Sunday, 6 August 2017

47 Metres Down (15)

There is an oft-used phrase among film fans that claims a movie can be so bad it's actually good.

Take Bait, for example, or Sharknado. Terrible films, but films you could happily watch and enjoy because they were bad.

In the case of Sharknado, obviously, that was the point. With Bait, less so - and yet still I'd happily watch it again.



Then there's 47 Metres Down.

A film so bad, it's terrible.

Where do you start with something like this?

You know it's going to be terrible when in the opening scene the camera follows Vampire Diaries star Claire Holt through a swimming pool, focused largely through her legs.

This is followed by Mandy Moore (remember her?) being upended into said pool, spilling her red drink into the water.

For some reason she appears to be drinking blood, seeing as nothing else reacts like that when hitting water...

Then the dialogue kicks in.

And you realise it was scripted in a hurry by someone who has never heard humans speak before and is writing with a crayon.

A large, blunt crayon.

Because they're not allowed near sharp objects.

And then things go really down hill.

A text conversation with a boyfriend belongs in a whole other movie, the sexual politics belong in a whole other decade and the bit where Moore worries about how big her ass looks in a wetsuit belongs in the bin.

Then, we get to go in the water.

I'd suggest at this point that you try and work out who sails the boat away given everyone on board got out, but don't bother.

You really won't care.

Everything we've had to endure up to this point is leading us to the real drama. The tension. The horror, if you will.

Which isn't technically true - the horror doesn't come from what happens in the water, the horror is the whole sodding movie.

You'll notice at this point we haven't really summarised the plot - don't worry, you haven't missed anything.

Everything so far has led us to the point they get into a dodgy looking rusty cage, which is lowered into the ocean on a winch which has seen better days using worn string.

Then, shock and horror and OMGs abound, THINGS GO A BIT WRONG.

Sadly, not fatally, so we have to endure these two numpties attempting to act scared while under water.

The attempts to fashion tension and drama are beyond laughable - to the point that, when an underwater flare is ignited, the three sharks we suddenly see are less lifelike than the Jaws model at Universal Studios.

And I still have no idea where the third one came from.

Did I mention the bit where Ms Moore gets a sense of impending doom and a case of the heebie-jeebies from simply staring at a wooden post with a shark painted on it?

It's exactly that kind of film.

Only it is taking itself very seriously.

And don't get me started on how someone who admits to having NEVER dived before is able to change air tanks under water...



OK, yes, there was one - ONE - scene where we jumped slightly, but if 47 Metres Down had any sense of fun or mischief then it could almost be OK.

Instead, we have scenes of meaningful dialogue horrendously over-dubbed while our two stars walk along a beach towards the doom-laded bit of wood mentioned above.

The only thing worse than watching this film was the realisation that we were in a screening where people had willingly paid money to see it.

The Big Sick (15)

At some point, we are going to have to sit down and have a chat about Judd Apatow, and maybe even American comedies in general.

As both director and producer, any film he is attached to comes with the association with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which while funny was 12 years ago.

He also did Knocked-Up, of course. Again, funny. But that was 10 years ago.



Of his later work, both This Is 40 and Trainwreck were eminently forgettable and not that funny.

As a producer, he also gave us The Five-Year Engagement (which, in fairness, was thoroughly enjoyable) and Anchorman 2 (which wasn't).

But they were six and five years ago respectively.

It may be time to admit that his best work is now behind him, especially given Bridesmaids was 2011.

Because The Big Sick is definitely not up there with his best.

Based on a true story, The Big Sick tells the story of how co-writer and star Kumail Nanjiani met Emily (played wonderfully by Zoe Kazan of Ruby Sparks fame).

Sadly, basing it on a true story doesn't make it any funnier.

Following the pattern of Apatow's recent projects, the first half hour is quite funny, but then it just descends into pedestrian stodge.

Maybe part of the problem is comedy writers are so used to cutting their teeth on TV that they struggle to stretch out their 30-minute to 90 minutes.

Not that they stop at 90. This one runs for two sodding hours.

I mean, it can be done - Simon Pegg's been managing it for a while - so why do most American comedy films seem to struggle so much.

Maybe there are gems out there we've missed, maybe there are some classics that have slipped by unnoticed, but with The Big Sick the boredom got so bad we almost walked out.

That's not to say it's a bad film, it's not, it's just not very good. Or funny.

Part of the problem is Nanjiani himself, who's laid-back style hinders the pace of the film a tad.

Then there's Ray Romano.

Once a star of the small screen (although why remains a mystery), here he manages to make you forget his TV show but fails to make you think he can actually act.

Holly Hunter is a bright light in the gloom, but given what she has to work with she struggles to lift things.

The presence of Four Lions star Adeel Akhtar does lighten things occasionally, but he's a lot funnier than he's given the chance to be here.

