Sunday, 12 November 2017

Murder On The Orient Express (12A)

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

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

And the trailer was actually part of the problem.



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

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

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

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

...Well...

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

So that's all good.

However...

Let's be clear about one thing.

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

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

But running about is not his thing.

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

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

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

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

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

In Siberia.

Not Jerusalem, as we get in this latest version.

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

And it wasn't needed.

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

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

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

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

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

Which is where the other issue occurs.

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

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

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

And this adds to the tension.

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

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

And yet, at the same time, not boring.

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

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

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

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

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



Overall, this film is not terrible.

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

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

The Death Of Stalin (15)

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

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

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



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

Basically, the laughs dried up.

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

For a start the trailer actually made us laugh.

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

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

They were quite effusive on the subject.

So off we toddle...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Friday, 10 November 2017

Paddington 2 (PG)

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

This is especially true of Paddington.

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



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

So 2 had a lot to live up to.

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

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

Erm, yeah. Seems he can...

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

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

And the key is the bear himself.

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

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

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

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

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

But none of the magic is lost.

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

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

There really is something magical about this little bear.

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

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

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

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

You see, Paddington is simply the perfect movie.

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

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



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

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

Roll on number 3.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Geostorm (12A)

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

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

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

Gavin King

Thor: Ragnarok (12A)

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

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

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



Proved? Proven? Dunno. One of the two.

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

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

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

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

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

IT NEVER HAPPENED, OK?

Good, that's that cleared up.

Right, where were we....?

Ah, yes, Ragnorwotsit.

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

But then something happened.

There was humour.

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

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

Oh no.

This continued throughout the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that still works brilliantly.

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

But it so does.

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

This is Thor's baby, baby.



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

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

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

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin (PG)

As a rule of thumb, if The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw really hates a film, it will have mainstream appeal and be thoroughly enjoyable.

It should, then, come as no surprise that Mr Bradshaw hated Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Of course he did.



It's not an Eastern European four-hour epic about the struggle for bees in an industrialised world starring one man and a tractor and dubbed into Italian.

Instead, it's the story of A. A. Milne and how he came to write the Winnie The Pooh stories.

And it's simply beautiful.

Now, as with IT, I come at this from a personal place - I had these stories read to me as a wee nipper, and then I read them myself when older.

(This may be Bradshaw's issue of course, no one read them to him...)

And they are magical. Full of hope, happiness, imagination, wisdom, and - in the final story - touching poignancy and sadness.

But the story behind the stories is not quite so soft and squishy.

A. A. Milne and his illustrator E. H Shepherd (played perfectly by Domhnall Gleeson and Stephen Campbell Moore respectively) were both suffering from PTSD following action in the First World War.

While struggling to find the words to fight for peace, Milne decamps to the country with his wife and newborn son.

Where inspiration finally strikes.

Through forced circumstances, Milne has to spend time with his son, and so the tales are born.

And this is just one of the hidden gems within this film.

Throughout the midsection, events occur whereby the fan of Pooh can spot events that lead to the stories - and that just gives you a lovely, warm feeling inside.

There is also a scene where Milne and son stare out over a vast landscape, and you can almost feel the tranquillity pouring off the screen.

It's possibly the most relaxing moment we've ever experienced in a cinema.

But don't make the mistake of thinking, as Bradshaw did, that this is a saccharine tale of a childhood legend.

As with the books, there's a darker underbelly lurking.

For a start, the PTSD flashbacks are sudden and shocking - much as Milne would have experienced - and appear with no warning.

They are brilliantly handled and serve to remind us what survivors of The Great War had to live with.

Then there's CR's mother, Daphne.

To say she doesn't come out of this film well would be understatement - and it's a measure of just how good Margot Robbie's portrayal is that you pretty much hate her from the birth onwards.

That's not to say the woman didn't have her good qualities - but it's in seeing these that highlight her selfish core.

In fact it was she that pushed the publicity side of things, robbing her son of a large chuck of his childhood.

I still can't quite believe just how good Robbie was in this role - and I say that as someone who has admired her for a while.

Milne was to blame too, of course, and Gleeson portrays the guilt and inner-conflict well.

But CR was blessed, kind of, to have three parents.

With his nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald in another fine performance), CR had at least one person who gave him love and attention.

If I'm giving the impression that Goodbye Christopher Robin is somehow a harsh depiction of childhood, forgive me.

It's anything but.

What director Simon Curtis and writers Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan have concocted is a bittersweet, moving, gentle, beautiful tale of how a Bear came to Be and how it affected those around him.

It's warm glow, gentle pacing and note-perfect narrative all combine to create a world you don't want to leave.

And a world that couldn't be without one special boy.

