Thursday, 25 April 2019

Avengers: Endgame (12A)

How do you start reviewing a film like this eh? So much happens, and yet we can't talk about it because mentioning ANYTHING would be a spoiler.

And you need to see this clean (even the video clip at the end of this review is safe, as the official trailer gives way too much away).

You also have to have seen Infinity Wars (and we're going to play it safe and dance around that too), so if that's still on your to-do list - crack on. Oh, and Captain Marvel.

But first, some context for how we came to watching Endgame at 8am having had two cups of tea and no breakfast.

Yesterday a work-related thing left us feeling worthless, undervalued and generally crappy, the joys of low mood and depression, eh?

So we spent last night ruminating and cogitating, trying to stop the endless whirring around the brain — but with minimal success.

Managed to get back to sleep at 2am, but the 6am wake-up was undefeatable, so rather than sitting at home just getting more and more annoyed we figured Endgame was the way to go.

As a result, the heightened emotional state combined with a lack of brekkie may have meant we were more susceptible to The Feels.

Or, and we think this is definitely the case, this film packs a huge emotional wallop.

Tears, man. At a Marvel film. Tears.

That's not meant to happen.

But anyway, where were we?

Right, Endgame. Let's talk about that.

Picking up in the aftermath of Infinity Wars, Endgame simply goes again.

Only this time, for obvious reasons (assuming you've seen Wars, obvs) things have changed. People have changed.

So what you get is a massive, huge film - all three hours of it - which has actual emotional weight and heft.

Our heroes are feeling the effects of all that has gone before, and so they need time to process what's happened.

That's not to say this is a dark film. Yeah, it is, but there are some wonderfully underplayed comic touches that lift the mood at just the right time.

And that's what is so good about this film — everything just feels right.

The pacing is spot on, the action scenes have real drama in them, the plot itself is not something you see coming and there are moments that will have you grinning like an idiot.

Oh, and there are those tears.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about this three-hour epic finale to a 10-year story arc is that there's not an ounce of flab here.

Think - if you look back at, say, Lords Of The Rings, there's quite a lot that could go there (especially on the Director's Cut).

But here? Not so much.

No scene overstays its welcome, no action is surplus to requirements — every ounce of this movie has a part to play.

Even the credit sequences are fitting.

Yes, there's more we'd like to say here but we can't without divulging something/anything — so we'll leave it here.

With Endgame, Marvel have raised their already high bar, giving us action, passion and emotion in one giant package.

The future is being left deliberately vague, but the present is just all kinds of beautifully brilliant.

Friday, 29 March 2019

The Dirt (18)

I've been a fan of Motley Crue since the heady pre-grunge days of Dr Feelgood, and have hoovered up just about everything they've vomited into the world.

No, they're not an amazing collection of musicians breaking new ground, but on their day they are exactly the loud, snotty bag of noise you need in your life.

Sure they came with baggage, they came with a reputation and a legacy - but that was all part of the show, right?

Then they decided to come clean, and wrote The Dirt.

In their own words they told the full story of every drug, girl, hotel, argument, tragedy and success and so their place in the rock n roll gutter was cemented.

Then word came out that the book was to become a film.

With the band's full input they were going to happily lay everything bare. Again.

Only this time, it being visual, nothing would be left to the imagination.

Which, when you consider how little was left to the imagination in the book, was a bold move...

And so, after various meetings and dead ends, it was Netflix that took on the challenge of presenting Motley Crue to an audience, many of whom may not even be aware that band actually wrote a couple of boss tunes.

And, it has to be said, while they've played around a bit with who said what when (if the book is to be believed it wasn't Tom Zutaut who signed over the band's rights) they sure as hell haven't sugared the pill.

Which on the one hand is to be commended, but on the other does make them a lot harder to love.

But first, let's look at the positives.

The casting — Douglas Booth as bassist and band leader Nikki Sixx, Machine Gun Kelly as drummer/startlet marrier Tommy Lee, Iwan Rheon as moody guitarist Mick Mars and Daniel Webber as singing idiot Vince Neil — is spot on.

In particular, Webber captures the dichotomy that is Neil perfectly, while Kelly and Booth could pass as their musician counterparts with consummate ease.

And the story is totally Crue.

It's crass, debauched, disgusting, loud, snotty, filmed at 90mph — it could only be about this band.

And the dark side is not flinched away from.

Neil is responsible for the death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle (not a spoiler, it's been rather well documented), and later suffers harrowing personal tragedy.

Nikki takes to heroin a bit too well, which my have given the band a cracking song but did nearly kill him.

And Tommy may have been madly in love, but that didn't stop him bonking anything that smiled at him.

All of which is, to a point, fine and dandy.

However, in the hands of director Jeff Tremaine (of Jackass and Bad Grandpa fame), it all feels more goofy than grim.

Just to recap.

The singer was driving drunk, crashed, and the drummer of another band died.

The bass player over-dosed and was brought back to life with two syringes of adrenaline in the back of an ambulance.

These should be dark moments. I mean, they were for the band.

And yet neither scene has any real depth, any weight. They are treated with the same gravitas as televisions being thrown out of hotel windows.

Which is a shame, because the Crue of today have expressed remorse, regret and awareness of what went down (if you overlook the box set of a few years back called Music To Crash Your Car To).

