Sunday, 8 December 2019

21 Bridges (15)

Walking out of the cinema after watching 21 Bridges was more interesting than usual – asked if we had enjoyed the film, and answering positively, were were greeted with an incredulous stare.


It seems the two of us had watched very different films...

Further discussion led to phrases such as “been done before”, “just a cop movie” and “predictable” being bandied about — and it was hard to argue against them.

But at the same time, they missed the point.

With 21 Bridges, it's not the story that's being told that matters so much as HOW it is being told.

The plot, despite many a twist and turn, is remarkably simple. A botched raid on some stashed coke leads to a mass shoot-out and more dead cops than you can shake a sub-machine gun at.

Cue Detective Davis (Chadwick Boseman) being called in to track down the two hoodlums responsible for the massacre, and promptly being saddled with Detective Burns (Sienna Miller) from narcotics.

And from here, yes, we can't argue, A follows B in the finest of traditions.

But as we said above, it's how the story is shaped and told...

For a start, the decision is made to shut down the whole of Manhattan – including the titular 21 Bridges. A deadline is then added to the mix.

What this does is create a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere meaning no one can take a breathe and the chase becomes beautifully relentless from there on in.

But even that isn't what makes this film what it is.

The use of dark streets, cars racing through the night, the stark contrast of the underground are all utilised beautifully by first-time movie director Brian Kirk (whose work on Game Of Thrones and Luther proves he knows what he's doing).

The use of aerial shots also give an added sheen to proceedings, bringing to mind a grittier version of Welcome To The Punch.

It's the sound design. That's where the real magic of 21 Bridges lies.

From the moment the bad guys drive up to the wine bar in their quiet car, the doors shutting softly, you know you are in the hands of a lover of the craft (sound designer Lawrence Zipf in this case).

Not since Stoker has the sound of a movie got us this excited.

And that his how the tension is quietly, gently ratcheted up during the course of the film.

The score insinuates rather than instructs, during a brilliant chase scene it underpins rather than shouts over the top (in one case allowing the sound of clattering pots and pans to ring clear).

And while the tempo of the film barely changes, the beat of the sound effects and sound track plug themselves into your adrenal glands and take control.

Now obviously this doesn't work for everyone, but when it does....

And to be honest, it needs to.

The characters are rather cliched, Miller's narc cop is paper thin at best and her delivery is somewhat flat, bad guys Stephen James and Taylor Kitsch have been in a million other movies – but once you get lost in the action, once you let the sounds wrap themselves around you, none of that matters.

It helps a lot that Boseman is a commanding screen presence, utterly believable and plays his detective with depth and nuance. A lesser actor could have got lost in this.

The film is not without other flaws, either, and one piece of expositional dialogue could have been replaced by a bunch of pom-pom waving cops singing “THIS IS A CLUE” in full falsetto and it would have invoked fewer tuts.

But the positives outweigh the negatives here.

Has the story been told before? Of course. Has it been told with more depth? Almost certainly.

But has it been told with slick care and attention to the finer details? Not recently.

At the end of the day, sometimes all you want from a film is just to sit back and enjoy it washing over you. And for that, 21 Bridges is perfect.

Knives Out (12A)

As the trailer played out before us, glances were exchanged – this looked nuts. Not good nuts, just nuts. And then Daniel Craig appears with that accent...

Yup, no way we were going to see Knives Out.

Until we saw the trailer again. When suddenly it looked a bit more fun...

So naturally, a couple of weeks later we find ourselves at the cinema and Knives Out is the only thing on at the right time. So shrugs all round and in we slump.

Only to emerge two hours later grinning like idiots having had more fun than should be possible sitting that close to a giant screen (our fault, we were running late).

You see, underneath the dodgy accent and slightly two-dimensional characters is a very funny script and a who-dunnit that shows just how bad Murder On The Orient Express really was.

The basic plot is classically simple – an obvious suicide which can only be murder. A family of suspects gather, all of whom had motive, while The Help is dragged around like a queasy Hastings to Daniel Craig's American Poirot.

