Bollywood And Beyond: Mission Mangal

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Welcome to Bollywood And Beyond, our new regular column looking at the incredible movies coming out of Bollywood and Indian cinema, with our host, Chris Conway.

Mission Mangal (translated as Mission Mars) tells the true story of the Indian Mars orbiter mission, that was successfully launched back in September, 2014. It’s not an action film or edge-of-seat drama, like Apollo 13, but like Ron Howard’s movie, it tells the audience a story we know has actually happened.

Initially announced in 2013 and going into production as the real-life Mars Orbiter was launched, the film’s story is loosely based on the lives of scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation and focuses on the largely female team and their driven mission director, who all made it happen against incredible odds.

Director Jagan Shakti (previously a second unit or assistant director on films including Dear Zindagi, Holiday and Thupakki) put together a very engaging cast: Akshay Kumar (one of Bollywood’s most prolific actors) is perfect as the slightly eccentric director, and among the female team is the always excellent Vidya Balan (from films including Lage Raho Munna Bhai) struggling to balance work with being a mom and wife. Sonakshi Sinha plays a smoking, serial dating propulsion expert, Tapsee Panu portrays a soldier’s wife and payload expert. Add a pregnant woman, a separated Muslim woman, a nerdy young guy and an elderly man (at 59?) – and that’s quite a team.

The main story follows the mission’s beginnings and the problems faced by the team along the way, allowing us to get to know and empathise with the characters. This is greatly helped with the inclusion of some gently funny scenes, highly enjoyable as Akshay and Vidya are such likeable actors.

It’s all been slightly romanticised, of course – several times a team member will find something from everyday life which is the solution to a problem, and the film doesn’t really do science – in fact the team always use simplified terms, even in mission control.

The film even slips a song or two in there, this is Bollywood, after all. You’d be disappointed if there were none (certainly Indian audiences would be).

Shakti (along with fellow writers R. Balki, Nidhi Singh Dharma and Saketh Kondiparthi) makes sure the story is big on Indian patriotism – and why not? It is the first Asian Mars mission (and the cheapest!) – but if you’re not in a hurry with the plot everything carries you along to a nice ending.

In fact, if you’re looking for a word to describe the film, “nice” would fit perfectly.


Chris Conway is a Bollywood enthusiast who sees at least twenty Bollywood films a year, often at Leicester’s Piccadilly Bollywood Cinema. He’s also a jazz pianist, vocalist, composer and songwriter who is currently celebrating his thirtieth year of recording and performing. He also loves cloudy days and J-pop.

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood -Tarantino’s Fairy Tale Triumph

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Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, is his masterpiece. There, I’ve said it.

It almost feels glib to make such a bald, bland statement about this often breathtakingly complex work, but if this is to be his penultimate movie (and his tenth and final film will be “epilogue-y” as the director recently stated), then he has left us with something that not only stands as a brilliant expansion and culmination of his cinematic style and obsessions but also as arguably the most intricate and layered film in his body of work.

It’s a beautiful and elegiac love letter to not only Hollywood but also international filmmaking, it uses a potentially troublesome real-life tragedy and gives it catharsis in the most surprisingly touching and tender way, and it presents a simple bromance that eventually reveals itself as something deeper.

Set across two brief moments six months apart, Tarantino shows us a Hollywood in transition, beset by television, the dying embers of the studio system giving way to the bright flames of New Hollywood, the encroachment of international films and indeed, of the death of the 1960s as an ideal, we’re introduced to fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman-cum-personal driver-cum-gopher, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).

As the two weave their way through dwindling career opportunities, we meet their mirror opposite, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whose star is on the ascendant and ready to burn brightly. As Al Pacino’s Hollywood producer offers Dalton a lifeline in Italy to feature in Spaghetti Westerns and Euro-spy movies, Tate glimpses the wonder of her craft and the two threads play out with some of Tarantino’s most perfectly measured storytelling since Jackie Brown (now my second favourite film from the director), all the while magnificently slowly building towards the tension and violence of the era-ending and personal tragedy we know is about to unfold.

DiCaprio continues his run as a driven, fearless performer, handling every level of Dalton’s movie star bragadoccio and insecurities with ease, never failing to find the most human of reactions, while Pitt further reveals himself to be the character actor in a movie star’s body those of us with more attuned tastes have always known him to be. His role could easily have played as unlikable or even offensive, but he strides across this with his easy going charm, leaving us with an arresting and enjoyable ambiguity.

