Movie Review


Thor_Ragnarok_posterI don’t really like Marvel movies. I disapprove of much of what people seem to love about them. Like the fact that Stan Lee is in every one of them. Or that they put Easter eggs in the credits and how that forces people to stare at scrolling text for ten minutes on the off-chance that Iron Man will say something baffling out of context. Or that the last 20 minutes are more often than not a noisy CGI mess. That said, I loved Ant Man, mainly thanks to Paul Rudd and a script that had passed through the hands and brain of Edgar Wright. And I really liked the first Thor movie, although not to the point where I felt compelled to see the second one. So I went to see Thor: Ragnarok, which features a colon and a word from Norse mythology, with a mind as open as I hoped my eyes would remain.

It was fine. But I have a few caveats.

To start with, there’s the plot. The plot, or perhaps better described as the stuff that happens at the start that dictates what subsequently happens, sees Thor captured for a bit by a fire demon called Surtur whose head he eventually takes because it’s going to be useful later on. Odin meanwhile is tracked down in Norway with help from Doctor Strange, because it was important for franchise reasons to have Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie. Odin reveals that his first born, Hela, is about to turn up and she’s going to be pissed off and she’s the goddess of death and so everyone is going to be in for a torrid old time of it. Sure enough she does precisely that and on their way back to Asgard, she sends Thor and Loki crashing out of their dimension tunnel thing and on to a planet of garbage where Jeff Goldblum will turn up and be Jeff Goldblum for a while. The Hulk inexplicably appears at some point. Stuff continues to happen unabated. Asgard is threatened and I think I’m supposed to care.

Judging by the reaction of others, this is a funny film, but for me the humor is so forced it just becomes irritating. Having our hero bumble and stumble his way through proceedings gets old fast and essentially dilutes down the moments where anything is at stake. The most interesting moments and best lines came from the softly-spoken rock-giant gladiator, Korg, and then you realize you’ve used the phrase “softly-spoken rock-giant gladiator” and feel the need for a little lie down.

There are people who would say that having Luke Hemsworth and Matt Damon in cameo roles where they perform as Thor and Loki in a play version of, so I’m led to believe, The Dark World is cute and clever. These people are wrong. It’s stupid and attention seeking and just another attempt to squeeze a cheap chuckle out of the audience.

Look, it’s fine. Chris Hemsworth is engaging enough as Thor. Tom Hiddleston continues to do his best to show everyone else how to act. Cate Blanchett is oddly out of place as Hela. Idris Elba is shockingly underused. It’s utterly mindless and almost instantly forgettable and at 130 minutes it feels like it’s at least 20 minutes longer than that, but really it’s fine. It’s okay. It’s pointless but it’s fine.

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hddPG-13 rated horror movies. They can go either way, can’t they? For every Drag Me To Hell there’s a The Uninvited. For every Ring, there’s a The Village. For every Insidious, there’s an Insidious: Chapter 2. And an Insidious: Chapter 3.

Happy Death Day is one of those PG-13 rated horror movies that isn’t any of those movies, mostly because it isn’t actually a horror movie. It’s not scary, it’s not gory, it’s not thrilling and it’s not really many of the things you would typically associate with a horror movie. However, it seems to know this. It doesn’t try too hard to be something it’s not. Instead, and wisely, it aims for laughs and engagement and seems content to generate marginally raised levels of adrenaline, and in that regard it’s something of an unexpected success.

La La Land’s Jessica Rothe plays Tree — that’s short for Theresa, she’s not an actual tree — a self-centered sorority college girl who wakes up hungover on the morning of her birthday in the dorm of Carter (Israel Broussard, out of nothing you’ve ever heard of). Straight away, we get the idea that Tree has issues that would put Dutch Elm disease to shame and with a caustic tongue, she leaves Carter’s and goes about her day being generally unpleasant to everyone she comes across until she meets up with one of her professors, with whom she seems to be having an affair. Later, on her way to a party, she’s murdered by a figure wearing the college mascot’s baby-face mask. We’re quite happy when this happens. But then, she instantly awakes back at Carter’s on her birthday morning and she begins to relive the same day.

