Screen Shot 2019-09-08 at 11.12.14 AMIt Ends, announces the poster ominously. And while this is for all intents and purposes true, a more accurate announcement would be It Ends … But It’s Gonna Take a While.

For make no mistake, this is a long movie. It’s so long, in fact, that I began to wonder if just reading the 1,400 page novel would be a quicker experience. Okay, so it’s 170 minutes long. It feels much longer.

I’ve complained about movies outstaying their welcome for about as long as I’ve been writing these reviews, as anyone who has read my thoughts on any number of Tarantino efforts will already know. Because of the way the story is told here, this feels like it’s a more intrusive overstay. There’s a moment about halfway through when I realized that each of the Losers gang was going to split up and have an individual moment with their demons and I actually groaned when I thought of how long that was going to take.

We pick up, eventually, twenty-seven years after the first movie left off. Before we get to that, though, we have to endure a really difficult opening few minutes where a gang of homophobic townsfolk severely beat up a gay couple, throwing one of them over a bridge and into a river. It’s a really difficult scene to watch, and given that the matter is never properly discussed again, it’s a little worrying that it’s there in the first place. I remember enough from the novel I read probably thirty years ago to recognize the scene. I also remember it having a point in the novel. In the movie, that’s never made clear.

The movie starts properly after around 15 minutes. An older Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa, who it took me about an hour to recognize as the Old Spice guy) has never left town and notices that bad things are happening in Derry again, suspects It has awoken and phones up the other Losers to get them to fulfill their promise to return and kill It properly. Each of the Losers has become at least superficially successful since leaving, although they all have stuff going on under the surface that’s a little bleaker. They have suppressed memories of the events of the first movie, some of them barely remember Derry at all, but they come back and in the highlight of the movie, in a Chinese restaurant, the memories return.

The theme of a dark underbelly of a town, of secrets lurking, of secondary superficial lives underpins the entire movie and it’s interesting up to a point. Memories, terrors, everything is dug up from somewhere. Jessica Chastain plays Bev who despite her success in the fashion industry is continually involved in abusive relationships reminiscent of the one she had with her father as a child. Richie (a quite magnificent Bill Hader) has become a stand-up comedian and perhaps his secret is the most hidden away, something that It taunts him with, but again in a call back to the opening, it’s not really properly addressed.

Oh, and before I forget, it’s not scary. That’s fine. The first one wasn’t scary either. But the first one had this coming-of-age / nostalgic thing going on that kept it interesting, plus the kids were all awesome. It was fun. These elements don’t exist in the second part, the kids have less screen-time during flashbacks, and it’s a less enjoyable experience.

There are too many strands, too many timelines, too many false endings, too much comedy when it’s supposed to be a horror movie, and director Andy Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman feel in control of none of it.

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Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 6.34.50 PMDearie me. I’ve reviewed only two other movies this year? Okay, I haven’t been to that many more, I was never going to peck out 500 words about Detective Pikachu, Crawl was just so bad I couldn’t bring myself to open the laptop, and don’t get me started on Toy Story 4.

This, the 9th movie from Quentin Tarantino, felt like I could easily get the wordage from it.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a Hollywood icon whose star is fading, constantly finding himself playing the bad guy who is inevitably vanquished by the hero. Brad Pitt is Cliff Booth, Dalton’s stunt double buddy who has been finding it hard to find work following the very Natalie Wood style demise of his wife at sea, and who now gophers for his friend during the day. Both find themselves unsure of the space they occupy as the end of the Golden Age approaches and their struggle to reconcile that.

Meanwhile, Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, who almost 50 years ago to the day was murdered by members of Charles Manson’s Family, and who in the movie … well, she doesn’t do a whole lot. She and Roman Polanski are Dalton’s neighbors and constant reminders to him of which rung of the celebrity ladder he now occupies. The young Polanski and Tate are hot items, higher up in terms of fame and whose house physically looks down at Dalton’s, representing a New Age that has little room for him.

Two-thirds of the movie record the events of these three characters over a couple of days in early 1969 and it’s interspersed by a bucket of cameo performances of real and made-up characters. Mike Moh convinces as Bruce Lee. Julia Butters as Dalton’s eight-year-old co-star is incredibly good in the couple of scenes she shares with him. Rather cleverly, we get to digitally imagine DiCaprio in Steve McQueen’s role in The Great Escape.

It’s shot impeccably well. The soundtrack is glorious. The incidental indents from TV and radio shows from the late 60s gets a bit of a bore after a while. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt have seldom, if ever, been better.

Tarantino loves to play about with chronology and sequence and just the general method in which people tell stories. This is no different. The movie consists of four threads, each of which is made up of individual moments and set-pieces. Each of these, by and large, is effective and entertaining, although there is a long section in the middle whose tension is allowed to evaporate without much of a pay-off. That said, for the most part, it’s entertaining, witty, and funny.

