Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Shape Of Water (15)

Sometimes it takes you ages to get round to seeing a film. Things get in the way, dates get moved, and anticipation just builds.

Sometimes this results in a crashing disappointment, as the build-up runs headlong into reality.

Sometimes, that film is The Shape Of Water.

Already lauded and feted by the great and good of awards lad, I've been itching to see this since first hearing about it.

The trailers intrigued without giving anything away, and it was good to see Abe Sapien being given a chance to flex his gills...

And then there's Sally Hawkins of course. Never knowingly done a duffer that lass...

And so we settle into our seats, and within moments the rustling of a sweetie bag several rows back drifts into the air as the magic of Guillermo Del Toro wafts over us.

And two hours later, slightly sniffy and damp of eye, we surface back into an unwelcome reality, wishing we could have stayed in the world GDT has created.

In between, a multi-layered fairytale is told, with monsters and love fighting for supremacy.

Honestly, the more you watch GDT's work, the more you wish he'd been allowed to do the Hobbit...

(A point of clarification quickly - Pacific Rim NEVER HAPPENED. Got that? Good...)

The story centres on Hawkins' character, Elisa, a mute cleaner in a top secret lab in 1960s America.

She discovers they have a special creature in a tank (Doug Jones doing his usual bang-up job), and over time a relationship is formed.

When not at work, she lives down the hall from her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) and his cats.

And she takes baths.

And boils eggs.

All of which become important at various points.

Meanwhile, Michael Shannon is banging about the place as Richard Strickland, a bully who treats funny creatures from odd places with disdain and a cattle prod.

And so, as the film weaves its way, a tale of loneliness, isolation, alienation, humanity, compassion, and cats engulfs you, leaving you warm and fuzzy at the end.

This is fairytale storytelling and film making at it's very best.

Every character is well drawn, every scene thought out, every TV clip in the background (look, there's Mr Ed!) dropped in with a knowing wink...

...this is simply breathtaking stuff.

Hawkins herself has never been better.

Without being able to resort to dialogue she brings to life a character who is alone but not lonely, fragile but strong - and over the course of the film, we all fall in love with her.

Shannon, meanwhile, is brilliantly horrible, the real ogre of the piece, a man you would happily boo if you weren't in a room with 30-odd other humans.

Alongside these two, the wonderful Octavia Spencer and the ever dependable Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg provide valuable support - and again, each character is fully rounded and engaging.

Then there's the small matter of the film itself.

Shot with clear passion in lush, warm tones, The Shape Of Water is gentle - but not in a faint, soft way - while also packing some serious punch.

The violence and horror, when they come, are jaw-clenching without being shock and gore, while the nudity is handled with care rather than a lewd eye.

Something the guys over at Red Sparrow could learn about sometime.

This is, then, a film that works on many levels.

You can take it at face value - the beauty and the beast parallel is hardly hidden.

Or, you can delve a little deeper, and see how those who are alone are often not lonely, how people can be aliens in their own world, how humans can be animals while animals can be humane.

We, unsurprisingly, took the latter path and just writing those words down has us grinning warmly once more.

This is a film that doesn't need to shout in order to be heard or make an impact.

It's an anti-Michael Bay film, if you will.

There will be some, I know, who poo poo this movie as artsy faff, as style over substance - and that's fine.

To them, it is.

To those who fall under its spell, however, it's a world that needs revisiting as often as possible.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Game Night (15)

"Clever, whip-smart script", "like "Deathtrap" recast as a megaplex thriller", "hilarious gonzo comedy" — WOW! 

My kinda film (I thought, after reading these reviews). It's got Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. It's on at 11am whilst my cleaner does her fortnightly flick through. 

I can go to The Queens for lunch after. A lunchtime pint of DRAFT Old Peculiar as well! 

I arrive in an almost skittish mood (more akin to skipping school than anything remotely approaching excitement) and settle in for a fun two hours. 

I mean I love gonzo comedy and I am secretly proud of myself for stepping outside the front door. 

Bring it ON.

