Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Greatest Showman (PG)

One look at the trailer and I knew I wasn't going to like this film - and I don't mean casual, can live without, ambivalent dislike.

I mean anger raging, steaming coming out of ears, hating myself for still sitting there when the credits rolled levels of dislike.

Did you see the bloody thing? Just two and a half minutes was enough to make me take a diabetes test, so sweet and saccharine was the singing and the dancing and the loving and the blah blah blah.

So, naturally, fully aware of my aversion to enforced jollity and general fun, The Good Lady Popcorn decided this was the only film we could possibly go and see....

And it's about bloody P. T. Barnum for crying out loud. The man who made it his life's work forcing people to enjoy themselves.

With singing.

Actual singing.

And dancing.

Singing and dancing.

With Hugh Jackman.

Basically a Les Mis and La La Land mash-up.

Why would you do it to yourself?

"No, you don't have to, you can go watch something else and I'll see you afterwards..."

Yeah, right, we all know the rules. No way that doesn't come back and bite me on the butt.

So there we are. Lights down, film rolling, generally wondering about our life choices and how it all came to this....

...then, 100 minutes later, we leave, still humming the songs and wondering if the soundtrack is available.

(It is).


Well, I'll tell you...

For a start, the songs are just damn good. They're infectious. Catchy. Foot-tapping. They grab you right in the feels.

Then there's the cast.

Jackman as Barnam is just brilliant - the sod can sing, dance, act, have fun and transmit the fun he's having right through the camera and off the screen.

Then there's Michelle Williams. Woefully underused, but still able to steal every scene she's in.

Then there's some young chancer called Zac Efron who manages to not be annoying, Rebecca Ferguson is simply stunning, Zendaya is understated - and the whole thing is just a big ball of fun.

The story is simple - man has mad idea, carries out mad idea, more mad stuff happens, big finale - but it's brought to life with such passion and enthusiasm you can't help but be swept along.

It also helps that the songs are both very modern in their stylings but also have half a foot in someone else's camp.

(The tune with Jackman and Efron is basically Panic! At The Disco, Ferguson gets to play Adele)

And this is just one of the many things that make it work.

It's well written, well filmed, well acted, and, well, a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Where La La Land fell down was it felt contrived, it was trying too hard.

Showman, however, has mastered the trick of acting like it doesn't care.

All those involved are having fun, and if you do as well - well that's just an added bonus.

But in a world of forced emotions, or harrowing tales, or superheroes, or Saw films, a movie that is just a pleasure to enjoy is a rare thing and one to be cherished.

It's not high drama or high art, but who cares when you find yourself singing the songs three days later.

(Yes, we've ordered the soundtrack)

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Albums Of The Year 2017

Over in our corner of the world, 2017's music can be pretty much broken down into two clear categories - the return of much loved bands and protest albums.

And feck, do we need protest albums right now.

There were some lovely deluxe re-issues kicking about, care of Marillion, Def Leppard and Whitesnake, while LA Guns, Vain, Warriour Soul, Alice Cooper, Mr Big (none of whom are hip or trendy) all returned with albums that stand proudly alongside the best of their respective back catalogues.

Also returning were Living Colour, with an album so strong it was a shame they ever wandered off.

Public Enemy also gave us a fantastic slab of vinyl (in old money), while Dua Lipa proved that she was able to live up to the hype.

Also returning after a long lay off were Life Of Agony, with an album that is as brutal as it is personal.

Then there was this little lot...

10) Deep Purple - inFinite

Purple have been around so long people seem to have almost forgotten they exist, but with inFinite they proved they can still hold their own. Blues-tinged rockers with infectious, catchy choruses caught us quite by surprise. We were even more surprised when we realised just how much we loved this album. Gillan has stopped screaming and sounds better than ever.

9) Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want

The first of the protest albums to make the top 10, Waters is back to doing what he does best - making angry songs about the state of the world. Kicking out at the state of the Middle East and Trump among others, it's an album that recalls a certain band from his past - which given that they've now packed up, is no bad thing. Another that found itself on repeat...

8) Gun - Favourite Pleasure

When Glasgow's Gun first hit our ears, we were both a lot younger but jeez they were good. Their third album, Swagger, is still one of our all-time favourites. Sadly, they then went in a different direction and so did we. So it was with some reservations that we approached Favourite Pleasures. Reservations that disappeared within minutes of the opening track. An album full of the old swagger, giant choruses, lovely fuzzy guitars and a whole heap of joy and fun. It's simply a great rock album and needs to be played loud.

7) Maximo Park - Risk To Exist

While not obviously a protest album, the Maximo boys have clearly had enough of living in Theresa May's Britain. While the sound mixes the more recent electronic dalliances with their older style, lyrically the band are standing up for the little guy and highlighting just how shitty life is right now for those of us who don't have a spare house and buckets of wealth. While it doesn't smash you over the head it makes its point loud and clear.

6) Thunder - Rip It Up

While we can hear Father's eyes roll from here, Thunder are a bloody good band. They've had their ups and downs, sure, and other than the early 90s they've never been deemed trendy, but that hasn't stopped them and it shouldn't stop you. Having reasserted themselves with Wonder Days, Rip It Up sees them pushing things further and taking more risks, with tracks such as In Another Life crawling into your brain and staying there for days.