Tagging all these moments into a cohesive, broader overall arc is less satisfying, and just when we think the whole movie may be set over a couple of days, there’s a massive jolt that blows that idea out of the water and eventually needs an extensive bit of narrative exposition to calm everything back down again. The final act is a gloriously over-the-top violent dance that goes on for five minutes to set-up an outrageous punchline.

At 165 minutes, it’s easily 45 minutes longer than it absolutely needs to be. Cutting out most of the cigarette lighting and maybe a third of the 1960s radio indents would probably be enough to get it under a couple of hours. It’s an awful lot of movie. And while it’s not Tarantino’s best work — the underuse of Robbie is verging on criminal — there’s enough there to convince you that you enjoyed it and give you stuff to talk about on the way home.

Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 11.41.18 PMI had enormously high hopes for Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to 2017’s Get OutGet Out was an exclamation point in the punctuation of that year that shone a light on racism and classism and was a hugely entertaining social critique. It didn’t seem too unfair to expect something of equal heft from Peele’s sophomore effort.

Following a quick supposed lesson about the abandoned tunnel system in the United States and a brief retrospective prologue, we’re introduced to the Wilson family in a manner similar to the openings of The Shining and The Evil Dead; folk in a car driving through nice scenery. They’re on their way to Santa Cruz where the mother had had a traumatic experience in her youth. They hang out with friends at the beach, they enjoy the surroundings of their late grandmother’s home, but there’s always a feeling that something’s not quite right, something’s out of sync. And then, at night, a family of four, dressed in red, appear in their driveway and aren’t in any hurry to leave. Furthermore, they’ve each brought along a pair of bronze scissors. And then we realize, as the characters realize, that the intruders bear a striking resemblance to the poor Wilsons.

There are some great touches here that support the whole symmetry theme. It all starts to kick off around 11:11 at night. Jeremiah 11:11 is shown a couple of times. The fact that the weapon of choice is scissors is significant. Without a doubt, there is a lot to admire from a thematic and structural point of view.

As far as acting chops are concerned, it really couldn’t be better. Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke are both excellent as Adelaide and Gabe, and their kids, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex do fantastic turns as phone-obsessed Zora and kind-of-a-weirdo Jason. The fact that these actors do a double shift and make each instance distinct just makes it more impressive.

Jordan Peele knows how to tell a story and cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis (It Follows, Glass) certainly knows how to film it. It’s worth taking a moment to emphasize this; the movie is gorgeous. It is beautifully shot. Additionally, the sound design is incredible and manages to play with your expectations to get you uneasy. It’s very cleverly done and adds to the tension.

Despite the tense nature, it isn’t without more than its fair share of laughs. Before excrement hits the ventilation, the family’s banter is cute while still being believable, but it’s the laughs that hit in the more horrendous moments that really resonate. I don’t think I’ve laughed so long — or if ever — upon hearing Luniz’s I Got 5 on It. Or, for that matter, NWA’s Fuck The Police. It’s Sting I feel sorry for.

So I must’ve loved it, right? Right? Holy shit, Gav, tell us you loved this movie. C’mon. Jeez.

Well. Kinda.

On the surface, Us is an evil doppelgänger movie and for the first act and a half, it’s effective and it’s a tight to the point of being claustrophobic home invasion flick. As the movie progresses, the focus broadens and in doing so, it robs the film of the tension.

More importantly, the reason why this is happening, and it’s explained in a couple of lengthy exposition scenes, isn’t hugely satisfying. In fact, it’s pretty stupid. Plus, it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, and it doesn’t feel like it’s a movie that plays by its own rules. Most damning, perhaps, there was absolutely no reason for this movie to last two hours. There were moments where I was a little bored.

Look. It’s a good movie. It’s worth checking out. But in my opinion, it’s not Peele’s masterpiece. More positively, I loved the way it dealt with gore. Mostly every horrific moment you think happened in the movie, happened in your head. That’s pretty neat. Also, it’s always refreshing when a horror movie doesn’t rely on jump scares.

Is it better than Get Out? Of course not. But it’s a very decent, creepy movie whose performances and humor just about make up for the shortcomings in the story.

the_favouriteTwo period dramas in a week? Well, I guess so.

Following on from Mary Queen of Scots, this effort from Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth) is a far more entertaining affair. There’s a scattering of supporting characters and a decent wealth of talent, but essentially this is a three-hander. Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz is Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and Emma Stone is Abigail Hill, a cousin to the Duchess.

