Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (15)

It's a truth rarely acknowledged that a classic of English literature must be in need of some zombies.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one who approached Seth Graham-Smith's reimagining of Jane Austen's with a certain amount of caution.

But it was fun. Hilarious fun. And pitched perfectly, with the voice and tone of the original shining through as the manky dreadfuls ran riot.

But could the film match this?

Could the film capture the feel and tone of a period drama, the characters of many a loved film adaption, and still get away with the undead gathering at the gates?


From the opening scenes of stately homes, barricades and security guards you know - odd as it sounds - that you are in the right era.

And as Mr Darcy enters the room to check for any undead and partake in a quick game of cards, the costumes and dialogue confirm what you hoped - the book has been brought to life well.

The tone, like the book, is at once reverential and irreverent.

The characters we all know, and the cast bring the Bennet family, Mr Darcy, Parson Collins and Mr Wickham to life.

This is no mean feat, given the films that have gone before - with Sam Riley in particular making the role of Darcy his own.

Intertwining visual horror with the more sedate world of the Bennets was never going to be easy, but writer/director Burr Steers pulls it off with aplomb.

In particular, he makes the fight scenes - and the training scenes - sing.

And hurt, too.

Once upon a time, a man called Zack Snyder attempted to make a film where girls in school uniform went about fighting and shooting stuff.

Sounds simple, and should have been fun.

Instead you got one of the dullest films known to man.

This. This is what he was trying to achieve.

But there's no sexualisation here.

Yes, bits of it are sexed up - in particular when Elizabeth and Jane are getting dressed for the ball - but there's a world of difference between what Steers achieves and Snyder ended up with.

And man, those fight scenes are good.

Austen has long been praised for writing strong female characters, and Steers has put exactly that on the screen.

Lily James (Elizabeth) and Bella Heathcote (Jane) lead the charge as the sisters show exactly what women can do with a sword and a gun.

And it's brutal.

The camera doesn't shy away from the slaughter, and you're able to feel ever stab, every thrust, and blow as the undead hoard fall under their well-heeled boots.

In fact, the squishing of the dead is almost as much fun as the lighter moments.

And there are a lot of lighter moments.

Matt Smith as Parson Collins and Sally Phillips as Mrs Bennet both bring perfect comic timing and understated, measured performances to proceedings - keeping the tone suitably light, yet never frothy.

But this isn't all fun and splattered heads.

There's a twist in the original tale, with Wickham's character taken in a slightly different direction leading to a gripping final third.

And grip it does.

It also allows the film - and, by association, the book - to stand on it's own two feet.

This could easily be passed off as a bit of fan fiction that got lucky, but the book was very well written and the film can stand proudly alongside both the period dramas and the horror films it so clearly loves.

If there is one major quibble, it's the term "Manky Dreadfuls".

A phrase that leapt off the page and made the reader grin and laugh is reduced here to one passing reference.

And, yes, within the context of the film it matters not a jot - the film survives just fine with the myriad terms for zombie that are unearthed.

But as an adaptation, and for fans of the book, it's a misfire. It should have been there from the start.

Still, no matter. It's personal pickyness more than anything.

Leaving that aside - and I don't doubt many of you will - the film is a joyous riot of corsets, bonnets, blood, brains, swords and balls.

It's got drama, violence, comedy, guts, romance, severed limbs, horses, twists, cliffhangers and massive explosions.

It's what all good costume dramas should have.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Deadpool (15)

So, after all the hype, the hoopla, the fuss - Deadpool is finally here.

It's got all it's swears in, there's violence and nudity, finally we have a superhero show adults can enjoy.

Because grown-ups like the boobs and the swears, right?

Well, maybe some, yeah. Others think Daredevil and Jessica Jones are the way to go if you want to be all growed-up about these things.

But I digress.

Some of you may have somehow slept through all the broo-ha-ha. Well done. Here's what you missed.

Wade Wilson (played by a shockingly good Ryan Reynolds) gets diagnosed with terminal cancer, decides to take an offer of help, doesn't die.

In fact, can't.

And so Deadpool is born. And he immediately wants to take out the guy who did the thing to him.

Off we go then, jumping about the time line as the back story is weaved into current events as we hightail towards the final showdown fighty bit.

It really is that simple.

And fun. It's a lot of fun. The fights are gory, if not brutal, and there are more quips than you can through a throwing star at.

But it just feels like it's trying too hard at times.

