pp3-teaser-onesheet-594da88174a10-1I’ve got to come clean with you. I loved Pitch Perfect. Hell, that’s not even the half of it. I loved Pitch Perfect 2. If I was trying to blow smoke, I’d say that it wasn’t as good as the original and that the story was a bit more contrived and stuffs and stuffs and stuff. But the truth of the matter is, I loved the sequel as much as I loved the original. They both make me smile, no matter how many times I see them. So with this in mind, use this knowledge as you read my thoughts on Pitch Perfect 3.

Guys. I loved this as much as the others.

Okay, I’ll admit the first five minutes or so were tough going. The jokes weren’t landing as well as they had in the past and I was genuinely worried about the direction we were going.

After that, though, it was just about everything you can reasonably expect with a Pitch Perfect movie.

We pick up the story with Beca (Anna Kendrick, the only actor who made Twilight watachable) leaving her job as a music producer, because being a music producer means having people blame your decisions on your menstrual cycle. She lives with Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and, look, whatever. This bit doesn’t matter, okay? Somehow we contrive to get to the point where the Bellas reunite for a series of USO shows in Europe. Seriously. The story doesn’t matter all that much. There’s a subplot here about staying friends with the important people in your life, and less a subplot about personal growth outside that circle of friends, but that’s all secondary. It’s all about good songs, sung acapella, with good choreography and shot beautifully. That’s what we want, right? Right.

And that’s exactly what we get. On top of that Rebel Wilson has never been more Rebel Wilson and is basically the comedic thrust of the movie. That’s also what we want. This is what she’s good at. Let’s let her be good at it. So when John Lithgow shows up as her evil dad … yep, that works for me. Look. Just do Pitch Perfect stuff and I’ll be happy.

And I was happy. As happy as I was to hear (Don’t You) Forget About Me in the original, that’s how happy I was to hear Britney Spears’ Toxic in this third installment. I had a smile on my face throughout. I laughed frequently, mostly when Fat Amy punched things.

Screenwriters Kay Cannon and Mike White do exactly what is expected of them. They deliver a script that’s quirky and sassy and meta and is a fitting finale to an unexpected triumph.



C9A046E0-430A-438E-90F5-25DE23FDA800I had no idea what to expect going into this, the new film from — I’m just going to say it, so buckle up — VISIONARY director, Guillermo del Toro. I hadn’t seen a trailer or read a review, I hadn’t even seen a poster. All I had in mind before the lights went down was the title sounded a little like a book I’d read over the summer, which was about post-apocalyptic Scandinavians making tea, and I really hoped it wasn’t going to be about that. It wasn’t. It wasn’t anywhere near that.

Set in an alternative 1962, The Shape of Water is the story of Elisa, a mute and isolated woman played quite superbly by Sally Hawkins. She, along with Octavia Spencer as Zelda, clean up at a secretive government research base in Baltimore, and it’s there that she discovers a weird aquatic creature known as the Asset who has been (somehow) captured by Michael Shannon’s Strickland, and Elisa and the creature — Beauty and the Beast, anyone? — strike up an unlikely relationship, based largely around the consumption of eggs and the playing of big band records.

From the opening introduction, to the green hue that the entire movie is seen through, to the scenes of Elisa giving herself a quick *ahem* in the bath, del Toro makes it clear how important water is to the movie, so don’t be disappointed if you spot a detail early on that will telegraph the ending a couple of hours in your future.

It’s not without its faults and indulgences, chief amongst them being a black-and-white song-and-dance routine. Close runner-up being a deliberate pun on “The Help”. Also, it’s not a movie where you’re likely to question good vs evil. It couldn’t be more obvious if it tried, only Strickland substitutes a twirly moustache with a couple of diseased fingers.

But I’m nit-picking. Overall, and despite del Toro maybe being a little too del Toro for his own good,  I couldn’t help but be captivated by it, thanks almost entirely to Hawkins. For a character who has literally no lines, she sells her part so well you could be forgiven for thinking at the end of the movie that she hadn’t shut up all the way through. Every facial expression and shrug or cower or proud stance is absolutely on point and it’s her performance that really sells the premise of the entire experience. If you love this movie, it’ll be down to her. If you’re more lukewarm, I suspect it’s because of the story.

