Sunday, 22 October 2017

Review: Geostorm





Geostorm
Cert: 12A / 109 mins / Dir. Dean Devlin / Trailer



Before we get started, I saw the new trailer for The Last Jedi today, on the biggest screen in my local. So the afternoon wasn't entirely wasted. Right, then. It's a sad fact of 2017 that Gerard Butler's name on a poster usually points to the production being toward the lower-end of the Tomatometer, but that's where we are. A disaster-flick from the co-writer of two Independence Day movies and 1998's Godzilla was never going to hold any great thematic enigmata, yet this new presentation still manages to disappoint, irritate and bore. That said, it would be unfair to call Geostorm indescribably bad. Not least because I'm about to describe how bad it is...

The plot: The year is 2019 (or thereabouts?), and the Earth's network of weather-stabilising satellites is malfunctioning, causing localised Extreme Weather™, which is killing people. Since Gerard Butler is the one who designed the whole system (no really), he has to go into space to punch things until they all start working again. Meanwhile, his brother Jim Sturgess leads the mission on Earth to uncover the conspiracy behind why it's all happening. Obviously this includes President Andy Garcia Of The USA, because movies. Also, Gerard may be a reluctant-genius, borderline alcoholic insubordinate, but he's got a daughter from a previous marriage because it's important that we know he's straight. That's how I read it, anyway.

Science fact! During inclement weather, buildings and vehicles will explode fierily for no reason…

Our tale begins by having a child deliver a condescending monologue on climate-change and apolitical international cooperation*1. That's how it begins. This narration isn't returned to until the film's final moments when at least the majority of the audience can use their empty popcorn receptacles as sick-bags. The driving force behind the narrative is that humanity (well, Gerard Butler) has constructed a planetary shield of satellites, which end up having the opposite of their intended effect. Which, if you recall, is basically the setup of Highlander II. Imagine how piss-poor your screenplay must be when it essentially rips off The Quickening. Perhaps I'm wrong; perhaps Dean Devlin has directed and co-written an unofficial prequel to one of the worst movies of all time. That would certainly fit.

The film itself quickly sketches in Butler as the put-upon everyman and Sturgess as his put-upon brother, then escalates from one contrived disaster set-piece to the next, like a story written by an 8yr old who doesn't realise this will all need wrapping up at some point. Every other line of dialogue is exposition. Either descriptive of what's happened in the past, descriptive of character motivations or descriptive of the things which are happening in the same room at that actual moment. It's as if Warner Bros have decided to save money by merging the script with the hearing-impaired Audio Description track. All that's missing from this packed barrel of bar-raising Wowshit is an appearance from Morgan Freeman as a respected academic whose role in the film is to scratch his head and not have a clue what's going on for the duration.

Dialogue highlight! I particularly enjoyed the moment when Gerard Butler has to tell his brother of the unspoken code between brothers by speaking it to his brother. #writing

As with all of these things, the point-of-jeopardy isn't the death of the central characters, but the potential extinction of all humanity itself. Although since that would necessarily include the death of the central characters, it often feels like a tempting trade-off.

On the plus-side, the effects work is pretty solid in here, as is Butler's non-region-specific US accent, amazingly. I assume he's been taking extra tuition. Or maybe he's just nowhere near the worst thing in this film. I could write a lot, lot more about Geostorm's flaws, but quite frankly it isn't worth the effort (not mine to write, nor yours to read). Every single scene in this cries out for lengthy and merciless deconstruction, and I imagine that the inevitable CinemaSins takedown will be at least as long as the movie itself.

Verdict! Every bit as lazy, reductive and pointless as the trailer suggests and then some, this is a moral, artistic, categorical waste of $120m. If Dean Devlin is really so concerned about the environment, he can do his bit by ensuring that after its theatrical run, no more copies of Geostorm are produced in any format whatsoever…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
This is like someone put Lockout, San Andreas and Armageddon into a blender they found in a skip, and smeared stale piss round the rim of your glass. While you were watching.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
I saw this in a cinema where an elderly couple to my immediate right kept sporadically returning to their full-volume conversation, throughout.
It was not the most annoying thing which happened in that room
.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I genuinely have no idea what this sets out to achieve.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
The only individual to escape this debacle with any shred of dignity is Alexandra Maria Lara, who seems to have been acting for a much better film. She's going to be fucking livid when she watches this back.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
You know what? I will, a bit.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Our Hero Gerald appeared in 2008's RocknRolla of course, alongside Geoff '2nd Lt. Frobb' Bell.

