The Good Place
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To celebrate Batman Day, I watched a Batman film I'd never seen before. This was the only one on Amazon Prime, so here we are. It is, without wishing to be too dismissive, akin to an episode of Batman the Animated Series that no one thought to edit. Now, Batman the Animated Series is a great show, so there's 30 minutes of great stuff in there, but that leave 44 minutes of stuff that could/should have been cut. The plot is wafer thin, the animation is sometimes pretty sketchy, and there are several sections that seem to only exist to pad out the running time (hello there, karaoke). My guess is Suicide Squad came out, people thought Harley Quinn was fun and sexy, and DC thought "let's crank out a Harley-centric animated thing and cash in". There's just not enough thought given to ensuring that it earns your 74 minutes of time. It is, however, pretty funny. The tone is a lot more jovial than most Batman outings, including a wonderful (if superfluous) chase sequence gag. Melissa Rauch does a great job at being a different, slightly less cartoonish version of the character than the classic animated portrayal. The humour can get a little raunchy, which I was surprised and pleased to see. There's innuendo, some sliiiightly pervy Harley shots, and even an S-bomb dropped in there. I know, in a Batman cartoon! Also the fights are good, and Kevin Conroy is Kevin Conroy, so Batman sounds exactly as Batman should. I was ready to give this a 3, because I was having a jolly old time, but then the ending was so lackluster and uninspiring that I just... I just couldn't. I feel like when DC tried to phone it in, their aim should have been 'to tell a fun, Harley Quinn-centric story', as opposed to 'write some fun Harley Quinn lines and drape half a story around her'.
The Big Short, Adam McKay's previous directorial effort, is a miracle of a film. A 130 minute film about the 2008 housing crisis should have been a snooze fest, but thanks to great performances, a ballsy, energetic script and a directorial style that seemed to make up the rules as it went along, it was electric. So I had high hopes for this, a 130 minute film about George W. Bush's monotone vice president. And I wonder whether it was those high hopes that scuppered my enjoyment a little. It's a good film, with good performances, anchored by a fantastic performance by Christian Bale (he's very often very good isn't he?). But the same energetic, scattershot approach as The Big Short somehow fails to elicit the same enjoyment. Maybe it's because it doesn't have the surprise factor? Maybe it's because it doesn't have the benefit of multiple story strands? Whatever the reason, there's only flashes of brilliance in an otherwise rote story. The narrator played too big a role for me, which took me away from the proceedings. Apparently there were other scenes (including a musical number) that Adam McKay took out of the film to give it a more serious tone. I don't really understand the thinking behind that. It's already a film that does some crazy things, so why not shoot for the moon, like your previous film did, and go all out? Use the absurdity of your approach to make serious points about serious things. There's plenty of straightforward films out there already.
I should hate this film. It's super duper slow, it's super duper depressing, and there's not a lot of story. But I don't hate it. I don't like it all that much either, but there's something about the film that is oddly watchable. Paul Schrader's simple direction puts all the attention on his bleakly ponderous script and Ethan Hawke's heartbreaking performance as a priest who has lost his faith. His character keeps a journal, which allows for some wonderfully written monologuing about faith and hope and, oddly, environmentalism. There's not much of an ending, as is often the case with these slow, thoughtful films, although it's made more frustrating by teasing a very dynamic ending and then ending instead on a squint and a furrow and a shrug. Amanda Seyfried is good in a role I've not seen her in before, and Cedric the Entertainer is (appropriately) entertaining and brings just a hint of menace to his megareverend. As a disliker of religion, a film in which a religious person has a crisis of faith is always going to be interesting to me, especially when there isn't a sweeping reclamation of faith at the end. I think it's that which kept my interest when the film seemed to be doing its best to put me off.
I love a love story. You can get away with a lot in a film if you give me a good love story. And this film starts off with a great love story. Well, there's a slab of lust mixed in with the love, but you really feel the connection between the characters. The story takes place across several years and several countries, and is comprised of vignettes charting the developing dynamic between them. I don't know whether some of the subtitles passed me by, but there was some connective story tissue that I found myself playing catch up with, which made the sections slightly confusing. Plus, it was set against the backdrop of the cold war (HENCE THE TITLE) but that wasn't the focus, so I don't know whether someone with a more robust understanding of Europe during that time would get more from it. The black and white photography looks gorgeous though, with some incredible images coming through. Plus it's only 85 minutes long, which will always get a thumbs up from me.
This biopic of Vincent van Gogh is strange, to the point of being experimental at times. If the film is to be believed (and post-film nosing on the internet confirms that it probably should be) then this is a very apt decision, as he was a bit mental. Minimal story, long stretches of wordless art time with Vinny where he spends time in nature, shot and scored beautifully. My issue arises when that is stretched out over 110 minutes of my life. These odd types of films often start interestingly, trying something different, and I'm all on board. And then it just continues in the same vein, and my interest wanes, until 90 minutes arrives and I'm begging for the end. It's a good performance by Willem Dafoe, and parts of it are lovely to look at, but there's just nothing there to really engage with.