Friday, 20 October 2017

Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie





The Lego Ninjago Movie (2D)
Cert: U / 101 mins / Dir. Paul Fisher, Charlie Bean & Bob Logan / Trailer



Under the normal run of things, a kid-centric animated feature based on a toy-line and released in October (even in time for the UK half-term break) would scream of a movie being dumped out by its distributor into the graveyard slot. But a full-length Lego movie is not the normal run of things (yet, anyway). Before I start picking it apart (or moaning), I should say that I did enjoy The Lego Ninjago Movie. From a marketing point of view, Christmas is just around the corner and this is a two hour advertisement which potential customers will literally pay to watch - genius. More importantly, it's frequently both fun and funny, which is always good.

A young boy wanders into an oriental curiosity-shop. There he talks with the mysteriously quirky owner Mr Liu (Jackie Chan), who tells him the tale of trainee ninja Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco) and his journey to find himself while balancing the demands of his school-life, his sensei Master Wu (also voiced by Jackie Chan), a protective mother Koko (voiced by Olivia Munn), and constant battles with his evil overlord father Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux). There are laughs, there are thrills and there are countless digitally-rendered plastic bricks.

And it's all over the place, frankly. I imagine more than one employee at Warner Animation had The Law Of Diminishing Returns bookmarked, as they tried to gently suggest that the core demographic for The Ninjago Movie is far smaller than The Lego Group would care to admit*1.

Their 2014 flagship entry had cross-brand appeal for both young audiences (ie product targets) and their nostalgia-generation parents (ie actual customers). Similarly, the Batman spin-off from earlier this year had appeal to the kids and to long-term Batman fans of all ages. Ninjago is very limited by comparison, an in-house property which casual audiences are only faintly aware of, if at all. And there's nothing wrong with that per se, but this doesn't interact with the previous outings so has its own foundations to lay, and all that world-building takes a delicate hand*2.

Everything looks as pixel-perfect as you'd expect here, with Dave Franco and Justin Theroux leading an accomplished voice-cast, well-matched to their characters. The problem is more in the writing. For a Lego-branded movie, there's a distinct lack of focus on imagination and creative building. Everything is made out of the Danish bricks we all know and love, but that seems like a coincidence rather than a raison d'être*3. This is what happens when your movie has three directors, six screenwriters and a further three story writers. I wish I was exaggerating about that. Stretches are incredibly witty, stretches are fun and exciting, then some are... well, okay I guess. Never bad, but far more perfunctory than you'd expect for something with this much money behind it.

The main father/son storyline really seems to be rehashing themes from The Lego Movie (but with Theroux told to sound a bit like Will Arnett's Batman for good measure). And with our evil villain's base located in a volcano, the screenplay sets up perfect opportunities for some James Bond (or even Austin Powers) riffs, then completely fails to deliver any. Similarly, there's a textbook Temple of Doom setup which everyone seems to have chickened out of seeing through. Instead, the story treads between brick-splitting chase sequences and domestic wise-assing between the Ninjago crew and Garmadon's gang. Both are largely fine, but both are variable within that scope*4.

And eager to convince the purchasers of tickets that their money hasn't just been spent on a toy advert, the close of Act III brings a mortifyingly sentimental ending that the film just hasn't earned. In all honesty, both ends of the live-action framing device had be grinning more warmly than anything in the main stretch.

With not as much heart as The Lego Movie and not as much sass as Batman, this is Lego's cinematic equivalent of That Difficult Third Album. And they pull if off this time with brand-loyalty and goodwill, but it doesn't bode well for The Normal Run of Things…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Mainly the Lego and Batman movies, but there's also an unavoidable dash of Power Rangers in here, too.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
As beautiful as this is to look at, it's distinctly Straight-to-Video in spirit.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Be an expensive but probably successful marketing exercise? Undoubtedly.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I shouldn't think so.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There are seven of them. In a row.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: No voice-cast links to mention, but Jill Wilfert is a producer on this movie, as well as being Executive Producer on the The Padawan Menace, The Empire Strikes Out, Droid Tales and The Freemaker Adventures.

