Legion (season 1)

We meet David Haller as a patient in Clockworks mental institution, where he’s been for the past several years after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. But what if the voices he hears aren’t mental illness at all – what if he’s actually one of the most powerful mutants on the planet?

Legion is part of the X-Men universe (and similar but not quite to Brandon Sanderson’s Legion, at least in theme), based on the Marvel Comics (which I’ve never read, so no views on the adaptation). However, this bears little resemblance to the movies, and is all the better for it, in my opinion. The look is oddly old-fashioned – fashion, old-school tech – maybe 60s or 70s, but it’s not a period piece. It’s not about saving the world, or acting like superheros, but the far more personal story of one man fighting for a life worth living.

Story-wise, this needs a little attentioned paid. David’s life goes from boring routine to terrifying flight; the amazement of learning about his new abilities and the horror of his past. Things jump back and forth between the different times and memories, really brilliantly mirroring some of the confusion of David’s illness.

As things progress, everything gets that bit weirder. There are other mutants, and a shadowy quasi-government department. There is a lot of mystery around David’s abilities and ‘illness’ – who or what is the yellow-eyed demon, for instance?

I absolutely loved this first series. It makes so much sense that mutant abilities could be mistaken for mental illness, and being told it’s actually super-power is still greeted with so much doubt. But then – oh! Yeah, no spoilers ūüėČ I particularly liked the performances of Dan Stevens as David, on his journey from meek to figuring himself out, and Aubrey Plaza as Lenny who gets to run the gamut of unhinged, sexy, predatory and just out there.

If you can, it really works as a binge-watch, one episode flowing into the next, helping you as best as you can to keep hold of the twisty thread of things. Everything is very weird, from the deep sea diver in an ice cube to the various powers, and the style is very reflective of this: tilt-shift camera shots, a bollywood number, odd mental tricks and traps. But if you’re willing to go for the ride, I absolutely think it’s worth it!

First broadcast: 2017 – rewatched ahead of final season
Series: 1 of 3
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 9/10

The Aeronauts (2019)

aeronauts poster

In 1862, the idea of meteorology – the science of weather – was a laughable thing (as opposed to 2019, when it’s still largely laughable? Hmm). Scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is determined to prove otherwise, but to do so he needs the help of a hot air balloon pilot. In real life, this was Henry Coxwell, but the movie makers have decided to sex up the story (hah!) and so we have the fictional Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones) instead.

The quest to ‘go higher than anyone before’ is portrayed, I believe, in real time – which I didn’t know at the time, but is interesting. Interspersed we have a lot of flashbacks, to Glaisher’s struggle to be taken seriously, Rennes’ tragic backstory, and the pair’s less than smooth path to their record breaking flight.

There is an interesting story here, however slight (two men float up for a couple hours – yes, scientifically important, but… hmm), but it isn’t really enough to make a whole movie out of, I think. So instead the filmmakers have crammed in fiction, and tried too hard to make drama out of very little – and as a result, rather missing the point. If they’d kept the focus, actually let the viewer ride along, it could have rivalled¬†Gravity,¬†perhaps?

Occasionally, the whole thing looks spectacular. The balloon adrift in a huge expanse of sky is ‘wow’. I liked the Victorian period details. I was very glad that we didn’t get some silly romance subplot. And… that’s about it, I’m afraid. I was quite frankly bored through most of it, with even the moments of high drama rather failing to lift the whole piece.

I don’t know what the point of this was, to be honest. A few pretty scenes, an impressive enough cast. But, just no, overall.

Released: 4th November 2019 (UK)
Viewed: 9th November 2019
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 5/10

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

ford v ferrari poster

This is the story of two companies in bitter rivalry: the handcrafted, race-dominating Ferrari, against the mass-produced, reliable but deeply ‘unsexy’ Ford. There’s a personal rivalry, too, between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II. But more than that it’s the tale of two other men: Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the first American to win the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, and volatile engineering genius, Ken Miles (Christian Bale).

Both men share an obsession with cars and racing. Shelby’s career is cut short by health problems, whereas Miles is struggling to turn his racing brilliance into a family-supporting income, mainly due to his temper and obstinacy. He’s almost always right, of course.

When Ford decides its future depends on winning races, the two stories explosively collide!

I thought this movie looked interesting from the trailers, and was thus pretty pleased when it turned out to be the chosen title for Cineworld’s most recent secret screening. And I was more than pleasantly surprised at just how¬†thoroughly I ended up enjoying it.

