Thursday, 20 June 2019

Review: Men In Black International





Men In Black: International (3D)
Cert: 12A / 115 mins / Dir. F. Gary Gray / Trailer


It's great living in the future. Technology has caught up with human imagination to make flawless, photorealistic visualisations of pretty much any story that can be dreamt up. And now this wizardry has been paired with $110m of someone's actual money in creating a franchise-burner which is so linear, perfunctory and crushingly dull that not even Will Smith wanted to turn up for the glaringly obvious cameo opportunity during the first act. Christ.

So, something must have happened, right? During a visit to the Endgame set by a Sony rep checking up on Spider-Man's scenes, something bad must have been witnessed involving Chris 'Thor' Hemsworth and Tessa 'Valkyrie' Thompson, and now Sony are using the dirt as leverage to get them to star in this absolute, grade-A atrocity of a movie.

Men In Black: International is the perfect summer storm of watching people you love doing things you'll hate.

MISH


An incoherent mish-mash of previous installments, Hot Fuzz and Kingsman with plagiarised notes from Guardians Of The Galaxy, this is a two hour effects-reel loosely taped together by an elevator-pitch of a script which took longer to read back than it did to write. MiB:I isn't even a bubblegum movie, it's just brightly coloured wrapping paper masking a box which contains nothing of any value whatsoever*1.

The cast look bored and embarrassed in equal measure. Hemsworth clearly hopes the other highlights in his career will consign MiB:I to the 'Oh, I'd forgotten he did that' pile. Meanwhile Tessa Thompson (the actress who almost single-handedly turned a boxing sequel where no one wins the boxing into a layered character-drama) is on hand to literally point and explain everything throughout every scene in the movie. Liam Neeson is acting like someone's set his cadence-dial to 'shit Qui-Gon'*2 then  pushed START on the autopilot. Although credit where it's due, casting Neeson in a movie called "Men In Black" after his last set of promo-interviews takes some balls. And as for Emma Thompson? Look, I know she's everyone's favourite auntie, but between this and Johnny English 3 she should be made to hand back her National Treasure™ certificate at the nearest police station.

MONSTER


By the time Rebecca Ferguson arrives and the film has inexplicably turned into The Man From U.N.C.L.E. by way of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, all that's left is a series of third-act reveals which have been so heavily telegraphed they may as well have been captioned during the opening titles. You're left with the feeling it's not that MiB:I took seven years to produce, but rather someone spent six and a half years staring at a wall for ideas before giving up and just letting the computer write the damned thing instead. Whatever Sony have got on the Asgardians, I can't see how it'd be as bad as this...

Would make a passable double-bill with X-Men: Dark Phoenix for anyone who's having trouble sleeping.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Imagine the pilot episode of a Nickelodeon sitcom which has gotten out of hand while still being unfinished on the page.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is not.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is not.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
If you have anything remotely positive to say about the film, yes we will.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is not.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Qui-Gon Jinn is in this. And so is Canary Wharf, although it's nowhere near as cool as that time it pretended to be Scarif*3.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Look, I don't give out enough bottom-marks.
Seriously though, fuck this movie.


*1 Okay, it's supported some jobs in the film industry. I get that. Men In Black: International's biggest claim to social or artistic worth is that it put food on the table for its cast and crew so that they could stay alive for a bit longer to be ashamed of it. [ BACK ]

*2 And remember, I fucking LOVE Qui-Gon. [ BACK ]

*3 Speaking of location-spotting, it looks like Eat have paid the premium for brand-placement in London's scenes. Although that's not as cool as the branch of Greggs which shows up in one shot (literally the only time I smiled). [ 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.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Review: Brightburn





Brightburn
Cert: 15 / 90 mins / Dir. David Yarovesky / Trailer



Marvel Studios are doing well, of that there should be no doubt. One of the reasons for their continued success is that various chapters in their continuing cinematic saga can be ascribed to different genres of film. Which is a polite way of saying that "superhero" is not a genre (just as "animation" also isn't). While all of the 22 MCU chapters so far are linked by the common thread of superheroes, The First Avenger is a wartime adventure movie, The Winter Soldier is a modern espionage flick, Ant-Man plays as a heist and Ragnarok a flat-out comedy. Thus lies their success. However, due to the house-style being a self-imposed 12A certification limit, Marvel are unable to properly tackle horror. And any aficionado will tell you that comics have been about the macabre for as long as they've featured caped vigilantes.