Instead, this is a film for teenage boys - albeit teenage boys of 1984 rather than those with modern sensibilities.

There's more nudity than is necessary, there's an opening scene which would be more at home on the specialised porn sights the UK is trying to clamp down on, a woman is punched, and while the band do get clean there's no sense that getting loaded on heroin, coke and vodka on a nightly basis is in any way a negative.

Even the book covers that angle.

There's also the issue with trying to shoe-horn the whole story into a little under two-hours.

The guys played the prestigious Monsters Of Rock festival in England a couple of times, they played the massive Moscow Peace Festival and punched Jon Bon Jovi, Nikki died more than once...

All of these events would seem to have had more of an impact in their lives and career than Vince humping someone else's girlfriend in a bathroom.


Which leads to the ultimate quandary about this film.

All four band members were executive producers, so signed off on this. Which means they're happy for us all to see them as philandering, crashing, women-hitting douche bags.

I mean, I know that was kind of their rep, their image, but... that's how they want to be remembered?

Having said all that, something magical does happen.

Yeah, sure, John Corabi is all-but rinsed from Crue history, but the final scenes do make you feel good.

You're glad they somehow got through it all, survived ants being snorted, and took to the stage again as the band they always were (only, you know, actually a really tight musical unit).

Like their early albums, there are things to love about the Crue here — but a lot you can skip past.

It's their legacy, their history, so it's for them to decide what we see, but I can't shake the feeling that a better director would have given us a better film.

Soundtrack's good, mind, even if they did ignore Saints Of Los Angeles...

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Captain Marvel (12A)

As mentioned last week, a cinema full of people is never a favourite place to spend some time — but recently this has become ever more the case.

So, being unable to go on a quiet Friday morning meant (if we were to see Captain Marvel before the internet exploded with spoilers) a Saturday trip.

A Saturday. A time when people generally aren't at work so have time to do the fun stuff in life. Usually with their children in tow.

Hey, come on, be brave, deep breath...

Sure, there were already more than 70 people in there. Yes, people kept coming in and sitting worryingly close. Yes, the drive home involved a surprising adrenaline come-down.

But the two hours in the middle?

Sweet mother of....

We don't know how Marvel have managed this.

While the road here has been bumpy, and Iron Man 2 exists to remind us of the studio's fallibility, from Homecoming onwards there has been a continual raising of the bar.

Ragnarok? Amazing. Panther? Awesome. Infinity Wars? OMFG. Ant Man And The Wasp? A welcome change in pace and tone, but then that ending....

All of which brings us to Captain Marvel, teased to us in the closing scenes of the last Avengers outing.

But this is just an origin story, right? A fluffy place-holder before Danvers comes to play with the big boys, yeah?

No no no no no.

What we have here is story of depth and complexity, heart and passion, of weight and importance. With added cat.

And the cat is important.

In simple terms, this is an origin story — but Carol Danvers' history is neither simple not straight forward, and the writer/director team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have pulled out all the stops, bells and whistles to craft a tale that ties several loose ends up while delivering the newest piece in the Marvel puzzle.

And it's a piece we didn't even know was missing. Until now.

At the heart of it is Brie Larson, the award-winning star of Room who may also have been in Kong: Skull Island (but that's not her fault).

Larson appears born to play this role, so naturally does she feel playing a woman with very few memories who has flashbacks hinting at a life before the life she knows.

And she owns this flick, from first frame to last.

Which when you factor in the Marvel heavyweights she's alongside (this is not Samuel L Jackson's first superhero rodeo), knocking them into second place shows just what a turn she has put in.

In fact, the only cast member who outshines her is Reggie (or, in some scenes Rizzo, Gonzo or Archie) playing Goose. The cat. Who is just scene-stealing awesome. Or pawesome, if you will.

No, you shut up.

Best cat in a movie. Ever. Fact. Period.

Sorry, where were we?

Oh right, yes, the humans.

Larson is ably supported by Lashana Lynch, Anette Bening, some young up-and-comer called Jude Law and Akira Akba (who is simply brilliant).

The story is a simple one of space travel, Skrulls, Kree, some people you're met before, others you haven't, and how one man lost an eye.

All of which is traditional Marvel fare.

But the themes are deeper and darker, and also very on-point for 2019.

As well as putting kick-ass female characters (not our words, the views of the young girl behind us as we left) front and centre, Captain Marvel deals with racism, refugees, personal identity, right and wrong, truth and lies and what you can put in a Fonz lunchbox.

And it's these themes that elevate Captain Marvel to the high echelons of the very best Marvel has served up so far.

It's has huge emotional weight, it has heart, it has soul and depth, and that's before we get to the special effects and the soundtrack.

Because for a film designed to be 3D'd and IMAX'd to death, in good ol' plain, as nature intended, flat 2D this things is as bold, busy, bright and brash as you'd want, with even the close-up fight scenes not getting too scrambled in the mix.

Then, yeah, the soundtrack. Not the score Marvel has already put out, but the songs that sit so perfectly alongside the action — Elastica, Hole, Garbage, No Doubt, it's basically the best '90s mix you're ever gonna hear. With added Heart.

This film also has the best Stan Lee cameo, and in context the perfect one. The one we'd all have shot and wanted to star in.

Oh, and the opening Marvel graphic....