The biggest draw is the acting from the two leads. Damon does his usual laid-back, likeable everyman very well, with the added torment of no longer being able to do what he most loves. The character is perhaps played a little backseat to Bale’s (character’s) volatility, genius, and humorous mannerisms (“Giddy up” to a car??), but it’s the combination that makes the whole thing work. And the humour – did not expect to laugh so much

I don’t have a huge interest in racing, or cars, but the story is excellently put together. Objectively,¬†there are a lot of flaws and reasons this shouldn’t work, but as the story unfolds, I was just sucked in. By the halfway point, I was oohing like mad at the purr of the engine. The emotional manipulation is perhaps a bit too predictable, and yet it still works. The 2¬Ĺ hour running time flew past.

So yeah, recommended! It’s not just for racing fans, I knew nothing about Ken Miles or Le Mans going in (and quite frankly: what utter madness is driving for 24 hours?!), and while the story could be said to slip into cliche of true life biopics, it’s a gripping ride along the way.

Released: 15th November 2019
Viewed: 4th November 2019 (advanced screening)
Running time: 152 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Joker (2019)

joker poster

From Cesar Romero through Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger, Batman’s Joker has gotten darker and less comic-book-y as a character. The more recent films featuring Batman (either Christian Bale, or Ben Affleck) have been getting grittier and darker each time. And then we have Joaquin Phoenix, in director Todd Phillip’s new take on the villain’s origin story – which I can only describe as, imagine taking away all of the comic book. Imagine looking for murky reality, a believable, real-world take. Which is what makes it so damn chilling.

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) struggles with mental illness(es), with society, pretty much everything. His life is grim and filled with tragic pointlessness. We see him dressing up as a clown for work, only to be brutally beaten by a group of kids. We see the hellish weight-loss the actor went through, each rib on bruised display. We see every human interaction tinged with dismissiveness, or cruelty, or just a sense that things aren’t right.

I was in two minds about seeing this movie: was it glorifying violence? Using mental illness as a scapegoat? Hmm. But those elements certainly add to the disturbing nature of the film, the thought-provoking aspects of it all. And then there’s a performance and a half from the lead actor – as excellent as Ledger was with the character, the unwavering focus here allows for so much more.

I said thought provoking, and I mean it. There is something dangerous about a film that has a person snap and get his own back on all the bullies and horrible people – a sentiment you want to cheer, but not the degree to which it quickly descends. It skirts so close to verite, the backlash against the rich as the poor suffer so much – Thomas Wayne personifying this well, even though the Batman links almost took away from the movie for me. Is it fair to use Fleck’s mental illness as a background to it all – or is it the constant failures and disappointments that break him?

I’m still not sure there aren’t more issues with the movie than good points, but as art and only art – wow. Edge of the seat stuff, even knowing (mostly) how the character turns out. You are waiting to see how far things are pushed, how awful they will get, whether that line will be crossed from ‘entertainment’, not just on screen.

And still – utterly worth seeing. Joaquin Phoenix disturbed me, which was the point – but also because I strongly remember watching him as a child (when he took the name ‘Leaf’) in¬†Parenthood, not much older than me, wearing every line on his face. I spent long moments thinking things were ‘off’, only to realise that yes, Arthur is an unreliable narrator. To be honest, there are a lot of parts of the film – the dancing, for instance – that don’t really ‘fit’, but somehow add to the character even if it’s just a visual awkwardness to match the personality. And, those moments allow a use of music that fits so perfectly, and the oddest moments – the all-over-the-net dancing down the steps, for instance – serve in lieu of the touches of humour we might expect from other ‘superhero’ movies.

It’s so not a superhero movie (which is why the Batman stuff didn’t work for me, I suppose), but as a backlash against the decades of superhero-fluff (even the ‘we’re much darker and more series’ ones), just… wow. Couldn’t have gone much further in the opposite direction! It’s a psychological drama, more¬†Taxi Driver than anything else (almost too much, some suggest?). It’s not an easy watch, it’s not ‘enjoyable’ – but it’s powerful and haunting and worth watching just for the performance.

Released: 4th October
Viewed: 11th October 2019
Running time: 122 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

The Current War (2017)

current war poster

It was the starry cast that attracted me to this, rather than another retelling of the fight between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), which I thought I knew (enough) about. But this isn’t that fight, or rather, Tesla is only a bit-player, and the real ‘war’ is between inventor Edison and industrialist, George Westerhouse (Michael Shannon).

Both men want to bring electricity to widespread use. Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, first pushes his direct current (DC). Westerhouse buys patents from others, and cannot infringe on Edison’s creations, and so uses the more powerful alternating current (AC). However, Edison soon begins a slanging match, claiming AC is deadly – and look, here’s a horse being electrocuted to prove it (!).

