My Cousin Rachel, 2017

Directed by: Roger Michell

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin

IMDb

Can a film be compelling if none of its core cast of characters are likeable? My Cousin Rachel attempts to prove that they can, and unfortunately falls short, resulting in a fairly dull time.

The story opens sloppily with heavy exposition, what I can only assume originated as a chunk of the book of the same name left out of the film, explaining that Philip’s (Sam Claflin) cousin/father figure got ill and had to move to Florence to stay with his cousin, a girl named Rachel (Rachel Weisz), who he promptly falls in love with and marries. A single letter comes back to Philip, completely contrary to his prior praise of her, claiming she is slowly killing him in an attempt to acquire his fortunes, but unfortunately he dies before Philip can reach him again. When the widow comes to visit her husband’s home, Philip finds that she wasn’t quite what he expected.

Characterisation wise, Philip is an entitled prick, an idiot, completely irresponsible and overall quite unlikeable. This is a bold move for a film, a medium obsessed with self-insert blank slates and generic good-guy-with-flaws types. Other films that attempt this kind of thing, however, have other characters to root for, and therefore can hold the viewer’s attention more aptly. The entire driving force for this film, however, is the back and forth of the audience’s opinion on Rachel. It’s very hard to root for her when half the time we’re supposed to think she’s a horrendous human being. To the film’s credit, its best aspect is its ability to have the audience constantly shifting its opinion as more information is revealed. It’s a good mystery. I really liked the payoff, and overall found the ending to be the best part of the film.

Both leads do a good job, especially Weisz, who’s performance I found to be pretty nuanced, given the mystery, but my above criticism still applies. Knowing the ending, I might have appreciated her more, but with neither lead being compelling, I had to fight the urge to check my phone.

Pretty much everything else, I found to be average to fine for a Victorian style period piece. There was the occasional unconvincing accent, some really shoddy CGI of Florence, and some awkward editing decisions at times. But in equal measure there was effort put into cinematography to convey symbolism, for better or for worse (one shot was about 80% obscured by an out of focus table).

While I haven’t and don’t intend to read the 1951 novel of the same name from which the film is adapted, I would recommend you read that over seeing this. Alternatively, the 1952 film I’ve read is also superior. The mystery is good, but not worth it in my opinion.

The Mummy, 2017

The Mummy was a bad movie, but not entirely unenjoyable. Tom Cruise played Tom Cruise with startling precision, the story was predictable and didn’t really leave room for any surprises, and the movie is gonna make me talk about feminism for the second time in a row. The movie takes one step forward by having the typically male role of the titular monster taken by Sofia Boutella (who does a great job for what she’s given), and then leaps backwards, somersaulting through the air in a spectacular fashion, by making her primary method of killing people kissing them, turning them into zombie-slaves. Imagine if Loki enslaved people in The Avengers by giving them a good old pash. It’s honestly pretty embarrassing. Not helping is Annabelle Wallis’ character, who acts as Tom Cruise’s love interest/damsel in distress who displays just about every cliché imaginable, and to top it off is the most boring character in the entire movie. Yet, the marketing touted the movie as ‘progressive’. It’s not. It’s shit.

The number one thing giving the movie any intrigue is that it’s supposed to kick off a cinematic universe with Universal Monsters, an idea which genuinely gets me pretty excited. The potential for a battle royale style romp with like 6 or 7 classic monsters makes me want to believe that this franchise will work out. This concept manifests in the inclusion of the best part of the movie: Russel Crowe playing Dr Jekyll. He was, fun, interesting enough and his inclusion was the only element breaking the usual shitty formula. I get the impression he’s supposed to be the Samuel L. Jackson of the franchise, and the way that they set that up works well enough for me that I’ll inevitably watch the Bride of Frankenstein movie in 2019.

For now though, this is an aeroplane movie at best. There’s no reason to check it out in cinemas.

