Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Avengers End Game

27 April 2019 by Nicholas in Films

I have now seen Avengers End Game twice. The first time was immediately after rewatching Infinity War in a double screening. It suffered from the comparison. In hindsight, it was always going to.

End Game has to serve many, many functions in a way that Inifnity War didn’t have to: it has to be a sequel, it has to satisfyingly resolve a huge cliffhanger, it is a capstone to a decade’s worth of plot threads and character arcs and it has to function as a narrative in its own right. It manages most of these feats to a greater or lesser extent, as well as subverting the self same expectation and doing several things that are unexpected, but it feels very much like several films stitched together as one.

Inifnity War was largely assembling people and setting a scenario in motion. It had a momentum and told one story. It also cemented a villain and his actions together. Stopping the villain and his scheme were one and the same. As the film ends the heroes face their own failure and, for many, their own mortality. End Game picks up with them at their lowest ebb, having suffered massive loss, and an the extrapolation of this loss provides the backdrop for at least two of the threads of the film. But there is also an unpicking of the combination of antagonist and his actions, as stopping one doesn’t necessarily mean stopping the other.

The opening is breakneck and ultimately subversive and anti climatic. It serves to change our expectation of what the film must be about and to suggest a greater complexity and necessary change in thinking. The next phase of the film is about these differing priorities and is very focused on the core characters at the heart of the story, the new stakes of the film and their own individual stories and characters. In many ways it looks back much more than it seems to advance the overreaching plot. As the film moves to the eventual climax we face the heroes in an arguable greater position of strength than the previous film and facing a subtly different challenge than we would have expected.

The first film is thrilling and largely upbeat and treads a very familiar path, but somehow feels largely upbeat with an absolutely shocking ending. The second film opens in a downbeat way and shows a level of desperation and bleakness you don’t normally associate with successful films before going on a far less predictable route full of character moments and genuine sadness and culminates in a way that seems true to the first film but somehow at odds with the one of the second film. Emotionally End Game affected me much more than Infinity War but I definitely prefer Infinity War. And I can’t even begin to process where the Marvel films may go from here.

Tagged with ant man, avengers, black widow, captain america, captain marvel, film, guardians of the galaxy, hulk, iron man, marvel, mcu, movie, review, thanos, thor, war machine

Infinity War

7 May 2018 by Nicholas in Films

Avengers: Infinity War, at the time of writing, is the fastest grossing film of all time and has surpassed the total box office take of Justice League. Justice League, according to which figures you believe, cost the same as Infinity War and is largely comparable and shares some of the same DNA. As someone who favours Marvel over DC, this gives me a sense of gloating satisfaction. There is a tribalism at play that sports fans can probably relate to.

One of the interesting things about the two films is how they sit within their respective franchises and their relative trajectories. Infinity War is the umpteenth Marvel film and could yet become the most successful. Seemingly the brand is now strong enough to launch unknown or unheralded concepts and they perform respectably to spectacularly at the box office. The previous Marvel film, Black Panther, is still out on general release, still making money, and has a huge cumulative take.

Justice League, by comparison, seemed to be an attempt to run before the films could walk, is the least successful film in the franchise, and a sign of how the brand is becoming toxic. Even well-known characters portrayed by a famous cast have been unable to save the film from being viewed as a flop.

Tagged with ant man, avengers, black widow, captain america, captain marvel, film, gems, guardians of the galaxy, hulk, infinity war, iron man, loki, marvel, mcu, movie, review, stones, thanos, thor, war machine

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

26 May 2014 by Nicholas in Films

Days of Future Past is a very highly regarded X-Men comic from the John Byrne and Chris Claremont run on the title that many people consider to be the best era on the series. It’s also consistently cited as one of the very best X-Men stories. This would arguably carry a heavy weight of expectation if it were not for the fact that X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand are also (loosely-) based on well regarded tales: God Loves, Man Kills and The Dark Phoenix Saga, respectively.

