I’m in two minds all of the time;
I love things both gross and sublime.
Be it Shakespeare or porno,
It must not be a bore, no;
To deep depths and high heights I climb.
I’m in two minds all of the time;
I love things both gross and sublime.
Be it Shakespeare or porno,
It must not be a bore, no;
To deep depths and high heights I climb.
This documentary from Peter Jackson for streaming service Disney+ is really something. It’s the closest thing to being a fly-on-the-wall witnessing the creation of Beatles music I can imagine, far exceeding my expectations. It was fascinating, illuminating and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. I would best describe it as a truly unique film experience well worth the hefty runtime.
The raw footage Peter Jackson drew from was some 57 hours shot for a then-planned but subsequently abandoned film by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. It was supposed to follow the creation of a new album and tv special, all in the span of four weeks in January, 1969, but the tv special never happened and the album, Let It Be, would take 6 months to complete. Many years later, Peter Jackson has taken that footage and restored it to make the three part docuseries for Disney+ with each episode weighing in at around 3 hours.
First of all, the restoration was eye-popping in and of itself. The film looks like it was shot yesterday (pun intended), not sixty years ago. It is so unbelievably crisp and clear and rich in colour – perhaps a little too much so in the case of just about everybody’s fashion choices!
I think the thing I appreciated most was the window the film provided into the world of the band. I have so many preconceived ideas of their interrelationships that it was a surprise in some ways to see how they operated together and how much the looked like they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, though there are moments of tension. It did make me rethink my opinions of John Lennon and Paul McCartney particularly. I also liked they way Yoko Ono was presented as someone John Lennon genuinely loved, not the cause of the band’s break-up, as the tired old cliche goes.
And the series is genuinely funny at times. My favourite moment was the bit when six year-old Heather McCartney comes to visit the studio with her mother, Linda Eastman, and sees Yoko Ono doing her primal scream thing. Next thing you know, Heather is giving it a go and it’s just hilarious to see a six year-old doing it with the band playing along!
The climax of the film is the famous “roof-top concert” the Beatles played on January 30, 1969, their last ever live performance. It’s the perfect scene to end on, of course, and it is played out brilliantly with picture-in-picture footage from the many cameras stationed around the building and the street playing simultaneously, giving multiple perspectives in real-time (a personal favourite gimmick). The moment when Paul McCartney catches sight of the police coming to shut it down and he whoops with excitement is the absolute gem of the whole scene, the look on his face just priceless.
I loved this docuseries for a lot of reasons, almost all of which are due to the format which made it possible. The convenience of streaming that much film at your own leisure is something you couldn’t get in a single feature or a traditional series format. You feel like you’re spending time with these amazing people and it’s almost hypnotic just watching things unfold in an unrushed way that, again, wouldn’t really be possible in any other format but streaming. It is a unique film experience for that reason as well as the content itself.
Peter Jackson’s Get Back is like nothing else and definitely worth watching.
Visually impressive and very weird, David Lowery’s film is set in the time of Arthurian legend and it is very atmospheric and heavy with symbolism. I enjoyed it, though it is slow and parts of it were fairly inscrutable.
Dev Patel plays young Sir Gawain, who stands out from the court of King Arthur when he accepts the challenge of the Green Knight, a supernatural entity brought to marvelous life by Ralph Ineson under a ton of make-up and aided by a soundtrack of rustling trees and creaking bark marking every move. He arrives one Christmas to find a challenger who can land a strike on him and then receive back the same strike one year later. Gawain succeeds, and when the time comes, he goes to confront the Green Knight at the behest of an aging King Arthur (Sean Harris).
What follows is a weird journey through a medieval countryside where the theme seems to be the never-ending struggle by civilization to stamp out nature, yet the green always comes back. Gawain encounters highwaymen, ghosts and a couple who seem to symbolize the coming enlightenment. The visuals are always great, heavy with foreboding and gloom, which reflect the turmoil in Gawain as he confronts his own cowardice time and again.
