It’s starting to feel that Duncan Jones has an issue with timing. After the instant classic Moon and the brisk and punchy Source Code, Jones disappeared off into the wilderness to return five years later with Warcraft, a decent fantasy action piece that unfortunately arrived after the cultural phenomenon of World of Warcraft had long since peaked. Mute, described by Jones as far back as 2009 as his “love letter to Blade Runner” arrives now on a platform that heavily promoted its own Blade Runner-influenced production — the TV series Altered Carbon — just weeks before, and also just a few months after an actual Blade Runner sequel has been and gone. In this context, the impact of Mute is, well, muted. →
My annual film round-up, in which, as usual, I pick out 20 films to highlight, the only requirement being that I saw the film during 2017, regardless of when it was released. →
To be clear upfront, Street Fighter is a mediocre film and you absolutely should not waste any time on it. If you have an opportunity to watch it then there is almost certainly something better and more worthwhile you could be watching instead. Director Steven de Souza was a successful screenwriter (48 Hrs., Commando, The Running Man, Die Hard), but he definitely didn’t become a successful director. Street Fighter fails as an action film, a fighting film, and as a videogame adaptation. This isn’t a “Street Fighter is actually good” piece. And yet. →
Thor as a character has worked best on screen when he’s been allowed to be funny; that’s not to say he isn’t good when serious as well, but there’s a balance that needs to be struck to get the best out of him. The original Thor found that balance, contrasting the serious Asgardian family drama with Thor’s fish out of water antics on Earth, and the film became one of my unexpected favourites from the Marvel stable. Thor: The Dark World on the other hand is an uneven, gloomy film that only sparks to life when Loki is around, and while I’ve grown more forgiving of the film after multiple viewings, I still find it a damp and dreary piece. →
I’ve written a few times before about my gaming ability but to recap: I’m terrible-to-average at games generally, and even worse at games that involve playing against real people. Splatoon, first on the Wii U and now on the Switch, is ostensibly a team-based online shooter, which is so many of my least-favourite words it’s amazing I even typed them all together like that. Despite this I’ve found myself sinking hours into Splatoon without complaint, enjoying the game and willingly returning for more. →
I saw Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element on release in 1997, and immediately hated it. Being a cynical, sneering teenager, I had no time for the bright and colourful visuals, the self-consciously wacky characters, the broad, slapstick comedy, the baffling Lee Evans cameo. Eventually though, as the real world grew progressively duller and my hair increasingly greyer, I came to appreciate the film for what it was rather than what it wasn’t, and it’s now a film I check on every few years. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has a lot in common with The Fifth Element, and having trained myself to appreciate the former, I found it easy to appreciate the latter. →
I’ve found the last few years of superhero films to be enough of a slog that I was starting to resent not just them, but myself for continually falling for the positive reviews. Marvel’s films have suffered from increasingly conservative storytelling, DC’s efforts have been visually splashy but in all other aspects terrible, and the X-Men series was effectively ended in my mind with the one-two punch of a bland and overstuffed X-Men: Apocalypse, and Logan, which was excellent but also practically sequel-proof. Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, on the other hand, reminded me why I love the genre as much as I do, and why I keep coming back for more. →
Notes on a train
A recent trip to Oxfordshire let me try out the recently-refurbished ‘GWR’ trains, introduced…
Remembering David Cameron
As a history graduate, I’m interested in how we remember political figures, and how our memories of…
A misanthrope abroad
Back in 2010 I wrote about how hard I found it to go on holiday for a variety of reasons, but the last few…
On the function of dictionaries
Those asking for nature words to be reinstated in a junior dictionary are wasting their time. Dictionaries describe contemporary usage; by the time you want a word to mean something else, it’s probably too late.
January is the most miserable month of the year. It’s dark when you leave for work and it’s dark…
James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2
The joke that opens Guardians of the Galaxy 2, where the Guardians fight a giant monster in the background of…
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Ghost in the Shell, a remake of the 1995 anime of the same name, is so lacking in ambition and style I was…
James Mangold’s Logan
Logan, the second Wolverine film directed by James Mangold and featuring the final performance of both Hugh…
Falling in and out of love with La La Land
I want to start this piece (which does contain spoilers), by stating my credentials: despite my rock-hard,…
My 2016 film highlights
My annual film highlights post, in which I highlight 20 films from all I saw during the previous year. Not all…
Breakfast at No. 1 Duke Street
No. 1 Duke Street is the Richmondiest place you can go for breakfast in the whole of Richmond, because while…
Granger & Co. OttolenghiDaylesford
Generally, I try not to get into queues with people who don’t mind they’re in a queue. A queue is…
Breakfast at The Putney Canteen
A recent move to the south-west of London opened up a rich seam of easily-accessible breakfast venues in…
Breakfast at Berners Tavern
If you’re going to make me book a table in advance for breakfast, you ought to be offering something…
Breakfast at Damson & Co.
