Friday, 8 March 2019

Review: Captain Marvel (first-pass)





Captain Marvel (first-pass / 2D / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 12A / 124 mins / Dir. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck / Trailer



Okay, so you know the score. It's late (or early), I'm buzzing and I'm emptying my head after a first-pass viewing of Captain Marvel. There are no spoilers in here, but for best effect don't read this until you've watched the film. These are brief first reactions, they'll probably change as I get to know the movie better, and I've probably interpreted some of the moments incorrectly anyway. Right.

The film follows a mid-1990s Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she struggles to piece together fragments of memory and make sense of who she was, who she is, and who she's supposed to be. A human fighter-pilot from Earth? A Kree Starforce warrior from Hala? Both? Neither? The last thing she needs is to be thrown head-first into a Skrull invasion of Earth, although in that respect at least she's got good company in the shape of a particularly lithe Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)…

FOUNDATIONS


Building on the foundations of pan-galactic politics laid by Guardians Of The Galaxy and strengthened by Thor: Ragnarok, the movie jumps straight into an alien civilisation with relatively little exposition. Marvel are expecting you to be on-board for this already, although given it's the 21st movie in a series, that's perhaps not an unreasonable assumption. The Kree/Skrull dynamic takes an interesting path, considering what we've already learned of politics of the former. But this is is treated more of a supporting aspect, rather than the main focus.

This is mainly because Carol arrives on our screens fully-formed and ready to beat the shit out of alien invaders first, then ask questions later. Her backstory and subsequent character development comes in the form of flashbacks, reveals and the gentle unravelling of the knot that is Danvers' memory. Online rumblings that the film is 'slow' have been greatly exaggerated, although it tells its own story in its own time, teasing out just the right amount of details to keep things ticking over, but not holding enough back to seem smug or self-indulgent. While the twists in the tale aren't quite telegraphed, they follow the familiar structural beats of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

DRIFTERS


They key thing is that (despite the pre-emptive crying from the usual corners of the internet), Captain Marvel isn't trying to be an MCU movie for girls, just a great MCU movie. The fact that it largely succeeds at this should draw precisely the right reactions from both sides of the fence. Much like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, this isn't an attempt to re-invent the wheel - more to create a new cog which is integral to the existing machine*1.

Larson is an absolute natural at this of course, an outstanding actress who's more than willing to commit to a role that's fun, energetic and sometimes outright silly - but still taking it no less seriously for all that. Both the performer and the character blend seamlessly into the MCU, thanks in no small part to the assistance of Jackson as the audience's long-time touchstone. Ben Mendelsohn puts in a solid turn which will be initially underrated by most, and Lashana Lynch's character of Maria is crying out for more screen-time. Annette Benning is under-used in the Marvel tradition of getting Robert Redford / Glenn Close / Michelle Pfeiffer to rock up and bring a bit of gravitas to the proceedings. Jude Law is also in this film.

TRIOS


It's not all plain-sailing, of course. The 1990s soundtrack is a little on-the-nose, and in playing some of the more iconic Grunge™ tracks, it's arguably used some of the era's least interesting music. That said, this is a major studio picture and not a hipster's mixtape, so that's understandable. I'd just be very surprised if this movie shifted albums in the way which Guardians did, because that's clearly the intention of such recognisable tracks.

Another problem could be that who Carol Danvers was seems far more interesting than who Captain Marvel is, and the film's climactic showdown has little to reveal as a result. There are plenty of big-stupid-grins to be enjoyed throughout, but the real goosebump moments come earlier rather than later. Captain Marvel is a very solid entry in the saga, but doesn't feel like anything more than that on a first-pass. And as Ant-Man & The Wasp was an unabashed palate-cleanser after the heavyweight Infinity War, the feeling remains that this should have a bit more clout as we hurtle toward the Endgame

The business-end not spoilers, but highlight-to-read anyway):

• Is there a Wilhelm Scream? I think there is, a second-pass should clear this up.
• Is there a Stan Lee cameo? There is, and it's quietly magnificent. Awarding the film an extra point for this.
• Is there a mid-credits scene? There is
• Is there a post-credits scene? There is*2



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It's very much on-par with the MCU standalone films.
Which is by no means a bad thing, but perhaps not a surprising one either
.


