Monday, 30 September 2013

Blue Jasmine (12A)

As we discussed on the podcast recently, the rule with Woody Allen is simple - every new film is back to his best.

Until it isn't.

Granted, he's had a couple of good ones recently - Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight In Paris were both good, but second-tier when placed up against the classics.

So imagine my surprise when, as Blue Jasmine unfolded, I suddenly realised that he'd actually done it.

Because, what makes a great Woody Allen film is, well, everything. There's not a spare piece of meat on these bones, no flab, nothing.

It's got laughs, it's got heartbreaking beauty, it's even got a wonderful twist which makes you doubt how you've been feeling. It's nothing short of beautiful.

Because what Allen does best - and few people can match him when he's on his game - is tell a story, with well-rounded characters you can relate to. A story that makes you think while you enjoy and engage with it.

He has a way of writing that allows the characters to breathe and develop and explain themselves without having to add unnecessary dialogue to drive the plot or character development, which has the benefit of never slowing things down.

The story centres around Cate Blanchett's stunning portrayal of Jasmine, a woman whose mental state has come crashing down around her along with her life.

Once rich and the centre of the New York social scene, she's now without a husband, a house or her step-son. Instead, she's been forced to shack up with her adopted sister Ginger (played exquisitely by the wonderful Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco.

And worse, she has to get a job.

By flicking between the past and the present, we are shown how events unfolded, how Jasmine has fallen on such hard times and is now having to answer a dentist's phone while also picking Ginger's life to pieces.

Blanchett captures the mental fragility and selfish beauty perfectly. You ought to despise her, but you can't. Through her portrayal you sympathise and care about what has happened to Jasmine, and when she meets her next Mr Right, you are genuinely pleased for her.

Even if she is a pill-popping alcoholic who is falling apart at the seams, you still care what happens to her. To the extent you actually find yourself siding with her when she's being a snobbish cow to Ginger's boyfriend.

But this isn't simply a two-woman show (although, if it were, what a show that would be), oh no. The rest of the cast put in stellar performances too.

Alex Baldwin is at his best as Jasmine's husband Hal, Peter Sarsgaard (who was brilliant in Lovelace, jeez can this man act) is great again as Jasmine's new beau Dwight, Louis C. K. takes a break from being an ace stand-up to be great as Al and even Andrew Dice Clay (not a man I'd ever choose to spend time with) is great as Ginger's ex-husband Augie.

There's basically not a bad performance here.

I think one of the reasons Blue Jasmine is so good is because half of it is set in New York. Allen has stopped making the setting of his films the centrepiece (Paris and London being the recent excursions), and returned to what he knows - using his home town as the backdrop to great story telling.

Yes, there's a bit of a return to the lingering scenic shots around San Francisco, but by then you're so wrapped up in these people's lives that you don't care. And such shots don't overstay their welcome.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Blue Jasmine is how little of 'Woody' there is. Since having decided to stay behind the camera, he's still needed people to play 'him', the nervy, neurotic chatty character. In recent times it's been Owen Wilson's gig, but he's nowhere to be seen here.

As a result, a certain weight is lifted, and each character is allowed to shine on their own.

Yes, OK, there's still some of the old Woody kicking about - mainly shown through Jasmine here - but that was always going to be the case. The difference this time is it doesn't overshadow the whole film.

It's also fascinating to hear a woman's take on her husband's infidelity with a teenage girl. You can only take so much Woody Allen out of a Woody Allen film...

There's already Oscar mutterings around Blue Jasmine, and if Blanchett isn't nominated it'll be shocking - but Hawkins deserves a nod too, as does Allen himself.

He's created a real world again, with real people who have real lives and real problems. And he's back to making you laugh and wince and cry in equal measure.

This could easily have been called Woman On The Edge Of A Nervous Breakdown. Or Woody Comes Home(ish). This could even be the Woody Allen film that non-fans actually like.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Runner Runner (15)

Ahh, sweet September - the sun is shining, the birds could well be singing (stereo's up a bit loud) and I'm off to shelter from the sun in a darkened room watching the sun.

Because, if you can say nothing else about Runner Runner (and there really isn't a lot to say), it's sunny. Well it would be, it's set in Costa Rica.

Which is good, because it gives us something to talk about. Otherwise, this would be a short review.