Wonder Woman, 2017

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine

IMDb

Wonder Woman was a bunch of things. It was the first actually good DC extended universe film. It was the first actually good Superhero movie with a female lead. It was also somehow the first ever Wonder Woman movie. It really is baffling that despite being such a ubiquitous character, it took over 75 years for her to get a live action film.

There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of a movie like this in establishing female heroes/role models into the cultural psyche, especially for little girls. Thankfully the film pulls off this aspect of its existence very well. Starting the film with Diana as a little girl: brilliant. Not only did it work well in fostering a connection between young girls and Wonder Woman, but it worked well for the character. It fit seamlessly into her motivations and character traits. Also, it doesn’t fall into the trap of confusing ‘strong independent woman’ with ‘perfect, infallible badass’. What we have here is an actual character with flaws, who makes mistakes and has to learn from them. She is independent, but not beyond asking for/needing help, even if it is from a man. Incidentally, she is a total badass. It’s pretty clear that the filmmakers knew they had to handle this aspect of the film carefully, and I applaud them for taking a few risks for the cause of enriching the character. They did well.

Cultural stuff aside, the movie is overall pretty good. The story is not going to blow anyone away, but at least it was simple and enjoyable. It also had colour, both visually and tonally. Given DC’s track record, this is greatly appreciated. It’s actually a pretty funny movie. The action scenes were pretty exciting and had a nice aesthetic to them. There was a bit too much epic slow-mo for my taste, but I feel like this won’t bother most people. I also quite liked the way the film depicted WW1. It was a clever way to tie into the protagonist’s arc.

I quite liked Chris Pine in his role. In fact, I quite liked all of the supporting cast and their characters. Without spoiling anything, knowing what I know about how the main villain of the film is portrayed in other media, I am thankful for the depiction that we got. It really could have been much more generic and mundane.

This was a fun one. I’m curious to see what the overall reception will be like. The current level of praise it’s getting (based on IMDb and RT scores) would imply it’s phenomenally good, which it isn’t. It’s not even the best superhero movie this year (Logan). I’m anticipating some minor backlash to some of the ‘risks’ I mentioned. Hoping I’m wrong.

Anyway, go check it out. DC finally did it. They took their damn time, but they actually did it.

The Lego Batman Movie, 2017

Directed by: Chris McKay

Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson

IMDB

I probably set my expectations too high for The Lego Batman Movie. The marketing made it look like a non-stop joke fest, with tonnes of Batman and other pop-culture references, while keeping the super fast pace of The Lego Movie. The movie I actually saw was actually pretty good, but I did feel like it was lacking in a number of respects, unfortunately.
My main criticism would have to be with the characters. They’re set up well and are all likeable, but every single one of them was completely one-note. Batman is arrogant, Alfred is the concerned father figure, Robin was the wide-eyed innocent youth and Barbara Gordon was the responsible police-badass. Batman was given a lesson to learn: learn to let others into his life, but the process of this actually happening happens over the course of about two minutes in the third act via Deus Ex Machina. Watching Batman make the same mistake and continuously not learning from it is much like watching a puppy be confused by his own reflection in the mirror: at first it’s hilarious, but after an hour and a half it’s exhausting, and you start to question the mental health of the puppy.
I also feel like the comedic timing was just slightly off. I feel like they were expecting laughs, so left pauses in so the audience wouldn’t miss the next line. It came off as a little disjointed in the relatively quiet cinema I was in.
One last thing I’d like to address is the use of references. The film uses a copious amount of pop culture references, many of them being completely seperate to Batman (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who etc.) Unfortunately the film falls into the trap of thinking that acknowledging a thing exists counts as a joke. It does not. For examples of other films that fall into this trap, turn to any of the ‘Scary Movie’ or ‘Movie Movie’ franchise. Serial offenders.

Overall, if you’re a child or a nerd, you’ll enjoy The Lego Batman Movie, but it’s not as good as the Lego Movie.

