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...)

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Bafta awards 2017

OK, so we get Cirque du Solillywotsits to start us off this year. No idea which film they're representing....

Well, that's the montage bit of the evening, now we can get on with enjoying Stephen Fry's warm opening.

If I, Daniel Blake doesn't win everything twice, we're going to have a massive strop. Bigly.

Have to say, the Albert Hall has never looked better. Wonder how many holes would fill it?

Ooh, look, Meryl's just snogged Mr Fry.

And we're diving in with Outstanding British Film.

We've got I, Daniel Blake (HAS TO WIN), American Honey, Denial, Notes On Blindness, Under The Shadow, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.

YES!!!!

Good to see the Academy agrees with us. What a truly stunning film. Ken Loach looks slightly shocked.

And now he gets to drive home the message again - calling the benefits system callous and brutal.

Gets a good kick in about the Syrian refugee disgrace too. Got to love Ken.

Can we vote for him to be our leader yet?

Next up, the EE Rising Star award.

And we have...

Lucas Hedges, Anya Taylor-Joy, Laia Costa, Tom Holland, Ruth Negga (she's our choice out of a tough crowd).

And it goes to the new Spiderman, Tom Holland. Very well deserved.

He looks about seven. Don't you hate it when good things happen to deserving people?

Balls, no adverts on the BBC (well, not yet). One finds one's wine glass is empty...

And now we have Best Adapted Screenplay.

Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt present - Nocturnal Animals, Hidden Figures, Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, Arrival.

And the winner is...

Luke Davies for Lion. (wouldn't be our choice)

The excitement is mounting here:


Hugh Grant's here now. Quiet in the cheap seats. Best Supporting Actress here we go.

Viola Davis (GO VIOLA), Michelle Williams, Naomi Harris, Hayley Squires (GO HAYLEY), Nicole Kidman.

And the winner is.... Viola Davis! Fantastic stuff. She's our pick for the Oscar, should you care to listen to the podcast.

And what a brilliant, stirring, passionate speech. Trump won't be happy...

If you're reading this, by the way, as I type away furiously, wine-free and dog-snored, feel free to comment as we go :)

Right, cartoon time. Who we got?

Finding Dory, Moana, Zootropolis (HAS TO BE, NO?), Kubo And The Two Strings.

And the winner is... Kubo And The Two Strings. ZOOTROPOLIS WAS ROBBED!!!!

Kudos to Kubo. But Zootropolis should have won.

Right, on to Daisy Ridley and Luke Evans with the award for visual effects.

Well, that was a stilted delivery. #Sad.

Right, Fantastic Beasts, Arrival, Doctor Strange (has to win, surely), Rogue One, The Jungle Book.

Well tickle my Balloo, The Jungle Book has won.

Sadly, the Trident missile gag missed it's mark there.

Time for Outstanding Debut. And a good fist of Fifty Shades gags.

The Girl With All The Gifts (really?), The Pass, The Hard Stop, Under The Shadow, and Notes On Blindness.

And it's the guys behind Under The Shadow who take the bauble.

We're rattling through these. Now on to Supporting Actor. Presented by Felicity Jones.

She used to be in The Archers you know.

These guys didn't, however - Mahershala Ali (he's our tip), Dev Patel, Hugh Grant, Jeff Bridges (bet he gets it), Aaron Taylor Johnson.

And the golden statue mask thingie goes to... Dev Patel.

Lovely. Even if he's only in half the film.

He was better in Newsroom. And Marigold Hotel. And Slumdog. But he's a top bloke and his speech is just delightfully British and modest.

Grab your hankies, it's the cull of 2016...

Can't say I've ever wondered what Hallelujah sounded like on a cello...

Given how many people we lost last year, this might be the 12" extended remix version.

And we finish with John Hurt. Still can't believe he's gone.

Having crashed the mood through the floor, it's on to Outstanding British Contribution. Good luck lifting the crowd there Stephen.

We have a French person talking and presenting award. I'm sure this isn't what Brexiteers voted for...

Ahh, Curzon cinema. A fine institution. Some fine films they've been responsible for.

What a great sentence there. We do this for a living you know...

Wine glass still empty, by the way. Not that anyone cares.

And the award for most British speech of the night goes to...

Here we go, Original Screenplay.

And we have - La La Land (please gods, no), Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight, I, Daniel Blake (THIS! ALL THE THIS!!), Hell Or High Water.

And Manchester By The Sea wins. Booooooooooo.

Although fair play to Kenneth Lonergan. His daughter sounds like a top girl. He ain't getting back into the States any time soon.

Right, on to Leading Actor.

Andrew Garfield (good, but...), Viggo Mortenson (still no idea why, good as he is), Casey Affleck, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling (just stop it).

Where the hell was Davey Johns????

Casey Affleck picks up the golden trinket, but it should be Davey for I, Daniel Blake and we all know it.

Well, this speech is what the young kids would call a buzzkill.

Right, on to something more upbeat. Best Director time.

I still need wine.

Ever wondered how important screenplays and directors are? Watch talented actors and actresses try and deliver an 'off the cuff' bit of award presentation guff.

JUST GET TO THE NOMINEES.

Denis Villeneuve, Ken Loach (give it to him now please), Kenneth Lonergan, Tom Ford, Damien Chazelle (seriously, don't).

CHAZELLE???? SERIOUSLY????

When can we start the petition to get it re-awarded to Ken?

Oh well, moving on. Time for Leading Actress.

And we have Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Emily Blunt.

And Mr Redmayne says it's Emma Stone.

Nope, no idea why either.

