Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (12A)

I'm old enough to remember a time when we had to wait a few years for a sequel we didn't even know we were getting.

Years, my friend. Years.

No Rogue One-style filler films to keep us ticking over, keep the franchise warm. Just three cold years to find out You Know Who was You Know What.

Then another three long years before the Ewoks arrived. As for the 16 years we had to wait to discover Ja Ja Binks existed...

I mention this because, in between going to watch The Last Jedi and finding a spare moment to actually commit thoughts to screen, a few angry fanboys have appeared on the ol' radar.

Fanboys angry that things happen to certain characters that they're not happy about. Angry that other stories in a completely different medium (books to you, squish) have been ignored in pursuit of the story that follows on from The Force Awakens.

Oh, and they weren't happy with The Force Awakens, either. Too derivative. Not original enough.

The Last Jedi, however, is too dark, not like TFA. Too different.

I realise the irony of saying this in an online review, but if you have nothing better to do with your life than moan about a film over which you have no control I suggest you get out more.

You see, and this is important so you might want to write this down, The Last Jedi is just a film.

Just frippery. Entertainment. You could never see it and your life wouldn't change one iota. Not a singular jot.

And this is, I think, something that a certain section of fans have forgotten.

You think Disney have mucked about with the franchise? You think the story has been warped, or not respected?

That ship sailed when George Lucas discovered he'd always meant to tell the first three films second and the second three films first.

Once you've watched all the previous films come and go, or watched how the sands of time have ebbed and flowed around Star Trek or Doctor Who, you realise that if you don't like something, you can walk away.

No one is making you sit there, hating your life because *cough* goes and *cough cough cough* while *cough* helps.

You see, if THAT bit of THIS film has upset you so much, you weren't paying enough attention to Empire Strikes Back.

It happened then too.

What also happened back then was the second film was a lot darker in tone than the first, there were complicated relationship issues and a somewhat cold planet.

In all honesty, The Last Jedi hasn't fallen very far from the tree.

And, much like The Force Awakens, this is not a bad thing.

Where Episode VII followed Episode IV (as it got called much later on), so VIII follows V.

It's more different (Christ that's bad English), but it's also a bit the same.

There are good things here, and there are bad.

The good includes some great one liners, amazing battle scenes that have you holding your breath and some genuine character development and depth for Kylo Ren.

On the downside, it's a smidge too long, and the different story strands are more thrown together than seamlessly entwined.

But - and this really is key here - it's fun.

It's dark, there are fatalities galore and there are Porgs.

The spirit of the franchise is maintained, the goodwill reclaimed by Force is extended and Finn, Ray and Poe all grow as characters, becoming more fully-rounded and great to spend time with.

I get that having a close emotional attachment to something can shape your view of things - and I say that as someone who saw Empire on the big screen first time around.

But with age should some a level of wisdom, and the realisation that these films are just entertainment. They're there to amuse for a couple of hours.

And despite the running time, entertain it does. You'll laugh, you'll well up, you'll hold your breath, you'll wonder how much a Lego Dreadnought would cost.*

All as long as you remember it's meant to be fun...

*OK, that last one might just be us.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

What to get the music-loving film fan who has almost everything (at the last minute)...

What's that? It's almost Christmas? And you have no idea what to get your other half, who loves the movies but also happens to have a penchant for rock music?

Well, why didn't you say...

You see, here at Popcorn Towers, we kind of fall into that category, and this year especially this seems to be a handy as there have been quite a few knocking about.

So lets us sort the wheat from the chaff, the bum notes from the slick licks if you will. Now get your skates on, you've only got a week's shopping left...

Now, this being Chrimbo time, you'll be wanting something a bit special no doubt - and while there are three that certainly fit the bill (musical tastes permitting, obviously), they do not come cheap.

First up is Def Leppard's Hysteria 30th Anniversary (yeah, I know, right?) deluxe edition, which will set you back an eye-watering £80 - but you do get a lot of bang for your buck.

Alongside the original album, there are two CDs worth of remixes and B-sides, two discs of a live recording from the '87 tour and not one but two DVDs.

All this on top of the four books and a poster (although frankly, the person who can afford this grew out of posters on their wall some time ago).

And the DVDs are almost worth the money. The first is simply the promo videos and Top of The Pops performances (for our overseas readers, Pops was a music programme which ran for many years but we've subsequently found out was presented by sex pests).

The second is a Classic Albums documentary, which sure you can catch on VH1 every now and then - but this comes with the stuff they took out, and here lie the gems.

Quips about Steve Clarke ("either a genius or an idiot" muses the bass player), chats about how things were written, record and mixed - these are all ticks on the geekie fan list, trust me.

Plus the whole thing comes in a lovely big box, so it looks fantastic on the shelf.

Can't argue with that, can you?

Well, you can if you're a Whitesnake fan I guess.

Slithering along the same lines, David Coverdale brings us his 30th Anniversary box set bonanza of 1987, the album that redefined his career.

Which would feel quite special if I didn't already own the 20th Anniversary double CD version...

So what do we get in this ickle, actually half the price of Leppard's one, box of tricks then?


Four CDs, a DVD, two books and a poster (again, WHY???), as you ask - and, on the whole, it's worth the money.

Glossing over Coverdale's endless urge to change the track listing of this album, the first CD is pretty much what you'd expect, while disc two is a 'bootleg' of a show from the 1987's tour as it passed through Japan.

I say 'bootleg', it's just slightly below par in the production department, but hey ho - it's fine enough.

The real gem here is disc three, '87 Evolutions, in which we are taken from rough demo to almost finished song through the course of each track - and to hear how songs such as Still Of The Night and Is This Love took shape is genuinely fascinating.

You can probably live without the remixes on disc four to be honest, which then brings us to the DVD. What should be the showpiece of the whole thing.

Sadly, this is where it kind of falls a bit flat.

Watching the famous, career-breaking videos back-to-back simply makes you realise that the only thing that seemed to change was the song. They all look pretty much the same.

The 'making of' documentary is interesting enough, if only because Coverdale's plummy English accent is just wonderful. It's like he's doing all he can to forget he's from the North East of England.

Finishing off with a couple of live bits and bobs, the DVD does seem to finish rather quickly and leave you looking at the box wondering if it was worth unwrapping.

Which is a shame, because after 30 years there must be far more to say about this album, given he went in to the studio not knowing if his voice would actually work, almost bankrupted himself, and sacked everyone the minute it was recorded.

Still, nice box.

A far nicer, and if I'm honest swankier and plusher, deluxe box set wotsit comes from the lovely guys in Marillion, who have been given the anniversary treatment by EMI two years late.

As with Hysteria and 1987, Misplaced Childhood was the album that put Marillion smack in the middle of the mainstream - not a place they necessarily wanted to be, but there you go.

Wrapped in a fantastic, textured hard-back book, which features photos, lyrics and the story of the album, we get a remixed version of the album, two discs live from Holland on the Childhood tour, plus a disc of B-sides and demos.