It’s not a perfect movie and it is perhaps a bit too slow in some places and a bit too on-the-nose in others, but for an atmospheric piece it succeeds brilliantly. The cinematography and the art direction, the costumes, the music, the score and sound are all very evocative of a dark, creepy world of weirdness that isn’t always explained. It doesn’t have very compelling characters, everyone seems to serve a function more than existing organically, but I believe the whole film exists largely on an allegorical plane. Your enjoyment will depends on how well you tolerate ambiguity.
The Green Knight is a creepy, weird dark fantasy film which I enjoyed very much.
Revenge is an interesting subject. We’ve all felt wronged or angered by someone else’s suffering and it is cathartic to see revenge exacted upon parties responsible for injustice, but the dark side of revenge is that it destroys the avenger as much as anyone. This idea is cunningly brought forward in Promising Young Woman, an exceptional film written and directed by Emerald Fennel.
In the film, Carrie Mulligan plays a woman consumed by revenge for the loss of a dear friend who was raped and subsequently lost the will to live, destroyed by the event. As Cassandra, she goes out clubbing, pretending to get drunk in order to trick men into revealing their predatory intentions when pretending to look out for the defenseless maiden and then dealing out some sort of punishment.
It’s a great hook and the film plays things with a great sense of ickiness at the creep factor on display. These guys always imagine themselves as nice guys and the casting of familiar faces known for nice guy roles, such as Adam Brody, goes a long way. Cassandra does develop a relationship with a pediatric surgeon played by Bo Burnham but the film is ultimately nihilistic and love cannot last. The most tragic figures in the movie are Cassandra’s parents, played with wonderful empathy and love by Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown, long-suffering to see their daughter’s listlessness ever since the loss of her friend.
The film is really good. It moves along at a good pace, never lingering too long on the unpleasantries. It’s very funny but icky and dark at the same time, which is a really interesting blend, and ultimately tragic for all parties. I found all of the characters relatable and I really liked the unexpected turn of Alfred Molina as a lawyer facing a crisis. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as the central character, carrying the film very ably with a haunted confidence as she slowly exacts revenge after years of plotting, someone whose motivations you can understand but is told again and again by those around her, including the victim’s mother (an understated Molly Shannon) to move on.
I really like Promising Young Woman. I think it is a smart, funny yet tragic movie that is more than just a revenge film. I loved how it challenged me and made me squirm while also kind of giggling at the same time, not a lot of movies can do that to me. I highly recommend it.
Return of the Jedi (1983) is a wonderful movie. It has some flaws and while it may not be my personal favourite of the original Star Wars trilogy, it is the one that I think has the most emotional impact and depth. It certainly has the best score, in my opinon. Though it has its detractors, it’s hard to imagine a better ending to the Star Wars saga and I adore it.
I am, of course, speaking from the perspective of a man of 45 who saw them when they first came out. I understand completely that the films George Lucas set out to make were intended for an audience of 8-10. I was exactly in that range when I saw Return of the Jedi in theaters and had already spent all of my years since the age of 2 surrounded by the posters and toys that my older brother decked out his bedroom with. Although he was the premier fan of the family, being 10 himself when the first Star Wars was released six years prior, my sister and I could not help but become fans ourselves by osmosis, if nothing else. Of course, it helps that they were (and still are) high quality films enjoyable from many different points of view.
“…many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”Obi-Wan Kenobi
That phrase is key to appreciating the Star Wars movies, or anything else, for that matter. In the scene where Luke accuses Obi-Wan of lying to him about Vader murdering his father, Obi-Wan’s reply is that when Anakin turned to the dark side and became Vader, the good man he had been was destroyed, “so what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.” It’s sublime. He then goes on to say: “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view” and I really agree with that.