Now, to be fair, there are a few good one-liners which bring a chuckle to the surface. The scene setter is, well, a scene setter, so you let them off. 

Bring on les comedy gonzo! 

The minutes leading up to the plot twist are a bit of a drag...again a few chuckles but...the twist is coming. 

WOW. Seriously...I did not see that coming. 

I really, really...OK, yes i did. 

OK. Give it a chance.

I'm now thinking an early lunch is a good idea but no, I am here to review this thing...see it out. 

So I manage to get to the schmaltz that the Americans just can't avoid. I mean...COME ON!!!!!. 

Fek's sake...that's it I'm off to lunch.

Look. Do not pay good money to see this. 

Just don't. 

Wait until, say, a wet Sunday afternoon when you've had a lovely lunch and shared a few bottles and you have this recorded. You just might think it OK. 

Hopefully, you will have a lovely post-lunch sleep.

One other thing. Tell me I'm being picky. Go on. Tell me. OK. Look. 

The car chase. 

Put our heroes in the transit van and the villains in the three litre Audi and I will let you off, but please don't ask me to believe that the transit can keep overtaking the Audi. 

Just don't. 

But to then compound this by having a classic 76 Stingray being able to catch up and take out a private JET which is getting up to take-off speed? 

You are pushing my good nature Mr Director, sir!

Oh and one other thing...

When someone is losing pints of blood (I bet that scene sounded hilarious at the script meeting) don't, just don't, ask us to indulge any more holes...jeez, talk about a script disguised as a packet of polo's. 

You ask too much sir. TOO MUCH.

The lunch, however, was - as usual - excellent. Thanks for asking.

Gavin King

Red Sparrow (15)

There are many reasons to see a film - the trailer looked good, it's part of a franchise you've been following, it's got a great cast, it's on at a convenient time...

You know, lots of factors come into play when you decide to head to your local multiplex.

And you are left rueing most of them when the film is so steamingly boring you are actually considering stabbing yourself with your keys just to liven things up.

Fortunately, Red Sparrow is a spy film and you've got to go some to make a spy film dull.

I'm not saying it's impossible, just that it takes a lot of effort.

Thankfully, the team behind Red Sparrow were more than up to the challenge...

In simple terms, a ballet dancer gets recruited into the Sparrow programme, gets trained and goes on a mission.

The Sparrow programme? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Here the Russian secret service train recruits to kill, maim, torture, seduce, shag, bonk, fondle and fumble their way to their designated goal.

And if you're unsure how any of that would look, fear not - it's all laid bare for you so you don't have to tax your imagination.

It's probably worth pointing out at this juncture that Red Sparrow is a 15, although how it got away with that rating is beyond me.

The Sparrow on this occasion is one Jennifer Lawrence. Who, to be fair, hung on for a bit after winning her Oscar but is now doing the curse full justice.

And she's... good. Ish. I think.

She does cold and detached well, handles the action scenes well and looks as awkward as the audience feels when getting her kit off.

Which, to be fair, is almost certainly the point.

It's just totally unnecessary.

But then there's a lot of that here.

The Russian accents also fall into this category.

As do the many torture scenes.

And some of the dialogue.

And the bit at the end where they explain everything that happened.

To be honest, if my viewing companion wasn't "kind of" enjoying it, I don't think I'd have made it to the end.

Essentially, the problem is one of pace. This is a film that never gets out of second gear.

It's a thriller at heart, and yet it lacks thrills and thinks cheap sex antics will get the pulse racing.

Jeremy Irons seems to be amusing himself while playing a top Russian bod, and Joely Richardson appears puzzled about her involvement. Joel Edgerton, meanwhile, just continues to play Joel Edgerton.

Ultimately, this is one massive mess of a missed opportunity.

We could have had a an action-fuelled thrill chase, we could have had tension and drama - instead we get dubious sexual politics and a film so dull I got RSI from checking the time.

The biggest problem here, however, is one of vision - in that director Francis Lawrence didn't have one.

