Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Shape Of Water (15)

Sometimes it takes you ages to get round to seeing a film. Things get in the way, dates get moved, and anticipation just builds.

Sometimes this results in a crashing disappointment, as the build-up runs headlong into reality.

Sometimes, that film is The Shape Of Water.

Already lauded and feted by the great and good of awards lad, I've been itching to see this since first hearing about it.

The trailers intrigued without giving anything away, and it was good to see Abe Sapien being given a chance to flex his gills...

And then there's Sally Hawkins of course. Never knowingly done a duffer that lass...

And so we settle into our seats, and within moments the rustling of a sweetie bag several rows back drifts into the air as the magic of Guillermo Del Toro wafts over us.

And two hours later, slightly sniffy and damp of eye, we surface back into an unwelcome reality, wishing we could have stayed in the world GDT has created.

In between, a multi-layered fairytale is told, with monsters and love fighting for supremacy.

Honestly, the more you watch GDT's work, the more you wish he'd been allowed to do the Hobbit...

(A point of clarification quickly - Pacific Rim NEVER HAPPENED. Got that? Good...)

The story centres on Hawkins' character, Elisa, a mute cleaner in a top secret lab in 1960s America.

She discovers they have a special creature in a tank (Doug Jones doing his usual bang-up job), and over time a relationship is formed.

When not at work, she lives down the hall from her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) and his cats.

And she takes baths.

And boils eggs.

All of which become important at various points.

Meanwhile, Michael Shannon is banging about the place as Richard Strickland, a bully who treats funny creatures from odd places with disdain and a cattle prod.

And so, as the film weaves its way, a tale of loneliness, isolation, alienation, humanity, compassion, and cats engulfs you, leaving you warm and fuzzy at the end.

This is fairytale storytelling and film making at it's very best.

Every character is well drawn, every scene thought out, every TV clip in the background (look, there's Mr Ed!) dropped in with a knowing wink...

...this is simply breathtaking stuff.

Hawkins herself has never been better.

Without being able to resort to dialogue she brings to life a character who is alone but not lonely, fragile but strong - and over the course of the film, we all fall in love with her.

Shannon, meanwhile, is brilliantly horrible, the real ogre of the piece, a man you would happily boo if you weren't in a room with 30-odd other humans.

Alongside these two, the wonderful Octavia Spencer and the ever dependable Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg provide valuable support - and again, each character is fully rounded and engaging.

Then there's the small matter of the film itself.

Shot with clear passion in lush, warm tones, The Shape Of Water is gentle - but not in a faint, soft way - while also packing some serious punch.

The violence and horror, when they come, are jaw-clenching without being shock and gore, while the nudity is handled with care rather than a lewd eye.

Something the guys over at Red Sparrow could learn about sometime.

This is, then, a film that works on many levels.

You can take it at face value - the beauty and the beast parallel is hardly hidden.

Or, you can delve a little deeper, and see how those who are alone are often not lonely, how people can be aliens in their own world, how humans can be animals while animals can be humane.

We, unsurprisingly, took the latter path and just writing those words down has us grinning warmly once more.

This is a film that doesn't need to shout in order to be heard or make an impact.

It's an anti-Michael Bay film, if you will.

There will be some, I know, who poo poo this movie as artsy faff, as style over substance - and that's fine.

To them, it is.

To those who fall under its spell, however, it's a world that needs revisiting as often as possible.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Game Night (15)

"Clever, whip-smart script", "like "Deathtrap" recast as a megaplex thriller", "hilarious gonzo comedy" — WOW! 

My kinda film (I thought, after reading these reviews). It's got Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. It's on at 11am whilst my cleaner does her fortnightly flick through. 

I can go to The Queens for lunch after. A lunchtime pint of DRAFT Old Peculiar as well! 

I arrive in an almost skittish mood (more akin to skipping school than anything remotely approaching excitement) and settle in for a fun two hours. 

I mean I love gonzo comedy and I am secretly proud of myself for stepping outside the front door. 

Bring it ON.

Now, to be fair, there are a few good one-liners which bring a chuckle to the surface. The scene setter is, well, a scene setter, so you let them off. 

Bring on les comedy gonzo! 

The minutes leading up to the plot twist are a bit of a drag...again a few chuckles but...the twist is coming. 

WOW. Seriously...I did not see that coming. 

I really, really...OK, yes i did. 

OK. Give it a chance.

I'm now thinking an early lunch is a good idea but no, I am here to review this thing...see it out. 

So I manage to get to the schmaltz that the Americans just can't avoid. I mean...COME ON!!!!!. 

Fek's sake...that's it I'm off to lunch.

Look. Do not pay good money to see this. 

Just don't. 

Wait until, say, a wet Sunday afternoon when you've had a lovely lunch and shared a few bottles and you have this recorded. You just might think it OK. 

Hopefully, you will have a lovely post-lunch sleep.

One other thing. Tell me I'm being picky. Go on. Tell me. OK. Look. 

The car chase. 

Put our heroes in the transit van and the villains in the three litre Audi and I will let you off, but please don't ask me to believe that the transit can keep overtaking the Audi. 

Just don't. 

But to then compound this by having a classic 76 Stingray being able to catch up and take out a private JET which is getting up to take-off speed? 

You are pushing my good nature Mr Director, sir!

Oh and one other thing...

When someone is losing pints of blood (I bet that scene sounded hilarious at the script meeting) don't, just don't, ask us to indulge any more holes...jeez, talk about a script disguised as a packet of polo's. 

You ask too much sir. TOO MUCH.