Incidentally, there is also a scripted reference to Rocknrolla in Geostorm, which is delivered with all the consummate artistry of a toddler at a drum-kit.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And bear in mind, I'm already on-side for this. As a Guardian-reading, science-loving, realist, I know that the first step in actually tackling demonstrable climate change is by affecting people's attitudes. And even I found this to be a load of manipulative, sanctimonious old shit, half-heartedly smeared across a two-hour montage of cities collapsing for no explicable reason. It's the sort of thing that makes me want to sit in my back garden, burning old refrigerators full of polystyrene, just out of spite… [ 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.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Review: The Ritual





The Ritual
Cert: 15 / 94 mins / Dir. David Bruckner / Trailer



Okay, first-off? No off-license has bottles of vodka just out on an open shelf like that. Spirits are either behind the counter or security-tagged. End of. Right. Glad we got that out of the way.

Just in time for Hallow'een, director David Bruckner and screenwriter Joe Barton bring us The Ritual, adapted from Adam Nevill's 2011 novel of the same name. It's the story of four friends on a hiking holiday in northern Sweden and who find themselves taking a shortcut through a particularly foreboding forest. In short order, the group become aware that they're being stalked, and with nightmares and hallucinations thrown into the mix, the inhuman identity of the hunter slowly reveals itself…

Now by this point you may well be thinking 'yeah, think I've seen that thanks'. And, yes - you have. Probably on several occasions like myself. But the best part is that The Ritual works in spite of its strict adherence to the classic horror structure, perhaps even because of it. The film doesn't try to subvert the genre, it just celebrates everything it can be, whilst wisely discarding the elements which would normally have a viewer rolling their eyes. Where in the past we've had groups of brash teenagers venturing unwisely into the woods, Bruckner brings us four British, 30-something men. Young enough to be on a hiking holiday, old enough to be grumpy about it; cynical enough to complain every step of the way, sincere enough to be walking in memory of their recently deceased friend, in the first place.

The bone-headed decisions the group make aren't the thoughtless whimsies of people with youthful invulnerability, but more what happens when you're cold, tired and really want to get back to the lodge before last orders*1. Moments which would be flippant jump-scares in any other movie are teased out here to create a genuine sense of unease. And while the supernatural element of any story will always be prone to 'well that wouldn't happen' analysis by the audience, the lead character's PTSD over his friend's death throws the very nature of reality into disarray.

Barton's screenplay is sharp, bickering and uses constant gallows-humour with mid-level profanity as punctuation. Cinematographer Andrew Shulkind runs a very quiet camera in the daylight sequences, which turns into 25-panic-attacks-per-second as soon as night falls (which happens more than once in this movie). The central cast of Rafe Spall, Rob James-Collier, Sam Troughton and Arsher Ali are on very strong form, making barely likeable characters nonetheless compelling, and taking the script seriously despite the obvious and frequent jokes. The whole thing tiptoes on the edge of silliness in its final act, but it's a credit to everyone involved that the story manages to stay on the right side of outlandishness. And in a nod to its original format, the final shot is definitely a 'book ending' rather than a 'cinema' one.

The Ritual isn't exactly scary, but it's tense and arduous for all the right reasons. Especially impressive given how easily it could have been a crap take on exactly the same story*2 (as many other films have been). The film's not revolutionary in any way - but when one is made this well, it doesn't have to be…


Question for those who have seen it: Did I miss the moment when Luke puts his trousers back on in time for the final scene? I don't remember that happening, but evidently it did.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Sightseers, The VVitch, Rare Exports, An American Werewolf in London.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
It's very much a 'Saturday night in' type movie, but there's no harm in making it a Saturday night-out.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Without having read the source-novel I'd say so, yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not in the cast's case, but since this is a genre-piece it plays by its own rules, anyway.


