Monday, 31 December 2018

Sticky: #FilmReview Hiatus

Short version:

I'm done with reviewing everything I see at the cinema. For the foreseeable future, at any rate. It's become too time-consuming to try and find interesting things to write about things which are largely uninteresting, especially given that I'm sitting through the films in the first place.
But I've covered a fair old few over the years, so now's the time to knock it on the head.

Cinema visits will continue and I'll be compiling some manner of micro-review over on the Twitter and the Facebook. Film-talk will carry on in those same places (mostly Twitter, to be honest), and I'd love for you to come over and say hello (if you haven't already).

This won't be the final blog post at World Of Blackout, but at this point I'm not planning anything in terms of frequency, tone or content. Stuff will appear as it appears.

So long and thanks for all the clicks!


Long version:
Disclaimer: I'll apologise now for the repetition of the words "film" and "movie" that follow. I generally try and minimise and balance the count of those out across an article, but in a block of text such as this, it becomes self-defeating. Whatever.

Ah, you kept going down the page. Lovely.
Take a seat, dear reader, and pour yourself something from the bar.
Ice is in the bottom.

And so. It arose, properly, from a conversation I had with a close friend, in a London hotel bar in December 2010. After a day's catching up and general carousing, the conversation strayed onto the creative arts, media and our own respective online presences, such as they were. At that point I'd had World Of Blackout on the go for a couple of years, but there was no real form or direction to it, just amateurish whimsy posted at irregular intervals. This wasn't a film-review blog.

Yet there were a handful of film reviews in there. I'd had a Cineworld Unlimited card since mid-2007, and would occasionally post observations about what I'd seen - again with no real form or direction. I'd even done a brief stint through Facebook of watching twelve movies in twelve days and writing about them (later ported to the blog as a point of reference), which seemed like an outlandish feat at the time. Film was something which interested me, but certainly wasn't a main focus. This wasn't a film-review blog.

Anyway, I mentioned in passing how I liked writing, but often struggled waiting for inspiration to strike. A blog needs a broad subject after all, it can't just be a stream of consciousness or an online diary of inane events no-one but the author will care about. My companion remarked how he'd enjoyed the few film reviews I'd posted sporadically through the year. He said I should do more of those, in that loose way you encourage a friend while in casual, semi-drunk conversation.

And with that, reader, a light went on. Challenge accepted. As those who know me well will attest, I'm not one for half-measures. I decided at that point to rate and review everything I watched at the cinema, from January 1st onwards. All things. Any cinema. Plus some home-viewings as well, probably, but they wouldn't be the focus. The idea was that this would a) provide me with a regular stream of consistently themed, yet tonally varied, source content, and b) help me focus my hobby and appreciate film more clearly. After all, why have an Unlimited card if you're going to see movies while they're brand new, without any sort of analysis or evaluation? You might as well be watching them later on television and saving yourself £16 a month. This was all before Letterboxd.

So, everything would be picked apart. Those I liked, those I didn't, even multiple visits to re-watch the same thing. Because if you're not getting something new in seeing a movie more than once, then why are you doing it? Even if it's the repetition which makes it better, think about why that applies to some movies and not others.

But this still wasn't a film-review blog. Other people did those, I reasoned, and they were far more focused with greater knowledge and deeper appreciation than me. I was just a guy trying to really hammer the Unlimited card and have something to show for it other than knowing the cinema staff to chat to.

And so it began. 2011 saw me go to the pictures 93 times. 2012 was a neat 100 times, 2013 was 137, and onto 2014 (145), 2015 (157), 2016 (158) and 2017 (142). As I write, it's September 2018 and we stand at 95. That's a lot of words written. Reader, it became a film-review blog. Slowly, the header-structure of articles took shape, social media feeds were introduced, the 'branding' morphed into something more theatrical, and the amount of non-review content all but disappeared. No news, little opinion, mainly just reviews. No firm structure or word-count to aim for, just a broadly consistent level of summary and readability (although some of you would question this, I know). I quickly settled into my preferred discussion format of too many superfluous adjectives*1 and sentences which are slightly too long to comfortably read (and let's not forget my love of parentheses*2).

