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...

Monday, 13 March 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (15)

There are times when, where action films are concerned, you really don't have to have seen what went before - you can just dive right in.

After all, you're only here for the fisty-fights and shooty-bangs and the chasey-chases aren't you? No need to worry about plot details.

No? You want more?



In that case, dear film goer, welcome to the world of John Wick.

Now, I'll be upfront here - I only watched the first one a week ago because a friend of mine wanted to go see Chapter 2.

Yes, he eats popcorn and mixes Coke with Fanta at the concession stand, but he's a friend and I like him. We're not here to judge.

Anyhoo, he wanted some more Wick so it seemed rude to say know. Especially when we seem to be pretty up to date with our film watching.

And he said it would be better to watch the first first, so we did.

And bloody good it turned out to be. Dark humour, serious amounts of style and pazazzaz, amazing fights scenes - it had the lot.

It also turned out to be a good thing because Chapter 2 literally starts where John Wick ends - the entire pre-credit sequence is basically the final scene we didn't get in the first film.

For those who, like me, were initially immune to the charms for the Wick phenomena, a quick recap - John is an assassin of some renown, who retired. Only his wife then died, some bad people did for his dog and took his car, and he decided to get revenge.

That's the first one done.

In Chapter 2, an old "friend" calls in a marker and then puts a price on his head.

From here on in, we get more of the same - only with a good third set in Rome.

And that is in no way a criticism.

Part of the charm of the first one was the pure panache that oozed from the screen. It was slick and seriously sexy.

Chapter 2 is no different.

Among the violence and deaths (so, so many deaths), this film has a clear visual style that is nothing short of stunning.

At times reminiscent of Welcome To The Punch or Only God Forgives, the use of neon lighting and mirrors is just beautiful.

And sure, the humour isn't as dark or as plentiful this time round - but we get pencils.

Ultimately, though, you go to see John Wick to see people die, to see them killed, to watch as they are pulverised in myriad ways.

And on that front, no one leaves disappointed.

You see, it's not how many are killed that matters here, it's just the how.

In a recent interview, Keanu Reaves talked about the training he goes into so he can take part in the fight scenes - allowing the camera up close, bringing the audience right into the action.

And boy does this work.

You feel the punches, you wince as the bullets reappear out the back of someone's noggin, you weep as the car loses a door.

It's a thrill ride par excellence.

Reeves himself, while not the most engaging of actors (and the main reason I stayed away from the films for so long) is at home here being a cold, calculating killing machine.

But, strangely, a human one.

He feels pain, he gets hurt, he limps, he runs out of bullets - these are arguably the most realistic ridiculous films you'll ever see.

And while Reeves is the name on the poster, there are so many other people who shine here it's almost an ensemble piece.

Ian McShane (Lovejoy in old money) is wonderful as the hotel manager, Lance Reddick is back radiating behind the desk, Peter Serafinowicz is the Sommelier from hell (or heaven, depending on what you want) and Ruby Rose is wonderfully chilling as Ares.

Oh and some fella called Laurence Fishburne is knocking about the place...

And the dog is bloody great too.



Wick is a man you should hate, but you love - he's desperate, lonely, friendly and a massive burden to the insurance industry. And Reeves plays him to perfection.

But the story and Chad Stahelski's direction bring the whole thing to life and give you a joyous, uplifting tale of violence and wholesale slaughter.

You shouldn't have this much fun watching people die, but you can't help walking out of the cinema with a spring in your step.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Elle (18)

Genres of films - do they serve a purpose other than giving the marketing team a starting point? Do you need to know what genre a film is before you go see it?

If so, what do you do with a film that defies categorisation? A film that crosses so many boundaries as to be best labelled 'film'.

A film such as Elle.



If you can trust the French to do anything, it's not give a fig for convention and just do what they hell they want.

Hollywood could learn a thing or two.

Elle, you see, is a crime revenge thriller comedy drama.

Or, in old money, a damn good film - good story, great performances, laughs, leap-out-of-your-seat scares and an ambiguous ending for discussions on the way home.

Why put a label on that, eh?

