Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Sorry We Missed You (15)

As anyone who has so much as stepped outside in the past few years can tell you, we do not live in the easiest of times. 

The far right on the rise, politicians lying with impunity to serve their own egos... And down at the bottom, the hard working people of this country getting stiffed by companies who happily (and legally) circumnavigate employment laws.

Fun it isn't.

And, as a rule, Ken Loach isn't known for his farces and slapstick comedies – so put the two things together and what you have is likely to be a seriously tough watch.

And to be honest, that description doesn't come close.

Where Loach's previous film – I, Daniel Blake – dealt in bleak truths but had warmth and heart at its core, Sorry We Missed You beats you repeatedly over the head with its relentless message that all is not well.

That's not to say this is a film to avoid – far from it. This is as important as Daniel Blake and should be watched by anyone who thinks the gig economy is liberating and zero-hours contracts give people freedom.

So treat this is as much as a friendly warning as a review. Nothing about this film is fun. And we're still not totally sure it was enjoyable.

But the key thing to remember is we get to walk away from this. The characters, and the people they represent in the real world, can not.

At the centre of the story is the Turner family. Dad Ricky has turned to being a delivery driver for work, mum Abbie is a care worker, son Seb is going off the rails and daughter Lisa is struggling with everyone else's stress.

From the start we are treated to the crap certain courier firms tell their drivers (“you're your own boss”) before we are given a warts-n-all portrayal of the stress the drivers are subjected to.

Through Abbie, meanwhile, we see how zero-hours contracts work in the care industry – how people paid to take care of the elderly barely have the time to do everything asked of them during each visit.

And this is very much Loach's message – that the humanity has gone and people are being treated as nothing more than commodities, to be worked til they break and then replaced.

Now, there is no way of sugar-coating this story – not that Loach tries – but what such a bleak story needs is strong performances to carry it, to carry us through the storm.

And it's here that Sorry We Missed You fails to deliver.

In keeping with Loach wanting his cast to give real performances to deliver his messages as naturally as possible, he's turned again to relatively untested talent in Kris Hitchen (Ricky) and Debbie Honeywood (Abbie).

Sadly both look a little lost, with their performances coming across more as rehearsals than a final take.

That's not inherently a bad thing, but it can detract from the overall feel of both a given scene and and the film as a whole. Especially when key blocks of dialogue are clearly Loach's message and get delivered as such rather than natural conversation.

And Loach himself doesn't help matters by wanting to shoe-horn a wide agenda into less than two hours.

Stress of modern employment? Tick.

Humans treated as trash? Tick.

The burden of the modern working woman? Tick.

The plight of the NHS? Tick.

The effects of all of the above on the family unit? Tick.

All of which are hugely important topics and need highlighting in the hope those responsible finally wake up and see what they're doing to the rest of us – but it feels here like he's trying to force a quart into a pint pot.

And the effects of this are a loss of focus and a loss of a true narrative arc within the film, and audience who stumble back outside feeling bereft and beaten.

Comparisons with I, Daniel Blake are inevitable, as it's Loach again and the state of the country has only got worse between the two films – but what such comparisons do is show in stark relief just how good the former was and how short the latter falls.

And I hate having to say that. I really do.

This is an important film for so many reasons, and Loach again has something important to say that the whole world needs to hear – but the award-winning movie maker seems to lose his way here and things just come to and end with no sense of any conclusion or sign of hope.

With a UK election now underway, the timing of Sorry We Missed You couldn't be better as it shows how bleak working life is for so many these days.

And we would urge everyone to go and see this, because the messages and themes are too important to be ignored.

Just maybe set up a double-header with something fun, and see that film straight after this one.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate (15)

So, let's be clear about this. This isn't a sequel to 2015's terrible Genysis thing. No no, that would be too easy.

It doesn't even pick up the action from T3 (Rise Of The Machines). I mean, why do that eh?

No no. Much better to ignore the third film in the franchise, and the two subsequent films (although to be fair that's no bad thing) and just create a sequel to a film that came out in 1991.

And you thought they left it a while before doing Zombieland 2, eh?

So, throw everything you know in the bin and off we go again.

We now live in a world where Sarah and John Connor made it to a tropical island, only for Arnie to pop up and finish the job before buggering off.

This has left the world Johnless and with a royally pissed off Sarah.

Into this world drops Grace, an augmented human from 2045 who has to save young Dani from a new, more terrifying terminator.

Which basically means we've waited 18 years for the same story to be told.

And therein lies the problem here.

We have robots chasing humans, we have an human who will be the saviour of mankind and lots of running, hitting and explosions.

