Saturday, 22 December 2018

Best Films of 2018

As the New Year approaches, as is tradition, comes the time to reflect on the year that has passed and pick out my favourite films of 2018.
It is often very difficult to narrow the list down to ten, particularly in a year that has been superb for the horror genre, so the list will feature twenty titles.
So relax, grab your popcorn and enjoy this walk down the cinematic memory lane... well, given the list, the Netflix and Chill memory lane!

Special Mention: Secret Cinema presents Blade Runner: The Final Cut

While not technically a 2018 cinema release, the Secret Cinema presentation of Blade Runner was honestly one of the greatest cinematic experiences I have ever been a part of. Not only was the technical presentation top notch but the chance to become part of that world, albeit briefly, is something that will stay with me forever, not to be washed away like tears in rain.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Green Book - Review

Green Book, the Surprise Film of the London Film Festival and Cineworld's Secret Screening, is a genuine surprise... in just how charming it is.
On paper, the story of an Italian heavy who drives a rich, educated black pianist through the Deep South on a concert tour sounds like Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. A film that could be incredibly cloying, schmaltzy and patronising.
However the end result is an incredibly funny and charming film. Just as the story sees two people with preconceived views of the world and people slowly broaden their minds, this film will change audiences' minds who go in expecting one thing but come out pleasantly surprised.
Based on a true story, the film may not break any new ground in terms of plot and structure. You can see exactly how the film will play out as if reading a road map of New York to Alabama. But that doesn't matter at all when the film delivers on heart, wit and charm.
All of that charm and good will is down to the excellent pairing of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as Tony "Lip" Vallelonga and Dr. Don Shirley. The two spark of each other brilliantly and have some of the best on-screen chemistry of 2018 and make for one of the best odd couples of recent years.
Mortensen is certainly an actor more known for his intensity that comedic sparring ability but his brash, loudmouth bounces perfectly off Ali's uptight, reserved Shirley.
In the end, as the two attempt to make their way back to New York in time for Christmas, you realise that you have almost been watching a remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles set during the civil rights movement.
Just as Shirley's performances impress audiences all over the States and Tony slowly works his charm on Shirley, audiences will find themselves utterly beguiled by Green Book which is destined to become one of 2019's breakout sleeper hits.

4 stars

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Anna And The Apocalypse - Review

There is a new festive film in town to add to the list of "Is it really a Christmas film?", joining every Shane Black film and Die Hard. Say hello to Anna And The Apocalypse.
Set in a small town outside of Glasgow, a zombie outbreak threatens the teenagers as they approach their end-of-term Christmas show.
Set at Christmas with a plot that involves family trying to be reunited? Sounds like a Christmas film to me.
What it is for certain is Scotland's answer to High School musical meets Shaun Of The Dead. High School Musi-Kill if you will.
One of the strengths of the film is that asides from one or two minor references to a pandemic on the radio, the first act is played straight as a musical... and a very good one at that as the songs such as Break Away and Not Another Hollywood Ending are right out of Disney film.
At the centre of it all is Anna, a young woman who has lost her mother, at odds with her father and wishing to escape her life to explore the world. It's just a shame that those pesky zombies take a bite out of her plans.
Ella Hunt plays our heroine and is the UK's answer to Anna Kendrick. She can sing, do comedy and handle the emotion.
Surrounding her are the stereotypical high schoolers; the best friend, the bad boy, the couple, the outcast.
Of these, Sarah Swire deserves special acclaim along with Paul Kaye chewing scenery rather than flesh as a vindictive, angry headmaster.
When the zombie attack takes hold, the musical numbers tend to take a back seat to the ultra violence which is more than you'd see on Sauciehall Street on a Saturday night in the run up to Xmas.
Director John MacPhail and writer Andy MacDonald (based on Ryan McHenry's short film) clearly have a love for the genre as there are many references to Night Of The Living Dead and Shaun Of The Dead (there are some classic Edgar Wright edits in there).
What's more, their knowledge extends to being able to take the tropes and cliches and turn them on their undead heads and surprise audiences.
It's an all-singing, all-dancing Grange Hill meets The Walking Dead. La La Land of the Dead!