Did we mention the post-credit sequences? Especially the final one?

As you can tell, we're struggling to find any faults here.

There was welling up, there was laughter, there was tense silence, and for a little over two hours Captain Marvel took us into another world and was all that mattered.

Even if you're not a Marvel fan, this film has something to say on just about every level, but if you don't fancy thinking the action scenes will keep you happy.

Bring on Endgame.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Fighting With My Family (12A)

As much as I love going to the cinema, going on a Saturday evening is the closest we get to experiencing hell.

For a start, the screening is full of people. This means talking, chatting, shuffling, eating, coughing, breathing, sneezing and just a lot of generally existing going on.

Secondly, it's a Saturday night. In our world, assuming we're actually in on a Saturday and not working elsewhere, that's time for sofa and a movie at home.


Herself is a MASSIVE wrestling fan. Has been for years. In her words, wanting to go see Fighting With My Family was up there with our excitement over Captain Marvel.

And, bless her, Herself offered to go and see it on her own and I could pick her up later — and, yes, the anxiety levels were gently rising at the thought of sitting in a people-filled room — but how could we let that happen?

Especially as the trailer had us laughing our socks off.

Plus it's set in Norwich.

And it is a weird fact of life that you don't have to live in this city long for it to really start to matter to you.

So. Funny, Norwich, an evening with Herself. Deep breaths...

And to be fair, the human element was absolutely fine. Sure, there was muttering and the smell of nachos, but from about 10 seconds in nothing mattered but the story in front of our eyes.

For those of you who have missed the news, Fighting With My Family is ostensibly the story of  Paige — a two-time Divas champion who started wrestling at the age of 13.

Paige and her family are from Norwich, Norfolk, here in the good ol' U S of England, and her dad still runs wrestling classes in the city we're told. (research? us? behave)

The film follows Paige as she follows her dream to America to fight in the glamorous WWE (nope, no idea, but there are lots of lights and spandex).

Along the way we also follow her brother Zak, who shares her dream but is sadly left behind when America comes calling.

And this, for us, is the real heart of the movie.

Behind all the glamour, glitz and success, Paige had a lot of pain and emotional trauma to deal with — and it is this very human story that writer/director Stephen Merchant (yup, that one) has brought to the screen.

But he couldn't have done it without Florence Pugh, seen most recently in The Little Drummer Girl, who brings so much passion and emotion to the screen that you can't fail to be swept up.

And the same has to be said about Jack Lowden's portrayal of Paige's brother Zack.

Recently seen in Mary Queen Of Scots and The Long Song, here Lowden follows his character down the rabbit hole of disappointment and depression so perfectly we found ourselves wanting to yell at the screen.

Because it's impossible to watch this film and not care about the characters.

Pugh and Lowden lead the line, and behind them Nick Frost and Lena Headey play the parents with perfect comic timing and deft touches.

Like a tag team in the ring, these four play off each other perfectly.

And that's what's just so damn beautiful about this film.

Yes, there's an amazing story to tell — but it takes this team all bringing their A game to knock it out of the park.

Yeah, we know our sports metaphors. Panic not, we've got this...

There are times when the whole cinema was roaring with laughter, and there were times when you could hear everyone holding their breath (apart from that one person with their sodding nachos) — Fighting With My Family has the whole damn lot.

And then there's the small matter of Mr Merchant's directing.

Having taken care of a few TV projects and one movie (Cemetery Junction), Fighting looks like he's been directing for as long as Paige has been wrestling.

The early, home-set, scenes have the perfect feel of a British film — closely shot, slightly muted colours, you can almost feel the drizzle.

And then we hit America, and suddenly it's bright, bold, sweeping pan shots that would be right at home in Baywatch (a compliment in this case) — but done is such a way as to feel like we're still in the same film.

A deft touch and no mistake.

Did we mention the soundtrack? We probably should, because away from the killer rock tunes Graham Coxon crafts some delightfully subtle guitar work which underpins the more tender scenes perfectly.

Basically, we found precious little to complain about here.

Fans have pointed out that a lot of Paige's history has been overlooked, but when you only have two hours to play with such things are to be expected.

But for non-fans, this is a heartwarming, emotional, hilarious story about a young girl from Norwich who changed the wrestling world.

Films that have you grinning all the way back to your car are few and far between, but this is up there with the best of them.

(PS: The soundtrack has dialogue. This is exactly as it should be.)

Saturday, 23 February 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk (15)

According to one of the Internet Intelligentsia if you like Black Panther then you are a racist. Hey, we don't write the rules, we just have them shouted at us.

Which added an extra layer of something (although heaven knows what) to the thought process when sitting down to watch If Beale Street Could Talk.

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins of Moonlight fame, a black cast tell the story of black lives in Harlem as a young couple get torn apart after a false accusation of rape.

Both touching and compelling, it's as much a story about black lives today as it is about how black people survived in the early ’70s.

And it's thoroughly deserving of the three Oscar's it is nominated for — although Jenkins not being in the running for Best Director, and the film not being on the Best Film list is puzzling.

But then maybe the Oscar committee didn't want to appear to be racist by highlighting black issues in a film about black issues.

Apparently that's how that works now.

Not that one person's ignorant ramblings still REALLY annoy....


Where were we?

Yes, the actual film.

