Midway (2019)

mid1Its the damnedest thing- after Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and so many other cautionary, war-is-hell movies (which I would describe as sophisticated, grown-up war movies), I would have thought that a revisionary, brutal and sobering film about the war in the Pacific and in particular the battle at Midway would have been timely. Pick two characters, maybe a pilot for the air battles, and a naval gunner or engineer to depict the sea battles between the carriers/destroyers, and show the film from their perspective, focus purely on them. What they can see, what they can hear, what they feel. Forgo all the military planning, all the top-brass material, just show what it was like for the grunts following the orders and trying to do their job and somehow survive. I suppose what I’m suggesting is something akin to Dunkirk, but more focused and minus all that three-timelines nonsense.

And drop all the CGI hysterics, you’re going to need it obviously, but show it sparingly and effectively- narrow it down, less of the wide-angle video-game stuff and more of the brutal, vicarious you-are-there-and-its-bloody-scary stuff.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m writing all this down, because Roland Emmerich’s Midway is not that movie. Its practically a pseudo-sequel to Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour from 2001, as if that film was critically lauded and wildly successful and everyone demanded a follow-up.  It has the same silly virtual camera moves and video-game CGI and clunky dialogue, and like Pearl Harbour, rather feels out of its time and awkwardly ill-judged. Sure, its a noble and well-intentioned effort but it just feels… wrong. Midway had the opportunity to be the anti-Pearl Harbour and blew it, pretty much giving us more of the same, as if that were A Good Thing.

Besides which, its clear that the more CGI you have in your film, the more the quality level falls and it becomes more just, well, an animated movie. Some of the visual effects/CGI in Midway is very, very good (some shots are breathtaking) but some of it is quite poor. It just seems inevitable, and some of the CGI in this is surprisingly woeful (some panoramic shots, for instance one during burials in particular, look like pre-vis work rather than completed shots). The CGI can be wonderful and enable shots/sequences impossible before but should be used sparingly to ensure impact and moreover help with the quality levels.  Naturally you lean less on the CGI and maybe you have more time for character study and acting performances and good writing… and maybe that’s why they lean on the CGI so much, because good writing appears to be unfashionable in film these days.

Anyway, suffice to say that Midway was everything I expected, its not a complete disaster and no doubt was well-intentioned, but a great cast is pretty much wasted,  some pretty banal dialogue at times doing them few favours, and, er,  leave it at that.

MIdway (2019) is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

 

 

4K Premium?

I’m not on the 4K bandwagon yet, but I’ve been noticing some really eye-watering prices for some 4K discs that would make OOP steel books blush. £25 for the recent Dunkirk is bad enough but some other Nolan films are near double that (£45 for Inception).  Are they limited editions or is pressing restricted in the short term? Just wondering. I doubt 4K will ever take off with pricing like that- even £25 seems a bad reminder of the old video disc days when us plebs were stuck with VHS. Is there a conspiracy afoot to push people to streaming and do away with physical discs?  Hardly seems as if the studios are pushing 4K with any energy at all with pricing woes like that.

The economics of Hollywood misery

The critics are blaming the films for the poor box office this year so far. While they have a point (we could always do with better films) I think they are missing the main cause- the ticket prices. At my local Cineworld, the cheapest price for my wife and I to see a film, during the afternoon, is £18. It gets rather more expensive in the evening, and then there are the usual premiums for 3D and 4D, Imax etc*. The ticket-prices can get pretty eye-watering. In some cases it could be £40+ for us both to go see a film. Which is just plain crazy. I know that it’s an evening out and alternatives can be equally or indeed more expensive, and I know Cineworld and other chains have loyalty programmes that reduces prices a little if you subscribe/spend more/go more often (it’s frankly bizarre to see cinemas getting away with doing the same direct debit/rental schtick that tv providers on cable and satellite have managed rather than just, er, stick to lower ticket prices for everybody). But really -most of the blockbusters are rubbish and hardly worth £5 a ticket. And other arthouse/indie films hardly get a look-in even at the multiplex: they’d rather have the same film doing a four-screen rotation.

£30+ for two of us to go see a movie in the evening, putting up with noisy audiences who need to chat through the film or text on their phones or check facebook/twitter or whatever the hell they are doing glued to their brightly distracting magic little screens in the dark, and those who demonstrate lousy bladder control by getting up and going to the loo during the best bits of a bloody film.