If you haven't yet seen the trailer for Runner Runner, here's the deal - Ben Affleck runs an online gambling website safely away from the jurisdiction of the US Government, Justin Timberlake is a broke Princeton graduate who can't afford to pay for his Masters, and Gemma Arterton sounds classy and looks good in a dress.

That's pretty much it. There are other people, but they're not really crucial and vital. Think of them as palm trees, you're aware they're there but they don't affect your overall view.

The plot is simple, crime caper by numbers stuff that you can plot happily without engaging your brain - giving you more time to enjoy the scenery.

People cross and double-cross people, the Feds (despite having NO jurisdiction) wield an amazing amount of control and influence, and one small chap discovers what the whole scam really is (don't worry if you miss it, it's spelt out twice).

That's it.


But it looks nice.

In fairness, director Brad Furman has done a decent job. Affleck and Timberlake put in perfectly good performances, Arterton does what she's asked to do (not her fault she wasn't asked to do much), crocodiles are fed chickens and women in bikinis saunter about at parties and on boats.

What else do you want? Plot?

Oh, you wanted plot.

Wrong film, sorry.

That's not to say this is a bad movie - it's not. It won't change your life, but just like a fast-food burger it passes the time and fills a gap without really satisfying.

That's not to say Runner Runner isn't trying - it is. It has high aspirations. It wants to be a classy, sassy, intelligent thriller with something to say (judgements are passed on 'real criminals', parallels drawn with the crooks of Wall Street), but it really isn't that film.

It's a looks pretty, looks shiny, bright and colourful, people are on boats film. In Costa Rica. Which looks nice, if you've got money.

If you haven't, it's a steaming cesspit of cock fights and dirty bars apparently, but hey - these people have money, so it's all champagne and corruption. Job's a good 'un.

Don't think about this film, and you'll find it passes the time without much bother.

Instead, amuse yourself by picking holes in the plot while wondering how shutting a blind stops a man on a plane from knowing where he's going when there are no signposts at 20,000ft...

Friday, 27 September 2013

Prisoners (15)

Normally, as I watch a film, the intro to the review will just sneak into my head. Could be something that happens on the way to the film, could be directly relevant to the plot...

Either way, something will suggest itself by the time I get home.

Not with Prisoners. Oh no.

Now, it could have been the stupidly-long running time, it could have been the amount of exasperated head shaking that was going on, it could even have been bumping into one of my oldest friends as I came out of the cinema - but whatever it was, nothing was coming.

And I'm still stumped now.

I had been looking forward to Prisoners - I mean really excited. It looked dark and gritty, it looked tense and exciting, but then that's the joy of a three-minute trailer.

Sadly, stretched out to nigh on three hours what you get is a turgid examination of grief and faith, dressed up as a thriller about two little girls who get kidnapped.

And it should be thrilling. It's two children taken from outside their house. It should be a tense thrill ride, keeping you guessing at every twist and turn.

And it is tense. In the same way watching an iceberg approach is tense. You know it's going to hit you at some point, the question is when. Yes, you're going to get bored waiting, but still - it's got to hit you at some point, right?

Or not.

Essentially, the problem with Prisoners is the pacing. It never breaks out of a casual saunter. Even the one brief speeding car chase fails to thrill, largely because by then you've lost the will to live. And this is nothing short of criminal.

Because, if an editor who knew what he/she was doing had got hold of this, then the strong central performances of Jake Gyllenhaal (as the cop) and Hugh Jackman (as the bereft father) would have shone.

Instead, they are given so much room to breathe they actually get lost. Stifled. To the point you actually stop caring what happens.

The problem is two-fold. The direction (care of Denis Villeneuve) is hugely self-indulgent. Denis has clearly decided from the off how the film should look, and while the bleak, stark visual tone is consistent throughout, he's forgotten about how to actually make a film work.

The other guilty party is writer Aaron Guzikowski (whose only other credit is Contraband). In order to engage with our central characters, we need to know something about them. But there is so little meat on those particular bones that the audience is left to starve.

Fair play to Jackman and Gyllenhaal for putting in such good performances given how little they had to work with - but imagine what they could have done with a proper, well-rounded character.

And it's the same for the supporting cast. The other grief-stricken parents (played by Viola Davis, Terence Howard and Maria Bello) are so paper-thin as to make you wonder why they're there. Apart from plot devices, they seem to serve no purpose other than added dressing to a scene.

