Say what you like about Avengers: Infinity War but nobody can deny one thing: it is breaking new cinematic ground. For decades there have been sequels. For decades there have been franchises. For decades we have seen continuing universes on both the big and small screens, sometimes overlapping, develop characters and storylines. Marvel Studios differ in their approach. This is the first time anyone has, over a ten-year period, created and structured a cinematic franchise in the narrative style of a ‘season’ of television.
This is something I have discussed when talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe before because it has cast a shadow over the mainstream cinematic landscape which is likely to stay for years, perhaps even decades, to come. Kevin Feige, producer supremo, has been the constant here; ever since 2008’s Iron Man turned Robert Downey. Jr from disgraced character actor into the biggest movie star in the world, Infinity War has been the goal. While undoubtedly tides have changed, production realities have emerged, and details have altered, Marvel have been working to a decade-long plan to unite the Avengers against Thanos, the Mad Titan, and his plan to wipe out half the universe with the combined Infinity Stones.
Funny Cow isn’t really about comedy. Laughter is the prism through which this bleak fable spins a tale of escape and identity. To make the story of the titular, unnamed ‘Funny Cow’, about the rise of a comedy superstar would be to miss the point. Adrian Shergold’s movie is a strangely oblique, fourth wall breaking self-biography, dominated by the immense talent of Maxine Peake.
I won’t be the first person to say this, but I would go on record to suggest Peake might well be the finest British actress of her generation working today. It is rare to find an actress with the kind of extraordinary range she employs as Funny Cow, an incredibly scattershot and difficult to pin down role as written by Tony Pitts (who also plays her vile, abusive husband Bob). By turns, Peake has to be downtrodden, attractive, quirky, demure, flirtatious and more than a little mentally scarred by decades of abuse, and she manages it with aplomb. Shergold understands the picture lives and dies on the actress in every frame, who holds the central role, and you genuinely cannot imagine anyone embodying Funny Cow as well as Peake. She is magnetic, as she almost always is.
I went to see A Quiet Place at Cineworld Birmingham Broad Street on April 5th at the 16.40pm showing. This may seem a strange way to begin the piece but I type this in some vain hope that the two people sitting directly next to me, who didn’t stop nattering to each other for the entire duration of the film (when not checking their phone or crunching popcorn), might end up reading this. The irony of having to tell people off for talking during a film all about the absence and power of sound is not lost on me. So if you are reading this, guys, thanks. For nothing.
The reason I bring this up is precisely because John Krasinski’s impressive third feature suggests that we are living in a world where, as a society, we have lost touch with the amount of noise we collectively make. People blast out music on buses with no regard for anyone around them, or in their cars for effect as they travel around; they shout at one another with little self-awareness of those around them; they talk during cinema screenings, as mentioned above, in what would be a serious code violation in the eyes of the gentlemen of Wittertainment (if not *the* biggest violation). Noise, and the pollution of it, is something we take for granted. Quiet or silence is at a premium in the modern world, hence why it’s such an original idea for Krasinski and co-writers Bryan Woods & Scott Beck to ask – what would happen if noise became deadly?
Ready Player One really does feel like the pop-culture culmination of modern entertainment since the advent of Star Wars. Festooned with references, characters and trademarks from dozens of well-known properties from everything cinematic through to the video game world, Steven Spielberg delivers the ultimate expression of why we digest media, and possibly a glimpse into a world we could all be heading towards.
Ernest Cline delivered a remarkable confection of a novel back in 2011, certainly in pop-culture terms. Ready Player One crammed almost every single reference point since the late 1970’s across half a dozen mediums into a novel which, ultimately, told a fairly relatable David vs Goliath story set in a near-futuristic dystopia. It was a piece of work which seemed to operate like Marmite; for everyone taken in by its wide-eyed engagement with particularly 1980’s geek and nerd culture, someone else would respond that Cline’s prose was awful and the novel was a mess of winks, references and incohesive plotting which worked more like a gimmick than a piece of fiction. Wherever you stood on the spectrum, Ready Player One seems to have always been a polarising experience.