4 stars

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Suspiria - Review

"When you dance the dance of another, you make yourself in the image of its creator"
It would be fair to say that fans of Suspiria may not initially recognise that film in Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino's remake/adaptation in "six acts and an epilogue"
Yes, it is set within a German ballet school which is run by a coven of witches, and the character names are the same, but that is where the similarities end.
Gone is the bold vivid colour palette, replaced with a more muted tone to keep in the 1973 Berlin setting. Instead of Goblin's Italian funk soundtrack, we have Thom Yorke picking up Jonny Greenwood's baton and moving into the film score business. And the iconic death sequences the original are annexed in favour of something else entirely... something that is too deliciously delirious to spoil.
Guadagnino's psychological fever dream is a completely different beast to Dario Argento's original 1977 Giallo horror film.
The story is set within the world of dance and Argento and Guadagnino's two version feel akin to two separate choreographers taking a different approach and adaptation to the text. Both are unique, wonderful pieces of work but also can exist within the same universe.
Similar to how directors will adapt Shakespeare into modern settings to give new historical context and show the universality of the stories, this version is set in Berlin 1976 at a time of a divided city, set for rebirth.
Where Argento's movie was frenetically paced, leaping straight into American Susie Bannion's arrival at the school followed by a horrific murder set piece, Guadagnino opts for the slow burn.
The film takes its time building its two central plots (Susie's meteoric rise to lead protagonist in the company and Dr. Josef Klemperer's search for Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), the girl Susie replaced) before dovetailing the two together in Acts V and VI which are some of the most spectacularly beautiful, terrifying and insane filmmaking you will see all year... and this is coming from someone who has seen Mandy.
Dakota Johnson, written off by many for starring in the awful 50 Shades films, proves that she is a fantastic actress who will likely follow the same career path as Kristen Stewart after Twilight (which the 50 Shades of Grey books were actually inspired by).
Her performance evokes memories of Natalie Portman in Black Swan as the physicality of the dance is easily matched by her emotional journey as she is pulled deeper and deeper into the conspiracy within the dance school. One that is orchestrated by her teacher and mentor Madame Blanc. Tilda Swinton is the perfect actress for a role like this (and potentially a few others). Her otherwordly appearance and ability to turn from warm to villainous on a dime is used to full effect. Plus the smouldering sexual tension between Swinton and Johnson towards the end is off the charts.
During one private lesson, Blanc tells Susie "There are two things that dance can never be again. Beautiful and cheerful. Today we break the nose of every beautiful thing"
Suspiria is certainly not cheerful and in the world of interpretive dance, there are many that will not like this interpretation of the material. But all art is subjective and while Guadagnino may break the beautiful face of Argento's Giallo classic, from the broken pulpy mess that remains he reaches in and moulds it into something even more beautiful. The same heart reborn with a new visage that is better than the original.

5 stars

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody - Review

For a band that broke the mold and refused to be pigeon-holed into one particular genre or musical style, it is disappointing to see that Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody is simply another musical biopic that features an incredible central performance that elevates it beyond its cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers screenplay just like many that have come before it e.g. Ray, Walk The Line.
It's certainly no Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. You might laugh but at least it knew that it was a comedy and it was okay when it made certain references and jokes.
In this film, when Freddie plays the opening notes of Bohemian Rhapsody on a piano and remarks "Think it could become something", you almost expect someone to turn to the camera and wink at the audience. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the scene where a record producer tells the band that "We need a song teenagers can bang their to in a car. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that song" and the producer is played by Mike Myers (who brought Queen to the attention of a new generation by doing exactly that). There should have been a big arrow with Mike Myers pointing at him on screen, similar to Mark Hamill's appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
The film takes time to explore the genesis of the band and how they would always do everything together when it came to the music. All opinions were valid and the finished product feels like a film that tried to appease too many people. It doesn't feel like the Freddie Mercury biopic that the project was initially going to be and instead you can see the fingerprints of Brian May and Roger Taylor all over it in the way that it repeatedly mentions May's work on Astrophysics and his PhDs and Taylor has made sure to showcase himself as a lothario.
Yet much like any of their live performances, the audience's attention is drawn to the Freddie Mercury whenever he is on screen and that is all down to Malek's performance where he simply becomes Freddie.
He perfectly captures the charismatic showman but also the troubled, mixed-up person who cannot truly be himself off the stage.
Yes, there are glimpses of his troubles and it doesn't exactly shy away from his sexuality but is hampered by the 12A certificate as exemplified in the scene where the band play Another One Bites The Dust superimposed over scenes of Mercury wandering around gay & S&M clubs bathed in red light. It looks for a moment like it could merge into a scene out of William Friedkin and Al Pacino's Cruising but never quite finds the mettle to go further.
Look, this reviewer knows more than anyone that any biopic will play it slightly fast and loose with the truth in order to tell the audience an entertaining story. It is the reason why all of these films have the following statement at the end of the credits "for dramatic effect"
However, there comes two points where selective use of the facts can impact a film.
1) The pedant in me will see a scene set in 1985 where Freddie is diagnosed with AIDS and they use Who Wants To Live Forever and think A - that is a bit on the nose and B - that song was not released until 1986 as part of the Highlander soundtrack.
2) When the story fudges the truth in order to elicit and manipulate an emotional reaction from the audience. This happens after Freddie and Queen end their estrangement (which never happened) and Freddie tells them of his diagnosis before their infamous Live Aid appearance because it didn't happen like this but is played out this way to heighten the emotion leading into this final performance.
Having said that, it is almost impossible to resist the urge to get up out of your seat and bang your head in the aisle of the cinema auditorium as the camera takes you right into Wembley Stadium for Live Aid and recreates one of the most iconic rock performances of all-time and showcase exactly why Queen were one of the best live bands and Freddie was, sorry Hugh, The Greatest Showman.

2 stars

Sunday, 28 October 2018

MCM Comic Con London Review - Day 3

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending MCM Comic Con London, the UK's largest pop culture event, which took place at the ExCel centre.
Having attended New York Comic Con back in 2013, this was my first major Comic Con since then and my first on home soil, so the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and unleash my inner geek for 72 hours was very exciting.

