Thursday, 15 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (12A)

Sometimes you wonder why a film exists - this year's Turtle disaster, for example, or any of the Transformers films after the first one.

The answer, obviously, is money - even if that's baffling in the above examples. Cash chats, as the saying doesn't go.

Hence Rogue One. Star Wars is back from three different brinks and it's time to cash in, clearly.



The 'sell' is a simple one - how do we get from the end of Revenge Of The Sith to the start of A New Hope?

Answer? By explaining how the rebels got the plans to blow up the death star. Apparently, it's that simple.

It's being billed as "A Star Wars Story" because none of the much-loved characters are involved.

Arguably, it's THE Star Wars story, given it's how we get to where things all began. Before we went back to where they all began again before they began.

Cheers George.

Now, it's important to note at this early juncture that - as with The Force Awakens - George 'prequel' Lucas is well away from proceedings.

He gets a name check at the start, then we're done. Proper film makers who can tell a tale are now in charge.

Or in this case, Gareth Edwards.

Edwards gave us Monsters, which is brilliant, and Godzilla, which isn't. So it was always going to be fun seeing what he did this time round.

He hasn't been helped by the committee that clearly gathered to sketch out proceedings before the script was even started.

The conversation went something like this:

"What do people like in a Star Wars film?"

"Big blowy-up space battles!"

"Good, Jones, well done. Anything else?"

"A love story!"

"Well, yes... Hasn't that been.... No, no matter, must be thinking of something else, chuck it in the mix."

"That Battlefront game!"

"Jones, you're on fire - yes, let's have some of that action in there. Lots of those machines too. That'll shift some units."

"A droid with character!"

"Well remembered! Almost forgot that bit. Definitely need one of those. Right, sling that lot together, try and get a story to tie it all together, but don't sweat too much - clock's ticking here..."

And that, boys and girls, is how Rogue One was born.

Approaching it with a heady mix of trepidation and excitement, the biggest question was always going to be how they got to the start of Episode Four (or the first one, if you're still on the Imperial System).

And as the action unfolds, the question looms larger and larger - like a Death Star ambling towards you, humming.

Will they even manage it, or is another sequel on the way. A Rogue Two, if you will...

Well...

Ha, like we're giving that away.

Instead, let's actually talk about the film. As much as we can, anyhoo.

Front and centre we have Felicity Jones in her first blockbuster action role.

Always a firm favourite here at Popcorn Towers, there was still some fears over her ability to make the switch.

Fears which were washed away within minutes of her first appearance.

Strong, composed, assured, borrowing slightly from Han Solo in places, she delivers a fantastic performance - and proves her versatility as she beats the wotsit out of Stormtroopers with the same depth as she delivers the more emotional scenes.

Diego Luna, meanwhile, (he of Milk and Y Tu Mama Tambien fame) holds his own alongside her, giving a performance of equal depth and strength.

From there however...

You see, one of the things that has always stood out among the battles and characters of all the Star Wars films is the colour pallet.

Each film has very clearly had it's own 'look'. Star Wars was brown, Empire was white, Jedi green. And furry.

But Rogue One seems too keen to reference all of those, meaning as we planet-hop about the place the tone of the film changes. Noticeably.

It's not too distracting, sure, but the final third looks like a totally different film to the one we started watching.

Then there's all the references.

Keen to keep the fans on board, Rogue One is littered - almost cluttered - with tropes, musical nods, faces and gimmicks that reference what is to come (if you're sticking to the proper time line).

And it feels like it's been done for no other reason than to reassure people that this IS a Star Wars film.

No, really. It is. Look, there's the guy from the first one. Or next one, now.

And I'm not saying I didn't enjoy such moments, but they feel thrown in. A patch, rather than being woven into the fabric of the story.

A couple of them do work - one hugely - but the overall feeling is slightly disjointed.

And yes, OK, they answer the long-running question/joke about the Death Star - but it feels like that is the only thing they had going for them.

Two hours to explain something that's kept geeks going for years.

It hardly seems worth it.

It also raises new questions. Now, alongside who shot first we can discuss how those two got from there to where we know they need to be...



All of which sounds a bit negative - and it's not meant to be.

As a stand-alone film (which it can't be, obviously, but let's try) it's fine. It's good fun and there are jokes. Ones that actually make you laugh, too.

As a Star Wars film, it's one for the fans. Coming to this fresh and new will not endear you to the universe we all love so much.

Does make me want to watch the first one again right away though.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Arrival (12A)

It's been mentioned before around here, but it's a rare and precious thing in 2016 to be able to go into a film and know absolutely nothing about it.

And it's actually easier to achieve than you think.

No film shows have been listened to or watched in the past few months due to life getting busier than a busy thing with a to-do list a mile long - and I haven't read a film mag since economic necessity forced the cancellation of Total Film.



So finding a free evening - a surprise event in itself - and then ambling in to see Arrival on the back of nothing more than one bus poster and two friends raving about it was about as rare an event as it's possible to get.

I knew it was sci-fi. I knew people were talking about it (well, at least two). After that, all bets were off.

Actually, that's not quite true. I knew one other thing - it was almost certainly not going to be suitable for the two under-eights who were tagging along with their tardy parents.

Granted this was based on nothing more than the previous evidence being mixed with years of cinema-going experience, but if this had anything in it that would appeal to them I'd eat the popcorn they managed to pour over the floor within five minutes of disturbing everyone with their late arrival.

But still, no point getting annoyed by such things...

Once we'd moved back a few rows to spare ourselves the infantile giggling, life returned to normal.

Or as normal as it could be watching Arrival.

Because what's apparent within the first few minutes is that this is a film with a lot to say and a lot going on.

It's not a light, frothy, sci-fi flick by any stretch - it's arguably more complex than Interstellar, but it's much better and makes more sense.

And front and centre is Amy Adams.

An actress who has seemingly been getter better and better with every passing film (she never played Lois Lane, you dreamt that), here delivers arguably the performance of her career.

As Loiuse she has to carry the whole film. It's her story, in a way, and everything pivots around her - and Adams carries it off with panache and ease.

From the death of her daughter in the opening minutes, you go on a quite remarkable journey - and Adams delivers a note perfect performance of understated strength and depth.

I want to talk about what happens in this film, I really want to chat about the plot - but I'm quite deliberately not going to because I really don't want to give away anything.

Yes, I know I've mentioned one thing but that happens right at the start so that's allowed.

What I will say is this is a film that will really make you think.

It looks at the linear nature of time. It muses on the importance of language. It throws a spotlight on how the media have an ill-informed impact on the world.

It's a film that really has arrived at just the right time.

Alongside Adams, we have marvellous performances from both Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner, while director Dennis Villeneuve (he of the brilliant Sicario and the underwhelming Prisoners) lets the story lead the way and never tries to steal the show.

I'll be honest, watching Arrival also makes me feel a bit better about Blade Runner 2049 too.

The beauty of this film is the way it is balanced.

The story is well-paced. Slow, steady, but never dawdling. Some shots are framed beautifully while other scenes are given their full scope to allow them to breathe.

And the tension and the drama - and there was at least one moment when my heart was literally pounding - are allowed to flow quite naturally.

The whole thing is almost muted, much like the colours and tones, but that's not to say it's dull.

Far from it.

This is anything but.

What it is is intelligent, gripping, sharp, insightful - basically, everything a good sci-fi film should be.

In fact, it's everything a good sci-fi film used to be, before Hollywood decided running and shouting and explosions were the order of the day.

This film has far more in common with Alien and Silent Running than a Gravity or a Star Trek Beyond.

Polished, sanitised fair this is not.

And it's all the better for it.

A day after watching it, ideas are still floating about, the mind is still mulling what it took in.

There's a lot going on and a lot to think about. And Arrival gets better with every reflection.



Which makes me wonder, again, who the hell thought two young kids would enjoy it.

To be fair, once the popcorn was all spilt they sat quietly and didn't disturb anyone. But seeing one of the girl's faces as we left...

...you know the poor thing had no idea what it was she had just watched.

Maybe she can revisit in about 20 years time.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Doctor Strange (12A)

I'll be honest, I wasn't that bothered about going to see Doctor Strange. I should have been, being a Marvel fan n all, but...