As well as spending too much time sitting in the dark at my local, World Of Blackout became 'my thing'. It was what I did, in fact it still is. "Hi, I'm Ian, I spend too much time analysing movies you'll probably never watch". I've met some fantastic and amazing people, online and in The Meatspace, as a result of writing online. I'm proud to call them friends directly as a result of 'my thing'. And that's fine, we all get a thing. But this is a time-consuming thing. And who among us has time to spare, in the 21st century?

The problem is that while I type quickly, I write slowly. Over all the years I've been doing this, I still haven't developed a method of sitting down and banging out a review in twenty minutes. Even with taking notes in the cinema (yeah, I'm that guy), by the time I've translated my scrawl, formed my bullet-points into coherent sentences, formed those into a roughly linear breakdown of the piece, assembled the header and footer information and typed the whole thing up in hard HTML (my own decision for greater format-control, and not one which slows me down that much to be honest) while constantly tweaking and self-editing, the average review takes longer to publish than the film did to watch.

And frankly, many of them aren't worth that (although a warning not to see Pixels will always be worth any amount of time taken to create it). The moment a backlog starts to build up (like when I watch four things back to back on a #FilmDay), it becomes less of a hobby and more an obligation. One which I imposed upon myself out of curiosity and boredom.

When I started (or committed to) the film-review blog, I didn't have an end-point in sight (because why would I?). I just wanted to get more out of movies. That's definitely happened, as I can't watch anything now without half of my brain forming soundbites for the pull-quote I'll use in the social media link. But life never remains static and I have less time these days to be repeatedly analysing Mark Wahlberg's inability to emote. Yet on he continues, almost as if he's not reading. Probably too busy getting up in the middle of the night for happy-time, or something.

Well, I've had enough. I'm not flouncing out of the internet, closing or even abandoning my accounts, it's just that for an OCD-angled brain like mine, this seems like a good time to hit Pause.

As of Sept 13th 2018, I have rated and reviewed one thousand titles.

That's not 1,000 blog posts, and it's not 1,000 review posts when you include rewatches. It doesn't even count anthology-season roundups or cramming weekends. It's one thousand times where I've sat down to take a look at the specific thing I've just watched.

This seems like a good time to hit Pause.

So, as noted up top, this won't be the final post at World Of Blackout. And there will, in all likelihood, be some movie reviews at some point in the future. I'm still writing at Set The Tape, general film chatter continues on the Twitter and the Facebook, and I'm currently compiling a template for quick-and-dirty micro-reviews (because we all know I can't just switch it off completely), which will be posted to both. And I'll probably continue to link to those from the Review Index page, for those of you who check the site first and the socials second.

This is not farewell, it's just let's see what happens next.

Always in motion, is the future.

…te veo, chico!

*1 Yes, that is the joke. Thank you. [ BACK ]

*2 Oh and the footnotes! Where would I be without the footnotes? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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, 15 November 2018

Review: Slaughterhouse Rulez

Slaughterhouse Rulez
Cert: 15 / 104 mins / Dir. Crispian Mills / Trailer

Well, fourth-quarter is the graveyard shift in the cinematic calendar, and the dumping ground for many an oddity that film distributors have no other slot for. And they don't come much odder or more dumped than director and co-writer Crispian Mills sophomore creature-com, Slaughterhouse Rulez.

When a place becomes unexpectedly available at a prestigious boarding school, working class northern teenager Don (Finn Cole*1) is encouraged to apply by his socially-aspirant mum. Struggling to adapt to the norms of private education, Finn gradually forms a guarded friendship with fellow sixth-formers Clemsie (Hermione Corfield*2) and Willoughby (Asa Butterfield*3). But things take a sinister turn when it's revealed that the mysterious headmaster (Michael Sheen) is in cahoots with a fracking company, and their drilling at the edge of the school's grounds has awoken something - or things. With teacher Meredith Houseman*4 (Simon Pegg) and environmental protestor Woody (Nick Frost) thrown into the mix, traditional allegiances have to be discarded as a weekend of off-term debauchery turns into a comic fight for survival...


