Monday, 31 December 2018

Sticky: #FilmReview Hiatus

Short version:

I'm done with reviewing everything I see at the cinema. For the foreseeable future, at any rate. It's become too time-consuming to try and find interesting things to write about things which are largely uninteresting, especially given that I'm sitting through the films in the first place.
But I've covered a fair old few over the years, so now's the time to knock it on the head.

Cinema visits will continue and I'll be compiling some manner of micro-review over on the Twitter and the Facebook. Film-talk will carry on in those same places (mostly Twitter, to be honest), and I'd love for you to come over and say hello (if you haven't already).

This won't be the final blog post at World Of Blackout, but at this point I'm not planning anything in terms of frequency, tone or content. Stuff will appear as it appears.

So long and thanks for all the clicks!


Long version:
Disclaimer: I'll apologise now for the repetition of the words "film" and "movie" that follow. I generally try and minimise and balance the count of those out across an article, but in a block of text such as this, it becomes self-defeating. Whatever.

Ah, you kept going down the page. Lovely.
Take a seat, dear reader, and pour yourself something from the bar.
Ice is in the bottom.

And so. It arose, properly, from a conversation I had with a close friend, in a London hotel bar in December 2010. After a day's catching up and general carousing, the conversation strayed onto the creative arts, media and our own respective online presences, such as they were. At that point I'd had World Of Blackout on the go for a couple of years, but there was no real form or direction to it, just amateurish whimsy posted at irregular intervals. This wasn't a film-review blog.

Yet there were a handful of film reviews in there. I'd had a Cineworld Unlimited card since mid-2007, and would occasionally post observations about what I'd seen - again with no real form or direction. I'd even done a brief stint through Facebook of watching twelve movies in twelve days and writing about them (later ported to the blog as a point of reference), which seemed like an outlandish feat at the time. Film was something which interested me, but certainly wasn't a main focus. This wasn't a film-review blog.

Anyway, I mentioned in passing how I liked writing, but often struggled waiting for inspiration to strike. A blog needs a broad subject after all, it can't just be a stream of consciousness or an online diary of inane events no-one but the author will care about. My companion remarked how he'd enjoyed the few film reviews I'd posted sporadically through the year. He said I should do more of those, in that loose way you encourage a friend while in casual, semi-drunk conversation.

And with that, reader, a light went on. Challenge accepted. As those who know me well will attest, I'm not one for half-measures. I decided at that point to rate and review everything I watched at the cinema, from January 1st onwards. All things. Any cinema. Plus some home-viewings as well, probably, but they wouldn't be the focus. The idea was that this would a) provide me with a regular stream of consistently themed, yet tonally varied, source content, and b) help me focus my hobby and appreciate film more clearly. After all, why have an Unlimited card if you're going to see movies while they're brand new, without any sort of analysis or evaluation? You might as well be watching them later on television and saving yourself £16 a month. This was all before Letterboxd.

So, everything would be picked apart. Those I liked, those I didn't, even multiple visits to re-watch the same thing. Because if you're not getting something new in seeing a movie more than once, then why are you doing it? Even if it's the repetition which makes it better, think about why that applies to some movies and not others.

But this still wasn't a film-review blog. Other people did those, I reasoned, and they were far more focused with greater knowledge and deeper appreciation than me. I was just a guy trying to really hammer the Unlimited card and have something to show for it other than knowing the cinema staff to chat to.

And so it began. 2011 saw me go to the pictures 93 times. 2012 was a neat 100 times, 2013 was 137, and onto 2014 (145), 2015 (157), 2016 (158) and 2017 (142). As I write, it's September 2018 and we stand at 95. That's a lot of words written. Reader, it became a film-review blog. Slowly, the header-structure of articles took shape, social media feeds were introduced, the 'branding' morphed into something more theatrical, and the amount of non-review content all but disappeared. No news, little opinion, mainly just reviews. No firm structure or word-count to aim for, just a broadly consistent level of summary and readability (although some of you would question this, I know). I quickly settled into my preferred discussion format of too many superfluous adjectives*1 and sentences which are slightly too long to comfortably read (and let's not forget my love of parentheses*2).

