Film Reviews- Two current releases and two Seventies films

 Last week's watches!

If you like huge monsters constantly battling each other you are a match for this film. So over the top that you can’t actually see the top, Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire is a chaotic noisy stew of various giant creatures in successive dust ups levelling cities as they go. Any characters or messages that might be lurking are swept aside by relentless monster action edited so sharply we leap from one scene to another. It works fairly well for the first half but the longer it goes on and the more creatures turn up the more repetitive it becomes. 

I’ve no idea when it’s supposed to be set but it looks more or less present day where Kong and Godzilla are kept apart but sometimes help each other. I wasn’t even sure about that but then I didn’t see the previous instalment of what is apparently the Monsterverse. Kong now inhabits Hollow Earth a place accessed by portals in which he has a rather lonely existence while Godzilla seems to sleep wherever he lays his tail ready to defend Earth against other `Titans`. Meanwhile Jia, the last known survivor of the tribe from Skull Island is being looked after by Dr Ilena Andrews but struggling to fit in and experiencing visions of impending doom.

The film works best in the earlier sequences where Kong is battling with a hitherto undiscovered band of apes ruled by the Skar King. Impressive motion capture comes into its own here as whole scenes involving apes screaming at each other are perfectly clear without subtitles. The depth of expression on their faces is excellently realised especially with Kong. You know what he’s thinking all the time.

As the film opens out and brings in other creatures the plot becomes less distinct and simply a platform for one mega battle after another. These later fights more resemble the old Japanese films which just used actors in costumes amidst models. Its obviously not that basic but there are scenes where the buildings in the background are less than seamlessly integrated into the action. That may be deliberate homage of course. The incidental music seems an odd fit sometimes evoking Vangelis to try and add some mysticism to the tale. The actors have to pack their best work into the first half before being reduced to awed spectators later on. It’s an enjoyable enough romp directed with confident flair by Adam Wingard but like a very rich meal by the end you’ve had more than enough.

Released in 1973 and 1974 respectively That’ll Be The Day and Stardust are possessed of  low key grit  more reminiscent at times of a documentary . Starting in 1959, That’ll be the Day` particularly inhabits a long gone world of post war gloom, working class lives, thwarted aspirations and directionless teenagers. Though there was a script, the emphasis is on very natural delivery that could sound improvised rather than like a `performance`. The evocation of another era seems far away to us yet fifty years ago would surely resonate with viewers. David Essex was on the cusp of becoming a real life pop star (he had his first hits between these films) but was not yet a fully formed actor. Its his natural charm that gets his character of Jim McLaine through a narrative that has him abandon a promising academic career for a job looking after deckchairs on a beach before moving to a fairground. A stint during the summer at a holiday camp is his first brush with both the opposite sex and the nascent pop music business though if you’re expecting this to be a film about a struggling musician be warned that its only in the very last scene that he buys a guitar.

The casting choices are interesting incorporating several music icons some of which work- Ringo Starr is surprisingly good as Jim’s holiday camp confidante and partner in crime. Others don’t fare so well; Keith Moon is his chaotic self which feels out of place in a movie set in the early Sixties. It’s fun to see actors who would later become very well known putting in early work particularly Robert Lindsay. The real star though is Rosemary Leach who as Jim’s mother is powerful and in one beach scene heart-breaking. It’s a gruff film that finds honesty and authenticity in its characters and back then was probably one of the most realistic on-screen portrayals of the lives of teenagers and young adults’ random lives. Occasional voice over extracts of Jim’s poetry add a theatrical flourish but director Claude Whatham keeps things real.

The follow up Stardust uses  a similar approach but with a clearly more visible commercial tone and sometimes struggles to find the identifying threads that make its predecessor so realistic. This is simply because the trajectory of a rising pop star isn’t something most of us experience and also because it seems to happen without enough narrative diligence. One minute Jim and his band are playing tiny pubs, the next they have a record deal and are being screamed at by thousands of girls. I felt that the visualisation of this was more similar to the 70s than the 60s. As for Jim’s later operatic magnum opus it is just so bizarre that you can’t imagine even Rick Wakeman would have staged it.

Having (mostly) real musicians in the band definitely helps though and the Stray Cats’ earlier songs have verisimilitude thanks to Dave Edmunds who wrote the material even if his character in the film has about two lines. What you can also see is how strong a stage performer David Essex was and probably still is. By the time the film was released he was a bona fide pop star and thankfully his fate wasn’t the one doled out to Jim McClaine. Beset by the burdens and distractions of fame Jim spends the last two years of his life holed up in a Spanish castle. These scenes show how much Essex has improved as an actor replacing his trademark twinkle with a portrait of a drugged star out of touch with reality. The film also benefits from a strong performance from Adam Faith as Jim’s long-suffering manager and a pre Dallas Larry Hagman is good value as Jim's relentless record company boss. To be watched as a pair these are films that evoke another era with unsentimental yet involving sincerity. 


How To Date Billy Walsh, a newly released Amazon Prime film has had a reasonably high profile launch and seems to be paying homage to those Eighties films in which the main character does everything they can to have a date with the object of their affection. Though its set in England and there is nobody called Corey. The premise is that Amelia instantly fancies Billy Walsh, an American student who somewhat improbably is spending the very last term before they all leave at this posh English college. However, her best friend Archie Arnold is secretly in love with her but hasn’t had the courage to mention it. Aghast at her infatuation with the new kid, Archie uses his parents’ experience with a so-called Love Doctor to create his own version using AI. Under this persona he gives Amelia duff advice that will, he hopes, discourage Billy from liking her.

The results are mixed to say the least and it feels like the producers didn’t spot obvious flaws. Archie constantly breaks the fourth wall in a way that distracts from a plot we can all get and causes the film to stop and start too much. The idea about him never having dropped even the slightest hint about his true feelings for Amelia or her having any reciprocal feelings does not ring true. They’re seventeen for goodness sake! A better plot would have been instead of them being best friends for them to hardly know each other while the AI part of the plot could be replaced by her actually asking him for help – say he knows Billy- and as this is being given, both of them start to fall in love with each other.

Though the film is well shot to emphasise the beauty of the location-  I like the distant shots of characters running up and down an impressive flight of outdoor steps- this does reveal the fact this school is occupied by less than a classful. Also this is the pupil’s A Level term so why is nobody seems to be doing any revision. And the `love doctor’s` advice is so clearly bogus why does Amelia go along with it?  There’s a bullying sub plot that has no real undertow or context. Does every school really have a bitchy Queen Bee who is mean to people for no reason?  I won’t go on except to mention how improbably many of the scenarios are culminating in Amelia's lengthy speech over the school tannoy which is, as the kids say, cringe. 

On the plus side the two leads- Sebastian Croft and Charitha Chandran- have good chemistry and it’s their light performances that elevate the film plus there’s a sweet ending amidst the lights and synchronised dancing of the end of year prom. I did watch to the end so it must have something and  there are hints of better aspects struggling to get out but the final version is not quite believable enough. 


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