Monday, 28 November 2016

Arrival (12A)

It's been mentioned before around here, but it's a rare and precious thing in 2016 to be able to go into a film and know absolutely nothing about it.

And it's actually easier to achieve than you think.

No film shows have been listened to or watched in the past few months due to life getting busier than a busy thing with a to-do list a mile long - and I haven't read a film mag since economic necessity forced the cancellation of Total Film.

So finding a free evening - a surprise event in itself - and then ambling in to see Arrival on the back of nothing more than one bus poster and two friends raving about it was about as rare an event as it's possible to get.

I knew it was sci-fi. I knew people were talking about it (well, at least two). After that, all bets were off.

Actually, that's not quite true. I knew one other thing - it was almost certainly not going to be suitable for the two under-eights who were tagging along with their tardy parents.

Granted this was based on nothing more than the previous evidence being mixed with years of cinema-going experience, but if this had anything in it that would appeal to them I'd eat the popcorn they managed to pour over the floor within five minutes of disturbing everyone with their late arrival.

But still, no point getting annoyed by such things...

Once we'd moved back a few rows to spare ourselves the infantile giggling, life returned to normal.

Or as normal as it could be watching Arrival.

Because what's apparent within the first few minutes is that this is a film with a lot to say and a lot going on.

It's not a light, frothy, sci-fi flick by any stretch - it's arguably more complex than Interstellar, but it's much better and makes more sense.

And front and centre is Amy Adams.

An actress who has seemingly been getter better and better with every passing film (she never played Lois Lane, you dreamt that), here delivers arguably the performance of her career.

As Loiuse she has to carry the whole film. It's her story, in a way, and everything pivots around her - and Adams carries it off with panache and ease.

From the death of her daughter in the opening minutes, you go on a quite remarkable journey - and Adams delivers a note perfect performance of understated strength and depth.

I want to talk about what happens in this film, I really want to chat about the plot - but I'm quite deliberately not going to because I really don't want to give away anything.

Yes, I know I've mentioned one thing but that happens right at the start so that's allowed.

What I will say is this is a film that will really make you think.

It looks at the linear nature of time. It muses on the importance of language. It throws a spotlight on how the media have an ill-informed impact on the world.

It's a film that really has arrived at just the right time.

Alongside Adams, we have marvellous performances from both Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner, while director Dennis Villeneuve (he of the brilliant Sicario and the underwhelming Prisoners) lets the story lead the way and never tries to steal the show.

I'll be honest, watching Arrival also makes me feel a bit better about Blade Runner 2049 too.

The beauty of this film is the way it is balanced.

The story is well-paced. Slow, steady, but never dawdling. Some shots are framed beautifully while other scenes are given their full scope to allow them to breathe.

And the tension and the drama - and there was at least one moment when my heart was literally pounding - are allowed to flow quite naturally.

The whole thing is almost muted, much like the colours and tones, but that's not to say it's dull.

Far from it.

This is anything but.

What it is is intelligent, gripping, sharp, insightful - basically, everything a good sci-fi film should be.

In fact, it's everything a good sci-fi film used to be, before Hollywood decided running and shouting and explosions were the order of the day.

This film has far more in common with Alien and Silent Running than a Gravity or a Star Trek Beyond.

Polished, sanitised fair this is not.

And it's all the better for it.

A day after watching it, ideas are still floating about, the mind is still mulling what it took in.

There's a lot going on and a lot to think about. And Arrival gets better with every reflection.

Which makes me wonder, again, who the hell thought two young kids would enjoy it.

To be fair, once the popcorn was all spilt they sat quietly and didn't disturb anyone. But seeing one of the girl's faces as we left... know the poor thing had no idea what it was she had just watched.

Maybe she can revisit in about 20 years time.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Doctor Strange (12A)

I'll be honest, I wasn't that bothered about going to see Doctor Strange. I should have been, being a Marvel fan n all, but...


For a start, the character has never struck me as one of the most interesting. Then he was being played by Benedict Cumberbunny, who while ace as both Sherlock and Alan Turing...


Then significant others said they wanted to see it, so I figured what the hell - it was probably going to be fun at the very least.

And then, life happened yet again. Shops are being opened around here, clothing ranges are being launched. These take far more time than you'd think.

So finally, after scratching around for a spare evening and running the Nandos gauntlet (turns out, the berk deleted the order and hoped no one would notice), we make it to the cinema.

And our arrival almost doubles the numbers in the screening. Things are looking up.

Then we get the first shock.

They've changed the bloody opening Marvel title.

This is an even bigger shock than you'd expect, because the Logan trailer is still using the old one.

I'm not good with change at the best of times...

Still, no matter. we're here now. No point getting upset about the opening credits.

And so the fun begins...

And, well, er - it's actually fun.

Within minutes you actually forget you're watching Bernie Crimblepanks and instead you're watching Dr Stephen Strange, an arrogant but brilliant doctor who people like and loathe in unequal measure.

And Bimble Cummerbund is fantastic. There's no denying it - he's nailed this perfectly.

And as things unfold, as the story wends it's way, Bennybob owns the screen in a delightfully understated way.

No grand gestures, no massive over-acting, just quietly claims every scene - making himself the centre of the action.

It's possibly one of his finest performances.

And the rest of the cast are no slouches either - Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel 'Benedict' McAdams, Benedict 'Mads' Mikkelsen, they all put in strong performances, making for a brilliantly balanced ensemble cast.