The Star Wars movies that George Lucas made were intended for children. I think a lot of complaints that people have about Return of the Jedi and the prequel movies is that they are too childish, but then what are you watching them for? I mean, would you moan about the lack of plot in a porn movie? No, because that’s not what you want to see. If you want complexity, look for it somewhere else. In the case of Star Wars movies, if you stopped liking them after The Empire Strikes Back, then I would bet good money you were of the target demographic in 1977-80 but had aged out by 1983. Many disgruntled fans I talk to point to the Ewoks as the boundary that defines what kind of fan you are and they almost always fit the age group.
“Greetings, exalted one.”Luke Skywalker
I think Return of the Jedi has a really fun energy to it which balances the gravity of Luke’s destiny. The rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt is a really good time, like a little heist movie within the movie, with just the right amount of comedy to leaven the action. I mean, the design of Jabba himself is just the perfect embodiment of greed and pettiness, a repulsive gangster of zero moral character surrounded by pathetic beings. “Exalted one” is a very sly way of putting it, Luke. I love the dragon-in-its-lair aspect of the Rancor sequence, which is brilliantly executed, and the battle of the Sarlacc Pit has echoes of a pirate movie underlying the visuals, complete with walking the plank.
The middle of the movie gives you time to breathe and figure out all the exposition, setting everything up for a big finish. It’s here that Luke has his confrontation with Obi-Wan, which is preceded by the death of Yoda, a moment of truly exceptional puppetry. It’s just a piece of rubber with a man’s hand inside it, yet you genuinely feel there is a life there ebbing away and then he quite literally fades out of existence. It’s a hell of scene, when you think about it.
The finale is awesome, with three big action set-pieces intercut superbly: the space battle, the forest battle and Luke’s climactic duel with Vader aboard the Death Star while the Emperor watches with sick glee. All of that throne room stuff is terrific, from watching Luke try to resist the Emperor’s relentless taunting to his unwilling fight with his father and especially to the moment when he snaps and turns on Vader, attacking him hard. The music in that scene has such a power to it I get chills every time I think of it.
I’ll never turn to the dark side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.Luke Skywalker
My favourite scene in the entirety of the Star Wars saga is that peak moment when Vader is down and the Emperor is telling Luke to finish him and take his place and Luke sees the stump of Vader’s severed wrist reminding him of his own mechanical hand, the realization that he is on the precipice of following his father’s fate checking him just in time. Faced with the impossible choice, he simply refuses to take part in the cycle of violence any longer. He switches off his light-saber, throws it away, and says the best line: “No. I’ll never turn to the dark side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am Jedi, like my father before me.” That is the most graceful “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” I’ve ever heard in a children’s movie.
Return of the Jedi has an amazing emotional power to it for what is essentially an updated Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers adventure movie for kids. I think one of the many qualities that makes the original Star Wars trilogy so exceptional is the level of craftsmanship and complexity in the execution surrounding what is a very basic and elemental storyline. There can be no doubt that the music in the films is a gigantic boon and George Lucas himself has said one of the few things that turned out better than expected in making them was the music by John Williams. And of the original trilogy, I think Jedi has the best score; not only do you get the familiar themes established in the previous two movies, but new pieces like “The Emperor’s Theme” or “Luke and Leia’s Theme”, as well as some of the most rousing battle music ever recorded, in my opinion.
Of course, nothing is perfect and, as someone who was so massively impacted by the movie as it was when it came out in 1983, I think some of the later changes Lucas made to it kind of detract a little from my otherwise unending adoration. I think I understand most of them, but the only one I truly miss is the closing music of the Ewok celebration. The original “Yub Nub” was a lot more distinctive and fun than the somewhat generic-sounding flute music that now plays out the end of the movie, in my opinion, but I do think the galaxy-wide celebration montage is a perfectly apt addition.
I love Return of the Jedi. I love the original Star Wars trilogy. Each one has its strengths over the other two, the first is pure fun, the second is darker and trickier, and the third strikes a fine balance and ends the story in an extremely satisfying way, but I think Jedi has the strongest emotional stakes of the trilogy and deserves to be recognized. It’s a great film.
