Matthew’s Movie Mentions – Week 2 14th January

A much shorter list of films this week, mostly because the last episode included some of this week’s films (and Brooklyn Nine Nine was back on Netflix).

Groundhog Day

Still a really good film. A more critical look at it makes it more interesting, although there are some problematic elements that stand out really starkly these days. I’m looking forward to our episode on this coming out, it’s a terrific discussion that gets into the detail of the film.

The One I Love

In all honesty I started this last year, but only finished it because I was consistently annoyed at Netflix having it as something to continue watching. I’m not sure if I’m glad that I did, but the film definitely ended up as something different than I expected, but it’s not a happy film and really rambles at times.

Batman: Assault on Arkham

This is still really fun, and possibly better than the Suicide Squad movie. It was interesting watching with someone not as into the animated movies or the characters as much, it did show up how much is standard stuff that isn’t really interesting. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good heist and/or the DC Universe.

Recommendation

Groundhog Day holds up well, and I’d recommend watching it ahead of the Pop Culturally Deprived episode at the end of January.

 

Six the Musical

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I bought my dad tickets for Six the Musical as a Christmas present. As a historian I thought he would enjoy a different take on something he knows so well, and it’s always fun to take him to something a bit different. The expectation was a show with the six wives of Henry VIII acting as pop stars. What I didn’t expect was a solid structure for the songs to play out as the women singing about the struggles they endured, the shame of being a name in a rhyme, and the competition between them for the greatest Queen.

And then there were the songs themselves, which were all superb. A complete mix of genre and style, with references and comic takes on each person’s history. Particular highlights for me were Anne Boleyn’s catchy pop number ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ and Anne of Cleeves’ ‘King of the Castle’, which downplayed its chorus pinnacle in a way that gave it more power and impact.


(Source – YouTube)

Alongside that, the physicality on display to perform at high intensity for 75 minutes was incredible. The staging and costumes could look like a college performance, but that’s clearly not the case with the precise choreography and immaculately written dialogue in between songs showing how much attention has been paid to every element of this show.

It’s a shame that not only is Six the Musical only on for a handful of performances,but it’s also sold out for those performances. With a show this strong and clearly being so well received by audiences I would be amazed if it wasn’t put on again in the near future – at that stage everyone should see this if they can.

 

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Matthew’s Movie Mentions – Week 1 9th January

(You can hear the audio version of this post by downloading this podcast)

These will not be full reviews.

These will not be full reviews.

These will not be full reviews.

I need to keep repeating that to remember it. The aim of this is to record some notes on the films I watch during 2018, and to recommend anything I think deserves it.

With that said (also these will not be full reviews)…

Cars 2

I watched this when friends were staying and it entranced their son. The problem is I can’t help but compare it to the first Cars, and now Cars 3. This sequel has way too little racing in it, and tries to be more of an adventure. The problem is it’s the racing in the other films that makes them quality. Clearly good fun for a child though.

Kong: Skull Island

Really enjoyable action romp, reminiscent of Deep Blue Sea in how it doesn’t take itself seriously. A little heavy handed how they’re using it to create another movie universe (everyone wants their mega-franchise), but I’m here for the follow ups.

John Wick: Chapter 2

Well, they basically made the first with more of a look at the world they created. Which is nice because it was the world that made the first so interesting, but it was the action and unique visual style that made it great. That felt lost in this, often repeating some of the set pieces and moments but losing something in the process. I’ll watch the third, but the first is still all you need.

Jobs

I really enjoyed the Fassbender/Sorkin Steve Jobs movie, but felt like I wanted more of his story, so this would be the perfect film. But this is lesser – he is not as smart, driven, or likeable in this. Ashton Kutcher does some good stuff, but it feels more of an impression than a character. I’m still feeling like it’s missing some of the later years developing the i-products, so maybe I need to find a book to really get the full story.

Table 19

Wow Anna Kendrick is busy. She’s always watchable, but this really seemed to be a first screenplay with not a huge amount of nuance or depth. There were some good moments and some really good performances, but all in all it was pretty forgettable.

Don’t Think Twice

Quite often there are comedies that are aimed at comedy writers. This felt like one of those – people who do improv and live the NY comedy life might really enjoy this. The problem is the comedy was not funny enough, which might have been the point that the improv group were only okay.