Based on the James Baldwin novel, Beale Street is that most rare of beasts — a true ensemble piece.

Yes Regina King is up for several awards, and rightly so, and Kiki Layne is getting a load of thoroughly deserved attention, but like a jigsaw this film needs every piece in place to work.

And work it truly does.

With Harlem being brought so vibrantly to life you can almost feel the dirt under your nails, you feel like neighbours of the characters — like you know and care about them — from the off.

And there's not just one story being told here.

At the centre of things are Tish (Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James), the young Romeo and Juliet divided by prison glass after their lives are torn apart.

But then we have Tish and her family fighting for justice, we have Daniel's tale of life inside, we have Fonny's religious family and their reactions to an impending birth...

At every turn, there's an important tale being told.

Then there's the moment Fonny stands up for Tish in the store, and how everything seems to pivot on that one moment.

In Jenkin's capable hands, the whole thing comes together gently and perfectly — tugging on heart strings here, fuelling anger at injustice there, making you feel what the characters are feeling at every turn.

Not a scene, not a frame, is wasted here. Everything has a job to do.

And then there's the score.

Also up for awards hither and yon, Nicholas Britell has crafted something that at first appears to intrude but soon becomes another character — noisily filling in the silences as if the city itself was full of a string section rather than cars.

And through it all, you are guided to an end experienced not just by you, Fonny and Tish but by victims of a rigged system for the past 40-odd years.

It's a measure of the world we live in today that a story from a different time still has so much relevance.

And while some out there will tut, sigh, roll their eyes and wonder why this is still an issue as it doesn't effect them, the rest of us are paying attention.

If Beale Street Could Talk is softly, gently, showing us what is going on in the world, and as it talks so we all should listen.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Well this is nice, Richard E Grant is up for an Oscar. Ooh, and a Bafta. Well this seems very deserved. Wonder what film this is for...

...aha, it's that new one with Melissa McCarthy.

And, er, she's been nominated as well.

*squints at screen*

Nope, not a typo. Well this has suddenly become a must-see...

...and, it turns out, rightly so.

Based on a true story (awards season you say?), Can You Ever Forgive Me? is about writer Lee Israel and how she found a new way to make ends meet once the books stopped selling.

After happening upon a genuine letter from a famous author and selling it for a few bucks, Lee decides to create more so she can pay the rent, pay her cat's vets bills and eat.

Well, drink. But the cat's health came first.

And it's McCarthy's performance that holds this whole film together.

Deserving of every nomination and accolade coming her way. McCarthy manages the often impossible task of making you like a near-unlikeable character.

Israel has become a solitary, bitter, isolated, curmudgeonly old sod who drinks just to make each day passingly bearable.

Hitting out at all those around her, it's her and the cat against the world before Grant's Jack Hock staggers into view.

And you're not meant to like Lee. Lee doesn't want you to like Lee.

But in McCarthy's hands the character is given a warmth and fragility that makes you care about her. You want her to succeed, even if she's breaking the law, because deep down she's not a bad person.

She just ended up in a bad situation doing a bad thing.

Her note-perfect performance, played with depth and subtle touches, also provides the perfect foil for Grant to let rip.

Bringing back memories of Withnail from the moment he flops down at the bar, Jack Hock is possibly Grant's finest performance (and I say that as both a massive fan of Withnail AND Dr Who).

Where Withnail battered you into submission with acid quips and flamboyant damnation, Hock sidles up to you, puts an arm around your shoulder and is buying you a drink with your money before you've so much as choked on the fumes of his booze-soaked breath.

And you kind of don't mind.

Because, like McCarthy's Israel, Grant's Hock is an unlikeable arse you can't help but warm to.

And again, that's down to the performance.

In lesser paws this would have been a harsh, possibly wooden, almost certainly cliched portrayal of a broken man who is kind of proud of his flaws — but Grant gives us layers, subtlety, nuance.

A more perfect on-screen pairing we haven't seen since St Vincent. And guess who was starring in that...

But while the main pair are hoovering up all the accolades and praise, there are smaller parts that add to the beautiful drama unfolding before us.

As Israel's agent, Jane Curtin has never been more exasperated and politely curt, while Dolly Wells’ lovestruck bookseller deserves as much praise as the main two are getting.

While we're all marvelling at the fine performances, however, something else is going on — and that's that director Marielle Heller and writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty have crafted a note-perfect movie.

Yes, the stars are shining, but behind them these three have created the perfect pacing, the right amount of angst, just enough tugging of heart strings, to keep you wrapped up in this world.

The feel and tone are spot on, and the whole thing just smothers you to the point that you don't want it to end.

Hell, even the choice of songs is spot on.

It's rare in this day and age to find a film with which there is not so much as a quibble, but with Can You Ever Forgive Me? such a film exists.

Blending comedy and tragedy, crime and cat food, this film deserves every ounce of praise being flung its way.

We could watch the whole thing again tomorrow and undoubtedly enjoy it even more.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Stan & Ollie (PG)

And so we go from one biopic involving two great figures from history to another — this time, stars of the silver screen.

There are rivalries, power struggles and strained relationships, but this time it's more recent history as John C Reilly and Steve Coogan bring us the tale of Laurel and Hardy's tour of the UK in 1952.

