Sunday, 12 November 2017

Murder On The Orient Express (12A)

To say we were excited about going to see Murder On The Orient Express would be a tad misleading.

Yes, the trailer had tickled interest, but we hadn't felt the need to rush and in the end only ambled in as we had some free time.

And the trailer was actually part of the problem.

While the cast of famous faces had been paraded on the screen, the film looked like it could be worth a shufty, but once Kenneth Branagh's ridiculously-moustached fizzog appeared so did the doubts.

You see, much like Doctor Who, fans of Agatha Christie tend to have 'their' sleuth.

For me, Joan Hickson IS Miss Marple and David Suchet IS Hercule Poirot, the chubby, fussy Belgian with the perfect facial hair.

So to see Branagh with whiskers waxed round to his ears...


...Let's just say it didn't inspire.

But hey, no matter, it's a classic tale. The whiskers won't make any difference. You can't screw the story up, can you?


But you can have a spirited go, it turns out.

But let's start with the positives, shall we?

Given Branagh is behind the camera as well as in front, it's directed as well as you'd expect and looks fantastic.

And most of the cast - Michelle Pfeiffer and Star Wars star Daisy Ridley in particular - put in a good shift and help to keep the action and intrigue on the front foot.

So that's all good.


Let's be clear about one thing.

Hercule Poirot is not, in any way, shape or form, an action hero.

He's late middle-age, portly, short, and might break into a forced shuffling trot if really, really necessary.

But running about is not his thing.

If nothing else, he's spent a lot of time enjoying fine food and wine while sitting on his backside. Running would do more harm than good.

Still, Branagh obviously decided that wasn't for him, so we have to put up with Poirot as a lower-league Bond, Doctor Who or Sherlock.

Which would work if you could forget who he's the legendary stout Belgian.

There's also the small matter of what he does with his cane in the opening sequence, but that kind of gets overshadowed by something slightly bigger.

You see, in the book - which is something of a classic - the whole thing starts off with Poirot having just solved a case.

In Siberia.

Not Jerusalem, as we get in this latest version.

One can only assume no one fancied a week in the freezing cold, hence the re-write, because it sure as hell wasn't done for narrative reasons.

And it wasn't needed.

Sure, I get that Ken wanted to establish who and what Poirot is before getting to all the detectoring, but we're not talking about an unknown character here.

Along with the aforementioned literary legends, Agatha Christie's hero is firmly established and well known.

If not from the books, then certainly from the TV series.

So 20 minutes titting about solving a case you don't need to care about simply adds to the feeling that this whole thing is nothing more than a vanity project.

So one is already niggled and a smidge puzzled before we've even got as far as the train.

Which is where the other issue occurs.

Now, you see, I had remembered who had dunnit just as the opening credits rolled, but couldn't remember the finer details so was still keen to see how events unfolded.

And the beauty about this story is the fact it is set on a train.

No one can escape, no one can suddenly appear, you have who you have at the start and off you go.

And this adds to the tension.

You have all your suspects from the off, and they're all trapped in one place so suspicions run rife and tension mounts.

So how the hell do you manage to make the thing dull?

And yet, at the same time, not boring.

Pretty early on you find your attention wandering, and yet you don't feel the time dragging.

It's quite the surreal experience. Also adds weight to the theory that he really, really wanted to be the new Doctor.

It also adds to the feeling that this film really didn't need to be made.

A feeling that grows when, come the big reveal, you realise you really don't care.

Although the invoking of The Last Supper may have had a part to play in this.

Overall, this film is not terrible.

It's well made, fairly well written, and moves from A to B at a reasonable rate.

But the CGI elements are cheap, the cast mismatched, Depp is awful, and you'll leave with more questions than answers.

The Death Of Stalin (15)

I've been a fan of Armando Iannucci for many years - for sharp political insight and satire there are few better.

From The Day Today to The Thick of it, he has become renowned for creating some of the best TV comedies of recent times.

Sadly, however, the long-form of his art - the movie or film, if you will - has proved something of a stumbling block.

With both In The Loop and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, a good start soon gave way to more drama than comedy.

Basically, the laughs dried up.

But word on the street had been good for The Death Of Stalin.

For a start the trailer actually made us laugh.

I know, I know, trailers can't always be trusted, but the vibe was good and the performances looked great.

