Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Revenant (15)

I have been trying to write this review for three days.

The rule here at Popcorn Towers is simple - watch the film, write the film as soon as possible afterwards. The aim being to try and capture exactly how a film made you feel.

But how do you do that when the film makes you feel nothing?

How do you try and get your feelings down on paper (in old money) when you're just left baffled and numbed by what you've been subjected to?

How do you try and analyse something when that something is two-and-a-half hours of nothing?

I wanted to like this film, I really really did.

The trailers looked good, the buzz was good, Leonardo DiCaprio fights a bear, it's got Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson in leading roles - this should, at the very least, been good.

And it starts off promisingly.

Slow, atmospheric, building the drama - only it never gets going, never takes off, never actually goes anywhere.

And it takes the best part of 150 minutes to not go anywhere.

To be fair, there are positives - it looks stunning, and should be hoovering up every cinematography award going.

And there are a couple of moments of genuine tension - not least during the bear scrap - and Leo puts in a fine performance.

He may only be grunting and crawling about for most of the film, but he grunts and crawls well.

But sweet mother does this film have problems.

Hardy seemingly couldn't choose between two different accents, so gives both a go - and only one of them is actually discernible - while the story is more than a little far fetched.

Now, I know this is based on a true story. DiCaprio's Hugh Glass existed. But I'm willing to bet that in telling his tale he more than stretched the truth.

He should die on at least three separate occasions. He's mauled by a bear in sub-zero conditions. There are other things I can't give away, but as I type this I can feel a rant coming so i'd better stop.

But the biggest problem is the pacing.

It's slow. So, so slow.

Leo dragging his shattered carcass across the frozen tundra is about as fast as anything goes.

For two-and-a-half hours.

Yeah, sure, you know it's a long film when you go in, but when you check your watch after an hour and your heart sinks because you were sure it had been two you know things are not going well.

All of which is borderline criminal.

When so much effort has been put in to making this film look so good as it does, and when the actors have been frozen as they filmed in real winter conditions, the very least you expect is the finished product to be gripping.

Mind you, it's not like director Inarritu doesn't have previous.

Last year he gave us Birdman. Before that, 21 Grams and Babel. Frankly you have to wonder why anyone gives him a camera.

He clearly has ideas, he clearly can sell a concept to a studio. But somewhere between page and screen something goes horribly wrong.

The normal comment is that you could shave 20 minutes off a film and not miss anything. Here, you could lose an hour.

That way, the three disparate strands Inarritu fails to mesh together might have stood a chance.

Instead, you're left walking into night wondering why the hell you stayed til the end when you could have been doing so much more with your life.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Big Short (15)

I've been angry about the financial crisis pretty much since it happened.

I've read books on the subject, I've watched documentaries, I've followed the news - it affected all of us, so it's good to know who screwed up.

For me, Michael Lewis - author of The Big Short - has been the guy to turn to, so it was not without some excitement that I sat down to watch the film version.

And it left me angry all over again. And very scared about the future of our water supplies.

But not because it's a bad film - far from it.

I'm angry because they did such a good job, and it reminded me off all the steps that could have been avoided as the financial sector sang and danced its way to our oblivion.

If you're not really aware of what went down between 2006 and 2008, watch this film.

If you are aware, watch this film anyway.

If you think it'll be full of complicated financial jargon that will fly over your head, watch this film. It's full of jargon, but they do their best to explain it.

And they do a good job.

Thanks to Margot Robbie in a bath, Selena Gomez in a casino and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, the way bad debt was sliced and diced and repackaged and then traded is broken down and served up in easy-to-grasp segments.

And it's segments like this that give the film it's heart.

Because it sure as hell doesn't come from the main characters.

That's not to suggest there are bad performances here - far from it. Christian Bale is odds on to win Best Supporting Actor at The Oscars (and not just because his character has a glass eye), while Steve Carell continues to prove himself a quality dramatic actor.

Then there's Ryan Gosling. Who knew a guy who's been playing the same role for years had this performance in him?

