Wednesday, 20 June 2018

I, Tonya (15)

Good things, as the saying goes, come to those who wait — and this would appear to be true of films at the very least.

Having missed I, Tonya when it came around at the start of the year, we were both surprised and delighted to find it back on this week at our local multiplex of choice.

There was quite the buzz during Oscar season, so we were more than happy to settle down with some older viewers to see if it was worth the fuss.

Now, the strange thing is, that you automatically know the story.

Those of us of a certain age, and sadly some of us fall into that category, still vaguely remember the story of two rival skaters and the attempt to nobble one of them in the knee area.

What we didn't know, of course, was the story behind the story.

With Margot Robbie donning the skates as Tonya Harding, she of the title, and Allison Janney as her vile mother, I, Tonya looks at the life of the troubled skater and how things came to pass.

What we expected was a sympathetic portrayal, or at the least a very honest one.

What we got was a surprisingly dark and funny course of events, but one that is also very sad and violent.

Told through transcripts from interviews with the main protagonists, what we discover is that Tonya had a harsh upbringing, pushed and beaten by her mother according to her, culminating in her violent marriage.

Told in a documentary style, the early years are tough and brutal, with — if you'll excuse the expression — no punches pulled.

But there is a dark humour at play underneath which helps to lift what would be an otherwise downbeat and gritty tale.

But it's when the ludicrous plot to unsettle Tonya's rival Nancy Kerrigan that the real humour is allowed to flow.

Honestly, the Cohen brothers couldn't have come up with something this ridiculous.

Devised by her lowlife then husband Jeff (nicely underplayed by Sebastian Stan) and Tonya's deluded fuckwit of a bodyguard Shawn (Paul Water Hauser), it was botched at every turn.

But in the hands of director Craig Gillespie the drama is tense and mildly shocking, even if you know what plays out.

Credit also has to go to writer Steven Rogers, who has taken a tale the whole world watched and produced surprises, twists and turns.

The film belongs, though, to both Robbie and Janney.

From the outset you don't like the mother, and Janney creates a character who is up there with Cruella De Ville for a cinematic villain.

And you do actually feel a bit sorry for Tonya and the world she grew up in.

But full credit has to go to Robbie, who manages to stop feeling sorry for her from the minute she opens her mouth.

What becomes clear is that, while hampered by her roots, Tonya was still responsible for her decisions — even if she refuses to see that.

But thanks to Robbie's stellar performance, you still kind of like her...

Perhaps what is the most surprising thing is what you didn't know about this story.

Obviously her life before the infamous clobbering is important  and forms the basis of the story, but did you know what happened at the Winter Olympics in '94?

No, neither did we.

Of course, to find out you'll have to watch the film...

I, Tonya brilliantly captures that one moment in history when the whole world was suddenly interested in figure skating.

While a tad long, it keeps you engaged throughout and the central performances are captivating.

Oh, and the soundtrack is just fricking awesome.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Quiet Place (15)

As has often been mentioned around here, life has a way of getting in the way of the things we actually want to do.

So it was with A Quiet Place - not only did it take longer than I hoped to actually see it, but getting round to writing the review took far longer than is right proper.

Still, we're here now....

...and we're still trying to get our breath back.

Now, we'd already heard via the lovely Wittertainment chaps that this film was a bit tense.

But no amount of warning can prepare you for just how tense this is.

From the opening scene of a deserted street, of a redundant street light, you're pulse is already starting to go and you're edging towards the front of your seat.

And by the time the credits roll you have a good case for asking for half your money back because at no point do you settle back and make full use of the chair provided.

The story is quite a simple one. In a dystopian near-future world, those who are still around exist in a silent world.

Sign language and whispers are all that are used to communicate.

The why is only slowly revealed, which just adds to the wonderful tension this film is built on.

It stars the wonderful Emily Blunt and real-life husband and star of the American version of The Office, John Krasinski.

Now, I'll be honest here, I've never got into the American version and we wouldn't say we were fans of Mr Krasinski's work...

...but after this...


Not only does he play his part with understated subtlety, but the talented little sod directed this film as well.

