Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ghost In The Shell (12A)

I won't deny, I was excited about going to see Ghost In The Shell - and not just because it gave me a chance to see if my car was fixed.

Turns out I was disappointed on both fronts, but the film got there first.

Now I need a new gearbox and I wasted two hours of my life. Just not in that order.

Based on the cult classic animation, Ghost tells the tale of a woman who has her brain transplanted into a robotic body following, she is told, a nasty accident.

The brain was all that could be saved, she is told.

Set in a futuristic Japan that visually owes more than a small debt to Blade Runner, the film follows Major (played by Scarlett Johansson, presumably because all of Japan's actresses were busy) as she goes hunting an apparent terrorist.

It's a sci-fi action epic with a spiritual message about what it is to be human.

It's also bone-numbingly tedious.

Sure, it looks great, but the longer it goes on the more you just want it to end.

To be fair, it's visually stunning, but when you find yourself wondering why a robot with no reproductive organs has to wear a nightie you know you're not engaged with the action.

You'll probably also find yourself wondering why ScarJo (as I'm told she is now sometimes known) is playing someone of Japanese origin.

Or why, in a world where people are given new eyes and can have their robotic skin replaced, people still zip about on motorbikes.

Now, normally, none of this should really matter - but the problem with Ghost is that it's such a cold, clinical, flawed film that it's really hard to get past the issues.

And the worst part, for me, is that I'm not even enjoying writing about it.

I love writing about films - even ones I haven't enjoyed - but I am really, really struggling to give a toss about Ghost.

As I said, it looks great, the performances are fine (if you don't dwell on the cultural issues), it's just...


Kong annoyed the hell out of me and was a terrible film, but I'd rather watch that again than Ghost.

And I hate admitting that.

A film should always make you feel something - be it positive or negative - but to leave a cinema feeling nothing?

That should be a criminal offence.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Kong: Skull Island (12A)

Whatever your preferred genre of movie, there's one thing we all have in common when plonking buttocks in that cinema seat.

We want to be entertained.

Granted, that can come in many forms - being moved, made to think, made to laugh, scared. It's very much each to their own with that one.

But, at the end of the day, we want to be entertained. We don't want to be walking out of that cinema screen wondering about our life choices.

Which, sadly, is exactly what happens when you decide spending a couple of hours with a giant ape is a good use of your time.

(Side note, he's not a monkey. Someone should probably have mentioned that early on)

If you're unsure what to expect should you not heed the warnings and want to go and see this monstrosity, allow me to outline the "plot".

Two men persuade a government minister to allow them, with military assistance, to explore an island where things might be.

It's just at the end of the Vietnam war, so handily a few blokes are kicking about with nothing better to do.

Now, obviously you can't just go barging into an island all blind and unknowing, so you hire a guy who is ace at exploring stuff.

You also hire a top photographer. For reasons. And because.

From here on in, things go south and giant creatures abound.

All in 3D if you're really unlucky.

Now, in theory, this should be a good film.

It's got the cast, after all.

Tom Hiddleston's no slouch, John Goodman has a proven track record with such films, Brie Larson has an Oscar to her name, Samuel L Jackson used to be good - it SHOULD work.

But it doesn't.

Not on any level.

For a start, debut director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his team of writers have no idea what sort of film they are trying to make.

Could be Apocalypse Now, could be Jurassic Park, they couldn't decide so went for both options - creating a mash-up you never wanted to happen.

Then there's the cast.

As mentioned in our review of Free Fire (also starring Ms Larson as it happens), you can always tell when the cast are having fun.

Equally, you can tell when they're not.

Like here.

To a man (and woman), they look confused, baffled, Hiddleston is clearly thinking that if this doesn't get him the James Bond gig his agent is getting fired and Sammy J has figured he'd just cash the cheque and go all Apes On A Plane.

There isn't one performance here that comes close to being believable or credible.

And given this lot could act the phone book in their sleep and make it watchable, that's got to be down to the writers and director.

There's clearly no depth to these characters. Even those blessed with a back story aren't sure why or what for.

It's actually physically painful to watch.

Then there's the plot itself.

Set pieces clearly came first. How people got there are distant second. The result is the realisation that if the writers don't care then why should we?

