Thursday, 24 May 2018

Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story (first-pass)





Solo: A Star Wars Story (first-pass / 3D / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. Ron Howard / Trailer



Much like another film recently, as I sat through the ads and trailers aimed at people who come out to the cinema at midnight, it occurred to me that after the BBFC card had shown the film title and rating, I actually had no idea how Solo was going to open. As an 'anthology' film, the Star Wars rulebook is more flexible, as Rogue One demonstrated. The card came and went, the feature began. And no spoilers, but I started smiling and pretty much didn't stop for the next two and a quarter hours.

I had no solid expectations or demands for the new movie; I rarely do for any of them. As long as it 'feels' like Star Wars. Solo did not disappoint.

On a tonal-level, Ron Howard's film dovetails with the Galaxy Far, Far Away pretty seamlessly. There's a distinct 'Disney-era' feel to the production as a whole, but there's a level of Original Trilogy dirt and grime which we haven't seen… perhaps ever. Rogue One had its fair share of course but in Solo, the audience's concern for hand-washing facilities is almost constant.

Alden Ehrenreich more than holds his own in the title role, but there's still a sizeable gap between his and the young Harrison Ford's performances. In some scenes Alden has it note-perfect, a nod or a flinch taking us right back to 1977; but for the most part, the audience are going to have to meet him half way. Then again, a little resistance is only to be expected, since this is the first time anyone other than the iconic Ford has portrayed the smuggler on-screen. Donald Glover has a slightly easier ride as the galaxy's biggest smoothie, Lando Calrissian, threatening to steal each scene he's in until Ron Howard reins him back in (he's still great). Joonas Suotamo's Chewbacca is as fantastic as we've seen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge's L3-37 may be the most relatable Star Wars droid to-date.

Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Paul Bettany's new characters are… well, not a mixed-bag exactly - the characters themselves fit into the Star Wars universe well enough - but it's a slightly jarring feeling seeing such familiar and long-established performers in such central roles. We'll see how they bed-in with further viewings.

On a broader story-level, this is a veritable treasure trove of cross-referencing, as you'd expect. Not only are there strong character-ties to the OT-era, but also to the wider Star Wars movie timeline and the canon across other media (fans of the animated TV shows will grin widely at several points). But these nods are, for the most part, woven in subtly enough that they shouldn't clang too loudly for the audience members not picking them right up. And for those of us who've paid their dues in the 'Legends' continuity, there are also a handful of Easter eggs thrown in there, too. But again, they rarely feel like fan-service (even though they almost certainly are). Some of the traditions of Star Wars film-making are upheld, some aren't, and some can't really be. It's all good.

Given the troubled production of Solo (namely the switchover from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller to Ron Howard), it's a surprisingly even affair. What's more, there's probably slightly less humour in there than you'd expect, given Han and Chewie's previous penchant for bickering. There are smiles to be had and a few wisecracks thrown over the top, but for the most part this is a case of 'faster, more intense'.

While I don't imagine this latest anthology-installment will be anywhere near as divisive as The Last Jedi, there will undoubtedly be those who feel a little cooler toward it. The film probably won't blow you away, but you'll feel at home in the galaxy from the very first scene. While Lucasfilm seem determined to keep mining the OT-era for content, this doesn't feel like it's been made to appease the fanboys. Yet at the same time, it's a Star Wars film which exists solely to be A Star Wars Film, and really isn't too concerned about winning over the undecided. While Solo obviously isn't as frantic as Rogue One, they share a lot of DNA in terms of 'ambiguous-expendability'.

Speaking of which, do try and see this before any spoilers come flying your way. Obviously the Corellian, the Wookiee and the gambler make it out alive, but the rest is a ride best enjoyed without knowing where the tracks lead, and where you're never sure what's going to lurch out of Hyperspace next.

My SOP since 2005 has been to walk out of a new Star Wars film half-excited, half puzzled, as my brain tries to piece everything together. The early hours of this morning were no exception. But I didn't see anything I disliked in Solo, and I know for a fact that my love-affair with this film begins here.