Pitt and DiCaprio make for such an impeccable screen teaming that if it wasn’t so all-fired perfect here already, I’d be begging to see more. But their transition from employer and employee to deep friendship is so beautifully bittersweet that I can’t see any other, future pairing as anything more than anti-climatic.

There has been much criticism of Tarantino’s handling of Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, with many saying she is underused. This is, of course, complete nonsense (as is the storm in a tea cup over Bruce Lee’s role in the story, which willfully misunderstands the nature of the film). Tate is the joyful glue that binds the film, an even more impressive feat of both writing and acting considering many of her scenes see the character playing not off others, but reveling in her life, by and for herself, in the moment before her Hollywood stardom explodes.

Robbie, the writing and direction of her, gives us a wonderful character and a heartfelt tribute to the real life actress. The scene of her watching herself on a Westwood cinema screen, delighting in not only her own performance (made even more multi-faceted by the fact we see the real Tate) but also in the reactions of the audience around her, has instantly become one of my favourite Tarantino sequences from all of his films. Rather than marginalize the actor, Tarantino has the confidence in his star to let her carry this all out wordlessly.

It’s a scene which also stands as one of two moments in particular (though I suspect further viewings will reveal more) which startlingly play with perceptions of how, and perhaps even why, we watch films in ways I’m still trying to unravel, but this and DiCaprio’s incredible address to himself in his mirror where he instead makes perfect eye contact with the audience were genuinely spine-chilling.

The playful blending and juxtaposition of films in our real world and films in Tarantino’s reel world is also sure to leave film lovers with examination and critique that will no doubt reward, infuriate and entrance for decades to come.

Tarantino’s films all pay off with multiple viewing, but this is a genuine treasure chest which unfolds to reveal multiple levels of jewels which will catch the light to reveal themselves the more we look into it.

Standing as a love letter to Hollywood and an ode to that town’s ever-changing tides of filmmaking, as an ode to the end of an era, as the reclamation of a terrible real-life crime and celebration of the life of the woman involved in that event, as a charming buddy movie examination of the changing dynamics of friendship and as an investigation of cinema and our relationship to it, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood really is Tarantino’s most emotionally mature and singularly impressive work.

It’s also the first Tarantino film to bring a tear to my eye, with a quite beautiful, and delicate closing scene which perfectly encapsulates what the film is: a Hollywood fairy tale, with all the romance and darkness of the very best fairy tales.

In fact, it’s his masterpiece. There, I’ve said it again.

*You can read more about the cinematic legacy of Charles Manson here.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate – All In The Worst Possible Taste

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the infamous Tate – LaBianca murders and, much like waiting for a bus, along come three movies to mark the date in various ways. I’ve yet to see Mary Harron’s Charlie Says and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, but I think it’s safe to assume that if The Haunting of Sharon Tate set out to be the worst of the three then it can be considered a rip-roaring success.

It’s pretty tough to figure out what was going on in anybody’s heads in their efforts to make this movie. Hilary Duff, who could most charitably be described as awful, runs the gamut from cloying to annoyingly hysterical (not in the humorous way either), playing Tate as little more than a blank slate.

But then the script she has to work with gives her no help whatsoever, keeping the characters character-free and running fast and loose with the unsubstantiated real-life rumour that the actress had a premonition of her own death. In doing so, it attempts to turn cult leader Charles Manson (who instructed four of his followers to kill the inhabitants of 10050 Cielo Drive) into a Freddy Krueger boogieman-type apparition, and that’s probably the least boneheaded element of this truly wretched movie.

Following the real events, Duff’s Tate arrives back at the home she made with her film director husband, Roman Polanski (off in Europe working on the script for Day of the Dolphin, as the script leadenly points out), with her friend and former lover, Jay Sebring (Jonathon Bennett) and three other friends who are looking after the house.

Almost immediately, Tate begins hearing noises, gets spooked by cupboard doors creaking open and windows being left ajar (to the point where you’re screaming at the screen: “JUST CLOSE ALL THE GODDAMNED WINDOWS, ALREADY!”) before playing a kind of Ouija board game that adds nothing to the mix and having a quick conversation about destiny. Oh, and dropping as many expository factoids about Polanski and Tate into six or seven lines of dialogue as humanly possible. Its even more irritating than it sounds.

