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Javier Bardem’s cartoon-psycho villain is reminiscent of Moriarty in the BBC’s modern day Sherlock, too.
... And there goes any remaining intention I might've had of going back and giving that another go someday.

I think I felt similarly about Skyfall as you did, but you seem to've enjoyed it more than I did.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

Excellent review of this fantastic film...I like what you said about the way the film walks the tightrope perfectly between glamorizing drug use and preaching about it. The acting is amazing, with standout work from Heath Ledger, who I think gives the most brilliant performance of his career, and that includes THE DARK KNIGHT.

Vanilla Sky

Vanilla Sky is an exciting, original, intelligent film…oh wait, no, my mistake, that’s Open Your Eyes (Abre los Ojos). Vanilla Sky is a limp remake, like a cover version of a good song by an X-factor contestant. It hits the right notes, in more or less the right order, but there’s no soul and no subtlety.

In case you’ve never seen Vanilla Sky or the original, the film concerns a playboy millionaire, David Aames ( Tom Cruise) who is disfigured in a car crash caused by his jealous ex-lover (Cameron Diaz) and in future is trying to work out why he is in prison through discussions with a psychologist (Kurt Russell). Mystery, confusion and dream sequences abound.

Vanilla Sky is Tom Cruise’s fault. Apparently he was on the phone buying the rights for the remake before the credits had rolled when he watched Open Your Eyes. But is Vanilla Sky any more than a vanity vehicle for Cruise himself? His chance to cash in on someone else’s good idea, with himself in the starring role. He spends much of the film disfigured or behind a mask. The chance to do some ‘real acting’ he probably thought to himself. The trouble is, while Cruise does a fine job as the all-American hero in films like Mission Impossible and Minority Report, someone should tell him wearing a mask, laughing and SHOUTING A LOT does not make for ‘real acting’.

The direction is adequate. I’ve never been a big fan of Cameron Crowe, I’ll admit, and his ‘written for the screen and directed by’ credit annoyed me (how did he write it? I doubt he even translated it). Penelope Cruz somehow manages to play the exact same part, worse, and this sums up the film, really; it’s exactly the same, but not as good. The over-explanation ruins the ending. Some of the dialogue is excruciating, especially between Cruise and Cruz, in its attempts to be playful. Kurt Russell’s character, McCabe never rings true, either, but that is more excusable since
WARNING: "Vanilla Sky" spoilers below
he is an imaginary construct of Cruise’s character’s subconscious
To its credit, it does have a reasonable sound track including radiohead. I do think music can make a movie, so I will resist the churlish impulse to say that anyone with a quid for the jukebox could have done as well.

In the end it is the pointlessness of the film which irks me. Why does the world need an English language remake of Open Your Eyes? Why does it need an English language remake of every half decent non-English film (or not-at-all-decent horror film)? The American film industry is one of the biggest in the world, with tons of good films from Casablanca to There Will Be Blood, it doesn’t need to poach from Spain or anywhere else, so why does it? I realise I’m about seven years too late with this little rant as it relates to Vanilla Sky, and the utter pointlessness of the remake was why I’d never seen it before, and I kind of wish I hadn’t bothered now.

So pleased to read this review because I have never gotten Vanilla Sky.

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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
The Handmaiden

This review will be spoilerific; I will use tags, but if you haven’t seen this film, what you really need to know is that it is a sumptuous period drama full of double crossing that looks great but suffers from some pacing problems.

The novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, on which the story of this film is based, is one of my favourite books. As you can imagine I was pretty excited that Park Chan-wook, director of Oldboy was going to be making a film version. This is important because if you watch this having read the book, it is a different film experience - a lot of what happens won’t come as a surprise (although some will) and it’s more interesting to note the differences and divergences. I don’t want this to be one of those reviews that complains the whole time that the book is better (although it is), but some comparisons are inevitable.

For a start, the setting has been changed from Victorian England to 1930s Korea and Japan. There is a lot of switching between Korean and Japanese (indicated in the subtitling by switching between white and yellow subtitles), some of the subtlety of which is probably lost in translation. It’s more than just transplanting the story into a different country - references have been changed to make it fit, and it’s done well.

