Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Wind River (15)

It still amazes me that in this day and age, things can slip under the radar.

Until the poster appeared on my cinema listings app of choice, I didn't even know this film was a thing.

All it took as the mention of Elizabeth Olsen, however, and I knew I had to see it as soon as possible.



Which as regular followers of these mutterings will know, can take a while.

But, for once, the universe sorted itself out and I had a spare couple of hours while Wind River was still showing.

So, with skip in step, off we set.

Which made driving tricky, I'll grant you. Don't skip and drive folks...

But I digress.

The only words linked to Wind River that I had seen were 'crime drama'. Someone, somewhere in a marketing department thought that's all this film was.

But it's so much more than that.

On a basic level, yes, sure, that's what it is - young woman found dead, FBI called in, bad guys hunted down.

Crime drama.

But then you've got the social and political commentary about how native Americans are treated in a land that they once called home.

Then you've got the tale of loss, of grief, of lives being torn apart by circumstances beyond your control.

Then we've got the fact it's also a revenge thriller.

There's a lot going on here.

There's also the small matter of it being a new take on a classic genre - the western.

Because, at it's heart, that's what Wind River is.

It has all the classic tropes - the quiet hero (Jeremy Renner), we have the out-of-town sheriff (Olsen), the slow, steady pacing, the panoramic vistas, the wilderness being essentially another character.

It's got the lot.

And it looks amazing.

Yes, we know, that's usually code for 'nothing happens', but not here.

Amidst all the drama and tension, the Wyoming wilderness is almost a character in it's own right.

You can almost feel the snow, the sweeping shots of the landscape are breathtaking, and the incidental moments with a cameo from the wildlife serve to remind us that they can survive out there.

We can't.

There are a lot of things we loved about this film - the pacing is steady, but in a way that draws you in, not bores you.

Every performance is subtle and measured. There's as much to be gleaned in what isn't said.

The score - superbly crafted by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - accentuates the action rather then screaming at you and telling you what you should be feeling.

When the shocks come (and they do) you leap out of your seat, but you still can't take your eyes off the screen.

And perhaps, most impressively of all, is the fact this is writer Taylor Sheridan's third film, behind Sicaro and Hell Or High Water.

It's also only his second as director.

This film should place the former Sons Of Anarchy and Veronica Mars star so highly on a 'one to watch' list that you'll need a whole new, longer, list to put him at the top of.

He's already proved he can pen a movie, but now he's showing he knows how to bring his words to life actually on the screen.

On the back of this film alone, Sheridan is now up there with J. C Chandor (of All Is Lost, Margin Call and A Most Violent Year fame) as a new director whose future work will be sought out eagerly.



Wind River is a stark, beautiful, painful, gripping, haunting piece of cinema that packs a massive emotional punch while forcing you to confront some home truths about the treatment of an indigenous people.

It may not have hung around long at the cinema, but you need to see this film. And as soon as it comes out on blu-ray.

It's the very epitome of a modern classic.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard (15)

A dearth of original ideas and comedies that are actually funny are just two of the things that get mentioned around here on a regular basis.

While the economic arguments for sequels can be understood, it can be a tad frustrating.

But the making of a comedy that's just not funny...?



Thankfully, The Hitman's Bodyguard tackles one of these issues head one.

And, even better, it's lack of originality is not an issue.

The story centres around Michael Bryce, a once Triple A-rated (yes, it's a thing) bodyguard who has fallen on tough times after losing a client.

Into his life comes Darius Kincaid, a hitman who's supposed to be giving evidence in The Hague in exchange for his beloved being released from prison.

Over the course of two-ish hours, people swear, this blow up, people get killed or maimed or both and a lot of laughs are had.

A LOT of laughs.

And that is what is most surprising about this film.

It's seriously, seriously funny.

We already know that Samuel L Jackson (Darius) can do comedy, and while Deadpool proved Ryan Reynolds (Bryce) could deliver lines, nothing had prepared us for his ability to actually do proper funny acting.

Because if recent comedy films have highlighted anything, it's that America has forgotten how to do subtle.

Punchlines telegraphed, gags given a longer build-up than a new season of Game Of Thrones - it's like they've forgotten how to just be funny.

It's like they forgot they gave us Airplane and Naked Gun.

Well, until now.

Because between writer Tom O'Connor (on only his second film) and director Patrick Hughes (of Expendables 3 fame) the spirit of those two stone cold classics has been invoked with love and reverence.

Gags fly thick and fast, to the point that the drive home is spent trying to remember them all.

There's often barely time to pause between guffaws.

It's helped, in part, by the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson - but also Hughes' well-balanced direction - the drama of the plot being allowed to come through when needed.

But, beautifully, among all the swearing and shooting and blowing uppery, there's a little hidden gem.

Actually, there are two.

The first is Salma Hayek, who plays the foulest-mouthed, bullyingist yoga practitioner on the planet.

It's only a small part, but she plays it perfectly. And it's hilarious.

Then there are two scenes featuring classic ballads.

On both occasions we were crying with laughter.



Let's be clear about this - The Hitman's Bodyguard isn't high art. It won't win awards.

But if you want to sit back, relax, have fun and be seriously entertained, then this is the film for you.

You get a hell of a lot of bangs for your buck.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

There is always a danger, when it has taken you so long to see a film you're really excited about seeing, that expectations will not be met.

Equally, history is not on the side of the third part of a trilogy - not every franchise is Toy Story.

So allow me, if you will, to share a little bit of our journey to see this film.



First up, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes blew us away - the ending, especially, was perfect.

Then there was Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Which we also loved.

Then, way way back in the mists of time (or July, if you're being picky), the adverts for War appeared on the buses.

And we got excited.

Then it hit cinemas.

And we got more exciteder.

Only our usual viewing companion was not interested.

Still, no matter, we could go on our own. Or there was our LobbyCast chum...

No, not so much. Hadn't seen the first two. Wasn't going near the third.

Sigh.

Still, no matter, we could go on our own.

Or not, as one's mild depression decided to become less mild and so motivating one's self out of the house became something of an issue.

Thankfully - and we can't stress how pleased we were about this - War has been something of a hit, so come the arse-end of August it's still showing at our local multiplex of choice.

And so, dark clouds having lifted, we finally get to take our seat and watch the third instalment of a franchise that has had us gripped since 2011.

And from the dark, atmospheric opening, we are gripped.

The story picks up, as you'd expect, where Dawn leaves off. A human army unit have been tracking Caesar and his ape brethren and all-out war is about to ensue.

And the first battle is breathtaking, it's heart-rending, it's an adrenaline-fuelled ride that is as brutal as it is brilliant.

And you know how good it is, because as the casualties stack up it is actually painful to watch.

There's no need to pick a side here. Your emotions will do that for you.

And we're totally Team Ape.

