Friday, 24 April 2020

Dune (2020)


I think Dune might be just the right film for Timothee Chalamet, because Paul is supposed to look scrawny, lost and slightly confused. I can already hear Gurney Halleck shouting at him.


I mock with some affection, I think Chalamet’s going to knock the Jamis scene out of the park.

Most importantly, I have seen pictures of Liet Kynes.

Doesn't she look magnificent!

It is no secret that Liet Kynes is my favourite character in Dune, and I am pleased to see they're doing him justice, in the photos at least. Of all the characters, if there was one they could genderswap, to try and balance out the number of characters of each gender (not that the women of Dune aren't all ... I'd say awesome, but just as flawed and vivid as their male companions is more truthful), then Kynes is the easiest, because there's nothing about him or his story that needs him to be male.

I've also found out that it's going to be two films, which might explain why they haven't revealed who is playing Feyd Rutha. Then again, he's important background for the plot and explaining the Baron Harkonnen's motives, so I remain dubious. Because that scene where the Baron watches Feyd Rutha fight is important, not just for the Baron's "be still my beating [redacted for the good of mankind]" at the sight of Feyd's body. It's so we know that although Feyd Rutha looks nice and, unlike the beast Raban, has manners, hygiene and charm, he's still a Harkonnen and enjoys fighting slaves who are drugged so they're no harm to him to make himself look good. It presages the end duel. You kinda need Feyd in the first half, if only for two scenes.

I withhold my fuller opinion until I see any of the Fremen's eyes.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Last year I went to watch this with colleague I.  Colleague I wanted to watch it because it looked cute, and her cat looks very similar to Toothless, and I am very easy to convince to go see a film.

I am so glad I went.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a little gem.

We get to meet old friends (Hiccup, Astrid and the gang, Toothless, Gobber) and see that they're still doing well.  And they're still warm, loving and ridiculous and everything we love about them, especially Toothless and Ruffnut.

Then there was Grimmel.  Oh he's a fantastic villain, mean, cruel and evil, but with a plan, and the will to carry it out.

The effects for the hidden dragon world are fantastic.  I don't know if it was filmed for 3D, I suspect it might have been, but it still looked amazing in 2D.

I enjoyed the fact that they whole-heartedly tell their story with such vim and vigour.

Definitely recommended.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Klimt/Schiele

In February 2019, L took me to see the Klimt/Schiele exhibition as a birthday treat (because he is the best). Like all Royal Academy exhibitions, it was well set up and informative.

I enjoyed finding out why Klimt's pictures have always reminded me of sculptures (and that there's a word for that), and I found the preparatory sketches for his work interesting because of how he structured them, and being able to see how his training in applied arts affected his works.

However, there was this feeling that this was a Schiele exhibition with some Klimt pictures added: one almost wondered if the curator had a burning desire to put on a Schiele exhibition, but had been told the only way they'd get their exhibition was if they used Klimt's name to bring in the crowds.

I understand, I too think Schiele > Klimt, but it does mean that one of the headliners feels like an after-thought.

It also has other effects.

This was the first exhibition I'd ever visited that had a content warning. About mid-way through, I did wonder why: fine, there's been a few naked women, but it's an art exhibition, when aren't there naked women? There were even the occasional naked men. They were mostly self-portraits, or as L's ditty went:
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands,
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands,
If you're happy and they know it,and you really want to show it;
if your name is Egon Schiele, put it away…

However, nothing that I thought required a warning.

The next room featured pornography by the artists. Even Klimt's lady reclining flicking the bean isn't vulgar. She's rather darling and delicate in fact, in an architectonic sort-of-way (told you I'd learnt a new word), but you know, not requiring a warning.

The pictures did lead to one small child asking her father, "Daddy, what's that?". I think the child was faced with the Schiele that's a naked woman in green skirts minus the top half of her body, so it’s an understandable question. Normally though, they don't give warnings just to prevent fathers from having to splutter explanations.

Then I turned a corner and saw why they'd put up a warning.

Now, I am not easily shocked, I walked up some stairs and came face to ... face with The Origin of the World without warning and didn't blink (I am of the faction that says it's too clinical to be obscene).