Yeah, it's not great. Not great at all. The main problem is that the setup itself feels laboured, so no script coming off the back of that is ever going to sparkle, and so neither are the performances. The film spends the first twenty minutes not quite getting over its own joke that a school would be named Slaughterhouse*5, hammering home the archaic eccentricities of British private education like no-one else had noticed.

Cole, Corfield and Butterworth are basically fine, but none of them really have the acting chops at this point to lead the movie's young cast, even as an ensemble. At the other end of the scale, Pegg, Frost and Sheen are left to mug and autopilot through their (largely completely separate) scenes. All of the above need firmer direction, as does the screenplay itself. Instead we get a loose collection of weak sketches from the man who brought us A Fantastic Fear of Everything (34%).


The more creative the film tries to be with its monster scenes (of which there are surprisingly few, for a monster movie), the cheaper it all feels. Predator-lite heat vision and shadow-play can't disguise the obvious budgetary constraints, and the creature shots we do get strike an uneven balance between admittedly strong props with severely limited movement and fluid-but-murky-as-hell CGI.

More a clunky homage to teen horror than actually being one itself, there's little in the way of thrills and even less in shocks. A few smirks are to be had in the script, but no actual laughs. It's hard to know exactly what Slaughterhouse Rulez is trying to be, and as a result it's often hard to know exactly how badly it's failing.


Monsters or otherwise, the movie as a whole feels uninspired. Even with its heavy-handed fracking plot, you'd swear this had been sitting on a shelf since 2006, when Pegg and Frost were still enough of a thing to draw audiences with their presence alone.

The fact that Mills continually lifts beats from Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy while under-using those films' leading stars tells the audience how thin on the ground the ideas are. Slaughterhouse Rulez wants to be Harry Potter for fans of The World's End, but comes out more like Percy Jackson in the vein of Lesbian Vampire Killers.


Stories with a young leading cast aim to transport the audience back to imagined ideals of their youth, with camaraderie and adventure. Horror-tinged movies of this ilk either want the viewer to think that they'd love to be in that situation with the heroes, or just be relieved they're in the cinema watching at a safe distance. But for all the two-hour runtime and backstory bombardment, there's no immersion here.

The story isn't engaging enough to be a spectator-led affair, instead feeling like none of this matters. It's faintly ironic that the film is set in a public school since the it feels like it's been written by a drama student 6th Former with no outside social contacts.

Slaughterhouse Rulez is never flat-out awful, but its waste of a decent cast is an affront to the acting profession. There's the suggestion that this probably felt a lot more coherent and meaningful on-set, when everything was being experienced in a non-linear order and the final product was still a hazy dream. But hazy dreams produce hazy results, and this film should be included in the Media Studies module teaching that very lesson…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Lesbian Vampire Killers, The Festival. Yeah.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
The impact will be lessened even more in your living room, but it's the natural home of this.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Hahahaha, hell no.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's entirely possible, yes.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard. And in a flick like this, it would likely be front-and-centre if it were there.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well aside from some of the most cack-handed Star Wars references you've ever seen committed to film, Unkar Plutt is in this. So is Tallie. It's no consolation.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Finn Cole is 23 years old. [ BACK ]

*2 Hermione Corfield is 24 years old. [ BACK ]

*3 Asa Butterfield is 21. These are your teen-leads. It's like Grease never happened. [ BACK ]

*4 These really are the characters' names, by the way, I'm not making this up. [ BACK ]

*5 The title is (from what I can tell) effectively a portmanteau pun on Tom Sharpe's Cambridge-satire Porterhouse Blue and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, with the mis-spelling of 'Rules' lending the same air of intellectual confidence instilled by a hairdressing business with "Kutz" in its name. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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, 16 October 2018

Review: Bad Times At The El Royale

Bad Times At The El Royale
Cert: 15 / 141 mins / Dir. Drew Goddard / Trailer

Now and again, a trailer comes along for a movie which looks like it should be fun, but seems nonetheless achingly self-aware, a little too knowing. There appear to be too many central characters, all dialled up to 11 and trying to upstage one another. A script which seems to comprise lines designed for quoting and repetition out of context. A jukebox soundtrack of retro tunes compiled by someone who thinks they're hip but only listens to Radio 2 (and uses words like 'hip').