Days of Future Past is arguably closer to its inspiration, although it does depart in many significant ways and also ties into the films that have preceded it. It feels like an exercise in excising the mess that was X3, completely ignoring Wolverine Origins (and I assume it also can be seen as writing the last Wolverine film out of the movie continuity) as well as jettisoning large parts of X-Men Origins. It is the latter aim that seems most miserable, there were great ideas given short shrift and lots of characters discarded for a throwaway moment.

The film series now encompasses 7 films and 5 different directors. Several of the roles have been recast, even between successive films (I think Ellen Page is the third Kitty Pryde and the first to actually return). There’s a lot of inconsistencies in tone and timelines to iron out to make the story into a cohesive whole. And the film manages to draw threads from the series and knit them together or cut them off in a way that makes sense.

It’s a nearly film. It’s nearly great. It nearly does big action well. You nearly care about the characters. The ending nearly gets away with it. There is a brilliant action sequence part way through the film, but it sadly makes the ending feel more muted and less climatic. The best moments are featuring a character who then doesn’t appear again. The sense of inevitability that time cannot be rewritten aren’t allowed to pervade enough to create a sense of dread. There is a depressing feeling that matches the period but stops the film being entirely one thing or another.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have a chemistry together and McAvoy has a role he clearly enjoyed sinking his teeth into. Jackman has Wolverine practised now and the rest of the cast perform admirably (although a lot of the future X-Men are massively under utilised and it’s amazing Anna Paquin is even credited, let alone so highly). The script isn’t bad, but there is too much crammed in and you feel characters are under utilised to the point where you assume it could easily have been an extra 30 minutes long.

Jennifer Lawrence very nearly steals the film though. Her wig looks awful but she is brilliant. She’s the American Keira Knightley: she makes either period films (X-Men First Class, American Hustle) or films set in the future (Hunger Games) or more outre contemporary work (the Silver Linings Playbook).  Seriously, though, she does the action scenes well and shows real range as she oscillates between being conflicted and determined.

The special effects are largely good, although the entire future sequence is obviously studio bound and could have used a little more grit and detail. It compares unfavourably to the 20 and 30 year old vistas of the Terminator series, which is saddening considering the relative budgets and the technological progress in the meantime.

As much as I want to love the film I merely like it. I feel it exceeded my expectations but hinted at the potential it only manages to fleetingly achieve, if it ever comes close.

Live Free Or Die Hard

25 February 2013 by Nicholas in Films

Die Hard isn’t just a film franchise, it’s a description of the state of the franchise. The original film is brilliant, save for one annoyance. The second film is largely good, but too open and over the top. The third, with some hindsight, is quite effective but deviates from formula and has a stupid ending. The fourth is utterly terrible and features someone outrunning a jet in a very slow lorry. So, what then, of the fifth film?

It’s not the worst Die Hard film. That is possibly the nicest thing that I can really say about it. My idea of what a Die Hard film is cemented by the first film. The second largely follows the same formula and the third and fourth cheerfully ignore it. So does the fifth. That means that Die Hard films are actually more unlike the first film then they are like it, character names aside. But they bear the name. And it doesn’t feel like Die Hard.

John McClaine sets off to Russia to find out what trouble his estranged son has managed to get himself in. His son is embroiled in a Russian conspiracy and works as a spy. This, actually, is not the biggest stretch of belief that the film will ask you to make. From the very first chase (which makes little to no sense) we have baddies who are ruthless and decisive when tension is needed or to show how bad they are and then utterly ineffective when the heroes need to accomplish anything. And physics and momentum are gleefully ignored.

The thematic link to the parallel stories/arcs in the film is what people will do for the children and the sacrifices they will and won’t make. The twist is that the two fathers aren’t as far apart from their offspring as it appears, even if this makes them less similar as people. It’s not a bad underlying idea, but it is paid lip service by the film as a whole and the rest of the film is really quite stupid.

