Saturday, 10 November 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody (12A)

The rock biopic is, we find, a funny ol' bugger of a genre.

With some bands, it doesn't even need to be done well because the fans will go see it anyway — and yet, to be done well it should really tell us things we didn't already know.

Ray, for example, and Get On Up shone a light into the darker corners of the lives of Ray Charles and James Brown respectively, elevating already good films and giving the audience something extra.



Which makes a biopic of Queen a tricky thing to tackle.

Already a production wracked with rumour, counter rumour, casting changes and director issues, it tells the story of a band and lead singer that's been covered many, many times since Freddie Mercury's passing.

Freddie's lifestyle, health, sexuality, ego — they are all the stuff of both fact and legend.

And if you're a true fan you already know that Smile became Queen (we only knew because we were at school with two huge devotees of the band), and things were never the same again. For anyone.

So how do you bring something new to this? How do you tell a tale already told?

Well...

...this is Queen...

...so you make the whole thing massively overblown and ludicrous and with a tongue so firmly planted in a cheek it's almost bursting through.

That's how.

It helps, obviously, that your soundtrack is going to feature some of the finest songs ever committed to vinyl .

I mean, how can you go wrong when you are blasting Somebody To Love and Killer Queen at the audience?

Of course, as with all films, casting is key and in Rami Malek (yes, him from the Night At The Museum films) the producers found a guy who could not only live in Freddie's skin but bring the old dear to life in fantastic, glorious style.

Fittingly, he steals the whole show to the point you almost forget there are other members of the band.

As for the story itself, you have to remember this is a film and not a documentary because if you know your Queen history you'll find yourself tutting occasionally.

The fact this is a project brought to life by the two remaining active members of the band (Brian May and Roger Taylor if you've missed the memos) should allow you care slightly less about the liberties taken.

Should. But might not.

References to "but we haven't played together in ages" irk if you remember there was an album and tour the year before, and "from now on, all songs will be written by Queen, we'll share everything equally" sounds warm and fuzzy as long as you don't look at the writing credits for A Kind Of Magic.

Then there's the small matter of Freddie's partying and sexuality, one of which is kind of brushed to one side while the other is treated with kid gloves.

But such things are really just nitpicking.

While Freddie was often the story, Queen were still a band and they made their name on the road, and the live concert scenes really do bring a lump to the throat and make you want to be standing rather than sitting.

Of course, the whole thing is building to the Live Aid show that has long been credited with landing the band in the stadiums they were to play for the rest of their days with Mr M.

Bookending the film, and having watched the whole thing on the day, we were genuinely caught out with how emotional the closing 20 minutes of the film were.

And because we know now what we didn't know then, the show takes on an extra weight that, by the time the credits roll, has lifted you onto cloud nine and left you there.

We make no apologies for the sniffing and eye-dabbing that was going on over on our side of the screening.

Perhaps the most fitting thing about this film is how it starts slowly, builds gradually, and by the time the band hit their stride you're hooked and loving it.



Did we need Mike Myers in there? No. Did we need that joke about that song? No.

But when you find yourself hoovering up the band's back catalogue and the film's soundtrack in the days that follow, you know they got something right.

It's a far from from perfect film, but it grabs you by the heart strings and doesn't let go, and you feel like Freddie has popped back for one final encore.

Now, excuse me, my remastered copy of A Kind Of Magic has just turned up...


Bad Times At The El Royale (15)

Every now and then, and it seems to be happening less and less sadly, a trailer will come along that will actually just tease the film.

Now, granted, it's been well documented in these parts that trailers are not something we always catch — so maybe it happens all the time.

But we doubt it.



And certainly not as well as this.

Literally left with  no clue as to what was going on, but it looked slick, stylish and had a cast good enough to fill four other films.

And given the extended trailer for The Girl In The Spider's Web is basically the whole film, this was both exciting and intriguing.

A film being sold on the strength of its cast, that looks dark and nasty?

This should be good....

And written by a guy who wrote for Alias, Buffy, Angel, Lost, Daredevil? Directed by the guy who was behind the camera for Cabin In The Woods? And they're the same bloke?

Oh come to Papa....

And for once, expectations were not only met but exceeded.

