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While fans continue to squabble over the correct, surely-soon-to-be-official 'Ultimate Ranking of MCU films' (nearly there, guys! Seriously, you're doing great work), it's easy to overlook the fact that, at this stage, the Marvel movie-making model looks unlikely to ever produce a truly bad film. Sure, there have been Dark Elvish messes and Mickey Rourke-sized hiccups, but Marvel really has its mathematically-safe, formulaic shit together now and, as a result, always delivers an agreeable level of fun and action albeit without taking any real risks. That is, except for Guardians Of The Galaxy, the only property in the Universe that still feels like a gamble, sitting apart from the homogenised Avenger adventures to follow its own completely different set of rules. Which is why it's a shame that this sequel follows them too.
In these politically fraught times, there has been a natural proclivity in the film press industry to relate even the most escapist of blockbuster cinema to current affairs. Reviews have been quick to call out, for example, that Fantastic Beasts
promoted an immigrant-friendly multi-cultural society, that Kong: Skull Island
championed the right to defend your home from foreign invaders and that The Purge
is so real it doesn't even work as a joke any more. And yet sometimes it's just impossible to separate a film from its overtly political subtext. And that's what we have here: a movie so bound by a post-Trump, post-Brexit, post-truth
agenda, it simply cannot be reviewed outside of a topical lens. And, of course, those that remember Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots know that this isn't even her first cinema experience, so it's all FAKE NEWS anyway...
"A brazenly unconventional ghost story" says Time Out's poster quote for this film, presumably because "A profound and intimate exploration of humankind's innate need for existential crisis" didn't do the right job. There’s no denying that Personal Shopper is a ghost story of sorts, but that hardly seems an adequate description. It may begin with some spooky fare about a haunted house and a terrifying manifestation, but this isn't a film of jump-scares and sudden bangs, it's a film that gives the audience the space and respect to ruminate on the very concept of an afterlife. These ghosts don't say "boo!", they say "who?" and indeed "why?" as well as "how does that make you feel? Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Let's talk about that."
By all accounts, The Love Witch is a magical experience; a film that turns the clock back to champion a cult genre and offers a unique take on female empowerment at the same time. But as with all magic, there are always a few dissenters who have to point out the wires or, like those people that are deemed insusceptible to hypnosis, just don't seem willing to buy into it. I'm sorry everyone, but I think I’m one of those people. Not for want of trying - I was ready to be head over heels for this film, but there’s no denying it: I just haven't fallen under The Love Witch's spell.
There will surely be a time soon when the film industry decides that monster movies just aren't a good fit for modern cinema audiences. That we have developed a more sophisticated taste for storytelling and an appreciation for nuance, and that therein lies a problem for films that are essentially about giant rage-beasts smashing things up with their clumsy hoof-paws. Luckily, that time hasn't come yet and until it does we still have opportunities like this one to enjoy creature features that are as big, dumb and ridiculous as whatever enormous idiot monkey is causing all the destruction in the first place. That's right, this film is a gigantic fun monster - a stupidly thrilling buffoon baboon of a movie - and we shouldn't want it any other way.
How soon is too soon? Is it when the real-life victims of a tragedy are still raw from the experience? Is it when artistic licence just isn't appropriate for events that are still fresh in everyone’s minds? Is it when unseemly facts about those involved might detract from their otherwise brave and heroic actions? Or is it when - as is the case here - overcompensating for all of the above results in muddled, mawkish melodrama?
I can't tell you how long I have been waiting to take my two-year-old son on his first trip to the cinema. Well, actually, I suppose I can. It's been two years. Obviously. But that wait finally came to an end with this movie, one which I thought might be an appropriate introduction to the big screen for him because a) it's about singing cartoon characters, and b) it wasn't written by Seth Rogen. Of course, I was still fully prepared for failure. Expecting a toddler to stay still and quiet in a chair surrounded by strangers for nearly two hours? Surely impossible. And yet, that's exactly what he did, while fixated
on the movie. So whatever I say in this review from now on, know that my son – easily closer in age to the target demographic than I – rates it 10 out of 10 choo-choo trains or whatever.
Please let's not ruin this. We have a great thing here: La La Land is the rare kind of spellbinding, wonderful film that has reviewers like me tripping over themselves to find new superlatives for describing it. It's simply flawless. But that means that there'll be an unholy inclination by some #hot-takers to put it down; to chip away at the film's perfect sheen just to say something "interesting". But can we just not, this time? Can't we just have this one? Don't we deserve to enjoy something this sweet and pure and lovely just for once? It certainly feels like it's been a while.
For all the criticism aimed at Marvel, the thought of a 1-star or 2-star MCU movie these days just seems like an impossibility, and you'd like to think that we could expect the same for all forthcoming Star Wars instalments. Surely there are just too many talented stakeholders invested in the process to allow for any major misfires? And yet, there are valid reasons to fear for Rogue One: it's the first standalone spin-off, consisting of almost entirely new characters; director Gareth Edwards still has much to prove; rumours around the reshoots weren't kind; and of course the recent memory of the prequels is still hanging around like a clingy, irritating Gungan. So does Rogue One give us reason to believe that Star Wars will now always be in safe hands? Or is it just another hollow, unmemorable blockbuster facsimile? Is it a new hope, or just the latest attack of a clone?
Can you separate the art from the artist? Is it fair that a film with high hopes of awards potential is now being overlooked because of behind-the-scenes controversy? And should we let a 1999 rape charge brought against filmmaker and star Nate Parker affect how we view his depiction of rape in this film? One thing's for sure, film reviewers everywhere are grateful for being handed an easy opening paragraph before never mentioning the ethical dilemma again for the rest of the review because it's all a bit (*sharp intake of breath*)