Monday, 19 September 2016

Review: The Girl With All The Gifts





The Girl With All The Gifts
Cert: 15 / 111 mins / Dir. Colm McCarthy / Trailer



Oh, it's that kind of Zombie-flick, I see. When it's not poking adoring-fun at the genre*1, British cinema has a tendency not only to slightly over-egg the claustrophobia in a living-dead scenario, but also to avoid using the Z-word altogether (which can easily come off as a sort of snobbishness). Y'see, for all the BFI funding, arty posters, delicate cinematography and complete lack of the aforementioned word in the script, The Girl With All The Gifts*2 is a zombie movie. And is all the better for that.

Not wanting to jump right onto the pre-established bandwagon, the infection-vehicle in this movie is a fungus which infects the brain leading to an almost complete shut-down other than ravenous hunger for anything which is alive and uninfected. But it's still spread by bites, blood and bogeys though, and the end result is the same: shambling in stand-by mode, feral and desperate when they get a whiff of fresh meat, and anything other than a heat-shot will only slow them down. The film takes place after the initial plague of society-rending infection has occurred, with the remains of humanity hiding in bunkers frantically searching for a cure. A potential avenue seems to be a generation of children born after the outbreak, who exhibit the uncontrollable craving for human flesh when they're within nose-shot of it, but appear normal in all other situations. By applying blocker gel to mask their scent, a research team tests and educates one particular group in a fortified military base outside of London, keeping them in borderline barbaric conditions (it's not the fact that they're secured in wheelchairs during lessons which evokes notes of Guantanamo, but that they're forced to wear Crocs). When the undead hordes breach the base's defences, a small group of survivors treks toward the capital in search of civilisation, reinforcement and hope…

From the outset, the film waves its symbolism-flag proudly (if slightly heavy-handedly). Mike Carey has adapted his own novel for the screen, which is always preferable, but some of the story's more delicate points feel hammered home a little, especially in the third act. Sennia Nanua is great as Melanie, the eponymous Girl, while Paddy Considine and Gemma Arterton walk a delicate line between dour-drama and camp-action-movie. But it's Glenn Close who gets to do most of the heavy-lifting in delivering exposition to the audience (her role as the chief scientist researching a vaccine makes this natural at first, but by act-three you know that every time she opens her mouth it's so that the film doesn't have to show something).

In fact, from the cast to the cinematography, to the percussive score and to Colm McCarthy's tense direction, everyone seems very committed to the project. You just get the feeling they were shooting a slightly better film than the one that came out of the editing suite, somehow. I can't work out if the story runs out of steam or just paints itself into a corner. More details are crammed into the life-cycle of the virus, but at a time when we're more concerned with the characters. By the time we reach the crescendo, all the foreshadowed circles are closed neatly enough, but the film is running rigidly on its rails. Never clichéd exactly, but there are fewer surprises in the screenplay the further along it goes, and the conclusion feels far less convincing than the premise*3.

If The Girl With All The Gifts film had kept to the symbolic and philosophical path, I think I'd have enjoyed it more. The film is a valiant effort as it stands, but seems to be happy being a a slightly run-of-the-mill apocalyptic thriller when it could be so much more…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The film's closest spiritual relative is probably 28 Days Later, although there are splashes of Dog Soldiers and even Never Let Me Go in there, too.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the immersiveness of the cinematography, maybe, but you won't lose too much by watching this at home.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it probably does; but the question is, is that enough?.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not best but solid, certainly.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nope.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Daniel Eghan. He plays a soldier in this movie, and he's due to appear in Rogue One this December as a militiaman. Me neither, I'm afraid. Sorry Daniel.

Obviously I only know this from IMDB. That's how I research most of these, but when you get an extra and/or bit-part actor, it really underlines it, I know. Anyway, it's still more satisfying than the Level 2 connection of Glenn Close appearing in Guardians Of The Galaxy alongside Peter 'voice-of-Maul' Serafinowicz. Level 1s are just better, trust me.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Or even just the times when British cinema thinks it's poking adoring-fun, but is actually just failing spectacularly on every level.

