Thursday, 25 April 2019

Review: Avengers Endgame (first-pass)





Avengers: Endgame (first-pass / 2D / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 12A / 181 mins / Dir. Joe Russo & Anthony Russo / Trailer



And so, here we are 11 years, 11 TV series and 22 movies down the line, and the Infinity Saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to its theatrical finale. The weight of expectation hadn't been this great in screen 5 of my local since December 2015.

So you know the score by now, this will be short and sweet - first fleeting reactions and general notes of approval. Marvel Studios' movies are always too much to take in on a first-pass and Endgame is absolutely no exception. The three-hour runtime is used well in terms of pacing, but there's always something going on. And there's no intermission, so maybe sip that drink of yours instead of gulping…

CENTRAL


So how do you solve a problem like Thanos? The answer, it turns out, is as convoluted as the central plot structure itself. To the target audience demographic, this should present no significant problems, but be prepared for a surfeit of "Endgame plot EXPLAINED!!" clickbait posts lighting up the socials in the next week. For best results, watch Infinity War again shortly beforehand. Like all stories of this ilk, Endgame explains its own rules, pretty much abides by them and even enjoys poking fun at wider pop-culture in the process.

The problem faced by the Russo brothers is, of course, how to tie up as many threads as possible, without making the resulting bow too neat or, more importantly, too predictable. The multiple story arcs achieve varying success on these fronts, but nearly all of them feel deserving of their characters and more satisfying as a result. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pull off the twin feats of keeping all of the beats to a familiar rhythm, but throwing off audience preconceptions at regular intervals (an excellent case-in-point being Act I's 'shit, what now?' moment).

CARLTON


Perhaps another reason for that extended runtime is the roster of performers on call. While many are admittedly at 'brief cameo' level and only appear to add a sense of wider continuity, the returning cast list here is off. the. fucking. chart. The end result of this is a few scenes which feel a little like crowd-pleasers and a few returners who feel underused, but the writing's there to support their presence and there's little doubt your favourite MCU movie will get a nod.

On the whole, Endgame is satisfying on both a narrative and emotional level. The sweeping story is as clear as it can be given the ground it has to cover (repeat-viewings should fill any gaps), and should please long-term fans no end. Several spontaneous rounds of applause broke out in screen 5 tonight (okay, this morning), including one over the closing credits - a definite rarity in the 21st century.

KAVANAGH


Is this the end of the line? You jest. Marvel's published cinematic schedule has predetermined several of the Endgame's outcomes for some time now, and there's a good chance that some viewers will still think there are too many heroes left standing by the time the credits roll. But it all feels (largely) right, and there are no glaring inconsistencies in the final moments. Can Marvel top this? Not in the near future. Should they try? That's another discussion entirely.

In fact, one of the only definite downsides I picked up in all of this is the migraine-inducing mix of typefaces, positioning and sizing used for the onscreen captions throughout. A very minor point I know, but designers in the audience will be exhaling loudly…

The business-end (not spoilers, but highlight-to-read anyway):

• Is there a Wilhelm Scream? I don't think so.
• Is there a Stan Lee cameo? There is.
• Is there a mid-credits scene? There is not.
• Is there a post-credits scene? There is not.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well, Avengers films, to be fair.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Obviously.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say in such a crowded battlefield, but plenty get their moment to shine - including the Russo brothers.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Obviously.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard. Help me out, here.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Mace Windu's in this. Mate, that's not a spoiler, he's like furniture in these flicks. Awesome furniture, but still...


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.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Review: Us





Us (second-pass*1)
Cert: 15 / 116 mins / Dir. Jordan Peele / Trailer



I'm always in awe of any film which manages to convincingly show a maze of mirrors without also revealing the camera crew. And here, that's not even the cinematic finale, it's on the starter menu...

So as well as sounding like one of the nicest and most erudite people you'd ever want to meet, Jordan Peele goes from strength to strength artistically, using the tempered fury of Get Out then changing direction a little (without dropping down a gear) for his new film, Us.

Peele creates a movie which can be simultaneously enjoyed as a slickly assembled, surreal home invasion horror, and also a bitingly acerbic breakdown of repression, duality and societal paranoia. Best of all, he makes this look effortless. Us is a film about reflections, shadows, the differences between the two and the places where they overlap. It is almost oppressively intricate.