And in his hands, we've been gifted a modern classic.

Blunt is equally as good, while the child stars (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe of Wonder fame) convey their fear and anger so convincingly it puts a number of adult stars to shame.

There are other aspects and themes we'd love to wax lyrical about here, but to do so would give away too much of the story - and this is one of those films where you really benefit from knowing as little as possible.

But you should know this.

We can't recall the last time a film gripped us from the opening scene, or kept us on the edge of our seat for 90 minutes, or made us want to scream out over laundry.

It brought back fond memories of The Mist and Alien in the way it kept a steady pace all the way through without ever getting boring or dragging it's heels.

And while there are couple of places where questions could be raised (a hurricane lantern when they have electricity?), this is such, such a good film you can forgive it its few flaws.

And there's not an ounce of flab anywhere. No scene is wasted, no dialogue unnecessary.

This is one tight little ship.

In an age of mega blockbusters, it's a genuine delight to find a film that is made with love, care, attention and for tuppence h'appeny an a bag of chips.

That such a film is just so good is full credit to the cast, writers and director.

It deserves to be watched again and again for years to come.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story (12A)

And so the franchise continues it's exploration of the stars, looking for new and inventive ways to fill the gaps between the films that actually matter.

Two years ago we got Felicity Jones recreating scenes from The Empire Strikes Back in Rogue One, which while not terrible didn't really add anything to the universe we know and love.

Now, we have Han Solo's story. Whether we wanted it or not.

But you're not here to be badgered by my curmudgeonly musings on the state of modern cinema and the trashing of my childhood memories...

You see, in my day...

Ahh, I jest.

Kind of.

You see, this doesn't feel like they're filling in gaps in a much-loved story, or — as with the new episodes — expanding it. It feels exactly like the film it is.

Just another Star Wars film.

And that saddens me a tad, but also makes me remember the original films and their releases with far more fondness.

Anyhoo, we're not here to dwell on the past daddy-o, this is all about the now. The future. The today and tomorrow.

Or something.

I guess we should actually talk about the film.

Which, to be fair, isn't terrible. It's better than Rogue One, certainly. And is possibly on a par with the last 'proper' film.

But, let's be honest, it exists in a world that has Empire in it.

That's a tough height to hit.

But I digress again.

Solo is a perfectly fine film. The action scenes are cool, at times almost gripping, and while Alden Ehrenreich is no Harrison Ford (although he was brilliant in Hail, Caesar!) he's perfectly fine in this.

As is Emilia Clarke, the erstwhile Game Of Thrones star who ones the screen as Daenerys Targaryen.

Yet, somehow, both leads seem to blend a bit into the background and get over-shadowed by the supporting cast.

Paul Bettany is a delight, Woody Harrelson underplays to perfection, Chewie is Chewie and Donald Glover owns every scene Lando is in.

Oh, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge is absolutely brilliant as L3.

So how the hell the two stars fail to shine is something of a mystery.

Then there's the plot (and I'm being kind here).

The whole thing is basically a vehicle to illustrate a piece of Star Wars folk lore.

Two hours to show you how the famous thing actually happened.

Where there no better ideas out there?

There's a twist of sorts at the end that would have made a much better story, for crying out loud, with far more interesting characters.

And as for all the shoe-horning in of future plot references...

But hey ho, I guess the studio bosses know what the fans want.

There's another one of these things coming, which will hopefully be another upgrade, but one's hopes are not high.

For now, it's best to enjoy Solo for what it is - a not terrible tale of a character we come to love in later films.

And follow it up by actually watching the original trilogy. Because if we're not careful, we'll forget what made us love them as much as we do.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (12A)

As both of our regular readers will know, we're nothing if not avowed Marvel fans here at Popcorn towers.

We've got the books, we've got the tattoos, we've seen the films — we're not calling ourselves experts, but we'd like to think we sit in the 'serious fan' section at geeky get-togethers.

Which is why we surprised ourselves with our cautious approach to Infinity Wars — this was surely going to be a step too far.

