Sunday, 15 January 2017

Review: M*A*S*H





M*A*S*H (1970)
Cert: 15 / 116 mins / Dir. Robert Altman / Trailer



There is a reason that this series of retrospective reviews has lain dormant for eight months. I've tried on several occasions to watch my chosen entry for 1970, Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, and failed. It's been turned off within the first half-hour with me under the impression that I just wasn't in a sufficiently receptive mood. So tonight I cleared the palette of my assumptions and expectations, and determinedly settled in for one of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of its year.

Spoiler-alert: I didn't particularly enjoy M*A*S*H in its entirety any more than I had throughout its repeated opening act. Several things appeared to be working against me. But whether it's my own lack of familiarity with the Korean war which is the setting for the story, my own lack of familiarity with the Vietnam war which is what the story's really about, or whether it's just a film intended and widely regarded as being A Comedy™ that I didn't find funny, I guess I'll never know. And sure, it's a satirical comedy but Ring Lardner's screenplay doesn't even boast the defiance of gallows humour, it's just largely 1960s slapstick and smut*1 padding out inappropriately grim scenarios. The film isn't punching up, just a loosely knotted collection of sketches with punchlines of varying visibility and effectiveness.

And I suspect that having characters mumbling and talking over each other for extended periods of time is meant to be a running joke, rather than a repetitious annoyance. That frequent unsteady crash-zoom was doing my head in, as well. The film has managed to sour my previously fond memories of the TV show.

Anyway, it's watched now, and I shall endeavour not to choose 'comedy' as the genre for future entries in the programme. Meh...


Have you really never seen this before?
Really, not. Used to watch episodes of the show on TV when I was younger, but never got into it enough to go back and watch the movie. Although if I recall correctly, the thing I enjoyed most about the series was Alan Alda's Hawkeye, and his character was played in this preceding film by Donald 'comedy legend' Sutherland…


So are you glad you've finally have?
Well, I guess.


And would you recommend it, now?
Not unless you were a fan of the TV series.
In which case, you'll probably have seen it
.


Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Didn't hear one.


…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This movie features Robert Duvall, who also starred in George Lucas' first big-screen movie, THX-1138.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Complete with the racial, gender and sexual politics of the day, naturally. Although I understand that you can't judge a work of decades ago on the values of today, it doesn't mean you just have to accept its inelegance, either.

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.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Review: Rogue One (seventh-pass)





Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (seventh-pass / 2D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 134 mins / Dir. Gareth Edwards / Trailer


Previous reviews:
First-pass (spoiler-free)
Second-pass (spoiler-free)
Third-pass (**spoilers**)
Fourth-pass (**spoilers**)
Fifth-pass (**spoilers**)
Sixth-pass (**spoilers**)


"I'm one with the Force, the Force is with me. I'm one with the Force, the Force is with me. I'm one with the Force, the Force is with me."

~ Chirrut Imwe, Jedha / Eadu / Scarif.


During its time on Jedha, Rogue One introduces us to Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, two former 'Guardians of the Whills' at the moon's now depleted Kyber Temple. During times of psychological or physical stress, both are heard to utter the above mantra*1, seemingly willing guidance from, and harmony with, the Force. Neither Chirrut or Baze are Jedi. And this is a phrase that we haven't heard the Jedi use in the cinematic saga, so far. Odd.

Up until 2016 (and largely discounting any ideas that Legends material had to say on the matter), being 'one with the Force' was the label put upon a Jedi retaining their sentience and identity after death, of joining with the living energy field to form a narrative bridge between the corporeal meat-space of the GFFA and the afterlife. I should say as well that the 'disappearing-trick' and the 'coming-back-trick' are two different things; Obi-Wan disappears quickly, Yoda disappears slowly, Qui-Gon doesn't disappear at all, and Anakin is still open to speculation. But they all came back, and at varying speeds of 'completion'.

When Baze and Chirrut chant "…I am one with the Force", are they trying to attain complete, transcendental immersion? Do they even know it exists? Was Qui-Gon the first to achieve this, or just the first in a very long time? Bear in mind he figured out how to do it after he died, and this was a surprise to Yoda, implying that even the Jedi Council don't know how it works. And if it's something the highest echelons of the order is unaware of (or have systematically forgotten over the years, despite still having notes on the Sith), then would the non-Jedi guardians of the Kyber Temple know about it? Then again, do those on Jedha have access to more ancient records that the cosmopolitan elite Jedi on Coruscant regard as quaint and archaic? Was this knowledge something that was lost over time, or even hidden to prevent dark-siders from exploring and adapting their own version; the spiritual equivalent of their synthetic lightsaber crystals*2?

Other than the Skywalker lineage, it was unclear in the Original Trilogy if the Force was something anyone could master with faith and commitment, or it if was a gift reserved for 'the chosen ones'. The Prequel Trilogy revealed it to be the latter, although not entirely uncommon (enough for the movement to muster a sparse galactic police-force). And while The Force Awakens concentrated more on the light and dark side in broader strokes, rather than Jedi™ and Sith™, Rogue One muddies the waters further with the Guardians of the Whills; non-Jedi beings who can still sense and react to the Force (or, as I said upon an earlier viewing, like someone who can read and understand a language, but can't pick up a pen to write in it). Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe are (presumably) the last vestiges of the Force-Fanboys, unable to channel it fully, but willing to dedicate their lives in the service of those who can.