There's also no depth, no substance, and no suggestion the hugely talented cast were told to do anything more than say words at each other.

Red Sparrow should have flown, but instead... Oh screw it, you finish the analogy, I've lost the will to live.

Friday, 2 March 2018

The Post (12A)

We live, if you'll permit me to bugger about with an ancient proverb, in interesting times.

In America, we currently have a laughable, ego-fuelled show pony who kicks out when people don't say nice things about him, no matter how true they are. Including journalists doing their job.

Meanwhile, here in jolly old England we have a Foreign Secretary — essentially Britain's face to the world, our top diplomat — who utters complete, and at times racist, balderdash but refuses to apologise or even to be held to account.

In both cases, and it could be argued Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are hewn from the same shabby, repugnant cloth, they don't think they should be held accountable by anyone.

Especially not a free press.

In fact, especially in The Donald's petulant perceptions, a free press has no business being free. They are there to simply reiterate his lies and bullshit.

Dissension will not be tolerated.

Which makes parallels with the Nixon era both chilling and fascinating.

And brings us nicely to The Post.

Essentially the story of a woman in a man's world, The Post is both a tale of press freedom and government bullying and the prequel to Watergate.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, it's a film Spielberg felt so passionate about he worked on it while also finishing off Ready Player One, feeling it was a story that needed telling now.

And he's right.

With "fake news" becoming a by-word (OK, two) for stories Herr Drumpf doesn't like, the press has never been so under attack - especially The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The story itself looks at the Pentagon Papers scandal — papers that disclosed the truth about the Vietnam War — from the perspective of The Washington Post, a story that was breaking just as The Post was trying to raise much-needed capital through floating on the stock exchange.

Now, to those of us too young to know what happened, the skewing of history isn't too big an issue — but for those who were, namely the NYT journalists who actually broke the story — it's a bit of an issue.

But in a way, for this story, that doesn't matter too much.

Matters when you were the guy who actually broke the story, I'll admit, but this is a film not a historical archive.

And to be honest it makes a nice change for Hollywood to be pissing about with America's history rather than ours.

But I digress.

As for the film itself, it's totally fine — an important one to watch for the message if not the cinematic experience.

It's well written (history issues aside), Steep and Hanks do their stuff well without really breaking sweat and the assembled supporting cast all do what is needed.

It would have been nice if the other female members of the cast had more to do than answer the phone and hand round sandwiches, but hey ho. It was a different time...

The pacing is a bit off at times, and while there are sections that are nail-biting and gripping, there are other bits which lag and feel out of step with the main thrust of the movie.

And the opening war scenes do feel like they're from a totally different movie.

On a personal level, the shots of papers going through the press are beautiful. You could easily lose them, but as someone who always got a thrill watching the presses roll and taking those first copies off...

...ahh, those were good days.

But I appreciate that's an entirely personal reaction.

Overall, The Post is a perfectly good film — probably the very definition of 6/10 — with some fine performances.

It needed more of an edit, but gets kudos for not spending time explaining what's going on and just expecting the audience to be intelligent enough to follow events.

It also needs watching by anyone, just so we can all see that Trump is basically my generation's Nixon.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Black Panther (12A)

There are some delightful reports online about cinemas banning this film and people ganging up to vote it down on movie websites.

Now, these stories could be true and they could be bunkum. But if people aren't doing these things someone feels the need to claim they are.

Which must mean Black Panther is on to something.

Now it could be that the film is utter garbage and people are angry that Marvel has managed to balls one up.

Or it could be that someone somewhere isn't happy that a film with a certain cultural heritage is getting a lot of praise and attention.

And, certainly on first viewing, it's not the former.

Also, I don't think true Marvel fans are upset. After all, Black Panther has been in the Marvel Universe since the 1960s.

Now, it's not unknown for fanboys to lose their collective shits over inconsequential matters - one fondly recalls the ethnic origins of Stormtroopers causing some fervent and ignorant discussions a few years ago.

But generally, true Marvel fans tend not to get too upset about stuff.

