Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Lockdown Film Club

Hello! Remember us? Sorry we've been away for a bit. Life happened, then we sorted that out, than all this happened.

And here we are.

There have been a few posts and memes kicking about the interwebs banging on about how if you haven't learnt 17 languages, redesigned the financial system and invented a new kind of duck then you'll have wasted all this time you didn't ask for.

I mean, we thought the whole plan was to stay inside and just make sure people didn't die - but clearly that isn't enough for some people so they have to hop on their high horse and preach bollox to the masses.

Probably while doing none of the things they're banging on about.

Over here at Popcorn Towers, we've embraced the whole STAY THE FRICK INDOORS mantra with gusto, and seeing as our usual evening escapades of cinema/quizzing/stand-upery have all been thrown in the bin for the foreseeable we thought we'd do something productive.

But, this being us, it's still taken a couple of weeks to get our crap together and actually start hitting the keyboard.

It's almost as if there;'s some big, global event that is kind of overtaking everything and making us focus on bigger issues...


As our regular reader (or listener) will tell you, we have a film or two kicking about the place that we've never got around to actually watching - so what better time to tackle that pile, eh?

We can learn Swahili tomorrow...

First up, The Good Liar. A film we'd wanted to see on the big screen, but alas, as ever....

Starring Sir Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren, it's ostensibly a film about a con man who swindles people out of their hard earned. But it's actually far cleverer, funnier and darker than any of that sounds - and has an ending that is just wonderful.

McKellan and Mirren are clearly having the time of their lives, while the supporting cast are also on top form. Sure, The Good Liar won't change the world, but it will make for a great evening.

We followed this up with The Fast And The Furious - the film that ignited the franchise that just won't die.

We'd never seen it, but in the last six months had managed to see Hobbs & Shaw and Fast & Furious 7, so we figured the damage had already been done so we might as well go back to the start.

And d'ya know what? Not terrible.

The dialogue's awful, the cars are ridiculous, Vin Diesel steals the show - and it's just one whole mess of dumb fun.

Again, won't change your life, but watching the whole lot will certainly take care of at least a week.

So, what's next?

Oh shit.

It's She's The One.

In our defence, we only own this film because it was cheaper than owning the Tom Petty-scored soundtrack. Not a mistake we'll be making again.

If you've never seen this film, don't. It has aged badly and it was terrible when it came out.

With sexual politics that were dated in the 90s, Jennifer Anniston plays Rachel, Cameron Diaz gets the only bra available, John Mahoney plays Martin, Amanda Peet looks embarrassed and we all wonder what we're doing with our lives.

If you're arsed about the plot (and you shouldn't be), two brothers don't get on, live very different lives, but fall out over the same woman for Reasons.

Whatever you do, don't go and watch this.

Thankfully Scream 4 has come next to hand, helped in part by a Wes Craven cameo in an episode of Castle.

Bringing back Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox, and heaping in every up-and-coming starlet they could find, Craven again turns the genre upside and inside out while commentating on the nature of fame and social media.

The fourth film in a series has no right to be this good, and yet it grips from start to finish, knows what it is doing, makes you smile and squirm in equal measure and reminds you that Craven still had a trick or two up his sleeve back in 2011.

Right, what's next...?

Turns out, 12 Angry Men. The Henry Fonda one.

A film famous for being parodied as much as being an amazing film. And another one purchased during a blitz through and HMV sale in Bradford more years ago than I care to remember.

On the upside, ripping off cellophane is a lot easier when it's starting to break down due to age...

But we digress.

A beautiful, note-perfect study in human behaviour, 12 Angry Men is a simple idea executed perfectly. After five minutes, all 12 cast members are in one room. And we stay with them for almost 90 minutes.

In that time they go over the evidence of a murder trial, with only Fonda prepared to actually question the facts presented to him.

Back in 1957 this was a great film. In the age of pointless internet debates and people refusing to deal in facts because they saw a YouTube video that confirmed their own innate prejudices?

