Thursday, 22 August 2019

Review: Angel Has Fallen





Angel Has Fallen
Cert: 15 / 121 mins / Dir. Ric Roman Waugh / Trailer



It’s always darkest before the dawn, and you know you’re in the heart of the school Summer holidays when your local cinema can only free themselves from swathes of brightly coloured animated features by screening a straight-to-DVD sequel they've picked up from the £3 shelf in Sainsbury’s.

Yes, the law of diminishing returns has brought us to Angel Has Fallen, the third entry in what its star is apparently calling A Franchise*1. Gerard Butler, a feature-length Wellman advert with the focus less on vitamin supplements and more on protein shakes laced with shots of testosterone, plays Mike Angel Banning, all-round Man™ and personal bodyguard to Morgan Freeman’s President Character*2. When Gerry is framed after a botched assassination attempt, it’s up to him to escape from the custody of the security services and uncover the dark heart of the web of corruption and y’know what? You know exactly how this works by now, I don’t have to explain it. It's that film.

SHORT


Now I’m trying to keep this review on the short side and lord knows I have a huge laundry list of complaints on why this is not a great movie. But you can tell that from the title, the poster and the cast. I still went anyway, so I'm to blame for my experience in there. Oh look the first sequence has Danny Huston in it as Gerry's boss, I wonder if he’ll turn out to be Actually A Baddie on account of not having played a genuinely sympathetic character since *checks notes* ...1995? Let’s wait and see.

So while it’s Butler’s turn here to live out every Top Gear fan’s daydream of being the Man™ surrounded by a cast that exist solely to either fear or revere him, this could just as easily be a vehicle for Wahlberg. Or for Damon. Or for Neeson. The result would be exactly the same. And far be it from me to big up the career of Dominic Cooper, but his capable, gruff, yet emotionally scarred super-security-operative was dealing with suspiciously acrobatic killer drones two bloody years ago, mate. And it wasn't good then, either. In a failed bid to redress the chromosome imbalance of the movie, Piper Perabo has been airdropped in to be Tearful Wife On Phone™ (Radha Mitchell having finally had enough after doing this twice), appearing every fifteen minutes or so to act as a visual reminder than Gerry is a) straight and b) a family man. Wahlberg would approve, if nothing else.

WATTS


Between Huston, Freeman and Butler, there’s so much phoning-in of performances*3 here that British Telecom have an exec-producer credit. The whole thing is almost spectacularly formulaic, which might not be so bad if two thirds of that cast hadn’t already pulled the exact same shit twice already with the same character names*4. But Angel Has Fallen commits that most egregious of all cinematic crimes: it’s relentlessly boring. Although I was quite surprised how linear a conspiracy thriller can get away with being these days. If there’s a man, woman or child who isn’t instinctively able to map out the film's plot structure and resolution after about four minutes then the audience for This Type Of Thing is truly secured.

We go through the motions (scowling, grunting, final mano-a-mano faceoff fight on a rooftop which is clearly an indoor soundstage) until Gerry wins. Obvs. There's a sort of mid-credits scene that appears a minute into the credits, so sure is the editor that people will not otherwise be hanging around to see it. The sizeable audience with whom I shared an auditorium still continued leaving during that. They'd seen 'directed by', that was the end, that was the deal and they were damn-well sticking to it. A patron adjacent to me sat and ate an entire full-size tube of Pringles throughout this movie, a level of heart-disease-baiting that I feel is entirely in keeping for a genre which the BBFC are rumoured to be designating a new rating of 'G – Suitable for Gammon’.

Even with its so-far patchy selection, the cinema of 2019 is a well-stocked bar boasting real ale, craft beer, fine wines, cocktails and slammers.

Angel Has Fallen is like looking at all that and asking for a pint of Carling...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Equalizer 2, Jason Bourne, Mile 22.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you are Gerard Butler's mum.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Well, one only hopes that when this film hits DVD after the requisite 17-week period, the packaging designers are going to pre-print the 'Gifts For Father's Day' flash directly onto the cover-art, to save supermarkets a bit of time over the next fifteen years.


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


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Inexplicably, no.