Granted, Black Panther is a departure for the comic book giants and is worthy of much discussion - but not for the reasons basement-dwelling internet warriors would have us believe.

It's because it actually has something to say. Actually, a lot to say.

And that's possibly a first for a Marvel movie.

First, for the uninitiated, a quick recap.

Black Panther is the story of T'Challa (played brilliantly by Chadwick Boseman), the King of Wakanda who doubles as the titular hero.

You may recall we met Black Panther in Age of Ultron - where we also met Andy Serkis' Ulysses Klaue, the arms-dealing, vibranium-stealing overly-hyphenated low-life.

Up to speed? Good.

Where were we?

Oh yes, Wakanda.

The land of Black Panther is pretty much key to the whole story, as the nation hid itself away while the rest of Africa was busy being invaded, colonised and asset-stripped in the name of progress.

And it's this point that underpins the film's message.

If you want, Black Panther is a film about a black guy in a black suit beating people up as-per Marvel norms.

However, it's actually a story about Africa, Africans and the way the world has treated a continent and its people.

And continues to.

Not that Black Panther comes at you waving a civil rights flag and screaming for vengeance. Far from it.

Instead, the themes and messages are interwoven into the story, there to be found if you happen upon them.

Some, hopefully, you won't miss (in particular the line about slaves throwing themselves off ships), but what Black Panther is trying to do more than anything is tell a good story well.

And that it does in fine style.

Boseman owns the screen in a wonderfully understated way, but not at the expense of his superb co-stars.

Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Michael B. Jordan combine wonderfully to make this film a powerful ensemble piece.

In danger of repeating themselves, Marvel has been pushing the comedy envelope more and more - look at Deadpool, Ant Man, Thor 3, Guardians etc.

With Black Panther, however, they've added a social conscious to the mix.

This film should speak to everyone on the issues of colonialism, social inclusion, the similarities (rather than differences) between cultures, but should also introduce you to a world you might previously have been unaware of.

Importantly, however, it should make you laugh.

And have fun.

Because - and some film makers should write this down - it's possible to do both.

There are great car chases, fights, explosions, flying ships, Martin Freeman doing a woeful accent, Stan Lee's traditional cameo - basically all the usual bits and bobs.

But we now have a new wonderful world to explore, we have new characters to love (and you can't help but love them) and we have bigger, better, bolder stories to tell.

The question has been asked why Marvel didn't do this film sooner, which while valid seems - to us at least - to dilute the fact they have made it now.

Ol' Panthie could have been left as a fringe character, only appearing in the big team games but never allowed out on his own.

Instead, Marvel have taken the step while at the top of their game to push further - and in doing so have produced the most important film they're ever likely to make.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The 2018 Bafta awards

So someone's given birth, someone's arrived home and people are having a picnic. There's bunting. Do people actually watch Call The Midwife for fun?

Right then, off we go...

Hang on, what's Joanna Lumley up to?

Oh, right. How did we miss that she was presenting? Should be fun...

Do we really Dermot presenting on the red carpet? Or doing anything for that matter?

And that's Cirque de Soleil there, performing to the theme from Last Of The Summer Wine apparently...

The jokes need work, has to be said...

A quick recap of the last 12 months, giving us all a chance to remember all the films we didn't get to see. HOW HAVE WE STILL NOT WATCHED BEAUTY AND THE BEAST????

Right, gong time. First up, Outstanding British Film.  Jennifer Lawrence doing the honours here.

And the nominations are: God's Own Country, Paddington 2, The Death Of Stalin, Three Billboards..., Lady Macbeth, Darkest Hour.

And the winner is... Three Billboards! (ahh, British through Film4 and a British crew)

Now, the EE Rising Star award. Presented by Margo Robbie and Octavia Spencer!

Nominees are: Daniel Kaluuya, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Josh O'Connor, Tessa Thompson. And Danny Boy wins! The clever little sod. Nice one Tea Leaf!

I'm guessing it's not THAT Sam Fox he's just thanked...

Ahh, he's dedicated the award to his mum who's in the audience.

