Part 2 of the January Film Roundup!
Another 2016 film that I managed to catch at a special re-release showing. The screening was billed as 'subtitled' but it ended up being the dubbed version – oh well, never mind. Once again, this was one of last year's films that was lauded by many western critics (not to mention a very healthy box office run in Asia), so naturally i had to go and check it out.
The animation style itself was beautiful and captures the feeling of Japan well, the nuances of life in both the countryside and city. The detail in each frame is incredible, not to mention how it all feels instantly familiar to me (having spent a lot of time in Japan myself).
The most surprising thing about Your Name, however, is that it runs the gamut of genres, effortlessly flitting between kooky body-swap comedy to sappy romance to sci-fi thriller in a wholly unanticipated yet natural way. That's the reason why I think this film works so well. As soon as you think you know where it’s all going the film switches direction on you again.
It looks absolutely stunning, especially up on the big screen and the heart is definately there, but for me it was a little lacking overall – a bit too wallowing in its romantic aspects at times. You feel like just shouting at the screen: ‘Get on with it already! You are clearly crazy for each other…!’, but that’s Japanese reservedness for you.
I have not seen any of director Makoto Shinkai’s previous films so I can't make a comparison, but if you are an anime fan this could be right up your street.
The Big Question: So do the more convoluted sci-fi elements of the story hold up?
Buggered if I know. Just thinking about it all makes my head hurt.
Dubbed ‘the return to form for M. Night Shyamalan’, many have been loving Split – but after watching I felt just a bit… meh. The premise is fine and interesting enough – but the whole thing kind of drags. Without spoiling too much, the majority of this film is spent in a dingy basement with some kidnapped teens (two out of the three being very annoying). It feels like an extremely low budget made for TV thriller, and without James McAvoy’s input, sadly that’s all it really is.
So we have to talk about McAvoy’s performance. In terms of showcasing his talents at playing multiple characters, it is an undeniably impressive feat (although he really only plays about 6 or 7 members of his split personality rather than the 24 that the taglines promise). But that's all it just feels like – someone trying his best to come up with as many different voices and mannerisms as possible, with plenty of scenery being chewed along the way.
The fault here, likely lies with the direction. A lot of the time, the quirks and mannerisms are exaggerated to an almost cartoony degree – Shyamalan even makes the decision to put him in radically different clothes for the majority of them. Peoples – this is not needed! Have some faith in the actor (and the audience). Subtleties can go a long way – no need to bash them over the heads with these sort of overt markings. Coupled with scenes of lengthy exposition by Betty Buckley (one scene has her literally lecturing the audience about what is happening in the plot!), and the whole thing seems severely dumbed down and loses much of its tension and potential for creepiness.
Just think of how much more impressive and unpredictable it would be if we saw McAvoy flit between characters on the fly or have moments where we weren’t sure exactly who he was at a given time (some personalities being considered ‘good’ whilst others were most certainly not). Moments like these are flirted with in the film, but are barely taken advantage of. Instead we get: silly voice + obvious outfit = safe, because audience won't be confused.
Other than that, Anya Taylor-Joy is great as usual, though her thematically parallel flashback story isn’t given much of a great closure. Overall, Split is a pretty average thriller, one that feels a little gimmicky, especially given THAT final scene.
The Big Question: So what did you think about the ending twist?
First off, it’s not technically a ‘twist’. A twist is something that completely changes a belief we have held about a major story element or character aspect up until that point. This is more of a tacked on reveal at the end that limply excuses some of the more barmy goings on in the film (on a very superficial level), – but moreover is put there to (out of nowhere) serve as sequel-teaser bait for a completely different film. It’s so blatantly exploitative, has no real precedence during the film and as a therefore feels utterly unearned – resulting in the ‘reveal’ feeling like just a cheap ploy. I was certainly not as wowed as some others seemed to be.
I can’t discuss this much further without giving away spoilers but needless to say – I watched that other film in question recently just to remind myself what it was like. Yeah... it’s better than Split in almost every way.
Now it’s time for Mel Gibson’s return to form! Or rather just his return from Hollywood exile? Anyway, much like Your Name, a few US critics listed this in their top 10 of last year so naturally it peaked my interest and I had to check it out. Is it a good film?
Well, half a good film. The first half is unbelievable schmaltzy. It’s strangely presented as a slow moving melodrama, almost like a cheese-laden TV movie – and it’s not until the second half when the company of barely memorable soldiers (only a handful are given any kind of characterisation that helps to differentiate them from one another) eventually reach the titular 'Hacksaw Ridge' - a death-trap of a battlefield atop a sheer cliff face somewhere in Okinawa.
To be honest, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some parts are visceral, exciting and horrifying in their depiction of war – heavily referencing the panic and desperation at the sheer fragility of life that we remember so vividly from the opening of Saving Private Ryan. But then there are other parts that are almost chest-thumpingly jingoistic and all too deliberately trying to yank at your heart-strings. A lot of the time is spent thinking: ‘this guy is just too crazy, going in there again and again – with no weapon in a territory infested by a ruthless enemy! How can I possibly understand his motivation? I don't buy it”.
…Then you find out he’s a real guy and all this actually happened (signified by an extended - perhaps overlong - talking-heads sequence at the end that, whilst interesting, seemed more fitting for a DVD special featurette).
Andrew Garfield continues to push his boundaries with the characters he plays – this one actually having some similarities with the one he played in Silence, namely: stopping to ask God for advice with a silly accent whilst being hounded by the merciless Japanese.
He is great at conveying pain and anguish when he needs to, particularly in the more emotional scenes. It’s also nice to see Vince Vaughan in a proper role again and not just slumming it in shitty comedies – although he does get most of the funny lines as the 'drill sergeant with all the harsh put-downs but is really a good guy'.
Worth a watch for the battle scenes but I’m miffed at how this was regarded so highly last year. Gibbo mostly delivers the goods, but it nowhere near scales the heights of Braveheart or Apocalypto.
The Big Question: Are you going to keep doing these throughout the year? And what's with the weird format? Are these reviews/commentaries or what?
Okay, okay. So I couldn't think of anything else worth saying about Hacksaw Ridge this late at night. In answer to the above question though, yes – I will try and talk a little about every film that I go and see at the cinema in 2017.
2016 was a pretty poor year for content on the blog, so I’m seeking to rectify that. Whether this will take the form of straight reviews (kind of dry and ubiquitous on the net truth be told) or commentary pieces (more interesting but depends how passionate I feel about said topic), remains to be seen.
Hey, this is my house, right? I can do what the hell I want!
Anyway, until next time folks!
8th Feb 2017