Like someone in the sound-editing department has gone "No Terry, we're better than that…"



Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: That dancer from Dryden Vos's barge-party is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Gerry. Mate. There’s a Subway on my nearest high street where they regularly put notices in the window to say they’ve run out of the base ingredient, bread, and that they’ll be closed before 6pm due to staffing shortages. That Subway is part of a franchise, too. Do you see where I’m going with this? [ BACK ]

*2 I’m sure the words “President Trumball” seemed perfectly benign when this series began in 2013. I mean why wouldn’t they? But the writers are in a hole now, aware that any time Freeman’s character is referred to by name there’ll be an involuntary twitch from the audience at the point of ”President Trum-“. Bad luck lads, what can you do? I mean you certainly can't kill him off, otherwise your leading hero is shit at his own and only job. [ BACK ]

*3 Although it’s worth noting that while Freeman literally phoned in most of his turn for the second movie, this time he opts for being in a coma for most of the run-time. In that respect, his was the sole character I began to identify with. [ BACK ]

*4 Look, we know you’re not trying, Gerry, and you certainly know. But can you at least act as if you’re interested? Sorry, daft question... [ 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: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark





Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (VAGUE SPOILERS)
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. André Øvredal / Trailer



So. it's 1968 in small town Pennsylvania at Halloween. A quartet of teenage misfits manage to evade a group of jock-bullies after trick-or-treating and take a detour by the old abandoned house which belonged to the local turn-of-the-century child murderer. Within its crumbling walls they come across a cursed book, and over the nights which follow the team - and their close associates - are picked off one by one as the stories of their supernaturally gruesome deaths appear magically in its pages.

KING


So. What begins feeling for all the world like a Stephen King fan film*1 gradually becomes a quasi-anthology as we see a handful of creepy stories enacted. That the characters themselves realise exactly what's happening despite being powerless to change it gives the whole thing a feeling of Final Destination by way of Goosebumps. With posessed scarecrows, zombies and spiders this is classic fare, and it's definitely more an alt-teen adventure than a flat out horror, although the film is all the better for that.

The central cast of Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur and Gabriel Rush are all solid enough individually but become more than the sum of their parts to make things really fizz. The effects shots, while well-executed, are relatively few and far between so the rest is down to good old-fashioned visual storytelling and the tradition of the campfire yarn. And while the costumes and sets display a suitably vintage sensibility, the production and scripting have a distinctly post-modern air*2. The film's plot is not meant to be taken at face value, although the distinct themes of denial and survivor's guilt are plain enough for all to see. Scary Stories works because of its darkly playful structure. We're never expected to believe these events are actually happening as we see them - only that urban legends exist and people of all ages believe them for different reasons.

AND DEAN


There are a few scenes of Quiet/Quiet/BANG!™ which the movie is otherwise much better than, and I'm deducting points for the third-act ritual of poking about through hospital archives and newspaper cuttings, and also the shoehorning in of The Mystical Old Black Lady™. Those are all cheap tropes which Blumhouse have flogged to death in recent years and they certainly don't need to be in here.

But the zenith of Scary Stories is far more imaginative than most of the film's genre-contemporaries, with an almost Whovian edge (and not just because Colletti's part was almost written for Carey Mulligan in Blink-mode).

While the first part of the title may be disingenuous to all but the younger audience members, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is an enjoyable movie that many of its classmates would do well to learn from.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Ring, Final Destination, Urban Legend, IT.


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

Apart from anything else, you'll need blackout-curtains if you're planning to watch this in your living room
.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It's worth watching again, but I'm not sure how much replay value there'll be overall.


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


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Going off the judgement of at least one of my esteemed reviewing colleagues, that's entirely possible.


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


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Zoe Margaret Colletti is in this, and she was in the 2014 remake of Annie along with Rose 'Dormé' Byrne.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 In all honesty, when I first saw the trailer for this I thought it was for IT Chapter 2. The promo-reel opens with a geeky girl cycling around a sepia-tinged small town, then four teenagers standing in front of a dilapidated house with one of them in a clown outfit. I mean come on mate. [ BACK ]

*2 Despite a marked lack of profanity in this 15-rated screamfest - and well done to screenwriters Dan and Kevin Hagerman for avoiding that easy pitfall. [ 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.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Review: Good Boys





Good Boys
Cert: 15 / 90 mins / Dir. Gene Stupnitsky / Trailer



So wait, the kid - the award-winning kid - from Room and Wonder is doing dick jokes now? Oh, okay then*1.