It's a nuts and bolts action film. With a dash of Robocop thrown in for good measure.

And given that T2 was the coolest film around way back when, to bring all that back (and there are homages and references all over the shop) in such a limp, drawn-out, bloated way is just a crushing disappointment.

Now, let's be clear about this - we were stocked to be going to see this. Almost giddy in fact.

I mean, Connor's back (and Linda Hamilton is still the coolest badass gun-toting chick around), Arnie's back (not a spoiler, it's in the trailer), and in places it is genuinely funny.

And in other places the action and tension are great.

But it's clear the script just wasn't up to snuff and they hoped to save everything with bigger and bigger set pieces as the whole thing dawdled on.

Well, sorry, it's not enough.

It's also not fair on the two central characters.

Mackenzie Davis (Grace) and Natalia Reyes (Dani) are strong, commanding screen presences and they basically make this film.

The action and drama is handled with power and panache and in lesser hands we'd have an even worse film.

What makes their performances even more outstanding is the dross they have to deal with. The dialogue is perfunctory at best, and the supporting and incidental characters are so paper thin you can almost see through them.

There is, however, one big plus to this movie — and it's genuinely something we hadn't thought of, but thankfully our viewing companion did.

This is a film with strong central female characters. No cleavage is needed. No smiling and twirling hair to get a thing done. No.

These three (kinda have to include Hamilton here) take no crap and shoot and punch their way through every bit of trouble.

The result on the female members of the audience (well, the one we were sitting with anyhoo) was to put a big grin on their face.

And if it can do that to a cynical, world weary woman - imagine what it will do to a younger generation of film makers.

Which, frankly, is brilliant.

And saves the film.

This is boring, action-by-numbers piffle with a plot looking for a story and dialogue in need of life support.

But this is also a film showing women can be as strong as men, can handle all the stuff they traditionally get sidelined from, and it should be applauded for this.

Now, if you don't mind, we've got a quadrology box set that needs trimming....

Zombieland: Double Tap (15)

Amazingly, it's been ten years since we first got to play in Zombieland — ten long years.

Back then the thought of a reality TV star becoming president was laughable. The idea that a country would tear itself apart simply because a bunch of billionaire want to avoid tax scrutiny simply absurd.

But we are where we are, eh?

And while no one was champing at the bit for either of those hypothetical situations to become reality, we're not totally sure that anyone was signing petitions or taking to the streets to find out what happened to Columbus, Little Rock, Wichita and Tallahassee.

But hey, we've been wrong twice already....

So ten years on we're back in Z-Land — and because these guys know what they're doing, we pick up the action ten years on.

Little Rock isn't so little, Wichita  and Columbus are attempting to be a couple and Tallahassee is... well... ten years older.

And that's pretty much it.

Then Little Rock goes AWOL and the gang have to hit the road to get her back, fighting zombies as they go.

If you saw the first one, you know this is done with equal parts gore and hilarity.

There's no wheel that needs reinventing here.

Which, going in to this, was the big fear.

This first film should not have worked as well as it did. It was geeky, gawky and basically just a few gags linking zombie splattery. With added fun graphics.

And it was great.

So, the hope was that nothing would be tinkered with too much.

And delightfully, it hasn't been.

Yes, the main cast  (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) are all bigger, more established stars than they were before — plus we now have an Oscar and three nominations on screen.

And the additions to the team (Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch) all hold their own and add to the fun.

Hell, even Wilson manages not to be too annoying.

And that's really the strength of this film.

It's meant to be fun. It's meant to be quirky. It's meant to have zombies getting splatted everywhere.

And that's what you get.

It's rips along at a cracking pace, doesn't overstay its welcome, and there's no flab on the bones. It's a tight ride and there are no passengers.

OK, maybe Berkley, but even he isn't too annoying.

The other master card Double Tap pulls off is remembering its own history and heritage. A call back to a joke from ten years ago is a brave move, but the writers remembered it and they trust that we do too.

And they're right.

As we may have hinted at the start of this waffle, the world is not the place it was in 2009 — and we need laughter more than ever.

So it's awesome that not only does Zombieland 2 deliver the laughs in spades, but you're still chuckling about things long after you've got home.

Ten years may be a long gap between films, but in this case it was worth it.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Joker (15)

As mentioned in our little LobbyCast offshoot, never underestimate our ability to know nothing about a film before we go in to it.

This is quite deliberate, as we try and form a 'fresh' opinion, but also remarkably liberating as we get pleasant surprises.

And yes, we're aware that sounds remarkably wanky.

So, heading to see Joker, we were aware of the star, that the director had said Dumb Stuff, and that the Guardian had described it as the worst film of the year.

