From hugely budgeted action adventures to weird films about poetry, we have you covered with this month assorted grab-bag of films. Listen to our witterings on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Neruda, The Handmaiden, Assassin’s Creed, and Paterson.
The original 2014 film received widespread praise from everyone not named Drew Tavendale, and while I wouldn’t put it into the top tier of Marvel films, it’s solidly in the 50% of their output that I like. With everything in the -ugh- MCU heading towards some sort of pan-galactic gargleblasting conflict, I’d been hoping this would provide a few more details over the skirting around that it’s received since the first Avengers film.
Instead, even though this film goes to the ends of the universe, it’s really an altogether more domestic affair, focused on the mysterious alien that is Peter “Star Lord” Quill (One of the interchangeable Hollywood Chrises. Pine, maybe?) ‘s father. Who turns out to be a planet. So, not a traditional courtship, but who am I to judge? #woke.
Said planet, Ego, appears to us in human form as Kurt Russell, using some of his immense power to get the crew out of a sticky situation after Rocket’s kleptomania angers a planet of weird golden people whose name I did not think worth committing to memory, or indeed looking up. Ego takes Peter, Gamora and Drax off to his home world, of himself to explain how he came to be, and his plans for Peter, which turn out not to be quite as paternal as first presented.
That’s really the condensed version of the plot, as an actual recap of what exactly happens to who amongst the various factions in the film would be exceptionally convoluted and would add next to nothing to your understanding of the film. As plots go, it seems to have been back-calculated from a position of wanting to test and explore the bonds of family and friendship between the crew and their antagonists.
It does a decent enough job of this, so Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 provides a great amount of satisfaction at the emotional level. You’ll just have to deal with the shoehorning that’s gone on in the script to facilitate that by ignoring the logic centres of your brain for a while.
It’s a bit trite to say it, but if you like the original, you’ll like this, and if you don’t, it’s doing nothing to change your mind. I have much the same criticisms as last time, I think. At a listed two hours fifteen minutes, even with the standard Marvel millions o’ credits, it’s about half an hour too flabby, although to be fair it’s paced smartly enough that it’s more of an issue on reflection than watching.
We’ve spoken before of Marvel’s problems with danger escalation – going rapidly from cities being threatened with destruction to Earth to the Universe itself. How much higher can the stakes be raised? Perhaps with that in mind, the actual galaxy threatening elements of GotG2 seem a little embarrassed to make themselves known, slinking around in the final act and drawing as little attention to themselves as possible. I am entirely okay with this, and would only be made happier were they taken out entirely. I guess they wouldn’t be Guarding the Galaxy, then, but I am no slave to nomenclature.
There’s useful drama mined from the nature/nurture elements of the relationship between Quill, Ego and Yondu, and in what might be a first for a Marvel Studios film, I actually cared about the fate of these characters. A little. Let’s not go crazy.
Again, like the first, it’s big and bold and colourful, packed full of nods to things I largely have no frame of reference for and enough stupid throwaway gags to keep me entertained. Plaudits go to big Dave Bluetisa, as while on paper it goes to his exceptionally literal, no-filter mode of speech much too often as a source of comedy, damn it, it worked every time.
And so it gets much the same review as any Marvel film, really. They’ve got their formula, and by this point you ought to know whether it’s your thing or not. This again swings for the quirkier end of the spectrum, which again I applaud, but it’s not really taking any particular risks. And why should it, while the Marvel logo continues to be a license to print money.
Solid, enjoyable outing. If this is the sort of thing you like, you’ll sort of like it.
Chile’s Pablo Larraín is one of the best-regarded contemporary Latin American filmmakers. Sadly, for all of his reputation, my one and only exposure to his work before this year was enough to sour me completely (I refer here to the bewilderingly pointless and oppressively brown Post-Mortem from 2011). However, I have been tempted to give the director another opportunity this year, first with the sterile, but effective, Jackie, and now with Neruda, Larraín’s second collaboration with one of my favourite actors, Gael García Bernal.
As you may have guessed from the title, Neruda is a biopic (well, biopic-ish) of the legendary Chileno poet and politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco). After Communism is declared illegal in Chile in 1948 by President Gabriel González Videla (long-time Larraín collaborator Alfredo Castro), the bourgeois comunista must go on the run, trying to keep one step ahead of Gael García’s (fictional) police chief Óscar Peluchonneau until he can finally slip over the border into Argentina.