A birthday ringtone replaces Sonny and Cher but there are exactly zero prizes on offer for noticing a similarity to a Bill Murray rodent-based comedy from the 1980s. The movie eventually recognizes this with a throwaway scene towards the end and while it didn’t really have to, I’m glad it did. This was director Christopher Landon and writer Scott Lobdell’s way of holding their hands up and saying, guys … we know.

So rather than being a tired imitation of this classic, it goes in an interesting direction. Now, each time Tree is killed — and she’s killed a lot and in a whole host of ways — she comes back a slightly weaker version of herself, at least until the plot demands that this no longer happens, serving as something of an upper limit to how long this can go on, generating some risk and urgency as Tree attempts to uncover her killer and break out of the loop.

Full marks go to crisp, witty writing that’s reminiscent of Diablo Cody but far more grounded and realistic. Full marks and then a few extra marks go to Jessica Rothe, who is something of a tour de force. For this kind of movie, her character’s journey and arc is quite full, developing from someone I felt quite pleased to see killed, into a strong hero that I had bucket loads of sympathy for and wanted to win.

Aside from a farcical and ill-judged montage scene where my eyes rolled so much I was tempted to start rocking just to establish an equilibrium, Landon keeps the pace and interest high and in the 100 or so minutes, it doesn’t put much of a foot wrong all the way through to a (more or less) satisfying conclusion.

Groundhog Slay. I tried to work that in but couldn’t. And then I discovered that Mark Kermode had beaten me to the punch.

 

bladerunner2049We’ve been here before, haven’t we? I was very excited by the prospect of Anchorman 2, only to be bitterly disappointed. Hugely anticipated The Force Awakens flattered to deceive for a spell while we ignored the fact that it was a lazy remake of the original. Surely the sequel to Blade Runner, something that we’ve been waiting on for three decades, would buck this trend?

Well, kinda.

Set thirty years later, we’re introduced to K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant police officer, or blade runner, who’s tasked with “retiring” old rogue replicants. Dave Bautista, achingly under-used, is one such rogue and after dispatching him, K stumbles upon evidence that another replicant may have just done the impossible and had a baby. This just won’t do and so K is ordered to retire the kid.

First things first. It looks amazing. Legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, must surely be clearing a space on his mantelpiece for the Oscar that we might as well give him just now. Entirely in keeping with the original movie, the bleak depiction of the Los Angeles of the future is living and breathing and wheezing and spluttering. There’s no sky. Everything’s dusty. And when a character mentions that they’ve never seen a real tree, you believe it. Denis Villeneuve, after last year’s outstanding Arrival, is fast becoming a very safe pair of buttocks in the director’s chair and he clearly loves the material.

Ryan Gosling is believable as an android, which may or may not be a compliment. Ana de Armas is quite spellbinding as K’s version of Siri, reminiscent of Ex Machina‘s Ava. And Harrison Ford, when he pops up like Harrison Ford is now obliged to do, is welcome if a little telegraphed.

The themes, much like the original, are interesting and explored well. What does it mean to be alive? Do our memories make us who we are and how would we know if they’re fake and implanted into us? Does it really matter if they were fake? There’s also more than a whiff of just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should, and the existential crisis forms the backbone of everything that happens.

It is, however, hideously long. Thirty years long. People were born and died during the screening I attended, only ever knowing the dark and a never ending, but beautifully shot, series of shapes and colors projected onto a large screen. Okay, so it’s 160 minutes long. And in truth, it passed fairly quickly. It didn’t feel like two and three quarter hours, but it certainly didn’t feel like an hour and a half. I wouldn’t have minded as much but there was an awful lot of standing-around-not-doing-very-much going on that surely could’ve been trimmed back.

So it’s long. And bits of it didn’t make a huge amount of sense. Some of the dialogue is baffling. And there was an awful lot of inexplicable crying going on. And there was an awful lot of BOOM noises when maybe an occasional boom noise would have sufficed.