Supporting performances are fine but maybe a little wooden and cut-out due to the nature of the plot. Richard Jenkins is Elisa’s only other friend besides Zelda but he too feels isolated given his closeted sexuality. Michael Shannon is evil, yeah, we get it, but because he only seems to like to have sex with his wife when she’s quiet, it’s something of a relief that del Toro doesn’t examine that too deeply given Elisa’s disability.

It’s not a perfect movie and maybe lacks the magic and originality of Pan’s Labyrinth, but given the competition that’s out there at the end of 2017, it stands up pretty well.

E7634E9D-C73B-4D79-82AC-9F80E5F2076AMatt Damon is a strange creature. There are times when I watch one of his movies, let’s say The Martian for example, where I think, y’know, maybe Team America: World Police had it all wrong. He’s a pretty decent actor and ignoring his real-life persona, he’s a fairly warm presence on screen. Then I watch one of his movies, let’s say Downsizing for example and for the purpose of this review, and I think Team America: World Police went far too easy on him.

Downsizing is the latest effort from director Alexander Payne (Nebraska, About Schmidt), and dear God is it an effort. In the not too distant future, and during an unnecessarily long prologue, we learn that a bunch of Scandinavian scientists have discovered a method that shrinks organic matter down to a fraction of its original size without doing it any other damage and without side effects. Jump forward a number of years and we learn that when applied to humans, this may be the answer to the earth’s ecological problems. Small humans — like really small humans — use a negligible amount of resources compared with their regular-sized counterparts. And if that wasn’t enough, a $150,000 nest-egg as a big guy, translates to $12,000,000 fortune in the wee world, meaning a gigantic big house in a dedicated small community and never having to work again. What’s not to love?

During this we’re introduced to Matt. Damon. and his wife Kristen Wiig, a DINK couple (Paul & Audrey) who have inherited their home from Paul’s mom and yet for reasons never really explained are living from paycheck to paycheck and still house-hunting homes they couldn’t possibly afford. They’re prime candidates for this new procedure and after a few scenes where Damon does his very best “indecisive” face, they go for it. The procedure, again for reasons never really explained, involves removal of every last hair on one’s body and after Paul has gotten himself shrunk, he learns that Audrey had second thoughts when she was down to her last eyebrow and his plans for the rest of his life have taken a massive turn.

The premise itself, up to the Audrey Abandonment, is actually quite interesting, so the fact that this is billed as a comedy and yet a half hour can go by without the slightest hint of a laugh is actually forgiveable. Where the movie chooses to go after this is less so.

Every racial stereotype you can possibly imagine somehow manages to shoe-horn its way into the lazy plot that slowly unfolds. There are a couple of sleazy Eurotrash playboys, played by Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier, who capitalize on the Wild West nature of this blossoming small economy. Every laborer or cleaner is Mexican or Asian and live through a literal hole at the edge of society. Then we have a Vietnamese dissident, shrunk against her will and thrown into a TV box who somehow survives, loses her leg, and ends up cleaning up after a never-ending series of playboy parties, and despite speaking Spanish apparently fluently, can only bark orders in English with no knowledge of plurals or definite and indefinite articles. I’m not sure if any of this is meant to be funny, but as I sat with my liberal, snowflake mouth hanging open and my liberal, snowflake head shaking at what I was watching, I don’t recall my liberal, snowflake ears being deafened with laughter.

Racial politics aside, it’s still a hot mess of movie that allows Matt Damon to utilize his “hopeful” face at the end of one scene, only to have to transition into his “perplexed” face at the start of the next. He manages to do some other faces while he is sans hair and eyebrows, but those are far more difficult to discern. Who’da thunk much of Damon’s acting ability was down to his hair and eyebrows? Then there comes a moment where Paul seems to make a major life and moral decision based purely on how much walking will be involved and it was at this point that I muttered, “This is the worst movie I have ever seen.”

I’ve cooled off a little since then. This isn’t the worst movie I have seen. There’s a good movie in here somewhere. Or at least, there’s a decent idea struggling to get out. This, as it stands, is certainly not the former and is shockingly bad use of the latter.

Just awful.

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.

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?