Warner/DC have tried of course, but their efforts to produce more serious, thought-provoking tales often have the opposite effect, with Dawn Of Justice being particularly troubled in its 'darker' sections. Ultimately, the answer turns out to come from neither of the major comic studios, but it's on DC's side of the fence we stay (kind of) for David Yarovesky's Brightburn. It's a gleefully sardonic look at the Superman mythos, but one where the young hero took a different path once adulthood came knocking, turning into humanity's nemesis rather than its saviour*1.

REMAINS

Written for the screen by Brian and Mark Gunn, the location of a Kansas farm remains but in a present-day setting, as Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer spend years trying for children only to be gifted one by a falling meteor. Raising the human-looking youngster as their own for a dozen years, the pair wilfully overlook some of Brandon's (Jackson A. Dunn) quirks, knowing fine well that he's not 'normal'. But a secret hidden in the barn draws Brandon through sleepwalking, and soon the usual puberty-petulance and childhood revenge fantasies are being matched with superhuman powers, a tonne of questions and no one to supply answers. Things are about to go south.

On the whole, Brightburn is an interesting ride and works well. Always at the accessible-end of the horror genre rather than being a hardcore gorefest (although there are a smattering of delightfully gruesome moments), it's still far more interesting than the reams of supernatural studio-horror which usually clog up the schedules. Yarovesky and The Gunns never quite give in to darker urges (even if their subject does), and there's a pleasant lack of clockwork jump-scare moments - instead often revealing the antagonist at the back of a room to slowly raise the tension, rather than have him suddenly leap out of the darkness.

CANDELABRA


All of the central performers do well, playing their roles as straight as a semi-parody will allow. While the supporting cast could have been drafted in from any small-town horror, that's the way they're written and is totally in-keeping with the screenplay. At 90 minutes this is a tight affair, and it's perhaps surprising how long things take to really escalate, given the cracks we see appearing the first act. That said, the film never quite gets over the 'what if?' hump, and because it's overtly based on the legend most of its audience have seen in at least one form, direct comparisons are always at the front of the audience's mind. Because of this, it becomes difficult to enjoy Brightburn on its own merits.

And ultimately it's this question that the script fails to truly capitalise upon. The key theme of Brightburn should surely be one of nature vs nurture? How are Clark Kent and Brandon Breyer different? Breyer's adoptive parents are much younger than the Kents - did they fail in instilling the same values because of generational divides? Was Clark Kent's mixure of power and humility a product of its time, which simply couldn't happen again?

MILK WOOD


We see Brandon eventually interacting with the malignant force in the barn, but is this an echo from the past? A pan-galactic communication from the present? A misinterpreted message due to Brandon not properly understanding the alien tongue? Watching the film from his parents' point-of-view, it makes some sense that the audience would never learn the true origin of their son. But if we're meant to be with Brandon for the whole journey, it feels slightly unsatisfying that we don't really learn from his side either: 'the kid isn't human and he just turns evil because he was always going to be evil'.

And if that's the case, it might as well be a manky old nun in a haunted painting. Because if the answer to your 'what if?' is just "yeah, a lot of things get broken mate", then was it a question which was properly asked in the first place?

THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY


Brightburn is beautifully crafted in places, but in its current form will be no more than a novelty, an oddity, a spin on a classic rather than being great in its own right. A thought which is underlined by some truly appalling sequel-baiting in the final minute which I dearly hope was dropped into the edit as a pastiche of superhero cinema rather than a genuine punt at expansion.

