Monday, 25 June 2018

Review: Hereditary





Hereditary
Cert: 15 / 127 mins / Dir. Ari Aster / Trailer



Y'see, this is why I don't like being late to the party. Between Hereditary's UK release and me finally catching it, I'd heard multiple - unconnected - reports of mid/late-stage walkouts, audience laughter when nothing was being presented as a joke, and a third-act which completely undermines the craft and skill of the first two.

And tonight I saw all of those in action.

Ari Aster's debut feature begins as a claustrophobic treatise on abuse, secrecy, regret, and crippling guilt, all with an ambiguous supernatural edge. We, the audience, slowly pan across the pieces of a jigsaw which have been slowly put into place for decades before we arrived, watching as more are added to reveal the horrifying emerging picture. Toni Collette is positively haunting as a mother trying to hold her family together whilst knowing that she's the very one threatening to tear it apart. Gabriel Byrne is cautious weariness personified as her husband, and Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro effortlessly wear the psychological battle scars of the pair's children.

Then at the chalkboard scene, it all goes downhill. Rapidly.

It appears that Ari called in sick, just as M. Night Shyamalan came home pissed*1 and decided to re-write Being John Malkovich so the studio decided to use that instead. All of the existential dread (and a fair portion of the actual technique) in the film's intricately drafted setup is thrown in the bin as a cheap, batshit-crazy possession-horror hurriedly assembles its own backstory in a vain bid to be taken seriously. Even Gabriel Byrne stops trying to do his own accent when he realises the wheels have fallen off, presumably in the hopes of being mistaken for another actor.

The other thing I'd heard about Hereditary is that as silly as it becomes, the film's strengths just about make up for its weaknesses. No they don't. That's like someone pissing in your pint and telling you it's okay because you enjoyed the first half.

There's a great film in here somewhere. It's a shame Ari Aster stopped trying to make it.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
I'm still trying to work that out myself.


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


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Only if there's a commentary track explaining what the fuck happened.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Credit where it's due, Toni Collette is is awards-worthy here, even when things turn silly.


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Toni Collette's in this, and she was in that last xXx abomination, along with Sam 'Windu' Jackson and Donnie 'Îmwe' Yen.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 As in 'drunk', for the non-UK readers among you. Steamingly, embarrasingly, 'don't-remind-me-what-I-did'-level drunk. [ 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.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Review: Incredibles 2





Incredibles 2
Cert: PG / 125 mins / Dir. Brad Bird / Trailer



So the house-lights went down for Cineworld's latest secret screening on Thursday evening, the BBFC card bore the words "Incredibles 2", and a cheer went up in the auditorium. I wasn't one of those cheering. I thought the first Incredibles movie was basically fine, but no more than that. This should explain the rest of the review…

Set after that first entry, we find Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, Bob and Helen Parr, trying to balance the demands of raising a young suburban family, while being a superhero team in a city where superheroes have been banned. Billionaire tycoon Winston Deavour approaches the Parrs with a scheme to reverse the legislation through positive marketing, but super-villain The Screenslaver has other ideas, hypnotising citizens to carry out his warped will...

And y'know what? It's fine. Great fun. But no more than that.

On the plus side, the characters are likeable (where they're meant to be), the script is funny, engaging and has great pacing, while the voice-cast are all thoroughly committed to their roles. The cinematography and animation rendering is fantastic, and Michael Giacchino is having the time of his life on scoring duties.

But other than the central team whose visual style is carried over from the first movie anyway, the character design here is so bland it's shocking. They could be from any studio-animation of the last fifteen years. And the plot itself is absolutely bare-bones, just enough to cover the film, but doesn't feel like it's bringing anything new to either the ongoing story, the genre or the audience.

It used to be that an animation would be made when the events the film-makers wanted to show couldn't realistically be depicted in live-action, especially with superhero flicks. But there's very little in Incredibles 2 in terms of abilities or setpieces that we haven't seen in Marvel/Paramount, Fox and Sony's output over the last decade. Live-action has caught up, so where does that leave Mr Incredible?

Big Hero 6 tells a more interesting superhero story, while Inside Out is better at deconstructing home-life angst, and they're from this same studio. What's more, the former movies have moments of genuine, heart-wrenching emotion which Incredibles 2 is sorely lacking. I had fun with the movie, but it really feels like filler on Pixar's part.

High-grade filler, but no more than that.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well, The Incredibles, frankly.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
I guess, although it's only the scale of the action which sells that.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not.
Although fair play to Bob Odenkirk for making me think Steve Carell had been cast in his role. The audible-likeness is uncanny
.


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is (buried, but I'm sure I heard one).


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voices of Mace Windu, Kit Fisto and Bren Derlin are in this.


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.

Review: Jurassic World - Fallen Kingdom





Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 128 mins / Dir. J. A. Bayona / Trailer



"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should..."

~ Dr Ian Malcolm, in one of the few notable moments from the first Jurassic Park film which isn't the subject of a direct callback in the fifth, but really should be.


One of the things I found amazing about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was that a movie with this budget, creative crew and a limitless digital palette has so little imagination. Think how far through the ideas-book you'd have to be when the fifth movie in a series spends its first hour retooling Kong: Skull Island instead. That's not to say there aren't a plethora of hamfisted references to earlier Jurassic Park entries of course, but still.