No, the reason this film struggles to have a heart is because all the main characters are bad guys.

Yes, they spot the problem, but there reaction isn't to alert the masses but rather to make money from it.

And loads of it.

Sure, OK, they feel a bit guilty, but not so guilty that they cease trading and turn whistleblowers. Oh no.

And that's the other hard sell this film has to get around.

It's trying to make a complex issue entertaining yet informative by telling it through the actions of a group of people you can't stand.

It's full credit, then, to director Adam McKay that he pulls it off. Who knew the guy that forced Anchorman on the world had this in him?

Maybe he should leave Will Ferrell at home more often.

This isn't a straightforward film either, and it's this that also helps get the story across.

By breaking the fourth wall and having characters talk straight to the audience, you can engage more readily with the unfolding shit storm.

And the adding of a few music video sensibilities and touches also helps the whole thing trip along at a fair old pace.

That's not to say it's a perfect film.

It has the odd editing issue and at times the use of music detracts rather than adds to proceedings - but never in a way as to ruin your enjoyment of the film.

The Big Short is a story that needs to be told, and a story you need to see and understand.

The idiots and crooks, the screwed up systems - they're all still in place. And the more you watch the film you realise this could all happen again.

And probably will, because while there's money to be made there's people who will do anything to make it.

Angry yet?

(If for some reason you're not, go and read The Big Short, then Liar's Poker, then Boomerang. Then Too Big To Fail. Then watch Too Big To Fail, then Inside Job then Margin Call. It's too an important an issue not to)

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Room (15)

You'll have seen the posters already, no doubt, and probably read about this lovely film about a boy discovering the world.

You'll look and you'll read and you'll conclude that Room is a smooshy feelgood film.

You'll be wrong.

Room is a much, much darker film than is being publicised.

And that's no bad thing.

In fact, it's a great thing. You just might not think it at the time.

If you haven't looked up the story already, then don't. Going in cold will give this film a lot more impact.

It starts with Brie Larson as a mum living in Room with her son, Jack.

Over time, we realise she is being kept there against her will.

The story is then allowed to unfold and evolve naturally, without spelling things out.

The focal point of the film is Ma and her relationship with Jack - and it is this that has huge, emotional impact.

It has heft and weight, and as their bids for freedom unfold, your emotions go through the wringer.

And it continues that way through the whole film.

We're reticent to say too much about the plot, because - as mentioned - knowing as little as possible seems to add to the film's impact.

But know this.

While Larson is nailed on for the Oscar, the real star of the show is Jacob Tremblay.

How a kid who isn't yet 10 can give a performance of such intensity is beyond us.

You believe everything he says and does - when he's scared, you're scared; when he's angry, you're scared again; when he cries... Well, you get the picture.

Basically, he doesn't put a foot wrong.

Although, to be fair, no one does.

Every performance is on the button and director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did) wrings out all the drama and emotion he can.

To the point that you think you're in for some respite, and you get hit again.

But if I'm making this sound like a film that's hard work, it's not.

It has moments of real lift as well, moments that you'll find hard to see because your eyes have suddenly gone all blurry.

It's a real heavyweight roller coaster.

It's not perfect, but then if it was this would be a much shorter review.

There's a moment when Jack's looking at the sky that's given a bit of a ham-fisted score when ambient sound would have hit home far more, and the closing shot is a bit too mushy Hallmark to stomach.

But these are small gripes in the grand scheme of things.

Room is an emotional story of survival and love and family. Of triumph against all the odds.

And for that it should be celebrated.

But it's not a mushy, feel good, soppy piece the likes of which Nicholas Sparks books serve up on an annual basis.

And for that it should be celebrated as well.

(Writing this without giving anything away was like writing it with a cat on one's lap - harder than you'd think)

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Hateful Eight (18)

Oh, Quentin. Quentin Quentin Quentin. When's it going to stop, eh?