All of them worth your time and hard-earned £45.

To cap it all off is the BluRay (not DVD you'll note), which features 5.1 surround mixes of the album, the promo videos of the singles and a documentary where the original five guys get together to look back on their career landmark.

And it's this that is so worth the watch.

When the band split with frontman Fish there were quips, barbs and insults being hurled about in just about every interview any of them gave, so to see them sitting together, hatches buried, like old friends is a delight.

Some of us were quite upset when  they fell out you know...

The behinds the scenes look at an album the record company didn't actually want, and that sold millions against the odds, is a great way to recall just what these 10 songs mean.

And it has stood the test of time.

Now, we appreciate that the ones reviewed so far as a little hard on those on tighter budgets, but thankfully there are some nice little gems at the more affordable end of the market.

First up is Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare Special Edition.

At a mere £10 of your earth pounds, this DVD contains both the 1976 concert film Coop shot off the back of his smash hit album - his first fully solo, having got shot of the rest of the band.

And it's a fun old show.

Now. we no fans of just watching a concert at home - because what's the point? A live show should be just that, with someone standing too close, someone else obscuring your view and two other berks talking through the whole thing.

These are key parts of the performance experience that can't be replicated.

But it's different with Alice.

He has dancers, people in spider costumes (FYI, if you really hate spiders you'll struggle with this), new material (at the time), classic songs - it's a proper SHOW.

But the selling point here is The Nightmare, the 1975 TV special shot with Vincent Price where by Alice tells the story of the Nightmare with spooky effects, a new narrative, the songs in a different order, and a slightly spaced expression on his face.

It's probably fair to say his wasn't exactly sober when he shot this.

But that doesn't matter when we are treated to a camp, spooky spectacular with dancing skeletons, more spiders, Vincent Price looming large over the whole thing and a furry cyclops.

Nope, me neither, but it's there.

What both of these things capture is a man having fun. Sure, he's drunk, but he always was back then, but the man is a born vaudeville star. Sure he writes good songs, but he's all about the theatre.

And both of the performances capture him at his camp, spooky best.

Speaking of concert films, Black Sabbath bring us The End.

Not, as you might hope, the cinematic release which featured their farewell show in Birmingham intercut with interviews (which is great btw), but just the show.

Sure, you get the "extras" of four songs played in a rehearsal studio three days later, but, well, big woop.

You see, while frontman and former reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne is one hell of a character and great in interview, these days he's not the most dynamic of frontmen.

And given how little bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi move about, this is an issue. What this means in real terms is the stage show has to do the legwork.

Granted this works a charm in the arena, outdoors (such as Download last year) and on your TV, it's barely an upgrade on putting a CD on.

And at least with the CDs you can pick the tracks you want to hear...

Thankfully, this is not an issue with our penultimate choice.

You may remember Mr Big from such hit as To Be With You. Or you may not. You might have been busy in 1992.

What precious few people seemed to be aware of was they had other songs and other albums.

What even fewer people are aware of is that they went away and are now back.

Packaged as a 'deluxe' edition, their new album Defying Gravity is available with a bonus DVD. Which is meant to help boost sales, but we're willing to bet this hasn't happened.

Not because it's not a good album - it's fantastic - but because it's unlikely even the most hardcore fan is that bothered about peaking behind the scenes.

There's a couple of videos already available on YouTube, there's a kind of 'making of' said videos, then there's the run through the album.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that sounds like it's just people talking their way through each track.

And you'd be right.

And while it's not without merit, you very quickly forget which song they were just talking about as they move on to the next. And unless you have the case with you, you can only trust it's in the right order.

What would have been good was to actually hear at least snippets of each song as we went on.

But hey.

What would have been even better, of course, while we delved behind the scenes, would be to explain why Pat Torpey is no longer behind the drum kit.

Diagnosed three years ago, Torpey has had to all but give up hitting things for a living thanks to Parkinsons Disease.

Now, this is huge. It's also a fantastic opportunity to talk about this and raise the profile of the condition.

Instead we get the new guy banging on.

Hey ho, no matter. Not like it's important or anything...

Finally, let us point you in the direction of Spike & Tyla's Hot Knives.

The occasional project of Quireboys frontman Spike and Dogs D'Amour founder Tyla, their album The Sinister Indecisions of Frankie Gray and Jimmy Pallas actually came out last year - 10 years on from their debut, Flagrantly Yours.

We said occasional, OK? We weren't kidding. And we only found out it existed in September. Hence why we're including it. So there.

Anyhoo, Sinister Indecisions features 11 new songs, darker in tone than the debut but no less loose and debauched.

Attached is a DVD featuring a live show from London's The Borderline, the promo video for Believe (from the first album) and a gig they did in Spain, including snippets of the flight, landing and getting to the gig.

Now, as mentioned, we're not fans of the 'concert at home' thing, but because it's shot in a small club, and because Spike can't stand still, and because it's loose and rough in keeping with the music - dang if it doesn't just work.

They're not edgy, they're not punk, they're not experimental - they're just two bloke who like getting pissed and playing songs.

And such a simple ideal is captured perfectly here - so all you have to do is pour a whisky, put your feet up and wish you'd been at The Borderline that night...

Friday, 8 December 2017

Justice League (12A)

Look, I'm not proud of myself OK? I caved.

Word had reached me from a trusted source that it wasn't terrible, so with nothing better to do I caved and subjected myself to the latest DC effort.

And expectations were low, I'll be honest.

Since Zak Snyder clambered aboard the DC film waggon (I can only presume the person hiring that day had never been to the cinema, ever) the Superman films have been nothing short of terrible.

Yes, there was a glimmer of hope with Wonder Woman, but even that didn't really live up to the hype.

Did you know it was directed by a woman, by the way? Something so rare it's all anyone seemed to talk about.

Anyhoo, I digress.

So the first mash-up was a mess. And dull. And boring. But at least the DC juggernaut was starting to head in the right direction.

The Avengers movies have shown what box office hauls artistic flair can be achieved by bringing together many of your favourite heroes, and DC have a few popular ones, so Justice League was really only a matter of time...

And sure, people weren't sure about Ben Affleck as Bats, but at least we had Wonder Woman.

And Flash was a TV hit, so they could just... No, wait, they hired a new guy for that part.

And Aquaman's been referenced in The Big Bang Theory, so that must mean he's popular, right?

Now can you see why expectations were low and we hadn't rushed to see this?

But then we heard word that Joss Whedon had been roped in to finish things off after Snyder was unable to continue.

Not good for Snyder, admittedly, but a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. As long as it wasn't a different oncoming train.



You're not going to like this...

I mean, really not going to like this...


You know all the reviews it's had saying how terrible it is?

They're actually wrong.

Somehow, despite all it's problems and what's gone before, Justice League is actually quite good.

Hell, I'll go further - it's thoroughly enjoyable.