It's a valuable, essential lesson in critical thinking. And it's gently moving to boot.


Oh look, it's Citizen Kane. The Greatest Film Ever Made.

It's a fascinating thing, owning a film. It often means you'll watch it tomorrow, because you can. And what happens is, as in this case, you get round to it 10 years later because there's a global pandemic and you had nothing else to do.

And I probably wouldn't have got round to it today if my father hadn't mentioned he was about to watch it. So he has his uses....

And it's definitely worth a watch. I mean it's not called The Greatest Film Ever Made for no reason.

The cinematography is stunning - it looks amazing. But, as we've covered several times before, that means it's lacking something somewhere.

In this case, a good editor. At two hours, you could lose half an hour and not miss anything.

The pace is very slow and meandering, and not in a way that keeps you watching. This is clearly an ego project - ironic given the subject matter.

But what is fascinating is the parallels you can draw with figures of today. A rich egotist damaged by events in his childhood? A media mogul who thinks he controls a whole country? It's as if Trump and Murdoch saw this film more as an instruction manual.

Still, looks amazing.

Wonder what will be next...

Oh look, it's From Here To Eternity!

It's funny how you just assume you know some films – not because of any actual research, just because they're so entrenched in modern culture you've heard so many references that you seem to have pieced the film together over time.

This is one such film.

It's a classic, right? A classic love story. They kiss on the beach. It's all romance n that....


We mean, yes, sure, that scene's in there – but it happens so early on in the film it actually throws you and makes you wonder what's coming next. And in fact it's not even the main love story. That's the two people having a quick affair there, getting all sandy and washed over.

It's actually the story of a soldier (Montgomery Clift's Prewitt) who doesn't want to fight but ends up having to. He falls in love with Alma (Donna Reed), who works in a bar as Lorene keeping men company, while standing up against racists who keep picking on his mate Maggio (Frank Sinatra).

And then Pearl Harbour happens.

All of which is a far cry from the film you think you're going to watch. Despite being the poster couple, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are the sub-plot.

And finding this out is kinda cool. Having myths dispelled, getting to watch a classic for the first time and finding there's so much more depth and nuance (not to mention hugely uncomfortable sexual and racial politics) is quite fascinating and uplifting.

(Oh, and the trailer is BRILLIANT - tells you absolutely nothing about the movie!)

On to our next Great Epic - The Bridge On The River Kwai, a film dismissed by one parent as 'ooh, I don't like war films'.

Which is silly, because in the same way Jaws isn't about a shark Kwai isn't about war.

It may be set in a POW camp during WWII, but it's about two stubborn men and their egos.

And it's frankly brilliant.

Wonderfully shot and with humour and tension in equal measure, Alec Guinness steals the show (and an Oscar) with a performance of wonderfully understated grace.

The supporting cast shines, the story never sages despite the film being about three days long, and issues with bird noises being heard as bats take flight there is absolutely nothing to fault here.

The fact we were screaming 'press it' during the closing scenes tells its own story.

Over time, 'classics' can become over-hyped, the recounting of them overtaking the quality that was originally on screen - but The Bridge On The River Kwai deserves its place in cinematic history.

A view which I'm sure will delight those involved with the production...

Anyhoo. Onwards....

Three down, four to go - this time we saddle up with The Professionals.

No, sadly not the 70s TV cop classic – this would be the classic western staring Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin.

If, like us, this one hadn't popped up on your radar before it is the most western of westerns.

Rugged men, horses, guns, the phrase "bad hombres" (so THAT'S where it came from...), sweaty buxom women, more horses, beards, Gringos, cigars, train rides and a chicken.

It's definitely a western.

Four mercenaries are hired to get a rich man his wife back after she was kidnapped and hoiked to Mexico. Probably on a horse.

Gathering on a train that makes request stops (oh those were the days), our fab four canter their way to the bad men's lair, shooting anyone who moves along the way.

Plans are planned, then executed – along with a lot more bad guys – before everyone hightails it back over the border for a bath and a plot twist.

