It’s been an uncharacteristically good week for me and films. My normal goal to watch at least one new thing has been achieved, and then some (although it’s probably only really brought me a tiny bit closer to my target of 52 new films this year): I’ve watched four films I’ve never seen before. I’ve also (spoiler) enjoyed all of them. What’s going on?!
To start with the comfortably familiar (at least by now), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues – still slightly problematic, but much more solidly enjoyable than last week. Daisy’s struggle to deal with both the consequences of her actions under Hive’s influence worked pretty well, as did her general difficulties coping with her withdrawal symptoms. The culmination of both of those things into the final moment of the episode was both respectably surprising and effective. Otherwise, though, things were pretty rote – come on, guys, how are we supposed to think for one second that the Big Bad gets taken down in the penultimate episode of the series – but fairly entertaining. Even the predictable can have its moments.
The Flash, on the other hand, pissed me off so much that I’m still annoyed about it – and I watched it five days ago. On the whole I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen of this series, especially the Earth-2 stuff, but this finale felt both nonsensical and frustrating. It’s actually taken reading the Wikipedia summary to properly grasp what was happening, because the Zoom/The Flash showdown was over so quickly (the fact that they run fast is no excuse) that I missed crucial exposition. Then again, this has some fun bits in it – Caitlin sort of gets to do something, at least for half a scene, and I still like Wally a lot – so I can forgive it. I’m much less inclined to forgive the actual end of the episode, in which Barry is a complete dick and then meddles quite significantly with time…and then it ends. I get series finales often have cliffhangers, I do, but this one feels so sudden, and so similar to the first season finale, that I ended up in such an irritated grump I went off and had to watch the series four opener of Parks and Recreation to cheer myself up. Not that much of a hardship, though.
The Flash is probably partly responsible for this week has been such a solid week for me and movies I haven’t seen before. Bouncing as far away from anything superheroic as possible, I hit on Chris Rock’s Top Five, which fits quite happily into my beloved snarky rom-com category. Top Five centres around an alcoholic comedian (played by Chris Rock) and the New York Times journalist profiling him as he prepares for his reality TV wedding/release of his first dramatic film (Rosario Dawson). While it might not be a bunch of fun – everyone’s far too jaded and aware of their position in the world for that – it is pretty funny, and sticks to that consistently throughout. There’s a lot of criticism of the media in many guises, almost all of which lands, and the central pairing of Rock and Dawson works really, really well. I’m not sure I’d rush to watch it again, but I certainly really enjoyed it in the moment.
Another healthy dosing of snark, this time in the form of a period comedy, came from Whit Stillman’s wonderful Love & Friendship. I’ve been pretty keen to see this since I heard about it – not only has it had amazing reviews almost across the board, but it’s also an adaptation of a Jane Austen short story – and I was so happy not to be disappointed. I’ve always liked an Austen adaptation (I love Austen, so they’ll always have me on side), but the ones that really work for me are the ones which grasp that her texts were never just about the romance – there’s also the social structures, and the slightly world-weary approach to them, to consider. Some of Austen’s funniest characters are hopeless, stupid, or sceptical, and while I’m not saying she was the most scathing social critic of her time, you have to acknowledge that there’s at least some commentary in her work. Love & Friendship not only embraces the cynicism but runs away with it, with Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan a bitchy, insensitive widow trying to marry her only daughter off to ‘a bit of a rattle’: the rich but hilariously idiotic Sir James. Every performance is great, but it’s undeniably Beckinsale’s film – her Lady Susan is a flirt, a cheat, and often downright cruel, but she’s so glorious at it you can’t help but be compelled by her. It’s also incredibly funny, moving from bitter remark (‘What a mistake you made marrying him. Too old to be governable, and too young to die’) to the blindly stupid. It’s arch, and it’s hilarious, and if you can go and see it, you should.
Wimbledon – yeah, that early 2000s tennis film starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst – is neither particularly snarky nor accomplished. In fact, I KNOW that, objectively, it’s pretty rubbish – it’s cliché-ridden, dated, and rife with bad slo-mo and CGI – but oh my God, I enjoyed it so much I’ve been forcibly reminded of my penchant for crappy noughties rom-coms. I’ve been repressing that for so long. I mean, how is it possible to hate a film where there’s so much chemistry between its two leads, such entertaining casting (Sam Neill! Jon Favreau! Julian from One Tree Hill!), and the line, ‘Love means zero in tennis. It means you lose.’? It’s not, is the answer.
The last – and probably my favourite – of the films to mention this week is Laika’s The Boxtrolls, the stop-motion animation of a few years back. The Boxtrolls is simultaneously really charming and really grotesque, balancing a really sweet story of family and friendship and identity with odious villains, both obvious and not quite so obvious, and plot lines involving murder, attempted infanticide, and spontaneous combustion. The Boxtrolls is really, really entertaining and, as I discussed with Song of the Sea a few weeks back, works just as well for both adults and kids. As I’m stuck viewing myself as both an adult and a kid at this point, it worked for me on both of those levels, and I think it’s going to become a firm favourite. It is, though, a perfect autumn film and I’m so glad I ended up watching it on the worst night of the month so far at the very least. This film should ideally be accompanied by a cup of tea, a roaring fire, and a maelstrom outside. Exactly my kind of film.