Starting with the actual attack, Elle follows Michèle as she deals with the violent assault in her home.

As well as trying to find the killer, she has a troubled past coming back to haunt her and a mother living a more salacious life then she is.

Then there's the affair she's having, her ex-husband's new girlfriend and employees whose out-of-hours projects are questionable at best.

Basically, this has got the lot.

At the centre of it all is Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert, giving the role a sumptuous mix of cold-steel and humorous fragility.

Totally worth the award nomination, Huppert carries the film almost singlehandedly. Yes, there's a fine supporting cast, but this is totally her film.

Word is, Hollywood wanted a big 'name' for the part - but do that and this is a very, very different film and not in a good way.

It's Huppert's believability that is at the heart of Elle. It has it's WTF moments, but you buy into the central performance so completely that there's nothing the film can throw at you that will push you away.

Directed with a surprisingly subtle hand by Paul Verhoeven, Elle looks beautiful and quintessentially French.

Again, something you'd lose by producing this in Hollywood.

Elle is a captivating film, blending comedy and tragedy with ease and putting you on the edge of your seat for good measure.



The fact it's not fitting snugly into a category is a good thing. The fact this is in French, and is a very French film, is a good thing.

You may have questions about the ending, you may feel unsettled by some of the attack scenes, but these are also good things.

Elle is an intelligent, grown-up film dealing with grown-up stuff but handled with maturity. It's not for everyone, sure, but that'll do for me.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Logan (15)

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, our finely-honed review of Logan got buggered. It's gone, disappeared, kyboshed, lost, vamooshed.

Which is a real pisser, because it was full of praise, observations, valid points and a joke about Chernobyl.

OK, that last bit was a small fib, but the vanished review is all true.



This being the internet we can't even say the dog ate it.

Of course, I can't remember for the life of me what was actually scribbled down, so this is take-two. And like all sequels it won't be as good.

First up, let's just stress that this isn't Origins or The Wolverine - very much the dull and dumber of the Wolverine back catalogue.

What this is instead is a character-driven film, with passion and heart, which has all the beaty-uppy bits you want, humour, feeling, swears and jokes.

Inspired by the success of Deadpool, writer/director James Mangold has set out to deliberately make this a film for the older age group - and it's a wise move.

Logan is old and ailing, specs are now needed to read phones and he's a barely-functioning alcoholic.

No cigars, though, 'cos smoking's bad. Drinking good, cigars bad. Got that? Good.

Hugh Jackman has actually been given something to work with here, too.

Where as previously he just needed to be grumpy and punchy, now he's looking after an old Prof Xavier and he clearly cares despite himself.

Giving Prof X a dementia-esque condition also helps the film.

First, Patrick Stewart can actually act so the Prof is given more weight, heft and heart than previous outings.

But it also serves to show us that even mutants aren't immortal - which, while not necessarily cheerful, is a good direction to head in as it gives the characters something else to say, a new light to be seen in.

In essence Logan is a two-hour road movie, as the Prof and Wolvie are chased across America by the requisite sciency bad guys.

What changes the dynamic, however, is the presence of Laura - played by the frankly amazing Dafne Keen.

A young, engineered mutant, she's able to add an extra spice and twist to the bloody violence as we see an angry little girl rip armed goons to shreds.

Sure an adult could do this, but it just works so much better when you see an eerie kid doing it.

This isn't a perfect film by any stretch, but the flaws (needlessly flashed boobs, the lack of cigars) in no way detract from the entertainment being served up.

Where as previous, lycra-clad outings have been a tad sanitised, and the last two Wolverine films being just plain terrible, Logan is darker, more sinister, and far more bloody.

And this is a good thing.

In the books, Logan has always been a dark character - so to finally have that realised on the screen is fantastic.

To have the added weight of the inter-personal relationships of Prof and Wolfie (plus Laura) is simply superb.

Maybe I've just been watching too many Oscar-worthy films of late, but Logan actually moved me.

There were action scenes where I was holding my breath, there are at least two scenes that almost brought a tear to the eye, and the story makes far more sense than when he was off in Japan.

As I said, Logan isn't perfect - and my popcorn-munching viewing companion feels one particular line ruins the whole film - but it's damn good.