If you like westerns you'll almost certainly know about The Professionals already, but if you don't you'll love it.

The scenery is breathtaking, the cinematography is beautiful, the one-liners are delivered with aplomb and everyone does what is asked of them.

Except the chicken.

If you don't like westerns, however...

Definitely not a western is Lawrence Of Arabia, of course. More a Middle Eastern.

And a film that takes the word 'epic' to the absolute extreme.

We actually worked out we could have flown to Morocco in the time we spent watching the film. Especially as it's bloody hard to actually get three-and-a-half uninterrupted hours around here.

But issues with time aside, bloody hell this is a movie.

We always worry, watching the classics, that either time won't have been kind (and there are a couple of awkward moments here) or history has painted a different picture.

But man. That David Lean fella knew his way around a movie didn't he.

This is also one of those rare movies that loses impact being moved to a smaller screen. Even in a world of 55446464" flat screen wossinames, this is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen.

Because the landscapes and vistas are breathtaking, the shots Lean uses are awesome. This is, in every sense, a big production.

At the centre of it all, of course, is Peter O'Toole delivering a beautifully measured, delicately underplayed performance – and in the process steals the whole show.

Again, we appreciate this is probably not news to fans of the film, but watching this for the first time (having got comfortable, obvs) is a real eye-opener.

The pacing is slow without being leaden or laboured, there are nice touches of humour, there's not a bad performance to be seen and the camels are ace.

These days this would probably be served up as a Netflix four-parter, but to immerse yourself in something this epic, this long, without breaks or (if you're lucky) interruptions is a rare and welcome experience.

Oh, and even the trailer is epic. Of course it is.

Part of the thinking behind this particular run of reviews was picking up a boxset of 'epic' classics from HMV for £2.99.

Which for seven films is frankly a bargain.

Sadly there are clear technical issues with trying to shove fours of movie onto a DVD cheaply, which caused issues with Arabia – and The Guns Of Navarone, which was to be the next film, only for the whole thing to freeze halfway through.

So, while I await the arrival of the BluRay (Two for £12 you say? Rude not to....), I went looking for another classic to watch.

And found Blithe Spirit in the mahoosive To Watch pile.

Call that a win.

Co-written and directed by David Lean and based on the classic Noel Coward play, it's the story of a writer who wants to dabble with the spirit world as research for his book only to have his dead wife rock up.

We've all been there, right?

Front and centre of the small cast is Margaret Rutherford as the medium Madam Arcati, invited to dinner by Rex Harrison's Charles Condomine.

What follows is a beautifully-paced comedy in which everyone delivers.

Almost stealing the show from Rutherford is Kay Hammond as the now dead Elvira, who is quietly amused at being summoned and clearly has dry contempt for her former husband.

Excellent use of lighting, make-up and special effects bring this film to life and help to provide a tight 90 minutes of fun.

This is, however, a film of its time and as such there are moments of dialogue that don't sit well with today's racial and sexual politics – but in a way it's good that they are here, so we can see how far we've come.

Kind of. Still got a long way to go, obviously. Will be interesting to see what they do with the 2020 remake...

One of the fascinating things about The Event and lockdown life in general is how stress etc can effect you.

Film watching, for example, has taken quite the hit as it turns out watching something new is really quite stressful when every day is full of unknowns.

Which is why we're watching every Midsomer Murders we can lay our hands on, but it has taken us a week and three attempts to actually watch The Thing.

Thankfully, once we'd stopped ol' Mr Brain from dancing about like a squirrel on speed, it was worth the wait and effort.

John Carpenter's 1985 remake of the 1950s horror, this is the tale of a shape-shifting alien discovered in the frozen wastes of the South Pole and inadvertently brought back to life.

These things will happen, eh?

Delivered at a slow, deliberate pace (very like Alien in some respects), the action explodes periodically and the tension slowly creeps up on you as – like with that Agatha Christie book we don't mention anymore – members of the research team are Happened To.

At the centre of it all is a bearded Kurt Russell, delivering a beautifully understated performance as he leads the crew on a mission to find out who's alien and who's human.