And you remember the glut of substandard, straight-to-video fare in the mid-1990s which followed Tarantino's breakout, where form was valued over function and the guy who made the tea on the set of Pulp Fiction would be hired to make the tea on the set of whatever-new-heist-movie so that the poster could claim some causal link to greatness. And you decide you'll probably watch it anyway, but with guarded reservations.

Anyway, I needn't have worried (and nor need you). Bad Times At The El Royale is glorious.


In the final throes of the 1960s*1 on the state line between Nevada and California, sits a hotel. A kitsch monument to the faded glamour of America's golden age, the El Royale is still a going concern, albeit a waning one. The building has its secrets, as does the lone member of staff appointed to oversee its smooth running. And when four separate guests arrive on the same evening, they're each bringing baggage in every sense. As their paths intertwine, it becomes clear that some guests will be checking out sooner than others...

My word. From its opening scene, the audience knows this is going to be a meticulously paced stay. We begin with a solitary locked-off shot of the interior of a motel room. A nameless man enters alone, hides the film's macguffin and awaits his contact, all without a single word of dialogue. It feels like we're watching a stage play, an aesthetic that continues after the lone title-card, and characters arrive at the eponymous venue, checking in by systematically signing their names in the register.


Rhythm and ritual reverberate heavily throughout Goddard's screenplay, from the the strained courtesy of receptionist Miles delivering the faded hotel's check-in welcome speech, to the methodical process of residents tearing through their rented rooms. The influence of that filmmaker mentioned above is felt particularly strongly, especially as it's the beats between the players' words which convey the meaning and betray their true intentions. But on a dark and stormy night with a guest-list full of secrets, there's as much Agatha Christie in here as there is Quentin Tarantino.

The narrative deepens in the second act where we begin to see key events replayed from the perspective of different characters and learn more of their backstories. There are no wry, second-guess-baiting reveals at The El Royale, but the story uncovers its developments slowly and purposefully, waiting for the right moment of theatrical effect.

And true to its stage ambience, this film is carried by standout performances from John Hamm, Lewis Pullman and above all Cynthia Erivo (and director Drew Goddard is certainly getting his money's worth from that actress's outstanding ability as a singer). Even Jeff Bridges forgoes his usual affable mumbling to bring a turn which is as touching as it is terrifying. Although it features a relatively small central cast, there's not a single dud (or even ordinary) performance in the whole film*2.


As Goddard works with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, the shots in El Royale are works of art in themselves, a counterbalance and symmetry running through the film like the state-line bisects the premises. Characters' hidden sides are revealed and then flipped back again, as we slowly learn that both of these facets make up who they really are. And we don't have to like who they may turn out to be, so long as we accept it. You are your inner-self and your outside-persona; no-one knows the face in your mirror like you do.

Is it style over substance? No. The style is the substance. Don't be fooled by the pronounced slickness and louche trappings. Bad Times At The El Royale is a surgically assembled, note-perfect masterpiece.

Also, I might be slightly in love with Dakota Johnson as she stalks around the secret corridors of a sleazy motel with bootcut jeans and a shotgun. My word...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Pulp Fiction, Identity, Murder On The Orient Express, Drive Angry.

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

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

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's in the top half of the CV, that's for sure.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Only if you're wrong.