Or:  £15 to buy the film on disc and watch as many times as I like in the comfort of my own home without the moronic distractions. Or much less to just rent the thing via streaming (Life was £1.99 on Amazon Prime, which probably had something to do with me quite liking it.) Do the math Hollywood. I don’t think simply making better films is the answer. Is it a case of audiences voting with their wallets because the films are lousy or simply that it is just getting too expensive?

*(Of course, if you’re expecting audiences to cough up £9 – £21 a ticket to watch a two-hour movie, they want plenty of bang for their buck, which is no doubt why so many big loud stupid blockbusters do the rounds these days. And why even critics darling Dunkirk feels it is necessary to spray water in people’s faces and throw them around in their seats in 4D showings.)

 

 

 

Life’s A Beach

dunkirk2017.36: Dunkirk (2017)

My long-standing opinion of Christopher Nolan is that he is very similar to Stanley Kubrick, in that he is very technically adept with the logistics and craft of film-making, but doesn’t really have the skills to facilitate the dramatic aspects. His films are cold and clinical, more an intellectual exercise than an emotional one. Further to this, I must make the point that on this intellectual level, Nolan’s films are inferior to Kubrick’s if only because Nolan doesn’t make such interesting films as Kubrick did.  Nolan’s space epic Interstellar is vastly inferior to Kubrick’s 2001, for instance.

This opinion is in no way revised following watching Dunkirk, a film clearly impressive as a work of logistics and craft but as lacking in emotional content (despite the endless hysterics of Hans Zimmer’s noisy score) as anything Nolan has done. It is a very good film and one easy to admire- the sound design is quite extraordinary and many of the visuals highly impressive, but as with most (if not all) of Nolan’s films, I have to question any emotional involvement with any of the characters, any sense of really knowing anybody. The characters seem to be pieces on a chess board moved with clinical precision without really knowing how or why they are there- their mindset or purpose or what makes them tick utterly unknown, almost as if they were the monoliths of Kubrick’s 2001.

Which is not to suggest that Dunkirk is a bad film. It is just that there is a hollowness in Nolan’s films that I find personally frustrating that precludes his films ever really achieving the greatness that so many critics seem so keen to label them with. Of course comparing Nolan’s films with blockbuster fodder such as the  Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, they are practically high art and deserve all the accolades they get, but films can be more. I do worry that such inevitable comparisons elevate Nolan’s work to a stature they don’t truly deserve, for we are where we are in film entertainment and we truly do lack the serious film-making talent of people like Kubrick.

dunkirk2When I watched Dunkirk at my local Cineworld, there was an advert for films in Imax and 4D and 3D, as if all audiences are after is sensory overload and the thrill of the new, whether it be cgi spectacle or the actual methodology of viewing, etc, as opposed to quality drama or acting. It matters if your seat shakes, it seems, or the sound is all around you or if the image is huge or reaches ‘out’ to you in 3D, more than if the film is well-written and directed with skill and dramatic flair or acted well. In some ways Dunkirk is symptomatic of this trend. It is very loud and visually impressive with plenty of ‘wow’ moments and the soundtrack relentlessly hammers at you as Zimmer tends to at his worst (more sound effects design than scoring, here) but does it really involve on a deep level? Do we ever really get to ‘know’ these characters or what makes them tick, really care whether they live or die? Dunkirk portrays an event but what does it say to us about that event?

So Dunkirk is ultimately a frustrating experience, at least for me. Yes I could well praise its editorial conceit of telling three seperate stories over three time-periods that interact with each other at particular moments of the film, or note Nolan’s evident fascination with such plays with time in several of his films. But beyond its success on an intellectual level, does it ever really facilitate any more emotional involvement than a simple chronological telling might have managed? Early on I was distracted by continuity errors in lighting and time of day until I realised what Nolan was doing with his three timelines/stories. No doubt it’s a tricky feat what he was pulling off and many critics adore Nolan for that kind of stuff but I have to wonder what his films gain with it.

So anyway, Dunkirk is a good film but I hesitate to heap the praise upon it that others seem to be rushing to. Maybe I’m missing something. I am sure this film will be very successful at the box office and many will simply adore it. But I fear that there is a trend in film these days to elevate the technologies of film-making over the decades-old basics of good storytelling. Maybe Kubrick would have loved these new tools and made films inferior to Nolans, I don’t know. I just have to wonder what are we losing with everything we gain?

And yes, I hope that Nolan finally really achieves greatness with his films when he realises the skill of empathy and emotional content as much as his skill with logistics. To be fair, that’s a film I really want to see., and I dearly hope to see it. Someday. Dunkirk just isn’t it.