Which made the idea of a film adaptation even more intriguing, especially given Cline’s novel swiftly arrived in the hands of Spielberg. In many respects, this brought Cline’s work full circle, as Spielberg alongside filmmakers such as George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis, essentially created not just the cinematic blockbuster but the combination of pop-culture escapism and mainstream entertainment that drove the core of Cline’s novel.
Films such as Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, not to mention Back to the Future, which especially factors into Ready Player One on several levels, all remain the key cultural touchstones for Western audiences thirty or forty years on. Spielberg has arguably been the most successful purveyor of family escapism in cinema, blending skilled craft and an innate understanding of what audiences will connect to. And connections, ultimately, are what drive his adaptation of Ready Player One.
Adaptations of successful stage experiences to the silver screen are not always adept at capturing the magic of what drew people to the piece in a theatrical setting. The Woman in Black is probably the best example; widely regarded across the world as one of the most terrifying experiences an audience can have in a theatre, both of its cinematic versions retained for many a sense of atmosphere but lacked the potent dread and fear. The jury will be out as to whether the same is true of Ghost Stories.
Having never seen Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman’s original play performed on the West End stage, I shall refrain from drawing comparisons between the source material and its adaptation. That can be left for others who have had both experiences. As a piece of cinema, Ghost Stories does manage to capture a level of creeping, dreamlike enigma, shot through with not a little dash of the kind of jet black comedy Dyson added as part of The League of Gentlemen foursome – he was their Terry Gilliam, the unseen on screen writing partner, aside from a cameo – indeed you may spot him in Ghost Stories in a similar function if you’re eagle eyed. Ghost Stories is by no means as broad as the BBC comedy, and is first and foremost a dramatic tale, but there is an undercurrent of gallows humour to the piece which at times grounds it in a sense of normality, as it ventures into strange waters.
It would be tempting to suggest I Kill Giants is a direct result of the critical and commercial success of Patrick Ness & JA Bayona’s A Monster Calls, but given this adaptation of the Joe Kelly & JM Kim Niimura’s indie-graphic novel from 2008 was filmed in September 2016, before A Monster Calls was released, this suggests the two are just a happy, coincidental accident.
I mention this because I Kill Giants owes a huge debt to Bayona’s film, both in terms of narrative structure and thematic sensibility. This is ironic because Kelly & Niimura’s source material was published a good three years before Ness published his novel, which Bayona subsequently made into a film, so in many respects perhaps the inspiration should be flipped on its head. Had I Kill Giants been filmed and released first, that may well have been the case, although somehow I doubt it. For the principal reason that Anders Walter doesn’t nearly manage to evoke the same level of heartfelt anguish, awe and pain from Kelly’s script adaptation of the graphic novel as Bayona managed from Ness’ screenplay adaptation of A Monster Calls. The two may have a great deal of DNA in common, but they are significantly apart in successful execution.
What you make of Love, Simon, and undoubtedly what you take from it, could well depend on your identified sexuality. It shouldn’t, but it doesn’t quite feel we’re at the point yet where gender fluidity and honesty about our sexual preferences is not important. Greg Berlanti’s film, in fact, is all about the fact it still matters.
Love, Simon has been intentionally, specifically crafted to evoke movies and decades past. Adapted from the novel ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli, Berlanti’s film wears its inspirations on its sleeve – principally John Hughes, maestro of the 1980’s teen angst comedy, who managed to fuse the colour and vibrancy of that decade with the love-lorn sense of existential trauma about what it means to be young and trying to figure out who you are in that world. The 80’s and 90’s seemed perfectly placed for those kinds of pictures, whether The Breakfast Club or St. Elmo’s Fire, even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (even if that’s built around more of a narrative gambit), through to films such as Empire Records or the early American Pie films. They may differ in style and tone but all share that same common element of DNA: teenagers figuring out where they fit in.