Granted, I'm not Mr Pool's biggest fans where the books are concerned, but I had really been looking forward to the movie.

I'd seen the trailer more times than I can count (that's more than two at least) without even looking for it - it was being shared everywhere.

But you hit a problem when most of the opening sequence is in the trailer.

Before you've seen anything, it feels like you've already seen the film.

You can get past that, and the fast pace of the movie helps you to not dwell on such matters as the next bit of sweary action soon comes flying at you.

And it strikes a good balance between drama, romance (they're not kidding when they try and tell you it's a love story) and fighty fighty bits.

But something still doesn't quite feel right.

It could be the puerile humour - it would seem childish adults are the target - or it could be the unwieldy shoe-horning of Mr Pool into the already existing Marvel universe.

You'll have seen the two X-Men characters he hangs out with for a bit, but they seem out of place in an otherwise crazy world.

Then there's the scene of the final kick-off.

No one felt the need to anchor Guardians Of The Galaxy into Marvel's cinematic universe, and Ant-Man was always going to be and that was done well.

But with the sex and language and endless breaking of the fourth wall, Deadpool would have been just fine dancing along the edge.

He didn't need placing among already existing events.

We've already got the films crossing over, we've got the TV tie-in in Agents Of Shield (even if only four of us are still watching it), at no point has anyone thought 'hmm, we're missing Deadpool here'.

He should just be allowed to do his own thing.

To be fair, Reynolds has earnt that right too.

It's not easy to act without using your face (although the less charitable among you will already be suggesting he's made a career out of it) but somehow Reynolds manages to infuse Deadpool with expression through his physical acting.

No mean feat, and one he pulls off with aplomb.

And he's not alone in putting in a good performance.

Morena Baccarin as Wilson's girlfriend Vanessa is in her element - playing it for smut and laughs in equal measure, she hasn't been this good since Serenity.

After that, though, things take a bit of a dip.

T.J. Miller looks a little lost, while Ed Skrien doesn't have quite the level of menace you're looking for.

It throws the whole thing out of balance, with Reynolds leaving everyone but Baccarin in his lycra-clad dust.

That's not to say it ruins the film, not at all - it just leaves you wanting more.

And by more, I mean more than the end credit sequence.

As I said there is a lot of fun to be had here, and Reynolds puts in the kind of performance that'll make you forget (if not forgive) the Green Lantern abomination.

It's just trying too hard to be edgy and funny, which takes the edge off what could have been an early frontrunner in this year's race for best super hero movie.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Attack Of Life: The Bang Tango Movie

Sometimes, you don't want to know what happened to those who meant so much when you were growing up.

Sometimes, the memories are enough. And the world can stay a nice warm place.

Other times, you can't help yourself and you have to take a look.

This is the quandary I found myself facing after finding out that Drew Fortier had decided to document the 30-odd years since Bang Tango exploded into the world.

And, selfishly, into my life.

Granted, most people reading this won't have a clue who Bang Tango are - but if you were a fan of rock music in the late 80s/early 90s then this was a band you should have caught.


Sadly, not many did.

Which makes this labour of love all the more impressive. It takes a special kind of dedication to tackle a subject not many people will be interested.

But Fortier does a good job.

Starting with the band's inception, he talks to all the key players and covers all the big events - and, as someone who classes himself as a fan, he manages to dig out things that you didn't know about.

The production values aren't high, but then it's a self-funded piece so that's not surprising.

But this doesn't detract from the film as a whole, and if anything it adds to the feeling of discovering something no one else knows about.

A feeling you can still get today by going and digging out Psycho Cafe or Dancing On Coals.

Where Fortier shines, though, is in not sugar-coating the tale.

As a self-confessed fan (and someone who is now in the band), it would have been easy to gloss over the screw-ups and just paint the band as victims of circumstance.

But he sidesteps that, and tells the tale warts and all.

The bad decisions made around the second album, the near-fatal accident, singer Joe Leste's issues and approach to certain incidents are all laid bare as we discover how the grunge movement, crap record labels, ego and attitude all came together to kybosh what should have been a successful career.

Not everyone comes out of this looking good, with Leste in particular showing himself to still have an ego that far outweighs his band's station in life.

Again, credit has to go to Fortier for both going there, and then putting it in the final piece.

Sure, Attack isn't perfect, but what it is is an honest, passionate portrayal of a band that meant precious little to most of you - but to a tiny few of us provided the soundtrack to our formative years.

