Saturday, 17 August 2019

Review: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood





Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Cert: 18 / 161 mins / Dir. Quentin Tarantino / Trailer


I'll cut to the chase, the jury at Blackout Towers is out on this one. It's not that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood failed to meet my expectations - I didn't really have any expectations. While I'm definitely a fan of Quentin Tarantino's work to the point of being forgiving of his worst excesses, I was impressed that the trailer is a kaleidoscope of cool which reveals very little of the actual story. It's only after watching the movie that I realise that's because there is no coherent story.

Quentin sets up his core characters, then just sort of bimbles along aimlessly, going off on lengthy tangents which add to the character-building but do almost nothing for the narrative. You remember when Tarantino was famous for driven pacing and snappy dialogue? Well those days are long gone, mate. This begins languidly where each scene is around 30% longer than it needs to be, and pretty much keeps that up for the entire movie. Meticulous yet thoroughly unfocused, this is the absolutely unfiltered Tarantino of 2019, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. Self-indulgent as absolute fuck, even by his standards.

WESTERN


There's an entire, lengthy saloon-scene where actor Rick Dalton is filming a western, which might be more quirkily entertaining if Quentin hadn't already made Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Has he still not gotten spit-and-sawdust out of his system? But there are too many unanswered questions elsewhere. A sporadic narration comes from Kurt Russell. But he's also in the film as a big-shot director. Is it supposed to be his character who's narrating this? Why? How would his character know of events which went otherwise unwitnessed? Wasn't the whole "once upon a time means it's a fairytale and I can subvert your expectations from real-world events" used up on Inglourious Basterds?

Why have big names like Al Pacino and Bruce Dern been hired for a cameo roles which add nothing to the final movie? Why has Leonardo DiCaprio been edited into The Great Escape for a cutaway scene, but Margot Robbie hasn't been given the same digital treatment in The Wrecking Crew when she's playing the actress Sharon Tate watching Sharon Tate in a film? Because the Sharon Tate in those clips is clearly not Margot Robbie, so why put them in at all? I know that ultimately the film is a tribute to her, but it's glaringly noticeable that she's not watching herself. Why am I even thinking about these things when I'm meant to be enjoying a movie by a director I love?

IN SHOW


Don't get me wrong, there are some great things in this, I just don't think it's a great movie. I definitely had that dissatisfied feeling leaving the auditorium where I'd apparently been waiting for something that Quentin wasn't going to deliver. Because while the climactic fight is inordinately, gleefully, brutally good fun, the actual narrative payoff afterward feels like a weak punchline that doesn't support the grandiose, bar-room, shaggy dog story which went before it. It turns out the journey was more important than the destination, but you weren't able to focus on that because the driver had been rabbiting on for the entire journey.

This is Guy Ritchie giving us Revolver, James Cameron's Avatar, Spielberg with Ready Player One. It's not devoid of merit, but by no means what Quentin is best at - and this has happened because there's now nobody to tell him 'no'. The bottom line is that if any other writer/director had made Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I'd be calling it out as a rambling, first-draft mood-board. In fact I still am. Because since each movie ultimately has to stand on its own merits, where does that leave this? But now I know what to expect, another viewing is called for, that's for sure.

All I'm saying is that it's coming to something when Drew Goddard is making better Quentin Tarantino films than Quentin Tarantino…



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


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Probably, yes.

Although I could feel the casual-audience around me growing increasingly restless and fidgety throughout
.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
I know I'll be adding this to The Collection either way, although I may well wait until the price has dropped to something more reasonable.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
At this point, I genuinely don't believe it is.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Oh yes.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is, it's in the first scene and it's absolutely textbook.


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


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
^^ This may be subject to change after the next viewing.




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: Pain And Glory / Dolor Y Gloria





Pain And Glory / Dolor Y Gloria
Cert: 15 / 113 mins / Dir. Pedro Almodóvar / Trailer



You join me at something of a disadvantage, as I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed an advance screening of Pedro Almodóvar's latest semi-autobiographical film, Pain And Glory, and yet I find myself struggling to articulate why, exactly.

It's a perfectly paced two-hour introspection, entirely in Spanish with subtitles that don't detract from the inflection or meaning of the script. The film follows director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), wincing through middle age as his body crumbles through illness and self-inflicted substance abuse, trying to make amends with the star of one of his films from 30 years ago (Alberto, played by Asier Etxeandia) as he comes to terms with the film's lasting appeal. Interwoven throughout is a thread from Salvador's childhood in rural spain, as his young self is played by Asier Flores and his mother Jacinta by Penélope Cruz (and by Julieta Serrano in the 'present day' narrative).

Ultimately it's a confessional study of regret, fulfilment, trust and seeing the same world with new eyes. Banderas is on awards-worthy form in the lead role, with a far more intricately powerful performance than he's asked to give in his English-language work. And okay, it may have the most hassle-free 'coming off the skag' sequence since A Street Cat Named Bob, but everything else here is delicate to the point of devastating. That final scene is nothing short of beautiful.

