Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Review: The Mandalorian (Chapter 1)



The Mandalorian
Cert: 12A / 60 mins*1 / Dir. Dave Filoni / Trailer

And so my last cinema visit for who-knows-how-long turned out to be a trip to the Galaxy Far, Far Away, which is some manner of muted send-off at least. As part of the promo-push for the UK's Disney+ streaming-service launch on March 24, Cineworld teamed up to show the first episode of the first live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian*2.

And good lord does this look fantastic on a big screen. Cinematically, it's is pretty much indistinguishable from its movie-cousins (although that's admittedly par for the course with feature-television in 2020 anyway). This episode (and even the first season as a whole) doesn't cover 'all' of the feel of classic Star Wars, but it gets the Space Western aesthetic bang-on. This is something which, admittedly, has been missing from the GFFA for some time (well, for non-Clone Wars viewers, at least*3). There's a gritty, tactile feel here, the run-down desolation of Solo only with better lighting. Lucasfilm's emphasis on physical (foreground) sets gives this the rough-and-ready feel of Tatooine, of things built and weathered and hoisted onto a soundstage at the last minute to make the perfect shot.

WITH NO NAME


Pedro Pascal's eponymous protagonist is a Man With No Name for the Star Wars universe, even moreso than the legendary Boba Fett. A man of few words he's far from the top of the game here, but we see our anti-hero develop as time goes on; learning from mistakes as much as success. And who'd have thought we'd end up with Werner freakin' Herzog as a bling-sporting badass of the Imperial Remnant, Carl freakin' Weathers dishing out jobs in the Bounty Hunters' Guild while Nick freakin' Nolte becomes a fount of wisdom and patience riding atop a lizard first introduced in 1985's Battle For Endor TV movie??

Because perhaps most interestingly, The Mandalorian has become a wildly successful Star Wars property even though (in this first episode, at least*4) it utilises completely new characters and locations. Species and organisations are carried over of course, but everyone we meet here is for the first time. The show doesn't necessarily challenge the viewer, but neither does it spoon-feed with callbacks and obvious fan-service. Quite remarkable, and no less than we'd expect from director Dave Filoni.

WITHOUT HATS


The only downside to all this is the relative low-key nature of the overall release. Because of the necessary secrecy surrounding The Child™, and the noticeable gaps that one's absence would create by omission in advance marketing material, we've got a Star Wars property arriving on screens without the toys. Without the books. Without the comics. With an absolute bare minimum of behind-the-scenes material. We can be thankful at least for Ludwig Göransson's masterful score hitting the streams, while b-list merchandisers fall over themselves to slap stickers of Baby Yoda on lunchboxes faster than you can say distribution-networks-disrupted-by-a-global-pandemic. But I digress.

This is a very, very good thing.
But then, you knew I'd say that.

The Mandalorian is taking its first step into a larger world; television that looks like cinema while it expands an entire galaxy. This is the way.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The 'Western' elements of A New Hope.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Other than tonight's screening, this is a Disney+ affair, so small-screen only.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream definitely, but fans of physical media are sure to be pining for the hard-copy and its associated supplementary material already.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say, some very strong talent, here.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I have opinions about this, so that's possible.


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


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

...but if you wanted to go around the houses with it, The Mandalorian features Mr Nick Nolte, who was in 2011's Warrior with Joel Edgerton, who also cropped up in Gringo alongside David Oyelowo, who appears in the upcoming Peter Rabbit 2 next to Domhnall Gleeson, star of About Time in which his mum was played by Lindsay Duncan, who rocked up in 2016's Alice Through The Looking Glass, as did Geraldine James, who starred in the 2011 remake of Arthur with... Nick Nolte.



And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Y'know what, the Cineworld website said "60 minutes". Now obviously the first chapter of The Mandalorian is only 38 minutes long, but once you add the trailer for Black Widow beforehand (even though you wouldn't normally), a Disney+ promo-reel, the 4-5 minute Mando featurette afterward plus a trailer for the final Clone Wars season, it's probably just under the hour mark all-in. Naturally I'd hoped we'd get chapters 1 and 2 of The Mandalorian back to back, like the Disney promo-machine put out for the Inhumans series, alas no. Still, it's at least nice to know that part of my dreams can come true... [ BACK ]

*2 Although truth be told, I'm not entirely sure how effective a promotion is by making it an Unlimited-exclusive. Surely a better way of getting a taster of The Mandalorian to a wider audience (the actual point of all this) would have been by making it a public screening, like that Inhumans one? I'm not complaining of course, but if this had turned up on Odeon's Limitless card instead, I'd be a bit peeved. [ BACK ]

*3 And while the cinema wasn't exactly packed for obvious reasons, the trailer for the long-awaited and final season of the animated Clone Wars show which played after The Mandalorian saw a succession of punters standing, putting on their coats and sidling to the exit. They did not give a solitary hoot about The Clone Wars. Without wanting to be too snobby, this underlined that the majority of the audience here were Unlimited card-holders, rather than excitable Star Wars fans... [ BACK ]