Though no part of Soho can really be considered ‘off the beaten path’, stumbling upon Damson…
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Playing Breath of the Wild taught me something about myself, which is that I’ll happily put off fighting…
No Man’s Sky, a game of forward motion
I was always going to appreciate No Man’s Sky. The look of the game is pure ‘70s sci-fi trash, all orange…
What kind of a game is L.A. Noire?
I wrote recently about how infrequently I replay videogames, and how small the selection of games that get…
Blinded by the light
One of the many problems of renting a home in London is that all expenses are generally spared, so although…
Final Fantasy VII and replaying games
I re-watch films frequently, I re-read books occasionally, and I re-play games almost never unless it’s a…
- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace: Just an absolute car crash of a film. No budget, terrible locations, nothing about this works, nothing redeems it, nobody comes out looking ok. Highly recommended.
- Superman III: A fairly dull sequel that favours overlong slapstick comedy over heroic action, but a film that gave us Evil Superman vs. Clark Kent in a junk yard can’t be all that bad
- What Happened to Monday: A fun sci-fi action piece with Noomi Rapace going full Orphan Black playing seven versions of herself. Decent action, a taut script, thoughtful plotting.
- Tremors 2: Aftershocks: Surprisingly decent sequel that does the best it can with a dramatically-reduced budget. Nothing outstanding but if you’re a fan of Tremors then this doesn’t hurt
- The Comedy of Terrors: A fantastic cast and a mean, dark story, but let down by incredibly broad comedy. Film may as well be waggling its eyebrows at the audience with every gag.
- Supernatural Forces: A scrappy homage to early Cronenberg, this supernatural thriller isn’t a great film but it’s got plenty of enthusiasm and some fantastic practical head-exploding effects, both of which counts for a lot
- Miracle Mile: An apocalyptic thriller set across a single night and day that’s so preposterously 80s I couldn’t help but love it.
- The Bleeder: A decent enough biopic of Chuck Wepner, the man who inspired Rocky. Nothing particularly original, but it’s attractively shot and thoughtfully performed.
- Half of a Yellow Sun: Respectable historical drama set during the 1960s Nigerian civil war. Strong performances, though the story wanders around a bit
- Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut: A decent sequel, and probably an improvement on the theatrical cut, but its use of test footage and an ending ripped from the first film makes this more of a historical curio than anything.
- Superman: Feels absolutely timeless, and Christopher Reeve is forever perfect in the role. I can even forgive that godawful poem scene.
- Peter Pan (1953): All the expected charm of a Disney film from that period, though some of that wears pretty thin during the dubious ‘Red Indian’ sequences.
- Good Time: A bracing, exhilarating chase flick, all lurid neon and John Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack. Couldn’t tear my eyes away. Robert Pattinson excels.
- The Counselor: A ponderous, philosophising thriller; often the case with a Ridley Scott film, it does nothing, but it does so immaculately.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Coincidence-driven plotting, a baffling, lop-sided structure, so many nits to be picked, but I loved it, and may never entirely understand why.
- Free Fire: An appealing mix of elements — cast, outfits, action, soundtrack — that somehow still never came together into anything I cared about.
- Becoming Bond: Fantastic dramatisation/documentary of how George Lazenby became James Bond. Funny, moving, absolutely lovely.
- War for the Planet of the Apes: Actually blown away by this. A clever and subtle war film with incredible effects and performances from everyone.
- The Princess and the Frog: A charmingly-old-fashioned Disney. Beautifully drawn, a fun script, some fantastic songs. Maybe a bit underrated?
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941): A flat, lifeless adaptation. A great cast — Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner — but I don’t think anybody wanted to be there.
- The Pit and the Pendulum (1961): A little rough around the edges, but it’s hard to go wrong with Vincent Price. Unassumingly chilling.
- Night Moves: A gripping eco-terrorist thriller with fantastic slow-burning performances from everyone. Subdued, sparse, heart in the mouth stuff.
- Get Shorty: Travolta’s ‘90s cool schtick is less convincing the older I get, but Elmore Leonard's dialogue and story make this a lot of fun.
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931): A bit stagey by today’s standards but the makeup and effects hold up well and the performances are rock solid.
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: Another leaden turn by Charlie Hunnam doesn’t quite sink this, but comes close. It’s watchable enough, in parts.