Friday, 13 July 2018

Review: Skyscraper





Skyscraper (3D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 102 mins / Dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber / Trailer



This is a film which features an innovative tech/real-estate project overseen by a hubristic billionaire. He gathers a group of experts (one of whom has their young family in tow) to give them the grand tour and get the insurance signed off before opening to the public. This is going well until it transpires that a disgruntled employee has sold out his boss to a rival, has hacked the security systems and ends up dead while the guests and organisers alike are trapped in the chaos, fighting for their lives as the whole thing goes to hell around them.

I thought Skyscraper would be Die Hard With A Wooden Leg, but it turned out to be Vertical Jurassic Park instead. So don't make assumptions, kids.

I won't bother summarising the plot, it's all very much in the trailer, there*1.

Yes, it's the Summer so this is Action Flick 101, and Dwayne Johnson continues his trend of accepting jobs without fully reading synopses in Rawson Marshall Thurber's concrete-shattering opus. The action may take place in Hong Kong, but his is a piece of entertainment in the most American of traditions*2.

The end result is nowhere near as awful as it could have been, but so staggeringly average that it feels like a criminal waste of its $125m budget. The film's central location, The Pearl, is apparently 220 floors of relentlessly telegraphed cliché, built on foundations of exposition, callbacks and deus ex machina. The cinematic equivalent of a dot-to-dot book, the story lurches from one set-piece to the next like a 260lb ex-SWAT agent with a prosthetic limb. Despite his considerable screen presence and innate likeability, even Dwayne Johnson can't make this interesting*3.

And because it's a 12A, none of the point-blank gunshots have exit-wounds. A trivial point I know, but I'll bring it up anyway. I thought at one point this might have been the most clockwork genre-flick I'd seen all year, then I remembered Den of Thieves.

But if you've never seen any action movies ever, this will be great.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Die Hard.
Yeah, I know everyone's saying that.
That's because it's inescapably true.



Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Oh, watch it in the cinema if anything, because this will lose most of its impact on the journey to your small screen. And bravely clinging on to a rapidly-dying format, you'd perhaps think that the 3D would be utilised to showcase the vertiginous heights of the drama at the world's tallest building to better effect. But no, the extra dimension is used to make things darker, blurrier and with heavy ghosting of any point of light in the background..


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream if you must, I suppose.


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


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Neve Campbell's in this, and she was in that Scream 3 alongside Carrie 'Leia' Fisher.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although there's at least one major dialogue exchange in the trailer which didn't make it into the final cut. God knows how many test-edits of this film are in a cupboard at Universal somewhere... [ BACK ]

*2 As well as the genre standard of having a morally-untouchable hero who's an invalided service-veteran put in a perilous situation while providing for his young white-picket-fence family (this is basically a Mark Wahlberg movie), there's probably a separate review to be written about a Hollywood's gleeful presentation of a Chinese entrepreneur saved from European gangsters by American hetero-masculinity. But I'm too tired to dig that hole, frankly… [ BACK ]

*3 And seriously though, why would that massive screen be on, with the public ooh-ing, ahh-ing and gasping through a live feed (multiple camera sources apparently) of what is clearly an ongoing police/military emergency, being left to stand around at the foot of the world's tallest building as it burns and begins to collapse? [ 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, 11 July 2018

Review: Hotel Artemis





Hotel Artemis
Cert: 15 / 94 mins / Dir. Drew Pearce / Trailer



After honing his quill on the likes of Iron Man 3 and MI: Rogue Nation, Drew Pearce's first feature length writing and directorial gig, Hotel Artemis, shows all the signs of someone destined for cinematic magnificence. Just not quite yet.

Set in 2028 riot-torn Los Angeles, this tale of an exclusive private hospital for criminals certainly has a strong hook, and the precision-casting of Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista, Zach Quinto and Sir Jefferidge Goldblum only serve to raise the stakes further. But that cast also raises the expectation, which is where the movie falters a little.

The players are all on top form (Jodie Foster especially, although this should surprise no-one), and the wardrobe, set and prop design are outstanding. Near-future tech papers over slight cracks in the story, offset by a driving score from Cliff Martinez and a retro 70s diegetic soundtrack.

But the bottom line is that the actual story itself is weak, because the central characters are chronically underdeveloped, because the film's about half an hour shorter than it really should be. Elsewhere, the script is littered with clunky, needless exposition that attempts world-building (and sequel-baiting) before it's even finished the walls around the characters, and the violence (of which there is a substantial amount) feels nerfed down to levels of... well, a Mission Impossible movie, frankly.

Despite this, Hotel Artemis is still great fun and very promising, but there's little to get your teeth into…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
John Wick, Free Fire, Reservoir Dogs and even a little bit of Murder On The Orient Express.


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


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
When the price drops, it'll be a buy-er.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Everyone should feel very proud of what they've made, here.


