Friday, 17 November 2017

Review: Daddy's Home 2





Daddy's Home 2
Cert: 12A / 100 mins / Dir. Sean Anders / Trailer



Will Ferrell falls over six times in this movie. He's by no means alone in pursuing this basic comic staple, but on the leaderboard of Daddy's Home 2 pratfalls, Will's right there at the top. This festive follow-up to the 2015 movie which provided the lighthearted scheduling-alternative to The Force Awakens is an under-written, erratically paced, haphazardly directed exercise in box-ticking, button-pushing cinematic gibberish. John Lithgow falls over three times.

Helmed by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, the two performers who effectively wrote the 21st-century appendix on The Formulaic Studio-Comedy Textbook, the 100 minute run-time is a collection of jokes they did last time, the jokes you'd expect them to do this time, and a climactic a cappella version of Do They Know It's Christmas. I wish I was making that up. Meanwhile, poor Linda Cardellini pads around the back of the screenplay looking for someone who's at least heard of the Bechdel Test, never mind up for trying to pass it. Added to the roster are the aforementioned Lithgow and Mel Gibson, as the central pair's dads. They're both quite fun*1, if only because they haven't stretched this shit to breaking point already, like their screen-sons, but in the end this is an easy paycheck and they treat it accordingly. If you've seen the trailer for Daddy's Home 2, you don't need to watch the film*2.

But it's better than A Bad Moms Christmas.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, writer/director Sean Anders is hoping you enjoyed and memorised the first Daddy's Home, because in the sequel he doesn't bother to introduce or re-establish any of the returning characters.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
This is not a cinema film, despite having its entire climactic sequence take place in a cinema with a sense of completely unearned smugness.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?



Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not even the best work in this two-film series.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Probably not.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There might be one in the cinema scene, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it.
Let's say no
.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Qui-Gon Jinn's in this, after a fashion.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 That said, Gibson needs to tread carefully. The troubled™ star clawed back some much-needed respectability earlier this year with Hacksaw Ridge, but this comedy turn leaves him standing in the entrance to De Niro Alley, an apparently one-way street of ill-will and diminishing casting opportunities. [ BACK ]

*2 Or to put it another way, You Don't Need To Watch The Film. Glad we cleared that 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.

Review: Murder On The Orient Express





Murder On The Orient Express
Cert: 12A / 114 mins / Dir. Kenneth Branagh / Trailer



Okay first off, if you haven't seen any version of Murder On The Orient Express before, Kenneth Branagh's new presentation will be ideal for you. Seriously. The performances, sets, costumes, lighting, sound-design and soundtrack are all exquisite, and the photography will tick the boxes for all those whose first reaction to a sunset is to fire up Instagram. While the production certainly never strays far from the precedent set by previous outings, lensmaster Haris Zambarloukos's approach is inherently cinematic.

The rest of us, however, spend the best part of two hours asking why another retelling of Agatha Christie's most famous story is necessary; a question which the film fails to convincingly answer.

In a bid add a fresh lick of paint to an old carriage, this iteration borrows rather heavy-handedly from other icons of intrigue. The style of the opening sequence, which sees Hercule Poirot wrapping up his previous case, is a clear nod to the James Bond / Indiana Jones in medias res approach, while our hero's on-the-spot deductions in the first act owe more to Baker Street's most famous resident than even Agatha herself would care to admit. There's the feeling with these inserts that the Belgian sleuth is perhaps being pushed toward a more active cinematic presence, and a couple of sequences later in the film shore up this suspicion, despite feeling uncomfortably out of place themselves.

Speaking of incongruities, I'm happy to report than Mr Branagh's moustache and accent combination-set are thankfully nowhere as... awkward as they were in the reveal-trailer*1. Both take some time to get used to, but at least they're not too problematic. Branagh is a fine actor of course, and an even better director. But he's slightly lacklustre as Poirot, somehow.

Back at the coalface however, Orient Express itself is the very essence of character-driven storytelling, an approach which is borderline impossible when this many familiar faces are in the room. Harking back to the golden age of ensemble-dramas, the all-star cast is impressive but frankly too big. It's relatively easy to hide one guest star in a movie like this, but here you'll never forget that you're watching Johnny Depp*2 and Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi and Willem Dafoe and Josh Gad and Daisy Ridley. Despite the tried and tested structure of the oft-adapted tale, the film sags in the middle and never quite regains its pace, even with a thoroughly sincere denouement.

But all-in-all, Branagh's Murder on The orient Express is a perfectly acceptable re-telling of the story. If a largely unnecessary one. I certainly can't resent the creative team for trying to put their own stamp on a classic, but this will always be Dame Agatha's, first and foremost…

If we get nothing else from this, we can be at least take comfort from new audiences being introduced to Poirot's (Christie's) serene wisdom:

"Every day we meet people the world could do without, yet we do not kill them. We must be better than the beasts..."


