Goodbye, Princess.

Film, Opinion

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This reflection, by virtue of it’s subject, cannot be original or unique in any way. Carrie Fisher was loved and adored by millions, if not billions around the globe, and not just for her legendary performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars Saga, but for her compassion, wit, and honesty.

Like many others, my first exposure to her work was George Lucas’s original Star Wars (1977) film. Princess Leia Organa was unlike any other heroine of her time – she was headstrong, fiery, and dominated the room whenever she talked. And underneath this thorny surface, lied a great compassion and love for her friends and family. Leia wasn’t an object that men battled for control over, and whilst the original film might’ve implied early on that the men needed to “rescue the Princess”, as soon as Leia met her cohorts it was clear that was never going to be the case.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the original trilogy now – in the hundreds, for sure. First on VHS, then on DVD, and now on blu-ray. I can’t even remember my life without Star Wars. And those original six heroes of the Rebellion – Ben Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and of course Leia – fought for good and beat evil many times not only on the television screen,  but in my dreams too. And whilst I was happy to see Han and Chewbacca once more in 2016’s The Force Awakens, it was Fisher’s re-introduction in that film that made me weep. Luke may have been the guiding force of the trilogy, Han the wild-card, but Leia was it’s beating, emotive heart.

I recall Yoda’s thoughts on death in Return of the Jedi at this moment.

Yoda: Soon will I rest. Yes. Forever sleep. Earned it I have.

Luke: Master Yoda, you can’t die!

Yoda: Strong am I with the Force, but not that strong. Twilight is upon me, and soon night must fall. That is the way of things. The way of the Force.

However cruel and unjust Carrie Fisher’s passing might be, I think we can derive some comfort from the fact that in some way, Princess Leia has returned to the Force. Even saying that, I am genuinely heartbroken and devastated. I think for the first time, I feel like part of my childhood has died; the band of heroes broken; that the light has indeed gone out. I won’t be able to watch those films in the same way again, for now they truly did happen a long time ago, and in a galaxy far, far away.

Goodbye, Princess. Thanks for everything.

Film Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Film

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Spoilers below.

After seeing many voices on the internet reviewing, reacting to, and discussing the highly anticipated Batman v Superman, I thought it was about time to put my thoughts down. Batman v Superman is a highly problematic and flawed film in many ways. It packs about five films into 2 hours and 30 minutes, without any stitching of them together. It also does LOTS of groundwork for the DC Extended Universe to prepare for next year’s Justice League Part One. Out of all the chaos, though, a genuinely entertaining film arises, and for the most part I enjoyed it despite the many flaws. It is a weaker film than Man of Steel, but whereas Man of Steel had a cohesive narrative and essentially misunderstood Superman, Batman v Superman has a tighter – if not entirely accurate – grip on what makes it’s lead characters appealing.

Don’t misunderstand me, Zack Snyder still misunderstands Superman on the most basic human level, but he takes much more of a background role compared to Ben Affleck’s Batman. Without a doubt, Ben Affleck is now the definitive Batman. He strikes the perfect balance between Bruce Wayne and Batman, something few of the previous actors have been able to do. This is a Batman ripped straight from the comic-books, even if Snyder still misses the characterisation slightly (his obsession with superheroes killing their enemies is a genuine detriment to this universe). Batman v Superman is an improvement over Man of Steel in this respect – as Superman isn’t in this film too much, I felt much more comfortable with what was happening and with the flow of narrative.

However, Snyder really hasn’t cracked Superman, and that’s a genuine shame, because their confrontation lacks a dramatic weight as these characters are just too similar. It’s a shame, as Henry Cavill is a great choice to play Superman. He just needs better scripts and better direction, and a writer who understands the essential aspects of Superman. Maybe Max Landis? Snyder seems much more interested in the idea of Superman and the political / sociological implications of such a character, than the actual character of Clark Kent himself. This is dissapointing because Superman is easily one of the best characters in superhero comics when written well. Further complicating Snyder’s portrait of Superman in this film is the fact that, yes, he’s interested in these implications of the character, but he NEVER answers these questions of what a world with Superman would look like. Apparently posing these questions semi-intellectually is enough for him. It gives some thoughts to chew on but the lack of a thematic conclusion to what Superman means politically / sociologically would’ve given a deeper picture to a flawed depiction of Superman. Actually, I guess it does thematically conclude – Superman doesn’t mean anything politically / sociologically in a world where Batman exists, because Batman is better. Or something like that.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, like Ben Affleck’s Batman, looks really good. She’s not in the film too much, and basically serves as a plot device to complicate Batman’s story arc, and turns up at the end for the inevitable final battle in the third act. She is very much shoe-horned into the film and serves no real purpose narratively, but saying that, Gal Gadot imbues so much personality and character into Wonder Woman. It makes me really excited to see the eventual Wonder Woman film.

