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.)