And it's every bit as sweet and funny as you could wish it to be.

Starting from the point where Stan tried to get a better deal from the duo's film producer, only to get the boot, the film captures the trials and tribulations as the famous pair try and put the past behind them while facing an uncertain future.

Now, this was always going to be a tough gig, no matter how good the main pair are — while we only have portraits and notes to refer to for royal figures, the works of Stan and Ollie are still here for all to see.

So if a step is put wrong, or a phrase is out of place, the fans will know in an instant.

But there are no such concerns.

Coogan captures the mannerisms of Stan to a tee, switching between 'film' and 'real-life' characters with sublime ease, while Reilly — with the aid of brilliant make-up — fills the physical role of the larger-than-life Oliver like he's been playing the part all of his life.

But where with both The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots the supporting cast is pushed a little too far into the background, here the wives (the superb pairing of Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda) are given their time to shine.

Nine's comic timing and Shirley's fretting and well-meant harsh words are the perfect foil for the men in their lives, adding a nice extra layer to the story.

And the story itself is wonderfully told.

Capturing the tensions lying under the surface, in themselves hiding the true affection the pair seemed to have for each other, this is as much a tale of human relationships as it is about two stars trying to shine again.

And yet, despite how strong the performances, how well told the tale, how well shot the story, the true star here is Stan's writing.

Some 60 years on, the audience in our screening were still finding the hat swapping sketch funny, the bell ringing bit, the hospital visit with eggs and nuts — this stuff is truly timeless.

Which is, well, heartwarming.

So much has changed over the years, comedy has gone through so many changes, sketch shows have come and gone — but to hear an audience in 2019 laughing at something written back in the '30s or '40s is so uplifting.

Especially in the current climate.

Stan & Ollie isn't edgy, doesn't have a message, doesn't have anything to 'say' — but what it does have is two people paying homage to their heroes and taking us along for the ride.

Not surprisingly, there is something quite old school about this movie, and that is really it's crowning glory.

We left the cinema feeling like we'd made new friends, and wanting to go home and watch their old films.

Mary Queen Of Scots (15)

You can tell it is award season by the films that are currently hitting the multiplexes and art houses up and down our fair land.

Period dramas and biopics are never far away, and it's been quite the last few days on that front.

First we had The Favourite, then Stan & Ollie (more on that to come) and now Mary Queen Of Scots.

And this film would actually make an interesting double feature with Olivia Coleman's awards juggernaut.

Both deal with women in power, both deal with women's bodies and both deal with the inner workings of the political court, albeit some years apart.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Queen Anne's story was less well known, while Mary's story is ingrained into the fabric of this nation's history.

(If you don't know, Mary was Catholic and had a claim to the English throne while Elizabeth was protestant and those around her were very keen for the Pope to be kept out of the nation's business.)

The other difference is that, while not perfect, Mary Queen Of Scots is much the better film.

Standing proud, front and centre is Saoirse Ronan as the titular monarch.

And she owns this film.

Hers is a performance of passion and power, never once going over the top  with every action and look perfectly weighted and measured. She deserves all the acclaim heading her way.

She's helped by Margot Robbie, who underplays Queen Elizabeth beautifully and so allowing Ronan to fly.

The pair are an utter delight to watch.

However, the same can't be said for the rest of the film.

For a political drama, it lacks tension and at times just descends into random beardy blokes shouting. Which lacks any real impact.

And while the film manages to show the toxic male world both characters had to rise above, the first half of the movie lacks a certain clarity and focus.

Also, given how few people are referred to by name (and we are talking about massive figures from history here), if you suffer from any form of face blindness the number of beards on display will completely confound you.

But, to be fair, for every negative there's a positive.

Yes, it does drag slightly and could do with losing about 15 minutes, but the whole film looks lush and sumptuous and the use of the Scottish scenery is breathtaking.

Yes, certain areas of the plot could do with clearing up — but the scenes in the Scottish castles are so real, so visceral, that you could actually feel the temperature drop.

Yes, there's a tad too much trekking about on horsies — but did we mention just how good Ronan is?

While some liberties may have been taken with the facts, the film itself is a perfectly good period drama with a stand-out central performance.

The period in history has been captured perfectly, and the cinematography is simply stunning.

Just, you know, it could have been a bit shorter. And maybe with name badges....

Saturday, 26 January 2019

The Favourite (15)

The plan today was a simple one — finish off the 2018 top 10 lists, and then finally get bang-up-to-date by pontificating about The Favourite.

Then the internet happened and we got accused of being racist for liking Black Panther and saying positive things about BlacKkKlansman (that'll teach us to read the comments).

I mean, really? Us? We've seen loads of Samuel L. Jackson films. We own a Jimi Hendrix album. How could we be racist?*

Sometimes humans really worry us.

Anyhoo, onwards. Olivia Coleman is a mad queen and we need to be talking about THAT far more than some white person (we're guessing) telling us racism isn't an issue any more.

Because with a cast of Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, and all of the Oscar buzz around their performances, this was going to be a cracker.

And it is. In places.

But man does this film have flaws.

At its core, The Favourite is a political drama, with Weisz's Duchess of Marlborough manipulating Coleman's Queen Anne in order to govern the country to her husband's benefit, and those of her political allies.

Thrown into the mix is Stone's Abigail, cousin to the Duchess and now fallen on hard times.

