Wednesday 27 January 2021

Rob's Movie Night Roundup - "A" (About Time, Aquaman)

At the beginning of the year, my wife and I decided that we'd like to watch more movies. There are 52 weeks in a year, 2 of us, and 26 letters in the alphabet. What better way to choose some movies than to go alphabetically? The only rule: Where possible, it should be a movie that one or more of us had never seen before. Oh, and ideally it should be part of one of the copious online streaming services we're already subscribed to, because why bother paying for a rental when we're not short of options?

Incidentally, if anyone from the big online streaming service providers is reading this (your Notfluxes or your Prims, for example), please make it easier to search for/sort movies alphabetically. Thanks.

Anyway, we just finished our first letter of the alphabet (A, for those playing at home). Even though we didn't start this off with blogging in mind, I thought I'd jot some thoughts out about my impressions of the two movies we watched. For an added bit of fun, as we go along from A-Z, try to guess which of the picks was mine. It's not always as easy as it looks (hopefully)!

Also, fair warning: There may well be movies that appear on this list that you'll find hard to believe I haven't seen before. It happens.

About Time
Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

Synopsis via IMDB: At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think.

I think it's reasonable at this stage in the year 2021 to acknowledge that if you watch a film by Richard Curtis, there are going to be certain things that will be unquestionably true. The subject matter, even if quirky and unorthodox, will be emotional and funny with strong performances in many places and generally make use of a particularly cracking tune or two to punctuate the subject matter. Increasingly, these movies will also feature the wonderful Bill Nighy.

Seriously, the guy's a bloody treasure.

Anyway, as the synopsis outlines, the primary mechanism of storytelling here is Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) travelling back in time to alter stuff about his past while trying not to drastically alter his future. Time travel in movies is always a risky gambit but the premise here is simply and effectively delivered, and doesn't tie itself in knots to any great degree. What's nice is that the time travel mechanic, while used to obviously tell the story in a certain way, doesn't take the easy route as often as it could. On the contrary, there are a couple of moments in the movie where there were really obvious plot paths that would've been easy to take and somewhat easy to justify, and I was pleasantly surprised when they didn't occur, because it allowed us to continue to root for certain characters which we might have otherwise not been able to do as much.

What I really enjoyed about this film, besides the stuff I gush about in the next paragraph, was how despite being a movie about how Tim's choices could theoretically be frivolous if he can just redo them (and there are a few moments of it during the film which are pretty funny), you somehow come out of this movie with the opposite feeling - that choices are powerful things, and that sometimes the alternative to what we chose could have been very different indeed to the idealised one that might cause us to fixate, so why worry? Great stuff.

In short, I bloody loved this film. It was funny, the soundtrack is great, the performances were top-drawer from all involved, and as someone who has been labelled an "emotionless robot" in the past when it comes to sad or emotionally powerful movies, I can say that this movie had at least one scene that had me as close to tears as I've been since my wedding day (out of happiness, to be clear). Entirely possibly, it made me think a lot about my own life and relationships, but nevertheless a powerful and effective scene for perhaps that exact reason.

Also, the song "The Luckiest" by Ben Folds is a belter, and used to great effect here.

Directed by James Wan
Starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe

Synopsis via IMDB: Arthur Curry, the human-born heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, goes on a quest to prevent a war between the worlds of ocean and land.

Speaking of things that are pretty well established in 2021, the Superhero origin story is a path well-trodden. Aquaman, it has to be said, is one of the more enjoyable origin stories I've seen. For full context, besides the odd comic book (which I've found generally pretty enjoyable) and a couple of Heroclix models that you need a water-heavy map to really appreciate, I have no real connection or emotional resonance with Aquaman as a character, which depending on your point of view might either make me ideal to weigh in or the worst possible choice. Whatever, I'm a movie-goer, it's a movie. We move on.

The setup for this movie is a little weird, as I'd have imagined that the Aquaman origin movie would come in before his appearance in Justice League, but actually the chronology is the other way round and the events of JL have already happened when we are introduced to Aquaman in Momoa form - there are a fair few scenes at the very start of the film that establish the timeline up to that point, including Temeura Morrison which was a pleasant surprise to me as I'd managed to miss that he was in this film until he was on screen. I have no idea how.

Another nice surprise was the visual style and the audio stuff. I was sort of expecting something a bit more..."drab" would be the wrong word, but something grittier and grimier, more in line with the DC colour schemes from movies like Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice or Wonder Woman. What I got from Aquaman instead was more like what I've come to think of as the Guardians of the Galaxy colour palette, a lot of bright and neon-style colours. It served the film really well, too, as they were able to present Atlantis in a really futuristic light (no pun intended) this way. It seems like DC are moving more into the neon space here and there with things like Wonder Woman 1984, and I think where it's used well it will serve to highlight the contrast of different characters, locales and time periods.

On the subject of things I found a pleasant surprise, the soundtrack surprised me in a good way. I was expecting orchestral scores, more of a John Williams vibe, and while there was a sense of grandeur to some of the movie in this vein, it was much more synthy than I thought. Again, a good thing.

A few things didn't surprise me about this film. There are quite a few plot threads that I called early on, but I'm not by any means saying that to brag as they were pretty easily telegraphed even if you didn't possess my formidable mind. Certain story beats left me thinking "Ok, well that'll turn out not to be true by the end" or "Well, that'll resolve this way" and sure enough, I was right. Perhaps this is just a symptom of the superhero origin story format being well-trodden, if not played out completely, but nevertheless not the most thoroughly satisfying experience.

In summary, I was hotter on About Time than Aquaman, but that's not to say that by any means I thought the latter wasn't an enjoyable movie. It was well-shot with exceptional visuals and music, the performances were good all round, it had a few comedy moments but didn't overdo it and the action set pieces were solid. Glad I watched both.

And that's A! I don't intend to write an essay on each movie, not least of all because it's been probably 15 years since I did any Film Studies and 10 years since my last movie review of any depth (mostly underground fighting movies on here). However, I do plan to revisit the subject matter once each letter is finished. At the time of writing, we're halfway through B and off to a fun-filled cheesefest start! I'll leave you to speculate.

Did you enjoy the roundup? Let me know! If you have thoughts on the movies chosen and their respective writeups above, you know where to find me. Maybe you don't, but there are buttons everywhere to make that happen. Comments, Twitter, you name it. Moreover, if you want to make use of this movie night format, bearing in mind you're a few weeks in and might have to double up to get up to speed, feel free to do the same - I'd love to know what you chose too!

Rob Wade

Rob Wade blogs about stuff he likes. Whether it's video games or geek media for Emotionally14 or writing about speculative theories for future films on Talk Star Wars, the focus has always been on the stuff that brings the most pleasure to his life within media.

Rob is the editor of Emotionally14, and showrunner of the E14 podcasts "The Crazy Train", "The E14 Gamecast" and "Talk Star Wars", as well as the host and guest of a number of pieces on E14's Youtube channel over the years.

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