Then the interminable music (by someone possibly wisely named only as Fantom) which wallpapers every scene SUDDENLY GETS REALLY LOUD AND SCARY as a hippy turns up at the house looking for the previous owner, music producer Terry Melcher. That’ll be Charles Manson then, folks. Or maybe it’s Freddy Krueger. Tough to tell from that music.

From then on, Tate’s unease turns to full blown hysteria as we see the murders play out as her nightmare and she imagines blood pouring out of the bath taps while the audience starts wondering if Hilary Duff might return to her singing career soon because that would be marginally less painful than sitting through the rest of this film.

Just when you think the movie can’t get any worse it goes and exceeds expectations by getting much, much worse: Tate is turned into a gun-toting Linda Hamilton clone, seeing off Manson’s followers with great vengeance and furious anger, as she reimagines taking charge of her destiny (foreshadowed in her earlier conversations about, well… destiny, geddit?).

And, uh… that’s it… 94 minutes of something utterly ghastly, filled with a billion beauty shots of the Hollywood sign and surrounding hills (you could certainly never be unclear where this film took place), would-be portentous dialogue and a hilarious shot where Duff’s Tate is sitting by the pool reading a book titled REINCARNATION, in nice, big friendly text. Oh, and the vaguely rotten aftertaste that The Haunting of Sharon Tate is indulging in a little victim blaming by suggesting that the ill-fated party might have lived if only they’d been resourceful enough to fight back a little harder. Or they’d had Linda Hamilton to hand.

Bad taste can be invigorating, thrilling and hilarious or it can just be bad taste. This is definitely the latter, and is nowhere near clever enough to realise just how obnoxious it is.

It would be a real cheap shot to say this film is truly Duff, but fuck it, it doesn’t deserve anything better.

Rocketman Sparkles And Soars But Doesn’t Dig Deep Enough

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Elton John is one of the world’s most famous rock stars and this authorised account of the singer’s life and career (with Elton and his husband, David Furnish, serving as executive producer and producer, respectively) begins on the usual biopic trope of the comeback concert, but immediately takes an intriguing turn as the narrative style weaves an inventive path with the equally standard flashbacks.

Rocketman wears its themes (the need for love, self-acceptance) on its attractively garish sleeve like the lyrics of a Taupin/John song, and that’s no denigration as the film is exciting and emotional from start to end. It shuffles both time, story and songs like a Spotify playlist, and works all the better for it, allowing the visuals and the many well-loved songs to tell much of the story, instead of the usual, oftentimes trite biopic dialogue.

And in speaking of trite dialogue, it’s worth mentioning the similarities between this film and 2019’s other big rock biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody: iconic gay rock stars who emerge, chrysalis-like from ‘umble, workin’ class backgrounds to become hedonistic stars of the 1970s and facing the challenges of falls from grace before life-affirming, triumphal returns to public and creative favour, despite the pitfalls of predatory rock and roll managers and all manner of troubled love lives. Plus of course, both were directed by Dexter Fletcher. Mostly anyway.

There is a world of difference between Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, which Fletcher came onboard to complete after the removal/departure of original director, Bryan Singer. That film felt felt like the compromised vision it was in every sense of the word (and featured some of the most atrocious editing seen in a major feature since, well, probably one of the last Transformers movies).

Rocketman instead feels like the work of a more singular voice, one with a vibrant visual flair. I don’t know whether Fletcher was deliberately referencing the late British bad boy auteur, Ken Russell (which would be apt considering the links between Russell and Elton John), but his direction here is frequently redolent of the great man’s work – inventive, bombastic and florid, but capable of finding the quieter, emotional moments.

One of the big draws to the story here is the love and friendship between John and long- time lyricist, Bernie Taupin (a winning performance from the always reliable Jamie Bell). Brave enough to show much of their relationship as unrequited love on Elton’s behalf, including a lovely sequence set to Tiny Dancer (which still doesn’t transcend the song’s sublime use in Almost Famous, but comes close) and a scene where the singer finishes composing Your Song as a ballad to his friend was beautifully direct. A tear or two may have been shed.

It was also good to see Elton’s sex-life not shied away from, though I’m sure many would suggest it didn’t go far enough (an element I feel sure Russell would have insisted on handling more boldly).