She decides to start working her way back to the top of the social pile by worming her way into the Queen's favour by any means necessary.

All of which is good stuff.


While a film with three strong female leads is always welcomed,  it would make those characters stand out even more if the supporting cast were also strong.

Instead, Nicholas Hoult and James Smith are left with very little to play with and so are reduced to nothing more than foppish caricatures.

(We will stress at this point, given idiots are out in force, that this is not to say the men should have better roles so don't even bloody go there — it is an issue with the writing, in that these characters are not well drawn and lack depth. Now behave and go have a biscuit.)

The film has some nice comic touches (mainly involving Stone) and Coleman steals every scene she's in, but behind that the film has problems.

Aside from the poor characterisation, there's the score.

Dubbed the Gout Theme, there is a really grating noise used for reasons — possibly to show how uncomfortable Queen Anne is at that point — that only serve to really wind up the audience.

It's use later serves even less of a purpose but does annoy even more.

Then there's the random use of a fish-eye lens.

I get that Yorgos Lanthimos likes to play with convention (he is, after all, the man who brought us The Lobster), but when the effect is to make those staring at the big screen feel seasick we think it's fair to say it hasn't quite worked.

If such tricks and tropes served any real purpose than it would be so much better, but the overwhelming feeling is that it is all affectation — attempts to play with the genre just for the sake of it.

We've had bawdy period pieces before, we've had endless swearing before — we've probably not had a naked Tory being pelted with fruit before, but have you ever watched a film and felt that was something that was missing?

Probably not.

Overall, The Favourite is a cracking idea that falls somewhat short on the big screen.

The central performances are cracking, but then they have to be because there isn't a lot going on underneath the surface.

Rabbits were nice, though...

*This review contains an element of sarcasm and satire because that person's post REALLY made the eyes roll and led to lots of muttering.

Albums Of The Year 2018

Looking back at 2017's Albums Of The Year post, we signed off saying we'd be back if the world hadn't blown up — and while it may feel like it has, it seemingly hasn't so here we are.

And while the film world was, at times, underwhelming, at least the music industry had some stand-out releases to keep our ears warm as we toddled to and from the cinema.

Things started well with Brian Fallon returning with his second solo album. More soulful than previous outings, Sleepwalkers showed ol' B maturing nicely.

Also making welcome returns to the fray were The Dogs D'Amour, with delightfully loose and raw album that can proudly cock a leg against their best outings, while Slash jumped off the GnR juggernaut long enough to produce his best solo album to date.

Stone Temple Pilots found themselves a new singer and, while no new ground was being stomped, showed they can still produce a solid rock album, and Jake Shears finally re-emerged — and gave the world the sort of joyous pop music that made us fall in love with Scissor Sisters in the first place.

There was also something of a trend for re-imagining back catalogues, with Levellers doing a range of new acoustic arrangements of old classics and Rise Against doing much the same, only with a cheeky orchestra on board.

But it wasn't all about the old guard. Star Crawler slithered out of America and took the rock world (and Download festival) by storm with their New York Dolls-esque debut.

Tina Dico and Kacey Musgraves also had a good year, with Dico's sublime grown-up pop and Kacey's slow shift into more poppie realms both being good enough to almost make the top 10, almost being joined by Laura Jane Grace's wonderfully raw solo debut.

So what kept three fine albums such as these out of the top 10?

Glad you asked...]

10) A Star Is Born OST

Now you wouldn't normally have a soundtrack in a top 10, but this is here for a couple of good reasons — first they're all original songs, and second this is a proper old school soundtrack with snippets of dialogue peppered through out. The latter should be mandatory for all soundtrack albums, but the former is something of a delight. Gaga and Bradley Cooper sing their hearts out, and the album is so good it actually gave us a new appreciation for the film.

9) Therapy — Cleave

It's wrongly thought that Therapy? peaked with their seminal Troublegum album way back in the mists of time, but nothing could be further from the truth. Their latter-day period has produced some fine stuff, but with Cleave they really took it up a notch. Searing guitars, catchy choruses, the venom of their early stuff, Cleave has got the lot. It's also the closest they've come yet to replicating Troublegum's drum sound. Oh, and it clocks in at a little over 30 minutes, making this beautifully brutal and compact to boot.

8) Stone Broken — Ain't Always Easy

Sometimes, all you really want is a solid rock album. Something you can just crank to the max and sing along to at the top of your voice as the guitars and drums smash your ears to bits. This year, Stone Broken kindly provided the necessary. With gravelly vocals, pounding rhythms and choruses that lodged in your noggin for weeks (just check out Let Me See It All and Heartbeat Away), this lot provided gave hope that all is not lost in the Brit Rock scene right now.

7) Walking Papers — WP2

Before Axl saw sense and got the band back together, Duff McKagan was having a high old time hanging out with the man with the sexiest voice in rock, Jeff Angell, The result was Walking Papers, one of the finest bands and albums to surface in some time. That it took them six years to come up with a second album is nothing short of criminal, but on the bright side at least it was worth the wait. My Luck Pushed Back, Death On The Lips and I Know You're Lying are all bona fide classics worthy of sticking on repeat.

