It’s official, the summer movie season is coming to an end. All the major blockbusters are out (sorry Expendables 3, but nice try), all that’s left is the stragglers; unsteady comedies and mid-budget action movies starring Pierce Brosnan.
And yet, for the most part I’ve still be drawn to the smaller films over the last couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good summer movie (Edge of Tomorrow,X-men: Days of Future Past and especially The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were all excellent), but when I’m looking up at the marquee trying to decide between a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot and, well, pretty much anything else, there’s a clear winner.
Speaking of winners (segue), the best movie I’ve seen in cinemas the past while is also easily one of the most batscat crazy movies I’ve seen in the past while. I attempted to know as little as possible about Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer when I went to see it at The Vic Theatre recently, because I had heard rumblings of how off the wall it is and I didn’t want any expectations. Off the rails is perhaps a more apt description, but whatever the metaphor, this is a nutty movie.
I’ll spare you synopsis, because the movie sounds terrible on paper anyway, but if you’ve seen anything about it you know it involves trains, ice and Chris Evans. What you may not know is that it is part sci-fi B-movie, part kung fu action flick and all kickass all the time. This really isn’t a movie to philosophize because its joys are very rudimentary. They involve fists and explosions and a room full of masked mercenaries wielding hatchets.
Oh sure the movie has some points to make about governance, about capitalist society and about the fragility of our decadent Western lifestyle, and it wouldn’t be the same without this foundation. But its real joy, Bong’s clear passion, is in its mayhem. And there is plenty of it. This is a violent and loud movie, with a large budget for gore and a large tolerance for carnage. What makes it all work though is how gorgeously it’s all filmed and how much it revels in its own silly chaos. Throw in some wonderfully hammy performances, especially a hilariously overwrought Tilda Swinton, and we’ve got ourselves one hell of a picture.
Woody Allen’s latest, I’m afraid to say, doesn’t hit quite the same high notes. Allen is an old favourite of mine but he’s always been inconsistent and has a large repertoire of films I would call minor works. Magic in the Moonlight should be counted among them and felt in many ways like Woody Allen in autopilot mode.
It’s not without its charms, this tale of mediums, séances and the occult, most of which surround Allen’s witty writing and Colin Firth’s finely timed delivery. And Allen does hit on some themes he has excelled with before: the spectre of death, the absence of God, the redeeming qualities of love. Unfortunately here he says nothing new and presents them all within a disposable, uninspired setup. It’s not a bad film, so much as it is a slight film; effortlessly watchable but instantly forgettable.
Maybe it’s old news now, but Guardians of the Galaxy is purely enjoyable summer fun. It’s not up to the best of the summer movies, but it comes close, thanks primarily to Chris Pratt and to its frivolously comedic tone. Like so many big movies these days, its plot doesn’t really matter, revolving around a backstory none but the comic book readers will understand and an orb which has no importance other than that which the movie quickly tells us it has.
This prevents it from being a great movie, but it doesn’t stop it from being a heck of a good time anyway. And unlike many other movies of its ilk, it’s the great characters that make GOTG a success. Pratt has an effortless charm which has always made him an essential part of Parks and Recreation and now the rest of the world is discovering. Zoe Saladana is sassy and fierce. Vin Diesel manages to do so much with so little, much as he did with The Iron Giant. And Bradley Cooper, voicing a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket, is sarcastic, rude and incredibly entertaining.
This is a movie which relies on charm to capture its audience, and while it has little else beyond that (aside from some marvellous special effects), in this case it’s nearly enough.
This has so far been a seemingly notable year for deaths in the film industry. Just last week we had the news of Robin Williams dying, a shock to all, no matter what you think of his work, and another passing of a great with the death of Lauren Bacall, whose place in movie history is perhaps unequalled by anyone still alive.
Another actor who died this year, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, still had some projects in the can and one of his final leading roles is now on our screens with A Most Wanted Man. This Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) directed spy film is based on a novel by John Le Carre and is a slow burning thriller the likes of which we don’t see a whole lot of these days.
I loved Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, also based on a Le Carre novel, and have a soft spot for espionage movies, and did thoroughly enjoy A Man Most Wanted, even if it didn’t live up to the best of the genre. This may sound strange, but the reason it may have fell short in mind could have been it was too simple. I’m used to Le Carre plots I don’t understand and have to look up online after the movie to finally maybe piece together what I’ve just watched.
This movie is easy to follow, which sounds like a strange criticism, but I feel like it could have taken a more complex, layered look at modern espionage.
But this is a slight criticism of what is otherwise a tense, captivating movie. And I’m so pleased to say the best thing about it is Hoffman, who is simply fabulous to watch in the role of a German espionage agent. Hoffman is probably best remembered ranting and raving, yelling into phones and breaking windows to offices, but he was perhaps at his best in the quiet moments, when he could only hint at the passion and rage lurking within.
Here he is wonderfully subtle. We watch his character’s frustration and excitement simmer as the film builds, all of it coming to the surface in only the final moments. It is a staggering performance, seemingly simple at any given moment, but greater than its parts when taken as a whole. It’s a testament to just how great an actor Hoffman was. I am still devastated it’s among the last we’ll see of him.