Still, don't take my word for it. Watch for yourself:

Friday, 5 February 2016

Spotlight (15)

Every now and then, a film will come along that leaves you dumbstruck, somehow not quite believing what you've seen.

Not in the Movie 43 sense, where you can't quite believe what perfectly good actors have agreed to take part in, but in the sense of a story so profound, so painfully awful that you can't believe it actually happened.

Spotlight is such a film.

Covering the scandal of paedophile priests in the Catholic church revealed by the Boston Globe, Spotlight will leave you angry and disgusted that such a thing could not only happen but be allowed to happen.

And that but is key.

Because the one thing that comes through loud and clear - and is in fact emphasised by Stanley Tucci's Mitchell Garabedian - is how guilty the whole city was in not dealing with the problem.

The film starts with a well-measured introduction to the Spotlight team - the journalists who uncovered the scandal, played perfectly by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Brian d'Arcy James.

It's not a grand opening, there's no fanfare, there's just office discussions about the story they ma or may not be covering.

And it's in this brief moment that the tone and pace of the film is set.

There's no grandstanding anywhere to be seen, the pace doesn't change, the story is just allowed to unfold naturally as the tension - and your anger levels - slowly rise.

Often in films, newsrooms and journalists are portrayed as people and places full of frenetic energy - always racing against the clock, pushing boundaries, smoking and drinking at the end of a long day.

But the truth is much more normal than that - and it's this normal that Spotlight captures perfectly.

It's the legwork, the knocking on doors, the reading of files in libraries, the trying to get reluctant people to speak that is actual newspaper journalism.

And Spotlight not only captures this perfectly - to the point I actually started yearning to be back in the world of daily papers - but writer/director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer make an essentially dull part of the job seem tense and dramatic.

And this is one of the strengths of the film.

You see, the story here is key.

It's big. It's huge. It's a story that rocked the world and one of it's biggest organised religions - and with a deft hand, that story is allowed to hold centre stage and keep you captivated.

All of the actors know they are part of something bigger than themselves and so deliver note-perfect, measured performances that draw you in and keep you hooked from the opening scenes.

As every further layer of deceit, corruption and child abuse is revealed, you share in their shock, disgust and frustration at trying to bring the story to light.

There's a moment, as happened in the actual event, when 9/11 threatens to derail their investigation.

And even knowing how big a story the Twin Towers attacks was, knowing as we do how that one day changed the focus of an entire nation, you are almost screaming at the screen - you're willing the journalists to finish what they started.

You'll care that much.

And that's because this film is near perfect.

Bringing to mind classic dramas of the 70s, not to mention proper documentaries what they used to make back in my day, Spotlight captures a time period as if still pictures were being used.

There are no car chases, no sex scenes, no fights, and no over-blown running about sequences - because this film doesn't need them.

It's bigger and better than that.

It grabs you gently by the hand, sits you down and then refuses to let you get up, keeping you captivated and breathless for it's all-too-brief two-hour running time.

Now, I know I have a soft spot for any film that shows me printing press and newspapers - I'm pretty sure I'm the only person in the UK who actually has a copy of The Paper on DVD - but I defy anyone to watch the papers being wrapped and taken out in the trucks and not be on the edge of their seat.

It would have been easy to make Spotlight a mawkish, sentimental tale which focused on the victims, but by telling the story from the point of view of those who worked on it you share in their journey.

I ought to mention Liev Schreiber too.

As the editor brought in from outside, it was his distance from the Boston mentality and affection for the church that first gave the story backing.

And Schreiber is up there with the rest in delivering a perfect performance of a man outside of his comfort zone and adrift in a strange city but can see a bigger picture unfolding.

It's a performance that arguably betters his role in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

I could go on about the perfect score, the smart editing that keeps you on your toes, the wonderful cinematography - but do you know what?

I can't do it justice.

This film deserves - and in fact - needs to be seen by everyone. It's telling a tale that affects everyone, whether you're Catholic or not.

It's a story of shame, corruption, deceit - if it was about a bank, we'd all be outraged.

But it's about a deeper, more personal, more insidious scandal for which everyone who stood by and did nothing should feel a deep, unremitting shame.

Is this a fun film to watch? No, not particularly, even if it does have some lighter moments.

But like All The Presidents Men, it's a film everyone needs to see, to know what went on, to know what unfolded as good men did nothing.

And if you aren't screaming at the screen as the final captions hang in front of you, there's something wrong with you.