Thursday, 25 April 2019

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

How do you start reviewing a film like this eh? So much happens, and yet we can't talk about it because mentioning ANYTHING would be a spoiler.

And you need to see this clean (even the video clip at the end of this review is safe, as the official trailer gives way too much away).

You also have to have seen Infinity Wars (and we're going to play it safe and dance around that too), so if that's still on your to-do list - crack on. Oh, and Captain Marvel.

But first, some context for how we came to watching Endgame at 8am having had two cups of tea and no breakfast.

Yesterday a work-related thing left us feeling worthless, undervalued and generally crappy, the joys of low mood and depression, eh?

So we spent last night ruminating and cogitating, trying to stop the endless whirring around the brain — but with minimal success.

Managed to get back to sleep at 2am, but the 6am wake-up was undefeatable, so rather than sitting at home just getting more and more annoyed we figured Endgame was the way to go.

As a result, the heightened emotional state combined with a lack of brekkie may have meant we were more susceptible to The Feels.

Or, and we think this is definitely the case, this film packs a huge emotional wallop.

Tears, man. At a Marvel film. Tears.

That's not meant to happen.

But anyway, where were we?

Right, Endgame. Let's talk about that.

Picking up in the aftermath of Infinity Wars, Endgame simply goes again.

Only this time, for obvious reasons (assuming you've seen Wars, obvs) things have changed. People have changed.

So what you get is a massive, huge film - all three hours of it - which has actual emotional weight and heft.

Our heroes are feeling the effects of all that has gone before, and so they need time to process what's happened.

That's not to say this is a dark film. Yeah, it is, but there are some wonderfully underplayed comic touches that lift the mood at just the right time.

And that's what is so good about this film — everything just feels right.

The pacing is spot on, the action scenes have real drama in them, the plot itself is not something you see coming and there are moments that will have you grinning like an idiot.

Oh, and there are those tears.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about this three-hour epic finale to a 10-year story arc is that there's not an ounce of flab here.

Think - if you look back at, say, Lords Of The Rings, there's quite a lot that could go there (especially on the Director's Cut).

But here? Not so much.

No scene overstays its welcome, no action is surplus to requirements — every ounce of this movie has a part to play.

Even the credit sequences are fitting.

Yes, there's more we'd like to say here but we can't without divulging something/anything — so we'll leave it here.

With Endgame, Marvel have raised their already high bar, giving us action, passion and emotion in one giant package.

The future is being left deliberately vague, but the present is just all kinds of beautifully brilliant.

Friday, 29 March 2019

The Dirt (18)

I've been a fan of Motley Crue since the heady pre-grunge days of Dr Feelgood, and have hoovered up just about everything they've vomited into the world.

No, they're not an amazing collection of musicians breaking new ground, but on their day they are exactly the loud, snotty bag of noise you need in your life.

Sure they came with baggage, they came with a reputation and a legacy - but that was all part of the show, right?

Then they decided to come clean, and wrote The Dirt.

In their own words they told the full story of every drug, girl, hotel, argument, tragedy and success and so their place in the rock n roll gutter was cemented.

Then word came out that the book was to become a film.

With the band's full input they were going to happily lay everything bare. Again.

Only this time, it being visual, nothing would be left to the imagination.

Which, when you consider how little was left to the imagination in the book, was a bold move...

And so, after various meetings and dead ends, it was Netflix that took on the challenge of presenting Motley Crue to an audience, many of whom may not even be aware that band actually wrote a couple of boss tunes.

And, it has to be said, while they've played around a bit with who said what when (if the book is to be believed it wasn't Tom Zutaut who signed over the band's rights) they sure as hell haven't sugared the pill.

Which on the one hand is to be commended, but on the other does make them a lot harder to love.

But first, let's look at the positives.

The casting — Douglas Booth as bassist and band leader Nikki Sixx, Machine Gun Kelly as drummer/startlet marrier Tommy Lee, Iwan Rheon as moody guitarist Mick Mars and Daniel Webber as singing idiot Vince Neil — is spot on.

In particular, Webber captures the dichotomy that is Neil perfectly, while Kelly and Booth could pass as their musician counterparts with consummate ease.

And the story is totally Crue.

It's crass, debauched, disgusting, loud, snotty, filmed at 90mph — it could only be about this band.

And the dark side is not flinched away from.

Neil is responsible for the death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle (not a spoiler, it's been rather well documented), and later suffers harrowing personal tragedy.

Nikki takes to heroin a bit too well, which my have given the band a cracking song but did nearly kill him.

And Tommy may have been madly in love, but that didn't stop him bonking anything that smiled at him.

