2017 in Film

2017 marked a torturous year in cinema for me. I have to select the releases I see carefully because firstly the town I live in caters largely for older film goers so there isn’t much on offer for me and secondly because much of my time at weekends in taken with child care and associated errands. By “cinema” I just mean the handful of big box office releases I manage to get out to see, which is what made this year all the worse.

I like to think I’m not yet at the age whereby everything is suddenly rubbish and not what it used to be etc. and I think I could have taken one or two cinematic disappointments this year but when the three films I was looking forward to most (in one case just hoping wouldn’t be a let-down) all fall short I find I grudgingly have to admit Guardians of the Galaxy 2 probably was the best thing I saw on the big screen in 2017.

Baby Driver

Really wanted to catch Edgar Wright’s most recent original release after he seemed forced off Marvel’s Ant Man after the time and effort of developing much of it. I missed seeing this on a big screen but did get a chance to rent it from iTunes.

I might have enjoyed this in my early 20s and if I hadn’t seen Shaun or Hot Fuzz or (most crucially) Scott Pilgrim. The super-cool cars, crew and heists concept came over really well in the trailers but didn’t have the legs for the feature and the traditionally reliable brand of Wright humour was almost entirely absent.

The first third was a bit tiresome (there seemed to be two opening sequences…), the second was a let-down when I realise how small-scale the story was going to be, and the third was derivative (and frankly a bit of a downer).

Blade Runner 2047

I was keen to see this because I’m a big fan of the original. I liked the story of BR: 2049 and the script and direction and cinematography were great but the things I loved most about the original; production design and score were lacking (in the case of the score it was abrasive and intrusive in places) and it resulted in something I appreciated but couldn’t immerse myself in, not enough sugar to make the medicine go down… At least Ryan Gosling has finally found the perfect role, something that doesn’t require him to emote!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Which brings us to possibly the biggest disappointment of the year in Star Wars Episode 8. It’s a sad day when the best thing you can find to say about a Star Wars film is that it was nice to see Ade Edmondson get a part as a First Order Star Destroyer Commander. I had come to realise in the months after my initial joy of seeing the Force Awakens that it wasn’t at all what I’d hoped for and that rather than improving on that film episode 8 took a lot of what was wrong with the Force Awakens and just… made it worse.

Where to start?

Firstly, and most depressingly, I was continually jolted out of the Star Wars experience by the storytelling not feeling a part of the universe built up and realised in previous films.

Secondly, this film was massively overlong. The main part of the story with Luke and Ray could have been dealt with much more efficiently and satisfyingly and with fewer unnecessary beats. All of Mark Hamill’s concerns with how his character was handled were borne out by having Luke come across as unnecessarily unlikeable and unwilling to act. Rey at one point is content to have trashed part of Luke’s World Heritage Site Island whilst nearly killing several peaceable indigenous folk in the process. Yoda’s cameo was painful to witness.

The B-stories were completely botched. When the director’s job with a Star Wars film is to balance interlocking plots so that everything is lined up for the finale you can’t afford to get it wrong. And yet this is what happened. Really, really slowly.

The scenes set on the Casino planet (“Canto Bight”) deployed the kind of CGI that could have come straight out of episodes 1-3. The humour was often poorly judged and inappropriate; (tiresome cutesy creature aside) the slave urchins seemed on the point of breaking into “It’s A Hard Knock Life” and Rey’s test in a hall of mirrors gave the impression that her finger-clicking could tip us into a (Taylor) Swiftian music video at any second. Also, Benicio Del Toro’s character was so abominable it’s untrue; poorly written, weirdly directed, badly portrayed.

The other strand concerned the escape by the remainder of the rebels where the tension seamed to leak away and the plot was so limp that it felt like a flat episode of Babylon 5. There was very little action here. Even at the film’s outset the action and pace of intercutting dogfights and laser blasting was ruptured by the laboured setting up of a narrative where we were forced to spend what felt like 15 minutes witnessing the protracted death of a Very Heroic bomber pilot. Hammering the rebels to the point where there can’t be more than 25 left meant effectively removing the War in Star Wars for the final battle where they just hid behind a “…big ass door…” (a phrase no one would use in Star Wars) whilst the First Order huffed and puffed and tried to blow the house down. It might be time for Star Wars… to end.

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