Sarah’s relationship with the Queen is an odd one. She’s an adviser and a confident and a secret lover and in a lot of ways, due to the Queen’s physical and mental health issues, she’s essentially pulling all the strings that run the country. Abigail arrives to court recently impoverished when her husband died in a fire and looking for a favor from her cousin. She’s sent to work in the scullery where she is mocked and bullied by the other servants. It isn’t long before she proves herself to Sarah and makes her way upstairs and then she discovers the special relationship between Sarah and the Queen and begins to plot her ascent back to nobility.

This is all against a backdrop of a war with the French that requires funding, which in turn requires an increase in land taxes that the common people are apt to revolt against. Sarah’s husband, Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss), is the strategic mastermind at the front, and so it comes as no surprise that Sarah backs the tax hike and she has the Queen’s ear, as well as other parts of her body, so the Opposition party try their best to use Abigail against these plans. Abigail, though, has plans of her own.

For a movie with so many twists and turns, deals and double-crosses, and where our own allegiances to these characters is fleeting, it’s remarkably easy to keep up with everything that’s going on, which is of course down to the performances, but also a sharp, crisp, and witty script from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. The excesses of the time are stark as ducks and lobster are literally raced around rooms, the Queen gets lost in her own house, a naked man is pelted with fruit for no apparent reason other than why not. All the while, a war is being fought.

The Favourite is the kind of movie that tends to do well come Awards Season, and I’d be amazed if it doesn’t pick up a few nominations and prizes. The set design and costumes are exquisite, but the real issue is going to be who gets Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress, as we’re going to have to perm two out of three and I found it really difficult to separate Colman, Stone, and Weisz. I’ve always had a soft spot for Olivia Colman, but in all honesty, it could go either way. My only complaint is the font they use in the titles made my eyes sore. Oh, and the guy in front of us laughed two seconds too late at each gag. That’s all I’ve got.

A triumph.

71D1305E-5963-4766-A591-BAA4A9270687To my shame, I walked into Mary Queen of Scots with my wife wondering how historically accurate it would be, and I had to admit that I wouldn’t really know one way or another. Aside from the whole Catholic / Protestant thing and the fact that she gets her head chopped off, I confess to not knowing a huge amount about this part of my homeland’s history.

Mary, played by Saoirse Ronan, has returned from France to reclaim her throne from her half-brother and has ideas to replace Elizabeth I’s rather shaky arse on the English equivalent, thus uniting the nation and putting an end to all this squabbling and killing. Elizabeth I, played by Margot Robbie, and her court, understandably, aren’t too keen on the idea. And so begins a to and fro of ambassadorial visits to try and come to some mutually beneficial agreement. Liz hasn’t taken a husband and Mary is only willing to do so for the right reasons but if she were to sire an heir then her position as ruler of the two nations would gain power. I’m not sure why, but enough people say it so it must be true.

It’s a beautifully acted piece that is basically a drama of manners and protocol, of people saying one thing and meaning another, of men politicking with the two women mere collateral pawns in the game. The costumes are as gorgeous as the scenery. Where the piece fails is in the story. The story is pretty boring. Watching an ambassador traipse up and down across the border with offer and counteroffer as Mary and Elizabeth try to find a way to co-exist gets dull pretty quick. It’s like an Elizabethan version of The Thick of It but with no swearing and no jokes.

We’re also expected to believe that Mary is, like, totally woke. She doesn’t care that her minstrel/adviser is homosexual, or that he slept with her husband on her wedding night. Nor does she give two hoots if you’re a Protestant or a Catholic, so long as we can all get along. And one gets the impression that Mary and her entourage of gentlewomen attendees sit up all night, talking about boys, and doing each other’s hair. Plus, everything about this Elizabeth goes against my admittedly restricted knowledge of her through history lessons, but she’s painted with a far more sympathetic brush than I’ve been led to believe and seems far more reluctant to deal with Mary in any permanent way than I’d have assumed.

It’s not a dreadful movie by any manner or means, but the screenplay and overly long running time do let down the talent and the effort that’s gone into recreating an otherwise believable 16th century world.

C22A7815-B2B1-4A34-A86C-3D6F9CF1EF21From the people who brought you The Big Short. And it really is. It’s from all the people who brought you The Big Short. Every single last one of them. Stick Margot Robbie in a tub and we’d have the whole gang together. So while thematically, this is very much a different story, this is something of a spiritual sequel and you should expect to be feeling pretty angry by the time the end credits roll.

So if The Big Short asked you to get angry about the financial system that brought about the global crisis of 2008, what are you supposed to get your knickers in a twist about this time? In short, Dick Cheney. A more complicated explanation might ask you to shake a fist at a system that allowed Dick Cheney to have the unchecked power he did, but at the end of the day, take it out on Dick.