The film does feature some nicely executed set-pieces as you'd expect, but they're all very on-the-nose. If anyone watching genuinely believes that the heroes are in danger of not waving behind the end-credits, they've clearly got some catching up to do. And while I freely admit that applies to the vast, vast majority of action-cinema, the protagonists' safety is underlined here with a fat red screenwriter's marker.

It's not that I particularly disliked JW:FK or even that it bored me, necessarily. I just found myself thoroughly uninterested in what was going to happen to the more-cardboard-than-ever characters (although the four raptor 'puppies' in the flashback scenes were adorable).

Nature = good, corporate = bad. It's a message which certainly wasn't invented with 1993's Jurassic Park, but now feels as old as the DNA lying in the veins of a fossilised mosquito, as Universal hammer it mercilessly home - apparently without irony - to the viewers sitting in dark, air-conditioned chain cinemas around the globe.

Speaking of morality: we all know, yeah, that Maisie Lockwood is singly and directly responsible for every death which occurs (on the land, admittedly) after she hits the Big Red Button™ in the compound? Good guys, bad guys, bystanders, pets, the lot. And that includes every evil businessman, cackling mercenary and nameless extra who carks it in the next movie, too.

"...but they're alive!" she tearfully emotes as the surviving dinosaurs thunder out into the night. Well sweetheart, tell that to the families and loved ones of every corpse that racks up because of your moment of humility.

So in order for Jurassic World 3 to create a Hollywood-friendly narrative balance, either Maisie's character has to be held accountable for her actions (ie, suffer the ending of Toby Jones, Rafe Spall etc), or the story will need to fall back on the idea that Maisie doesn't really have a conscience because she doesn't really have a soul because she's just a clone. In which case: so were the dinosaurs, so what does it matter if the they were saved or not? Good luck with that one, Amblin…

Biggest disappointment: that our heroes escape the island on a ship named Arcadia, then the film *doesn't* turn into a Resident Evil crossover.

Rather fittingly, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is the perfect theme-park ride. Methodical, mechanical, precision-engineered thrills designed to entertain a summer audience for the duration.

Right before they leave, then immediately start queueing for something else...


Oh, and I'm also taking a point off (no, seriously) for that "nasty woman!" line in the script, the most cloyingly cackhanded bit of zeitgeist camera-winking since Linda Cardellini was made to say 'snowflake' in Daddy's Home 2. Appalling…


So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Jurassic World.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Well…


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Oh, if you like.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Hahahahahahahaha.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
We very well might.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard, but there is a section in the middle with about five minutes' worth of screaming, and there could well be one layered in there.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: That engineer out of Rogue One is in this. You know the one.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
(did you think I was joking about knocking that point off?)




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: Ismael's Ghosts





Ismael's Ghosts / Les Fantômes d'Ismaël
Cert: 15 / 135 mins / Dir. Arnaud Desplechin / Trailer



Well, fair play to them; the twelve other people in the screen 1 on a Saturday afternoon certainly pretended to appreciate the fuck out of the subtitled French character-drama, Ismael's Ghosts.

We follow our eponymous protagonist (Mathieu Amalric), a enthusiastically deranged film director, failing to come to terms with the disappearance of his wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) two decades earlier, and with a longstanding resentment of his diplomat brother Ivan (Louis Garrel). Through all of this, Carlotta's father (László Szabó) also seeks solace from Ismael, and the two become trapped in a loop of non-closure. Ismael struggles to maintain a constructive relationship with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) his equally troubled girlfriend of two years, and the delicate balance of their home-life is thrown into disarray when Carlotta suddenly returns, seemingly without explanation. What follows is an interweaving character study of grief, regret and forgiveness.

And I don't think it's as interesting as I've made it sound.

The aforementioned dozen viewers stroked their chins throughout, but even with a crowd that size I could feel tension in the room. Despite having a plethora of plot-points thrown at me from the word go, I stopped trying to figure out what the hell was actually going on at around the 80-minute mark. Perhaps I was missing some small but crucial element by following the subtitles, perhaps it's a broader, cultural thing*1.

Considering the movie is meant to be about the different facets and foibles of Ismael, we spend an awful lot of time seeing everyone else's point of view. Quite often, Ismael's Ghosts is like watching a couple arguing in a restaurant. You don't want to stare, you can't look away, and ultimately you just wish they'd do it somewhere else. There's a quietly compelling emotional drama in here somewhere, but it's struggling to be heard above the unlikeable characters. It's like a film made by an uneven succession of directors, each of whom had something different in mind.

And in the middle of the self-satisfyingly bold confusion comes a song by Bob Dylan, almost literally the guy who pulls out the acoustic guitar at the party you're diplomatically wishing would just end.

I don't have the energy or inclination to hate Ismael's Ghosts, but I have no idea what it's for.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Oh, I have no idea.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If anything, it's a Sunday evening DVD at best.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
If you know what you're letting yourself in for, sure.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I have no idea.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Possibly.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Charlotte Gainsbourg is in this, and she was in that 21 Grams along with Benicio 'DJ' Del Toro.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Try as I might, I can't seem to get on with contemporary French cinema. Which is a shame, but there we are; can't just pretend to like something to look cool. Well I can't, at any rate. [ 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.