Sunday, 10 November 2019

Review: Doctor Sleep





Doctor Sleep
Cert: 15 / 152 mins / Dir. Mike Flanagan / Trailer



Who’d have thought that 2019 would turn out to be the year for slightly-overly-long Stephen King sequels? But here we are. More to the point, who’d have thought that I’d be enjoying that?

TORRANCE


Doctor Sleep is the screen-continuation of the tale begun in 1980’s The Shining, with Ewan McGregor picking up the reins as that film’s Danny Torrance, now an adult with the requisite number of issues you’d expect from someone who survived the events of the first movie. While the Overlook Hotel returns (more properly as a character rather than a location), Danny’s main foe here is age-old occultist and psychic-vampire Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), while he tries to save gifted youngster Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) from her evil clutches.

And the film good. More to the point, I’m saying it’s good as someone who didn’t particularly enjoy The Shining. Doctor Sleep is more satisfying as a feature film largely because Mike Flanagan knows how to direct a cast*1, yet despite King’s somewhat lukewarm reception to that original film, this entry still reveres it without becoming enthralled. There are sections which are admittedly closer to tribute-act than follow-up, but that’s no bad thing (Kubrick’s visuals are at least on the tick-list of things I liked). It’s rare to get a sequel which is so clearly in love with its predecessor yet for all its nods and homages is nowhere near as laboured or self-indulgent.

NAPCETER


It’s not all plain sailing of course. Smooth visual parity with the earlier film is speed-bumped by the (apparently deliberate) decision to re-cast roles from that movie using actors who bear almost no resemblance to the earlier players*2, while McGregor, Ferguson and supporting actor Cliff Curtis all regularly run the risk of being pulled over and arrested for failing to control an accent in a built-up screenplay.

Additionally, rather than use the extended run-time for an all-encompassing web of storytelling, what we get comes off as episodic. Danny's time as a hospital porter seems like a spinoff novella that's been retrospectively worked into the narrative as an interlude, rather than the central pillar to his character that it should be. That said, thanks to some choice casting, the introduction to Ewan's/Danny's adult life feels like a flashforward to an alternate-timeline Trainspotting, with the added bonus of desert-Obi-Wan's beard.

Ultimately, you have to admire the chutzpah of a two-and-a-half-hour movie which recruits an actor as formidable as Jacob Tremblay for a five-minute appearance. Very few can pull that off, nor indeed the film in general. Bravo.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Difficult for me to say since I'm not an aficionado of King's work, but I guess the fast-call is The Shining.


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?
Let's not go mad.


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


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


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 Whereas Kubrick couldn't direct traffic on Burgh Island. There, I said it. [ BACK ]

*2 To the point where the "great party, isn't it?" dude isn't even using the same accent. Don't even get me started on the bar scene. You've got Jack, talking to Daniel, pouring from a bottle of Jack Daniels, but you couldn't get Jack Nicholson back onto a set? Just for that bit? Instead you've gone and used Henry Thomas (Elliott from E.T.), a dude who neither looks, sounds nor acts like Jack Nicholson? Yeah, you're right - Nicholson wasn't a central feature of the first movie, no one will really notice.

Listen Mike, here's what you do: The bartender in 1980's The Shining was played by Joe Turkel - Old Man Tyrell from 1982's Blade Runner. Now, aerial footage from the beginning of The Shining was used at the end of the 'happy-cut' of Blade Runner, so to continue that link across the movies, why not get Harrison Ford to play Lloyd the bartender in Doctor Sleep? Better still, you'll then have Han Solo serving drinks to Obi-Wan Kenobi, another link to the blizzarding snows of Hoth which connects The Shining to Empire Strikes Back.

That's how you intertwine mythologies while maintaining narrative fluidity, Flanagan.
You're very welcome. [ 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: Midway





Midway
Cert: 12A / 138 mins / Dir. Roland Emmerich / Trailer



"War", as George O'Dowd once sang, "is stupid". Not to let this lie, he further opined "and people are stupid". Now, a mere thirty five years later, Roland Emmerich has refined, combined and underlined those points with merciless efficiency in his new offering, Midway.

If you've ever wonder what the grubby-end of a brutal and complicated global conflict would look like when filtered through the brain which brought us two Independence Day movies and White House Down, you're in luck. Although if you have ever wondered that, you already know exactly what it would be like before you sit down. God help up all.

