it’s a real trick after 30, 40, 50 hours of story in a tv series. Particularly for Game of Thrones and its complex, sophisticated plot and its huge roster of characters. How does one find an ending to match all the dreams and fantasies, all the theories and fan-fiction created worldwide over all those years when the series has become a phenomenon, and from even before that, over the decades of the books being published? Indeed, it strikes me now that Game of Thrones rather cheekily perhaps gets two bites at the cherry, with the HBO series first and, hopefully if time allows, the book series second. It gets two attempts at a satisfying conclusion.

HBOs solution, after a fashion, is that rather than spend three or four years and astronomical sums of money to produce two gigantic ten-episode seasons for the concluding two runs, instead they will condense the spend of a ten-episode season into seven and six-episode runs respectively, thus ensuring huge visuals and scope to hopefully bring things to a grand climax. Unfortunately this rather spoils the other aspects of the show- the sense of scale of the geography, the character beats, the political machinations and various interludes that fans grew to enjoy.  The irony of those of us who complained at the interminable pace of some seasons/episodes while the HBO show waited for author George R R Martin to write and publish another book over the years , now complaining of the ferocious pace of the show now that it has given up on waiting and has gone ahead and leapt beyond the leaden pace of his typewriter, isn’t lost on us. Be careful of what you wish for, eh?

In any case, I return to my original observation- how in the world will Game of Thrones possibly end in a way to satisfy everyone, or even the minority, of its huge worldwide fanbase? It simply can’t, and I think this is the lesson of  season 7. I am not going to write a negative, hateful review picking out all the plotholes or weak scripting or terrible coincidences that insult fans who have watched and enjoyed this show for so many years. There were many spectacular moments in season 7, and it is easy to forget that, HBO or not, this is a television show, not a huge Hollywood movie, and what it manages to create and put on screen is really wondrous and for all its faults this is one of the very greatest entertainments ever, of any format. It is just that season 7 has saddened me a little, and left me a little more reluctant than expectant, for what season 8 brings us next year (or the year after, who knows?). Game of Thrones was extraordinary, indeed still is extraordinary, but it also became a little more ordinary with season 7. Like we just experienced some kind of reality-check.

Because with only six episodes left, and where season 7 has left us, there is little room for many character moments ahead, or for learning who/what the Night King is, what drives him, what he hopes to achieve in slaughtering all the living with his army of the dead or what he intends for those lands yet beyond the oceans (I suspect it would involve turning said oceans to ice and simply walking across). Or what happens when the general story-arc is over and what happens to the (surviving) characters ten, twenty years later.

I had hoped, after all the teasing since the very first moments of the first episode of season one, that the Night King might be fleshed out, as it were. Or that once the Game of Thrones was over, and someone finally sat victorious and uncontested on the Iron Throne we might see the result of that years, decades after. We won’t. Because six episodes is surely a headlong rush of battles and treacheries and victories and deaths that will be thrilling and spectacular but it’s only six episodes. And if the seven episodes of season 7 teaches us anything, it is that six episodes won’t be enough. Maybe ten episodes, or any number of episodes, wouldn’t be enough. That there is the conundrum. Just how do you end Game of Thrones?

game2

Bring on the Bad Guy!

split

2017.46: Split (2017)

It has been a long time since I actually looked forward to a film from M. Night Shyamalan; probably as far back as Unbreakable back in, 2000. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and after the great The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, his further films, Signs, The Village and Lady in the Water clearly showed him to be a director/writer who loved one-line concepts, nifty ideas from which he would extrapolate a movie, often complete with a ‘twist’ stinger. The idea works in theory – Rod Serling did it consummately well with the classic The Twilight Zone anthology series, but a movie is a different beast to a half-hour tv show and it soon became tiresome, for me, anyway, and I finally gave up with The Happening, a film with the most ironic title in film history, as far as I’m concerned, as nothing happened for the whole bloody film.

I never watched The Last Airbender, or After Earth, or The Visit.

Split is a return to form, though, and even teases an Unbreakable 2 at the end (which is titled Glass, perhaps to dispense with the problem of calling it either Unbreakable 2 or Split 2, and ahem, avoid any risk of splitting fans). That said, I think some of the positively ecstatic reviews are more a result of  James McAvoy’s brilliant turn as Dennis, a character who has 23 personalities with a 24th threatening to surface with horrific results, than the quality of the film itself. McAvoy is pretty phenomenal, completely convincing as ‘Dennis’ keeps appearing with a different personality. The viewer is quickly able to identify each distinct personality as much from McAvoy’s visual ‘ticks’ and his voice as much as from what clothes he is wearing. Indeed, later on in the film as the personalities seem to switch during single shots McAvoy’s performance becomes almost breathtaking in its subtlety and clarity.

Beyond McAvoy’s performance, though, the film does fall into problems. The films heroines (captured teenagers imprisoned by Dennis for a grisly fate at the hands/teeth of personality #24) are a pretty bland bunch, and like many  M. Night Shyamalan films, the film is ultimately just too long to sustain its one-liner plot. The film is also surprisingly low on scares/tension until the end, and even there the final ‘twist’ is unfortunately a little weak. If Unbreakable was a superhero origin film, then Split is a supervillain origin film, so what was ostensibly a horror/thriller becomes, in ironic movie split-personality fashion, a superhero genre film- yeah, another one. Which in hindsight is rather fun, I guess. But maybe it is one clever conceit too many and M. Night Shyamalan falling into his old pitfalls.

Still, certainly a return to form for the writer/director and hopefully it bodes well for his next film- yes, one I’m actually looking forward to. So job done, I guess.