All of which is, to a point, fine and dandy.

However, in the hands of director Jeff Tremaine (of Jackass and Bad Grandpa fame), it all feels more goofy than grim.

Just to recap.

The singer was driving drunk, crashed, and the drummer of another band died.

The bass player over-dosed and was brought back to life with two syringes of adrenaline in the back of an ambulance.

These should be dark moments. I mean, they were for the band.

And yet neither scene has any real depth, any weight. They are treated with the same gravitas as televisions being thrown out of hotel windows.

Which is a shame, because the Crue of today have expressed remorse, regret and awareness of what went down (if you overlook the box set of a few years back called Music To Crash Your Car To).

Instead, this is a film for teenage boys - albeit teenage boys of 1984 rather than those with modern sensibilities.

There's more nudity than is necessary, there's an opening scene which would be more at home on the specialised porn sights the UK is trying to clamp down on, a woman is punched, and while the band do get clean there's no sense that getting loaded on heroin, coke and vodka on a nightly basis is in any way a negative.

Even the book covers that angle.

There's also the issue with trying to shoe-horn the whole story into a little under two-hours.

The guys played the prestigious Monsters Of Rock festival in England a couple of times, they played the massive Moscow Peace Festival and punched Jon Bon Jovi, Nikki died more than once...

All of these events would seem to have had more of an impact in their lives and career than Vince humping someone else's girlfriend in a bathroom.


Which leads to the ultimate quandary about this film.

All four band members were executive producers, so signed off on this. Which means they're happy for us all to see them as philandering, crashing, women-hitting douche bags.

I mean, I know that was kind of their rep, their image, but... that's how they want to be remembered?

Having said all that, something magical does happen.

Yeah, sure, John Corabi is all-but rinsed from Crue history, but the final scenes do make you feel good.

You're glad they somehow got through it all, survived ants being snorted, and took to the stage again as the band they always were (only, you know, actually a really tight musical unit).

Like their early albums, there are things to love about the Crue here — but a lot you can skip past.

It's their legacy, their history, so it's for them to decide what we see, but I can't shake the feeling that a better director would have given us a better film.

Soundtrack's good, mind, even if they did ignore Saints Of Los Angeles...

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Captain Marvel (12A)

As mentioned last week, a cinema full of people is never a favourite place to spend some time — but recently this has become ever more the case.

So, being unable to go on a quiet Friday morning meant (if we were to see Captain Marvel before the internet exploded with spoilers) a Saturday trip.

A Saturday. A time when people generally aren't at work so have time to do the fun stuff in life. Usually with their children in tow.

Hey, come on, be brave, deep breath...

Sure, there were already more than 70 people in there. Yes, people kept coming in and sitting worryingly close. Yes, the drive home involved a surprising adrenaline come-down.

But the two hours in the middle?

Sweet mother of....

We don't know how Marvel have managed this.

While the road here has been bumpy, and Iron Man 2 exists to remind us of the studio's fallibility, from Homecoming onwards there has been a continual raising of the bar.

Ragnarok? Amazing. Panther? Awesome. Infinity Wars? OMFG. Ant Man And The Wasp? A welcome change in pace and tone, but then that ending....

All of which brings us to Captain Marvel, teased to us in the closing scenes of the last Avengers outing.

But this is just an origin story, right? A fluffy place-holder before Danvers comes to play with the big boys, yeah?

No no no no no.

What we have here is story of depth and complexity, heart and passion, of weight and importance. With added cat.

And the cat is important.

In simple terms, this is an origin story — but Carol Danvers' history is neither simple not straight forward, and the writer/director team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have pulled out all the stops, bells and whistles to craft a tale that ties several loose ends up while delivering the newest piece in the Marvel puzzle.

And it's a piece we didn't even know was missing. Until now.

At the heart of it is Brie Larson, the award-winning star of Room who may also have been in Kong: Skull Island (but that's not her fault).

Larson appears born to play this role, so naturally does she feel playing a woman with very few memories who has flashbacks hinting at a life before the life she knows.

And she owns this flick, from first frame to last.

Which when you factor in the Marvel heavyweights she's alongside (this is not Samuel L Jackson's first superhero rodeo), knocking them into second place shows just what a turn she has put in.

In fact, the only cast member who outshines her is Reggie (or, in some scenes Rizzo, Gonzo or Archie) playing Goose. The cat. Who is just scene-stealing awesome. Or pawesome, if you will.

No, you shut up.

Best cat in a movie. Ever. Fact. Period.

Sorry, where were we?

Oh right, yes, the humans.

Larson is ably supported by Lashana Lynch, Anette Bening, some young up-and-comer called Jude Law and Akira Akba (who is simply brilliant).