Well played, Mr Howard, well played.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars's.


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


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Time will tell, let's not commit to that just yet.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Disagree? Unlikely. But I will talk your ears off about it anyway.
(as anyone who's ever been in a pub with me and mentioned Star Wars will attest to)
.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I didn't hear one on first-pass, but that's not unusual. And if Matthew Wood is good to his word, there may not be (although he's got previous form for talking about retiring the effect, and he hasn't up until now).


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

…but if you wanted to go round the houses with it, Solo was directed by Mr Ron Howard, who starred in 1977's Grand Theft Auto alongside Clint Howard, the man who put in an appearance in Leprechaun 2 with Warwick Davis, who was in the Comic Relief British Airways Safety Video reel with Thandie Newton, who appears in the upcoming The Life And Death Of John F. Donovan, as does Jo Wheatley, who was in Now You See Me 2 which starred Woody Harrelson, who also cropped up in 1999's Edtv which was directed by... Ron Howard*1.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Obviously.


*1 Yeah, the long-links are back, bitches! I've done them all in advance this time, like an actual writer would. They take a while. And be warned, I've done a dozen of them which basically means I have to watch Solo at the cinema twelve times, otherwise I'll have wasted my time. Also, this first one is my favourite for reasons which should become clear when you look at Solo's IMDB page[ 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, 23 May 2018

Review: Life Of The Party





Life Of The Party
Cert: 12A / 105 mins / Dir. Ben Falcone / Trailer



Without a strong cast to share the comedic spotlight, or a 15 certificate to gamely soak up her trademark punctuative profanity masquerading as witty improvisation, all that's left in Life Of The Party is for Melissa McCarthy to repeat any scene's 'keyword' four times or do the 'fat person falls over' schtick. Four times.

Less enjoyable than I Feel Pretty, even though that film has far more pressing problems.

The worst part is the feeling that schedulers and distributors assume that if you're not into superhero movies, this is what you'll want instead.

We get the studio-comedy we deserve.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
This is like some horrible hybrid of The Internship, Bad Neighbours and Paul Blart.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
No.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
No.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
If pushed.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Gillian Jacobs is in this, and she was in that Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World with Keira 'Sabé' Knightley.


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, 22 May 2018

Review: Avengers - Infinity War (third-pass)





Avengers: Infinity War (2D / third-pass / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 149 mins / Dir. Joe Russo & Anthony Russo / Trailer



Well, I didn't think I'd be making comparative references against the third Avengers get-together until at least this time next year, but a conversation at the weekend raised the point that for the more, ahem, civilian viewer, there are two superhero movies out at the moment. Inevitably, some casual cinema-goers are going to be standing in the foyer deciding which one they want to watch*1.

Because for a lot of people, the choice will be between a pair of Marvel flicks starring a partially-CGI'd Josh Brolin as a bad-ass with a time-slider*2. But that's not really an accurate comparison, is it? Or is it? Infinity War and Deadpool 2 are very different products, albeit for partly the same audience*3. The merc-with-the=mouth has come armed with the fuckbombs, but it's Earth's Mightiest Heroes who carry the weightier story.

And yet in the weeks since my first two passes, I'd forgotten how funny Infinity War is, especially given its consistently escalating death-toll. Although obviously it's very different from that other movie, tonally. Avengers' humour is very much the Private Eye to Deadpool's Viz. Both are great institutions which can't replace each other, and don't try.

So, watching Infinity War again after a few weeks, I'm pretty much of the opinion that any deaths which occurred before the Infinity Gauntlet was fully operational (only four, remember) will be permanent. The amount of build-up, screen-time or dramatic weight allocated to each one seems fairly irreversible, and the film's legacy would be cheapened if these characters managed to find themselves magically resurrected by the end of Avengers 4

Conversely, the casting-losses which occur once Thanos snaps his fingers (the other twelve*4) are, to put it mildly, suspiciously rapid given their narrative stature. The heroes that flutter out of existence leave behind an intriguingly-thinned (and deliberately 'classic') team for next May's concluding chapter, but the ultimate resolution lies in the knowledge that Spider-Man 2, Black Panther 2 and Guardians 3 have already been commissioned.