PEARL


Ostensibly telling the True Story™ of the eponymous 1942 battle which turned the tide for the Allies after the Pearl Harbour attack, Midway is exactly what you'd expect from a movie whose gritty, blue-collar, All-American reluctant hero is literally named Dick Best*1. And that accolade works both for and against the film, depending on your pre-existing view of these things. This is a war movie, and it looks, acts and smells like a war movie. The smell, in fact, is palpable.

Credit where it's due, the many adrenaline-fuelled aerial combat scenes in Midway are absolutely outstanding, although they're coincidentally the ones where the cast do the least amount of talking. The film's script - laughably mechanical, its delivery often moreso - appears to have been assembled using the most textbook lines from the corniest war flicks by a team of 15yr old Call Of Duty enthusiasts, one of whom has an older brother "in the army". To think that this is in any way a serious tribute to those who died during the Second World War rather than an emotionally clichéd, thinly-veiled disaster epic would be to walk straight into the trap of its mid-November release date.

HOWARD


The whole thing appears to be anchored to enough historical fact to prevent it being a complete waste of time, but what a way to manhandle the truth. That said, I couldn't hate Midway because it is what it is and that's a Roland Emmerich movie. But it's very clearly - and very cynically - aimed at a particular type of audience, and in that regard I must concede that it succeeds fairly well*2. But rest assured, this is far closer to the flag-waving of Battleship than the reflection of They Shall Not Grow Old.

Approach with extreme caution.


So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Banging a tin tray on your head for just over two hours.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
For the combat scenes, yes.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Everything there is to love about this movie is on a big screen, so no.


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


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Inexplicably not.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Tobias Beckett is in this.
I mean let's not get excited, Tobias Beckett was in Venom...


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And let me stop you right there. Yes, thanks to the helpful caption-cards acting as the film's inevitable coda, I know that "Richard 'Dick' Best" is the actual pilot's actual name. I can also clearly envision Roland Emmerich sitting in a room learning that nugget of information and yelling "Lads! Lads! This film is fucking writing ITSELF!!!".
Dick Best.
Dick. Best.
The fact that it's true somehow makes it much, much worse. It's perhaps notable that the gentleman's wikipedia page makes one solitary mention of his informal nickname. Which is to say that the film could have just called him Rick or Richard, but didn't. There is so much testosterone in this movie that our cinema gave it a half-time intermission so it could go out for a shave. Adding insult to injury is that Best is played by Ed Skrein, an over-acting live-action cartoon of a performer who at least has finally found his natural habitat under Emmerich's auspices.

Dick Best surely deserves better. [ BACK ]

*2 Yes, I'm aware that this sounds incredibly snobby, but in my defence I am an incredible snob... [ 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: Le Mans '66





Le Mans '66 (aka Ford v Ferrari*1)
Cert: 12A / 152 mins / Dir. James Mangold / Trailer



With November barely begun the awards-season hopefuls begin to rev their engines, each running down a checklist of inspiration, pathos and over-earnest hand-wringing. Attempting to get an early lead on the other contenders comes James Mangold’s racing-flick, Le Mans ’66.

Adapting the story of the Ford/Ferrari dispute which resulted in the former building the GT40 performance car, Christian Bale plays legendary driver Ken Miles*2, Matt Damon becomes auto-entrepeneur Caroll Shelby, and everyone else is shoved onto the sort of ancillary placeholder character shelf which blights this sort of movie and makes it more average.

GRIMLY


Le Mans ’66 is good. It’s just also very average. It’s good at being that sort of grimly determined underdog story, not least because it has one foot firmly in recorded historical fact. Unfortunately that’s gone through the screenwriting process to become a trite, over-acted soap opera of a movie which also happens to have some of the greatest breath-holding race cinematography to hit our screens in recent memory. There’s just not enough of the latter. For a movie about a race that’s named after a race, there’s an awful lot of Le Mans ‘66 spent listening to characters explaining backroom politics and not showing a race.

And yet, the cliché on the surface masks an oddly counter-reverse-cynicism running throughout. By its final reel, this is a film about sticking it to The Man by continuing to work for The Man. It’s about the great American success story being achieved for those who don’t deserve it, by the ones who couldn’t otherwise have done it without their help. About teamwork ultimately resulting in failure when the boss has his name-badge on the glory anyway. About the intuitive racer going against their pathological need to win because the CEO of a corporation told them that would look better. All of these conflicts make the film more interesting than this type of thing usually is. And yet none of these conflicts are resolved as the credits roll, perhaps leaving a bitter taste for anyone who hasn’t come to watch the film just for All The Cars*3.