Which, along with us wondering if we actually needed a film about Gotham's finest loon, suggested we would probably like it.

Turns out we do and we did.

Largely because we helpfully didn't know what to expect – which is almost where people who have complained about this film have come unstuck.

This film is many things – dark, nasty, violent – but what it isn't is funny or a 'superhero film'.

It's also, possibly, DC's finest film to date. For all of the reasons listed above.

Now, granted, no one really thought we needed this film (apart from DC's accountants, obvs) – we've had three defining Joker performances to date, so a fourth was always going to be a big ask.

And Jared Leto had a go too, don't forget.

But by removing any fighting with Batman and focussing entirely on how Joker came to be, Joaquin Phoenix and writer/director Todd Phillips have given us a gritty, 70s-esque movie which pulls no punches.

Central to this is Phoenix himself, who puts in a perfectly measured performance – pulling for your pity while only hinting at the madness that lurks beneath.

The other masterstroke is setting the film in a very real, very modern Gotham, where cutbacks and job losses have the many on their knees while the few carry on as if nothing is happening.

Sound familiar?

The pace of the film is delightfully slow without being laboured, and the supporting cast do just enough to keep you focussed and interested.

And then there's the small matter of Robert De Niro.

Apparently we were the only people to not register that he was in this film, which was great. As is his performance as TV host Murray Franklin, layered and subtle and perfectly positioned against Phoenix.

Topping the whole nasty mess off is the score – if you're a fan of the cello, then this is the film for you.

Moody, haunting jarring, Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl, Sicario: Day of the Soldado) has created something here that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

Sadly, but not surprising given this is a DC film, Joker is not without its problems.

The soundtrack features one song that will make you sit up and almost shout WTF in the middle of the cinema, and the two cops trying to track down Joker (or Arthur Fleck as they know him) are basically lifted from any 80s cop show you care to name.

And while the film has things to say about mental health and inequality, you don't get any sense that Phillips really cares or is interested.

Nor do you get any sense that the story, albeit one with a simple, linear narrative, really knows where it is going.

It's a credit to Phoenix that these things fail to detract from the whole experience.

Perhaps the finest thing about this film is the fact it stands alone. Yes, we know the character, yes we've seen him before, but here he's given his own playground and you don't need to have seen any other DC film to get on board.

In fact, Joker stands so alone that it's hard to see where DC go with him from here – because trying to bolt this version into the current DCU will take a crowbar the size of Gotham itself.

But such fears are for another day. For now, just sit back and wallow in the pain, misery and mayhem Phoenix has brought to life with a rare vulnerability.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)

It would seem absolutely everyone has now seen the latest, maybe even the last, Spider-Man outing – everyone, that is, except us.

So, a mere 76768686587689686876 days after release, we finally managed to tear ourselves away from everything else claiming our attention and went and sat in a darkened room to enjoy Spider-Man Goes On Holiday.

We'll be honest, though, with a mixture of Jake Gyllenhaal (sadly never a name that makes us rush to the tickets-parking-and-snacks desk) and the whole 'character goes abroad' shtick, this was not a film that we'd been eagerly anticipating.

Especially when the on-off romance between Sony and Marvel seemed to be more engrossing (back on at time of typing, but keep an eye...).

But anyhoo, we digress...

So, where we at?

Far From Home is the post-Endgame universe, and the disappearing of the people is being referenced and discussed, and the state of the Avengers is very much at the forefront of things.

Peter Parker, meanwhile, just wants the summer off and when school plan a trip to Europe this seems to sort things out nicely.

He can take in Venice and Paris, buy a thing, give MJ the thing, not be a hero and all will be well.

Which would obviously make for a short film....

So Nick Fury pops up, Happy is around, bad things happen in Venice and we get to meet a new hero – Mysterio (the aforementioned Gyllenhaal) and travel to other places for Reasons.

For those of us of a certain age, this has the feel of an On The Buses or Are You Being Served, where they took the characters abroad because they couldn't think what else to do with them.

Which, granted, is a tad harsh – this is a much better film than either of those – but you can't shake the feeling it really didn't need to go fighting its way across Europe.

That's not to say this isn't a fun film – it really is. There is a lot of humour, some quality slapstick, and the teenage angst of a boy just wanting to be a normal boy is handled deftly and with poignancy.

It just didn't need to happen abroad.

Or in 3D for that matter.

To be fair, the bits that are entirely done for 3D are far less intrusive than was the case back in Andrew Gardield's day, but in a 2D environment they really don't add anything.

All of which is a shame, because beneath all the bluster and extra trimmings is a damn fine film, and arguably one that is needed after Endgame.

