Saturday, 12 January 2019

Review: The Front Runner

The Front Runner
Cert: 15 / 113 mins / Dir. Jason Reitmen / Trailer

Well, this isn't a great start to 2019. Having already grumbled about The Favourite (not my favourite) and Colette (not my… okay, that one doesn't work), the descent into awards season silliness seems rife with movies designed to wind me up, and since there will be no quarter asked nor given this year, I have too many thoughts on The Front Runner to hold back out of politeness. Also, this review is basically a bunch of tweets I did, so there's that as well.

The Front Runner is a film from Jason Reitman based on the 1988 American presidential campaign by Gary Hart, which went up the spout when it turned out he'd been having bits on the side. There's a Wikipedia article about the whole thing here. It is every bit as entertaining and dramatically crafted as the film version, although mercifully shorter.


Dear lord, this was boring. Whose side am I supposed to be on, here? Gary Hart? I know he's the subject, but is he our protagonist, too? The film shows nothing of his background as a senator. Is he a good one? Gary's a Democrat so he's nominally on the 'good' side, but is he good at being good? What's his actual professional background? There's never any doubt as to his affairs and he remains unrepentant throughout, even in the scene when his wife finally confronts him. Gary's not sorry for what happened, he just regrets being caught. That wasn't new then and it certainly isn't now. No, Gary's not our hero here.

Am I supposed to be on the press's side? Those sweaty, sex-case-looking guys staking out Gary's house and confronting him with non-questions like they graduated from journalism school earlier that day? Or how about the younger dude from the Washington Post who's literally handed more evidence of Gary's philandering, then just sort of waves it about in the air, unsure what his job is? Or the behind-the-scenes journos who mumble over each other in the office from scene to scene? Are this lot all crusading for freedom or are they bound by the political allegiances of their publications? Not explored, any of it. No, we're not on the press's side, they're just tertiary characters.


Maybe I'm supposed to be cheering on Gary's wife, who doesn't look surprised, outraged or even saddened by any of it, just tired. Tired and resigned to a life of 'I don't even care any more I'd divorce him but I can't be bothered with the paperwork'. No, she's not in the film enough for it to be about her. Shame, since there’s a stronger hook for a perspective there.

Am I supposed to be with Gary's campaign-team, also massively surprised that a man who's made a lucrative career of nodding through people's opinions and promising he'll definitely look into things when he's in power MIGHT JUST BE A BIT OF A CHANCER? Odd, given that their job is to dispel EXACTLY THAT but with cheering, badges and flyers. Go back to being J.Jonah Jameson and making drummers blub, mate.


Or is this about Crying Lady Who Got Caught Coming Out Of Gary's House who claims she's intelligent and qualified and people just think she's a bimbo, but we don't see her before or after sitting in restaurants painting her cheeks with mascara so there's no context for this? Gary mate, she might be younger but she's not even as hot as your wife, what were you thinking here? Is this the lesson? I sincerely hope not.

Maybe we're supposed to side with Female Campaign Intern Who Sits Necking Wine With Perceived Floozy, quietly gazing off into the middle distance suggesting some manner of socio-political insight into the whole thing? The one whose character is used so sparingly in terms of screen-time that any character development is abbreviated to 'yeah she knows Gary’s a wrong'un although she'll just keep working for him until the campaign folds'.


Am I supposed to be remotely concerned in 2019 about these revelatory events depicted in 1988? 'But man had affairs!'. You don't say. 'Press couldn't believe that politician might be bad man!'. Oh mate. Is The Front Runner supposed to hold any modern relevance when the currently unfolding saga in America gets further beyond parody on a daily fucking basis? Does this film genuinely believe it's supposed to sit on the same shelf as The Post and Spotlight?

But most pertinently, how come when we get an advance screening of a film about contemporary social injustice and civil unrest on the other side of the world, nigh-on 25 people decide to walk out in the first ten minutes. But when there's one about a failed yet unremarkable presidential campaign from a deeply flawed white guy from 30 years ago they'll just sit and lap it up like there's some sort of vital new perspective to be gleaned from it all? Is it because of Wolverine? REALLY?