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

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Captain Cormac out of The Old Republic is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Mate don't, the script doesn't say, I don't think. It's either the very late 60s or early 70s. Nixon is on TV (who was elected President in '68, although I'm not enough of a historian to say if the footage we see is from before or after that point) and the script specifically references Hush by Deep Purple (from the 1968 album Shades Of Deep Purple). So y'know, it could be a bit later, or there could just be a 1968 or '69 calendar on the hotel wall and I didn't notice first time round. [ BACK ]

*2 Even though Chris Hemsworth has arrived with his charm and without his shirt as instructed, he perhaps doesn't quite have the knife-edge gravitas required by his role as a pseudo hippy cult-leader. He's an engaging screen presence rightly enough, but Brad Pitt had this sort of thing down far more tightly in Kalifornia. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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, 11 October 2018

Review: A Star Is Born (2018)

This post originally appeared at
(Well an edited version of it did, at least. This raw review is too long, focuses too much on the main starring duo and the last two-thirds of it make pretty much the same negative point repeatedly. So it's a fairly accurate representation of the movie, all in.)

A Star Is Born (2018)
Cert: 15 / 136 mins / Dir. Bradley Cooper / Trailer

"Maybe it's time to let the old ways die,
Maybe it's time to let the old ways die…"

This opening lyric and recurring motif is a bold supposition from the lips of Bradley Cooper, as he goes Full Dennis Waterman™ in starring, directing, co-writing, co-producing, writing the theme tune and singing the theme tune to 2018's A Star Is Born*1. It's the fourth cinematic rendering of this tale of rags to riches via clinical depression and substance abuse, with Warner Bros hoping to bring a new spin to a story as old as showbusiness.

We open in the company of Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a grizzled, sozzled Southern-rock star who's grown too chemically altered to admit he's on the verge of rapidly descending the fame ladder. After a stadium gig one night, Jackson can't face going home to an empty house and winds up encountering Ally (Lady Gaga, whose character doesn't appear to get a surname), a young woman with a phenomenal voice who waitresses by night and performs cabaret cover versions in drag clubs by later-at-night. When Jackson realises she's also a gifted songwriter, he persuades Ally to join his band*2, and the pair quickly fall in love. But where the industry has little left to gain from Maine other than residual earnings, Ally is seen as a potential goldmine - to be exploited accordingly. As his protégé reaches heights that have never been open to Jackson, he has to reassess his place, and realises that inbuilt obsolescence may not be a new-fangled thing after all…

A Star Is Born's first act is a beautifully chaotic affair, with cinematographer Matthew Libatique only breaking away from the intimate hand-held trailing of his subjects for the occasional locked-off shot, mathematically composed to linger in the memory. While it's obviously reliant upon the taste of the individual, the music scenes in the first act are absolutely outstanding, whether it's a full rendition of a song or just a snippet. Expertly crafted pieces, meticulously performed, every one an earworm-in-waiting.

The inherent strife of country music may be a cliché of course, but this is where the real emotion of the movie lies, with the angst of characters we've barely met communicated perfectly through a three-and-a-half minute burst of co-ordinated harmony. The 'goosebump' moments in the film's trailer are even more hair-raising in the final cut, so naturally when the sanitising effects of Ally's fame begin to be introduced, the bristling intensity of the piece dips accordingly. The central theme of existential numbness plays like a New Country b-side to Inside Llewyn Davis.


Bradley swaps out his casual stubble for a full, unkempt beard in this role, duly adopting Hardy's Law™ of muffled pronunciation (unless he's is singing into a microphone, in which case Cooper's voice carries studio-levels of clarity). Sam Elliott also arrives as Jackson's older brother and manager Bobby, bearing only a voluminous moustache but illustrating that we perhaps shouldn't mock this verbal affliction as it's clearly a gene carried through the family.

Joking aside, it's clear from the outset that Cooper has committed to Jackson's side of the story above all else, both as a performer and director. We open with our male lead taking to the stage in his trademark shambolic style, the magic snapping in once his fingers touch wound-steel and his mouth comes within range of a microphone grille. And we see this ritual time and time again, in close range. Cooper doesn't want the cinema audience to feel like they're the concert audience, he wants them there on the stage. Although we see crowds (filmed during 2017's Coachella festival) during A Star Is Born, not a single shot of the stage is taken from ground-level. Yet at the same time, viewers never feel like they're part of the band either, just onlookers who are fortunate enough to be witnessing this first-hand from a unique limbo.

