A Quiet Place

Shhh! Don’t ask too many questions. 

quet1A Quiet Place is clearly a superior horror film- its tautly staged, with a small cast and some genuine jumps/scares, with a feeling of dread and doom throughout. Its probably one of the better films I’ll see this year. And yet it also irritated me. We all carry our baggage into films, which is no doubt why some people love one film, and others don’t, and while I admired and quite enjoyed A Quiet Place, some of its choices turned me cold.

Wrong film on the wrong night, maybe? It happens, Usually I like films leaving things unsaid, or simply putting mysteries up into the air for the audience to chew over- sometimes its all part of the fun. But with A Quiet Place, something felt a little off. The premise, for one thing- it’s the near future, and there has been some kind of apocalypse leaving civilization in tatters and most of the population dead. Deadly creatures prowl the land, totally blind but able to hunt prey by sound alone. Which is fine, it makes a change from zombies. But if they are blind, and if they are indeed aliens, how’d they build space ships and fly here? Or how come they don’t have a keen sense of smell to match the incredible hearing? Or fingers or thumbs for using tools or… We just accept the bizarre premise of blind monsters and move on, I guess.

The streets of a derelict town are deserted, where are the dead? Did everyone just up and leave or did the creatures whisk their victims away? And regards those creatures, what exactly are they? I’ve been told by one person that they are aliens, whereas I thought they might have been a genetic experimentation gone wrong, or maybe they are something more demonic, Its never said, and I suppose on another day I’d be praising that ambivalence, but right now I’m not sure the film deserved a pass.

I think a part of this are the many other things we are expected to just accept, as if unearned-  the details of the Abbot family, for one. The father, Lee (John Krasinski, who also directed this) is more than just handy, he’s some kind of gadget nut able to wire up a farm with lights, cameras and a basement full of tech, and he’s a bloody good survivalist in general, setting up traps, growing food. The mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt, who I usually love in just about anything), seems to have medical training alongside the survivalist stuff (so is that survivalist thing something they teach in American schools?), and is smart enough to teach her kids since schools out, like, forever. Heavily pregnant (a dubious move in this scenario, you’d have thought) she turns out to be some kind of superwoman later, giving birth not only alone but in total silence (grit those teeth, woman) and managing to put her foot though a nail, and later pull it back off that nail, in stocky silence- Captain Marvel, eat your heart out.

But you know, the unknowns and the fortuitous details just keep on piling up. Did they always own the farm they are living in, or did they just find it and make it the fortress of solitude/silence it’s become? I guess it doesn’t really matter. Or what about those other survivors, whose other fires in the night suggest the Abbots are not alone?

I suppose I should just shut up (like the characters do) and enjoy it. And I did, really. Its a good film, but it just… I don’t know, just pushed credulity a little too far. As I remarked a while ago in my Black Summer review, in the real world, if the shit hit the fan, most of us would be in the dead majority in no time at all. We’d be no good sorting medical ailments or growing crops or engineering clean drinking water or setting traps or managing sewage, never mind keeping one step ahead of deadly monsters.  They wouldn’t be able to make a gripping movie about most of us because it wouldn’t be a very long one. But make it a little more realistic, dial down the heroics or the perfection, maybe, of people who don’t lose their shit at the earliest opportunity?

Then again, the inevitable sequel might explain everything and that might just equally piss me off, go figure.

 

Into the Woods (2014)

One of the few tv offerings over Christmas that I recorded- well, I suppose it is a festive kind of film, but to be honest I’ve been curious about this one ever since I saw the trailer long ago. Based on a long-running Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine stage musical that has been running for decades and of which I am utterly ignorant, I suppose I’d summarise it as an adult fairytale with a sly sense of humor. As a fairytale musical I’d say it scores higher than Disney’s later live action Beauty & the Beast even though the songs aren’t anywhere near as memorable; I preferred this films dark undercurrent and its sense of wicked humor as it twists several fairy tales into one – Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel amongst them. It’s perhaps a little episodic in nature but the strands come together surprisingly well. Visually it’s rather sumptuous too with some absolutely lovely production design and cinematography. I imagine the Blu-ray looks beautiful.

The cast is pretty good, led by Meryl Streep under heavy make-up for most of the film as the cursed, evil witch (her costume is a wonder as it catches the light and billows in the wind). Chris Pine… well, not for the first time I see him in a film in which he looks a better Kirk than he does in the Star Trek reboots. He hams it up a treat with his self-conscious Prince Charming in love with his reflection more than his Cinderella. Emily Blunt is just as good as she always is. Johnny Depp is wasted really in a part that amounts to a cheeky cameo that might have better suited Adam Ant to be honest. Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella is possibly the films weakest link, as she seems to the lack the charisma the part really needs. The rest of the cast alternates between serviceable and lacklustre, really, but their failings are well hidden but that wonderful production design and cinematography.

