Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Dead In A Week (Or Your Money Back) (15)

It's easy to forget, but every now and then this great nation of ours — when it isn't busy throwing itself off the cliff of reason and logic — can produce some fine, fine films.

Sure, we all know Richard Curtis knows his way around a script and a camera, but below him there are some fine pieces of film making going on.

Not that you ever get to hear about them, mind.

Take, for example, the oddly titled Dead In A Week (Or Your Money Back).

No trailers (we may have mentioned this here), and a description on the Odeon's app claiming it's a "drama" (it so isn't), but as it was this or Depp hamming it up in pre-Potter world, off we trotted.

And in a mere 90 minutes we had more fun and laughs than has been the case in the cinema for some time (and we say this knowing we've seen some very good films lately).

Turns out, all you need is a good cast and a good script. The rest takes care of itself.

In the case of Dead, the cast features young up-and-comers Christopher Eccleston and Tom Wilkinson, alongside rising stars Aneurin Barnard (off of Dunkirk) and Freya Mavor.

The story is a simple one. Aspiring author William (Barnard) has realised he can't even succeed at suicide and so out-sources the whole messy business to hitman Leslie (Wilkinson).

Unfortunately, no soon is the contract signed William finds a beautiful women who wants to publish his book (Mavor).

This causes Leslie some major problems, not least of which being his impending retirement if he doesn't hit his quota. And his boss Harvey (Eccleston) is not a forgiving man.

What follows is a sweet, dark comedy about staying alive while the grim reaper haunts your every step.

Which, we'll freely admit, doesn't sound like much.

And yet, thanks to the wonderfully crisp, sharp script from writer/director Tom Edmunds, the exquisite chemistry between Barnard and Mavor, the underplayed electricity between Wilkinson and Eccleston, what you have here is one of the best films you'll see this year.

Everything is played with a straight bat (no Pegg-esque over-egging of puddings here), the comic lines arrive with perfect timing ("they didn't even see the piano falling), and there's a central romance that British cinema just does better than anyone else.

There are also some quite delightful moments where you can't quite tell where Edmunds is taking us.

But possibly the best thing about Dead In A Week is the fact there is absolutely no flab on this film.

Coming in at a nudge over 90 minutes, there isn't a single line or scene you'd want cut to chivvy things along — and it's been sometime since that was the case.

Even with recent faves like Widows or Bohemian Rhapsody you knew a shorter running time wouldn't have hurt the final cut — but not here.

Everything is here for a reason, every line is needed, every look and glance plays its part, and you are left with a film that is simply a joy to watch.

Of course there will be those who tell you suicide is no laughing matter, but in the right hands anything can be the subject of comedy.

And Edmunds is very clearly those hands.

We can't remember the last time we laughed consistently throughout a movie — often struggling to keep an eye on the screen thanks to being doubled-up with laughter.

But Dead In A Week keeps you laughing and smiling from beginning to end.

We imagine it'll be a bugger to find, but this film will reward your efforts with the kind of warm glow only a film about death can give you. 

The Girl In The Spider's Web (15)

We have talked on this blog on more than one occasion about film trailers — sometimes they get our hopes up (Widows) and sometimes we miss them completely (Dead In A Week).

Sometimes, however, you get to see the extended version which is essentially the whole film in three minutes, key plot spoilers n all.

Which brings us to The Girl In The Spider's Web.

Hollywood has already failed spectacularly with their remake of the original Swedish version of the modern classic The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — so spectacularly they didn't even bother with books two and three.

How fitting, then, that they should have another go with the appalling fourth book in the trilogy, one not actually written by Stieg Larsson but instead created posthumously from his notes.

Were once we had gritty, tense, violent film versions — ones which brought Noomi Rapace to our attention as Lisbeth Salandar and gave us Michael Nyqvist as the perfect Mikael Blomkvist — we were left with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in a film that was just dull.

Now, we have Claire Foy's interpretation of the hacker of both men and computers.

And to be fair, she does a bang-up job.

While Rapace was the perfect person for the role, Foy does bring a damaged fragility and steely determination to the Swedish heroine, and to these ears at least the accent is up to the job.

Blomkvist, however, is another matter.

With Nyqvist we had exactly the shlubby, unhandsome womaniser we had fallen in love with in the books.

Now though, we get Sverrir Gudnason. A man too young and too good looking to play the part.

His complicated relationship with co-magazine conspirator Erika Berger (played here by the equally too-young Vicky Krieps) is all too believable.

Of course they'd be at it! Who wouldn't sleep with this man?

This is not the journalist of the books....

But such issues are minor niggles when looked upon as part of the whole, because the problems start with that trailer.

Both the extended version and the normal version contain a MASSIVE spoiler, one so huge you spend most of the film not only knowing who is going to turn up but you're second guessing as to when.

And this blows the whole thing out of the water, and robs us of what is supposed to be the big twist and reveal about halfway through.

Because once you know who Lisbeth is up against, you're not with her on the adventure, looking for clues, feeling the drama and tension build, you're just chewing your nails fully aware of what is to come.