There are positives here, though.

We have an Asian actor as a lead in a comedy film, something Hollywood has managed to not do for far too long, and there are some sweet, endearing moments among the plodding second half of the film.

And the first half hour or so is genuinely funny.

But the negatives far outweigh everything else, sadly.

While I understand the constraints of casting/cost, it would appear the Chicago comedy scene is solely based in one club and there are only five people who ever perform.

Then there are the hospital scenes.

Yes, I know these are key to the story, but they come at the expense of the comedy and just wallow in mawkish sentimentality.

I could write more, but I really can't be bothered. I'd rather go and make toast than dwell on this.



It's been labelled a great "date movie". It's not.

In fact, you can pretty much ignore all the praise featured in the trailer, as I think they're banging on about a different film.

Borrow the Blu-ray when it comes out, watch the first third and then skip to the end. It'll save you so much time and stop you wasting precious time.

Dunkirk (12A)

I started this blog many moons ago because I wanted to do something fun.

The day job was boring and tedious, I was seeing a therapist and listening to Mark Kermode religiously - and these three things collided, and here we are.

But lately, it's not been as much fun. I'm not dashing home to write things straight away, life is hectic, and at times I really do wonder why I'm still pursuing this.



I don't say that for a morale boosting message or any shouts of support, but more that I find myself completely out of step with perceived wisdom.

Not for the first time, I'll admit, but it seems somehow bigger this time.

You see, I really didn't enjoy Dunkirk.

It was OK. It looked nice. But it was also too long and more than a smidge boring.

And yet every review I read or hear tells me it was an amazing film. Everyone else seems to have watched the film I wanted it to be.

I have been pondering for a while the impact of depression and depressive episodes, such as the one that is finally ebbing away here, on watching films.

And maybe that was part of the problem.

Maybe.

But the more I think about, I don't actually believe that.

Like many, my grandfather was on the beach at Dunkirk. He came back on a boat called the Sundowner, sailed by a man who had survived the Titanic going down (something which offered a brief moment of levity amongst the shock and seasickness apparently).

And I wanted Dunkirk to tell me his story, to allow me to experience what he had been through - because Lord knows he was never one to talk about it (quite reasonably, all things considered).

But instead, after a good opening, I got a film that was trying to tell so many stories at the same time that it failed to have any real focus.

We got a sense of what the soldiers were feeling (well, not the ones queueing to escape...), the officers, a boat captain, the pilots - but fleetingly and sporadically.

And then there's the time line.

A film like Inception can bounce around all over the place and that's fine - it's exactly that kind of film - or you can just rip up the rule book in Interstellar.

However, events unfolded in a very specific way on that beach. And yet we flick about from morning to evening, when seemingly things should be happening at the same time, with gay abandon.

And who, apart from the guys on the boat, do we spend enough time with to actually good to know?

And how long does it take Hardy to land that damn plane?

And why, why, why, did we need that extra bit of drama on a day when hundreds of thousands of soldiers are being bombed and shot at?

Was the original story lacking something, Christopher?

And next time you ask Zimmerman to do the score, tell him less is more. Subtlety is key. We don't need smacking over the head with the whole damn orchestra.

Gosh.

I think I might have been angrier about this film than I first thought.

I've heard from friends who were blown away by Dunkirk (no pun intended), and in one case their seven-year-old son was so inspired by the film that they went home and started reading more about WWII.

And that's fantastic.

If we can keep the story alive and introduce it to new generations that's brilliant.



But, personally, I got bored. Unheralded peril and drama was being re-enacted, and I just got bored.

Like Interstellar levels of bored.

Yes, Dunkirk looks fantastic, but overcomplicating things took away from what should have been an intense, moving experience.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

Finally, a Spider-Man movie! We've been waiting three long years for our webbed hero to be re-booted...

I mean, yes, I know about the politics, the new guy coming in to play him in Civil War etc etc, but really? Three years???

We've waited longer for Def Leppard albums...



Anyway, away from the bemoaning and tutting (and there was a lot of tutting), was it worth the lack of wait?

Erm...

Well...

Actually...

Yeah. Kinda was.

I mean, sure, I was in no rush to see this and I didn't think it needed to be made - we had the back story, we had the back story again, surely we could just have him popping up in the Avengers films and be done with it?

Of course not. This is Marvel. There are stories to be told and money to be made.

But, cynical motives aside, they've done a damn fine job.

In Tom Holland they've found a guy who captures the youthful exuberance of early Spidey and can deliver a quip with the required gentle flippancy.

And in Michael Keaton - who's on something of a roll at the moment - they've come up with a baddie of suitable sinister menace.

He steals every scene he's in, without even trying, and adds a wonderful layer of gritty nastiness to what could have become a very glossy affair.