SookHee, the eponymous handmaiden, is a thief who has come into the service of Lady Hideko in order to help persuade her to marry a duplicitous Count who plans, once married, to claim Lady Hideko’s fortune and have her declared mad and shut up in an asylum. What nobody bargains for is Sook Hee and Lady Hideko being attracted to each other.

The whole of the first part of this was really good. There was the odd camera swoop or shake that was a little disorientating, but generally it looks just fantastic, a sumptuous, almost fetishistic recreation of a grand house full of corsets and silk gloves and secrets. Tae-ri Kim who plays Sook Hee is really great, whether the scene calls for drama, comedy or romance.

Then the scene reaches a certain point, and reverses, going back to fill in the backstory of one of the other characters, which includes re-showing a lot of scenes, or parts of scenes, from a different point of view. This was tedious and largely unnecessary and my attention started to wander. Also in this second section is an extended version of a sex scene which happened in the first part. I imagine this is a fairly divisive scene, depending on not only your tolerance for explicit sex but your taste for it. Eroticism is even more subjective than comedy or romance - and if it doesn’t do it for you, it doesn’t do it. For me, it was simply implausible - these are supposed to be two characters who are having a kind of sexual awakening together; whatever they know about sex, this is the first time (at least for one of them) of putting it into practice. The total absence of shyness or awkwardness in the second take on the sex scene, and the idea that they would just go at it for hours in every conceivable position stretches plausibility and smacks of the director getting carried away.

There’s also a sense that the showy explicitness of this sex scene (and another towards the end of the film) are slightly at odds with the message of the rest of the film. If Hideko’s uncle is condemned as a pervert and a pornographer, what does that make the director of this film? In the book, the counterpoint to the uncle’s pornography is
WARNING: "Fingersmith" spoilers below
Sue and Maud discovering genuine sexual feelings for each other, and also turning the tables by creating their own erotica.
It’s not anti-sex, just anti-women as victims of a powerful male gaze. In the film, this counterpoint just seems to be more of the male gaze.

The most irksome thing in this second section, however, is a scene which was omitted from the first part, which shows
WARNING: "The Handmaiden" spoilers below
Sook Hee and Hideko confessing to each other and arranging their own plot together
which basically undermines the first twist of the film at the end of the first part, so it is no longer the characters double-crossing each other but the director double-crossing the audience. The other trouble is that after that it is too clear where their loyalties lie, and it sucks a lot of the tension out of the third part of the film, reducing it to ‘will they get away with it?’ and missing out some of the adventures
WARNING: "The Handmaiden" spoilers below
(the stay in the asylum is particularly brief)
and twists of the book
WARNING: "Fingersmith" spoilers below
which included babies being swapped and all sorts.

Then there is basically an extended epilogue which throws in a bit of gratuitous torture, as if Park got bored with all the restraint and started feeling nostalgic for the days of Sympathy for Mr Vengeance.

Altogether, there is an inconsistency in pacing, tone and theme that stop this from being a really great film. I read that there is a director’s cut which is even longer, in fact I was tempted to check the time during the movie just in case they were screening the extended cut by mistake. I think fifteen minutes could easily have been cut from this.

But it looks fabulous and, the problems of the middle section aside, it’s great fun.

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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
The Shape of Water (2017)

“Life is but the shipwreck of our plans.”

The Shape of Water is the best film I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s harder writing reviews of really good films, because it inevitably turns into a list of things that are in the film with adjectives next to them (cinematography - amazing!, soundtrack - awesome!) but The Shape of Water looks amazing. Everything from the red and green colour palette to the lighting, the production design to the special effects is gorgeous. It’s a dream of a movie to look at, never mind the plot. The use of water, especially in the rain-drenched final section, is fabulous.

I once, many years ago, made up a description of my ideal film. I can’t remember it exactly any more, but it was something like ‘quirky-romantic-action-sci-fi -costume-drama-musical’. The closest I’ve seen prior to this was probably Cloud Atlas. But now there’s The Shape of Water, which has pretty much everything you could want from a film. Well, pretty much everything I could want. Your mileage may vary, and this film is weird, so it’s not for everyone. I probably wouldn’t like it half so much if it were.