None of which, we appreciate, sounds like a smashing couple of hours – but thanks to a water tight script and seriously slick direction, writer/director Rian Johnson (yup, the Star Wars one) delivers a huge dollop of entertainment.

Now, as we said, there is nothing original going on here – but when we have Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collete and Craig chewing the scenery with joy and gusto, how can you complain?

Curtis, especially, owns every frame she is in, but her co-stars all step up and deliver fitting performances, all clearly buying in to what Rian is after.

The only sticking point is Craig's accent – not because it's bad, but because one does not expect a southern drawl to come tumbling out of that face.

Once you get past that, though, he delivers a fine balance of quirk and Sherlockesque sleuthery.

But the excellent, lush, cinematography and great performances would all count for nowt if it wasn't for the writing.

Because the real jewel in Knives Out's crown is the script.

Observing Checkov's Gun to the letter (“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there.”), not a word, scene or clue is wasted.

Nothing happens by accident, nothing is forgotten, and even when you think you've spotted something Rian missed, the traditional recap in the final scenes will tell you that you were wrong.

And that is the key to why this film is just so damn enjoyable – the attention to detail.

Everyone brings their A game, no shot is left to chance and every tiny detail matters in the whole scheme of things.

And it's been a while since we've been able to say that.

Oh, and there are more than a few subtle political jibes in there too. Which was nice.

In an era when big blockbusters are causing angst for the likes of Scorsese, it's genuinely refreshing to happen upon a film that just takes a good story and has fun with it.

It proves that both good storytelling is alive and well, and that if your film is good enough (and not four days long) it can still be made.

The fact it's still on several screenings a day also proves that if you film it, they will come.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Sorry We Missed You (15)

As anyone who has so much as stepped outside in the past few years can tell you, we do not live in the easiest of times. 

The far right on the rise, politicians lying with impunity to serve their own egos... And down at the bottom, the hard working people of this country getting stiffed by companies who happily (and legally) circumnavigate employment laws.

Fun it isn't.

And, as a rule, Ken Loach isn't known for his farces and slapstick comedies – so put the two things together and what you have is likely to be a seriously tough watch.

And to be honest, that description doesn't come close.

Where Loach's previous film – I, Daniel Blake – dealt in bleak truths but had warmth and heart at its core, Sorry We Missed You beats you repeatedly over the head with its relentless message that all is not well.

That's not to say this is a film to avoid – far from it. This is as important as Daniel Blake and should be watched by anyone who thinks the gig economy is liberating and zero-hours contracts give people freedom.

So treat this is as much as a friendly warning as a review. Nothing about this film is fun. And we're still not totally sure it was enjoyable.

But the key thing to remember is we get to walk away from this. The characters, and the people they represent in the real world, can not.

At the centre of the story is the Turner family. Dad Ricky has turned to being a delivery driver for work, mum Abbie is a care worker, son Seb is going off the rails and daughter Lisa is struggling with everyone else's stress.

From the start we are treated to the crap certain courier firms tell their drivers (“you're your own boss”) before we are given a warts-n-all portrayal of the stress the drivers are subjected to.

Through Abbie, meanwhile, we see how zero-hours contracts work in the care industry – how people paid to take care of the elderly barely have the time to do everything asked of them during each visit.

And this is very much Loach's message – that the humanity has gone and people are being treated as nothing more than commodities, to be worked til they break and then replaced.

Now, there is no way of sugar-coating this story – not that Loach tries – but what such a bleak story needs is strong performances to carry it, to carry us through the storm.

And it's here that Sorry We Missed You fails to deliver.

In keeping with Loach wanting his cast to give real performances to deliver his messages as naturally as possible, he's turned again to relatively untested talent in Kris Hitchen (Ricky) and Debbie Honeywood (Abbie).

Sadly both look a little lost, with their performances coming across more as rehearsals than a final take.

That's not inherently a bad thing, but it can detract from the overall feel of both a given scene and and the film as a whole. Especially when key blocks of dialogue are clearly Loach's message and get delivered as such rather than natural conversation.

And Loach himself doesn't help matters by wanting to shoe-horn a wide agenda into less than two hours.