Meh.

For a start, the character has never struck me as one of the most interesting. Then he was being played by Benedict Cumberbunny, who while ace as both Sherlock and Alan Turing...

Meh.



Then significant others said they wanted to see it, so I figured what the hell - it was probably going to be fun at the very least.

And then, life happened yet again. Shops are being opened around here, clothing ranges are being launched. These take far more time than you'd think.

So finally, after scratching around for a spare evening and running the Nandos gauntlet (turns out, the berk deleted the order and hoped no one would notice), we make it to the cinema.

And our arrival almost doubles the numbers in the screening. Things are looking up.

Then we get the first shock.

They've changed the bloody opening Marvel title.

This is an even bigger shock than you'd expect, because the Logan trailer is still using the old one.

I'm not good with change at the best of times...

Still, no matter. we're here now. No point getting upset about the opening credits.

And so the fun begins...

And, well, er - it's actually fun.

Within minutes you actually forget you're watching Bernie Crimblepanks and instead you're watching Dr Stephen Strange, an arrogant but brilliant doctor who people like and loathe in unequal measure.

And Bimble Cummerbund is fantastic. There's no denying it - he's nailed this perfectly.

And as things unfold, as the story wends it's way, Bennybob owns the screen in a delightfully understated way.

No grand gestures, no massive over-acting, just quietly claims every scene - making himself the centre of the action.

It's possibly one of his finest performances.

And the rest of the cast are no slouches either - Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel 'Benedict' McAdams, Benedict 'Mads' Mikkelsen, they all put in strong performances, making for a brilliantly balanced ensemble cast.

And the story is balanced too.

From the darker beginnings, which have more in keeping with the first Iron Man and Batman Begins, to the full-on action of the latter stages, you get the sense that director Scott Derrickson and his co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill knew what they were doing from the off.

Which is nice.

The colouring is also nicely muted, which is not something you notice until you get the full impact of the more magical, outer-realms bits - these really smack you around the eyes like a rich, delicious cake.

And even though this has clearly been designed with the 3D crowd in mind, none of that interferes with the action in the way it did in the most recent Spiderman effort.

If all this wasn't reason enough to really love this film, we have the humourous touches as the fine garnish on an already superb meal.

Reminds me, I think it's lunchtime.

Where was I? Oh yes...

The jokes are subtle, some physical, some wordy, and all delivered 'just so' as to round everything off to a tee.

Or tea. I'm never sure which.

I may also be in need of a cuppa.

Anyhoo, I digress once more.

If there is one complain about this film, it's the special effects. The phrase 'just because you can doesn't mean that you should' has never felt more apt.

It's like someone in a meeting looked at the original ideas and wanted it more Inceptionie.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when people are running the wrong way along a downside-up ceiling/floor/wall for the 74th time it starts to get both tiresome and a little visually confusing.

Less would have been more. That's all I'm suggesting.



But that really is the only quibble.

A serious message is there if you want it, special effects are there if you don't - and it'll make you laugh and gasp in all the right places.

Mr Doctor's new little trick might be a Marvel universe gamechanger, though, which could make things interesting...

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Out Of The Shadows (12)

As I may have mentioned around here once or twice before, reviewing films is a great thing to do - only, if you're doing it properly, you don't get to pick the films.

We'd all like to cherry pick out way through life and only engage with the things we enjoy and agree with, but that way Brexit lies - so it's necessary to step up to the plate and face whatever is being pitched your way.

Granted, when dealing with DVDs as we are here, there's a greater element of choice. It's unlikely you've arrived in your living room and there's only one film available at a time that suits.



But still, rules is rules, and so regardless of personal opinion and inclination the films must be watched and appraised.

If only to serve as a warning to others.

And there's a gamble to be had here. If, as was the case with Bone Tomahawk, you stumble upon a future classic you may find yourself regretting not getting to see it on the big screen.

Sure, you've got a ginormous telly with all the bells and whistles, but that's no substitute for the real cinema experience now, is it?

On the other hand you may find yourself slumped on the sofa, questioning the choices you've made in life but at least grateful that you didn't have to leave the house to be insulted on just about level.

As, in case you hadn't guessed, was the case here.

In my defence, I didn't hate the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.

I probably should have done, but I didn't. It was passable fare, especially when you consider the target audience.

Dammit it, it was funnish.

Which begs the question - how the hell did they manage to make a dumb film worse?

From the off, things don't feel right. The opening sequence is there to show off some special effects (and probably the 3D-ery to boot) and as such serves absolutely no purpose.

And the dialogue is terrible. Banter written by someone who has never bantered.

And I'm not thinking this as a man many years above the target age bracket, it is insulting to anyone with a brain.

Then there's the product placement - a lovely new penny to the person who spots what sorts of trainers the basketball player is wearing...

Then we have the first outbreak of swearing. Mine, that is.

I'm sure there's a very important, dramatic reason why we had to watch Megan Fox switch from trousers to a short shirt and then walk in slo-mo all cleavage ahoy and hair a-flicking.

I'm sure it was imperative.

It made it into the trailer, so surely it was a key plot point.

It had to be, because the alternative was that director Dave Green (of Earth To Echo fame) just wanted to give the dads and age-appropriate teenagers something to perv at.

And that would never happen in a film with Michael Bay's name attached to it, would it?

Of course not.

Amazingly, it goes even further downhill from here.

As Shredder escapes, gets teleported to Somewhere, plots with Krang, turns Rocksteady and Bepop into the animals we know and love (try not to dwell on which actor becomes which animal, you won't like the answers you come up with) and then sets about taking over the world AGAIN, the audience is left wondering where the fun went.

And it's all down to the writing and directing.

Fight scenes don't make any sense, the plot makes even less (but you can cut that some slack) and the stars look like loved ones are being held hostage while they are forced to parade in front of the camera.

Seriously.

Look at Laura Linney's face throughout - if that's not a cry for help, what is?

Even Stephen Amell is wooden, and this is the guy who gives one-dimensional a new name in Arrow.

There is, amazingly, one funny bit. I did actually laugh. And it involves Will Arnett and a chair.

Doesn't sound like a highlight, I know, but when all you've had to eat is sawdust you'll be amazed how good a stale cracker tastes.

The first one was just loud, noisy and brash. All this had to be, to be even half as good, was the same again.

But no.

What we get is way, way, way worse.

And it's the kids I feel sorry for.

The Turtles have a huge fanbase, a fanbase which by now covers generations - hell, I include myself and I only ever played the game.

There are fans out there who don't even know it was a role-playing game - that's how far the brand has grown and flourished.

So surely, especially given the success of the first film, the eager audience deserved better than lines so bad if you found they'd been scrawled on the wall in crayon you wouldn't be surprised.



It's genuinely as if the people in charge figured the fans would see any old crap, skipped the quality control stage and gave them just that.

But how was that possible when Michael Bay was involved, eh?

Monday, 24 October 2016

I, Daniel Blake (15)

You may, possibly, have heard of this film already - the comedy community is raving about it, film critics are raving about it and just about everyone we know who has seen it is raving about it.

It's not, by any means, the most fun you'll have at the cinema this year - but it is the most important thing you can watch.

And should watch.



And be prepared to be angry.

Even now, sitting here, I can feel my blood pressure rising as I remember scenes of Daniel Blake trying to use calm, rational thought with the people whose job is - essentially - to help those in need.

Only the system is broken. And it wasn't an accident.

If you've missed all the chatter, Blake - played perfectly by Davy Johns - is a man who has been told by his doctors that he can't return to work yet following a massive heart attack.

However, this causes him a problem. Because he's failed the Employment Support Allowance assessment as the person behind a desk has run some tests and concluded he's fit to work.

So he should be out there, job seeking.

And if he's not job seeking - against the advice of nurses, doctors and consultants - he'll have his only source of income taken away from him.

Think this sounds ridiculous? You're right. But try living it.

Thanks to director Ken Loach, you don't have to - because I, Daniel Blake lives it for you, bringing the pain, heartache, anger, frustration and despair of a system designed to help to a wider audience.