Bruce Willis, as usual, is eminently watchable. Unfortunately he is starting to look a little slight and old for the pure gung-ho heroics. To make things worse, the gunfights degenerate into John Wayne style shooting at each other with no cover. People being shot seems to only have a bearing as per plot demands and there is little of the tension and sense of danger that you see in the first 3 films.

Worse still, the villains are easily dispatched and the entire thing feels largely anti climatic. Even the bits that aren’t predictable come across as no surprise. Still, at least no one outruns a fighter jet in a truck or saves the world from the internet by shooting things.

Reign Of Fire

21 February 2013 by Nicholas in Films

Reign Of Fire is a film starring Christian Bale, an under credited Gerard Butler and Matthew McConaughey as the token American star to make it more saleable overseas. It dates from before Butler or Bale were particularly bankable in their own rights and seems to be a relatively large budget British film.

The story is of a dystopian future where dragons have reasserted themselves as the dominant species on Earth following a largely ineffectual and not particularly evidenced nuclear holocaust to wipe them out. The settings and props don’t quite mesh with the scenario as relayed by dialogue and montages of newspaper cuttings. The great special effects on the dragons aside, the film looks and feels like it is struggling manfully with a restricted budget.

The story opens with the introduction of dragons and setting up them up as a distinct threat. It also ties nicely to the end, which is sensibly thematic but a little too convenient. It provides a concise introduction to the dragons, a demonstration of their awesome potential but also limitations and is a tense scene that gives the protagonist a back story. It’s very lean scripting.

The rest of the film is largely perfunctory. It’s a blockbuster, but doesn’t quite have a blockbuster’s budget. This limits the number of locations which means that the plot is rather sedate. it also means that there aren’t many action scenes to break up the necessary character moments, which doesn’t help to raise the stakes or create a sense of scale or imminent danger. Perhaps more imaginative directing or a different structure would have created a sense of foreboding and tension, but that arguably would have required a smaller cast and less broad characterisation. It’s a film whose ambitions often overreach its very logistics. Nothing is particularly badly done, but the film is limited in what it can actually achieve.

Bale has little to sink his teeth into but is good. Butler is a likeable presence but doesn’t really extend himself. McConaughey is wide eyed and staring and actually rather good. The characters don’t particularly interact in an interesting way but there is a nice scene early on about the demise of entertainment and the reassertion of the spoken word and small scale drama in its stead. There is very little that shows similar insight and most of the story is predictable and the ending oddly anti climatic (but then again, it had to be in order for a small group to achieve so much and within the constraints of the budget).

As a blockbuster, it’s a British film. As a British film, it’s missing a lot of intensity and character development but doesn’t grate or deal with a load of luvvies. What it really reminds me of is Event Horizon, although Event Horizon was obviously cheaper and worked within its remit much better.

Fast 5

19 February 2013 by Nicholas in Films

The Fast and the Furious film franchise is a series of films centring around people driving fast cars in various illegal ways. It’s not high art and the better ones have Vin Diesel in them. Fast 5 sees the action taking place in Rio, Brazil and centres on Dwayne Johnson trying to apprehend a group of criminals who have been framed for killing some American agents while planning a robbery.

The reason I wanted to see the film was to see Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson punching each other. The testosterone is palpable but the action scenes aren’t particularly inventive or exciting. The climatic scene has a nice central conceit but arguably drags on too long and suffers from pedestrian direction. As much as Michael Bay is derided, some low tracking shots would have made things considerably more exciting.

But, on its own level, it isn’t a bad film. It does what it sets out to and has a twist. The supporting cast is largely marginalised, but this is actually addressed in the plot rather than incidental. The leads glower and perform explosively and the action ticks over. It doesn’t feel as long as it actually is, so that is a sign that things succeed.

Neither Vin Diesel nor Dwayne Johnson are particularly nuanced actors. It doesn’t matter. They’re both convincing as very big, muscular men who engage in high testosterone pursuits and jump and punch things. That is all the film really calls for and something they manage to do with aplomb. The supporting cast has precious little to do, but the villains are suitably nasty and glare at things and people make doe eyes at each other when appropriate.