Here is a roundup of the events on Day 3, the final day of the Con (Sunday 28th October)

Day 3
  • Funko
  • Chris Claremont
  • The Dark Knight Retrospective panel
  • #SaveShadowHunters panel
  • Outlander season 4 preview
  • Critical Role
  • Into The Spider-Verse preview and panel
The final day began with the one activity I had wanted to partake in since I saw the frenzy on the opening day - visiting the Funko stand!
It was clear that this one probably the number one draw of the Con, outside of the Critical Role panels... but we'll get to that in a minute!
Simply by walking the floor at the ExCel, if you were not aware of the name of the event you were attending, you would not be surprised if it was called MCM Funko Con. Beyond the compact Comic Village area where all the artists and dealers were set up, the overwhelming majority of the independent stands were selling a wide variety of Funko POPs!
It was a real insight into the insane popularity of these toys which was the subject of the documentary Making Fun: The Story of Funko (available on Netflix) and a glimpse into the slightly murkier world of the second hand dealer market for these toys, particularly Con Exclusives, which the doc doesn't explore.
So armed with my trusty Starbucks (with the name Devos written on the side), I marked out my territory early at 8.30am to allow for a straight shot ahead to the Funko stand and landed in the first 10-20 people in the queue who were very excited about getting their one shot (is that a Hamilton reference?), yet I couldn't help but smile and stifle laughter at the rage and indignation shown when the crowds discovered that certain exclusives for Fantastic Beasts and a Ghost Rider Doctor Strange were not available having sold out on the Saturday. You have never seen so many grown adults with the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems on their foreheads shouting about how it was a "disgrace" and Funko should have had a certain amount of each one available for each day of the Con (a fair point to be honest) but as someone not particularly interested in FB, I must have ended up looking like Ryan Gosling when it was announced Moonlight had won the Oscar instead of La La Land.

(Full disclaimer: I have secured a Ghost Rider pop which is why I could afford to laugh because I could immediately visualise the dealers at the Con who had scooped up these Pops on the Fri/Sat frantically scoring out the prices and writing new inflated ones to capitalise on the demand!).

Heading over to the main stage, I had the time to pay a visit to a comic legend in the form of Chris Claremont (X-Men, Wolverine) who was kind enough to sign my copy of X-Men #1 from 1991.
This was the very first comic that I bought and it opened up a whole new world to me and I was fortunate enough to tell him this which he thanked me for but lamented that it was one of his final runs on the characters but I flipped it round and said that it introduced myself and many others to the X-Men and his work in his back catalogue which he found a comforting thought.

From one comic legend to another as I took my place in the Main Stage area for The Dark Knight panel by DC which featured, among others, Frank Miller the mind behind The Dark Knight Returns, Year One and Daredevil.
Moderated by DC editor Chris Conway, the panel hosted a staggering array of talent from Miller to Tim Sale, John Romita Jr, Brain Azzarello and Frank Quitely (who I hadn't realised was Scottish until he started speaking in thick Glaswegian accent!).
They talked about the legacy of the character; their first introduction to him (for the majority of the panel it was the Adam West TV show),

Here's where the fun begins...

By the end of the panel, the stage area was completely full. It was standing room only and even then it was at capacity.

Before Saturday, the Main Stage was simply that. The Main Stage. However following the chaos yesterday over the Critical Role panel (with hundreds of fans or “Critters” as they are known denied access due to the room being a capacity), today it had become London’s Hall H with fans camping out in the hall from 10.00am for a 2.15pm panel.
It made for an interesting situation. As per other conventions, the hall is not emptied after each panel. Therefore the only way to secure your place for a particular panel is too grab one early and stay there till the event. This means you are guaranteed to see the panel you want but it does mean that you could have people sitting in on panels they have no interest in and at the same time denying entry to others who want to see a panel on prior to Critical Role.
This led to a situation where in order to guarantee a seat at the Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse panel on directly after the CR panel, I had to stay in the Main Stage for 6 hours! Hardcore! Good thing I didn't have anything to drink that morning besides coffee! However due to this unplanned encampment, I did miss out on the Chris Claremont spotlight and the Hasbro Marvel & Star Wars reveal panels which was a shame.
Instead I got a Save The Shadowhunters panel and the first episode of season 4 of Outlander (of which I have not watched a single episode prior to this). The episode certainly seemed to please the fans who made it into the hall but there is nothing more awkward than watching a sex scene projected onto a giant screen surrounded by thousands of people!
Finally at 2.15pm, it was main event time (for the overwhelming majority of fans) as the Critical Role team took to the stage to a reception that would have rivalled a One Direction concert!
(Again full disclaimer time: before this weekend I had not heard of Critical Role and had to speak with several fans in the queues in order to understand what it was and why it was so popular).
Standing among the fans, it was easy to see why this show, the actors and D&D has become so popular since Stranger Things brought it back into the mainstream. The kindness, humour and respect they showed the audience and people who asked questions was humbling to see. This was a San Diego Comic Con levels of a reaction.
Once the panel was over, it was time for my main event... the preview footage of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
Introduced by the directors and voice of Miles Morales, Shamiek Moore, the crowd got to see the first 30 minutes of the film and the immediate reaction was "WOW!"
This is unlike any Spider-Man you have seen before... and any animated film for that matter. Inspired by Miles Morales's background and love of graffiti, street art, the film looks like a moving street mural.
The footage begins with your traditional Spider-Man story but quickly becomes a meta take on the superhero genre with references to all the other Spidey films (including the dancing scene in Spider-Man 3). This looks like it has the potential to be the best big screen Spider-Man movie we have seen and as the footage concluded just after one of the film's big twists, it left us wanting more and counting down the days till the film is released in December.

This was the perfect way to end a fantastic convention and a huge shout out must go to the staff and volunteers who kept the whole con a fun, safe, enjoyable experience... even under very challenging circumstances on the main stage.