And, given the calibre of these stars, that's a huge waste.

Then we have the actual, well, let's be kind and call it plot.

To say it's laboured would be kind. To say it's misguided would be an understatement.

The time it takes to develop a lead, highlight the suspect and then deal with him makes you think this may have been shot in real-time. Never before has so much time been dedicated to potential red herrings. It's painful.

Then there's the twist. And it's a doozy. If you're still interested, you may possibly guess, but I wouldn't bet on it. My guess is it'll be met, as it was in the screening I was in, with an overwhelming feeling of indifference.

But, amazingly, that isn't the worst of it.

Somehow this film manages to have more to say about the use of torture as an interrogation tool than Zero Dark Thirty (turns out, it's not a good thing). It's trying to show how far one man will go to get to the truth, but that point is lost in all the blood, pummelling and hot water.

And just when you think you couldn't get any more annoyed, religion, faith and their use as an excuse (thinks carefully before giving too much away) for deeds being done are introduced.

And that's when I wanted to punch the screen.

To be honest, if I wasn't there to review the damn thing, I'd have given up after half an hour and walked out. If I was watching on TV I doubt I'd have lasted that long.

With some editing of both the script and the film footage, Prisoners could have been the taught thriller we all expected.

Instead we get a tedious look at events which, against all logic, are made tedious. The leads do their best, and they are in no way to blame for the mess they've ended up in, but when the final scene is greeted with voluble derision you know this is a film that has missed its mark by a country mile.

Friday, 20 September 2013

R.I.P.D (12A)

As regular readers will know, given the choice here at Popcorn Towers we opt for films in 2D - as nature intended - rather than sitting in a darkened room wearing sunglasses.

While this allows us to watch a film without getting eye strain, it also makes it interesting spotting where the added dimension is being thrown in. A flying car here, burning embers there... you know the drill.

Sadly, this is one of the highlights of watching R.I.P.D. In fact it would make a good drinking game - every time you spot a bit that you think was only put in for the 3D effect, you get to take a swig. Should liven the film up no end.

Although, to be fair, you don't need alcohol to enjoy R.I.P.D. It'll help, sure, but there is enough fun knocking about to keep you entertained. As long as you don't think about it too much.

Based on the Dark Horse comic Rest In Peace Department, R.I.P.D is about dead people hunting down deader people in order for alive people to go about being alive without stuff happening to them. Should be a hoot.

And in some ways it is. Jeff Bridges, as Roy, is clearly having fun. Hamming it up in full True Grit western mode, he's chewing up the scenery like the seasoned pro he is. No depth here, no subtle nuances, just a cowboy who likes talking about how he died and shooting things. Has a few good gags too.

Kevin Bacon (once you get over the feeling he could try and sell you a phone at any moment) is equally fine as Hayes, the corrupt cop who sends Ryan Reynolds to the R.I.P.D.  Sure, he's not exactly stretching himself, but he doesn't need to. He's not playing Hamlet here.

Unfortunately, that leaves Reynolds as Nick. Never a hugely charismatic screen presence, playing a cop who got shot by his partner and ended up on the other side, as it were, shouldn't really need that much 'oomph'. Which is handy, as he doesn't have any.

Sadly, he's up against two actors who - even when they're not trying - leave him trailing in the dust. Even the ever lovely Mary-Louise Parker, who is pretty much over-doing it for giggles - outshines him.

Poor old Ryan. At some point he might take the hint and leave the comic book movie world alone (for the love of all that's good, don't let him near Deadpool).

The story here deviates from the source material. Where, on the page, Nick is searching for whoever killed him, here on screen he knows from the off. I can understand why, from a dramatic point of view, they've made the change - but I can also understand why the die-hard fans could be miffed.

But none of these - the changed story, the performances - are what's wrong with this film.

It's not that it's terrible - it is kinda fun, ish - but it feels like while they were busy adding the extra dimension, they forgot to pay attention to a key detail.

As an audience, we understand how this works - it's a comic book world. This is not in any way real. It can't be replicated on a set. So you turn to your CGI wizzos. And you need them to be good.

What you don't need is to be sitting in the cinema, watching what should be large amounts of metallic machinery moving about, thinking it looks like it was drawn by a toddler using Paint.