Things just got interesting - the cat's playing with the keyboard jgityiqwdkjbkxhx.

Apparently he's helping bjkghkgbv.

Right, best film time.

And wine has arrived. I know you were getting worried.

There's a theme from the stars - anyone would think Trump and Brexit are not popular.

Right, anyhoo - we have La La Land (just stop it now), I, Daniel Blake (THISTHISTHISTHISTHIS), Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight, Arrival (could live with this).

And La La Land won.

Seriously.

Look at that list again. That's a seriously deserving, hard-hitting list.

And the marshmallow cushion won.

Pft.

Seriously not getting this La La love-in.

Right, time for the fellowship. The cat has his paws crossed.



And it's Mel Brooks!

This speech should be good...

Sneaky Hitler reference from Simon Pegg there. I'm sure Trump won't have noticed.

Bloody love this guy. I feel a podcast coming on...

He thinks of England as a vast Brooklyn that speaks better. Bless his big nose.

And we're done for 2017. Same time next year folks?




Winners:

Outstanding British Film - I, Daniel Blake

EE Rising Star - Tom Holland

Best Adapted Screenplay - Luke Davies, Lion

Best Supporting Actress - Viola Davis

Best Animated Film - Kubo And The Two Strings

Best Visual Effects - The Jungle Book

Outstanding Debut - Babak Anvari/Emily Leo/Oliver Roskil/Lucan Toh

Best Supporting Actor - Dev Patel

Outstanding British Contribution - Curzon Cinema

Best Original Screenplay - Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea)

Leading Actor - Casey Affleck

Best Director - Damien Chazelle

Leading Actress - Emma Stone

Best Film - La La Land.

Fellowship - Mel Brooks








Sunday, 5 February 2017

T2 Trainspotting (18)

OK, I think I need to finally admit something publicly - I never saw Trainspotting at the cinema.

In fact, I only watched it recently because I was going to go watch T2. And yes, I probably should have watched it sooner, but I've been busy.

And yes, I probably should have gone to see it at the time - but, unfortunately, when everyone tells me I HAVE to do something, I have a compulsion to go and do anything but just because.



There was also the small matter of me being a high-horse riding little git back in 1996. I hated all drugs (yeah, even though I drank regularly) and had no interest in dance music.

In short, everything people said Trainspotting was about were all the things I wasn't going to voluntarily subject myself to.

Ahh, the arrogance of youth eh?

So, 20 years on I sit down and thoroughly enjoy Trainspotting.

Sure, I can't understand the world Renton, Spud and Sick Boy inhabit - mine was a very different childhood and teenage years - but the film, as the whole world had been telling me, was bloody good.

And only director Danny Boyle's second film. Which when you consider some of the visual tricks he pulled off, is brilliantly staggering.

So, T2 then.

Yes, it's a sequel people have waited 20 years for. It could be argued that, after all this time, it's a sequel no one really needed. The original being so right for it's time n all.

Overall, the word had been good - and being older (sadly a fact) and wiser (up for debate I grant you), I'm now more open minded and happy to make an informed judgement rather than shove my head up my arse as 23-year-old me was content to do.

Which is just as well. Because OH MY GOD.

Reuniting Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle, T2 brings us back into the world of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie 20 years after we left them.

And, on the plot, that's all I'm going to say.

Renton's been away, and he's back. There's music to face, friendships to renew and family to reconnect with.

To expand beyond that could, and almost certainly would, lead to spoilers.

Because what unfolds isn't just a tale of four people whose lives have intersected once more, but an essay on growing up.

And this is the real power of T2.

While others have strong emotional connections with the original film, I do not - and yet throughout T2 I was on the edge of my seat, I was moist of eye at times, on one occasion I was actually holding my breath.

And with one particular scene, I was actually angry.

Not at its inclusion, but that the characters were allowing themselves to behave in such a way.

Because, such is the power of T2, within minutes I was wrapped in their world. I genuinely care about these guys - far, far more than I did about them 20 years back.

Such is the quality of John Hodge's screenplay, and Boyle's sublime directing, that they have created a whole new world - one about regret, nostalgia, reminiscences, a world anyone who is 20 years older than they were in 1996 can empathise with.

It helps if you've seen the original, sure, and there are nostalgic nods throughout - but such things also serve to provide backstory if you are hitting this for the first time.

And it's a perfect tool to help underpin the films central theme of ageing - of looking back over your life, especially after some fairly major events.

But this isn't a nostalgia piece - as Trainspotting had something to say about the party generation and those left abandoned in inner-city Scotland, so T2 has things to say about life today, about gentrification, about where we go in life.

But don't read that to mean this is a sombre, maudlin piece.

Not even close.

From the off this film has buckets of energy and a great rhythm - and with the breathtaking drama come moments of unbridled joy and hilarity (Renton and Sick Boy's singsong in the club being just one highlight).

This film is nothing short of magnificent.

It is simply stunning. An emotional rollercoaster in every sense of the word.

As a measure of just how powerful this film is, as we left the cinema I wouldn't say anything. I couldn't.

Because I knew that if I opened my mouth I would just burst into tears. It took me nigh on two minutes to compose myself.

It took me even longer to work out why this film had an even bigger impact on me than I, Daniel Blake.

And it's simply this: I'm older now.

I've done stupid stuff in my life, been through things, and looked back over the passing years.

And that's what T2 taps into - in a beautifully, brilliantly, brutal way.



It makes you laugh, it makes you angry, it plays with every emotion you have many, many times over.

It makes you feel things long forgotten, and it makes you love the guys on screen.

For many, Trainspotting was THEIR film, the soundtrack was their life.

T2 is mine.