Pain And Glory is very good and you should go and see it.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
In the best possible way, I'm not sure.
Maybe watch Almodóvar's earlier film Julieta and go from there
.


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


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 could well be.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Possible, but unlikely.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Penélope Cruz is in this, and she was in that Murder On The Orient Express alongside Daisy 'Rey' Ridley.


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.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Review: The Angry Birds Movie 2





The Angry Birds Movie 2
Cert: U / 97 mins / Dir. Thurop Van Orman & John Rice / Trailer



So, genuine question: Is Angry Birds still a thing, then? I don't mean 'are people still playing it', because I know that as long as some version of the game is available in the online marketplace, procrastinators of the world will idle away the hours flinging digital birds at digital pigs. I just mean is Angry Birds still enough of a thing to make a movie of? Because even the first entry back in 2016 felt like the window had been missed somewhat (I know animation isn't a quick process, but still). Anyway, the fact that I have no idea what the franchise has been up to for the last three years goes some way to explaining how I approached The Angry Birds Movie 2.

We open on Bird Island, where the war between its avian inhabitants and their porcine nemeses over on Pig Island has cooled to the level of playing constant pranks on one another, albeit pranks with no small level of vigour. But when a mysterious third island suddenly appears and begins hurling giant ice boulders at the other two, the pigs and the birds realise they have to join forces to save their homes and thwart their new enemies - the eagles.

PRESENT


The good news is that if you did enjoy the series' first cinematic outing, the sequel should present no significant problems. Once again the U certificate means the writers have to work harder to get the laughs from silliness and slapstick, and there are solid visual gags throughout. While the packed script doesn't quite have the wryness of its predecessor, it still zips along at an accompanying rate. The story itself is more prone to meandering however, not least because the main narrative is punctuated by a side adventure that feels for all the world like a ten-minute short has been edited into the movie. They both come together at the finale, but you're definitely left with the feeling that each was originally written without the other in mind.

The voice-casting is solid once again, with the characterisations matching their vocal performances almost perfectly. The visuals are as great as you'd want for an animated feature, although it's perhaps notable that there's no 3D option available this time round. Meanwhile, there's some thematic study of teamwork and confidence, but that's a pretty basic lesson for a kids' movie and it only features here to serve the plot. Speaking of which, the film waits pretty much until its third act to actually introduce the specific game-mechanics as being relevant to the birds achieving their goal. Which means that until that point it's been a standard animated kids flick with Angry Birds characters pasted in over the top.

SINGER


While 97 minutes is a respectable run-time for this type of thing, that comes pre-loaded with a predictably preachy script in its final minutes - although again, that's perhaps understandable given its appeal to a young audience. Because with soundtrack nods to Lionel Richie, Europe and Dawson's Creek, this movie may not be aimed at people in their 30s and 40s, but it was sure as hell made by them.

The Angry Birds Movie 2 is fun but definitely feels like a tacked-on sequel that should have landed two years ago to maintain brand momentum. It's not trying to reinvent digitally simulated physics, but it's sweet and diverting fun for the Summer holidays…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The first Angry Birds movie.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you've got padawans to keep occupied, sure.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
As above, this will be a good one for future rainy afternoons.


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


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well, I'm taking the sudden appearance of a snow-covered landmass containing a geothermal-powered superweapon (and its subsequent infiltration by the team of heroes) to be a direct homage to The Force Awakens' Starkiller Base, but that's for a longer analysis of the film which you'll be thankful to learn I'm not going to write.

But this has the voices of the LT-319 and BB-8 (okay, voice "consultant" in roundie's case) in it.

Oh, and Catherine 'Clone Wars' Winder is an exec producer.


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.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Review: Fast & Furious - Hobbs & Shaw





Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
Cert: 12A / 136 mins / Dir. David Leitch / Trailer



I can't believe you've come here to read this and decide whether you should go and see Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw. Even if you've only seen one of these before, you already know where you stand on this. The trailer tells you all you need to know, I promise you.

But still. This paragraph would usually be a brief setup/synopsis, although that's barely needed here. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are the muscle-bound, chalk-and-cheese odd couple who basically flirt with each other for over two hours. They're up against Brixton (Idris Elba), a cybernetically enhanced mercenary (think The Winter Soldier but with more sarcasm) as he tries to recover a weaponised virus for his mysterious employer. The virus has been stolen by Shaw's sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI-6 agent who did this to prevent it falling into the wrong hands (ie Brixton's), and has been helpfully framed for murder as a result. This film is basically an extended fight-scene, albeit one that's way more entertaining than it has any real right to be.