And, most crucially, they've made the damn thing fun.

Along with the webslinging, the leaping, the swinging about, they've remembered to add laughs and jokes.

And good ones too. That actually make you laugh. Like the books can do.

And it's this sense of fun that permeates through the whole of Homecoming, meaning we went from grudging attendance to full-on enjoyment in about five minutes.

The plot, frankly, matters not a jot (bad guy does thing, Spidey tries to stop thing, stuff goes kablooie), because that's not why we're here.

We're here to see Marvel's favouritist super hero deal with becoming an Avenger while also still being a schoolboy.

He's a nerd, a geek, he can't talk to girls, he's got one friend - he's basically every fan of the books, ever.

And that's what he should be. The underdog we all root for and relate to.

Essentially there are three major set-pieces here, strung together with the frills and froth we all expect - but that doesn't seem to matter either.

Because, and I can't stress this enough, there's just so much fun being had.

Tony Stark's presence is of no benefit to anyone, and Homecoming could easily stand on it's own without him - although Jon Favreau's return as Happy is good for laughs.

And the 3D elements don't distract too much when those of us who don't like wearing sunglasses indoors go and see the film as nature intended.

Basically, it's just a very well done super hero movie.

Remember Toby Maguire's third outing?

This is about as far from that as it's possible to get.



Does it need to exist? No.

But we're really glad that it does.

Baby Driver (15)

I always approach an Edgar Wright with a healthy mixture of interest and apprehension.

While being a big fan of Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead and The World's End (despite my father's continuing claims the main character is based on him), Hot Fuzz didn't make an impression and Scott Pilgrim lost me early on.

That said, I do need to re-watch those last two as too many people have raved about them for them to be complete bobbins so I may well have missed something.



So when news broke that his new film - a project he's been wanting to do for some time - would feature Kevin Spacey and be a car-chase heist thriller kinda thing, the ol' ears pricked up a tad.

You see, for all the misgivings one may have, Wright knows what he's doing behind a camera.

It may not work all the time, but you can always see the vision he's aiming for.

So when the trailer for Baby Driver started doing the rounds, the ol' pulse started a-racing.

Then our LobbyCast companion reported back from a Screen Unseen showing.

The boy Wright had done good.

So off we trotted.

Seats were grabbed.

The lights went down...

(Well, as much as they ever do in cinemas these days)

And...

BOOM.

From the off, the adrenaline is pumping. The opening sequence just leaves you breathless.

Then you get a chance to catch your breath before your fingers are shoved back in the light socket.

And you know you are watching something exceptional.

The story is, essentially, a simple one.

Spacey plays a crime boss who puts gangs together to rip off banks, post offices, or whoever has something he can steal and fence for big dough.

His gangs change, but the one constant is Baby, his driver. He just needs to get his last job done, then he can be on his way.

Played perfectly by Ansel Elgort, Baby is a quiet, shy kid until he gets behind the wheel.

Then he comes alive, and Satan himself can't catch him.

Baby is also a music addict, a guy with an iPod for all occasions (something I'm now seriously considering replicating).

Which leads us nicely to the main character in Baby Driver.

Wright, already renowned for his ability to put a soundtrack together, has excelled himself this time.

Not just in the choons (as you young folks do say) he chooses, but in the way he uses them.

There is a scene towards the end where gunshots and beats are synchronised to such perfection it's almost balletic.

You wouldn't find that in a Transformers film, you know?

The supporting cast are also something special.

John Hamm, Eliza Gonzalez, Jamie Foxx, Flea (yes, that one) and the exquisite Lily James all fit into the jigsaw perfectly, each bringing something different and adding to the whole.

Now, you might think that balancing a surprisingly complex plot, break-neck action sequences, a strong cast and a soundtrack of a billion songs would be a problem...

...and for some, yes, it would...

...but bugger me if Wright doesn't nail it down with style and panache.

Reigning in his signature fast cuts allows scenes to breathe, the story unfolds naturally without feeling rushed (or like it's dragging) and holy mother those car chases are good.

But what shines through everything is passion.

There's not an ounce of compromise here - you can tell from the off that this is the film Wright wanted to make, and he is clearly loving every moment.

If there's a slight niggle it's that Foxx and Gonzalez are playing slightly cliche-heavy characters, but this in no way detracts from the film.

In fact, it could even be said to be a nod to some of the many films Wright is paying homage to.

It's been said more than once - and often by us on the podcast - that Hollywood is running out of original ideas.



With Baby Driver, however, they've found one.

It's fun, it's hilarious, it's brutal, it's frantic, it's quirky - in short, it's just fantastic.

Now excuse me while we go and buy the double album soundtrack and order the blu-ray...