6) Ducking Punches — Alamort

OK, I'll admit that I know these guys. Have been a fan and a mate for a couple of years now, but that doesn't interfere with the fact this is a cracking third album from Norwich's finest. Raw, emotional vocals over acoustic punk guitars, the band have grown and matured with each release. Dan's songwriting is as honest and personal as ever (I Ruin Everything and being a perfect example), while the band have never sounded so tight and focussed. This has pretty much been on repeat all year.

5) Ginger — Ghosts In The Tanglewood/The Pessimist's Companion

As die-hard fans will know, Ginger has been having a hell of a time of it of late. First his mental health took a dive, and then his relationship joined in. As he started to put himself back together, Ginger did the only thing he knew — he grabbed his guitar, got the guys round, and put all of his emotions and experiences down in a song or 12. Twice. When Ghosts came out at the start of 2018 we discovered that Ginger was in a country frame of mind, and so we got tales of his breakdowns set to acoustic and slide guitars. And it's as beautiful and poignant as you would imagine. The Daylight Hotel and Paying It Forward tell you all you need to know about what's been happening so far.
But then, because he wanted to and could, he got the guys back together and recorded Companion. Due out in hard copy this year, pre-orders were gifted the advanced downloads, and it's every bit as good as its predecessor, only slightly more focussed, now that the band know what's needed. I Love You So Much I'm Leaving and You Will Let Me Down Again tell us what's still on his mind, and the songs are as fragile and beautiful as the first batch. Any artist would be delighted to have produced one of these albums. Only Ginger could do it twice in a year...

4) The Wombats — Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life

Many moons ago, we were at a thing called a V Festival (apparently it's still a thing) and decided to go and see some random band just because they had a daft name. Turns out The Wombats were OK. Good little bunch of kids. Good debut album too. But then life moved on, we checked in occasionally, they seemed to be doing OK, and we both carried on as before. Then we caught the last album, which was a bit good. Then we heard the new one, and were blown away. It's a near-perfect slice of indie pop — quirky lyrics (Lemon To A Knife Fight), catchy choruses (Out Of My Head), super-sexy bass lines (Ice Cream), this has got the lot. As the weather carries on getting hotter, this will be the perfect album for driving around with the windows down for years to come.

3) Meg Myers — Take Me To The Disco

This may only be Meg's second full album, but news of its release was cause for much excitement here at Chez Popcorn. Her debut was searing, raw and wonderful, so more of the same would be lovely. Only that's not what we got. Taking her time, Meg went off and started experimenting, and came back with a dark, atmospheric, hauntingly beautiful collection of proper, grown-up, adult pop music. From the From the eerie title track to the pounding Tear Me To Pieces and the raw emotion of Funeral, this is the sound of a woman growing into her music and barely putting a foot wrong.

2) Tom Morello - The Atlas Underground

Tom Morello is, I can think we can agree, something of a legend in the guitar world. First he was at the cutting edge of rap-rock, then he was at the cutting edge of the supergroup, then he taught Bruce Springsteen how to play his own song — and now he's stepping out again, collaborating with the world's top *checks notes* electro artists.... Because if there's one thing you can say about Morello is he does like to change things around a bit and confound expectations. First we had The Nightwatchman, now Atlas Underground. And it's as brilliant as it is unexpected. From the opening pounding beat of Battle Sirens we're treated to driving rhythms, atmospheric soundscapes, catchy choruses and incendiary rapping. Joined from across the genres by Knife Party, K.Flay, Gary Clarke Jnr, Steve Aoki, Tim McIlrath and, erm, Marcus Mumford, The Atlas Underground is an electic mix of brilliance.

1) Mike Shinoda — Post Traumatic

As you may have heard, in 2017 we lost Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. And while the world mourned, the rest of the band were left to wonder what they did next. Then in June of last year, we found out what Mike had planned. Fuelled by the twin losses of both his mother and his best friend, Mike had been pouring everything he felt down on to tape. The result is a passionate, raw, heartfelt collection of songs about grief, loss, coping, not coping, and at one point being stuck in traffic. It's also strangely uplifting, and in almost every case catchy as all hell. Crossing A Line, Nothing Makes Sense Anymore, Ghosts and personal favourite Holding It Together show a man trying to make sense of what has gone on while also being at the absolute top of his creative game. Guest stars swing by, but at the centre of it all is Shinoda, standing tall, singing his heart out and sweeping is all along with him.

Til next year....

Friday, 25 January 2019

Films Of The Year 2018

Funny story - figured I'd do this between Christmas and New Year as I had some downtime. Then I was a bit snoozy, so figured 'tomorrow' was fine.

Tomorrow gets away from you if you don't pay attention, doesn't it? Especially when there's cake...

Anyhoo, we're here now — and it's not like we've got memory issues or anything. Recalling all that we saw will be a breeze.

There was....

....erm.... was a bit of a duff year, wasn't it?

I mean, sure, Avengers blew our socks to pieces (well, a sock), and Ant-Man was back with an even better film than the first one, and we started the year well with Three Billboards and The Post, but there was some dross.

We're still not sure how The Spy Who Dumped Me got made, or how Finding Your Feet for that matter — a film so tedious we couldn't even be bothered to write about it.

Then there's the Jurassic franchise. They are getting worse with every outing and yet they still appear on the screen and people go and watch them.

At least The Meg knew how bad it was, which actually made it quite good.