This disconnect reflects the age-old (and thoroughly self-indulgent) irk that an artist can never be in the audience for their own show. While the noise, confusion, harmony and adrenaline of playing on-stage are addictive in their own right, they're a world away from the unique buzz which is felt in a crowd of thousands, collectively hanging on every note blasting toward them.

Conversely, the first time we meet Ally the performance is shot from the audience's point of view (albeit in a bar). But this is only because that's where Jackson is sitting. Ally (more properly, Gaga) may be the star of this show in every sense, but it's a tale told firmly from Jackson's perspective. And viewers taking their seats had better be fans of both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, because Cooper isn't particularly interested in directing anything else...


Speaking of stagecraft, musicians in the audience may well raise an eyebrow at the number of times Cooper pulls theatrically away from his microphone, while the vocal line they're hearing continues at the same volume and intensity. More tellingly, this doesn't occur when Gaga is in the spotlight, an artist who has a different ratio of stage-to-screentime experience in her CV. While we're splitting hairs, A Star Is Born is also a movie which hopes its audience won't know that a studio can't record a vocal track when someone's also holding their monitor headphones open a foot away from the mic.

As is so often the case, much of what audiences take away from A Star Is Born will hinge on expectation. Whereas the trailer suggests a parable set in the music industry, it quickly becomes closer to the film industry's idea of what the music industry must be like. To the point where Cooper is not only homaging previous versions of the title, but also lifting well-worn beats from movies like Rock Star and Wayne's World.

Even if the viewer doesn't know the direction of the story beforehand, everything in the runtime is telegraphed a little too neatly. Whether it's the central dramatic shifts, the metaphorical moustache-twirling of Rafi Gavron's pop-oriented music manager or just an alcoholic wearing a tan suit to an awards ceremony, there are few surprises once the lights go down...


Another fundamental issue is Cooper's focus on the central characters at the expense of a large supporting cast. Jackson Maine is, by his very nature, vague and alcoholically enigmatic. While we learn what we need to know about the superstar through Ally, we glean remarkably little about her motivations in turn (a 'stage-dad', that's about it). Peripheral players are barely introduced, and even secondary characters' names often aren't used until their second or third appearances (and if anyone knows why Ally's father and his friends constantly hang around in the house at all hours of the day and night watching horse-racing but are wearing shirts and ties, please let me know below).

We can see why Jackson falls in love with Ally, but we're never quite convinced of what she sees in him. Despite her career trajectory, it's clear Ally is not intentionally using his status as a stepping stone, yet we see little other than slurred compliments, professionally tousled hair and a great smile as to what she's really fallen for (not that this can't be enough, I suppose - maybe that's the lesson?).

When the tide turns in the second act and the reality of Ally's Faustian pact begins to sink in, this is as over explained as our heroine's new musical direction is depressingly bland. The depiction of this micro-managed, over produced arm of the entertainment business feels heavy-handed, even for a picture painted in the broadest of strokes...


As the stage routines become more choreographed, so Cooper's directional resolve falters. We spend less time with Jackson and more with Ally, but the foundations of her character aren't strong enough to hold the dramatic weight loaded upon them. Luckily, Gaga's capability as a performer mostly overcomes this, but the actress's personality has to over-compensate as her character is shredded away. A Star Is Born begins to run out of things to say just after the hour-mark, and Cooper struggles to develop characters the story has already destroyed.

The feeling certainly prevails that Warner Bros are thinking about prospective soundtrack sales in the same way that Disney have an eye on lunchboxes and action figures. And that's fine in itself (it's a business, after all), but stings a little in a tale which claims to study the justness of artistic integrity. One rather suspects that an earlier draft of the screenplay was a damning indictment against the entertainment business, until the edges were sanded off and it became part of the problem instead.