But the whirlwind, jukebox tour of Elton’s life comes at a cost.  Despite the hugely impressive performance by Taron Egerton (and it really is superb), we never quite seem to reach deep enough beneath his skin to make the part fully resonate. Although, for example, the script and performance show a kindness towards his ill-fated marriage to Renate Blauel, we’re never allowed to truly feel the indignity such a union must have been for both of them. So although the film excels at showing us why Elton is such a highly regarded artist, it doesn’t succeed so fully in showing us the man behind the artistry.

I was happy the film didn’t fall back on giving us a huge, uplifting comeback finale (that comes a little earlier, with the recreation of the I’m Still Standing video) of the dishonest kind provided by the Queen film, but I suspect many would have left the cinema waiting for that last, big triumphant number.

On that note however, I side with Fletcher, who’s penning a smarter tune here than on the film he was brought in to rescue, and leaves us with a more satisfying and engaging production, despite its flaws.

And while you might leave the cinema still not fully knowing the man behind the spectacles and wondering if Elton had any fun at all after his initial rise to fame, the fantastical, fantasy sequences and greater visual fluency makes this film the clear winner of the 2019 Dexter Fletcher musical biopics.

Balanced Web-Spinner – Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Following up the successful first collaboration between Columbia/Sony and Marvel (Spider-Man: Homecoming), the cosmic hugeness of Avengers: Endgame  and the culmination of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe always promised to be a tricky task, but returning director Jon Watts and returning scriptwriters Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers have managed a pretty balanced movie that nicely answers all those demands.

Set eight months after half of humanity was restored to existence in Avengers: Endgame (now referred to as The Blip), the film wastes no time showing us some of the ramifications of this but also throws us headlong into a plot which, by necessity, has to stretch out more broadly than Homecoming’s friendly neighbourhood feel.

Terrifying giant creatures, Elementals, have seemingly crossed over into our world from another reality and, while attempting to enjoy a summer class vacation through Europe and engage with a blossoming relationship with MJ, Peter Parker is pulled into battling these monsters by a heroic newcomer, soon named Mysterio.

With Tony Stark no longer around, Mysterio becomes a mentor figure to Peter, but all is not quite as it first appears and events soon spiral out of our young hero’s control – both in and out of his webby mask.

Jake Gyllenhall’s Quentin Beck (a.k.a. Mysterio) works well against Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, in an arc which nicely defines Peter coming to terms with loss, while underlining his constant struggles with responsibility from a fresh angle. And while the resolution of this arc might be one of the film’s weaker moments, there is still a great deal to savour.

In terms of character development, the high-point of the film is undoubtedly Peter and MJ’s romance. Zendaya’s MJ is a real treat; snarky, goofy and vulnerable, and I could happily watch an entire movie of her and Holland just playing off against each other.

Holland is, it almost goes without saying, a pretty much perfect Peter Parker, beautifully playing the push and pull the character feels between his heroic responsibilities and his teenage life, continuing to make him highly relatable.

The actions sequences are excellent, the climax in the centre of London is one of the best Spider-man set pieces since Spider-Man 2’s train battle ( I saw the film in 3D, which really enhanced this sequence), and the film balances action, drama and (a great deal of) humour deftly, giving it a distinct feel while still integrating it firmly into the MCU.

It’s a superb summer movie, and a lot of fun (often mischievously so), even if a certain amount of Homecoming’s down to earth charm has been sacrificed.

Do make sure you stay through the end credits, as one of the two stings brings not only a wonderful cameo (particularly for long-time Spider-Man movie fans) but a pretty seismic cliffhanger for Spider-Man’s status quo.

The best thing about the film is that it makes you want to spend more time caught up in Spider-Man’s web and in the company of these characters, so bring on Spider-Man: Home From Home, Home Run, Home Sweet Home, or even Don’t Try This At Home

For The Love Of Godzilla – King Of The Monsters Review

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There has been a great deal of bad press surrounding Godzilla – King of the Monsters. Ignore it. If you’re a Godzilla fan, ignore it more vehemently.

In 2014, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros unleashed Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla into cinemas, to good box office and mixed reviews. Time seems to have revealed it very much as a love it or hate it affair – I fall squarely into the former camp (despite acknowledging some big issues with it).

Now comes Michael Dougherty (director of Trick ‘R’ Treat) with his sequel (and third film in Legendary’s Monsterverse, after Kong – Skull Island), and what an awesome movie he brings with him.