And the story is balanced too.

From the darker beginnings, which have more in keeping with the first Iron Man and Batman Begins, to the full-on action of the latter stages, you get the sense that director Scott Derrickson and his co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill knew what they were doing from the off.

Which is nice.

The colouring is also nicely muted, which is not something you notice until you get the full impact of the more magical, outer-realms bits - these really smack you around the eyes like a rich, delicious cake.

And even though this has clearly been designed with the 3D crowd in mind, none of that interferes with the action in the way it did in the most recent Spiderman effort.

If all this wasn't reason enough to really love this film, we have the humourous touches as the fine garnish on an already superb meal.

Reminds me, I think it's lunchtime.

Where was I? Oh yes...

The jokes are subtle, some physical, some wordy, and all delivered 'just so' as to round everything off to a tee.

Or tea. I'm never sure which.

I may also be in need of a cuppa.

Anyhoo, I digress once more.

If there is one complain about this film, it's the special effects. The phrase 'just because you can doesn't mean that you should' has never felt more apt.

It's like someone in a meeting looked at the original ideas and wanted it more Inceptionie.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when people are running the wrong way along a downside-up ceiling/floor/wall for the 74th time it starts to get both tiresome and a little visually confusing.

Less would have been more. That's all I'm suggesting.

But that really is the only quibble.

A serious message is there if you want it, special effects are there if you don't - and it'll make you laugh and gasp in all the right places.

Mr Doctor's new little trick might be a Marvel universe gamechanger, though, which could make things interesting...

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Out Of The Shadows (12)

As I may have mentioned around here once or twice before, reviewing films is a great thing to do - only, if you're doing it properly, you don't get to pick the films.

We'd all like to cherry pick out way through life and only engage with the things we enjoy and agree with, but that way Brexit lies - so it's necessary to step up to the plate and face whatever is being pitched your way.

Granted, when dealing with DVDs as we are here, there's a greater element of choice. It's unlikely you've arrived in your living room and there's only one film available at a time that suits.

But still, rules is rules, and so regardless of personal opinion and inclination the films must be watched and appraised.

If only to serve as a warning to others.

And there's a gamble to be had here. If, as was the case with Bone Tomahawk, you stumble upon a future classic you may find yourself regretting not getting to see it on the big screen.

Sure, you've got a ginormous telly with all the bells and whistles, but that's no substitute for the real cinema experience now, is it?

On the other hand you may find yourself slumped on the sofa, questioning the choices you've made in life but at least grateful that you didn't have to leave the house to be insulted on just about level.

As, in case you hadn't guessed, was the case here.

In my defence, I didn't hate the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.

I probably should have done, but I didn't. It was passable fare, especially when you consider the target audience.

Dammit it, it was funnish.

Which begs the question - how the hell did they manage to make a dumb film worse?

From the off, things don't feel right. The opening sequence is there to show off some special effects (and probably the 3D-ery to boot) and as such serves absolutely no purpose.

And the dialogue is terrible. Banter written by someone who has never bantered.

And I'm not thinking this as a man many years above the target age bracket, it is insulting to anyone with a brain.

Then there's the product placement - a lovely new penny to the person who spots what sorts of trainers the basketball player is wearing...

Then we have the first outbreak of swearing. Mine, that is.

I'm sure there's a very important, dramatic reason why we had to watch Megan Fox switch from trousers to a short shirt and then walk in slo-mo all cleavage ahoy and hair a-flicking.

I'm sure it was imperative.

It made it into the trailer, so surely it was a key plot point.

It had to be, because the alternative was that director Dave Green (of Earth To Echo fame) just wanted to give the dads and age-appropriate teenagers something to perv at.

And that would never happen in a film with Michael Bay's name attached to it, would it?

Of course not.

Amazingly, it goes even further downhill from here.

As Shredder escapes, gets teleported to Somewhere, plots with Krang, turns Rocksteady and Bepop into the animals we know and love (try not to dwell on which actor becomes which animal, you won't like the answers you come up with) and then sets about taking over the world AGAIN, the audience is left wondering where the fun went.

And it's all down to the writing and directing.

Fight scenes don't make any sense, the plot makes even less (but you can cut that some slack) and the stars look like loved ones are being held hostage while they are forced to parade in front of the camera.


Look at Laura Linney's face throughout - if that's not a cry for help, what is?

Even Stephen Amell is wooden, and this is the guy who gives one-dimensional a new name in Arrow.

There is, amazingly, one funny bit. I did actually laugh. And it involves Will Arnett and a chair.

Doesn't sound like a highlight, I know, but when all you've had to eat is sawdust you'll be amazed how good a stale cracker tastes.

The first one was just loud, noisy and brash. All this had to be, to be even half as good, was the same again.

But no.

What we get is way, way, way worse.

And it's the kids I feel sorry for.

The Turtles have a huge fanbase, a fanbase which by now covers generations - hell, I include myself and I only ever played the game.

There are fans out there who don't even know it was a role-playing game - that's how far the brand has grown and flourished.

So surely, especially given the success of the first film, the eager audience deserved better than lines so bad if you found they'd been scrawled on the wall in crayon you wouldn't be surprised.

It's genuinely as if the people in charge figured the fans would see any old crap, skipped the quality control stage and gave them just that.

But how was that possible when Michael Bay was involved, eh?