The story is a simple one of space travel, Skrulls, Kree, some people you're met before, others you haven't, and how one man lost an eye.

All of which is traditional Marvel fare.

But the themes are deeper and darker, and also very on-point for 2019.

As well as putting kick-ass female characters (not our words, the views of the young girl behind us as we left) front and centre, Captain Marvel deals with racism, refugees, personal identity, right and wrong, truth and lies and what you can put in a Fonz lunchbox.

And it's these themes that elevate Captain Marvel to the high echelons of the very best Marvel has served up so far.

It's has huge emotional weight, it has heart, it has soul and depth, and that's before we get to the special effects and the soundtrack.

Because for a film designed to be 3D'd and IMAX'd to death, in good ol' plain, as nature intended, flat 2D this things is as bold, busy, bright and brash as you'd want, with even the close-up fight scenes not getting too scrambled in the mix.

Then, yeah, the soundtrack. Not the score Marvel has already put out, but the songs that sit so perfectly alongside the action — Elastica, Hole, Garbage, No Doubt, it's basically the best '90s mix you're ever gonna hear. With added Heart.

This film also has the best Stan Lee cameo, and in context the perfect one. The one we'd all have shot and wanted to star in.

Oh, and the opening Marvel graphic....

Did we mention the post-credit sequences? Especially the final one?

As you can tell, we're struggling to find any faults here.

There was welling up, there was laughter, there was tense silence, and for a little over two hours Captain Marvel took us into another world and was all that mattered.

Even if you're not a Marvel fan, this film has something to say on just about every level, but if you don't fancy thinking the action scenes will keep you happy.

Bring on Endgame.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Fighting With My Family (12A)

As much as I love going to the cinema, going on a Saturday evening is the closest we get to experiencing hell.

For a start, the screening is full of people. This means talking, chatting, shuffling, eating, coughing, breathing, sneezing and just a lot of generally existing going on.

Secondly, it's a Saturday night. In our world, assuming we're actually in on a Saturday and not working elsewhere, that's time for sofa and a movie at home.


Herself is a MASSIVE wrestling fan. Has been for years. In her words, wanting to go see Fighting With My Family was up there with our excitement over Captain Marvel.

And, bless her, Herself offered to go and see it on her own and I could pick her up later — and, yes, the anxiety levels were gently rising at the thought of sitting in a people-filled room — but how could we let that happen?

Especially as the trailer had us laughing our socks off.

Plus it's set in Norwich.

And it is a weird fact of life that you don't have to live in this city long for it to really start to matter to you.

So. Funny, Norwich, an evening with Herself. Deep breaths...

And to be fair, the human element was absolutely fine. Sure, there was muttering and the smell of nachos, but from about 10 seconds in nothing mattered but the story in front of our eyes.

For those of you who have missed the news, Fighting With My Family is ostensibly the story of  Paige — a two-time Divas champion who started wrestling at the age of 13.

Paige and her family are from Norwich, Norfolk, here in the good ol' U S of England, and her dad still runs wrestling classes in the city we're told. (research? us? behave)

The film follows Paige as she follows her dream to America to fight in the glamorous WWE (nope, no idea, but there are lots of lights and spandex).

Along the way we also follow her brother Zak, who shares her dream but is sadly left behind when America comes calling.

And this, for us, is the real heart of the movie.

Behind all the glamour, glitz and success, Paige had a lot of pain and emotional trauma to deal with — and it is this very human story that writer/director Stephen Merchant (yup, that one) has brought to the screen.

But he couldn't have done it without Florence Pugh, seen most recently in The Little Drummer Girl, who brings so much passion and emotion to the screen that you can't fail to be swept up.

And the same has to be said about Jack Lowden's portrayal of Paige's brother Zack.

Recently seen in Mary Queen Of Scots and The Long Song, here Lowden follows his character down the rabbit hole of disappointment and depression so perfectly we found ourselves wanting to yell at the screen.

Because it's impossible to watch this film and not care about the characters.

Pugh and Lowden lead the line, and behind them Nick Frost and Lena Headey play the parents with perfect comic timing and deft touches.

Like a tag team in the ring, these four play off each other perfectly.

And that's what's just so damn beautiful about this film.

Yes, there's an amazing story to tell — but it takes this team all bringing their A game to knock it out of the park.

Yeah, we know our sports metaphors. Panic not, we've got this...

There are times when the whole cinema was roaring with laughter, and there were times when you could hear everyone holding their breath (apart from that one person with their sodding nachos) — Fighting With My Family has the whole damn lot.

And then there's the small matter of Mr Merchant's directing.