The poet leads the policeman on a merry dance throughout Chile, slipping his Party-provided bodyguards, recklessly exposing himself, and taunting Peluchonneau with both his proximity and by leaving behind crime novels for the policeman to find. Of course, Peluchonneau doesn’t want to actually catch Neruda: the appearance of a pursuit, and the besmirching of his name and reputation, is all very well, but the president would have a tricky situation on his hands were the poet apprehended, because the imprisonment of a world-renowned artist on the grounds of… Quick! Look over there! … can lead to all sorts of awkward questions.
Fortunately, Peluchonneau, while not Inspector Clouseau, is pretty useless, and catching Neruda is not something he ever seems in danger of doing. Especially not when, after being absorbed by the poet’s work, he has an existential crisis, and decides that he only exists as a figment of Neruda’s imagination. (Feel free to swear here, should you wish. I certainly did.)
Neruda takes a considerably different path from many biopics, in that, far from being a celebration of the subject, or a straight-up hagiography, it’s really almost more of a hatchet job. Larraín seems to have taken this opportunity to examine his homeland’s most famous son and declare him a total wazzock. (I am curious as to how this approach played in Chile; while his leading man is Mexican and can therefore escape most of the backlash, should there be any, Chilenos Larraín and Gnecco may be in for a difficult time).
I rather suspect I’m missing something here; a greater familiarity with Neruda’s life and work than “none at all” would, I imagine, help immensely. While I have my doubts that I would enjoy it any more, I do think that a second viewing, with greater foreknowledge, would be beneficial. As an example, the opening scene, where the men’s urinals and the Chilean senate are one and the same room, I clocked immediately as a nod to the surrealism of Luis Buñuel, whereas the artifice of the rear-projection during driving sequences threw me completely, until I learned afterwards that Larraín is a big Hitchcock fan, whereupon it clicked.
There is surprisingly little poetry in the film. One piece, Poema XX: Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche (Tonight I can write the saddest lines) is repeated multiple times, which to me again seems like an attack on the poet; his constant return to a much-requested piece in order to please his audience and receive their adulation. However, it is yet another recitation of this famous poem that leads to one of the film’s few truly emotional scenes, when we are shown the effect of poetry and poet on a club singer. But, and at the risk of disappearing up my own bum, I have the feeling that Neruda’s art can be seen in the film’s structure much more so than in the dialogue.
As to the dialogue, it’s interesting and at times witty. Neruda also looks remarkable; DP Sergio Armstrong has created a very appealing look, which verges on being painterly at times (the sequences in Valparaíso come particularly to mind).
While it would be pretty easy to dismiss this as pretentious twaddle, I actually found myself reasonably well-entertained, despite my lack of understanding, and my surprise that the film’s subject was such a prat. Far less of that is due to García Bernal than I expected; he’s engaging and brilliant as usual, but it’s not his best performance (and, while it fits with the film noir elements of the piece, his voiceover, always one of my least favoured storytelling mechanisms, is largely unwelcome). Rather, it is Luis Gnecco as the titular poet, for all of the character’s shortcomings, who commanded my attention (and his recitation of the poem I mentioned earlier is hypnotic – I have read it several times since, and I can only now read it in the same way he delivered it). Also, importantly, it’s not Post-Mortem (though, obviously, this film could benefit from an incredibly long and deliberate barrier-building sequence, as indeed all films could).
But would I recommend anyone watch it? Good question. Can I get back to you on that? At least, that is, unless you’ll accept “hhhhhmmmmmmmmm” as an answer. It did, however, encourage me to read some of Neruda’s work, and for that I was immediately grateful, even if it did ruin me. And perhaps that alone is enough of a recommendation.
A new Park Chan Wook is always something to look forward to around these parts, even if the last film of his I’ve unreservedly enjoyed was 2003’s Oldboy, with the likes of Stoker and Thirst falling a bit flat. This adaptation – loose, apparently – of the novel Fingersmith, however has been collecting rave reviews, so is it a return to form, or another mild disappointment?
A young thief Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) is placed into the household of Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo) as the handmaiden of Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), part of con artist Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha)’s plan to seduce Hideko, marry her and steal her money, Hideko being the heir to a great fortune.
This would go against Kouzuki’s plan to marry his neice, for much the same reasons. Creepy. But who am I to judge? #woke.