There are moments of real greatness here, but these are largely confined to the first act. A shift which the audience is almost cruelly reminded of when the film crescendos into a power-ballad interspersed with a flashback montage (in case anyone in the auditorium can't work out what that scene means).

An all-too-accurate depiction of how something raw and beautiful can be moulded into the insipid and formulaic, in this respect the film leads by example. As a cautionary tale, A Star Is Born is fine if somewhat unremarkable. And while the central duo are irresistibly solid, it would be surprising if this product ages as the classic everyone at the studio is hoping for.

While it would be unfair to conclude that the old ways should be allowed to die, it would certainly be an idea to take a closer look at how they're repackaged and what they're bringing to the party.

Come for the soundtrack, stay for Lady Gaga…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Structurally, the three previous versions of A Star Is Born.
Tonally, Silver Linings Playbook

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
The first 45 minutes are.

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

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Well, no. Maybe. No.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Oh fuck yeah.

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

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Snap Wexley's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Legal Disclaimer: Although Cooper was involved in writing music for A Star Is Born, he didn't pen the actual lyrics in the opening quote, above. But the Dennis Waterman joke doesn't really work without the Little Britain reference, and the author thinks this bending of the attributions is permissible under the circumstances. Thank you. [ BACK ]

*2 Do the Musicians Union need to be informed that Ally appears to be playing her early gigs for free alongside band-members who are being paid? Do you want to tell them? It's okay, I will... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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, 4 October 2018

Review: Venom

Venom (2D / Vaguely spoiler-ish)
Cert: 15 / 112 mins / Dir. Ruben Fleischer / Trailer

In short: I went to see Venom.
It is not a good film*1.

In long...

If there was ever a celluloid embodiment of the words 'oh mate', this would be the one.

So. It's Los Angeles. Some gooey aliens want to take over the Earth because scientists went into space and that was always going to end badly. We're at the point now where extra-terrestrial invasion narratives are no longer a metaphor for colonial attitudes or fear of progress, but just reflect the page where the library-copy of The Hollywood Screenwriter's Handbook falls open.


Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter who makes non-branded videos of domestic issues which we first assume are just for YouTube, but are apparently for some corporation or other, the precise nature of which isn't explained. He's the kind of hard-hitting, new-media journalist who corners his quarry by politely arranging meetings in their place of work then arriving on time. Who ruthlessly fronts his videos by looking at neither the camera nor his interview subject, but at a scratty notepad clutched in his hand while he mumbles vague accusations. Who responds to firm corporate rebuttal by leaving the building when asked. Who is so celebrated and in-demand as a journalist that when he's sacked from his part-time job nobody even notices, let alone head-hunts him for their own company. If Brock is actually capable of any kind of sleuthing or intelligence-gathering, we don't see it in this film. Anyway, Eddie is poking his nose into things he shouldn't, and an alien goes in him. That's Act 1.

Brock's girlfriend, Anne Weying, is played by the Academy Award-nominated actress Michelle Williams, who brilliantly and incisively interprets her role as a woman looking indelibly bored for two hours. Anne is a lawyer whom we never see doing any lawyering, although given that a) it's not her film, and b) we barely see our investigative reporter actually investigating or reporting either, this is hardly surprising. Riz Ahmed plays Carlton Drake, who is The Baddie. We know this because he wears a sharp suit and whenever he opens his mouth, is forced to recite lines from The Movie Baddie's Phrasebook while squinting at underlings just off-camera. Woody Harrelson is in this but not until the end, and then you'll wish he hadn't bothered.


So. Venom feels like spending two hours watching first-takes of actors reading their lines for the first time, from a script which was written by a 12yr old who only watches superhero movies.