It’s not the classic I was hoping for, but it’s much better than I feared it would be, and going back to that amazing world was just about worth the significant investment of my time on this earth to go see.

ninjagoDuring my 44 summers on this planet, I’ve learned a few things. I know about Apple products. I know my way around a spreadsheet while wearing a blindfold. I know not to depend on any Michigan-based sporting teams for anything. But at no point has anyone taken the time to explain what the hell a ninjago is to me.

And that presents a bit of a problem, because The Lego Ninjago Movie kinda expects you to know what a ninjago is along with the answers to a whole host of related questions, to the point that it doesn’t feel the need to explain anything to you. Without apology, it just drops you into a world where the bad guy and the good guy are estranged father and son and the good guy is a member of a team of ninjas who protects the city of Ninjago — aha! — against the bad guy’s daily attacks. Apparently, there was a TV show. It’s absolutely true; every day really is a school day.

When the movie takes a breath and allows the visuals to bed in to the screen for a second, it’s actually quite a pretty sight and the attention to detail — the random numbers stamped on some of the Lego pieces, for instance — is amazing. I had enough Tupperware boxes full of jumbled Lego bricks in my youth to feel a strong twinge of nostalgia. A perfect touch, and one that acted as a familiar invader into one’s child-like imagination, was giving the role of main monster to a domesticated short-haired cat. Who, as a kid, hasn’t created a fictional world on their bedroom floor only to have the spell shattered by an indifferent pet or an apathetic vacuum cleaner?

When it doesn’t take a breath, it’s a colossal mess of themes that seem to go as well as gin and vinegar, salt and tonic. Is it a superhero movie? Is it a ninja movie? Is it some cool futuristic Japanese sci-fi movie? Is it a quest movie? Is it a satire? I’m not sure it knows itself.

Dave Franco — who I hugely prefer to his rascal brother — takes the lead as Lloyd and eagle-eared viewers will also spot the vocal stylings of Kumail Nanjiani, a woefully underused Zach Woods, Jackie Chan, Abbi Jacobson, with Justin Theroux, hamming it up to levels that would make it appealing on a sandwich, as the baddy Germadon. So we’re not exactly bereft of talent, here.

Where we are missing, though, is for someone to piece together the building blocks of a decent storyline. Ironically for a movie that exists in a universe of Lego, there’s nothing particularly inventive or surprising here and it feels unnaturally repetitive, vis a vis the L-loyd pronunciation gag. It follows its own instruction set from step one to step ten, never veering to see what would happen if steps six and seven swapped around, or step eight disappeared all together. And in a complaint that was shared with my better half, it relies so much on delivering a Moral Message that I half expected Bill Cosby to show up during the closing credits to terrify us all.

Perhaps most damning though, after 44 years, it seems that Lego can be boring. Who’da thunk it?

Mother-Poster-Rosemarys_1200_1789_81_sThere’s a video that was doing the rounds on The Internets a few years ago that showed a guy riding a unicycle through a parking lot. While wearing a kilt. And a Darth Vader mask. Playing the bagpipes. With fire coming out of them. You’ve probably seen it. Like me, you may remember the first time you saw it. You may recall how your brain felt as it struggled to pull all the pieces out, recognize them individually, and then piece it all back together, all the while wondering just what the hell you were watching.

Darren Aronofski’s mother! is on a whole new level of weirdness. Even the title is weird, starting with a lower case letter and working towards a exclamation point at the end. What’s even weirder, is that this is a fairly accurate metaphor for the movie.

Our lower case start sees Mother, Jennifer Lawrence, wake one morning to find that her poet husband, Javier Bardem, isn’t in bed with her. When she finds Him — that’s how he’s credited and no characters really have names — we learn that he’s going through a bit of a creative slump since his last release and is blocked, making him a bit of a grump. Mother does her best to ignore it and continues the decoration of their new home, which we learn is in the middle of nowhere, had recently burned down and had been restored.

