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.