Sunday, 23 February 2020

Review: Bait



Bait
Cert: 15 / 89 mins / Dir. Mark Jenkin / Trailer

I must confess to taking far too long to catch Bait in a cinema, but am massively grateful I was able to manage it. A labour of love, Mark Jenkin wrote and shot the film himself in West Penwith and Charlestown in Cornwall, before hand-developing the film in his Newlyn studio, then re-recording and dubbing all the sound in post-production.

For such a personal project, the result would be Quirky™ if it wasn't so beautifully raw. You can almost smell the harbour, and the crackles and scratches here are very, very real.

Our central character is Martin, a fisherman with no boat. Down at heel but too proud to give up and too low on options to try anything else. He's already starting to feel like an anachronism in his own time. On top of this, there's an escalating tension between the coastal town's locals, its tourists and the DFLs*1. Don't let the sleepy location fool you into thinking this will be a twee ride.

Set in the present day and about very modern tensions, the film still has a timeless dramatic edge. More a snapshot/mood-board than a strict A>B narrative, but that's fine when it's this well laid-out. Bait is a masterclass in analogue storytelling, a sensory overload of texture both visually and audibly, the grain of the film complementing the coastline and its characters.

I love that this exists, and exists in cinemas, in 2020 and only wish I'd seen it sooner. Bait is glorious, the least-depressing grim movie I've seen in some time.




So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
As predictable as this is, make Bait a double-bill with Fisherman's Friends.
Not even sorry
.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Hell yeah.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Bait is available to buy now on Blu-ray and DVD.
Buy it. Buy it now.
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Mark Jenkin's future looks bright.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
If you think it's not an instant stone-cold classic, yes.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
Despite an absolutely perfect slot for one
.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Simon Shepherd is in this and he was in that Rogue Trader with Ewan 'Kenobi' McGregor.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 'Down From London'. Having worked in a fishing town (albeit in Kent), I can assure you that the sighing, tutting and dramatic begrudging here is entirely accurate, as locals want to preserve the unique and rustic nature of the town while knowing that it can't continue without the tourism and inevitable expansion that always threatens to homogenise it. [ 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.

Review: Birds Of Prey



Birds Of Prey
And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn

Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. Cathy Yan / Trailer

I'm not going to lie, the latest DC movie was on a sticky-wicket before I even sat down in Screen 5. Anything with "fantabulous" in the title is going to have to work pretty hard to win back the goodwill it's already started to fritter away at the marketing-stage, and Birds of Prey is not a film that's trying to win people over.

A loose follow-up to David Ayer's Suicide Squad, we follow Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) after an acrimonious split with The Joker, as the inadvertently puts together a kickass team with The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), to bring down criminal kingpin Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and secure a stolen diamond (and not just to return the stone to its original owner). And on the mean streets of Gotham, this can only end one way: with maximum carnage.

CAST


The movie is bright, violent, sassy and moves like shit off a shovel, so what's not to like, right? Well, Birds Of Prey is what happens when a strong cast are absolutely fantastic at portraying an array of anti-heroes so irritating that all jeopardy is removed from the storyline. Because the audience isn't supposed to care about the diamond, and the prospect of these characters dying before achieving their goal becomes a growingly acceptable payoff, not least since we'd then get to spend less time with them. Birds Of Prey feels like a lock-in at Wetherspoons with a cosplaying hen party. Fine if that's your thing.

Admittedly, a large part of the problem is that while I love Robbie as a performer, I don't like the character of Harley Quinn, and that's certainly not the fault of anyone involved in the project. But as noted, this film will do little to change an audience's mind.

SLEEPER


Quinn voiceovers her way through the carnage like an Accessorize Deadpool, the script around her veering wildly between banal chitchat, hoping-to-be-memorable pullquotes and grinding exposition. All backed with a ferocious needle-drop backing so eager to shift soundtrack albums that it's apparently happy to switch tunes mid-scene.

The film is enthusiastically acted, over-produced, over-directed but crucially under-written, DC hoping that an ADHD-approach to narrative will paper over the cracks in a team who aren't particularly interesting on an individual or group-level. Then again, it's hard to fully paint a character when you're introducing six of them in fifteen minutes...

MENSWE@R


By the end of the second act, Birds Of Prey has become so haphazard that it's actually boring, the cinematic equivalent of white noise. It's well shot and choreographed with visual effects and wardrobe meeting the bar, but the editing is slave to the erratic nature of the story and its narrator. The audience knows where all the main players are at any given moment, but it's less clear why.

There are some great technical aspects to the film, but it's let down by a screenplay which feels a bit first-draft or worse still, first-screenplay*1.

But I get the impression at least that Birds Of Prey is exactly the movie it's supposed to be.That's just not something made with me in mind.

Which is fine.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
This is the New Look to Suicide Squad's Hot Topic.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're going to, you likely will regardless of what I say.


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


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


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Obi-Wan Kenobi is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 It's not, of course. Birds Of Prey is written by Christina Hodson, who penned the hugely enjoyable Bumblebee. Then again, she also wrote 2017's Unforgettable; a movie which I only remember seeing by virtue of having written a review of it afterward... [ 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.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Review: The Rhythm Section



The Rhythm Section
Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. Reed Morano / Trailer

From time to time, dear reader, even I of all people look at the headlining cast of an otherwise nondescript movie and think 'well this must have something going for it if [INSERT NAME OF PROMINENT PERFORMER] is in it'. And from time to time, I shuffle out of the cinema shortly afterward thinking '...yeah that was just to keep the mortgage ticking over between bigger films, wasn't it?