The showpieces here, however, aren't the action scenes or the dogs (good as they are) – it's the special effects.

Made long before CGI, the models and the blood are gore-tastic and there is one brilliant bit where one of the characters loses both hands in a way that will have you squirming and grinning in equal measure.

This may be an '80s classic, but it stands the test of time.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Jojo Rabbit (12A)

Oscar season invariably brings out the meaningful and the worthy as the world's weightier subjects are slung at the big screen. 

Or, adaptations of the classics are foisted on a new audience with the aim of spreading the word and gathering a few gongs.

Or there's Jojo Rabbit.

Giving a weighty subject (Nazis) a lighter touch, writer/director Taika Waititi has adapted Christine Leunens's book Caging Skies into one of the most joyful, touching, heart warming, tense, horrific films you're ever likely to see.

Set in Germany at the tail-end of the war, good little Nazi boy Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is forced to question all he knows to be true when he discovers his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in the house.

Coming at a time when hatred and division are riding roughshod across the land, Rabbit takes us by the hand and shows us a better way.

With lush, warm tones washing over us, Waititi treads his fine line perfectly — capturing the horror of war and the Nazi movement while also getting is to laugh at the absurdity of extremist dogma.

Which, admittedly, does sound a bit heavy.

But thanks to some genius casting and Waititi's deft touch, what you have is a film that will have you laughing out loud seconds after you've been sitting upright holding your breath.

Central to the magic is young Roman.

Putting an entire film on such young shoulders is a brave move, but he owns this film from the off and holds his own alongside Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Waititi himself.

Matching him step for goose step is the amazing Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the girl hidden upstairs who turns Jojo's world view upside down.

The two young stars you give us characters we love and care about from the opening scenes, adding immense emotional depth to the seemingly frivolous story telling.

Johansson and Rockwell are also on form, delivering vastly different performances (Jojo's mother and an oddball army captain) with a subtlety and grace that allows the two young stars to shine.

Of course, you can't talk about the film without mentioning Adolf (as he's credited on IMDB), Jojo's imaginary friend and leader of Nazi Germany.

Played by Waititi himself, he's given enough comic touches to help you laugh at him while also giving space for the hatred and madness to surface.

As well as making us laugh out loud at times, this also allows us to frame Jojo's world view and see that while his views are abhorrent it's the lies he's been fed that have shaped them.

This is further emphasised when Stephen Merchant and his team of Gestapo officers turn up, further blending drama and comedy so seamlessly that if Waititi was to do a remake of ’Allo ’Allo we'd probably organise a street party in celebration.

There are moments within this film where you are holding your breath, there's one moment that will have you in tears, but there are so many others that will make you smile and laugh you can't help but fall in love with this film.

A water-tight script and a cast on top of their game (only Rebel Wilson falls short) and a vibe reminiscent of The Grand Budapest Hotel, this is a film that is essential viewing.

A member of The Church Of Wittertainment write in to the show and drew comparisons with the classic children's novel The Machine Gunners — and having now seen the film, we have to agree.

In both we see hatred and racism through a child's eyes, and see such views challenged by actual interaction with “the enemy”.

And in both cases we get to laugh and learn a lot while also feeling the impact such views have on the world.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (12A)

And so, here we are — for the third time in our life The Saga has come to an end. 

Until next time, obviously. And let's not rule that out. But already we digress....

It's almost as if we're trying to find reasons not to actually write this review...

Our LobbyCast companions have already voiced their thoughts on the matter, and we get that this is a big moment for fans everywhere.

Or should be.

And yet...

You see, Jedi was far from the greatest film ever made — but within the context of the trilogy it made sense, felt right, and had added euphoria that younger us remembers fondly. Even now.

And sure, Revenge Of The Sith wasn't amazing, but it was the best of those three (OK, low bar...) and had the added nostalgic impact of finally giving is the back story we'd always craved.

Badly acted and with terrible dialogue, but THAT BIT happened so all was forgiven.