*4 Because without going into the hows-and-whys, of course I'd seen all of the episodes before I sat down in the cinema to watch this a week ahead of its UK TV debut. Truth be told, I can count on one hand the Star Wars fans I know who hadn't watched it by then. But international licensing agreements and associated release-scheduling are another subject for another time. [ 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 Hunt



The Hunt
Cert: 15 / 90 mins / Dir. Craig Zobel / Trailer

It's not that I never thought I'd see the time when we got three Blumhouse movies within a three week span, more that I never expected that trio to be good with it. Although truth be told, it's also the third Blumhouse movie that's a rehash of older material, but hey. After all of The Controversy (I won't link to that), Craig Zobel's The Hunt is essentially a class-flipped Purge for the binary times in which we find ourselves. A disparate, all-ages gathering of stereotypical, right-wing 'rednecks' find themselves drugged, abducted, and awakened in rural countryside as they become prey to a select lodge of strangely amoral, gun-toting liberals*1. Furnished with a selection of weapons to give the hunt more of a sporting edge, it quickly becomes apparent that the odds are not in their favour.

Make no mistake, The Hunt is not subtle and it is not trying to be subtle. Nowhere near as archly provocative as its knee-jerk critics would have you believe, this is the cinematic equivalent of shitposting and is best enjoyed as a grotesque comedy where the lines between left, right, wrong and right aren't so much blurred as smeared in blood then pounded with a baseball bat. And while it's easy to dismiss this as lazy, keep in mind that writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse were behind HBO's recent Watchmen series; they can do nuance and intrigue, that's just not what this is about.

What's initially interesting is that the film doesn't build up any sense of mystery for its audience. The kidnapping setup is pretty much explained in the first five minutes, and the victims themselves work it out within ten. At first it seems like this could be a new approach in order to explore other angles of the story, then the pacing of the action itself gives away that this is so we can cut to the chase much more quickly*2. With eleven subjects released into the woodland to fight for survival, characters are introduced and despatched in very short order. Some of the injuries that people walk away from here are delightfully unhinged, but rest assured that there's always another danger around the corner.

As we power through the movie, its third act sees something of a slowdown as a metric ton of exposition is shovelled in (for the most part, needlessly), but there's still enough dark humour to just about earn the change of pace. Not least because by that point there are fewer players to kill off. Besides, it's all scene-setting for a gloriously climactic showdown. But the bottom line is that The Hunt is more concerned with gleefully spraying claret than making moral judgements, and is all the better for that. A massive amount of fun...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Predators, Ready Or Not, The Belko Experiment.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is, although at present you can't.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Saturday night / drinks with friends / yes.
The Hunt is currently on digital platforms, so go for it
...


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Everyone involved can smile at having this on their CV.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Given its lukewarm critical and audience-reception, I'd say that's not altogether unlikely.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Betty Gilpin is in this, and she was in Stuber along with Iko 'Quin-Fee' Uwais.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Upon seeing the trailer a couple of months ago, my first thought wasn't so much The Purge as 'hang on, isn't this a bit like that shonky old Hauer/Busey thriller from the mid 90s?'. Then I looked more into that and realised these are just two adaptations of the 1924 novel, The Most Dangerous Game. And when you see just how many times that's been translated to the screen, you've got to figure that one more go can't hurt. [ BACK ]

*2 90 minutes, including credits; an almost unheard of runtime in this day and age, and the minutes saved on story-building are very much put into the action scenes instead. [ 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: Calm With Horses



Calm With Horses
Cert: 15 / 100 mins / Dir. Nick Rowland / Trailer

A few words then, on Nick Rowland's impressive feature debut, Calm With Horses. Adapted for the screen by his regular collaborator Joe Murtagh from Colin Barrett's short story of the same name, it's a tale set in present-day rural Ireland, as drug dealer Dymphna Devers (Barry Keoghan) rises through the ranks of his appalling criminal family with the aid of his enforcer and ex-boxer, Arm (Cosmo Jarvis). Arm has drifted into this life through a series of poor choices rather than malice, and struggles to reconcile his 'duties' under Dymphna with the person he'd rather be. Keeping a watchful, if disapproving, eye over this is Arm's ex-partner Ursula (Niamh Algar), struggling to raise their son Jack. When Ursula raises the prospect of her moving to Cork with Jack, things come to a head, not least because the Devers clan want to claim Arm as one of their own...

Jarvis is spellbinding in the central role; the brute-strength of his physical character is a given, but there's also innocence without gullibility, sensititvity without weakness and a sense of being lost but without hopelessness. Algar is a fantastic prompt and foil for this as Ursula, pushing Arm forward and making him challenge himself rather than just laying down the law in a more linear sense, while also holding enough back to be a fully-fledged character in her own right. Keoghan grows apace, happy to play crucial support while filling out his own part more quietly.