One day, a Man (Ed Harris) turns up unannounced, claiming to be a fan of Him. To Mother’s surprise, Him invites Man to stay the night. Later, Man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and the two of them act inappropriately together considering they’re strangers in someone else’s house. They have sex in a room without closing the door, they leave broken dishes and cigarette butts around the house. Woman asks Mother a series of personal questions. Mother becomes increasingly distressed by this but Him is perfectly happy with the arrangement, informing Mother that they have nowhere else to go. Then Man and Woman’s two sons arrive and things start to get really messed up. We spend the next hour or so hurtling towards that final !.

At some point, Kristen Wiig shows up because a rule has been in place for many years now that Kristen Wiig always has to show up.

It’s difficult to say more without giving the game away. All I knew about the movie was the summary I’ve just shared and, according to the director, it’s allegorical and that’s about all I needed to know. That said, for the first hour, I’m happy to admit that I didn’t have a clue what I was watching.

It should come as no surprise that Jennifer Lawrence, who must be in around 95% of the frames of the movie puts in an excellent performance and it’s easy to feel that the disbelieving Mother is seeing things as the audience in the cinema sees them. Bardem and Harris never put a foot wrong, but it’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s striking performance that really stays in the memory from the supporting cast. The sound design, which I never think about remarking on in most movies, is incredible as the noises of the house circle Mother, leaving her even more exposed and isolated and without escape. Fans of a shaky camera will be over the moon and again, this added a surreal queasiness into the waking dream sensations on screen.

Is it any good, then? Well, it all comes down to the allegory and understanding it really saves the movie. If I accepted everything I saw on the screen today on face value, I’m pretty sure I’d have thought it was a shambolic mess. Nothing makes sense, particularly post-Wiig. It’s outrageous to the point of comedy. No one behaves the way these uninvited guests behave. Surely no one would stand for it. Clarity clicked for me about two-thirds of the way through and I scrambled to apply that lens to what I had already watched. While it’s clever and something to admire from a sheer audacity point of view, some four hours after seeing it, I’m still not exactly sure enough to answer my own question. Thinking about it makes me laugh and shake my head. It may be the best movie I’ve seen this year. It may well be the worst.

It’s exhausting. It’s grueling. It’s totally messed up. And I don’t doubt it’ll be too much hard work for some. Those people might want to find something easier to do. Like playing flaming bagpipes on a unicycle.

 

It_(2017)_logoI’m just going to start this tentative toe back into the world of reviewing movies by saying up front that I enjoyed It. Parts of this review are probably going to leave you with the impression that the opposite was true, so I insist again, I enjoyed it. I might even go so far as saying I enjoyed it very much. But I didn’t enjoy it in the way I thought I was going to enjoy it.

The trailers are, perhaps, responsible for me going in with different expectations. They’ve been so perfectly constructed that I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this was going to be one of the scariest, most brutal movie experiences of the decade and I’d be spending two hours desperately trying to keep my heart in my chest and my poop out of my pants. Honestly, I needn’t have worried.

Based on one half of the 1986 Stephen King novel, we join a sickly, stammering, thirteen-year-old Bill Denbrough making a paper boat for his little brother, George, during a storm. Happy as the proverbial, George chases the boat along the curbside as it floats along on a river of rain water and ultimately down a storm drain and into the clutches of a clown who introduces himself as Pennywise and it isn’t long before George and his boat are reunited down the drain and into the hands and mouth of the monstrous It. Almost a year later, a mourning Bill and his rag-tag crew of misfit friends discover that their hometown of Derry, Maine has the highest level of missing people in the country and they work out why when Pennywise begins to introduce himself to all of them.

I found the book terrifying. I found the 1990 mini-series less so. I didn’t find this version terrifying at all. There are a few jump scares scattered through the piece, some more effective than others, and there’s a wonderfully nightmarish quality to the visuals, but there’s no real sense of dread. And the moments that do threaten to terrify are immediately followed by a joke, making me wonder if scaring me was even director Andy Muschietti’s primary goal.

As with most horror movies, common sense stretches out for a nap on the backseat, and the kids do things that would typically be filed under Things You Should Never Do. Like run towards the haunted house. Like investigate why your dead brother’s bedroom light has suddenly popped on. Like stick your face in the sink to see if you can see what’s talking down the plughole. All that’s just about forgivable.