Fast 5 is entertaining and enjoyable, but as long as you go in with sensible expectations you won’t be disappointed. It’s a Vin Diesel/Dwayne Johnson vehicle and serves perfectly well at showcasing their particular talents.

Parker

13 February 2013 by Nicholas in Films

Parker, starring Jason Statham, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez and Michael Chilkis is probably going to go down in the annals of history as “that Jason Statham movie with Jennifer Lopez pretending to be frumpy.”

Parker is, apparently, a gentleman thief in the pulp tradition from a series of successful novels. It could be the attempt to create a franchise and the film definitely has some star quality in and some reasonable set pieces. But it’s also a Jason Statham film. A good Jason Statham film, but you arguably know exactly what you are going to get before you settle down to watch it.

Statham struggles gamely with a couple of different accents, none of which seem entirely consistent or plausible. He also does his flexing, brooding presence and a surprising number of not quite action scenes. Nolte appears as a grizzled mentor. It’s a role that he’s good at, and he works well against Statham, but he is largely there to propel the plot and provide exposition.

Chilkis is a competing thief, but doesn’t really do menacing particularly. The absence of a great villain hurts the film overall, and although the heists are entertaining, they are hardly spectacular and the film isn’t really carried by them. There is never really excitement or drama created from a sense that things are coming apart for Parker or that anything is beyond his control. And he doesn’t seem to be enough of a control freak or calculating enough to make it entertaining in that sense. I’m left with a sense that the film represents a real missed opportunity.

And casting Jennifer Lopez as a frustrated real estate saleswoman/divorcee is just plain odd. We’re meant to believe that she is trapped in her life and has no potential courters other than a patrol-man  She doesn’t look down at heel or like she would be short of offers. Maybe I am deluded, or maybe my interpretation of her character is wrong, but it really doesn’t work for me.

So, really, Parker is a Jason Statham movie. It isn’t a bad Jason Statham movie, but it isn’t a great one. The things that take it away from being a normal Statham film aren’t strong enough or well enough done and the Statham elements seem to hinder the underlying premise. And Lopez is woefully miscast. And I can’t really tell you what happens in any of the action scenes having seen them, which suggests they lack enough invention or vitality to overcome any of the other problems.

Paperman

11 February 2013 by Nicholas in Films

Paperman is the animated short before Wreck It Ralph. It is also available (legally) online in its entirety. Apparently it features ground-breaking techniques and the melding of computer and traditional animation as well as 2D and 3D. Ignoring all that, it is beautiful, expressive and charming.

Although there are definite cues from the Disney of old, the film reminds me more of Japanese animation and feels like something that may have been bundled with the Animatrix. This could be because a tram/street-car is featured quite heavily or the exclusively urban settings. It doesn’t feel like typical Disney (even the sequence that borrows quite heavily from Fantasia’s The Magician’s Apprentice) and has a dated yet timeless look that seems more grounded than the purely fantastic.

Paperman isn’t bright or colourful. It is exclusively monotone apart from one piece of spot colour. The vitality of the colour against the monotone palette may be one reason, but it also evokes a classic sensibility and creates a sense of a real and depressing city. The skill in layering shades of grey, white and black to keep everything readily understandable and a sense of visual depth is not to be underestimated: this is as skilful a piece of animation as I have ever seen.

The characters, again, sit somewhere between the traditional Disney style and a more Japanese influence. They’re wordless and expressive, but they seem to have mannerisms rather than personalities. It’s too short an animation to properly explore them, and the cityscape and events alluded to by the title form as much of the story as the characters themselves. It’s a beautiful piece of animation, stylish but also engaging. But it is as long as it will support.

