Do you watch the UK soap opera, Coronation Street? Do you have any interest in the cultural and linguistic differences between the UK and US?

Even if the answer to both of these questions is no, you may be interested to know that my wife, Helen, and I are producing a couple of podcasts related to the above.

The Talk of the Street is a weekly catch-up review of the recent happenings on the famous cobbles. We walk-through the episodes of that week, go over the main talking points, and cover the errors we’ve made in previous episodes.

Common Language questions the quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw that the US and the UK are two nations separated by a common language. Recent episodes have investigated soccer vs football, interstate vs motorway, and immigration processes.

Please check them out and if you feel so inclined, a cheeky wee like and subscribe would be very much appreciated.

Advertisements

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 7.10.37 PMHard as it is to believe, it’s been 14 years since the Incredibles hit  movies theaters around the world. I didn’t actually get round to seeing it until a good few years later and even though I loved it, I’ve only watched it once. It’s pretty much a perfect movie, confirmed by it being the first animated movie to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. It represents a period where Pixar could do no wrong. So we walk into Incredibles 2 with some trepidation, but assured at least that this wasn’t a rush job. No one was on a cash grab here. Maybe they were waiting on the right story.

We pick up events pretty much where we left off, with the Parr family — Bob (voiced by Craig T Nelson), Helen (Helen Hunt), Violet (Sarah Vowell) , Dash (Huck Milner), and infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), aided by Samuel L Jackson’s Frozone — tackling the Underminer’s attempts to rob the city’s bank. There’s something rather lovely about this; that after a 14 year wait essentially no time has passed between movies.

Ultimately, the Parrs are unsuccessful and the authorities are miffed to say the least about the significant amount of damage that’s been brought upon the city. Superheroes are banned. Uh-oh. Soon, the family is contacted by Winston Deavor, a superhero fan, telecommunications tycoon, and owner of DEVTECH, played in true Saul Goodman style by Bob Odenkirk. Winston is the mouth of the company and his sister Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), is the creative genius behind DEVTECH tech. They propose a publicity stunt to get the public’s opinion of Superheroes back onside. As Helen is the least destructive of the family, given her ability is her elasticity, she’s the one chosen and so leaves Bob to look after the kids.

And so the movie continues very much with the females leading events. Helen is doing great work tracking down a new superbaddie called Screenslaver who uses hypnosis transmitted electronically to control their victims. Later, when the kids have to rally to save the day, it’s Violet who’s in control of matters.

It’s enormous fun throughout. Writer and director, Brad Bird, has developed a story that is part superhero espionage, part media manipulation commentary, and part kitchen sink drama as Bob struggles with Jack-Jack and his relationship with his daughter, who following a mind wipe of a boy who saw her sans mask, has lost her love interest as well as her desire to be an Incredible. The laughs, more often or not, come from Jack-Jack and the discovery that he is, in fact, in possession of 17 super powers but is without the ability to control any of them.

Visually, it’s absolutely sumptuous. I don’t know if there’s been a quantum leap in computer animation since I saw Lego Ninjago but this looks beautiful, particularly the water scenes and the hair. It used to be that the weight was missing from characters. That wouldn’t appear to be the case anymore.

The highest accolade I offer movies here is to refer to them as a triumph. So is this a triumph? Well, not quite. It’s close. The threads of the movie sometimes overwhelm the overall arc of the movie and the revelation of the baddie’s true identity is telegraphed quite heavily from early on. Through no fault of the film, I will shamefully admit that I dozed off for five minutes near the start, and I still managed to guess about a half-hour ahead of time.

The wait has been worth it. But let’s not keep it so long next time, eh?

PS — The short is wonderful, too.

the place beyond the pinesThe last time I forgot the name of the movie I was going to see as I was on my way to see it, it was Up in the Air, which actually turned out to be alright. Today, I would find out if lightning would strike twice as the words The Place Beyond The Pines completely exited my brain as I was asking for tickets and also while watching the opening credits.

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider, touring the country from state fair to state fair. When the carnival pulls into Schenectady, NY, he meets up with Romina (Eva Mendes) with whom he’d shared a “special performance” the previous year. Bo and lehold, but Romina has had a kid and Luke is the father. Who’da thunk it? Determined to do the right thing by his kid, he quits his job with the carnival and stays in town, picking up a job with a small auto repair shop. It isn’t long, however, before money gets so tight that … em … Luke starts to rob banks. As you do. To be fair, it makes a bit more sense in the movie. During one robbery, he runs into Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young cop whose life is about to take a dramatic turn.