Mascots

Wow this was not funny. Slightly sentimental, but in all it was largely either obvious or poor.

Wet Hot American Summer

I knew of this because of its cult status, but nothing else. The best description I can give this is that it’s a Monty Python-esque take on the camp experience. Some really interesting elements showing the evolution of humour from things like Animal House, alongside some great examples of surreal takes on personality and situation. I’m not sure it’s good enough to be recommended, but I’m glad I finally saw it.

Charlie’s Angels

This film is exactly what I’ve always wanted the Mission Impossible films to be – lots of capers, interesting set ups where they have to do crazy shenanigans. An all star cast (seriously!), plus some fun. It overdoes the sexy sexy stuff too much, lots of gratuitous bending over, outfits, and situations. But the cinematography is surprisingly solid (the dolly zoom on the race cars? The single take at the turn?) and it boasts great performances.

After Porn Ends 2

The first film was surprisingly interesting with some ordinary examples of people moving on after their careers in the adult film industry, some remaining in the industry in some capacity, and some hard stories. This sequel seemed to have more people who continued in the industry, made career come-backs, or had greater success somewhere. Still interesting though.

Snippets (films I watched parts of)

Spider-Man 2 – Really does not hold up. Poor dialogue, average action, and I still don’t like Kirsten Dunst as MJ.

GOTG2 – This would be really good without the Drax stuff, it’s annoying and fully detracts from the rest of the film. Oh and if anything that happened mattered in the universe they’ve created.

Recommendation of the week

It’s got to be Kong: Skull Island. Overall it was pretty enjoyable, if not wonderful, and there is a good chance elements from this will be brought into future films – although I’m certain they won’t make it a necessity to have seen this film!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Non-spoiler thoughts:

I wanted something to match the quality of a Lord of the Rings film. What I got was a Harry Potter film.

I’ll explain later.

This is a good movie. Not great, but it does some interesting things. Visually this is one of the best looking films I have ever seen. The 3D is probably the best, because of the wide space used for almost every scene. I suspect you’ve already seen it if you’re reading this, so my recommendation of go see it might be redundant. But I’d say 7.5/10 overall.

Spoiler thoughts:

I’ve seen people worrying about being spoiled on this film. But I think part of the problem is there’s nothing in here where a spoiler would have lessened the film. Snoke, Yoda, Luke, Leia, Kylo… all the big elements were nice to see without knowing them in advance, but they didn’t add anything or surprise you once you’re in the moment.

There’s a lot to unpack. The film is filled with some great ideas that almost get to something better, but never quite make it. It’s also packed with filler that makes it hard to justify the length.

The good – Leia, Kylo, Rey, Admiral Holdo, Rose. These characters were fabulous on screen. They had great moments, arcs, and dialogue. I could write pages for each of them.

Benicio del Toro was good as DJ, but we’ll talk about his character in another section. Same for Skywalker.

The humour in the film seems to have split people. I liked it, but I want to have fun at the cinema. If I was looking for compromise I think they could have gone to comedy a bit less, but I did enjoy laughing at odd moments.

The bad – My biggest gripe with Star Wars is that, cinematically, it’s a small universe. There are only a handful of people who do anything of significance and everyone else is ignored. I was hoping that might change with this trilogy but other than Poe, Finn, and Rey, I don’t think it’s going to. The wonderful new Admiral is dead. Rose is going through what Finn went through last time, sacrificing herself to help Finn’s arc. Kylo Ren has fully become Vader. Snoke is dead. Hux is a comedy mule.

The moment when Kylo Ren is suggesting they could tear it all down, no more Jedi, Sith, Republic, First Order… that had such great potential. It could have been a truly astonishing moment of him and Rey starting something new, or becoming outlaws, or adding a shade of grey to a universe of black and white. But within seconds he started talking exactly the same way we have always seen which shows us it is no different. For a film that tried to go in a different direction, it sure did stay on target.

And speaking of which – Finn dying would have been a great way to show they’re prepared to push what’s happened before. It came so close, but couldn’t even commit to that.

The slow chase with fuel gradually drying up was wonderfully executed. I loved the feeling of claustrophobia on the ship as they had fewer and fewer resources and no options. Except for the two of them who could jet off for their own adventure on a nearby (??) planet. The whole casino sequence could be excised completely, and used in a way that supports the characters.