But hey, I've previously joined the chorus bemoaning Marvel's reluctance to apply a little consequence to their continuity, and it's still by no means certain who will survive into Phase 4. At a rate of three cinematic entries a year, the MCU is now dense enough to give classic heroes the rest they've earned, while still maintaining forward momentum. Maybe, as a man from another galaxy once said, "it's time to let old things die".

Because we all know this isn't the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning...*5



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Avengers films.


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


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
2019 will tell, I guess.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Not likely, since you'll love it as well. Right?.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is, layered in when Ebony Maw goes for a space-walk.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Mace Windu is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And of course that's perhaps not the way things should work. But let's not forget I sat in a Saturday night screening of A Ghost Story and watched people walk out mid-way, almost certain that they'd made their choice on a whim since Annabelle: Creation was playing two screens down and was likely the choice on the other side of their coin. Not all moviegoers are as disciplined or as informed as us, dear reader. And that's why I'm here; to help. Or maybe to lecture. Either/or. Okay, it's probably the second one. [ BACK ]

*2 Okay, Thanos-related plot question. When Thor is on the Milano, he tells the Guardians that Thanos "stole the stone and slaughtered half my people". So... where are the survivors, exactly? Because everyone on-screen looked pretty much floaty-in-space-dead to me, the Asgardian ship looked completely mullered, and the Guardians of The Galaxy (the only responders to the distress-call) didn't pick up anyone else from the wreckage.
It had previously struck me that there's not much of a big deal made of Thor being the last Asgardian now, especially as the whole point of Ragnarok was that the refugees fleeing the planet were the symbol of endurance and hope. But yeah, maybe half of that film's survivors are pootling off on the B-Ark somewhere, right? [ BACK ]

*3 For the record, there are currently Deadpool 2 cup-toppers on sale in the foyer. I expect that for the 12A certificate hero-flicks aimed at family audiences, but this is a hard 15. T-shirts absolutely, popcorn buckets at a push, but cup-toppers? Maybe it's meant to be ironic. Although I'm pretty sure the money that Fox are making from the products looks the same either way...
[ BACK ]

*4 Yes, of course I made a list. And no, I'm not going to reproduce it here. I know I marked the review 'spoilers' but I'm not a complete animal... [ BACK ]

*5 Yeah, I went there. I'll be wearing a plastic Union Jack bowler hat and writing angry letters to local newspapers, next. [ 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 Cured

This post originally appeared at SetTheTape.com




The Cured
Cert: 15 / 95 mins / Dir. David Freyne / Trailer



It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a horror story in possession of a good villain, must be in want of a subtext…

From Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley’s classical covert probing at immigration and science-vs-morality, to the relatively recent ruminations of George Romero on PTSD and mass-consumerism, it’s certainly the case that in a crowded entertainment marketplace, the presence of a terrifying monster alone will not be enough.

While contemporary horror cinema itself is vast and varied, creatives must choose their projects wisely if they’re to stand a chance of being heard above the tumult. Luckily, this is a lesson already learned by writer/director David Freyne who, after cutting his teeth on a series of short films, brings his feature-length debut to our screens in the form of The Cured.

Taking place in near-future Ireland, the country (indeed the world) is coming to terms with the aftermath of the Maze Virus, a bite-transmitted pandemic which turns its victims into crazed, animalistic killers. Scientists eventually create an antidote, which returns 75% of subjects to their former selves – but leaves them with clear memories of their horrific actions during infection. And while those successfully reverted to their 'human' state can attempt to go back to their old lives, the question remains of how best to treat those resistant to the formula.

To complicate matters further, many non-infected, surviving members of the public are resistant to the idea of an army of murderers being introduced back into society. Protests take place outside treatment centres, and those released find themselves ostracised from their previous communities. So it’s not surprising when some of the persecuted begin to formulate a reaction against this prejudice.