There are jokes, the action scenes aren't a mess, the new characters (Ezra Miller of We Need To Talk About Kevin fame as The Flash, Ray Fisher as Cyborg and Game of Throne star Jason Momoa as Aquaman) are introduced and integrated well, and it's just a lot of fun.

There is even a moment when emotion was actually felt.

I know. Shocked me too.

And it doesn't even feel that long, largely because you're actually enjoying yourself for once.

That's not to say it's perfect.

Casting J. K Simmons as Jim Gordon is a tough sell given his prominence in Peter Parker's world, and it's screamingly obvious which scenes were added once Whedon got on board.

All that money and they couldn't get the lighting to match? Really?

But, even though such flaws were noticeable, so much fun was being had it didn't matter.

You're drawn in from the start, and it feels safe. Feels welcoming. Feels like people know what they're doing.

Someone should have spotted a rather large spoiler in the opening credits of course, but hey ho. You can't win 'em all.

What promised to be a mess has been saved. A dull disaster has been averted.

What we have now is the closest DC have come to Marvel's slick, polished, focused world.

There's still work to do, but finally we can have some faith that they might know what they've got to do...

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (15)

It is often said that they don't make films like they used to - and while in the case of the Police Academy films this is a good thing, sometimes you yearn for a simple, classic movie.

One that both makes you think and moves you to tears, but without being OTT, loud, brash, gawdy or having a score that twats you about the bonce.

A simple story, told simply, is sometimes a joy to behold.

Such is the case with Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.

Based on Peter Turner's memoir, Film Stars focuses on the last years of Hollywood legend Gloria Grahame - famed femme fatale and Oscar winner who's career has taken a bit of a slide with her health not far behind.

Towards the end of her life she met Turner, leading to a whirlwind romance that criss-crossed the Atlantic.

Taking centre stage and frankly stealing the show is Annette Bening, bringing to the screen arguably the first Oscar worthy performance of the season.

Mixing fight and fragility, Bening is simply sublime - making the audience fall in love with her as Grahame's fans did back in her heyday.

Keeping pace with her is the wonderful Jamie Bell as Turner.

His is a perfectly balanced, measured performance, allowing Grahame's tale to be told even though he is the one telling it.

As for the assembled supporting cast, no one puts a foot wrong.

Yes the names Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave will grab attention, but their co-stars also shine when called upon.

But it's not just the performances that keep you entranced here.

Director Paul McGuigan, of Lucky Number Slevin fame, not only captures Liverpool on the late '70s and early '80s, but manages to weave the flashbacks into the narrative with deft flair.

This is no gritty, kitchen-sink drama, however.

This is unashamedly smooshy, romantic, warm, sweet, funny, charming...

I could go on, but you should be getting the idea.

Sure there are a few mis-steps along the way - it lags a tad in the final third and I have no idea why we had to have scenes from Alien - but these are but minor niggles.

The love with which this film was so clearly made - and the performances of the entire cast - soon make you forget you ever dwelt on such matters.

As Oscar season comes charging over the hill, many similar films will be thrust upon us.

But, for our money, there won't be many better.

You'll come out from watching this feeling warm of fuzzy and damp of eye, and the festive nonsense doesn't get so much as a mention.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Wonder (PG)

When I mentioned to the editor of Unsalted Popcorn that I was going to see Wonder because of Kermode's review, he immediately reminded me that Kermode had also raved about Berberian Sound Studio.

He also seized on the fact that it would be one less film he would have to cover and emotionally blackmailed me into reviewing it (a long story which I won't go into but for which he will pay). (wanna bet? - Ed)

Kermode had issued a tissue warning which didn't bode well for an emotional wreck who cries at the peeling of a spring onion, however it sounded more than a 'Love Story' exploitative exercise in search of easy sponduliks.

Firstly, kudos to the casting director who appears to have been briefed to ensure familial similarity in places e.g. Sonia Braga as Julia Roberts mum ( Roberts giving a wonderful performance btw) which I must warn the editor may take him a while to get over.

The casting of Owen Wilson had put me off until Kermode weighed in and I have to say his performance is sympathetic and light-hearted and - going back to the casting director - a clever choice for he has a lived-in face (that nose!) but is charismatic enough to be believable as Ms Roberts' spouse.

My reasoning behind this is the prosthetic work which transforms the 11-year-old wonder that is Jacob Tremblay. 

He won plaudits and awards for his role as Jack Newsome in Room as an eight-year-old (don't you just hate these talented little buggers). 

The prosthetics, which took 90 minutes a day to transform Jacob into the lad with Treacher Collins Syndrome, are skilfully applied to be at once believable and yet show a familial resemblance. His performance remarkable.

The film itself could have so easily taken the 'make-'em cry route (I could actually have done without the ending) but manages to keep the right-side of schmaltz. 

Strong supporting cast and a script depth that I would not have suspected (had it not been for the aforementioned portable toilet's spoiler).

One nice touch for a person with impeccable music taste (me obvs) was to hear Eels on the soundtrack (guess which track?) and also the wonderful Natalie Merchant whose song  Wonder from her 1995 album Tigerlilly was the inspiration for the book of the same name by R. J. Palacio.

Overall, though, I would wait for Sky to broadcast as I'm not sure it gains anything from being on the big screen - but then I'm also a skinflint. 

Just make sure you have enough tissues about your person.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Murder On The Orient Express (12A)

To say we were excited about going to see Murder On The Orient Express would be a tad misleading.

Yes, the trailer had tickled interest, but we hadn't felt the need to rush and in the end only ambled in as we had some free time.

And the trailer was actually part of the problem.

While the cast of famous faces had been paraded on the screen, the film looked like it could be worth a shufty, but once Kenneth Branagh's ridiculously-moustached fizzog appeared so did the doubts.

You see, much like Doctor Who, fans of Agatha Christie tend to have 'their' sleuth.

For me, Joan Hickson IS Miss Marple and David Suchet IS Hercule Poirot, the chubby, fussy Belgian with the perfect facial hair.

So to see Branagh with whiskers waxed round to his ears...


...Let's just say it didn't inspire.

But hey, no matter, it's a classic tale. The whiskers won't make any difference. You can't screw the story up, can you?


But you can have a spirited go, it turns out.

But let's start with the positives, shall we?

Given Branagh is behind the camera as well as in front, it's directed as well as you'd expect and looks fantastic.

And most of the cast - Michelle Pfeiffer and Star Wars star Daisy Ridley in particular - put in a good shift and help to keep the action and intrigue on the front foot.

So that's all good.


Let's be clear about one thing.

Hercule Poirot is not, in any way, shape or form, an action hero.

He's late middle-age, portly, short, and might break into a forced shuffling trot if really, really necessary.

But running about is not his thing.

If nothing else, he's spent a lot of time enjoying fine food and wine while sitting on his backside. Running would do more harm than good.

Still, Branagh obviously decided that wasn't for him, so we have to put up with Poirot as a lower-league Bond, Doctor Who or Sherlock.

Which would work if you could forget who he's the legendary stout Belgian.

