Friday, 13 December 2019

Review: A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood





A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
Cert: PG / 109 mins / Dir. Marielle Heller / Trailer



Arriving just in time for both awards season and the mood in which a vast swathe of audiences no doubt find themselves submerged, Marielle Heller's A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is the tonic we'd forgotten we needed.

Focusing on near-legendary American children's TV presenter Fred Rogers, it's less of a biopic and more a musing on the cultural impact of his work over the decades. Played expertly by Tom Hanks with quiet and relentless patience and optimism, the film's story-proper takes place in 1998, following curmudgeonly journalist-in-crisis Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) as he's despatched by Esquire magazine to get a 400-word interview on the concept of modern-day heroes. Upon meeting Rogers, Vogel begins to be drawn into his well of calm, and begins to unpick the knotted threads of his own life.

And it's lovely. Ponderous in some places, outright surrealist in others Beautiful Day is no less sappy than you'd imagine but certainly darker than you'd expect. A parable for 2019, the film cuts through our cynicism like a knife while never forgetting how it was formed in the first place. Through Rogers, Heller reassures us that everything will be alright in the end, but there's work to be done to get there, and not everything matters as much as we think it does.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is likely to drift through the UK box office without creating too many ripples. Don't let it pass you by.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Wish I Was Here, Miles Ahead.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.
I'm very aware that the majority of UK audiences will be in the room because of Tom Hanks rather than knowing who Mr. Rogers is, but I assure you as someone who was in that exact camp that this is worth watching, even as an introduction to the man
.


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 definitely 'up there'.
Although I'm not exactly a huge fan of Hanks, so
...


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Chris Cooper is in this, and he was in 2012's Muppets movie along with Donald 'Calrissian' Glover.


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.

Review: Jumanji - The Next Level





Jumanji: The Next Level (3D)
Cert: 12A / 123 mins / Dir. Jake Kasdan / Trailer



Realising that Disney/Lucasfilm have pretty much got the adventure-cinema market sewn up this December, Sony/Columbia have decided to drop their own franchise entry startlingly close to its release date. Jumanji: The Next Level opens properly a week before Episode IX, but can it compete?

THIRD


Well, kinda. While it’s technically the third Jumanji film, this is very much the second chapter of 2017’s soft-reboot, and tonally it’s on the same page. In fact narratively, it’s barely even on the next page.

After a setup sequence which takes far too long considering how perfunctory it all turns out to be, our heroes (Morgan Turner, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain) are transported once again to the simulated otherworld of Jumanji in a bid to find their missing friend (Alex Wolff), adopting the in-game personas of Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson. Additional cast-members in the real world come from Danny DeVito and Danny Glover, while extra star-billing avatars arrive in the forms of Awkwafina and Rory McCann. Nick Jonas and Rhys Darby return in roles they could have probably filmed in a single day.

LIONHEART


And it’s all good fun, with a self-aware script buoying up the rollicking adventure and stunning visuals*1. The problem is that we’ve already done this, and The Next Level always feels like a remix of Welcome To The Jungle without really bringing any new content. The body-swap motif from last time is replayed and there’s extra mileage here in exploring that further, but ultimately this is a device to get the most out of the in-game cast, and it feels like padding. The central adventure itself is a linear affair, with its story-admin often coming off as cumbersome.

BREEZER


Sequel-movies have always been saddled with this burden of course, and sequel-games even more so. It stands to reason that this project would suffer. Any gamer will be hard-pushed to break the programming of their surroundings, and the law of diminishing returns is the most unforgiving of all. 2017’s entry had pleasant surprise as its super-weapon; this follow-up isn’t playing with the same armoury. So perhaps it’s unavoidable (if not intentional), but even coasting along on effortless charm The Next Level feels disposable at best.

But enough of my moaning. Jumanji: The Next Level is good-spirited, undemanding fun. And any movie which can have me consistently enjoying performances from Jack Black and Kevin Hart must be doing a lot of things right…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The previous Jumanji film.


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 not.


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There only bloody is.

What’s more, combine it with the Wilhelm Scream in the pre-movie McDonald's advert, the one in the Amazon Fire TV spot and Cineworld's new 2020-promo, and that's pretty good for an evening out. And given the scream-stats for 2019, it's about damned time
.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Jack Black is in this, and he was in that Gulliver's Travels along with Jonathan 'Jebel' Aris.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 The 3D version of this movie is Very Much In 3D All Of The Time, which feels a little overblown in the first act before the action begins, but is still a sweet touch for a format which the industry has all but dropped in 2019... [ 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: Motherless Brooklyn





Motherless Brooklyn
Cert: 15 / 144 mins / Dir. Edward Norton / Trailer



Adapting Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel, Edward Norton produces, screen-writes and directs a tale of secrets and lies in 1957 New York. Starring as Lionel - assistant to private-eye Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) and fighting to keep his Tourette Syndrome under control - the murder of his boss sees our aspiring sleuth drawn into a city-wide bureaucratic conspiracy*1. When Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) vocally protests against property developer Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), Lionel becomes involved believing this to be linked to Frank's death. The pair are then surprised to receive help from architect Paul (Willem Dafoe), and the plot thickens...

MODEL


Credit where it's due for the guy doing a bit of A Dennis Waterman, Norton is a model of restraint here. Although his character's affliction comes and goes depending on his stress and distraction-levels, it would be easy to over-egg this part yet Edward rarely strays that close. Alec Baldwin is a bit more pantomime in his (metaphorical) moustache-twirling role, but Willem Dafoe brings things back to level with a 'focused' performance which channels a gaunt Brian Blessed.

Cinematographer Dick Pope's camera direction and colour palette are somehow dynamic and soporific in equal measure, bringing a soothing buzz to the intrigue of the story, while Daniel Pemberton and Wynton Marsalis' soundtrack work is outstanding, a character in and of itself; the whole thing is of its time without becoming a caricature of jazz.