Sook-Hee is charged with gently encouraging Hideko to respond to Fujiwara’s advances, which she does with all the subtelty of a carelessly lobbed half-brick. All the while, there’s an increasing closeness between the two ladies, particularly in the face of her Uncle’s oppression and insistence on her reading volumes of erotica to a shower of perverts.
This seems to lead to a change of heart on Sook-Hee’s part, but to say much more would stray into spoiler territory, so let’s just say that things are not what they seem, and your alliances can shift if you do not keep up repayments on them.
I’ve heard this described as an erotica version of Rashomon, which if you think about it it really isn’t on any level, but it does give a useful shorthand to the feel of the structure. Presuming you’ve seen Rashomon. If you haven’t seen Rashomon, correct this error.
As for the erotica label, well, there’s certainly explicit, without being pornographic sex scenes along with some readings from them there volumes of erotica which are about as erotic as the TV Guide, but much funnier, so that’s hardly the main thrust of the film.
Instead, it’s a really great character driven drama with a strong central narrative. It’s almost an insult to say that a film has twists, given how often they are generally handled, but The Handmaiden wends closer to The Usual Suspects than M. Night Shyamalan.
It also, in common with most, perhaps all, of Chan Wook Park’s films, looks incredible. He’s always had a great eye for composition, but mixed with the period detail of the weirdly architected half-Eastern, half Western house in which the film is set makes for a real treat for the eyes.
For about three days, The Handmaiden was the best film I’ve seen this year. Neruda supplants that, but this is still an immaculately acted, shot and written story that treats is audience with respect and intelligence, and gets the highest possible recommendation I can give it. Well, that level minus one Neruda. Anyway, watch both, is what I’m getting at. Stop being awkward.
Ah, movie adaptations of videogames. Where would we be without them? Well, artistically considerably better off, for a start. They really do get a bad rap don’t they? And that’s not fair. Think of all of the good ones that balance things out: there’s… hmmm. Or that one, oh…. Nope. But at least we can all agree on… nope nope nope. Yeah, they’re awful. (The fact that most of the Persians are decidedly European aside, I actually quite enjoyed Prince of Persia, though I’m not at all confident about the idea of revisiting that film lest I be brought abruptly to my senses). Despite this, and despite never having been particularly successful commercially, Hollywood does continue to make them semi-regularly.
That makes sense – videogames are a huge industry, grossing far more nowadays than the film industry does, and with the narrative of games getting more sophisticated (or at least bigger and longer, which to many is equivalent), there should be greater scope than ever for adapting a popular game to movie. Which brings us to Assassin’s Creed, an adaptation of Ubisoft’s popular and long-running sneaky-kill-‘em-up franchise.
15th century Spain, and Tomas de Torquemada (he of the inquisition) and the loathsome Knights Templar are in pursuit of a magical McGuffin called the Apple of Eden (yes, that one), which contains the genetic code for free will, which the Templars would like very much indeed, if you please, so they can put a stop to this whole “humans having any choice in their lives” malarkey, because it all seems so untidy and disorganised.
Between the Templars and their goal stand the Brotherhood of Assassins, sworn to protect the Magical Mystery Fruit at all costs, and their newest member, Aguilar de Nerha. Much fighting and dying happens, but we can surmise ol’ Aguilar did a bang up job of hiding the apple from the Templars because no-one sees it again for the next 500 years.
Fast forward to the present day, and we meet one Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), who bears a remarkable resemblance to de Nerha (also Michael Fassbender), about to be executed for murder. After his death, he wakes up to find himself in a mysterious research facility in Madrid, where a scientist called Sofia (Marion Cotillard) tells him that he has been saved so that he can enter a machine called The Animus and access his ancestor’s memories to help her trace the whereabouts of the apple, and so end violence in the world.
Naturally she turns out to be a rotter, and in fact works for the Templars, so Callum must…
Sorry, I fell asleep, because boy! is that part tedious. Tedium, in fact, is one thing Assassin’s Creed has in spades. Character, plot, a sense of fun? Not so much. What’s the opposite of a spade? That, whatever it is, is how much of these the film has.
It’s not all bad, though. The cool blue present may offer little to stimulate (Fassbender’s loud singing, as a shorthand for “I’m going crazy”, because the screenwriters couldn’t be bothered to actually write anything, is particularly egregious), but the warm, golden, 15th century action scenes are, at least, fast-paced, well-choreographed and reasonably entertaining. The fact that these sequences are in Spanish probably takes the edge off of how leaden the dialogue actually is for non-native speakers, but they’re more about the doing (jumping off of towers, running across rooftops, scaling walls, stabbing fools) than the saying, and that’s really just as well.