Good Boys is a Raucous™ comedy directed by Gene Stupnitsky, written by him and Lee Eisenberg. So far so good. It’s about three male, best-schoolfriends desperate to appear cool and to get to a party where they know girls are going to be. Bells start ringing. It’s produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, formerly of the Superbad and Bad Neighbours parish. And now you know what the film is going to be.

And it’s often very funny. Okay it’s deliberately crass, a little try-hard in places and begins right at the Gross-Out™ stage as the trio of twelve year-olds navigate trading cards, drones, alcohol, drugs and sex toys over the course of securing their places at the party, but it is at least very funny*2.

The comedic core of Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon as Max, Lucas and Thor respectively are solidly cast, drawing on personality archetypes found in the likes of The Hangover, and Williams shines particularly brightly. That said, it’s largely reliant on those (and many supporting) players' performances as the pacing feels like a two-hour movie that’s been condensed down to ninety minutes. It seems to cruise past its natural end-point at least twice.

As consistently amusing as Good Boys is, the film struggles for stamina after sprinting from the off, while Rogen and Goldberg’s fingerprints are all over this – even in the role of producers. You’re left with the impression that Eisenberg and Stupnitsky have crafted this to please the people who green-lit the project, rather than sating any real creative urge of their own.

Even with its prepubescent cast, Good Boys isn’t doing very much new, and I don’t think it’s got quite the heart that it wants to show. But it’s still a solid Saturday-night flick...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
File this on the same shelf as Booksmart, Superbad, Mallrats and Weird Science.
Although there are firm nods to Ferris Bueller and School Of Rock in there, too
.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're in the right frame of mind and you know what you're letting yourself in for, sure.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
This is definitely a beer-and-friends movie.
Although not for your twelve-year-olds.

They'll do that when you're out
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Keith L. Williams is a rising star, here.


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard, although there's one that's pretty close.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Mollie Gordon's in this, and she was in that Booksmart with Billie 'Connix' Lourd.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Yeah, he made The Predator in between so what the hell, I guess? I can picture an agent saying to him "Kid, those roles will get you the Oscar for the mantlepiece, but it's the dick jokes that pay for the house around it. Now sign the damn contract."
[ BACK ]

*2 And credit where it's due, perhaps my loudest guffaw was at the sight of three children trying determinedly (and failing repeatedly) to get a child-proof cap off a pill bottle. All the better since the bottle was originally for children's vitamins (even though the one in question ends up loaded with molly). Add that to a sequence where the three kids try and cross a busy freeway as a masterclass of cinematic tension, and it's that silliness at the centre of the movie which really makes it work.
[ 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.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Review: Dora And The Lost City Of Gold





Dora And The Lost City Of Gold
Cert: PG / 102 mins / Dir. James Bobin / Trailer



Well, I didn’t think it’d be eleven years until Paramount green-lit a remake of Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, but here we are. The big-screen iteration of Nickelodeon’s most famous explorer is here to help the Summer holidays go with a swing.

Isabela Moner takes the eponymous lead in this tale of creepers, creeps and lost treasure. She’s a natural lead and shines throughout, her buoyant style easily making the audience forget that at 19 she’s already cut her acting teeth on titles as diverse as Transformers and Sicario.

With Dora’s parents played by Eva Longoria and Michael Peña, the combination of familial warmth and tight comic timing is never too far away. But a kid can’t adventure in the shadow of their parents forever of course, and so she’s joined by her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), with schoolfriends Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe). Together they find themselves whisked away from the city and into the jungles of Peru, forming a group that can spark off against one another while learning to work as a team (because let’s not forget the actual target demographic here, yeah?).

And it’s great fun. The most obvious cinematic homages are to Indy of course*1, but it also draws from the wider pool of adventure movies while never forgetting that this is Dora’s show, and never trying to re-invent the wheel. The perfectly paced action sequences slot in with the sharp script and perhaps more toilet humour than you’d expect from a PG. There are also some very self-aware gags for fans of the TV show in the first act, although these drop to a more manageable level as things go on.

If you can’t quite bear the thought of the brightly coloured Angry Birds just now, drop in on Dora for the most good natured, good-old-fashioned adventure you’ll have this Summer…




So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle and yes - Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.