There's the swearing, there's the violence, there's the action, there's the humour, there's Stephen Merchant putting in a frankly amazing performance.

Sure it's not Winter Soldier or Guardians, but it's not trying to be. Jackman and Mangold have simply put a good story together, and coupled it with strong performances and gripping action sequences.

In doing so, they've managed to make you forget the other two films exist - something that has been too long in coming.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Fences (12A)

And so, as the dust Oscar dust settles and the wonderful Moonlight gets handed the big gong by the poor sods from La La Land, we take a chance to settle down with Denzil Washington's Fences.

Nominated for Best Film, Best Actor (Denzil), Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis) and Best Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson, who wrote the original play), Fences was one of those films we really wanted to see because EVERYONE was talking about it.

And you really do need to settle down for it, because it comes in at almost two-and-a-half hours...



Now, Fences isn't the first stage play to be moved onto the silver screen - but it is following in some troubled footsteps.

August: Osage County felt like the whole thing had just moved rooms rather than an actual film, while 2006's Dreamgirls (which netted Eddie Murphy an Oscar nomination no less) lacked the punch of the original stage show.

Fences has done all it can to alleviate any of those potential problems by reuniting Washington and Davis (who starred on the stage) and bringing in Wilson to adapt his own work.

And Denzil himself handles director duties, obviously having had a few ideas while on the stage, and from that point of view Fences really works.

At no point do any of the scenes feel like they've been lifted straight from the theatre, even when the blocking clearly has been, and so we definitely have a film here and not a filmed play.

Where it falls down, however, is the dialogue.

Obviously having Wilson on board helps the transition, but he wrote those lengthy speeches for a reason - and he clearly sees no point in changing anything just because a cinema audience is now joining in.

Don't get me wrong, they are delivered impeccably, with passion and feeling, you'll be moved by what is being said - but you need an interval for some respite, something cinemas tend not to accommodate.

After a while, you feel browbeaten, lectured, like you should have been taking notes for a test afterwards.

Thankfully, the second half is lighter - noticeably so - and without losing any of the weight, heft and gravitas of the preceding hour or so.

I'm still not sure how this happened, but there is a clear shift in tone without anybody doing anything differently.

The dialogue-heavy script, though, is the only flaw in this film.

Washington's direction - especially given he's on screen for most of the film - is subtle and understated, allowing the scenes to play out naturally.

Every performance is balanced and perfectly weighted - no one outshines anyone else (despite only the two getting Oscar nods), and it makes for a warm film where you care about everyone involved.

It just needs to be half-an-hour shorter, and some of the speeches need a trim.



Fences is an important film, especially in the current American climate, telling as it does how black American lives were back in 50s and 60s.

That it does so with no grandstanding or preaching from Wilson is a credit to his writing, instead leaving the audience to take or leave as much as they want.

Watched with a break for the loo and a cuppa, Fences is a moving piece of storytelling.

Watched in one sitting, however, feels a little too much like hard work.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Moonlight (15)

A couple of days ago, and I know the rest of this sentence isn't going to make anyone's heart leap and sing with joy, a conversation took place on Facebook about Moonlight.

Apparently it was a "middle-class handjob" that failed to investigate the black experience.

Having just got back from seeing it, I'm not sure we saw the same film.



For a start, Moonlight doesn't set out to investigate anything - it simply tells a tale of a boy growing up, coming to terms with his sexuality, his mum's addiction, life as an outsider among his peers.

Moonlight isn't trying to be a hard-hitting film.

What it is is a powerful, subtle, majestic, beautiful piece of film making that takes you on an emotional rollercoaster.

The film is broken down into three clearly defined acts, each covering a key part of Chiron's life - with three different actors playing the parts of Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Black (Trevante Rhodes) as he's known at each juncture.

The use of three different actors serves to underline the changes and growth of Chiron, without distracting you from the central narrative.

And all three actors put in stunning performances.

Little, as his nickname suggests, is the youngest Chiron who has to come to terms with the fact he may be gay and his mum (the utterly captivating Naomie Harris) is doing drugs.

