Sunday, 26 March 2017

Review: Power Rangers





Power Rangers
Cert: 12A / 124 mins / Dir. Dean Israelite / Trailer



Full disclosure, this film wasn't really made for me and I'm absolutely fine with that. By the time Power Rangers started airing on UK television in the mid-90s, I was already going to work down the pit for sixteen hours a day (and more importantly, getting back into obsessing over Star Wars), so other than a bare-bones knowledge of its existence, I was bringing little in the way of baggage to this particular gathering. However, I like to think I know enough about movies to spot the difference between world-building and box-ticking. Most cinematic reboots don't become really heavy-handed fan service until their second or third instalments. Power Rangers waits around forty-five minutes. More amazingly though, it sort of works.

So. Something-something group of disparate teenagers; Something-something asteroid crash site; Something-something evil forces awakening; Something-something super-powers awarded to worthy heroes. Think the Sword in the Stone meets Guardians of the Galaxy. Classic hero's journey stuff, no problem there. A gently-paced opening act introduces the five teenagers who will go on to be trusted with tools of unbelievable destruction, before its successor arrives bearing over-generous amounts of exposition and training montages. The by-the-book origins story is solid enough, the super-powered Breakfast Club bonding feels more laboured. The young central cast themselves are good form, but any performer older than twenty or so comes off as patronising at best. Scoring the most highly in that round are Mr Bryan Cranston and Ms Elizabeth Banks*1, both of whom blithely continue to devalue their own showreels.

As well as satisfying all the checklist items required of a throwback movie, the thematic nostalgia is furthered by referencing visual beats from The Lost Boys, Ghostbusters and perhaps more notably, the first Avengers flick. But as the film goes on, it shifts in tone from moody-teen pouting to the brightly coloured, super-camp finale which is at least fitting for its televisual roots.

As hero origin-stories go, Power Rangers is surprisingly reasonable, if somewhat unremarkable (considering it's a shameless series-opener and two hour action-figure advert). And as much as it pains me to admit it, the film has more focus and unabashed self-awareness than DC seem to have managed recently. Still, we live in hope. Obviously, this film will be sequelled to death, inevitably diluting the fun and feasibility with each new entry (for those interested, there's a mid-credits teaser scene, but nothing at the end).

But fair play to Lionsgate for putting out a 12A certificate film when the core target demographic is aged around 7. And Power Rangers is definitely at the lighter-end of 12A, but the rating still stands. Approach with caution.


And this is a thing as well, mind…

Rita Repulsa: Poundland Sexy-Loki!

…I mean that's got to be deliberate, right?


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
File alongside TMNT, even though this is a head-on collision between Chronicle and Monster Trucks.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Not necessarily, unless you want the multi-coloured carnage to be bigger.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Y'know what?
It does
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the best will in the world, I should hope not.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Alpha 5 is performed by the voice of BB-8, Bill Hader.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
^^ And a 4 seems harsher than it's intended to be, it's just not strong to be a 5 round these parts. The film was relatively enjoyable for its duration, but by this time tomorrow I'll be struggling to remember most of what happened in it, apart from admirable work with the Blue and the Yellow Rangers, and Elizabeth Banks letting herself down again. I'm not the target audience, and it had pretty much no impact on me either way.



*1 I know that the Power Rangers' nemesis hasn't been newly named for this movie, but an antagonist named Rita further strengthens my theory (following on from last week's Elaine and Maureen) that prominent female roles in 2017's movies are being screen-written by my Grandma's friends. [ 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.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Review: Beauty And The Beast





Beauty And The Beast (2017) (2D)
Cert: PG / 129 mins / Dir. Bill Condon / Trailer



And, relax. After the pleasant surprise that was Disney's retelling of Cinderella, but followed the next year by a rendition of The Jungle Book which left me blank-faced, I wasn't exactly a quivering bundle of excitement for Beauty And The Beast being given the same live-action treatment. Which would partly explain why it took me a week to set aside the time to go see it.

But the Friday-night performance of the film (and in my local's largest auditorium) was veritably packed. Considering there are still five-showings a day and it's been out for a week, this is an excellent turn and good news for everybody. Speaking of which, let's cut to the chase: Beauty And The Beast is marvellous. I see no reason to build up to praise, here. Following the framework of the classic story, it's primarily a remake of the 1991 animated film, with branches of the 1994 Broadway musical grafted on. And it is, to be blunt, perfect Disney.

