Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Rest of the 'big' Holiday Premieres

Since I highlighted Sky's 'big' premieres (all 2017 releases) over the New Year's weekend, I feel obliged to make a few comments about their worthiness. I assure you, these will be brief -- since while all three passed the time relatively painlessly, I very much doubt that I would choose to watch any of them a second time.

First up is the animated "Boss Baby" where the new arrival puts a spanner in the works of the cosseted 7-year old narrator and his previously doting parents. Arrived dressed in a dark grey business suit and complete with attache case, the baby knowingly voiced by Alec Baldwin is the new focus of attention. He's a baby with a mission out to stop the takeover plans of tycoon Steve Buscemi; and without his magic milk he just might be returned to the baby factory as yet another ordinary child. All pretty high-concept and pretty silly with the would-be humour pitched to the adults in the audience -- not really a kiddie's flick at all.

"The Zookeeper's Wife" is one of those worthy films about 'just' gentiles saving the lives of a  number of local Jews during World War II, the latest in a long line of such 'true' stories. Set in Poland (but for some reason filmed in Czechoslovakia) it stars Jessica Chastain as the wife of (yes) the Warsaw Zoo's boss. She does her usual top-class job (complete with a suitable accent) of bringing the character to life and is rapidly becoming the Meryl Streep of her generation.
She's surrounded by a little-known cast of foreign actors led by Johan Heldenbergh as her heroic husband, with only Daniel Bruhl (playing Hitler's pet zoologist and the villain of the piece) being a familiar face. Worthy, but marginally depressing viewing.

New Year's Day marked the premiere of "Kong - Skull Island" which features on a number of lists as among the worst releases of 2017. I wouldn't go that far since, as a popcorn picture, it was an effortless watch even if the world doesn't really need any more Kong movies. This Kong is HUGE and actually a goody ape, intent on protecting the natives on his island against the more terrifying underground creatures. However he is a 'weapon of mass destruction' when his turf is bombed by Samuel L Jackson and his military troops. I have one question: if this was an unknown, isolated, and supposedly uncharted island where did the natives come from? Jackson is after vengeance for the slaughter of his men and ultimately reaps his just desserts along with the other 'villain' John Goodman who begot the mission. Tom Hiddleston (ugh) and the normally competent Brie Larsen are the somewhat wasted romantic leads and only John C Reilly as a leftover World War II soldier stranded on the island with his now dead Japanese counterpart helps to make the nonsense more watchable. 

I did in the end find two full-length documentaries which I had not noted previously, buried in the schedules and both proved rewarding. "Leslie Howard - The Man who Gave a Damn"  (2016) was a biography of the 30's heartthrob whose plane was mysteriously shot down over Portugal in 1943, having returned from Hollywood before "Gone with the Wind" was premiered in Atlanta to help with the British war effort. I have other programmes about the actor but what made this one particularly interesting is that it was put together by the now grown man, who as a child was forced to give up his seat on the doomed flight for a VIP passenger -- thus saving his life. 

The other doc of interest was thrown into the afternoon schedules on Sky Atlantic together with a number of other movie related documentaries which had previously been shown on Sky Arts. However "Drew -- the Man behind the Poster" (2013) was in fact an unheralded premiere. It's the fascinating life history of the very likeable Drew Struzan (and I freely admit that I did not know his name previously) who created some of the most memorable movie posters of all time. He's a brilliant artist -- painting in a hyper-realistic style -- rather than an imaginative draughtsman like Saul Bass. We've all seen dozens of his fantastic works and they have stuck in our collective memory, without knowing anything about the man behind them. He has now retired since the growth of photo-shopped posters have taken over the field -- far less expensive and certainly less memorable than hand-painted ones -- but he is still painting and turning out wonderfully crafted artworks. Bless him!  
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