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?
Not really, but everyone involved is on reliably solid form.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Possibly. Discussions will be lengthy, at any rate.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Ask me again when I've watched it again.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Mace Windu's in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And using those two examples particularly, Captain Marvel succeeds in being its own thing. As I've probably mentioned before, Ant-Man is a structural retooling of The First Avenger, while Doctor Strange is beat-for-beat Iron Man. Meanwhile, Carol Danvers is bringing her own booze to this particular party, and it's a more varied ride as a result. [ BACK ]

*2 Although a disturbing number of people stood up and left after the mid-credits scene. Who the hell loves Marvel enough to come to the midnight-screening of an MCU movie, but can't wait an extra six minutes once the names begin to roll at 2:20 in the morning? What the hell else are they going to use that time for? Amateurs. Anyway, the end-credits scene is fun as adding one more piece to a puzzle we thought had been previously completed... [ 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, 6 March 2019

Review: Cold Pursuit





Cold Pursuit
Cert: 15 / 119 mins / Dir. Hans Petter Moland / Trailer



Since first seeing the publicity material for Hans Petter Moland's Cold Pursuit (an English-language remake of his own 2014 film, Kraftidioten), I have become convinced that this an entry is an under-the-radar series of prequel-era Star Wars tie-in adventures. Frozen in carbonite as part of an undercover Jedi mission, Qui-Gon Jinn's subconscious plays out a life in another world, where the snowy terrain and mortal danger are psychological projections of his in-universe surroundings. Sounds ridiculous? Of course it does. Until you bear in mind that Obi-Wan Kenobi cropped up in the TV version of Fargo and Mace Windu had his own Big Game. That's my theory anyway, and you're going to have to work pretty damned hard to change my mind.

I digress...

In the snow-blown town of Kehoe, high in the Colorado Rockies, snowplough driver Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) tries his best to live a quiet, if gruelling, existence with his wife Grace (Laura Dern). When their son Kyle (Michael Eklund) becomes mixed up in the business of drug-lord Trevor 'Viking' Calcote (Tome Bateman), he ends up as cold on a mortuary slab as the weather outside. Directionless but with a sense that some reaction needs to be implemented, Nels embarks on a methodically escalating spree of revenge, exposing the extent of the local narcotics network and putting noses out of joint accordingly. This will not end well...

FACED


Adverse publicity aside, one of the main struggles faced by Cold Pursuit is that it's a Liam Neeson revenge-thriller. Hardly the first one of those in his repertoire and probably not the last, either. It is, however, markedly different from his usual dour-faced fare in that Frank Baldwin's screenplay has a blackly comic seam running throughout.

This is both the film's blessing and its curse, as many of the cast members aren't just playing things deadpan, they're playing them completely straight - which doesn't always work. First and foremost in this list is Neeson himself, who can do comedy with the right direction, but it's just not quite matching up to the potential in Moland's vision.

HANNIBALLED


Make no mistake, Liam is on solid form (even keeping his non-regional-specific American growl under control) but as much as it pains me to say it, he's not quite right for this role. Even at his best, you've seen this performance before. What's needed is someone with a bit more unhinged, wildcard flare, like Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson or even Kurt Russell.

The screenplay's marrying of gleeful violence and straight-faced humour initially brings with it overtones of the Coen Brothers' work, of course. But it slowly becomes apparent that in remaking this for The Hollywood Machine, there are also aspirations to Tarantino levels of kooky slickness. This never manifests fully as the characterisation just isn't there, and after a while the film becomes closer to something of Martin McDonagh or Guy Ritchie's gangster-canon. Although with new characters still being introduced half-way through rather than set up at the start of the film, Moland can't match those levels of enjoyable silliness either.