IN ARMSLY


With sharper scripting, this could have been an interesting companion-piece for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - the colour palette and production design are certainly there. Would it have hurt Mangold to get a few Rick Dalton movie posters up in the background? Come on, man! Although I accept that having Clint Booth hanging around the track to pick up stunt-driving tips would probably have been too distracting for something that's meant to be A True Story, after all.

But in the moments where it counts, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael captures the racing beautifully. The camera isn’t locked off above the cars and it’s only momentarily at driver-level; the rest of the experience is delivered somewhere around the top-rim of the wheel, visibly shaking with raw speed and adrenaline. More of this and less yakking would have been a good thing.

Ultimately, Le Mans ’66 is a two-and-a-half hour tribute to the podracing sequence in The Phantom Menace, if Anakin Skywalker had come from Sutton Coldfield and verbalised his entire inner monologue. And I’m absolutely fine with that.





So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
If you thought Rush had 'too much edge', James Mangold is your friend.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
For the good bits, yes.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's be fair, it's not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
We will.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: JJ Feild is in this, and he was in that first Captain America film along with Sam 'Windu' Jackson and Richard 'Tonra' Armitage.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 First point of contention before we even sit down. The movie is called Le Mans '66 in the UK "and other territories", one would imagine because it's about the 24 Hours Of Le Mans race in 1966. And that's fine. Meanwhile in the US it's called Ford v Ferrari, a title which is also technically accurate but feels like it's been applied with considerably less flair. Now, re-titling movies for international markets is by no means a new thing, and obviously the marketing teams know best (it's their job after all), but given the amount of metaphorical flag-waving on display in Mangold's movie, and our transatlantic cousins' previously noted distaste for our Gallic chums, what exactly are 20th Century Fox trying to say about their target American audience here?

No need answer, the question is metaphorical as well. [ BACK ]

*2 With, it's notable to add, a sort of weird Brummie accent which sounds like Dick Van Dyke has set up shop in Wolverhampton. Now, as someone who a) knows nothing about racing history, b) watches a lot of movies and c) gets easily bugged by accents, the first thing I did when returning home was to look up where Ken Miles originated. And lo and behold, he was born in Sutton Coldfield, just north of Birmingham. Fair enough then, I don't need to raise that in my review. It appears that Christian Bale's research stopped at precisely the same point as my own however, as a fellow cinephile at work pointed out the next day that Mr Miles actually sounded... *checks notes* nothing fucking like Bale's interpretation in Le Mans '66. Whatever, it just seems like an odd choice, that's all, which not a single person on-set felt able to call Bale out over. Can you imagine if James Mangold had directed Logan in the same vein? Jackman pacing irritably around a dusty shack mumbling "Roight, I'm gawin't stab yow with these knoives in a minnit!".

Oh, and Ken Miles may have been a genius driver but if Le Mans '66 is anything to go by his sandwich-game was fucking atrocious. That wouldn't have happened in a Jon Favreau version of this movie. [ BACK ]

*3 Although over the previous two and half hours, I'd been under the impression I was watching a film about Christian Bale's Ken Miles. So if anyone can tell me why the final minute of Le Mans '66 is spent watching Matt Damon crying in his car like a potato that's sprung a leak as if that's supposed to mean anything, that'd be lovely. [ 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, 30 October 2019

Live Event: Anthony Daniels - My Life As C-3PO




Anthony Daniels - My Life As C-3PO
Hosted by Brian Herring / South Bank Centre, London / 27 October 2019

Arriving at the South Bank centre for an ostensibly literary but obviously geeky talk which coincides with the final day of London Comic-Con, it feels a bit like being trapped in a thinking man's Forbidden Planet. You get a better class of geek here. I'm no longer the nerdiest person in the room and everyone also has more acceptable levels of personal hygiene*1. It's almost enough to make up for a pint being £5.75. Well. Almost...

ROD


The faithful had gathered in the cultural centre of the capital like Ewoks to worship at the feet of old Goldenrod himself, aka Anthony Daniels - the actor behind protocol droid C-3PO. With the imminent release of the final film in the Skywalker Saga, Daniels has carpéd the diem to compile a timely memoir about his experiences in and out of the golden suit. And joining him in conversation about this venture is BB-8 operator (and far more, besides) for the new era of Star Wars movies, Brian Herring.