The Schiele "behold the child prostitute" picture *does* deserve a warning. Part of that is a testament of Schiele's skill. He makes graphite and gouache come alive, vividly and vulnerably. The other part is the way he makes the viewer look at her the way the artist looked at her, and the artist had nothing like good intentions. It's both spectacular and creepy.

This isn't me assuming something about the artist from what he painted, I know about Schiele. This leads to the other effects of the exhibition’s focus on Schiele. This is not my first Schiele exhibition, but it was the first that ever tried to explain away the Neulengbach incident as 'locals not recognising artistic genius'.

I don't know if it's because there's been a cultural shift since the last time I went to a Schiele exhibition, but every other exhibition has been "horrible man, brilliant artist", and maybe you can't get away with being glib like that anymore, but I don't think trying to hide his horribleness is any better.

It was still an excellent exhibition, and I will be buying the exhibition book, but it was an odd line to take, especially in a post-#MeToo world when we're supposed to have stopped brushing things like this under the carpet.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Sword fighting films - Robin Hood

This is the first in an irregular series of posts about films with sword fights. Although they're all part of a series, the formats will be slightly different, for reasons which will become clear as the posts occur.

Some time ago, in a post about the 1938 Oscars, NWhyte wrote that he'd never seen the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. I was surprised, but looking back on it, I'm not sure why, because former housemate P didn't watch it until his mid-20s, and as a fencer, he'd had more reason for watching it. 

Following on from that post, I wondered which sword-fighting films I would recommend for people to watch. And then I realised I'd watched a lot, and probably needed a way of splitting them up, so I am writing about them by topic, starting with Robin Hood, since it was the Errol Flynn version that kick-started this idea. 

Robin Hood

Must watch: As you may have guessed from that intro, as far as I'm concerned the Errol Flynn version is the best film version. 

Partly it's Flynn himself, in all his charming, insouciant glory, but there's also Olivia de Havilland as a beautiful, charming and courageous Maid Marian, Claude Reins and Basil Rathbone as excellent villains, and comic relief characters who get to be both funny and heroic. 

Of course, the fight scenes are famous for a reason (spoilers for the big end fight). It's amazing what you can do when one of your principals is a fencer

Ex-housemate P didn't like it because it wasn't flash enough for him and too slow, but he was more than occasionally wrong about films (he didn't like Casablanca). His favourite version will be mentioned shortly. 

In the same vein: The Richard Todd and Richard Greene versions of Robin Hood stick closely to the Errol Flynn model, and the Richard Greene TV version is one of my family's favourite ways to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. 

Something different: The Disney Robin Hood is actually my favourite version. However, because it's animated, I have to admit that the sword fights aren't all that. On the other hand, there are some truly excellent villains, an adorable Robin and Maid Marian, one of my favourite Friar Tuck's (seriously, watching him go full "badger don't care" at the Sheriff is glorious), excellent music (A Pox On The Phoney King of England, Not In Nottingham) and Lady Cluck. 

I could write whole essays on how Lady Cluck is just the best (which she is), but I shall provide video evidence instead:  

Anyone who has ever seen me do sports may recognise a certain similarity in both shape and attitude.  
The Disney Robin Hood is an hour and a half of sheer sugar candy joy. 

Other options: 

The ITV Robin Hood, Robin of Sherwood, which is housemate P's favourite. I happen to think it's New-Agey, pseudo-realistic nonsense, but several other people I know like it. 

I also blame it for several of the modern Robin Hood cliches. It popularised one of the Merry Men being a Saracen, Will Scarlet being an (angry) working class man rather than Robin's cousin, and Robin going off to the Crusades before the story starts. This annoys me. It's like, 'why are you doing this to the character and the story, not going to the Crusades it what gets him outlawed in the first place?!!!' 

I find it interesting that in 1938 you could get away with a Robin who says "no way, you go fight your own pointless war if you want to but I am staying here to protect my people" whereas nowadays you can't. I don't know how much of that was due to US isolationist policies pre-WW2 and general public opinion, or wanting to stay close to the original legend, but it's an interesting difference.

