Le Mans ’66

Also known as Ford vs. Ferrari, Le Mens ’66 is the story of Ford’s attempt to build a race car and the men who made it happen. As you would expect, this is a story of high performance engineering, corporate insanity and the clash of cultures that ensues when a huge corporation tries to move into a field in which it has no experience.

It is also a very funny film indeed.

The film centres on American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), who is brilliant, passionate and very much not the sort of team player that fits with the Ford way of doing things.

Shelby’s attempts to hold his team together in the face of the conflicting, and often obstructionist, motives around him provides the core of the film and this makes for a solid narrative base from which to deliver some of the wittiest and sharpest dialogue I have heard this year.

As a double act, Damon largely plays the likeable straight man to Bale’s irascible eccentric, although comedy gold is well and truly struck when Ken Miles’ wife, Molly (Caitriona Balfe) produces a deck chair.

Then there are the races themselves, culminating in the Le Mans endurance race of the title. These are genuinely thrilling, even to someone like me who has no interest in motor racing and to whom a car is nothing more than a machine for moving people around. Even the gear changes managed to be exciting.

Both Matt Damon and Christian Bale display a real charisma and their characters, for all their quirks, are genuinely likeable people about whom it is impossible not to care. So when the tension starts to rise, they can drag you to the edge of your seat and keep you there.

Five Things #13

The Devil Buys Us Cheap and the Devil Buys in Bulk by M. Bennardo is a morality tale about unearned money.

Helen Claire Hart argues that we should lift the ban on asylum seekers seeking work.

Kieren McCarthy at The Register looks at the creative accounting that helps Apple get away with charging an unjustifiable mark-up on repairs while also claiming to make a loss.

Funk’s House of Geekery looks back at Tank Girl, the movie.

Susan D’Agostino talks to Barbara Liskov, the architect of modern algorithms.

Frozen 2

We saw Frozen 2 at the weekend and I have been hesitating a bit as to whether to mention it here because I am so clearly not part of the target audience. This is probably also why I am so ambivalent about the film.

With Frozen, Disney managed to come up with an original spin on The Snow Queen in which all the parts slotted together so perfectly that it launched a phenomenon. This time around… Not so much. Instead, we have the same characters pressed into (what certainly feels like) a very generic plot in which Anna and Elsa are sent on a Quest to Save The Kingdom.

And every step of the way I was able to accurately predict what would happen next.

On a purely technical level, Frozen 2 is every bit as impressive as you would expect but the film is let down by the weakness of the story. It’s probably because of this narrative weakness that I couldn’t find any reason to care about any of the characters. That and the songs.

All Disney animations (with the notable exception of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, a film that deserves a much larger audience) are built around their musical numbers. The songs in these films tend to be of a very high standard — even if they’re not my cup of tea — and the songs in Frozen 2 is no exception. My problem is that they felt intrusive.

Whereas Disney scripts usually manage to move seamlessly from dialogue, into the musical number and then back again, this didn’t feel to be the case this time around. Instead, each line of dialogue was followed by a pause, then a song, followed by a pause, and so on. This gave the songs a very tacked-on feel which made them painfully noticeable.

Disney Animation Studios don’t tend to make sequels (only three, if I’m counting correctly). Frozen 2 provides a very good case for continuing this policy.

But what do I know? The kids all enjoyed it.

Five Things #12

The Etiquette of Mythique Fine Dining by Carolyn Rahaman is a light but effective exploration of the challenges and dangers that come from cooking and eating magical foods.

Ed Yong on the predator that makes great white sharks flee in fear. Better to run than to have your liver squeezed out.

André Spicer on how organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door.

Denzil at Discovering Belgium takes an 11 km circular walk through the Forêt de Soignes and discovers the Monument aux Forestiers, a stone circle that memorialises foresters killed during World War One.

We Are Cult revisits Clockwise.

Five Things #11

In The Fish of Lijiang by Chen Qiufan a workaholic office worker is diagnosed with a stress-induced illness and sent to the rehabilitation center in Lijiang. The city isn’t as he remembers it, though, and then the story takes the sort of left turn that you would expect from someone like Philip K. Dick.

Dr Beth Singler discusses Blade Runner, Zhora, her snake, and the ethics of sexbots and slavery.

Simon Brew argues that obsessing over box office receipts puts us in danger here of giving movie studios even more excuses to avoid risks in favour of staying within the boundaries of mainstream fare.

Nnedi Okorafor defines Africanfuturism.

Denzil at Discovering Belgium visits the Menin Gate for the Last Post.

Abominable

After watching Abominable at the weekend, we all trooped into a restaurant for an early dinner and to remind ourselves of the best bits of the film. It was surprising to realise just how many times variations on the phrase “because he/she is the bad guy” cropped up in the conversation. This, for me, sums up the core problem with the film.

The film centres on teenager girl, Yi whose father has died and who has become less close to both her mother and her grandmother because of it. Yi, a talented violinist, harbours the ambition to take the trip across China that she had always planned to take with her father. While playing her father’s violin on the roof of the apartment block in which she lives she encounters a yeti, who has escaped from the villainous Burnish Industries. Through a sequence of events, Yi finds herself, along with her former childhood friend, Jin and his ten year old cousin Peng, on a journey across China as they attempt to return the yeti to his home.

The yeti himself is a delight and, of the human characters, both Yi and Jin are very well drawn and develop, pretty much as you’d expect, over the course of the film. Peng provides plenty of comic relief, especially when playing against the yeti. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, as well as a large part of the plot, feels like something of an afterthought.

