31/01/2021

Watching - January 2021

Big (1988)
Watched this for the first time in ages and was reminded what a sweet, good-hearted film it is. However, I watched it alone because the kids weren't interested and C doesn't like it; she objects to the romance element between Elizabeth Perkins and Tom Hanks (playing, of course, a 13 year old in a man's body). I can see why, and I wonder whether a film made today would feature it as heavily, or at all. At best, that section is kind of a male fantasy (the "older woman" thing) and, as ever with these kind of films, it doesn't bear thinking about too much. Would Susan (the Perkins character) really be so understanding, or would she actually be horrified? I think probably the latter. Still, it's very funny in places and the central message is unaffected: we should all keep hold of the child within. Or something. I'm not very good at subtext!
Tangled (2010)
I'm told we watched this in early January but I don't remember. I've watched it before, of course, so maybe that's why it didn't register. I really like the film, it's got a great sense of humour. For B & K it was a prelude to watching Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure, but I drew the line at that.
Mulan (1998)
For some reason, Mulan is one of the Disney Princesses even though surely the point of the story is that she very much isn't a princess. Anyway, this original version of the Disney story can't quite make up its mind whether it's a dramatic re-telling in the vein of other classic Disney princess films, or a more comedic take. The presence of Eddie Murphy's Donkey Mushu unbalances the film somewhat and frankly it could have done with someone less identifiably playing themselves, but perhaps it needed the star name. Overall, good-natured and undemanding, although probably reflecting attitudes of the time (23 years ago!) that wouldn't make it into a film now.
Amazing Grace (2018)
Somehow the existence of Aretha's 1972 album Amazing Grace has passed me by until now, to my shame, despite the fact that it is Aretha's best-selling ever. This is the film of it being recorded and is done in classic 70s documentary style, all shaky cameras and random focus - very similar in feel to Woodstock or The Last Waltz. It's a great watch though - it's not just an album being recorded, it's a gospel performance. Whether it's a great or true one is not really for me to judge (my entire exposure to gospel is the James Brown scenes in The Blues Brothers) but it seems authentic to me. I also love that two of the musicians, Chuck Rainey and Bernard Purdie, are also on Steely Dan's Aja - now that's versatility. (It also "features" Mick Jagger, who appears for all of five seconds; the edit cheekily includes him noticing the camera, elaborately and unconvincingly pretending not to notice the camera and then starting to clap along.)
The Sound of TV With Neil Brand (2020)
This three-part exploration of the use of music on TV - through theme tunes, advertising jungles and accompanying music - ought to have been a lot more interesting than it was. By forcing the content into the usual (unnecessarily) hour long episodes, it ended up being fragmented instead of joining dots. Brand tries to make an argument that because TV music is so pervasive, it shapes our lives more than we realise, but this feels like overstating the case to try and justify the fancy locations. This would have been more effective as a single programme, showing progress through more examples and fewer interviews and location changes. Or, to put it another way, by being more like Mark Kermode's superb Secrets of Cinema programmes.
Captain Marvel (2019)
If I'd known the MCU better, or paid more attention during Avengers: Endgame, I probably wouldn't have been surprised by the reversal about halfway through this. But that said, if it was that obvious to aficionados, what would be the point at all? So maybe it wasn't obvious. Anyway, I didn't see it coming. The film overall is reasonably good fun, although by far the most impressive special effect is the de-aging of Samuel L Jackson.
Secret Society of Second Born Royals (2020)
As the kids pointed out, this plays out a bit like someone binge-watched Sky High, followed by MI High and then tried to sort of munge them together with The Princess Diaries (or any of a number of other royal-obsessed Disney Channel films). Diverting enough, but I only watched to the end to see how it ended - although it was predictable, I still like seeing how things play out. Recommended to us by one of K's friends, who has now been reprimanded and ordered to go and watch Sky High instead.
Yes, Minister (Series 1) (1981)
One of the first things I looked for on Britbox was this, because I never watched it at the time, as far as I can remember. Having gone through the seven episodes, I'm pretty certain I didn't. So although the general framework is familiar, the plots weren't, which made discovering it a new joy for me. Obviously there is a risk in watching it forty years after it was made, but aside from the obvious things that date it (don't desks look odd without a computer on them?), it absolutely stands up. The mindless bureaucracy ("Minister for Administrative Affairs" always made us laugh) and the private scheming is obviously something that is always with us. Fantastically well-observed and performed throughout, and if a couple of the episodes dipped slightly they were never less than entertaining.
Sky High (2005)
Rotten Tomatoes review of Sky High is surprisingly tone deaf: it describes the film as "highly derivative [and] moderately entertaining". Did they actually watch the film? It's clearly an affectionate spoof as well as very funny throughout (Kurt Russell's constant super hero posing is hilarious). RT saves themselves with an editorial from last year that describes it as "ahead of its time", which is much more on the mark. Its been a favourite in this house for several years; highly recommended.

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