And people I know - as in, have actually met in the human flesh - were full of praise for Stalin.

They were quite effusive on the subject.

So off we toddle...

...and again, as before, it starts well.

Famous faces come at you thick and fast as the cast delight in recreating the political intrigue of 1950s Russia.

And the laughs happen along at a fair lick too, as the inner circle panic and scramble for purchase after Stalin turns up his toes.

Sadly, however, the pace and humour can not be maintained and as the humour gets darker further into the film the laughs struggle to make it to the surface.

There's also an unfortunate scene concerning Beria's lascivious predilections which may have seemed tongue-in-cheek at the time but has now been overtaken by real-world events and just looks seriously misjudged.

But such niggles shouldn't detract from what is, overall, a very good film.

The cast - Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Rupert Friend and Paddy Considine to name just a few - all deliver top-notch performances.

In fact, the whole cast is so good you almost forget Paul Whitehouse is running about the place being Paul Whitehouse.

The satire is sharp, and even when it stops being proper LOL ROFL stuff it still entertains.

But you can't get away from the fact the first half of the film feels very different to the second.

As the frantic pacing eases, so Stalin becomes more dramatic and serious, and you almost forget the bits you were chuckling about not 30 minutes earlier.

And that's a shame, because the laughs were good ones.

To be fair the time doesn't drag and the performances are all top notch from start to finish, it's just a shame that you come out from the cinema feeling like you've seen two very different films on the same subject.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Paddington 2 (PG)

There is always a danger when you really, really love a film that the follow-up somehow falls flat.

This is especially true of Paddington.

I still vividly remember the shimmers of excitement when the bears first appeared on the screen, and I knew in that moment all would be well.

And with a stellar cast on board and having fun, it remains one of my all-time favourite films.

So 2 had a lot to live up to.

And I'll be honest, the casting of Hugh Grant did not fill me with confidence.

Yes he looks OK in the trailer, but could he loosen up enough to get on board with the general chaotic vibe of a Paddington film?

Erm, yeah. Seems he can...

Because key to being in a Paddington film is having fun. It's not about you, it's not really about your performance, it's all about how the whole film feels.

And just like our hairy hero's debut outing, Paddington 2 feels like a massive, warm, fuzzy, marmalade-scented hug.

And the key is the bear himself.

Ben Whishaw again shows himself to be perfect in the role as Paddington's voice, capturing perfectly the wistful naivety and honest innocence of a bear still getting to grips with a world on his terms.

Helping him through life are, once again, the Browns and Mr Gruber - who having adjusted to a Paddingtoned life are now on board for whatever madcap escapade ensues.

The plot this time around has Paddington trying to get the money together to buy Aunt Lucy a birthday present, only for the book he has his eye on to be stolen.

Where the first film was a well-woven collection of short stories with an over-arching narrative, 2 deviates from this a smidge by having longer sections during the second half of the film.

And while the flair and style and panache of the first is retained, certain quirks and interludes have been dialled down a tad - Paddington, like the rest of us, has grown up ever-so-slightly in the past two years.

But none of the magic is lost.

From the opening scenes, you are again awash in the warm and fuzzies, grins never far from your lips.

And the huge cast of stars - Brendan Gleeson, Grant, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Joanna Lumley, Jessica Hynes, Tom Conti to name but a few - simply adds to the feel-good factor.

There really is something magical about this little bear.

But this isn't a flimsy, fluffy film. Oh no.

There are moments of real drama and tension, and as before a moment where the whole cinema just fell silent.

You only get that sort of reaction when everyone is invested in the experience.

There is also so much going on here - so many asides, so many quick quips, nods to the classic TV series - that you can't take your eyes off the screen.

You see, Paddington is simply the perfect movie.

It will make you laugh, it will take your breath away, it will make your old cynical eyes well-up on more than one occasion.

And it will have you walking out of the cinema on a small cloud of happiness.

Sure, once you hit the real world that cloud takes a bit of a hit.

But for the time you're with Paddington, the world is a lovely, magical place and one you never want to leave.

Roll on number 3.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Geostorm (12A)

About halfway through director Dean Devlin’s  Geostorm, I sighed. 
At precisely the same moment so did one the female cast. It was at this point that I realised it was time to leave. 
I honestly didn't think I would actually make it that far, for the sub-plot cliches had drained my will to live.

