Sir Ridley Scott’s sprawling, very expensive-looking, old-school epic throwback The Last Duel is a strange beast. Featuring masterfully designed and executed art direction (it’s set in France in the 1300s, with castles, horses, gates, bridges, lances, swords, ladies in waiting, armour, medieval Paris, and about sixty never-not-roaring fireplaces), a superb central performance from Jodie Comer, and three fruity turns from Adam Driver, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, it succeeds in being engaging and entertaining throughout its two-and-a-half-hour runtime despite an icky story.
Scott uses Rashomon’s structure: an alleged sexual assault, told three times from three different perspectives, including that of the victim (Comer, of course, with Driver the accused). It’s rather shocking, seeing a big-budget rape drama (with an A-List actor playing the alleged rapist); to see rape portrayed at all demands sensitivity and kid gloves, and this movie’s gloves are all made of heavy metal.
Frankly, the themes are too grave for the flamboyant treatment, yet it’s the treatment that’s entertaining. Filled with astonishing visuals, and perhaps saved by Comer’s precise performance, the film succeeds despite itself, a ravishing relic.
Having, this year, both been to Norway and been mildly obsessed with Norway’s 2019 Eurovision entry Spirit In The Sky, I feel I can appreciate the true oddity that is Frozen 2, one of those strange sequels, like Babe: Pig In The City, that not only feels weirder and more free-wheeling than its predecessor, but that also feels like some of its offbeat charm is a happy accident.
Because this movie is a mess. Nobly seeking to address the Sami indigenous people of northern Norway, and incorporate greater Norse mythology, while also maintaining the theme of sisterhood that made Frozen the ultimate girl-power success story, the scriptwriters deliver an incomprehensible plot dripping with mysterious mysticism – and that’s what’s fun. Going in, expecting a finely-tuned toy advertisement, and instead getting bonkers nonsense with some fine songs and Elsa ice-surfing, is unpredictable, and unpredictable in this case is to be celebrated.
The B plot, involving Kristof, is appalling, but includes a very funny 80s music video parody, and Olaf the snowman had my daughter in stitches. For me, it was all about the film’s joyous abandon: it makes no sense, it goes nowhere, and the Walt Disney Company signed off on it. It’s nutty!
I won’t pretend to be an aficionado of feature animation; there are many, many adults who appreciate the craft more than myself. But, since I now have a little girl – nearly four years old – I have perforce taken a crash course, and it’s – to my mind at least – pretty clear when one is not good, when one is good, and when one is very special. Coco is very special.
I’m also not particularly hip to Mexican culture, but the fact that Coco is already that country’s biggest box office hit of all time gives me confidence that it’s doing things right. It’s set in a village in Mexico and – most spectacularly and imaginatively – in the “land of the dead”, a realm taken very seriously in Mexican culture. It seems like the kind of speculative material that would be easy to screw up, and it is to Disney and Pixar’s credit that they’ve been bold enough to go there, with class, respect and ultimate integrity.
The land of the dead is populated by skeletons, but my little girl wasn’t scared, and she’s three. It’s beautiful – seriously beautiful – with an elegant story and at least two fantastic original songs. It’s also, for those of us who haven’t been to Mexico, a surprisingly informative cultural experience. There are heaps of gags – visual, dialogue-based and story-inspired – for the adults. The culturally authentic voice cast are all excellent.
My little angel can’t wait to see Coco again. She chirps its name with delight when she sees it on the side of a bus. She didn’t feel that way about Boss Baby, nor Ballerina – and that was about a ballerina. I think Coco will be a new animated classic, deservedly. The entire cinema-going population of Mexico can’t be wrong.