As well as spending too much time sitting in the dark at my local, World Of Blackout became 'my thing'. It was what I did, in fact it still is. "Hi, I'm Ian, I spend too much time analysing movies you'll probably never watch". I've met some fantastic and amazing people, online and in The Meatspace, as a result of writing online. I'm proud to call them friends directly as a result of 'my thing'. And that's fine, we all get a thing. But this is a time-consuming thing. And who among us has time to spare, in the 21st century?

The problem is that while I type quickly, I write slowly. Over all the years I've been doing this, I still haven't developed a method of sitting down and banging out a review in twenty minutes. Even with taking notes in the cinema (yeah, I'm that guy), by the time I've translated my scrawl, formed my bullet-points into coherent sentences, formed those into a roughly linear breakdown of the piece, assembled the header and footer information and typed the whole thing up in hard HTML (my own decision for greater format-control, and not one which slows me down that much to be honest) while constantly tweaking and self-editing, the average review takes longer to publish than the film did to watch.

And frankly, many of them aren't worth that (although a warning not to see Pixels will always be worth any amount of time taken to create it). The moment a backlog starts to build up (like when I watch four things back to back on a #FilmDay), it becomes less of a hobby and more an obligation. One which I imposed upon myself out of curiosity and boredom.

When I started (or committed to) the film-review blog, I didn't have an end-point in sight (because why would I?). I just wanted to get more out of movies. That's definitely happened, as I can't watch anything now without half of my brain forming soundbites for the pull-quote I'll use in the social media link. But life never remains static and I have less time these days to be repeatedly analysing Mark Wahlberg's inability to emote. Yet on he continues, almost as if he's not reading. Probably too busy getting up in the middle of the night for happy-time, or something.

Well, I've had enough. I'm not flouncing out of the internet, closing or even abandoning my accounts, it's just that for an OCD-angled brain like mine, this seems like a good time to hit Pause.

As of Sept 13th 2018, I have rated and reviewed one thousand titles.

That's not 1,000 blog posts, and it's not 1,000 review posts when you include rewatches. It doesn't even count anthology-season roundups or cramming weekends. It's one thousand times where I've sat down to take a look at the specific thing I've just watched.

This seems like a good time to hit Pause.

So, as noted up top, this won't be the final post at World Of Blackout. And there will, in all likelihood, be some movie reviews at some point in the future. I'm still writing at Set The Tape, general film chatter continues on the Twitter and the Facebook, and I'm currently compiling a template for quick-and-dirty micro-reviews (because we all know I can't just switch it off completely), which will be posted to both. And I'll probably continue to link to those from the Review Index page, for those of you who check the site first and the socials second.

This is not farewell, it's just let's see what happens next.

Always in motion, is the future.

…te veo, chico!

*1 Yes, that is the joke. Thank you. [ BACK ]

*2 Oh and the footnotes! Where would I be without the footnotes? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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, 13 September 2018

Review: The Predator

The Predator (3D)
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. Shane Black / Trailer

While the opening day, 6PM screening of Shane Black's The Predator wasn't sold out at my local, there was nevertheless no room in the auditorium for my cautious cynicism, which stood relegated to the foyer, chastened for the duration. Reader, I cannot remember the last time I was this happy to be proved wrong.

From the opening frames, Black's movie goes straight for the money, knowing there's no sense in a gradual reveal at this stage in the game. We open in the depths of space as a frantic game of cat and mouse results in a scout-ship crash landing on Earth and its pilot crossing bloody paths with special-ops assassin, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). Having secreted some of the alien-tech away as 'evidence', Quinn finds himself shipped off by his governmental superiors to a special holiday camp for People Who Know Too Much, while his young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) finds himself with a new box of toys to play with. And someone wants their toys back. The rest, as they say, is hysteria...