There's also the small matter of what he does with his cane in the opening sequence, but that kind of gets overshadowed by something slightly bigger.

You see, in the book - which is something of a classic - the whole thing starts off with Poirot having just solved a case.

In Siberia.

Not Jerusalem, as we get in this latest version.

One can only assume no one fancied a week in the freezing cold, hence the re-write, because it sure as hell wasn't done for narrative reasons.

And it wasn't needed.

Sure, I get that Ken wanted to establish who and what Poirot is before getting to all the detectoring, but we're not talking about an unknown character here.

Along with the aforementioned literary legends, Agatha Christie's hero is firmly established and well known.

If not from the books, then certainly from the TV series.

So 20 minutes titting about solving a case you don't need to care about simply adds to the feeling that this whole thing is nothing more than a vanity project.

So one is already niggled and a smidge puzzled before we've even got as far as the train.

Which is where the other issue occurs.

Now, you see, I had remembered who had dunnit just as the opening credits rolled, but couldn't remember the finer details so was still keen to see how events unfolded.

And the beauty about this story is the fact it is set on a train.

No one can escape, no one can suddenly appear, you have who you have at the start and off you go.

And this adds to the tension.

You have all your suspects from the off, and they're all trapped in one place so suspicions run rife and tension mounts.

So how the hell do you manage to make the thing dull?

And yet, at the same time, not boring.

Pretty early on you find your attention wandering, and yet you don't feel the time dragging.

It's quite the surreal experience. Also adds weight to the theory that he really, really wanted to be the new Doctor.

It also adds to the feeling that this film really didn't need to be made.

A feeling that grows when, come the big reveal, you realise you really don't care.

Although the invoking of The Last Supper may have had a part to play in this.

Overall, this film is not terrible.

It's well made, fairly well written, and moves from A to B at a reasonable rate.

But the CGI elements are cheap, the cast mismatched, Depp is awful, and you'll leave with more questions than answers.

The Death Of Stalin (15)

I've been a fan of Armando Iannucci for many years - for sharp political insight and satire there are few better.

From The Day Today to The Thick of it, he has become renowned for creating some of the best TV comedies of recent times.

Sadly, however, the long-form of his art - the movie or film, if you will - has proved something of a stumbling block.

With both In The Loop and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, a good start soon gave way to more drama than comedy.

Basically, the laughs dried up.

But word on the street had been good for The Death Of Stalin.

For a start the trailer actually made us laugh.

I know, I know, trailers can't always be trusted, but the vibe was good and the performances looked great.

And people I know - as in, have actually met in the human flesh - were full of praise for Stalin.

They were quite effusive on the subject.

So off we toddle...

...and again, as before, it starts well.

Famous faces come at you thick and fast as the cast delight in recreating the political intrigue of 1950s Russia.

And the laughs happen along at a fair lick too, as the inner circle panic and scramble for purchase after Stalin turns up his toes.

Sadly, however, the pace and humour can not be maintained and as the humour gets darker further into the film the laughs struggle to make it to the surface.

There's also an unfortunate scene concerning Beria's lascivious predilections which may have seemed tongue-in-cheek at the time but has now been overtaken by real-world events and just looks seriously misjudged.

But such niggles shouldn't detract from what is, overall, a very good film.

The cast - Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Rupert Friend and Paddy Considine to name just a few - all deliver top-notch performances.

In fact, the whole cast is so good you almost forget Paul Whitehouse is running about the place being Paul Whitehouse.

The satire is sharp, and even when it stops being proper LOL ROFL stuff it still entertains.

But you can't get away from the fact the first half of the film feels very different to the second.

As the frantic pacing eases, so Stalin becomes more dramatic and serious, and you almost forget the bits you were chuckling about not 30 minutes earlier.

And that's a shame, because the laughs were good ones.

To be fair the time doesn't drag and the performances are all top notch from start to finish, it's just a shame that you come out from the cinema feeling like you've seen two very different films on the same subject.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Paddington 2 (PG)

There is always a danger when you really, really love a film that the follow-up somehow falls flat.

This is especially true of Paddington.

I still vividly remember the shimmers of excitement when the bears first appeared on the screen, and I knew in that moment all would be well.

And with a stellar cast on board and having fun, it remains one of my all-time favourite films.

So 2 had a lot to live up to.

And I'll be honest, the casting of Hugh Grant did not fill me with confidence.

Yes he looks OK in the trailer, but could he loosen up enough to get on board with the general chaotic vibe of a Paddington film?

Erm, yeah. Seems he can...

Because key to being in a Paddington film is having fun. It's not about you, it's not really about your performance, it's all about how the whole film feels.

And just like our hairy hero's debut outing, Paddington 2 feels like a massive, warm, fuzzy, marmalade-scented hug.

And the key is the bear himself.

Ben Whishaw again shows himself to be perfect in the role as Paddington's voice, capturing perfectly the wistful naivety and honest innocence of a bear still getting to grips with a world on his terms.

Helping him through life are, once again, the Browns and Mr Gruber - who having adjusted to a Paddingtoned life are now on board for whatever madcap escapade ensues.

The plot this time around has Paddington trying to get the money together to buy Aunt Lucy a birthday present, only for the book he has his eye on to be stolen.

Where the first film was a well-woven collection of short stories with an over-arching narrative, 2 deviates from this a smidge by having longer sections during the second half of the film.

And while the flair and style and panache of the first is retained, certain quirks and interludes have been dialled down a tad - Paddington, like the rest of us, has grown up ever-so-slightly in the past two years.

But none of the magic is lost.

From the opening scenes, you are again awash in the warm and fuzzies, grins never far from your lips.

And the huge cast of stars - Brendan Gleeson, Grant, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Joanna Lumley, Jessica Hynes, Tom Conti to name but a few - simply adds to the feel-good factor.

There really is something magical about this little bear.

But this isn't a flimsy, fluffy film. Oh no.

There are moments of real drama and tension, and as before a moment where the whole cinema just fell silent.

You only get that sort of reaction when everyone is invested in the experience.

There is also so much going on here - so many asides, so many quick quips, nods to the classic TV series - that you can't take your eyes off the screen.

You see, Paddington is simply the perfect movie.

It will make you laugh, it will take your breath away, it will make your old cynical eyes well-up on more than one occasion.

And it will have you walking out of the cinema on a small cloud of happiness.

Sure, once you hit the real world that cloud takes a bit of a hit.

But for the time you're with Paddington, the world is a lovely, magical place and one you never want to leave.

Roll on number 3.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Geostorm (12A)

About halfway through director Dean Devlin’s  Geostorm, I sighed. 
At precisely the same moment so did one the female cast. It was at this point that I realised it was time to leave. 
I honestly didn't think I would actually make it that far, for the sub-plot cliches had drained my will to live.

