Sunday, 19 May 2019

Review: Batman





Batman (1989, 30th anniversary screening)
Cert: 12A / 126 mins / Dir. Tim Burton / Trailer



Well, it was my birthday last week and as if to hammer the point home, time is teaching me I'm now of an age where I can go to 30th anniversary screenings in full nostalgia mode, having attended the cinema to watch the movie the first time round, too. Tim Burton's Batman ushered in the age of me regularly Going To The Pictures with my friends*1. I didn't live particularly close to a cinema, and movies before this tended to either be family outings or even just waiting for the VHS (and bear in mind that back in those days, the journey to the small screen took around a year).

MACHINE


Batman also drew me into the multimedia marketing machine surrounding its release. The specially produced comic adaptation featured scenes and character likenesses based on stills from the film, and along with the high-contrast, tonally-blended, full colour printing it was leagues ahead of the rapid-fire, block-colour-and-halftone pulp Marvel fare I'd been used to previously. I loved comics anyway (mainly Marvel, although that stands to this day), but this was in indicator that they could be more.

And that score. Danny Elfman's iconic work here was the first time outside of John Williams' Star Wars that a movie soundtrack had really excited me, one I could listen to separately and still clearly evoke the imagery inside my mind. It was the album which made me understand the role that the right music can play in enhancing a film while adding to the overall identity. A far cry from Williams' equally superb work for Superman, there were no romantic overtones to this new Batman theme, just a pounding, dynamic urgency.

PUGH


Prior to 1989, our superheroes had arrived onscreen clad in brightly coloured spandex (a reflection of their comic origins, to be fair). Batman rocked up in black, bulletproof rubber body armour, patrolling the streets of a Gotham City which looks for all the world like Blade Runner's Los Angeles if it had become run-down before the off-world boom. There's very little daylight in the movie, every character seemingly a nocturnal creature or one who just doesn't need to sleep. With 1980s tech meeting 1940s wardrobe and a self-awareness which that's ahead of its time, Burton's work is a great foundation for the Nolan retelling.

Along with writers Warren Skaaren and Sam Hamm, Burton brings a theatrical, borderline pantomime, classically gothic take on the anti-hero, flamboyantly dark and knowingly playful (a point which went over my head when watching this as a youngster). There's a lightness of touch that rarely feels the need to rely on outright gags, but coasts along with a wry subversiveness. The film broods but it never wallows. I'm looking at you, DC.

CUTHBERT


Michael Keaton may not be the most fearsome Batman, but he's the most accessible Bruce Wayne and is far and away the best combination of the two. He brings a fragility to both halves of the role that other actors have been unable to accomplish - or worse still, just haven't attempted. We shouldn't sympathise with either a billionaire businessman or a surly vigilante, but we're on this guy's side all the way through. Keaton shows us Batman's vulnerability and determination, not his inflexible strength. As well as showing us how Batman does his thing, Keaton gives us a window into why.

It's also worth noting that Keaton and Michael Gough make the most endearing Bruce/Alfred combination to date. There's genuine warm emotion there on both sides, and we understand their relationship instantly. Y'know, rather than having Michael Caine trying to remember how to cry while Christian Bale looks faintly embarrassed*2.

DIBBLE


And put your hand up if you're old enough to remember the clamour of "yeah, this new movie Batman is DARK like it's meant to be, man! This is how grim the original comics were!", while Jack Nicholson prances around in a purple suit with Prince playing in the background. Nicholson is terrible of course (his usual form), but his performance as The Joker is definitely what this movie needs. It only really tips over in the scenes he shares with Jack Palance, where they're trying to out-overact each other onscreen and are somehow both succeeding.

The pacing of the first half is masterful, perfectly formed and spinning the plates of its main characters with care and precision. The story begins to run out of steam once the setup is accomplished, dragging its heels in bringing everything to the cathedral-top conclusion, but it's so much fun that this doesn't matter. On the whole, it's still a hell of a lot more focused than a lot of other Batman appearances, even (let's face it, especially) within its own series.