This is a nasty, gritty, darkly comic, bloody, sleazy, trashy piece of joyous brilliance.

And the cast (Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, John Hamm, Chris Hemsworth) are clearly having the time of their lives.

The story — essentially strangers meet at a hotel and stuff then happens — is king here, though. A twisty-turny narrative that flicks between the past and present with consumate ease.

Horror film tropes are used well, which comes as no surprise given writer/director Drew Goddard's previous work, and when the punches come they hit hard.

Part of the reason they hit so hard, of course, is that you care about the characters.

The priest, the singer, the travelling salesman and the jaded, mysterious, woman are all so well drawn, so much detail is provided in a small space, that you feel you know them from the off.

Then there's the pacing of the film.

Now, normally, a film that barely changes gear is not a thing to be applauded — but here? Here, it really works.

It allows the tension to build slowly, and even better allows the jumps and shocks to come out of nowhere.

This is a film that has you gripped before you even notice.

The other masterstroke is an event. Yes, think that's the safest word to use.

A thing.

A thing happens.

And when it does, you know all bets are off — and almost effortlessly the tension goes up a notch.

Sure the film isn't perfect, and Hemsworth is actually too OTT and almost ridiculous as his character, but by the time he arrives you're so far down the tunnel you can forgive this mis-step.

Especially as the ending is the very ending you would want.



Bad Times is a gritty little beast that gets under your skin and makes you feel warm and dirty. In a good way. Probably.

It also brings Cynthia Erivo to the big screen for the first time, and in doing so does the whole world a massive favour.

This is one hotel that deserves to be revisited on a regular basis.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Venom (15)

And so the Marvel universe continues to expand, this tile with a little help from Sony as super-villan and part-time Thunderbolt Venom hits the big screen.

In giant 3D Imaxery to boot, if that's your thing.

Although to be honest I don't think it would improve anything.



To say I was looking forward to this film would be misleading, but I wasn't NOT looking forward to it. I love the character in Thunderbolts and it might be OK.

I mean, it can't be Hulk bad, can it?

Thankfully, no.

But you could not watch it and have about the same experience we did.

The story, such as it is, centres on Eddie Brock, a maverick journalist never afraid to ask the tough questions even when explicitly asked not to by the man who employs him.

He is chasing science guru and man who wants to emigrate to space, Carlton Drake — a man who can end Eddie's job in a heartbeat.

He's also planning to wed lawyer and cat-loving girlfriend Anne Weying, just as long as he doesn't do anything stupid like steal classified information while she sleeps and throw it in Carlton's face.

Oh whoops....

From here we have Things that happen for Reasons, one thing leads to another, and before we can say hungry Eddie is Venom and the fun really begins.

And the CGI team really earn their burgers.

In essence, the plot matters not a jot — which is probably just as well — as the whole point of the early part of the movie is to get to the Venom bit and then have a lot of running about and fighty-fights.

And in these bits, the film delivers.

You get a lot of bang for your overly-inflated buck, and I would imagine one scene in particular comes into its own in 3D. even more so on an Imax screen.

But therein lies the real problem with this film.

You see, when you watch Avengers, or Guardians, or even a Spidey flick, the plot is the basis on which everything is built.

Yes, there's a lot of CGI wossinames flying about, but the characters have a clear narrative within which they are working.

But in Venom...

For a start, Eddie's about as believable a journalist as Amy Adams is in the Superman films.

And as for his relationship with Anne, there are more convincing couples in the late night films Channel 5 used to specialise in.

And this is all a problem in the writing.

The lead cast of Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed are about as good as any working today, and yet their characters are so badly drawn you really struggle to engage with them.

Which actually makes Venom the best character in the film.

That said, this film is not without its moments.

The audience in our screening laughed out loud a whole once, and the moment with the dog is great — but those are slim pickings for a big-budget super hero film in a world already owned by Marvel.

And when the final end-credit sequence is literally a trailer for a cartoon that's coming out at Christmas, you realise the producers of Venom have really missed the point of, well, everything.



There are worse super hero films out there, largely because no one seems willing to stop Zack Snyder from damaging DC's legacy, but when that's one of the better things about this film...

My hope is that we are heading towards Thunderbolts The Movie.