The crux will come with the 1983 World Fair in Chicago, with both sides vying to light up the city. Only one can win. But, at what cost?

It seems odd that electricity, so staple a part of modern life, has really only been used as it is for a little over 100 years. It is intriguing seeing the technology’s start, but the film is just as much about the personal issues. Did Westerhouse feel slighted by a socially dismissive Edison? Both men are shown to be highly affected by their wives. Both have egos and a desire to be remembered, or to change the world for the better.

While interesting and enjoyable enough, I wouldn’t say this was the most gripping piece of cinema. The cast – also including Tom Holland, Matthew MacFadyen, Tuppence Middleton, and Katherine Waterston – is indeed fantastic, and it’s nice that the characters are given time to (no pun intended) shine.

It was also interesting that they pitted Edison against an industrialist. I’m not sure Tesla’s part in this isn’t vastly underplayed, right enough, so historically I’m still debating that, but dramatically the juxtaposition was played well. The movie does become about the light and dark (okay, okay, that pun is deliberate!) of each man’s soul, each facing their own principles and each feeling driven to act against those. With the actors involved, it is all done rather well.

However, it *is* kind of slow, and you know what’s going to happen, and… yeah, it was fine. Maybe save it for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Released: 26th July 2019
Viewed: 26th July 2019
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

PS: the movie was made and released at various film festivals in 2017 but due to the involvement of producer Harvey Weinstein, distangling that element saw everything  shelved until the current release schedule.

Rocketman (2019)

rocketman poster

I’m not particularly a fan of Elton John, so this might not have been the most obvious choice of movies for me. Indeed, if you are a fan then the movie experience probably held a lot less surprise, but I got to learn about Reggie Dwight the child prodigy (able to play something on the piano when he’s literally just heard it – wow! And, so jealous!), the problems behind the rise to super stardom, and the unexpected marriage…!

The basic story isn’t too dissimilar to¬†Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), with humble beginnings leading to stardom set against a host of personal problems. However, the rest is very different.¬†Rocketman¬†takes a more fantastical approach, with moments of outright musical – as in, big spontaneous song and dance routines in the street – as well as dream-like moments that conjure some of the drugged-out highs (and lows). It also has a huge plus in that Elton John is still alive and was quite happy to have a ‘warts and all’ approach. “I’ve been a c*** since 1974” he/the character says at one point, and the movie doesn’t try to shy away from showing some of that. Drugs, sex addiction, shopping binges, bulimia – the movie makes the musicality and professional success seem oh so easy, but everything else very much not.

Large praise has to go to Taron Egerton in the lead role. Amazingly, he’s doing his own singing – and he isn’t half bad at all! He also manages to do enough to convey an impression of Elton without focusing too much on that to the detriment of the acting. All in all, he absolutely makes this movie work.

There’s not much else to say. The music is excellent, the story involving, and the approach intriguing. Fan of the man or not so much, this is a really great movie biopic. Recommended.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 7th June 2019
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Tolkien (2019)

tolkien poster

It seems crazy that there hasn’t been a biopic of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, almost certainly the most famous fantasy author of the 20th Century (if not all time, but only because these young folk have no sense of history ;)). Then again, his life wasn’t the most gripping of sagas – his ‘jam’ (as those young people say) largely involving making up languages. Kudos to the writers here for coming up with a way to blend history, poetic license, and a bit of raw imagination to come up with a movie I rather enjoyed.

What I really loved was the attempt to portray inspiration, the way ideas meld from a half-dozen different sources. Cleverly, the film jumps back and forth through time, showing us Tolkien’s early life, orphaned young, falling in love with a fellow orphan; school days; and experiences n the trenches. Fans of¬†Lord of the Rings have long known that those experiences of war fed directly into the book. But here we also get suggestions of where the magical concepts may have come from, and impressively those moments aren’t just jammed down the viewer’s throat: no, there’s a subtlety, that again mirrors how I think of ideas formulating.

The other aspect that comes across well is how the long process of getting all those elements to gel can be. That’s still probably downplayed a bit, but glad it isn’t all “boom” and the story lands fully fledged. Much ūüėČ

Away from writerly themes, the film mixes romance and its period setting. I’m a big fan of the latter, and all of those dusty schooldays at Oxford bits appealed to me somehow. The romance is handled well enough, as is the sense of comradeship that is at the core of it all.

I can understand that non-Tolkien fans might be less gripped by this, but it’s lovely to see biopics of writers – and who, really, can claim quite the impact of JRR? I’m sure he didn’t actually see dragons rising through the smoke on a battlefield, but as poetic images go, it fits perfectly.

Released: 3rd May 2019
Viewed: 3rd May 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10