The transformation of Christian Bale into various versions of Cheney through the years really is an absolute joy, and Bale being Bale, he has the mannerisms down pat. We begin with a young Cheney being pulled over drunk in rural Wyoming in the 60s, perhaps not for the first time. Thrown out of Yale, he’s working as a lineman when his wife Lynne, again a superb depiction from Amy Adams, has to bail him out and she gives him an ultimatum; she’s seen enough women in her family get sucked into abusive relationships, so either he turns his game around or she’s out of there. He promises never to disappoint her again. He goes back to college and finds himself an internship to a young Donald Rumsfeld, played brilliantly by Steve Carell. And so begins his path to the history books and being booed throwing the opening pitch of a Nationals game.

Whether his moment of clarity was as stark as this is anyone’s guess. As the introductory titles remind us, Cheney is a hugely secretive character, but what we have here is the best guess of what happened.

Director and writer, Adam McKay, plays around with the chronology to tell his story but we cover all the major points, touching in on them at several places through the piece. It’s not until he’s approached by George W. Bush to be his running mate in 2000 and then the events the following year that we really see the machinations truly start to bear fruit. We also employ some neat techniques to tell the tale. There’s a Shakespearean heart to heart between Mr and Mrs Cheney that was hilarious, and having a seemingly unattached character narrate affairs was an interesting touch.

Despite these great performances — and I haven’t even mentioned how great Tyler Perry was as Colin Powell or LisaGay Hamilton as Condoleezza Rice, or how Sam Rockwell might as well be Dubya — and despite these inventive frames through which to tell the story, including the faux end credits halfway through, few of the punches landed come anywhere close to those in The Big Short. 

Why is that? Well, I think for me it’s just a better known story, especially post 9/11. There were still surprises, but they were fewer. I had an opinion of the man before going into the movie and I was fairly sure of the basis of that opinion. Maybe I was a little firmer in my belief by the end. Plus, there already is a perfect movie that deals with the manic positioning in the post 9/11 world and that movie is In The Loop, so this was always going to fall a little short.

But not a big short. And it’s still a stark and frank reminder of how a handful of people in the world control the destiny of so many millions, and how it’s always the little guy who picks up the tab in the end.

 

A1761C81-DE3D-4FC0-AEEB-07053EE725F9Are we starting at this late stage to mimic sequel titles after Halloween movies? Should we expect The Revenge of Mary Poppins at some point in the future? Mary Poppins Resurrection? Perhaps we should let Rob Zombie loose with it.

Well, if any of that did materialize, at least it would likely be a bit more innovative and surprising than what’s on offer here, which is, by and large, a not-anywhere-as-good rehash of the original. We swap chimney-sweeps for lamplighters, Step In Time with Trip the Light Fantastic, trouble at the bank with trouble at the bank, funny wee animated sequences with slightly different funny wee animated sequences.

Michael Banks is all grown up and now has the voice of Paddington Bear and a caterpillar taped to his upper lip. He’s angry quite a lot of the time because his wife is dead and the bank where he works is about to foreclose on a loan he took out with them, his three kids keep falling over in mud or losing the youngest sibling, and no one keeps off the bloody grass. Jane, played by Emily Mortimer, hasn’t married and has remained close to her brother, and struggles to find a point for being there. Julie Walters turns up thinking she’s in another Paddington movie. Michael’s only hope is finding a lost share certificate of his father’s that will prove he is a share holder in the bank and will allow him to pay off his loan.

It’s a slow and messy start and did nothing but disappoint me. Then, in a wind storm, Mary Poppins, played excellently by Emily Blunt, drifts down from the sky and I started to get interested. Her clipped diction is absolutely on point, but even with her involved, it still managed to fail to live up to expectations at every possible point. By the time we get to the deus ex machina ending, I was just praying we’d get to the credits with as few songs delaying proceedings as possible.

For the most part, I was mostly ambivalent at best about the movie. The songs were okay if a little too reliant on the motifs of the original, same can be said about the dance routines, but for some reason, every time Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack appeared on screen, I felt my blood pressure rise. I really hated the performance, the accent, the cockiness, the unbelievable optimism. I couldn’t stand the character and didn’t think much more of any of the other lamplighters.

It’s directed brightly enough by Rob Marshall who knows what he’s doing when it comes to musicals. Costumes, as well as the general look and feel, had a nostalgic glow to them. Where the movie falls flat is the storyline is nowhere near good enough and the songs do little to advance the plot or take us in any new direction. And Jack. Don’t forget Jack. Or do. I really hated him. All this said, if you’re a kid going into this with no real sense of expectations, maybe it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever seen in your life.

I’d love to see Emily Blunt reprise this role with a story fitting of the Mary Poppins name. Whether that’s Mary Poppins H20 remains to be seen.