2 And can I be among the first to say how nice it is to see that The Girl has ended her dangerous pursuits of Playing With Fire and Kicking Hornets Nests, and is now doing nothing more dangerous than coming home after a long afternoon's Christmas shopping…

…and while you may well groan and place bets on that joke being recycled from Twitter, it was nevertheless recycled from my own Twitter-feed, at least.
I thank you.

*3 SPOILERY questions for those of you who've seen the film (highlight-to-read):
1) While it's a ghoulish picture that Caldwell paints about the second-gen zombies 'eating their way out' of their mothers, how would foetuses be able to do that when babies don't start teething until about three months after they're born? Plus it'd take them ages to get out of there, how would they breathe once the host is dead and all circulation of blood and amniotic fluid has stopped? Hey, don't look at me, I'm not the one who decided to throw biology into the screenplay...
2)Not withstanding that the pack of feral children seem to have learned to feed, walk and generally support themselves with precisely no outside guidance (a newborn cub will die on its own, instincts or not), surely by the time they're herded together to start learning as the credits roll, all the behavioural bad-habits are burned-in? The kids in the research centre had been 'rescued' at a younger age and raised more like regular humans; this lot are rolling around the floor in their own shit…


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, 13 September 2016

Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (second-pass)





Kubo and the Two Strings (2D / second-pass / THEMATIC SPOILERS)
Cert: PG / 102 mins / Dir. Travis Knight / Trailer



After watching Kubo and the Two Strings for the first time on Saturday and being thoroughly overwhelmed by it, I wrote up a gushing love-letter masquerading as a review and set about reading some of the others online (after planning this second visit, of course). Other than similar levels of admiration for the film, what put an even wider grin on my face was that almost every piece I read went out of its way to directly reference the film's opening monologue. So clearly and powerfully is it delivered, grabbing the audience's attention and setting up the kaleidoscopic framework of the storytelling, that the words "If you must blink, do it now..." will surely become round-table shorthand for penning an excellent script. And much like The Book of Life, the film handles spirituality, faith and tradition in a respectful but totally non-dogmatic and non-patronising way. This film is outstanding.

Another thing which cropped up, albeit less frequently, was debate of the film's PG certificate in the UK. The BBFC (the UK's film certification body, similar to the MPAA in the US)'s guidelines state that "frightening sequences or situations where characters are in danger should not be prolonged or intense. Fantasy settings may be a mitigating factor. Violence will usually be mild. However there may be moderate violence, without detail, if justified by its context (for example, history, comedy or fantasy)". Short version: this should be fine, but obviously don't just park your kids in front of it while you go to Wetherspoons, yeah?

Now at no point did the reviews necessarily suggest that the rating for Kubo should be at the next level up, a 12A (even if one article specifically claimed the film is really an animation for grown-up audiences only), but several of them were worried that the darker moments would be too scary for younger members of the audience. And I got the distinct impression they didn't mean three-and-four year olds, but children in general. To which I call bullshit, frankly.

Yes, Kubo has scary sections. They're supposed to be scary. The level of threat is no worse than in many of Disney's classic animated features (and keep in mind that while the likes of Cruella de Vil can indeed exist in the world outside the cinema, the threats in this film are framed in a magical enough context that no child should be worried for long about them actually happening). Because of the story's metaphorical nature, young Kubo faces literal ghosts and demons here, and although our hero possesses the ability to perform magic, it can't be used as a weapon for attack and he doesn't wield it as one.

And it's important that Kubo's foes are supernaturally powerful, because that way he won't be able to beat them with conventional violence, even with the magic armour he quests for- the film's macguffin, in a very real sense, since Kubo already carries with him the means of ending the conflict. It's also vital that the hero learns this on his own, rather than just being told it by the Monkey and Beetle guardians (who also learn this through Kubo's actions).

Naturally there will be a cut-off point at which children are too young get what's going on (this applies to any movie), but if they're old enough to understand why the hero is in peril, they they're old enough to learn from the film. The scary moments in Kubo are more than compensated for by the film's message, indeed they're part of it. Some media will require a parent to sit down with their child afterwards to talk about what they've seen, read or listened to. It doesn't mean that's bad content, often the very opposite. I believe that discussion is called parenting*1. But hey, you know your kids.