My other hope is that the other films, should they surface, are better than this.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

A Star Is Born (15)

"Remind me again why we are going to see A Star Is Born..."

"Because you usually choose and I want to see this."

Well, you can't argue with that. And to be fair, the trailer actually looked good. And the stars were a laugh on the Graham Norton Show. It's bound to be fine.



Part way through the film, I was genuinely thinking I'd buy the soundtrack.

By the end I never wanted to be reminded of this film again.

To be honest, I'm only writing this because I have to.

Although I'm still struggling to get a handle on what about it has made me so angry.

The fact this is the fourth version of this film is a part of it — this one being more a remake of the 1954 Judy Garland version than the 1976 Barbara Streisand classic.

I mean, yes, sure, we're begrudgingly getting used to stories being re-told, but a fourth time? Really? Was there nothing else in the in tray?

And it's not the performances, either.

Lady Gaga as the young Ally, stumbled upon by a drunk Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper, who also stepped behind the camera to direct this version) in a New York drag club, is both captivating and believable.

I mean, sure, they're kind of telling her story here, and it could have been called A Gaga Is Born without changing the essential plot — but she still had to act, and she does it damn well.

And Cooper's easy on the eye. Not great at playing a drunk (his eyes still sparkle), but one hell of a singing voice on him which makes the concert footage a lot more believable.

And the supporting cast — not forgetting dog Charlie — are all up to the job and bring depth to the story....

But...

And it's not the songs. Both Maine's country-rock tracks (penned by Willie Nelson's son Lukas) and Ally's poppier noodlings (Lukas worked with Gaga on these) have great hooks and are played with conviction.

And again, the live footage is good.

But...

Well...

Look, let me stress the positives again.

Two fine leads, Gaga is great (I've already backed for for an Oscar nomination) and the live music stuff really captures the vibe and atmosphere of the two different genres.

And Cooper has an eye for a shot. He makes this film look good.

But he's no storyteller. And here in lies the first of the problems.

As good as the music is, the film as a whole feels like a few videos with a loose narrative holding them together.

There are issues with some of the scenes (at least two should have been cut as they have no actual place in the film) and the final quarter should have been thrown into a bin and set on fire.

If you know any of the previous films you'll know what happens, but if you don't I won't spoil it for you here.

Suffice to say Cooper needed a far defter hand, a far lighter touch, than the one he went with.

It's unnecessary and it's where the anger started.

The I got to thinking more about the film, A Star Is Born.

Not, as it should be called, Man Makes It All About Him.

Now, I don't know if I'm being particularly sensitive on this subject given world events — and granted my viewing companion said she didn't really notice ("but then I guess I'm kind of used to that by now") — but it feels less a film about Ally rising to fame and more a film about how this makes Jackson feel.

And, yes, while that may mirror the modern world, and yes there are elements of that in the previous versions, it would have been nice here at the arse end of 2018 if we could have tweaked that a smidge.

As I said, this could be an over-sensitive moment, but it felt more like a showcase for toxic masculinity.

And we get enough of that here in the real world.

And given we were both discussing what light and frothy TV nonsense we could wash our minds with to get rid of the bad taste this film left behind, I suspect I won't be alone in thinking this.




As remakes go, this one doesn't need to exist and doesn't do anything the other three don't already do.

The songs are good, Gaga is good, but it's a mess of a movie with no clear sense of what the focus should be.

Dog's cute though.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Incredibles 2 (PG)

We have often wondered if you really need to see a Pixar film on the big screen.

Some films, sure, you really need the size to take in the full scope of what is being created in front of you.

But for an animation to make an impression on the big screen, it really needs to be thinking big. It needs to own every inch of that screen.



Sadly, Incredibles 2 — the sequel no one had been asking for — is just a cartoon on a giant screen.

It's not a big film.

Part of the problem is the film struggles to get going. Picking up the action right at the end of the first film is a great idea, but you're asking people to remember what happened 14 years ago.

We've seen the odd film since then. And slept.

So you're playing catch-up from the off, and as with Bond films, the opening scenes feature a bad guy you'll not see again.

Only, we've seen him before. He is, technically, an established character.

So effectively you're finishing off the first Incredibles film AND watching the new one at the same time.

Which, from a certain perspective, makes this the longest Pixar film ever....