ESCALATING


Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis makes great use of the 360° sets, escalating the claustrophobia and submerging the audience right in it. And even with the everyone gradually dialling things up to 11*2, there's not a dud performance int the entire movie. It's excellently cast and Peele brings them all together like a conductor at the top of his game. First and deservedly foremost among these though is Lupita Nyong'o, with what could well be a career-defining turn as both Adelaide and her counterpart, Red. She manages to take what in any other production would be a pantomime partnership and instead produces a sinister dramatic ballet of unhinged threat.

STAIRING


Us sells its absurdist concept so well that even when the established beats of conventional horror flicks occur, they still work in the heat of the moment*3 - because 'reason' becomes theoretical when you can't tell what's real. Much like Get Out, when the plot mechanics are finally revealed in the third act of Us, the inherent silliness of the premise means that the film arguably makes even less sense than it did earlier. But anything which can be cinematically brilliant and still raise a plethora of 'how would that work?'*4 questions long after viewing is clearly doing a lot of things right.

A thematic kaleidoscope meets an absolute masterclass. We do not deserve Lupita Nyong'o, and we do not deserve Jordan Peele



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well let's start with Get Out, even though Us comes from a markedly different direction.


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


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is - repeat viewings are in order.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Jordan Peele will go from strength to strength, but this is (another) high watermark.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
It's possible. If you're wrong about it.


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


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


And if I HAD to put a number on it…*5


*1 My first-pass of Us was captured in a belated micro- review because as much as I loved the movie, I couldn't quite pull everything together into a full piece (pretty much the point of the micro-reviews, to be honest). Anyway, this second-pass is now late too, but let's just say that Us is every bit as tense the second time it's viewed. The threat, the intensity, the intrigue, every bit. And if that's not a sign of a fantastic flick then what is? [ BACK ]

*2 DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE [ BACK ]

*3 You know the drill: Why would they investigate where that noise is coming from? Why would they peek out from that open door? Why would they not just run the absolute fuck away at the earliest opportunity? That sort of thing. [ BACK ]

*4 Spoilers, but: Yeah the rabbits are an easily renewable source of food for The Tethered, but what do the rabbits eat? How can a society the same size as the population of the US survive living in tunnels without dying from vitamin deficiency and scurvy from just eating raw rabbit meat? Where did they get all the red fabric to make the outfits from? If the project was long-abandoned by the government, how come there are doubles of the kids? That's not how genetics work, otherwise all brothers/sisters of different ages would look identical. Is the system meant to be running itself down there? What happens to a double when its surface-dweller is killed accidentally? The '11:11' guy carried on living after his counterpart died. What happens when a surface dweller's life is saved with an operation from a naturally occurring genetic condition like cancer, but the double doesn't undergo that operation? What about people arriving in the country via immigration? Where are their doubles? What about Americans leaving the US? This can't work on any technical level, surely? The best part is that I still unconditionally love Us and have still barely even begun to unpack it. [ BACK ]

*5 Seriously though, so much of this movie makes no fucking sense that I cannot in good conscience award it full marks. But I do love it, though. [ 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.

Fisherman's Friends





Fisherman's Friends
Cert: 12A / 112 mins / Dir. Chris Foggin / Trailer



"We've got Tribute, Proper Job and guest ale Bishop's Finger" snarks Maggie Steed from behind the bar in a short but notable scene from Fisherman's Friends. "Wow!" the out-of-towner Danny manages not to reply, "you're so quirky and out-of-the-way down here in The Cornwall that the only draughts you carry are ones available in literally any supermarket throughout the UK. Well done, you! I'm glad I came!"*1.

So, in this 'and finally' news item spun out for two hours, brassy London-type A&R man Danny (Daniel Mays)*2 comes on a stag weekend to Port Isaac in Cornwall with his similarly lary colleagues, only to be charged with signing a local a capella sea-shanty group as part of an unwitting bet. Essentially trapped in the sleepy village, Danny slowly falls in love with the place, with the locals and begins to find himself as a result. And now more than ever he's convinced that the world needs to hear the voices of the Fisherman's Friends...

