David Leitch, who directed the surprisingly enjoyable Hobbs & Shaw, delivers another surprisingly enjoyable action comedy. Bullet Train is set upon the eponymous Japanese train, which, for two hours, hosts an assortment of assassins getting into scraps and scrapes at the behest of their various employers. It’s stylish, funny, smart, and features a wonderful central comic presence from Brad Pitt, who seems to have relaxed into himself in recent years, his performances exhibiting a delightful spontaneity. Definitely worth a watch, and going on the trailers, Mike really didn’t think he’d be saying that.
Birmingham’s full-size IMAX cinema closed in 2011, having proved unprofitable (the independent venue it became, the Giant Screen, closed four years later for the same reason), so it’s off to the Manchester Printworks, home of the second-largest screen in the UK, for our second viewing of Tenet. We ask whether the full IMAX experience is worth it, Mike comparing the feeling of the images offered to those he saw in Dunkirk and The Dark Knight; José argues that it’s detrimental to the film to be exhibited in different cinema formats, as shooting in IMAX’s 1.43:1 aspect ratio, where the film is supposedly best seen, with the knowledge that it’ll be cropped for conventional cinema screens for its wide release and home media, means that artistic, interesting composition is impossible – you can’t compose well for two frames at once.
Mike suggests that an easily overlooked pleasure of Christopher Nolan’s cinema is turning his films over in your own head, playing with the logic, asking questions of it and trying to unlock the puzzle box – something he’s been doing since his first screening, and which we both spend some time on after this one. Laying out the timeline, speculating on what might happen that we’re not shown – this isn’t the first of Nolan’s films to invite that type of reflection. And Mike describes the pleasure of understanding things that aren’t hidden but simply too many to grasp all at once the first time – now that he broadly knows the film, things that left him confused at first now smoothly fall into place.
We reflect again on the film’s score, performances, and action scenes, finding that rather than changing our initial impressions, this second viewing helps us to perceive and explain better what made us feel the way we did at first. We find more to discuss – the use of Elizabeth Debicki’s height, the cost of Nolan’s adherence to achieving visual effects without the use of CGI, the pleasure of the way in which Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character interacts with the heroes, whether Mike is just shit at watching spy movies – but our overall experience hasn’t changed. What we liked, we still like; what we didn’t, we still don’t.
(Mike’s short film, which he claims was harder to make than Tenet, can be seen below. It’s probably worth mentioning that if you still don’t know what Tenet is about, watching this could constitute a spoiler of sorts – after all, Mike brought it up because of its vague similarities.)
After a long wait and three delays, Christopher Nolan’s latest high-concept blockbuster, Tenet, has finally arrived in British cinemas. This description is a spoiler-free zone, but the podcast is decidedly not, so tread carefully before you listen: We spill every secret the film has to hold. The ones we could figure out, anyway.
Following our revisitation of five of Nolan’s massive flicks – the DarkKnighttrilogy, Interstellar, and Inception – we’re keen to see how Tenet fits amongst its brethren. We consider, as we have done repeatedly, Nolan’s action direction, the aesthetic design, the tone, the concept that drives everything, how it’s explained, what we love, what let us down, and, well… to detail anything further would be indecent.
Mike is gobsmacked by it, finding brilliance in some of the film’s execution, though is keen to make more than a few criticisms. José is much colder towards it, dismissing it as no more interesting than comic books for children – can Mike’s enthusiasm rub off on him? Tenet has its flaws, but it’s ambitious, intriguing, large-scale, wonderfully cast and acted – it’s worth your time.
I’m quite blown away by Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. I hadn’t quite taken to a Single Man, finding it overly designed. But this is great. First impressions are: an audacious narrative structure with early scenes as tense as any I remember seeing; the best ensemble acting of any American film this year, with Michael Shannon making another strong argument for consideration as the best American actor of his generation: a film that discomfits with its demands but pays off and rewards attention. A noir melodrama on class, family and a rural/ urban divide in America. An extraordinary credit sequence. Amy Adams looks wrong for the part but turns out to be right for the movie. Brilliant cameo by Laura Linney and a superb turn from Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Armie Hammer, finally well-used in a movie. Tom Ford knows how to film men: Jake Gyllenhall, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Armie Hammer have never looked better. Is the film a revenge narrative; or does it leave open other possibilities? A film I’d like to see again and talk to people about.
I thought Godzilla the dullest blockbuster of the season but then, after yawning for an hour and half, the monsters finally arrived and woke me up. It’s a movie where everyone seems to have done an amazing job except director, writers and actors (Juliette Binoche excepted). Some of the shots are jawdroppingly good — the vfx truly astonishing, with the scene on the bridge where the monster rises behind the hero and Godzilla’s arrival at the airport being particular delights.