Not only were we going to have sit through another endless round of battles with a HUGE cast, but with the inclusion of the excellent Black Panther AND the Guardians Of The Galaxy, the whole thing got HUGER.

This thing was just going to collapse in on itself from the weight of the cast alone...

Then there's the small matter of the last three Marvel films.

All three — Guardians, Panther and Thor Three — all set the bar so high there was just no way something so weighed down could hope to clear it.

Not a hope in Hell.

But then the first message arrived. There were a lot of exclamation marks.

Then plans were made to see it. Fears aside, it's what we do. We can't miss one, can we?

And it takes just 10 minutes for our tiny little minds to be blown.

Infinity War not only clears the bar that's now been set, it raises it to a whole new level.

Picking up from where Ragnarok left off, Infinity War is dark, complex, funny, shocking and packs so much emotional punch it's like being walloped by an tearful Hulk.

Comic book movies aren't meant to reduce an entire cinema screening to a breath-held silence, but that happens more than once.

It was the kind of silence you can hear. You could tell no one was doing anything other than staring at the big screen with hearts in mouths.

And I still don't know how directors Anthony and Joe Russo pulled this one off — how they got away with what unfolds.

The last time I left a cinema in this state of awestruck silence was T2 FFS...

It very quickly becomes apparent that all bets are off, and in making such a bold move a new level of jeopardy is introduced which heightens the tension.

Then there's the way the disparate groups are woven together.

Everyone gets time to shine before being thrown headlong into the blender, with the final groupings not being what you would expect.

For that, full credit must go to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

Their use of humour at just the right moments is also worthy of noting.

Because, a Deadpool gagfest this is not.

This is a dark, dark movie from the off, and that's just one of the things we love about it.

That and the fact we lost count of the number of times we suddenly found ourselves holding our breath.

Not to mention sitting bolt-upright, screaming NOOOOOOOOOO silently in our heads.

In fact, there's just so much going on, it's proving really hard to review because there's so much we could talk about but they would all be a spoiler of some kind.

This is actually one of the hardest reviews we can remember writing.

What we can say:
  • There's not a single bad performance
  • The fight scenes are positively visceral 
  • It's gripping
  • It in no way feels like its two-and-a-half hour running time
  • It has the epic scope of Lord Of The Rings
There are, of course, some negatives. 

At least one character appears to just vanish, and there are times when you wish they'd just kept the camera still for two minutes.

But really, that's it. 

The stand-out performance comes from a very unexpected quarter, and the story is not about what you would think, and what could have been a bloated vanity project is a gripping roller coaster of a movie that pulls no punches and changes the game.

This is no normal Marvel film, but it proves once again just how much work DC have to do to catch up. 

We'll be off to see it again at the earliest opportunity.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Marillion: All One Tonight — Live At The Albert Hall

It is to my eternal shame and embarrassment that I have never — at time of writing — seen Marillion live.

I've been a fan since Sugar Mice tickled my young, tender ears, and like a dutiful geek I hoovered up the back catalogue like a rat in a punnet of blueberries.

Then disaster.

A stunning double live album marked a parting of the ways, the Scottish one left and the young English one stepped into his giant shoes.

And while Hooks In You seemed like a good start for the band, it was the far darker and more complex Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors that held my sway.

And so it was, me clinging to the old band while they went off in a new, alien direction.

Then Brave happened.

Those five lucky folks who shared a flat with me in my first year at university may well remember the album too, as Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury and — in particular — Hard As Love became part of the soundtrack of my chequered love life.

And so I was reunited with Aylesbury's finest. And so we have kept each other company over the years.

Sure, there have been times when we haven't been so close (I still struggle with Radiation), but when we've connected — Afraid Of Sunlight, say — life has been joyous.

And so it was when F.E.A.R landed in 2016.

An album full of passion and anger, it seemed to be exactly what the world needed to hear at that moment.

It was a dark, complex, wonderful, beautiful piece of work — and one we had no choice but to name our Album Of The Year.

The fact we missed out on getting tickets for last year's Albert Hall show took a bit of the shine off the album's success, but time heals all wounds.