There are also other problems, and all of them are in the writing if not the source material.

It is assumed, rightly or wrongly, from the off that we know who Lisbeth is — but if we do, then we know who Blomkvist is. And yet he gets random bits of expositional dialogue to fill in gaps that don't exist.

There are other clunky bits too, where those hard of thinking get basic plot points explained to them.

As for the story itself, Spider's Web is in essence an attempt to show us how a female Bond would play out.

Lisbeth has her gadgets (never explained), her bike (hello Ducati), her stolen car (good afternoon Lamborghini) and there are more chases and explosions than you can shake a taser at.

All of which would be fine if the story hadn't been ruined weeks ago when we sat down to watch something else...

Even forgetting all that, Spider's Web is not a great film.

Along with the issues already raised, the other major plot development has more holes in than the roof of Lisbeth's hideout, and the pace of the first three quarters of the film is just pedestrian.

On the plus side, the whole thing looks fantastic — and the inclusion of Yellow Bird (who did the original films) on the production side means this film has far more in common with its Swedish predecessors than would first appear to be the case.

The casting of Stephen Merchant may not seem to be the obvious choice but he's more than up to the job and is a surprisingly believable character.

The final quarter, however, is where the film comes alive.

Yes we've had Lisbeth running around an old building before, but this one works too and the use of flashbacks helps to increase the tension and we actually found our attention being held.

Yes, there's more Bond stuff going on. But this time round you're happy to go with it as fists and bullets fly with gay abandon.

While I hated the book, I was genuinely excited to see a new instalment because of my love for the original characters.

But even without the massive spoilers (did we mention this before?) this film lacks the true excitement, grit, sleaze and drama the original trilogy was known for.

Thankfully, though, this is unlikely to dent Foy's growing reputation as one of the finest actresses around today.

Widows (15)

Occasionally, just occasionally, we manage to get off our arse and actually get to see the film we've been looking forward to for ages.

Yes, sure, it's taken forever to actually sit at a keyboard and tell you about it, but one step at a time, eh?

At least we managed to see Widows on the big screen!

And we'd been excited about this one since the trailer — which seems to have been around for AGES.

I mean, what's not to like here?

Viola Davis? Good.

Steve McQueen? Good.

Liam Neeson?

Look, two out of three's not bad.

Especially when this is a re-make of an 80s drama and Gillian Flynn is involved. (Yeah, I know, everyone loved Gone Girl but us. I get it.)

We won't deny, there was a certain amount of apprehension going in to this. There was no way it could deliver on the tight, dark, adrenaline rush of the trailer...

For the two of you at the back who have missed what this film is about, a heist goes wrong, men die, women get left to pick up the pieces, women do heist.

In just a smidge over two hours.

Boom, bang, in, out, done.

And it's as slick and fast as you want it to be.

The women — Davis,  Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and the amazing Cynthia Erivo — own every scene they are in, gelling quickly and working well together.

There are comic touches, high drama, deep emotion, and without missing a beat each and every one of them delivers.

And McQueen is clearly at the top of his game.

Yes, there's a political message to this, the state of inner cities and people's economic situations feature prominently, but this isn't a 'message' film.

The signals are there if you want, or you can just sit back and enjoy the hell out of a fantastic heist movie.

The camera work, too, is at times breathtaking.

There is a scene with two characters in a car, which travels from the rough part of town to the nice bit, and while I know there's a certain amount of geeking out on our part it was simply beautiful.

And that's what is so great about this film.

You get swept up in the story, in the drama and tension, in the action and the twists and turns — it simply grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go.

And you know how firm the grip is when there are things that should niggle but you let them go because you're enjoying everything so much.

Things like how Erivo's Belle comes to be a part of the whole thing. How two-dimensional Colin Farrell is. How utterly Neeson Liam is.

But such things matter not a jot when the whole thing has four amazing women delivering top notch performances — with Daniel Kaluuya a hair's breadth behind them, delivering a performance of pure sinister evil.

This film has Oscars written all over it — screenplay, direction, cinematography and a nomination each for the four women.

But it's more than just an awards vehicle. Widows is an edge-of-the-seat thriller the likes of which many try to make but fall so, so short.

And it's further proof that all you need to make a good film is a strong story and a talented cast.

(Oh, and cars blowing up once or twice...)

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody (12A)

The rock biopic is, we find, a funny ol' bugger of a genre.

With some bands, it doesn't even need to be done well because the fans will go see it anyway — and yet, to be done well it should really tell us things we didn't already know.

Ray, for example, and Get On Up shone a light into the darker corners of the lives of Ray Charles and James Brown respectively, elevating already good films and giving the audience something extra.

Which makes a biopic of Queen a tricky thing to tackle.

Already a production wracked with rumour, counter rumour, casting changes and director issues, it tells the story of a band and lead singer that's been covered many, many times since Freddie Mercury's passing.

Freddie's lifestyle, health, sexuality, ego — they are all the stuff of both fact and legend.