Then, because Disney loves a cash cow, we seemingly needed to know what happened next.

I mean, we know what happened next — the Empire was defeated and everyone lived happily ever after. But apparently that wasn't enough.

And so we get a whole new trilogy to have fun with, and to be fair The Force Awakens ticked all the right boxes and hit the right buttons.

By basically being Star Wars again, sure, but it felt right. It felt like the wait was worth it.

And then, of course, we had offshoots we didn't know we needed as a universe we were happy with got expanded beyond all reasonable measure.

Rogue One and Solo weren't awful, but also weren't great — and in the case of Rogue, just re-shot key scenes from Empire.

In between these of course, we got The Last Jedi.

Or got got by The Last Jedi, depending on your viewpoint. Too long, too confusing, too dull and baffling given how good a writer/director Rian Johnson actually is.

All of which brings us to where we are now. Still wondering why we put ourselves through it. Why we allow ourselves to have our nostalgia and emotions toyed with once again.

If we ever find the answer to that, we'll get back to you.

In the meantime, as the world dashed to the opening weekend, we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We knew what was coming, we knew what would happen, but like those end of year accounts we were in no rush to face the inevitable.

And then, finally, we trudged to the big screen, sat well away from everyone, and waited...

And the first thing we realised was that no matter how many times we see them, no matter how many parodies exist, those words scrolling up the screen telling us the story so far in excitable, juvenile, over-written English still give us that same tingle.

It would be the last one for a while.

From here on in, it's a long, slow descent into apathy with a few audible 'oh ffs' being muttered along the way.

We're not going to go details of the plot (really, what's the point?), suffice to say Good is fighting back against Bad and there's conflict and angst.

Good angst, too, at times.


And there are few too many buts flying around here...


It just feels wrong.

Old characters return, new ones are clearly there to sell merchandise (a totally unwelcome callback to The Phantom Menace) and action scenes are here ready for the inevitable game that will be launched when the BluRay arrives.

And the dialogue is clunky as all hell.

No, it was never brilliant, but it was better than this.

We very nearly screamed 'WE KNOW YOU'RE THE SPY, YOU DIDN'T NEED TO TELL US', but that would have broken the Code Of Conduct.

And that, ultimately, is the problem here.

Sure, OK, ignore the last film completely, but if you're going to do that then know how you're going o plug the gaps.

And yes, it looks amazing, and is wonderfully dark in places (it is, essentially, Empire and Jedi shoved into a blender), but as we've come to expect Skywalker is entirely style over substance.

Which, granted, is ever as it was, but back then you were given characters to love, you cared what happened, you were given a story to get stuck into (no matter how hack Jedi might look now, we loved it then).

But when you spend most of the film picking large holes (His name wasn't mentioned for three films, so how come it's suddenly all over the place, eh? Oh, and where the hell did he suddenly come from?)* you know something is wrong.

And it's not the lack of plot or terrible lines, or even that they were riding sodding horses in space, it's the fact the emotion has gone.

No one seems to have cared about this film.

Yes, OK, we're world weary, cynical, mildly depressed and watching the world burn — but that was almost the same set of circumstances surrounding Awakens and we loved that.

No, sadly, in attempting to bring loose ends together that didn't need it, to create events we know could not have happened, to produce something that is essentially soulless is just wrong.

For the film to only come alive during the final scenes was even worse.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

The Gentlemen (18)

Remember when Guy Ritchie made good films? I mean yeah, sure, Lock Stock was a while back. And so was Snatch. And those Sherlock films. But they were good.

Or at least alright in the case of the second Sherlock one.

But he had his style, he had his cinematic tropes, and on their day they worked.

Sadly, this wasn't his day.

But it's not for lack of trying.

It's clear he remembers what those tricks and flicks were, he's just decided to try different ones.

Plus, he's tried once again to overthink things. And that never ends well.

For those of you who haven't seen the frankly brilliant, fast-paced, action-packed, gag-ridden trailer, The Gentlemen is essentially about film making.