Then a car-crash happened that I couldn't tear my ears from. I kept waiting to see if it was as bad as my ears had made out. 
After the third confirmation that it had stopped being an 'omg' moment I got distracted - where had I heard a worse English accent? 
I suppose Dick Van Dyke is up there in most people's book, but I do believe that Daphne's ex-fiancee in Frasier comes very, very close. 
However, that a blockbuster movie could fall into such a trap is, in the end, just appalling. 
What the hell were they thinking? They even compound it by making the schmuck one of the villains. 
A British villain? No! Never!
Now it's not that the film doesn't look great, but then give a group of monkeys the time and money and they could definitely turn out something as good given the level CGI has reached. 
Indeed I realised at one point that when pointless romantic/heartbreaking family problems appeared on screen, I was reaching for the remote to fast forward to the next bit of CGI. 
Of course I then felt that gut-wrenching realisation that I was in a cinema.
At that point I made my excuses and left.
Oh, and by the way, Andy Garcia plays POTUS. 
I didn't realise that it was him until I checked the cast list trying to find out who the gor-blimey git villain was played by. 
There are botch jobs and botch jobs but face transplants? Who knew?
I can't be bothered to recount the plot for it isn't worth it. Suffice to say it is so inept and cliched that it doesn't deserve to  be awarded a Golden Turkey. 
I know some will bring the aesthetic into play here but that isn't good enough. If you are as grumpy as me - unlikely, I know - this will make you want to scream and throw things at the screen such is it cliched ineptitude.  

Wait for it on Amaflix/Sky and have fun lobbing various objects at five seconds of the excruciating sub-plots and then fast-forwarding to the CGI from the comfort of your own settee.
 With wine. 
Lots of wine. 
You will need it.

Gavin King

Thor: Ragnarok (12A)

As anyone who knows us will tell you, here at Popcorn Towers we are very much Team Marvel when it comes to big screen super heroes.

While DC continue to misfire and screw-up what should be simple, easy hits, Marvel has continually shown us how it should be done.

That's not to say they're perfect of course. Not every film is brilliant. You only have to see Thor 2 for that point to be proved.

Proved? Proven? Dunno. One of the two.

Anyhoo, we digress. Our point is, that Thor's last solo outing left us feeling a bit flat as the film fell short of the usual Marvel high bar.

It was beginning to look like Thor was very much the Paul McCartney of the Avengers - bearable on his own, but much better in the band.

And the trailer kind of added to this feeling, as a fellow Avenger has been roped in to help Thor along.

Think of it as that time McCartney sang a duet with Stevie Wonder.

Yes, I know he had another hit with another former Motown star, but no one ever talks about that any more.


Good, that's that cleared up.

Right, where were we....?

Ah, yes, Ragnorwotsit.

I think it's fair to say a certain amount of trepidation was in force as we took our seats.

But then something happened.

There was humour.

Chris Hemsworth was actually enjoying himself on screen, because he was actually being given fun things to say and do.

And this wasn't a brief flash in the pan.

Oh no.

This continued throughout the film.

Yes, Loki was there. Yes, Hulk was there. Yes, Cate Blanchett is amazing.

But for once, Thor wasn't playing second fiddle or taking a back seat.

This was clearly HIS movie, and Hemsworth was loving it.

Even the plot was up to snuff - long-forgotten sister (played by Blanchett) returns to raise hell, Thor attempts to save the day.

On the way he has to fight Hulk, deal with Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster, tit about with Loki and try and stop Tessa Thompson zapping him.

It's cartoonish, mad as nuts, bonkers, brilliant, and a whole tonne of fun.

It's also a complete mish-mash of films and styles.

And that still works brilliantly.

At times it's Mad Max set to the Tron soundtrack. It shouldn't work.

But it so does.

It's also a mini-Avengers film, given the stars involved, but Hemsworth so owns this one that it doesn't feel like that.

This is Thor's baby, baby.

Superhero films are, by their nature, ridiculous OTT special effects vehicles with a human added for colour and a name.

But with Ragnarok, the human actually takes centre stage, giving this grandiose, over-blown funfest some weight and gravitas.

It's certainly the best Thor film - and there's a case to be made for it being Marvel's best yet.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin (PG)

As a rule of thumb, if The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw really hates a film, it will have mainstream appeal and be thoroughly enjoyable.

It should, then, come as no surprise that Mr Bradshaw hated Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Of course he did.

It's not an Eastern European four-hour epic about the struggle for bees in an industrialised world starring one man and a tractor and dubbed into Italian.

Instead, it's the story of A. A. Milne and how he came to write the Winnie The Pooh stories.

And it's simply beautiful.

Now, as with IT, I come at this from a personal place - I had these stories read to me as a wee nipper, and then I read them myself when older.

(This may be Bradshaw's issue of course, no one read them to him...)

And they are magical. Full of hope, happiness, imagination, wisdom, and - in the final story - touching poignancy and sadness.

But the story behind the stories is not quite so soft and squishy.

A. A. Milne and his illustrator E. H Shepherd (played perfectly by Domhnall Gleeson and Stephen Campbell Moore respectively) were both suffering from PTSD following action in the First World War.

While struggling to find the words to fight for peace, Milne decamps to the country with his wife and newborn son.

Where inspiration finally strikes.

Through forced circumstances, Milne has to spend time with his son, and so the tales are born.

And this is just one of the hidden gems within this film.

Throughout the midsection, events occur whereby the fan of Pooh can spot events that lead to the stories - and that just gives you a lovely, warm feeling inside.

There is also a scene where Milne and son stare out over a vast landscape, and you can almost feel the tranquillity pouring off the screen.

It's possibly the most relaxing moment we've ever experienced in a cinema.

But don't make the mistake of thinking, as Bradshaw did, that this is a saccharine tale of a childhood legend.

As with the books, there's a darker underbelly lurking.

For a start, the PTSD flashbacks are sudden and shocking - much as Milne would have experienced - and appear with no warning.

They are brilliantly handled and serve to remind us what survivors of The Great War had to live with.

Then there's CR's mother, Daphne.

To say she doesn't come out of this film well would be understatement - and it's a measure of just how good Margot Robbie's portrayal is that you pretty much hate her from the birth onwards.

That's not to say the woman didn't have her good qualities - but it's in seeing these that highlight her selfish core.

In fact it was she that pushed the publicity side of things, robbing her son of a large chuck of his childhood.

I still can't quite believe just how good Robbie was in this role - and I say that as someone who has admired her for a while.

Milne was to blame too, of course, and Gleeson portrays the guilt and inner-conflict well.

But CR was blessed, kind of, to have three parents.

With his nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald in another fine performance), CR had at least one person who gave him love and attention.

If I'm giving the impression that Goodbye Christopher Robin is somehow a harsh depiction of childhood, forgive me.

It's anything but.

What director Simon Curtis and writers Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan have concocted is a bittersweet, moving, gentle, beautiful tale of how a Bear came to Be and how it affected those around him.

It's warm glow, gentle pacing and note-perfect narrative all combine to create a world you don't want to leave.

And a world that couldn't be without one special boy.

In Will Tilston, the producers have uncovered a very, very talented young man.