GRUBB


And the remastering on display for this presentation is absolutely gorgeous. Crystal clear and with vivid colours, the care which has gone into this is a credit to all concerned. Even when you notice the very-obvious miniatures (ie when the chemical plant is exploding), the craft which has gone into assembling them is still evident, first and foremost. There are a couple of very brief shots which don't seem to have been re-touched, but the optimist in me things that this is to reinforce the amazing work throughout the rest of the film. That said, it's been a long time since I watched this (to my shame), so those moments may always have looked terrible.

Batman 30th anniversary screenings and vintage marathons are happening across the country via the major chains and a few of the independents. If you can, do



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Er… Batman films?
I mean it's definitely also Tim Burton™, but that aspect is far more restrained here than other work where he's allowed free rein. If anything, this makes Tim work harder to produce a better film, but there we go.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you get the opportunity, hell yeah.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.
(even though I don't have this at home as noted, so who am I to make recommendations?)


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Quite possibly, for the major players here.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
No, because obviously you love this film as well.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No, you'll have to watch the sequel for that.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well…
Lando Calrissian is in this.
And Biggs Darklighter is in this.
And Jek Porkins is in this.
And Lt. Renz is in this.
And Uncredited Rebel Pilot From The Empire Strikes Back is in this.

Which is pretty good going, I think.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 There were a few sporadic others before this - Spaceballs being one, although we don't talk about that film here - but Batman was the opening of a door, so to speak. [ BACK ]

*2 Look, I do love the Nolan films and I respect the Caine's canon as much as anyone, but he's generally not a good actor. He can act well, he just usually chooses (and is somehow permitted) not to. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: The Hustle





The Hustle
Cert: 12A / 94 mins / Dir. Chris Addison / Trailer



The art of the con is as old as the first interactions between humans, when one hunter or gatherer saw a rival's horde and realised there was an easier way to get all that without the hard work. Now it's one thing to fool the gullible or the easily distracted, but to pull off a job under the noses of people already on their guard, knowing someone's trying to get one over on them? That's where the real skill lies, my friend. That's the con.

And it turns out that Chris Addison is an absolute master at this*1. You know that The Hustle is going to be not worth watching. Chris Addison knows that you know. You know that Chris Addison knows you know. But there's only one way to sate that morbid curiosity. To find out how right you are. To prove your critical and intellectual superiority against your opponent and your natural instincts. And with that, the trap is sprung.

Because you've given Chris Addison 93 minutes of your life and you ain't getting those back.
Well played, Addison. Well played.

CAPER


The Hustle is not good. A minimalist, animated title sequence evokes the feel of 1960s caper-comedies, with an air of wit and wry faux-sophistication that's wholly missing from every other aspect of the film. Imagine a gross-out comedy but with a 12A certificate so that it can't do the gross-out moments. Or, apparently, the comedy.

Adapted by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer and Jac Schaeffer from 1988's well-loved Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, this Anne Hathaway / Rebel Wilson vehicle incorporates the classic farce setup and blends in elements of its namesake, the BBC TV series Hustle*2. Although those elements don't include a clever, intricate plot with twists, sleight-of-hand, reveals or any actual hustle. Unless I missed an episode where Jaime Murray spends a full minute in an airplane toilet making half-hearted puns on the word 'arses' before having noisy sex with a mark for no discernible plot or character-based reason.

MASKER


You know those outtakes they put at the end of studio-comedies, where the ill-timed, missed-cue goofing around on set had the crew in stitches but was nowhere near good enough to make the final story-edit? The Hustle is like an entire movie cut together from those. It's like the cast have been allowed to ad-lib their lines but still think they're in rehearsals and the cameras aren't running yet. It's like Hathaway and Wilson have dared each other to make the worst, most cack-handed thing in their careers and this is neither of them wanting to admit defeat by pulling out first.

And while Hathaway's accent is like false nails being dragged across a blackboard for an hour and a half (which the film exacerbates by steering clear of confirming if it's meant to be deliberately bad, in-character), her performance is at positively Les Mis-levels compared to Rebel Wilson's, whose resolute lack of effort here is truly outstanding. It's not even that Wilson looks bored by the script, she actually looks visibly annoyed. Like her agent couldn't find the get-out clause in the contract and now it's too late. Still, at least the Australian comic's dignity is intact, only being employed to do a Melissa McCarthy style 'haha it's funny because the fat lady falls over!' routine four (FOUR) times in a single film.