This production has a lot of love for the Predator series as a whole, and it shows. While there are nods in the script to the events of the first two movies specifically*1, Shane Black and Fred Dekker's screenplay also expands (or more fittingly, evolves) the ongoing mythology of the creatures visiting Earth for sport. Not that it's all heavy exposition by any means, the film gleefully earns its 15 certificate (ie the blood splatters but never pools) and hares along to its inevitable conclusion at a brisk rate. Interestingly, The Predator makes a point of beginning in a suburban environment following a ship-crash, moving through government/military labs and ending with a blazing woodland showdown. In other words, this is what Aliens vs Predator: Requiem could - and should - have been.

To its credit, The Predator never tries to be more than it is - a fun disposable sci-fi action callback to a purer, if slightly dumber, era. Which is what the property really needs to separate it from its morose stablemate, if we're being charitable. Henry Jackman's romping score is an homage to both the franchise itself and 80s action movies in general. All in, The Predator is funny, self-effacing and crowd-pleasingly explosive (a lot of loud laughter in the room I attended). It's not necessarily a smart piece, but since when has that been a requirement for the series? And it's almost brutally lean, too. Shane Black is not fucking about here, making almost precisely the movie he intended to, thankfully. 

This could be the most fun we've had with a Yautja since Dead End.

But it's not all plain-sailing, of course. Although the storyline has a robust central (and more importantly, easily portable) macguffin, the screenplay has too many characters running around in its wake. The groups of which these people are a part (hero's family, band of mercs, various government agencies) are all well-established archetypes for a movie like this, but the sheer quantity vs run-time means that the audience has forgotten about some of the characters by the time they reappear for their inevitable farm-buying scene.

And speaking of the players, while Boyd Holbrook and Jacob Tremblay make the best of a script designed for ensemble delivery, there's the feeling that both actors have been cast for a 12A version of this movie, rather than the 15-rated one we got. Holbrook's basically fine but not quite suited to the 'rough diamond' role he's meant to be playing, being a little too screen-friendly. Similarly, having 11yr old Jacob as his genius son uncovering a box full of Predator tech feels a little 'Jurassic Park', and not in a good way. The safety-net of what you can and can't do with younger characters in harsher action movies means that things are never going to get too fraught, and although the claret (and the guacamole, to be fair) is on-tap here, everything's nerfed down to action-levels rather than ramped up to visceral.

On a presentation front, this is pretty much what the trailer was selling. The 'guy in the suit' Yautja in the first half looks and moves far better than the (necessarily) CGI version in the second. And a word of warning, the 3D is mostly pointless (a lot of this film takes place at night, so bear that in mind for your lenticular light-loss), although there are a handful of well executed moments in the first and third acts (mostly of people being well executed).

But above all else, The Predator remembers it's there to have fun as a love-letter to 1980s action cinema, and the value of that really can't be overstated.

How many other movies can you name which slip in blatant references to E.T, Blade Runner and Ghostbusters with a straight face..?

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Tonally, Predator 1 and 2.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Oh hell yeah.

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

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say in Shane Black's case as he has a high bar already. The cast are all solid, but it's not the kind of screenplay where any of the characters can really shine.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Well that depends how wrong your opinion is.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard. Plenty of opportunity, too. I mean plenty.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Olivia Munn's in this, and she was in Iron Man 2 which was directed by (and starred) Jon 'Rio Durant' Favreau.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The screenplay goes to the point of referencing the creature-visits of 1987 and 1997 (for obvious reasons the characters would have no knowledge either way of Predators which happened off-world), which means the Xeno-skull aboard the ship at the end of Predator 2 is still canon for this arm of the timeline. Which is like Shane Black going round to Ridley Scott’s house and putting a brick through the window with a picture of Michael Fassbender taped round it. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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, 12 September 2018

Review: Mile 22

Mile 22
Cert: 18 / 94 mins / Dir. Peter Berg / Trailer

Well credit where it's due, there aren't too many mainstream movies these days which depict disabilities in a way that isn't heavy handed or a 'look at me' feature. Mile 22 has a leading character in the shape of James Silva (played here by Mark 'Wahlberg' McMark), a US government black ops assassin who coincidentally has a genius level IQ, no social skills and a form of high-functioning autism meaning he finds it difficult to focus his thoughts in one particular direction. We see our hero constantly trying to keep control of his brain and his temper, and prevent them whizzing off in a dozen different directions at once. What's more, the film also appears to have been written, shot and edited by people with that same condition.