There might also be someone from The Last Jedi in this, but that's unconfirmed at this point.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Which might go some way to explaining why a grand total of four people (including Mrs Blackout and myself) were watching the film in a 268-seat auditorium. Okay, it was 18:30 on a Monday evening, but still. The film had only been properly open for four days. [ BACK ]

*2 Really. No, really... [ BACK ]

*3 Can't believe I've just used raison d'être in a review. And talking about Lego, as well. Sorry about that. #FilmTwat [ BACK ]

*4 And I guarantee you that not one person in any audience has walked out into the foyer saying "Well, my favourite part was the film's two incidental newscasters voiced for the UK release by Good Morning Britain's Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway, who popped up every five minutes in Act I to describe the things the audience could already see happening on-screen, whilst repeatedly saying their own names! Hahaha!". Not one. It's made worse by the fact that neither Lego model looks like the actual presenters, since it's just a cheap re-dub which Warner Animation Group apparently hope will appeal to the audience on this side of the pond, as if this will plug the holes left by a scattergun script. It's like that time in Shrek 2 when they got Kate Thornton to voice the lines given to Joan Rivers in the US release, despite the character model clearly looking exactly like Joan Rivers (who believe it or not is actually known over here). Honestly. Ben Shephard. Kate Garraway. I ask you... [ 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.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Review: The Death Of Stalin





The Death Of Stalin
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. Armando Iannucci / Trailer



Because if anyone is going to be able to blend mid 20th century Russian political satire and West End farce, it's going to be Armando Iannucci, the mind behind Alan Partridge, The Thick of It and Veep. In the company of writers David Schneider, Ian Martin and Fabien Nury, he's crafted a razor-sharp comedy which is about exactly what it says on the front, there: The Death of Stalin in Russia, 1953. It is very funny. By which I mean the film is very funny. Not the on-screen death of a 74 year old man. Although that is also very funny. In this film.

While the story takes place in its period setting, the script is interwoven with Tarantino-level bickering and a timeless British-level sarcasm (and not a cod-Russian accent to be heard, which only adds to the charm*1). The filmmakers have assembled an absolutely outstanding cast to deliver it, with everyone on blistering form. Central characters are introduced with brief in-scene title cards showing their name and position in the Soviet hierarchy, but most of what happens isn’t reliant on the audience bringing any prior knowledge. Shot in a hand-held documentary-style, the pacing for the first hour is one of escalating bedlam, with Stalin's demise creating a vacuum of both power and common-sense.

From the Act I opening of a panicked Paddy Considine, to the quiet bluster of Michael Palin and self-absorbed scheming of Simon Russell Beale, the film is the best example of institutional chaos you'll find short of the actual news. Although you might come for Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor, you'll stay for Jason Isaacs and Rupert Friend*2. In its second-hour though, the pace slows and shifts to a poignant ending I don’t think it quite pulls off. Then again, this section would probably have worked better with me if I knew anything at all about that period of history. I can’t hold Armando at fault for me not bringing any prior knowledge. Everything I saw in the meanwhile was evidence of a creative team at the top of their game.

As enjoyable as The Death Of Stalin is, Iannucci ‘s directorial home is really on the small screen. There’s little here that’s inherently cinematic, and although I’ll definitely watch it again, I doubt that will take place at the flicks.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Iannucci's aforementioned TV work.
This is quite unlike anything I've been lucky enough to see in the cinema
.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you can't wait for the DVD/BRD/VOD to land in around 17 weeks.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so, although I'm perhaps not best to judge it on a content-level.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's definitely up-there.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There ain't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got The Inquisitor and Nower Jebel in it.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 To the point where it seems odd at first that Olga Kurylenko has that twang to her voice, until you remember half a second later that that's her actual Ukranian/French accent when she performs in English. [ BACK ]

*2 It's Rupert Friend who gets the best line in the film as Stalin's tantrum-prone spoilt son, coaching an ice-hockey team by essentially just yelling at them. I promise you no film this year will deliver a more sincere exasperation than "Play better, you clattering fannies!!". Priceless. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin





Goodbye Christopher Robin
Cert: PG / 107 mins / Dir. Simon Curtis / Trailer



Well, there was me thinking I was going to be distracted by the kid throughout Goodbye Christopher Robin, when in actual fact I was more concerned with Margot Robbie being picked up by the rozzers at any moment for failing to control an accent in a built-up screenplay. Seriously, what the hell was that?