Sadly the same couldn't be said for M:I Fallout. While many proclaimed it the best yet, and in one case "Tom Cruise's Swan Lake" we were left picking at the massive plot holes and wishing it was at least 40 minutes shorter.

There was time for one hidden gem, though. Dark River is a dark, tense little drama starring Sean Bean and Ruth Wilson and set in a Yorkshire farm house. Light on laughs, but proof that if supported British Cinema can pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Even if, in this case, it's then skinned and put in a pot....

Still, that's enough about that. Onwards!

10) A Star Is Born

Not a film we were particularly enamoured of upon leaving the cinema, Star has quietly crept up on us — helped in no small part by the soundtrack. Fine performances and well directed by Bradley Cooper, the ending might still irk but the film as a whole works really well and the songs are just brilliant.

9) Black Panther

Amazingly now up for an Oscar (which has, quite brilliantly, annoyed half the world), Panther is here ahead of Avengers because it was both an unexpected delight and just so much damn fun. "Oooooh, but it's all just CGI innit" oft went the cry, and yes there's a huge number of pixels at play (spoiler alert: battle rhinos are not a real thing), but it's a Marvel film. It's not a documentary. And most importantly, it was damn fun. Gags, car chases, fantastic female characters — it was Marvel at their most Marvelist.

8) Bohemian Rhapsody

A film that seemed to be creating a whole new story in just trying to get to the big screen, Bo Rhap (as all the cool kids are calling it) was a stupidly over-the-top overblown piece of nonsense with a massively inflated sense of it's own worth and importance. Basically, it was Queen. In a film. If you were expecting anything else you really haven't listened to many of their albums. But more importantly, it took you on a journey you knew, towards an ending you were already aware of, and made you grin like an idiot while bawling your eyes out for the final 20 minutes.

7) Sorry To Bother You

A recurring theme last year was the issue of race — hardly surprising given what seems to be happening around the world right now — and while Sorry To Bother You announced its intentions from the off in the trailer, they kind of lied. An off-beat, quirky comedy that at times is perhaps trying to say too much, it's 90 minutes of enjoyment. With the added bonus of being two films bolted together. If the first two-thirds aren't for you, all the horsing around in the final third might well float your boat.

6) A Quiet Place

Sorry, what? Yer man from the office has written and directed a sci-fi thriller? Well this won't be any goo...... oh. Yup, with the discovery that Emily Blunt is actually married to John Krasinski being just one of the shocks this film had in store for us, A Quiet Place managed to deliver tension, jumps, scares, tragedy and the odd smile in a near-perfect way. Yes, there were some plot issues (How do you give birth quietly? How do you conceive quietly? Actually, don't answer the second one), but overall A Quiet Place delivered more bang for its buck than many of its big budget rivals.

5) Widows

A film so good, Liam Neeson couldn't spoil it — what more do you want, eh? With stellar performances from all four of the female lady persons who were reduced to doing crime stuff to make up for the crap their dead other halves had led behind, Widows was a wonderfully dark, gritty nasty piece of work that did what it set out to do. Sure, it wasn't perfect, but it had some cracking little touches (the way the car journey is filmed for example) and Viola Davis delivered another wonderful performance.

4) Bad Times At The El Royale

Now yes, we know this went a little south in the final third, but before that (and after, actually) Bad Times was a wonderfully nasty crime mystery that announced its intentions early doors when one of the main characters is done away with. From there you know all bets are off, and over the course of one night we get to find out how all the different characters got there. At times brutal, at times sweet, there's not a bad performance on screen and the whole thing is a wonderful reminder that sometimes the best thing to do is just tell the damn story.

3) The Shape Of Water

A film slightly ruined the minute you realise it's basically Abe Sapien up there with Sally Hawkins, Shape was a simply beautiful fairy story that stole everyone's hearts as well as the Oscar for Best Picture. Del Torro might not have been able to get Hellboy III funded, but at least he's finally managed to show the rest of the world what all the cool kids and film geeks knew already — that when it comes to magical fantasy films, no one does them as well as he does.

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

Now, some of you will probably be wondering how a small British comedy can be this high up a top 10 list, especially when at least half of you still won't have managed to see it yet (Amazon seemingly only has a German language version available) — but this film was pretty much perfect. It's 90 minutes long. It's laugh-out-loud funny. The central couple are brilliant together. Tom Wilkinson is on top form. The soundtrack is great. And it's got something to say about mental health and suicide. To be honest with you, it was going to take something really special to keep this off top spot...

1) BlacKkKlansman

....something like, say, this. As mentioned earlier, we live in an age and a time where race has never been a bigger issue. And I say that not to trivialise events of the past, but because we should be way past all this, we should have dealt with all this crap — but humans be stupid, and a certain section of society (nasty old rich white men, mainly) has decided equality is a bad thing and should never have been allowed, so here we are. Thankfully, Spike Lee has never been someone to sit quietly on the sidelines, which is why we got the most important film of last year (and, arguably of recent years). Taking on the true story of a black guy who infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s, BlacKkKlansman is both a tense drama and a great comedy. It shines a burning torch on today's issues by showing us how much things haven't changed, and if that doesn't deliver the message strongly enough then the end-credit sequence will have you in tears.

Right, quick cuppa then it's on with the albums...