There's not a single cut in here longer than four seconds, and the vast majority aren't even half of that. Mile 22 is like having a 94-minute panic attack in Curry's TV display-area while being talked down by Roseanne Barr and Seth MacFarlane. Wahlberg spends half his screentime irately repeating other characters' dialogue back at them, and the other half muttering or yelling unintelligible rubbish, the latter being a technique shared by many members of the cast in reciting a script which doesn't seem to matter.

John Malkovich tries his hardest not to look embarrassed in the best/worst wig since Nic Cage in Ghost Rider. John's only reassuring thought is that in a cutaway 'control room' role, he could still maybe persuade his agent to have the performance removed in post-production for a get-out fee, or if it was conveniently discovered he'd Done A Spacey. You didn't pay (or harass) them enough mate, they left you in.

Some deft choreography (or what you can see of it anyway) and a couple of nice action sequences aside, this film has no idea what it wants to say or how it should be said. It's like a Sicario fan-fiction written by a 13yr old. Cinematic gibberish. Although frankly, I've seen worse; it's me that should know better.

In addition to the regular seven-question roundup, here's a pro/con breakdown of what to expect from Mile 22...

It's fast-paced action-thriller featuring Lauren Cohan.

Although its main star is the solid brass charisma-vacuum, Mark Wahlberg.

It's got the magnificent Iko Uwais in it.

Whose skills you won't see properly because of the editing.

 It's got MMA/UFC champion and Judo Olympic medalist Ronda Rousey in it.

 Who gets to display almost no hand-to-hand fighting.

It's about the US secret service, so plenty of shootouts.

Accompanied by plenty of po-faced flag-waving*1 and blinkered moralising.

It's got an 18-rating because of All The Violence.

Then again, so has the batshit-crazy American Assassin.

At 96 minutes, it's short and punchy.

So is cholera.

Still, that's next year's Academy Award for 'Laziest Father's Day DVD' in the bag...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Stratton. This is for people who liked Stratton.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
The bigger the screen, the more migraine-inducing this will be.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Not unless you've got an hour and a half spare in which you don't want to understand the thing in front of you.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I have no idea what the best work of Mark Wahlberg or Peter Berg might look like, sorry.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Judging by the general reception, no.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Kanjiklub's Razoo Quin-Fe is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
I'll level with you, I was going to score this 3/7.
but reading back everything I've written, I really can't…

*1 Although to be fair, I don't think I saw a single actual stars-and-stripes in the whole movie (not that my eyes had that much time to take in the set-dressing), which for a Wahlberg/Berg collaboration is previously unheard of. Hey, maybe it wasn't the flags which were ruining those flicks after all! In fact, it's almost as if America™ exists on a purely metaphorical level here. Then again, with Chinese production company Huayi Brothers co-producing the movie, it's just as likely that The Suits want this political thriller to be as non-political as possible for the 2018 global marketplace.
Russia gets a mark against its name in the script, but even that jibe has a lame moral cop-out justification. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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: American Animals

American Animals
Cert: 15 / 117 mins / Dir. Bart Layton / Trailer

It's odd how these things come around. Two movies produced separately, but with similar themes and uncanny timing. Armageddon and Deep Impact. Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Skyline and Battle Los Angeles.

Cinematic synchronicity is nothing new of course, but we currently have two parables of pilfering from opposite sides of the pond, hitting the release schedules at the same time. One from the old school, one from the new; one arising from some opinionated sense of long-term revenge, one from existential dissatisfaction. Both involve the stealing of antiquities rather than cash, and both fail because the perpetrators' ultimate aim is to knock on those antiquities... for cash. One of these movies is a languorous study of obsession, guilt and regret.
The other most certainly is not, but we won't get into all that again. Yet.

There comes a point where you have to wonder whether real-life heists are worth making into movies. Because why else would filmmakers create so many fictional ones? Bart Layton's American Animals opens with the two part caption card "This is not based on a true story. This is a true story". And the truth hurts from the off. Beginning in 2003, it's coming to something when a period-piece only needs CRT monitors and Nokia 3310s to sell its era. I feel middle-aged enough as it is, thanks.