It's light and frothy in places, weighty in others without going OTT, and the central trio of Parker (Tom Holland), MJ (the utterly superb Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) steal the show from their more seasoned co-stars.

And the central story is strong and engaging, with twists and turns where you want them, while using existing technology to keep believability levels within a reasonable range.

And it possibly sets up the next wave of Marvel movies, depending on the final deal Disney hacks out with Sony.

In a way, Far From Home feels like it's being thrown out as an after-thought, so huge was the finish to things in Endgame.

But in the other paw, there is a warmth and humour here that feels like Spidey has finally found his own little niche in the movie world (something that never quite happened with the previous incarnations).

Overall, while not up there with the greats, this is a welcome palete-cleanser ahead of wherever Marvel are dragging us next.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Tales of Frankenstein

One of the good things about running this blog is sometimes, just sometimes, someone you know knows someone really cool and helps to make the introductions.

Take Donald F Glut, for example. The man who wrote, not that he'll thank me for mentioning this, the novelisation of The Empire Strikes Back – a book I loved reading when less old than I am now.

Turns out, he also wrote episodes for Spider-Man, Transformers and Captain Caveman And The Teen Angels (plus loads of others, but I'm seriously and joyously cherrypicking).

Anyhoo, turns out I know someone who knows him.

Also turns out he's produced a new film – Tales of Frankenstein. Four short stories about that Victor fellow (kinda, in one way or another).

Which is why I got to spend a rather lovely Bank Holiday Monday morning watching a screener of said film.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the universe doesn't totally suck...

And, thankfully, nor does the film.

It could have been easy to lose the thread as Donald weaves his four tales, helped by a simply wonderful ensemble cast, but this guy knows his bolts (he's been very busy in the horror genre over the past few years).

Essentially what we have here is a love letter to Hammer House Of Horror.

Not just with the subject matter, but in the periods and locations chosen (Bavaria, Transylvania) and the other genres that get roped in for good measure (Sam Spade-esque film noir was a nice touch).

Each tale has its own style and tone, while still being shot through the Hammer lens — lending a warm familiarity to each story.

And the way the whole thing subtlety wraps back round itself just leaves you grinning and nodding.

In between all that, heads are surgically hacked open, hands come to life, the male fantasy of wanting a younger model is put through the wringer and Dracula... no no, that would be a spoiler.

There is an attention to detail here that is quite wonderful to see, and it's one of the things that helps bring the whole film to life, as it were.

Of course, as mentioned above, the cast more than play their part.

John Blyth Barrymore as Vincent, Buddy Daniels Friedman as Dr. Gregore, the sublimely sinister Jim Tavaré as Dr. Karnstein, Tatiana DeKhtyar as Lenore Frankenstein, Len Wein as Helmut and Jamisin Matthews as the hard-chewing Jack Anvil all buy in to what Glut is after and deliver.

Boy do they deliver.

And they're clearly having as much fun being in this as the audience will have watching it.

In an age of reboots, prequels and sequels, it's nothing short of amazing to find indie film makers still trying to put something new out there.

And yes, we know that Frankenstein isn't a 'new' story, but this is a fresh look at an old classic.

Fingers crossed it finds the audience it deserves.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Fast And Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (12A)

And so, after the overblown wotsits of Mr Tarantino, it was time for something a bit more cerebral, sedate, down to earth...

....or we could let Mrs Popcorn choose...

You know how this ended, don't you...?

Now, through no fault of our own, we have never actually sat down and watched a Fast And Furious film.

We've meant to, sure, always been keen – but then something happened (holiday, bins need putting out, the cinema is too far away, it's a Thursday) and the chance went begging.

So diving in at volume nine (NINE? REALLY????) seemed like a bit of a stretch. What if we weren't up to speed on the overall narrative arc? What if there were lot of in-jokes? What about all the symbolism and subtext built up over the previous eight (EIGHT????) films?

Oh well, dive in eh? What's the worst that can happen?

Turns out, we hadn't bargained for actually enjoying ourselves.

Who knew?

For those who actually care about plot, this is a simple one – world-killing virus is now in body of one person, so she is wanted by the bad guys, so Hobbs & Shaw have to stop bickering and save her. And the world, obvs.

The woman in question, Hattie, is played by Vanessa Kirby – who proceeds to act the two blocks of testosterone off the screen. Three if you count Idris Elba.

Kirby is sharp, funny, a thoroughly engaging screen presence and can hold her own in a fight. Frankly she should have had this film to herself.

Especially as the two "stars" (Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, you may have heard of them) are so busy ensuring they get exactly the same amount of dialogue and screen time they forget to actually get on with the action.