We meet-up with Caesar, we get to see his nemesis The Colonel, we hold our breath as enemies are captured...

And then...

Erm...

We basically get a whole new film.

While the opening sequence is locked into the world created by the first two films, War then wanders off into a Spaghetti Western as Caesar sets out on revenge.

Later, we take a sharp right-turn into an attempted - and very, very deliberate - remake of Apocalypse Now.

And this is where the film falls down.

The Spaghetti Western section fells like padding, like the producers wanted a longer film but didn't know what else to do.

I suspect, as well, that focus group feedback has played a part because we are given - for absolutely no good reason - a clown character in the shape of Bad Ape.

Maybe they felt it was all too dark (frankly it wasn't dark enough), maybe they genuinely felt some cheap giggles were really needed (they weren't).

Or maybe, they just really, really liked what Jar Jar Binks did to The Phantom Menace.

In all cases, they were wrong.

So, so wrong.

Other than a slight plot red herring, Bad Ape serves no discernible purpose other than to annoy and add some unwanted levity.

The character is also completely out of keeping with the tone the franchise has worked so hard to set.

Frankly, bringing in Clyde from the Every Which Way films would have made more sense.

It's an horrendous move, it's an appalling creative decision, and it undermines a lot of the drama to come.

It also serves, rather unfortunately, to break the spell the film had managed to start weaving - which allowed another problem to surface.

And that's the score.

Previously, the music had meshed with the scenes beautifully.

This time around, a heavier hand appears to have been employed.

The score, at times, essentially sounds like Bad Ape was let loose in the percussion section with a lump hammer.

Rather than hinting at what you might be feeling, the score instructs. By shouting. And when that's done, goes to town making as many sharp, loud noises as possible.

The fact this is mainly through the Western section is not a coincidence.

It may even be deliberate.

But it doesn't work.

Which brings us to the final third of the film, and the full-on Apocalypse Now pastiche.

Now, as I said, this is clearly deliberate. Director Matt Reeves is as upfront about it as possible.

Hell, he even has Woody Harrelson doing his best Marlon Brando impression as The Colonel...

...but again, it's a mis-step.

Bits of it work, they really do. And parallels with people wanting to build walls are there for all to see.

But the character of The Colonel is just too two-dimensional, too much of a caricature. You never get the sense that Harrelson really believes in what he is delivering.

Which takes the edge off an otherwise tense final third, but also robs us of a potentially great moment when a thing happens to The Colonel.

Written and portrayed differently, we could have actually cared about what unfolds.

Instead, we just shrug and and mutter 'good'.

And yet, despite everything, come the end you're back on board, back where we stared and back with a lump in your throat.

Because, despite everything, despite all that is wrong with this film, one thing shines through.

Caesar.

Andy Serkis has made the art of motion-capture acting his own, and with each of these films has raised the bar in what we expect and what is achieved.

And once again, he has produced a performance of such depth and subtlety that he makes you love and care about, essentially, a set of pixels.

The other apes - well, bar one - are all equally as good, but Caesar is the star of the show here, and has been since Rise.



It's a measure of just how good the performances of Serkis and co are that they can actually salvage this mish-mash of ideas and suggestions.

There is, buried deep down, a very good film in War For The Planet Of The Apes.

Thankfully, Caesar is so good that you can forgive the fact it's not in the finished version.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Atomic Blonde (15)

You'd think, by now, that we might have learnt not to get taken in by swishy, stylish trailers - by a 200 second snapshot that makes a film look fantastic.

Because often, the more fantastic the film is made to look, the more likely it is that film will not live up to expectations.

And the trailer for Atomic Blonde looked fantastic.



Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City (which has since been retitled to fit in with the movie), Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller set in Berlin just as the Wall comes down.

Front and centre is Charlize Theron, one of the finest actresses around and one who has a penchant for an 'interesting' project.

Let's not forget she brought us the environmental action movie Aeon Flux, although to be fair most of us would probably struggle to remember it.

Alongside MI6's finest - for she is thus - is James McAvoy as Our Man In Berlin, the ever-reliable Eddie Marsan as an East Berliner trading info for a better life, and Toby Jones and John Goodman as top Brit and American spy agency bods.

And, to be fair, the cast was half the attraction of this film.

I mean, look at those names.

How could it not be at least close to good?

I mean, sure, Jones and Goodman are basically sitting and talking throughout the film - but they sit and talk very, very well.

And the film is sold as being 'real', capturing the nasty grittiness of Berlin at a huge turning point in the city's already tumultuous history.

No Bond-esque sugaring of the pill here, no siree Bob.

So how come, then, that after a good start - which very much lives up to the billing, albeit with added unnecessary nipples - it all goes, well, a bit tits up.

The story is solid, of that there is no question. A little far-fetched at times, sure, and some of the fight scenes bring back nightmares of Lord Of The Rings, but it just about hangs together OK.

And the acting is fine.

Theron can do this stuff in her sleep, and just makes it look easy.

Jones and Goodman can do this stuff in their sleep, and look like they are.

McAvoy's just having a blast, chewing the scenery and hamming it up like a veteran. And amazingly, that's not a criticism.

And other than not having the most convincing German accent around, Marsan turns in a perfectly good performance - even if he doesn't really need to do much except look scared.

And the fight scenes are brutal.

I mean in-your-face, you can hear the teeth rattle brutal.

Blood flows like, well, blood, and Theron gives as many pummelings as she receives.

In fact, the film does have a lot going for it - especially the soundtrack, which actually steals the show here.

Featuring a mix of 80s electronica, some cult classics and a great use of The Clash, you really could listen to this film all day on repeat.

So how come Atomic Blonde actually ends up being boring? How come things seem to drag at times? Or, at the very least, cause you to lose interest?

For a start, the direction is a mess.

Helming his first full feature, experienced stunt man David Leitch (he did stunts on Buffy, the Daredevil movie, the Matrix sequels and, erm, Big Momma's House) knows how to shoot a fight scene.

But he also likes to try different things, and as such hasn't found his own style yet.

What we get is at least three different films, each with their own clear shooting style but that have very little to do with each other.

This creates something of a disjointed feel.

Then there's the sex scenes.

Aside from appealing to the teenage boy market, they serve no dramatic purpose.

This might sound a smidge prudish, but we could be shown Theron getting close her French counterpart (played by Sofia Boutella) without them writhing about on a bed for ten minutes.

The final gripe is the dialogue.

To call it cliched and stilted at times would be kind. It may be that writer Kurt Johnstad was quoting directly from the source material - but if it doesn't work on screen, change it.

It's what he's there to do, for crying out loud.



So, basically, to wrap up, apart from the OTT lesbian sex scene, the talky bits and the mish-mash of styles, it's an OK film.

What is so galling is that somewhere in here is a really good film.