5) Body Count - Bloodlust

In case you've missed the memo, life for a lot of black people in America is pretty crap right now. Regular shootings, record numbers in jail, the rise of fascism - it's not really a shock that Ice-T is among those who's royally pissed at the state of things. Which in one way is a good thing, because we get albums like this. The venom pours from the speakers, the guitars rip your head off, the drums pound you into submission and over the top Ice-T snarls and rages about the injustices he sees every day. It's time we heard what he, and others, are saying. (Oh and watch out, the video has a few swears).

4) Therapy? - Communion: Live At Union Chapel

For those of a certain age, Therapy? were a great band who made a lot of noise on Top Of The Pops at a time when people thought Oasis were a rock band. And while the spotlight of fame may have moved on to lesser targets, Andy Cairns and the gang cared not a jot and carried on doing what they do - to great affect, too. Their last couple of albums have been among their best work, and now they've packed away the electric guitars and taken all those noisy songs you love and stripped them down to an acoustic set. What this shows is just how good their songs are, just how good Cairn's lyrics are (check out the opening line to Potato Junkie) and also just how frickin' funny a frontman he is. We've already got our tickets for next year's tour with The Stranglers.

3) Prophets Of Rage - Prophets Of Rage

Like Ice-T and Roger Waters, Tom Morello has had enough of what's happening in America right now. A clown is in the White House and it's time we all did something about it. Hence Prophets Of Rage. Taking three quarters of Rage Against The Machine and adding a hefty dose of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, prophets have produced a fantastic album of pounding rhythms and infectious chants to help us on our way to the barricades. And they're pulling no punches.

2) Linkin Park - One More Light

We'll be honest, despite all the great music that came out in 2017 it was a pretty shit year. First we lost Chris Cornell, and then we lost Chester Bennington. Even typing that now it still doesn't seem real. But if there's any silver lining to be found, it's in One More Light. An album that split the fans and saw LP branch off in yet another new direction, One More Light now stands as a testament to Chester's singing and songwriting. But this album isn't at number two out of any sense of tribute, it's here because it's up there with the best stuff LP have ever produced. It's deeply personal, highly infectious and after the third listen it's been on near permanent rotation ever since.

1) Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley

As I may have mentioned before, Public Service Broadcasting are a band that really shouldn't work. They take public archive recordings and set them to music. Doesn't sound much, does it? And yet, with every album they take things to another level. Having dealt with space, their attention has now turned to the mining industry of Wales - once a thriving, vibrant centre of a warm, loving community until the Tories decided buying it in from abroad made more sense. Over the course of Every Valley we get the full story - from the PR telling people they had jobs for years to interviews with those left wondering where their world had gone. It's beautiful, it's majestic, but it's also anger-inducing. especially when you realise that the publicity videos were shot in the 1970s, mere years before the mines were closed. It's a quiet protest album, but it's also an album about humanity, about community, and about how those in charge really don't give a crap when the chips are down.

Til next year (assuming the world hasn't burnt or blown up by then)...

Films Of The Year 2017

Looking back on 2017 and the films there in, the first thing you realise is we actually got to see some REALLY good films last year.

We mean some absolute belters.

In fact, our top 10 is so strong there are some crackers that we had to leave out.

Films like Justice League, Thor, Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool, The Last Jedi and Mindhorn all entertained and impressed immensely - in at least two cases, far more than was expected.

Then there was Baywatch. Sure, never likely to be a top 10 contender, but who knew it was going to be that funny? or fun?

But, as ever, it wasn't all jam. There was some dross too.

How 47 Metres Down made it as far as the big screen will remain one of life's mysteries, while Kong: Skull Island and Atomic Blonde both managed to miss their mark by some distance.

Then there was Boss Baby. If you haven't seen it yet, don't.

So, if that's what missed out, what made it in?

Glad you asked...

10) Wind River

There are people who's opinion I value who really didn't take to this film, but for us it was breathtaking and captivating. A western in all but name, the way it allowed the murder mystery to unfold while also highlighting the plight of today's Native Americans was brilliant. And the scenery was amazing.

9) Baby Driver

Yes, we know this film has problems now we know what we know about Kevin Spacey, but one man's despicable actions shouldn't detract from what is a fantastic rollercoaster of a movie. The music is a character in it's own right, and Edgar Wright keeps the pace up and the energy pumping from the get-go. Oh, and Ansel Elgort steals the whole damn show.

8) Logan

Wolverine has never been a character who sat well in the sanitised Marvel cinematic universe - he's supposed to swear, he's supposed to be a bit nasty, he's supposed to be the dirt under everyone's nails. Now, thanks to Deadpool proving you could do swears and still make money we finally get a grown up Wolverine movie. Hugh Jackman is the titular star, delivering one of his finest performances, while Patrick Stewart is perfect as the ailing Prof X. It's brutal, it's bloody, it's sweary, and it packs serious emotional punch.