Unashamedly, unabashedly pulpy fun, Dougherty throws just about everything he can into the demented plot-line: secret underground bases, mad scientists, aliens, lost undersea civilizations, and moves things along at such a breathless pace that you have to submit to the gleeful, everything AND the kitchen sink approach. And that’s even before we get to the monsters!

And you’d better believe we get monsters – Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah (all beautifully adapted from their Japanese movie origins) and a whole slew of new beasties. Plus, the title star himself, the King of the Monsters (with a fabulous and hilarious reveal as to why we should grant him that title).

And if you’re looking for monster battles, you’ve definitely come to the right place. Toho’s Kaiju do massive battle with each other in a number of locales, from the Antarctic to Boston, and Dougherty and co. present them with the enthusiasm of someone who has all the toys to play with.

So, what haven’t we mentioned yet? The humans in this monstrous toybox. The performers (including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, and Zhang Ziyi) give their all, and play with just the right amount of tongue in cheek, but character arcs take a firm third place to plot and action. But who cares when the action is this much fun!?

And for long-time Godzilla fans there are a ton of extra treats, Easter eggs and references both sly and unsubtle, to a treasure trove of past Godzilla movies, none of which I intend to spoil here (but do stay all the way through the titles for a lovely touch just before the obligatory post-credits scene). It’s already widely known that composer Bear McCreary has used some classic Toho monster themes, and those are the icing on the Kaiju Eiga cake.

In fact, the further you progress into this film, the more it becomes clear how much of a Godzilla and Kaiju fan Dougherty must be, his love for Japan’s biggest export shines through every frame. The whole thing has the feel of some of Toho’s maddest entries for Godzilla, with the same freewheeling approach as films such as 1972’s Godzilla vs Gigan or 1973’s Godzilla vs Megalon.

Godzilla – King of the Monsters is quite obviously Dougherty and co.’s love letter to all things Godzilla, a gift from Godzilla fans to Godzilla fans.

 

This Is The End! Avengers: Endgame* *spoiler-free review

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This is, without a doubt, the hardest review I’ve ever had to write, because in order to keep it spoiler-free, there’s really very little I can tell you.

Certainly, in terms of specifics I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing, because the film will work even more effectively if you go in cold. Suffice to say if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you know nothing, Jon Snow!

So, let’s keep this general: directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, left the universe in a much-reduced place this time last year – cosmic villain Thanos (father of Gamora and Nebula, from the Guardians of the Galaxy films) achieved his aim to place the Infinity Stones in his gauntlet, snapped his fingers and wiped out half the population of the universe in an instant. The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, lost.

Avengers: Endgame picks up some twenty-plus days later, the remaining heroes split asunder in different corners of the galaxy, in bad places both geographically and emotionally.

What happens next is, quite simply, astonishing. The structure of the (three hour long and not a dull moment) film is continually surprising: the first thirty incredibly intense minutes arguably take the story where you might have expected the entire film to go, and then you’re left with two and a half hours of some of the most bravura narrative you’re likely to see in a franchise movie for a long time.

That the film acts as a total summation of Marvel Studios’ bold and innovative, ten year, interconnected, multi-franchise, long form storytelling is perhaps no surprise: this is where we, and the characters, have been heading all along. But the sheer level of smarts on display is something to be admired.

Because the story is concluded so satisfyingly should not however, lull you into thinking this is an easy ride. The fact we’ve had so long to become attached to these characters means that Marvel pull out all the stops to put the audience through an emotional wringer: I can honestly say I lost count of the amount of times I cried, but I can tell you there were tears of both sadness and joy.

I sat with a goofy grin on my face, with tears of pure happiness streaming down my face, at the audaciousness of the penultimate forty-five minutes. And in the last fifteen minutes the real tears began. To be clear, the film left me a total wreck.

This unrestrained emotional response is a testimony to the genuine skill not only of the storytellers, but also of the actors. I’m sure it would be so very easy to coast through roles like these, but there isn’t a single moment where the cast aren’t completely in the moment.

There is a strand, an emotional arc involving Thor, where the balance between comedy and pathos strains to tip too far in one direction, but Chris Hemsworth manages to keep things just in check.

There might also be an argument to be made that some of the solutions (and yes, I’ll avoid details) lead to a little head-scratching which will no doubt fuel fan arguments for months to come.

