Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Wind River (15)

It still amazes me that in this day and age, things can slip under the radar.

Until the poster appeared on my cinema listings app of choice, I didn't even know this film was a thing.

All it took as the mention of Elizabeth Olsen, however, and I knew I had to see it as soon as possible.



Which as regular followers of these mutterings will know, can take a while.

But, for once, the universe sorted itself out and I had a spare couple of hours while Wind River was still showing.

So, with skip in step, off we set.

Which made driving tricky, I'll grant you. Don't skip and drive folks...

But I digress.

The only words linked to Wind River that I had seen were 'crime drama'. Someone, somewhere in a marketing department thought that's all this film was.

But it's so much more than that.

On a basic level, yes, sure, that's what it is - young woman found dead, FBI called in, bad guys hunted down.

Crime drama.

But then you've got the social and political commentary about how native Americans are treated in a land that they once called home.

Then you've got the tale of loss, of grief, of lives being torn apart by circumstances beyond your control.

Then we've got the fact it's also a revenge thriller.

There's a lot going on here.

There's also the small matter of it being a new take on a classic genre - the western.

Because, at it's heart, that's what Wind River is.

It has all the classic tropes - the quiet hero (Jeremy Renner), we have the out-of-town sheriff (Olsen), the slow, steady pacing, the panoramic vistas, the wilderness being essentially another character.

It's got the lot.

And it looks amazing.

Yes, we know, that's usually code for 'nothing happens', but not here.

Amidst all the drama and tension, the Wyoming wilderness is almost a character in it's own right.

You can almost feel the snow, the sweeping shots of the landscape are breathtaking, and the incidental moments with a cameo from the wildlife serve to remind us that they can survive out there.

We can't.

There are a lot of things we loved about this film - the pacing is steady, but in a way that draws you in, not bores you.

Every performance is subtle and measured. There's as much to be gleaned in what isn't said.

The score - superbly crafted by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - accentuates the action rather then screaming at you and telling you what you should be feeling.

When the shocks come (and they do) you leap out of your seat, but you still can't take your eyes off the screen.

And perhaps, most impressively of all, is the fact this is writer Taylor Sheridan's third film, behind Sicaro and Hell Or High Water.

It's also only his second as director.

This film should place the former Sons Of Anarchy and Veronica Mars star so highly on a 'one to watch' list that you'll need a whole new, longer, list to put him at the top of.

He's already proved he can pen a movie, but now he's showing he knows how to bring his words to life actually on the screen.

On the back of this film alone, Sheridan is now up there with J. C Chandor (of All Is Lost, Margin Call and A Most Violent Year fame) as a new director whose future work will be sought out eagerly.



Wind River is a stark, beautiful, painful, gripping, haunting piece of cinema that packs a massive emotional punch while forcing you to confront some home truths about the treatment of an indigenous people.

It may not have hung around long at the cinema, but you need to see this film. And as soon as it comes out on blu-ray.

It's the very epitome of a modern classic.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard (15)

A dearth of original ideas and comedies that are actually funny are just two of the things that get mentioned around here on a regular basis.

While the economic arguments for sequels can be understood, it can be a tad frustrating.

But the making of a comedy that's just not funny...?



Thankfully, The Hitman's Bodyguard tackles one of these issues head one.

And, even better, it's lack of originality is not an issue.

The story centres around Michael Bryce, a once Triple A-rated (yes, it's a thing) bodyguard who has fallen on tough times after losing a client.

Into his life comes Darius Kincaid, a hitman who's supposed to be giving evidence in The Hague in exchange for his beloved being released from prison.

Over the course of two-ish hours, people swear, this blow up, people get killed or maimed or both and a lot of laughs are had.

A LOT of laughs.

And that is what is most surprising about this film.

It's seriously, seriously funny.

We already know that Samuel L Jackson (Darius) can do comedy, and while Deadpool proved Ryan Reynolds (Bryce) could deliver lines, nothing had prepared us for his ability to actually do proper funny acting.

Because if recent comedy films have highlighted anything, it's that America has forgotten how to do subtle.

Punchlines telegraphed, gags given a longer build-up than a new season of Game Of Thrones - it's like they've forgotten how to just be funny.

It's like they forgot they gave us Airplane and Naked Gun.

Well, until now.

Because between writer Tom O'Connor (on only his second film) and director Patrick Hughes (of Expendables 3 fame) the spirit of those two stone cold classics has been invoked with love and reverence.

Gags fly thick and fast, to the point that the drive home is spent trying to remember them all.

There's often barely time to pause between guffaws.