The more we've seen of the Jedi, the less the Force has been treated as an outright religion, more a set of guidelines and practices (closer in that respect to something like Buddhism). Warrior monks, the Jedi don't have to pray for the assistance or intervention or the Force, they just have to understand how it works.

However, the two former guardians we meet in Rogue One treat the Force as a doctrine (one very much Of The Faithful™, the other very much Lapsed™) to be explored through meditation and practice, with Baze Malbus specifically referring to Chirrut's mantra-recital as "praying". But the only other time it's been named this way (cinematically at least, I know it crops up in Rebels once or twice), was by Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope. "You, my friend, are all that's left of their religion" *3.

But for all this, 'religion' implies faith, which in turn implies a lack of evidence. And irrespective of Midichlorians at one end of the scale and Imperial propaganda at the other, the Force in the GFFA is a demonstrably real thing. And despite much grumbling on the subject (although not at Blackout Towers; I just grumble about the grumbling), Midichlorians are just a device used to illustrate that the Jedi - a non species specific group of beings who can actively use the Force - have a common predisposition on a biological level. Midichlorians don't ruin the Force*4, they're just a tell-tale trait that indicates potential, irrespective of training or mastery. Detection of the microscopic lifeforms is how the Jedi used to identify and select infants for taking to Coruscant, and it's undoubtedly in the Empire's arsenal for the eradication of the Jedi. Because as a Jedi on the run, you can keep your head down and mute your abilities, but you can't disguise your genetic makeup. If Vader has, as previously suggested, been in charge of the Empire's programme to exterminate the Jedi and propagandise them out of the public mind, why would the Empire allow Force-sensitive guards to live at the site of the Kyber temple? It is because as non-Force-controlling beings, they have a below-the-line Midi count, so aren't considered a threat?

With the Holy City of Jedha turned to rubble (along with all those who didn't make it to a transport in sufficient time), it looks as if we're not likely to have many of these questions answered. Short of novels and comics set in a time before the events of Rogue One, the Guardians of the Whills look to be as mysterious a sect as the Jedi Temple Guards, written about but scarcely seen in action. Chirrut and Baze are higher-profile characters of course, so I'm at least expecting a Marvel comics mini-series about them, but I wouldn't be surprised if that barely touches upon their metaphysical presence in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

For a film with no Jedi, Rogue One raises a lot of questions about the Force…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
All of The Star Wars.


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


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's a strong showing.


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?
Yep.


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

Although if you really wanted to go the long way round with it…
Rogue One features Mr Jimmy Smits reprising his prequel-era role as Bail Organa, and he starred in 2009's Mother and Child along with a certain Ahmed Best, who performed voice-work in the 2006 Scarface videogame adaptation, as did Bai Ling, who's due to appear in the upcoming When The Devil Rides Out, as is the late Kenny Baker, who of course rocked up in 1980's Flash Gordon movie with Rusty Goffe, who featured in the 1981 film History of the World Part I in a cast-list alongside Bea Arthur, who starred in the 1988 Mickey's 60th Birthday, as did Jimmy Smits, from Rogue One




And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Well, kinda. Whereas Chirrut says "I'm one with the Force, the Force is with me", Baze Malbus' final return to form sees him uttering "The Force is with me, I'm one with the Force". Not a massive difference tonally, but if you were a local vicar and you swapped round two lines of the Lord's Prayer, you'd expect a raised eyebrow and a letter from the bishop, right?

*2 Although I'm fairly certain that the concept of Lignan synthetic lightsaber crystals has now been largely swept under the rug of Legends, although the narrative need for them in the secret society of Sith still applies. We also don't yet know how/why Kylo Ren's lightsaber splutters the way it does so there's hope yet, even if Lignan gets renamed to something different.

*3 And after the events of Rogue One, I want to see a new Special Edition of A New Hope where the Grand Moff refers to the 'religion' in his conversation with Vader, then we cut to a different angle and a CGI-Tarkin who looks directly into the camera, does an exaggerated wink and chimes "especially now that Jedha's a building-site, eh lads? EH??"

*4 Unless you're a giant child who covets impenetrable magic over science of course, in which case I'm delighted that you're still upset about 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.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Review: Manchester By The Sea





Manchester By The Sea
Cert: 15 / 137 mins / Dir. Kenneth Lonergan / Trailer



Y'know, I don't want to be that guy*1, but I've just watch a good film cropped out of its intended aspect ratio. With Manchester By The Sea projected full-width onto a 2.35:1 screen, the BBFC card was cut-off at the top and bottom since the film's clearly been shot and finalised in 16:9. I'd thought maybe it was just the card, but the closing credits (static on the screen) were far too close to the edges and occasionally cut off, too. And it's not a massive deal-breaker as the film was great anyway, but I'd put a fiver on cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes being pretty livid about it. Ho, hum.

