More moving pictures

Another trip to Australia, another opportunity to indulge in some cinematic catch up. Except I chose to spend most of the outbound flight reading or watching Season 4 of Game of Thrones instead, and got a taster of Penny Dreadful on the way home. In between, I did manage to see a bunch of awards nominees and recent releases.

Into the Woods
I saw this years ago on the stage in London, and I enjoyed the film version just as much. Bright, colourful and cheerfully chewing every bit of scenery its cast can lay their hands on, this freeform interweaving of various Grimm tales is a lot of fun. Particular scene-chomping kudos to Meryl Streep and Chris Pine, who embraced it with an abandon that more than made up for their limited singing chops.

Having seen Reese Witherspoon’s award bait Wild, I felt obliged to see Jennifer Aniston’s award contender too, and I have to say – it’s a better film and a better performance. I highly recommend this moving drama with its moments of black comedy, not least for the glee with which Aniston embraces her character’s vicious coping tactics. Both entertaining and moving. And for once, Sam Worthington acts (he can, you know – he just doesn’t often get asked to in Hollywood, so it’s mostly in low-budget Aussie movies nobody gets to see).

Black Sea
Mr B refused to see this with me as he was pretty clear he’d hate it. We both knew I’d love it, and we were both right. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a thriller about a cashiered submariner who buys a Russian hulk sub and takes a tiny crew of other hard-heads to go and salvage Nazi gold off the sea-bed: tense, predictable, and with a high body count. The Hunt for Red October meets Lord of the Flies. Claustrophobic. I do like a good sub movie. Especially if it features Jude Law, Scoot McNairy and Michael Smiley.

I only watched this because it’s a Michael Mann movie, and about the best I can say is that it isn’t as bad as Swordfish. Surprisingly, it’s not so much the tech that gets absurd (although the scene in which the master hacker phishes the NSA made me laugh out loud), but the police work. None of the investigation is credible, and sadly this goes from unlikely to absurd to ludicrous in fairly short order. The usual strong cinematography and score can only go so far, and this is not the film in which Thor finally shows he can act – as usual, he’s not really called to. Having rewatched Heat and The Insider recently, I’m just not sure what Mann was trying to achieve here. It’s just not up to his old standard (and I include Public Enemies and Miami Vice here – they were flawed, but both still had a lot to recommend them).

I gave up on Inherent Vice as it was annoying my tired brain rather than entertaining it. I have a limited threshold for shots of Joaquin Phoenix staring at stuff. I also feel like I saw a lot of Battle of the Five Armies across the aisle while I read, and I’m even less inclined to bother trying to watch it properly – it looks to be exactly what I was expecting, which is terribly disappointing. Sorry Mr Jackson, you should have stuck to a 2-movie plan. I might start pretending The Hobbit never got filmed, a bit like sequels to The Matrix.

Game of Thrones S4
As expected, the season started well, meandered off, and ended with a bang. I’m starting to resent the meandering, but as the books meander more, I can’t really say I’m surprised. There’s still a lot to like and Prince Oberyn was even better on screen than in print (which is saying something). However, I am incredibly weary of all the nudity and gore. I seem to have aged in the past couple of years in this regard – less is more, as far as I’m concerned now, unless it’s somehow important. Here, it’s just set dressing for ‘atmosphere’, and it means I’m skim-watching. I’m sure I’ll be back for S5 next year, but much as I’m tiring of the interminable books, I fear I’m tiring of the show too. At least they managed to make the Brienne storyline more interesting on screen.

Penny Dreadful
This is a painfully cheap premise, recycling Gothic greats and jamming them into a single universe. Thankfully, it’s well made, well acted and seems to have caught my interest practically from the start. I don’t feel a burning need to go buy it to finish the season, but I’ll pick it up in due course (i.e. when S2 comes out on Blu-Ray and the S1 prices drop). It may help that I appear to have developed a huge soft spot for Rory Kinnear over the past few years.