Sunday, 19 March 2017

Get Out (15)

Two things happened today that in no way prepared me for Get Out - first, I happened upon an article bemoaning a dearth of mixed-race couples in films, then I watched a football match.

The former led me to believe there was some kind of positive message awaiting me in Get Out, the latter had me on the edge of my seat during the final 15 minutes - meaning I really needed to unwind and relax.

Neither of these things happened.

Hailed and lauded in many a corner, and with our social media feeds awash with just how awesome Get Out is, it's a film that has arrived with a lot of buzz and hype.

A psychological horror with a smattering of laughs, it tells the story of Chris and his weekend away with his girlfriend Rose at her parents gaff.

Obviously it's not just them sitting around sipping ice tea, and sure enough stuff starts to get weird and creepy before you can say WTF.

The tone is set beautifully from the start, as a young black guy is bundled into the trunk of a car to the tune of Run Rabbit Run.

It's creepy, dark and delightfully twisted.

It also gets the old pulse racing - as does the scene from the trailer where a deer bounces off the car - which got the audience jumping and laughing, and me wishing my team could do simple, easy matches.

And things carry on from there at a surprisingly sedate pace.

In fact, the first third of the movie is done in such a way as to only offer hints and flickers of the weirdness that awaits.

And the ending is nothing short of superb - I'd almost push to genius, the point it's making is that good.

In between, however...

Let's start with the positives.

Daniel Kaluuya, as Chris, is someone we've been a fan of since Psychoville, and here he's in top form. Menacing and nasty when needed, but also playing up the softer side and laughs with aplomb.

Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as Rose's parents are both going against type and are subtly creepy from the get go.

Allison Williams (of Girls fame) meanwhile is equally as strong and utterly believable.

It's well shot and looks good, although a fewer close-ups of people's faces wouldn't go amiss.

It's the middle part of the film that's the tricky bit.

And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it's just a thing.

The tension and oddness ratchets up as the film unfolds, as you'd expect, and what unfolds raises questions both about writer/director Jordan Peele's intentions and the audience's reactions.

We sat down with The Bas immediately after the film and recorded our initial thoughts - but an hour on from that, I'm not sure I agree with what I thought back then.

We don't do spoilers, so can't even begin to talk about what we're trying to talk about here - but there's a lot to talk about.

What unfolds raises questions about race, race relations, and your own views on both those subjects - and they are things that go deeper than you may first think.

As the lights came up, I was all 'well, that happened' and was left genuinely flumoxed by what had unfolded.

But with a small amount of time to reflect, I think Peele has found a way to ask tricky questions about how we view each other without making a big deal about it.

Yes, granted, a mainstream film could be seen as 'a big deal' - but there are things to see if you want, or you can just scream and laugh.

The more I think about it, this is a far clever film than it first appears.

Or is being pushed in the trailers.

Alongside the screams and the laughs are scenes and themes that are genuinely unsettling (I have a real 'thing' about hypnosis) and to see them in a mainstream film is refreshing.

It shouldn't be, but there are some things that just don't get talked about - and Get Out seems to cover most of them.

The more I think about it, I think the reason I was knocked off kilter by this film is because not only was it not what I expected it did the unexpected in unexpected ways.

Which is a lot of unexpected in two hours.

But views and opinions are morphing and changing with every passing hour, and this is a film that will benefit from repeated viewings.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Love Witch (15)

It's easy to forget, but there's a good chance that way back when you actually really enjoyed the Hammer House Of Horror movies.

Or maybe you were a fan of Russ Meyer's gawdy, OTT offerings, where the visual appeal of the female stars was very much part of the appeal.

If the answer to either of these is 'yes', then The Love Witch is just the film for you. Or could be. Possibly.

Staring Samantha Robinson as the witch Elaine, the story is - at its simplest - about Elaine's search for love.

Using witchcraft. Obviously.

Only things don't go to plan. Obviously.

It's all pretty much as you'd expect - shock, gore, burials, impromptu nudity and Victorian tea rooms.

And it looks fantastic. Lush vibrant colourings just like as what we watched way back when we was all young n that.


And you can kind of live with the clash of styles. The clothes are out of the 1970s, yet people rock up in modern BMWs.

It takes a bit of getting used to, and it's one of those things you either ignore or let niggle.

And given the continuity issues and sexual politics, I'd let that one go if I were you.

Essentially, this film is a lot of fun - and looks amazing - it just doesn't pay to think about the messages or where it has come from.

Or what's going on with that tea room.

As mentioned at the top, visually this film owes everything to key 60s/70s genres - and with that in mind you can kind of forgive Elaine's message that a woman should do all she can to please her man.

While this is challenged by some of the other characters, it is what essentially drives the main character - casting spells to ensure a man falls in love with her.

No man, no happy, see?

And like I said, in the context of the decades of yore such thinking can be understood and excused.


Writer/director Anna Biller has gone on record saying she never saw the exploitation films of Meyer.