Equally, when the actors are walking through a world that is being painted in later (and to be fair, they all manage to make it look like they believe they're where they're going to be when it's all finished) - paint it in well. Reynolds is supposed to walking on nothing. NOT a coloured-in floor.

Then there's the use of the avatars.

It's a quirk of the story that, once dead, you can't appear as yourself to the real world. So, when you're on earth, you look like someone else. In this case, a small Chinese guy in a hat (Nick, played well by James Hong) and one of the most desirable women alive (Roy, played by Victoria's Secret model Marissa Miller).

There are jokes to be had with this - and some are done well. But it needs to be used consistently. It really doesn't help the audience when Nick is trying to talk to his widow at his own funeral, and she's reacting like a stranger is harassing her, if all we see is Reynold's pretty fizzog. For the gag to work, we need to see Man In Hat.

And it's these little things that let the film down.

Sure the story's a bit hokey, but it's about dead people policing stuff. It needs to make sense, sure (and it struggles with that at times) but reality going out of the window is a given.

What you do need, though, is clear, consistent story-telling.

Suddenly dropping a mystical artifact into the mix after an hour smacks of desperation. It screams that no one had an ending for this film and got desperate. Even Ms Parker looks like she can't believe what' she's saying at that point.

But, despite all that is wrong with this film, I didn't hate it.

I know it's been kicked all over town - particularly over at - and it has bombed massively Stateside, but if you go in expecting nothing you won't be disappointed. And you might even enjoy it.

There are some laughs (not as many as there should be, sure), there's a good car chase, Bridges is just wonderful, Parker is great... There ARE things to be enjoyed here. You've just got to disengage brain to see them.

My suspicion is that R.I.P.D - along with The Lone Ranger - will, in time find its audience. And they will love it and defend it to the hilt. They'll get upset when you point out it tries to invoke Ghostbusters and Ghost, sure, but that's because they know you're right.

But leave them alone. Be kind. They're not hurting anyone. Loving movies is all about having that one guilty pleasure no one else understands. R.I.P.D is set to be one of them.

The Call (15)

Sometimes, it is possible to have the near-perfect cinema experience - turn up in time to miss the adverts, every trailer looks like a great film (Gravity, Prisoners, Runner Runner and The Fifth Estate as you ask), cinema is almost empty and everyone is quiet.

All you need now is the perfect film and you need never go to the cinema - you've peaked, you're done, it's never going to get better.

Unless you see something like The Call.

Now, I want to be clear from the get-go here, The Call isn't a bad film. But it's not great. And that's because it's struggling to know what sort of film it is.

The premise is good. Halle Berry plays Jordan, an experienced 911 operator who switches to teaching after an unfortunate event while on duty. She's then called back to the phone when a young girl (Casey, played well by Abigail Breslin, she of Little Miss Sunshine fame) is kidnapped in a mall's parking lot (or shopping centre car park if you will).

The action is fast-paced as the race begins to try and track down Casey before madman Michael (an excellent Michael Eklund in possibly one of his highest profile roles to date) does what all bonkers madmen do.

The tension works, and when it focuses on the characters and the drama it's gripping - I jumped twice, so clearly I was immersed in what was going on.

Sadly, there are other moments where Anderson (who has been working in TV land since 2008's Tanssiberian) doesn't know quite what film he's making.

He's clearly no slouch behind the lens - he made The Machinist, after all - but switching from tense action to bits of Buried and Saw just doesn't work. The overt violence undoes all the good work that's been put in building up the tension.

And that's a massive shame, because the performances deserve more.

Berry is back to her best - almost to the point of making you forget Catwoman ever existed - while young Breslin (who has quite the CV for one of such tender years) is convincing as a teenager facing certain death while holed up in the trunk (or boot if you will) of a car.

As for Eklund, he is mesmerising as Michael, a man who has issues where young blonde women are concerned.

Sure, there are some blindingly obvious plot points that come along with a full fanfare, but you can kinda forgive those as you're wrapped up in the drama at those points.

It's the close-ups used to try and create a pseudo-horror element that make things fall down. They're out of kilter with what else is going on and actually detract from the suspense. One minute you're on the edge of your seat, next you're slumped back, shaking your head.

Which is a crying shame. Ignore those bits though, and you've got a good, solid thriller.

Until you get to the ending.

There are actually two. There's the ending you want, the ending that feels right and natural... and then there's the one Anderson felt was necessary.