But that's not the main problem with this film. Far from it.

No.

This film, unlike it's predecessor, is just not fun.

The essential plot is fine — a scheme to bring Supers back, make them legal again, this time with Elastagirl front and centre.

Meanwhile Jack-Jack is discovering what powers he has, making life difficult for stay-at-home-dad Mr Incredible.

But this is also where part of the problems lie.

There is no focus in this film. In the first, they were a family together. This time around, they're doing their own things.

We have Her over There, Doing Things, we have Him over Here doing Other Things, we have teenage angst, a hyper kid (again) and a baby.

Is this a film about women taking the lead? A film to show that women can do all the stuff men do?

Or is this a film that tells children that if the woman goes to work the man is left at home feeling unwanted and struggling to cope?

We genuinely don't know, as both messages are loud and clear, but then it seems Pixar don't know either.

Which is where the lack of fun comes in.

This film has, roughly, three good jokes.

Well, we say that, but straight after the film ended we could only remember two of them. And right now can only remember one.

But we definitely laughed three times.

Sadly, we also looked at our watch inside the first hour (40 minutes in to be precise).

This is a Pixar film, right? For the first 40 minutes to feel like 90 is nothing short of a crime.

We're not saying they can't tackle serious issues (see the start of Up! and the opening hour of Wall-E), but these films have a track record of grabbing you and keeping your attention.

Ratatouille was 'only' a film about a rat who can cook, but what a great film. You could feel the warmth just washing off the screen like a fine broth.

Incredibles 2 feels the exact opposite of that.

It's a puzzled, confused mess of a movie. There's a good idea at the core, but it feels like too many people wanted their opinions felt.



If you are going to do a sequel so far down the line people have had time to get married AND divorced, you'd better be damn sure you're coming up with a stone cold classic.

Because what you don't want is people taking their children along because they loved the original and leaving disappointed.

You'll lose two generation of fans inside an hour....

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

BlacKkKlansman (15)

As we may have mentioned around these parts before, in this day and age it's nigh impossible to go and see a film without knowing much about it.

But not totally impossible.

Take Blackkklaansman for example. Based on a true story apparently. Might be a comedy I think. Might be a violent drama. One way to find out.....



Well, turns out, it's kind of all those things.

But it's so much more.

As we're sure the rest of you already know, the film is based on the memoir of the same title by Ron Stallworth (played wonderfully by John David Washington), a young black rookie Colorado cop who wants to work undercover.

He gets his chance quicker than would seem feasible, which leads him to decide to infiltrate the KKK.

No mean feat for a black dude.

Not being a complete idiot he enlists the help of his new colleagues Flip (Adam Driver further enhancing his reputation) and Jimmy (Michael Buscemi).

Which is when the fun begins.

Now, sure, a black guy enlisting a Jewish guy to infiltrate a bunch of nationalist nutjobs sounds like a hoot, but there is so much drama and tension (some of it bitingly funny) that you need the laughs.

And you really do need the laughs.

Because, at the heart of this film is one simple, strong message.

What Ron Stallworth was trying to unseat and bring down in the early '70s is not just still here but is the strongest and most invasive it has ever been.

It's easy to be a white guy in this world. Surround yourself with white friends and you won't even think anything is untoward.

Black folks feeling set upon? Oppressed? Under siege? Fearing for their lives on a daily basis? Well not in my leafy suburb...

...but they are. They were then, and they still are today.

And it's on us all to wake up, pay attention, listen, and do all we can to stamp it out.

It's no coincidence that phrases used by David Duke (go look him up, junior) are being used again now — and not in pubs, clubs or at fascist demos with tiki torches, but by the Racist In Chief in the White House.

It starts there, and it seeps down. Gets normalised. Those who think their precious lives are out of kilter because of others rather than their own choices or those in power are being emboldened and empowered.

They're dragging their knuckles from the fringes and into the mainstream.

And it has to be stopped.

Hopefully, films like BlacKkKlansman can help.

With its spot-on historical feel and vibe, with the clever use of threes all over the place to emphasise the number of Ks kicking about, with its depiction of people who think racist thoughts and language are right and normal — Klansman captures both when Stallworth and his fellow Americans went through, but also what black America is enduring today.