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nope.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Sterling K. Brown is in this, and he was in that Black Panther along with Lupita 'Kanata' Nyong'o, Forest 'Gerrera' Whitaker and Andy 'Snoke' Serkis.


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.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story (ninth-pass)





Solo: A Star Wars Story (ninth-pass / 2D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. Ron Howard / Trailer


Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Well, thank the maker for the variation of weekend movie scheduling. Solo is back at my local for (presumably?) one final, off-peak blast before retiring in wait for September's DVD/Blu-ray release. This means I get to take another spin in the Falcon on a satisfyingly huge screen, and shorten the amount of time spent wondering "did I hear that line right? Did Han Solo from out of The Star Wars really say 'crap'?"*1

But the other question, one for which there is no shortcut in answering, is what will be the legacy of Solo? Not the real-world legacy of underwhelming box office performance and the righteous indignation of fanboys web-wide (one suspects those topics are far from being finalised), but how will this movie go on be seen within the narrative framework of Star Wars?

Ron Howard's entry to the canon is unusual for a prequel-type film in that it reveals little in the way of surprises to the audience, and features even fewer ret-cons in the process. As previously noted, the broad sequence of events for Han meeting Chewbacca and rescuing the wookiee from Imperial captors, and for Han winning the Falcon in a game of Sabacc... well, they're largely the same as the Legends continuity. The background faces might change, but the direction of the narrative doesn't.

Arguably one of its main strengths is that a viewer could sit down and watch Solo as their first Star Wars movie, enjoying the movie for the adventure romp that it is without their brain insisting on making connections to other stories throughout. And considering how iconic the 'legacy' characters are in this, that's one hell of an achievement.

But after we'd seen Rogue One for the first time, we knew that we'd never watch the opening ten minutes of A New Hope in the same way again. When Vader steps into the corridor of the Tantive IV after the Stormtroopers have taken care of business, we know that's because the dark lord is still getting his metaphysical breath back*2 from the slaughter at Scarif. And we now have to stifle our laughter when Leia insists she's on a diplomatic mission.

But with a decade between Han standing on the Savareen cliff-edge and then slouching at a table in Chalmun's cantina, what are the moments in the Original Trilogy which suddenly make sense after this new movie?

On the plus-side...

• Well, we can now crack a smile when Han boasts of the Millennium Falcon making the Kessel-run with a record-breaking distance measurement, rather than one of time. Although as above, the explanation for this was pretty much the same in the Legends continuity. The Kasdans could have ret-conned the Kessel-run into some kind of planetary drag-race (fitting, with Ron Howard's previous directorial form), but obviously thought better of stretching the fabric too far.

• While Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew always sold it perfectly anyway, we've now seen the beginnings of a bond between best friends who've been hanging around and getting out of scrapes for ten years. It's not clear in the rebooted timeline whether the 'wookiee life-debt' will come into play (that was always an Expanded Universe thing), but I don't think we've seen the pivotal 'okay, I'm all-in with you now' moment in their relationship during Solo's run-time.

• Now that we know L3-37 is part of the Falcon's droid-brain configuration, listen closely and you'll notice the whirring sound she makes (twisting her head before the jump to Kessel) is the same as the Falcon emits when jumping to Hyperspace in the OT. And while I'd like to say that this explains C-3PO's observation in The Empire Strike Back the the ship has an unusual dialect, I don't think he's referring to L3. While she was certainly abrupt and opinionated, L3-37 is one of the most clear and articulate communicators we've met. I suspect Threepio had been talking to one of the other two droid-brains which collectively navigate the ship.


...but then again...

• Most of Han's cynical personality traits aren't in-place by the end of Solo, and nor should they be. This film is the door-opener to another corner and timeframe of the galaxy, not the singular transformation process by which 17yr old orphan becomes exactly the grumpy pirate we meet on Tatooine. Not designed to follow straight on like Rogue One does, this just means that the character-gap will be more apparent than ever if a viewer watches Solo and ANH in close proximity.

• And because of this length between chapters, the gaps in the old scripts which are now filled tend to be more curiosities (ie the Kessel-run) than events which show the OT in a new light. Because of this (and the various real-world marketing niggles), I suspect this new film will be remembered as the first slightly 'forgettable' Star Wars movie. Not least because a whole load of people haven't yet seen it.

• And because of the lack of narrative punch, I don't think Solo will be revisited too often by casual fans until further entries in the canon make it interesting or necessary to do so (ie another movie featuring Crimson Dawn).


Okay, so…

I don't think it's unfair to say that Solo's legacy will be far greater inside the Galaxy Far, Far Away than outside it. From all the narratively-significant 'new' characters we meet, only Qi-ra and Enfys Nest are left alive to continue the story after the credits roll. And the same thing can be said of Rogue One of course, but the Star Wars publishing schedule is far from linear.