Anyway, Manchester By The Sea is writer/director Kenneth Lonergan's drama about just-surviving janitor Lee (Casey Affleck) in Massachusetts, who learns of his older brother (Kyle Chandler) Joe's death and finds himself looking after his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Demonstrating that angst and frustration aren't just for the young, the film is an ambling study of the relationship between the two in the aftermath of bereavement. Irregularly interspersed with flashbacks of Lee's interactions with his family, the story reveals his own past traumas which he has to deal with before moving on.

The dialogue occasionally whiffs of improvisation, but as long as it's being handled by the main players, there's no real harm done. There's also little-to-no delineation between the main narrative and Lee's flashback sequences. It's quite disorienting at first, but as a way of making the audience work harder I have to applaud it. Michelle Williams is outstanding as always, especially given her limited screen-time here. Lucas Hedges puts in a deceptively complex turn as the emotionally blindsided teenager, but this is really Casey Affleck's showpiece, his character spending the majority of the film in a haunted, socially inept daze. Affleck is a burgeoning master at the meandering introspection of regret.

Okay, it's not quite as heavy as I've made that sound (although it is still fairly heavy), thanks in no small part to Lonergan's screenplay and direction. While the film is never flippant with the frequently recurring themes of death, among the soul-searching are moments of arch and bittersweet comedy, which is perhaps to be expected. But script also has some moments of much darker humour that I almost felt guilty chuckling at*2. Although again, that's much closer to the reality of the situation than many of us would admit. The film's funnier that you'd expect and not as emotionally heavy as A Monster Calls, yet it's still not to be taken on lightly...


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Fans of Inside Llewyn Davis should enjoy this.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Well if you watch it at home you'll be able to choose the aspect-ratio you prefer, but sarcasm aside, this is probably a Sunday night DVD.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it does.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not, but that's not to do the film any disservice.

Oh, and looking at his IMDB page, Kenneth Lonergan really needs to mix it up with his poster designers…
I DON'T KNOW TERRY, JUST TO IT LIKE YOU DID THE LAST ONE!


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 2: This film stars Michelle Williams, and she was in that My Week With Marylin alongside Pip 'Colonel Kaplan' Torrens.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Yes I do.

*2 It's either blackly-funny in places, or I have an appalling sense of humour. Which I do anyway, so it really could be both.


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 January 2017

Review: La La Land





La La Land
Cert: 12A / 128 mins / Dir. Damien Chazelle / Trailer



As I write these words, two things of note have happened to me in the last forty-eight hours. On Saturday morning, I went to my dentist to have an infected tooth removed. On Sunday evening, I went to my cinema to watch a preview-screening of La La Land.

As I write these words, it's Sunday night and I'm trying to work out the low-point of the weekend…


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
…if you enjoyed being invited to your niece's stage-school reimagining of Singin' In The Rain, only to remember twenty minutes in that you don't have a niece, you don't know anyone on the stage and other people's children are precocious shits anyway, but you're pretty much trapped now so the only options are a) grimace through the taped-on enthusiasm looking for any trace of subtlety and meaning, or b) stand up and yell "when does this END?" towards the stage. If, like me, you over-value politeness you'll probably go for A, knowing at least that you'll give the production a fucking rinsing as soon as you're in front of a keyboard.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Well, advance screenings (of which this was one) always have a slightly earlier start-time, due to no adverts being shown and fewer trailers before the film. It's usual, therefore, for there to be several 'late arrivals' as the feature presentation is in its first ten minutes, and tonight was no exception. And how I envied those souls as time went on, if only because they'd had to sit through less of La La Land than I had….


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Well if - if - writer/director Damien Chazelle was aiming for 'directionless, overly-long, overly-kitsch and self-indulgent fan-film of Hollywood's Golden Age, clearly hoping to do for the big-number musical what The Artist did for silent cinema but seemingly forgetting that the things which made those musicals great were craft, charm, characters you actually gave a shit about and above all else the music', then yeah it probably does.

Point also deducted for having John Legend in the film (whom one can only assume has been cast because of his in-movie singing rather than his acting) to lecture our lead character about being 'stuck in the past', a speech inserted artlessly into a screenplay whose only concession to the modern day is that the characters have iPhones.

If you want a film about a bittersweet, nearly-made-it love story in Hollywood between two flawed but engaging characters, watch Café Society. If you want a film about the relevance of Jazz in the twenty first century, watch Miles Ahead.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Oddly, both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are on pretty good form, here. But being a good performer in a thing that's awful doesn't make that thing any better (cf the cast of Exodus: Gods & Kings).


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Of course not.
Everyone seems to love La La Land so far, and I'm aware that my opinion's in a minority.

Albeit a minority of people who are right.


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


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars that Ryan Gosling, who's also in the upcoming Blade Runner sequel alongside Harrison 'Solo' Ford.


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.