I suspect that if/when I rewatch this someday I may actually enjoy it more simply from knowing what to expect, and maybe the musical numbers do become more effective through familiarity. I had an impression that it might have benefited from a longer running-time as it does seem to just stumble to a halt, strangely faltering towards the end as if in a race to finish in two hours. Was the original musical quite as… I don’t know, routine and predictable? The first half has plenty of twists and surprises and I expected this to follow to the end but it becomes just a little too… well, yes, routine. And yet there are some surprises as not every character gets a happy ending, a sense of underlying darkness that feels quite satisfying. As it is my enjoyment was likely heightened by the festive season but it seemed a solid enough effort. Beats watching The Snowman yet again.

All Aboard The Ghost Train… not.

train112017.27: The Girl On The Train (2016) 

Not exactly a bad film, or a particularly good one either. Just stuck in that awkward middle- mostly harmless I guess. To be honest, not knowing anything about either the film or the book it is based upon, I actually came into it expecting a ghost story. Too many childhood memories of being scared witless by The Ghost Train (1941) maybe- I don’t know why exactly I expected a ghost story, but there you go, one of the disadvantages of coming into a film blind sometimes.

Books to films. Is it the film’s fault if it follows too closely to the book, suffering from the same issues inherent in the original? Some books are in no way cinematic but people try to make films out of them anyway. Maybe they should follow the lead of Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Blade Runner took the basic ideas and core plot of the original book but went off and did its own thing as a movie. The Girl On The Train has an odd construction, layers of reveals jumping around timelines and pov, which might well work well in the book (I assume the book has that structure) but possibly just comes across as confusing in the film. Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention (waiting for those damned ghosties, or a reveal that the girl was the ghost of a previous murder victim or… well, I was clearly watching/imagining a different movie to what I was watching).

Emily Blunt plays a good drunk but… do actors/actresses sometimes carry over personnas from other films, albeit unintentionally, blurring the effect of their performance? Not her fault, but I don’t think she was exactly right for this part. Too beautiful? Too many prior films leaking in and affecting my perception of her in this one? Whatever, she isn’t a complete success.  Sometimes I wish there was an opportunity for more unknown actors in films, a clean slate as it were. I think the films might be more effective, more a step into the unknown for the audience.

Sicario (2015)

Now THATS a film poster...
Now THATS a film poster…

The prospect of director Denis Villeneuve helming Blade Runner 2 is more exciting than ever having seen Sicario. It also reinforces his evident fascination with humanities dark side, being a particularly grim, and at times unrelentingly tense, thriller with some fantastic performances (oddly, I did find a particular comparison here with Blade Runner, albeit unintentional- just as Harrison Ford was overshadowed by Rutger Hauer in the 1982 film, here Emily Blunt is overshadowed by the performance of Benicio Del Toro in what is ostensibly a supporting role that simply steals the movie). Alas news that LIonsgate seem keen to move on with a Sicario 2 is a little depressing even if somewhat predictable considering how the film ends. Sicario simply does not need a sequel and I fear it will be weakened by a follow up- I guess this is just a further demonstration of the times we live in, but it’s such a shame that a film like this can’t be allowed to stand by itself anymore. Indeed, it has hardly been given time to be released before the studio has raised the prospect of a sequel. My own response to the news of a sequel was “what? WHAT?” as if it was some kind of joke. Imagine Heat being followed by a Heat 2 and a Heat 3…. it’s heartbreaking really how cannibalistic the film industry is now, success breeding some kind of instant feeding frenzy.

(While those films that deserve or suggest a sequel, like Dredd or John Carter, haven’t a teardrop in Hell’s chance of ever getting one).

sic3I wouldn’t by any means describe this film as perfect- there are a few pacing issues with Sicario that leaves the middle somewhat laboured, but it remains a superior thriller with ambiguous lines of morality that is quite refreshing. Clearly there is Good and Evil here but its all shades of grey rather than simplistic black and white… There is no moral high ground championed, rather just a vague sense of futility trying to make sense of it all, the distinctions of right and wrong blurred in somehow trying to define a Greater Good, the central question being does the end justify the actions getting there. Having seen his previous film,  Prisoners, it comes as no surprise that Villeneuve has no problem establishing a realistic milieu with fine performances from his cast. What does come as a welcome surprise, considering how intellectual that films probing of human darkness was, is how well Villeneuve manages Sicario’s action sequences. It’s no overstatement to suggest it is so accomplished it recalls Michael Mann’s Heat, but even when the bullet’s aren’t flying it is the threat of violence that is most powerful and impressive. We live in age of films laden with cartoon violence with cities portrayed collapsing in photorealistic detail, whether it be due to superheroes or giant robots or giant monsters, but the implied threat of violence when being trapped in a traffic jam is here far more overpowering. Tension is ramped up incredibly high in three sequences, but beyond that there is a dark feeling of dread, of a world out of control. Its a tragedy, in many ways.