MCM Comic Con London: Mandy - Review

They say there is a fine line between genius and madness. If that is true then Nicolas Cage has been tightrope walking along that line his entire career. He more than often slips off it and takes a tumble but bless him, he just gets right back up on that line and continues moving forward. Kind of like a shark, he never stops moving forward. It is true that he had made his fair share of absolute stinkers in his time... but every now and then there comes a performance that is worthy of the talent that brought us Wild At Heart, Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, Con Air and Kick Ass.
Thankfully Panos Cosmatos's Mandy is very much on the side of genius and showcases Cage at his very, very best.
It was rumoured that initially, Cosmatos offered Cage the role of cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) but he turned it down, preferring to play Red Miller instead. It is easy to see why Cosmatos went down this road intially. Watching the character of Sand, it would have allowed Cage to do his bug-eyed, wild ride shouting and screaming act he has done ad nauseum. Instead the character of Red taps into the quieter, more introspective Cage that he has channeled in Joe and Bringing Out The Dead.
A lumberjack who is handy with a chainsaw (this may prove handy later on similar to the way Ripley operated a Power Loader in Aliens), Red is completely in love with his girlfriend, the enigmatic artist Mandy (Andrea Risenborough) but tragedy ensues when she catches the eye of Sand's cult leading to them employing a crazed, demon biker gang to instigate a home invasion. Her abduction is what flicks the switch in Red and allows Cage to slowly dial up his performance all the way to 11 by the final reel.
The entire film is shot like an LSD-fuelled hallucination or fever dream and once it finishes, audiences may indeed question if what they watched had actually happened.
The cinematography is out-of-this-world, using all sorts of tricks, filters and exposures to create the effect that you are under the effect of a waking nightmare. Amplified by Johann Johansson's final score that is full of 80s synth and bass notes so loud they threaten to shake the speakers off the walls of the cinema auditorium.
Mandy is one hell of a trip and certainly not for everyone. At times, it is reminiscent of the work of Nicolas Winding Refn but if someone had taken the pristine sheen of his 35mm print and dragged it across concrete.
As Barry Manilow might have said:
"Oh Mandy, you came and you certainly ain't faking. Those images won't go away, oh Mandy.
Oh Mandy, Nic Cage's performance left us shaking. You need to watch this today oh Mandy"

4 stars

Friday, 26 October 2018

MCM Comic Con London Review - Day 1

At the end of October I had the pleasure of attending MCM Comic Con London, the UK's largest pop culture event, which took place at the ExCel centre.
Having attended New York Comic Con back in 2013, this was my first major Comic Con since then and my first on home soil, so the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and unleash my inner geek for 72 hours was very exciting.
What follows is a quick rundown of each day's activities:

Day 1
  • Hasbro
  • Horror Through The Generations panel
  • MCM Sing-A-Long: The Greatest Showman
As a huge Star Wars fan (especially since the sequels breathed new life into my wavering fandom), my immediate interest was drawn to the Han and Leia Black Series 2-pack that was available at the Hasbro booth, along with a few Transformers and Marvel Con Exclusives.

Having experienced the rushes and queues when I attended NYCC, as soon as the doors opened it was a mad dash to the front of the line to secure a wristband to purchase the exclusive of your choice at a certain time period. This guaranteed you the item you wanted but at a time that suited you, allowing you to explore and enjoy the Con and not be stuck in a line for hours...
Which is what you had to experience if you were after one of the Funko exclusives as their queue stretched in a complete loop right around the stand in the centre of the Con. It was a genuine surprise to see how busy the Funko stand was compared to the Hasbro one but I guess this is just what the collectable market is moving to.
Back at the Hasbro stand, the stunning exclusives were on display including a Marvel Defenders 6 pack of figures in custom subway train packaging (I did enjoy how Iron Fist is made to sit on his own to the side!)

and the chance to try your best Thanos impression inside a lifesize action figure box.

With my exclusive secured, along with a new worry of how I could take this home in my carry on luggage, it was time to explore the rest of the Con.

On the way to the main stage for an afternoon of panels, there was plenty time to admire some of the amazing cosplay on offer. From a quick tally, it would appear that the most popular options this weekend would be Spider-Man from Homecoming with yellow blazer and handy backpack, Deadpool and his arch-nemesis Hugh Jackman from The Greatest Showman!

The first panel of the day was Horror Through The Generations with Tony Todd (Candyman), Linnea Quigley (The Return Of The Living Dead), Katherine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps), Ray Santiago (Ash vs Evil Dead) and Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th).

This was an entertaining panel that allowed the actors behind some of Horror's greatest icons to discuss the current state of the genre. A transcription of the talk can be found on The Nerd Party's Twitter account where we live tweeted the session.

The day ended with one of MCM Comic Con's traditions. A Sing-A-Long screening and this year it was the pop culture phenomenon that is The Greatest Showman.
Nearly one year on from its release in cinema's and this film still had the capacity crowd in the palm of its hand with everyone singing loud to every song. The compere even got some of the audience who had cosplayed as the characters to come up during "their" songs before it culminated with a entire stage full of P.T. Barnum's whipping the crowd into a frenzy as The Greatest Show came to an end, putting the perfect full stop on day one of the Con.