The one thing that saves this abomination from the garbage heap of history is the special effects.

Kong is pretty good, although I fully expect the third Planet Of The Apes film to show how it could have been done, and the other giant monsters are almost engaging.

Especially the mahoosive water buffalo.

But then, they have to go and ruin it.

On an island where creatures we kind of recognise have quietly grown to giant proportions - and a never quiet identified flying dinosaur still exists, because why the hell not eh? - the big bad nasty monster (shown in the trailer) is something of a mystery.

I know I'm a wee bit of a pedant, but if everything else is vaguely linked to the world we know, why the hell is a walking skull knocking about.

Again, it just feels like no one cared enough to ask the question.

And there in lies the whole problem with this movie.

Someone somewhere figured, with the third Planet movie looming, we needed another ape film and not one directed by Peter Jackson (but hey, keep the dinosaurs) - even though, by comparison, that one made sense.

So what we get is a mess of bits and bobs, strung together by a group of people wishing they where somewhere else and directed by a man who's clearly bitten off more than he can chew.

You could genuinely watch this on fast forward and lose nothing.

Some films are so bad they're actually quite good. Others are terrible, but you kind of like them anyway.

Then there's this.

A collection of cliches and bad ideas thrown into a blender than splashed all over screen by a bad Jackson Pollack impressionist.

(enjoy the trailer, by the way, it's basically the whole movie)

Free Fire (15)

Sure, we all know how trailers work - show you the best bits, give you a sense of what's going on, job's a good 'un.

But sometimes, a trailer does more. Sometimes it does less than that, and that's exactly what is needed.

I saw the trailer to Free Fire at least three times before it was released, and at no point did I have any clue as to what was going to happen other than people shooting at each other.

A lot.

And swearing.

Gunfire and swearing. That's all I was promised.

And while that was more than enough, especially with this cast, what I got was so, so much more.

For a start, this is writer/director Ben Wheatley's finest film to date - and remember Sightseers and Kill List are the work of this guy.

It's also a wonderfully collaborative effort. Along with co-writer Amy Jump (Kill List's hers too of course) we are given a bunch of OTT, almost cliched characters.

And they are all fantastic.

It's the 1970s and Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley and Enzo Cilenti are in town to to buy guns. Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay and Jack Reynor are there to sell them and Brie Larson and Armie Hammer are on hand to make sure things go smoothly.

Spoiler alert: they don't.

On the face of it, it's a very simple idea. Gun deal goes bad. People get shotted. All good fun.

But in the hands of Wheatley and Jumper what you get is, well, beautiful chaos.

For a start, this film is laugh-out-loud funny. Quotable lines come flying at you like ricocheting bullets.

Then there's the film's pace.

It's at once frantic and deadly slow.

While the shooting's going on, obviously, the action is everywhere, but we are also treated to many a scene of people dragging themselves from A to B.

Very slowly.

And it's actually these bits that make the film.

Not only do they offer brief respite from the gun noise (and by 'eck is it noisy), but they also add to both the humour and the tension.

And they keep the audience guessing as to what might happen next, or who might get shot.

I honestly don't think any other director could have made these scenes so gripping.

And there isn't a bad performance here - an A-list cast all bringing their A game, and to a man (and woman) you want to see more of them.

The amount of fun these guys are clearly having is almost criminal.

And that's just another part of this film's success.

When the cast and crew are clearly all on the same page and having a blast, wonderful things happen - and you get films like this.

No one steals a scene, no one tries to overshadow anyone else, and everyone is acting their bullet-ridden backsides off.

I haven't been this gripped, this mesmerised by a film since Trainspotting.

I'd love to find a flaw here, I'd love to be able to pick one tiny hole in this film, but from the opening scenes it's impossible.

I just enjoyed it too much.

There are twists, there are gruesome gags, there's more swearing than you'd think possible, there's an Oscar-winning actress scrabbling around in the dirt...

...And the whole thing is shot in a single, solitary warehouse.

It shouldn't even be possible to make this work.

But Wheatley does, and you'll walk out of the cinema grinning.

Gun violence for the sake of it isn't big or clever, but when it's done with such a knowing wink it's both.

I need to see this film again as soon as possible.