Director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) isn’t exactly lacking in ambition as he steers the story across 15 years and three acts, with each transition shifting the focus onto another character. It’s an epic so influenced by Greek tragedy you can almost taste the tzatziki and hear the smashing plates. The ambition, while admirable, is a bit of a problem.

The first point of view shift, around the 45 minute mark, is so jarring that the soundtrack of the movie was briefly drowned out by everyone in the cinema shifting uncomfortably in their seat. Thrown in are a number of subplots and minor characters that, by the end, don’t amount to a whole lot. I spent the best part of the film’s 140 minute running time desperately looking for someone to root for. It was a search that would ultimately draw a blank because this world is filled with heavily flawed characters. Luke is a bank robber, Romina is a cheat, Avery is a liar and opportunist. The woman at the pharmacy is probably a vampire. Okay, maybe not.

To his credit, Cianfrance does his best to maintain a reasonable pace and works exceptionally well with the location. Coupled with Faith No More’s Mike Patton’s soundtrack, this generates a sense of brooding drama even without those pesky actors to get in the way.

Gosling is believable as he descends into crime but for reasons never explained his body is a canvas to around a gazllion tattoos which, along with his constant smoking, is a real distraction. Bradley Cooper’s oeuvre will permanently be blighted by the morally reprehensible Hangover trilogy but he manages to convince, particularly once his character is required to pile on the smarm and the charm. And poor Ray Liotta. As soon as he appears on screen in his brief couple of scenes, I can’t help but think of him as Henry towards the end of Goodfellas. The shine that was applied to his head did absolutely nothing to dissuade me of that.

Early on, the film has some interesting things to say about consequentialism and sins of the father, but overall, it’s a largely underwhelming experience that’s far too long, becomes far too predictable in its final movement and broadcasts its themes far too loudly and aggressively to build on the initial decent work.

So thanks, lighning. Thanks for nothing.

evildeadHorror movie reboots get a bad name, and it’s usually justified. There’s no earthly reason why remakes of I Spit on Your Grave, Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street or Last House on the Left should exist but there has been the occasional exception. The first remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example, was pretty decent (I don’t mean the 3D one) but even so, it wasn’t as good as the original.

So I went into Evil Dead (not The Evil Dead) excited but expecting the worst and knowing that the best I could hope for probably wasn’t going to be as good as the original Raimi classic from 1981.

Mia is going cold turkey from a heroin habit so she, her brother David, her brother’s girlfriend Natalie and two random friends Eric and Olivia, all retreat to a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere to help her overcome her demons. It’s a neat little device as, when everything goes south, and it goes very south very quickly, her buddies put it down to her craving for drugs and ignore her pleas to leave.

In amongst this set-up, we’re introduced to a number of random items that common sense dictates will be feature heavily later on. There’s a nail gun. A machete. A chainsaw (yay!). An electric meat carver. Soon the smell in the cabin is sourced to a bunch of dead cats hanging in the basement and the pals discover a book of witchcraft, bound in human skin and wrapped in barbed wire, which they obviously want to read. Who wouldn’t?

“Don’t say the name aloud!” some scrawlings in the book declare. And, of course, the first thing Eric does is say the name aloud. For this act of utter stupidity, Eric spends most of the rest of the movie pulling sharp and spiky things out of his body. Serves him right.

Look. It’s not bad. It’s not bad at all. But it’s far from the film the quotes on the poster would lead you to believe. Yes, it’s gory. It’s exceptionally gory. And yes, there are a few wince-inducing moments, moments where my toes searched about in my shoes for something to cling on to. But it’s not scary. I didn’t jump once. I jumped loads of times at the original. I remember wishing it would be daytime in the original so the horror would be over. There was something more claustrophobic about the original, something more panic inducing, which is why, despite the poor production and shoestring budget, the original worked. These hearts are both missing from this new vision. But it wants to be good. It wants to be the most terrifying experience of your life. And I kinda respect it for that.