Oh, and this loses a point for the Death On The Nile setup-line in the final moments. It's cheap, it's cack-handed and it's canonically illiterate*3.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Other screen versions of this same story, I shouldn't wonder, or Agatha Christie adaptations in general.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Well, it's a testament to the enduring legacy of Christie that a Wednesday evening screening in the second week of its run was over two thirds full (and with a story which, once you know 'whodunnit', you tend not to forget). The film's also scheduled to run next week, too, so it's clearly pulling in the punters across the board. Smashing work, folks.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Well, ish. The film achieves enough to justify its existence (as a one-off entry, at any rate), but in the grand scheme of things, perhaps the interpretative net should have been thrown wider?.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With a cast of this pedigree? Of course not.


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?
There isn't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Rey's in this, also there's a 'stepping in poo in a sun-bleached environment' joke three minutes into the film which I'm taking to be a clear homage to The Phantom Menace.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Upon viewing the first trailer in the cinema (I'd avoided it at home), it appeared that Poirot's 'new' moustache and windswept hair made him look like he'd been sleeping in a doorway, while the snippets of the accent we heard made it seem like that doorway was somewhere in Gateshead. Mrs Blackout was appalled to the point where she (an ardent fan of Agatha Christie) didn't come to see the film.
[ BACK ]

*2 Although with one recent exception, can we ever? [ BACK ]

*3 It's no spoiler to say that in the closing scene of the film, Poirot meets a representative form the British Consulate who informs him that there's been a murder in Egypt ("and only on the Nile!") . The reason Death On The Nile works from a plot-mechanics perspective is that all the characters are established and introduced to Poirot before the murder takes place - while Poirot is also on the boat - so the murderer has to be present in his company and known to him. If the Karnak is going to shore up to let the detective onboard then there's nothing stopping the murderer escaping, before or during his arrival. There's also no reason for the British Consulate to be involved at that point, unless 20th Century Fox are planning to completely retool the story from the ground-up. It's that sort of haphazard reinvention which threatens to derail The Orient Express on more than one occasion...
[ 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, 15 November 2017

Review: Paddington 2





Paddington 2
Cert: PG / 103 mins / Dir. Paul King / Trailer



Everyone's favourite impeccably mannered Peruvian is back, in a follow-up adventure to his 2014 debut, this time on a quest to by beloved Aunt Lucy a vintage pop-up book of London for her birthday. But when a washed-up actor steals the antique, framing Paddington as the culprit, the bear finds himself in prison and has to clear his name.

Ben Wishaw's voice-work for the title role is seamless and utterly delightful once again, but director Paul King conjures standout performances from Hugh Grant as unstable narcissistic thespian Phoenix Buchanan, and Brendan Gleeson as impatient incarcerated chef Knuckles McGinty. Grant is in full comedic flow, happy to embrace the role and poke gentle fun at his own career (indeed, profession), whereas Gleeson succeeds by playing his part completely straight, as if he were acting opposite a human rather than a CGI bear. To a slightly lesser degree, the entire cast*1 do this of course. Indeed, like last time, the genius-stroke of the film is that everyone treats Paddington as a three-dimensional character (whether they're 'on his side' or not), rather than being freaked out by an actual talking bear*2. It's this sincerity which is passed down to the audience, and the central character becomes inherently believable.

Paddington 2 is a fantastic, fun adventure; but it's predecessor was more than that. The sequel's story itself is a little more pedestrian and doesn't carry the same social or emotional weight as the first movie (Peter Capaldi's reprise in particular feels like a tacked-on callback, and some of the first-act incidental scripting is nothing short of cringeworthy for a film that's so naturalistic everywhere else). While there are moments of brilliance in the film, these come more from setpieces and comic timing than The Message. But the heart of the film is still a young person who manages to find the good in almost everyone, a valuable example for audiences of all ages.

Paddington is the bear we need, even if he's the one we probably don't deserve...


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Paddington.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For an afternoon or evening out with the family, absolutely.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so, although its target is a lot broader this time around.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No, but that's not to put Paddington 2 down.


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: Blue Five pilot Farns Monsbee is in this*3, as is that young lady we met ever so briefly on Naboo.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 A roster which is, it really must be noted, absolute textbook Nina Gold casting, with the notable omission of one Bill Nighy. So I'm just going to assume that curmudgeonly Bill absolutely hates Paddington Bear until he explicitly states otherwise. I think that's fair..? [ BACK ]

*2 And it's a credit to the finished product that I was sucked in to the point where I started picking apart the logic in the climactic train-chase. At one point, two separate steam trains are running on parallel tracks out of Paddington Station towards Bristol (leaving from different platforms), then seconds later they're on the same line (the only line, so lord knows where this stretch of track is meant to be). Who's controlling the track-points? What about all the red-signals they're clearly barging through? Skipping over the viaduct which doesn't exist on that line (that section was filmed in Yorkshire) and the fact that a high-speed chase would have to go through Reading station full of commuters at around 7am, young Paddington ends up trapped in a separated carriage underwater. We see the water level rising and the bear keeping afloat as he rises toward the roof, then the camera cuts to Sally Hawkins' Mary, who's swimming down to rescue him. Only as she approaches the padlocked carriage door with the 10" gap and a bear on the other side, the water has suddenly filled the box completely (as it would with that gap) without us seeing the air escaping before the carriage had even hit the river-bed. Will no-one think of the physics? Will no-one think of the signal controllers having the worst fucking morning of their lives as lights and klaxons go off all around them? It was then I remembered that I wasn't watching a documentary. So well done, Paddington 2. [ BACK ]

