So, you were probably wondering where my July film list was. Here it is. At the end of August. Due to multiple issues, including holidays, a university application and losing track of time in this endless summer, I decided to skip July and have a big film extravaganza at the end of August, with the idea that I would have seen countless films to discuss. A noble plan in theory, but due to those aforementioned issues plus other pastimes such as reading and League of Legends my combined film total for two whole months is not quite as much as perhaps you may think. Regardless, here are the films I saw this month, and from next month we should be getting some interesting ones as that’s when I start Film Studies at university.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
As a testament to how long it’s taken to get this post out, as I write this Spider-Man’s future in the MCU is now uncertain due to, it seems, Disney getting incredibly greedy and wanting more of a share of the profits. Hey, listen, you OWN the box office, you don’t need more money. Anyway, I have already reviewed this film so I’m going to use this opportunity not to talk about Marvel’s latest release but instead rant about how Disney’s quest for a complete and total monopoly over entertainment has instead potentially deprived Marvel of Spider-Man once again. I like to diss Sony as much as the next guy but it seems they’re the sympathetic side here. Anyway, rant over.
- The Dark Crystal
Yesterday Netflix launched a Dark Crystal prequel series featuring one of the greatest casts I have ever seen. Simon Pegg, Andy Samberg, Toby Jones, Mark Hamill, Sigourney Weaver and more. Naturally with this star studded cast I will be checking the series out but first I had to watch the original Jim Henson film. What’s striking about this film is how literally everything is puppetry or animatronics and for 1982 this was hugely innovative and makes the film literally ageless. To be honest, the protagonists are nothing to write home about and the plot itself is a bit aimless but this film is more about the worldbuilding and mythology surrounding it, which is fascinating. I adore the Skeksis, from backstory to design to the presence they have as villains. As someone who grew up with Labyrinth the influence The Dark Crystal had on the latter film is clear and the talent and innovation behind the muppet characters is clear. It made total sense for this film to have a prequel series as there is so much potential in this world and I can’t wait to check it out.
If you know me then you know I’ve recently become a huge Stephen King fan, and on top of the vast collection of books he has written we also have the countless film adaptations, from Brian de Palma’s Carrie (more on that later) to the upcoming It: Chapter 2. Whilst many of his novels have been readapted and franchised, Misery remains singular and iconic, thanks mainly to Kathy Bates’ Oscar winning, genre defining performance as the psychotic Annie Wilkes. Her performance is simply one of the best I have ever seen. I haven’t actually read the book yet (I’m working on it!) but I know the story is clearly a deeply personal one to King as he uses Annie as a metaphor for his drug addiction that plagued him in the 80’s. Rob Reiner expertly weaves tension into every frame as you have no idea when or how Annie will snap. When viewed in a modern context it’s easy to see Annie and the idea of the psychotic fan as a precursor to the toxic fandom we’re seeing today. With iconic scenes of terror (the hobbling scene had me physically wincing) two outstanding lead performances and a perfect blend of King and Reiner’s talents, Misery is an outstanding film for horror and genre fans.
- Black Swan
Speaking of Oscar winning horror films, we have Black Swan. Natalie Portman rightfully won an Oscar for her role as Nina, a ballerina dancer whose desire to become the lead in Swan Lake leads to a slow descent into madness. Similar to Whiplash, one of my all time favourite films, Black Swan is about the art consuming the artist and about how far someone is willing to go to achieve their dreams. As the lines blur between what is real and what is not it’s fascinating and at the same time terrifying seeing a innocent character turn into an out of control, unrecognisable figure by the film’s end. One of the best aspects of the film is seeing just how the rather graceful art of ballet is turned into a horror show by Darren Aronofsky. The direction and music is sublime, being subtle but tense at the same time and whilst it isn’t a conventional “horror” film per say I did actually jump multiple times whilst watching so I can successfully add this film to a very small number of films that actually scared me. Not bad at all.
Ever relevant in today’s political climate, Idiocracy is a genuinely clever and funny piece of satire that sees two “ordinary” volunteers become the smartest people on the planet after being frozen for 500 years and humanity has devolved into idiots. Not only is this film utterly hilarious but it is also genuinely insightful and smart in how it approaches its themes. Terry Crews does a scene stealing turn as President Camacho and whilst he is a complete idiot, the audience actually sympathises with his efforts to change his country. Unlike some real life world leaders, who shall remain nameless, Camacho is aware of the problems facing the country and is willing to listen to experts to try and improve things. Only when Joe fails in his task (initially) does Camacho act irrationally. This film is quite clever with this idea, not painting the residents of future Earth as 100% unchangeable but willing to be changed and, more importantly, not villainous. The film strikes a perfect balance between introspective satire and nonsensical humour and it’s one of the smartest comedies I’ve ever seen.
Back in 1974 Stephen King was a little known writer of short newspaper fiction working to make ends meet when he published a small novel about a girl with telekinetic powers. The book sold well and the film rights were sold for just over £2,000. Two years later, King’s name would become a inescapable household name thanks to Brian de Palma’s masterful adaptation of that first novel, Carrie. The rest, as they say, is history. One of the most iconic horror films of all time, thanks primarily to the nine minute prom scene and a phenomenal lead performance by Sissy Spacek, Carrie is slightly dated but is a chilling and tragic tale of religious fundamentalism, the failure of adults and what happens when good intentions turn sour. Having read the book I think I can agree with King himself that this film is better (a rarity, especially for King), as it expertly translates the story into a stylish, tight and brilliantly paced 90 minute horror film. The tension is unbearable as you know something bad will happen but you don’t want it too, especially when the titular character is presented as so sympathetic and innocent. On a side note, we shall be returning to this film, and the book, in an upcoming series of posts I have planned. Stay tuned.
- Thor: Ragnarok
Some films lose their charm after multiple viewings, but not Thor: Ragnarok. Easily one of the funniest, most original and best MCU films, Ragnarok allows the natural comedic talents of Chris Hemsworth come to life as Taika Waititi redefines the God of Thunder. Through the slapstick and dry humour Waititi deconstructs the Thor mythos and what it means to be Thor- the hammer, the dynasty, or the person? The film’s darker elements- mainly the horror of Odin’s past- is also dealt with subtly and cleverly as a metaphor for colonialism and confronting the past. Ragnarok also has one of the greatest ensemble casts I have ever seen, from acting royalty like Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum and Anthony Hopkins to some of my personal favourite actors such as Idris Elba (in his biggest MCU role, thankfully) and Karl Urban. The Hulk’s inclusion is so brilliantly done he feels like a perfect fit and the comedic duo is something I would have loved to see more of in the Avengers films that came afterwards. This film convinced me to check out Waititi’s other films, and he is now one of my all time favourite directors. I can’t wait for Jojo Rabbit.