Especially when an e-mail lands, offering you the chance to review the live DVD that was filmed at the show we failed to get tickets to.

Wonderful stuff.

And so, with cuppa on, 'full screen' enabled and the big headphones deployed to shut out everything we settle down for Disc 1...

...and emerge, just over an hour later, wanting to wallow in the whole thing all over again.

It's not always possible to capture the energy and atmosphere of a live show on film — which is the main reason we're not massive fans of them — but on All One Tonight Marillion have managed just that.

With the audience and band sharing a special bond, the love and pride that envelopes this show sweeps off the screen and makes you feel part of the event.

The first disc is F.E.A.R played in full, and live it's a bigger, darker, bolder beast than it's studio counterpart.

The visuals of the live show are also blended well with the band's performance and the audience's reactions.

Everything sweeps, everything soars, the band are on top form and front and centre Steve Hogarth, very much the eye of the storm.

He's not a massive ego fronting a big band, which takes a few seconds to get your head round. Instead, in a beautifully understated way, he's the conduit — the special link between the music and the audience.

And you can tell he thinks both are more important than he is, he just loves being there in the middle of it all.

And that's the other thing that comes across very, very clearly — just how much fun the band is having on this special night.

Then we move onto disc two, and we find the band augmented with a string quartet, a french horn player and a flutist.

For the second half of the show, Marillion take you through their back catalogue — with songs old and new given new depth and life with the addition of the extra musicians.

Well, I say old.

What becomes clear as you enjoy the band's back catalogue is that they stop at Easter (the song, not the egg-feasting holiday).

Nothing from the 'old' band is aired — and you don't miss them at all.

Because when you realise watching this lot have so much fun on that hallowed stage is just how many great songs they've amassed in the last 30 years.

You also realise just how good a band they are.

Sure, anyone can sound good in a studio — but to recreate it live? With extra musicians? At The Albert Frickin' Hall????

They're a bit special.

And, humble. And normal.

Which is what comes across so clearly in the half-hour documentary.

As the band talk about putting on the show and the rehearsals and planning, none of them are anything but awestruck by the venue they'll be performing in.

It takes something special for a band to still be going — and producing great new material — after more than 35 years together.

And what this DVD captures is that something special. The chemistry within the band and the chemistry they have with their audience.

And to top it all off, we're finally going to see them live in a couple of weeks. I imagine the band will be delighted...

* The special edition of All One Tonight will be available here once it's back in stock. If you could hold off ordering yours til we've got ours, that would be dandy.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Shape Of Water (15)

Sometimes it takes you ages to get round to seeing a film. Things get in the way, dates get moved, and anticipation just builds.

Sometimes this results in a crashing disappointment, as the build-up runs headlong into reality.

Sometimes, that film is The Shape Of Water.

Already lauded and feted by the great and good of awards lad, I've been itching to see this since first hearing about it.

The trailers intrigued without giving anything away, and it was good to see Abe Sapien being given a chance to flex his gills...

And then there's Sally Hawkins of course. Never knowingly done a duffer that lass...

And so we settle into our seats, and within moments the rustling of a sweetie bag several rows back drifts into the air as the magic of Guillermo Del Toro wafts over us.

And two hours later, slightly sniffy and damp of eye, we surface back into an unwelcome reality, wishing we could have stayed in the world GDT has created.

In between, a multi-layered fairytale is told, with monsters and love fighting for supremacy.

Honestly, the more you watch GDT's work, the more you wish he'd been allowed to do the Hobbit...

(A point of clarification quickly - Pacific Rim NEVER HAPPENED. Got that? Good...)

The story centres on Hawkins' character, Elisa, a mute cleaner in a top secret lab in 1960s America.

She discovers they have a special creature in a tank (Doug Jones doing his usual bang-up job), and over time a relationship is formed.

When not at work, she lives down the hall from her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) and his cats.

And she takes baths.

And boils eggs.

All of which become important at various points.

Meanwhile, Michael Shannon is banging about the place as Richard Strickland, a bully who treats funny creatures from odd places with disdain and a cattle prod.