UTILITY-BELTER


Still, at least there are no morally problematic elements like the 'blindness is hilarious' joke which was dragged out for far too long in a sketch for Anchorman 2. Oh wait, no that's right. Here it becomes an actual central plot component for the second and third acts, while the audience reason that if they suddenly lost their vision, they'd at least have half of their experience of this film removed...

The Hustle may not be as badly assembled as the Little rehash, and it may not be quite as tasteless as the C.H.i.P.s rehash, but everyone involved should know better. This is just lazy, tone-deaf and embarrassing.

You may have walked away with the money but the joke's on you, Addison.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
This blog is filled with the takedowns of many a shit comedy movie, but I can't think of any other which fails this solidly in these specific ways, so I'm not going to commit to a direct, like-for-like comparison.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Nope.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Nope.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Nope.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Well, I have opinions, so…


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Unnamed Sheesha-Smoking Dude is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Chris 'Chris Addison' Addison, though? As in Actual Chris Actual Addison? Smart, funny, erudite, widely respected within the UK comedy industry Chris Addison? I mean I know his stand-up credibility was dented when he did the insurance adverts, but he's hardly the first performer to take the obscenely over-remunerated bait offered by those shysters. I mean look at what's left of Harvey Keitel's career for fuck's sake. Still, it's money isn't it? I get that. I hate it, but I get it. In terms of a much-loved British comedian's elephant-in-the-room, The Hustle is the cinematic equivalent of It's Kevin. Yes, I went there. [ BACK ]

*2 To the point where Hathaway knowingly directly references the show's tagline, "you can't cheat an honest man", in an attempt to reassure the audience that the writers, cast and crew know exactly what they're doing in insulting the audience for an hour and a half. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Review: Beats





Beats
Cert: 18 / 101 mins / Dir. Brian Welsh / Trailer



Well this was the second film in a week (in three days, in fact*1) based around a pair of teenagers desperately trying to make it to a legendary party. This time however, we swap pools for pills and the West Coast for West Lothian, in Brian Welsh's Beats.

Adapted from Keiran Hurley's stage play of the same name, we follow Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) and Johnno (Cristian Ortega) through the urban sprawl of Glasgow in 1994, a pivotal time for the UK rave scene. The infamous Criminal Justice Bill was due to be passed (and indeed it later was) effectively outlawing unlicensed musical gatherings, aimed in no small part at dance music. In a bid to escape or at very least ignore their more mundane problems, Spanner and Johnno learn of a last-ditch rave, its location a closely guarded secret to throw off the authorities and other undesirables. But with Spanner's older brother being a violent drug dealer and Johnno's stepfather a police officer, can either be trusted with the location..?

STARK


Presented for the very most part in a stark, high-contrast monochrome complete with vintage grain and VHS scan-lines, the tense interactions between characters and high ratio of interior scenes lend Beats an oppressive air from the beginning. Much like the two protagonists, a viewer wants nothing more than to escape into a soundscape of colour and comparative freedom. The third act's psychedelic rave sequence is a release for all*2, tellingly foreshadowed by the single red LED on Johnno's radio an hour earlier.

The first forty minutes perhaps lean a little to heavily on archive news footage fo the time to make their socio-political points (not least the enigmatic 'D-Man' spells it all out in the script anyway), but the performances here are mostly outstanding - especially in their portrayal of the adrenaline, joy, fear and panic of the cutting-edge scene.

MONTANA


Rather than drop us straight into the chaos the film has a slow build, in both its drama and its soundtrack. The sense of rebellion simmers gradually, feeling in places like what Take The High Road's idea of what The Scottish Film must be like*3, having not seen it but only reading a terse article in The Sunday Post.

Welsh's film still feels a little 'stagey' and that's by no means a bad thing, but I suspect the closing caption-cards telling us what happened next for each character would work better after watching a live presentation. Because despite the heavy-handed realism in the cinematic adaptation, at no point does this feel like watching real, actual people - only broad generalisations of half remembered acquaintances, long lost.