*3 And much like in the first Paddington movie (at the time, at least), isn't credited on IMDB for the appearance. Although he does at least get his writing-entry. [ 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, 14 November 2017

Review: Wonder





Wonder
Cert: PG / 113 mins / Dir. Stephen Chbosky / Trailer



Right. At one point early in Wonder, Isabel (Julia Roberts) says to her daughter Via (Izabela Vidovic) "Look, it's Hallow'een tomorrow, why not take the day off school and we'll make it a long weekend?". So in this story, the last day in October apparently falls on a Friday. The last Friday, October the 31st was in 2014, and there won't be another one until 2025. But we also see young Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) in school with a Star Wars: The Force Awakens travel-cup, bearing the image of Kylo Ren. Since the SW:TFA merchandise was only unveiled in September 2015, this means the film can't be taking place in 2014. That's okay, maybe this all happens in the future for reasons which aren't explained. Look, it's fine.

But later on, we see Via's friend looking at her phone, where the display reads "Friday Feb 24". Since the film follows Auggie's first turbulent year at school, this is clearly supposed to be four (rather than sixteen) months later. And when Hallow'een falls on a Friday, the following February the 24th will be a Tuesday. Every time. So one of those is wrong.

So how do you expect to buy into the emotional truth of your story when you're openly lying to me about the 'facts'? This is bullshit*1.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
This movie shares many of its beats with The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, also from the same director, although Wonder is more family-oriented.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Let's be honest, as great as Wonder is, this is a Sunday-afternoon DVD. I saw it in a cinema at a free screening, so the room was absolutely packed with chatty, code-ambivalent civilians. But as this was for World Kindness Day, I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on them. That said, there were no ads or trailers and no allocated seating for this event, which people are no longer used to. This resulted in absolute confused carnage the likes of which I'm sure we never saw before the seating-system was introduced, as latecomers stumbled around the almost-sold-out auditorium in the dark, squeezing in front of people to reach mid-row seats*2 and having conversations about it all the while.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Absolutely. Wonder is more than a story about a child coming to terms with his birth-defected appearance, but also the dynamic this creates within his family and their social groups. Although as one character in the story observes, that family still revolves around Auggie. The film's diary-style character inserts feel like they were a more central part of RJ Palacio's novel, getting inside the head of family and peers to explain their point-of-view, right or wrong; in the screen version these sections are inconsistently paced, shorter than is realistically useful (often cutting back into the main narrative without closure), and crucially don't cover all of the major players. The film still succeeds because of its heart, though.

Wonder is sad, funny and inspiring in all the right places, even if the the complete lack of sharp-edges probably gears the film towards a younger audience (despite holding valuable advice for all in this world). It's like being waterboarded for two hours with liquidised Hallmark-Channel of course, but the film has unshakeable conviction and, just as importantly, a superb cast to deliver it.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Not best, but strong game from everyone involved. Jacob Tremblay is outstanding as always as young Auggie; his performance isn't quite as complex as the one he put in for Room, but then neither is the role. Both Izabela Vidovic and Danielle Rose Russell manage to convey teenage social stresses without coming off as bratty, and Julia Roberts masterfully exudes stoical protectivity. Owen Wilson is also on great form as Auggie's dad Nate, and has great chemistry with the youngster, although this seems underused in the final edit of the movie (although at 113 minutes, the run-time is already pushing its luck).


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Absolutely not.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Definitely not.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: No shared cast-members, but Wonder gets an honorary level-1 because of a) the sheer frequency of Star Wars references and general affection the film displays throughout, and b) the pretty legit-looking Chewbacca costume being used a few times (even though we don't get Peter Mayhew or Joonas Suotamo wearing it).


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Oh, and it loses a point for having a 'greatest hits' montage at the end, patronising the audience and demeaning the story's characters at the same time.


*1 Unless of course the conversation between Isabel and Via was taking place on a Sunday with October 31st being on the Monday, and she was talking about extending the weekend out that way. In which case this could have happened at Hallow'een 2016, which would indeed make the following February 24th (ie 2017) fall on a Friday, like the film says it does. This is far more likely to be the case, admittedly. But I'm fairly certain that both Via and Auggie are shown as being at school the same day as the aforementioned conversation. And who goes to school on a Sunday? (note: this question excludes 'Sunday School', which isn't actually school at all). And what the hell kind of parent is like "yeah mate, just take the day off your education, I imagine that'll be fine"? This is still bullshit. [ BACK ]

*2 Not me, I arrived early and deliberately sat at the row-end with no thoroughfare available or needed going past me. I don't like people at the best of times. A fact of which I'm sure you, dear reader, are already aware... [ 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.