I finally had a chance to see Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton by way of the Disney+ presentation. I went in fairly indifferent, being suspicious of hype, but I quickly became impressed, then engrossed and then astounded. Hamilton is even better than they hype.
I know very little about the early days of the United States beyond the broad strokes of history and a slightly more than passing familiarity with the names involved. However, the last place I go to for an accurate history lesson is entertainment. I approached Hamilton as a work of fiction with some basis in fact. That doesn’t lessen its impact for me in the slightest.
I found in Hamilton that perfect balance of a simultaneously simple story with a lot of complex subtext that touches upon our modern world. It is as much about now as it is about then. The writing is wonderful, eliciting sympathy and admiration for characters like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and others without being fawning. The music is great, the cast is great and the stagecraft is wonderful, with a revolving floor and fly-away sections that only reinforce the action with spectacle that never distracts from the story or the emotions.
Most of all, however, I felt inspired by the show. It was electrifying in its optimism and love. It was as if I was witnessing a sea-change. The show has so much more going on besides the simple biography it presents. It’s expansive and inspiring and I am so, so happy I watched it. Absolutely astounding.
This movie is one of the most perfect examples of how casting can ruin a film. It has been at least 20 years since I saw it last and many of the film’s stronger elements remain clear in my mind, but so does the woeful miscasting of Kevin Costner. It’s a frustrating film, excellent in many respects but dragged down by one central flaw.
The film begins with Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) who has gone to the Holy Land on a crusade and been captured. He escapes with the help of Azeem (Morgan Freeman) and returns to England where the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman stealing every single scene) is plotting to steal the throne of the kingdom from absent King Richard with the help of a witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan). Robin assembles his band of outlaw revolutionaries and the whole thing ends in a climactic battle and a duel between Robin and the Sheriff.
First of all, the film is really well shot for the most part, with only a few early-90’s excesses (extreme close-ups with a wide-angle lens, or rock-video backlight on the hero shrouded in mist, for example). The locations are excellent, as are the costumes and production design. The pace of the film is brisk and action-packed, never a dull moment in what is a serviceable script told with exciting imagery and tight editing, though it does tip so far into melodrama at times it almost becomes pantomime. Maybe I’m being kind, but as someone who lived before the Lord of the Rings made sword movies cool, I had to appreciate the crumbs I got. In my opinion the script is fine as far as these kinds of movies went at the time, but I am aware of its flaws.
Except for Kevin Costner and Christian Slater, the movie’s casting is very good. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio makes for a fiery, independent Maid Marian, Morgan Freeman turns in an excellent performance and Alan Rickman absolutely runs away with the film. How ironic is it that the Sheriff of Nottingham steals the movie from the titular Prince of Thieves? Makes you wonder who the subtitle is actually referring to.
There is no doubt that Costner is the biggest deficit in the movie, and with him carrying the whole thing it’s hard to see past him. It’s not just the fact that his fake accent, when he bothers to attempt it, is distractingly dreadful. His delivery is so uninspiring that I just can’t believe the band of Merry Men would follow him into harm’s way. Every time he opens his mouth to speak his lines the film falls flat. He is like a black hole at the center of an otherwise decent movie.
By far, though, the best part of the whole production is the score by Michael Kamen. I remember owning the CD back in the day and listening to it over and over. The hero’s theme is suitably rousing and the love theme is quite beautiful, although it has the unfortunate distinction of Bryan Adams’ rendition of it as the hit single “Everything I Do” which got played out during the decade at weddings and on soft rock radio. The orchestral version used in the film is really lovely.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a movie I want to like. It’s got a lot going for it but everything is just weighed down by the lead actor. It’s unfortunate, because there is a lot to like, but it is so hard to overcome that one, glaring central flaw.