BRASSY


Yes, this is Calendar Girls in a different tin. It's The Full Monty. It's Brassed Off, it's Eddie The Eagle, Up'n'Under, and Walk Like A Panther. You've seen Fisherman's Friends about a dozen times before, but that's okay. The music is solid, the scenery is gorgeous and the cast keep the whole thing coasting along on charm (just about). Unlike the other music-based offering at my local this week, Fisherman's Friends doesn't feel the need to over-egg its drama or even its transparent tweeness. Ultimately, the easygoing nature of the film is its saving grace. Oh, this also isn't a million miles away from Saving Grace.

It's a large cast considering we only focus on a small central group of characters. The singing group comprises James Purefoy, David Hayman, Dave Johns, Sam Swainsbury and the six members who get no significant speaking lines. Mays and Purefoy are solid although you can tell this is no stretch for either of them. Tuppence Middleton shines as Alwyn, 'the girl one' and love interest, but again that wouldn't be hard in a role as televisual as this. And it's confirmation (as if that were needed), that as well as somehow not being able to consistently do his own regional accent, Dave Johns definitely hasn't got a hope of mastering any other areas of the country either.

GASTRICY


Fisherman's Friends is more proof than ever that as a society, we need fiction. Because if this twee, cliched, feelgood movie is the 'true story' it claims to be, then the art/life snake has eaten its own tail and reality has run out of ideas*3. Very mechanically constructed although never less than watchable, it feels like a piece made to illustrate a Film Studies lecture on basic story structure, character introduction and editing techniques.

And I still rather enjoyed it.

Apart from anything else, what kind of monumental twat organises a stag weekend in a village which only has one pub?



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
I think we've covered that already.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're in the market for that sort of thing.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not get carried away.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Possibly, but I doubt it'll be a heated conversation.


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


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


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 We get a brief respite from yokel-baiting when the story goes to London and confects outrage at £53 for a round of ten pints of bitter in Shoreditch. Firstly, that's not bad for London (especially poncey Shoreditch). And secondly, mate I've been to Cornwall recently and you're not that fucking far behind... [ BACK ]

*2 Right really though, Daniel Mays plays a character called Danny in this and he plays a character called Danny in BBC1's Line Of Duty and in NCS Manhunt. I'd thought it was either coincidence or contractual stipulation until I noticed that veteran character actress Maggie Steed's character in Fisherman's Friends is called Maggie, then I realised it's just make-it-up-on-the-day laziness. [ BACK ]

*3 And for a tale set in a remote Cornish fishing village, there's not a mention of Old Gregg. Outrageous. [ 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: Wild Rose





Wild Rose
Cert: 15 / 100 mins / Dir. Tom Harper / Trailer



Well that's a trailer for a much stronger movie, right there. I wish Wild Rose was less pedestrian. I freely admit that I know little-to-nothing about Country*1, but the music in Wild Rose - the glue which is supposed to hold the whole thing together - feels processed and sanitised to the point of utter blandness. It's admittedly a pretty good fit for the rest of the film.

DAMNEDEST


Now I don't mind 'crowd-pleasing', but director Tom Harper has tried his damnedest to strip any emotional drama out of Nicole Taylor's screenplay and in that respect has succeeded admirably. Harper can't seem to focus on the inner character of Rose, getting caught up instead in the cycle of bad decisions and her abrasive exterior. The feeling seeps through that for a story written by a woman and about the dynamics between three women, the film feels an awful lot like it's directed by a man, somehow. The whole thing just comes off like an ITV drama which bills itself as 'grim' when it's actually just humourless.

In the 'up' beats of the first two acts, the edge is taken off somewhat by the overwhelming certainty that some third-act tears are in the post. But when these arrive, they're neither as heartfelt, harrowing or meaningful as the story really needs*2. The only character who feels real in all of this is Rose herself; desperately flawed and unmistakably human. Unfortunately, she's not enough to carry the rest of the film. Jessie Buckley is magnificent in the title role of course (although this is probably because Jessie Buckley would be magnificent reading a takeaway menu), at once both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Again.

CLASHEDEST


But Wild Rose isn't as edgy as it would like you to think, and although the story can barely conceal its fairytale roots, it's not as inspirational either. Despite the desaturated suburban backdrop, this isn't Twin Town and it certainly isn't Trainspotting. At best, it's Billy Elliot without the joy*3. Buckley is so much better than the rest of this film it's not true*4. At least the week's other musical outing tells you upfront how cloyingly smug it's going to be.