And if you're a true fan you already know that Smile became Queen (we only knew because we were at school with two huge devotees of the band), and things were never the same again. For anyone.

So how do you bring something new to this? How do you tell a tale already told?


...this is Queen... you make the whole thing massively overblown and ludicrous and with a tongue so firmly planted in a cheek it's almost bursting through.

That's how.

It helps, obviously, that your soundtrack is going to feature some of the finest songs ever committed to vinyl .

I mean, how can you go wrong when you are blasting Somebody To Love and Killer Queen at the audience?

Of course, as with all films, casting is key and in Rami Malek (yes, him from the Night At The Museum films) the producers found a guy who could not only live in Freddie's skin but bring the old dear to life in fantastic, glorious style.

Fittingly, he steals the whole show to the point you almost forget there are other members of the band.

As for the story itself, you have to remember this is a film and not a documentary because if you know your Queen history you'll find yourself tutting occasionally.

The fact this is a project brought to life by the two remaining active members of the band (Brian May and Roger Taylor if you've missed the memos) should allow you care slightly less about the liberties taken.

Should. But might not.

References to "but we haven't played together in ages" irk if you remember there was an album and tour the year before, and "from now on, all songs will be written by Queen, we'll share everything equally" sounds warm and fuzzy as long as you don't look at the writing credits for A Kind Of Magic.

Then there's the small matter of Freddie's partying and sexuality, one of which is kind of brushed to one side while the other is treated with kid gloves.

But such things are really just nitpicking.

While Freddie was often the story, Queen were still a band and they made their name on the road, and the live concert scenes really do bring a lump to the throat and make you want to be standing rather than sitting.

Of course, the whole thing is building to the Live Aid show that has long been credited with landing the band in the stadiums they were to play for the rest of their days with Mr M.

Bookending the film, and having watched the whole thing on the day, we were genuinely caught out with how emotional the closing 20 minutes of the film were.

And because we know now what we didn't know then, the show takes on an extra weight that, by the time the credits roll, has lifted you onto cloud nine and left you there.

We make no apologies for the sniffing and eye-dabbing that was going on over on our side of the screening.

Perhaps the most fitting thing about this film is how it starts slowly, builds gradually, and by the time the band hit their stride you're hooked and loving it.

Did we need Mike Myers in there? No. Did we need that joke about that song? No.

But when you find yourself hoovering up the band's back catalogue and the film's soundtrack in the days that follow, you know they got something right.

It's a far from from perfect film, but it grabs you by the heart strings and doesn't let go, and you feel like Freddie has popped back for one final encore.

Now, excuse me, my remastered copy of A Kind Of Magic has just turned up...

Bad Times At The El Royale (15)

Every now and then, and it seems to be happening less and less sadly, a trailer will come along that will actually just tease the film.

Now, granted, it's been well documented in these parts that trailers are not something we always catch — so maybe it happens all the time.

But we doubt it.

And certainly not as well as this.

Literally left with  no clue as to what was going on, but it looked slick, stylish and had a cast good enough to fill four other films.

And given the extended trailer for The Girl In The Spider's Web is basically the whole film, this was both exciting and intriguing.

A film being sold on the strength of its cast, that looks dark and nasty?

This should be good....

And written by a guy who wrote for Alias, Buffy, Angel, Lost, Daredevil? Directed by the guy who was behind the camera for Cabin In The Woods? And they're the same bloke?

Oh come to Papa....

And for once, expectations were not only met but exceeded.

This is a nasty, gritty, darkly comic, bloody, sleazy, trashy piece of joyous brilliance.

And the cast (Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, John Hamm, Chris Hemsworth) are clearly having the time of their lives.

The story — essentially strangers meet at a hotel and stuff then happens — is king here, though. A twisty-turny narrative that flicks between the past and present with consumate ease.

Horror film tropes are used well, which comes as no surprise given writer/director Drew Goddard's previous work, and when the punches come they hit hard.

Part of the reason they hit so hard, of course, is that you care about the characters.

The priest, the singer, the travelling salesman and the jaded, mysterious, woman are all so well drawn, so much detail is provided in a small space, that you feel you know them from the off.

Then there's the pacing of the film.

Now, normally, a film that barely changes gear is not a thing to be applauded — but here? Here, it really works.

It allows the tension to build slowly, and even better allows the jumps and shocks to come out of nowhere.

This is a film that has you gripped before you even notice.

The other masterstroke is an event. Yes, think that's the safest word to use.

A thing.

A thing happens.

And when it does, you know all bets are off — and almost effortlessly the tension goes up a notch.

Sure the film isn't perfect, and Hemsworth is actually too OTT and almost ridiculous as his character, but by the time he arrives you're so far down the tunnel you can forgive this mis-step.

Especially as the ending is the very ending you would want.

Bad Times is a gritty little beast that gets under your skin and makes you feel warm and dirty. In a good way. Probably.

It also brings Cynthia Erivo to the big screen for the first time, and in doing so does the whole world a massive favour.

This is one hotel that deserves to be revisited on a regular basis.