I like that Robin doesn't go to war, despite the threat of being outlawed if he doesn't. He goes ahead and follows his conscience. It makes him a more impressive hero. It's all well and good to show him fighting against a prince who has usurped power, but for him to disobey someone who he regards as the rightful king, with all the moral and legal force that implies, now that's a different thing. 

If storytellers want to have a story with a Crusader veteran horrified with what they'd seen for the one (and it's only ever one) PTSD-related episode or section, then Will Scarlet, nobleman with fewer reservations than Robin, seems like an excellent choice. He already canonically wanders around a forest wearing red, which I think might well be described as a death-wish. 

Unnecessarily long story short - I don't particularly like this version, although I do recognise that it has its own distinctive feel, and does its own thing its own way, which I admire. 

The Patrick Bergin Robin Hood, which was unlucky enough to have been released at the cinema at the same time as the Kevin Costner version. I prefer it, even if it is a bit heavy-handed. Also, it has Owen Teale's Little John and is about the only modern version that gives Little John anything to do. (Why do modern versions give all/most of Little John's important bits to Nasir/Azeem?) 

Avoid: 
The BBC's 2006 Robin Hood - But, I hear you cry, you spent far too much time watching it. And this is true, any time spent watching it would be too much.
via GIPHY

Basically the BBC Robin Hood was one very good performance, four good performances and Keith Allen eating more than the Recommended Daily Allowance of scenery, being hamstrung by increasingly poor and peculiar authorial choices on the part of the writers. 

The Kevin Costner version (mild spoilers ensue) - I am about to be accused of being mean, and it's not just that they hew very closely to Robin of Sherwood to the point where you think they should have paid licencing fees, but I can explain my objection to the film in four words: Will Scarlet would never. I don't mean this Will Scarlet, I mean any Will Scarlet. In fact, having any Merry Man betray the rest is a good way of ending up in the avoid list. Even Alan Rickman's glorious, vivid and vile Sheriff of Nottingham cannot save this film, nor can Morgan Freeman and Michael McShane. It is un-salvagable. 

If anyone has any other Robin Hood recommendations, please send them my way. It's a legend I never tire of.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

A better F1 calendar redux

This is an update of a post from 5th August 2018. At that time, it was the summer break and I thought it would be interesting to see how far the F1 calendar deviated from the most efficient possible order if you were trying to reduce travelling distance.

Since then, very little has changed – Mercedes keep winning everything and the smaller teams continue to complain that the amount of travelling hikes up their costs and makes their lives even more difficult, also, the engineers would like to see their families occasionally.

F1’s response to this is … to add two more races.

Despite the way that sounds, I am looking forward to the two new races (Vietnam and Netherlands) but I wanted to see whether they’d been slotted into the F1 calendar in places that made sense. I used the same app as previously (https://gallery.shinyapps.io/shiny-salesman/). I used Amsterdam as the location for the Dutch Grand Prix because Amsterdam is the city nearest to Zandvoort. (All of this was calculated pre-Coronavirus.)

The most efficient calendar can be seen below: sJ7qgX.png The order is Australia, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Russia, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Monaco, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Britain, Canada, United States, Mexico and Brazil.

17 of the 22 are in a different place to the real calendar. The ones that are the same are Australia, Vietnam, China, Azerbaijan and Austria.

Of the 17 that are different, 8 of them involve crossing to a different continent that the “most efficient” and 9 involve being on a different continent than the race before.

I still think F1 is making life unnecessarily difficult for itself, the teams and for the logistics staff. I suspect Abu Dhabi at the end of the season is unavoidable for contractual reasons, but I really don’t understand why they have the Canadian GP in the middle of the summer which involves two hops across the Atlantic that could be avoided. I think moving the Canadian Grand Prix to later in the year to when everyone is already in that part of the world for the US, Mexican and Brazilian Grand Prix would help enormously.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Just say no to more street circuits

I am always bemused when an article about F1 that complains about the lack of action in modern races goes on to suggest more city street circuits as the solution.

Now there are some advantages city street circuits.