You connect with him instantly, and you share his ups and downs as he tries to grow up with the world eventually watching.

It's a performance of maturity way beyond his tender years.

And that, in a way, encapsulates everything that was good about the Pooh books.

They were a simple thing, but worked on several levels and reached an audience far greater than anyone could have imagined.

Certain critics (hi, Peter) may have been sniffy about this film - but when you're swept up from the start and you don't want it to end (and even digital projection issues fail to ruin that feeling), that is surely the mark of a great, great film.

And yes, there were tears at the end...

IT (15)

It's been a funny old week on the nostalgia front - no, not doing that joke - here at Popcorn Towers.

Firstly, a band of my youth (LA Guns, don't judge) have returned with an album that's almost as good as the stuff that made me love them. Another (Gun) have bettered themselves.

And then two literary giants that are the cornerstones of my reading life have hit the big screen.

The other, involving a bear of very little brain, will be chuntered about shortly - because, first, we have to talk about IT.

And I'm not really that keen to.

Partly because the 'no spoiler' house rule is actually going to make my rantings a bit tricky towards the end.

And partly because I really don't want to not like this film.

Now, granted, my memory is perhaps not the strongest some 20 years after I last read this Stephen King masterpiece.

I remember certain things about this book - the bullying, the fear, the grown-ups returning to face those fears.

I don't remember certain other things - in particular, how the kids bond in the sewers.

I think is is because, in the main, the bullying and fear are what I chimed with as a child.

As someone who had a fun two years being the focus of racial abuse and threats of violence, these were themes that really hit home and made the book more personal.

And that's why I really, really wanted to love this film.

I wanted to escape into that psychologically tortuous world once more. I wanted to relive that emotional rollercoaster.

But I was denied that on two fronts.

One, while hinted at and suggested, the fears the children are feeling aren't front and centre.

Instead we get traditional 'big scream' horror tropes and a score that just shouts at you instead of insinuating.

Subtlety has been given the night off here.

Then there's the ending.

Now, you may have seen it already. You may have heard. You may have noticed it on IMDB.

But I hadn't.

And in case you haven't, I'll spare you the details.

Suffice to say that just before the credits rolled, I swore.

And carried on swearing on the way home.

It's just unnecessary.

Anyhoo, can't say no more guv'nor so onwards to the positives.

Because there are some.

For a start, the young stars of the show are all fantastic.

They own this film and convey all the fears and fragility so evident in the book.

And the individual scary moments are handled well, with not too much excessive screaming.

Which can't be said for later scenes, but I digress...

If you ignore the fact this is IT, and park the emotional attachments to the source material, what you have here is a perfectly passable horror flick about a clown.

Bill Skarsgard isn't particularly terrifying as Pennywise, but to be fair he gets upstaged by the CGI, so what's he to do?

But ultimately, IT falls flat. A heavy touch and some infuriating studio decisions robbing us of the film this could have been.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Limehouse Golem (15)

It's taken me an unnatural amount of time to get round to penning this review - and for once I'm not blaming the busy life of a freelance everythinger.

You see, while enjoyable, it's very hard to actually care about The Limehouse Golem.

It's not a film to get passionate about.

And in many ways, these are the hardest films to review - because it's just so damn hard to give a crap about what you've watched.

If it was 47 Meters Down kinda pish (a film so bad I actually took two goes at getting the title right there) you could rant away to your heart's content.

Or if it was up there with Hidden Figures or The Hitman's Bodyguard, then again - the keys would be walloped with many a fine flourish.

But when you've walked out of cinema thinking nothing more than 'yup, solved that before he did' while wondering what to have for tea...

...well, it's a challenge.

And to be honest, if I wasn't feeling crap at having to miss Suzanne Vega this evening, I would probably still not be getting round to writing this.

For those that missed Golem's briefish run on the big screen, Bill Nighy plays a beleaguered Victorian copper given an unwanted high-profile case on the basis that when he fails to solve it he can be drummed out of town and no one would care.

Sadly, he actually starts putting clues together, and hunting the vicious killer to ground.

The Victorian era is gloriously brought to life, and the whole film has the feel of a classic penny dreadful - gory, sensationalised, but ultimately disposable.

Nighy is very good, as always, but essentially doesn't break out beyond being Bill Nighy, while the rest of the cast glide through being absolutely fine.

But when you have to wait until the final moments of the film for the solitary jump, you can't help but think something was missed somewhere.

Somewhere in here is a chilling, violent, brutal, gory horror thriller that could have you on the edge of your seat.

Instead, you're subjected to something that would struggle to make an impression at 9pm on a Sunday night on BBC1.

Oh well, at least I've written about it now...

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Wind River (15)

It still amazes me that in this day and age, things can slip under the radar.

Until the poster appeared on my cinema listings app of choice, I didn't even know this film was a thing.

All it took as the mention of Elizabeth Olsen, however, and I knew I had to see it as soon as possible.

Which as regular followers of these mutterings will know, can take a while.

But, for once, the universe sorted itself out and I had a spare couple of hours while Wind River was still showing.

So, with skip in step, off we set.

Which made driving tricky, I'll grant you. Don't skip and drive folks...

But I digress.

The only words linked to Wind River that I had seen were 'crime drama'. Someone, somewhere in a marketing department thought that's all this film was.

But it's so much more than that.

On a basic level, yes, sure, that's what it is - young woman found dead, FBI called in, bad guys hunted down.

Crime drama.

But then you've got the social and political commentary about how native Americans are treated in a land that they once called home.

Then you've got the tale of loss, of grief, of lives being torn apart by circumstances beyond your control.

Then we've got the fact it's also a revenge thriller.

There's a lot going on here.

There's also the small matter of it being a new take on a classic genre - the western.

Because, at it's heart, that's what Wind River is.

It has all the classic tropes - the quiet hero (Jeremy Renner), we have the out-of-town sheriff (Olsen), the slow, steady pacing, the panoramic vistas, the wilderness being essentially another character.

It's got the lot.

And it looks amazing.

Yes, we know, that's usually code for 'nothing happens', but not here.

Amidst all the drama and tension, the Wyoming wilderness is almost a character in it's own right.

You can almost feel the snow, the sweeping shots of the landscape are breathtaking, and the incidental moments with a cameo from the wildlife serve to remind us that they can survive out there.

We can't.

There are a lot of things we loved about this film - the pacing is steady, but in a way that draws you in, not bores you.

Every performance is subtle and measured. There's as much to be gleaned in what isn't said.

The score - superbly crafted by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - accentuates the action rather then screaming at you and telling you what you should be feeling.

When the shocks come (and they do) you leap out of your seat, but you still can't take your eyes off the screen.

And perhaps, most impressively of all, is the fact this is writer Taylor Sheridan's third film, behind Sicaro and Hell Or High Water.

It's also only his second as director.

This film should place the former Sons Of Anarchy and Veronica Mars star so highly on a 'one to watch' list that you'll need a whole new, longer, list to put him at the top of.