Helped hugely by winning the Palm d'Or at Cannes, what is taking this film and its message to the multiplexes is the performances of the two main characters.

Comedian Davy Johns and actress and writer Haley Squires bring their characters to life with warmth, compassion and understated rage that leaves you breathless.

Thanks to the pair of them, what could be a bleak watch has true humanity. You care for these two, you're on their side from the minute you see them.

And you share every painful sling and arrow the system throws at them.

If you aren't sniffing and blubbing at least once during this film, you are simply dead inside.

I thought we'd both done well to make it to the foodbank scene before losing control of our tear ducts, but it turns out someone else had already been quietly dabbing her eyes long before that.

And I thought that scene - which is easily the best single scene I've seen in a film in years and should net Squires every award going - was the toughest thing I'd have to watch here.

But I was wrong.

Loach had one more trick up his sleeve.

Now let's be clear about this - this is not an easy film to watch. It's light on laughs (although the first third has its share, and if you're a football fan the Charlie Adams bit will have you in stitches).

But that's the bloody point.

There are people living this every day, through no fault of their own. They are simply trying to exist, but they are fighting a system that strips them of their humanity.

And Loach - through Johns and Squires - is giving it back to them.

It's not a perfect film - I have no idea why we needed a shouty man outside the job centre, and I would have liked to have seen the patching up of a key friendship - but these really are the nittiest of nit-picks.

I, Daniel Blake is a film that shouldn't exist. Simply because our Government should have never been allowed to take a system that was designed to help the most in need and use it to break them.

Much has been said in certain quarters about how, since 2008, the plan has been to simply stop helping people.

To leave those already destitute to starve, to be passed over and forgotten, to be thrown in the nearest gutter.

And I'm sure you've read those stories and thought them fantastical. Ridiculous. After all, what kind of society would we be living in if that was happening?

You may even think, albeit quietly and to yourself, that in some way 'these people' have brought it on themselves.

Because, again, no just society would treat people like that.

And no, it wouldn't.

But as Loach shows us, this is no longer a just society.

There's a war being waged, and it's against those who can't fight back.

And if you aren't sitting there as the credits roll feeling angry that such situations can exist, you're not human.



In the screening we were in, only two people left as the credits came up. Everyone else was just sat there in stunned silence, taking in what they had seen.

And as people started to leave, you could see they were thinking. They had been affected by what they had seen. Loach, Squires and Johns had done a good job.

Maybe now we can start treating each other as equals, and help those worse off than ourselves rather than buying into the poisonous rhetoric currently being peddled in certain sections of the media.

In a just society, this film wouldn't need to be made. But sadly it does.

Thankfully, Loach has taken the job on and done us all proud.


Friday, 21 October 2016

Bone Tomahawk (18)

There is something of a Western revival going on at the moment.

The Magnificent Seven has been given a make-over, Jane Got A Gun hit the big screen fleetingly, and Bone Tomahawk likewise spent a seemingly brief period at the multiplex.

Sadly, due to life dong what life does best, this summer was one of missed films rather than a worn-out loyalty card - but as winter hoves into view, the DVD releases are upon us.



So, at last, Bone Tomahawk can be feasted upon.

With Kurt Russell, Lili Simmons, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, David Arquette and Richard Jenkins heading the cast, this is no low-budget affair either.

It's packing heat in all areas, and not just the pistols.

But - and this is the real beauty of Bone Tomahawk - this is no ordinary western.

You look at the cast, you hear the plot - people need rescuing from wild tribe - and you figure you've got the whole thing boxed off and sorted from the off.

But you'd be wrong.

Oh so wrong.

Bone Tomahawk takes your preconceptions and tears them apart.

Rips them in half.

And that's why it's such a brilliant, brilliant film.

The start is quite grisly, with people's throats being cut open and blood going everywhere, but after that things calm down.

But that's your warning of what's to come, because when the business end of Tomahawk kicks in it gets brutal.

And not just visually.

The sound guys were having a field day here, and you find yourself squirming in your seat as legs fail to heal, throats are examined in great detail and machetes do what machetes do.

Thankfully, it's not all gruesome gore and dusty horse joggings - writer/director S. Craig Zahler knows what he's doing and lifts the mood periodically with some sharp shooting in the dialogue department.

The jokes are dark at times, sure, but there are laughs littered all over this film to offset the visual horrors that you're beset by.

And that's just another reason why this film is so good - the balance between light and dark, gore and humour is near perfect.

In fact, there's very little to criticise here.

Performances? Great. The look? Spot on. Dialogue? Nailed it. Fights and action scenes? Hard hitting.

For a first time director (and only his second writing credit), the lad's done good.



Sure, this is not the relaxing, Sunday afternoon cowboy flick you might be expecting.

Sure, instead you get a brutal, tense, thrilling ride across the plains which will have you staring at the screen while wishing you could look away (but you don't, in case you miss something).

This is not a film for everyone - in fact half of the audience I was with never want to hear mention of this film again, and she's no wimp - but if you are willing to take a chance you'll be treated to a future cult classic.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Suicide Squad (15)

For those who care about such things, there is actually a rule here at Popcorn Towers - write the review as soon after seeing the film as possible.

Granted this isn't aways as soon as I would like, but hey - life can bugger about with your plans, no?

So it is with Suicide Squad - a film I saw while on holiday, and which I was going to write-up the minute I got back.



But then things got in the way. Kind of.

Or that's what I told myself.

The truth is a bit simpler, and a bit more painful.

I just didn't want to write the review.

It's not that I had nothing to say, I have plenty. Or that I thought others had said what I was going to say, because let's face it that's never stopped me before.

No, I realised that I didn't want to stick the boot in. I didn't want to lay into it. I like these characters, I love DC comics as a whole.

I wanted to love this film.

But I couldn't.

For a start it's too long. It feels too long, it drags, the fights go on forever. That kind of too long.

Then there's the dialogue. Snappy took a holiday with Suicide Squad. Banal and obvious stood in.

Already at this point, I know I'm in trouble.

I'd studiously ignored all reviews and talk, but some had bled through - talk of rewrites, re-shoots, studio execs grabbing an arm load of oars each and getting stuck in.

And actually, you need to know about the studio thing, because it's only by knowing this does Suicide Squad make sense.

It doesn't make it a better film, sure, but it softens the blow.

Because what Suicide Squad is, more than anything, is a film designed by committee.

Take the "jokes".

Someone in a suit somewhere wanted them. And why not? Avengers has them, Ant Man has them, Guardians Of The Galaxy has them, why shouldn't Suicide Squad have them?

Jokes are funny things. No, really. Those who can write them know how they work and how hard they are to come up with.

Those who have no idea of the craft - studio execs, for example - think you can just stick two guys in a room for half an hour and suddenly your script will become Duck Soup.

If it was that easy, as someone richer than me once said, we'd all be doing it.

Which is why you get lines that end with "...and wipe my hard drive."

It doesn't work for many, many reasons - but it's what you get when all you ask for is "jokes" with no sense of how they might actually stitch into the narrative.

Then there's the music.

Remember Guardians Of The Galaxy and how the soundtrack was an integral part of the whole story?

Well, that's exactly how it isn't in Suicide Squad.

From the off, every scene has its own song. Literally. Change scene, change tune.

And it's not that each character has their own soundtrack, no no - that would be too easy. Each tableau gets a tune, never to be repeated.

And it stays that way for two-thirds of the film. When suddenly we have a score. FOR NO REASON.

It sounds, to someone who wasn't in the process, as if the whole thing was scored and then someone in a suit went "hey, did you guys see that Guardians film?" - only there wasn't the budget to have the same song several times...

And it feels like this at every turn.

The cast, to be fair, do the best they can. Will Smith is Will Smith (clearly not being given direction) while Margot Robbie sets about stealing the whole film - thankfully through her wonderful performance and not because of the ridiculous shorts she had to wear.

Then we have Jai Courtney. He plays Boomerang. Boomerang is Australian. as is Jai.

However, someone higher up the chain obviously didn't think his authentic accent was Australian enough, so we end up with something so think and OTT it almost needs subtitles.

And it's not Jai's fault - the kid can act. He was one of the few good things in the last Die Hard film.

But.

And it's a big but.