It's amazing to think that Robbie and Domhnall Gleeson starred together before in About Time, where the former's Contemporary Middle Class Brit™ accent was absolutely flawless, yet here she is appearing in a film set between the World Wars, and her Upper Class Brit™ accent keeps swerving back to her native Australian (which is usually a fantastic blank-canvass for voice-work, unless you're Sam Worthington). Now I want Robbie to take a recurring role in Eastenders, just to see which way it goes at the other end of the scale. On the occasions when she's clearly trying too hard (almost every other line), she almost sounds German.

It's frankly unforgivable that a performance so sloppy should ever reach the editing suite, let alone the cinema screen, and I blame the director entirely for apparently not having the cojones to be like "Okay, cut! Right Domhnall? Great work, keep that up, you sound for all the world like a young Obi-Wan Kenobi and I know of at least one film-blogger who will delight in that irony. Young Will? You're doing fine but go easy on the cutesy-cutsey, we're not sponsored by Hallmark, you know. And Margot. Oh, Margot. Please try to remember that Daphne Milne was a socialite from Battersea, not a Berlin spy who's been hiding out in Sydney for a decade but suddenly finds herself trapped improvising a role in the British countryside. Let's go again, and… ACTION.

Hmm? The film itself? It was okay, I suppose. Not really my bag to begin with; costume melodrama, a bit twee, seems to skip over large chunks of time where important things happen (like the publishing of All The Books). Then again, I have no strong feelings either way for Winnie The Pooh if I'm being honest. You'll probably enjoy it, though.

Also yeah, the kid's infuriating.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The kind of stiff-upper-lip drama that doesn't quite romanticise*1 the aftermath of a world war, but really can't go into it all properly because of its BBFC rating.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Sunday afternoon DVD, tops.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
What, to give a convenient, heavy-handed and simplistic account of a difficult relationship in a time of great uncertainty? Probably.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Gleeson is fantastic, then again he's rarely anything but.
But I don't think we've seen his best work yet
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There are four flashback scenes to the Western Front in this film, and not a single Wilhelm Scream to be heard. Ridiculous. I mean if nothing else, you'd expect a movie with General Hux and Harley Quinn to have more shouting in it, frankly.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: As mentioned, General Hux is in this, as is Phoebe 'as yet un-named role in the upcoming Han Solo film' Waller-Bridge.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Speaking of romanticising, why the actual fuck is the Elizabeth Tower (aka 'Big Ben' at the Houses of Parliament) on the poster, there? The Milnes move away from London to the countryside during Act I, only go back very briefly and at no point does anyone walk along the banks of the Thames. Half of this poster is bullshit. Is this for the American audiences? I think they're already sold on account of it being "quintessentially British" mate, you don't have to fucking lie to them. This has made me more angry than the accent-thing, if I'm being honest. [ 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.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Review: The Snowman





The Snowman
Cert: 15 / 119 mins / Dir. Tomas Alfredson / Trailer



The thing is, right, there are two reasons for cinemas staggering their start-times across a schedule. The main one is so that people aren't all queuing to get into different screens at the same time, and the second is that if you accidentally walk into the wrong screen, you'll instantly know it because the film will be part-way through (ie you won't have to wait through 27 mins of ads and trailers to realise what you've done). So imagine my surprise on Friday afternoon when I arrived in Screen 3 of my local during the pre-trailer adverts only to find that the apparent audience for Tomas Alfredson's visual take on Jo Nesbø's serial killer novel was of a demographic usually reserved for pieces such as Dad's Army and Dunkirk. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that of course (although the rustle of sweet wrappers was an issue throughout, as usual), but I honestly wondered how many of them were thinking this was a reboot of the other Snowman. No walk-outs anyway, so maybe the Silver Cineastes were just up for a bit of good old-fashioned Murder™…

And so to the film, dear reader. Ah. The film. Evidence of Michael Fassbender's poor decision-making skills continues to trickle in, with this cinematic rendering of a highly successful book. Because when you're transferring a series of bestselling thrillers to the big screen, it's always best to start midway through that series. Oh, always. Fassbender plays Harry Hole*1, a barely-functioning alcoholic maverick detective in Oslo, who has to clear the debris from his personal life in order to crack the case of women going missing whenever it snows. He's joined in this task by a wide-eyed trainee Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), and they both begin to suspect this is the work of a morally judgemental serial killer.