It's helped, in part, by the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson - but also Hughes' well-balanced direction - the drama of the plot being allowed to come through when needed.

But, beautifully, among all the swearing and shooting and blowing uppery, there's a little hidden gem.

Actually, there are two.

The first is Salma Hayek, who plays the foulest-mouthed, bullyingist yoga practitioner on the planet.

It's only a small part, but she plays it perfectly. And it's hilarious.

Then there are two scenes featuring classic ballads.

On both occasions we were crying with laughter.



Let's be clear about this - The Hitman's Bodyguard isn't high art. It won't win awards.

But if you want to sit back, relax, have fun and be seriously entertained, then this is the film for you.

You get a hell of a lot of bangs for your buck.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

There is always a danger, when it has taken you so long to see a film you're really excited about seeing, that expectations will not be met.

Equally, history is not on the side of the third part of a trilogy - not every franchise is Toy Story.

So allow me, if you will, to share a little bit of our journey to see this film.



First up, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes blew us away - the ending, especially, was perfect.

Then there was Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Which we also loved.

Then, way way back in the mists of time (or July, if you're being picky), the adverts for War appeared on the buses.

And we got excited.

Then it hit cinemas.

And we got more exciteder.

Only our usual viewing companion was not interested.

Still, no matter, we could go on our own. Or there was our LobbyCast chum...

No, not so much. Hadn't seen the first two. Wasn't going near the third.

Sigh.

Still, no matter, we could go on our own.

Or not, as one's mild depression decided to become less mild and so motivating one's self out of the house became something of an issue.

Thankfully - and we can't stress how pleased we were about this - War has been something of a hit, so come the arse-end of August it's still showing at our local multiplex of choice.

And so, dark clouds having lifted, we finally get to take our seat and watch the third instalment of a franchise that has had us gripped since 2011.

And from the dark, atmospheric opening, we are gripped.

The story picks up, as you'd expect, where Dawn leaves off. A human army unit have been tracking Caesar and his ape brethren and all-out war is about to ensue.

And the first battle is breathtaking, it's heart-rending, it's an adrenaline-fuelled ride that is as brutal as it is brilliant.

And you know how good it is, because as the casualties stack up it is actually painful to watch.

There's no need to pick a side here. Your emotions will do that for you.

And we're totally Team Ape.

We meet-up with Caesar, we get to see his nemesis The Colonel, we hold our breath as enemies are captured...

And then...

Erm...

We basically get a whole new film.

While the opening sequence is locked into the world created by the first two films, War then wanders off into a Spaghetti Western as Caesar sets out on revenge.

Later, we take a sharp right-turn into an attempted - and very, very deliberate - remake of Apocalypse Now.

And this is where the film falls down.

The Spaghetti Western section fells like padding, like the producers wanted a longer film but didn't know what else to do.

I suspect, as well, that focus group feedback has played a part because we are given - for absolutely no good reason - a clown character in the shape of Bad Ape.

Maybe they felt it was all too dark (frankly it wasn't dark enough), maybe they genuinely felt some cheap giggles were really needed (they weren't).

Or maybe, they just really, really liked what Jar Jar Binks did to The Phantom Menace.

In all cases, they were wrong.

So, so wrong.

Other than a slight plot red herring, Bad Ape serves no discernible purpose other than to annoy and add some unwanted levity.

The character is also completely out of keeping with the tone the franchise has worked so hard to set.

Frankly, bringing in Clyde from the Every Which Way films would have made more sense.

It's an horrendous move, it's an appalling creative decision, and it undermines a lot of the drama to come.

It also serves, rather unfortunately, to break the spell the film had managed to start weaving - which allowed another problem to surface.

And that's the score.

Previously, the music had meshed with the scenes beautifully.

This time around, a heavier hand appears to have been employed.

The score, at times, essentially sounds like Bad Ape was let loose in the percussion section with a lump hammer.

Rather than hinting at what you might be feeling, the score instructs. By shouting. And when that's done, goes to town making as many sharp, loud noises as possible.

The fact this is mainly through the Western section is not a coincidence.

It may even be deliberate.

But it doesn't work.

Which brings us to the final third of the film, and the full-on Apocalypse Now pastiche.

Now, as I said, this is clearly deliberate. Director Matt Reeves is as upfront about it as possible.

Hell, he even has Woody Harrelson doing his best Marlon Brando impression as The Colonel...

...but again, it's a mis-step.

Bits of it work, they really do. And parallels with people wanting to build walls are there for all to see.

But the character of The Colonel is just too two-dimensional, too much of a caricature. You never get the sense that Harrelson really believes in what he is delivering.