A few weeks ago, I heard by chance the music from Steven Spielberg’s Hook playing on the radio which brought back warm feelings, as I owned the soundtrack on CD back in the 90s and listened to it over and over. I think it’s one of John Williams’ greatest scores and I put it in heavy rotation again.
A little while later, I saw a thread on Reddit discussing the film and how everyone commenting had such positive memories of it which don’t seem to jibe with the film’s reputation. At about the same time I heard that Spielberg himself has never been particularly happy with how it turned out, and, as someone who loved the movie when it came out, I thought it might be time for a re-evaluation. So, I watched again for the first time in over 25 years.
Robin Williams plays Peter Banning, a workaholic lawyer out of touch with his family and largely amnesiac about his life before the age of twelve. On a trip to London, Peter’s children are kidnapped and he is visited by the glowing pixie Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) who tells him Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) is behind it, wishing to provoke his old foe Peter Pan into a final fight to the death. Peter Banning is Peter Pan, only he has forgotten, and it is up to Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys to help him unlock his memories and take up the battle to rescue his kids.
First of all, I think the movie is still great, though not Spielberg’s best. It suffers from over-sentimentality at times and some of the special effects are dated and not as convincing as today’s fare. It’s also very long, well over two hours, and could have been tighter in places (getting to Neverland could have been quicker, for instance). All that being said, the set-design, costumes and make-up are really amazing in scope and the action is typical top-notch Spielberg. Special mention goes out to the fact that Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman appear to have done almost all of their own sword-fighting, and they look very impressive.
Speaking of the cast, everyone is great but the real stand-outs are Dustin Hoffman as Hook and Bob Hoskins as Smee. Hoffman really has fun with his part, dominating every scene he’s in as the cartoonishly psychotic Hook, all the while underscored by his capable henchman. They are such a fun duo to watch, much like Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty in Superman, and every scene they are in is a joy. Robin Williams is so right for the role of a grown up Peter Pan who has forgotten who he is but still shines when his inner Pan returns that I can’t imagine anyone else in the part.
The film’s themes of maturity and responsibility are well-handled, I think, for a blockbuster family film. In fact, as a 44 year-old who has friends and family with kids of their own, I found a special resonance in some scenes that hadn’t rung so strongly for me when I watched it 25 years or more ago. For all its excesses, the film still stirred some powerful feelings in me which I didn’t expect, due in no small part to the music which is powerful, sweet, melancholy, mirthful, epic and just plain beautiful. This is among the best John Williams has ever done, in my opinion.
Nearly thirty years have passed since Hook was released and it has aged well, though it has aged. Even though some parts of it are a little long and it sometimes suffers from over-sentimentality, I still had a fun time watching the cast, the art direction and the stunt-work. I think it’s very good, and that’s not rose-tinted spectacles talking.
I also found this video essay about re-examining Hook and I think it’s worth a watch.
Birds of Prey is a movie I have wanted to see for a very, very long time. I think we are way overdue for an action movie led by a female cast and I’m thrilled that it is as good as it ought to be. The film has a scrappy, can-do vibe populated by vivid characters who are very well cast. The action scenes, and there are plenty, are a lot of fun and I didn’t really feel like there was a wasted moment. I love this movie.
Margot Robbie returns as the Joker’s ex-flame Harley Quinn who, after breaking up with her psychotic boyfriend, discovers the only reason nobody tried to kill her before was because of fear of the Joker’s reprisals. Now that she is on her own, she finds she has a huge target on her back. Ewan MacGregor plays crime boss Ramon Sionis, aka Black Mask, who is especially interested in killing Quinn until she makes a deal to get him a diamond he is anxious to possess but has been stolen by street thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Also in the mix are Rosie Perez as Detective Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Valerie Bertinelli/Huntress and Jurnee Smollet-Bell as Dinah Lance/Black Canary, plus Chris Messina in a surprising turn as Sionis’ sadistic henchman, Mr. Zsasz.