His life is helped and supported by drug-dealer Juan (the superb Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe putting in another excellent performance), who step in and fill the void his mother is leaving.

Chiron, meanwhile, takes us through his troublesome school years and his first sexual experience.

When we meet Black, he's all grown up - living the only life he knows while struggling to deal with the ghosts of his past.

At every step, at every stage, you are hooked, captivated and moved by the events that unfold before you.

Each performance is note-perfect, delicately weighted and measured so no one person steals any scene or anyone else's spotlight.

And you believe in these characters, and you care about them.

Yes, Juan may be selling drugs, but we see another side to him, we are shown the human side - and so effective is the writing and performance that we genuinely care about what he is doing and experiencing.

To the extent that when he sees the collateral damage of his day job, you the viewer are as upset as Juan himself.

And this, surely, is a sign of great film making.

To create a character and a scene that moves you almost to tears, despite the fact you should have no sympathy for a man who is feeding people's addictions.

Equally, when Chiron enacts revenge on the creator of a hurtful betrayal you just want to stand up and cheer.

As someone who was bullied for most of his secondary school years, Chiron's tale is perfectly observed. His quiet persona, his air of troubled calm is simply sublime.

And as for what Black goes through, well...

There is no grandstanding here, there are no unsubtle flags being waved telling you what's coming up, there are no musical cheerleaders instructing you on what you should be feeling.

Instead, director Barry Jenkins has made the telling of a delicate, complex tale look simple.

Scenes move you, the story touches you deeply, and you emerge at the end glad to have spent time with these people.



There are no car chases, there are no shoot-outs, people don't talk in cliches.

There is just a tough tale being told with heart, compassion and empathy.

If you fail to be moved by this there's something wrong with you...

The Lego Batman Movie (U)

OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY ANOTHER LEGO MOVIE!!!!!

That was me when the news was announced. And again when I saw the trailer.

Then I saw the film...



Now, let's be clear from the start here - The Lego Movie was just all kinds of wonderful awesomeness.

And that's a high bar to be hitting again, I get that.

And to be fair, for the opening 20 minutes or so you're not waiting around for the laughs - the gags come thick and fast, and they're hitting on all levels and for all age groups.

And, sure, it would be tough to maintain that level for 90 minutes. Even the Naked Gun team struggled.

But the drop off is so great in the middle of the film that you actually start thinking about the plot and all the extra characters, you start wondering about where the film is going, you start pondering what to have for tea.

And none of these things are good.

Things kind of get dragged back on track for the closing stages, but by then you find yourself tired of waiting so the gags have to work harder to hit the earlier high points.

And not all of them do. Which is a crying shame.

All of which, amazingly, fails to sink this film.

The opening sequence is nothing short of brilliant, and the early gags are strong enough to buy the film a grace period, so that all helps.

And the 'Lego' aspect is, naturally, flawless.

The little clicks and clacks of those little legs running along or sticking to bits is as perfects as it was last time round, and Will Arnett's work as Bats is great.

It's brash, bright and colourful to boot, so that'll keep the younger members of the audience entertained while the grown-ups wonder if they've locked the car.

Maybe it is because The Lego Movie was just so good that Batman falls short - maybe the weight of expectation dragged the Caped Crusader down a smidge.

Or maybe the team were just trying too hard and ran out of steam. That might explain why Daleks were kicking about for a while.



I can forgive the fact this film was a 90-minute advert for plastic bricks - you have to buy into that at the door - but I'm struggling to forgive the lack of laughs in the second half.

Yet, I can't bring myself to hate it. Those opening gags were superb, genuinely ROFL out loud funny.

Lego still gets a lot of love from the first film, and there's enough here to entertain the target market - but they'll need to up their game if there's to be a third outing.

The Founder (12A)

First up, an apology - we strive to post reviews as soon after seeing the film as possible, but sadly with this one life kind of got in the way.

Granted you didn't know when we went, so this matters not a jot to you - but it matters to us so suck it up.

Secondly, I happily admit to having no particular interest in discovering the story behind a restaurant chain I haven't been into sober for more years than I care to count.