OK, that's a tad harsh, but the dialogue thing becomes really annoying about half way through the film.

Although, that's nothing on Elba. He's either a wooden muscle oaf or acting like his Oscar depends on it. It all depends on if he's acting opposite proper thespian Eddie Marsan.

Seriously, it's like he's in two different films.

We'd love to pick more holes in this crash n smash blockbuster, but in truth... we can't.

No, this isn't highbrow entertainment. Yes, John Wick is a better action film. Yes, Bond and Bourne are better spy films (although Statham does his best early on) – but damn it this film is fun.

The car chases, of which there are as many as you would expect, are stupendous and ludicrous in equal measure. The fights are solid, the dialogue fills in the gaps in the plot just as you'd expect.

And from about 10 minutes in, you'll find yourself just grinning like an idiot.

It may be at an actual joke (and there are quite a few), it might be at just how dumb some bits are – but the fact is, you're smiling and enjoying yourself.

And on at least two occasions we found ourselves tensing up and almost holding our breath as epic stunts unfolded.

All of which was not expected as we took our seats.

Yes, there are more plot-laden films out there. There are arguably better action films. But when The Rock and The Other Rock saddle up and give it their all, you just have to strap in and enjoy the ride.

You can't over think these films, they're just fun – and in this case, have the added bonus of some surprise cameos and a stunning performance from Kirby.

Oscar season looms large on the horizon, so take the summer off and just have some petrol-fuelled fun.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood (18)

There can be any number of reasons why a film review gets delayed around here — sometimes life gets in the way, sometimes it's the film.

On this occasion, it is definitely the film.

A week on, and we still have no idea what to make of Tarantino's latest outburst.

It's not that it's terrible — far from it, he's made worse — or that it's weird.

It's just... well...

Well, for a start it's long. Like arse-numbingly, eye-meltingly long. You'd be seen quicker in A&E on a wet Tuesday.

But let's not start off on a negative footing - Tarantino is one of those directors who commands respect thanks to his body of work.

Which is just as well, looking back at Once Upon A Time...

For the uninitiated, this is the story of fading 50s TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt man/buddy/gopher Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).

So it's a a buddy western. Very in keeping with his recent output.

Only it's also about Charles Manson, The Family and Sharon Tate (played brilliantly by Margot Robbie).

So it's actually a thriller.

Only it's about the Hollywood machine, film making, life through a lens, life behind the lens, life in miniature, life in a mirror.

So it's Tarantino indulging himself and pontificating on his first love.


It's all of these things. With some added scenes thrown in just so we can all see how he imagines it would have been if he had got to direct some of his heroes.

Genuinely, at one point it struck us that if Steve McQueen hadn't died back in 1980 this film would not need to exist because Tarantino would have cast him in something and got it out of his system.

As you can probably tell already, this is an epic film. Tarantino has basically taken everything he loves and thrown it at the screen. With some added bits for... well... reasons...

But we'll come back to that. (Don't you hate it when they do that in books?)

While the story is epic, so is the whole feel of the film. This is another monster Western from the maker of The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained — and this is actually a huge positive.

This film looks stunning. It's beautiful. We'd almost go as far as to call it a visual masterpiece.

It's just so huge. And not just from some of the panoramic shots. Even the close-up scenes feel larger than life. On this front, Tarantino has nailed it.

And the performances of the central three are great. Robbie is stunning, weaving silk purses from the various sow's ears she gets handed, while Pitt and Leo are clearly having a blast just hanging out together.

It's just a shame there is no functioning narrative.

Even the most shonky of films (let's take 47 Meters Down as an example here) tends to know what the destination is, where the story is heading — and that feeling is captured and transmitted despite the appalling acting, horrendous special effects and plot holes you could swim a shark through.

But Once Upon A Time? Not so much...

Now, the fact it doesn't take you where you think it is going is fine. That's a delight in a movie.

It's just not quite as delightful when you can't shake the feeling that the director doesn't have a clue either.

As we've already said, Robbie is superb here — but a week down the line we still have no idea why that story line was included.

It is genuinely baffling.

That's not to say there aren't clues. And here, we have to deal with a couple of the trickier areas of the movie.

Obviously, if you have Sharon Tate in your film set in 1969 then you 'have' to have Roman Polanski.

And this is where things get awkward.

The suggestion that Tate liked her men young leaps off the screen like a pre-emptive defence, while the mixed #MeToo messages after Cliff picks up a hitchhiker are enough to make your head spin (yes, good men ask for ID - but it's also, at the same time, not their fault because the woman are such teases...)

In other news, Harvey Weinstein used to produce Tarantino's films. Just, you know, FYI.