Stress of modern employment? Tick.

Humans treated as trash? Tick.

The burden of the modern working woman? Tick.

The plight of the NHS? Tick.

The effects of all of the above on the family unit? Tick.

All of which are hugely important topics and need highlighting in the hope those responsible finally wake up and see what they're doing to the rest of us – but it feels here like he's trying to force a quart into a pint pot.

And the effects of this are a loss of focus and a loss of a true narrative arc within the film, and audience who stumble back outside feeling bereft and beaten.

Comparisons with I, Daniel Blake are inevitable, as it's Loach again and the state of the country has only got worse between the two films – but what such comparisons do is show in stark relief just how good the former was and how short the latter falls.

And I hate having to say that. I really do.

This is an important film for so many reasons, and Loach again has something important to say that the whole world needs to hear – but the award-winning movie maker seems to lose his way here and things just come to and end with no sense of any conclusion or sign of hope.

With a UK election now underway, the timing of Sorry We Missed You couldn't be better as it shows how bleak working life is for so many these days.

And we would urge everyone to go and see this, because the messages and themes are too important to be ignored.

Just maybe set up a double-header with something fun, and see that film straight after this one.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate (15)

So, let's be clear about this. This isn't a sequel to 2015's terrible Genysis thing. No no, that would be too easy.

It doesn't even pick up the action from T3 (Rise Of The Machines). I mean, why do that eh?

No no. Much better to ignore the third film in the franchise, and the two subsequent films (although to be fair that's no bad thing) and just create a sequel to a film that came out in 1991.

And you thought they left it a while before doing Zombieland 2, eh?

So, throw everything you know in the bin and off we go again.

We now live in a world where Sarah and John Connor made it to a tropical island, only for Arnie to pop up and finish the job before buggering off.

This has left the world Johnless and with a royally pissed off Sarah.

Into this world drops Grace, an augmented human from 2045 who has to save young Dani from a new, more terrifying terminator.

Which basically means we've waited 18 years for the same story to be told.

And therein lies the problem here.

We have robots chasing humans, we have an human who will be the saviour of mankind and lots of running, hitting and explosions.

It's a nuts and bolts action film. With a dash of Robocop thrown in for good measure.

And given that T2 was the coolest film around way back when, to bring all that back (and there are homages and references all over the shop) in such a limp, drawn-out, bloated way is just a crushing disappointment.

Now, let's be clear about this - we were stocked to be going to see this. Almost giddy in fact.

I mean, Connor's back (and Linda Hamilton is still the coolest badass gun-toting chick around), Arnie's back (not a spoiler, it's in the trailer), and in places it is genuinely funny.

And in other places the action and tension are great.

But it's clear the script just wasn't up to snuff and they hoped to save everything with bigger and bigger set pieces as the whole thing dawdled on.

Well, sorry, it's not enough.

It's also not fair on the two central characters.

Mackenzie Davis (Grace) and Natalia Reyes (Dani) are strong, commanding screen presences and they basically make this film.

The action and drama is handled with power and panache and in lesser hands we'd have an even worse film.

What makes their performances even more outstanding is the dross they have to deal with. The dialogue is perfunctory at best, and the supporting and incidental characters are so paper thin you can almost see through them.

There is, however, one big plus to this movie — and it's genuinely something we hadn't thought of, but thankfully our viewing companion did.

This is a film with strong central female characters. No cleavage is needed. No smiling and twirling hair to get a thing done. No.

These three (kinda have to include Hamilton here) take no crap and shoot and punch their way through every bit of trouble.

The result on the female members of the audience (well, the one we were sitting with anyhoo) was to put a big grin on their face.

And if it can do that to a cynical, world weary woman - imagine what it will do to a younger generation of film makers.

Which, frankly, is brilliant.

And saves the film.

This is boring, action-by-numbers piffle with a plot looking for a story and dialogue in need of life support.

But this is also a film showing women can be as strong as men, can handle all the stuff they traditionally get sidelined from, and it should be applauded for this.

Now, if you don't mind, we've got a quadrology box set that needs trimming....