Friday, 28 September 2018

A Star Is Born - Review

“Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave - 12 notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer this world is how they see those 12 notes. That’s it”
If you boil it right down, the argument is that there are only seven types of story that are told (comedy, tragedy, etc), and one of them is A Star Is Born. That is why Hollywood continues to make this timeless story and ultimately it is down to the director and stars to put their own unique spin on the material.
What Bradley Cooper has done here in his directorial debut, and one hates to be cliche but it is like Simon Cowell on the X Factor would say, “You’ve taken that song that we all know and made it your own”.
For those who have not seen any of the previous versions and unfamiliar with the story, it centres around an established artist whose star is slowly fading due to age and troubles with alcohol. They meet an amazing talent who they fall in love with and help turn into a superstar. A star that threatens to burn so bright that they will be caught up in the blaze.
In this version it is country rock star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), who discovers Ally (Lady Gaga) singing in a drag bar one night after a show. He is utterly bewitched, much as the audience will be, by her talent. After a soulful and heartfelt “meet-cute” night, he invites her up on stage to sing one of her songs which he has arranged and the proverbial star is duly born.
Not only does Cooper’s character do this in the film but also in real life because with this film, Cooper is showcasing Lady Gaga’s incredible talent to the world.
Now I know what you’re thinking. We already know who Lady Gaga is. Well, you have never seen her like this.
It would not have been all that surprising if Lady Gaga had used her real name Stefani Gerrmanotta because this is an artist stripped of everything that made her “Lady Gaga”.
Gone are the catchy pop hits, the choreographed dance routines, the dresses made of meat. This is Gaga Unplugged In New York and she is utterly spellbinding and magnetic on screen.
A lot of the praise for the movie will focus on Gaga and in a case of life imitating art, it will be at the expense of B-Coop but nothing should take away what, for him, is a career-best performance.
I will admit that in the past I haven’t really got the praise for Cooper that has led to him being nominated for four Academy Awards. I mean this is “the guy from The Hangover”.
However he is superb as the grizzled veteran with the gravely voice who is destined to burn out rather than fade away.
During the opening scenes, his deep, gravelled voice was slightly disconcerting. It sounded so familiar, it was difficult to place. That was until his brother appeared, played by Sam Elliot. Cooper is doing Elliot’s voice, who accuses him of stealing his voice, and you can totally visualise him as a younger version of The Stranger in The Big Lebowski. You just keep waiting for him to call some “Dude”.
Not only is his performance on point but Cooper's direction is fantastic. He gives the musical performances (captured at real music festivals including Glastonbury and Coachella) an authenticity and intimacy. Traits that carry through to the relationship and chemistry between the leads.
There is also a wise decision to not rely on the social media narrative too heavily in the meteoric rise to fame of Ally.
It would have been too easy to have segments with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and TMZ commenting on "Who is she?", "Who is Ally?" etc along the fallout from the Grammys.
The absence of this keeps the narrative on how the ascension and decline of the star-crossed lovers affects their relationship. It also helps to avoid prematurely ageing the film, keeping some of its timeless quality.
The only bum note in the whole production is Rafi Gavron as Ally’s manager. It is understandable that they want to have a younger face, given the music industry as it is, however Gavron never truly comes across as credible and is certainly not imposing or threatening enough in the scenes where he tries to convince Jackson that he is finished with Ally. Cooper could floor him with one punch.
The end result is a near perfect cover version that is as good if not better than the original song.
Having remade A Star Is Born once, one hopes that if Cooper and Gaga take the stage at the Oscars next year, that they don’t recreate the James Mason/Judy Garland version as well.

4 stars

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Crazy Rich Asians - Review

Crazy Rich Asians is a film that attempts to do exactly what it says on the tin.
The Asians who are featured in the film are "crazy rich", as in very, very rich. Obscenely rich.
Now this is where punctuation is incredibly important. Going into the film, I was expecting, and ended up hoping, that the characters were Crazy, Rich Asians i.e. the rich Asian people were also batshit crazy and the schemes they undertake to go about splitting up the central couple are deliciously devious and madcap.
Instead, the story and structure of this classic take on the romantic comedy is depressingly formulaic.
Professional woman is dating charming man. Man turns out to be rich. His mother doesn't approve of the match and decides to break them up. But of course, by the end they say screw their parents and get back together, gaining their respect along the way.
There is a scene in the middle of the film where the family make dumplings. It is a family tradition and they discuss the exact way the the dumplings must be made.
And in here lies the problem. The film feels like a standard, cookie cutter dumpling.
What this film needed was to experiment and evolve. Try something new with the recipe and create a exciting, spicy delight that moves the genre forward.
It might be perfectly tasty dim sum but the dim sum of its parts is not enough to get crazy in love about.

3 stars

Monday, 24 September 2018

A Simple Favour - Review

A Simple Favour is simply put, not what you would expect going in to the new film by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters) starring Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) and Blake Lively (Gossip Girl).
However what Feig is going for.
What starts as a bright and breezy comedy with a meet-cute between two very different mothers takes a series of twists and turns when one of them goes missing that are so dizzying that you will need a couple of Advil dropped in your dry martini (made with Ryan Reynolds gin of course) to stave off a potential migraine.
Feig uses audience expectations to deftly move from a comedy to the darkest of thrillers on a dime and it is perfectly executed by Kendrick and Lively, in particular who is sensational as Emily, the Gossip Gone Girl.
Do yourself a simple favour. Read nothing else about this film. Do not watch the trailers. Go in as cold as you can and you will enjoy one of the most delightful surprises of the year.

4 stars

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Review

As one can tell by the above poster's blue background and yellow font, The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is being marketed as this year's Call Me By Your Name.