Despicable Me 3 (U)

There is something of the genius behind these films you know... Ugly hero, small yellow things talking gibberish, it shouldn't really work as well as it does.

And yet the first two were great, and even the Minions movie was fun enough. There was a formula here that clearly worked.

So what do you do to carry things on?



I mean, they've gone to the trouble of giving Gru kids now, he's changed jobs, he's with Lucy - we've watched his life change over two films.

Sadly, here is where they seem to have slightly run out of ideas.

What's funnier than Gru? Why, two Grus.

Obviously.

You can almost hear the high-fives as the creative team come up with this revolutionary idea.

I mean, if a thing is funny then more thing must be funnier, right?

Of course.

Why not?

Well...

The thing is...

While being the star of the films (in as much as he's always been the narrative focus), and voiced by a genuine star in Steve Carell, Gru isn't the reason why we watch these films.

It's the Minions.

They're the comedy, they're the heart, they're what people want on their backpacks and lunchboxes.

Which isn't to take anything away from Carell's performance - he's fantastic as Gru - it's just he's not the reason we part with our cash.

So two of him seems like an extra coat of paint on an already painted wall.

Yes, it's now got a slightly deeper hue, but it doesn't essentially change or improve anything.

That gripe aside, Despicable Me 3 (or Despicable M3 to give it it's "official" title) isn't terrible.

With former child star Balthazar Brat as the villain, there are a lot of very well-observed 80s gags, both visual and verbal, and the soundtrack is awash with nostalgia.

And there's all the usual high-jinks, chases, gadgets, visual gags, and the Minions doing what the little banana-coloured berks do.

Not enough, to be honest with you, we could have done with more, but they're still there and we still love them.

And Lucy (voiced once more by Kristen Wiig) is again on the money and enjoyable company to be in.

And, as with D2, there's an underlying theme, a weightier message to pick up on if you want (this time the theme is family, and what makes one).

But equally, you can let that pass you by.

And there in lies the real problem with D3.

Once the hilarious opening sequence is over, the rest of the film just kind of happens.

Yes, there are laughs, but they're more chuckles and giggles, perhaps a smirk or two.

The guffaws of yore are a bit thin on the ground.

By the time we're in the final third, it feels like we've been here before.

In fact, you could watch the three trailers and you've pretty much seen the whole film.



All that said, younger fans of our acquaintance have reported back that they loved it - and as it's really for them, who are we to disagree?

But for the grumpy grown-ups who are being dragged along, there's not enough to really keep you entertained for 90 minutes.

But you might find yourself humming a Gilbert and Sullivan classic on the way home.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Hampstead (12A)

I'm so behind with my reviews it's untrue. Anyhoo, enough about my hectic life, you don't care about that...

Did you see the trailer for Hampstead? You know how, sometimes, the trailer is nothing like the film you watch?

Hampstead isn't one of those films.



No.

Hampstead is EXACTLY what you see in the trailer.

But, on this occasion, that's no bad thing. No bad thing at all.

Set in the leafy, heathy part of London named in the title, Hampstead tells the story of a woman facing financial ruin and a man who likes living in his hut that others would like to kick him out of.

Two people from different world with issues the other can barely grasp? Well, that can only end one way...

And that really is it - it's basically Notting Hill for OAPs.

And that, frankly, is a brilliant thing.

It's not edgy, it's not dark, it's not controversial, there are no superheroes or robots and Michael Bay is in no way involved.

And all of these are pluses.

With Diane Keaton and Brendon Gleeson we have a screen pair with totally believable chemistry, a pair who play off each other with ease.

And they are what make the film.

Yes, there is the backstory of a real-life event underpinning the whole thing, but the story is taken in a totally different direction so it's hardly worth mentioning outside of the marketing department.

There's also a subtext about what makes a home and a subtle commentary on the methods of big business, but it's not rammed down your throat.

Instead, you get beautiful shots of London, some fine acting, and a simple story told well.

And laughs.

Lots of laughs.

Which in an era when comedies seem to have forgotten that they have to be funny, is one hell of a bonus and a welcome surprise.

Granted, this has got Richard Curtis' DNA all over it (even though he wasn't involved) - but again, this is no bad thing.

American star? Tick. Top British actor? Tick. Supporting cast of Brits  that will keep you going 'ooh, that's...' all through the film? Tick. Lingering shots of London parks? Tick.

It's not breaking any moulds here, but again - this is a good thing.

Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and relax. Be entertained. Be wrapped in a cosy blanket that reminds you of home.

And that's Hampstead.



In case you've missed the memo, the world is pretty shitty right now. There's a lot to be scared of and worried about.

So to find somewhere nice to hang out for 90 minutes, to be able to chill with characters you can recognise instantly, to find a film that's like a warm cup of hot chocolate?

Right now, we'll take one of those all day long.