And so to London (and New York, Madrid, Marseilles and a whole host of easily captionable locations) as Blake Lively plays Stephanie, a woman embroiled in addiction and squalor, struggling to come to terms with her family being killed in a plane crash three years earlier. When she's visited by journalist Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) revealing that the crash was actually a terrorist bombing that was subsequently covered up by the authorities, the chain of intrigue leads to the glens of Inverness where Stephanie finds herself training to be an assassin under the enigmatic but harsh 'B' (Jude Law). The hopes are that revenge and closure will be in the same package, as Stephanie embarks on a world tour of 'cleaning house'...

MUTED


John Wick, it is not. Adapted for the screen by Mark Burnell from his novel of the same name, The Rhythm Section is a muted take on the contemporary spy-thriller. At first the setup and exposition feels efficient if unambitious, but the visual and scripted shorthand continues into the main narrative and comes off as a bit overcooked. On one hand, there's the feeling that this story might have just worked better on the page. But on the other, there are even more interchangably-glum novels like this than there are movies, so who knows where the quality-bar really falls?

Blake Lively does quite well from it all*1, although with a storyline as procedural as this it often feels like she's over-acting. Speaking of such matters, I dread to think how much weight Jude Law gained over the shoot, what with the amount of scenery he chews through. Everyone else turns up and says their lines on time, including a criminally under-used Sterling K. Brown. This isn't particularly inspired casting, but then it's not a particularly inspired story.

SUBTITLED


The film always feels like it's about to get started. There are a few long-take action sequences which are interesting from a film-making point of view, but Atomic Blonde had those and was also fun. This isn't bad, it just isn't memorable. With Bond-meisters Eon Productions' name attached, you may well expect better, but ultimately, putting The Rhythm Section out two months before their own No Time To Die seems like a colossal waste of resources.

Best line comes from Jude Law's 'B' during the training section:
"It's not a tragedy, it's a cliché. You're a cliché, you haven't got what it takes."

Bit on-the-nose mate, but since you mention it...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
American Assassin and Red Sparrow, two equally troubled productions. On the plus-side, it's not The Snowman...


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Probably not, to be fair.


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


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.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Tivik and 2nd Lt. Frobb are in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although on a minor note, Lively's accent can never quite decide if if wants to hail from South London or the Home Counties. I mean I've certainly heard a lot worse from other performers (not least Law himself), but you know that I wouldn't be able to not bring this up. [ 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, 5 February 2020

Review: Bad Boys For Life



Bad Boys For Life
Cert: 15 / 124 mins / Dir. Bilall Fallah & Adil El Arbi / Trailer

Mea culpa. When I intimated that Michael Winterbottom's Greed was the most self-indulgent mess to land in cinemas for some time, I hadn't considered Bad Boys For Life playing in the screen next door. Coming slightly late to this party, I find myself relieved that at least I didn't rush.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence bellow their way through a script comprising almost entirely of short words and written by an excitable fifteen yr-old, where exposition and lensflare play such prominent roles that their names should really be on the poster. This tale of retirement, revenge and relentless slow-motion would be incoherent if it wasn't so painfully linear. It plays like a contractual obligation sequel, except that wouldn't explain the seventeen year gap between installments.

But this isn't your standard 'grumpy old men wink into the camera while making jokes about having a bad hip' jaunt (although it is that, too). Oh no my friend, this film's got a USB drive in it while Uber and 4Chan get verbally name-checked, so you know this is for The Kids. It's not so much a callback to the glory days of the action genre, more a cobbled together greatest hits reel of explosions, gunfire and everyone in the cast getting a turn to go wide-eyed and shout "Oh hell no!".

The film settles down a bit after an hour or so, but only in the way that you know by then it's going to be around half an hour too long. Bad Boys For Lite feels like getting the band back together purely to jam old songs in the garage. Great if you're in the band, not so much for everyone expecting to see a show. And I must confess that I'm not a connoisseur of Mr Martin Lawrence's screen work, but his underperforming here makes Will Smith seem sincere. Lawrence looks like he's having a stroke for a lot of the movie, is that normal?

In the film's favour, I can at least say that:
It's brightly coloured
It's energetic
Somebody gets killed with a forklift

I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy Bad Boys For Life, and good for them. In my defence I missed about a third of the movie because I was rolling my eyes so hard all I could see was the inside of my head.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Judging by the way the film fetishises it own franchise, I imagine it's very similar to the first two Bad Boys outings*1.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
For a lot of people, apparently so.


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


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


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I have no idea.
The last forty minutes of the movie is basically a blanket of white noise
.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Will Smith is in this, and he was in that Collateral Beauty with Keira 'Sabé' Knightley.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 For clarity, I have actually seen the first two movies in this series around their time of original release, and I remember literally nothing about them. Under the normal run of things I'd have had a refresher evening before going to see this third installment, but in all honesty I suspect that would have just put me off the prospect altogether. [ 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.