Still, the soundtrack is amazing.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

47 Metres Down (15)

There is an oft-used phrase among film fans that claims a movie can be so bad it's actually good.

Take Bait, for example, or Sharknado. Terrible films, but films you could happily watch and enjoy because they were bad.

In the case of Sharknado, obviously, that was the point. With Bait, less so - and yet still I'd happily watch it again.



Then there's 47 Metres Down.

A film so bad, it's terrible.

Where do you start with something like this?

You know it's going to be terrible when in the opening scene the camera follows Vampire Diaries star Claire Holt through a swimming pool, focused largely through her legs.

This is followed by Mandy Moore (remember her?) being upended into said pool, spilling her red drink into the water.

For some reason she appears to be drinking blood, seeing as nothing else reacts like that when hitting water...

Then the dialogue kicks in.

And you realise it was scripted in a hurry by someone who has never heard humans speak before and is writing with a crayon.

A large, blunt crayon.

Because they're not allowed near sharp objects.

And then things go really down hill.

A text conversation with a boyfriend belongs in a whole other movie, the sexual politics belong in a whole other decade and the bit where Moore worries about how big her ass looks in a wetsuit belongs in the bin.

Then, we get to go in the water.

I'd suggest at this point that you try and work out who sails the boat away given everyone on board got out, but don't bother.

You really won't care.

Everything we've had to endure up to this point is leading us to the real drama. The tension. The horror, if you will.

Which isn't technically true - the horror doesn't come from what happens in the water, the horror is the whole sodding movie.

You'll notice at this point we haven't really summarised the plot - don't worry, you haven't missed anything.

Everything so far has led us to the point they get into a dodgy looking rusty cage, which is lowered into the ocean on a winch which has seen better days using worn string.

Then, shock and horror and OMGs abound, THINGS GO A BIT WRONG.

Sadly, not fatally, so we have to endure these two numpties attempting to act scared while under water.

The attempts to fashion tension and drama are beyond laughable - to the point that, when an underwater flare is ignited, the three sharks we suddenly see are less lifelike than the Jaws model at Universal Studios.

And I still have no idea where the third one came from.

Did I mention the bit where Ms Moore gets a sense of impending doom and a case of the heebie-jeebies from simply staring at a wooden post with a shark painted on it?

It's exactly that kind of film.

Only it is taking itself very seriously.

And don't get me started on how someone who admits to having NEVER dived before is able to change air tanks under water...



OK, yes, there was one - ONE - scene where we jumped slightly, but if 47 Metres Down had any sense of fun or mischief then it could almost be OK.

Instead, we have scenes of meaningful dialogue horrendously over-dubbed while our two stars walk along a beach towards the doom-laded bit of wood mentioned above.

The only thing worse than watching this film was the realisation that we were in a screening where people had willingly paid money to see it.

The Big Sick (15)

At some point, we are going to have to sit down and have a chat about Judd Apatow, and maybe even American comedies in general.

As both director and producer, any film he is attached to comes with the association with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which while funny was 12 years ago.

He also did Knocked-Up, of course. Again, funny. But that was 10 years ago.



Of his later work, both This Is 40 and Trainwreck were eminently forgettable and not that funny.

As a producer, he also gave us The Five-Year Engagement (which, in fairness, was thoroughly enjoyable) and Anchorman 2 (which wasn't).

But they were six and five years ago respectively.

It may be time to admit that his best work is now behind him, especially given Bridesmaids was 2011.

Because The Big Sick is definitely not up there with his best.

Based on a true story, The Big Sick tells the story of how co-writer and star Kumail Nanjiani met Emily (played wonderfully by Zoe Kazan of Ruby Sparks fame).

Sadly, basing it on a true story doesn't make it any funnier.

Following the pattern of Apatow's recent projects, the first half hour is quite funny, but then it just descends into pedestrian stodge.

Maybe part of the problem is comedy writers are so used to cutting their teeth on TV that they struggle to stretch out their 30-minute to 90 minutes.

Not that they stop at 90. This one runs for two sodding hours.

I mean, it can be done - Simon Pegg's been managing it for a while - so why do most American comedy films seem to struggle so much.

Maybe there are gems out there we've missed, maybe there are some classics that have slipped by unnoticed, but with The Big Sick the boredom got so bad we almost walked out.

That's not to say it's a bad film, it's not, it's just not very good. Or funny.

Part of the problem is Nanjiani himself, who's laid-back style hinders the pace of the film a tad.

Then there's Ray Romano.

Once a star of the small screen (although why remains a mystery), here he manages to make you forget his TV show but fails to make you think he can actually act.

Holly Hunter is a bright light in the gloom, but given what she has to work with she struggles to lift things.

The presence of Four Lions star Adeel Akhtar does lighten things occasionally, but he's a lot funnier than he's given the chance to be here.

There are positives here, though.

We have an Asian actor as a lead in a comedy film, something Hollywood has managed to not do for far too long, and there are some sweet, endearing moments among the plodding second half of the film.

And the first half hour or so is genuinely funny.

But the negatives far outweigh everything else, sadly.

While I understand the constraints of casting/cost, it would appear the Chicago comedy scene is solely based in one club and there are only five people who ever perform.

Then there are the hospital scenes.

Yes, I know these are key to the story, but they come at the expense of the comedy and just wallow in mawkish sentimentality.

I could write more, but I really can't be bothered. I'd rather go and make toast than dwell on this.



It's been labelled a great "date movie". It's not.

In fact, you can pretty much ignore all the praise featured in the trailer, as I think they're banging on about a different film.

Borrow the Blu-ray when it comes out, watch the first third and then skip to the end. It'll save you so much time and stop you wasting precious time.

Dunkirk (12A)

I started this blog many moons ago because I wanted to do something fun.

The day job was boring and tedious, I was seeing a therapist and listening to Mark Kermode religiously - and these three things collided, and here we are.

But lately, it's not been as much fun. I'm not dashing home to write things straight away, life is hectic, and at times I really do wonder why I'm still pursuing this.



I don't say that for a morale boosting message or any shouts of support, but more that I find myself completely out of step with perceived wisdom.

Not for the first time, I'll admit, but it seems somehow bigger this time.

You see, I really didn't enjoy Dunkirk.

It was OK. It looked nice. But it was also too long and more than a smidge boring.

And yet every review I read or hear tells me it was an amazing film. Everyone else seems to have watched the film I wanted it to be.

I have been pondering for a while the impact of depression and depressive episodes, such as the one that is finally ebbing away here, on watching films.

And maybe that was part of the problem.

Maybe.

But the more I think about, I don't actually believe that.

Like many, my grandfather was on the beach at Dunkirk. He came back on a boat called the Sundowner, sailed by a man who had survived the Titanic going down (something which offered a brief moment of levity amongst the shock and seasickness apparently).