Not content with bringing us a film "about slavery" (Django Unchained wasn't about slavery), we continue down the Western trail with this little three-hour fun and games.

With an intermission. And boy, do you need the intermission.

Did we mention it's three hours long?

We've already seen some of the reaction to Tarantino's latest outing, and to call it mixed would be an understatement.

People either love this, or have taken against it very, very badly.

The truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

The story is, for Tarantino, a simple one. Man is taking wanted woman to town to be hanged.

On the way, said man (Kurt Russell hamming it up as John Ruth) picks up a bounty hunter (Samuel L Jackson) and the town's new sheriff (Walton Goggins).

The unlikely band of folks rock up at Minnie's Haberdashery and are forced to wait out a blizzard, getting to know a group of strangers in the process.

A bunch of strangers? Gathered in a remote building? And then people start dying? It seems Quentin has taken a liking to Agatha Christie...

For reasons best known to himself, Quentin breaks the story up into chapters, which adds nothing to the overall feel of the piece but does bring some respite from the more tedious bits.

And at times, it is tedious.

The opening chapter is basically a huge set up, with sweeping vistas and endless amounts of dialogue - which serves, essentially, to remind you that dialogue has never been Quentin's strong suit.

There's also a wonderfully pointed moment right at the start when John Ruth explains why Jennifer Jason Leigh's Daisy Domergue can't use the N word when referring to Mr Jackson.

Anyone would think he copped a load of flack after Django.

It would also seem he didn't give a shit, because having explained why that word can't be used he then sets out to set some sort of record in the number of times it gets used in a film.

There are two problems with this.

One, if we're setting a film in the wild west, that explanation wouldn't have taken place.

Having taken place, and so having set up a world where people are more sensitive to the use of language, it wouldn't be used half as much as it is.

Certainly not without someone mentioning again that it shouldn't be used.

Oh Quentin.

That aside, the whole of the first half is a bit of a drag.

It looks stunning, and I suspect those of you lucky to clap your eyes on a 70mm print will be blown away, but the stunning cinematography can't disguise the fact that nothing is actually happening.

And what is happening could have been sorted out in half the time.

Still, no matter, there's a break where we can stretch our legs. Hopefully things will pick up in the second half.

Oh they pick up alright.

They're picked up, shaken down, shot, poisoned, shot again, thrown down a well, shot some more and then, just to be on the safe side, shot again. And then stabbed.

The second half is like a whole different film.

And this is actually a good thing, because it's what saves this from being a totally indulgent piece of tosh.

Once we're back in our seats, the fun begins.

People are killed off left, right and centre - and all with a big grin on Tarantino's face.

This is the fun he's used to having.

Blood is vomited, heads explode, limbs are hacked off - this is what you want and expect when sitting down with a Tarantino flick,

And this half is great.

From sweeping long shots were are treated to everything being tight and close up, and this is what brings the film alive.

There's tension, suspense, mystery and laughs.

It's just a shame he felt compelled to pen an open love letter to the whole of the wild west in the first half.

To be fair, you can't fault how the film looks, but it only serves to show up the scripts flaws.

Some of the characters are so badly drawn as to be caricatures, while others are so well rounded they steal the show.

And he also tries to further emulate Christie's And Then There Were None by leaving subtle clues as to what may have happened.

Clues which don't work, because we're not aware of what they're alluding to.

It also can't go unmentioned that And Then There Were None had an original title. Go look it up. It's not a coincidence that this is why he chose it.

Oh Quentin.

But issues with his addiction to That Word aside, The Hateful Eight is OK.

Trudge through the first half - and admire the lovely scenery, and you'll be rewarded with some lovely mindless violence.

Hopefully he's got Westerns out of his system now, though.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Films Of The Year 2015

As our regular reader will know (evening Brian), it's been a tough year here at Popcorn towers.

Life has been getting in the way, and many of the films we wanted to see (The Martian for example) had gone before we could get there (which is daft given how long it was around).