Zombieland: Double Tap (15)

Amazingly, it's been ten years since we first got to play in Zombieland — ten long years.

Back then the thought of a reality TV star becoming president was laughable. The idea that a country would tear itself apart simply because a bunch of billionaire want to avoid tax scrutiny simply absurd.

But we are where we are, eh?

And while no one was champing at the bit for either of those hypothetical situations to become reality, we're not totally sure that anyone was signing petitions or taking to the streets to find out what happened to Columbus, Little Rock, Wichita and Tallahassee.

But hey, we've been wrong twice already....

So ten years on we're back in Z-Land — and because these guys know what they're doing, we pick up the action ten years on.

Little Rock isn't so little, Wichita  and Columbus are attempting to be a couple and Tallahassee is... well... ten years older.

And that's pretty much it.

Then Little Rock goes AWOL and the gang have to hit the road to get her back, fighting zombies as they go.

If you saw the first one, you know this is done with equal parts gore and hilarity.

There's no wheel that needs reinventing here.

Which, going in to this, was the big fear.

This first film should not have worked as well as it did. It was geeky, gawky and basically just a few gags linking zombie splattery. With added fun graphics.

And it was great.

So, the hope was that nothing would be tinkered with too much.

And delightfully, it hasn't been.

Yes, the main cast  (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) are all bigger, more established stars than they were before — plus we now have an Oscar and three nominations on screen.

And the additions to the team (Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch) all hold their own and add to the fun.

Hell, even Wilson manages not to be too annoying.

And that's really the strength of this film.

It's meant to be fun. It's meant to be quirky. It's meant to have zombies getting splatted everywhere.

And that's what you get.

It's rips along at a cracking pace, doesn't overstay its welcome, and there's no flab on the bones. It's a tight ride and there are no passengers.

OK, maybe Berkley, but even he isn't too annoying.

The other master card Double Tap pulls off is remembering its own history and heritage. A call back to a joke from ten years ago is a brave move, but the writers remembered it and they trust that we do too.

And they're right.

As we may have hinted at the start of this waffle, the world is not the place it was in 2009 — and we need laughter more than ever.

So it's awesome that not only does Zombieland 2 deliver the laughs in spades, but you're still chuckling about things long after you've got home.

Ten years may be a long gap between films, but in this case it was worth it.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Joker (15)

As mentioned in our little LobbyCast offshoot, never underestimate our ability to know nothing about a film before we go in to it.

This is quite deliberate, as we try and form a 'fresh' opinion, but also remarkably liberating as we get pleasant surprises.

And yes, we're aware that sounds remarkably wanky.

So, heading to see Joker, we were aware of the star, that the director had said Dumb Stuff, and that the Guardian had described it as the worst film of the year.

Which, along with us wondering if we actually needed a film about Gotham's finest loon, suggested we would probably like it.

Turns out we do and we did.

Largely because we helpfully didn't know what to expect – which is almost where people who have complained about this film have come unstuck.

This film is many things – dark, nasty, violent – but what it isn't is funny or a 'superhero film'.

It's also, possibly, DC's finest film to date. For all of the reasons listed above.

Now, granted, no one really thought we needed this film (apart from DC's accountants, obvs) – we've had three defining Joker performances to date, so a fourth was always going to be a big ask.

And Jared Leto had a go too, don't forget.

But by removing any fighting with Batman and focussing entirely on how Joker came to be, Joaquin Phoenix and writer/director Todd Phillips have given us a gritty, 70s-esque movie which pulls no punches.

Central to this is Phoenix himself, who puts in a perfectly measured performance – pulling for your pity while only hinting at the madness that lurks beneath.

The other masterstroke is setting the film in a very real, very modern Gotham, where cutbacks and job losses have the many on their knees while the few carry on as if nothing is happening.

Sound familiar?

The pace of the film is delightfully slow without being laboured, and the supporting cast do just enough to keep you focussed and interested.

And then there's the small matter of Robert De Niro.

