Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Review: The Commuter





The Commuter
Cert: 15 / 104 mins / Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra / Trailer



Oh Liam, you've done it, well done mate! After all these years of struggling you've found a writer/director who will (twice, now) scribble some backstory about your character's Irish origins into an early scene, in a move to reassure audiences that the accent is supposed to be like that. I am genuinely happy about this. The pair's latest collaboration, The Commuter is not to be held too close to the light, of course, what with its central premise being the absolute fantasy that any seasoned working-age user of public transport would engage in a conversation with a chatty stranger, rather than just exhaling audibly while staring at their book/newspaper/phone.

So, in Jaume Collet-Serra's urban thriller, our plucky hero Michael MacCauley*1 takes the train home after being laid off from his insurance job, only to find himself talking with the aforementioned stranger who has an intriguing proposition: find the passenger who doesn't belong*2 on the commuter train*3, plant a tracking device on them and pocket a hundred grand in cash for his trouble*4. Naturally, things escalate in the way they tend to do when a beleagured Neeson tells a stranger that he has a family he quite likes. Before long someone's getting punched right in the vestibule and Liam's in a race against the clock (indeed, against the track) to find the crucial missing link before the train reaches its deadly destination with passengers getting picked off one-by-one. A kind of Source Code On The Orient Express, if you will.

And all-in-all, the film is somehow not awful. Many, many types of ridiculous of course, but once the script establishes that the stops on this line are all four minutes apart while in the actual run-time that takes around fifteen minutes, you pretty much know where you are. The elongation of the Penelope Pitstop cliffhangers is only paralleled by the Tom & Jerry style resilience of our punchy/kicky/shooty hero (whom the script goes to the trouble of identifying as being a 60yr old man, whilst subjecting him to trials which would wipe out a 30yr old). On that subject, the movie also has some of the most haphazard fight choreography I've ever seen committed to the screen, but the choppy cinematography isn't necessarily helping matters.

With a third-act-reveal telegraphed as firmly as a station name on a departure board, the story (apparently written by three people) tries its best to twist and turn against audience expectations, but is as much on-the-rails as its locomotive setting. To be fair, I pretty much chortled my way through the final 40 minutes or so, although man this is longer than it needs to be.

As Liam Neeson Punching People In The Face movies go, The Commuter is perfectly fine. But it's also perfectly forgettable*5. Which is also fine.

Bonus props for casting Patrick Wilson as a cop named Alex Murphy. Now I desperately want this to be the stealth-prequel for another Robocop reboot...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Liam Neeson Films™.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
The natural home for this movie is in a cardboard 'Gifts For Father's Day' display stand with a £4 sticker on the front..


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
By all means rent it, or wait until it's got that sticker before adding it to your Liam Neeson Shelf™.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Well, no.


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Qui-Gon Jinn is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 A quasi-retired Chicago cop who is now a struggling family man in an unjust world and we should really just be thankful he's not a recovering alcoholic like every other Liam Neeson Punching People In The Face movie hero... [ BACK ]

*2 "Someone on this train does not belong!" quips the mysterious Joanna. But Michael somehow does not reply "Yeah, it's you isn't it? Sitting there, attempting a conversation with fellow travellers like that's a completely non-sociopathic thing to do during rush hour. Now if you don't mind, I'm idly scrolling down my Facebook timeline, silently judging everyone I wish I didn't know. Leave me. The fuck. Alone..." [ BACK ]

*3 "I've never been on a commuter train before!" exclaims Joanna with suspiciously fluttering eyelashes. But Michael somehow does not reply "Yeah, it's just a normal train, mate. They run all the time. This is a train which happens to be full of commuters because of what time of day it is. There's nothing remotely fucking special about all this, I assure you. You need to get out more, although I really wish you hadn't, today." [ BACK ]

*4 "I guess you must know everyone on this train?" purrs Joanna inexplicably. But Michael somehow does not reply "Look, this 'talking to strangers' thing, didn't your mum tell you anything about how weird or wrong it is? I don't want to talk to you. Christ, there are two people in this carriage from my office and I'm not even talking to them. Go. The fuck. Away." [ BACK ]

*5 Naturally, if there's a sequel starring Jason Statham and it's set on a shuttle bus into a business park in the home counties, I'll be all over that... [ 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, 14 January 2018

Review: Coco





Coco (2D)
Cert: PG / 105 mins / Dir. Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina / Trailer



Arriving on blighty's shores after what seems like an interminable wait comes Coco, the latest offering from Disney/Pixar. Taking place over the Mexican Día de Muertos holiday, the story follows a young boy named Miguel when he becomes trapped in the spirit world, trying to connect with the musical heritage of his ancestors. A family adventure in every sense, the film is brightly coloured, briskly paced and utterly, utterly gorgeous.

Under a four-strong writing team, Pixar's wizards deliver the visual goods once again, demonstrating why they're at the top of the computer-animation class, while the voice performances (mercifully free of stunt-casting) sell the characters effortlessly. In a story about music, there are musical numbers but it's not A Musical. A film full of skeletons is exciting without being scary (thinking of your little ones' reaction), funny without being silly, and full of heart without the need for schmaltz. I loved every single frame of Coco. In fact, the only slight negative here is that I don't have more to say about it after this first-pass viewing. It is perfect.

Although when you go to see the film, please make sure your cinema's air-conditioning has been serviced regularly. I shall be having words with my local as I missed several sections of Coco due to having Something In My Eye…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
While there are notes from Kubo And The Two Strings in here, it certainly feels like Ian Disney came into the office one Monday morning in late 2014 and said "Right, I watched a great movie called The Book Of Life at the weekend, and I want any one of you to explain why we didn't make it, yeah?".


