Monday, 22 July 2019

Review: Animals





Animals
Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. Sophie Hyde / Trailer



Occasionally there's comes a film that I'm glad to have experienced in a cinema, even if I can't go so far as saying I actually enjoyed it (cf). The work is usually well constructed, tightly written and soundly performed. And watching it in a custom-built, dedicated auditorium is the level playing field that all movies deserve. Even accounting for differences in audience demographics and cultural norms, there should be something in any film that I can find to admire. Even if I can't go so far as saying I actually enjoyed it.

I wish I'd liked Animals more, even though I can't think of any inclusion (or omission) which would have facilitated that. Well done, Sophie Hyde. I guess.

SCREEN


Adapted for the big screen by Emma Jane Unsworth from her 2014 novel of the same name, we meet aspiring novelist and full-time barista Laura (Holliday Grainger), and her best friend Tyler (Alia Shawkat). With the former in her early thirties and the other rapidly approaching that third decade, the pair are trying their damnedest to drown out the ticking of social clocks and expectational standards by continuing to party like teenagers.

And they're doing a pretty fine job of it when Laura meets pianist Jim (Fra Fee) and a serious relationship blooms. But Jim's idea of a great time is the occasional night out, and pretty soon Laura feels torn between her hedonistic past and a responsible, potentially achievement-filled, future. Can Laura reconcile the two halves of her personality? More to the point, should she?

GODDESS


So. Best friends having a great time, one of them gets a boy/girlfriend, the boy/girlfriend doesn't really click with the best friend, tensions ensue. It's not a bristling new idea for a story, and that's very much the point of Animals. Hyde's film focuses more on the interweaving characterisation, and she's got a strong cast to deliver that.

Alia Shawkat is on fine form, selling her role as only she can. Vivacious to the point of obstreperous, Tyler is the kind of person you love to have at your party as long as it's not you who's having to steer them away from the crockery all evening. But the real standout here is Holliday Grainger, largely because hers is the only part in the story which feels fully written. For all the character's faults, Laura tip-toes along a fine line of being sympathetic and unlikeable, never faltering too far either way. Ultimately she's just heartbreakingly human, the core of what keeps the film watchable for its run-time. It's not as if Grainger even needs a dramatic showreel at this point in her career, but Animals would fit the bill in and of itself.

GIANT


But it becomes more of a problem when everything begins to fall apart and the mood of the film sags accordingly. Hyde over-directs pretty much every scene, any trace of nuance in the characterisation ground into the boards as the cast emote like they're in panto at a borstal. The highs are ear-splittingly high, the lows correspondingly despondent. The dim light at the end of the tunnel is merely the prospect of Laura 'getting by' - hardly an aspiration - while the excesses of her peers echo noisily throughout the quieter scenes. And all of this is intentional, but Animals is often hard work. At times it feels like a Trainspotting fan-film crowdfunded by Mumsnet, without any deeper message, bordering on contemporary mis-lit. Because Laura is the only character who's properly explored, everyone else feels two-dimensional. And this leads to an unintentional (I hope) claustrophobia as those surrounding Laura turn into walls, holding her in place.

We end on a great note of quiet optimism, but it's one perhaps suited to a more delicate film. Although that could just be my inner cynic being surprised the movie doesn't close with a higher bodycount.

There's a chance I was never going to get fully immersed in this world, of course. There's even the sneaking suspicion that it's Not Intended For Me™. But I do think hinging an entire movie around one performance is a huge gamble. Worse still, I can't be sure if it even paid off...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well I was hoping for Thoroughbreds with a little less murder, but it's not even that.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It's a bit Sunday Night DVD, but if you think it'll be your thing then it almost certainly will.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Grainger is very, very good.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Almost certainly.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Alia Shawkat is in this and she was in Pee Wee's Big Holiday with Paul 'RX-24' Reubens.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
I agree, it does read like a 3, doesn't 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.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Review: Apollo 11





Apollo 11
Cert: U / 93 mins / Dir. Todd Douglas Miller / Trailer



I have to admit that I went in pretty much blind for this one (having missed its initial release as it's not important enough for my local, apparently?), and since I tend not to read reviews of films I haven't seen yet. The trailers beforehand were for Playmobil, The Lion King and Racing In The Rain, and I thought 'hang on… is this a documentary for kids?'. Then they showed that Champagne For Wankers advert which only runs in front of grown-ups films, and I realised that the distributors have absolutely no idea who will be watching Apollo 11.