All of this could have probably been forgiven, if they'd made one crucial decision.

And that was to leave Joker at home.

This film doesn't need him. Suicide Squad don't need him. Harley Quinn needs him, but she'd have coped for a couple of hours here.

So why was he here? Who looked at the characters, the assembled stew of DC villains, and decided to spoil the dish by adding some greenery?

Money.

It's that simple. Someone in a suit, again, wanted to ensure this film would sell. And what sells? Joker. Look how Heath Ledger made the roll his own! Sure we can do that again!

Only we can't. For many, many reasons.

For a start, it was 16 years between Jack Nicholson's iconic performance in Batman Returns and Ledger's rightly lauded role in 2008.

And Ledger is still fresh in our minds, so powerful was his performance. So trying again after a mere eight years was always going to be a big ask.

Which makes you wonder why Leto was asked. Were better people busy? Did everyone else get to look at the script first?

Because what we are given is not the king of mayhem, the prince of psychos, the master of malevolence. No.

We get Jared Leto doing an impression of mid-90s Marilyn Manson, all grand gestures but no substance, a lover of bling for no discernible reason.

And to add insult to, well, insult, he's not even the Big Bad.

He's Joker. And he's playing a bit-part.

Who's big idea was that?

As things stand, DC are just sitting and watching Marvel rule the waves - first on the big screen, and now on the small one too (where DC seemed to have stolen a march).

And it's clear that the guys in charge have no idea what to do about this. The answer, and I want to be crystal clear about this, isn't Suicide Squad.



DC has a wonderful array of characters to choose from, and Christopher Nolan led the way. Now, with the New 52 relaunches in the book world there are new characters and stories to draw on.

Including a new look Joker, one might add.

But until someone bites the bullet and decides to tread a new path instead of careering down this dimly lit, doom-laden back alley, we're all in for a very rocky ride.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Neon Demon (18)

I first encountered Nicolas Winding Refn when Drive hit the big screen. When that was followed up by Only God Forgives, I was hooked.

So it was with a heady mixture of excitement and confident certainty that I settled into my seat ready for his latest offering.

Yes, it was going to be off-beat and more style than substance, but you expect that...



And I wasn't wrong. There's whole boatloads of style. This film is styled up the wazoo.

And the imagery. What imagery. Seriously, it's stunning.

Which is good, because there's bloody loads of it.

And sub-text too. You can't swing a designer shoe for the subtext.

It's just a pity he forgot to have any actual, you know, text above that.

In its simplest, boiled down form, The Neon Demon is a critique on the world of fashion and modelling and chasing your dreams to the bright lights of the big city.

And you can have a lot of fun ticking off the fairytales that amble past you slowly and stylishly, and there's plenty of time to ponder how Romeo And Juliet fits in to all that too.

And you might as well dwell on that, because there's precious little else to dwell on.

In showing the fashion industry to be shallow and image-led, Refn has taken Neon Demon to such an extreme he's created the perfect film equivalent.

Which is either screamingly ironic or bloody annoying, depending on how you're feeling at the time.

You can also wallow in the beautiful modelling, the beautiful fashion scenes, the rich, lush tones used to such great effect.

And again, you might as well, because bar one scene Demon takes Refn's penchant for one-paced films to a whole new, very flat level.

Amazingly, despite this wave of negativity, The Neon Demon isn't a bad film - it's just trying too hard.

On the plus side, there are some nicely tense moments, some delightfully twisted elements and you come out of the cinema feeling like you need to shower in bleach.

It's not a totally wasted evening.

But it's too clever for its own good and is half an hour too long.

Elle Fanning puts in a great performance as new girl in town Jesse, while Jena Malone oozes malevolence as Ruby - but after that, they all kind of blend into one.

And yes, that's the point - that looks are everything and no one is an individual - but that doesn't make for an engaging film.

Quite by chance, I found myself in the captioned screening and I was told that you don't notice the subtitles after a bit.

And the helpful chap on the ticket desk was right. What he wasn't to know was that's because the dialogue is so sparse the captions aren't needed that much.



Somewhere in here is a blistering take-down of an industry obsessed with image.

What would have been nice is if an actual plot could have been casually inter-woven, if only to tie all the beautiful scenes together.

As it is, you're left wondering what the hell you've just watched but knowing it looked good.

Ghostbusters (12A)

OK, let's be clear about this from the off - I have no idea why this film exists.

Well I do - money. It's going to be a hit so why take the risk on something new, eh?

But how does Hollywood ever find a new writer, a new good idea when all they're doing is rehashing old favourites?



It would be good, of course, if this was the reason a small section of the male population were up in arms. It would be good if the dearth of originality was what was causing them to attack their keyboards with their little clubs.

But it's not.

No, it seems some people are all bent out of shape about the fact we now have an all-female cast (plus token eye candy care of La Belle Hemsworth).

Which is nothing short of pathetic.

Because if you can get past the small issue of a remake (or reboot, depending how you look at it) what you've got here is nothing short of brilliant.

The gender issues aren't important.

Well, no, that's not true. What they do is serve to help the 2016 version step out of the shadow of its 1984 daddy and be seen in a new light.

And it works.

Oh sweet Jebus, it works.

From the opening pre-title sequence to the closing credits (and when was the last time you were having so much fun you stayed for those?) this film is just one long rollercoaster of FUN.

It knows what it's doing.

You've got jokes, great performances from the 'Busters (Melissa McCarthy, Kirsten Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon), superb effects, tension, spooks, jumps, slime...

Really, what else did you want?

What? Geek-tastic cameos? Oh yeah, boy, you got those.

As I sat there, loving it more and more with every passing scene, my bafflement at the negative reactions just kept growing.

Is it like the original? No.

Is it as good as the original? No.

Is it even trying to be? No.

Because what the 2016 version is offering is a different take on the story, a different look at the set-up, and most importantly bringing a new generation their own spooky wonderland.

When you've spent two hours just relaxing and grinning at the big screen, you know this film has hit all the targets it set itself.

OK, yes, it's a cynical money-making bid - but screw it. When it's this much fun, I'll go and pay again.

I know that only encourages them, but if it gets these four back together for round two it'll be worth it.

And it's not a frame-for-frame remake with just the testicles swapped out. This has its own story.

It just happens to feature a few things you recognise.

And it's that bit that makes Ghostbusters 2016 so joyous.

This film has been made with love, with heart and with soul.

The people involved have done this because they really wanted to do a good job - and when it gets the clear seal of approval from the lauded alumni, you know they've done that.

I would even consider seeing this in 3D. That's how much I enjoyed it.

Sure, you can spot the bits where stuff and things are going to come flying out at you, but I was so immersed I really wanted to suddenly duck.

If I could get slimed then even better.

Look, you can get bent out of shape about the fact a girlie is holding the fancy toys, you can foam at the mouth that the only man in the main cast is playing the secretary, you can even take to the web forums and claim the only good reviews are from people Sony have paid.

If that's what makes you get out of bed in the morning, then rock on.



Meanwhile, the rest of us can carry on enjoying a bright, brash, fizzy, bangy, funny, explodie, gunkie, slimy, ghoulie spooktastic laughfest.

It doesn't matter who's wearing the pants, what matters is does this film give you all the things you wanted from a Ghostbusters movie?

And it does. With extra weird sciency knobs on.

(Oh, and just for the record, the theme tune sucks. Fall Out Boy? Really??? Do me a favour...)

And just for old times' sake:


Monday, 4 July 2016

The Nice Guys (15)

Sometimes, you feel you are just meant to see a film.

Since its release, we've been planning to see The Nice Guys - but life has a way of getting in the way, and without fail at every turn we spectacularly didn't get to see it.

But it's still hanging around! It's still on the big screen! And life didn't get in the sodding way!



And so, finally, we get to watch Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe being 70s gumshoe detective sorts, directed by Shane Black of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 fame.

Surely, having had to wait this long, it wasn't going to disappoint.

Was it?

Well...

How do you want this film judged? Plot? Acting? Direction? Or the fact we left without any socks on having laughed them off?

Because the latter was definitely the winner here.