The lunch, however, was - as usual - excellent. Thanks for asking.

Gavin King

Red Sparrow (15)

There are many reasons to see a film - the trailer looked good, it's part of a franchise you've been following, it's got a great cast, it's on at a convenient time...

You know, lots of factors come into play when you decide to head to your local multiplex.

And you are left rueing most of them when the film is so steamingly boring you are actually considering stabbing yourself with your keys just to liven things up.

Fortunately, Red Sparrow is a spy film and you've got to go some to make a spy film dull.

I'm not saying it's impossible, just that it takes a lot of effort.

Thankfully, the team behind Red Sparrow were more than up to the challenge...

In simple terms, a ballet dancer gets recruited into the Sparrow programme, gets trained and goes on a mission.

The Sparrow programme? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Here the Russian secret service train recruits to kill, maim, torture, seduce, shag, bonk, fondle and fumble their way to their designated goal.

And if you're unsure how any of that would look, fear not - it's all laid bare for you so you don't have to tax your imagination.

It's probably worth pointing out at this juncture that Red Sparrow is a 15, although how it got away with that rating is beyond me.

The Sparrow on this occasion is one Jennifer Lawrence. Who, to be fair, hung on for a bit after winning her Oscar but is now doing the curse full justice.

And she's... good. Ish. I think.

She does cold and detached well, handles the action scenes well and looks as awkward as the audience feels when getting her kit off.

Which, to be fair, is almost certainly the point.

It's just totally unnecessary.

But then there's a lot of that here.

The Russian accents also fall into this category.

As do the many torture scenes.

And some of the dialogue.

And the bit at the end where they explain everything that happened.

To be honest, if my viewing companion wasn't "kind of" enjoying it, I don't think I'd have made it to the end.

Essentially, the problem is one of pace. This is a film that never gets out of second gear.

It's a thriller at heart, and yet it lacks thrills and thinks cheap sex antics will get the pulse racing.

Jeremy Irons seems to be amusing himself while playing a top Russian bod, and Joely Richardson appears puzzled about her involvement. Joel Edgerton, meanwhile, just continues to play Joel Edgerton.

Ultimately, this is one massive mess of a missed opportunity.

We could have had a an action-fuelled thrill chase, we could have had tension and drama - instead we get dubious sexual politics and a film so dull I got RSI from checking the time.

The biggest problem here, however, is one of vision - in that director Francis Lawrence didn't have one.

There's also no depth, no substance, and no suggestion the hugely talented cast were told to do anything more than say words at each other.

Red Sparrow should have flown, but instead... Oh screw it, you finish the analogy, I've lost the will to live.

Friday, 2 March 2018

The Post (12A)

We live, if you'll permit me to bugger about with an ancient proverb, in interesting times.

In America, we currently have a laughable, ego-fuelled show pony who kicks out when people don't say nice things about him, no matter how true they are. Including journalists doing their job.

Meanwhile, here in jolly old England we have a Foreign Secretary — essentially Britain's face to the world, our top diplomat — who utters complete, and at times racist, balderdash but refuses to apologise or even to be held to account.

In both cases, and it could be argued Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are hewn from the same shabby, repugnant cloth, they don't think they should be held accountable by anyone.

Especially not a free press.

In fact, especially in The Donald's petulant perceptions, a free press has no business being free. They are there to simply reiterate his lies and bullshit.

Dissension will not be tolerated.

Which makes parallels with the Nixon era both chilling and fascinating.

And brings us nicely to The Post.

Essentially the story of a woman in a man's world, The Post is both a tale of press freedom and government bullying and the prequel to Watergate.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, it's a film Spielberg felt so passionate about he worked on it while also finishing off Ready Player One, feeling it was a story that needed telling now.

And he's right.

With "fake news" becoming a by-word (OK, two) for stories Herr Drumpf doesn't like, the press has never been so under attack - especially The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The story itself looks at the Pentagon Papers scandal — papers that disclosed the truth about the Vietnam War — from the perspective of The Washington Post, a story that was breaking just as The Post was trying to raise much-needed capital through floating on the stock exchange.

Now, to those of us too young to know what happened, the skewing of history isn't too big an issue — but for those who were, namely the NYT journalists who actually broke the story — it's a bit of an issue.

But in a way, for this story, that doesn't matter too much.

Matters when you were the guy who actually broke the story, I'll admit, but this is a film not a historical archive.

And to be honest it makes a nice change for Hollywood to be pissing about with America's history rather than ours.

But I digress.

As for the film itself, it's totally fine — an important one to watch for the message if not the cinematic experience.

It's well written (history issues aside), Steep and Hanks do their stuff well without really breaking sweat and the assembled supporting cast all do what is needed.

It would have been nice if the other female members of the cast had more to do than answer the phone and hand round sandwiches, but hey ho. It was a different time...

The pacing is a bit off at times, and while there are sections that are nail-biting and gripping, there are other bits which lag and feel out of step with the main thrust of the movie.

And the opening war scenes do feel like they're from a totally different movie.

On a personal level, the shots of papers going through the press are beautiful. You could easily lose them, but as someone who always got a thrill watching the presses roll and taking those first copies off...

...ahh, those were good days.

But I appreciate that's an entirely personal reaction.

Overall, The Post is a perfectly good film — probably the very definition of 6/10 — with some fine performances.

It needed more of an edit, but gets kudos for not spending time explaining what's going on and just expecting the audience to be intelligent enough to follow events.

It also needs watching by anyone, just so we can all see that Trump is basically my generation's Nixon.