Ellen Page plays Abbie, a journalist raising a young son while turning out regional-TV fare, who agrees to take in her cured brother-in-law Senan (Sam Keeley) after losing her husband during the outbreak. Senan, still struggling to come to terms with his involuntary behaviour, is also distracted by fellow ex-patient Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), whose cynicism at the authorities outweighs the guilt over his past. When Abbie uncovers a plot to disrupt the reintegration of the cured it becomes apparent that for some, the virus was just an excuse to unleash their inner beast, and the worst excesses of the story’s antagonists are very much human foibles…

It feels slightly disingenuous to call this ‘a zombie movie’, since its monsters aren’t technically by-the-book zombies. But the hyper violent, not-quite-dead, psychopath virus victim is an archetype we’re seeing more and more within the genre, so perhaps a new term is needed. While Freyne utilizes the transmission-method of the infection in classic style, the attacks themselves are less plot-critical, and just used as the narrative method to decide who becomes infected and who becomes lunch (not dissimilar to vampire-fiction in that regard).

But, as noted, this isn’t a film about zombies. The larger backdrop touches upon social discrimination, the rehabilitation of criminals, refugees, activism, civic unrest, domestic terrorism and genocide. It’s about how society reacts collectively in a crisis which, in 2018, feels relevant to the point of foreboding prescience. But at its emotional core, The Cured is a study of the complex triangular relationship which emerges between Abbie, Senan and Conor, and the strains put on each by their interlinking past. It’s pretty bleak stuff, albeit in a great way.

The central cast trio are on blistering form, each picked perfectly for their role. Ellen Page brings a stoic, reflective presence to the proceedings, trying to build the best life she can, while knowing that she’s ultimately trapped. It's a shame that if anything, Abbie's character seems to get left behind as the events of the screenplay overtake her. Sam Keeley looks both haunted and panicked simultaneously, a man not even sure if he deserves a second chance, never mind what he hopes to achieve by being given one. And driving the tension is Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s Conor, grimly nihilistic and demonstrating single-handedly that curing the virus won’t fix what was wrong before it took hold.

Cinematographer Piers McGrail decreases saturation of colour in equal proportion to the sense of optimism (assisted by the red-brick terraces and overcast skies), and his hand-held cameras bring a sense of intimacy or panic, depending on the requirements of the scene. Similarly, Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy’s score is brooding and ponderous without feeling at all intrusive, all the more effective for the stretches in which it's not used; indoor exchanges where the brittle script serves to puncture silent air, both vibrating with tension.

Among the even distribution of exposition, conversation and outright frenzy, Freyne drops some masterful jump-scares*1, although as the run-time progresses, these go from being genuinely jarring to the more mainstream quiet/quiet/bang variety. And by the third-act, after relentlessly escalating the tension, our storyteller can resist the lure of outright carnage no longer, giving in to the same crimson urges as his ravenous hordes. Then again, it would be an odd movie which builds toward this climax and then doesn’t deliver.

For a first feature, The Cured is an outstanding work, although the claustrophobic suburban landscapes and indie-sensibilities might work more against the title’s individuality than for it, even with Ellen Page’s name on the front (although the fact that the actress is also one of the producers is an encouraging sign of commitment).

David Freyne has chosen his cinematic battle - and weapons – wisely, but will that be enough in the long-run? With such a short theatrical release-window, Tilted Pictures and IFC Films are clearly hoping that the director’s work will find its audience with the DVD/digital release. Your humble correspondent shares that hope, as The Cured deserves to be seen by fans of film and film-making alike…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
28 Days Later, The Girl With All The Gifts.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
That time has unfortunately passed (very limited theatrical release on this one).


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it first and see how you get on, but for genre-fans this will be a keeper.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
That remains to be seen, but it's a high watermark.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Unlikely, but the discussion itself should be intriguing.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Ellen Page is in this, and she was in the rebooted Flatliners alongside Diego 'Andor' Luna.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although these were ably assisted by the Soho Screening Rooms' apparent tendency to set the auditorium's default volume to Eleventy-Stupid™ - fantastic for appreciating the sound-design in acts one and two; completely overpowering in the third…
[ 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.