Unfortunately, whilst the first 2 hours of this film are exciting and mildly thrilling, it kind of falls apart in the third act. Zack Snyder’s need for a city-destroying third act leads him to shoehorn in the worst of all Superman villains, Doomsday, and have a mess of a final battle that I couldn’t really follow. It of course ends with Superman’ death, the most  (only?) heroic thing he has done in the film. What pissed me off about this ending is I don’t think the DC Universe has earned it yet. Two films in, and we already have the major icon of this universe dying before a seeming resurrection at the end? It felt unearned, and maddeningly denied a future filmmaker from doing justice to a sorta-good 90s comic that is popular for reasons I can’t comprehend. Had Snyder instead focused his energy on creating an interesting Luthor maybe this finale wouldn’t have been necessary. I would’ve much rather had Batman and Superman team up at the end to stop a nefarious plan by Luthor to blacken Superman’s name, but I guess that’s maybe a bit too much to ask.

This review has sounded largely negative so far, but I did actually really enjoy this film. I think after Man of Steel I was largely apathetic to any DC Universe film that hit the cinemas, but the pacing and intensity of the filmmaking kept me intrigued at all times, even if the film didn’t pay up on that intrigue at the end. It’s a frustrating film, like Man of Steel, because it does a lot of great stuff but also gets a lot wrong, filmmaking wise. Batman v Superman could have used another few months of screenwriting time. In my opinion, they should have entirely dropped the third act, cut out Wonder Woman, and made this film solely about setting up the relationship between Batman and Superman, with Luthor as the villain. I think it would have strengthened the film and made it the first great film in this new wave of DC pictures. As it is, though, Batman v Superman is worthy popcorn entertainment, as long as you don’t try to think too hard about what it’s failing to say.

7/10

The Legacy of Deadpool (2016)

Film

The unprecedented mainstream success of R-rated superhero film Deadpool (2016) has lead to much debate recently about the future of the mainstream superhero film, particularly around the issue of the adult nature of the film. Whilst I did not like the film as much as many others have I appreciated that the filmmakers really cared about the character and did their utmost at bringing a faithful adaptation of the comic to the cinemas. A lot of the success of the film is due to Ryan Reynolds, whose pitch-perfect performance as Deadpool has now defined that role in the way that Robert Downey Jr. has defined Iron Man or Hugh Jackman has defined Wolverine. Another reason for its success is that Fox didn’t hamper the character or the film by putting it within a strict PG-13 rating; by allowing for R-rated content, Fox gave Deadpool the creative freedom the film needed to faithfully bring the iconic Marvel hero to life.

James Gunn, director of Marvel hit Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) has written perceptively that Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson about Deadpool – that the film was a success not because of the character but because of how edgy and extreme it was. I mostly agree with Gunn here. With the news that the home video release of the forthcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) has received an R-rating, I can’t help but worry that Gunn is right. A rating for such a film seems absurdly unnecessary. When has the audience EVER clamoured for an adult, edgy Superman film? Never. Batman may be another matter, not necessarily because of his character but because of the villains he faces. Either way, it seems absurd.

I think the debate around this issue needs to re-examine the issue. I don’t think the issue is about adult content within these films; after all, there have been several truly excellent R-rated superhero films already – Watchmen (2009), Dredd (2012), KickAss (2010), The Crow (1994), 300 (2007), Sin City (2005), Wanted (2008) – but about the storytelling opportunities within Hollywood for superhero films. Quite often, by the time the average superhero film has made it’s way to the big screen, there have been essential changes to both the character and storyline. Despite it’s success, this can be seen in a film like Wanted, or in the mediocre Ghost Rider films, or even the most recent (and abysmal) Fantastic Four (2015). Yes, these characters might be ridiculous in concept, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take them seriously and adapt these characters faithfully.

Deadpool was a sure-fire success because of how faithfully it portrayed its characters; the same can be said of many of the successful Marvel Cinematic Universe films. If other studios and filmmakers are willing to do the same with other characters, and not force them into ANY rating at all but allow for a natural storytelling flow faithful to the original comics, unhampered by rating restrictions, then that would be a positive legacy for Deadpool. We could get a truly great Superman film rather than the sordid and miserable Man of Steel (2013); and characters like The Punisher and Ghost Rider might finally get their due on screen with the creative freedom that such projects necessitate.

Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

Film

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The Hateful Eight (2015), Quentin Tarantino’s much-anticipated new film, is a puzzling, disturbing experience. I think it’s safe to say that for most of Tarantino’s filmography, his films often have a focal character which the audience can align themselves with. A character who, if not morally, we can see ourselves agreeing with their decisions and actions. For Kill Bill (2003-2004) we had the Bride. For Inglourious Basterds (2009) we had Lt. Aldo Raine. For Django Unchained (2012) we got the dynamic duo of Django and Dr. King Schultz. And with these characters’ quests for retribution often came extended scenes of dialogue punctuated by brilliantly choreographed action. Tarantino has built himself a reputation as a director who conceives of cinema as a form of visceral experience. With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino abandons this cinematic aesthetic in favour of a more theatre-driven, literary style. The Hateful Eight finds Tarantino at his most thoughtful, political, and meaningful stage of his career. However, the affect this has on the form of cinema is of a somewhat different success.

The Hateful Eight is essentially a three-hour conversation between a myriad of unlikeable, detestable, and violent characters, forced into a dialogue by a blizzard and the prospect of having to stay in each other’s company for three days. There is no moral focal point among this cast; each is as unlikeable as the last, and furthermore, no one is quite what they appear to be. Every character is motivated by survival. For in Tarantino’s film, the United States has been filtered into this one room, and to say or be who you truly are is a deadly act. It is liable to get yourself killed. So as the snow forces these characters to talk about themselves and their struggles, conflict inevitably arises. America is the land of kill or be killed, and these characters know that more than anyone else. The Hateful Eight is Tarantino at his most political. It is a film that undeniably has a lot to say about the current state of race relations in the United States, whether you want to hear it or not.

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Tarantino’s new film is a politically charged, literary experiment in cinematic form.

This profoundly new direction for Tarantino matches a new cinematic aesthetic. Gone is the aesthetic of viceral experience as cinema. Here we find Tarantino at his most literary, carefully constructing his characters and relying for most of the film upon the power of wordplay and conversation to drive the characters and dialogue forward. At times, The Hateful Eight is reminiscent of the novels of Leo Tolstoy or Charles Dickens. Whilst conflict may still be finished with violence, The Hateful Eight is a marked departure from his previous films with it’s use of violence. Violence won’t end the larger debates presented within the film anymore. Violence won’t end slavery or stop the Nazis. This is because here, for the first time in Tarantino’s career, the debates these characters represent are bigger than the stage or the actors. This in part leads to one of the best monologues Tarantino has written in his career, delivered by Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marcus Warren, a black bounty hunter, who converses with Bruce Dern’s General Sandy Smithers, a Confederate general. It’s a standout sequence that is among Tarantino’s most disturbingly funny and political scenes.

However, whilst all of this is an interesting departure for Tarantino in filmmaking, it can tax the audience. The Hateful Eight, in it’s 70mm cut, is 187 minutes long with an intermission. It is nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes of dialogue, set up, and build up, to the final act in which most of the significant action happens. It’s a film that rests entirely on the shoulders of it’s last 40 minutes, and whilst all of this is very well executed I was left at points thinking, what exactly is the point of what’s happenning on screen? The Hateful Eight is entirely about subtlety and nuance. Subtlety and nuance across 3 hours of dialogue becomes something of an endurance test, if not an enjoyable one.

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Tarantino’s 70mm cinematography creates some of the best landscapes of his career.

Tarantino also makes great use of the 70mm format, with the opening half-hour stagecoach ride to Minnie’s Haberdashery featuring some of the most beautifully photographed landscapes of his film career. And when the film finally transitions to inside of the Haberdashery, there is no shortage for great cinematography. The faces of the cast, careful and beautiful lighting, and the occasional exploding head all are beautifully captured in 70mm. Likewise, this cinematography is accompanied by the hauntingly gothic Ennio Morricone score, his first Western score for 35 years. It’s a standout score among this year’s selection, and has a very good chance at nabbing Ennio Morricone his first competitive Oscar.

All actors are firing on full cylinders, with a career-defining performance from Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix and another jewel in Samuel L. Jackson’s ever-growing crown. Kurt Russell and the rest of the cast are also very good, with a particularly note-worthy, Oscar nominated performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue. She is easily the most savagely brutal character of the whole film. She’s manipulative, violent, and all-around nasty. The violence committed towards her throughout the film never feels exploitative or unjustified. I won’t be forgetting her sneering, blood-soaked face anytime soon.

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Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins are  two standouts of an incredible cast.

Whilst The Hateful Eight may be a taxing experience, and a somewhat weaker film from Quentin Tarantino after his back-to-back successes of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, it still ranks as one of the best films of the year as well as providing a startlingly new direction in Tarantino’s filmmaking. I hope to see more of this literary, theatrical style from Tarantino in his next films. Seeing the film in 70mm is a must if at all possible. An intriguing, enthralling, and stimulating piece of cinema.

9/10