Next up, Adapted Screenplay.

Will it be Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool, The Death Of Stalin, Call Me By Your Name, Molly's Game, Paddington 2.

And the Bafta goes to... Call Me By Your Name and James Ivory. Should probably get around to watching that.

Eh up, Best Supporting Actor gong is here.

Hugh Grant (a fine up-and-coming young star), Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe (thought The Florida Project was pish personally), Christopher Plummer (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA) and Sam Rockwell.

That's two from Billboards there...

And the Bafta goes to Sam Rockwell! YES! Think I called that one...

Only Rockwell could look like he fell out of bed in his tux just before running onto the stage. Great speech though. Dedicated to his "pal" Alan Rickman.

Ooh, Production Design. One of those awards that we all kind of gloss over...

Nominees then... Dunkirk, Beauty And The Beast, Darkest Hour, Blade Runner 2049, The Shape Of Water. With The Shape Of Water grabbing that one.

In other news, Toby Jones also looks like he overslept and is wearing another man's suit.

And now, Special Visual Effects. isn't Star Wars up for this?

Star Wars. So I was right. Ha.

Oh, and The Shape Of Water, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, War For The Planet Of The Apes.

And the best effects were: Blade Runner.

Probably deserved to be fair.

Right, Outstanding Debut time.

And the winners are Rungano Nyoni (Writer/Director), Emily Morgan (Producer) for I Am Not A Witch.

No pre-written speech here. Excellent!

Right, we're about half way through. So far, nothing awkward or embarrassing...

Oops, spoke too soon. Bad dance segue alert.

Next up, Supporting Actress.

Bryan Cranston presenting, enjoying himself and doing terrible jokes and accents.

Right, we have Allison Janney, Kristen Scott Thomas, Laurie Metcalf, Lesley Manville, Octavia Spencer.

And the winner is Allison Janney. Well deserved, but her dress designer needs shooting.

And the first tears of the night...

Right, what's next?

Ahh, the RIP roll call. Time for a wee and more wine.

How many "nope, missed them"s did you notch up? We're on four.

Listen up, it's Sound Design.

And we have Dunkirk, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Shape Of Water and Star Wars.

And Dunkirk gets it's first gong of the evening.

Julie Walters looking a smidge bored there as the D team hit the steps to the stage...

Could be a long speech or two here.

Ooh, Original Screenplay time.

Nominated are... The Shape Of Water, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, Get Out, I, Tonya (that's an annoying comma when doing a list).

And Three Billboards wins again!

Leading Actor time, folks.

It's between Daniel Kaluuya, Daniel Day Lewis, Jamie Bell, Timothée Chalamet, Gary Oldman.

Gary Oldman getting the nod there. Will the Oscar follow next month?

Kristen Scott Thomas forcing the ol' smile a bit much there. Is she not a fan?

Leading Actress now follows as tradition dictates.

And we have Frances McDormand, Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Sally Hawkins, Margot Robbie. (The cat seems to have picked Benning).

And Frances adds to the Three Billboard haul! And she gets the biggest cheer of the night for her dress. Excellent stuff.

Best. Speech. Ever.

(or tonight certainly).

Time for Best Director. If Nolan gets this, I'm cancelling Easter.

In the running are Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro, Luca Guadagino, Martin McDonagh and Denis Villeneuve.

Hurrah, Easter is saved. Guillermo has won!

And now it's Best Film time. Place your bets...

And we have Three Billboards, Dunkirk (previous warning stands), The Shape Of Water, Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour.

And this year's bestest film is Three Billboards. Easter lives again.

Right, Fellowship time. A balding young royal will be presenting this to Ridley Scott while we all agree that this one definitely looks like his dad.

How quickly we forget that Ridley did the Hovis ad.

To be fair, he's done a couple of good movies too. Thelma And Louise wasn't bad. Alien's OK. Gladiator's fun.

Jokes need work there, Ridley.

Ridley going for the Director's Cut version of his speech.

Well, as this all winds to a weary, wordy, waffling conclusion, a glance at Twitter tells me people have decided Ms Middleton's dress is the most important thing to be talking about right now.