But the fact that this tale of heroes-gone-bad is in cinemas at the same time as X-Men: Dark Phoenix tickles me greatly, if only because Simon Kinberg seems to wish that he'd made something even a quarter as interesting...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Chronicle, with shades of A Quiet Place.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're already on-side before going in, sure.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Re-play value on this may be limited, but Brightburn will be good to have on the shelf.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not go mad.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Disagree, unlikely. Discuss at some length, yes.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: David Denman's in this, and he was in that Logan Lucky alongside Adam 'Kylo Ren' Driver and Daniel 'TFA Stormtrooper' Craig.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although as one wag recently tweeted, "If I wanna watch an 'alternate' take on Superman in which he goes all kill crazy, I'll just watch Man of Steel.". And as much as I loved that film, I have to admit it's difficult to disagree at face-value... [ 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, 6 June 2019

Review: X-Men - Dark Phoenix





X-Men Dark Phoenix (3D)
Cert: 12A / 114 mins / Dir. Simon Kinberg / Trailer



Well, you have to admire Simon Kinberg's optimism, if you can tear yourself away from pitying him for it. With the Disney / 20th Century Fox takeover-deal now a paperwork exercise and its far-reaching effect on superhero franchises a headache in the making, the twelfth film in Fox's X-Men roster closes with a crane-shot of the School For Gifted Youngsters, accompanied by a stirring narration, boldly leaving an 'open road' approach for future stories to be told.

That this arrives after two of the absolute dullest hours audiences will see this year is glossed over with equal wistfulness.

PHOENIX


Let us not chase this one around the houses for too long, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is not good. It's not awful, but that's only because the movie's not interesting enough to be awful. The cinematic equivalent of a contractual obligation album, it's two hours of watching people you know can do better*1 making it resolutely clear that they have no intention of doing so. What's the point? They're staring into the DVD bargain bin on a hiding to nothing. When Marvel Studios finally get round to bringing mutants into the MCU, they'll be rebooted and recast at absolute best. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After a 1975 flashback to Jean Grey's traumatic childhood, we open properly in 1992 with Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) dispatching his best and brightest into the Earth's orbit to assist stricken United States space shuttle. What appears to be a solar storm is in fact something more malign, and in the kerfuffle Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs a hitherto unimaginable amount of raw power, almost dying as a result.

Back on terra firma, Jean struggles to come to terms with her experience and terrifying new strengths, while a task force of shape-shifting aliens led by Jessica Chastain in an atrocious wig arrives to claim what they were after in space, the gift that Jean Grey - the dark phoenix - unsteadily holds…

ROACH


Now that we're past the watershed of Future Past, the series*2 has been using its clout to re-craft the origins and fates of characters we've known for almost two decades. But Fox's longstanding cavalier approach to continuity means that this just comes over as 'yeah, thanks for the time and money you spent taking in those earlier flicks; they don't matter now by the way'. And this more than takes the edge off the new stories, too. The problem is that there's no jeopardy when the audience sees narrative consequence as a moot point, and even less when the cast are acting like that too.

Jean's struggle with newly heightened powers, repressed (and/or censored) memories of her past and fear for the future is nowhere near as emotionally complex as it should be (and Turner does not play this role well). Almost a side character in her own movie, cinematographer Mauro Fiore seems more interested in Jean's cleavage than her character. No, really.

In its quieter scenes, Dark Phoenix isn't particularly interesting, but when the action really ramps up it's positively boring. The bigger and louder the CGI mayhem becomes, the less it all means. That's a hurdle of which many modern movies fall afoul, granted, but with little actual story to act as a foundation in the first place, there's nothing for these sequences to even distract from. The driving force of the alien antagonists trying to steal back Jean's power is treated like a subplot, left over from an earlier draft of the screenplay and which can't be dropped completely because of a clause Chastain's contract. And It may seem a little late in the game for Fox to be introducing new, specially written characters, but lo and behold the debut of Captain Exposition™, a shapeshifter who mimics the appearance of central characters to read out a CliffsNotes summary of key scenes in the movie.