BARACUSSED


Around an hour in, the film almost seems to forget that Neeson is its central character, pootling off for extended periods into the snow with the gangsters. At a minute under two hours this is hardly A Long Movie, but these pacing issues mean it starts to feel weightier than it should.

On-screen captions helpfully mark off the various underworld players as they're despatched from the story. But instead of steadily building to a crescendo, more hoodlums arrive to be picked off at the same steady rate, meaning we're never quite sure how much longer there is to go as long as Liam's still around. The crescendo is worth the wait, but by that point the ending writes itself.

Quietly funny and full of the types of characters it's satisfying to see the end of, Cold Pursuit is a diverting enough ride which will be good for a few late night passes. But its uneven nature means the film’s long-term appeal may be limited...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well it's more Seven Psychopaths than Snatch but with elements of both without being quite as good as either.


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?
Well, let's not get carried away.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
It's possible, I suppose, depending on how set against it you are.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Qui-Gon Jinn has settled down and married Amilyn Holdo 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.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Review: What Men Want





What Men Want
Cert: 15 / 117 mins / Dir. Adam Shankman / Trailer



Well. In light of the unceasing waves of The Unpleasantness still emanating from Hollywoodland, along with Paramount's latest pitch for a justified extinction-level meteor strike, I foresee a time fairly soon when the #MeToo movement is joined in genuine solidarity by #MeNeither. For obvious reasons I speak only for the occupant of seat F15, but after watching What Men Want, I can only conclude: better writing would be a start.

A big-hitting, no-nonsense player in an Atlanta PR firm, Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) finds she has to be far better than the multitude of men she works with (and for) just to reap the same rewards, and her relationships outside of work also begin to suffer as a result. When a hen party with friends goes awry, Ali awakes in hospital to find that she can hear the inner-monologue of all men around her. Will she use this gift for the good of everyone? Will she use it to get even? Will it result in basically the same joke being told (and, by definition, explained) for the next hour and a half?
Go on, guess...

PETERS


That's right, as awards-season peters out, the antidote to all that heavyweight chin-stroking comes in the form of a loose remake of a 2000 Mel Gibson comedy, shrieking toward us like an unasked-for mashup of Big, Liar Liar and I Feel Pretty. And the fact that the better-two entries of that trinity weren't even made in this century should tell you everything you need to know about the feel of things here.

Taking place in high-powered corporate Americaland, we spend a lot of time in Ali's workplace. The 'logo' of the cutting-edge PR agency for which she works is its initials, in Calibri bold with condensed kerning, white on a blue background. That's it. This style carries over into the various bits of signage around the building. So what this comes down to is that some intern has sat down and crafted an entire in-movie corporate identity package by clicking open Microsoft Word then hitting CTRL+B. That's the level of effort which Paramount thinks this film's audience deserve.

LEE


The joke (and there is only one joke) is in the title, and that's explained with absolutely no frills in the tagline of the poster. Nobody actually needs to watch this film. Considering how painfully linear the whole thing is, it's about 100 minutes longer than it needs to be. When the moment of Ali's "gift" finally kicks in, the film spends the next ten minutes showing exactly what this means in very small, very repetitive words.

I expected this to be worse that it was, but that's no consolation. You may as well decide before you sit down to watch this whether you're going to enjoy it or not, because the film will do precisely nothing to change your mind either way. Other audience members in the room had a great time. I grew bored and impatient in equal measure.

HERRING


Now please don't get me wrong, What Men Want doesn't have anywhere near the amount of tonal issues carried by something like I Feel Pretty. If anything, the suggestive nature of the poster above is kept to something of a minimum. The predominantly male makeup of Ali's workplace means that a lot of the internalised angst and whimsy is centered around petty competitiveness and social anxiety rather than more predictable, libidinous, punchlines.