Although here's a clue: it should be everybody.

MISSION


Apollo 11 is (as you should know and/or have gathered), a documentary about the eponymous space mission which saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, on 21 July 1969*1, while Michael Collins kept the engine running like the absolute legend he is. Unlike most documentaries, it's a purely historical account with no commentary or retrospective interview footage. The film comprises amazingly restored archive footage and sound recordings*2, with additional (minimalist) illustrative graphics and readouts, sound design by Eric Milano and an immense new score by Matt Morton*3.

With no voiceover to guide the viewer, the events are told through the storytelling skills of an editor (which director Todd Douglas Miller also performs), meticulously assembled and often covering two or more simultaneous strands (and yet it's always perfectly clear). Viewers would be advised to have a general grounding in background knowledge before taking their seats. As great as this is (and it is), Apollo 11 is perhaps not as accessible as it could be to younger audiences taking their first gaze at the heavens (even though it's not like the subject hasn't been tackled elsewhere). While it's a brilliant and immersive snapshot, the film is arguably not designed as a teaching resource, detailing nothing of the painful lead-up to the mission. It's still a dignified and massively respectful tribute, though.

SISTERS


After the triumphant landing, the documentary also covers their journey back to Earth (in admittedly less detail), a key component of JFK's initial pledge. In fact, the film doesn't touch upon that speech until its closing moments, a quiet reminder that Kennedy never lived to see the achievement he inspired.

I left Apollo 11 absolutely humbled that humanity achieved something so extraordinary so long ago, and absolutely appalled that we didn't keep up that momentum and find new ways to go further.

Space Force, Donny? Fucking seriously?
That's from a mid-80s action figure line



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
While they're very different, this will make a great companion-piece with First Man.


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


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
There probably won't be a lot of replay-value in this unless it's your subject anyway, in which case you don't need me to tell you to get it on your shelf at the earliest opporunity.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Todd Douglas Miller has outdone himself.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Discuss vigorously, I imagine.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Neil Armstrong performed voicework for 2010's Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey, as did James Earl 'Vader' Jones, Hayden 'Anakin' Christensen, Mark 'Luke' Hamill, Sam 'Windu' Jackson, and Tom 'Nute Gunray In The Clone Wars' Kenny.
Which is pretty fantastic company to be in, you have to admit.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 I saw this film a week ago, and while I'd like to tell you I waited seven days to post my review so that it syncs with fifty years to the day since Neil Armstrong's iconic walk, the fact is that I've just been spectacularly poorly organised this week, hence me dropping four posts in a single day and two more still in the pipeline. [ BACK ]

*2 As listeners of the BBC podcast 13 Minutes To The Moon will be aware, much of the radio communication between Apollo 11 and control is static-y gibberish. But at least we have the visuals in the meanwhile. [ BACK ]

*3 And the geek in me loves that Morton's score has been produced only using instruments and effects which existed at the time of the launch. That's dedication to art. [ 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: The Dead Don't Die





The Dead Don't Die
Cert: 15 / 105 mins / Dir. Jim Jarmusch / Trailer



Okay, help me out film-buffs: Are all Jim Jarmusch movies as sloppily written and mechanically acted as The Dead Don't Die? Is this the point? I only appear to have seen one other thing on his resumé, but I tend to hear his name spoken with respect and some artistic reverence. And this movie inspires neither.

OUTBREAK


The Dead Don't Die is a film where a zombie outbreak occurs in a small, backwater American town. That's about it. There's not really a story, it's more a series of events, most of which are interlinked by the chronology of the piece, if nothing else. The dead come back to life and start attacking the living, a lot of people die as a result. That's about it. Oh, and Iggy Pop in zombie-makeup looks exactly like Iggy Pop. Make of that what you will.