The storyline, narrated by Harley Quinn, jumps back and forth in time, breaking up a straightforward McGuffin-hunt into entertaining sections that give each character enough backstory for us to actually care about them and understand their motivations (a rare thing in superhero movies). Christina Hodson’s script is very ably brought to life by Cathy Yan’s direction and the actors are all great. I thought everyone was terrific in their roles, especially MacGregor who threatens to steal every scene he is in. Jurnee Smollet-Bell was a real discovery here for me; I thought she did a great job with Dinah Lance/Black Canary. I also loved Mary Elizabeth Winstead and her super-seriousness which everyone makes fun of.
This movie, along with Joker, Shazam! and Wonder Woman, is a great example of why I prefer DC to Marvel. DC has had more than their share of missteps, but I appreciate the unpredictability of their movies over the tedious formula used over and over by Marvel. Birds of Prey is definitely for mature audiences, not only for the frequent salty language but also the bone-crunching and bloody violence on display. It also treats its sexual politics with a knowingly serious but deftly light touch, which I really appreciated.
Birds of Prey is the first movie of 2020 I was seriously looking forward to and it did not disappoint. The production design is colourful yet gritty, the characters well-served by a good script and great casting and the action is a lot of fun to watch. I found myself laughing more than I expected and, although it does get a bit silly in places, it’s no different from other films in the superhero genre in that regard. I never felt insulted by what I was watching and I will certainly be seeing it again.
Here is my list of my favourite movies of 2019, now that I have caught up with the late releases of December. And, while we’re at it, I feel I should list my favourite movies of the past decade as an addendum, so keep scrolling.
I saw some good ones this year, but for me Sam Mendes’ 1917 was jaw-dropping in its execution of a seemingly single-take narrative of two soldiers tasked with delivering orders across No Man’s Land. The imagery is powerful and evocative, the cinematography astonishing (especially the city in ruins at night lit by rising and descending flares) and the performances by everyone are beautifully understated. I’ve seen it twice and the second time was even more powerful than the first. Truly awesome.
When I first heard they were making a fourth installment in a series that ended over a decade before on an impossible-to-beat note, I thought it was a terrible idea. Never in a million years would I have expected the filmmakers to top the untoppable, but I was wrong. Toy Story 4 did it with such heart and sincerity and empathy that I was completely floored. Whereas the third film saves all of its emotional power for the finale, this one is an emotional roller coaster from start to end that had me in tears as often as laughter. I adore this movie.
As much as I love traditional glossy Hollywod product, I love the other end of the spectrum at least as much. The Lighthouse is a dark, weird and minimal story about two men trapped together in a lighthouse, slowly descending into madness. The black-and-white cinematography and the square aspect ratio lend a lot to the oppressive atmosphere and Willem DaFoe is mesmerizing.
This Korean film is a wicked satire about class antagonism which I loved. The tone is light until it starts twisting in truly unexpected ways as it progresses. I loved the dark sense of humour that toyed with my sympathies at first playfully, then more conflictingly as everything unravels toward the end. What I love most about it is how multi-faceted it is; there are a lot of ways to look at it and pick it apart which, to me, is the sign of real art.
Another film I thought was a bad idea from the outset but turned out to be just right. Humanizing a psychopath like the Joker is very dangerous, in my opinion, but the brilliance of the film is in the ways that it tests your sympathy. Initially, you feel sorry for the guy, but at a certain point he crosses a line. Where that line is for different audiences is interesting to note, but I do think the movie is good as an overall look at the narcissism and lack of empathy that poisons society. Also, after Heath Ledger, I didn’t think there was anywhere left to go with the character, but Joaquin Phoenix proved me wrong.
This is not a list that can easily be arranged in any kind of order. Looking back at the movies that came out in the past ten years, it has been a truly astonishing decade for film. I could have simply put the movies from previous years’ favourites list, but instead I chose movies that have stuck with me for one reason or another since I saw them. Here they are chronologically.
And those are just twenty examples of the amazing movies of the past decade. Here’s hoping the next decade is as exciting!