This aspect is covered of course - and those moments arrive with the subtlety demanded of a 15-rated comedy - but the film occasionally seems to be aiming for a message that in the 21st century, men and women have more in common than they do separating them. Does this make What Men Want a more interesting, more worthy film? Absolutely not. The cloying, cack-handed moralising*1 is as incoherently handled as the mechanics of the plot itself, which makes precisely no sense at every turn. The film has, at a fundamental level, every opportunity to rise above its neon-pink contemporaries, yet has no real idea what to say or how to say it*2.

But if in doubt, get Taraji to do big eyes and yell "Oh hell no!". Again. Apparently that's like having a joke, except you don't have to write one.

What Men Want? Well in this case, for the film to have been made a quarter of a century ago, so that it might blag some level of charm, relevance, insight or wit, rather than being a one-note, retrograde and indelibly lazy farce for people who still think that En Vogue and Salt-n-Pepa are contemporary cultural references.
That would be a start...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well, What Women Want I imagine, since it's a retooling of that.
Not that I've seen the earlier film. And not that I will, now
.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is not.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Maybe stream it if you're curious, but there's little-to-no reason for this to end up either on your shelf or cluttering up your hard-drive.


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


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's likely, yes.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is not.


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…


*1 Oh no! The guy who works at the bar is a single parent with a dead wife (and a kid who can't act)! How dare Ali, and by extension the audience, judge him without getting him to write out the last ten years of his life, longhand? Well, he's still picked up a lone female for a one-night stand in the pub where he works by mixing her a "special cocktail" which he refuses to divulge the ingredients of before he's pressured her into drinking it. Am I meant to believe it's the first time he's done that? Creepy af, mate. [ BACK ]

*2 Now I know there's a chance you could be reading this thinking 'oh, you're only being down on this because it's centered around a woman - if the film was about a man having a comedic journey in which he learns the value of openness and friendship in the unforgiving corporate world you'd be all over that!'. To which I'd assure you, no I fucking wouldn't. [ 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, 10 February 2019

Review: The Lego Movie 2





The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2D / thematic spoilers)
Cert: U / 107 mins / Dir. Trisha Gum & Mike Mitchell / Trailer



Has it really been five years since the first Lego movie? I supposed it must have, since the script for The Lego Movie 2 plainly sets this follow-up half a decade later, and when I check my previous review it is indeed dated 2014. The passage of time can be cruel and baffling for those of us who've refused to grow up completely*1

So. In the intervening years, the Lego town of Bricksburg has slowly morphed into the wasteland of Apocalypseburg. While Emmet (Chris Pratt) continues to bimble along optimistically, his friend Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) has become a hardened, cynical warrior - still living in the town, but ready to fight whatever dangers life throws their way, in a bid to protect what little order is left. When an extra-terrestrial warrior, General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), arrives one day announcing that Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) of the Systar System intends to wed Batman (Will Arnett), the resulting refusal, kidnap and voyage across the galaxy will be an adventure to test Emmet to his limits. Luckily, he's got a new friend to stand by his side…

SMART


First things first, The Lego Movie 2 is fun. It very much relies on you having seen the first entry (although the "2" is in the title so there can be few complaints) and it's still prone to wholesome over-sentimentality. But the sequel is as inventive as its plastic namesake, consistently funny and deceptively smart. If you enjoyed The Lego Movie, you'll get a lot out of this. If you didn't, well…

Whereas the divide between 'collector' play and open-ended adventuring previously fell with Will Ferell's 'Dad' character and his son Finn (Jadon Sand), this second entry shifts that generationally (as hinted at the end of the first movie) featuring his younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), happy to mix-the-bricks while Finn moves up to advanced sets and more concentrated world-building. To properly facilitate this and illustrate that Lego™ can be enjoyed on a number of commitment-levels (because let's not forget that this is an unashamed two hour pay-to-view advert), the sprawling in-film, in-universe playscape now features pieces and characters from Duplo™ and Lego Friends™. Purists will squirm, and that's very much the point.