BARBERA


I liked Beats. I was ready to like it more but Brian Welsh didn't want that to happen. It's an odd film and I love that it exists, purely because I know it'll mean a lot more to audience members more within its musical demographic.

People in attendance: around twenty.
Walkouts: four*4.

That's a level of niche that it's hard not to fall in love with.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The arch hedonism of Booksmart, the unapologetic grit of Mid90s.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you get the opportunity (this being strictly arthouse-cinema fodder), yes.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Afraid I couldn't say.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Discuss at great length, but not disagree.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Cristian Ortega and Laura Fraser are in this, both of whom were in ITV's Retribution alongside Adrian 'Captain Peavey' Edmonson, Kate 'Unnamed First Order monitor' Dickie.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And I'm loving the indie-vibe of the more recent Cineworld Unlimited exclusive-screenings, even if I've been less keen on the movies themselves. Cardholders to a cinema subscription service are more likely to be fans of diverse film, and the approach of showing a wider range to them makes far more sense than just airing the blockbusters everyone will be seeing anyway but a week early. What's more, I pointed this out in a Cineworld questionnaire back in January of this year and now here we are. So I think you can basically thank me for the recent run of more interesting pieces at your local multiplex. There. I said it. [ BACK ]

*2 With the best will in the world though, dance/rave music is dull as absolute fuck. I was waiting to be emotionally lifted by the scene's long-awaited arrival. Instead I was sitting there in a cinemas as a mid-40s man thinking 'yeah, but when is the actual song going to start mate, this is just the intro'. Although to be fair, back in '94 your humble correspondent was breaking out the blastbeats, a style of music which is admittedly far more deliberately inaccessible than anything on offer here. [ BACK ]

*3 Going in somewhat blind other than the trailer, I had to keep reminding my expectant brain that despite the Scottish accents, desaturation and fixation on narcotics, this was the world of Brian Welsh, not Irvine. And much like my comparative-quandary with Booksmart, I'm still having to resist the urge to compare Beats with Trainspotting for seven paragraphs. To do so wouldn't be necessarily lazy (they do share common strands of cultural DNA), but it would certainly be unhelpful. Suffice to say that while there's a debt owed to the Danny Boyle film, this dances to its own physical, rather than existential, drum. [ BACK ]

*4 These walkouts didn't occur with an air of fear, anger or disgust, more a plodding admission of 'yeah, this isn't for me'. I genuinely wish that more films were this sure-footed in their execution, instead of trying to be all things to all viewers. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Review: The Curse Of La Llorona





The Curse Of La Llorona
(aka The Curse Of The Weeping Woman)
Cert: 15 / 93 mins / Dir. Michael Chaves / Trailer


New York, 1973. Social worker and single-parent Anna (Linda Cardellini) receives an alert about two young boys being held in apparent captivity at their home before helping them to safety. But relief is short-lived when it turns out their mother was in fact protecting them from La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez), the furious spirit of a Mexican peasant girl who murdered children three hundred years earlier. What she did in life she carries on in death, and now Llorona's attention has been roused, the lady in white has an eye on Anna's offspring…

PRETTY ONE


The sight of Llorona looming sharply into view certainly isn't a pretty one of course, nor is it meant to be. Director Michael Chaves forgoes the classical third-act reveal by using his antagonists's terrifying visage frequently throughout the film, letting the audience know they're not safe from the very beginning.

The basis of our tale here is Mexican folklore. And while these are sensitive times to brandish potential generalisations, the cultural references - certainly when it comes to tackling the demon - are used with a sense of inclusivity rather than belittlement. The Conjuring universe brings Hispanic ghouls to the table in the same way that The Possession did for Hebrew legends.

La Llorona's veil is a twisted parody of both bridal attire and the muslin cloths frequently used to swaddle infants, while her hair-bedraggled face and theme of drowning both manage to borrow motifs from traditional Japanese horror. And much like the classic Ringu, La Llorona's is a curse which can't be outrun by distance once it's set. In keeping with its south-of-the-border roots, the film even manages to throw in a brief homage to From Dusk Till Dawn in the preparation for its final showdown. When the moment arrives, Anna's last-ditch attempt to save her children is worthy of Hammer-era Peter Cushing. This is a film steeped in its genre, a brutal study of PTSD and post-feminist matriarchy which challenges the genre as much as the audience.