And I wanted Dunkirk to tell me his story, to allow me to experience what he had been through - because Lord knows he was never one to talk about it (quite reasonably, all things considered).

But instead, after a good opening, I got a film that was trying to tell so many stories at the same time that it failed to have any real focus.

We got a sense of what the soldiers were feeling (well, not the ones queueing to escape...), the officers, a boat captain, the pilots - but fleetingly and sporadically.

And then there's the time line.

A film like Inception can bounce around all over the place and that's fine - it's exactly that kind of film - or you can just rip up the rule book in Interstellar.

However, events unfolded in a very specific way on that beach. And yet we flick about from morning to evening, when seemingly things should be happening at the same time, with gay abandon.

And who, apart from the guys on the boat, do we spend enough time with to actually good to know?

And how long does it take Hardy to land that damn plane?

And why, why, why, did we need that extra bit of drama on a day when hundreds of thousands of soldiers are being bombed and shot at?

Was the original story lacking something, Christopher?

And next time you ask Zimmerman to do the score, tell him less is more. Subtlety is key. We don't need smacking over the head with the whole damn orchestra.

Gosh.

I think I might have been angrier about this film than I first thought.

I've heard from friends who were blown away by Dunkirk (no pun intended), and in one case their seven-year-old son was so inspired by the film that they went home and started reading more about WWII.

And that's fantastic.

If we can keep the story alive and introduce it to new generations that's brilliant.



But, personally, I got bored. Unheralded peril and drama was being re-enacted, and I just got bored.

Like Interstellar levels of bored.

Yes, Dunkirk looks fantastic, but overcomplicating things took away from what should have been an intense, moving experience.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)

Finally, a Spider-Man movie! We've been waiting three long years for our webbed hero to be re-booted...

I mean, yes, I know about the politics, the new guy coming in to play him in Civil War etc etc, but really? Three years???

We've waited longer for Def Leppard albums...



Anyway, away from the bemoaning and tutting (and there was a lot of tutting), was it worth the lack of wait?

Erm...

Well...

Actually...

Yeah. Kinda was.

I mean, sure, I was in no rush to see this and I didn't think it needed to be made - we had the back story, we had the back story again, surely we could just have him popping up in the Avengers films and be done with it?

Of course not. This is Marvel. There are stories to be told and money to be made.

But, cynical motives aside, they've done a damn fine job.

In Tom Holland they've found a guy who captures the youthful exuberance of early Spidey and can deliver a quip with the required gentle flippancy.

And in Michael Keaton - who's on something of a roll at the moment - they've come up with a baddie of suitable sinister menace.

He steals every scene he's in, without even trying, and adds a wonderful layer of gritty nastiness to what could have become a very glossy affair.

And, most crucially, they've made the damn thing fun.

Along with the webslinging, the leaping, the swinging about, they've remembered to add laughs and jokes.

And good ones too. That actually make you laugh. Like the books can do.

And it's this sense of fun that permeates through the whole of Homecoming, meaning we went from grudging attendance to full-on enjoyment in about five minutes.

The plot, frankly, matters not a jot (bad guy does thing, Spidey tries to stop thing, stuff goes kablooie), because that's not why we're here.

We're here to see Marvel's favouritist super hero deal with becoming an Avenger while also still being a schoolboy.

He's a nerd, a geek, he can't talk to girls, he's got one friend - he's basically every fan of the books, ever.

And that's what he should be. The underdog we all root for and relate to.

Essentially there are three major set-pieces here, strung together with the frills and froth we all expect - but that doesn't seem to matter either.

Because, and I can't stress this enough, there's just so much fun being had.

Tony Stark's presence is of no benefit to anyone, and Homecoming could easily stand on it's own without him - although Jon Favreau's return as Happy is good for laughs.

And the 3D elements don't distract too much when those of us who don't like wearing sunglasses indoors go and see the film as nature intended.

Basically, it's just a very well done super hero movie.

Remember Toby Maguire's third outing?

This is about as far from that as it's possible to get.



Does it need to exist? No.

But we're really glad that it does.

Baby Driver (15)

I always approach an Edgar Wright with a healthy mixture of interest and apprehension.

While being a big fan of Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead and The World's End (despite my father's continuing claims the main character is based on him), Hot Fuzz didn't make an impression and Scott Pilgrim lost me early on.

That said, I do need to re-watch those last two as too many people have raved about them for them to be complete bobbins so I may well have missed something.



So when news broke that his new film - a project he's been wanting to do for some time - would feature Kevin Spacey and be a car-chase heist thriller kinda thing, the ol' ears pricked up a tad.

You see, for all the misgivings one may have, Wright knows what he's doing behind a camera.

It may not work all the time, but you can always see the vision he's aiming for.

So when the trailer for Baby Driver started doing the rounds, the ol' pulse started a-racing.

Then our LobbyCast companion reported back from a Screen Unseen showing.

The boy Wright had done good.

So off we trotted.

Seats were grabbed.

The lights went down...

(Well, as much as they ever do in cinemas these days)

And...

BOOM.

From the off, the adrenaline is pumping. The opening sequence just leaves you breathless.

Then you get a chance to catch your breath before your fingers are shoved back in the light socket.

And you know you are watching something exceptional.

The story is, essentially, a simple one.

Spacey plays a crime boss who puts gangs together to rip off banks, post offices, or whoever has something he can steal and fence for big dough.

His gangs change, but the one constant is Baby, his driver. He just needs to get his last job done, then he can be on his way.

Played perfectly by Ansel Elgort, Baby is a quiet, shy kid until he gets behind the wheel.

Then he comes alive, and Satan himself can't catch him.

Baby is also a music addict, a guy with an iPod for all occasions (something I'm now seriously considering replicating).

Which leads us nicely to the main character in Baby Driver.

Wright, already renowned for his ability to put a soundtrack together, has excelled himself this time.

Not just in the choons (as you young folks do say) he chooses, but in the way he uses them.

There is a scene towards the end where gunshots and beats are synchronised to such perfection it's almost balletic.

You wouldn't find that in a Transformers film, you know?

The supporting cast are also something special.

John Hamm, Eliza Gonzalez, Jamie Foxx, Flea (yes, that one) and the exquisite Lily James all fit into the jigsaw perfectly, each bringing something different and adding to the whole.

Now, you might think that balancing a surprisingly complex plot, break-neck action sequences, a strong cast and a soundtrack of a billion songs would be a problem...

...and for some, yes, it would...

...but bugger me if Wright doesn't nail it down with style and panache.

Reigning in his signature fast cuts allows scenes to breathe, the story unfolds naturally without feeling rushed (or like it's dragging) and holy mother those car chases are good.

But what shines through everything is passion.

There's not an ounce of compromise here - you can tell from the off that this is the film Wright wanted to make, and he is clearly loving every moment.