Apparently we were the only people to not register that he was in this film, which was great. As is his performance as TV host Murray Franklin, layered and subtle and perfectly positioned against Phoenix.

Topping the whole nasty mess off is the score – if you're a fan of the cello, then this is the film for you.

Moody, haunting jarring, Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl, Sicario: Day of the Soldado) has created something here that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

Sadly, but not surprising given this is a DC film, Joker is not without its problems.

The soundtrack features one song that will make you sit up and almost shout WTF in the middle of the cinema, and the two cops trying to track down Joker (or Arthur Fleck as they know him) are basically lifted from any 80s cop show you care to name.

And while the film has things to say about mental health and inequality, you don't get any sense that Phillips really cares or is interested.

Nor do you get any sense that the story, albeit one with a simple, linear narrative, really knows where it is going.

It's a credit to Phoenix that these things fail to detract from the whole experience.

Perhaps the finest thing about this film is the fact it stands alone. Yes, we know the character, yes we've seen him before, but here he's given his own playground and you don't need to have seen any other DC film to get on board.

In fact, Joker stands so alone that it's hard to see where DC go with him from here – because trying to bolt this version into the current DCU will take a crowbar the size of Gotham itself.

But such fears are for another day. For now, just sit back and wallow in the pain, misery and mayhem Phoenix has brought to life with a rare vulnerability.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)

It would seem absolutely everyone has now seen the latest, maybe even the last, Spider-Man outing – everyone, that is, except us.

So, a mere 76768686587689686876 days after release, we finally managed to tear ourselves away from everything else claiming our attention and went and sat in a darkened room to enjoy Spider-Man Goes On Holiday.

We'll be honest, though, with a mixture of Jake Gyllenhaal (sadly never a name that makes us rush to the tickets-parking-and-snacks desk) and the whole 'character goes abroad' shtick, this was not a film that we'd been eagerly anticipating.

Especially when the on-off romance between Sony and Marvel seemed to be more engrossing (back on at time of typing, but keep an eye...).

But anyhoo, we digress...

So, where we at?

Far From Home is the post-Endgame universe, and the disappearing of the people is being referenced and discussed, and the state of the Avengers is very much at the forefront of things.

Peter Parker, meanwhile, just wants the summer off and when school plan a trip to Europe this seems to sort things out nicely.

He can take in Venice and Paris, buy a thing, give MJ the thing, not be a hero and all will be well.

Which would obviously make for a short film....

So Nick Fury pops up, Happy is around, bad things happen in Venice and we get to meet a new hero – Mysterio (the aforementioned Gyllenhaal) and travel to other places for Reasons.

For those of us of a certain age, this has the feel of an On The Buses or Are You Being Served, where they took the characters abroad because they couldn't think what else to do with them.

Which, granted, is a tad harsh – this is a much better film than either of those – but you can't shake the feeling it really didn't need to go fighting its way across Europe.

That's not to say this isn't a fun film – it really is. There is a lot of humour, some quality slapstick, and the teenage angst of a boy just wanting to be a normal boy is handled deftly and with poignancy.

It just didn't need to happen abroad.

Or in 3D for that matter.

To be fair, the bits that are entirely done for 3D are far less intrusive than was the case back in Andrew Gardield's day, but in a 2D environment they really don't add anything.

All of which is a shame, because beneath all the bluster and extra trimmings is a damn fine film, and arguably one that is needed after Endgame.

It's light and frothy in places, weighty in others without going OTT, and the central trio of Parker (Tom Holland), MJ (the utterly superb Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) steal the show from their more seasoned co-stars.

And the central story is strong and engaging, with twists and turns where you want them, while using existing technology to keep believability levels within a reasonable range.

And it possibly sets up the next wave of Marvel movies, depending on the final deal Disney hacks out with Sony.

In a way, Far From Home feels like it's being thrown out as an after-thought, so huge was the finish to things in Endgame.

But in the other paw, there is a warmth and humour here that feels like Spidey has finally found his own little niche in the movie world (something that never quite happened with the previous incarnations).

Overall, while not up there with the greats, this is a welcome palete-cleanser ahead of wherever Marvel are dragging us next.