The story itself is, ultimately, neither here nor there. Political schemering, missing daughters, bad guys, more bad guys and a smattering of the porn industry - this has the lot.

It's basically a love letter to 70's crime films.

The fact it doesn't make a whole lot of sense isn't a dealbreaker. If anything, it kind of adds to the whole feel of the thing.

Acting? Well, that's pretty bang on.

Ryan Gosling, it turns out, has one hell of a comic turn in him. The man who seems to sleep through his films can do the slapstick. Who knew, eh?

Then there's Russell Crowe, who on the back of this and The Water Diviner is looking like being back to his best.

Understated, subtle (I know, right?), he allows Gosling to make all the noise and just in-fills with the odd glance, nod and smart gag.

Oh, and there's a new kid in town too - Angourie Rice. For someone with such a short CV (she's not even 16) she delivers a performance of such maturity you'd swear she'd been acting her whole life.

So far so good then - but what of Mr Black's direction?

Having made his name with sharp, snappy dialogue and zippy, fast-paced action flicks, what I wasn't expecting here was an homage to the 70s.

From tone and pacing alone, Black has got this nailed - and when he starts throwing in the action and humour, you just know this is going to be good.

In fact, from the opening scene alone, you know you're in for one hell of a ride.

With the right soundtrack, and subtle background touches (Airport 77 and Jaws 2 billboards), Black has skilfully weaved everything you want from a black comedy action detective thriller.

In fact, he's probably invented a whole new genre.

But, it's not perfect (which is probably a good thing).

It's too long for a start, and there are some scenes that, while funny, don't necessarily add anything to the whole - and almost seem out of place.

There's also some near-the-knuckle conversations going on that you're pretty sure kids shouldn't be taking part in.

And no, you can't say "it was a different time". Just no. That's a whole different conversation.



But the negatives are small compared to the huge positives.

Great performances, superb slapstick violence, a ludicrous shoot-out around a palm tree - this is a film that just keeps on giving.

And when you think it can't give anymore, some one else dies in a lovely, gruesome way.

Money says there's a very welcome sequel.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Money Monster (15)

The financial crisis has, if nothing else, given us quite a lot of new culture to get to grips with.

From the vast array of books covering all the angles we have been flooded with films - both documentaries and dramas - detailing who did what to who and when.

So, you may have lost everything and the rich may have got richer - but at least you've been entertained...



Now to the assembled masses of a genre we really could have done without creating we can add Money Monster - but is there anything left to say about the whole shitstorm?

Well, apparently so.

Because instead of dealing with the bankers or the officials or the politicians, Money Monster deals with the real people who got hit.

OK, real people is a bit of a stretch when one of them is a TV finance guy, but you get my point.

Money Monster tells the tale of Kyle (the ever excellent Jack O'Connell), a man who managed to lose everything after following the advice of Lee Gates - the disenchanted star of a TV finance show.

Gates (played wonderfully by George Clooney) is not to blame for the stock plummeting or Kyle's dumb misfortune, but he's the public face of a problem so that's where the gun gets pointed as Kyle shouts for answers.

From here, two films kind of emerge.

There's the straight thriller, as Gates is strapped in a bomb vest and Kyle waves the trigger about like a flag at a rally - and there's the mystery thriller, as show director/producer Patty (Julia Roberts clearly having a great time) sets about finding out how a company's stock went south so fast.

The two strands are deftly woven by Jodie Foster, once again stepping behind the camera to remind you she's as good a director as she is an actor.

And that's just one of the many strengths of this film.

It has a star director. It has star names. Huge, huge star names.

And yet, the real star of the show is the story. The drama unfolds naturally and you are taken on a tense rollercoaster littered with chuckles to allow you some respite.

And nothing is overblown. All performances are measured, the story is kept taut and, bar one unsubtle shot, the film is as tight as a tight thing that's been thoroughly tightened...

It's almost old fashioned.

And that's it's greatest strength.

The characters, the narrative, the plot twists - they're all allowed to just 'be', to unfold, to do their job.

There's no car chases, no running about (OK, apart from that one guy), no endless explosions and shoot-outs. It's just... Oh what's the word...

Entertaining! That's it!

It has laughs, tension, plight, a baddie - and for 90-odd minutes, you can just relax and have a great time.

Everyone knows their job and delivers to perfection. It looks great, the soundtrack is wonderfully understated and well used, Clooney is doing proper acting - it's simply a bloody good film.

Which, in a world of superlatives, seems like a somewhat underwhelming thing to say.

But it's true.

Money Monster has things to say about the financial crisis, but it also has something to say about how we live our lives today - how we react to things, how the news covers things, how quickly we move on.



Money Monster won't change your life. It won't answer the questions you probably should be asking about how the markets work (or don't).

But what it will do is entertain you.

You'll be gripped, you'll chuckle, you'll enjoy yourself and you'll have something to talk about on the way back to the car.

And then you'll forget all about it. Because, well, you're human and it's what we do...

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Our Kind Of Traitor (15)

John Le Carre is on something of an up-swing at the moment.

Since Gary Oldman put on a mac and brought George Smiley to the big screen, his works seem to be back in demand.

With several projects already in various states of production, now that Le Carre and his family have taken control of his output we are being treated to some quality adaptations of some quality books.



First we had Tom Hiddleston tearing it up on Sunday night TV as The Night Manager, and now we have Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis bringing Our Kind Of Traitor to the big screen.

Not a book I've read yet (I've only just finished The Honourable Schoolboy - there's a whole list thing going on, don't ask. Oh, you didn't...) so I went into this not knowing anything about the story or characters.

Which, it turns out, is the best way to see it. Because you can just wallow in the action as events unfold in front of your eyes.

And for that reason, I'll sum up the plot thus: Paths cross, people meet, things happen, you don't move for the second half of the film.

Central to the story are McGregor and the brilliant Naomie Harris, a couple trying to rebuild their relationship while all the shit goes down around them.

Shit caused by Stellan Skarsgard who doesn't put a foot wrong as a Russian hood trying to negotiate his way out of a hole.

Then we have Lewis, a man I'm more familiar with as the hero/traitor Brody in Homeland.

And it's about 20/30 minutes in when you start to realise just how good OKOT is.

Because Lewis is brilliantly understated, McGregor is putting in one of his best performances in years (if not ever), Harris is quietly superb and Skarsgard is simply sublime.

Good actors putting in top performances is always going to make things more enjoyable, right?

But then you realise what you're looking at.

Every scene is warm and lush, cushioning you for when the bad stuff happens, and every shot clearly well considered.

At times, director Susanna White (on only her second big screen outing - the first being Nanny McPhee Returns) brings the sweeping vistas of the classic Bond era to mind, at others the close-up work of Greengrass' Bourne outings.

But at no point do you think she's being derivative, far from it.

White clearly knows her way around a story, and with OKOT (I'm not sure that will catch on) she paces things so perfectly you actually don't notice the moment when you become hooked.

You're enjoying the film, you're loving what you see on the screen, you're intrigued as to where things are going, and then, from out of nowhere, you suddenly become very aware of the fact you've not moved or shuffled for a long time and you've been holding your breath for the last five minutes.

And it's all done through those old-fashioned tropes - acting and narrative.

You care about the characters, you really care about where the story is going, and without so much as an action set-piece or a massive shoot-em-up-explosion-fest White gently holds your hand and doesn't let go.

And then grips even harder.

By the end you don't want her to let go, even though it's starting to hurt.

And yes, there are a few moments when you raise a wry eyebrow (she's really got a mobile signal out there?) but the whole film will have entranced you so much by the time they arrive you won't give a monkey's.

A monkey's what, I don't know. But you won't give one. Whatever it is.



In an age where thrillers seem to need car chases and shouting, it's both heart-warming and refreshing to watch a film that grips you without needing either.

A more complete, brilliantly acted, wonderfully scripted drama I've yet to see this year.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins (PG)

Sometimes, it's the smallest of things that attract you to a movie.

Take Florence Foster Jenkins - not something I'd have rushed to watch until I saw the trailer, and specifically the tiny glance Simon Helberg gives the screen as Meryl Streep warbles away.

Hmmm, this has potential...



And so I find myself, one early evening, having finally got the Odeon scanner to read the barcode on my phone, sitting among a particularly chatty audience.

