When it came to watching films last month, I made as much use of the in-flight entertainment as I could on my long-haul journeys. The relatively short Miami-Guatemala City flight also showed Into The Woods, but I didn’t bother watching the end of that one as I didn’t care for the rest of it. I wasn’t invested in the fairytale reworkings, neither the acting nor the characters themselves were that great, and the songs weren’t the least bit catchy. When the witch was singing to Rapunzel in the tower, I just thought “This song, whatever it’s called < < < Mother Knows Best.”
The Searchers (1956)
This classic western features John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, who spends years on a quest to find his niece after she is abducted by Indians. Ethan himself is a very well-constructed character: he’s not just a generic hero, but has particular traits that make him a fleshed-out person. He’s practical, but not totally likeable; he gradually becomes more and more obsessive, until eventually only his partner Martin can really hold him in check. The film does a lot of things right – there’s plenty of drama throughout, and some scenes involving the Indians have excellent tension. At the same time, it can sometimes go at too slow of a pace – though things get more interesting in the third act – and I wasn’t really invested in the romance subplot. It felt quite average compared to other Westerns I’ve watched this year. Rating: 3.5/5.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
This action film about a young delinquent who applies to join a secret British government agency was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed Kick-Ass, and there are definite similarities between the two films in how they feel overall. There’s a combination of tongue-in-cheek, self-referential humour – such as characters talking about how old spy movies work – and more brutal, serious action: for example, the climax includes a crazed woman trying to smash down a door with the intention of killing the baby on the other side. This inconsistency in the tone can be a bit jarring sometimes, but it’s still an entertaining film. The action is fun and uncomplicated; there’s a good dose of old-fashioned British class, particularly from Colin Firth; and rather like Kick-Ass, everything goes pretty crazy for the finale. If action’s your bag, check this one out. Rating: 4/5.
The Theory of Everything (2015)
This biographical film about Professor Stephen Hawking, and his relationship with his wife Jane, saw Eddie Redmayne win the Academy Award for Best Actor – and it was certainly well deserved. At the beginning, Redmayne’s nerdy attitude reminds me a little of the Eleventh Doctor; and as the motor neuron disease begins to take hold, he gives a really tragic performance, getting across the grim reality of the condition while replicating the physical symptoms very effectively. I also liked some particular elements, like how it portrays the thought processes of physicists, and the supportive attitude of Stephen’s friends. Aside from that, however, I wasn’t really that impressed by this film. It moved too slowly; it had some cliche moments such as the opening; some plotlines didn’t seem to come to much; and overall it felt a bit too insular. I get that the focus is meant to be the relationship between Stephen and Jane, but the portrayal of Hawking’s scientific work and career doesn’t feel complete – I would have liked to see more details about his actual employment. Rating: 3/5.
Ex Machina (2015)
In this science fiction film, computer programmer Caleb wins a contest to meet his CEO Nathan in his isolated home, and test Nathan’s latest project: an artificially intelligent robot named Ava. This is very unconventional sci-fi: the visuals, music and limited setting combine to create a very surreal atmosphere, which manages to get quite disturbing in some parts. Quite a few scenes have little or no dialogue, and yet manage to get so much across through what you’re seeing. Ava herself is excellent: her design and movements lend themselves very well to the strangeness of the overall film. The development of her relationship with Caleb really feels like how you might expect a relationship between a human and an intelligent machine to develop: beginning with curiosity and awkward questions, with the empathy developing very slowly. And while Caleb is more of an everyman, Nathan is a very interesting character, with his casual attitude that masks his intelligence, and his attitudes that are gradually revealed over the course of the film. A quite low-key, but artistic and unique movie. Rating: 3.5/5.
Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
I loved Roald Dahl when I was young, so I’m familiar with the original story of Fantastic Mr Fox. Admittedly, it’s quite a short and simple story which on its own, doesn’t have quite enough to carry a feature length film. But this animated adaptation does a really good job of taking these characters and the essence of the story, and making it more complex; it adds such elements as a mid-life crisis, family disagreements, and continuing the story past the point where the original book ends. Using stop motion animation was also a good move: in another Dahl adaptation, this might be used for creepy effect, but here, it just lends energy and style to the whole thing. There’s a good mix of characters, and the voice acting is particularly good, with the dialogue feeling very natural and working well for comic effect. There aren’t many flaws to speak of: Mr Fox’s son was occasionally irritating, and the interaction between the farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean could have been a bit better. In the book, there’s a clear sense of it being ‘the three of them’ even though Bean generally comes up with the ideas, whereas in the film, most of the focus is on Bean while Boggis and Bunce just seem to be along for the ride. Definitely one of the better adaptations of Roald Dahl’s work, though beware of the ‘Boggis, Bunce and Bean’ tune getting stuck in your head. Rating: 4/5.