Brian is a fantastic host, years of puppeteering and behind the scenes work stoking a barely concealed showmanship. But after a brief introduction and resumé for the audience members who aren't already familiar with his work, Anthony joins Brian on stage. It's at this point that the crowd realises that it wasn't just the golden plating drawing the attention after all. Daniels is a natural raconteur, his reserved manner born out of politeness and wry wit, rather than self-deprecating shyness.

GIRLS


We start at the beginning (always a good place), with Anthony's yearning - his vocation - to be an actor, leading quickly to that day in George Lucas' casting office when the young performer first saw Ralph McQuarrie's iconic concept painting of the droids in the Tatooine desert - and the deal between Daniels and Threepio was wordlessly sealed.

Despite the theatrical setting and presentation, the show is very informal. And as structured as the conversation is, it quickly drifts organically around its subject. While the prequel films are referenced but skirted over politely, it's worth noting perhaps that Return Of The Jedi doesn't even get a mention in the first segment. All in all, you can't really condense 40 years into 40 minutes and expect everything to take equal billing.

MAINE


This is a book launch of course, and the frequent plugging of the tome in question quickly becomes a self-effacing punchline. With this in mind, the anecdotes and recollections on offer don't delve too deeply into detail - this is a taster session after all (as if a single person in that room wasn't already on-side as a customer before they even sat down*2).

The time whizzes by effortlessly - an hour and a half nowhere near enough to do justice to over four decades of performance. The second half of the show (no intermission) sees the pair breaking the seal and walking out into the stepped audience area to field open questions*3. Some of these prove to be sweet if predictable, some of the better ones unanswerable in a full form given the evening's time limitations, and a couple so cynically loaded ("Do you think The Last Jedi was great or awful?") that full credit goes to Daniels for batting them aside with devastating good grace.

PLO


The evening culminates back on the stage with a big-screen presentation of the final Rise Of Skywalker trailer (with which, let's be fair, the vast majority of the room were already very familiar). While Anthony is tight-lipped here about C-3PO's fate in Episode IX, his book's publication at the end of 2019 certainly suggests the end - if not of C-3PO himself - of an era in general*4. Daniels has future projects pipelined for voicework as the protocol droid*5, but by this point we'd expect nothing less.

Always in motion is the future, and if the Disney-era has taught us anything it's that the odds of second-guessing the trajectory of Star Wars are approximately 3,720 to 1. But the one thing we can do is look back on what has been. With warmth, with wisdom, and perhaps even see a few things from a different point of view, too...

I Am C-3PO - The Inside Story is available now from:
Amazon | Waterstones | The Book People | Blackwell's

But if you have a small independent bookshop in your town, get it there instead.




*1 Yeah look, what can I tell you? They may be 'my people', but the body odour of the comic-class is a cliche because it's often true. Try spending more than twenty minutes in Forbidden Planet on a Saturday afternoon, really. #NotAllNerds [ BACK ]

*2 That said, although there were copies of the book on sale out in the foyer, this wasn't a signing session. And the harsh lesson of economics is that without these bearing an autograph or inscription, it's as easy to wait four days until the official publication date and buy it more cheaply from Amazon. Hey, I don't make the rules. [ BACK ]

*3 For the record, your humble correspondent did not raise his hand to ask a question. He'd already proffered three absolute belters (quite frankly) via Brian Herring's request on Twitter and felt sure that this avenue would form its own section of the show. As it turns out, it didn't. So ultimately one has to conclude that if these weren't deemed worthy of separate inclusion or working into conversation, then they probably weren't meant to be answered anyway. Honestly, I'm wasted on this planet. But I digress.
[ BACK ]

*4 The evening's closing music was the victory celebration from the 1997+ versions of Return Of The Jedi. IE not Yub-Nub. As is right since Victory Celebration been the canonical end to the movie for 22 years now, and it's about time Ian Disney got that into his skull.
[ BACK ]

*5 Earlier, Anthony referred to his voicework on "wonderful animation" in the dark times between the original and prequel trilogies, by the way. He means Droids. He's saying Droids is wonderful. See? I fucking well told you it's not just me who thinks that.
BOOM. [ 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.