Of the films we did see, there seemed to be a high level of dross (Spooks, Terminator, Survivor, Cake, The Longest Ride...), so picking an actual 10 has been a real struggle.

There were some we didn't get a chance to write up of course, and both Shaun The Sheep and Minions were an enjoyable way to pass the time if never likely to bother a top 10.

Then there were the ones that the world seemed to go mad for (Carol, Inside Out) which left us a bit non-plussed. Oscar nods? Really?

Must just be us.

Anyhoo, that's enough banter and chit-chat, on with the countdown...

10) The Water Diviner
No way were we expecting to enjoy this, but an actor moving behind the camera is always worth catching just to see how they handle the transition. And Russell Crowe did OK. Everything was in the right place, the story was well told, and you emotionally connected with all of the characters - including, most surprisingly given his recent efforts, Crowe himself. A shock inclusion and no mistake.

9) Chappie
Not an obvious choice perhaps, but we really enjoyed it - which in a year of Fantastic Four, was a real high point. Derivative, dodgy mullets, questionable acting, Chappie had the lot. But it also had a little robot with a big heart. And that did for us.

8) Mr Holmes
Sometimes, a well-made film with great performances that wraps you in a warm blanket is just what the doctor ordered - and so it was with Mr Holmes. It's experience-youth dynamic worked a charm, while Sir Ian McKellen was on top form as The Great Detective haunted by the one that got away while old age creeps up on him.

7) Ant-Man
Paul Rudd? Playing a superhero only the most avid of Marvel fans could tell you about? This is the beginning of the end of the comic revolution isn't it? Well, no. It's big, it's brash, it's loud - but most of all, it's funny. Michael Douglas delivers a fantastic performance, while Rudd shines and steals the show in a way nothing he's done before suggested was possible. We'd go as far as to say it's better than Guardians...

6) Brooklyn
One of the ones we didn't manage to actually write about, but we're so glad we managed to squeeze it in to our cripplingly busy schedule. Saoirse Ronan continued on her path to the top with a note-perfect portrayal of a young woman from Ireland who moves to America in search of work and a better life. Captivating and beautiful, and with a stellar cameo from Julie Walters, Brooklyn was one of the few films to captivate us.

5) Mad Max: Fury Road
You know, sometimes, you just want to switch the brain off and let the film do the work. Not have to worry about the plot, just watch things go BANG and BOOM and KERBLEWIE. That's when you need Mad Max. It's dumb as nuts, but God it's fun. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult all buy in to the mayhem and you just spend your whole time grinning. All action films should be like this.

4) A Most Violent Year
After Margin Call (which we loved but no one saw) and All Is Lost (which we also loved, but even fewer people saw), J. C. Chandor returned with his take on the gangster movie. Capturing the early 80s perfectly, Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain shine as a couple trying to survive during the worst year in New York's history. Chandor is now one of our favourite film-maker types.

3) Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Now the hype has died down a smidge, the critics and naysayers are starting to emerge and suggest that JJ Abrams continuation of a franchise George Lucas started and then almost killed is not all that. Pish. Story's not original? Don't care. Issues with Finn? Tough, live with it. Think there are massive holes in the plot? You're right. Not important. Because what JJ has done is bring love back to The Galaxy. None of that Binks crap, no sign of that Christensen fella (anywhere, thankfully), just old friends and new acquaintances. And the Millennium Falcon. Oh and BB-8, the most loveable robot since Wall-E.

2) Whiplash
Are you rushing or are you dragging? A year on from watching this, the intensity has still not left us. It's not often we don't move during a film, but this had us by the throat from the off. It's an army film, to all intents and purposes, it's Platoon, it's Full Metal Jacket - but with drums. And a jazz Platoon to boot, with the editing embellishing the pace and off-beat rhythms of the film. A stunning piece of work.