Perhaps Poe takes the plan to Holdo to show he’s looking for help and other solutions and they work on it together perhaps oh why oh why couldn’t something like this have happened. Because I need to call out that Holdo didn’t trust Poe. When he finally learns the plan he tells Finn on a comm, overheard by DJ, who then sells them out.

HOLDO WAS RIGHT NOT TO TRUST HIM AND STILL DIED TO SUPPORT HIS ARC BECAUSE SHE WAS A GOOD AND CAPABLE CHARACTER.

The ugly – So many critters. So many characters. So many moments barely filled in. Hey Disney, your merchandise arm is showing.

DJ could have been an interesting counterpoint to everyone, but I don’t feel like this landed at all, since he was a little muddled himself. Phasma also got a couple of minutes in there, but was wasted even more than her appearance in the last movie. I don’t understand why that character exists or is advertised so heavily.

Skywalker was fun, and his philosophy on the Force was perfect. I adored him talking about the history of the Jedi being failure and hubris, and his resolution to destroy the order is one of my favourite things in it. The problem is that with all that I had to hear three different versions of what happened at his temple with Kylo Ren, and take half the film with repeated beats on the island that meant nothing to get there anyway. It seemed obsessed with something that didn’t matter and wasn’t interesting when it was finally delivered.

I feel bad ragging on a film that is so beautiful, and has such good performances, especially without offering alternatives. So here’s my main take – this film delivers everything that annoys me about Harry Potter films. Side plots, characters, and shenanigans that don’t add anything or matter too much. Internal conflict that isn’t believable or well written (eg. Poe mistrusts Holdo like people mistrust Snape/DATDA teachers), and it’s all about watching our heroes having an adventure without worrying too much for their safety.

I would love it if The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were merged into one film. Clearly there would need to be structural changes, however I think there is a lot that could be removed from both films to shorten the sequences, giving a film that introduces new characters and sets their arcs in motion. Sadly this is two films now that do not dare deviate from what has gone before. Where the prequels were hindered because they had to mesh into canon (I still remember the debates if they could do a twist that Vader was actual Kenobi), this trilogy has no such excuse, and yet this is what we get.

Justice League Trailers – What Went Missing?

In the huge marketing cycle for the Justice League film there were three full trailers released by the studio, plus some footage screened at Comic-Con. It’s not unusual for trailer material to change or disappear from the final product, however Justice League went through an unusual process whilst in production.

Director Zak Snyder stepped down from the project in early 2017 after a personal tragedy. Joss Whedon was brought on to complete the film, and underwent some major reshoots as well as, leading to Whedon earning a writing credit for the movie. We don’t know exactly what changed, but the first trailers, released under Snyder’s stewardship give us some great clues as to the differences in vision.

I’ve taken the moments from each trailer to look more deeply into what went missing between the marketing and the final film. I’m going to be discussing details from the Justice League film. I will not be delving into deep plot points but be aware this may be considered spoilers if you want to go in fresh.

This sequence with Superman might have been trimmed, but in all likelihood was completely re-done in the now famous ‘moustache’ re-shoots.

Here we see Bruce Wayne travelling in a frozen and harsh landscape. The discussion was going to be whether he was travelling to find Aquaman, or if he was searching for the Fortress of Solitude.

We now know he was searching for Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. A couple of these shots made it into the final film, but even this reveal of his face is much shortened.

Something completely excised is this longing, yearning look at a holographic Superman. This is a moment that the slash fiction writers would have written pages about.

The next sequence shows Bruce and Diana discussing the attempt to bring Aquaman onto the team…

Diana – He said he’ll fight with us?
Bruce – More or less
Diana – More more, or more less?
Bruce – More less
Diana – He said no?
Bruce – He said no

Speaking of Aquaman, he only has a few moments in the trailers, mostly showcasing his bombastic action or humour, but this leap and double strike was also missing. Jason Momoa’s recording sessions doing leaps in front of green screens must have been genuinely enjoyable dreaming up different action moments for him to do.

And whilst we’re on the subject of missing green screen action, this shot of Flash evading a non-winged bug and pummelling him through a door is also absent. Probably due to his role being more support than offense in finished movie.