So if this isn't either an homage or a pastiche, what is it?

Is Biller actually suggesting that doing all you can to please a man is the way forward? Is she advocating using sex to find and keep love?

Because if so that's quite worrying in 2017 as we find ourselves having to fight for equality yet again.

Then there's the quality of the film.

Let's make no bones about this - the dialogue is stilted, the acting is marginally wooden, the editing is harsh, it looks like it was shot for peanuts using one camera and then edited in a hurry.

Now, again, if this was done in deference to the Hammer films of our youth - woohoo! Nail firmly driven through corpse.

But if not?

Then this is the film Biller actually wanted to make. She wanted it to look slightly awkward and badly written.

And she wanted you to notice the candles. And to ask how one woman filled the jar that bloody full.

None of those things are good thoughts to be having when you just want to enjoy a camp, OTT horror/exploitation feast.

I'd honestly have been much happier if I hadn't read Biller's comments. The film would actually make more sense.

As it is, you're left with more questions than answers and a hankering to go watch a proper Hammer film.

The Love Witch could be a lot of fun, and if you can go in knowing nothing about it (something i'm aware we've not helped with here) and just give yourself over to it you'll have a blast.

If, however, you start to think about it too much you'll wish you hadn't...

Monday, 13 March 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (15)

There are times when, where action films are concerned, you really don't have to have seen what went before - you can just dive right in.

After all, you're only here for the fisty-fights and shooty-bangs and the chasey-chases aren't you? No need to worry about plot details.

No? You want more?

In that case, dear film goer, welcome to the world of John Wick.

Now, I'll be upfront here - I only watched the first one a week ago because a friend of mine wanted to go see Chapter 2.

Yes, he eats popcorn and mixes Coke with Fanta at the concession stand, but he's a friend and I like him. We're not here to judge.

Anyhoo, he wanted some more Wick so it seemed rude to say know. Especially when we seem to be pretty up to date with our film watching.

And he said it would be better to watch the first first, so we did.

And bloody good it turned out to be. Dark humour, serious amounts of style and pazazzaz, amazing fights scenes - it had the lot.

It also turned out to be a good thing because Chapter 2 literally starts where John Wick ends - the entire pre-credit sequence is basically the final scene we didn't get in the first film.

For those who, like me, were initially immune to the charms for the Wick phenomena, a quick recap - John is an assassin of some renown, who retired. Only his wife then died, some bad people did for his dog and took his car, and he decided to get revenge.

That's the first one done.

In Chapter 2, an old "friend" calls in a marker and then puts a price on his head.

From here on in, we get more of the same - only with a good third set in Rome.

And that is in no way a criticism.

Part of the charm of the first one was the pure panache that oozed from the screen. It was slick and seriously sexy.

Chapter 2 is no different.

Among the violence and deaths (so, so many deaths), this film has a clear visual style that is nothing short of stunning.

At times reminiscent of Welcome To The Punch or Only God Forgives, the use of neon lighting and mirrors is just beautiful.

And sure, the humour isn't as dark or as plentiful this time round - but we get pencils.

Ultimately, though, you go to see John Wick to see people die, to see them killed, to watch as they are pulverised in myriad ways.

And on that front, no one leaves disappointed.

You see, it's not how many are killed that matters here, it's just the how.

In a recent interview, Keanu Reaves talked about the training he goes into so he can take part in the fight scenes - allowing the camera up close, bringing the audience right into the action.

And boy does this work.

You feel the punches, you wince as the bullets reappear out the back of someone's noggin, you weep as the car loses a door.

It's a thrill ride par excellence.

Reeves himself, while not the most engaging of actors (and the main reason I stayed away from the films for so long) is at home here being a cold, calculating killing machine.

But, strangely, a human one.

He feels pain, he gets hurt, he limps, he runs out of bullets - these are arguably the most realistic ridiculous films you'll ever see.

And while Reeves is the name on the poster, there are so many other people who shine here it's almost an ensemble piece.

Ian McShane (Lovejoy in old money) is wonderful as the hotel manager, Lance Reddick is back radiating behind the desk, Peter Serafinowicz is the Sommelier from hell (or heaven, depending on what you want) and Ruby Rose is wonderfully chilling as Ares.

Oh and some fella called Laurence Fishburne is knocking about the place...

And the dog is bloody great too.

Wick is a man you should hate, but you love - he's desperate, lonely, friendly and a massive burden to the insurance industry. And Reeves plays him to perfection.

But the story and Chad Stahelski's direction bring the whole thing to life and give you a joyous, uplifting tale of violence and wholesale slaughter.

You shouldn't have this much fun watching people die, but you can't help walking out of the cinema with a spring in your step.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Elle (18)

Genres of films - do they serve a purpose other than giving the marketing team a starting point? Do you need to know what genre a film is before you go see it?

If so, what do you do with a film that defies categorisation? A film that crosses so many boundaries as to be best labelled 'film'.