1) Amy
The thing you learn as you go through life is that it's not the story you tell that's important, it's how you tell it. As with Senna, where the outcome was already known before you started watching, Amy Winehouse's life was an open book - plastered across every tabloid in the land. And yet Asif Kapadia again manages to draw you in and entrance you with his tale. You know about the drugs, you know about the tragedy, you know about the gigs that went badly wrong, but Kapadia makes it all feel fresh and new. And most importantly of all, he makes you care. This isn't a gawp at fame going badly wrong, this is the tale of a young woman left to flounder in a world she wasn't comfortable in - and the tale of those who let her down the most. While appreciating her music, we wouldn't have called ourselves fans before going to see Amy. But we came out of the cinema and went straight to HMV and bought three albums. We also came out hating her father. A film that will stay long in the heart and mind.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Albums Of The Year 2015

Yeah yeah, blah blah, film blog, whatever - we didn't care last year either. We like music. We like lists. Deal with it.

2015 was an odd year for music. For a while there, nothing was standing out. Then, sadly, two things did.

First we lost Scott Weiland - which was a tragedy waiting to happen, but a tragedy nonetheless. The guy could sing and could write a tune. Sadly, beating his demons was a step too far.

Then the year ended on the bummest of bum notes (we weren't to know there was a bummer note round the corner) when Lemmy switched off his video game for the final.

Sure, he was 70. But he'd been going for so long that, despite everything he did to his body, we all just assumed he'd keep going. Feels weird to think there'll never be another new Motorhead album.

Fitting then, surely, that both rockers went out on a high (not best choice of phrase, granted). Motorhead left us with Bad Magic, which may have shown Lem's vocals had lost some of their gusto but it also showcased just what a bloody good songwriter he was and what a great band he had created.

And Weiland may have denounced Art Of Anarchy, claiming he "just" threw some vocals on some tracks and didn't even know who was in the band, but in doing so he produced one of his finest albums.

Strong vocals, great melody's, gliding over razor sharp riffs and a great overall sound. A classic debut that now sadly won't be followed up.

On a more upbeat note, Def Leppard also returned. And who would have thought they had an album that could sit alongside Hysteria in their locker after all these years.

Gloriously derivative, infectiously catchy, their self-titled effort reminded us all just how good a band they could be. And they did it without Mutt too...

The Subways and Therapy? also popped up with the best things they've done in ages. Which was nice.

So, if those great albums couldn't crack our top 10, what's keeping them out?


10) Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material

Second album from this young country star - and jeez, how she's come on from her debut. And a damn strong debut at that. Infectious, catchy, bittersweet, hard-hitting, her lyrics and music cover the whole country range. And we don't even like country music.

9) Meg Myers - Sorry

It's taken a while, but after last year's EP Myers finally produces her first full album. And it's a monster. Huge choruses, driving rhythms, soaring vocals - this woman can do pretty much anything. Go buy it now to make sure there's a second one.

8) James Taylor - Before This World

Look, this is how this works. Having stopped recording new material some 12 years ago, Taylor was supposed to just be chilling out, playing with friends, touring the hits every now and then - you know, retirement stuff. Not doing this. Not showing the world just why he's regarded as one of the best singer-songwriters of his generation. Not producing something that's embued with his 70s soul, but brought up to date with a contemprary sound and great songs. Best war song you'll hear in ages too.

7) Florence + The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

We've always been big fans of the break-up album. It always brings the best out of the artistic sorts we find. And that's clearly the case with Florence. From the minute Ship To Wreck kicks in, you know you're in for a great time - and every song delivers. It's sweeping, it's epic, it's bitter, it's brilliant.

6) Thunder - Wonder Days

We go way back, Thunder and us, all the way back to Donnington in 1990. And we've been through a lot together, good and bad on both sides. And yes, they retired. Twice. And yes they said no now records. But screw it. When they go back on their word with something this good, they're forgiven. Up there with Behind Closed Doors and the debut, Wonder Days is full of all the things we love about this band. Huge riffs, huge choruses, great guitar playing - it's everything a great rock album should be.

5) Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls

Along with Thunder, cancer has played it's part in Iron Maiden's latest recording - with singer Bruce Dickinson getting tongue cancer at the end of 2014 (Thunder's Ben Matthews has also beaten the disease, while Leppard's Viv Campbell continues to look a picture of health despite his own cancer issues). So, surely, that would put Maiden on the back foot. Make them cautious. Make them play it safe. Well - does a double album with a closing track that clocks in at 18+ minutes (and feature a sodding piano) answer that? It's classic Maiden. Just even more so.

4) Editors - In Dream

At some point, the Goth community are going to adopt this lot as one of their own. In the meantime, Tom Smith and the boys continue to evolve into one of the finest bands this country has produced. From the opening gloom of No Harm, Editors deliver a synth-laden masterclass, creating mood and majesty with every turn.

3) Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

While watching last year's Glasto coverage on the Beeb, one guy stood out. One guy halted the fast-forwarding through so much dross. Father John Misty. Like a bearded Beth Orton, he blends folk and electro beautifully, while undercutting you with dark bitter lyrics that you might not notice on first listen. Plus he drops "subprime loans" into a song. Which pleased us far more than it should.

2) Silversun Pickups - Better Nature

Discovering this band way back whenever is still one of the greatest things I've ever stumbled upon. Sweeping, majestic and yet underpinned with a driving bass sound, they're just totes amazeballs. And with Better Nature, they've taken it to another level. More driven, a harder egde, yet still wrapping you in the warm fuzz of Brian Aubert's vocals. It would take something special to keep this off the top spot at Popcorn Towers.

1) Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space

Well, what do you know...
I'll be honest, I knew nothing about this lot at the start of the year, but a glowing write-up in Classic Rock magazine of all places, plus mentions by a few trusted friends forced us to investigate. And oh boy, was it worth it. Taking us through the life of the Apollo missions, PSB blend original audio from back in the day with their rock/electronic mix and create something that is simply epic. It shouldn't work, it shouldn't exist, the opening track is just a speech from JFK over a subtle sound bed, and yet one listen is all it takes and you won't leave it alone for more than a day from then on.

Fitting too that we write this on the day Tim Peake went for a toddle in the great beyond. It's almost as if we planned it.

(Not a hope, we can barely plan breakfast).

Joy (12A)

How do you know a new year has stated? The hangover? The sudden plethora of celebrity deaths? The new film from David O Russell starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper?

The first, probably. The second? Well, this year seems harsher than most on those whose work we love and cherish. The third? Seemingly...

So what fun and games have David and the team got for us this time?


Joy is the story of Joy, or Joy Mangano to give her her full name - she of the self-wringing mop, Huggable Hangers and star of the Home Shopping Network.

As you're probably already aware, Lawrence is Joy.

At least in name.

The film tells the story of her life, how she rose up from nothing to have her own business empire.

Along the way we meet her ex-husband, her soap-obsessed mother, her nan, her half-sister, her dad, his new girlfriend and Neil Walker, the man at the fledgling QVC channel who would play a key role in her success.

Sounds like a lot to pack into two hours? Yeah, just a tad.

Easily done, though, when you skip bits.

Coming off the back of huge hits The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, hopes were high for this one.

O Russell has already shown he can put a film together, and he's got Oscar-winning performances from his stars. So sit back, relax, you're in safe hands.

Only something's not quite right here.

The initial problems are two-fold.

First, using granny (played by Diane Ladd) as the narrator gives the film a semi-documentary feel that leaves you feeling slightly detached from proceedings.

Then there's the soap opera that Joy's mum Terry (Virginia Madsen) is addicted to.

We step into the soap very early on, and flashback to it at irregular intervals - setting up a parallel, a mirror through which "real life" is being reflected.

At least I hope that's the point, because if not then something has gone seriously wrong.

Because throughout the film, you're left with the impression that no one is actually that bothered about being here.

Everyone just seems to be going through the motions. Acting slightly wooden and slightly bored.

All except for De Niro (Joy's wayward father), who is just busy being De Niro.

