Sunday, 15 October 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin (PG)

As a rule of thumb, if The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw really hates a film, it will have mainstream appeal and be thoroughly enjoyable.

It should, then, come as no surprise that Mr Bradshaw hated Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Of course he did.



It's not an Eastern European four-hour epic about the struggle for bees in an industrialised world starring one man and a tractor and dubbed into Italian.

Instead, it's the story of A. A. Milne and how he came to write the Winnie The Pooh stories.

And it's simply beautiful.

Now, as with IT, I come at this from a personal place - I had these stories read to me as a wee nipper, and then I read them myself when older.

(This may be Bradshaw's issue of course, no one read them to him...)

And they are magical. Full of hope, happiness, imagination, wisdom, and - in the final story - touching poignancy and sadness.

But the story behind the stories is not quite so soft and squishy.

A. A. Milne and his illustrator E. H Shepherd (played perfectly by Domhnall Gleeson and Stephen Campbell Moore respectively) were both suffering from PTSD following action in the First World War.

While struggling to find the words to fight for peace, Milne decamps to the country with his wife and newborn son.

Where inspiration finally strikes.

Through forced circumstances, Milne has to spend time with his son, and so the tales are born.

And this is just one of the hidden gems within this film.

Throughout the midsection, events occur whereby the fan of Pooh can spot events that lead to the stories - and that just gives you a lovely, warm feeling inside.

There is also a scene where Milne and son stare out over a vast landscape, and you can almost feel the tranquillity pouring off the screen.

It's possibly the most relaxing moment we've ever experienced in a cinema.

But don't make the mistake of thinking, as Bradshaw did, that this is a saccharine tale of a childhood legend.

As with the books, there's a darker underbelly lurking.

For a start, the PTSD flashbacks are sudden and shocking - much as Milne would have experienced - and appear with no warning.

They are brilliantly handled and serve to remind us what survivors of The Great War had to live with.

Then there's CR's mother, Daphne.

To say she doesn't come out of this film well would be understatement - and it's a measure of just how good Margot Robbie's portrayal is that you pretty much hate her from the birth onwards.

That's not to say the woman didn't have her good qualities - but it's in seeing these that highlight her selfish core.

In fact it was she that pushed the publicity side of things, robbing her son of a large chuck of his childhood.

I still can't quite believe just how good Robbie was in this role - and I say that as someone who has admired her for a while.

Milne was to blame too, of course, and Gleeson portrays the guilt and inner-conflict well.

But CR was blessed, kind of, to have three parents.

With his nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald in another fine performance), CR had at least one person who gave him love and attention.

If I'm giving the impression that Goodbye Christopher Robin is somehow a harsh depiction of childhood, forgive me.

It's anything but.

What director Simon Curtis and writers Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan have concocted is a bittersweet, moving, gentle, beautiful tale of how a Bear came to Be and how it affected those around him.

It's warm glow, gentle pacing and note-perfect narrative all combine to create a world you don't want to leave.

And a world that couldn't be without one special boy.

In Will Tilston, the producers have uncovered a very, very talented young man.

You connect with him instantly, and you share his ups and downs as he tries to grow up with the world eventually watching.

It's a performance of maturity way beyond his tender years.



And that, in a way, encapsulates everything that was good about the Pooh books.

They were a simple thing, but worked on several levels and reached an audience far greater than anyone could have imagined.

Certain critics (hi, Peter) may have been sniffy about this film - but when you're swept up from the start and you don't want it to end (and even digital projection issues fail to ruin that feeling), that is surely the mark of a great, great film.

And yes, there were tears at the end...

IT (15)

It's been a funny old week on the nostalgia front - no, not doing that joke - here at Popcorn Towers.

Firstly, a band of my youth (LA Guns, don't judge) have returned with an album that's almost as good as the stuff that made me love them. Another (Gun) have bettered themselves.

And then two literary giants that are the cornerstones of my reading life have hit the big screen.



The other, involving a bear of very little brain, will be chuntered about shortly - because, first, we have to talk about IT.

And I'm not really that keen to.

Partly because the 'no spoiler' house rule is actually going to make my rantings a bit tricky towards the end.

And partly because I really don't want to not like this film.

Now, granted, my memory is perhaps not the strongest some 20 years after I last read this Stephen King masterpiece.

I remember certain things about this book - the bullying, the fear, the grown-ups returning to face those fears.

I don't remember certain other things - in particular, how the kids bond in the sewers.

I think is is because, in the main, the bullying and fear are what I chimed with as a child.

As someone who had a fun two years being the focus of racial abuse and threats of violence, these were themes that really hit home and made the book more personal.

And that's why I really, really wanted to love this film.

I wanted to escape into that psychologically tortuous world once more. I wanted to relive that emotional rollercoaster.

But I was denied that on two fronts.

One, while hinted at and suggested, the fears the children are feeling aren't front and centre.

Instead we get traditional 'big scream' horror tropes and a score that just shouts at you instead of insinuating.

Subtlety has been given the night off here.

Then there's the ending.

Now, you may have seen it already. You may have heard. You may have noticed it on IMDB.

But I hadn't.

And in case you haven't, I'll spare you the details.

Suffice to say that just before the credits rolled, I swore.

And carried on swearing on the way home.

It's just unnecessary.

Anyhoo, can't say no more guv'nor so onwards to the positives.

Because there are some.

For a start, the young stars of the show are all fantastic.

They own this film and convey all the fears and fragility so evident in the book.

And the individual scary moments are handled well, with not too much excessive screaming.

Which can't be said for later scenes, but I digress...



If you ignore the fact this is IT, and park the emotional attachments to the source material, what you have here is a perfectly passable horror flick about a clown.

Bill Skarsgard isn't particularly terrifying as Pennywise, but to be fair he gets upstaged by the CGI, so what's he to do?

But ultimately, IT falls flat. A heavy touch and some infuriating studio decisions robbing us of the film this could have been.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Limehouse Golem (15)

It's taken me an unnatural amount of time to get round to penning this review - and for once I'm not blaming the busy life of a freelance everythinger.

You see, while enjoyable, it's very hard to actually care about The Limehouse Golem.

It's not a film to get passionate about.



And in many ways, these are the hardest films to review - because it's just so damn hard to give a crap about what you've watched.

If it was 47 Meters Down kinda pish (a film so bad I actually took two goes at getting the title right there) you could rant away to your heart's content.

Or if it was up there with Hidden Figures or The Hitman's Bodyguard, then again - the keys would be walloped with many a fine flourish.

But when you've walked out of cinema thinking nothing more than 'yup, solved that before he did' while wondering what to have for tea...

...well, it's a challenge.

And to be honest, if I wasn't feeling crap at having to miss Suzanne Vega this evening, I would probably still not be getting round to writing this.

For those that missed Golem's briefish run on the big screen, Bill Nighy plays a beleaguered Victorian copper given an unwanted high-profile case on the basis that when he fails to solve it he can be drummed out of town and no one would care.

Sadly, he actually starts putting clues together, and hunting the vicious killer to ground.

The Victorian era is gloriously brought to life, and the whole film has the feel of a classic penny dreadful - gory, sensationalised, but ultimately disposable.

Nighy is very good, as always, but essentially doesn't break out beyond being Bill Nighy, while the rest of the cast glide through being absolutely fine.

But when you have to wait until the final moments of the film for the solitary jump, you can't help but think something was missed somewhere.



Somewhere in here is a chilling, violent, brutal, gory horror thriller that could have you on the edge of your seat.

Instead, you're subjected to something that would struggle to make an impression at 9pm on a Sunday night on BBC1.

Oh well, at least I've written about it now...

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.