The wardrobe and makeup design was quite good.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Ides Of March, if you don't want character-development.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're having trouble sleeping, sure.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
If you need a paperweight or something to use up excess bandwidth, sure.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Oh hell, yeah.

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

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Neeku Vozo is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ 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.

Monday, 31 December 2018

#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.

Review: Holmes & Watson

Holmes & Watson
Cert: 12A / 90 mins / Dir. Etan Cohen / Trailer

Ah, doctor! Do take a seat. Now, I suppose you're wondering why I called you here with such urgency. Well, it's the curious case of that Reilly chap. Yes, you know him, the moving-picture performer.

His latest cinematograph is causing quite the stir in the city so I've heard, and while many are claiming the work to be a calculated and prolonged insult to the memory of dear Sir A.C. Doyle, I suspect that's too obvious a ruse. No, what's troubling me more is what Reilly hopes to attain, or indeed contribute, by being party to the frittering of forty-two million new American dollars on such a blatant slander. Allow me to explain...

When I sat in my local amphitorium to witness Holmes & Watson, I did so in the company of only four other patrons, and less than a week after the presentation had made its West End debut. An hour into the programme, two of those left. Such is the fickle nature of comedy, one supposes.

Or perhaps not...


You see, the odd snort and chuckle that the film does have to offer invariably comes from Reilly himself. Although whether this is down to the writing or his recital of those lines is a fleeting puzzle throughout.

Not content with having a comedic baseline of shrieking and basic slapstick, what passes for a script is perpetually in a race with itself to find the lowest common denominator that a 12A certificate will allow in any given scene. Because why stop at hitting the housekeeper Mrs Hudson in the face with a cricket bat, when there's her recurring slut-shaming in the jovial repertoire as well?

Although for all the film's warped gender politics, cheap racial jokes seem low on the agenda (although probably only because the cast is almost entirely caucasian), and The Americas come in for just as much of a heavy-handed societal ribbing as Britain. Small mercies.


The sloppy ADR is all over the shop, apparently demonstrating that the filmmakers didn't have a script they were happy with during the actual filming process. And much like the heavy-handed historical references, the British accents from the transatlantic players here are atrocious of course. But if these are not an outright deliberate affectation, they're certainly still intended to be part of the overall joke. And this script needs all the help in can get, in that department.

All credit is due to cinematographer Oliver Wood, for using an increasingly inventive series of camera angles to crop out any trace of modern London in the iconic landmark location-shots, all the while having each and every sequence somehow look exactly like it was filmed in mid-2018. Quite remarkable.


While the stylised, slow-motion fight breakdowns certainly doff their hat duly in the direction of the underappreciated Guy Ritchie outings, they appear to be the the only actual Sherlock Holmes material that writer/director Etan Cohen*1 has consumed in researching his piece.

Indeed, there's the persistent feeling that with the grandiose Victorian setpieces, Cohen would very much like to channel a more broadly comic rendering of the works of Alan Moore. Albeit without having actually read any Alan Moore, so it seems.

Ultimately, this is Without A Clue for the Daddy's Home generation. In all honesty, the production does not put in enough effort to earn the true ire of audiences and critics, even if this laziness does not excuse the final, inevitable result.


We don't necessarily expect better of Reilly's accomplice William Ferrell at this stage in his career of course, and while the high calibre of the rest of the turnout is frankly baffling, audiences can rest assured that if this film had been made at any other time with any other roster, it would still have been every bit as substandard.

In fact, the general breadth of the cast-list suggests a number of theatrical favours being called in, the likes of which we haven't seen since the days of Burke & Hare. And oddly enough, Holmes & Watson makes a striking companion-piece to that similarly sprawling, cinematic folly. In fact, it often appears the powers-that-be may have employed two casting directors, in order to secure this number of accomplished actors who should know better*2.


But whereas the array of supporting players could argue their involvement with the project was minimal to the point where they'd have little idea of the general direction and aesthetic of the finished work, our man Reilly has no such thespic alibi. He knew what this was, knew what it was meant to be and damned well continued anyway.