Sally Hawkins is great as the mute main character - all the more so because she doesn’t speak a word. It’s an utterly unselfconscious performance. Her character is downtrodden but she plays her with dignity and cheekiness, seriousness and lightness. Elisa comes across as scared, fearless, curious and brilliantly unapologetic. The supporting cast are great too. Michael Shannon is memorable as the very bad baddie (which all fairy tales need) - he gives the Captain from Pan’s Labyrinth a run for his money in the villainous authority figure stakes. Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s world-weary gay neighbour is also excellent.

It’s not completely, startlingly original. There are shades and echoes here of other films such as Amelie, Splash, E.T. - although it’s not exactly like any of those. I don’t think it’s necessarily a flaw. Del Toro’s obviously going for a classic, fairy-tale feel, so it should feel like we know the story at least a little bit. There’s a sense that this is a very cine-literate film (the main characters live over a cinema, for a start) that is aware of its own fictionality. Music brings Elisa and the creature together; cinema brings them closer. It declares from the start that it’s a fantasy, a fairy tale and any implausibility or larger than life detail is therefore not only excusable but part of the magic.

My one reservation is that I would have liked to see more of Elisa and the creature communicating.
WARNING: "Shape of Water" spoilers below
Even after she rescues him and they have time to spend together in her apartment, he doesn’t seem to have progressed much further than ‘eggs’.
I think the depth of feeling they are supposed to have for each other would have been more convincing if they had progressed more in terms of communication. He seems to remain completely ‘other’, and it would be nice to see more of his perspective.

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Great review that's got me pretty hopeful. I would have watched it already for the 2017 thread but I'm waiting for the dvd release so my wife can watch it with me.

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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Avengers:Infinity War (2018)

Infinity War is a huge film, a cinematic event. I’ve never seen my local cinema so full - the showing I was going to was sold out so I got tickets for the one ten minutes later. It’s a big deal. Clever marketing for sure, and good news for the multiplex. The movie itself is huge: two and a half hours of action that crosses the galaxy from Scotland to Wakanda to various locations in the depths of space and features a massive cast of characters.

But is it a good movie?

Short answer: yes!

Long answer:

The huge scope and spectacle of it is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness - while it does succeed in managing multiple plot strands as different characters try to stop Thanos in different ways across the galaxy, and it does successfully give these characters their own emotional beats along the way, it was never going to have quite the same level of character journey as a single-character movie, that’s just the nature of it. There are some characters that are reduced to supporting characters here (Black Widow and my personal favourite Captain America seemed particularly short changed), but perhaps at least some of them will get their chance to shine in the next installment.

It succeeds well as a culmination of ten years’ worth of strands of superhero movies but does that make it weak as a standalone movie? In some ways its more like part one of a season finale of a long running show, it will mean a lot to fans of the show but if you’re not up to speed you may be lost. If you’re not a Marvel fan, this isn’t going to convert you. If you are, there are a lot of pay-offs here.

This is mostly the Guardians’ movie. The Guardians films notably have a much more comic tone than the some of the other Marvel movies, but it blends well here. Partly because their main interaction is with Thor, whose last movie Ragnarok brought him closer to them, tonally as well as geographically. Partly it’s because they get some of the darkest and most serious stuff to deal with, which throws that humour into relief. Gamora and Nebula are, after all, daughters of Thanos. Watching Peter Quill unable to quip his way out of genuine emotion is a real high point of the film.

Speaking of Thanos: what a villain! Compare and contrast with X-Men’s Apocalypse. Probably the best villain Marvel have ever had. Genuinely, world-endingly threatening but with a personality of his own too. The action in the movie is occasionally a bit too frenetic and shaky, towards the start there’s a lot of people throwing different coloured lightning and random objects at each other and knocking down buildings, but as it goes on it seems both more grounded and more important.