If there's a slight niggle it's that Foxx and Gonzalez are playing slightly cliche-heavy characters, but this in no way detracts from the film.

In fact, it could even be said to be a nod to some of the many films Wright is paying homage to.

It's been said more than once - and often by us on the podcast - that Hollywood is running out of original ideas.



With Baby Driver, however, they've found one.

It's fun, it's hilarious, it's brutal, it's frantic, it's quirky - in short, it's just fantastic.

Now excuse me while we go and buy the double album soundtrack and order the blu-ray...

Despicable Me 3 (U)

There is something of the genius behind these films you know... Ugly hero, small yellow things talking gibberish, it shouldn't really work as well as it does.

And yet the first two were great, and even the Minions movie was fun enough. There was a formula here that clearly worked.

So what do you do to carry things on?



I mean, they've gone to the trouble of giving Gru kids now, he's changed jobs, he's with Lucy - we've watched his life change over two films.

Sadly, here is where they seem to have slightly run out of ideas.

What's funnier than Gru? Why, two Grus.

Obviously.

You can almost hear the high-fives as the creative team come up with this revolutionary idea.

I mean, if a thing is funny then more thing must be funnier, right?

Of course.

Why not?

Well...

The thing is...

While being the star of the films (in as much as he's always been the narrative focus), and voiced by a genuine star in Steve Carell, Gru isn't the reason why we watch these films.

It's the Minions.

They're the comedy, they're the heart, they're what people want on their backpacks and lunchboxes.

Which isn't to take anything away from Carell's performance - he's fantastic as Gru - it's just he's not the reason we part with our cash.

So two of him seems like an extra coat of paint on an already painted wall.

Yes, it's now got a slightly deeper hue, but it doesn't essentially change or improve anything.

That gripe aside, Despicable Me 3 (or Despicable M3 to give it it's "official" title) isn't terrible.

With former child star Balthazar Brat as the villain, there are a lot of very well-observed 80s gags, both visual and verbal, and the soundtrack is awash with nostalgia.

And there's all the usual high-jinks, chases, gadgets, visual gags, and the Minions doing what the little banana-coloured berks do.

Not enough, to be honest with you, we could have done with more, but they're still there and we still love them.

And Lucy (voiced once more by Kristen Wiig) is again on the money and enjoyable company to be in.

And, as with D2, there's an underlying theme, a weightier message to pick up on if you want (this time the theme is family, and what makes one).

But equally, you can let that pass you by.

And there in lies the real problem with D3.

Once the hilarious opening sequence is over, the rest of the film just kind of happens.

Yes, there are laughs, but they're more chuckles and giggles, perhaps a smirk or two.

The guffaws of yore are a bit thin on the ground.

By the time we're in the final third, it feels like we've been here before.

In fact, you could watch the three trailers and you've pretty much seen the whole film.



All that said, younger fans of our acquaintance have reported back that they loved it - and as it's really for them, who are we to disagree?

But for the grumpy grown-ups who are being dragged along, there's not enough to really keep you entertained for 90 minutes.

But you might find yourself humming a Gilbert and Sullivan classic on the way home.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Hampstead (12A)

I'm so behind with my reviews it's untrue. Anyhoo, enough about my hectic life, you don't care about that...

Did you see the trailer for Hampstead? You know how, sometimes, the trailer is nothing like the film you watch?

Hampstead isn't one of those films.



No.

Hampstead is EXACTLY what you see in the trailer.

But, on this occasion, that's no bad thing. No bad thing at all.

Set in the leafy, heathy part of London named in the title, Hampstead tells the story of a woman facing financial ruin and a man who likes living in his hut that others would like to kick him out of.

Two people from different world with issues the other can barely grasp? Well, that can only end one way...

And that really is it - it's basically Notting Hill for OAPs.

And that, frankly, is a brilliant thing.

It's not edgy, it's not dark, it's not controversial, there are no superheroes or robots and Michael Bay is in no way involved.

And all of these are pluses.

With Diane Keaton and Brendon Gleeson we have a screen pair with totally believable chemistry, a pair who play off each other with ease.

And they are what make the film.

Yes, there is the backstory of a real-life event underpinning the whole thing, but the story is taken in a totally different direction so it's hardly worth mentioning outside of the marketing department.

There's also a subtext about what makes a home and a subtle commentary on the methods of big business, but it's not rammed down your throat.

Instead, you get beautiful shots of London, some fine acting, and a simple story told well.

And laughs.

Lots of laughs.

Which in an era when comedies seem to have forgotten that they have to be funny, is one hell of a bonus and a welcome surprise.

Granted, this has got Richard Curtis' DNA all over it (even though he wasn't involved) - but again, this is no bad thing.

American star? Tick. Top British actor? Tick. Supporting cast of Brits  that will keep you going 'ooh, that's...' all through the film? Tick. Lingering shots of London parks? Tick.

It's not breaking any moulds here, but again - this is a good thing.

Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and relax. Be entertained. Be wrapped in a cosy blanket that reminds you of home.

And that's Hampstead.



In case you've missed the memo, the world is pretty shitty right now. There's a lot to be scared of and worried about.

So to find somewhere nice to hang out for 90 minutes, to be able to chill with characters you can recognise instantly, to find a film that's like a warm cup of hot chocolate?

Right now, we'll take one of those all day long.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Wonder Woman (12A)

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

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

And I'm not totally sure why.



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

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

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

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

Basically the bar wasn't exactly high.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She's not.

Ripley, Alien. Need I say more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Baywatch (15)

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

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



Did you ever see the TV show? Did you?

And they made a movie of that?

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

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

Then a few more.

Then another one.

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

This is actually FUN!

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

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

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

But this is being played for laughs.

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

Efron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that was never meant to happen.



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

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

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

My Cousin Rachel (12A)

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of the problem lies with Sam Clafin.

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

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

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

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

And this is where the film falls down.

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

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

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

And this is nothing short of criminal.

Because away from him, this is a good film.

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



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

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

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

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Mindhorn (15)

Us Brits have something of a checkered past when it comes to comedy on the silver screen.

For every gem Richard Curtis delivers, someone thinks Sex Lives Of The Potato Men or Lesbian Vampire Killers is a good idea - so approaching with caution is only sensible.

Also factor in Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who have devoted cult followings) doing an Isle Of Man version of Bergerac (as yer parents, kids) and there was very chance Mindhorn was going to be quirky at best...



But no.

Instead what we get is delightfully British comedy that actually has proper laughs and jokes in it, and doesn't make you want to hind behind the sofa until it stops and goes away.

The story could only come from a British mind, too.

Barratt plays washed-up actor Richard Thorncroft, famous for playing TV detective Mindhorn and precious little else.

Then a serial killer threatens more deaths unless Mindhorn is brought on the case - and hilarity genuinely ensues.

