Monday, 19 February 2018

Black Panther (12A)

There are some delightful reports online about cinemas banning this film and people ganging up to vote it down on movie websites.

Now, these stories could be true and they could be bunkum. But if people aren't doing these things someone feels the need to claim they are.

Which must mean Black Panther is on to something.

Now it could be that the film is utter garbage and people are angry that Marvel has managed to balls one up.

Or it could be that someone somewhere isn't happy that a film with a certain cultural heritage is getting a lot of praise and attention.

And, certainly on first viewing, it's not the former.

Also, I don't think true Marvel fans are upset. After all, Black Panther has been in the Marvel Universe since the 1960s.

Now, it's not unknown for fanboys to lose their collective shits over inconsequential matters - one fondly recalls the ethnic origins of Stormtroopers causing some fervent and ignorant discussions a few years ago.

But generally, true Marvel fans tend not to get too upset about stuff.

Granted, Black Panther is a departure for the comic book giants and is worthy of much discussion - but not for the reasons basement-dwelling internet warriors would have us believe.

It's because it actually has something to say. Actually, a lot to say.

And that's possibly a first for a Marvel movie.

First, for the uninitiated, a quick recap.

Black Panther is the story of T'Challa (played brilliantly by Chadwick Boseman), the King of Wakanda who doubles as the titular hero.

You may recall we met Black Panther in Age of Ultron - where we also met Andy Serkis' Ulysses Klaue, the arms-dealing, vibranium-stealing overly-hyphenated low-life.

Up to speed? Good.

Where were we?

Oh yes, Wakanda.

The land of Black Panther is pretty much key to the whole story, as the nation hid itself away while the rest of Africa was busy being invaded, colonised and asset-stripped in the name of progress.

And it's this point that underpins the film's message.

If you want, Black Panther is a film about a black guy in a black suit beating people up as-per Marvel norms.

However, it's actually a story about Africa, Africans and the way the world has treated a continent and its people.

And continues to.

Not that Black Panther comes at you waving a civil rights flag and screaming for vengeance. Far from it.

Instead, the themes and messages are interwoven into the story, there to be found if you happen upon them.

Some, hopefully, you won't miss (in particular the line about slaves throwing themselves off ships), but what Black Panther is trying to do more than anything is tell a good story well.

And that it does in fine style.

Boseman owns the screen in a wonderfully understated way, but not at the expense of his superb co-stars.

Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Michael B. Jordan combine wonderfully to make this film a powerful ensemble piece.

In danger of repeating themselves, Marvel has been pushing the comedy envelope more and more - look at Deadpool, Ant Man, Thor 3, Guardians etc.

With Black Panther, however, they've added a social conscious to the mix.

This film should speak to everyone on the issues of colonialism, social inclusion, the similarities (rather than differences) between cultures, but should also introduce you to a world you might previously have been unaware of.

Importantly, however, it should make you laugh.

And have fun.

Because - and some film makers should write this down - it's possible to do both.

There are great car chases, fights, explosions, flying ships, Martin Freeman doing a woeful accent, Stan Lee's traditional cameo - basically all the usual bits and bobs.

But we now have a new wonderful world to explore, we have new characters to love (and you can't help but love them) and we have bigger, better, bolder stories to tell.

The question has been asked why Marvel didn't do this film sooner, which while valid seems - to us at least - to dilute the fact they have made it now.

Ol' Panthie could have been left as a fringe character, only appearing in the big team games but never allowed out on his own.

Instead, Marvel have taken the step while at the top of their game to push further - and in doing so have produced the most important film they're ever likely to make.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The 2018 Bafta awards

So someone's given birth, someone's arrived home and people are having a picnic. There's bunting. Do people actually watch Call The Midwife for fun?

Right then, off we go...

Hang on, what's Joanna Lumley up to?

Oh, right. How did we miss that she was presenting? Should be fun...

Do we really Dermot presenting on the red carpet? Or doing anything for that matter?

And that's Cirque de Soleil there, performing to the theme from Last Of The Summer Wine apparently...

The jokes need work, has to be said...

A quick recap of the last 12 months, giving us all a chance to remember all the films we didn't get to see. HOW HAVE WE STILL NOT WATCHED BEAUTY AND THE BEAST????

Right, gong time. First up, Outstanding British Film.  Jennifer Lawrence doing the honours here.