1 - They're easier to get to for spectators.  By their very nature, racing circuits need lots of space, and it's easier to get that in the middle of nowhere.  Middle of nowhere never has good transport links.  (It's not much fun for the locals either.  I have two friends from near Silverstone and they both loathe having the Grand Prix on their doorstep.)  Street circuits are in the middle of cities or near them.  Cities have much better transport links.

2 - Things do happen in street races.  If the drivers make a mistake, there's a good chance their race ends in a barrier.  If that happens, there will be a safety car, and with a lot of the present drivers, you can't trust them not to mess that up, or the start after it, be the car virtual or Mercedes-AMG GT3.  But that's a demolition derby, not racing.

And that's the problem.  Street circuits don't offer much opportunity for racing.  There's not enough space for overtaking; at best, you can line up behind someone and press the DRS zoom button along the start-finish straight to get past them.  With the strength of the top cars, if that happens, there's no way, even with brilliant defensive driving, that anyone can stop that overtake (legally).

The drivers know that, and they also know that overtaking at other points is risky.  So I'm not going to blame them for waiting for the DRS zones and then pressing the go-faster button.

So you get a race that's basically processional, with positioning reflecting qualifying, unless someone in one of the top 3 teams had a nightmare, in which case we have to wait up to 20 laps for them to resume their normal position by pressing the button in the DRS zones.  The only time it's not like that is if there is some shunt, but even then there's little overtaking, just cars being unable to continue.

There's only two ways to get more overtaking:

1 - make the cars smaller, which can't be done without major rule changes.  The size of the cars is dictated by the size of the engines, the ERS system and the safety features associated with them.  That leaves option 2.

2 - use circuits wide enough to allow more overtaking.  And that's something that street circuits just don't offer.  They can't get any wider.

Using more street circuits doesn't solve the problem of a lack of racing due to a lack of overtaking opportunities.  It also doesn't really solve the problem of boring races.  In most races on street circuits, for most of the laps, nothing happens.  When there's an incident, there's a flurry of panic but it settles down again very quickly.  It's a solution that doesn't solve the problem.

Just say no to more street circuits.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

My top 10 films of 2019 explained

The reasoning behind my top 10 films of the year.

There was only one real stinker in the films I saw in 2019, Ad Astra, which was appalling.

I continue to use these 4 criteria for this round up:

1 – did the film do what it set out to do?
2 – did it use its resources to its best ability? A £250,000 film is not going to have as good explosions as a £25,000,000 film, or it shouldn’t, and if it does, there’s something wrong with the £25,000,000 film. Basically, it's a technical merit score.
3 – Intellectual satisfaction – does the film’s plot pull some really stupid move at the last moment? Does the plot rely on characters being more stupid than they are?
4 – Does this work as a whole? Did it work for me? I am aware that this is the most subjective of subjective criteria!

Ad Astra failed all 4 of these.

I'd say 8 and above of my top 10 pass one or more of these criteria.

My top 10 films of 2019 are:

1 - Blinded by the Light - It's not perfect, it's bit obvious, and heavy-handed in parts.  But it's made with love and it perfectly captures *that* feeling of being alone in the world and suddenly, there's that band (or that singer) who is the only person who understands you.

2 - How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - I liked the art work, and the way they told the story they aimed to.  I love Toothless in all his ridiculousness, and it also gets points for F. Murray Abraham's villain, who was excellent.

3 - John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum - L thought I'd love it, all well-choreographed violence surrounded by baroque nonsense and a delightfully morally ambiguous turn from Ian McShane.  And I did.  I am a woman of simple tastes.

4 - The Missing Link - I like Laika films.  This just didn't quite work for me.  Not quite sure why.  I did love the Elder of the Yetis.

5 - Captain Marvel - Another one that didn't quite work for me.  Probably for the same reason that Captain America didn't work for me.  Excellent soundtrack mind you.

6 - Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw - In what's getting to be a theme, this didn't quite work for me.  And while the stunt crew and the actors brought it, the continuity department and fact-checking teams really didn't.

7 - Gemini Man - While this did work for me, I am more than aware that it wasn't as good as the three films above it.  I could have done without most of the technical tricks it used (except *that* one.  *That* one was very good.) but there is a solid and interesting film somewhere under the top layer of too much SFX.