The title relates to a passage from one of the incredibly rare books held in the special collections area of Transylvania University*1 library, Kentucky. When drifting student Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) remarks on the artefacts to his directionless yet hyper-focussed friend Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), the pair begin an outlandish plot to liberate the volumes and sell them on the private market. To do this they'll need a bigger team than just the pair of them, which results in the recruitment of the less-enthusiastic Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) and Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson). The players are one thing, the game itself is another. Practice makes perfect, but is there such a thing as the perfect robbery?

Playfully loose, the recounting of events surrounding the well documented 2004 theft is dependent on the recollections of those involved. And those involved - the actual thieves, having served prison time - are present on-screen, throughout. As the perpetrators freely admit here, emotional truth and historical fact can be wildly different sides of the same coin.

Revealing the real-life participants of a dramatisation isn't a new idea either of course, but here it happens early, frequently and becomes how the story is told. Documentary interview footage with the protagonists' parents, college lecturers and the boys themselves intersperses the runtime, threatening to upset the pacing at first, since this introspective dramatisation is not quite the feature which the trailer was selling. The finished product comes out at around 80% film, 20% retrospective, but the drama never lets you forget its source.

American Animals isn't necessarily bringing anything new to the genre, but that's because it's players are consciously imitating, not innovating. Layton's film is as much about art as it is about crime. The art of planning a robbery and the creative leaps a conscience will take afterward to justify it. At one point, the boys are shown watching crime movies to help them coordinate their own sting. This is the ultimate in self awareness from the writer/director, as they reap the rewards of such poor research, and in doing so create the perfect piece to not watch before planning a blag.

But the depiction of the robbery itself is tense and awkward in equal measure, a real masterclass is visual storytelling. While this a tale told from the robbers' perspective(s), they're not presented as heroes. The audience isn't willing them to succeed as much as they are to just stop. And in terms of character motivation, interaction and development American Animals is leagues ahead of that structurally similar British offering.

Evan Peters appears at first to be acting in a much slicker, more intense film. Although the more interview time we spend with the real Warren, the more we realise how accurate that probably is. Barry Keoghan is on cracking form as Spencer, with boredom and stress fighting for the centre-stage spot in his psyche. This is, it has to be said, primarily their show. Although Blake Jenner and Jared Abrahamson make up the other 50% of the crew, the focus on their characters is as hesitant as their characters' contribution to the heist.

What's interesting is that there's surprisingly little moralising other than the self-reflection*2. The gang didn't fail because Theft Is Bad, they failed because they didn't plan properly and didn't stick to the things they had covered. They fucked up, end of. Then again, one of the guys uses his mobile phone in a library, so they deserve everything coming to them, frankly.

Ponderous and at times more than a little self-indulgent, much of the first hour feels like a story waiting to begin. But when it does, there's no turning back. Ultimately, the movie is about Generation Y's discontent at being expected to carry on the suburban phase of the American Dream, which despite its socio-geographical specificity is something most younger viewers will click with.

American Animals may be a little too uneven to be at the top of its game, but it knows what it wants to say and it says that well.

And compared to King Of Thieves, it's like fucking Reservoir Dogs

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you can, rainy afternoon, sure.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It'll be a streamer at first, then buy when it comes down to a sensible price for a movie you're not going to be watching every week.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say as it's so much of its own thing.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Barry Keoghan is in this, and he was in that Dunkirk with Tom 'Stormtrooper from The Last Jedi who was cut out of the final edit but fuck it he's in the deleted scenes and the novelisation so it still counts and you know fine well if you or I had been in that suit we'd be telling everyone about it at every opportunity' Hardy.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yes, it's really called this; no, I don't understand either. Presumably just down the road from St Addams Comprehensive School and The Munsters Adult Education Centre, I don't know. Don't @ me. [ BACK ]

*2 Although seriously lads, you zip-tied a librarian and she wet herself. You didn't kill anyone, get over it. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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.