Then a car-crash happened that I couldn't tear my ears from. I kept waiting to see if it was as bad as my ears had made out. 
After the third confirmation that it had stopped being an 'omg' moment I got distracted - where had I heard a worse English accent? 
I suppose Dick Van Dyke is up there in most people's book, but I do believe that Daphne's ex-fiancee in Frasier comes very, very close. 
However, that a blockbuster movie could fall into such a trap is, in the end, just appalling. 
What the hell were they thinking? They even compound it by making the schmuck one of the villains. 
A British villain? No! Never!
Now it's not that the film doesn't look great, but then give a group of monkeys the time and money and they could definitely turn out something as good given the level CGI has reached. 
Indeed I realised at one point that when pointless romantic/heartbreaking family problems appeared on screen, I was reaching for the remote to fast forward to the next bit of CGI. 
Of course I then felt that gut-wrenching realisation that I was in a cinema.
At that point I made my excuses and left.
Oh, and by the way, Andy Garcia plays POTUS. 
I didn't realise that it was him until I checked the cast list trying to find out who the gor-blimey git villain was played by. 
There are botch jobs and botch jobs but face transplants? Who knew?
I can't be bothered to recount the plot for it isn't worth it. Suffice to say it is so inept and cliched that it doesn't deserve to  be awarded a Golden Turkey. 
I know some will bring the aesthetic into play here but that isn't good enough. If you are as grumpy as me - unlikely, I know - this will make you want to scream and throw things at the screen such is it cliched ineptitude.  

Wait for it on Amaflix/Sky and have fun lobbing various objects at five seconds of the excruciating sub-plots and then fast-forwarding to the CGI from the comfort of your own settee.
 With wine. 
Lots of wine. 
You will need it.

Gavin King

Thor: Ragnarok (12A)

As anyone who knows us will tell you, here at Popcorn Towers we are very much Team Marvel when it comes to big screen super heroes.

While DC continue to misfire and screw-up what should be simple, easy hits, Marvel has continually shown us how it should be done.

That's not to say they're perfect of course. Not every film is brilliant. You only have to see Thor 2 for that point to be proved.

Proved? Proven? Dunno. One of the two.

Anyhoo, we digress. Our point is, that Thor's last solo outing left us feeling a bit flat as the film fell short of the usual Marvel high bar.

It was beginning to look like Thor was very much the Paul McCartney of the Avengers - bearable on his own, but much better in the band.

And the trailer kind of added to this feeling, as a fellow Avenger has been roped in to help Thor along.

Think of it as that time McCartney sang a duet with Stevie Wonder.

Yes, I know he had another hit with another former Motown star, but no one ever talks about that any more.


Good, that's that cleared up.

Right, where were we....?

Ah, yes, Ragnorwotsit.

I think it's fair to say a certain amount of trepidation was in force as we took our seats.

But then something happened.

There was humour.

Chris Hemsworth was actually enjoying himself on screen, because he was actually being given fun things to say and do.

And this wasn't a brief flash in the pan.

Oh no.

This continued throughout the film.

Yes, Loki was there. Yes, Hulk was there. Yes, Cate Blanchett is amazing.

But for once, Thor wasn't playing second fiddle or taking a back seat.

This was clearly HIS movie, and Hemsworth was loving it.

Even the plot was up to snuff - long-forgotten sister (played by Blanchett) returns to raise hell, Thor attempts to save the day.

On the way he has to fight Hulk, deal with Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster, tit about with Loki and try and stop Tessa Thompson zapping him.

It's cartoonish, mad as nuts, bonkers, brilliant, and a whole tonne of fun.

It's also a complete mish-mash of films and styles.

And that still works brilliantly.

At times it's Mad Max set to the Tron soundtrack. It shouldn't work.

But it so does.

It's also a mini-Avengers film, given the stars involved, but Hemsworth so owns this one that it doesn't feel like that.

This is Thor's baby, baby.

Superhero films are, by their nature, ridiculous OTT special effects vehicles with a human added for colour and a name.

But with Ragnarok, the human actually takes centre stage, giving this grandiose, over-blown funfest some weight and gravitas.

It's certainly the best Thor film - and there's a case to be made for it being Marvel's best yet.

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.