Wild Rose is fine if you like that sort of thing, although I do think that sort of thing has been done much better elsewhere.

And mate, Rose is not going to be allowed into the USA on some unaccompanied, non-committal sightseeing holiday when she's just got out of prison for narcotics distribution, for actual fuck's sake...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Think of The Commitments, without the iconic soundtrack or the self-indulgent moping.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you like beige music on a big screen, sure.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Sunday night DVD, tops.


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


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Yes.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: That Private Basteren is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 It's notable that every mention of "Country and Western" in the script receives a petulant tut and eye-roll from the central character, yet when her prison friends shout "yer goin'a be the next Dolly Parton!" (the most clunkingly civilian of Country references next to Willie Nelson, and made by people she's known on a daily basis for two years), Rose doesn't tell them to fuck the fuck off. The fucking hypocrite. [ BACK ]

*2 Spoilers, but: Rose goes to That London (a trip paid for by someone else) with no real plan and returns after achieving nothing. Then Rose goes to Nashville (a trip paid for by someone else) with no real plan and returns after achieving nothing. Rose then decides that the best thing to do is just come back home and not get ideas above her station. Because Rose realises the moment she sets foot outside of Glasgow, she's no longer special. Now, a more focused film would have relayed the message that Rose working her way up from the clubs in suburban Scotland holds more artistic integrity than just bursting into a room, starting singing and hoping to instantly get signed to a label like the lazy winner of some horrific talent show eager for adulation without effort. And that seed is there in Wild Rose, but it's implied more than stated. Which is a shame because almost everything else here is bellowed at the audience without even a hint of subtext. The craft is buried beneath the attention-seeking noise. Again, a pretty good fit all things considered. [ BACK ]

*3 Up to and including, of course, the presence of National Treasure™ Julie Walters, doing her very best here to act like National Treasure™ Julie Walters, in a film which benefits in absolutely no way from featuring National Treasure™ Julie Walters doing a Scottish accent that seems to move about 30 miles between each scene. [ BACK ]

*4 Oh, and Whispering Bob Harris is in this. True story, Bob lives in one of the villages round my way and I saw him in my local Sainsbury's one night about six years ago. Bob asked a staff member where the tonic water was when he was standing in front of the tonic water. Bob then placed the contents of his basket onto the conveyor and then just left the empty basket on the conveyor. Bob left his card in the card machine after entering his PIN and went to walk off with his shopping. And as batshit crazy as all that sounds, at least it was a performance I could believe in. Bob plays 'himself' in Wild Rose and it's absolutely, toe-curlingly atrocious. I like Bob, but what the hell is he doing here? [ 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, 18 April 2019

Review: Hellboy (2019)





Hellboy
Cert: 15 / 121 mins / Dir. Neil Marshall / Trailer



Hang on, I thought we'd all agreed to stop putting King Arthur in movies for the next hundred years or so? It doesn't work. We know it doesn't work*1. And it especially doesn't work when you open your movie with Ian McShane grasping the mantle handed to him by the departure of dear John Hurt, the faux-gravitas of his acerbic voiceover setting the scriptual bar at a clunkingly low level before stepping into the shoes of Professor Broom, erstwhile father-figure to David Harbour's Hellboy.

Born in the latter days of the Second World War from a crazed Nazi experiment to attain victory by channelling the forces of the netherworld, an infant demon has been raised to adulthood by Broom and the Bureau For Paranormal Research And Defense, now an agent for the organisation where he assists in keeping the world safe from unspeakable terrors. So far, so much like the previous two movies. But this relative harmony is shattered by the return of the Blood Queen, Nimue (Mila Jovovich), dismembered and scattered by King Arthur centuries earlier, but being gradually re-assembled for reanimation by her loyal henchman, Gruagach (Stephen Graham). Because, as with so many resurgent tyrants, she's coming back to ensure humanity's destruction...

IMAGINE


And it's even sillier than you'd imagine, somehow. As noted above, the film does not get off to a good start. Andrew Cosby's screenplay is clunky, preposterous and without a cast who can really carry off most of it. That said, within ten minutes Hellboy is all-in battling an errant demon at a Mexican wrestling match while Scorpions' Rock You Like A Hurricane plays over the top. If that's not a signpost for the weapons-grade silliness to follow, nothing is. Of course, it's at this point that the casual viewer may well think 'hang on, this has gone full 'Dusk Till Dawn' incredibly early - where is there to go from here?' The answer comes in the metaphorical form of director Neil Marshall pointing at a dial and saying "...but this film goes up to 11".