Clearly this film consolidates Villeneuve as one of the most promising directors at work today. Roger Deakins photography, meanwhile, ensures the film looks utterly beautiful, if such a thing can be said about a film as uncompromisingly as bleak as this is. I must stop mentioning BR2 but goodness, one can only wonder at the possibilities of these two working on the project, and what they might come up with if left alone and given decent material (i.e. a decent script). One can only hope and wonder. As it is, Sicario simply remains one of the best films of the year and really deserves some recognition come awards season.

 

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

edge1The cover-art of the Blu-ray (and I presume the DVD, although I haven’t seen it) betrays the problem that this film seems to have had- is it Edge of Tomorrow or Live, Die, Repeat?  When a film’s identity, its very title, seems to have an air of doubt about it, you know the marketing boys are in trouble. Here’s a film that is a very enjoyable action blockbuster with a bit of intelligence and wit about it starring one of the biggest male stars on the planet, with favourable reviews and word-of-mouth, and yet it still somehow fails to live up to box-office expectations. As a product, its fine, so is the problem simply that it wasn’t sold very well?

The success of movies is always something of a crap-shoot. Some films have ‘hit’ all over them and make huge box-office, others have ‘hit’ all over them and sink without trace. The frustrating thing for film-fans is often the injustice of it. Good films fail (John Carter, Blade Runner etc) and bad movies (take your pick, but any Transformers movie is a good start) make obscene amounts of money. There just isn’t any reason to it. Some films capture the public’s attention, others don’t. Maybe the public are a tasteless ignorant horde of brain-dead morons who are suckers for loud spectacle.

Here’s the thing. They are usually very young. Its demographics. Going to the cinema is mostly a young person’s activity. Most people going to the cinema these days are a different generation to the one that grew up with Tom Cruise as a major star. For this generation, the names Sylvester Stallone or Arnold  Swarzenegger or Bruce Willis or, indeed, Tom Cruise, don’t carry the same street-cred or air of celluloid importance as they did (and still do) for, say my own age group (slipping towards age 50) or even  the age group before, now hitting their thirties. Is the problem simply that Tom Cruise’s status is beginning to wane, his name not quite able alone to sell an original IP with its own attendant problems regards marketing? I am always one to bemoan the number of superhero movies and remakes and sequels being made, but the perceived failure of movies like Edge of Tomorrow kind of reinforces the practices of Hollywood, the films that we usually get.

egde2I’m not going to suggest that Edge of Tomorrow is a great film. Its good, but nothing extraordinary. But of all this past summer’s ‘blockbusters’ that I have so far seen, its likely the best, and possibly the most, dare I say it, original (although that last point is with a few caveats, as it eventually seems to descend into a rehash of a Matrix movie by the end).

Its a weird film though. The basic premise is just plain daft. Aliens have invaded Earth and have taken over Europe and its up to the Brits to save the day. Its World War Two and the Normandy invasion all over again. Only in the near future. I admit that whole thing bugged me a bit; if this thing had been a kind of Steampunk alternate World War Two with advanced tech then that would have been fine, albeit too high-brow for the general film-going public (the irony is not lost on me considering how the film’s box-office turned out). As it is, it just feels wrong, the central proposition (even before we get to the time travel stuff) already on shaky ground. It may have worked against the Germans in the 1940s, but how do you keep a huge invasion force secret in the Information Age, particularly against space-faring aliens who can surely see what you are up to across the Channel?  How do us Brits, with our cut-down military and debt-ridden economy even marshal those invasion forces? How come the Yanks don’t just run the show? That said, while the central ideas may have been dubious, the presentation is quite convincing and impressive. The battle scenes are very good indeed, with some excellent action choreography, and it looks very cool- Saving Private Ryan in Exo-skeletons!

I have to admit I enjoyed the proposition that Tom Cruise is a coward more intent on selling this war than actually fighting in it. Reluctant heroes are much more interesting and it gives Cruise something a bit left-field for him. Once the action sets in he’s as capable as ever, but its certainly his quieter moments that I enjoyed the most. Meanwhile, Emily Blunt is something of a revelation. If this film doesn’t serve as some kind of audition for her eventual starring role in a Marvel Studios movie, well, there is no justice. She is just great as an action heroine, which somehow came as quite a surprise. She and Cruise also share some chemistry too. Its great casting.

edge3The funny thing about Edge of Tomorrow is that it has the structure of a video-game. Its really weird. Cruise re-lives the same day (the same video-game level) and changes his actions to get further and further into that level, each death causing a reset to that same checkpoint… it even looks like a FPS. Its like an alternate Tron or something. In some ways its the most authentic movie based on a video-game ever (except that, far as I know, it isn’t based on any video-game). Damned thing is, you’d think that would sell well. Go figure.

Its certainly a good movie and one I very much enjoyed. When it finished, my first thought was that I’d like to watch it again (rather ironic considering its own repetitive structure), which is not something I often think when watching new films these days.Sure its not perfect, and in truth its box-office wasn’t really all that bad (it was perceived as performing below expectations but it was certainly no Lone Ranger/John Carter failure). I think some longer character beats, and perhaps some examination on the impact reliving all  those events so many times would have on Cruise’s character psychologically…  but maybe that would have been a different movie.