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.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Wonder Woman (12A)

It has taken me far longer than is normal to write this review.

Yes, life has been as nuts bonkers as ever - but even as I catch up with everything this weekend, I still find myself leaving this one til last.

And I'm not totally sure why.



I think part of my problem has been the reaction to the movie.

It has been lauded and praised from just about every quarter for being directed by a woman, having a strong female lead, being the best DC film yet...

But all of these things seem to gloss over the many flaws the film has.

For a start, saying it's the best DC film is like praising your four-year-old for finally drawing a horse that looks like a horse rather than a kangaroo with gout.

Basically the bar wasn't exactly high.

And for that, we should send a Hard Stare in the direction of Zak Snyder, who helmed the recent Superman atrocities.

Then there's the male lead - one Chris Pine. You may have seen him in the Star Trek reboots.

Don't worry if you didn't, he's playing exactly the same character here.

And the story's not all that, to be honest.

The origin stuff, where Diana comes from, is brilliant.

But sadly, it's not long before we end up in World War I and the whole thing goes all Captain America. Up to and including a shield.

Interestingly, all the writers credited on the film are men...

Then there's the star of the show, Gal Gadot.

Having been introduced in Batman vs Superman (where she was the best thing in it by a country mile), much has been made of the fact this is the first female action hero.

She's not.

Ripley, Alien. Need I say more?

That's not to take anything away from Gadot, of course, but it seems worth mentioning.

I'd also like to chuck in a mention for Lucy Davies here, too.

Barely mentioned in the pieces I've read, she is responsible for most of the laugh-out-loud moments the film has.

Her understated performance and perfect comic timing gel brilliantly with Gadot's 'fish-out-of-water' Diana while also highlighting just how wooden Pine can be.

Patty Jenkins also deserves all the praise she's been receiving.

Now because she's a woman, but because she's done a damn good job directing Wonder Woman.

Having already proved her talents with Monster (not to mention a few episodes of Arrested Development, The Killing and, erm, Entourage), she takes a leaden script and injects pace and humour where she can.

The final scene is basically taken from Iron Man, but again that's a writing issue - the Big Battle is well handled and makes you feel like you're in the heart of the action.

Even the bits clearly done with 3D in mind aren't too annoying or invasive.

If there's one complaint, it's that the final third of the movie is as dark and dingy as Snyder's previous DC offerings, and it would have been nice if that could have been avoided - but I appreciate that would have required a bit of a re-write.

Overall, Wonder Woman is the best of DC's big screen offerings, but as I've already said that's hardly high praise.

It's too long, it gets a bit dull in the middle and the final battle scenes are entirely predictable - but these are all tropes of Snyder, who should never have been handed the creative reigns in the first place.

It's great that Wonder Woman is breaking box office records, and it goes to show that women are not cinematic Kryptonite.

It would have been nice if the knuckleheaded fanboys could have got their heads out of their arses last year when Ghostbusters came out, of course, but hey - better late than never I guess.



Starting this review, I thought I knew what I was going to say - but, as I've thumped my keyboard next to two snoring pooches I think I may have changed my mind a bit.

I still don't think, as a film, it's as good as others have said - but the more I think of the flaws in the film and realise the genders of those involved, I'm warming to it more and more.

I think I may have to go and watch it again quite soon...

Baywatch (15)

I want to be very, very clear from the outset - seeing this film was not, in any way, shape or form, my idea.

For a start, it stars The Rock (not a fan). Then it stars Zac Efron (not a fan). Finally, and you may have missed this important point, it's Baywatch.



Did you ever see the TV show? Did you?

And they made a movie of that?

Oh yeah, this was going to be a real relationship tester. This could even be the last time Someone would get to pick a film...

But then the film starts. And there are a few chuckles.

Then a few more.

Then another one.

And within 20 minutes, enjoyment is being had. Positive feelings are being experienced.

This is actually FUN!

Because, and this becomes apparent very quickly, not only are the cast clearly having a blast running about in those famous costumes in slow motion, but this film is made with genuine affection for the source material.

Now, granted, we're not creating high art here, and the TV show was dumb as a sack of Trump University certificates, but that really doesn't matter when what we have here is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy.

