The Finest Hours

This ‘based on a true story’ tale of a dramatic coast guard rescue in 1952 off Cape Cod is a Disney production. If you didn’t know that, you’d soon discern it . There are heroic men, plucky women, brooding old timers – at times you expect a helpful dog to show up. But it’s lack of modern shading is also its charm. This is not a self-referential, ironic take on dramatic rescue movies. It is a dramatic rescue movie, full stop. It features lots of men shouting things like “isolate the boiler”.
Chris Pine pulls off gawkiness just believably enough, and Affleck is his usual introverted, reliable self. It has decent effects, some Martian like problem solving, and plain old people doing the right thing in face of adversity. It looks great for the most part also, and if a movie so much as mentions Nantucket, it’s okay with me.
It doesn’t always work – the Pops old sea boy character is too cartoonish, as usual some of the CGI lacks weight, many of the at sea scenes have an on set feel, and the characterisation is two dimensional. But it’s enjoyable overall, and if you have dry eyes at the end you’re borderline sociopath. It may not be ground breaking or innovative, but it’s like a pub that only serves beer and pork pie – you may not want it every night, but sometimes it’s just what you want.

10 Cloverfield Lane

The law of sequels states they will always be inferior to the original, and as films such as Scream 2 and 22 Jump St have spelled out for us, they need to be bigger, but with exactly the same plot. 10 Cloverfield Lane ignores all of these demands. In making a sequel to the enjoyable POV movie Cloverfield, the easy option would be to make Battle for Cloverfield, an all out action, muscular, Independence Day, kick alien ass type movie. But Cloverfield Lane isn’t really a sequel at all, it’s more a tangential film. What is happening elsewhere in the same universe that Cloverfield is occurring? I’ve often been frustrated at the manner in which sequels follow not only the same story but the same tone. I want more tangential films – a romantic drama set when a couple meet in the aftermath of a James Bond car chase through a city, an offbeat comedy about what happens in Stormtrooper training camp, etc.

I remember seeing this discussion programme with Clive Barker, John Carpenter and Roger Corman in the 90s. They knocked around ideas for the perfect horror movie and discussed the idea where the last person left alive is not a hero but evil, and has a body hiding in the bedroom. This is the type of conflict that Cloverfield Lane sets up. The main character, Michelle, is rescued by survivalist nut, Howard. He tells her that there has been an attack, and they must stay in his bunker. We know this (from the title) and gradually Michelle appreciates it too. But that Howard is not a good guy is also quickly evident.

The film is superbly scripted, Goodman’s survivalist is sincere and menacing, and as the audience we are caught in the same dilemma as Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle – is captivity or escape the better choice. The suspense is kept up at just the right pace, and there is one moment that made my mouth genuinely drop open in shock. Having written a very good escape movie, it is brave enough to give us 15 minutes of high impact sci-fi. A movie doesn’t have to be one thing, although too often that is exactly what we expect from them. Cloverfield Lane reminds us that films can be more than one thing: it is simultaneously a psychological thriller and a creature movie, a low budget and then in the last 15 minutes goes big budget, a sequel and a wholly original film.

Deadpool

The trailers preceding this film were for Batman vs Superman, the new X-Men, Suicide Squad and the new Avengers. To many this is a smorgasbord of cinematic treats. For me this represents another summer of cinematic austerity. I’ve tried with superhero movies, I really have. X-men Days of Future Past is the best one yet I was told. Avengers Age of Ultron is a must see, folks on Twitter told me. Thor isn’t quite as bad as people say, others implored. Yet they all leave me cold. Two elements combine for this apathy towards all things Marvel and DC: they have no sense of their own ridiculousness – they take themselves seriously, and expect us to do the same; there is no tension is watching two undefeatable CGI creatures slug it out for 10 minutes denting as many metal structures as they can.

Deadpool is therefore a superhero movie for me. The opening sequence superbly sets the tone, mocking every element of the comic book formula. It is followed by ultra-violence, the sort we used to refer to as comic book before comic books were actually put on screen. Our superhero swears, urinates, fornicates, masturbates and generally undermines every aspect of the po-faced Marvey universe. It’s spit your fizzy drink funny, and has more in-gags than Spiderman has remakes. In the torture scenes to create the superhero there are also dark shades of Martyrs.

It doesn’t quite overcome my second reservation, there is still the climactic slugfest. It tries to have it both ways here: knowing winks about the cliche and yet, like comedy-horror, we have to be engaged in the primary format sufficiently. It just about gets away with this. There is considerable bravery in Marvel mocking their own cash-cow and in the adult, ribald humour for what is often a young adult audience. Pulling this off is to be applauded. I’m not sure it’d last to a Deadpool 2 though.

The Witch

I’d been anticipating this film from the trailer for months. It wasn’t quite the Conjuring-esque horror film the trailer promised, but it was something altogether more brooding and menacing. It follows a pilgrim family in New England, all resplendent with Olde English Yorkshire dialect. Within the opening scene, when the family are banished from the community, I was already thinking ‘why don’t they make more films about Pilgrims?’ It’s fertile ground: the iconic clothing, rich scenery, as much suppressed desire as you can handle and, of course, witches. We should have a Pilgrim film every year.
The actual witch is shown fairly early on, but then the film avoids plunging towards an inevitable horror film showdown and instead plays with our interpretations, focusing on the family’s obsession with sin. In his best role since The Office’s Finchy, Ralph Ineson dominates the family, but it is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Thomasin who is the focus of the film. All relationships in the family swirl around her, and we are never sure how much she is the director or victim of these.
There is hardly any colour in The Witch, it is all shades of brown and that is true of the horror element also. It does not go for vibrant splashes of gore, nor does it attempt the pitch black. Instead we have sombre, restrained suggestions, building towards final scenes of dread.
I’m not sure it’s a horror film, but it has some of the key ingredients that I like about good horror: the real story is about the conflict within families, there is slow build, we get to care about characters, the element of suggestion is more powerful than any CGI. After that possessed goats is just a bonus. The Witch is a film that people can have theories about, maybe not on the scale of The Shining, but theories nonetheless.