And the nominations are: God's Own Country, Paddington 2, The Death Of Stalin, Three Billboards..., Lady Macbeth, Darkest Hour.

And the winner is... Three Billboards! (ahh, British through Film4 and a British crew)

Now, the EE Rising Star award. Presented by Margo Robbie and Octavia Spencer!

Nominees are: Daniel Kaluuya, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Josh O'Connor, Tessa Thompson. And Danny Boy wins! The clever little sod. Nice one Tea Leaf!

I'm guessing it's not THAT Sam Fox he's just thanked...

Ahh, he's dedicated the award to his mum who's in the audience.

Next up, Adapted Screenplay.

Will it be Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool, The Death Of Stalin, Call Me By Your Name, Molly's Game, Paddington 2.

And the Bafta goes to... Call Me By Your Name and James Ivory. Should probably get around to watching that.

Eh up, Best Supporting Actor gong is here.

Hugh Grant (a fine up-and-coming young star), Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe (thought The Florida Project was pish personally), Christopher Plummer (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA) and Sam Rockwell.

That's two from Billboards there...

And the Bafta goes to Sam Rockwell! YES! Think I called that one...

Only Rockwell could look like he fell out of bed in his tux just before running onto the stage. Great speech though. Dedicated to his "pal" Alan Rickman.

Ooh, Production Design. One of those awards that we all kind of gloss over...

Nominees then... Dunkirk, Beauty And The Beast, Darkest Hour, Blade Runner 2049, The Shape Of Water. With The Shape Of Water grabbing that one.

In other news, Toby Jones also looks like he overslept and is wearing another man's suit.

And now, Special Visual Effects. isn't Star Wars up for this?

Star Wars. So I was right. Ha.

Oh, and The Shape Of Water, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, War For The Planet Of The Apes.

And the best effects were: Blade Runner.

Probably deserved to be fair.

Right, Outstanding Debut time.

And the winners are Rungano Nyoni (Writer/Director), Emily Morgan (Producer) for I Am Not A Witch.

No pre-written speech here. Excellent!

Right, we're about half way through. So far, nothing awkward or embarrassing...

Oops, spoke too soon. Bad dance segue alert.

Next up, Supporting Actress.

Bryan Cranston presenting, enjoying himself and doing terrible jokes and accents.

Right, we have Allison Janney, Kristen Scott Thomas, Laurie Metcalf, Lesley Manville, Octavia Spencer.

And the winner is Allison Janney. Well deserved, but her dress designer needs shooting.

And the first tears of the night...

Right, what's next?

Ahh, the RIP roll call. Time for a wee and more wine.

How many "nope, missed them"s did you notch up? We're on four.

Listen up, it's Sound Design.

And we have Dunkirk, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Shape Of Water and Star Wars.

And Dunkirk gets it's first gong of the evening.

Julie Walters looking a smidge bored there as the D team hit the steps to the stage...

Could be a long speech or two here.

Ooh, Original Screenplay time.

Nominated are... The Shape Of Water, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, Get Out, I, Tonya (that's an annoying comma when doing a list).

And Three Billboards wins again!

Leading Actor time, folks.

It's between Daniel Kaluuya, Daniel Day Lewis, Jamie Bell, Timothée Chalamet, Gary Oldman.

Gary Oldman getting the nod there. Will the Oscar follow next month?

Kristen Scott Thomas forcing the ol' smile a bit much there. Is she not a fan?

Leading Actress now follows as tradition dictates.

And we have Frances McDormand, Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Sally Hawkins, Margot Robbie. (The cat seems to have picked Benning).

And Frances adds to the Three Billboard haul! And she gets the biggest cheer of the night for her dress. Excellent stuff.

Best. Speech. Ever.

(or tonight certainly).

Time for Best Director. If Nolan gets this, I'm cancelling Easter.

In the running are Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro, Luca Guadagino, Martin McDonagh and Denis Villeneuve.

Hurrah, Easter is saved. Guillermo has won!

And now it's Best Film time. Place your bets...

And we have Three Billboards, Dunkirk (previous warning stands), The Shape Of Water, Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour.

And this year's bestest film is Three Billboards. Easter lives again.

Right, Fellowship time. A balding young royal will be presenting this to Ridley Scott while we all agree that this one definitely looks like his dad.