But if we want to talk CG sequences, this amazing glass smash has disappeared. It’s a shame because it alludes to an increased role for Ezra Miller’s Flash at some point in the film, but if we rewind… this lady behind him seems oblivious to any danger, which leaves me wondering what was going on in this scene to make Barry cause such destruction.

And if we want to see evidence of decreased roles in the film, Ray Fisher has both pre- and post-Cyborg moments in the trailers that have gone missing. Shots of him in a varsity letterman jacket and playing football before his accident hint at a full backstory for a very new character to the live action DC universe.

His new body defending scientist hostages and a police-person is also now gone. The second of these looks to be at Superman’s memorial, which implies a much larger fight happening than we eventually saw.

We also have some more shots of him flying, and donning a helmet a la Iron Man, then bursting through clouds. This is a comparison the film and character do not need so I can appreciate them being excised.

There are a couple of short moments that have gone, one is a shot of a Mother box in a cupboard, along with a hero shot of Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Aquaman. Looking at their surroundings it is very similar to a shot of Steppenwolf and his army. This might be mostly down an effects change – perhaps the aesthetic of the hellscape became much more organic later in post-production.

There is some audio in one trailer that is also absent, and has a very interesting line for DC fans…

Steppenwolf – No protectors here. No Lanterns. No Kryptonian

Steppenwolf knows not only is there no Earth-based Green Lantern, the Lantern Corps are not around either. It’s a small moment but adds into a brief glimpse in the flashback sequences we get in the final film.

To finish, I’m going to go to the end of the main trailer. Alfred is doing his mechanic thing and knows something has come into the Batcave, someone he then talks to. This has also been removed entirely, and the possible person he speaks to appears at the fight’s climax with no explanation for how they knew to be there. Which didn’t occur to me as a plothole, so this was probably an unnecessary explanation.

So there you have it – in total about three minutes worth of content from 14 minutes of trailer that did not end up in the final film. Given the quality of Justice League I approve most of these changes, but it leads to a high likelihood an extended edition, maybe even the Zak Snyder cut, will be released on home media and streaming. Maybe at that time we’ll know more about his intentions for the film.

Justice League

I feel like a full disclaimer might be necessary at the start. I love DC Comics. The characters, stories, and general universe are what I grew up with and have always enjoyed. I’ve been excited about recent films in this universe, and this fed into my excitement for Justice League.

However I was completely tempered in that excitement by knowing Man of Steel was not enjoyable, and Batman vs Superman was only a good film for about two-thirds of its length, and then became a bad film. Wonder Woman was great, but was also potentially a fluke. The history of Justice League as a property and this specific movie worried me too, along with some review headlines I’d seen and those articles about the Amazonian armour. So I was prepared for a film I only enjoyed because it was in a universe I love and still had massive problems.

Fortunately I can tell you that this film does not have massive problems. Justice League is a joy of a film. The characters, the team up, the dialogue, and most of the action are terrific. Almost everything I was worried about does not happen, and the film does things I did not expect it to do which help elevate it from where I was worried it would end up.

You can tell this is slightly tempered – the look and style of the Amazons is bad and did not need changing. Some of the aesthetic for Wonder Woman verges on bad. The villain is not good and has not discernible motivation or personal narrative. The film does not get a pass for these things – it should do each of them better and I’ll be looking for the DCEU to improve on them in future.

It does so much right though. And better than right – it does it surprisingly well. I had a worry over Barry Allen being introduced here because we have a solid portrayal of him right now on television. Not only is the Flash his own character here, he might be better than the TV version. Certainly his opening scene with Bruce Wayne had me with a giant grin on my face as Ezra Miller steals the film from under Ben Affleck’s feet.

I was also worried about the introduction of Aquaman, because he’s never been done well even in the comics. Jason Momoa looks incredible, and the film knows it. A strong guitar riff with him slugging whiskey from a bottle sold me on his characterisation here, and if he keeps it up in his solo film I will be very pleased. His back story is briefly given here, and even then it is done in service of this film rather than as long set up for a future movie.

Cyborg has a surprisingly good arc through the film, starting broody and sullen, but with strongly realised motivation that makes it understandable. Without paying attention to it, the film shows him adapting to his situation and gradually resolving his issues.

Wonder Woman and Batman do not have to do much characterisation, and so are allowed to move the plot along themselves and line up the set pieces. This is done well with two confident actors, but I’m always looking forward to Justice League getting back to the team and showing us those interactions that make the film a delight.