Beauty and the Beast, 2017

Directed by: Bill Condon 

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens 

IMDb

Beauty and the Beast (2017) is a passable film, but a disappointing remake.
Unlike previous Disney animated-to-live-action remakes, Beauty and the Beast opts to change practically nothing about its narrative or characters. What they opt to change instead, is to add the forgettable songs from the theatrical version, add in approximately one minute of Belle’s back-story and contemporise one character. These changes don’t justify this film’s existence, the animated version is pretty much as perfect an animated fairytale can be, so remaking it comes off as no more than a cash grab. And considering it’s already the highest grossing musical ever, consider the cash grabbed.
The most insulting thing to me about Beauty and the Beast is that it does nothing better than the original. For instance, the musical numbers; in the opening number “Belle”, the townsfolk lack (excuse the pun) animation, they all just sort of stand there and sing their lines a bit awkwardly. Thankfully, this is the only number that does this, but all of the new songs are boring, and are treated as second rate by the film, never really opting for any interesting visuals to accompany them. The big numbers like “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast” are pretty great, but still do not eclipse the excellence of the animated version. If you go back and watch the original, you’ll see that the animation really is very impressive.
Despite my thus far heavy criticism, there were things I liked in the film. The casting is spot on, Emma Watson and Dan Stevens both do a fantastic job as the leads, I really liked Ewen McGregor and Ian McKellen as Lumiere and Cogsworth. Emma Thompson was great as Mrs Potts and Luke Evans was perfect as Gaston. And Josh Gad, ever the controversy, was a fan favourite as LeFou, pulling the most laughs out of the audience. The changes they made to his character, however, are pretty skin-deep, never amounting to much more than jokes about how gay he is.
The set design, costuming and special effects were all fantastic as well. I just wish I was seeing a new movie to accompany them. Something I noticed is that during the screening a surprising amount of the audience was talking over the film. I wondered why, until I likened it to how people talk over movies that they’ve already watched a million times before. That’s what Beauty and the Beast (2017) is, a movie you’ve already seen a million times.
Go re-watch the Best Picture Nominated version instead.

Logan, 2017

Directed by: James Mangold 

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen

IMDb

Logan was fucking fantastic. Emphasis on the word fuck, the film certainly loves to use it.

And there really is a certain catharsis to finally see the character actually acting the way you imagine he would, no longer bound to a single ‘fuck’ per film, to conform to the American Rating system’s version of ‘M for mature audiences’ (PG-13). I’ve been hoping to see a no-holds-barred Wolverine movie for years, and now in a post-Deadpool world, Fox finally has the guts to pull it off. If you’ve ever wished to see Wolverine drunkenly slash someone’s head in half, this movie was made for you.

Beyond the rating, the film does a good job of sticking to the grim, personal tone and themes presented to us in the trailer. Barring a few clichés, this is a very different comic book movie, and in contrast to last year’s very derivative X-Men Apocalypse, I found that very refreshing. Even Deadpool thrived on the very tropes that it incessantly mocked, so I applaud the producers for allowing this movie to happen.

The story is good, the new characters are memorable, and the cinematography did it’s job more than adequately. The best aspects of Logan, however, were Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and the action scenes. These actors own their characters, and have done for the last 17 years. I have little more to say than they totally nailed it. The action really steals the show though, it’s what fans of the character have been waiting years for. It’s unapologetically brutal, well shot and doesn’t feel choreographed, it feels raw. It’s awesome.

I’m slightly hesitant to call this the best X-Men film. It’s so distinct from the rest of the franchise in its themes and characters. It is, however, probably the best film in the franchise.

It’s a little long, at 2 hours 21 minutes, but I don’t really see that as too bad of a criticism as I loved every second. I know I tend to go nuts over comic book/ superhero flicks, so if you feel like taking this all with a grain of salt, feel free, but this is definitely one of the better ones out there. Go see it.