It’s also fair to say that while all previous Marvel films have strived to pay-off for both casual viewers and fans, Avengers: Endgame, rightly, is full-on about resolution, and therefore will probably leave newbies wondering what the heck is going on. But after ten years, that’s perfectly right and fair. And earned.

But these are very minor negative points in what can only really be considered as Marvel’s crowning achievement.

Avengers: Endgame not only gives you everything you could possibly have wanted from this finale, but also gives you so much more in terms of narrative twists and turns, satisfying emotional arcs, thematic pay-offs for threads linking almost every single Marvel film and genuine surprises, particularly for those of us who’ve been along for the ride for the past decade.

And while there are plenty of seeds for the next Phases of Marvel movies (interestingly, Phase 3 officially ends with Spider-Man: Far From Home, in July), you’d better believe this is the end, beautiful friend.

Captain Marvel: Further. Higher. Faster. Mostly.

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On the surface Captain Marvel might be one of the more straightforward of Marvel Studios’ films, but there’s some intriguing stuff at play underneath.

Carol Danvers has been around in the comic books since 1968, though it wasn’t until 1977 that the character adopted her first superheroic alter-ego, that of Ms. Marvel, taking on the legacy mantle of Captain Marvel (after a previous, separate character sharing that name) in 2012.

So while Danvers and the Captain haven’t been around as long as or share the general public awareness as Wonder Woman, the character has paid her dues.

Mention of Wonder Woman here is interesting, as while DC and Warner Bros made her gender a prominent part of the character’s journey in 2017’s film, here Marvel almost wilfully subvert expectations of such considerations to take a more subtle route in unleashing their first female-fronted franchise.

When alien Kree warrior Vers (Brie Larson) goes on a mission against the shape-shifting Skrull race with her mentor, Yon-Rogg (played by welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jude Law), which quickly not only goes pear-shaped but also sees Vers begun to unlock a sequence of events which will lead her to unravel a series of recurring nightmare flashbacks.

Ver’s journey leads her to Earth in 1995, and encounters with (amazingly CGI de-aged) younger versions of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and revelations which will change both her life and the future of Marvel history.

That the film presents all this as an unfolding mystery is one of the stronger points of the standard origin story, and as per usual this is entertainment of the highest caliber from Marvel: superb casting (including a star-making turn from Larson, who rises above some deficiencies in the script to make a hugely appealing central character and another fantastic turn from Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the Skrull, who is obviously having a blast), snappy dialogue and fun action sequences. But it’s somewhat disappointing to report that despite all this, Captain Marvel still feels like one of the studio’s more workmanlike (excuse the gender conflation here) efforts.

While it’s highly admirable (and enjoyable) that it’s never even really made an issue that Vers and Marvel are presented as the equal (and indeed, superior) to any males in her orbit, making the film rather an important step in its own way, it’s a shame that some of this is presented in a less than inspired manner. I found the direction by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck to be lacking a certain vision, and it’s the first Marvel film where I’ve actually felt the hand of a committee in the course of viewing.

It’s not difficult to imagine that the firing of James Gunn, who had been acting as a kind of creative guru to the studio until a small group of internet nazis dug up some poor taste jokes Gunn had made on Twitter and used those to successfully blackmail Disney into letting him go, had some kind of reverb effect on Marvel (and Captain Marvel). There are choices made in the film which feel distinctly Gunn-ian (is that a thing? It is now), but executed without his very particular flair.

A perfect example of this is the decision to play out a third act fight scene, between Marvel and some of the bad guys, with No Doubt’s Just A Girl playing over the soundtrack. Given the possibility of this particular song to comment on the action, this might seem like a good idea, but on reflection I found myself wondering what the song really had to do with I was seeing onscreen. In hindsight it feels like a choice that Gunn might have considered then rejected as being simply too on the nose.

It might seem unfair to be laying the film with a “what would James Gunn have done?” vibe, but it’s impossible to separate a studio film like this from the events that surrounded its creation.

But don’t let these caveats put you off from seeing Captain Marvel (in 3D if you can, and if you have a cinema that knows how to project the format properly – because the post-converted 3D is really superb), as even Marvel’s most simply efficient is the equal of or better than many other studios’ efforts.

You’ll definitely have a good time (and if you’re a Stan Lee fan, like me, the film may even make you cry in its opening seconds, as I did), and without a doubt it’s a strong introduction to a character who is tipped to become an important lynchpin in Marvel’s future movies (not least of which in next month’s much-anticipated Avengers: Endgame).