The fact that our subject, representing 50% of the leading actors in this piece, can currently be heard elsewhere in the same cinema as the voice of the affable Wreck-It Ralph and is imminently due to take the reins with a touching turn as one of cinema's most iconic comedians, leads me to deduce that Jonningsworth Cuthbert Reilly is actually a pair of twins masquerading as one actor - desperate to milk both ends of the cinematic spectrum but willing to commit to neither.

Elementary, really. Much like Holmes & Watson's approach to comedy...

To what manner of picture is this similar?
Sadly, this represents a persistent trend with the latter-day oeuvre of Mr William Ferrell.

Is it worth the pretty penny of an auditorium?
Good heavens, no.

Should I seek out a zoetrope version for my chambers?
Were one to find this production on display in a machine on the promenade whereby a halfpence is inserted and the operator manually replays the story in faux-privacy, one would still have been overcharged. The only upside to this being of course that it can be easily stopped as soon as the grave error of judgement is realised.

Is this the magnum opus of its artistic contributors?
I think not.

Could we come to blows regarding this in a tavern?
Why certainly, if you were to sing the film's praises.

Does anyone imitate the Wilhelm cry in this?
There is one particular moment where a hearty brawl takes place at a dockside, and it sounds for all the world like Private Wilhelm makes an auditory cameo appearance in the background. Although given the subtlety of this blending and the corresponding lack thereof elsewhere in the film, I find this difficult to believe.

And what connection is there, pray, with The Star War?
Level 1: 'Sheesha Smoking Guest' is in this. Dude doesn't even have a name yet, Solo came out in May. What's the GFFA coming to?

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Spare a thought for the justly-celebrated writer/director Ethan Cohen, every time one of Etan's films is released and he has to spend the following two months explaining that no, that wasn't one of his. [ BACK ]

*2 The BAFTA award-winning Rebecca Hall, the EMMY award-winning Kelly Macdonald, the NTA-nominated Pam Ferris, the Golden Globe-winning Hugh Laurie, the BAFTA award-winning Steve Coogan, and RTS award-winning Rob Brydon.
Although let's leave Ralph Fiennes out of this, obviously. His lack of judgment is well documented... [ 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.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Review: Bumblebee

Bumblebee (2D)
Cert: PG / 114 mins / Dir. Travis Knight / Trailer

For imminent reference and to avoid gratuitous link-dropping within the text*1:
Reviews of Revenge Of The Fallen | Dark Of The Moon | Age Of Extinction | The Last Knight.
2007's Transformers was before I started writing reviews, but for what it's worth I enjoyed it thoroughly. At the time.

First thing first, the first ten minutes of Bumblebee brought a tear to my eye. Not through any emotional manipulation by the script, just the sheer jaw-dropping clarity, energy and joy with which Cybertron and its ongoing civil war are rendered. The first ten minutes of Bumblebee are from a photo-realistic animated film, the like of which would have made my younger self wet himself with excitement. From the other end, I mean. Not just the high-end detailing and weighting of the models on display, but also that these are pretty damned faithful 21st century interpretations of the actual G1 Transformers. Which is to say that Soundwave, Starscream and Shockwave look like their 1980s iterations, colours and all, rather than something which has been updated and re-imagined. As does Prime. And as does the little yellow fella.

This sequence also plants the suggestion that the best parts of Bumblebee may be the ones which don't feature any humans at all. And so it proves.


So: something something, 'Autobots have to flee Cybertron to avoid losing the war outright'; something something 'Bumblebee chosen as an advance scout'; something something, 'Bumblebee arrives on Earth way before everyone else and has adventures and that. This one happens in 1987'. I'll be honest, I think this pretty much gels with the first ten minutes of the first Transformers film, but as much as I enjoyed the first three of those, my memory has been somewhat soured by the following two, and to be honest I've just been too busy recently to go back and re-watch any of them, never mind all.

Also, I think there are bits of Bumblebee which don't dovetail into that film's timeline, and quite frankly I'm still too busy to start picking Transformers films apart again. There are others who can do that far better than I can, and I've spent my fury on the franchise. If the series wants to soft-reboot itself, fine. I only went to watch Bumblebee because it genuinely looked like a great ride which tries to recapture what made Transformers fun and engaging to begin with.