I'm not going to spoil anything here, but if you don't find yourself wanting to stand up, shout 'oh, come on!' and storm out, I'll be amazed.

And the cinema clearly agrees because the house lights actually came up five minutes early - which was when the credits should have been rolling.

Still, like I said, The Call has its moments.

You care about the characters, you can forgive the clunky dialogue in places, and it does keep you gripped for long spells.

It's just a shame the director had to ruin it all at the end. Maybe he's better when he's doing hour-long TV episodes these days.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

About Time (12A)

Word was, from various media rumours, that early screenings for the latest Richard Curtis film had not gone well. Don't know if anything was changed between then and now, but if the rumours were true then the early audiences were wrong.

Before we get into About Time, however, a quick word about the adverts. They don't change much, and so when you get to see a lot of films - as what we do - then you see the same ones a lot. And that Diet Coke advert is really ticking me off.

You'll have seen it - a gaggle of girlies are on a grassy bank in a park when Mr Hunk ambles in with his lawn mower (bugger knows which council he's working for...). The lead girlie then rolls her famous silver can down the slope, it comes to rest by the mower, and Mr Hunk opens it - spraying himself in the process.

Aghast at the bare chest that results in this, lead girlie then opens her can of Diet Coke to quench her desires. THE SAME CAN SHE'S ALREADY ROLLED DOWN THE BLOODY HILL. Sort out your continuity Coke, it's irksome.

Anyhoo, enough of that, what's Mr Curtis up to?

Well, on the face of it, pretty much the same as always - loving families, bumbling Brits, cool and lovely Americans... Only now, with added time travel. That's pretty much it. It could easily be Four Weddings And A Tardis.

But that's not a criticism. Far from it.

You see, the one thing Curtis has perfected over the years is creating characters you love, scenes you can relate to, capturing emotion and distilling it onto the screen. None of which is as easy as he makes it look.

And while the time travel element is new, it's actually not what the film's about (despite early reports). The film is about seizing the moment, not changing things when you screw up - funny as that may be.

And it's not entirely about fathers and sons, as big an element at this is here. It's about love. And life. And how you treat those two tricky buggers.

At the centre of About Time is Domhnall Gleeson, whose blustering and bumbling Tim is told by his dad (the sublime Bill Nighy) that  the men in his family have the ability to pop back in time. Not all the way back to Helen Of Troy, but just to relive days they've already had.

Being a normal, hormone-fuelled lad, Tim does what any boy would do and uses this gift to land the woman of his dreams. When that fails, he tries again. This time netting the beautiful Mary (Rachel McAdams again showing her wonderful gift for comedy).

Of course, as any Dr Who fan will tell you, popping back to last Tuesday comes with a risk or two, and sure enough Tim learns the hard way that there are things you can't change without knackering the present.

But, as I've said, that's really not the point of About Time.

In showing us what can be done, Curtis then shows us why it shouldn't. That every day IS precious, and should be treasured. If that sounds a bit saccharine, then yes, it kind of is - but when it's handled this well, who cares?

I'm sure others will have their own views and interpretations of About Time, and I've heard grown men talk of a need to phone their sons after watching this, but that's not what pulled at my heart strings. If nothing else, I don't have children, so that would be tricky. And Richard Parker doesn't tend to answer the phone.

No, what got me was the tale of a search for Miss Right. Tim's ever desperate attempts to track down the woman he met quite by chance but then lost. You root for him. You rail against him when he screws up, you understand what he goes through and why.

The reason for this is two-fold (three if you're me). Gleeson's acting and Curtis' writing comes together perfectly. Yes, you can see Hugh Grant's previous characters all over this, but Gleeson brings something new and different to the party. There's a calm confidence underpinning the nervous front.

Then there's the proposal scene (this is hardly a plot spoiler, it's a Richard Curtis film). Now, I doubt there will be many who watch this bit and totally relate to what unfolds, but speaking as a man who proposed at pretty much the same point in his intended's day (she was also asleep), and got pretty much the same initial response, I was grinning like an idiot throughout this section of the film.

And that grin did not go away.

(If Mrs Popcorn should see About Time, by the way, can I just point out that the events leading up to Tim's proposal were in no way mirrored in my life. I have to say that, because she will ask.)