However this Sundance hit by Desiree Akhavan, based on Emily Danforth’s novel, is closer to being this generation’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

There are many parallels that can be made between the two films:
  • A rebellious central character that threatens the status quo
  • An strong matriarchal figure who is portrayed as the villain of the piece
  • A stoic native american character who provides a plan for escape
The titular miseducation of Cameron Post has a double meaning. When she is discovered acting on a SSA “same sex attraction” on prom night, Cameron (Moretz) is sent to a bible camp to “pray the gay away” and correct her perceived miseducation. On the flip side, all those who believe that there is nothing wrong with her feelings and actions can perceive this form of treatment as a miseducation in itself. 
While there is not the physical and medical abuse used in Cuckoo’s Nest against the patients to “help” make them better, there is certainly abuse of an emotional level. The emotional abuse and trauma of making these young people believe that there is something wrong with them and are sinners and unworthy in the eyes of God.
In certain ways, the story could be seen as a horror movie. Sent to a remote community in the woods, the young people are “tortured” one by one by a sadistic and vicious antagonist, who obviously believes they are right, until a breaking point occurs, leading to a rebellion.
Ever since Chloe Grace Moretz debuted in Kick Ass in 2010, her star quality was clear for everyone to see as she stole the entire movie from her older and more established costars. Even from Nic Cage’s OTT but best role in years.
I remarked then that she had reminded me of a young Jodie Foster or Natalie Portman and had the potential to become as good as them.
Outside of Clouds of Sils Maria and Let Me In (the decent but unnecessary remake of Let The Right One In), Moretz has struggled with Hollywood movies that were not as good as she was (Carrie, The 5th Wave).
After taking a sabbatical for a couple of years, this is the first film that shows Moretz truly living up to that potential.
She is excellent and completely believable as Cameron. Showcasing a troubled teen who is questioning everything about herself and unsure of what to believe. Similar to Randall McMurphy, her arrival at the camp is a turning point for many of the other teens there and she represents a beacon of hope as she refuses to conform and give in to the demands of Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle, who appeared on screen as the spitting image of a young Meryl Streep).
Post's presence at the camp, causes many to question themselves and the regime. Exemplified by a joyous sequence where there is a communal sing-a-long to What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes. A cathartic release akin to the Tiny Dancer moment in Almost Famous.
Even though the film's characters are terrified and confused (just check out the pitch perfect nod to The Graduate), one person who is not is writer-director Akhavan who shows a confidence and assurance in every decision in both the script and filmmaking.
It feels authentic in its Nineties-setting but is still shockingly relevant. She also knows that it is the normalcy of the situation which is the scariest aspect of the story, one that will have an emotional affect on the audience thanks to the impressive performances and strong characterisation.
The only praying The Miseducation of Cameron Post needs to do is to hope that the film finds the audience that it deserves. Because once they do they will have an undeniable attraction to it.

4 stars

Thursday, 13 September 2018

The Predator - Review

When the Predator was first introduced to audiences in 1987, the alien was showcased as one of the most efficient killers in the galaxy. Hunting down (this film correctly identifies their behaviour as hunters more than predators but the name is cooler), one by one an elite squad of soldiers in the jungle. Only stopped finally by Earth's greatest match for him, Arnie.
The first film was an incredibly lean, mean, action machine, peppered with some of the most quotable dialogue ever uttered in the movies.
30 years later, those many years of inactivity (with only sporadic hunts in 1991, 2010... and the less said about the AvP movies the better) have left The Predator bloated, out of shape and an easy target.
Following on from the success of Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and The Nice Guys, it was hoped that writer-director Shane Black (Hawkins in the original film i.e. the one who told all the jokes) would bring some of that magic to the franchise.
The first couple of trailers seemed very uninspired and were almost actively avoiding showing the audience this was a Shane Black film. The final trailer was much better. Focusing on the characters and the witty dialogue with glimpses of the action.
The final result however is sadly neither the R-Rated action gore fest some fans wanted or the black comedy full of memorable, witty one-liners.
Instead, sadly, it is a complete mess. Tonally lurching wildly from one scene to the next with no apparent regard for what has happened previously plot wise.
The cast gamely do their best with the material they are given but some fare better than others.
Boyd Holbrook and Sterling K. Brown are the obvious standouts, delivering the majority of the film's best lines, and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) gets some nice, quieter moments.
Olivia Munn is an effective female action star but her character is hampered by having no real introduction to speak of and it cannot decide if she is a scientist who happens to know how to use an assault rifle or an ex-military person who happens to be a scientist.
The low points are Jacob Tremblay and Thomas Jane's characters who are autistic and have Tourette's and act in exactly the way you would expect them to be portrayed if this was an 80s movie... only it isn't the 80s anymore.
There were reports of extensive reshoots to fix the third act but the ripple effect throughout the film has caused a tidal wave of problems.

*Minor spoilers to come*

  • Olivia Munn's character at one point is naked (there apparently is a plot reason for this) and is ignored by the Predator. She mentions this later on as if this will prove vital in defeating the alien but is never brought up again
  • Jake Busey appears as Keyes. Clearly the son of Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) in Predator 2 but never gets to explain that or become relevant to the plot
  • The Predator was always intimidating when played by an actor in that incredible Stan Winston make-up. The decision to go with CGI Predators in the third act takes away from the visceral threat of the alien
  • If anyone can tell me what happened to *redacted* in the final battle, please let me know. Expected him and another character to feature in the epilogue sequence but no sign of them and no resolution to their stories
  • Finally, I couldn't have been the only one who was massively disappointed when the Macguffin was finally revealed and it wasn't *redacted* (you know who I mean)

Jesse Ventura famously said that he "ain't got time to bleed" in the original film and I would urge everyone that when it comes to the massive disappointment that is The Predator, they ain't got time to waste on this episode of the franchise that feels as if it had its spine removed before release.
This is one ugly motherfucker!