So anyway, it turns out that Bumblebee is a great ride which largely succeeds in recapturing what made Transformers fun and engaging to begin with. Don't get me wrong, it's not groundbreaking in looks, style or execution. But it's a firm step in the right direction. The central story of a girl, Charlie, and her first car is a touching one, played completely straight by Hailee Steinfeld (and is all the better for that). As a outsider figure and borderline geek, Charlie fits perfectly into the role typically filled by one of the Witwicky-kids, full of warmth and wonder. That said, as great as Steinfeld is (when is she not?) and as great as Bumblebee is (ditto), the two performances never quite meet in the middle. But that's of little consequence in a movie that's supposed to be throwaway entertainment.

And the rest of the humans? Well. John Cena illustrates once again that he's the loveable, wisecracking tough-guy you telephone when the casting budget won't stretch to Dwayne Johnson. In the guise of military curmudgeon 'Agent Burns', John also illustrates that you get what you pay for. Not awful, certainly an upgrade from Mark McMark, but bringing little to the party other than monosyllabically explaining the jokes ("Don't run! Don't run!!…" *Charlie runs* "…she ran.")


But what's a 1980s film without industrial levels of Nostalgia™, eh? And click in that seatbelt because Bumblebee hopes you've got a penchant for 80s songs at a needle-drop rate of one-every-three-minutes-or-so. And for the most part that's fine, the hits are in there and so are a few slightly more specialist tunes. Although speaking of which, one of the movie's more pointed gags left me exhaling slightly too loudly.

As intimated above, this an era through which I was lucky enough to live at a relatively musically cognisant age. As such I find it hard to believe that the kid who's into The Smiths and Motorhead (because she Wears The T-shirts™) is going to have a Rick Astley cassette just lying around in the garage, when in the Summer of 1987 that would have been brand new. In fact, unless 'Never Gonna Give You Up' appears here on a perfectly cued compilation tape, there wasn't a cassette release of that song until the 'Whenever You Need Somebody' album landed in November of that year. And this film doesn't look like it takes place in November, California or not. God I love being a middle-aged pedant.


But hey, it's not a documentary. We can perhaps console Sir Tim Berners-Lee dropping his popcorn at the notion that the Decepticons invented the internet (especially since TCP/IP was formulated in 1983 anyway) with the knowledge that a scene in sidekick Memo's (Jorge Lendeborg Jr's) bedroom showing a spectacular collection of Secret Wars figures on the shelf behind him. And we can probably gloss over the moustache-twirling army shenanigans and high school melodrama as something which come packaged with the story anyway.

And we can at least act surprised at the script-boomerang of Charlie's diving career managing to fly back in the third act, so utterly leaden was its execution in the first. And at times it's even possible to forgive the screenplay repeatedly playing the 'oh noes Bumblebee being tortured!' card, even though a) we've seen that in other Transformers films, and b) those all happen after this one so the character is never in any real danger anyway.

Just don't ask how the comedic family-sequences managed to work better when Shia LaBeouf was leading them. And maybe don't ask how stalwart voice-performer Peter Cullen manages to make Optimus Prime sound like Liam Neeson these days. And certainly don't ask how our central hero gets accidentally switched on and pumps out a tiny auto-signal which can be detected across the galaxy, but when two Decepticons want to send a simple homing beacon to their boss they've got to hijack a 200ft radio tower.


Bumblebee is quite good. And I promise you at this point, that's more than enough.

Oh, and this film takes place in 1987.
It Takes 2 was released in 1988.
Stop getting nostalgia wrong.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
For better or worse, other Transformers movies.
This is the sixth one, and you should expect that

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Just about, might as well see it big.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yeah, although probably not until the disc-price drops (and/or you can stream it as part of your package).

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not go that far.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

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

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voices of Canto Bight's Master Codebreaker, GT-era Asajj Ventress and Zeb Orrelios are in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah like that usually bothers me… [ 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.