The cast of unknowns put in good shifts, especially Jane Levy as Mia and Lou Taylor Pucci as the hapless Eric and while the movie doesn’t have the same humour as Evil Dead 2, the brief moments where comedy does threaten to break through are handled exceptionally well, with pathos. For the whole 91 minute running time, director Fede Alvarez does his best to make us queasy with spinning and swooping landscape shots through to wobbly end credits and again, despite all the viscera flying around, it’s nice to look at. Seemingly, Diablo Cody had her hand in redrafting Alvarez’s script but apart from a dog named Grandpa, there’s little evidence of her work here. This isn’t Jennifer’s Body. Any sassy dialogue was presumably cut, thrown out in the woods, and left to fend for itself.

Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to but the over the top denouement, which comes on the back of a oddly flat ten minute period where the pace and supposed unrelenting terror nip out for a quick cappuccino, is a reasonable last image to take back to the foyer. I’m back home, not scared to look in the basement. Maybe that’s a good thing.

complianceInspired By True Events is scrawled along the top of the poster, a sentiment echoed in the opening and closing frames of the movie. Someone is certainly going to every possible length to ensure that we get the idea … that this is, well, inspired by true events. Not Based on a True Story, mark you. No, this is altogether more vague. Because what, exactly, does Inspired By True Events actually mean these days? Did the story we’re about to watch actually happen? Or was it just inspired by something that happened? For example, during the opening credits, we learn that a fast food restaurant has run out of bacon. Is this the single true event that inspired the mountain of lies that followed?

Well, if you’re to believe the director, and Wikipedia, seemingly everything that happens in the movie actually happened. Although some of the things that happened may not have happened to the same people that other stuff happened for, but mostly it all happened to the same bunch of people. Got it? No, neither have I. Perhaps it’s better to not question and go along with the claims of it being a true(ish) story.

Sandra (Ann Dowd) is middle-aged and runs a fast food restaurant. Her day starts badly when she discovers that she’s out of bacon (see?). It gets worse when she finds herself short-staffed. And it gets even more worserer still when she gets a prank call from a guy claiming to be a police officer, telling her that one of her teenaged counter-servers, Becky (Dreama Walker) has been identified as stealing money from a customer’s purse. Because they’re busy investigating the crime and Becky’s possible involvement in a bigger, drug-related offense, the cop asks Sandra to hold Becky in the back and strip search her to find the money. Perhaps it’s because she’s having a stressful day anyway, but Sandra takes the guy for his word, doesn’t suspect the prank, and after this, Sandra’s — and especially Becky’s — day gets much, much worse.

For the remaining seventy of so minutes, the audience is asked to suspend their disbelief time and again, each request hoisting that disbelief to higher, starrier levels because some of the things Sandra and her staff are asked to do to Becky are exceptionally troubling at best and I’m left thinking, why does no one stop this? Why does no one ask for some proof of identity? And if this is supposed to be real … I mean … come on! Granted some characters are more dubious of all this than others but still, no one shows any sign of initiative. No one asks for any proof. And according to Wikipedia, that’s exactly what happened.

Director Craig Zobel does a decent enough job here and really gets some great performances from his mostly unknown cast, but it’s decent in the same way that Funny Games was decently directed by Michael Haneke. Both are voyeuristic experiences, intentionally so, to make the audience feel as complicit as the prank caller or the murderous kids, but either way it’s an uncomfortable way to spend an hour and a half.

You’re not likely to be whistling a merry tune when you depart the cinema after this one. You may very well be scratching a troublesome itch on your arm. You’re probably going to want a shower.

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterThere’s a moment about twenty minutes into Oz The Great and Powerful when Mila Kunis asks James Franco if he’s afraid. And I was glad she did because with James Franco, it’s never that easy to guess how he’s feeling. At the point of asking, I wasn’t sure if he was thoughtful, constipated or just wondering if he’d locked his car when he turned up on set that day. Turns out he was afraid after all.

For the remainder of the movie, unfortunately, no one thinks to question James Franco to discover which emotion he’s currently experiencing, so for the large part we have to rely on guesswork. I was able to deduce that based on the information at hand he was displaying all the traits of a man not knowing how to react to a green screen.

It’ll be news to no one to learn that Oz is the spiritual prequel to 1939’s Wizard of Oz which serves to answer the questions that’ve been brimming on everyone’s lips for the last 74 years … just who was the Wizard of Oz, how did he get there, and does he really have to be played by James Franco?