Wreck It Ralph

9 February 2013 by Nicholas in Films

Wreck It Ralph is Disney’s latest movie, and also their latest foray into the digital animation arena. Arguably it skews towards a younger audience than Pixar’s work, but I greatly prefer it to Brave. It’s the story of the perennial villain of a Mario/Donkey Kong analogue who feels dissatisfied with his lot in life and seeks to change it.

It’s the heart warming story of one man’s journey of self realisation, realising what he actually has but also ensuring people around him appreciate him. Littered with lots and lots of very good jokes about video games. For as simplistic as the story is, it is how it is told and all the little details that makes it shine.

The animation isn’t of the same quality as Pixar’s offerings, but is definitely more than adequate and captures the era and styles of each of the video games it portrays adequately. Everything feels of a piece and works together well, which is not something that all animations can boast.

The main characters are fairly broadly crafted, but no less identifiable for that. How much you enjoy the film is arguably going to hinge on how annoying you find the female lead and how many of the jokes you actually get and enjoy. For me the main female character stays just the right side of really annoying, but I can easily appreciate that other people may have a far more adverse reaction to her.

The story centres on Ralph, who is the villain in a game called “Fix It Felix Jr,” becoming tired of doing the same thing every day and also being hated by the other characters in the game. He seeks out a support group comprising of the villains of other video games. All the characters in his support group are characters from well known games, which gives his own story and game an air of authenticity it may otherwise lack as well as playing significant fan service to video game players.

Against the advice of everyone, and at risk to himself and his peers, Ralph abandons his game and enters others in an attempt to gain recognition and acceptance. The story is really about the people he encounters and also the reaction to his absence of the characters from his own game. It’s really well done and Ralph is a likeable and believable character, even in a film that anthromorphises video games in the same manner Toy Story did with childhood toys.  There is an internal logic at work that mainly holds and gives the film high stakes and a surprising amount of tension in places.

For me, Wreck It Ralph is the best animation of the last couple of years. Certainly the most I have enjoyed a Disney cartoon in years. It’s also released with a quite exquisite short called Paperman.

Jack Reacher

1 January 2013 by Nicholas in Films

Jack Reacher, with Tom Cruise as the eponymous character, is the story of an ex military investigator who sets out to discover the truth of a seemingly open and shut case of a lunatic sniper. My mother will tell you that Tom Cruise is completely wrong for the role. Her may be. My problem is that the film isn’t particularly good.

Tom Cruise isn’t at his most photogenic here and does manage to do “concentrating.” The problem is the plot is slim: we know the sniper can’t have done it from the fact that the film fails if he has, the attack in the bar is essentially a power demonstration sequence and has no real tension, the kidnapping of the lawyer is perfunctory and demanded by the plot, her assertion that she has shown “compelling evidence” is completely undermined by her completely contradictory sentence immediately preceding it. But that isn’t the worst of it: the big reveal the film hinges on is both obvious and has no dramatic weight at all.

So, what we are left with is a perfunctory thriller devoid of tension. It doesn’t do anything particularly well, but it isn’t really excessively incompetent either. Cruise is suitably unlike-able  but doesn’t have the presence or strangeness that perhaps he might. As I understand Reacher, Chris Helmsworth might have been a much better fit, but he can’t handle not being eminently affable.

The film is also designed to serve as the start of a franchise. I can’t really see it succeeding. Reacher is a cypher and not particularly interesting. The strength of the film therefore is dependent on the other characters around him and their actions and situations. And the film itself is bloody boring. Reacher isn’t mysterious so much as boring, he has no wit and doesn’t really seem to have much in the way of an interesting past. The monologue explaining him is the single best thing about him in the film and his appearance at the end of it completely undermines it.

I think we’re meant to be witnessing the emergence of a determined, single minded anti hero in the mould of The Man With No Name. Unfortunately we’re left with something that seems to already be descending into the parody that Dirty Harry became and cut from far more similar cloth than anything more iconic or entertaining. It’s not the film is bad, but it is never good. And it certainly never actually achieves entertaining.