1 star

The Nun - Review

The Nun is, somewhat unbelievably, the fifth film to come out of 2013's surprise horror hit The Conjuring.
Similar to the Annabelle doll that featured in the original film, the evil spirit Valak first appeared in The Conjuring 2 and has was deemed suitably terrifying enough to earn her/his own spin off. One which debuted at the top of the US box office last week.
At this point, The Conjuring Universe is second only to Marvel Studios, and is putting the DCEU's efforts so far to absolute shame that the powers that be at DC should pray for forgiveness.
The film opens with an effectively creepy beginning where some terrified nuns in a Romanian abbey are attempting to vanquish an evil spirit that lives within the depths of the holy ground. Suffice to say that it does not end well, climaxing in a truly haunting shot.
Word of the deaths reaches the Vatican who dispatch Father Burke (Demain Bichir) and a young nun (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate, along with the help of "Frenchie", the roguish French-Canadian villager who made the horrific discovery.
By the time they reach the Abbey, Valak's power has already grown strong and begins to get into the heads of the visitors, all of whom are haunted by their own pasts as well as the ghostly Nun that stalks the corridors.
Director Corin Hardy has delivered a horror that comes in at just over the 90 minute mark but it would be fair to say that even though the audience have paid a lot of money for their seat, they will only be sat in it about half the time. The other half they will be jumping out of it.
That is because, rather than building that unnerving sense of dread that slowly creeps up your body until it is frozen rigid in fear, the film opts to go for the tried-and-tested method of quickly build tension before employing a jump scare to create that cathartic release.
Build. Jump. Scream. Repeat. Build. Jump. Scare. Repeat.
A really good jump scare can be one of the most effective and enjoyable scares you can get in the cinema e.g. the bum behind the diner in Mulholland Drive (fun fact: also played by Bonnie Aarons who is Valak), the Blood Test in The Thing, "Night Vision" in The Descent.
The problem comes when there is an over-reliance on them, thus diluting the effect. There is actually a website called Where's The Jump? that details exactly where the jump scares are in horror films and it has recently posted The Nun on the site and it lists a total of 29! Which is one jump scare every three minutes!
To give credit where credit is due, the majority of them do land but it is to the point of exhaustion.
Beyond the relentless onslaught of jumps, the biggest issue in the film lies with the lead actress Taissa Farmiga. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with her performance. In fact she is very good and apparently the filmmakers have stated that though they auditioned many people, she was the best one for the role.
The issue comes from that with the film being set before the first Conjuring, and Taissa being the younger sister of Vera Farmiga who plays Lorraine Warren in the series. I kept finding myself thinking I was watching a prequel which sets up her character. Only that it isn't. Her name is Irene. Lorraine wasn't a nun. Yet that niggling feeling that the film is setting up for a big twist remained.
However thankfully, it did not go down that road. Instead tying into the franchise in a different and much more clean and effective way.
The Nun is an effective but unimaginative horror thanks to its over-reliance on jump scares but I guess old habits die hard!

2 stars

Friday, 7 September 2018

Cold War - Review

It might be a weird thing to say but with Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski and his cinematographer Lukasz Zal have produced a black and white film that is bursting with colour.
The story of a love affair witnessed episodically over the years between a Polish songwriter and pianist and a young singer who become intrinsically linked through a love of music and then each other. An attraction that crosses and bridges barriers of age, politics, distance and borders.
Similarities could be drawn to the central pairing of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout De Souffle. On paper the combination shouldn't really work but the chemistry between Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig is undeniable and the sparks that fly between the two of them are hot enough to burn through the cinema screen.
As Eldon Tyrell tells Roy Batty in Blade Runner, "the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long and you have burned so very, very brightly".
With a passion this intense, it is clear that the relationship is ultimately doomed but something keeps drawing them back together. Like a moth to a flame.
No stranger to doomed romances (My Summer of Love, The Woman in the Fifth), with Cold War Pawlikowski has created a film that feels like a blend of La La Land meets Casablanca that has been directed by Ingmar Bergman dabbling in a French New Wave style.
That sounds like a rather jazzy way of describing this mix of notes and style but it all blends together perfectly to produce on of the best films of 2018. One that, unlike the central couple Wiktor and Zula, will find an audience and will never let them go.

5 stars

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Upgrade - Review

On paper, a film about a man who is left for dead and thanks to a fusion of man and machine, is able to hunt down and get revenge on the men who attacked him sounds very similar to Robocop.
However writer-director Leigh Whannell has proven very skilled at taking ideas from 80s movies such as Robocop and Poltergeist and upgrading them into modern, Grindhouse (or should that be Blumhouse) hits.
Having worked for the past decade in the horror genre with the Saw and Insidious franchises, Whannell moves into another genre ripe for reinvention, science fiction.
In Upgrade, Logan Marshall-Green (NOT Tom Hardy) stars as Grey Trace, a mechanic who lives in the near-future but lives for a simpler time when everything is not controlled by technology. He is a self-confessed Luddite who listens to vinyl and repairs classic cars to sell to wealthy collectors. He is also happily married to Asha, who is the antithesis of Grey and embraces this modern world and works within the medical industry.
One night after delivering a hot rod to mysterious tech giant Eron Keen, who is as socially awkward as he is wealthy, the couple are attacked by a group of men who kill Asha and leave Grey paralysed from the neck down.
Descending into suicidal depression at his situation and the police’s inability to use all this technology to catch his wife’s killers, Grey accepts Keen’s offer of being a guinea pig for a new cybernetic treatment called STEM. A revolutionary microchip is placed at the top of his spine that reboots his body, allowing him to walk again… but the A.I. system might just have more than that in mind.
Voiced by Simon Maiden, STEM is as softly spoken but potentially as dangerous as the likes of HAL in 2001 or GERTY in Moon.
Only audible to Grey within his own head, Maiden sparks off of Marshall-Green to make an entertaining double act similar to Jekyll & Hyde or the upcoming Eddie Brock/Venom dynamic as STEM tries to convince him that they can lead the investigation and gain vengeance on their own.
STEM is not wrong as the very first fight scene where he takes control of Grey’s motor functions proves in a shocking and kinetically charge sequence that showcases his upgraded potential and the strengths of Marshall-Green’s physical performance that is the perfect balance between human and robot in the fluidity of his movements as the two battle for supremacy within one shell.
It is not just the character of Grey who is upgraded. Whannell’s skills as a directing are upgrading at an exponential rate as well. Between the Wu-Shu, Asian inspired fight scenes that feature some fantastic camera work that seemingly tracks around the fixed point of Grey to impressive effect; to a car chase on a freeway that is worlds away from the “car chase” that featured in the very first Saw film.
Upgrade is very much a genre piece that wears its influences on its cybernetically enhanced sleeves but given a fresh spin but never at the expense of the gritty, grimy filmmaking style that evolved out of the video nasty era of the 80s where invention was born out of micro-budgets.
The final product is one where Whannell is the Eron Keen to Logan Marshall-Green’s Grey, stepping him out of that Tom Hardy developing him into the charismatic leading man and action hero.
Upgrade is the cinematic equivalent of the remodelled Nokia 3210. A comforting, hark back to a simpler time that is brought bang up to date with all the bells and whistles of the modern age.