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 Robert James-Collier, who was in last year's A Christmas Star, which was narrated by one Liam 'Qui-Gon' Neeson.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although bear in mind they're in Sweden, a country where alcohol is literally prohibitively priced. The guys are looking at the thick-end of a tenner just for one pint. Be interested to see how willing they are to pour one out for their mate then[ BACK ]

*2 And fair play to the film-makers here - as I recall at one point there's a creepy, scratchy old gramophone and it's not playing The Teddy Bear's Picnic like it would be in a Blumhouse movie… [ 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.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie





The Lego Ninjago Movie (2D)
Cert: U / 101 mins / Dir. Paul Fisher, Charlie Bean & Bob Logan / Trailer



Under the normal run of things, a kid-centric animated feature based on a toy-line and released in October (even in time for the UK half-term break) would scream of a movie being dumped out by its distributor into the graveyard slot. But a full-length Lego movie is not the normal run of things (yet, anyway). Before I start picking it apart (or moaning), I should say that I did enjoy The Lego Ninjago Movie. From a marketing point of view, Christmas is just around the corner and this is a two hour advertisement which potential customers will literally pay to watch - genius. More importantly, it's frequently both fun and funny, which is always good.

A young boy wanders into an oriental curiosity-shop. There he talks with the mysteriously quirky owner Mr Liu (Jackie Chan), who tells him the tale of trainee ninja Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco) and his journey to find himself while balancing the demands of his school-life, his sensei Master Wu (also voiced by Jackie Chan), a protective mother Koko (voiced by Olivia Munn), and constant battles with his evil overlord father Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux). There are laughs, there are thrills and there are countless digitally-rendered plastic bricks.

And it's all over the place, frankly. I imagine more than one employee at Warner Animation had The Law Of Diminishing Returns bookmarked, as they tried to gently suggest that the core demographic for The Ninjago Movie is far smaller than The Lego Group would care to admit*1.

Their 2014 flagship entry had cross-brand appeal for both young audiences (ie product targets) and their nostalgia-generation parents (ie actual customers). Similarly, the Batman spin-off from earlier this year had appeal to the kids and to long-term Batman fans of all ages. Ninjago is very limited by comparison, an in-house property which casual audiences are only faintly aware of, if at all. And there's nothing wrong with that per se, but this doesn't interact with the previous outings so has its own foundations to lay, and all that world-building takes a delicate hand*2.

Everything looks as pixel-perfect as you'd expect here, with Dave Franco and Justin Theroux leading an accomplished voice-cast, well-matched to their characters. The problem is more in the writing. For a Lego-branded movie, there's a distinct lack of focus on imagination and creative building. Everything is made out of the Danish bricks we all know and love, but that seems like a coincidence rather than a raison d'être*3. This is what happens when your movie has three directors, six screenwriters and a further three story writers. I wish I was exaggerating about that. Stretches are incredibly witty, stretches are fun and exciting, then some are... well, okay I guess. Never bad, but far more perfunctory than you'd expect for something with this much money behind it.

The main father/son storyline really seems to be rehashing themes from The Lego Movie (but with Theroux told to sound a bit like Will Arnett's Batman for good measure). And with our evil villain's base located in a volcano, the screenplay sets up perfect opportunities for some James Bond (or even Austin Powers) riffs, then completely fails to deliver any. Similarly, there's a textbook Temple of Doom setup which everyone seems to have chickened out of seeing through. Instead, the story treads between brick-splitting chase sequences and domestic wise-assing between the Ninjago crew and Garmadon's gang. Both are largely fine, but both are variable within that scope*4.

And eager to convince the purchasers of tickets that their money hasn't just been spent on a toy advert, the close of Act III brings a mortifyingly sentimental ending that the film just hasn't earned. In all honesty, both ends of the live-action framing device had be grinning more warmly than anything in the main stretch.