The plot is solid (if unremarkable) enough, but the dialogue is overwritten, one suspects in a bid to cram a potential 4-6 hour TV drama down into a 2-hour movie. Admittedly, I haven't read the original tome, but it would appear that the deployment of three screenwriters has butchered any thematic symbolism, nuance and indeed logic*2 from the story. Turns in the plot which should probably be revelatory to the audience just feel like Another Thing Happening Now. And as well as seeming derivative of an entire genre of detective fiction, the attempts to 'pace up' what should be a slow, unfolding story are what hurt the film the most.

Fassbender autopilots through it all, by no means a bad performance, but far from everything he's been proven to be capable of. Ferguson tries to elevate her role to that of co-lead, but doesn't have the material to back it up. Meanwhile, performances by child actors here are uniformly dreadful, and Toby Jones and Val Kilmer appear to have completed their roles in an afternoon off from some other job*3, so that the poster can have a couple of extra familiar names.

I'd like to say the The Snowman is grindingly average, but even that would be paying it a not-quite-deserved compliment. and it's hard to imagine anyone other than hardcore fans of Jo Nesbø's novels getting anything out of the final product. Ultimately, I couldn't connect with the film on any emotional level. Even in this thriller's most manipulative moments, I wasn't thrilled. I was barely even interested.

I'm sure everyone involved would like to think they've created something Gritty™, when in actuality The Snowman is just fill of characters that are inherently unlikeable.

I began Friday's cinema visit wondering if I'd walked into the wrong screen. Two and a half hours later, I still didn't have an answer…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Things where people wear jumpers and stare out of windows at snow for extended periods of time. Except there are fewer jumpers and fewer windows in this.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The cinema I saw this in projected the film at the wrong aspect ratio, so probably not.
Not that seeing technically less of The Snowman could be classed as a problem, of course
.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I should hope not.


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


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
You'd better be prepared to explain yourself.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There's not.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Mon Mothma's in this.

Although she's not credited for it on the film's IMDB page, or on her own.

But her agent's page has her down for The Snowman.
Plus, it's quite obviously her in the film. She's in the trailer and everything.
So what's going on there?


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
This lacklustre tale of a messianic serial killer is hardly Se7en.
I mean it's barely even a Thr3e


*1 Mate, don't... [ BACK ]

*2 I'm not even sure when this is meant to be set. All the main characters are using contemporary iPhones, but the police also carry around portable computers that look like an iPad designed in the 1950s (and whose entire functionality is something that any mid-range tablet can do now anyway, at about a tenth of the size/weight).

Although on a narrative level, so much is left unexplained here. Spoilery discussion: Harry Hole tells his boss there's been no homicide, only missing persons, in the scene just after he finds a woman's severed head in a pit under the house. Why would he lie to his superior about that? Is Birte Becker's body found, or does she just remain missing in perpetuity after that? Is Katrine Bratt dead in the end? That Sylvia Ottersen in the chicken shed was just given a paralysing agent while the murderer cut her head off, and there was no indication that he gave Katrine any more when he removed her finger (which, incidentally, was in incredibly blood-free removal, even for a newly deceased corpse - although the same can be said of the head removal and Sylvia was definitely alive when that happened). [ BACK ]

*3 Speaking of which, It appears that Valentine Kilimanjaro's facial structure has become such a grotesque parody of its former self that the erstwhile Batman can no longer deliver coherent dialogue even on an enclosed set, and has to ADR his lines in post-production. Unfortunately, no-one involved in that process seems to have been looking at any of the actual footage, resulting in the final synchronisation of Val's performances nestling somewhere in the region of 'Saniflo Advert'™. [ 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.