Emma Watson and Dan Stevens bring equally bold performances, with subtle character-development on each side which could easily be overlooked by many another director. They're reliably supported by an ensemble cast of established character actors*1 and near-flawless visuals. There are enough songs to make the film A Musical™, but still plenty of gaps in between to allow for actual storytelling to occur. Although speaking of the cast, I can't help but feel that the Scottish Ewan McGregor's vocal performance as the French candelabra Lumiere is a calculated, 30-year payback for Christopher Lambert's work in Highlander. Never entirely comfortable with anything other than his native-brogue or Kenobi British, the actor's nowhere near 'bad' here but always just sounds like Ewan McGregor putting on an arch, comedy-French accent.

And speaking of retribution, there's been much (and needless) controversy about Josh Gad's LeFou being depicted as gay in the film, of course. While his moments are certainly played up for comic relief, he is nonetheless one of the film's character high-points. But the cynic in me couldn't help but wonder if this more sympathetic turn is Gad showing some form of penitence for his borderline homophobic character in PIxels. I actually hope it is.

But all in all, there's really very little for me to say about Beauty And The Beast. The audience know what they're going in for, and the film delivers. Although more eager to see the film that I was, Mrs Blackout actually found the film's finale to be a bit over the top. I, on the other hand, think that by that point, the film has earned every second of its self-indulgent and boisterous crescendo.

Sure, it's Disney By Numbers™, but what numbers


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
2015's live-action Cinderella.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you're going to see it at all, see it big.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
In every way.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With a cast this strong, probably not, to be fair.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I didn't hear one.
Which is ridiculous, because there's a five-minute segment just crying out for it
.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in it.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 With the unsurprising exception of Luke Evans, who seems to think he's starring in an am-dram pantomime version of the tale. It's perhaps not his fault as he's a) almost uniformly awful in everything, and b) been mis-cast terribly to begin with. While Gaston is certainly a deplorable archetype, part of that is his deceptively-dashing exterior. It's never a 'reveal' that the character's actually an arsehole, but you're supposed to come to the conclusion gradually. Evans' version just looks like a wrong'un from the moment he steps onto set, barking like Peter Kay auditioning for The Pirates Of Penzance[ 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.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Review: Get Out





Get Out
Cert: 15 / 104 mins / Dir. Jordan Peele / Trailer



Oh. March. The third month of the calendar-year, just after the earnest hand-wringing of the Oscars and before the deafening explosions of the Summer blockbuster, is regularly the release-window for substandard weirdness (cf 2016, 2015, 2014), indeed that's what we've come to expect. But even I'll admit that the trailer for the Blumhouse-produced Get Out looked like it could be set to buck that trend by bringing far more to the party than was expected of it...

Setting off for to meet his girlfriend Rose's affluent white parents for the first time, young photographer Chris is already fairly trepidacious as they haven't been told he's black. When they arrive however, the atmosphere is weirder than even he imagined; the parents are nothing but welcoming, yet something is very, very wrong. As the weekend progresses, tensions rise and strange events escalate, but will Chris solve the puzzle, or just be one of the pieces?

A combination of a particularly heavyweight awards season and an off the cuff comment by someone who should really know better has perhaps written a reputational cheque that Jordan Peele didn't realise he'd need to cash. Don't get me wrong, this is certainly a good film but I'd struggle to call it more than that. Third-act silliness prevents Get Out from being quite as incisive as it'd like. In terms of Satire™, the film is more of a sledgehammer than a scalpel, although obviously some nuts are harder to crack.

But great performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams as the central couple are key to the film's cinematic efficiency. The supporting cast range from textbook to scenery-chewing, but they're largely fine given the context of the film. Unexpected praise also goes to LilRel Howery as the 'funny best friend on the end of the phone' archetype, who is far better than a film like this would normally allow (although he does more than his share of plot-lifting, too).

Leaving aside the obvious current socio-political relevance, the mechanics of the movie are... well, pretty mechanical. The creeping paranoia is implemented fantastically, being psychological rather than supernatural. Foreshadowing plot-points are meticulously laid out and counted neatly back in again although never with a heavy-hand, a move which should make re-watching the film workable (no mean feat with this narrative structure). Get Out is a big fan of traditional jump-scares too though, which lets down a screenplay that's clearly more self-aware than its contemporaries. None of it's badly done, but this certainly feels like Jordan Peele has managed to paint an interesting picture using the same old worn out brushes we've seen other artists use.

All in all, Get Out is more than reasonable, although I'm already worrying about the movies which will try ride in its slipstream.

But if the weight of real-world politics is perhaps putting you off this psych-horror, don't worry too much; the film features an almost unhealthy amount of Microsoft product placement. Now I'm someone who raises an eyebrow when everyone on-screen uses devices with an Apple logo on them, but seeing the MS/Windows branding this much, all in the same place? Rest assured, you're watching fiction...