Thankfully, they shut up once the fun begins.

The story, such as it is, is quite simple - Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep) is a monied socialite who has dedicated her life to providing musical entertainment to the elite of New York.

Her husband St Clare Bayfield (Hugh Grant doing a fine turn as Hugh Grant) is supportive and loving, despite living somewhere else with someone else.

And all is well until Florence decides to return to the stage. To sing as she has always dreamed of singing.

Enter Helberg as the poor man picked to tinkle the ivories while Florence takes wild aim at the passing notes.

And it's a good job he's around, because it's the relationship between him and Streep that gives this film heart - and all the laughter.

Viewers of popular TV culture may recognise Helberg as Howard from The Big Bang Theory, something which has already given him plenty of room to showcase his fine physical acting.

But here, on the big screen and alongside one of its biggest stars, he really finds his niche.

He's got the skills to allow Streep and Grant to fly, to loom large across the scenes, while he just quietly and subtly fills in the gaps, his timing allowing him to shine and not be over-shadowed.

The film itself is, well, er...

It exists.

We can definitely say that.

And it's not without a lot of charm.

And at times it's damn funny.

It's just you come away from it not quite knowing what you've seen.

Streep's performance is exemplary - heaven knows it's not easy to sing badly well (if you see what I mean) - but director Stephen Frears doesn't quite seem to know what he's trying to say or do.

There are questions around Bayfield's motives, which could be sorted out with some better writing or a better performance from Grant, while Grant himself doesn't seem to quite know what he's doing.

At times he's drawing from Four Weddings, at others his performance in About A Boy reappears - and I'm pretty sure there was a bit of Bridget Jones kicking about.

All of which hints at a lack of depth to the character, like no one quite knew what to do with him.

Which is a massive problem given he's central to the story.

There also seems to be a lack of chemistry between Grant and Streep - which again, could be a writing issue.

Grant is also outshone by Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Bayfield's long-suffering other other half.

She's clearly got stuff to get her teeth in to, and delivers a performance of depth and clarity which sadly adds to the feeling that Grant is a little lost.

Then there are some of the odd choices in shot.

Frears is clearly a fan of Helberg - so much so you'll find him smack bang in the middle of the frame at odd moments and for no clear reason.

Then there's a scene in a steam-filled alley way, which has Bogart and Bacall written all over it - but feels completely out of place in what is, essentially, a gentle comedy.

All of which, I appreciate, sounds very negative.

But despite all of this, the film kind of works.

It's sweet, inoffensive, gentle and has a wonderful performance from Streep at its heart.

1940s New York looks lush and sumptuous and it feels exactly as you want it to.

Which, almost, makes up for its failings.



This film won't change your life, or give you much to dwell on, but it will tug at your heart strings and move you.

And it will make you laugh.

And sometimes, that is all you need from a film.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Jungle Book (PG)

Sometimes, you hear about a planned remake of a much-loved classic and you just die a little inside - surely someone, somewhere has an original idea worth making?

I mean, what's to be gained?

You want to introduce a new audience to The Jungle Book? Clean up the old print and re-release it to mark an anniversary or something.



Did we really need a 'live action' version that wasn't all that 'live' given it's 99 per cent CGI?

Well, no. Not really.

Especially when some of us had to undergo a whole summer having a certain tiger's name yelled at them the last time it was sent round the world's big screens.

But have it we do.

And, to be fair, it's doing good business at the box office and all the feedback has been largely positive.

Which leaves us wondering what we've missed...

For the two of you who have no idea what The Jungle Book is about, a quick recap - boy is found in jungle, given to the wolves by the panther and raised as their own 'til the tiger rocks up and wants to kill him at which point he gets sent packing back to the human village only to get caught by a snake, befriended by a bear and kidnapped by apes.

Got that?

Marvellous.

Based on Rudyard Kipling's classic tale, the original Disney cartoon is rightly regarded as one of their best - with perfect voice casting and great songs to match the feel-good tale.

This time around, we still have the songs and most of the feel-good factor.

So far, so good.

The star of the show is the CGI. All of the animals feel real, the jungle scenes are rich and lush and there's just the right level of cutesy to keep the really young audience members on board.

The voices, though, are a problem.

While Bill Murray rocks as Baloo and Scarlett Johansson makes your skin crawl as Kaa, Idris Elba jars as Shere Khan (why is my tiger from London?) and Christopher Walken is borderline laughable as King Louie.

Sometimes the big name is not the right guy for the role, you know?

The stand-out performer here is Sir Ben Kingsley, who infuses Bagheera with just the right level of warmth and gravitas.

He's so good, in fact, we only found out it was him during the closing credits. Never guessed. Was fairly sure it was Gambon...

But it's a fair measure of just how well engaged we were with this film that a lot of time was spent guessing the voices.

Which is a shame.

Because director John Favreau has done a good job bringing this jungle to life, and in Neel Sethi has found a child actor who can more than hold his own in a world of pixels.

And it really can't be stressed enough just how good the CGI is. It knocks Avatar in to a well-drawn cocked hat.

But there are things here that really aren't needed.

The songs don't sit so well in a "real world" environment, for example - especially when some lovely touches with the score work much better.

And who decided invoking a Raiders Of The Lost Ark/Planet Of The Apes mash-up was a good idea?

The fact such things are still niggling is a shame, because this film does manage to maintain the heart of the original - if not the warmth.



Having said all that, the young children sat in the row in front seemed suitably captivated and entranced - and, at the end of the day that's surely the point.

Yes, a cynical old sod who remembers the original and proudly owns the cassette single of The Jungle Book Groove might have niggles and nits to pick.

But if a new generation can fall in love with a bear and a jungle, then someone somewhere has more than done their job.


Saturday, 30 April 2016

Captain America: Civil War (12A)

So, what were you hoping from here then? More action? Bigger bangs? Bit of the ol' Spidey?

Or were you expecting something more akin to The Winter Soldier, where a more political plot rode roughshod over the more traditional comic book fight scenes?

If you answered yes to the first question, you're in. This is the film for you!



If you answered yes to the second question, you're in. This is the film for you!

And in a simple moment of flippancy, you have all that's right and wrong with the latest Captain America instalment.

There is, to put it mildly, a lot going on.

In terms of where this all fits in with what's gone before, we pick up the action post-Age Of Ultron - yet the shadow of Winter Soldier and the first Avengers outing looms large.

After a slight whoopsie while on a mission overseas, the new Avengers (in film terms, not to be confused with the book bunch) find themselves in the spotlight and under pressure to conform to political masters.

Meanwhile, Mr Baddy is hellbent on revenge and wants to make people pay for things what they did when trying to save the world.

In essence, it's two very different films, mashed together. And not edited.

Which is cool if you don't mind wondering where three hours of your life went...

Visually and tonally as well, Civil War feels like two films in one.

And amazingly, none of this is a criticism.

Because, even hours after watching Civil War, it's stayed with me. And the only reason I'm not watching it again right now is I had to write this.

I was asked by a friend (yes, I do, but just the one) after I left the screening where I would place Civil War - was it up there with Guardians Of The Galaxy or Ant Man?

Yes, I think it is, but it's a very different film.

Both of those were huge amounts of fun, and while CW (shush, I get bored easily) has its lighter moments it is a much, much darker film by the end.

So let's look at the plus points, of which there are many.

The whole cast are on top form, the quips - when they appear - are sharp and quippy, the central Cap v Stark motif is gripping and there are a few surprises.

(Well, if you've stayed away from all the preview hype there are.)

Its running time, amazingly, doesn't drag and while I doubt you'd lose anything by shaving 20 minutes off it doesn't feel overblown.

But it's not perfect.

The early fight scenes are almost a blur as Anthony and Joe Russo try to jam as many of your fingers as possible into every available socket.

Then there's the graphics telling you we are in LONDON or BERLIN.

Subtlety was out of the office when that decision was made. In fact those captions are so intrusive they almost ruined the film.

Fortunately they piss off after a while and we can all relax and just get on with things.

The problem at the heart of CW is just how many characters and plot devices the team are trying to get in.