He's already proved he can pen a movie, but now he's showing he knows how to bring his words to life actually on the screen.

On the back of this film alone, Sheridan is now up there with J. C Chandor (of All Is Lost, Margin Call and A Most Violent Year fame) as a new director whose future work will be sought out eagerly.

Wind River is a stark, beautiful, painful, gripping, haunting piece of cinema that packs a massive emotional punch while forcing you to confront some home truths about the treatment of an indigenous people.

It may not have hung around long at the cinema, but you need to see this film. And as soon as it comes out on blu-ray.

It's the very epitome of a modern classic.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard (15)

A dearth of original ideas and comedies that are actually funny are just two of the things that get mentioned around here on a regular basis.

While the economic arguments for sequels can be understood, it can be a tad frustrating.

But the making of a comedy that's just not funny...?

Thankfully, The Hitman's Bodyguard tackles one of these issues head one.

And, even better, it's lack of originality is not an issue.

The story centres around Michael Bryce, a once Triple A-rated (yes, it's a thing) bodyguard who has fallen on tough times after losing a client.

Into his life comes Darius Kincaid, a hitman who's supposed to be giving evidence in The Hague in exchange for his beloved being released from prison.

Over the course of two-ish hours, people swear, this blow up, people get killed or maimed or both and a lot of laughs are had.

A LOT of laughs.

And that is what is most surprising about this film.

It's seriously, seriously funny.

We already know that Samuel L Jackson (Darius) can do comedy, and while Deadpool proved Ryan Reynolds (Bryce) could deliver lines, nothing had prepared us for his ability to actually do proper funny acting.

Because if recent comedy films have highlighted anything, it's that America has forgotten how to do subtle.

Punchlines telegraphed, gags given a longer build-up than a new season of Game Of Thrones - it's like they've forgotten how to just be funny.

It's like they forgot they gave us Airplane and Naked Gun.

Well, until now.

Because between writer Tom O'Connor (on only his second film) and director Patrick Hughes (of Expendables 3 fame) the spirit of those two stone cold classics has been invoked with love and reverence.

Gags fly thick and fast, to the point that the drive home is spent trying to remember them all.

There's often barely time to pause between guffaws.

It's helped, in part, by the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson - but also Hughes' well-balanced direction - the drama of the plot being allowed to come through when needed.

But, beautifully, among all the swearing and shooting and blowing uppery, there's a little hidden gem.

Actually, there are two.

The first is Salma Hayek, who plays the foulest-mouthed, bullyingist yoga practitioner on the planet.

It's only a small part, but she plays it perfectly. And it's hilarious.

Then there are two scenes featuring classic ballads.

On both occasions we were crying with laughter.

Let's be clear about this - The Hitman's Bodyguard isn't high art. It won't win awards.

But if you want to sit back, relax, have fun and be seriously entertained, then this is the film for you.

You get a hell of a lot of bangs for your buck.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

There is always a danger, when it has taken you so long to see a film you're really excited about seeing, that expectations will not be met.

Equally, history is not on the side of the third part of a trilogy - not every franchise is Toy Story.

So allow me, if you will, to share a little bit of our journey to see this film.

First up, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes blew us away - the ending, especially, was perfect.

Then there was Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Which we also loved.

Then, way way back in the mists of time (or July, if you're being picky), the adverts for War appeared on the buses.

And we got excited.

Then it hit cinemas.

And we got more exciteder.

Only our usual viewing companion was not interested.

Still, no matter, we could go on our own. Or there was our LobbyCast chum...

No, not so much. Hadn't seen the first two. Wasn't going near the third.


Still, no matter, we could go on our own.

Or not, as one's mild depression decided to become less mild and so motivating one's self out of the house became something of an issue.

Thankfully - and we can't stress how pleased we were about this - War has been something of a hit, so come the arse-end of August it's still showing at our local multiplex of choice.

And so, dark clouds having lifted, we finally get to take our seat and watch the third instalment of a franchise that has had us gripped since 2011.

And from the dark, atmospheric opening, we are gripped.

The story picks up, as you'd expect, where Dawn leaves off. A human army unit have been tracking Caesar and his ape brethren and all-out war is about to ensue.

And the first battle is breathtaking, it's heart-rending, it's an adrenaline-fuelled ride that is as brutal as it is brilliant.

And you know how good it is, because as the casualties stack up it is actually painful to watch.

There's no need to pick a side here. Your emotions will do that for you.

And we're totally Team Ape.

We meet-up with Caesar, we get to see his nemesis The Colonel, we hold our breath as enemies are captured...

And then...


We basically get a whole new film.

While the opening sequence is locked into the world created by the first two films, War then wanders off into a Spaghetti Western as Caesar sets out on revenge.

Later, we take a sharp right-turn into an attempted - and very, very deliberate - remake of Apocalypse Now.

And this is where the film falls down.

The Spaghetti Western section fells like padding, like the producers wanted a longer film but didn't know what else to do.

I suspect, as well, that focus group feedback has played a part because we are given - for absolutely no good reason - a clown character in the shape of Bad Ape.

Maybe they felt it was all too dark (frankly it wasn't dark enough), maybe they genuinely felt some cheap giggles were really needed (they weren't).

Or maybe, they just really, really liked what Jar Jar Binks did to The Phantom Menace.

In all cases, they were wrong.

So, so wrong.

Other than a slight plot red herring, Bad Ape serves no discernible purpose other than to annoy and add some unwanted levity.

The character is also completely out of keeping with the tone the franchise has worked so hard to set.

Frankly, bringing in Clyde from the Every Which Way films would have made more sense.

It's an horrendous move, it's an appalling creative decision, and it undermines a lot of the drama to come.

It also serves, rather unfortunately, to break the spell the film had managed to start weaving - which allowed another problem to surface.

And that's the score.

Previously, the music had meshed with the scenes beautifully.

This time around, a heavier hand appears to have been employed.

The score, at times, essentially sounds like Bad Ape was let loose in the percussion section with a lump hammer.

Rather than hinting at what you might be feeling, the score instructs. By shouting. And when that's done, goes to town making as many sharp, loud noises as possible.

The fact this is mainly through the Western section is not a coincidence.

It may even be deliberate.

But it doesn't work.

Which brings us to the final third of the film, and the full-on Apocalypse Now pastiche.

Now, as I said, this is clearly deliberate. Director Matt Reeves is as upfront about it as possible.

Hell, he even has Woody Harrelson doing his best Marlon Brando impression as The Colonel...

...but again, it's a mis-step.

Bits of it work, they really do. And parallels with people wanting to build walls are there for all to see.

But the character of The Colonel is just too two-dimensional, too much of a caricature. You never get the sense that Harrelson really believes in what he is delivering.

Which takes the edge off an otherwise tense final third, but also robs us of a potentially great moment when a thing happens to The Colonel.

Written and portrayed differently, we could have actually cared about what unfolds.

Instead, we just shrug and and mutter 'good'.