Yeah, the trailer doesn't give that away either...

Hugh Grant plays a private investigator who is trying to blackmail a dope baron because he believes he's uncovered all the secrets.

His method of blackmail is detail the film he has written about what he thinks he knows — and this is how the film unfolds.

Taking the role of narrator, Grant's ludicrously over-blown camp Fletcher explains his plot to Charlie Hunman's increasingly bored Raymond.

And it doesn't take long for the audience to be as bored as Raymond.

Cutting between the 'action' and the conversation should at the very least give you a change of pace, but if anything the result slows down both.

Part of the problem is Ritchie is trying to be too clever. He's trying to make the film he's also telling you about and in the process he loses focus and we lose interest.

Further problems lie in the characters and direction the actors haven't been given.

No one here has any depth or substance, and so it's up to the stars to give themselves something to work with.

Grant is clearly having fun doing a caricature of a crooked, sleazy, gay guy — but he dances a fine line between enjoyably overblown and annoying.

Matthew McConaughey, meanwhile, was also given nothing to work with and so can't be arsed — lazing his way through everything with the offcuts from True Detective.

Hunman is caught between sinister and cool and so fails at both, while the usually brilliant Jeremy Strong is clearly delivering lines he doesn't actually believe in.

The only two coming out of this film with any conviction are Colin Farrell (bolshy, slightly comic Irishman) and Michelle Dockery (channelling every female EastEnders villain ever).

Honestly, without those two this thing would have been a lot worse.

The action itself was fine, but lacking pace and (ironically) punch, while the dialogue aimed for updated Lock Stock but fell woefully short.

(The scene where a white man explains to a black guy why being called a 'black [expletive]' isn't racist is a cringefest rather then the sharp edge Ritchie was clearly after)

Including the offices of the actual production company and posters of Ritchie's previous work just put a tin lid on the whole thing.

Somewhere in here is a cracking, less offensive, sharp, sassy shoot-em-up about posh gangsters.

Instead Ritchie decides to go all 'meta', inserts needless film references in a bid to prove he knows what he's doing, and we all sit there bored waiting for the other two Farrell funny bits.

Oh, and there's a slight plot lift from BBC crime drama Shetland in the mix too. Which was nice.

Still, that Lock Stock eh? That was good...

Sunday, 8 December 2019

21 Bridges (15)

Walking out of the cinema after watching 21 Bridges was more interesting than usual – asked by our companion if we had enjoyed the film, and answering positively, we were greeted with an incredulous stare.


It seems the two of us had watched very different films...

Further discussion led to phrases such as “been done before”, “just a cop movie” and “predictable” being bandied about — and it was hard to argue against them.

But at the same time, they missed the point.

With 21 Bridges, it's not the story that's being told that matters so much as HOW it is being told.

The plot, despite many a twist and turn, is remarkably simple. A botched raid on some stashed coke leads to a mass shoot-out and more dead cops than you can shake a sub-machine gun at.

Cue Detective Davis (Chadwick Boseman) being called in to track down the two hoodlums responsible for the massacre, and promptly being saddled with Detective Burns (Sienna Miller) from narcotics.

And from here, yes, we can't argue, A follows B in the finest of traditions.

But as we said above, it's how the story is shaped and told...

For a start, the decision is made to shut down the whole of Manhattan – including the titular 21 Bridges. A deadline is then added to the mix.

What this does is create a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere meaning no one can take a breathe and the chase becomes beautifully relentless from there on in.

But even that isn't what makes this film what it is.

The use of dark streets, cars racing through the night, the stark contrast of the underground are all utilised beautifully by first-time movie director Brian Kirk (whose work on Game Of Thrones and Luther proves he knows what he's doing).

The use of aerial shots also give an added sheen to proceedings, bringing to mind a grittier version of Welcome To The Punch.

It's the sound design. That's where the real magic of 21 Bridges lies.

From the moment the bad guys drive up to the wine bar in their quiet car, the doors shutting softly, you know you are in the hands of a lover of the craft (sound designer Lawrence Zipf in this case).