In Will Tilston, the producers have uncovered a very, very talented young man.

You connect with him instantly, and you share his ups and downs as he tries to grow up with the world eventually watching.

It's a performance of maturity way beyond his tender years.



And that, in a way, encapsulates everything that was good about the Pooh books.

They were a simple thing, but worked on several levels and reached an audience far greater than anyone could have imagined.

Certain critics (hi, Peter) may have been sniffy about this film - but when you're swept up from the start and you don't want it to end (and even digital projection issues fail to ruin that feeling), that is surely the mark of a great, great film.

And yes, there were tears at the end...

IT (15)

It's been a funny old week on the nostalgia front - no, not doing that joke - here at Popcorn Towers.

Firstly, a band of my youth (LA Guns, don't judge) have returned with an album that's almost as good as the stuff that made me love them. Another (Gun) have bettered themselves.

And then two literary giants that are the cornerstones of my reading life have hit the big screen.



The other, involving a bear of very little brain, will be chuntered about shortly - because, first, we have to talk about IT.

And I'm not really that keen to.

Partly because the 'no spoiler' house rule is actually going to make my rantings a bit tricky towards the end.

And partly because I really don't want to not like this film.

Now, granted, my memory is perhaps not the strongest some 20 years after I last read this Stephen King masterpiece.

I remember certain things about this book - the bullying, the fear, the grown-ups returning to face those fears.

I don't remember certain other things - in particular, how the kids bond in the sewers.

I think is is because, in the main, the bullying and fear are what I chimed with as a child.

As someone who had a fun two years being the focus of racial abuse and threats of violence, these were themes that really hit home and made the book more personal.

And that's why I really, really wanted to love this film.

I wanted to escape into that psychologically tortuous world once more. I wanted to relive that emotional rollercoaster.

But I was denied that on two fronts.

One, while hinted at and suggested, the fears the children are feeling aren't front and centre.

Instead we get traditional 'big scream' horror tropes and a score that just shouts at you instead of insinuating.

Subtlety has been given the night off here.

Then there's the ending.

Now, you may have seen it already. You may have heard. You may have noticed it on IMDB.

But I hadn't.

And in case you haven't, I'll spare you the details.

Suffice to say that just before the credits rolled, I swore.

And carried on swearing on the way home.

It's just unnecessary.

Anyhoo, can't say no more guv'nor so onwards to the positives.

Because there are some.

For a start, the young stars of the show are all fantastic.

They own this film and convey all the fears and fragility so evident in the book.

And the individual scary moments are handled well, with not too much excessive screaming.

Which can't be said for later scenes, but I digress...



If you ignore the fact this is IT, and park the emotional attachments to the source material, what you have here is a perfectly passable horror flick about a clown.

Bill Skarsgard isn't particularly terrifying as Pennywise, but to be fair he gets upstaged by the CGI, so what's he to do?

But ultimately, IT falls flat. A heavy touch and some infuriating studio decisions robbing us of the film this could have been.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Limehouse Golem (15)

It's taken me an unnatural amount of time to get round to penning this review - and for once I'm not blaming the busy life of a freelance everythinger.

You see, while enjoyable, it's very hard to actually care about The Limehouse Golem.

It's not a film to get passionate about.



And in many ways, these are the hardest films to review - because it's just so damn hard to give a crap about what you've watched.

If it was 47 Meters Down kinda pish (a film so bad I actually took two goes at getting the title right there) you could rant away to your heart's content.

Or if it was up there with Hidden Figures or The Hitman's Bodyguard, then again - the keys would be walloped with many a fine flourish.

But when you've walked out of cinema thinking nothing more than 'yup, solved that before he did' while wondering what to have for tea...

...well, it's a challenge.

And to be honest, if I wasn't feeling crap at having to miss Suzanne Vega this evening, I would probably still not be getting round to writing this.

For those that missed Golem's briefish run on the big screen, Bill Nighy plays a beleaguered Victorian copper given an unwanted high-profile case on the basis that when he fails to solve it he can be drummed out of town and no one would care.

Sadly, he actually starts putting clues together, and hunting the vicious killer to ground.

The Victorian era is gloriously brought to life, and the whole film has the feel of a classic penny dreadful - gory, sensationalised, but ultimately disposable.

Nighy is very good, as always, but essentially doesn't break out beyond being Bill Nighy, while the rest of the cast glide through being absolutely fine.

But when you have to wait until the final moments of the film for the solitary jump, you can't help but think something was missed somewhere.



Somewhere in here is a chilling, violent, brutal, gory horror thriller that could have you on the edge of your seat.

Instead, you're subjected to something that would struggle to make an impression at 9pm on a Sunday night on BBC1.

Oh well, at least I've written about it now...

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.