The 'G' in PG stands for guidance, not gatekeeper...

If the film isn't scary then there's no weight to the story and we're not willing Kubo to succeed. Because the lesson here isn't to be fearful, but that fear can be overcome with knowledge, with persistence, with acceptance. Kubo doesn't defeat his nemesis with violence, he does it with compassion. And not in a 'I've decided to spare my enemy at the last moment and hey we're all friends now' sort of a way, but a clean slate that benefits everyone, with no aggrandisement of the victor or shame upon the loser. There are no losers, here.

Kubo and the Two Strings teaches us that while there's certainly a time to stand fiercely against the things which oppose you, a warrior's greatest weapon isn't their sword, but their heart. And you're never too young to learn that lesson...



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Any of Laika's previous work, and maybe a little Samurai Jack?.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Absolutely.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I'd say so.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Well, I shall look sternly over my spectacles whilst you explain yourself, I imagine.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There ain't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got George Takei's voice in it, and he is most famous of course for portraying the Nemoidian shrubbery-menace Lok Durd in The Clone Wars.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although I say this as someone who doesn't have children. But I did used to be one, and it wasn't that long ago...


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, 12 September 2016

Review: Don't Breathe





Don't Breathe (SPOILERS (separate, underneath post))
Cert: 15 / 88 mins / Dir. Fede Alvarez / Trailer



First things first, this review features an introductory paragraph (this), a brief synopsis of the film's setup, a list of things I enjoyed then a list of things I didn't. In doing this, the review is structured classically but thoroughly predictably. Much like Don't Breathe itself...

The Plot: When a trio of amateur burglars in run-down Detroit get a tip that a local, blinded war veteran is holed up in his house with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, the gig seems to good to pass up. However, The Blind Man is harbouring more secrets than his money, and getting out of the house proves to be far more difficult than getting in...

The Good: Don't Breathe features some fantastic performances and thoroughly intriguing cinematography throughout. The camera almost floats around the house, casually showing us the things the protagonists don't see and the things the antagonist can't, and a pretty marvellous night-vision sequence in the house's cellar levels the playing field plunging everyone into darkness while the audience look on holding their breath, as if the film's title is an instruction for us as much as the would-be escapees...

The Bad: Unfortunately all this is let down by one-dimensional characters and a screenplay which segues unevenly between the woefully hackneyed and the gleefully perverse. And therein lies the beef. I'm willing to cut any film some slack if it at least makes sense internally, but as it stands this film is just too silly to be taken seriously*1. And if you're not taking the idea of three misguided kids being chased around a locked and fortified house by a traumatised war veteran with an array of weapons seriously, there's little point in being there.

Despite having a very real and credible threat at its core, there's far to much of the quiet-quiet-BANG going on for a film which shows so much promise in its technical areas. At one early point we're treated to a whistle-stop tour of the house which only serves to set the markers for upcoming callbacks, like the audience should pat themselves on the back for remembering a hammer...

The Ugly: And then the script has the audacity to reveal the film to be a moral battle about Atheists vs Burglars, somehow? This is proffered so cack-handedly (whilst similarly ignoring issues of grief, PTSD, mental illness and gun-control) that the wheels fall off completely and I was just willing anyone to die so that the film could end.

Although the score-point that the movie squarely loses for this assault on the audience's intelligence is almost (almost, but not) won back for the all-to-brief recreation of the famous Alien 3 shot. Blink and you'll miss that.

Don't Breathe is a fascinating exercise in film-making; not so much in storytelling...



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
To be honest, it's a bit like a cross between 2007's Disturbia and 1991's The People Under The Stairs
Even though I enjoyed both of those movies more than this.
.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The tension will be higher in a cinema, I gladly admit.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
For me? Evidently not…


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nah.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film's got that Stephen Lang in it, and he was in The Men Who Stare At Goats alongside Ewan 'Kenobi' McGregor...


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Things I couldn't get past; I've made a list...
(spoilers obviously, plus these will only make sense if you've seen the film anyway)

1) So a team of repeat-but-amateur burglars target houses whose security systems are managed by the same company and which are all within driving distance of the company-owner's house, and the police haven't pieced anything together by the time this film starts?