Having taken care of a few TV projects and one movie (Cemetery Junction), Fighting looks like he's been directing for as long as Paige has been wrestling.

The early, home-set, scenes have the perfect feel of a British film — closely shot, slightly muted colours, you can almost feel the drizzle.

And then we hit America, and suddenly it's bright, bold, sweeping pan shots that would be right at home in Baywatch (a compliment in this case) — but done is such a way as to feel like we're still in the same film.

A deft touch and no mistake.

Did we mention the soundtrack? We probably should, because away from the killer rock tunes Graham Coxon crafts some delightfully subtle guitar work which underpins the more tender scenes perfectly.

Basically, we found precious little to complain about here.

Fans have pointed out that a lot of Paige's history has been overlooked, but when you only have two hours to play with such things are to be expected.

But for non-fans, this is a heartwarming, emotional, hilarious story about a young girl from Norwich who changed the wrestling world.

Films that have you grinning all the way back to your car are few and far between, but this is up there with the best of them.

(PS: The soundtrack has dialogue. This is exactly as it should be.)

Saturday, 23 February 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk (15)

According to one of the Internet Intelligentsia if you like Black Panther then you are a racist. Hey, we don't write the rules, we just have them shouted at us.

Which added an extra layer of something (although heaven knows what) to the thought process when sitting down to watch If Beale Street Could Talk.

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins of Moonlight fame, a black cast tell the story of black lives in Harlem as a young couple get torn apart after a false accusation of rape.

Both touching and compelling, it's as much a story about black lives today as it is about how black people survived in the early ’70s.

And it's thoroughly deserving of the three Oscar's it is nominated for — although Jenkins not being in the running for Best Director, and the film not being on the Best Film list is puzzling.

But then maybe the Oscar committee didn't want to appear to be racist by highlighting black issues in a film about black issues.

Apparently that's how that works now.

Not that one person's ignorant ramblings still REALLY annoy....


Where were we?

Yes, the actual film.

Based on the James Baldwin novel, Beale Street is that most rare of beasts — a true ensemble piece.

Yes Regina King is up for several awards, and rightly so, and Kiki Layne is getting a load of thoroughly deserved attention, but like a jigsaw this film needs every piece in place to work.

And work it truly does.

With Harlem being brought so vibrantly to life you can almost feel the dirt under your nails, you feel like neighbours of the characters — like you know and care about them — from the off.

And there's not just one story being told here.

At the centre of things are Tish (Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James), the young Romeo and Juliet divided by prison glass after their lives are torn apart.

But then we have Tish and her family fighting for justice, we have Daniel's tale of life inside, we have Fonny's religious family and their reactions to an impending birth...

At every turn, there's an important tale being told.

Then there's the moment Fonny stands up for Tish in the store, and how everything seems to pivot on that one moment.

In Jenkin's capable hands, the whole thing comes together gently and perfectly — tugging on heart strings here, fuelling anger at injustice there, making you feel what the characters are feeling at every turn.

Not a scene, not a frame, is wasted here. Everything has a job to do.

And then there's the score.

Also up for awards hither and yon, Nicholas Britell has crafted something that at first appears to intrude but soon becomes another character — noisily filling in the silences as if the city itself was full of a string section rather than cars.

And through it all, you are guided to an end experienced not just by you, Fonny and Tish but by victims of a rigged system for the past 40-odd years.

It's a measure of the world we live in today that a story from a different time still has so much relevance.

And while some out there will tut, sigh, roll their eyes and wonder why this is still an issue as it doesn't effect them, the rest of us are paying attention.

If Beale Street Could Talk is softly, gently, showing us what is going on in the world, and as it talks so we all should listen.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Well this is nice, Richard E Grant is up for an Oscar. Ooh, and a Bafta. Well this seems very deserved. Wonder what film this is for...

...aha, it's that new one with Melissa McCarthy.

And, er, she's been nominated as well.

*squints at screen*

Nope, not a typo. Well this has suddenly become a must-see...

...and, it turns out, rightly so.

Based on a true story (awards season you say?), Can You Ever Forgive Me? is about writer Lee Israel and how she found a new way to make ends meet once the books stopped selling.

After happening upon a genuine letter from a famous author and selling it for a few bucks, Lee decides to create more so she can pay the rent, pay her cat's vets bills and eat.

Well, drink. But the cat's health came first.

And it's McCarthy's performance that holds this whole film together.

Deserving of every nomination and accolade coming her way. McCarthy manages the often impossible task of making you like a near-unlikeable character.

Israel has become a solitary, bitter, isolated, curmudgeonly old sod who drinks just to make each day passingly bearable.