Demographically, Sony have spent so much effort angling their product to a non-kiddie audience that they didn't notice anyone old enough to get in will have seen all of this before (and better), whether it be any movie with aliens arriving on Earth, Todd McFarlane's other creation, Spawn, or even just the distrusted-authority in shiny skyscraper laboratories of Sony's last two Spider-Man outings. And although we get enough of the glistening fangs and body-horror to squeak through as a 15-certificate, there's little here to actually earn this edgier rating in terms of lasting threat or human injury.

By the time Brock and Venom become a variety double-act of grumpy bickering which barely stops short of looking right down the camera, this is like a Hallow'een-costume Deadpool.
But without the swearing. Or the self-awareness. Or the wit.


Beats are taken haphazardly from the horror genre, from the conspiracy thriller, sci-fi, action, comedy and of course the superhero-origins story. None of these gel together in the final edit, which incoherently changes tone at a rate suggesting that director Ruben Fleischer has suffered some sort of cranial trauma, and is permanently unable to recall the footage he shot each previous day. As a result, Hardy is left to bimble along from scene to scene in the title role, himself displaying symptoms of scriptual amnesia as he struggles to work out who his character is meant to be. The lack of direction in Tom's performance - both narratively and in terms of just being directed - is staggering.

The most disappointing aspect is that Venom should be better. It could be better. Why isn't this better? By this point, Sony have held onto the Spider-Man rights long and hard enough to know what works, what will be derided by critics and audiences alike, and what is ultimately damaging to their own reputation. To have assembled a cast this impressive and still have churned out a Tesco Value Sausage of a superhero movie is an embarrassment to all concerned.


There are some moments of fun, but there are far more which aren't. Perhaps the only saving grace is that the movie appears to exist (thus far) in its own standalone stream of continuity. In this respect, at least it will be easy to disregard.

Venom shows that not only are Sony not on the same page as Marvel Studios, they're not even in the same chapter. Okay, it's not Fantastic Four levels of bad, but the tonal inconsistencies and cack-handed moralising in the final moments put this on the same shelf as Ghost Rider.

There is a decent Venom movie to be made from this story, by this studio and with this cast.
But this isn't it...

The business-end:

• Is there a Wilhelm Scream? There is.
• Is there a Stan Lee cameo? There is.
• Is there a mid-credits scene? There is.
• Is there a post-credits scene? Well, kinda*2.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Life, and the first Amazing Spider-Man flick.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Not unless you like your migraines to originate from a 60ft wide screen.

Interestingly enough, this features the same cinematographer - Matthew Libatique - as A Star Is Born, also released in cinemas on the very same opening weekend. Although his hand-held, closeup style often threatens to derail that movie, too. In Venom, Matthew teams up with editors Alan Baumgarten and Maryann Brandon to go Full Seizure-Mode™

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Sure. This will make an interesting companion-piece for other superhero movies in the years to come.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
In no way, shape or form.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Come at me.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is, and it's as subtly woven into the mix as one would expect from a movie where a murdering alien says "turd" in the trailer.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This has got Bodhi Rook, Tobias Beckett and let's not forget Last Jedi Deleted Scene Stormtrooper Tom himself in it.
Not a bad turnout for a flick which doesn't have a Disney stamp in sight.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 That's the micro-review version. But I'm writing this as well. Hey, I said I was going to stop doing full reviews for every single thing I watched, not that I was going to stop writing altogether. And if anything was going to bring me back for a stab, it's a disappointing Marvel flick. But I'm getting ahead of myself... [ BACK ]

*2 The mid-credits scene is a coda to Venom, so stay for this. After the names have rolled (and I don't usually moan about the time taken to credit everyone who contributed to making a movie, but Venom's roll-call is presented in the same 'easily readable' speed and size typeface throughout, mostly in a single-column list. Reader, this is a four-songs-and-a-bit-of-the-soundtrack-length reel), we get a sequence from the upcoming Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse animated film. It's not connected to Venom by anything other than the rights-holders, and if you arrived at the cinema early enough you'll have already seen the latest trailer for it. With this in mind, you'll already know whether this is worth you hanging around for an extra ten minutes.
[ BACK ]

• ^^^ 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.