This week, I have mostly been watching…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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I wanted to give this one a good few weeks for the multiplexes to empty out a little and to let the hype machine die down before I took myself along. As someone with only a mild interest in the Star Wars universe (I was well into my 20’s when I first saw the original trilogy, I also think Revenge of the Sith is a totally decent film), my feelings weren’t going to be particularly hurt by a subpar outing.

That being said it was one of the most out and out enjoyable experiences I’ve had in the cinema in a long time. Yes, even with my limited knowledge of the series I spotted all the comparisons to the original film, but I’ll take a bit of deja vu over the trading sanctions and brooding teen romances which dragged down the prequels. Instead it followed a tried and tested formula- something to please the old fans as well as win over a whole new generation- while introducing a whole host of new characters and a new threat in the form of The First Order.

As you would expect from J.J. Abrams, the visuals are crisp, from desert planets littered with wreckages of past conflicts, to the breath-taking aerial dog fights. The trio of new heroes, Rey, Finn and Poe are well drawn out characters with genuine depth and something interesting to bring to proceedings, while Adam Driver as big baddie Kylo Ren sways between sinister psychopath and petulant child with a bloody big lightsaber, adding an intriguing layer to proceedings.

Like the original trilogy there are a fair share of flaws and plot holes, but The Force Awakens- as it was with New Hope, Empire, and Jedi- gets all the important parts so completely right, that the negatives don’t really seem to matter. The film completely works as pure entertainment cinema and has me eagerly awaiting the next instalments. Whether or not they can deliver now that its lumbered with the burden of expectation, is quite another matter.

 

Wild Tales

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A deliciously sinful portmanteau about the animalistic side of human nature. Featuring six individual narratives with no over-lapping characters, Damian Szifron weaves his stories together with the common thread being a study of violence, revenge, and general stupidity.

It is a rare breed; being able to be laugh out loud funny and deeply unsettling within the space of a single frame. Events escalate at a ludicrous rate, creating moments seeped in irony and rife with physical gags which harken back to the days of classic slapstick, while offering a terrifying look at the ever increasing barriers which separate us as a society.

Produced by Pedro Almodovar, it is unsurprising to see some of his favourites in here, and the cast as a whole walk this fine line between comedy and tragedy masterfully. Their delivery is so crisp, the deadpan translates over from the native Spanish remarkably well. Wild Tales works as both a satirical piece of social commentary, and wicked slice of escapism and wish fulfilment. Probably would have made my top 10 of the year, if only I’d seen it in time.

 

Mamma Mia

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Another date night choice from my other half, this one falls into the same category as Star Wars, an event film that plays to its strengths so thoroughly that conventional criticism goes out the window.

Basing a film around the hits of ABBA means that the musical side of things is already taken care of before the cameras even start to role. So perfectly catchy are the songs that they require just the most threadbare connection to the plot to make them work. All else that is required is a suitably sunkissed Mediterranean location, and a game cast of likable stars, and you’re home and dry.

Director Phyllida Lloyd fulfills her end of the bargain, as does her cast. Oscar favourite Meryl Streep proves she isn’t above a significantly large portion of cheese, and Amanda Seyfried hasn’t reached such charming levels since the film’s 2008 release. More importantly than any of that, the film contains what is fast becoming one of my favourite phenomenons of modern films; when musicals hire actors that don’t have a singing background and give them impossible songs for them to sing.

Step forward Pierce Brosnan, who launches himself full-pelt into a rendition of S.O.S with total and utter conviction, and next-to-no ability to pull it off. It’s wavery, it’s off-pitch and it is utterly glorious. He took a lot of stick for his singing when the film was first released, but I didn’t see Colin Firth or Stellan Skarsgard having the gumption to try something so ballsy.

The Intern

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Nancy Meyers remakes The Internship, the charmless comedy from 2013 featuring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as a couple of old fashion salesmen attempting to work at the youth oriented Google.

Well not really, but the pitch for The Intern is remarkably similar, with Robert De Niro filling the shoes of Vaughn and Wilson, as a 70 year old widower who comes out of retirement to work at an uber-trendy online clothes retailer. At first patronised as something of an office mascot, old Bobby soon starts winning over his co-workers with his old-school approach to business, simultaneously saving the floundering company (which looks to be doing pretty damn well in all honesty), as well as improve the lives of all he comes into contact with.

What begins as a plucky, fish-out-of-water comedy about an elderly company man trying to find his footing in an ever changing professional world, descends into near farce as De Niro’s magic touch expands ever further. By the time he has helped one co-worker with relationship problems, provided another with a place to live, broken into someone’s house to delete a nasty email and saved the rocky marriage of his boss (Anne Hathaway, a steady pair of hands, if never particularly tested by the material), you realise he is neither Wilson or Vaughn in The Internship, but rather a corporate Mary Poppins. There is seemingly no business dilemma or life problem he cannot fix with his unbreakable eye contact and firm handshake. It’s a wonder that he never breaks into song (although if he did I suspect it would be, much like Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia, utterly glorious).

Nancy Meyers’ name suggests a higher level of sophistication when compared to other mainstream American comedies. It means that her films are usually very watchable, if rarely classics. The Intern is very much familiar territory for her, as she looks at themes like the difficulties for women in the workplace, and the romantic relationships of elderly characters. These recognisable traits, along with reliable performances from the whole cast, make for a pleasant film, albeit one that lacks focus for the majority of the runtime and, at just over 2 hours, more than outstays its welcome. It does however, manage to create enough goodwill to just about get away with it.

Michael Clancy (@clancyhighhat)

Give us a follow on Twitter @highhatfilmpod

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