This makes for a perfectly serviceable adventure film, but one that is often let down by some badly underdeveloped villains. It’s a fun film, but one that could have been so much better.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

We’ve enjoyed a bit of a Shaun the Sheep weekend this weekend. On Saturday we dropped a broad hint to the boys by digging out our DVD of the Shaun the Sheep Movie, and still none of them realised which film we were intending to take them to see on Sunday. Even with the uncertainty, though, the film was enjoyed by all.

Farmageddon (I’m not typing out the full title every time) delivers the same gently surreal humour as the first film and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments. That said, though, this film didn’t feel as effortlessly superb as its predecessor.

The plot centres on the arrival of an alien spaceship in Mossy Bottom Farm. Inevitably, the intergalactic traveller, Lu-La encounters Shaun and our ovine hero decides to help the visitor to return home before the villainous boss of the can get her hands on her. Meanwhile, the farmer has decided to cash in on the interest Lu-La’s UFO has caused by setting his dog to build a theme park.

It’s a pretty simple plot onto which can be hung an endless stream of in-jokes, visual gags and film references (starting with ET). None of this, though, really held my attention in the same way that previous Aardman outings have managed. Part of the problem, I think, is the character of Lu-La, who is a little bit too cute for an Aardman character. Of course, “not the best film Aardman has made” still translates to “easily better than most of the animated films you’ll see this year” and there is a lot to enjoy in this film.

This being a Shaun the Sheep film, there is no dialogue (obviously — have you ever met a talking sheep?) which makes for a film that stands as a tribute to the era of silent films and one that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of truly visual storytelling. Everything is both clear, and clearly expressed, without a word needing to be said by anyone.

Farmageddon is not the greatest film that Aardman Animations have ever released, but it is a cracking 90 minutes of entertainment that stands head and shoulders above the generic CGI that so often passes for animation these days. For this alone, for the fact that this is an original film made by people who clearly care about their work, makes this a film that is well worth seeing.

Also I was tickled by the fact that the Dutch version of this film (not that there is any need for subtitles) has been given the puntastic name of The Spacesheep.

Scene Cuts: Horror

Time for another Scene Cuts challenge from A Guy Called Bloke by way of Bereaved Single Dad who was tagged by Jay-lyn of The Wonderful and Wacky World of One Single Mom.

Scene Cuts is an excuse to pick and post favourite clips from favorite films, because who doesn’t like talking about films.

Thank the Selector

Select three film clips from the Movie Genre of the Day

Select 3 readers to take part in Scene Cuts

Doesn’t get much simpler than that does it…

This week the genre is horror.

Ju-On: The Grudge

I saw this film, about a vengeful spirit haunting a house, many years ago at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival and it had such an impact that I still remember the film mote than 15 years later.

You know that feeling when you notice something out of the corner of your eye, but when you turn to look there’s nothing there? That’s Ju-On, except there is something there…

And after seeing this film, I had to go home and walk the dog. I the woods. In the dark.

The Wicker Man

Folk horror at its finest in which a police sergeant’s investigation takes him to the island of Summerisle where he discovers that the locals are hiding much more than the whereabouts of a missing girl.

I have the longer directors cut of this on DVD. This version is well worth tracking down as it spends a bit more time establishing Sergeant Howie’s character, which makes for a much more effective narrative later on.

Alien

At the risk of starting an argument, I have always thought of Alien as being a horror film that happens to be set in space.

In terms of the narrative mechanics, it’s a kids in the woods film. Except that, instead of a bunch of teenagers we have the crew of the Nostromo. And rather than a cabin in the woods, we have a spaceship. Which makes Sigourney Weaver the final girl.

I’m not going to nominate anyone in particular. But if you want to have a go, knock yourself out.

Scene Cuts: Science Fiction

I can never resist an excuse to talk about films, so when I saw the Scene Cuts challenge from A Guy Called Bloke by way of Bereaved Single Dad, I knew I was going to end up spending Far too much time hunting down clips on YouTube.

The idea is simple:

Once a week, l will pick a Film Genre, post three film clips and tag three readers who in turn will post three film clips on the chosen film genre and tag 3 of their own readers.

This week the genre is the best genre: Science Fiction. So I am going to nominate myself.

The guidelines are as simple as the idea

Thank the Selector

Select three film clips from the Movies Genre of the Day

Select 3 readers to take part in Scene Cuts

Doesn’t get much simpler than that does it…

I don’t want to overthink this, so here are the first three films that came to mind.

Continue reading “Scene Cuts: Science Fiction”

Five things #6

“But who’s the real freak – the activist whose determination has single-handedly started a powerful global movement for change, or the middle-aged man taunting a child with Asperger syndrome from behind the safety of their computer screens?” Jennifer O’Connell asks why Greta Thunberg is so triggering for certain men.

Jesse Singal discusses Dave Chappelle, political correctness and cancel culture and argues that we should recognise the elitism of the Super-Woke.

David Spiegelhalter discusses the importance of statistical literacy, and plugs his book a couple of times. The book is The Art of Statistics and I do plan on reading it once the paperback edition is published.

As Rambo: Last Blood arrives on the big screen, Mark Harrison looks back at Son Of Rambow and the joys of DIY filmmaking.

And finally: Happy birthday COBOL. 60 years old this month and still surprisingly popular. There’s hope for me yet.