This feels like Jarmusch hates zombie films and has decided to take that out on an unsuspecting genre-audience. The movie is overflowing with clumsy, literal dialogue. Characters narrate their inner monologue, repeat each other as if they're stalling for time and describe everything they do or see. Form an audio standpoint, it's like a badly improvised radio drama that's somehow been caught on film.

The problem could be that stiltedly reproducing something in a wry yet artless manner is not the same as deconstructing it. And if you're not going to deconstruct your subject, don't try to make a smug, arthouse-friendly movie about it. All the knowing glances and fourth-wall-nudging in the world can't stop this from feeling like the first draft of a pastiche written by somebody who's only seen two zombie movies but figures they know enough to have a crack at writing their own anyway. Because if I can't let Crispian Mills get away with using fracking as a plot device, I'm sure as shit not going to let Jim Jarmusch walk out with it under his arm either.

MRS DOUBTFIRE


That cast, though. You've got to assume they were drawn in by either the reputation or existing relationship with the director, rather than reading the script. That's assuming there's a script. Most of the delivery here sounds like the cast are either ad-libbing or having their lines fed directly to them through an earpiece as the camera rolls. It's all deliberate of course, but imaging spending this much money just for Bill Murray to look uncomfortably bored. The film has a few wry chuckles and some good ideas, but doesn't employ the vocabulary it needs to express them properly*1.

And because there's no structured story, Jim didn't have to write an ending! The film finishes because the characters die, with no drama, excitement or intrigue. A decomposing, stone-cold mess. Not half as clever as it thinks it is, but twice as boring.

I can tell that Jarmusch is trying to provoke the casual audience who will watch this because of its cast, its title or its poster-art. And if anything, I thoroughly respect the product for being precisely what he intended to make.

But The Dead Don't Die is the emperor's new clothes of zombie movies.
Tellingly, transparently so…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Logan Lucky, American Ultra.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
No.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it if you must.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
*looks over spectacles*.


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Kylo Ren is in this. There's also a Star Destroyer reference which I imagine is supposed to come off as ironic, but it's as self-indulgent as everything else in the film.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Now there's a Film-Twat™ thing to say, and I'm delighted it's come while writing about a Jim Jarmusch movie, if only because I know how vehemently yet disdainfully he'd disagree with it... [ 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: Stuber





Stuber
Cert: 15 / 93 mins / Dir. Michael Dowse / Trailer



Y'know not long from now, using Uber as a plot-point in your movie is going to look about as cool as a MySpace reference. Tread carefully, writers. Anyway, Stuber is what happens when you put two supporting actors in leading roles*1 and hope that the goodwill of the audience will fill any gaps.

DRIVER


Kumail Nanjiani plays Stu, an unassuming Uber driver (this is the joke, do you see? Stu. Uber. 'Stuber'. Do you see?) and sporting-goods store clerk who wants to run his own fitness studio. Dave Bautista plays Vic, an bullish yet efficient police officer who is recovering from laser eye-surgery, meaning he can't drive his own car. Vic books a car via the aforementioned app, and Stu ends up being his unwitting partner in law-enforcement for the day. As this odd couple learn to get along, each realises that the other is exactly what they need right now, and of course there's plenty of ha-ha-hilarity along the way! Also, a lot of people get shot in the face.

Well, if you're in the market for an hour and a half of gunfire and wide-eyed shrieking, your cab has arrived. Apparently Dave Bautista myopically bumping into shit is the new 'Kevin James Falls Over For An Hour And A Half'. When it's being a lightheared actioner, Stuber is just about passable. When the movie is being an outright comedy it really struggles. Which is odd, because both of its starts can do comedy, they're just choosing not to. There's more grunting and tyre-screeching than dialogue in this movie, and Dave still has too many lines. The reason Drax worked is because he didn't say that much.