I can say this confidently, having played about 30 minutes of one game but having listened to 417 podcasts on them that, thankfully, we are spared much of the core of the game series; Aguilar only has to find one collectible object, not four or five thousand, and he also seems to know where he’s going without having to climb numerous tall buildings beforehand to fill in his map.
The biggest problem of Assassin’s Creed, of which there are many, is that it’s all so serious. Why is nobody having any fun? It’s the story of using a giant robot Oculus Rift VR rig to “experience” the memories of a person dead for 500 years, in order to find a magic fruit (which shouldn’t exist anyway, because didn’t Eve eat it?), and everything is taken so seriously that it kills it stone dead. The film is so sorely in need of some, any, levity, and not the completely unwarranted earnestness with which everyone involved has approached it.
Quite what a cast that contains Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Michael Kenneth Williams, Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons is doing here, beyond paying for a nice new boat, is beyond me. And poor Brendan Gleeson – the man’s a genius at delivering exactly the sort of dry wit that Assassin’s Creed is crying out for, and he may as well not be in the film.
Director Justin Kurzel, who worked very successfully with Cotillard and Fassbender the year before in Macbeth, does his best, and the action scenes at least have a vitality that keeps them moving before all life drains out on return to the present, but he’s hampered by a stinker of a script. If you manage to attract a cast and crew this good, then really you need to serve them better material. And, going on about 100% of all evidence thus far, that material is best not to have come from a game.
This episode’s catch-up corner sees us turn our attention to the recently appearing on Netflix Paterson, last year’s widely acclaimed film from Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch, will he do the fandango?
This follows wannabe poet and bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver) going through his routine over a week or so, driving, writing, then going home to his off-beat girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and taking cinema’s most hateful dog for a walk, sometimes stopping by the local bar for a drink and to witness the latest drama in his friend’s lives.
Paterson’s life itself is largely drama-free, however. Indeed, for the bulk of the film it seems like the most traumatic thing that will happen to him is that his bus breaks down, mildly inconveniencing almost ten people, for a short while.
The rest of it largely consists of staring at a dog while Laura tries to turn their entire apartment monochromatic, but they seem to be happy and supportive of each other’s ambitions, so who am I to judge? #woke.
I contend that Adam Driver is a computer generated character, and Paterson provides little evidence of his alleged humanity. His uncanny-valley appearance, and his weird, blank canvas performance/sub-routine proves to be a real deterrent to absorbing all of the dramatic narrative this film hasn’t.
I do not get this film, or the reason for its existence, or what on earth it’s trying to say. Paterson’s most profound poetry is simply a description of his favourite matches, and what drawer he keeps them in. After a while, I got the message that I wasn’t supposed to be taking this seriously, but as it’s not particularly funny, or entertaining, or in any way meaningful, I cannot fathom in which way I am meant to be taking it.
I suppose I’m just biased against Jarmusch, and his silly hair – the first film of his I saw was Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai back in my Uni days, and despite the title it did not tell the story of a vengeful basset hound spirit slicing and dicing his way to redemption, and was instead a prettily shot, dreamless outing about a hitman being targeted for death himself. I suppose, then, I should not be surprised that a bus driver driving a bus does not provide much purchase on the cliffs of drama, falling instead into the sea of politely baffled non-plussedness.
I concede there is something at least somewhat alluring about Paterson, inasmuch as despite little bar terrible poetry occurring for two hours, I don’t entirely hate it. I think its very existence confused me so much that I forgot to be bored by it.
I keep seeing reviews claiming Jarmusch as a master story-teller, but there’s not a story in the film. Apart, perhaps, from his dog eating his homework.
It’s a strange little film, that appears to have little meaning to it, and isn’t very entertaining. Aside from that, film of the year.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues discussed today, please hit us up on Twitter (@fudsonfilm), on Facebook (facebook.com/fudsonfilm), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to receive our podcast on a regular basis, please add our feed to your podcasting software of choice, or subscribe on iTunes. If you could see your way clear to leaving a review on iTunes, we’d be eternally grateful, but we won’t blame you if you don’t. We’ll be back with you on the first of June with a run-down of the Alien franchise, but until then, take care of yourself, and each other.