Thankfully, I did not let my disdain for sugary buns, dead animals wrapped in soggy lettuce and cooked potato that fails to be veggie or vegan colour my views...

Because whatever your views on this global fast-food pusher, this isn't a film about them.

No.

It's about the men who came up with the idea and the man who eventually took it off them.

And that is a film that is worth watching.

Especially when Michael Keaton is in this kind of form.

Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a travelling milkshake dispenser salesman who stumbles upon a small burger shop that's doing rather well.

Inspired, plus keen to make a quick buck, Kroc muscles into the lives of Dick and Mac McDonald (played wonderfully by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch respectively) and turns their world inside down and upside out.

And it's Keaton who carries this film.

Make no bones about it, Kroc is a selfish, money grabber who is only ever out for himself - and yet Keaton makes us like him, forces us to actually root for him as he sets about spreading the McDonald name.

He may have left Mrs Kroc (a woefully underused Laura Dern) at home, but his apparent passion and commitment to this new venture sweeps all before him, audience included.

It helps that the nastier edges are softened by the use of archive footage capturing the early days of the brothers' attempts to make a go of things.

And the moving of the original burger stand is both fascinating and heartwarming.

Sadly, though, The Founder is not without its flaws.

Unsubtle directing flags up plot developments well ahead of time, while some editing mishaps jar a smidge.

Such matters don't get in the way of Keaton's performance, however.

He steals every scene and connects with the audience from the off - to the point that, when he starts being a git, you feel a friend has let you down slightly.

But no so much that you stop liking him.

A different actor would have given us a very different film.



The Founder won't change your life, but it's a great way to pass the time.

And it's probably more fulfilling and soul-nourishing than the food you could find yourself tempted to purchase afterwards...

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Hidden Figures (PG)

Just the other day, over on the podcast, we were musing about the dearth of original ideas coming out of the Hollywood ideas factory these days.

Which, combined with it being awards season, goes some way to explaining why there are so many true stories currently being told on the big screen.

Not saying that's a bad thing, mind, just observing.



It's an observation born out of an interesting cinematic doubleheader - Hidden Figures and The Founder.

They're an interesting contrast in tales. One an inspiring story of what can be done against the odds, the other a story of what can be done if you don't care who you shit on...

They're also both fascinating, from an entirely selfish viewpoint, as they are stories I was not aware of.

In the case of Hidden Figures, it's the story of the black women who helped Kennedy's America get a man into space as they raced the Russians to prove who is best.

The story is both heartwarming and uplifting - in part because, while looking at the racism and segregation of the day, there is no grandstanding.

The viewer is left to feel shame that such times even existed - and also to dwell on how some would like such times to return.

But the inherent racism of the period serves as more than a historical marker, it also puts the achievements of the three main characters into sharper focus.

Not only were all three black, but they were women. That's two strikes against them.

Yet, with poise, grace and quiet determination, all three - Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson - push back the boundaries of both their world and ours.

And it's the strength of these three woman - played perfectly by Taraji P Henson, Oscar-nominated Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe - that make Hidden Figures the wonderful film it is.

From the opening scene, you connect with all three, as they go on their journey you are alongside them, cheering their successes, sharing their tragedies.

Theodore Melfi, of St Vincent fame, has delivered once more, allowing the story to tell itself without hammering any points home.

In a way, this is almost an old-fashioned film.

Take great actors, give them a great script, let them get on with it.

Obviously it takes more than that, but when done well it really should look that easy.

From the get go, I was grinning. And the further along the journey we went, the more I was just filled with the warm and fuzzies.

Even the 'lesser' characters played by Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst and Glen Powell have an important role to play, and are all strong enough to invoke a reaction from the audience.

If there is a negative kicking around, it would be the end credits (can we stop with the real life bits at the end of films now please?) and the fact Parsons is pretty much just playing Sheldon from Big Bang.

But those are the nittiest of nits to be picked.



Hidden Figures looks as warm as it makes you feel and is further proof that there is no substitute for a good story well told.

An early front-runner for film of the year and no mistake.

(Just realised I still haven't managed to bring myself to write that Lion review. Can't see that changing anytime soon...)