A couple more of these posts and I’ll be up to date. Then I can start watching the Blu-rays I brought six months ago in my suitcase…
Dark Phoenix, Simon Kinberg (2019, USA). I have this as a graphic novel in storage. Well, an omnibus of the comic story of it anyway. But that’s not what this film is. I remember quite liking it. The comic series, that is. One of Chris Claremont’s better storylines, I thought. I was slightly predisposed toward liking his material because I liked the sf trilogy he published about space pilot Nicole Shea, which were not great but very readable. I forget their titles. I probably have them in storage in the UK. None of which is in the slightest bit relevant. Anyway, the gist of the Dark Phoenix story, both comic and movie, is that Jean Grey, AKA Marvel Girl, and second only to Professor X in the X-Men, has some sort of weird space encounter which multiplies her powers and turns her to the dark side. In the comic she was a mature, established character, as indeed she was when the same thing sort of happened in the second of the Bryan Singer X-Men movies. But in this new retconned version, it happens when she is young and impressionable and not well established. In other words, this is a “teenager goes off the rails” movie but said teenager has fantastic powers. And the end result is surprisingly dull. I really didn’t care about the characters, even though most were played my actors I admire. Nor did I care about the story, most of which I must admit I’ve already forgotten. Although not a comics fan, I’ve always liked the X-Men more than other superhero groups, but this new version of them is very boring.
Mulan, Barry Cook & Tony Bancroft (1998, USA). I wanted to like this as the story is quite good: young woman takes her father’s place in army, is trained as warrior while masquerading as male, becomes hero in battle thanks to a clever decision during a battle rather than some manufactured reason. Her situation gets complicated when romance, with the emperor’s son, enters the picture. As trans narratives go, it’s safe for massmarket consumption and predictable. But this is Disney, so that’s hardly unexpected. But this is also Disney, so there are songs. And they’re bad. I cannot remember a single song from the movie, they are totally unmemorable. In all other respects – well, technical respects – Mulan wasn’t too bad. The characters were well-designed and readily identifiable, and the look and feel of everything was appropriate to the time and place of the setting (to, admittedly, my untutored eye). The narrative is one that appeals to me… but I really didn’t think a great deal of Mulan. I’ve remarked before that Disney films almost weaponise charm, and it’s the ones that are charming I find more successful – personally – than others. Mulan was good but not charming. I can’t put it up there with the Disney films I really liked. But it’s still worth watching if you’ve not seen it before.
The Olive Tree, Icíar Bollaín (2016, Spain). A young woman has a close relationship with her grandfather. But he has never really recovered from selling the ancient olive tree which formed the centre-piece of his olive grove. When he suffers a stroke, the young woman decides to track down the sold olive tree in the hope it will improve his condition. This puts her at odds with the rest of the family. Eventually, she manages to find it… in Germany. Where it forms part of a company’s corporate identity, so they’re not going to part with it… This was one of those films you stumble across on Amazon Prime – because its recommendation algorithm is shit: I watch one Guru Dutt film and the only drama and comedy movies it recommends are Bollywood films. FFS. It’s not like you can browse the movies available using the website, either. There’s loads of good stuff there free to watch with Prime membership, but finding it is stupidly difficult. Anyway, The Olive Tree was a well-played drama, and one of the few Spanish dramas I’ve seen, as most Spanish films I’ve watched, the oeuvre of Pedro Almodóvar aside, have been thrillers. And pretty good ones too. Worth seeing.
White Vengeance, Daniel Lee (2011, China). China has a long tradition of making movies about its history, and the last couple of decades have seen a steady stream of lush CGI-heavy Chinese historical films. But then, it’s not like they’re short of history to make movies about. Unlike another country with a huge film industry… And like that other country, China seems to prefer making films about the bloodier periods of its history. White Vengeance is set during the interregnum between the Qin and Han dynasties, 206 – 202 BC. That’s a long time ago, and even with China’s long, long history, the production design of White Vengeance made it all look more mediaeval (to, admittedly, my untutored eye). Basically, two generals of a rebel king are charged with conquering a Qin kingdom, and the winner will sit on its throne. So there are lots of battles. and, to be honest, I got a bit lost in the middle. One scene, however, has stuck in memory: the generals challenge each other to a game of weiqi, which looks a lot like go, and each puts forward a champion. But one general’s champion is blind, so the other must blindfold himself, and they play five games simultaneously, from memory, to the death. It’s weirdly impressive and overly melodramatic. White Vengeance is not helped by a confusing structure, in which most of the plot is told in flashbacks, or crosscuts between the two groups, who seem remarkably similar in dress and appearance (all armoured, and beards and pony-tails). It looks fantastic, but it’s hard work figuring what’s going on. I’m tempted to give the film another go, because the history it depicts is quite fascinating and it’s a very immersive film. But I’ll have to concentrate…
Memory: The Origins of Alien, Alexandre O Philippe (2019 USA). Alien is one of my favourite films, and has been pretty much since its release. Although I didn’t see it first then, of course, as I was only 13 in 1979, and Alien was released with an 18 certificate. But I had loads of books about it. Memory: The Origins of Alien, however, slightly oversells its connection to that film as it’s mostly about Dan O’Bannon, the writer of the original script. O’Bannon also worked on Jodorowsky’s aborted Dune movie, and later created Farscape (ETA: as pointed out in a comment below, Farscape was created by Rockne O’Bannon, who is not related; whoops). It was after Dune had folded, that O’Bannon came up with the idea for Alien, which, to be honest, is not all that original. He called it Star Beast, and eventually sold the script to Walter Hill’s production company. But Hill hated the script and wanted to completely rewrite it. It all fell through, but Hill’s involvement gave the script a higher profile than previously. One of the directors O’Bannon sent it to was Ridley Scott, who apparently loved the chestburster scene – even though at that point Scott had only directed commercials and The Duellists, a historical film. Memory: The Origins of Alien doesn’t go into the making of Alien in great detail. There are a number of talking heads – but not O’Bannon, who died in 2009; or Ridley Scott – who describe what it was like on the production. It’s fascinating stuff, although perhaps more for fans of Alien. Which seems to be getting some sort of push at the moment, with a number of coffee-table books about the franchise being published this year, even though a sequel to Alien: Covenant (2017) is still a couple of years away. Worth seeing.
100, Sam Anton (1019, India). The title of this Kollywood movie refers to the 100th emergency call received by the protagonist, who, despite wanting to be out on the streets solving crimes and catching criminals, has been assigned to the emergency call control room. I wasn’t entirely sure if 100 was meant to be a thriller or a comedy as it seemed to be a bit of both. The hero is nowhere near as competent as he thinks he is, and other members of the cast seemed more like comic sidekicks. But the plot was almost pure thriller, with that 100th call leading the hero to discover that a young girl thought dead is actually the victim of a kidnapping, and she’s not the first… I’ve seen Kollywood – and Bollywood and Tollywood – films with better production values than 100, and, to be honest, better plots, but this was still pretty enjoyable. I’ve been watching a lot of Indian films recently – there’s lots of them on Amazon Prime, although not all have English subtitles, which can be bloody annoying – and I’ve yet to be disappointed. Most of them are not great films, but they’ve all been very entertaining.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 941