Hitting out at all those around her, it's her and the cat against the world before Grant's Jack Hock staggers into view.

And you're not meant to like Lee. Lee doesn't want you to like Lee.

But in McCarthy's hands the character is given a warmth and fragility that makes you care about her. You want her to succeed, even if she's breaking the law, because deep down she's not a bad person.

She just ended up in a bad situation doing a bad thing.

Her note-perfect performance, played with depth and subtle touches, also provides the perfect foil for Grant to let rip.

Bringing back memories of Withnail from the moment he flops down at the bar, Jack Hock is possibly Grant's finest performance (and I say that as both a massive fan of Withnail AND Dr Who).

Where Withnail battered you into submission with acid quips and flamboyant damnation, Hock sidles up to you, puts an arm around your shoulder and is buying you a drink with your money before you've so much as choked on the fumes of his booze-soaked breath.

And you kind of don't mind.

Because, like McCarthy's Israel, Grant's Hock is an unlikeable arse you can't help but warm to.

And again, that's down to the performance.

In lesser paws this would have been a harsh, possibly wooden, almost certainly cliched portrayal of a broken man who is kind of proud of his flaws — but Grant gives us layers, subtlety, nuance.

A more perfect on-screen pairing we haven't seen since St Vincent. And guess who was starring in that...

But while the main pair are hoovering up all the accolades and praise, there are smaller parts that add to the beautiful drama unfolding before us.

As Israel's agent, Jane Curtin has never been more exasperated and politely curt, while Dolly Wells’ lovestruck bookseller deserves as much praise as the main two are getting.

While we're all marvelling at the fine performances, however, something else is going on — and that's that director Marielle Heller and writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty have crafted a note-perfect movie.

Yes, the stars are shining, but behind them these three have created the perfect pacing, the right amount of angst, just enough tugging of heart strings, to keep you wrapped up in this world.

The feel and tone are spot on, and the whole thing just smothers you to the point that you don't want it to end.

Hell, even the choice of songs is spot on.

It's rare in this day and age to find a film with which there is not so much as a quibble, but with Can You Ever Forgive Me? such a film exists.

Blending comedy and tragedy, crime and cat food, this film deserves every ounce of praise being flung its way.

We could watch the whole thing again tomorrow and undoubtedly enjoy it even more.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Stan & Ollie (PG)

And so we go from one biopic involving two great figures from history to another — this time, stars of the silver screen.

There are rivalries, power struggles and strained relationships, but this time it's more recent history as John C Reilly and Steve Coogan bring us the tale of Laurel and Hardy's tour of the UK in 1952.

And it's every bit as sweet and funny as you could wish it to be.

Starting from the point where Stan tried to get a better deal from the duo's film producer, only to get the boot, the film captures the trials and tribulations as the famous pair try and put the past behind them while facing an uncertain future.

Now, this was always going to be a tough gig, no matter how good the main pair are — while we only have portraits and notes to refer to for royal figures, the works of Stan and Ollie are still here for all to see.

So if a step is put wrong, or a phrase is out of place, the fans will know in an instant.

But there are no such concerns.

Coogan captures the mannerisms of Stan to a tee, switching between 'film' and 'real-life' characters with sublime ease, while Reilly — with the aid of brilliant make-up — fills the physical role of the larger-than-life Oliver like he's been playing the part all of his life.

But where with both The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots the supporting cast is pushed a little too far into the background, here the wives (the superb pairing of Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda) are given their time to shine.

Nine's comic timing and Shirley's fretting and well-meant harsh words are the perfect foil for the men in their lives, adding a nice extra layer to the story.

And the story itself is wonderfully told.

Capturing the tensions lying under the surface, in themselves hiding the true affection the pair seemed to have for each other, this is as much a tale of human relationships as it is about two stars trying to shine again.

And yet, despite how strong the performances, how well told the tale, how well shot the story, the true star here is Stan's writing.

Some 60 years on, the audience in our screening were still finding the hat swapping sketch funny, the bell ringing bit, the hospital visit with eggs and nuts — this stuff is truly timeless.

Which is, well, heartwarming.

So much has changed over the years, comedy has gone through so many changes, sketch shows have come and gone — but to hear an audience in 2019 laughing at something written back in the '30s or '40s is so uplifting.

Especially in the current climate.

Stan & Ollie isn't edgy, doesn't have a message, doesn't have anything to 'say' — but what it does have is two people paying homage to their heroes and taking us along for the ride.

Not surprisingly, there is something quite old school about this movie, and that is really it's crowning glory.

We left the cinema feeling like we'd made new friends, and wanting to go home and watch their old films.