The Favourite (2018)

Biopics and costume dramas often intersect, as we’ve seen in The Favourite, and Keira Knightley has been particularly splendid at wearing an old frock and looking glamorous on-screen, though increasingly she’s also become an excellent actor, and Colette is a fantastic example of her recent craft.


Yorgos Lanthimos can go either way really can’t he? I didn’t even see his The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but I really liked The Lobster, and then there’s this, which seems like a carefully controlled “fvck you” to the whole industry of heritage filmmaking. It has the sumptuous sets and glorious frocks and the use of baroque music pulling it back to something like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon but then it just throws a bunch of stuff in that feels less like ‘let’s try and get the historical details exactly right’ (as many historical dramas are wont to do) and more ‘let’s do some free-form historical cosplay’. Needless to say, I think the latter is a far more rewarding strategy at this point in time, though given all the fun dance sequences, the chucking rotten fruit at bewigged naked guys, and the racing of lobsters, they might as well have cast more people of colour in prominent roles. Still, it’s a great film for it’s three leads (Colman, Weisz and Stone), and the way they just talk down to and over the men, who clearly think a lot of themselves but are also fools. The filmmaking feels at once liberated in the way it tries out ideas, but also very precise and controlled in the way it’s all filmed and put together.

The Favourite film posterCREDITS
Director Yorgos Lanthimos Γιώργος Λάνθιμος; Writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara; Cinematographer Robbie Ryan; Starring Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult; Length 120 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Friday 28 December 2018.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Perhaps I’m just getting weary of superhero movies now, but it’s not just me, surely? Days of Future Past, while hardly being terrible (sorry, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), is not the equal even of its immediate predecessor, X-Men: First Class (2011, although I’m setting aside 2013’s The Wolverine). I had hope for Marvel movies after the surprisingly enjoyable Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that was made by a different studio. By comparison, Days of Future Past just seems lazy and bloated. There’s an end-of-days apocalyptic plotline, including a thin excuse to bring together the different timelines (and their respective actors), but it’s no more compelling than Star Trek: Generations so many years before, another franchise to which Patrick Stewart has lent his considerable actorly gravitas. As with that franchise, here too it’s ultimately the younger generation who are more convincing and enjoyable in their roles, James McAvoy as Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto nicely playing off one another, though Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine remains dependable across both timelines. There’s also an expanded role for Jennifer Lawrence, and it’s just as well she’s such a fine actor as she’s required to express plenty of fairly uninflected rage and caprice. Indeed, if there’s anything I’ll remember about Days of Future Past in years to come, it won’t be the special effects or the big setpieces or the now-canonical protracted final battle sequence, but the sense of so many very talented actors (those named above, along with a smaller role for Peter Dinklage, and poor Anna Paquin all but left on the cutting-room floor) being wasted on over-extended big-budget bloat.

X-Men: Days of Future Past film posterCREDITS
Director Bryan Singer; Writer Simon Kinberg (based on the Uncanny X-Men comic book storyline “Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Byrne); Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel; Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage; Length 131 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Thursday 22 May 2014.

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

I don’t think we really need another story about a boy from a poor background overcoming obstacles to become a man by asserting his masculine dominance and attempting to win the love of a high-born woman. If the film had reversed the roles it might have been a bit more interesting, as I rather tire of feisty attractively-coiffed and dressed young women being rescued by weedy male heroes. But then being based on a fairy tale is hardly likely to lead to a work of subtle artistry. So if the script is a bit on the weak side, trading in generic tropes and absurd caricatures, the film still has plenty to commend it in the performances. It is also winningly — and at times breaktakingly — silly, which is a virtue in this kind of enterprise. Clearly, what this film wants most to be compared to is The Princess Bride (1987), and in that it at least, it partially succeeds.

The key pleasure is in the actors, who all have suitably filmic gravitas, but are willing to push their performances to the edge of caricature in the service of what is avowedly a crowd-pleasing family-friendly flick. Ian McShane affects regality as the King, slipping adroitly into bathos early on when he moves pleadingly towards his daughter, revealing that the stately robes he is posing in are pinned to the ground, and that underneath he is dressed in flashy golden armour (which leads to one of the better throwaway lines later in the film when Jack remarks on the similarity of father and daughter’s suits of armour). Stanley Tucci as a grimacing adviser to the King (rather akin to Christopher Guest’s Count in Princess Bride) does everything but cackle maniacally (actually, maybe he does do that), while Ewan McGregor’s head of the King’s guards struts around with dashing aplomb, grinning in the face of all conceivable dangers.

McGregor’s character really should have been the romantic hero, dispensing with Nicholas Hoult’s rather dreary Jack, but then the love story is luckily not the film’s prime interest. It prefers instead to focus on the clash between the humans (the English men) and the giants (all of whom have Irish accents, and four of whom are named Fe, Fi, Fo and Fum, of course), leading to a suitably histrionic climactic third, which nevertheless is all crashingly good fun. The film also sets up for its final scene a coup de théâtre of surpassing preposterousness, which is a good note for the film to end on, and left me feeling fairly satisfied.


CREDITS
Director Bryan Singer; Writers Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney; Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel; Starring Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci; Length 114 minutes.
Seen at Peckham Multiplex (2D), London, Monday 1 April 2013.

Warm Bodies (2013)

I must confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of the fairly prolific subgenre of zombie movies, though partly that’s because I’ve never been a huge fan of the horror genre. Blah blah metaphor for problems afflicting humanity, blah blah hollow dead-eyed malaise infecting Western culture (or some variant thereof). And here again, we have a future world that’s an extrapolation of our own, and most people are zombies roaming the hinterlands except for the brave rebels holding out in their fortified city. There’s no explanation for it, but there’s the strong implication right away that we’re in a Starship Troopers-like world where the ‘real’ humans are actually the callous amoral ones, and as for the zombies, their only crime is essentially being apathetic. Well, except for the really bad zombies, the ones that are too far gone. But for the rest of them, the premise here is that they can be rescued. By love.

Which, when typed out, isn’t the kind of précis that would win me over, except that this is really a very sweet film with engaging central performances. Here we have ‘being a zombie’ as a metaphor for the awkwardness of being a teenager, much as I imagine it might have been used in, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (assuming it had a zombie plot). Nicholas Hoult gets to be gangly, awkward and monosyllabic with a pasty complexion befitting someone who’s spent a lot of time indoors playing videogames, because, well, he’s a zombie. Teresa Palmer (an actress I was not hitherto aware of, but who looks a lot like Kristen Stewart) gets to be more self-assured, and in some ways has a more difficult role because she has to believably be the daughter of John Malkovich (who makes a few brief appearances).

However, it all sort of hangs together in a shaggy, comedic kind of way. This is comedy in the broad sense, in the sense where the world isn’t essentially harsh and hateful like it might be in a horror film, though there are some laughs too. Which means, for me, the surprise was that I rather enjoyed it.


CREDITS
Director/Writer Jonathan Levine (based on the novel by Isaac Marion); Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe; Starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry; Length 97 minutes
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 27 February 2013.