My biggest concern was the problem that Marvel also has – the need to have the heroes fighting each other. All the way through I was working out the next scene on how the JL would be forced into conflict. It happens once, and then it is in service of this film to establish a couple of key power sets purely to set up some comedy moments later on.

This film has restored my faith in DC to deliver a good film that is genuinely enjoyable. As we entered the final showdown all I needed the film to do was stick the landing on what had gone before and I would be happy. At this stage most other films in this universe turn into a prolonged, boring, punch-fest. The action sequence was lengthy, but not unduly so, and was not all about the violence. It contained enough character moments to continue some of the arcs we had started and establish the team well.

Throughout Justice League I laughed, I grinned, I exclaimed at some of the things we were shown, and I had a whale of a time. I recommend this to anyone who wants a fun superhero film.

Notes (with spoilers):

  • Green Lanterns!
  • The LOTR style Mother box exposition could have been the trailer in and of itself
  • Both post credit scenes were perfect – more of that please (“a league of our own”)
  • Some noticeable moments were pure Whedon, but for the most part I didn’t feel his impact – this is Snyder’s film
  • That said, there is A LOT missing from the trailers, all for the better
  • Wonder Woman and Cyborg is a friendship I don’t think I’ve ever seen and I like it

The Colours of Ghostbusters Answer The Call

The look and style of films can be very difficult to do in any non-visual medium. I tried to talk about the striking colours used in our podcast about the 2016 movie Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. Without being able to present examples it’s hard to get across how strongly this film uses colour. Fortunately, I have a space to write about it and show what I mean.

It’s worth noting that I went through the film and grabbed a frame every time there was a new example of the colours I wanted to discuss. In total I ended up with 213 shots. So here you’re only seeing a small percentage of what the film gives you.

Reds

By far and away the most striking colour through the film is this red. Which is verging on purple-pink, although hopefully the collage above gives you an idea of the spectrum across which it is use. The central rock concert set-piece is almost entirely lit in red, barring a few cut-aways and reshot scenes, everything in that sequence is imbued with a deep crimson look. The middle row of the grid shows this perfectly.

I’m amazed how it is allowed to permeate everything surrounding the Ghostbusters. The walls in Erin’s university and the lockers opposite Abby’s lab both have a rich maroon burgundy. The eventual headquarters for the Ghostbusters accents itself in as much as possible:

Outside, inside, on the floors, the panels… if something is associated with the Ghostbusters it has a red hue. The bottom row on the collage has the red streaks pulling ghosts back into the portal, the sirens for Ecto-1, and the safety of the ‘real world’ for Abby and Erin, all of which have a deep, almost arterial red.

Green

If red is the colour for our heroes, green is very much the colour of our villains. Some ghosts are utterly in green – the concert demon, Slimer, Rowan before possessing people – and the unleashed portal glows green as the ghosts burst from their mirror prisons.

Anytime we are introduced to a scene, set, or sequence that we do not yet fully know, green is the colour most strikingly seen on-screen. Erin’s university used the natural green, the underground has green on all main pillars and gates, and the outside world from the Ghostbuster’s HQ has the look of a Disney villain.

What surprised me most in looking for these colours is how often green is also used as an accent in a scene when there is an option of having a colour.

People’s clothes, anything on paper, even lamps are given strong green lamp shades to really stand out on-screen. These are really interesting production choices, when the paper could be simple white, or the extras allowed to wear whatever they choose. In this film though, people are shown on-screen in a green jacket, and printed documents are on a green paper that I’m sure no one would choose when printing their advert.

When looking at the colour wheel, red and green are complementary colours, so they will stand vibrantly against each. We can see the film grouping each colour to our heroes and villains so that there is clear association and opposition.

Blues

If we’re using two clear colours that live in opposition, we can use other colours in the same way. Whilst we have non-humanoid ghosts in pure green, the humans are very definitely blue. Part of this is likely a psychological reason – watching a ghost firing electricity that isn’t blue-white would not fit with our expectations.

More so than the green though, we see production decisions to use blue as a balance to our reds and greens. The chairs in Erin’s lecture theatre, the lights beneath Kevin, and especially the shot from the opening above. The floor is cracking open in a deep green, yet when we see his reaction to that it is the blue of the ghost we go to. This movie wants you to know you are in for a medley of strong primary colours.