The plot is nuts bonkers, but that's half the fun here. The absurdity of the situation is taken way past its natural extremes and it's seriously a joy to behold.

Barratt plays the deluded waster to perfection, everything being done with a straight bat - which is what makes the comedy so good.

Often the temptation is to ham it up, flagging every gag with cheerleaders and a full band, but a good comedy lets the audience find the laughs - and that's very much the case here.

The story is just told straight, Barratt, Farnaby and their assembled star cast (Kenneth Branagh, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Simon Callow, Harriet Walter) all bringing their A-game to the party.

Setting it on the Isle Of Man is also a genius move.

Bergerac, for those too young to remember, was set on Jersey, John Nettles (off of Midsomer Murders) playing the titular copper solving crimes on a weekly basis.

The influence is clear and acknowledged, and bringing it to a different tiny island allows for such great scenes as a chase through an annual Mindhorn parade and a shoot-out on a small ride or two.

This sort of thing really couldn't work in any other setting.

It also allows for Thorncroft's massively overblown ego to be shown in sharp relief against such a tiny community.

In so many ways, this film shouldn't work.

It's niche to say the least, plus it's awash with in-jokes about actors and their self-obsessed view of the world, but somehow Barratt and Farnaby fashion a good cop caper that works on more than one level.

And crucially, it's funny.

A British comedy.

Funny.

And not done by Richard Curtis.



Whoever thought that was possible?

For once, I'm really hoping for a sequel.

Their Finest (12A)

There's an old adage among devotees of Wittertainment that if it's advertised on the side of a bus, a film is probably bobbins.

But then reviews of Their Finest started coming in, and it seemed that this rule had finally been broken.

There was also word that this was Bill Nighy's finest (no pun intended) performance for some time.



So it was with some excitement and remarkably little trepidation that we settled down to enjoy this World War II tale.

It's got Nighy, Gemma Arterton, good reviews, we were in safe hands here...

And in one sense, we were.

Telling the story of the making of propaganda films during the war, Their Finest looks at the role of one woman in a male-dominated environment.

It's also a look at what happens to fading stars and how films were made back then.

And on all those fronts, it hits the spot.

Nighy, as moth-eaten forgotten star Ambrose Hilliard, is good. At his best though? No.

His best is still About Time.

Here he's playing the same Bill Nighy you've seen in countless other films, and while that sounds like a criticism it really isn't.

Like an older Hugh Grant, he's very good at what he does - but 'range' is never a word you'd attach to him.

But as a crusty actor trying to rekindle his career in a world that's not bothered who he is, he portrays Ambrose with his trademark style and deft touch.

Arterton, however, is on another level.

With a wonderfully diverse CV (if you haven't seen The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, do - and soon), she has already proven herself to be a quality actress - and here she's no difference.

Playing a woman trying to pay the bills while her artist husband struggles to ply his trade, Arterton captures perfectly the struggles of domestic life in a city being bombed on a regular basis.

Her interplay with Nighy is also great to watch, as the growing role of women meets the stubborn guard of the Old Ways.

And it's arguably their relationship that is at the heart of Their Finest, as they both grow to see the other's point of view without losing ground on their own beliefs.

Just shows it can be done.

And the film itself looks lovely (usually a backhanded compliment, granted, but not here) - the feel of the period being brought to life wonderfully.

Sadly, though, it's not a film of any great depth.

Yes, it could be argued that it's capturing the style of the time - but films have moved on, and there should be a way of telling this tale without the more two-dimensional ways of old.

And this is where the film struggles.

As good as the central performances are, and as well-handled as the lighter moments are, none of that prevents the attention wandering about half way through.

There's no grit, here, no heft.

Which means that by the time the dramatic stuff starts happening in the final third it's really hard for the audience to get out of cruise control and start re-engaging with the action.

Put this film on BBC2 on a Sunday afternoon, and sure, you'll enjoy it.



You'll pop out occasionally to make a cuppa and let the cat out (and then in again, then out, then...) without really missing much and all will be well with the world.

But as a cinematic experience, you're left wondering quite why you made the effort to leave the house.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 (12A)

When you're responsible for a surprise runaway smash hit, whatever you do with the sequel you're on a hiding to nothing.

Repeat the formula, someone will complain.

Change the formula, someone will complain.





So, Marvel being Marvel, they did both.

Remember all the quippy one-liners and fast-paced action sequences? Yup, still all there.

Only, as would happen with a gang who've been together a while, they've grown up.

Well, most of them. Groot is is still a kid. But the rest of the film has a slightly more 'adult' feel.

No, not like that.

With Star Lord's past catching up with him and Gamora and Nebula facing their sisterly issues, the theme of family runs right through Vol 2.

And that's what really makes this film work.

We could have had all the same arguing and bickering while fighting the bad guy, but people change and grow and that's what the writers have managed to do here with the whole gang.

And to do that without losing any of the charm of the original is to be applauded.

And, most importantly, it's still fun.

While darker in tone in places, the one-liners will still make you laugh out loud and you'll still walk out grinning.

And, even more importantly, the music is still damn good.

And still as important.

You get nearly the whole of Mr Blue Sky at the start, you get two cracks at The Chain, My Sweet Lord will melt your heart - it's beautiful the way the songs are stitched into the story.

If there are any quibbles (and there usually are), it's possibly a tad long and the end credit sequences are now beyond a joke.

Where once you got clues to the next films on the horizon, now you get weak gags and too many of them.

Five, I think, but I may have lost count.

Either way, you'll miss nothing by ducking out early this time round.

But such issues are really minor.

Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista and Bradley Cooper's voice are all still as you remember and as you want them to be.



Marvel have pretty much re-written the blockbuster rulebook over the last few years, with DC attempting to play catch-up in a whole new genre.

And yes, in some ways that's a shame as it squeezes out films that studios fear would not make the millions an action blockbuster with heroes could make.

But, when they produce something this fun and emotionally stirring, you can kind of forgive them.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ghost In The Shell (12A)

I won't deny, I was excited about going to see Ghost In The Shell - and not just because it gave me a chance to see if my car was fixed.

Turns out I was disappointed on both fronts, but the film got there first.

Now I need a new gearbox and I wasted two hours of my life. Just not in that order.



Based on the cult classic animation, Ghost tells the tale of a woman who has her brain transplanted into a robotic body following, she is told, a nasty accident.

The brain was all that could be saved, she is told.

Set in a futuristic Japan that visually owes more than a small debt to Blade Runner, the film follows Major (played by Scarlett Johansson, presumably because all of Japan's actresses were busy) as she goes hunting an apparent terrorist.

It's a sci-fi action epic with a spiritual message about what it is to be human.

It's also bone-numbingly tedious.

Sure, it looks great, but the longer it goes on the more you just want it to end.