A film such as Elle.

If you can trust the French to do anything, it's not give a fig for convention and just do what they hell they want.

Hollywood could learn a thing or two.

Elle, you see, is a crime revenge thriller comedy drama.

Or, in old money, a damn good film - good story, great performances, laughs, leap-out-of-your-seat scares and an ambiguous ending for discussions on the way home.

Why put a label on that, eh?

Starting with the actual attack, Elle follows Michèle as she deals with the violent assault in her home.

As well as trying to find the killer, she has a troubled past coming back to haunt her and a mother living a more salacious life then she is.

Then there's the affair she's having, her ex-husband's new girlfriend and employees whose out-of-hours projects are questionable at best.

Basically, this has got the lot.

At the centre of it all is Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert, giving the role a sumptuous mix of cold-steel and humorous fragility.

Totally worth the award nomination, Huppert carries the film almost singlehandedly. Yes, there's a fine supporting cast, but this is totally her film.

Word is, Hollywood wanted a big 'name' for the part - but do that and this is a very, very different film and not in a good way.

It's Huppert's believability that is at the heart of Elle. It has it's WTF moments, but you buy into the central performance so completely that there's nothing the film can throw at you that will push you away.

Directed with a surprisingly subtle hand by Paul Verhoeven, Elle looks beautiful and quintessentially French.

Again, something you'd lose by producing this in Hollywood.

Elle is a captivating film, blending comedy and tragedy with ease and putting you on the edge of your seat for good measure.

The fact it's not fitting snugly into a category is a good thing. The fact this is in French, and is a very French film, is a good thing.

You may have questions about the ending, you may feel unsettled by some of the attack scenes, but these are also good things.

Elle is an intelligent, grown-up film dealing with grown-up stuff but handled with maturity. It's not for everyone, sure, but that'll do for me.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Logan (15)

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, our finely-honed review of Logan got buggered. It's gone, disappeared, kyboshed, lost, vamooshed.

Which is a real pisser, because it was full of praise, observations, valid points and a joke about Chernobyl.

OK, that last bit was a small fib, but the vanished review is all true.

This being the internet we can't even say the dog ate it.

Of course, I can't remember for the life of me what was actually scribbled down, so this is take-two. And like all sequels it won't be as good.

First up, let's just stress that this isn't Origins or The Wolverine - very much the dull and dumber of the Wolverine back catalogue.

What this is instead is a character-driven film, with passion and heart, which has all the beaty-uppy bits you want, humour, feeling, swears and jokes.

Inspired by the success of Deadpool, writer/director James Mangold has set out to deliberately make this a film for the older age group - and it's a wise move.

Logan is old and ailing, specs are now needed to read phones and he's a barely-functioning alcoholic.

No cigars, though, 'cos smoking's bad. Drinking good, cigars bad. Got that? Good.

Hugh Jackman has actually been given something to work with here, too.

Where as previously he just needed to be grumpy and punchy, now he's looking after an old Prof Xavier and he clearly cares despite himself.

Giving Prof X a dementia-esque condition also helps the film.

First, Patrick Stewart can actually act so the Prof is given more weight, heft and heart than previous outings.

But it also serves to show us that even mutants aren't immortal - which, while not necessarily cheerful, is a good direction to head in as it gives the characters something else to say, a new light to be seen in.

In essence Logan is a two-hour road movie, as the Prof and Wolvie are chased across America by the requisite sciency bad guys.

What changes the dynamic, however, is the presence of Laura - played by the frankly amazing Dafne Keen.

A young, engineered mutant, she's able to add an extra spice and twist to the bloody violence as we see an angry little girl rip armed goons to shreds.

Sure an adult could do this, but it just works so much better when you see an eerie kid doing it.

This isn't a perfect film by any stretch, but the flaws (needlessly flashed boobs, the lack of cigars) in no way detract from the entertainment being served up.

Where as previous, lycra-clad outings have been a tad sanitised, and the last two Wolverine films being just plain terrible, Logan is darker, more sinister, and far more bloody.

And this is a good thing.

In the books, Logan has always been a dark character - so to finally have that realised on the screen is fantastic.

To have the added weight of the inter-personal relationships of Prof and Wolfie (plus Laura) is simply superb.

Maybe I've just been watching too many Oscar-worthy films of late, but Logan actually moved me.

There were action scenes where I was holding my breath, there are at least two scenes that almost brought a tear to the eye, and the story makes far more sense than when he was off in Japan.

As I said, Logan isn't perfect - and my popcorn-munching viewing companion feels one particular line ruins the whole film - but it's damn good.

There's the swearing, there's the violence, there's the action, there's the humour, there's Stephen Merchant putting in a frankly amazing performance.

Sure it's not Winter Soldier or Guardians, but it's not trying to be. Jackman and Mangold have simply put a good story together, and coupled it with strong performances and gripping action sequences.

In doing so, they've managed to make you forget the other two films exist - something that has been too long in coming.