Film #175: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Language: English and some German, Russian, Italian
Length: 116 minutes
Watched on: 28 December 2015 (plane 1/4)

I travelled back to the UK a lot last year – the third time was for New Year, just after Christmas, which I spent with my work friends and boyfriend, and a little skiing trip on Boxing Day (to a ski park almost devoid of snow). So as it happens, I’ve had ample opportunity to catch up on movies during the time that I, admittedly, should have used for sleeping. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was the first such movie that I’d been intending to catch up on.

I have no idea what UNCLE stands for in the title, but it seems to be the codename of a spy plot. The movie is about spies, pitting an American and Soviet agent first against each other, then together against a common enemy. It’s got a comedic streak in it, and derives a lot of the humour from this situation.

It’s directed by Guy Ritchie, with all that that entails: it’s very slick, and it’s personal opinion whether that’s good or bad – I’m ambivalent about it. I like his visual style to an extent, but I also find it insufferable after a while. It also led to the final couple of plot twists almost rushing by inconsequentially because the movie didn’t let up to breathe – although that might just be that they were pretty obvious, and didn’t invite me, like a good plot twist should, to rewatch the movie to see how it changes things.

The movie was cool, and fun, and the actors did their jobs well. The atmosphere of the movie was superb, and I genuinely felt like I was looking back at the 60s in East Germany and other places around Europe. But while I’d be interested in seeing a sequel, I don’t think the movie was memorable enough to go down as a classic.

Film #174: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

sw7-carriefisherDirector: J.J. Abrams
Language: English and some nonsense conlangs
Length: 135 minutes
Watched on: 23 December 2015

*(Spoilers, of course)*

I do try not to draw attention to the fact that I’m months behind schedule with these posts, but I can’t help it this time. This is the big one of the past few months and I’m way behind all the hype. I’ve been busy, though! I moved house last month, and I feel like I’ve only just settled in (I finally got my Ikea furniture set up last week and cleared away all the books and boxes that were just lying around in piles after the move).

So, Star Wars. I don’t think people were really anticipating its return, announced so suddenly by Disney a few years ago, but it’s exploded into the public consciousness, and rightfully so. A franchise as big as this is always going to capture the public eye!

I don’t really know if there’s much I can say here that hasn’t already been said by other people more eloquently, to be honest. The movie has obvious flaws – notably, that its overall plot structure mirrors the first movie almost exactly. Yes, they do a lot of cool things with it, but it starts on a desert world and there’s a death star and bottomless shaft at the end; the similarities are clear.

A lot of the movie – particularly any scenes featuring the older characters – also seems to exist to appease the fanbase more than to advance the plot, which I’d say is the other obvious flaw. I think the filmmakers should and will move on from this, but I’d have liked to have seen more character development in Han Solo in particular – the way he’s played here, it’s like he walked straight out of Episode 6 with nothing inbetween, even though we know that’s factually not the case.

Conversely, with said events the movie is good at hinting at them rather than explaining everything outright, and letting the characters’ stories unfold slowly. It’s left open a lot of talking points: who actually is this Rey, for example? We don’t find out during the movie, and it’s been a very effective way to stimulate the fanbase in its discussion of such matters.

As for the characters themselves, they span a good range, and the new ones are introduced well. Apparently the filmmakers have been setting up Rey, Finn and Poe as the new trio, akin to Han, Luke and Leia from the original trilogy (and who knows?? in the prequels), which I was surprised about later because I thought Poe was a minor supporting character from the amount that he was actually in the movie.

I very much like the fact that Rey being the main character makes a lot of young straight males splutter, and don’t agree that she could be characterised as a “Mary Sue” (a character that’s too talented and perfect) – although knowing how to do the Jedi Mind Trick by talking out loud is suspicious because she didn’t copy it from anyone. Add to that the fact that some racists are up in arms about Finn and you have the perfect tool to provoke bigots. On top of that, there are rumours that Poe was written to be Star Wars’ first gay character, which would be pretty cool.

The three actors seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, though, especially John Boyega, who I’ve seen quite a few times just ecstatic that he gets to be in Star Wars. There’s a scene in the middle where he gets to hold the lightsaber and try to battle the emo bad guy Kylo Ren, and I feel like the process of inventing that scene was backwards, like the filmmakers did it to please the actor rather than it being important to the story. But maybe I’m wrong.

In any case, this was a worthy sequel, and a really well-balanced way to continue the franchise. I can’t wait till the next one! Maybe I should find a way to watch this again…