Not since Stoker has the sound of a movie got us this excited.

And that his how the tension is quietly, gently ratcheted up during the course of the film.

The score insinuates rather than instructs, during a brilliant chase scene it underpins rather than shouts over the top (in one case allowing the sound of clattering pots and pans to ring clear).

And while the tempo of the film barely changes, the beat of the sound effects and sound track plug themselves into your adrenal glands and take control.

Now obviously this doesn't work for everyone, but when it does....

And to be honest, it needs to.

The characters are rather cliched, Miller's narc cop is paper thin at best and her delivery is somewhat flat, bad guys Stephen James and Taylor Kitsch have been in a million other movies – but once you get lost in the action, once you let the sounds wrap themselves around you, none of that matters.

It helps a lot that Boseman is a commanding screen presence, utterly believable and plays his detective with depth and nuance. A lesser actor could have got lost in this.

The film is not without other flaws, either, and one piece of expositional dialogue could have been replaced by a bunch of pom-pom waving cops singing “THIS IS A CLUE” in full falsetto and it would have invoked fewer tuts.

But the positives outweigh the negatives here.

Has the story been told before? Of course. Has it been told with more depth? Almost certainly.

But has it been told with slick care and attention to the finer details? Not recently.

At the end of the day, sometimes all you want from a film is just to sit back and enjoy it washing over you. And for that, 21 Bridges is perfect.

Knives Out (12A)

As the trailer played out before us, glances were exchanged – this looked nuts. Not good nuts, just nuts. And then Daniel Craig appears with that accent...

Yup, no way we were going to see Knives Out.

Until we saw the trailer again. When suddenly it looked a bit more fun...

So naturally, a couple of weeks later we find ourselves at the cinema and Knives Out is the only thing on at the right time. So shrugs all round and in we slump.

Only to emerge two hours later grinning like idiots having had more fun than should be possible sitting that close to a giant screen (our fault, we were running late).

You see, underneath the dodgy accent and slightly two-dimensional characters is a very funny script and a who-dunnit that shows just how bad Murder On The Orient Express really was.

The basic plot is classically simple – an obvious suicide which can only be murder. A family of suspects gather, all of whom had motive, while The Help is dragged around like a queasy Hastings to Daniel Craig's American Poirot.

None of which, we appreciate, sounds like a smashing couple of hours – but thanks to a water tight script and seriously slick direction, writer/director Rian Johnson (yup, the Star Wars one) delivers a huge dollop of entertainment.

Now, as we said, there is nothing original going on here – but when we have Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collete and Craig chewing the scenery with joy and gusto, how can you complain?

Curtis, especially, owns every frame she is in, but her co-stars all step up and deliver fitting performances, all clearly buying in to what Rian is after.

The only sticking point is Craig's accent – not because it's bad, but because one does not expect a southern drawl to come tumbling out of that face.

Once you get past that, though, he delivers a fine balance of quirk and Sherlockesque sleuthery.

But the excellent, lush, cinematography and great performances would all count for nowt if it wasn't for the writing.

Because the real jewel in Knives Out's crown is the script.

Observing Checkov's Gun to the letter (“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there.”), not a word, scene or clue is wasted.

Nothing happens by accident, nothing is forgotten, and even when you think you've spotted something Rian missed, the traditional recap in the final scenes will tell you that you were wrong.

And that is the key to why this film is just so damn enjoyable – the attention to detail.

Everyone brings their A game, no shot is left to chance and every tiny detail matters in the whole scheme of things.

And it's been a while since we've been able to say that.

Oh, and there are more than a few subtle political jibes in there too. Which was nice.

In an era when big blockbusters are causing angst for the likes of Scorsese, it's genuinely refreshing to happen upon a film that just takes a good story and has fun with it.

It proves that both good storytelling is alive and well, and that if your film is good enough (and not four days long) it can still be made.

The fact it's still on several screenings a day also proves that if you film it, they will come.

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.