To be fair, it's visually stunning, but when you find yourself wondering why a robot with no reproductive organs has to wear a nightie you know you're not engaged with the action.

You'll probably also find yourself wondering why ScarJo (as I'm told she is now sometimes known) is playing someone of Japanese origin.

Or why, in a world where people are given new eyes and can have their robotic skin replaced, people still zip about on motorbikes.

Now, normally, none of this should really matter - but the problem with Ghost is that it's such a cold, clinical, flawed film that it's really hard to get past the issues.

And the worst part, for me, is that I'm not even enjoying writing about it.

I love writing about films - even ones I haven't enjoyed - but I am really, really struggling to give a toss about Ghost.

As I said, it looks great, the performances are fine (if you don't dwell on the cultural issues), it's just...

...Meh.

Kong annoyed the hell out of me and was a terrible film, but I'd rather watch that again than Ghost.

And I hate admitting that.



A film should always make you feel something - be it positive or negative - but to leave a cinema feeling nothing?

That should be a criminal offence.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

Whatever your preferred genre of movie, there's one thing we all have in common when plonking buttocks in that cinema seat.

We want to be entertained.

Granted, that can come in many forms - being moved, made to think, made to laugh, scared. It's very much each to their own with that one.




But, at the end of the day, we want to be entertained. We don't want to be walking out of that cinema screen wondering about our life choices.

Which, sadly, is exactly what happens when you decide spending a couple of hours with a giant ape is a good use of your time.

(Side note, he's not a monkey. Someone should probably have mentioned that early on)

If you're unsure what to expect should you not heed the warnings and want to go and see this monstrosity, allow me to outline the "plot".

Two men persuade a government minister to allow them, with military assistance, to explore an island where things might be.

It's just at the end of the Vietnam war, so handily a few blokes are kicking about with nothing better to do.

Now, obviously you can't just go barging into an island all blind and unknowing, so you hire a guy who is ace at exploring stuff.

You also hire a top photographer. For reasons. And because.

From here on in, things go south and giant creatures abound.

All in 3D if you're really unlucky.

Now, in theory, this should be a good film.

It's got the cast, after all.

Tom Hiddleston's no slouch, John Goodman has a proven track record with such films, Brie Larson has an Oscar to her name, Samuel L Jackson used to be good - it SHOULD work.

But it doesn't.

Not on any level.

For a start, debut director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his team of writers have no idea what sort of film they are trying to make.

Could be Apocalypse Now, could be Jurassic Park, they couldn't decide so went for both options - creating a mash-up you never wanted to happen.

Then there's the cast.

As mentioned in our review of Free Fire (also starring Ms Larson as it happens), you can always tell when the cast are having fun.

Equally, you can tell when they're not.

Like here.

To a man (and woman), they look confused, baffled, Hiddleston is clearly thinking that if this doesn't get him the James Bond gig his agent is getting fired and Sammy J has figured he'd just cash the cheque and go all Apes On A Plane.

There isn't one performance here that comes close to being believable or credible.

And given this lot could act the phone book in their sleep and make it watchable, that's got to be down to the writers and director.

There's clearly no depth to these characters. Even those blessed with a back story aren't sure why or what for.

It's actually physically painful to watch.

Then there's the plot itself.

Set pieces clearly came first. How people got there are distant second. The result is the realisation that if the writers don't care then why should we?

The one thing that saves this abomination from the garbage heap of history is the special effects.

Kong is pretty good, although I fully expect the third Planet Of The Apes film to show how it could have been done, and the other giant monsters are almost engaging.

Especially the mahoosive water buffalo.

But then, they have to go and ruin it.

On an island where creatures we kind of recognise have quietly grown to giant proportions - and a never quiet identified flying dinosaur still exists, because why the hell not eh? - the big bad nasty monster (shown in the trailer) is something of a mystery.

I know I'm a wee bit of a pedant, but if everything else is vaguely linked to the world we know, why the hell is a walking skull knocking about.

Again, it just feels like no one cared enough to ask the question.

And there in lies the whole problem with this movie.

Someone somewhere figured, with the third Planet movie looming, we needed another ape film and not one directed by Peter Jackson (but hey, keep the dinosaurs) - even though, by comparison, that one made sense.

So what we get is a mess of bits and bobs, strung together by a group of people wishing they where somewhere else and directed by a man who's clearly bitten off more than he can chew.

You could genuinely watch this on fast forward and lose nothing.



Some films are so bad they're actually quite good. Others are terrible, but you kind of like them anyway.

Then there's this.

A collection of cliches and bad ideas thrown into a blender than splashed all over screen by a bad Jackson Pollack impressionist.

(enjoy the trailer, by the way, it's basically the whole movie)

Free Fire (15)

Sure, we all know how trailers work - show you the best bits, give you a sense of what's going on, job's a good 'un.

But sometimes, a trailer does more. Sometimes it does less than that, and that's exactly what is needed.

I saw the trailer to Free Fire at least three times before it was released, and at no point did I have any clue as to what was going to happen other than people shooting at each other.



A lot.

And swearing.

Gunfire and swearing. That's all I was promised.

And while that was more than enough, especially with this cast, what I got was so, so much more.

For a start, this is writer/director Ben Wheatley's finest film to date - and remember Sightseers and Kill List are the work of this guy.

It's also a wonderfully collaborative effort. Along with co-writer Amy Jump (Kill List's hers too of course) we are given a bunch of OTT, almost cliched characters.

And they are all fantastic.

It's the 1970s and Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley and Enzo Cilenti are in town to to buy guns. Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay and Jack Reynor are there to sell them and Brie Larson and Armie Hammer are on hand to make sure things go smoothly.

Spoiler alert: they don't.

On the face of it, it's a very simple idea. Gun deal goes bad. People get shotted. All good fun.

But in the hands of Wheatley and Jumper what you get is, well, beautiful chaos.

For a start, this film is laugh-out-loud funny. Quotable lines come flying at you like ricocheting bullets.

Then there's the film's pace.

It's at once frantic and deadly slow.

While the shooting's going on, obviously, the action is everywhere, but we are also treated to many a scene of people dragging themselves from A to B.

Very slowly.

And it's actually these bits that make the film.

Not only do they offer brief respite from the gun noise (and by 'eck is it noisy), but they also add to both the humour and the tension.

And they keep the audience guessing as to what might happen next, or who might get shot.

I honestly don't think any other director could have made these scenes so gripping.

And there isn't a bad performance here - an A-list cast all bringing their A game, and to a man (and woman) you want to see more of them.

The amount of fun these guys are clearly having is almost criminal.

And that's just another part of this film's success.

When the cast and crew are clearly all on the same page and having a blast, wonderful things happen - and you get films like this.

No one steals a scene, no one tries to overshadow anyone else, and everyone is acting their bullet-ridden backsides off.