Yellows

Clearly yellow is used less in the film than the other three colours on display. I take this as a clear indication the director and crew were aiming to make the red, green, and blue visuals come through as strongly as they do.

And yet, we see places where the yellow to compliment the blue comes through in their decisions. When filming between two very yellow objects on Ecto-1, someone thought having a yellow cab moving through the scene would be the best plan. And in costuming Holtzmann and Patty they were given very yellow outfits.

As you would expect, there are many occasions that these colours come into direct opposition on screen. The green/red and blue/red is most frequent because that is used so frequently for special effects in an effect heavy film. The practical choices in production allow the colour schemes are what really make this a terrific use of colour on-screen. Whoever put Kevin in a Ghostbuster red tie with a ghostly green jacket should receive a generous bonus, and selecting a Boris Karloff poster that is so green is a terrific way to help your colour theme shine through.

That final frame of Ecto-1 and Slimer  with all the colours represented in strong forms stands out as visual statement of intent. I described Ghostbusters Answer The Call as a visual feast, and I still think it is a terrific modern example of using facets of cinema so often downplayed in modern films that aim for dark and gritty, especially when coupled with the matte break in 3D. I hope more directors and cinematographers present us with vibrancy of this sort.

Star Fox 2

Source: nintendo.com

I wasn’t sure about getting the SNES Classic Mini until I saw one important thing – it comes with a brand new game. Star Fox 2 is the follow up to a Super Nintendo game that represented a leap forward in graphical quality using polygons. This sequel was completed but shelved by Nintendo before releasing, as the company was not far off releasing their next console (the Nintendo 64) and there were fears this game would look dated very quickly.

Which it does.

Fortunately, the last 5-10 years have seen a dramatic shift in the expectations of games, with low graphical fidelity not being a barrier to quality. Spelunky, Braid, and of course Minecraft are examples of some of the best games ever created that use an 8 or 16 bit style.

Ignore the graphical quality then, because this is a very interesting follow up. Structured around a real time battle against the returning villain, you must select targets on the screen to launch levels. Some of these can be dogfights against specific ships, some are infiltrating bases, and some are straight shooters. This sort of change to mechanical and story approach would these days be more expected in a fourth in a series, not the second. Nintendo has never shied away from doing something daring with the second game though.

Source: nintendo.com

Since the structure of the game is driven by player selections the whole piece is relatively short. Chances are you’ll be complete within an hour. But you haven’t seen all there is to offer, and the score chase in this game is important – time, amount of damage, and total score all play a part. The game even rates you at the end to tell you how poorly well you did.

The mechanical flying and shooting is as fun and frustrating as it ever was. The original Star Fox came out in the same year as Star Wars: X-Wing, one of the greatest flight sims ever made, and the use of the controller for flying and aiming pales in comparison. That Star Fox 2 would have come out after Star Wars: TIE Fighter, which is THE greatest flight sim ever made, would have shown up the controls badly. However the introduction of the secondary ship mode, an AT-ST style land based vehicle, eases a lot of those frustrations as the controller works much better in two dimensions.

Is this alone worth the £79.99 for the SNES Classic Mini? No, but it is the icing on the cake you might need to stave off buyer’s remorse over buying a gadget to replay games you already own. On multiple systems.

Did that sound convincing? I’ve been practising.

It (2017)

Source: https://twitter.com/ITMovieOfficial

Note – There is one spoiler below. The font has been changed to white so it is only visible if you highlight that section.

The miniseries of It is known as a solid adaptation of a hard to adapt novel. It didn’t take too many liberties with the source material, and what it did change was done with a valid reason for doing so.

2017’s cinematic adaptation of It changes a number of elements from the original book, whilst also having to work to be its own adaptation separate from what came before. Some of this works. Some of this does not.

The biggest change is that the film features only half of the original story. Whilst the novel and miniseries tell the story of the Losers Club fighting It as children in 1958 and as adults about thirty years later, the movie is entirely set in 1988. This is still the story of the children, it has just been modernised so that when the second half of this film comes out they will be fighting It now.