What you're left with is a slightly surreal feeling, because you keep asking yourself how could this director and this cast come up with a film that is this dull?

Half an hour in, and I'm fidgeting.

An hour, and I'm getting restless and wondering what else I could be doing with my time.

After 90 minutes, I'm asking questions. Questions like 'what happened to Joy's job?' 'Where did the money come from to suddenly pay bills?' 'Why am I having valedictorian explained to me with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer?' 'How did Isabella Rossellini go from that woman on the phone to pulling the purse strings?'

I'm also really hoping the film is going to end soon.

As I said, if the whole thing has been set up to mirror a bad daytime soap then O Russell's played a blinder.

Have no idea why he would do that or what purpose it would serve, but it's pretty nailed on.

If it hasn't...

Lawrence is up for an Oscar for this, which is just bizarre when her performance in a second-rate Hunger Games film is actually better.

Cooper doesn't seem to really know his character, and everyone else is, well, just there.

The problem is clearly in the script.

As mentioned, there are holes you could drive a truck through (how the hell did she learn to weld?), which is unforgivable when the actual woman at the centre of the story was involved.

There are a few smiles to be had, a couple of moments of drama, but the whole thing just feels like half an idea is being repeatedly wrung out like one of Joy's mops.

Maybe the actual story of Joy's rise to success was quite uneventful, maybe there were things she didn't want telling, but whatever was going on behind the scenes you come out of this feeling shortchanged.

Oh, and the ending will have you almost yelling at the screen.

The Danish Girl (15)

I'd been looking forward to this film for ages - Eddie Redmayne, star of The Theory Of Everything, playing a woman?

Done well, this could only be brilliant.

Then I started reading articles and opinions on the wider story, and I got concerned.

Now, I'm not well-placed to offer informed opinions on the trans debate, but I read a lot and have friends who have been restored to their rightful gender.

So I at least hoped The Danish Girl was going to look at some of the issues. I mean, how could it not?

What's that? You don't actually know what the story's about?

Oh, right, yes, sorry, jumped ahead.

Eddie plays Lili, trapped in the body of Einar, who became the first person to have gender realignment surgery.

Lili's journey from Einar to Lili is obviously fraught, and takes its toll on a marriage to Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander).

But it should be fraughter.

No, don't know if it is a word. But I've typed it now. Get over it, move on.

There are a whole host of issues to confront here.

Not just Gerda's reaction to the journey she has to go on, but also to the way society reacts to Lili's blossoming transformation.

But we don't get any of that.

We get a bit of a laugh as girls play dress-up, a few tears as Gerda loses her husband, and seemingly no controversy at all over the German doctor who is to undertake pioneering surgery.

Yes, we get a few doctors wanting to lock up someone they label schizophrenic, but this is hardly something that is dwelt upon.

All of which is a shame.

By giving The Danish Girl an almost polished sheen, both in terms of the script and the visual style, the story has ended up feeling sanitised and a bit distant.

The performances, while good, have that same kind of buttoned-up, repressed emotions feel usually reserved for a Jane Austen adaptation.

Which is a shame.

No, it's more than that. It's shameful.

This should be a heartbreaking, almost tortuous tale of courage against the odds - about a fight to be the person Lili was born to be, not the person she was born as.

Instead, we get moments that echo Brief Encounter.

And that's not a touchstone you want anywhere near a film that should be bringing to life the story of a pioneer.

That's not to say this is a bad film, it's not. It's fine.

And Redmayne and Vikander put in good performances.

It just feels like the whole thing has been handled so delicately it's ended up being wrapped in cotton wool.

Cotton wool you can see through, granted, but cotton wool nonetheless.

Parts of Lili's story have been tweaked, others ignored - which I know might have had to happen when you only have two hours to play with - but maybe we could have got to the heart of the matter a lot earlier in proceedings.

There was a chance to make a great statement here, or at the very least a firmer stand, but I suspect the dash for an Oscar or two has played its part.