The story is intricate yet straightforward. Meticulously structured, the film fires toward its inevitable (yet delicately handled) conclusion without telegraph or cliché. This also features the most affecting car chase sequence in living memory, purely because of how stripped-down it is.

Aided by Benjamin John Power's hypnotic score, cinematographer Piers McGrail manages to make even the most breathtaking landscape a gorgeously bleak postcard of desolation and spiritual abandonment. This film plays like Twin Town on Craggy Island but with none of the inherent silliness of either, just a bleakly cathartic rage.

A quietly powerful treatise on bravado, revenge and misguided loyalty, Calm With Horses is one of the most beautiful things I never need to see again.




So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Blue Ruin, Black '47.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is, although at present you can't.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yes, Calm With Horses will be available on digital platforms from April 27 2020.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It could well be.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: That prisoner from Rogue One is in this.

Well, I mean according to IMDB he is. The Wookieepedia entry backs this up, but if you look at the Wook-page for 'Wobani prisoner' then that dude is clearly played by a different actor, even though the same article also references Ned Dennehy by name. I suspect Ned's original performance was lost in the reshoots, as happened with that of Paul Putner (Paul's in the Rogue One Visual Dictionary, that shit counts).




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.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Review: M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters)


This post originally appeared at SetTheTape.com


M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters)
Cert: TBC / 98 mins / Dir. Tucia Lyman / Trailer


M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters) is the feature-debut of writer and director Tucia Lyman, having honed her craft in television for over a decade. Set in 2018, the film follows Abbey Bell (Melinda Page Hamilton, God Bless America) as the 40-something single parent of 16 year old Jacob (Bailey Edwards, Bright), struggling to cope with her son’s surly and erratic attitude. Abbey finds evidence that Jacob is planning a school shooting, and installs covert CCTV throughout the family home to monitor his behaviour. Initially this is to be passed to the authorities who have so far declined involvement with her concerns, but Abbey eventually begins posting the clips to an online support group for mothers in similar situations.

It’s this collated and edited video (with the addition of sequences from phones and laptops) that forms the presentation, a found-footage movie for an age of digital surveillance*1. Overall, the film is noncommittal as to who has assembled this final cut and through whose eyes the audience is watching, but it’s a smart move as Lyman is great at establishing and raising tension through a combination of fisheye lens claustrophobia and uncomfortably long scenes.

PRIMARY



Melinda Page Hamilton and Bailey Edwards give very strong performances in their primary roles, bolstered by a small cast earnestly playing friends, family members and counsellors. Most notable among these is the near-legendary Ed Asner, literally phoning Skyping in a single scene which feels for all the world like a favour being done to secure a high-profile name for the DVD cover.

The support-group background allows for a lot of to-camera explanation of behavioural tendencies that would otherwise seem clunky, yet there’s still a disconnect between the dialogue feeling heavily scripted and a visual style that leans on realism. Found-footage may not be an original methodology, but it’s probably for the best; had this been shot and assembled as a traditional thriller, the whole thing would have the air of a daytime TV movie.

DOLLYPARTON'SCOATOFMANY


As it develops, M.O.M. becomes less about adolescent criminal psychology and more the dysfunctional relationship between a mother and her son, a study of PTSD as secrets are slowly uncovered. References to self-harm and suicide follow the thematic drift of the screenplay but are in danger of seeming exploitative. As Jacob cycles through teenage irritability, conspiracy theories, sadism and outright racism*2, the portrayal of heavyweight subject-matter borders on cliché, but the conviction of the cast pulls it back. Just.

For its small scale, this is a bold production with plenty to admire. Tight editing and a punchy 98 minute runtime work in its favour, yet it becomes increasingly unclear where the focus of the story actually lies. The film doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions when it comes to being morally provocative; not claiming to hold all the answers, while seeming to forget what questions were being asked to begin with.

M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters) is interesting.

But with issues this emotive, interesting isn't quite enough…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
If you enjoyed Searching, this is better.
But it's not as arresting as Unfriended: Dark Web
.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
This one's straight-to-domestic, I'm afraid.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Definitely stream it before hunting out a hard-copy.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I can't make that call, but I hope not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Jabba The Hutt in the Return Of The Jedi Radio Drama is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 The film's 'laptop-screen' framing device works well until the (initially) unseen viewer drags forward through some footage, complete with FFWD scan-lines. While this is a perfectly serviceable visual cue, they're a throwback to the days of analogue tapes which don't appear when viewing digital files on a computer. And sure, that's a very small point to pick up on, but it happens so often as to be distracting. [ BACK ]

*2 I confess, dear reader, to raising something of an eyebrow when Abbey is completely aghast at discovering that her son has a gasmask with a swastika on it, around five minutes after she's shown introducing his pet lizard, "Adolf". Well, quite. There is the thought that the film may be paraphrasing Jojo Rabbit with an undercurrent of "He's not really a nazi, he's just a deluded arsehole who likes swastikas." Until you realise that's what nazis are anyway. [ 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.