Source: collider.com

One half of this change works – by updating the setting the story is more accessible to modern audiences and should allow for further changes to chapter 2 that make it a better film. However by only giving half the story it leaves you feeling somewhat dissatisfied. The tale is solid enough, but by the end you can feel that the job is not done and has been set up purely for a second half.

Many of the other changes are to make the forms that It takes surprising and scary to the audience whether they know this tale or not. The replacement to the moving photograph is genuinely alarming, combining some of the scariest moments from The Ring and Signs to deliver a monster scare that left the cinema breathing heavily.

The most famous form of It is Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and this has been done superbly. Still with an edge of silly playfulness, every technique in modern practical cinematography is used to add menace to Bill Skarsgård’s performance. In one moment the camera is braced on his head but not his body, his movements are sped up in another, and he is kept partially hidden for a lot of the film.

The Losers Club in this film is slightly older than we’ve previously seen, and that introduces some more thematic elements of romantic feelings and going through puberty. This is played slightly for laughs, yet it turns out to be important so the writers can damsel the one female character, motivating the boys to rescue her and have the final showdown with ItSuffice to say this is not a change the story needed. 

Source: collider.com

There is a world in which we spend the first half of chapter 2 learning about the lives the Losers Club have led, which is an important part of the tale and one of the weaker elements of the miniseries. That would validate the separation of the two stories. But to judge It (Chapter One) now, as a movie on its own… It scares very well, tells a solid story, but ultimately left me hungry for a little more.

I would be very interested to hear the thoughts from someone who did not know the story before seeing this film. Did you enjoy it as its own tale, or did it seem to be missing something?

The Shots of American Beauty

In preparation for our episode on American Beauty I watched the film through a couple of times. Once to watch it and put some thoughts together about what to discuss. The second was to look at the film, really look at it and engage with the way it is shot and how information is presented on screen.

During the episode I talked about how this is a film I would call a legitimate piece of art. The story and narrative structure came together in editing, but it is in the shooting of the film that the visual style was established. A podcast is not the easiest place to demonstrate the great visual elements of a film (although I will keep trying), so here are some of the shots I want to highlight from American Beauty.

Prisoners

The first shot is one designed by Sam Mendes to show how Lester is a prisoner in his workplace, if not his life. The stark colour of the ‘bars’ on the computer screen against his reflection stand out to really hit the metaphor home. But this is not the only time we see this in the film. Part of the shooting style of the film is to be distant, increasing the tension of the scenes, but this also means they are often shooting through windows or from down corridors.

In the two frames above, we can see how both Angela and Frank are portrayed through bars, also trapped in situations of their own making.

Carolyn in her safe space

We see characters in cars on several occasions, but for Carolyn this is particularly a place of comfort. She sings, she talks frankly to Lester, and has flirty fun with her royal lover. This shot demonstrates the tension building in the film, bringing us to the final crescendo of the story through a number of steps – the gun like finger when singing, the shooting range, the gun with her, and finally the gun in her hand as her secret has been revealed.

Roses

We discussed roses in depth on the episode, particularly the way they demonstrate different qualities of different characters. They are the most recurrent theme, particularly visible because of the striking colour of the plants. We see them constantly, sometimes without realising it.

However their association with Angela is the most memorable, and her Birth of Venus shot on Lester’s ceiling is a striking fantasy image from such a grounded film.

Glass, mirrors, and videotape

Much of American Beauty features characters seeing their reflection, or seeing someone else through glass or a videotape. In reflections they usually reveal their true selves, whereas through glass the conclusions are often mistaken. The Fitts men, Frank and Ricky, spend a lot of time looking at the world in this way.

A key reflection comes early in the film with Frank washing his car. He is cleaning the exact spot where Jim, Jim, and Lester are running towards them. Is he trying to wash away the reflection of homosexuality on his car, or is he polishing it to impress these men he wishes he could be?

Blood

Roses are often connected to blood. The colour of the flower, the pricking on a thorn, or even the metaphor of a woman, these things are used in poetry and art time and time again. This is just one element of the rose in American Beauty, and gives an early demonstration of Lester’s final moment (see the rose collage above).

The blood itself then becomes another theme of the film’s visual style, reflections. The reflection of Lester in his blood finally matches the true version he wishes to see – a Mona Lisa smile on a man at rest.

Respect must go to the costume department who chose the perfect colour dress for Carolyn to wear when contemplating dark thoughts and then showing her grief.