PEOPLE


The plot is as convoluted as a private eye conspiracy tale needs to be, but always makes sense in context of itself. Similarly, the finish is quieter than the long lead-up might suggest although it's ultimately in-keeping with the themes of right, wrong and just making the best of a bad situation.

Motherless Brooklyn is too story-driven to be strictly a character piece, yet Norton's central performance is turned up too high to let the narrative take the lead. As such, it's unclear where this will sit in the future.

It's good, though. Watch it for the soundtrack alone.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Think Sin City, filtered through Inside Llewyn Davis.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Only if you're enthused/intrigued beforehand.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not, if only because it's a cast who have been so strong elsewhere.


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Ethan Suplee is in this, and he was in that episode of My Name Is Earl with John 'Durant' Favreau.

(although special shoutout to Michael Kenneth Wiliams who was supposed to have been in Solo, which would have made this a level-1).


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Having not read the 1999 novel, I don't know how closely Norton has adapted it for the 2019 screen, so I don't know how much of the glaring Tr*mp subtext has been trowelled onto this movie by me, the viewer. Let's just say that if the openly racist property developer and megalomaniac had bleach-blond hair, it would be simultaneously over-the-top yet entirely in keeping...
[ 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: Gremlins





Gremlins
Cert: 12A / 106 mins / Dir. Joe Dante / Trailer



Confession-time: it has been far too long since I watched Gremlins and part of me had actually forgotten what a stone-cold Christmas classic it really is. With its mid-80s timestamp and names like Kennedy, Marshall and Spielberg on the production roster, Joe Dante’s creature feature is the solid gold standard of wry adventure cinema.

BUSTLING


In the small town of Kingston Falls*1, the bustling lead-up to Christmas gets a whole load more chaotic when inventor/salesman Randall Pelzter brings home a pet Mogwai for his son, Billy. Not quite understanding the gravity behind the rules for keeping one, the household is soon under siege - followed shortly by the whole town - from small demonic creatures who don’t know the meaning of a Silent Night…

The movie begins at a wonderfully measured pace even though it’s never dull, takes time to personalise its character archetypes, and masterfully teases out the reveal of both its cure hero and his snarling antagonists. And when the action does kick in, on the flip of a coin Gremlins becomes a darkly comic home-invasion horror, then a delightfully silly action comedy.

HUSTLING


Using lighting, shadow-play and offscreen sound effects, Dante does so much with so little. It’s a masterpiece of efficient filmmaking until it’s time for the little critters to take centre-stage. At this point, the craft and skill of model-making and puppetry collide – not to mention Dante’s skill in directing his human cast (because the Gremlins themselves won’t work for long unless they’ve got people to play off against). Jerry Goldsmith's sweeping, melodic score drives the whole romp forward, while the 4K transfer looks amazing. Other than the outfits and set-dressing, Gremlins hasn’t aged a day. It is utterly glorious.

RAZZLING


It’s just that… well, how does the Mogwai/Gremlin’s biology work? I don’t mean the reproduction-when-wet, I can buy that. I mean good/bad thing when they eat after midnight. The little dudes don’t know what time it is, so this has got to be a cell-coded thing based on the relative positions of the Earth and Sun, right? Which means that hourly timezone blocks wouldn’t govern this, as they’re a societal construct. From a purely geographical standpoint, the line of 'midnight' moves at the same speed the Earth rotates.

Also, this story takes place at Christmas when Daylight Savings Time is in effect in North America. That will affect the midnight-rule. Shouldn’t Randall Peltzer been informed of this at the time of purchase? (I know he got Gizmo from the kid outside the shop rather than the old man himself, but still). Also, what time is it safe to feed them again? When is the re-set? Randall’s just told they shouldn’t eat “after midnight”. Well mate, 11:30pm is “after” midnight if you’re on a 24hr clock. You can’t lay down rules without some sort of written contract, Dante. Even ol’ Doc Brown took the chalk to the blackboard to explain how things worked…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
E.T. but darker and more playful.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you can, yes.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Although I reserve the level of affection for Phoebe Cates shared by most adolescent boys who watched Gremlins in the 1980s, it’s notable that viewed through 2019’s lens she’s technically out-acted by Mushroom, who plays Barney the dog. Nothing against Cates who is great in other projects, but despite my praise for Dante in the review above, she is not well directed here. The dog however, is consistently fantastic.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
No, because you think it's great as well.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Atari's 1983 Death Star Trench Run game is in this.
Close enough for me, pal.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 How had I forgotten that the town square of Kingston Falls is Back To The Future’s Hill Valley? That’s what I mean about this being too long. [ 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.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Review: Knives Out (second-pass)





Knives Out (second-pass)
Cert: 12A / 130 mins / Dir. Rian Johnson / Trailer




Not a great deal more to add upon my first brief mutterings on this movie, other than to say that it will become a firm favourite in the years to come and I'm already hoping Benoit Blanc has more outings in the future.

Knowing the story and its outcome, a second-pass of Knives Out meant I could get fully immersed in the magnificent performances which Rian Johnson plucks from his cast - one of the very few exceptions where the players of a movie are clearly having an absolute ball and it still results in something which isn't self-indulgently awful. And although there are narrative 'tells' to pick up when re-watching, the identity of the murderer never seems too obvious, the motives of the non-murderers are just as potentially solid, and Blanc most definitely does not know whodunnit all along.
Come for the murder, stay for the fun.
Then come back again for both...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Agatha Christye type things.


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 will be high up on a a lot of performers' CVs for quite a while, and with good reason.


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Stomeroni Starck and Slowen Lo are in this.


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.