There are perhaps fewer laughs here than in Curtis' previous works, but that matters not a jot. The heavier, darker moments are necessary to both highlight the laughter but to also make the point that life, sadly, isn't all cupcakes and tea.

The fact Curtis balances both ends of the spectrum so well is again testament to his gift for capturing human nature so expertly.

Curtis said in a recent interview that he writes what he knows - and he clearly knows people. Yes the same types of characters crop up across all his films (the character of Rory is not a million miles away from Four Weddings' Tom), but that's because they are real people. And that reality is what makes this film work so well.

I laughed, I almost cried, I did think about calling the Old Man (but then changed my mind as he's probably still drunk in Berlin right now), I wallowed in the company of people you feel are friends (another advantage to Curtis sticking to what he knows, you feel like you already know these people) and I at no point wanted it to end.

There's precious little baggage here. The characters are perfectly drawn (Tom Hollander is simply brilliant as bitter playwright Harry), and no scene seems to be overplayed (again, quite a feat when you consider the repetitious nature of the premise).

If I had one quibble, it's with the hand-held camera approach, which comes close to distracting the focus in some of the more emotional moments, but that really is the only negative here.

No, it's not high art. No, the sci-fi element doesn't obey the rules, but so what?

Throughout this screening there were a group of rude, chatty, self-centred youngsters who seemed oblivious to everyone else and happily wittered and rustled with not a thought for the rest of us. And do you know what? It didn't bother me once.

That's how good About Time is.

Maybe it's my age, maybe it was the gag about people who don't like children (if we ever meet, it'll come up...), maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the fact my wife has gone away for a week and I'm genuinely afraid that I might starve to death - the reason doesn't matter. I simply fell in love with this film.

Just wish I could go back in time and watch it again.

Oh, and to complete the experience, drive home from the cinema listening to Metallica's cover of Bob Seger's Turn The Page - it really rounds things off nicely...

42 (12A)

Baseball is a funny old game, as the saying goes - beloved Stateside (or endured if you're a Padres fan), it baffles us Brits who see it as nothing more than a bigger version of rounders.

And then we go and watch cricket or polo, wondering why nobody understands such simple games...

It's always interesting, then, to watch a baseball movie. As someone who loves the game live (even if it is the Padres) but can't watch it on the telly, I find movies about the sport fascinating - especially when they're not actually about baseball.

A couple of years ago we had Moneyball - more about the underdog studying stats - and now we have 42, the story of the great Jackie Robinson.

Granted that name will mean jack over here, but in the annals of the big bat game, he's a legend. And as much for what he did on the field as what he achieved off it. And 42 attempts to capture both.

Jackie was the first black Major League player. In 1947. A time of entrenched segregation. And while 42 is his story, it's also the story of baseball itself, his team mates and the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Ricky, whose dream of getting more black folk in through his gates started the whole thing.

And that's pretty much it.

If it was on TV on a Sunday afternoon, you'd enjoy it and think no more about it. As it is, it's on the big screen - so you'll go to the cinema, watch it, and think no more about it.

That's not to say it's a bad film - far from it. There's not a bad performance in sight, it has its funny moments (a young child uttering the word "discombobulated" is a particular delight), it aims to move and stir... it pretty much ticks all the boxes.

Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie (as Jackie and his wife Rachel) both serve up strong, convincing performances (Boseman in particular captures the hurt and anger Robinson must have felt excellently), while the supporting cast all do their job without particularly shining.

Harrison Ford, though, is an odd one. As Ricky, he mumbles and grumbles his way through the thing, never quite stealing scenes but not falling flat. I'd almost call it 'measured', if it weren't for the grumbling.

I last saw him in Morning Glory, where - as veteran journalist Mike Pomeroy - I took his mumbled, gravelled delivery as a character affectation.

It would seem not. It appears to be the thing he does now. Which would be fine if he came with his own subtitles. But sadly not. So you're left straining to understand him, like a pensioner who has switched their hearing aid off.

It's not so bad as to ruin the film, but it is bloody annoying.

But that's really the only criticism - well, that and the two-hour running time.

The film kind of loses its way a bit towards the end, as they decide to focus more on the Dodgers' race for glory than how Robinson is coping with overcoming the barrage of racism that has dogged him at every ground, but hey - that's part of his history too, so it's kinda forgivable.

And that really is it.