OUT


Ferrell takes a back seat for this adventure, still voicing President Business in the animated story and the 'in another room' voice of Dad in the live-action. But Maya Rudolph capably takes the wheel as the squabbling siblings' embattled mother, deadpanning her role perfectly (even if the film's U-certificate means Maya's character can't give a screen-accurate rendition of the outburst in which stepping on a Lego brick in bare feet actually results).

The live-action sections of the first movie were something of a third-act reveal, here they're dealt with head-on, interspersing the animated action throughout. The Lego characters don't (can't?) know the full extent of their real-world status as toys, but they're aware that their home has changed and there are larger, inexplicable forces at play. Rather than trying to iron out the differences between these two versions of reality, the script just carries on playing with them. By the end, the audience is no longer sure which events are the result of kids acting out a story and which are the in-universe characters themselves, continuing the narrative in their own time.

On a meta-level, The Lego Movie 2 feels like the natural - if knowingly post-modern - thematic successor to Toy Story. It's never as up-front as Pixar's flagship series and almost seems more believable (if that's the right word) as a result.

SHORTY


As per this film's predecessor (and continuing the theme cemented by Lego Batman between), there are no Marvel characters to be found here. This, despite the Marvel-half of Lego's Super Heroes line being a mainstay of their licensing model. Instead we get appearances by the Justice League in full comic effect, with Warner Bros going so far as to rope in Jason Momoa*2 for light voicework.

Indeed, Marvel are written out of the proceedings early doors with one cheeky line of dialogue. But not content to leave that where it lies, shortly after we have our hero (voiced by Chris Pratt, remember), blasting off into space for an adventure aboard his new ship, and talking to his plant as a co-pilot. Well, quite.

CARTER


And the playfulness with the leading man's back-catalogue doesn't stop there. A fairly telegraphed but still eminently satisfying sub-plot sees his character introducing a rapid succession of character-cards, each boldly proclaiming skills in a CV of previous adventures. Most of these appear to be nods to the actor's work in other movies (most notably the velociraptors, of course).

It's a testament to the sold writing that there's plenty here for a young audience, their associated grown-ups and the happy-go-lucky film geeks who've rocked up anyway. The Lego Movie 2 is absolutely packed with Easter eggs and is all the better for it.

FRESH AT THE WEEKEND


We're living through a golden age of animation of course, and we should stop for a moment to fully appreciate the craft of the Lego movies. Whereas the multitude of the corporation's TV-based features feature expressive, 'bendy' character models with working knees and elbows, the cinematic strand has used elements far closer to the relatively rigid toys themselves (with some artistic license).

Along with photorealistic plastic texturing, their blocky structure and appropriately restricted movement is a faultless CGI simulation of traditional stop-animation, and I don't think that gets enough credit. The animators have deliberately placed this obstacle in their own path, making them work harder to achieve the same fluid level of visual storytelling, while also achieving an end result which looks closer to the actual store-bought Lego toys (did I mention that this beautiful film is also a two hour advert?)*3.

But let's not dig too deeply into the toy box. Irrespective of your chronological-age, if you like Lego™, you'll get a lot out of The Lego Movie 2. If you don't, well…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well, The Lego Movie.


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 certainly earns a place near the top of everyone's list.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
It's possible I suppose, although you'd have to be a hardened cynic to really get nothing out of this.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well, the film was written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, formerly of the Solo parish, but since they left that production under something of a cloud, I suppose we'll have to go with this movie starring that uncredited Stormtrooper from The Force Awakens.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Anyway, I navigate my life by the release of Star Wars movies (as those of you who've met me will attest), so all 2014 means to me is "before The Force Awakens". Although I suppose I could meet them half-way and call it "before The Force Awakens Lego". [ BACK ]

*2 Interestingly (or predictably, depending on how you look at it), the powers-that-be have opted for the new bearded, shirtless version of Aquaman, rather than the more traditional model they're still happy to use elsewhere. No judgement in that, just an observation. [ BACK ]

*3 Although like some of the Transformers movies, it's an advert which doesn't hold its own audience in absolute, unvarnished contempt. [ 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.