In a nod to its predecessor, we start in 4:3 black & white and are introduced to Oscar “Oz” Diggs (Franco), a womanising carnival magician / con-man. Discovered by a jealous husband, Oz makes his escape via hot air balloon, as one does, and flies straight into the heart of a Kansas tornado. This, as you’ll have figured out by now, transports him to his namesake land and delivers us into 2.35:1 colour, where he is mistaken for the Wizard prophesied to rid the kingdom of one Miss Wicked Witch of the West. After that, it’s all very much like a remake of The Three Amigos.

In the hands of director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) it actually isn’t that bad. Visually, all the green screen stuff that confused James Franco so much is put to glorious effect. Yellows have seldom looked as yellow. CGI characters have hardly ever looked as convincing. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams put in decent turns and there’s even a small cameo from Bruce Campbell to keep Raimi fans happy. And in the 2D version, the visuals are so impressive that I almost thought it was 3D.

Outacted by Mila Kunis, a monkey in a bellhop’s outfit, and a piece of imaginary china, it’s really James Franco who lets down proceedings. He lacks sufficient warmth and believable charm to be convincing as a conman and without the acting talents of, say, a common or garden vole, he’s left to ham it up to the extent that you can practically see the apple in his mouth and you’re left with an odd hankering for a bacon sandwich.

At 130 minutes, it’s a full half-hour longer than Wizard and towards the end there is a strong temptation towards watch-checking, but it’s actually not a bad film. It’s obviously a million miles away from being good enough to shoe the feet of The Wizard of Oz and I’m not entirely sure why it exists, but Franco notwithstanding there’s just about enough of interest and a couple of decent laughs to be found somewhere in the vicinity of a certain yellow brick road.

hitchcock

Think of Alfred Hitchcock and somewhere near the top of the list of things you’re likely to have pop into your head is going to be one particular movie. Even people who haven’t seen it are going to have an idea what you’re getting at if you make a YEEEE!! YEEEE! YEEEE!! noise and stabbing motion with your hand, although I suppose some must find this synonymous with Phoebe from Friends. Thankfully, Hitchcock has little, in fact nothing, to do with Phoebe from Friends and everything to do with Psycho and its director.

We pick up the story of Hitch and his screenwriter wife, Alma Reville (the wonderful Helen Mirren), shortly after the release of North by Northwest. The movie is a hit but the finicky press are demanding something new, suggesting that the old man has had his day. After a not exactly tiring search, Hitch happens upon a Robert Bloch novel inspired by the Wisconsin serial killer, Ed Gein. It’s a horrid tale of murder, incest and cross-dressing, not exactly high in the Hollywood list of prerequisites in the 1950s and despite Alma’s advice and alternative suggestion of a screenplay by Whitfield Cook, Hitchcock is determined that Psycho will prove his critics wrong.

The quality on screen is undeniable and Anthony Hopkins, prosthetics, paunch and all, does a very good impression of the great man. Arguably too good, for it’s a strangely cold affair where nothing feels at stake and nothing much feels connected, due in part to the awkwardness of Hitchcock’s character and mannerisms. Hitch and Alma have shared thirty years together at the time when Psycho was in production and while there is a hint of a professional history, there’s no shared emotion. Are we supposed to care that Alma may have an affair with Cook? Or that Hitch is going to try like a bear with Janet Leigh? Even if I didn’t know that these things didn’t happen, I’m not convinced I would have. Perhaps this is all accurately portrayed but if so, it leaves a very bland taste in the mouth.

Nor is there any jeopardy when it comes to the making of Psycho. Despite the hurdles in its path, we all know it’s going to be made and despite the initial reluctance of Paramount to give it a general release, we all know it’s going to be a massive success. There’s not even much in the way of tension in the search for the movie’s leading actors. Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) more or less drop themselves into the respective roles.

So for a movie about the Master of Suspense, director Sacha Gervasi is not exactly sending pulses a-racing. The closest we come is when Hitch is visited by the ghost of Ed Gein who seems to appear to impart useful information, as I’m sure the imagined spectres of all serial killers are apt to do. It’s a brave step but ultimately a clumsy one as thanks to the reaction hidden beneath Hopkins’ rubber face, it never feels truly assured.

It’s not a bad movie, is pretty enough to look at and provides a handful of chuckles but given the talent on view in front of the camera, it could, and probably should have been much better.