Yes 42 could have maybe been a bit grittier, could have maybe spent a bit less energy striving to be worthy, but hey - it took more in its opening weekend in America than any other baseball movie (not that it's about baseball) has ever managed, so the producers will rightly say they got it right.

Doesn't make it the Oscar contender I think they were heading for, but while it fails to hit a home run it does make its way round the bases at a decent enough pace.

(Who says Brits don't get baseball, eh?)

Friday, 13 September 2013

White House Down (12A)

Hollywood has a real knack for the good idea - if you've had it, chances are someone else has too. And it can't be intellectual property theft or anything, because it's a well known fact that if someone has thought of a brilliant idea, someone else will think of exactly the same thing at almost exactly the same time.

Take a film about terrorists wanting to take down The White House. What a brilliant idea! And there's no way a film called, say, White House Down, could be confused with another film about a bunch of terrorists trying to take down the White House - because that was months ago now. And had Olympus in the title.

Now, I will admit I haven't seen Olympus Has Fallen yet (I'll be doing that just as soon as I've written this. If the writing slows down towards the end, you'll know why) - but if it's even half as barn-stormingly stupid as White House Down, it won't be a disappointment.

Because, and I think I can say this without fear of contradiction, White House Down has to be the dumbest, most stupid, ridiculous, laughable, stupid dumb film I've seen this year. A year that saw Die Hard 5 and Red Dawn trouble our screens.

And amazingly, that's not a criticism.

Yes, it's stupider than a film written by Stupid Tom Stupid, mayor of Stupidville who has written a special film celebrating Stupidville for the Stupidville Film Festival.... But it's fun.

Not necessarily in a good way, sure, but it's an enjoyable kind of dumb. There's an honesty to the brainlessness. It is trying to be a good, solid, big bad action film. It really is. It's trying ever so hard. It just left its brains at home.

The plot is quite a complex one, though, so I'll try and keep it simple.

A man taking his daughter to his job interview at the White House doesn't get the job but instead gets caught up in an attempt to start World War III and has to save the day, daughter and president. Not necessarily in that order.

Now, I appreciate that's a lot to take in, so I'll give you a moment to digest that while I go make a cup of tea and load the new Fish album on my Kobo (seemingly the only thing in this place that plays flacs)....

Change of plan - I've got fruit juice.

Right, on board? Up to speed? Pretty sure you know what's going on? Excellent. Let's continue.

The star of this whole shebang is the one and only Channing Tatum, playing the self-same aspirational loser deemed not good enough for the secret service. Sure, he's been cleared to guard the Speaker of the House Of Representatives, but that's nothing, right? Handy for the plot though.

Now, you might be thinking - upon hearing tell of a man with an ex-wife, family issues and a questionable attitude taking on a small army single-handedly - of a little known film franchise called Die Hard. Fortunately, the producers of White House Down thought of this, so they didn't add to the stupid by calling Tatum's character John and having him tear-arsing about in a vest for the whole of the second half of the film.

'Cos that would have been stupid.

And comparisons with John McClane's Die Hard never ending franchise don't end there. We have bombs, planes, guns, rocket launchers, men in a lift, more bombs, extra guns, helicopters, tanks, hand grenades, another bomb, a car chase around the White House lawns and a nuclear submarine. And an odd collection of people who have vaguely Eastern European accents for no real reason. It's got the lot - with bombs on.

The really baffling thing with White House Down, though, is the cast. We've got Jamie Foxx as President, Maggie Gyllenhaal as the deputy boss of the secret service, James Woods as the actual boss, Richard Jenkins as Mr Speaker, Michael Murphy as the Vice President - these people can act. And Channing Tatum's in it too.

Clearly the makers of White House Down had dreams of a serious, heavy-hitting actioner. There's even some ridiculous plot points suggesting aspirations of political messaging (the President wants peace in the middle east, others don't), dialogue that is meant to be both meaningful and stirring - it's obvious no one set out to make White House Dumb.

Yet dumb it is. Even by director Roland Emmerich's usual standards - and he made Independence Day. And 2012. And The Day After Tomorrow. And Godzilla. And 10,000BC...