Right from the start this movie sets out to show you that the stakes are high, that it’s not afraid to kill off beloved characters. It makes you feel that no-one is safe. Your traditional superhero movie ends with the good guys defeating the bad guys and all is right with the universe. In some ways, this is not your traditional superhero movie. The ending is truly shocking. But on the other hand, you know that your traditional two-parter Saturday morning cartoon will end with your heroes facing an impossible situation, leaving you hanging to see how they will get out of it next time. So perhaps it’s not such a departure, after all. My one quibble with the ending is that it, in a way, undermines the shocks and certainties of the deaths earlier in the movie. Actually watching it is pretty devastating. But thinking about it afterwards, you feel more and more sure that you’re now waiting for Avengers 4: The Quest for the Reset Button and it actually negates it all a little bit.

There is an over-reliance on a particular plot device:

WARNING: "Infinity War" spoilers below

Thanos: Give me the infinity stone or I will torture and kill your friend/family member.
Avenger: Never!
Thanos: *tortures family member*
Avenger: OK, OK, I’ll just give you the infinity stone.

Seriously, three times in one movie? I know the third one was different, slightly, and that by that time we’re supposed to think “Why did he just…?” And later realise, “Oh wait, because he’s seen….” But still.

I’ve seen some reviews take issue with the humour. My personal take is that I would rather have superheroes quipping at each other as they fight than taking it all deathly seriously despite the fact that they are dressed in tights and a cape. In this movie, serious moments are undercut by jokes. But then jokes are undercut by sudden upsets and serious moments. So it cuts both ways and keeps you very firmly on your toes. Tonally I thought it did a good job. Unlike previous Avengers movies I wasn’t bored for a second. Okay, maybe a second while Thor is fixing a giant space anvil or something, but really, hardly at all. It’s all go. They acknowledge the quirks in their own universe as well, which is always fun.

My absolute favourite part was one little throwaway joke on a sign,
WARNING: "Infinity War" spoilers below
We will deep fry your kebab.

The interactions between the different characters are a joy. The Guardians’ reactions to Thor are priceless. Tony Stark teaming up with Doctor Strange, with the addition of Spiderman, who functions as Tony’s surrogate son, brilliant. Tom Holland is still perfect as Spiderman. There are brief but brilliant moments between some of the other characters on the Wakandan battlefield too. It also takes the time to explore some of the relationships we’ve seen set up in the individual films - Wanda (Scarlet Witch) and Vision’s relationship hinted at in Civil War comes to the fore in this movie, with interesting parallels with Quill and Gamora.

Altogether it’s an experience, a thrill ride of a movie that delivers surprises, action, humour, tragedy. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry etc. etc. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

Keep your station clean - OR I WILL KILL YOU
Read your entire review, awesome stuff! I agree with what you said about the character arcs being incomplete now that there are so many characters to juggle. In a traditional sense, that could definitely be a problem, and an extensive one for someone who is not quite all caught up with the MCU, which is why I keep telling my family, that if they want the full experience they have to AT LEAST watch Guardians of the Galaxy. For me though, who has seen every MCU movie, it was as perfectly done as it could have been in the character stand point, all of the previous films already gave us all of the character development we needed (some better than others) and it was this movies' job to go berserk with everything the other films established.

Looks like we pretty much gave it the same score as well!

As far as filmmaking goes, the ending is definitely major praise, even for someone who is not an MCU fan, it is very easy to appreciate such a ballsy, and earth-shaking ending. But i don't know if they will find anything more than that to praise, just because this movie lives in its own world so much in a traditional sense.

As far as theater experiences go, this is one of my favorite theater experiences I've ever had.

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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
As far as theater experiences go, this is one of my favorite theater experiences I've ever had.
Yes, it was absolutely an experience movie. Maybe on dvd after a few watches I will find more things to nitpick about it but sitting in the cinema with my popcorn I enjoyed the heck out of it.

And I don't mean that in a disparaging 'fun if you switch your brain off and ignore the plot holes, laughing at it' kind of a way. It's just fun and all engrossing.

I don't know what else you can want from any type of film, from arthouse to blockbuster, romance to horror than to keep you completely engaged.

Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?
loved the review and, yes, scored it the same as you. Watched in 3D and had joked that I'd be too caught up in the effects of things "jumping off screen" to pay much attention to story line, but I really was caught up IN the story and with everyone. Some truly great emotional spots, the mix of comedy and serious was pretty spot on, for me.

the reviews are awesome,thank you!