MOTOR RUN


The casting here is textbook and Linda Cardellini goes from strength to strength. Having shown she's got a handle on comedy with the Daddy's Home series and held up the more domestic-side of superhero life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she now effortlessly turns her hand to horror; not as a threat or shrieking victim, but a saviour and protector-figure.

La Llorona is only connected to the Conjuring universe by means of an incidental character, but is connected all the same, a fitting addition to the macabre family. Scares arrive with dramatic punctuality, Chaves keenly aware that there's no time to drag things out at a lean 93 minutes. He skips the niceties of an extended setup while still respecting the overall form and structure required for a horror movie.

From its first lumbering steps with Bathsheba, through the twisted grimace of Annabelle and on to last year's Valak, the Conjuring series has showcased female antagonists as a contemporary taunt to the testosterone-fuelled slashers of yesteryear in Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers and even Candyman. Although far from pinning the evils of the netherworld on women as a whole, they're more properly possessed by demons here, used as channels and portals, preying upon and amplifying the insecurities of societal expectations.

OFF THE LINE


And that's taken to its logical and horrifying conclusion with La Llorona, challenging the audience's natural instincts to cherish notions of motherhood as the supernatural malevolent force is faced in turn not only by a woman who is a mother, but also a social worker - one who provides care and support to others in times of crisis.

What tragedy has occurred in La Llorona's past that her very soul has turned against the sacred covenant handed down to women since time immemorial, both as a right and responsibility? The more we witness her supernatural crimes first hand, can we develop if not an air of sympathy, then at least understanding? Can some monsters be redeemed, absolved? Should they be? At what point do we as a passive viewer abandon our own humanity in the race to condemn a lack of someone else's?

MY LLORONA*1


Still the film has a playful aspect, as Anna blithely ignores an episode of Scooby Doo playing on the television, a nod to Cardellini's role as Velma in the two live action adaptations of the high-camp spooky comedy. And during the climactic showdown, Anna's son Chris wears a t-shirt bearing the cartoon image of a dinosaur - a symbol of fact and reason against naive superstition, but one that still acknowledges that the past has its place.

Giving Marvel Studios a run for their money, the next Annabelle-led installment of the Conjuring universe is due to his cinemas in under two months' time, so plan your viewing of this accordingly.

I'm only joking, The Curse Of La Llorona is absolute shite from start to finish.
But where's the fun in writing that review again? *2



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Nun*3.
If you liked The Nun you'll enjoy - nay, deserve - La Llorona
.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Look, if you've got a tenner burning a hole in your pocket, give me a shout and we'll go for a pint.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
If you're going to watch this at all, wait until it hits pre-paid streaming or TV.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Well what do you think?


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
If we disagree about this you need medical help, not booze.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Atai Molec's in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
The film's not offensively bad, although fuck me it does try...


*1 Not. Even. Sorry. [ BACK ]

*2 To be absolutely clear, the main body of this review should be taken with a pinch of salt so large that it will induce scurvy before the end of the second paragraph is reached. Although that's not to imply that the comparisons made above have no basis, they're just not intended to be complimentary. The only terrifying thing about this tedious, clockwork bollocks is how it even made it past the pitch-meeting in the first place.

How does La Llorona's premise work, exactly? She killed a couple of kids and felt really guilty about that, which is why she kept killing more children as a means of atonement? Wait, what? She can be summoned from Mexico to New York just on a whim? Presumably she's on-call everywhere? This shit's been going on for three centuries and not once has someone said "have you tried just stabbing her with the crucifix, Terry? In the sternum? I think that's how you do an exorcism". And look at that tagline on the poster. 'She wants your children'. Was that one crafted on a Friday afternoon by any chance? The cast aren't trying here and the writers sure as hell aren't, so why should the audience?

Best line: "Now he's a faith-healer. A shaman who operates of the fringes of religion and science…".
Fucking hell, mate. [ BACK ]

*3 Why did I go so easy on The Nun? It's even more laughably bad than this movie. Must have caught me on a good day, or something? [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.