And to answer a question I know many of you have (without spoiling anything) Thanos should be very, very worried right now.

Captain Marvel definitely goes further, higher, faster, to use both the character’s and the film’s tag-line, but could have gone even higher, even further and even faster.

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Films: 2018 Edition

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Okay, because many folks have asked… here are my favourite nine films from 2018.

Notice I said favourite and not best. I was recently interviewed for a newspaper piece where the reporter asked my favourite three movies. This felt like a refreshing change as I didn’t feel a need to spend time over-intellectualising my responses as I might have done if she’d asked what I thought were the best three films ever.

Before I launch into my list, it’s worth pointing out I still have some catching up to do, hence no possible entries for films such as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, You Were Never Really Here or Bohemian Rhapsody.

So, with that caveat clear and without further ado, let’s head to my favourite nine (…nine, because, why not!?) films of the past twelve months…

9. Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

I have to admit the M:I films were mostly sort of washing over me, enjoyable in the moment but somewhat unmemorable bar their set-pieces. But then Fallout appeared, not only leaving me with a bill from my local cinema for having left fingernail holes in my seat, but also with a much greater enthusiasm for the previous entries. I’m gearing up for a run-through of the series at home in readiness for a second viewing of Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie’s remarkable piece of breathless skullduggery. Also, finishing off a series with two films featuring Sean Harris is always a bonus.

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8. The Rider.

Yeah, yeah, I know that it premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, but those of us in the real world didn’t see it until its official release in 2018. Hopefully that doesn’t trigger anyone too badly.  Chloé Zhao’s contemporary western drama concerning rodeo riders feels like a top contender for the ‘film more people should see‘ award, 2018. Both painfully intimate and sweepingly widescreen, Zhao paints a portrait of a contained community with universal problems. You can read my full review here.

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7. Eighth Grade.

In many ways this shares some DNA with The Rider, taking me to a world I knew nothing about. This time, the unknown is the life of an adolescent girl in a time of social media, and this smart, sensitive, occasionally excruciating and ultimately uplifting film, from director Bo Burnham, features a hugely engaging central performance by newcomer, Elsie Fisher.

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6. A Quiet Place.

The first of two horror films in a strong year for the genre (see also Apostle, Mandy, Halloween, etc). Unfair on my behalf, but I was absolutely not expecting this from Jim Halpert from The Office. Directed and co-written (along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) by John Krasinski, this post-apocalyptic monster movie hits all the right beats, gradually unveiling a world of silent terror using a personable family, headed up by Krasinski and the always-excellent Emily Blunt. Understated until it doesn’t have to be, this is great, old-school horror that could easily have worked as an old Twilight Zone episode.

antman and the wasp

5. Ant-Man & The Wasp.

Tricky one, this. I didn’t want to fill my list with Marvel movies (seeing as we had three releases from them in 2018) and I really struggled between this and Black Panther, but in the end I had (slightly) more fun with Peyton Reed’s delightfully light-touched sequel, especially since I’m the type of Marvel Geek who believes this film will pay off more once we see Avengers: Endgame.

hereditary

4. Hereditary.

Ari Aster’s uneven but striking mix of family grief and the supernatural is a divisive film, very much a case of go-with-it-or-don’t. The first three-quarters of the movie is mostly all slow-burn intensity until the final twenty minutes or so go off into full-blown hysteria (which is where many viewers seem to check out). I went with it the whole way on my viewing, but will be curious to see how it holds up next time. Worth pointing out that regardless of any future reaction, I’ll still laud it for probably the most outrageous WTF moment in cinema this year.  Review here.

3. The Meg (just kidding).

other-side-of-the-world

3. The Other Side of the Wind.

Freewheeling and meticulous, Orson Welles’ lost masterpiece (never a more fitting appellation) first started production in 1970 and was only completed after Welles’ death by a team headed up by Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall. Released onto Netflix at the end of the year, Welles’ mesmerising film is both a celebration and a satire of Classic Hollywood and avant-garde filmmaking. Review here.

roma

2. Roma.

The only disappointing thing about multihyphenate Alfonso Cuarón’s almost tone poem telling of a tumultuous period in the life of his childhood home-help is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see it on a cinema screen, seeing as it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve laid my eyes on in a long time (to avoid a lynching by my significant other, I mean cinematically, of course). Review here.

avengers iw

1. Avengers: Infinity War.

Marvel Geek nirvana. The Russo brothers and co. pulled off a remarkable, if overpacked, feat in bringing to a head ten years of films across multiple franchises while still managing to create a cultural zeitgeist moment with a single finger click. Of course, we know most of the galaxy’s missing half will be restored (…don’t we!?), but the joy, as with many comic books of the source material, is in seeing how our heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And now we don’t have much longer to wait. Review here.