JOHNS


But it's not just big, tonal, structural problems. On an entirely civilian nitpicking level - how come the team are teleporting from the X-Jet into a space shuttle which has a massively ruptured hull, yet they don't need to wear space suits? Nightcrawler pops one on towards the end of the mission, seemingly for no reason since he's been in and out of open space three times by then, as have Jean and Quicksilver. And speaking of such matters, how come the X-gang spend so much time fighting the alien enemies during the final train-heist battle, when Nightcrawler could just bamf each one away from the train and then return for the next, like Azazel in First Class? And speaking of those such matters, wasn't the heavy, heavy implication at the end of First Class that Azazel and Mystique were Nightcrawler's parents? Because the latter two are on missions together here and there's not so much as a sniff of that idea.

And it's amazing that a movie which is so visually meticulous in its effects can be so slapdash when it comes to the basics of serial storytelling. From First Class's 1962 onward, we've leapfrogged around ten years in each installment. So here we are thirty years later and the central characters seem to have only aged around a decade (in line with the real-world production schedules, of course). This can easily be explained for Jennifer Lawrence's chameleon Raven/Mystique, but just shaving James McAvoy's head as Xavier isn't going to cut it, lads (Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult aren't even awarded that concession - and let's leave aside that they're theoretically only a few years away from looking like Ian McKellen and Kelsey Grammer by this point).

Speaking of Mystique, how come she changes into her 'human' form here while knocking around in the mansion and there's no need for that subterfuge? We know Charles disapproves of this form as 'hiding her true self', yet in Dark Phoenix he doesn't bat an eyelid. Are we in a strand of continuity where they didn't have that previous conversation? On a similar note, we see Hank 'Beast' McCoy in his human-guise while in the depths of despair and grief, also within the walls of the school. Wouldn't this be a time when Hank would drop that pretence? He then turns 'human' when he's stunned by attackers in a later scene. But isn't the blue beast his natural resting form now? Isn't that his true self? Isn't the facade of duality the whole point of the X-Men movies?

AVON


But in all honesty I probably can't score this one too lowly, if only because I went easy on Aquaman and this movie has nowhere near as many problems as DC's last offering. At least that was knowingly silly. But given the absolute heights of what the X-Men movies are capable of, Dark Phoenix is unforgivably weak.

I'm not even saddened to say that I look forward to no more of these films being made. 20th Century Fox have, over the years, told stories where outsiders band together to fight oppression and prejudice, where they learn the value of working as a team without losing sight of the individual, where they rise above those who hate and fear them to save everyone, including their persecutors. 20th century Fox have taken the quintessential essence of what superhero stories are supposed to be about, and watered it down to the point where I - a fan of superheroes - no longer care what happens to the X-Men. Well done guys, now give it back to Marvel.

The business-end:

• Is there a Wilhelm Scream? There is.
• Is there a Stan Lee cameo? There isn't.
• Is there a mid-credits scene? There isn't.
• Is there a post-credits scene? There isn't.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
X-Men: Apocalypse. Make of that what you will.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're going to watch it at all, you may as well. This will be dire when witnessed through your TV, no matter how big that is. I saw Dark Phoenix in 3D, which was basically fine considering live-action rarely translates well into stereoscopy.

It's perhaps also worth noting that I saw it on opening day and in 'the big screen' with only ten other people, but that perhaps says more about the popularity of 3D than of the franchise itself (this was the only 3D screening of the day, the format really is on its absolute arse unless you're going for IMAX).


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Completists may want to wait until the Blu-ray price drops significantly before adding it to their collection. Personally I'm not sure if I'll even bother doing that, and I say this as someone who eventually bought Apocalypse as a shelf-warmer.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Hahahahahahaha
James McAvoy's good, but he's been this good and better elsewhere.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Y'know what, that's entirely possible.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Yes. There's a low-level Wilhelm scream during the train brawl. Fucking FINALLY. I've watched 59 movies at the cinema in 2019 so far, and Dark Phoenix has been the first one with a clear, unambiguous (albeit quiet) Wilhelm. I'm thankful for that, if nothing else.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This movie is written and directed by Rogue One and Rebels producer, Simon Kinberg.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 With the honourable exception of Tye Sheridan of course, who is just Dreadful As Usual. [ BACK ]

*2 Although I really shouldn't use that word. As a wise person recently noted, "There is no X-Men movie series. There are X-Men movies." [ 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.