And all this is before we get to the final scenes, which is where the film earns its 18 certificate (here in the UK) and the audience loses a little more respect for Tarantino and the treatment of women in movies.

Once Upon A Time should have been the epic pinnacle of Tarantino's Western Trilogy.

Instead, it feels like he threw his whole notebook in the blender just to clear the decks ahead of Star Trek.

As a result, we're left with a mess of a film with questionable sexual politics but one that looks fantastic and has three great central performances.

But man is it long.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Blinded By The Light (12A)

When the world is quietly residing in the crapper, the arts react in one of two ways — reflecting the horror of it all, or large doses of feelgood smush to counteract the gloom.

And, as a rule of thumb, the worse the world is the bigger the dose of smush.

Be grateful, then, for Blinded By The Light — a bright beaming, er, yes, light in the gloom.

On the face of it, Blinded is a simple film about a young lad discovering the songs of Bruce Springsteen while growing up in Luton.

But there's far more going on beneath the surface.

This is also a film about finding your place in the world, standing up for what you believe in and how some people are not all they seem.

While also being about The Boss, obvs.

And while the narrative arc is a tad flimsy at times, and the film itself isn't really sure where it is going, the main cast have enough about them to make this work.

In Viveik Kalra the film has a young star (in his first film no less) who is engaging and captivating — you feel and share all the angst and joy he rollercoasters through as life throws him lemons and Bruce tapes in equal measure.

In Nell Williams and Aaron Phagura the film also has two brilliant young co-stars who help to capture the energy of those early Bruce songs.

Now, yes, this is a particularly saccharin piece of fluff at times, but as the film goes on you realise just how necessary this is as the grim reality of life under Thatcher in the late 80s — and the accompanying rise of racism — is brought to bear.

Growing up in this era, we remember some of how bad it was — but it seems, racist abuse aside, we got off lightly compared to towns like Luton which were hit with massive job losses.

And that's something this film captures well — the sad beigeness of the times.

Which is why song and dance numbers at the market, running about montages and impossibly-taken photos overseas just make you grin so much.

While this film has its problems, the one thing that writer/director Gurinder Chadha has got spot on is the feel of this film.

This can happily sit alongside Gregory's Girl (made in 1980) thanks to the look of this piece — and it can also hold it's head up alongside the likes of Pride for balancing social and political messages with outright fun.

Now, as we said, this isn't a perfect film — the story has no real sense of a destination, there are continuity issues and characters get shoe-horned into scenes for no reason.

But it's to the credit of the cast and overall script that these things fail to make a dent in your grin.

There may come a time when we don't need films like this, even though we'll still want them.

But for now, as the world burns and tilts to the far right, we're glad we have them.

Sometimes you just need to sit down, wallow in smush and grin like an idiot.

(Oh, and if you're wondering — and some of you will be — the answer is six. We bought six Springsteen albums after watching this)

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Lion King (PG)

*Nasal intake of breath* Of course (cough) it's not live action at all you know....

Yeah Brian, we know. Sigh.

And so every online discussion about Disney's revamp of The Lion King begins — a discussion only derailed by the unveiling of the trailer for Cats.

There are days when I think people go online just to prove someone else wrong.

Now, we're not saying we understand the whys and wherefores behind this latest move by the Disney money machine, but let's be kind and put artistic wossinames somewhere on there.

Not near the top, sure, but on there somewhere.

Because, to be fair, underneath the pixels or colouring in (depending which version you now favour), there is a solid little tale being told.

And for once, it would be nice if this is the thing we could focus on (a point made all the more pertinent as people seem fixated on the ethnic make-up of the cast...).

Now we remember going to see this film when first it toddled onto the big screen, Elton John wailing his little socks off and baby lionses never looking cuterer.

Or something.

Since then, Simba's cartoonish adventures have made it to a sequel (if you are too young to remember Disney's foray into straight-to-DVD follow-ups, well done) and a slightly successful stage-show.

And really, that's what this re-telling of the tail (hey, we were going to do this at some point) is all about — bringing the animation (cartoon 1) and live action (stage show) together with the latest graphics.

And, from that perspective, this film is another sure-fire hit.

The new voices are excellent (John Oliver as Zazu, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Donald Glover as Simba, some young singing sensation called Beyonce as Nala) while James Earl Jones steals the whole show before... well... you know...

And the humour has been updated, and the graphics are beautiful, and Simba's ickle face is just the cutest thing ever.

They could have royally screwed this up, yet somehow Disney dodged that particular poacher's bullet.

That's not to say the film is perfect — far from it.