Dishonourable mention: Suspiria (don’t @ me).

See you all in 2019. Feel free to leave me your favourites from 2018 in the comments below.

The Other Side Of The Wind Will Take Away Your Breath

The-Other-Side-of-the-Wind

“Jake is just making it up as he goes along.” – Max
“He’s done it before…” Billy.

In The Other Side of the Wind, this exchange is said as a criticism of Welles’ character, but of course the truth is that all stories are made up as they go along.

With The Other Side of the Wind, the final film from legendary director Orson Welles, now streaming on Netflix, we actually get two final Welles films for the price of one: the main narrative, which tells the story of the last night in the life of a legendary film director and a screening of his final film, and the footage of that film –  the film within a film, a study of sex and desire. The parallels are obvious enough to be written in neon.

Welles’ rise to fame hardly needs repeating, and his crushing rejection by Hollywood on productions such as The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil is still a bitter pill to swallow.

In 1970, after years spent working in exile in Europe, Welles returned  to Hollywood and gradually put together the pieces to make his next movie. Pieces is the operative word, as The Other Side of the Wind would be made like a jigsaw, finding money to film here and there, shooting when and where he could, the only man with a true sense of the story leading a rag-tag team of acolyte filmmakers who would work themselves to the bone to realise his vision, for six long years.

Funding to complete it fell apart, not least because of the Iranian revolution, as one of the producers was the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran, who saw his assets seized, including the existing footage of this film. If Welles had a history of using smoke and mirrors to represent his life and career, this was one moment even he might not have been able to conjure up.

Sadly, Welles would never complete an edit of The Other Side of the Wind, and the film seeped into legend as one of cinema’s great lost productions.

Thankfully, the film was finished in 2018 after a high-profile crowdfunding campaign and a hefty influx of cash from Netflix, by a team including Frank Marshall, producer of countless blockbusters including Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose early Hollywood career saw him working as a production assistant for Welles (he can also be seen in this movie, as part of the documentary camera crew, following Welles’ alter ego, Jake Hannaford, as played by John Houston). The team completed the film using an existing rough cut and Welles’ copious notes to get as close as possible to Welles’ intentions

The completed film has a lot to say: it is, of course, also about the passing of the Hollywood old guard to the new Hollywood, as visualised perfectly in Peter Biskind’s book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and represented  here by Peter Bogdanovich, clearly flagged up in the scene between his Brooks Otterlake and Tonio Selwart, as The Baron, and in Otterlake’s relationship with Hannaford, and how that passing of the torch is reflected in their friendship and the betrayal of that friendship (which also comments on Bogdanovich and his real-life relationship with Welles).

The Other Side of the Wind is seeped in the very DNA of Hollywood, drenched in the process of filmmaking, in the selfish, obsessive nature of the creative drive (and therefore of the creators), and as much about film itself as anything else, reflected even in the nature of its completion.

While it’s self-referential, autobiographical and, yes, masturbatory, The Other Side of the Wind is also fascinating and frustrating (the array of underdeveloped characters flag up the film’s fractured development), while its very presence is a cause for celebration. The film’s content and form are as much of their time as they are as fresh as anything to grace a screen this year – the film within a film is ravishing and vivid, astonishingly sexy and unlike anything else Welles created (the sex scene in the car is beyond breathtaking). Full of Welles’ trademark sly humour and questing, experimental nature, it’s as far from the work of an ageing talent as it’s possible to be, and instead reinforces Welles’ genius.

Falling somewhere between a confessional and a documentary, the film has now become inseparable from its myth, and perhaps cannot be fairly judged on its own terms. But we’re still judging Welles by many of the myths he created around himself, so this seems perfectly apt for the director’s final work, as a comment on both the man, his life and his body of work.

“Almost every kind of story is a lie… except this time”.

Welles once said that on camera, in F for Fake. That’s also a lie, particularly when it comes to The Other Side of the Wind.