2) And the most brash of the three offenders, Money, routinely leaves DNA evidence at the scene of the crime, as if a kid like him's got no previous?

3) The main plot-strand seems to work on the basis that a blind war veteran won't hear a window being broken in his own house with all the internal doors open, or the alarm beeping for thirty seconds. Okay, we find out the TV's running while he sleeps, but still. More on this later.

4) After The Blind Man foils the first attempt on robbing his house and boards up the bathroom window that was the entry-route, why doesn't he then go and check/reset the alarm?

5) And this security-conscious Blind Man has all his windows securely barred except for those five massive, non-strengthened single-panes forming a conservatory roof over his ground-floor kitchen, yeah?

6) War veteran or not, with that many shots being fired, unsilenced, in confined spaces, there's no way any of the characters would be able to hear jack shit for most of the movie, let alone The Blind Man who can apparently detect a pin dropping while everybody else still has double-vision...

7) Now, he's either got a) superb hearing which has compensated for his sight-loss in the intervening years, or b) chronic tinnitus from years of active service spent in close proximity to firearms. Either way, how come the repeated gunfire in the aforementioned enclosed spaces causes him no apparent discomfort, but when the burglar alarm is finally triggered he's paralysed by the deafening ringing? I've heard a burglar alarm, and I've heard gunfire. I know which was more uncomfortable.

8) Had our antagonist's not-at-all-creepy plan worked, and not withstanding the explanation that he's going to have to give the authorities at some stage in the future, how the hell is The Blind Man going to raise a baby? No, seriously. He might be a psychopath, but he's a psychopath who apparently knows how to plan shit out, yet this never occurred to him..?

9) And if the police are a two-minute drive away to respond to that triggered alarm, how come there was no call the night before when around thirty shots were fired? I know he lives in a rough area, but really?

Apart from that it was fine, I guess.


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.

#The123sOfTheGFFA: 2.5 is for The Apprentice



The cashier in WH Smith paused for a moment handling my purchase. Only for a split-second, but long enough. "I'm looking forward to it, but I'm not sure about Anakin having a padawan…" he said. "I know what you mean," I replied as he handed me my change, "but I've got a lot of faith in them. I'm sure they'll handle it well."

It's not altogether unusual for a checkout operator and customer to talk briefly about the goods being bought, but when it's a man in his twenties talking to a man in his thirties, and those goods are a Clone Wars sticker album and twenty packs of stickers, there's a nice, geeky glow to the whole thing. As the conversation would suggest, this was before the release of the animated movie, and by luck or judgement it appeared that the pair of us were going spoiler-free (although the smaller comparative crew-size for an animated feature means fewer staff, fewer leaks and fewer spoilers surfacing online, anyway).

What made me ponder was this caveat my fellow geek raised; The guy was 1) a Star Wars fan, and 2) more importantly, a Prequel-era fan. There'd already been a rift in 1999 where a sizeable proportion of old-schoolers felt they couldn't embrace the new movies. Could the same thing be happening again in 2008? Was there about to be a sub-section of 'PT purists', full of righteous indignation that part of their collective past was being messed with? Could SW fandom withstand another fracture, so soon after the OT/PT one?

The animated Clone Wars movie/TV-series was to be set in an era that had been pretty extensively mined for content already. The original idea had been that Attack of the Clones would show the opening battle of the Clone Wars in 2002, and Revenge of the Sith would show the closing one in 2005. Between those points there would be a cross-marketed schedule of interlinked novels, comics, video games and two hours worth of 2D animated shorts, telling the stories of the main characters as well as introducing new ones, and tracking the progress of the war. Tales from a three-year war, told over three years, so that in 2005 we were revisiting the characters in 'real time', so to speak. And that's what we got, and everything more or less worked with itself. More or less.