Which is a pity. No matter how well shot it is.

Because it is well shot. It looks fantastic. And some of the scenes will take your breath away.

But I don't want my breath taken away. At least not in that sense.

I don't want The Danish Girl to try and emulate the pictures Einar paints, I want what's going on underneath.

I want to feel like I've been on Lili's journey with her, I want to feel like I've not only learnt something but been part of the journey.

I want to end the two hours feeling like I have felt every heart beat and shared every tear.

I don't want to come out thinking it was fine. That it hasn't made a massive emotional impact on my day, never mind my life.

Lili should have been a bold statement, a call to arms for change and acceptance in today's society.

We should have spent more time dealing with her struggles.

Instead we went to parties in a nice dress.

(I'll be honest, I didn't realise I was quite so annoyed by this film. Think I'll go pour a cuppa and see how Richard Parker is doing...)

Saturday, 9 January 2016

In The Heart Of The Sea (12A)

There were two things I was really looking forward to about In The Heart Of The Sea - it being released on Boxing Day and it being directed by Ron Howard.

Ron Howard gave us Splash. He gave us Frost/Nixon. He gave us The Grinch. He knows how to make a film does Ron.

And Boxing Day! If a ship full of men sailing the high seas trying to kill a whale doesn't just scream Christmas I don't know what does.

So, it's the festive season, Ron Howard is at the helm, Chris Hemsworth gets soaking wet - what could go wrong?

Well, I'm glad you asked...

Let's start with the set-up.

Ben Whishaw rocks up at Brendan Gleeson's place wanting to hear the tale of The Essex, which set sail from Nantucket to bring back barrels of whale oil only to hit a few snags and snaffoos.

We are then treated to intermittent bouts of narration and flash forwards to the ongoing interview as the story unfolds.

This, somehow, lends an almost documentary air to the whole thing and slows down the pacing of the film.

Which given its slow start, is not a good thing.

Then there's the actual action.

Leaving aside the actual whale hunting scenes for a second (shouldn't have happened then, shouldn't be happening now, shouldn't be shown on the screen - but that's a strictly personal thing), the shift to 3D lends a slightly surreal air to the whole thing.

You feel slightly detached from proceedings, not at the heart of the action.

And the less said about the scenes that are clearly shot in a giant studio tank the better.

Then there's the performances.

Hemsworth's accent can't stay still for more than 30 seconds, while Benjamin Walker's portrayal of a man of privilege captaining a ship seems to have him all at sea.

He can't decide between arrogant, pompous ass or awkward, semi-British stuck-up prig and ends up somewhere in the middle.

One or the other would have been an improvement.

Then there's the characters.

Well, one. A key one as it goes.

Early on we meet a young, fresh-faced, American-sounding Tom Nickerson. A Tom Nickerson, it turns out, grows up to be a gruff, bearded Irishman played by Brendan Gleeson.

Both performances are fine, but how one grew up into the other is still making my head hurt.

And if all that wasn't enough to contend with, it's just dull. And boring. To the point that, an hour in I really thought I'd been there for two and a half.

I had another hour to go. It ended up feeling like three.

Which means it feels like five and a half hours of dull film.

At Christmas.


But all of that pales into insignificance next to the whale and the whale scenes.

The big fella, the main whale, is for the most part done well, even if a couple of close-ups might make you snigger.

But what Howard has done well are the more general whaley bits.

At first I found myself getting angry as a bunch of arsehats set about harpooning whales.

Then I reminded myself that it was just a film, and it's what happened back then.

That didn't help and I carried on being angry.

Then the penny dropped.

Howard had done this bit really well.

If you're watching such scenes and you've bought into it enough to have that strong an emotional reaction, then damn it if he hasn't managed to get something right.

Which just makes the rest of the film feel so wrong.

It shouldn't be this dull, it shouldn't have so many problems, it shouldn't make you feel like you've been watching it for weeks.

Yet, somehow, it is, it has and it does.

I'd actually rather watch Les Mis again.