With not as much heart as The Lego Movie and not as much sass as Batman, this is Lego's cinematic equivalent of That Difficult Third Album. And they pull if off this time with brand-loyalty and goodwill, but it doesn't bode well for The Normal Run of Things…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Mainly the Lego and Batman movies, but there's also an unavoidable dash of Power Rangers in here, too.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
As beautiful as this is to look at, it's distinctly Straight-to-Video in spirit.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Be an expensive but probably successful marketing exercise? Undoubtedly.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I shouldn't think so.


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 are seven of them. In a row.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: No voice-cast links to mention, but Jill Wilfert is a producer on this movie, as well as being Executive Producer on the The Padawan Menace, The Empire Strikes Out, Droid Tales and The Freemaker Adventures.

There might also be someone from The Last Jedi in this, but that's unconfirmed at this point.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Which might go some way to explaining why a grand total of four people (including Mrs Blackout and myself) were watching the film in a 268-seat auditorium. Okay, it was 18:30 on a Monday evening, but still. The film had only been properly open for four days. [ BACK ]

*2 Really. No, really... [ BACK ]

*3 Can't believe I've just used raison d'être in a review. And talking about Lego, as well. Sorry about that. #FilmTwat [ BACK ]

*4 And I guarantee you that not one person in any audience has walked out into the foyer saying "Well, my favourite part was the film's two incidental newscasters voiced for the UK release by Good Morning Britain's Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway, who popped up every five minutes in Act I to describe the things the audience could already see happening on-screen, whilst repeatedly saying their own names! Hahaha!". Not one. It's made worse by the fact that neither Lego model looks like the actual presenters, since it's just a cheap re-dub which Warner Animation Group apparently hope will appeal to the audience on this side of the pond, as if this will plug the holes left by a scattergun script. It's like that time in Shrek 2 when they got Kate Thornton to voice the lines given to Joan Rivers in the US release, despite the character model clearly looking exactly like Joan Rivers (who believe it or not is actually known over here). Honestly. Ben Shephard. Kate Garraway. I ask you... [ 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.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Review: The Death Of Stalin





The Death Of Stalin
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. Armando Iannucci / Trailer



Because if anyone is going to be able to blend mid 20th century Russian political satire and West End farce, it's going to be Armando Iannucci, the mind behind Alan Partridge, The Thick of It and Veep. In the company of writers David Schneider, Ian Martin and Fabien Nury, he's crafted a razor-sharp comedy which is about exactly what it says on the front, there: The Death of Stalin in Russia, 1953. It is very funny. By which I mean the film is very funny. Not the on-screen death of a 74 year old man. Although that is also very funny. In this film.

While the story takes place in its period setting, the script is interwoven with Tarantino-level bickering and a timeless British-level sarcasm (and not a cod-Russian accent to be heard, which only adds to the charm*1). The filmmakers have assembled an absolutely outstanding cast to deliver it, with everyone on blistering form. Central characters are introduced with brief in-scene title cards showing their name and position in the Soviet hierarchy, but most of what happens isn’t reliant on the audience bringing any prior knowledge. Shot in a hand-held documentary-style, the pacing for the first hour is one of escalating bedlam, with Stalin's demise creating a vacuum of both power and common-sense.

From the Act I opening of a panicked Paddy Considine, to the quiet bluster of Michael Palin and self-absorbed scheming of Simon Russell Beale, the film is the best example of institutional chaos you'll find short of the actual news. Although you might come for Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor, you'll stay for Jason Isaacs and Rupert Friend*2. In its second-hour though, the pace slows and shifts to a poignant ending I don’t think it quite pulls off. Then again, this section would probably have worked better with me if I knew anything at all about that period of history. I can’t hold Armando at fault for me not bringing any prior knowledge. Everything I saw in the meanwhile was evidence of a creative team at the top of their game.