7) Moonlight

The year got off to an amazingly strong start, and one of the front runners for the awards (which it justifiably won) was Moonlight. Telling the story of a boy growing up, coming to terms with his sexuality, his mum's addiction and life as an outsider among his peers it captivates from the off and holds you close without ever getting mawkish.

6) Free Fire
What do you want us to say? This is a brutally violent film that pulls no punches and had us laughing our socks off throughout. A stellar cast, Ben Wheatley at the helm, bullets flying fast and free like early morning Trump Tweets - this is just a whole bunch of brilliant.

5) Goodbye Christopher Robin

Two of my childhood heroes were to appear on the big screen this year, kinda, and both are bears. I grew up with Pooh, and so the chance to see the story of his creator A.A. Milne was one that warmed the cockles even before we sat down. What we were expecting was a gentle stroll through Bear's history, but what we got was a tale of lost childhood, traumatised war veterans and an ending that made the screen go blurry.

4) Hidden Figures

Oscar films, you can spot 'em a mile off. Worthy story, well told etc etc, but somehow always feeling a bit forced, like they're trying too hard. well, not this baby. The story of the black women who helped get Nasa beat the Russians in to space needs telling now more than ever, and Hidden Figures does such a good job that when you aren't laughing out loud you're getting angry at how black people were treated under segregation. This needs to be seen by everyone.

3) Get Out

"Hey, have you seen that horror film yet" we got asked a while back by someone who couldn't remember the title. Turns out they meant Get Out, which while billed as a horror isn't one. It's so much more (as all good horror films should be). Again tackling the issue of race, Get Out eases you in gently before gripping you and refusing to let go in exactly the way 47 Metres Down didn't. Smart, witty, sharp - this could have been film of the year if it wasn't for...

2) Paddington 2

Now, we thought long and hard about this. Possibly more so than would seem necessary, but this is a list and lists matter. And this could have been number one. It's better than the first Paddington. It's funny, smart, soft, caring, has a desperately needed central message, and an ending that was greeting with universal sniffles in the cinema every time we saw it. It's nothing short of magic. It would have to take something special to keep marmalade sandwiches off top spot, wouldn't it?

1) T2 Trainspotting

If you've waited 20 years to put out a sequel, the obvious question is why bother? Who cares this far down the line? The people who worshipped at the alter of the original will have grown up and moved on, no? Well, that was always the point - so have the characters. And so have we. None of us are the person we were 20 years ago, and to be honest I'm not sure we came out of this screening the same person we went in. In the hands of Danny Boyle, a potential disaster is turned into an unmitigated triumph. You'll laugh, you'll cry (there's one track on the soundtrack that someone we know still can't listen to) and if you're anything like us you'll be unable to speak after the film ends for fear of just bawling your eyes out. It's a simply wonderful, masterful piece of storytelling that can stand proudly alongside the original. 

Right, onwards with 2018....

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Pitch Perfect 3 (12A)

Sequels, as any fan of the Police Academy films will tell you, are a tricky beast.

The initial idea will need a spruce, some new characters may be needed to jazz things up a tad, or worst of all you may need a new location.

If you're really struggling for inspiration, why not go for the whole lot?

Which brings us to Pitch Perfect 3....

Now, as an avowed fan of the first two, I was really looking forward to this. Anna Kendrick is a comic tour de force as Beca, and the rest of the gang aren't far behind.

Now, what made the first two films so much fun was the 'underdog' aspect. A bunch of unwanteds against the world, shunned by their peers and clawing their way back up.

Plus singing.

It was simple. And funny. And sharp. And hilarious.

And PP2 was more of the similar. Just with the vocals turned up to 11.

So why, oh why, oh why, did they have to try the Are You Being Served (or Sex In The City 2 as my other half observed) trick of taking the gang on holiday?

I can kind of understand the decision to pitch the Bellas up against actual musical instruments - I can even get on board with the underlying theme of daddy issues (although this would have made far more sense in the first one).

But do we gain anything by taking the girls to Europe? by having them play at various US bases?

No. Sadly we don't.

What we get as a result is a heartwarming first 40 minutes, with the people we know and love, a few good gags and a shark balloon being punched.

And then we get the lovely, feel-good ending we all wanted.

In between we have three different stories going on, none of them strong enough to survive on their own, and John Lithgow doing a terrible Australian accent.

It can't be stated enough that the central performances are all great.

That's not the problem.

The issue is within the script.

And, oddly, with the inclusion of Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins - the bitchy pundits from the first two films.

With there no being no contest this time around, Banks and Higgins are relegated to bit-parts as the pair try and create a documentary about the Bellas for no apparent reason.

It doesn't give the pair space to shine, for their one-liners to be of use and it just adds extra confusion to an already muddled narrative.

The songs are, as ever, great, but there are too many issues for PP3 to be put up there with the first two.

There is even talk of younger girls coming in so the franchise can flourish, but based on this you have to hope someone somewhere sees sense.

I wanted to love this film as much as the first two.

I at least wanted to laugh as much.

But, despite a strong start and great ending, I was just left with the shock realisation that Baywatch was actually a more entertaining movie.