METRO


The frustrated bickering between the two leads means the film squeaks past the six-laugh-test, but only just. In many ways it's a shame that director Michael Dowse is such a fan of bad language and gratuitous headshots, because at heart this is a kids' comedy*2. A buddy-cop movie where only one of them is the cop, this isn't awful but it's certainly unapologetic Filler™. Failing whenever it tries to take itself too seriously (so the first and third acts, basically), the number of quips in the trailer that don't make it into the final cut suggest thousands of miles of B-roll footage (not to mention slack direction). Pity the film's editor, if nothing else.

The likeability of its cast isn't enough to save Stuber, but it may just be enough to elevate it to 'conveniently forgettable'…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well put it this way, I see Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg have stopped returning 20th Century Fox's calls...


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Not particularly.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it, if you must.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Nope.


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


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Razoo Quin-Fee and Jarek Yeager are in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 "Oh" you exclaim, "Kumail Nanjiani isn't a supporting actor, he was the main dude in The Big Sick!". Yes. This is precisely my point, thank you. [ BACK ]

*2 After saying that he'd "rather do good films", Bautista has made a PG version of this exact fucking thing again before the paint's even dry on Stuber. Go and think about what you've done, Dave. And don't be 'baffled' when you get called out, it's just that having fun on-set does not automatically result in a fun movie… [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: The Matrix





The Matrix
Cert: 15 / 136 mins / Dir. Lilly Wachowski & Lana Wachowski / Trailer



And so I sat down to watch The Matrix in the cinema for the first time*1 on a Saturday night in 2019. And it was packed. I'm not sure if this is a testament to the pulling power of Keanu Reeves or just a standard weekend attendance. Being massively anti-social and an absolute snob, I usually avoid my local on Friday and Saturday evenings. But I digress.

INDUSTRIAL


It's a strong start to The Matrix that we begin in medias res, even if this results in industrial levels of exposition further down the line. And we hit the ground running with beautifully choreographed fight scenes, hyper-kinetic editing and the famous effects-shots. The film is ambitious in its scope (although it wasn't the first to be) but also groundbreaking in its execution - even if Bullet Time isn't quite the jaw-dropper is was in the last millennium. Still not every sci-fi movie gets books of actual essays written about it. The Matrix isn't reinventing the wheel, it's just happy to be a spoke in one which already exists.

The movie's long-lasting appeal lies in it being enjoyable on two levels: throwaway dystopian actioner and/or mythological philosophy piece. Best of all, that balance isn't open to interpretation. No matter which end gives you your kicks, it's overtly a mix of both, and they can be it can be enjoyed on either or both levels simultaneously. Parts two and three went more firmly down that second path of course, hence their more 'mixed' reception*2. But even this first film is loaded with symbolism, numerology and literary references, both on the surface and below it. Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard Of Oz and more biblical nods than you can shake a mitre at.

HOUSING


Unlike the majority of action flicks, The Matrix challenges its audience to think. It encourages debate long after the credits have rolled. The characters force the audience to ask some pretty terrifying questions about identity, determinism, society, reality and even farming practices. And while it's tempting to bat these aside (as indeed Neo does, initially), that's the exact point. Because when it comes down to it, both Morpheus and Smith want the same thing - freedom (although the latter is in no way to be interpreted as a sympathetic character). And when the good and the bad guys are raising the same points, it's harder to dismiss them as propaganda or idealism.

Sure, the film is a little clunky in places (the effects-work has aged better than the dialogue), but the definition of Cool™ has evolved over two decades. All of this adds to the charm, and the Wachowskis can be forgiven for the odd falter while taking such large strides.

The Matrix is, by some considerable distance, the best movie they have made.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor (both of which pre-date The Matrix).


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


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
You should already have it, but yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
For the directors, yes.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I have theories.


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


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


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Yeah, I just didn't get round to it at the time, even though I was in the cinema for the sequels. While it's well acknowledged that the first movie was something of a sleeper hit, I was just preoccupied with a another film in 1999. [ BACK ]

*2 Although I'm more than happy to go on record in saying that I love all three movies and view them as one long story. Mind you, I haven't watched any of the entries for some years now (no agenda behind that, just scheduling issues), and as a result I watched the latter half of The Matrix waiting for events to occur which don't crop up until Reloaded and Revolutions. It's probably time to break those discs out again... [ 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.