Which takes the edge off an otherwise tense final third, but also robs us of a potentially great moment when a thing happens to The Colonel.

Written and portrayed differently, we could have actually cared about what unfolds.

Instead, we just shrug and and mutter 'good'.

And yet, despite everything, come the end you're back on board, back where we stared and back with a lump in your throat.

Because, despite everything, despite all that is wrong with this film, one thing shines through.

Caesar.

Andy Serkis has made the art of motion-capture acting his own, and with each of these films has raised the bar in what we expect and what is achieved.

And once again, he has produced a performance of such depth and subtlety that he makes you love and care about, essentially, a set of pixels.

The other apes - well, bar one - are all equally as good, but Caesar is the star of the show here, and has been since Rise.



It's a measure of just how good the performances of Serkis and co are that they can actually salvage this mish-mash of ideas and suggestions.

There is, buried deep down, a very good film in War For The Planet Of The Apes.

Thankfully, Caesar is so good that you can forgive the fact it's not in the finished version.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Atomic Blonde (15)

You'd think, by now, that we might have learnt not to get taken in by swishy, stylish trailers - by a 200 second snapshot that makes a film look fantastic.

Because often, the more fantastic the film is made to look, the more likely it is that film will not live up to expectations.

And the trailer for Atomic Blonde looked fantastic.



Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City (which has since been retitled to fit in with the movie), Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller set in Berlin just as the Wall comes down.

Front and centre is Charlize Theron, one of the finest actresses around and one who has a penchant for an 'interesting' project.

Let's not forget she brought us the environmental action movie Aeon Flux, although to be fair most of us would probably struggle to remember it.

Alongside MI6's finest - for she is thus - is James McAvoy as Our Man In Berlin, the ever-reliable Eddie Marsan as an East Berliner trading info for a better life, and Toby Jones and John Goodman as top Brit and American spy agency bods.

And, to be fair, the cast was half the attraction of this film.

I mean, look at those names.

How could it not be at least close to good?

I mean, sure, Jones and Goodman are basically sitting and talking throughout the film - but they sit and talk very, very well.

And the film is sold as being 'real', capturing the nasty grittiness of Berlin at a huge turning point in the city's already tumultuous history.

No Bond-esque sugaring of the pill here, no siree Bob.

So how come, then, that after a good start - which very much lives up to the billing, albeit with added unnecessary nipples - it all goes, well, a bit tits up.

The story is solid, of that there is no question. A little far-fetched at times, sure, and some of the fight scenes bring back nightmares of Lord Of The Rings, but it just about hangs together OK.

And the acting is fine.

Theron can do this stuff in her sleep, and just makes it look easy.

Jones and Goodman can do this stuff in their sleep, and look like they are.

McAvoy's just having a blast, chewing the scenery and hamming it up like a veteran. And amazingly, that's not a criticism.

And other than not having the most convincing German accent around, Marsan turns in a perfectly good performance - even if he doesn't really need to do much except look scared.

And the fight scenes are brutal.

I mean in-your-face, you can hear the teeth rattle brutal.

Blood flows like, well, blood, and Theron gives as many pummelings as she receives.

In fact, the film does have a lot going for it - especially the soundtrack, which actually steals the show here.

Featuring a mix of 80s electronica, some cult classics and a great use of The Clash, you really could listen to this film all day on repeat.

So how come Atomic Blonde actually ends up being boring? How come things seem to drag at times? Or, at the very least, cause you to lose interest?

For a start, the direction is a mess.

Helming his first full feature, experienced stunt man David Leitch (he did stunts on Buffy, the Daredevil movie, the Matrix sequels and, erm, Big Momma's House) knows how to shoot a fight scene.

But he also likes to try different things, and as such hasn't found his own style yet.

What we get is at least three different films, each with their own clear shooting style but that have very little to do with each other.

This creates something of a disjointed feel.

Then there's the sex scenes.

Aside from appealing to the teenage boy market, they serve no dramatic purpose.

This might sound a smidge prudish, but we could be shown Theron getting close her French counterpart (played by Sofia Boutella) without them writhing about on a bed for ten minutes.

The final gripe is the dialogue.

To call it cliched and stilted at times would be kind. It may be that writer Kurt Johnstad was quoting directly from the source material - but if it doesn't work on screen, change it.

It's what he's there to do, for crying out loud.



So, basically, to wrap up, apart from the OTT lesbian sex scene, the talky bits and the mish-mash of styles, it's an OK film.

What is so galling is that somewhere in here is a really good film.

Still, the soundtrack is amazing.

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.