Where the movie succeeds, though, is as a coming-of-age adventure story, and if you’re thinking you may have already seen a coming-of-age Stephen King movie, well, the comparisons to Stand By Me are pretty clear to see. But the characters are believable, their problems relatable, their relationships solid, their company is warm and it’s on this level that the movie really sucked me in. All of this is thanks to the fantastic young cast. Jaeden Lieberher sells Bill’s stutter perfectly. Sophia Lillis is channelling Molly Ringwald as Beverly and pretty much owns each scene she’s in. Jack Dylan Grazer is brilliantly funny as the hypochondriac Eddie.

Visually, Bill Skarsgard fills Tim Curry’s floppy clown shoes remarkably well and his Pennywise has a threatening presence that the 1990 version didn’t really have for me, mainly thanks to his cheeks. Where it fails a little, is when he starts to talk. It’s just a little too close to a poor impression of Scooby Doo for my liking. And while I’m talking about mis-steps, the soundtrack also goes off in a few weird directions. There’s a scene where we see what happens with all the people dragged down to float in the sewers, and rather than some suitably heavy, portentous music, we get a glorious swell similar to the moment they find the pirate ship in The Goonies. That said, Anthrax’s Antisocial during the (sadly short) Apocalyptic Rock Fight was perfect.

So, yeah. It was fun. It was funny. It was a thrilling adventure with some memorable set-pieces. I enjoyed it a lot. But it was nothing like the thrill-ride those two minute snippets from earlier in the year would have had me believe.

 

 

 

imagesConfession time. I only quite liked the original Trainspotting. It was okay. The acting was a little meh and it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the book. But it was good. I enjoyed it. I loved parts of it. I didn’t love it as a whole. But it was good. It was fine.

What I mostly loved about it was it was a Scottish movie aimed at me. It was a Scottish movie that had heart, and was challenging, and didn’t make me squirm slightly at the sheer Scottishness of it all. That doesn’t always happen with Scottish movies.

So I approached T2 with slight trepidation and excitement and given that it’s been released here in the US some months after it did the rounds in the UK, I’ve been reasonably careful to avoid details on The Facebook.

Twenty years on from the first outing, Renton is in Amsterdam, falling off a treadmill, and coming back to Scotland, Spud is still on the skag and contemplating suicide, Sick Boy is blackmailing sexual deviants, Begbie is in Saughton at Her Majesty’s pleasure (the jail). Once home, Rents discovers that not all his friends are all that happy to see him. Seemingly the theft of 16,000 pounds lasts long in the memory. Soon though, he gets back in Sick Boy’s good books and they invest their efforts in opening a “sauna” in Edinburgh. Meanwhile Franco has escaped from jail and it’s just a matter of time before he catches up with them all.

It’s an okay story. I’d have liked it to be stronger, but it’s okay. I’d have loved it to have more of a point. The sauna thing, for example, never really feels all that important.

And then there’s Diane, played by Kelly Macdonald. She was a bit player in the first movie but they bring her back here for one scene where she’s grown up to be a lawyer. Why? She’s a metaphor for growing up and old and RealLife™, I guess, but her involvement really serves little purpose other than make us say, hey, there’s Kelly Macdonald.

Director Danny Boyle infuses enough of his talent to make it visually interesting to watch and coaxes as much as humanly possible from the story, but before the credits roll, it’s not entirely clear what we achieve here. It’s almost the cinematic equivalent of meeting a school friend for the first time in a decade or two and realizing, after fifteen minutes of awkward chit-chat, you have nothing in common with this person anymore, you go your separate ways, and you never speak of this again.

The best thing about this movie, though, is that it’s Spud’s movie. At its heart, it’s all about him and his journey is the spine of every other aspect of the story. The worst thing, maybe, is Sick Boy’s revelation of wanting to get his revenge on Renton, done in such pure Machiavellian manner I half expected him to start twirling the ends of his non-existent mustache.

But it was good. I enjoyed it. And in that regard, it feels like the best sequel it could be.

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