How we became the dominant species on this floating rock remains a mystery.

Right, we're off to write our Black Panther review and prepare for the Oscars.

 Feel free to listen to this when you get a sec...


Saturday, 3 February 2018

Last Flag Flying (15)

And so we finally crawl to the third of the Unwritten Trilogy, as it's become known on the ol' to-do list.

A film about three former Vietnam vets re-united to bury the son of one of them, a son killed in action in Iraq.

It has three top stars and is billed as a 'comedy-drama'. Sure, didn't catch the trailer, but it'll be fine...

...or not...

I mean, it's got Steve Carell in it. He's always good.

And Bryan Cranston. Yeah, sure, Trumbo wasn't all that but he was bloody good in it.

Then there's Laurence Fishburn. Who doesn't like ol' LB, eh?

And it says comedy in the IMDB tags. So everything will be grand.

And OK, sure, the opening is low-key. It's underplayed. But that's just introducing two of the characters.

That's just telling us that Carell's Larry and bar-owning Sal (played by Cranston) have history, know each other from 'Nam.

It'll get going in a minute...

OK, now we're off to meet Fishburn's born-again Mueller. In his church. Well this should get us some laughs...

And then it dawns on you.

Then you remember.

This has been written and directed by Richard 'Boyhood' Linklater.

But it's too late. You're sitting down. The film has started. How you missed this key bit of info can be dealt with later. Let's just get through this thing.

It really can't be that bad. Look at the cast!

But, over two long, drawn-out, ploddy hours, you realise that while this film has three fine actors - each Oscar-nominated - it has an idiot at the helm.

A man who, based on everything we've seen of his so far, must really hate films.

Why else does he keep making stuff that is just SO bad?

You see, the problems here are two-fold. No, make that three.

The first is the pacing.

This film is just so leaden, so slow, that you wish you were drinking as much as Cranston's Sal because it might just take the edge off.

Then there's what the film is trying to say.

It's essentially a film about guilt. Guilt and nostalgia. Guilt, nostalgia and making amends. Guilt, nostalgia, making amends and how the politics of war haven't changed in 30 years. Guilt, nostalgia, amends, war politics and three guys discovering the modern world. Oh, and friendship.

The list just gets longer and longer.

And none of it quite makes sense or rings true.

The characters are poorly drawn, while the supporting cast seem to have been cobbled together from out-takes from other movies (Yul Vazquez in particular plays a colonel so cliche-ridden he wouldn't be out-of-place in a Naked Gun parody).

Then there's the symbolism.

It's staggeringly unsubtle and also has absolutely no place in the film.

You see, Fishburn plays a preacher. And Cranston's playing a bit of a devilish guy. And you will find them regularly standing either side of Carell's Larry giving conflicting advice.

The first time you see it, you can be forgiven for thinking you're reading too much into it.

But when it keeps happening, well... It's no exaggeration to say I had to be stopped from shouting at the screen.

Clumsy? Ham-fisted?

No, it's not even that good.

But these aren't the only mis-steps.

Sal's language raised eyebrows with our viewing companion (you can just about excuse it as fitting the character, but it's a bit of a stretch) while Larry's lack of angst when trains are missed is baffling.

The emotional pay-off at the end also had us muttering that it never would have played out that way.

And don't even begin to ask where the bloody uniforms came from.

Then, having gone back at watched it, there's the small matter of a scene in the trailer where Sal is talking to a woman. It's no spoiler to tell you this has no bearing on the film whatsoever.

Whoever put it in clearly didn't watch the film.

Lucky sod.

After watching the film, we were left disappointed - a little sad that such a cast were never allowed to do what they can do so well while the narrative loped along like a wounded camel.

It's only finally writing this that it's become clear just how angry this film has made us.

It's mawkish, overly-sentimental, in places insultingly dumb and attempts to play politics with a subject the writer seems to barely understand.

It's basically an abject lesson in how to take a basically good idea and screw it royally up.