And this is a thing as well, mind…



Seriously, no need.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The People Under The Stairs, The Purge, Would You Rather.
And let's face it, Being John Malkovich.
.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For full tension, yes.
If you already have any kind of hearing-damage, no
.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not best, but it'll be one of the best-remembered.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nope.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Daniel Kaluuya also appeared in Sicario, alongside Benicio 'as-yet unnamed character from The Last Jedi' Del Toro.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


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.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review: Personal Shopper





Personal Shopper
Cert: 15 / 105 mins / Dir. Olivier Assayas / Trailer



I like that thing where you see a location in a movie which you were at, less than an hour earlier. Granted, that doesn't happen very often, but the chances certainly seem to be increased by catching a film when you're passing through London. It's almost like Oliver Assayas' Personal Shopper took a (literal) five minute detour through London just to show me St Pancras station and make me smile. Almost like it had some kind of otherworldly, psychic power. Almost. But not quite.

Maureen*1, a young American woman working in Paris as a personal shopper to the rich and famous, is grieving the recent loss of her twin brother. Both had nascent paranormal abilities, and Maureen spends her downtime trying to make contact with her sibling, although this holds the door open to other entities as well. Also, there's a murder.

Well, then. Most movies revolving around the supernatural will begin with a layer of audience-oriented skepticism, gradually increasing the in-plot, coalescing evidence until the point where a pay-off can be reached that (hopefully) doesn't stretch narrative credibility. Personal Shopper is almost the exact opposite, having a concrete level of 'oh, ghosts are real btw' from act one, but introducing uncertainty through the events elsewhere in the plot. And the more this is applied, the more the whole thing becomes unstuck.

When Maureen begins receiving anonymous texts from someone (or thing) that apparently knows her*2, the film loses balance slightly and never manages to regain its footing. Personal Shopper isn't sure if it wants to be an unconventional ghost story, or a philosophical psych-thriller. As a result, it commits to neither and achieves results accordingly. The film is more about dealing with the PTSD of a close family bereavement than any exploration of spirituality, and Kristen Stewart's on very strong form as a medium who's terrified of the unknown. Although it perhaps says a lot about the script that her best scenes are essentially solo-performances. Marreen's backstory is teased out relatively naturalistically (for the most part), although the screenplay does seem to assume that no-one in the audience has any idea what a medium is, judging by how laboured that point becomes.

On the plus side, the film gains a point for being set largely in Paris without a single establishing-shot of the Eiffel Tower. Although to be fair, that's no less than I'd expect of an actual French production. That said, the point is instantly deducted for the occasional swathes of un-subtitled French dialogue (and at one point, Swedish). They're reasonably short in themselves, but I've no idea what was being said there, only that everyone looked very concerned. And I have to assume that this was a deliberate move rather than an oversight, but it's pretty rude either way; don't assume that your audience will be fluent in two languages. Either the content of your script is important to the film or it isn't*3.

Certainly an interesting film, by no means a great one. I'd like to have liked Personal Shopper more, but found the forced ambiguity unsatisfying.

Fair play for showing the ghosts, though. I hope The Vomiting Lady gets her own spinoff movie. We've certainly had worse.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Wel, it's no Hereafter


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
You may as well, all atmosphere will be effectively lost on a smaller screen.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
For me? No.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Kristen Stewart is great.
But she's been great before and she'll be great again
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, probably not.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Kristen Stewart's in this, and she was in that Adventureland, along with Bill BB-8 Hader.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Yeah, the protagonist's name is Maureen. On Friday, I saw a film where it was Elaine. It's like the supernatural heroines of 2017 are friends of my Grandma. [ BACK ]

*2 Okay seriously, though. She's there with her phone and a text comes through with the number marked as "unknown". This means the phone and/or network has no traceability for the sender's number. Which means the text can't be replied to. When you receive a text from someone who isn't in your phonebook, the phone displays the raw-number, not just 'unknown'. There are apps you can use to block your number when texting, but in order to be able to reply to these, the carrier will need to figure out the number of the sender. Which will then display the number. Yet there Maureen is, having a lengthy anonymous conversation with appalling punctuation. And that's another thing we learn, that Kristen Stewart is the kind of person who'll finish a sentence in a text without any punctuation. Or worse, she'll use punctation with a space after the final word, but before the full-stop/exclamation-mark etc. Unforgivable. And don't get me started on multiple consecutive question-marks. [ BACK ]
EDIT: Very much aware that I've complained about a lack of realism in a film specifically featuring ghosts. Don't even care.

*3 Any real supernatural tension the film managed to muster (and it is there) was offset by the light of the needlessly powerful bulb in the Fire Exit sign, bleeding directly onto the bottom-left corner of Screen 6. Obviously this is no reflection on the filmmakers, but the presentation of a movie is every bit as important as the content itself. Something you'd expect a cinema to be especially aware of. I know why the sign is there and I know it has to be illuminated, but it doesn't have to be visible from outside… [ 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.