I’ve been watching a few movies recently, although nothing particularly highbrow.
I enjoyed Dave Eggers’ The Circle, so I was interested to see the movie. SPOILERS: Last chance to watch the movie before you keep reading.
The movie does a great job of delivering a lot of what made the book good. It takes the protagonists’ view, the story told from the viewpoint of someone diving into the transparency in a positive way, embracing all that is exciting in Silicon Valley.
In its own way, it’s a horror movie, as the menace lurks unseen, offstage. It would have been nice, perhaps, if they’d amped up the menace a little more. It felt hypothetical, unreal, for the most part – the downside to everything being visible, held centrally by a few people, didn’t have as much emotional resonance as you might hope.
For all that, I think they did a better job of the ending, with a Wikileaks moment as the protagonist uses her new power to hold the villains accountable, rather than the quiet acquiescence the book offers.
The Last Jedi
This one has been analysed to death, so I’ll just focus in on the bits that stood out to me. SPOILERS: If you haven’t seen it already, now’s your chance to stop reading.
The movie was visually stunning, particularly those final scenes on the desert planet. They were gorgeous – beautifully put together.
One of the things that did bother me was the abrupt shift in emotional pitch, often within the same scene. It felt jarring. We go from a life or death situation for the escaping Rebel fleet, to a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in the office as Poe taunts a leader of the Order. Later on, we see a massive spaceship that looks like an iron; but the camera pans back to reveal it is, in fact, an iron. Finally, as we witness the destruction of the ancient Jedi texts, a moment that shows the end of the Jedi, Luke admits to Yoda that he’s never actually read them.
There are more. The point isn’t that they aren’t funny – they are. The point isn’t that the original movies didn’t have jokes – they did. The point is that in The Last Jedi, the switching back and forth between one-liners and deep emotion felt abrupt and awkward, where as I think the originals pulled it off better.
That awkward transitioning is reflected in the final scenes. As we see the Alliance brought to its knees, to the final ship containing a handful of people – barely a team, let alone a rebellion – there’s no sense of grief, or loss. Nothing to match the final march at the end of the Jedi Returns, which felt more earned.
For all that, I did enjoy the Admiral Holdo storyline – perhaps because it was one of the few where the characters or narrative weren’t being hilarious.
Pitch Perfect 3
Pitch Perfect is, to my mind, the movie equivalent of comfort food. You’re not expecting much beyond some snappy tunes and snappier lines, and Pitch Perfect 3 delivers. It manages to weave a storyline or two in there, just enough to hang the jokes off. If you liked I and II, it’s more of the same.
Kingsman and Kingsman: The Golden Circle
In the second Epilogue to War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy writes:
If we consider a man alone, apart from his relation to everything around him, each action of his seems to us free. But if we see his relation to anything around him, if we see his connection with anything whatever—with a man who speaks to him, a book he reads, the work on which he is engaged, even with the air he breathes or the light that falls on the things about him—we see that each of these circumstances has an influence on him and controls at least some side of his activity. And the more we perceive of these influences the more our conception of his freedom diminishes and the more our conception of the necessity that weighs on him increases.
This question, of how to balance our perception of someone’s freedom and responsibility with an understanding of the context behind someone’s actions, is still important to day, and is part of what makes Kingsman mildly more interesting than the average action movie.
In fact, it’s a mark of how awful the Marvel movies are that the first Kingsman movie feels positively intellectual in comparison. Because although Kingsman is ostensibly a spy movie, and really another action movie, it is riven with class.
I don’t know the UK class system well, so I’ll let The Guardian summarise it:
In Kingsman: The Secret Service, out next month, a tasty little herbert called Eggsy from a London sink estate is recruited by the impeccably soigné, lah-di-dah spook Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth. Hart detects that Eggsy has the right stuff, the true Brit if you will, to transcend his oikish upbringing and become One Of Us. Now if Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, can survive the training course in which he is pitted against a bunch of stuckup, over-entitled Oxbridge ponces (plus the token bit of hottie posh whose snobby froideur melts at our hero’s bit-of-rough charms), then he can become a Kingsman. But, you’ll be asking, what is a Kingsman? It’s a gentleman spy working for a non-governmental espionage agency run from a secret, steampunk-like bunker beneath (naturally enough) a Savile Row tailor.
What follows from that premise is a fast-paced, self aware action movie with a sense of humour, that I particularly enjoyed when Eggsy is asked why he’s named his dog JB, or when a villain asks for a snappy one liner from a soon to be victim. “It isn’t that kind of movie”.
Ultimately, of course, Kingsman doesn’t really delve into the depths of the class divide. Instead it lets the raw emotion against the entitled upper classes drive part of Eggy’s emotional journey, from his fights with his competitors, through working to save the common people from the maniacal one per cent, to the point where he literally sticks it up the royalty in the final scene.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle has the basic ingredients of the first movie, with an absurd villain, a willingness to kill off characters, and a series of frenetic action scenes, but it’s missing something that made the first a little more likeable.
Oh; but they both have Colin Firth in action scenes.