With great pixels come great responsibility, or something, and by bringing the cartoon 'to life' (shut up Brian, not the time) a key layer has been removed.

You see, back in the day when Simba was drawn using Paint, the very cartoonish nature of the medium cushioned you from the bigger emotional blows — and given Disney's propensity for death and gore, this was a good thing.

Just ask anyone who watched Bambi as a kid.

Oh hell, they're going to do this to Bambi aren't they. Oh sh.... Sorry, where were we? Oh yes, wholesome cartoony goodness.

So, yes, bold colours helped you realise none of this is real. And even then, The Lion King packed an emotional punch.

Now, if by some freak accident you're the person who has never seen The Lion King (OK, other person, Mrs Popcorn won't watch in case she gets upset — she remembers Bambi) we'll skirt round a bit.

But you know when THAT happens, and how the ol' heart strings got tugged? Now imagine that happening with a seemingly real lion you already love because James Earl Jones.

It actually makes The Lion King a darker film.

This is also true of the great Simba unveiling. Suddenly we have real zebra celebrating the very person who will hunt them down and kill them.

That scene's not so cute now...

All of this is, of course, overthinking caused by being all adult and looking at the world through scratched, smashed glasses having lived through the past few years.

For the younger generation, this is a whole new film and it's very important to remember this.

Our youngest nephew was taken to see this version and had the time of his life (well, until he dozed off — two hours is a long time when you're still in short trousers), and that's really the most important thing here.

Disney now own every franchise we've ever loved, and they didn't buy them out of love — these things are cash cows. Or lions.

As such, it's in the corporations best interests to find ways of reissuing the old back catalogue to a new audience.

In doing so here, they have captured the magic of the characters and the songs and made the whole thing look thoroughly modern. Meaning several new generations can enjoy the magic before they become old and jaded like the rest of us.

But it also means we can revisit the magic through their fresh eyes. And maybe, for an afternoon, we can forget the world we live in and instead step into theirs.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Yesterday (12A)

You may have noticed the current social media trend of people feeling the need to speak out about things they have no interest in — because them not liking a popular thing is apparently really important.

We first noticed it with Game Of Thrones ("I've never watched..." — yeah, yeah, no one cares) and then just last week when a lot of white people felt their lack of interest in Stormzy was worthy of comment.

To this illustrious trend, this valuable use of bandwidth and time, we can now add Yesterday, the latest cinematic offering from Richard Curtis.

The main premise seems to be the instigation for the angst, or perhaps it's the fear that a feel-good movie is heading to the top of the film charts and people might actually start enjoying themselves.

Because, even with director Danny Boyle on board, if you're expecting anything other than two hours of having your feels played with then you need go back and start again...

And that's not to say Yesterday is in any way a disappointing film — far from it, but when Curtis is known for doing what he does, and doing it damn well, why complain when that's what he then does?

For those who have missed the main plot device, Himesh Patel plays struggling singer-songwriter Jack Malik, a man who can barely get his own friends to listen to his music.

Then, one fateful night, a solar flare knocks out the entire world's electricity for 12 seconds, which is just long enough for Jack to be hit by a bus and end up in hospital.

When he comes round he discovers several cultural touchstones have been wiped from existence — most importantly for the purpose of this film, The Beatles — and he is the only person on the planet who remembers them.

From here, a man who could barely get arrested becomes the biggest rock star on the planet. Living the dream, touring with Ed Sheeran, recording in LA and generally having everything he'd ever wanted handed to him in a champagne flute.

Essentially what this film is, is a look at the joy of discovering something for the first time. The excitement, the joy, the shared experiences. All the things we forget as familiarity sets in.

But what this film is also about is the importance of being happy.

Joining Jack on his musical journey is friend Ellie (played brilliantly by Lily James), the only person he knows who thinks he's genuinely talented and deserving of success.

Yes, yes, the clues are all there, but Jack's a bit dim.

What unfolds is nothing sort of soppy, heartwarming loveliness.

It's not dark, gritty, violent or even sexual, but what Curtis and Boyle have created is a giant hug of a movie that just makes you feel damn good.

And in former EastEnders star Himesh, they have the perfect star for this film.

He has a gentle, engaging screen presence, can sing, play guitar and piano, and delivers every line with note perfect sincerity and believability.

It's impossible to imagine anyone else playing this part.

Obviously the world knows who Lily James is these days (pretty sure Downton Abbey has been screen on the moon), and here she is every bit as good as we have come to expect.

In fact, we're pretty sure we haven't seen a romcom performance this heartmeltingly superb since Felicity Jones in Like Crazy and Chalet Girl.

The rest of the cast are all on it as well, and in fact there isn't a duff performance in the whole movie.