And yet, despite everything, come the end you're back on board, back where we stared and back with a lump in your throat.

Because, despite everything, despite all that is wrong with this film, one thing shines through.


Andy Serkis has made the art of motion-capture acting his own, and with each of these films has raised the bar in what we expect and what is achieved.

And once again, he has produced a performance of such depth and subtlety that he makes you love and care about, essentially, a set of pixels.

The other apes - well, bar one - are all equally as good, but Caesar is the star of the show here, and has been since Rise.

It's a measure of just how good the performances of Serkis and co are that they can actually salvage this mish-mash of ideas and suggestions.

There is, buried deep down, a very good film in War For The Planet Of The Apes.

Thankfully, Caesar is so good that you can forgive the fact it's not in the finished version.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Atomic Blonde (15)

You'd think, by now, that we might have learnt not to get taken in by swishy, stylish trailers - by a 200 second snapshot that makes a film look fantastic.

Because often, the more fantastic the film is made to look, the more likely it is that film will not live up to expectations.

And the trailer for Atomic Blonde looked fantastic.

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City (which has since been retitled to fit in with the movie), Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller set in Berlin just as the Wall comes down.

Front and centre is Charlize Theron, one of the finest actresses around and one who has a penchant for an 'interesting' project.

Let's not forget she brought us the environmental action movie Aeon Flux, although to be fair most of us would probably struggle to remember it.

Alongside MI6's finest - for she is thus - is James McAvoy as Our Man In Berlin, the ever-reliable Eddie Marsan as an East Berliner trading info for a better life, and Toby Jones and John Goodman as top Brit and American spy agency bods.

And, to be fair, the cast was half the attraction of this film.

I mean, look at those names.

How could it not be at least close to good?

I mean, sure, Jones and Goodman are basically sitting and talking throughout the film - but they sit and talk very, very well.

And the film is sold as being 'real', capturing the nasty grittiness of Berlin at a huge turning point in the city's already tumultuous history.

No Bond-esque sugaring of the pill here, no siree Bob.

So how come, then, that after a good start - which very much lives up to the billing, albeit with added unnecessary nipples - it all goes, well, a bit tits up.

The story is solid, of that there is no question. A little far-fetched at times, sure, and some of the fight scenes bring back nightmares of Lord Of The Rings, but it just about hangs together OK.

And the acting is fine.

Theron can do this stuff in her sleep, and just makes it look easy.

Jones and Goodman can do this stuff in their sleep, and look like they are.

McAvoy's just having a blast, chewing the scenery and hamming it up like a veteran. And amazingly, that's not a criticism.

And other than not having the most convincing German accent around, Marsan turns in a perfectly good performance - even if he doesn't really need to do much except look scared.

And the fight scenes are brutal.

I mean in-your-face, you can hear the teeth rattle brutal.

Blood flows like, well, blood, and Theron gives as many pummelings as she receives.

In fact, the film does have a lot going for it - especially the soundtrack, which actually steals the show here.

Featuring a mix of 80s electronica, some cult classics and a great use of The Clash, you really could listen to this film all day on repeat.

So how come Atomic Blonde actually ends up being boring? How come things seem to drag at times? Or, at the very least, cause you to lose interest?

For a start, the direction is a mess.

Helming his first full feature, experienced stunt man David Leitch (he did stunts on Buffy, the Daredevil movie, the Matrix sequels and, erm, Big Momma's House) knows how to shoot a fight scene.

But he also likes to try different things, and as such hasn't found his own style yet.

What we get is at least three different films, each with their own clear shooting style but that have very little to do with each other.

This creates something of a disjointed feel.

Then there's the sex scenes.

Aside from appealing to the teenage boy market, they serve no dramatic purpose.

This might sound a smidge prudish, but we could be shown Theron getting close her French counterpart (played by Sofia Boutella) without them writhing about on a bed for ten minutes.

The final gripe is the dialogue.

To call it cliched and stilted at times would be kind. It may be that writer Kurt Johnstad was quoting directly from the source material - but if it doesn't work on screen, change it.

It's what he's there to do, for crying out loud.

So, basically, to wrap up, apart from the OTT lesbian sex scene, the talky bits and the mish-mash of styles, it's an OK film.

What is so galling is that somewhere in here is a really good film.

Still, the soundtrack is amazing.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

47 Metres Down (15)

There is an oft-used phrase among film fans that claims a movie can be so bad it's actually good.

Take Bait, for example, or Sharknado. Terrible films, but films you could happily watch and enjoy because they were bad.

In the case of Sharknado, obviously, that was the point. With Bait, less so - and yet still I'd happily watch it again.

Then there's 47 Metres Down.

A film so bad, it's terrible.

Where do you start with something like this?

You know it's going to be terrible when in the opening scene the camera follows Vampire Diaries star Claire Holt through a swimming pool, focused largely through her legs.

This is followed by Mandy Moore (remember her?) being upended into said pool, spilling her red drink into the water.

For some reason she appears to be drinking blood, seeing as nothing else reacts like that when hitting water...

Then the dialogue kicks in.

And you realise it was scripted in a hurry by someone who has never heard humans speak before and is writing with a crayon.

A large, blunt crayon.

Because they're not allowed near sharp objects.

And then things go really down hill.

A text conversation with a boyfriend belongs in a whole other movie, the sexual politics belong in a whole other decade and the bit where Moore worries about how big her ass looks in a wetsuit belongs in the bin.

Then, we get to go in the water.

I'd suggest at this point that you try and work out who sails the boat away given everyone on board got out, but don't bother.

You really won't care.

Everything we've had to endure up to this point is leading us to the real drama. The tension. The horror, if you will.

Which isn't technically true - the horror doesn't come from what happens in the water, the horror is the whole sodding movie.

You'll notice at this point we haven't really summarised the plot - don't worry, you haven't missed anything.

Everything so far has led us to the point they get into a dodgy looking rusty cage, which is lowered into the ocean on a winch which has seen better days using worn string.

Then, shock and horror and OMGs abound, THINGS GO A BIT WRONG.

Sadly, not fatally, so we have to endure these two numpties attempting to act scared while under water.

The attempts to fashion tension and drama are beyond laughable - to the point that, when an underwater flare is ignited, the three sharks we suddenly see are less lifelike than the Jaws model at Universal Studios.

And I still have no idea where the third one came from.

Did I mention the bit where Ms Moore gets a sense of impending doom and a case of the heebie-jeebies from simply staring at a wooden post with a shark painted on it?

It's exactly that kind of film.

Only it is taking itself very seriously.

And don't get me started on how someone who admits to having NEVER dived before is able to change air tanks under water...

OK, yes, there was one - ONE - scene where we jumped slightly, but if 47 Metres Down had any sense of fun or mischief then it could almost be OK.

Instead, we have scenes of meaningful dialogue horrendously over-dubbed while our two stars walk along a beach towards the doom-laded bit of wood mentioned above.

The only thing worse than watching this film was the realisation that we were in a screening where people had willingly paid money to see it.