Stories will be retrospectively told about Woody Harrelson's ramshackle pirate gang, about the ongoing war on Mimban, about the Cloud-rider swoop gang, and most pertinently about the rise of Crimson Dawn. And this last thread is a one which will continue into the future of course, with Qi'ra and her boss continuing to be a thorn in the side of everyone, after her promotion.

And let's not forget that we now have a definitive foundation for an in-universe decade's worth of multi-media buddy japes and cantina-stories. And those have already begun, because there's a concept we can't get enough of - a man and his wookiee…


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


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Yes.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Best? Debatable.
Most memorable? Pehaps…



Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
No, but we'll discuss it at great length.
By which I mean, *I'll* discuss it at great length
.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
Down with this sort of thing
.


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

…but if you wanted to go round the houses with it, Solo stars Woody Harrelson, who was of course a regular in Cheers, as was John Ratzenberger, who appeared in 1988's She's Having A Baby which also starred Paul Gleason, a participant in 1993's Loaded Weapon 1 along with Tim Curry, who rocked up in the 2010 comedy Burke And Hare with Michael Smiley, who was in The Other Boleyn Girl with Natalie Portman, who appeared in the 2009 documentary Milos Forman: What Doesn't Kill You, as did... Woody Harrelson.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Yes. Yes, he did. [ BACK ]

*2 As opposed to his 'actual' breath. We all know he's got a machine which does that for him. [ 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, 4 July 2018

Review: The First Purge





The First Purge
Cert: 15 / 97 mins / Dir. Gerard McMurray / Trailer



Five years ago, the fundamental idea behind social-political horror film The Purge seemed unrealistic, unworkable and frankly just a little bit unnecessary. Anyway, welcome to 2018.

* looks at camera *

For this next entry in the saga, we spool back to the annual resentment-festival's origins. With a downcast and restless American public having elected a far-right nationalist president and party into power (quiet at the back), a scheme is formed by the authorities to let its citizens 'purge' their anger for twelve hours, free from the restraints of law and order, and able to carry out whatever crimes they wish. The pilot for this is to be held on New York's Staten Island, coincidentally the location of many low-income housing projects. With financial incentives for residents to 'actively participate' in the experiment, it quickly becomes apparent to locals choosing to stay peacefully on the island that things are even worse than they appear…

So. From the outset, the audience knows exactly what they're going to get here - after all, we've had plenty of practice by now. This may be the fourth film in the series, but it feels like it could be someone's first screenplay. The central ideas of angst and misguided vigilanteism are as bold and upfront as you'd expect from a Purge movie, and subtext has nowhere to hide when pretty much every speaking character constantly explains everything that's happening, both on- and off-camera. And while the thread of 'people who should have stayed indoors during The Purge find themselves outside during The Purge' is played out convincingly enough, the film just seems to reach its countdown-conclusion and then end, rather than actually resolving its own character issues or aftermath.

I'm not sure what's more cynical - the nihilistic excesses of urban violence in The First Purge, or Blumhouse's apparent willingness to exploit social tensions in their bid to monetise them on a global stage. Again.

But the cast are committed to their roles, which means a lot for a flick like this (although while Marisa Tomei resists the urge to go full pantomime as the sociologist architect of the Purge, she still feels very miscast*1). While we're not quite at a level of 'protagonists you can believe in', we at least get players you don't mind believing in. Which - again - is what really sells the movie. The film avoids the regular Blumhouse trap of quiet-quiet-BANG by building up to Batshit Crazy™, then just staying there until the final klaxon sounds at sunrise.

The story this time is more about the good guys trying to survive than the bad guys hunting them. There are fewer shades of grey than before, but this makes for a much neater ride. Whereas previous entries in the series have revolved largely around the study of white-privilege and entitlement, The First Purge is more about socio-political manipulation (by the archetypal white-privileged elite, but still).

And scripting gripes aside, there's some outstanding camera, lighting and soundtrack work here, especially in the climactic third-act. It gets a little Die Hard / John Wick, but is no less enjoyable for that.

Better than the fourth movie in a horror franchise has any real right to be but still creaking in all the wrong places, I wouldn't go so far as calling The First Purge a great film, although it's certainly a strong and satisfying addition to the family…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Purge, The Belko Experiment


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
With an enthusiastic crowd, yes it is.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It'll be one to keep on the shelf for when the mood takes you.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Can't really say, I'm afraid.
I mean it's certainly not Marisa Tomei's best work, put it that way
.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I doubt it.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Didn't hear one.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: That mudtrooper from off of Mimban is in this. You know the one.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And speaking of the control-room white guys, one of my favourite things about the film is the idea of casting directors Sarah Domeier and Terri Taylor phoning around agents going "Mate. Doing a Purge film and I'm looking for someone who'll remind the audience of a fat David Cameron, what have you got?" [ 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.