Already signed up for the next two Avengers films, it feels like the Russo boys are practicing to be as good as Joss Whedon was first time around.

And then something happens.

As the sides start to get drawn up, as the divisions and reasons behind them become clearer, the film calms down a bit and the drama and tension are allowed to creep forth and take hold of you.

And they do.

To the point that the ending almost sneaks up on you, as the climatic battle becomes infused with emotion.

It was at this point I was glad I knew there were two post-credit thingies, because I was genuinely in no rush to leave my seat such was the impact of the closing half hour.



Civil War is not perfect. It's overly ambitious and at times unnecessarily complicated.

But despite this, it entertains and grips in equal measure while showing Zack Snyder how you do something big without screwing it up.

If Marvel can maintain this level, DC might as well stick to the small screen...

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Demolition (15)

The great thing about the Odeon's Screen Unseen events is that you get to play a guessing game - they post clues online, and we the film fans get to guess which film is being previewed.

Then they post the film's name online by accident and everyone gets pissed off.

It's quite the laugh riot.



This week, people were trying to guess Demolition. I've no idea what the clues were, but if people did guess it I'd be amazed because this film is all over the place you'd need an intimate knowledge of the cast to get anywhere close.

Yet, amazingly, it's not a terrible film.

Granted it was helped by there being a trailer for Everybody Wants Some beforehand (which looks set to give Boyhood a run for its money), but for a film with no coherent narrative and only one emotionally engaging character it's not that bad.

The plot, such as it is, centres on Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis - a man slowly unravelling after his wife dies in a car crash.

Or not. Depending on your point of view.

On the night she dies a vending machine fails to vend some peanut M&Ms, leading Davis to write an overly-detailed letter to the company concerned.

Followed by several more.

The letters lead Naomi Watts' Karen to break the ethical code of all customer servicers and make contact out of hours.

From here, an unlikely relationship is formed.

Well, it would, wouldn't it.

If you can overlook the small matter of a man who didn't even notice his own fridge had been leaking for weeks suddenly pouring out his heart in minute detail to a total stranger, the opening half of the film takes a dark start and really tries to lift your spirits.

There are chuckles, there are actual laughs, and while Gyllenhaal and Watts have all the chemistry of two dry sponges their individual performances are fine.

Gyllenhaal has a knack for playing the emotionally barren, and here he's on fine form. You like Davis, and you even enjoy him taking things apart as he starts to examine what's happened in his life.

His saviour, so to speak, comes in the shape of a young boy (the excellent Judah Lewis), who provides some sense of order and focus to Davis' life.

Not much, granted, but some.

And it's at this point that you realise Demolition is essentially a mash-up of every naval-gazing movie you've been forced to sit through.

Unlikely man-woman thing going on? Tick.

Young child who is unusually mature? Tick.

Insights being gained and metaphors flying around like leaves in the wind? Tick.

It's pretty much got the lot.

But you can't hate it.

Not because it's good - it's not. And not because it has a strong message - because it really doesn't.

But because it means well.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee knows his way around a script (Dallas Buyers Club and Wild will tell you that much), and so can take the tortured threads of Bryan Sipe's script and give them heart and warmth.

It's clear he cares about the story and the characters, which means that while you're trying to work out why any of this is happening you at least do so surrounded by warmth and comfort.

As I may have mentioned, very little makes sense (Is it about depression? Is it about grief? Is it about finding your pack, your tribe, your group? Sure, why not) but for a good hour or so none of that really matters.

Sadly, the last half hour or so let things down a bit.

Things start to drag, points are laboured, things get rebuilt with amazing speed and ease and the final message is delivered with such blunt force (monkeys, that's all I'm saying) you'll likely suffer a concussion.



By rights you should hate this film, but thanks to its lighter touches, a delightful soundtrack and three strong - if disparate - performances, Demolition just about stands up.

It's well made, looks great and is pretty inoffensive - yes, I grant you, when that's a selling point you're struggling, but it's true.

Some, I'm sure, will come out raving about it. Others will wonder why they bothered.

But at least you won't hate it. Probably.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (12A)

Sometimes, there really is no point reviewing a film - people will flock to see it regardless what the critics think, and will only react if a review disagrees with their entrenched views.

Such a film is BvS.

Fans who love it are crying foul and looking for conspiracies because the rest of the world doesn't share their view (NEWSFLASH: Shit happens, grow up). If you like it, does it matter what a critic thinks?



No. It really doesn't. Get out more.

Billed as a sequel to Man Of Steel (which it isn't, it's far more a Batman film), Zak Snyder has again been given the keys to the toy cupboard and told to come up with a mahoosive blockbuster full of smash and bang.

And yet again he's failed.

If you thought Man Of Steel was dull, if you're still trying to work out how he ever got work again after Sucker Punch, BvS offers you no answers.

It will make you want to punch people though.

For almost two-and-a-half hours endless amounts of plot are thrown at the screen, Lois Lane is again a waste of celluloid (not Amy Adams' fault, the script fails her once more), Jesse Eisenberg looks completely lost as Lex Luthor and hints are dropped with the subtlety of neutron bombs as to who the dark-haired beauty might be.

Sitting there watching this, as minutes stretched ahead like days, several questions sprung to mind - not least, who approved this?

No film hits the screen without being tested and re-tested these days, not when this amount of money is being wasted - so how the hell did a film this dull, this badly directed, this badly written, actually make it to the screen?

Henry Cavill is fine as Superman, but his character has no depth so all he can do is look stern.

Ben Affleck, meanwhile, is simply channelling Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns - bringing us an older, wiser, more world-weary Batman.

Which he does well, but it really doesn't fit in a film which just uses dialogue to kill time between big smashy-up set pieces.

The film only really comes to life when Gal Gadot rocks up.

With clear on-screen chemistry with Affleck, Gadot adds a spark to a previously dire piece of leaden tosh.

Frankly she's not in the film enough, but then as she's only around to set up her own film you'd do just as well as to skip this entirely and catch up with her flick next year.

Or, wait for the forthcoming Justice League movie - because essentially all you've watched here is the world's longest trailer.

Speaking of which...



I get that people were excited about this film - Bats and Supes are huge icons of modern popular culture, with fans across the globe.

Sadly, this film does neither justice.

Hopefully, after this, someone will finally stop Snyder making such tedious crap.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG)

I really wasn't going to bother with Kung Fu Panda 3 - having not seen the second instalment I felt sure I'd be missing huge gaps in the subtle nuances of the story.

But then I found myself with nothing better to do.

Then I figured I wouldn't bother writing the review - if you like Po and the gang, you're going to go see this, if you don't you're not.



Then I found myself with some wine, some olives and nothing better to do.

So here we go.

Seen the first two? You've seen 3.

Same gags, same message, same everything.

It's not bad, it's just not any different to anything we've seen before.

Sure there are a couple of new characters, but that's really it.

I get that it's not meant for men over the age of *coughmumble*, but it feels lazy. Like everyone involved decided to not rock the boat.

Oh, and the 3D bits are bloody predictable too. And annoying.

I get it - hey, why change a winning formula - but rather than rehashing stuff, why not come up with something new?

Yeah, I know, not gonna happen. But I can dream.

(Seriously, go see Hail, Caesar! It's so much more fun)

Hail, Caesar! (12A)

The great thing about a new Coen brothers film is that you never quite know what you're going to get.

Even if it's billed as a comedy, life is still not straight forward - will we get a Big Lebowski or a Burn After Reading? Or even a slant on No Country For Old Men or The The Man Who Wasn't There?

Hell, even Inside Llewyn Davis was tarted as a comedy - and that really was stretching the definition.



So, where we at?

Well, Hail, Caesar! certainly falls into the comedy category, but more than that it almost creates a new genre of film - fun films.

Because if there's one thing this film is, it's fun.

The story, such as it is, is quite simple.

Set in the early 50s, studio fixer Eddie (a brilliant Josh Brolin) spends his days solving endless problems as Capitol Pictures attempt to create entertainment to the masses.

But it's not easy.

The star of his main picture (one George Clooney - look out for him, he could go far) has been kidnapped, his leading actress (a delightful Scarlett Johansson) is up the duff and in need of another husband, a young star (Alden Ehrenreich) is proving to be useless and two gossip columnist sisters (played by Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton) are chasing a story Eddie wants buried.