The plot (bad people doing bad things must be stopped) is thinner than a really thin thing on a very thin day, but again this really doesn't matter.

But this is being played for laughs.

And much like 21 Jump Street before it, Baywatch is as much lampooning the TV show as displaying great affection for it.

And to his eternal credit, Dwayne Johnson absolutely shines as Mitch Buchannon (the role that made The Hoff the star he is today).

He has a surprisingly deft comic touch, and with the likes of Jon Bass alongside him helps inject a lot of the lighthearted moments - all played with a very straight bat.

Now the real stars of the original show were always the women.

Not because of their acting talents, let's be honest.

No.

Casting centred on how well they filled out those iconic red suits.

And to be fair, the female cast this time around are not unpleasing on the eye.

However, they come with the added bonus of actually being able to act - and act well.

Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach and Alexandra Daddario (who even looks a tad Yasmine Bleethie) are all up to the task of giving their male counterparts a run for their money, and again clearly having a lot of fun doing so.

There is, of course one, tiny fly in the ointment.

Efron.

OK, I get that he looks buff and ripped (and whatever other phrases you young folks use these days), but he's acted off the screen by the sand for crying out loud.

His is the one character with a back story. The one character with actual depth. And yet he manages to look like he won the part in a charity raffle.

To be honest, though, that is really a minor gripe, and Baywatch is so much fun that even Zac fails to spoil it.

Now, let's be clear about this - this is not a great film.

The plot, as mentioned, is near non-existent and the budget clearly went on the cast rather than the special effects.

But none of that really matters when you're sitting in your seat just grinning from ear to ear.

In fact, towards the end I was so caught up in the action that I actually got tense while someone fumbled under a boat for plot reasons.

Now that was never meant to happen.



Recently, there have been a few films that I was really looking forward to but left feeling disappointed.

To go in to a film expecting nothing and come out grinning was nothing short of a miracle.

Sure, Baywatch won't change your life - but there are far worse ways to spend an evening.

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

Before we start discussing this film, I feel there is something I should disclose something.

I have, in the past, been in abusive relationships, and have been subjected to both physical and mental abuse.

I don't say this to garner any pity or sympathy, rather to flag up that such a background could impact how you view My Cousin Rachel.



Based on the Daphne Du Maurier novel, it tells the tale of a man who falls for his cousin's widow - who may or may not have killed her husband.

Much of the post film chatter has focused on the whole 'did she, didn't she' aspect of the movie, which is something I'm not really able to engage with as I came to my own conclusions very early on.

And I can't decide if my own experiences led me to my conclusion, or if there were less-than-subtle signifiers through the film.

In a recent interview, the film's star - Rachel Weisz - said she had made her own decision before filming began, thus shaping how she portrayed the central character.

And, I have to say, she plays Rachel perfectly.

She is at once strong and vulnerable, and if it wasn't for her there really would be no need to watch this film.

Not that it's a bad movie - it's perfectly fine, and very well directed - it's just that it's too long and more than a smidge dull in parts.

Part of the problem lies with Sam Clafin.

As Philip, who got taken in by his cousin as a child and grows up to inherit the estate, the film is pretty much seen through his eyes.

It is he who suspects Rachel. It is he who then falls for Rachel. It is he who goes on to fear he is being poisoned by her.

The only problem is, he has absolutely no screen presence.

He utterly fails to convince as a man being torn apart by his emotional conflicts, instead coming across as a child having a tantrum.

And this is where the film falls down.

Up against Weisz's performance, you need someone equally as strong, as commanding, who can hold their own during the dance of the relationship.

As it is, he's the wettest thing in this film - a film which features several downpours and soggy sheep.

He's even out-acted by Tim Barlow's Seecombe, whose role is to literally stay in the background and mumble yes and no.

And this is nothing short of criminal.

Because away from him, this is a good film.

It looks stunning, the indoor scenes are sumptuous as are the landscapes, there are some genuinely gripping moments and a few chuckles and laughs.



Somewhere in here is a dark, tense tale of obsession and passion.

Sadly, on exiting the cinema you are left wondering which field they left it in.

Think I might go back and give the Richard Burton version a go...