To be fair, this film doesn't take a sledgehammer approach to the subject matter. The message is there if you want to hear it, or you can just enjoy a damn fine film.

Right up until the final scenes.

Without wishing to give anything away (although we appreciate it's been all over the interwebs already), the final sequence took the wind right out of our sails and within minutes we were in tears.

Both of us.

Partly out of shock, partly out of anger, and partly at just how vile and hate-filled one small section of society has been allowed to become.



Humans are an amazing species at times, while at others we are far less than the animals we think we are so superior too.

Cats fight, but not because one cat hates how another cat looks. Same with sharks, dogs, bears.... See where we're going with this?

It would be great to live in a world where racism was a thing of the past. But until we reach that day, we need films like this to labour the point and make sure people are still listening and paying attention.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Meg (12A)

"Right, I'm going to be in town", announces one The Bas. "What films should we see?"

Well, we had been hoping...

"WE HAVE TO SEE THE MEG!!!!"



So, that's how this happened....

To be honest, we really weren't bothered. Nor were we in the mood, being somewhat pooped and run down, meaning energy and enthusiasm were hard to come by.

But Mr The Bas was keen, and he lives miles away now so to stay on the sofa seemed a tad churlish, so we dragged ourselves to the designated multiplex, ambled to the ticket booth, and realised we'd probably missed the start but what the hey.

We were in the lobby, so might as well get it over with...

... And to be honest, we kind of guessed what the bit of back story was that we missed, but we were swept up by the sheer size and scope of the opening shots and scenes that none of that mattered.

The plot, and let's be kind here and call it that, is unsurprisingly simple — scientists do a thing, disturb stuff, need rescuing, then all hell breaks loose and a giant, mahoosive shark needs taking down.

Now the rescue is, naturally, not straight forward. The team are VERY DEEP. Someone has decide to rescue them alone. This does not go well, so now more people are VERY DEEP.

This requires the only man who can do this, but hasn't done it Since What Happened and is now to be found drinking beers all the live long day.

This is Jonas, then, played by the only man who could make this stuff work — Jason Statham.

We've had passable drama and tension up to this point.

Sure Rainn Wilson playing a billionaire science funder is a stretch, but in Bingbing Li, Ruby Rose, Jessica McNamee, Page Kennedy and Masi Oka (yup, the Heroes guy) there's a solid enough cast for what's to come.

And what's to come is The Stathe rescuing folks and then taking down The Meg.

Yes, this sounds daft, dumb, possibly stupid and overblown.

And The Meg is all of these things.

But it works.

Let's face it, you're not sitting here waiting for nuance and twisted sub plots. You're unlikely to be hoping for over-arching themes and messages (but you get a couple).

You're waiting for The Stathe to punch The Meg.

And in this department, the film more than delivers.

It helps no end that the film knows it's daft and over the top, and plays it straight while clearly having a blast.

The effects are pretty much OK, one ropey CGI bit aside, and while the dialogue is at times clunky as all hell it does the job and takes the story to where it needs to go.

Again, let's be clear here — this is not highbrow, nor is it trying to be.

But it is a hell of a lot of fun.

We jumped a couple of times, we were left grinning, we cared about Pippin, we laughed at the stupid bits, we grinned some more.

Basically, we had fun.

A lot of fun.

No, this film won't make you think. It won't make you ponder the deeper questions.

But you'll see The Stathe being dragged through the water by a winch while a giant shark chases him.

And you'll love this.

In amongst all the daftness, though, there is a very strong plus point about this movie.

There are a number of female characters.

They, along with their male colleagues, need rescuing at various times.

But at no point do they need to be running about in their underwear or standing about in a soaking wet T-shirt.

Instead they are strong, well drawn, central to everything and arguably more important than the men.

And that's one of the things that makes The Meg so great (a relative term, granted).

If you look at the recent Jurassic World films, or the knowingly ridiculous Sharknado franchise — The Meg is neither of these.

It has effects that work, a plot that knows where it starts and stops, rounded characters, and a mahoosive monster sharkie.

And it has all this without the blatant sexism that some directors favour so much.



As we said, this is not a deep meaningful film.

But in an empty screen we had a great two hours of entertainment.

And sometimes, that's all you want or need.