8 - Avengers: Endgame - This is the one where I am willing to accept that I am being mean when I rank it this low.  Because the technical parts of this were excellent, and I cried when they wanted me to.  I also respect that they had a story they wanted to tell and told that story.  I like what they did with two of the main 6 Avengers, and I can live with what they did with another 2.  But with one of Avenger, I have the same problem with the way they handle him as always, although this time they at least gave him a few scenes where he wasn't impossible (the problem is, as always, the disconnect between what they want me to feel about the character and what I do feel).  But for the remaining Avenger, I hated what they did with him.  I think it could have been done, and done well, even if it went against his character arc in his own 3 films, but they also chose to make him a joke, and I don't like that when he's my favourite Avenger.

9 - Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Again, it didn't work for me (set design excepted, that worked) but it's less well done than the other films that didn't work for me.  I'm not sure what story they were trying to tell.  It's probably a bad sign that the bits of the film I enjoyed all featured bad guys.

10 - X-Men: Dark Phoenix - I think this one might actually have been bad, but it was better than the remaining two films I saw in the cinema last year.  It seemed like they threw in lots of characters and then gave them nothing to do.  It was a lot of set pieces barely strung together.  Worst of all, the character they handled the worst was Jean, which given that it was supposed to be *the* Phoenix film is a very bad thing indeed.

Fuller reviews of those 10 films and the others I saw in 2019 forthcoming, only I am terribly behind.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Top 10 Films of 2019

Yes, for the first time in ages I have actually seen enough films in a year to have a top 10.  I saw 12 new films, but the top 10, in reasonably final order are:

1 - Blinded by the Light
2 - How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
3 - John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
4 - The Missing Link
5 - Captain Marvel
6 - Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
7 - Gemini Man
8 - Avengers: Endgame
9 - Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
10 - X-Men: Dark Phoenix

No explanations yet, mostly just to annoy L.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

(I do not care how Marvel spell Spiderman, they are wrong.)

I loved it.

I loved the colour, the style, the music, the sheer vivid inventiveness. This is a film which used its medium to the fullest. Too many cartoons are content to be live action plus. This was cartoon maximus. It saw the freedom possible and used it.

I loved it, because I am a film fan and a comics fan. It’s an excellent film and it’s an excellent Spiderman story.

I loved that they took SpiderHam and Spiderman Noir and made them work. (Oh my heart, did it make them work.)

I loved the rolling “and this is how I became Spiderman” pages, and that horrible two ticks before the film told us who Gwen’s dead person was.

I loved Miles Morales, and his Dad and his Mum and how much they loved each other despite not always seeing eye-to-eye. I was so worried when Miles’s Dad turned up at the end fight.

Someone involved in the film seemed to have hated One More Day even more than the rest of us, and that vigour made them clever. The film showed that you can tell a story about a +30-year-old Spiderman and still make it interesting, without removing all the history between him and Mary Jane. Peter B. was just a glorious vision of what superhero-ing costs and doing it any way. He’s such an interesting contrast, not just to Miles, but to a lot of other superheroes.

I was hopeful that I wouldn’t have to see Uncle Ben die, again. Dear film, replacing uncles with other uncles does not help that problem!

I liked the film’s take on the seductiveness of doing bad things, and I thought that what they did with Kingpin was interesting. They made it very clear that nothing he did was justifiable, even if it was understandable.

I saw the film shortly after Stan Lee’s death and I just was not prepared for that scene. I was fine until “It always fits. Eventually.” It’s that mix of salesman, and the truth about superheroes, and then I cried.

I liked the film’s take on Aunt May. Maybe in this ‘verse, she’s the physicist. I also loved Liv Octavius, bound only by what she can achieve. Science never asks if it should!

I loved every marvellous minute and I am not alone. From comments at work, this is the superhero film for people who do not like superhero films, because it’s so different, because it’s bright, colourful and stylish.

Utterly recommended for everyone.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Favourite film of 2019

No post yet, because I live in hope of seeing the new Star Wars film over Christmas.