How quickly we forget that Ridley did the Hovis ad.

To be fair, he's done a couple of good movies too. Thelma And Louise wasn't bad. Alien's OK. Gladiator's fun.

Jokes need work there, Ridley.

Ridley going for the Director's Cut version of his speech.

Well, as this all winds to a weary, wordy, waffling conclusion, a glance at Twitter tells me people have decided Ms Middleton's dress is the most important thing to be talking about right now.

How we became the dominant species on this floating rock remains a mystery.

Right, we're off to write our Black Panther review and prepare for the Oscars.

 Feel free to listen to this when you get a sec...


Saturday, 3 February 2018

Last Flag Flying (15)

And so we finally crawl to the third of the Unwritten Trilogy, as it's become known on the ol' to-do list.

A film about three former Vietnam vets re-united to bury the son of one of them, a son killed in action in Iraq.

It has three top stars and is billed as a 'comedy-drama'. Sure, didn't catch the trailer, but it'll be fine...

...or not...

I mean, it's got Steve Carell in it. He's always good.

And Bryan Cranston. Yeah, sure, Trumbo wasn't all that but he was bloody good in it.

Then there's Laurence Fishburn. Who doesn't like ol' LB, eh?

And it says comedy in the IMDB tags. So everything will be grand.

And OK, sure, the opening is low-key. It's underplayed. But that's just introducing two of the characters.

That's just telling us that Carell's Larry and bar-owning Sal (played by Cranston) have history, know each other from 'Nam.

It'll get going in a minute...

OK, now we're off to meet Fishburn's born-again Mueller. In his church. Well this should get us some laughs...

And then it dawns on you.

Then you remember.

This has been written and directed by Richard 'Boyhood' Linklater.

But it's too late. You're sitting down. The film has started. How you missed this key bit of info can be dealt with later. Let's just get through this thing.

It really can't be that bad. Look at the cast!

But, over two long, drawn-out, ploddy hours, you realise that while this film has three fine actors - each Oscar-nominated - it has an idiot at the helm.

A man who, based on everything we've seen of his so far, must really hate films.

Why else does he keep making stuff that is just SO bad?

You see, the problems here are two-fold. No, make that three.

The first is the pacing.

This film is just so leaden, so slow, that you wish you were drinking as much as Cranston's Sal because it might just take the edge off.

Then there's what the film is trying to say.

It's essentially a film about guilt. Guilt and nostalgia. Guilt, nostalgia and making amends. Guilt, nostalgia, making amends and how the politics of war haven't changed in 30 years. Guilt, nostalgia, amends, war politics and three guys discovering the modern world. Oh, and friendship.

The list just gets longer and longer.

And none of it quite makes sense or rings true.

The characters are poorly drawn, while the supporting cast seem to have been cobbled together from out-takes from other movies (Yul Vazquez in particular plays a colonel so cliche-ridden he wouldn't be out-of-place in a Naked Gun parody).

Then there's the symbolism.

It's staggeringly unsubtle and also has absolutely no place in the film.

You see, Fishburn plays a preacher. And Cranston's playing a bit of a devilish guy. And you will find them regularly standing either side of Carell's Larry giving conflicting advice.

The first time you see it, you can be forgiven for thinking you're reading too much into it.

But when it keeps happening, well... It's no exaggeration to say I had to be stopped from shouting at the screen.

Clumsy? Ham-fisted?

No, it's not even that good.

But these aren't the only mis-steps.

Sal's language raised eyebrows with our viewing companion (you can just about excuse it as fitting the character, but it's a bit of a stretch) while Larry's lack of angst when trains are missed is baffling.

The emotional pay-off at the end also had us muttering that it never would have played out that way.

And don't even begin to ask where the bloody uniforms came from.

Then, having gone back at watched it, there's the small matter of a scene in the trailer where Sal is talking to a woman. It's no spoiler to tell you this has no bearing on the film whatsoever.

Whoever put it in clearly didn't watch the film.

Lucky sod.

After watching the film, we were left disappointed - a little sad that such a cast were never allowed to do what they can do so well while the narrative loped along like a wounded camel.

It's only finally writing this that it's become clear just how angry this film has made us.

It's mawkish, overly-sentimental, in places insultingly dumb and attempts to play politics with a subject the writer seems to barely understand.

It's basically an abject lesson in how to take a basically good idea and screw it royally up.

Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (15)

And so on to film two in the trilogy of things we've not got round to writing about - the snappily titled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Three Billboards (as it shall hereafter be known) comes to us from director Martin McDonagh - he of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths fame.

So with that CV behind him, Three Billboards promised to not disappoint...

It also promised to not be simple and straightforward.

And on the latter, that was certainly correct.

The story centres on Mildred (played wonderfully by Frances McDormand), who seven months after her daughter was raped and murdered decides to take some action by putting up three billboards asking what chief of police (Woody Harrelson) is actually doing about it.

And yes, that's the short synopsis.

It's basically a murder-mystery comedy thriller with a side-order of romance.

And, as such, it is at times hard to watch.

The laughs are dark and twisted, but that's never a bad thing, while the violence and language (given it's only a 15) are both blunt and brutal.

The performances are all top-notch, which really helps, with Sam Rockwell and Peter Dinklage adding light and shade to the two lead stars.

But this is a hard film to balance, which is where it can struggle a bit.

The shift from comedy to drama is sharp at times, while the shift from comedy to thriller is even sharper and leaves you wondering what happened to the nice film you were just watching.

Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it throws the viewer off - leaving you playing catch-up for the rest of the movie.

It also means you walk out of the cinema wondering what the hell it is you just watched.

I mean, it's literally got everything. There's even a kitchen sink.

It just takes a while to realise this is a kind of a good thing.

Yes, sure, there's too much going on and it's too long - but how many films do you find yourself thinking about several weeks later?

How many films do you want to go and watch again because you're sure you missed something - and could watch at least a dozen times and still think you've not seen everything?

In an age of Pixar and Marvel behemoths, it's refreshing to enjoy being challenged and entertained simultaneously by a film tackling a dark subject with a cracking sense of humour.

Coco (PG)

We are a tad behind on all the reviews that need doing at the mo, and the 'for why' bit has been puzzling us.

So naturally, we've spent time pondering it and not actually writing the reviews. Because that makes sense.

And we've realised that, in all three cases, it's because we've not really felt moved to write them.

For different reasons, sure, but the fact stands for all three.

So, with not much further ado, and having run out of lives on Candy Crush after finally shutting down Footie Manager, let's get cracking with Coco.

This, the latest Disney/Pixar jobbie, was trailed for quite a while before it finally hit the big screen - and to be honest, it looked fun.

Now, the problem with new Pixar films is what has gone before.

From the opening scenes you're judging it against the likes of Toy Story or Up.

Some would say Inside Out too, but not us. Left us cold, that one. You really need to have kids to get it.

Really, the best thing to do is judge each Pixar outing on it's merits and ignore the heritage (unless it's a sequel, obviously).

So that's what we tried to do with Coco, a story about a small boy who goes chasing his dream and ends up in the land of the dead.

Like you do.

With his dog, Dante, too. Which is an added plus.

Now, the story is absolutely fine. One would almost push it out there as far as quite good.

And the animation is as good as anything the guys have produced before - rich colours, capturing emotions, all the shizzle you'd expect.

And it has laughs - a lot of them centred around Dante - and keeps you entertained throughout. Even the 3D bits aren't intrusive when watching it in 2D as nature intended...

So why, then, did it leave us feeling a bit flat?

Why was it easy to just wander off and find something more interesting to do right after watching it?

Basically, it just leaves you a bit cold.

Up was the last emotional wallop we felt from a Pixar film, and with Inside Out it was clear that yanking on heartstrings was the main concern - over and above plot.

And Coco feels somewhat similar.

As we said, the story is good and balances comedy with drama and a nice twist towards the end.

(As a quick aside, there's a point where you think you're in the final third and then, a long while later, you realise you weren't.)

But the story of young Miguel running off to play the music his family has banned just feels entirely aimed at making us FEEL stuff, rather than letting our emotions occur naturally.

It's like Pixar is trying to take ownership of our feels.

And that's a shame, because this could have been a much darker film, and would have been all the better for it.

It's the sweetness that leaves a bad taste.

That's not to say it's a bad film - far from it. It's not Cars 3 (yeah, we know what we said...).

And the funny bits are funny, and Dante turns out to be actual star of the movie.

But it would be nice if Pixar could just write a good story next time rather than trying to work out which emotion should be manipulated in each and every scene.