But maybe a monster movie SHOULD start with a monster rising out of the ocean and stomping on people. All that useless exposition…and to so little end: the background with the mother and father; the sentimental cringe of the father’s birthday greetings at the beginning and middle of the film; the son repeating the father’s cycle; the rescuing of someone else’s child paralleling the danger faced by his own — it all leaves one either cringing or yawning
Hollywood filmmakers should find something other than psychiatry to entertain them. It really seems to have reduced their understanding of people, of individual character and their motivation, and of the political and social contexts in which recognisable people might live in. Thus in Godzilla, the filmmakers’ control over the means of expression vastly exceeds an understanding that never seems to go beyond Pychology 101 and Intro to Film Studies 101 (there seemed to be a shot copying everything ever done here — The Birds, the Aliens films etc) with a dash of cod-Buddhist philosophy thrown in so that Godzilla can come and re-order the ‘natural balance’ of things. There’s a ‘feather-in-brain’ moment too where Ken Watanabe brings out his father’s watch to remind us of the Atomic Bomb (as if a film called Godzilla in which the monsters are powered by nuclear energy itself needed further reminders).
The actors are supremely bad: when one’s noticing that Bryan Cranston is wearing the same wig fifteen years later; or feeling cheated because Aaron Taylor-Johnson hasn’t taken his shirt off but isn’t doing much else; or longing for Mathew Broderick to appear from somewhere show his charismatic face and crack a few jokes, there’s a problem with the story-telling and acting. Ken Watanabe seems to have three expressions: one where he turns his mouth into an o; another, more expressive, where he turns his mouth into an oval; and then a grim and resolute downturn of the mouth. He does say Godzilla with a Japanese accent and with particular relish for which much can be forgiven; and to be fair, it’s is not as if he’s given a lot to do.
Except for Juliette Binoche, Godzilla does give a more compelling performance than the rest of the cast: the monster design and animatronics or whatever vfx skills brought the monster to life are indeed terrific and worthy of praise. The gradual introduction of the monster, the design and execution of the shots of destruction in the Hawaii and San Francisco sections of the film, the detail and amount that one can see going on inside each shot; all are thrilling. There are shots that truly do make one go ‘Wow’! However, even when the monsters do start stomping on cities or fighting each other, the story lacks tension and suspense. I was longing for them to stomp on someone we were meant to care about but didn’t really.
Godzilla is indeed spectacular. If your interest is in vfx and on the look of things, it may well surprise and delight. It’s certainly worth seeing on IMAX in order to enjoy those pleasures to the full. But the pleasures the film satisfies are those of spectacle rather than of narrative, and given that so much time was spent on narrative, this really counts as a failure in this film. Ultimately, Godzilla illustrates how empty and ultimately unsatisfying spectacle on its own can be, that there’s a story-telling dimension to spectacle itself, and that a monster movie that doesn’t scare, doesn’t thrill and doesn’t allegorize with intelligence is not much of a monster movie at all.
It’s a mess of a movie, superficial but attractive in an oversaturated way and with the driving energy of pulp. There’s a superb cast, all at or near their best (John Travolta, Benicio del Toro) or a delight to the eye (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively). I’ve never seen Selma Hayek better than she is here as a Mexican drug-cartel Queen. The beginning is a complete cock-up, with a badly spoken narration that could come straight out of a noir parody. The end is such a muddle we’re in fact offered two (the one the film would like to have and the one it was probably made to have, neither very original). In between nothing is believable but all is sexy, glamorous, violent and fun if ultimately also somewhat unsatisfying and rather cheapening.
Keira Knightley reveals herself as a Film Goddess in this film. Some of her close-ups have to be amongst the most beautiful ever filmed and she is the film’s core strength; she carries the movie, and not only with her beauty. The film might be a tad too exquisite; the sets, costumes, jewels and décor are so dazzling one can’t help but be distracted. However, the film is also formally daring, extremely stylized, all shot as if it were on stage; and this adds an intellectual dimension to what’s on display; forces us to try to figure it out. I understand the original funding for the film fell through at the last minute and the filmmakers had to mother some invention presto. They’ve done a good job.
Of the cast, it is Jude Law as Anna’s cuckolded husband, Karenin, who finally allows the audience to discover him as a great actor. Of the protagonists, he’s really the only one who conveys a recognizable person and a way of life. It’s interesting because the role is historically a dud (few actors win kudos for playing middle-aged, dull, and respectable). Yet, Law makes us believe him in the part, quite an achievement when one considers his career and persona He also helps us to understand why Karenin acts the way he does and, if we never quite empathise, we certainly feel for him.
I was beginning to find the film quite moving near the end, though it was in relation to Law’s Karenin rather than Knightley’s Karenina, which is partly the film’s main problem. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronksy looks like a Boucher drawing, one doesn’t know whether to admire or lick him; worse, one doesn’t understand or feel for him; and one should also feel more for Anna Karenina than this film or Knightley allow for.
Aside from Angelina Jolie, Knightley is the only person in current cinema who may be called a Goddess in the sense Dietrich and Garbo were; beautiful, remote, too divine to be quite human. This is the film’s flaw (it was a major one in the Garbo version as well; Vivien Leigh’s Karenina was not remote but her vehicle had other, even more considerable, flaws). This version, directed by Joe Wright, whilst not a masterpiece, is my favourite: intelligent, imaginative, sumptuous and with a cast that, with all its limitations, is a joy to behold..