Despite this full-on action being activated from the off, the film's first act suggests that there's not really enough 'new' content here to justify a full cinematic reboot for the franchise (although it was initially slated to be an in-universe prequel). Without Guillermo Del Toro's melancholy touch*2, Hellboy becomes Kingsman-meets-Nightbreed. And it turns out the differently-labelled bottle that no one asked for is the tonic we all needed.

SWEET LORD


It's difficult to un-learn Ron Perlman's anti-hero but Harbour makes this interpretation his own in short order, giving a surprisingly rounded turn (for this film) as a character with a demon's body, a hero's responsibilities and very human limitations. McShane barks his way through the script as only he can, yet he's still like Laurence Olivier compared to Milla Jovovich, gnawing her way through the scenery in full pantomime-mode. The plot structure is by now par for the course with this sort of thing, and scripting issues continue way past the opening scene-setting. It's unclear how much of this is inherent to a property which carries its corniness with more sincerity on the printed page.

But when the talking's over and it's time for action, Hellboy is good fun. Bloody good fun (and often very bloody). Perhaps more fun than someone like Guillermo knows how to have, in all honesty. It's a movie made by someone who seems to genuinely not care what the critics think; which is either the ultimate in artistic purity, or a staggering lack of self-awareness. Possibly both.

STAND TOGETHER


Basically a live-action horror cartoon, Hellboy is unapologetically schlocky. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will depend almost entirely on the viewer. Despite the many words which will be written about Marshall's project (including these), it's a film which boldly defies critical appraisal. Acutely aware of how daft it is and just not caring anyway. And is all the better for that. Marshall and Cosby initially do a solid enough job of starting things in medias res, with backstory left for the viewer to pluck from between the heavy-handed lines of conversation.

As things move on however, it becomes clear they're both buggers for an expository flashback, taking 'show-don't-tell' to startling new levels of superfluousness. They also absolutely adore a casual fuck-bomb. Hellboy more than earns its hard 15 certificate on the language alone, the vast majority of which is delivered with a very British facetiousness that may well pass over the heads international audiences*3.

Your humble correspondent went into this with no real baggage, struggled with its unwieldy nature, yet found himself grinning like an idiot by the third act. Mötley Crüe playing over a laboratory shoot-out? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Embrace the ridiculousness and it's one hell of a ride. There are industrial amounts of sequel-baiting going on, including mid- and end-credit stingers, but that's okay - a movie's got to at least try and leave its options open.

2019's Hellboy is demonstrably not a great film. And it's still the most gleefully excessive fun I've had in the cinema this year…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Oh, Drive Angry. Fuck yeah.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Well, me and about five other people on the planet think so.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
With the best will in the world, see this BIG or don't bother.
As much as I love it, I'm not sure how it'll translate to the small screen
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I can't call that one. I absolutely loved Marshall's Dog Soldiers back in the day, but have to admit that it's not aged well.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Well it's looking that way, isn't it?


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard, but there's a shit-ton of screaming going on here, so I may well have missed it. Yet at the same time, a movie like Hellboy would wear a Wilhelm on its sleeve proudly, so let's go with 'no'.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well, there's a definite Taun-taun reference when they're at the chip shop, but also General Draven is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Yeah, I just didn't go to see The Kid Who Would Be King, recently. Heard nothing but good things about it, yet every time I sat through the trailer in a cinema I could feel my ulcer loosening its belt another notch. That film looks custom-designed to annoy me and I see no reason to confirm that it fulfils its remit. [ BACK ]

*2 While I don't actively dislike his work, Guillermo Del Toro is basically Tim Burton for film-snobs. There. I said it. [ BACK ]

*3 One of the film's low-key standouts is where Gruagach - the seven foot tall boar-headed demon with a thick Scouse accent who uses the fuck-word as punctuation - offers Nimue the Blood Queen some actual Jaffa Cakes. Fantastic stuff. This is hands-down the best product placement since Seabrook Crisps rocked up in The Fast & The Furious. [ 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.