The huge surprise here, mind, is Ed Sheeran.

Not a fan of the Suffolk songster, but (as Simon Mayo brought up on Wittertainment recently) playing yourself is harder than you think and yet Ed managed it with aplomb.

Now, you may have noticed that so far the Curtis element of Yesterday has garnered our focus, but there are two stars behind the camera here.

We already know Boyle can turn his hand to anything, and here he proves this once more adding touches and flourishes that add new layers to the Curtis tropes.

Unusual camera angles, use of graphics, a lightness of touch when needed, trying to keep scenes as natural as possible — all these elements come together to lift Yesterday above the 'standard' romcom.

And he was clearly having a blast doing it. There is joy and delight in every scene of this movie.

Of course, as with all good romcoms, the story is not a straight line. There's added mystery, twists, reveals and general tomfoolery.

All of which is balanced perfectly.

And the eyes get very moist towards the end.

Look, I get it. Curtis isn't cool, or edgy, but he is popular and as such is deemed fair game for those who trade in negatives.

But Yesterday is just a huge chunk of happy in a world gone sad, and given the crap going on right now this is both the film we need and film we deserve.

Will it change your life? Of course not, but then nor will staring at a glorious sunset with a large glass of red in paw — but that doesn't mean you shouldn't just shut up, stop moaning, sit down and enjoy it.

Monday, 1 July 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (15)

There are many things you can say about the new John Wick instalment, but a lack of punctuation in the title is not an issue here.

I mean, come on, seriously? We needed a colon AND a dash?

OK, sure, it's not the thing you take away from this movie but it was genuinely the first thing that struck us as the screening began.

Such trivial matters are soon forgotten, however, as the film gets underway and we join a wet Keanu Reeves jogging through the New York rain, trying to get somewhere by somewhen, dog at his side.

Such details are soon clarified as we discover that Mr Wick has been booted out of the Killing Klub for Reasons (you'll need to have seen JW2 for these to make sense), and as the countdown begins he's en route to going from hunter to hunted.

What follows is standard John Wick fair — stylish, outlandish fight sequences that are basically brutal ballet, all beaten out with tongues firmly in cheek.

And yes, the fight scenes are violent, but they're also fun. And in places, hilarious.

We laughed more in the opening 45 minutes than we have at most of the comedies we've seen in the past 12 months.

And Parabellum (the title is explained by the wonderful Ian McShane).....

(For reasons we're not too sure about, we got sidetracked while writing this — not a usual state of affairs for sure, and almost certainly connected to a bump in the old mental health road. Concentrating on something is a bit of a bugger when the brain isn't playing ball, and completing tasks becomes harder because that takes effort and not doing it is the easy option. Leaving what was going to be a fun, witty, engaging review gathering dust like Bradford's city centre after the financial crash of 2008. But we digress again. Onwards....)

The point we really wanted to make when we started banging on about JWC3P (seriously, who is naming these things?) was the ballet angle.

It's the thing that leaps from the screen, way before the point is laboured.

Each fight scene is beautifully choreographed, exquisitely timed, basically pure physical poetry — and it's these scenes that make the movie.

Sure, there's a plot. There are other characters (McShane is as good as ever, turns out Halle Berry wasn't busy, oh look Fishburn is back...), there are dogs, there are jokes.

And there's Keanu being all Keanu, not pretending to be young, fit and healthy, but a normal 40+ guy who has heard of the gym but was busy that day.

And this is one of the reasons the JW films are so watchable.

There's a middle-aged guy in a suit, getting out of breath and beaten up, but somehow coming out on top.

He rides bikes, drives cars, takes people out with a horse (a fantastically bonkers fight sequence), says stuff, hits folks, shoots a lot of people and ends up looking like we all would if we'd done half that.

Mind you, there's a reason the fight scenes are as good as they are.

They have to be.

Because away from the all the punchy-punchy shooty-shooty fighty dog horse bonanza, they try and add plot.

And this is where the wheels start to come off.

Between each set-piece, Wick has to Go Places and Do Stuff and See People, all of which is leaden and dull.

It's as if the cast, crew and writers don't care about it any more than we do, but feel obliged to chuck it in to fill out the running time (a daft two hours plus change).

I get that they thought maybe they should do something different this time, but they ticked that box with the horse.

No one wants plot.

The John Wick films shouldn't, by any rational measure, work — but they do, and that is down to Keanu and his totally believable portrayal of an assassin having a bad day.

We go and watch them to see endless fights, blood, limbs flying everywhere, and leave grinning like idiots because it's all such damn, dumb fun.

We just need a fast-forward button for this chapter.

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....