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


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is. In the meanwhile, go watch this at the cinema.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Strong work all round, that's for sure.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Well that depends on how wrong you are about it.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Major Bren Derlin is 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.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Review: Downsizing





Downsizing
Cert: 15 / 135 mins / Dir. Alexander Payne / Trailer



Much like the preview screening I attended last week, I'm not entirely convinced I'm on the same page as this film*1. All that follows is highly subjective and based on the track record that any Matt Damon movie being released in the early months of the year will likely be found wanting

And so, Downsizing is the new feature project from writer/director Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor, the team behind Sideways. It follows the aforementioned Damon as Paul Safranek, a low-level occupational therapist*2 looking for a fresh start in life and opting for a revolutionary miniaturisation technique, whereby the newly-small subjects live in closed communities at a similarly reduced financial burden, with the added benefit of having a much smaller eco-footprint. When his wife backs out of the procedure at the last minute (that's not a spoiler, it's in the trailer), Paul has to adjust to his new life alone, hoping to fit into the new society with the ease with which it was all advertised. Small chance.

Credit where it's due, this is certainly an interesting premise for a movie. But Downsizing’s natural home is the 85-minute wry, quirky, introspective comedy with a yellow poster, mainly playing in the smaller, indie cinemas and finding its real audience on DVD/Streaming. So, not a 135 minute multiplex navel-gazeathon starring Matt Damon; a film that does have funny jokes, but which arrive so sporadically that they feel like less of a feature and more callbacks to previous revisions of the screenplay.

By the time that Paul works out that the the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side (a promise literally spelled out by the set of the film at one point), the audience has realised that about 45 minutes earlier, on account of having thought the concept through for more than 30 seconds. It's entirely possible that the central character’s folly is intentional of course, but if that's the case then there’s no real moment of realisation to act as his redemption or turning-point - Paul just rolls with his de-escalating flow of poor choices until around two minutes from the end of the movie, by which point he’s really just resigned to not having a choice, anyway.

I know this seems like I’m being unduly harsh on what is essentially a social parable in a fantasy setting, but that metaphor is so heavy-handed that it becomes worn-out in the first act, and the fantasy-aspect is presented as (albeit inconsistent and hazily explained) science, throughout. Downsizing is occasionally intriguing from a cinematography point of view, managing to represent environments as miniature with very few visual reference points to the things which aren't. Although there are an equal number of scenes where everything in-shot is small, so just looks normal as a result*3.

Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier put in good turns at a 'character' level, but many of the film’s smaller, more incidental parts appear to be filled by people who have never acted before. That said, it’s a point of more genuine concern that Kristen Wiig gets her name on at least one version the poster when Hong Chau doesn’t*4. The former’s role is effectively a cameo, while the latter’s is positively scene-stealing, as Chau out-acts the rest of the cast combined. My main gripe on the performance front has to be Matt Damon, though. He's not outright awful, but as the audience's surrogate in this crazy world, all the wonder, excitement, fear, disappointment, discovery and transformation is supposed to be relayed through the central performer. Instead we get Matt Damon, the expressive equivalent of a Bunraku performance being led by wooden spoon a with face drawn on it in marker. Damon brings nothing to this screenplay. Nothing. And the completed film returns the favour, accordingly.

In terms of a surreal morality tale with a premise so brittle it falls apart the moment it's examined, Being John Malkovich already has this covered. And as a saccharine infused midlife crisis for the over-privileged 21st century white male, Ben Stiller was skateboarding past volcanos in 2013 (also with Kristen Wiig). But if all you're after is a deconstruction of the American dream, Damon himself is better in the still-troublesome Suburbicon

A neat idea, Downsizing gets worse the more the runtime grows.
Which is either faintly ironic or perfectly apt, I'm not sure which.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (remake), in both aspiration and execution.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Only if you're a hardcore Matt Damon fan.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Streaming; there won't be a lot of re-watch value in this.


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


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I shouldn't imagine so.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Amilyn Holdo is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although given levels of grumbling afterward on social media and the consensus on a certain aggregate review-site, it appears that not many people are. [ BACK ]

*2 Not the low-level, unhappy call centre worker we see in the trailer. That's the shit job he gets after being made small. Now I'm aware that this revelation is technically a spoiler, but I think it's important to note that the trailer is selling a markedly different film to the one which actually plays out. [ BACK ]

*3 And let's not get into how some materials just wouldn't scale down to make their functionally-identical small-world versions. As I said, it’s inconsistent at best. [ BACK ]

*4 But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that on the main-version of the poster, neither Kristen Wiig nor Hong Chau's names appear, but Alexander Payne's does. Three times... [ 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.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Review: Star Wars - The Last Jedi (eighth-pass)





Star Wars: The Last Jedi (eighth-pass / 2D)
Cert: 12A / 152 mins / Dir. Rian Johnson / Trailer


Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Oh, hello there. I've been to see The Last Jedi again, and rather than bore you silly with nitpicking and needlessly in-depth opinions*1, I've made you some Skittlez character-posters instead...

[ Click for Big (opens in new window) ]
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Skittlez poster - Kylo Ren Star Wars: The Last Jedi Skittlez poster - Supreme Leader Snoke

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Skittlez poster - Elite Praetorian Guard (i) Star Wars: The Last Jedi Skittlez poster - Elite Praetorian Guard (ii)

More soon.
You're very welcome.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars's.


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


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
For me, it's a buyer (already pre-ordered, obvs).


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's high.
It's very high
.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Over some points, possibly.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.



And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Don't worry, there's a rant on punctuation usage in the GFFA due to arrive in the near future. [ 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.