But it's the very dumbness that actually makes this enjoyable. The villainous music when we see the first bomb, the hilarious back story for Tatum's John Cale which allows us to know he is exactly the sort of man who would do this sort of thing, the geeky little kid who just happens to have a YouTube channel all major news networks check, the toy helicopters scattered across the model White House lawn (the less said about Air Force One taking off the better), the bombing raid aborted precisely a second after the bombs should have been dropped, the tense struggle for the nuclear button (it's actually red - what were the odds?), the bad guys ability to shoot anyone dead with a single shot unless it's Tatum jumping over a surprisingly bullet-proof chaise...

...and my personal favourite, Jason Clarke's baddy Stenz - upon being offered cake - snarling "no I don't want cake, I'm diabetic". Something which is NEVER REFERRED TO EVER AGAIN. That someone thought that line important enough - presumably it tells us something deep and personal about Mr McShooty-Shouty - to keep it in the final edit is simply a thing of beauty.

So why didn't I hate this?

By rights, I should have been swearing at the screen from five minutes in. But I wasn't. I was laughing. Not because of al the sharp one-liner zingers (fat chance) but because it's so stupid, hating it would be like hating your dog for not learning to fetch or sit. He is trying, really trying, but he was short changed in the brain department and he thinks standing there grinning and wagging his tail is the same thing.

And you can't hate that.

You should. You should be annoyed by how laboured the dialogue is, how leaden and obvious the plot, that the twists can be seen coming over the hill with a full marching band and cheerleaders, the laughingly bad special effects, how one man can be beaten to within an inch of his life and still come out on top (who said John McClane?), the obvious plot points (watch for the watch), the diabetes - all of these things should make you get up, throw your popcorn at the screen, and head to the pub.

But, like Die Hard 5 and Red Dawn before it, it's strangely hypnotic and enjoyable.

In fact, it's the stupid that makes the film what it is.

Nope, no good, can't put it off any longer. Here comes Olympus Has Fallen...

OOOOHHHH, before I do that - the new Fish album, A Feast Of Consequences, is nothing short of bloody brilliant. Arguably his best solo album yet, which is some claim given his output over the past 20-odd years. Stunning stuff. Especially All Loved Up and Blind To The Beautiful. Wonderful.

OK, ok, I'm going...

Right, well, I'll be honest - Olympus Has Fallen wasn't as bad as I feared, although I could have pretty much watched the trailer and saved two hours of my life.

It's still terrible, mind.

Essentially, the plot deviates from WHD (I'm lazy, live with it) not one iota. Bad people get into White House, do bad stuff, hero does hero stuff, we all go home,

Where OHF (but I am consistent) does dare to differ from WHD is clear and crucial - for a start it has Gerard Butler in it, not Mr Tatum. This is a bad thing, because Butler's American accent is shonky and his acting is worse.

Also, and don't be fooled by the poster here, you might think Morgan Freeman is the main man, but he isn't. It's Aaron Eckhart. This is also a bad thing.

First, Eckhart (a man I've been a huge fan of since Frasier and Thank You For Smoking) is unconvincing. It's as much a script issue as performance, but as President he's not up to snuff. Second, Freeman might make a better president but he's sleepwalking through the whole thing. He looked as bored as I felt.

OHF is also a lot more violent. It's clear that was the plan from the off. It's darker visually, and then the blood starts splattering the walls and the body count starts to rival a Rambo film. This is not a good thing. The violence is over-the-top gory, and at one point even a dog cops it. And there is really no need for that.

I don't care how you film it, it's a scene that has no place in this movie. We have how brutal the enemy is rammed down our throats, we do not need it rammed further. It's horrible and unnecessary and director Antoine Fuqua (he also made King Arthur - how is he getting work?) should be ashamed of himself.

You'll also spot the villain coming a mile away, even if you haven't seen the trailer. Seen Die Another Day? Yeah, it's him.

Amazingly, I didn't hate this film (that scene aside), but it really is bad. The effects are cheap, the characters are paper thin, there are captions all over the place to save the writers the bother of doing dialogue (something they seemed to manage in WHD), the guns are LOUD but the talkage is quiet, the plot devices come with a set of cheerleaders and brass band, the score is awful and the 'news footage' is basically the same as WHD.

The ending is also enough to make you shove your foot through the TV. Thought the nationalistic zeal of Independence Day was OTT? Ha, it's got nothing on the mawkish attempt to elicit emotion here. Oh, and keep an eye out for the flag. It'll bring a tear to your eye.

If you see just one film about terrorists taking over the White House and blowing it to bits, make it WHD. If you must.