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


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
One for the adventure-shelf, yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Everyone should be very proud to have this on their CV.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
If you're a joyless sap who doesn't enjoy this, yes.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There's not.
I shall be writing a letter
.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Jango Fett is in this, along with the voices of DJ and Captain Rex.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Seriously though, of the four Indy movies that Dora could have chosen to emulate, structurally it's closest to Crystal Skull. And I like it more for that because I like Crystal Skull and there I said it. Fight me. [ 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.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Review: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood





Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Cert: 18 / 161 mins / Dir. Quentin Tarantino / Trailer


I'll cut to the chase, the jury at Blackout Towers is out on this one. It's not that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood failed to meet my expectations - I didn't really have any expectations. While I'm definitely a fan of Quentin Tarantino's work to the point of being forgiving of his worst excesses, I was impressed that the trailer is a kaleidoscope of cool which reveals very little of the actual story. It's only after watching the movie that I realise that's because there is no coherent story.

Quentin sets up his core characters, then just sort of bimbles along aimlessly, going off on lengthy tangents which add to the character-building but do almost nothing for the narrative. You remember when Tarantino was famous for driven pacing and snappy dialogue? Well those days are long gone, mate. This begins languidly where each scene is around 30% longer than it needs to be, and pretty much keeps that up for the entire movie. Meticulous yet thoroughly unfocused, this is the absolutely unfiltered Tarantino of 2019, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. Self-indulgent as absolute fuck, even by his standards.

WESTERN


There's an entire, lengthy saloon-scene where actor Rick Dalton is filming a western, which might be more quirkily entertaining if Quentin hadn't already made Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Has he still not gotten spit-and-sawdust out of his system? But there are too many unanswered questions elsewhere. A sporadic narration comes from Kurt Russell. But he's also in the film as a big-shot director. Is it supposed to be his character who's narrating this? Why? How would his character know of events which went otherwise unwitnessed? Wasn't the whole "once upon a time means it's a fairytale and I can subvert your expectations from real-world events" used up on Inglourious Basterds?

Why have big names like Al Pacino and Bruce Dern been hired for a cameo roles which add nothing to the final movie? Why has Leonardo DiCaprio been edited into The Great Escape for a cutaway scene, but Margot Robbie hasn't been given the same digital treatment in The Wrecking Crew when she's playing the actress Sharon Tate watching Sharon Tate in a film? Because the Sharon Tate in those clips is clearly not Margot Robbie, so why put them in at all? I know that ultimately the film is a tribute to her, but it's glaringly noticeable that she's not watching herself. Why am I even thinking about these things when I'm meant to be enjoying a movie by a director I love?

IN SHOW


Don't get me wrong, there are some great things in this, I just don't think it's a great movie. I definitely had that dissatisfied feeling leaving the auditorium where I'd apparently been waiting for something that Quentin wasn't going to deliver. Because while the climactic fight is inordinately, gleefully, brutally good fun, the actual narrative payoff afterward feels like a weak punchline that doesn't support the grandiose, bar-room, shaggy dog story which went before it. It turns out the journey was more important than the destination, but you weren't able to focus on that because the driver had been rabbiting on for the entire journey.

This is Guy Ritchie giving us Revolver, James Cameron's Avatar, Spielberg with Ready Player One. It's not devoid of merit, but by no means what Quentin is best at - and this has happened because there's now nobody to tell him 'no'. The bottom line is that if any other writer/director had made Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I'd be calling it out as a rambling, first-draft mood-board. In fact I still am. Because since each movie ultimately has to stand on its own merits, where does that leave this? But now I know what to expect, another viewing is called for, that's for sure.

All I'm saying is that it's coming to something when Drew Goddard is making better Quentin Tarantino films than Quentin Tarantino…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Honestly? I have no idea.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Probably, yes.

Although I could feel the casual-audience around me growing increasingly restless and fidgety throughout
.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
I know I'll be adding this to The Collection either way, although I may well wait until the price has dropped to something more reasonable.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
At this point, I genuinely don't believe it is.


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


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is, it's in the first scene and it's absolutely textbook.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Clone Wars Count Dooku is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
^^ This may be subject to change after the next viewing.




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.