As enjoyable as The Death Of Stalin is, Iannucci ‘s directorial home is really on the small screen. There’s little here that’s inherently cinematic, and although I’ll definitely watch it again, I doubt that will take place at the flicks.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Iannucci's aforementioned TV work.
This is quite unlike anything I've been lucky enough to see in the cinema
.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you can't wait for the DVD/BRD/VOD to land in around 17 weeks.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so, although I'm perhaps not best to judge it on a content-level.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's definitely up-there.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.


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 The Inquisitor and Nower Jebel in it.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 To the point where it seems odd at first that Olga Kurylenko has that twang to her voice, until you remember half a second later that that's her actual Ukranian/French accent when she performs in English. [ BACK ]

*2 It's Rupert Friend who gets the best line in the film as Stalin's tantrum-prone spoilt son, coaching an ice-hockey team by essentially just yelling at them. I promise you no film this year will deliver a more sincere exasperation than "Play better, you clattering fannies!!". Priceless. [ 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, 18 October 2017

Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin





Goodbye Christopher Robin
Cert: PG / 107 mins / Dir. Simon Curtis / Trailer



Well, there was me thinking I was going to be distracted by the kid throughout Goodbye Christopher Robin, when in actual fact I was more concerned with Margot Robbie being picked up by the rozzers at any moment for failing to control an accent in a built-up screenplay. Seriously, what the hell was that?

It's amazing to think that Robbie and Domhnall Gleeson starred together before in About Time, where the former's Contemporary Middle Class Brit™ accent was absolutely flawless, yet here she is appearing in a film set between the World Wars, and her Upper Class Brit™ accent keeps swerving back to her native Australian (which is usually a fantastic blank-canvass for voice-work, unless you're Sam Worthington). Now I want Robbie to take a recurring role in Eastenders, just to see which way it goes at the other end of the scale. On the occasions when she's clearly trying too hard (almost every other line), she almost sounds German.

It's frankly unforgivable that a performance so sloppy should ever reach the editing suite, let alone the cinema screen, and I blame the director entirely for apparently not having the cojones to be like "Okay, cut! Right Domhnall? Great work, keep that up, you sound for all the world like a young Obi-Wan Kenobi and I know of at least one film-blogger who will delight in that irony. Young Will? You're doing fine but go easy on the cutesy-cutsey, we're not sponsored by Hallmark, you know. And Margot. Oh, Margot. Please try to remember that Daphne Milne was a socialite from Battersea, not a Berlin spy who's been hiding out in Sydney for a decade but suddenly finds herself trapped improvising a role in the British countryside. Let's go again, and… ACTION.

Hmm? The film itself? It was okay, I suppose. Not really my bag to begin with; costume melodrama, a bit twee, seems to skip over large chunks of time where important things happen (like the publishing of All The Books). Then again, I have no strong feelings either way for Winnie The Pooh if I'm being honest. You'll probably enjoy it, though.

Also yeah, the kid's infuriating.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The kind of stiff-upper-lip drama that doesn't quite romanticise*1 the aftermath of a world war, but really can't go into it all properly because of its BBFC rating.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Sunday afternoon DVD, tops.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
What, to give a convenient, heavy-handed and simplistic account of a difficult relationship in a time of great uncertainty? Probably.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Gleeson is fantastic, then again he's rarely anything but.
But I don't think we've seen his best work yet
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There are four flashback scenes to the Western Front in this film, and not a single Wilhelm Scream to be heard. Ridiculous. I mean if nothing else, you'd expect a movie with General Hux and Harley Quinn to have more shouting in it, frankly.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: As mentioned, General Hux is in this, as is Phoebe 'as yet un-named role in the upcoming Han Solo film' Waller-Bridge.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Speaking of romanticising, why the actual fuck is the Elizabeth Tower (aka 'Big Ben' at the Houses of Parliament) on the poster, there? The Milnes move away from London to the countryside during Act I, only go back very briefly and at no point does anyone walk along the banks of the Thames. Half of this poster is bullshit. Is this for the American audiences? I think they're already sold on account of it being "quintessentially British" mate, you don't have to fucking lie to them. This has made me more angry than the accent-thing, if I'm being honest. [ 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.