I haven't been this gripped, this mesmerised by a film since Trainspotting.

I'd love to find a flaw here, I'd love to be able to pick one tiny hole in this film, but from the opening scenes it's impossible.

I just enjoyed it too much.

There are twists, there are gruesome gags, there's more swearing than you'd think possible, there's an Oscar-winning actress scrabbling around in the dirt...

...And the whole thing is shot in a single, solitary warehouse.

It shouldn't even be possible to make this work.



But Wheatley does, and you'll walk out of the cinema grinning.

Gun violence for the sake of it isn't big or clever, but when it's done with such a knowing wink it's both.

I need to see this film again as soon as possible.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Get Out (15)

Two things happened today that in no way prepared me for Get Out - first, I happened upon an article bemoaning a dearth of mixed-race couples in films, then I watched a football match.

The former led me to believe there was some kind of positive message awaiting me in Get Out, the latter had me on the edge of my seat during the final 15 minutes - meaning I really needed to unwind and relax.

Neither of these things happened.



Hailed and lauded in many a corner, and with our social media feeds awash with just how awesome Get Out is, it's a film that has arrived with a lot of buzz and hype.

A psychological horror with a smattering of laughs, it tells the story of Chris and his weekend away with his girlfriend Rose at her parents gaff.

Obviously it's not just them sitting around sipping ice tea, and sure enough stuff starts to get weird and creepy before you can say WTF.

The tone is set beautifully from the start, as a young black guy is bundled into the trunk of a car to the tune of Run Rabbit Run.

It's creepy, dark and delightfully twisted.

It also gets the old pulse racing - as does the scene from the trailer where a deer bounces off the car - which got the audience jumping and laughing, and me wishing my team could do simple, easy matches.

And things carry on from there at a surprisingly sedate pace.

In fact, the first third of the movie is done in such a way as to only offer hints and flickers of the weirdness that awaits.

And the ending is nothing short of superb - I'd almost push to genius, the point it's making is that good.

In between, however...

Let's start with the positives.

Daniel Kaluuya, as Chris, is someone we've been a fan of since Psychoville, and here he's in top form. Menacing and nasty when needed, but also playing up the softer side and laughs with aplomb.

Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as Rose's parents are both going against type and are subtly creepy from the get go.

Allison Williams (of Girls fame) meanwhile is equally as strong and utterly believable.

It's well shot and looks good, although a fewer close-ups of people's faces wouldn't go amiss.

It's the middle part of the film that's the tricky bit.

And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it's just a thing.

The tension and oddness ratchets up as the film unfolds, as you'd expect, and what unfolds raises questions both about writer/director Jordan Peele's intentions and the audience's reactions.

We sat down with The Bas immediately after the film and recorded our initial thoughts - but an hour on from that, I'm not sure I agree with what I thought back then.

We don't do spoilers, so can't even begin to talk about what we're trying to talk about here - but there's a lot to talk about.

What unfolds raises questions about race, race relations, and your own views on both those subjects - and they are things that go deeper than you may first think.

As the lights came up, I was all 'well, that happened' and was left genuinely flumoxed by what had unfolded.

But with a small amount of time to reflect, I think Peele has found a way to ask tricky questions about how we view each other without making a big deal about it.

Yes, granted, a mainstream film could be seen as 'a big deal' - but there are things to see if you want, or you can just scream and laugh.

The more I think about it, this is a far clever film than it first appears.

Or is being pushed in the trailers.

Alongside the screams and the laughs are scenes and themes that are genuinely unsettling (I have a real 'thing' about hypnosis) and to see them in a mainstream film is refreshing.

It shouldn't be, but there are some things that just don't get talked about - and Get Out seems to cover most of them.



The more I think about it, I think the reason I was knocked off kilter by this film is because not only was it not what I expected it did the unexpected in unexpected ways.

Which is a lot of unexpected in two hours.

But views and opinions are morphing and changing with every passing hour, and this is a film that will benefit from repeated viewings.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Love Witch (15)

It's easy to forget, but there's a good chance that way back when you actually really enjoyed the Hammer House Of Horror movies.

Or maybe you were a fan of Russ Meyer's gawdy, OTT offerings, where the visual appeal of the female stars was very much part of the appeal.

If the answer to either of these is 'yes', then The Love Witch is just the film for you. Or could be. Possibly.



Staring Samantha Robinson as the witch Elaine, the story is - at its simplest - about Elaine's search for love.

Using witchcraft. Obviously.

Only things don't go to plan. Obviously.

It's all pretty much as you'd expect - shock, gore, burials, impromptu nudity and Victorian tea rooms.

And it looks fantastic. Lush vibrant colourings just like as what we watched way back when we was all young n that.

Lovely.

And you can kind of live with the clash of styles. The clothes are out of the 1970s, yet people rock up in modern BMWs.

It takes a bit of getting used to, and it's one of those things you either ignore or let niggle.

And given the continuity issues and sexual politics, I'd let that one go if I were you.

Essentially, this film is a lot of fun - and looks amazing - it just doesn't pay to think about the messages or where it has come from.

Or what's going on with that tea room.

As mentioned at the top, visually this film owes everything to key 60s/70s genres - and with that in mind you can kind of forgive Elaine's message that a woman should do all she can to please her man.

While this is challenged by some of the other characters, it is what essentially drives the main character - casting spells to ensure a man falls in love with her.

No man, no happy, see?

And like I said, in the context of the decades of yore such thinking can be understood and excused.

Only...

Writer/director Anna Biller has gone on record saying she never saw the exploitation films of Meyer.

So if this isn't either an homage or a pastiche, what is it?

Is Biller actually suggesting that doing all you can to please a man is the way forward? Is she advocating using sex to find and keep love?

Because if so that's quite worrying in 2017 as we find ourselves having to fight for equality yet again.

Then there's the quality of the film.

Let's make no bones about this - the dialogue is stilted, the acting is marginally wooden, the editing is harsh, it looks like it was shot for peanuts using one camera and then edited in a hurry.

Now, again, if this was done in deference to the Hammer films of our youth - woohoo! Nail firmly driven through corpse.

But if not?

Then this is the film Biller actually wanted to make. She wanted it to look slightly awkward and badly written.

And she wanted you to notice the candles. And to ask how one woman filled the jar that bloody full.

None of those things are good thoughts to be having when you just want to enjoy a camp, OTT horror/exploitation feast.

I'd honestly have been much happier if I hadn't read Biller's comments. The film would actually make more sense.



As it is, you're left with more questions than answers and a hankering to go watch a proper Hammer film.

The Love Witch could be a lot of fun, and if you can go in knowing nothing about it (something i'm aware we've not helped with here) and just give yourself over to it you'll have a blast.

If, however, you start to think about it too much you'll wish you hadn't...