There'd been rumblings of a computer animated Clone Wars show since RotS opened in 2005, so it didn't come completely out of the blue, but existing events in the continuity would dictate that one of three things had to happen: 1) the stories previously told in various media would have to be 'compacted' to either end of the war to make room for the new ones to unfold, 2) the duration of the war would have to be expanded to accommodate the new stories, or 3) the 'expanded-universe' content covering the war would have to be scrapped. Since number 2 would require the entire BBY timeline to be rejigged (even if only by a couple of years), and number 3 would be a metaphorical slap in the face to the creators of the content and to the fans who paid money to consume it*1, it's understandable that the powers that be chose option 1. 'The Clone Wars' was to be set, mostly, after the 2003-05 content, with those stories pushed back into the first year of the war.
There were exceptions of course, with some parts leading into Episode III by necessity, and some aspects being overwritten altogether (Asajj Ventress's character trajectory being a case in point).

And then there was the problem of The Padawan. Just how were the storytellers going to implement a student taken on by the central character of the Prequel-Era; given that Anakin's learner is neither seen nor mentioned in Revenge of the Sith, nor in any of the previously published media taking place after the film? Well as it turned out, they just went for it, full-tilt. Ahsoka Tano was introduced in the animated movie, and for the next five seasons of the TV show she interacted with pretty much all of the central characters, WAS a central character, and featured in several pivotal points of the war. Her story arc came to a close in season five (at the time of writing; I won't spoil it - not in this post at least) in a move which explained her absence from Episode III (if not the fact that no-one even talks about her). The way stories are told around the timeline, I'm sure we haven't heard the last of her, but time will tell*2.

So did fandom split over Ahsoka? Well, it'd be untrue to say there wasn't/isn't a vocal section of the fanbase who aren't in completely love with the Togrutan padawan, but their ire seems to be centered more around the characterisation itself than any continuity issues. She started as a well-meaning, if slightly bratty, teenager which seemed out of kilter with established SW character tropes. As the show ran to over 100 episodes, Ahsoka got more development time than many of the movie-only characters; she matured quickly while still remaining under Anakin Skywalker's tutelage, and if you're going to develop a character, you need to start from somewhere.

Over the years since 2008's movie, regular TV/DVD-release scheduling as well as corresponding novels and comics have made The Clone Wars as much a part of the continuity as the six live-action films, and as the lines blur between the large and small screens, "TV" no longer has to mean "expanded universe". In addition to this, Ahsoka's alter-ego, actress Ashley Eckstein, has become a fantastic ambassador for Star Wars (as have the rest of The Clone Wars' central cast), connecting with younger female fans in a way that Carrie Fisher and Natalie Portman were never able to at the time.

There is now a generation of fandom for whom The Clone Wars is 'their Star Wars'. This is how a franchise stays fresh in the gaps between movies.

Evolution is the way forward; embrace it or be left behind…





It wasn't my local WH Smith, by the way, so I never got to check back with the guy and ask him how he got on with Anakin's padawan. I hope he warmed to her, at least.


*1 This entry was a post I wrote several years ago but never got round to publishing. Since then, the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney precipitated the recategorisation of all existing 'Expanded Universe' works into a section to be known as 'Legends'. So not quite the slap in the face I intimated above, but definitely a case of "yeah, but that book doesn't count" when writing character arcs. The oddest thing about it though is that the wipe applied to all Expanded Universe works, not just things written for the post-Jedi era (this, after all, is why the Legends timeline was created - so that The Force Awakens wouldn't have to make allowances for thirty years of novels, comics and games). And over the course of the new Clone Wars series, there were several associated novels and many comics released which naturally fell under the blanket of Expanded Universe. They slot in perfectly with the events we see on-screen; but under the new rules, the TV episodes are 'canon' but the comics aren't. Which would be fine if Lucasfilm planned to write over that period with new content, but they really wouldn't be able to do that without removing the TV show. And under the self-imposed rules of the Lucasfilm Story Group, the TV show is canon. Ah, what a tangled web we weave…

*2 Again, see the real-world chronology reference for footnote #1. Ahsoka has of course re-surfaced in Star Wars Rebels, which will probably be the subject of its own post at some point. That said, it's taken me this long just to get round to writing (well, posting that writing) about The Clone Wars


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Unless otherwise stated, photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by World Of Blackout. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.
• 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.