CONTENDER


A solid contender for 2020's Academy Award in the 'Screenplay Apparently Written By A 15yr Old' category, there's an action sequence every twelve minutes and industrial amounts of exposition between that really don't matter. With the likes of Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Eddie Marsan, Rob Delaney and Kevin Hart all straining to get on the cast list for the hell of it, this sequel-baited strand could well turn into the Carry On of action cinema.

What's perhaps most interesting (if that's the correct word), is that after eight full installments the first Fast & Furious spin-off movie is centered around characters who were only introduced in parts five (Johnson) and six (Statham). This alone should tell you that this is an F&F flick in name only, to the point where there's a surprising lack of vehicle chasing going on. In fact, while the main series has always leaned toward high tech when it comes to show-cars, with the voice-activated attack drones, smart-bikes and cybernetic super soldiers on display in Hobbs & Shaw, the series just took the leap into soft sci-fi. It is second only to Hellboy in 2019's chart of cinematic ridiculousness. Yes, it is that daft.

LADY


The 12A certificate ensures that this is a largely bloodless affair of course, despite more gun-related deaths than you'd care to count. As a result, the fight scenes have editing with cuts so quick you stand more chance of seeing Jason Statham control his own accent than you would a punch actually landing or a single bullet going in. That said, the script which begins with a reliably grubby "nice tats" line to a female tattoo artist also includes such quips as no fuckin' way, bitch, arsehole, balls and wanker. The 'A' in 12A really does stand for 'advisory' more than ever before*1. Take your 8yr old to this and reap precisely what you sow.

But perhaps best of all, writer Chris Morgan seems to believe there are stretches of road from St Paul's Cathedral in London where you could run for five minutes without being picked up by a single CCTV camera. This might actually be the funniest joke in the whole thing. Although there's another screen-nod to Greggs for the 2019 list, which is also outstanding work.

SO BEAUTIFUL SO RIGHT MY LOVER EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE


Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is good. In places it's even great. Everything you expect and fear it to be*2, it's loud, funny, makes no sense*3 and is indelibly cheesy. Director David Leitch is not going to change your life, and doesn't claim to try. If you're along for the ride, Hobbs & Shaw is great fun, and is not even going to attempt to change your pre-existing opinions, so leave any baggage back in the car park.

But it's also at least half an hour longer than it needs to be*5, and a more cynical reviewer might remark that the it has the absolute gall to evoke the great Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner during Elba's final scene, before the movie limps to a damp squib of an ending.

I couldn't possibly comment



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
As much as I enjoyed Hobbs & Shaw, I really can't emphasis enough that it's not a Fast & Furious™ film. This is M:I-Lite with dick-jokes, although it does still carry that slightly unhealthy obsession with Fahh'mly.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're going to see it at all, sure.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
The film will lose quite a bit of punch on the journey to the small screen, but if you're a collector of the series then you'll be happy to have it on the shelf all the same.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the best will in the world, no.


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
Which, for a movie such as this, is an absolutely unforgivable sin
.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well there's a scripted Death Star reference, a Han & Chewie reference, and also Rogue One Vader's in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although credit where it is undeniably due, the 'Michael Oxmaul' routine is a great joke, and while I chuckled more than I'd like to admit throughout Hobbs & Shaw, this was the one gag which caused me to shamelessly guffaw. [ BACK ]

*2 How come Vanessa Kirby's Hattie is an absolute bad-ass up until the point where Hobbs and Shaw have a conversation where Hobbs points out that she's an absolute bad-ass and from then onwards she's just The Girl One? The movie managed to leave behind gratuitous shots of women in swimsuits after the first twenty minutes, and I expected better, frankly. [ BACK ]

*3 All the bad guys' firearms have activator-chips Because Technology.
"We can get the weapons offline for six minutes!" says Hattie.
"Six minutes could be all we need!" says Deckard.
So that'll be why the Samoan gang*4 are squaring off against the goons in bike-leathers in pitch blackness, it kicks off, then all of a sudden it's broad daylight and they're still fighting using fists and sticks and the guns come back online about ten minutes later when they're chasing a helicopter off a cliff? Okay then… [ BACK ]

*4 Don't even ask how Dwayne Johnson's (a notably proud Samoan) screen-family are shown to be living in Samoa when more than half of them are clearly from New Zealand over two thousand miles away. I know they're all Polynesian, that doesn't mean they're all the same for actual fuck's sake…
(and yeah, I did a footnote-within-a-footnote for this one. That's how committed I am to calling out lazy casting-racism. I mean when I notice it, admittedly.) [ BACK ]

*5 No really, this is too fucking long for what it is. And if your bladder is strong enough there are three during-credits scenes plus one afterward. I have to be honest and admit that I didn't see the final one as The Need To Pee™ proved greater. Seriously, you know those ones where you realise about halfway through that you should have timed yourself, and then you slowly realise that you realised this when you weren't even halfway through and it's not like you've even been drinking booze and dear god will it ever stop? Oh, just me then. TMI. Okay, as you were... [ 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.