And so, as the film weaves its way, a tale of loneliness, isolation, alienation, humanity, compassion, and cats engulfs you, leaving you warm and fuzzy at the end.

This is fairytale storytelling and film making at it's very best.

Every character is well drawn, every scene thought out, every TV clip in the background (look, there's Mr Ed!) dropped in with a knowing wink...

...this is simply breathtaking stuff.

Hawkins herself has never been better.

Without being able to resort to dialogue she brings to life a character who is alone but not lonely, fragile but strong - and over the course of the film, we all fall in love with her.

Shannon, meanwhile, is brilliantly horrible, the real ogre of the piece, a man you would happily boo if you weren't in a room with 30-odd other humans.

Alongside these two, the wonderful Octavia Spencer and the ever dependable Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg provide valuable support - and again, each character is fully rounded and engaging.

Then there's the small matter of the film itself.

Shot with clear passion in lush, warm tones, The Shape Of Water is gentle - but not in a faint, soft way - while also packing some serious punch.

The violence and horror, when they come, are jaw-clenching without being shock and gore, while the nudity is handled with care rather than a lewd eye.

Something the guys over at Red Sparrow could learn about sometime.

This is, then, a film that works on many levels.

You can take it at face value - the beauty and the beast parallel is hardly hidden.

Or, you can delve a little deeper, and see how those who are alone are often not lonely, how people can be aliens in their own world, how humans can be animals while animals can be humane.

We, unsurprisingly, took the latter path and just writing those words down has us grinning warmly once more.

This is a film that doesn't need to shout in order to be heard or make an impact.

It's an anti-Michael Bay film, if you will.

There will be some, I know, who poo poo this movie as artsy faff, as style over substance - and that's fine.

To them, it is.

To those who fall under its spell, however, it's a world that needs revisiting as often as possible.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Game Night (15)

"Clever, whip-smart script", "like "Deathtrap" recast as a megaplex thriller", "hilarious gonzo comedy" — WOW! 

My kinda film (I thought, after reading these reviews). It's got Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. It's on at 11am whilst my cleaner does her fortnightly flick through. 

I can go to The Queens for lunch after. A lunchtime pint of DRAFT Old Peculiar as well! 

I arrive in an almost skittish mood (more akin to skipping school than anything remotely approaching excitement) and settle in for a fun two hours. 

I mean I love gonzo comedy and I am secretly proud of myself for stepping outside the front door. 

Bring it ON.

Now, to be fair, there are a few good one-liners which bring a chuckle to the surface. The scene setter is, well, a scene setter, so you let them off. 

Bring on les comedy gonzo! 

The minutes leading up to the plot twist are a bit of a drag...again a few chuckles but...the twist is coming. 

WOW. Seriously...I did not see that coming. 

I really, really...OK, yes i did. 

OK. Give it a chance.

I'm now thinking an early lunch is a good idea but no, I am here to review this thing...see it out. 

So I manage to get to the schmaltz that the Americans just can't avoid. I mean...COME ON!!!!!. 

Fek's sake...that's it I'm off to lunch.

Look. Do not pay good money to see this. 

Just don't. 

Wait until, say, a wet Sunday afternoon when you've had a lovely lunch and shared a few bottles and you have this recorded. You just might think it OK. 

Hopefully, you will have a lovely post-lunch sleep.

One other thing. Tell me I'm being picky. Go on. Tell me. OK. Look. 

The car chase. 

Put our heroes in the transit van and the villains in the three litre Audi and I will let you off, but please don't ask me to believe that the transit can keep overtaking the Audi. 

Just don't. 

But to then compound this by having a classic 76 Stingray being able to catch up and take out a private JET which is getting up to take-off speed? 

You are pushing my good nature Mr Director, sir!

Oh and one other thing...

When someone is losing pints of blood (I bet that scene sounded hilarious at the script meeting) don't, just don't, ask us to indulge any more holes...jeez, talk about a script disguised as a packet of polo's. 

You ask too much sir. TOO MUCH.

The lunch, however, was - as usual - excellent. Thanks for asking.

Gavin King