All the while, he's being chased by a company that would like to offer him a "proper" job.

If the story sounds convoluted and slightly over-cooked, it is - but that really doesn't matter.

Because what Hail, Ceasar! is really about is film.

From the outset, the tone and mood are set to invoke the dramas of the day, and from there we get the full gamut - the western, the Biblical epic, the Busby Berkeley spectaculars, the romantic feature...

There's really nothing the Coen brothers don't touch upon.

And what's clear is just how much they love film.

And how much fun they had making this one.

In fact everyone was clearly having a blast on set - from the smaller roles up to Channing Tatum singing and dancing, the whole cast was having the time of their lives.

And that love, that sense of fun and enjoyment, just flows off the screen and washes over you, leaving you with a warm sense of the fuzzies.

This could have been self-indulgent (and many ways it is), but the Coens manage to side-step that neatly - helped massively, it has to be said, by Roger Deakins whose cinematography gives the whole shebang a lustre and sheen that rounds things off a treat.



It's funny, quirky, fun, enjoyable, fun, a laugh an fun.

In fact, you could review this whole thing by simply saying FUN in big capital letters.

This film won't change your life, sure, but for a couple of hours it'll make it a little better. And that's got to be a good thing.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (15)

It's a truth rarely acknowledged that a classic of English literature must be in need of some zombies.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one who approached Seth Graham-Smith's reimagining of Jane Austen's with a certain amount of caution.

But it was fun. Hilarious fun. And pitched perfectly, with the voice and tone of the original shining through as the manky dreadfuls ran riot.



But could the film match this?

Could the film capture the feel and tone of a period drama, the characters of many a loved film adaption, and still get away with the undead gathering at the gates?

Well...

From the opening scenes of stately homes, barricades and security guards you know - odd as it sounds - that you are in the right era.

And as Mr Darcy enters the room to check for any undead and partake in a quick game of cards, the costumes and dialogue confirm what you hoped - the book has been brought to life well.

The tone, like the book, is at once reverential and irreverent.

The characters we all know, and the cast bring the Bennet family, Mr Darcy, Parson Collins and Mr Wickham to life.

This is no mean feat, given the films that have gone before - with Sam Riley in particular making the role of Darcy his own.

Intertwining visual horror with the more sedate world of the Bennets was never going to be easy, but writer/director Burr Steers pulls it off with aplomb.

In particular, he makes the fight scenes - and the training scenes - sing.

And hurt, too.

Once upon a time, a man called Zack Snyder attempted to make a film where girls in school uniform went about fighting and shooting stuff.

Sounds simple, and should have been fun.

Instead you got one of the dullest films known to man.

This. This is what he was trying to achieve.

But there's no sexualisation here.

Yes, bits of it are sexed up - in particular when Elizabeth and Jane are getting dressed for the ball - but there's a world of difference between what Steers achieves and Snyder ended up with.

And man, those fight scenes are good.

Austen has long been praised for writing strong female characters, and Steers has put exactly that on the screen.

Lily James (Elizabeth) and Bella Heathcote (Jane) lead the charge as the sisters show exactly what women can do with a sword and a gun.

And it's brutal.

The camera doesn't shy away from the slaughter, and you're able to feel ever stab, every thrust, and blow as the undead hoard fall under their well-heeled boots.

In fact, the squishing of the dead is almost as much fun as the lighter moments.

And there are a lot of lighter moments.

Matt Smith as Parson Collins and Sally Phillips as Mrs Bennet both bring perfect comic timing and understated, measured performances to proceedings - keeping the tone suitably light, yet never frothy.

But this isn't all fun and splattered heads.

There's a twist in the original tale, with Wickham's character taken in a slightly different direction leading to a gripping final third.

And grip it does.

It also allows the film - and, by association, the book - to stand on it's own two feet.

This could easily be passed off as a bit of fan fiction that got lucky, but the book was very well written and the film can stand proudly alongside both the period dramas and the horror films it so clearly loves.

If there is one major quibble, it's the term "Manky Dreadfuls".

A phrase that leapt off the page and made the reader grin and laugh is reduced here to one passing reference.

And, yes, within the context of the film it matters not a jot - the film survives just fine with the myriad terms for zombie that are unearthed.

But as an adaptation, and for fans of the book, it's a misfire. It should have been there from the start.

Still, no matter. It's personal pickyness more than anything.



Leaving that aside - and I don't doubt many of you will - the film is a joyous riot of corsets, bonnets, blood, brains, swords and balls.

It's got drama, violence, comedy, guts, romance, severed limbs, horses, twists, cliffhangers and massive explosions.

It's what all good costume dramas should have.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Deadpool (15)

So, after all the hype, the hoopla, the fuss - Deadpool is finally here.

It's got all it's swears in, there's violence and nudity, finally we have a superhero show adults can enjoy.

Because grown-ups like the boobs and the swears, right?



Well, maybe some, yeah. Others think Daredevil and Jessica Jones are the way to go if you want to be all growed-up about these things.

But I digress.

Some of you may have somehow slept through all the broo-ha-ha. Well done. Here's what you missed.

Wade Wilson (played by a shockingly good Ryan Reynolds) gets diagnosed with terminal cancer, decides to take an offer of help, doesn't die.

In fact, can't.

And so Deadpool is born. And he immediately wants to take out the guy who did the thing to him.

Off we go then, jumping about the time line as the back story is weaved into current events as we hightail towards the final showdown fighty bit.

It really is that simple.

And fun. It's a lot of fun. The fights are gory, if not brutal, and there are more quips than you can through a throwing star at.

But it just feels like it's trying too hard at times.

Granted, I'm not Mr Pool's biggest fans where the books are concerned, but I had really been looking forward to the movie.

I'd seen the trailer more times than I can count (that's more than two at least) without even looking for it - it was being shared everywhere.

But you hit a problem when most of the opening sequence is in the trailer.

Before you've seen anything, it feels like you've already seen the film.

You can get past that, and the fast pace of the movie helps you to not dwell on such matters as the next bit of sweary action soon comes flying at you.

And it strikes a good balance between drama, romance (they're not kidding when they try and tell you it's a love story) and fighty fighty bits.

But something still doesn't quite feel right.

It could be the puerile humour - it would seem childish adults are the target - or it could be the unwieldy shoe-horning of Mr Pool into the already existing Marvel universe.

You'll have seen the two X-Men characters he hangs out with for a bit, but they seem out of place in an otherwise crazy world.

Then there's the scene of the final kick-off.

No one felt the need to anchor Guardians Of The Galaxy into Marvel's cinematic universe, and Ant-Man was always going to be and that was done well.

But with the sex and language and endless breaking of the fourth wall, Deadpool would have been just fine dancing along the edge.

He didn't need placing among already existing events.

We've already got the films crossing over, we've got the TV tie-in in Agents Of Shield (even if only four of us are still watching it), at no point has anyone thought 'hmm, we're missing Deadpool here'.

He should just be allowed to do his own thing.

To be fair, Reynolds has earnt that right too.

It's not easy to act without using your face (although the less charitable among you will already be suggesting he's made a career out of it) but somehow Reynolds manages to infuse Deadpool with expression through his physical acting.

No mean feat, and one he pulls off with aplomb.

And he's not alone in putting in a good performance.

Morena Baccarin as Wilson's girlfriend Vanessa is in her element - playing it for smut and laughs in equal measure, she hasn't been this good since Serenity.

After that, though, things take a bit of a dip.

T.J. Miller looks a little lost, while Ed Skrien doesn't have quite the level of menace you're looking for.

It throws the whole thing out of balance, with Reynolds leaving everyone but Baccarin in his lycra-clad dust.

That's not to say it ruins the film, not at all - it just leaves you wanting more.

And by more, I mean more than the end credit sequence.



As I said there is a lot of fun to be had here, and Reynolds puts in the kind of performance that'll make you forget (if not forgive) the Green Lantern abomination.

It's just trying too hard to be edgy and funny, which takes the edge off what could have been an early frontrunner in this year's race for best super hero movie.