4 stars

Monday, 3 September 2018

To All The Boys I've Loved Before - Netflix Originals Review

Netlfix's latest film to hit the streaming service is To All The Boys I've Loved Before is a refreshing, female led take on the high school movie.
Directed by Susan Johnson and adapted from Jenny Han's novel by Sofia Alvarez, it is perfect for anyone looking to achieve the #52FilmsbyWomen challenge this year.
Lara Jean Covey is a shy, high school girl. She has never had a boyfriend but she has had plenty of crushes. Including one of her best friends Josh who happens to be going out with her older sister. Rather than tell the boys how she feels, she writes them a letter and keeps them in a box hidden in her bedroom.
In one of those "only in the movies" moments, these letters (which just happen to be, as Stevie Wonder might say, signed and sealed and stamped) are delivered to the unsuspecting recipients which causes shockwaves through her social life and social standing at school.
Where the film might have taken a High Fidelity-style trip down memory lane as Lara Jean is forced to track down and confront all the boys she has loved before, instead it takes a different path.
Focusing on two boys in particular, the plot veers more towards a She's All That/Pygmalion plot as she forms a pact with high school jock Peter to pretend to be a couple in order to make their exes/friends jealous.
The film might not be reinventing the wheel but that does not matter one single iota thanks to a tight, fun screenplay and a star-making performance by Lana Condor. Previously best known for a small role in X-Men Apocalypse in which she managed to make one of the worst X-Men in Jubilee actually appealing, she is destined for great things on the back of this film.
As Lara Jean becomes to come out of her shell, Condor's confidence shines through as the character becomes more independent and sets out a strong example for young women as she refuses to be treated as the butt of the jokes and catty attitudes to girls at school who are the targets of jealousy and sexual promiscuity.
As mentioned, the ending of the movie is written in the stars before the letters are even posted but that is no fault of these stars Condor and Noah Centenio who are perfect together and have the audience rooting for them all the way.
One minor point though. Are we really expected to believe that teenagers these days i.e. people born in the Noughties are watching John Hughes movies as their guides to growing up? Would they not be watching the likes of Mean Girls or even Clueless? Which themselves are scarily 14 and 23 years old already! Surely the Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Clubs of this world are the childhood movies of their parents who would show the kids these movies and the young people would be bemused as to what makes them classics?
Will To All The Boys I've Loved Before achieve that cult classic status itself thirty years from now? Only time will tell but until then it is the perfect love letter to all the high school romance movies that have come before.

3 stars

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Searching - Review

It is every parent's worst nightmare. To have your child go missing. For some parents, their second worst nightmare would be knowing that they only way to help find them would be to attempt to use their computer and social media. What other secrets would they discover? If they can get past the password and access the account in the first place that is.
That is the nightmare that David Kim (John Cho) must face when his daughter Margot doesn't come home one night after study group.
So far, so standard Hollywood thriller. However writer/director Aneesh Chaganty makes the decision to tell the story entirely through a computer screen.
The horror film Unfriended did something similar by having all the action take place via Skype but Chaganty uses a blank computer screen to advance the plot. Multiple windows and apps pop up left, right and centre, sometimes to dizzying effect but in keeping with the ultra-fast paced nature of the world that we interact with every day.
The family dynamic, and storytelling method, is subtly but effectively set up through a montage sequence of David setting up young daughter Margot with a computer account as they update it with pictures and videos from school. As the years advance, it switches between the family's user profiles as the mother Pam deals with a cancer diagnosis through calendar updates, motivational posts and capturing of memories before her return from the hospital is sadly moved to the trash bin.
Early conversations from a distracted by concerned father with his distant daughter hint that all is not well between them but David is dedicated in his search for her, leaving no stone or social media app unturned. Facebook, Twitter, Facetime, Tumblr, Instagram, YouCast, etc are all used to build up a picture of Margot for the audience and also her father who finally gets to know his daughter for the first time in years.
John Cho is excellent as the frantic father, effectively delivering his heightened level of emotion through a tiny iPhone Facetime screen.
What he does is provide an effective step-by-step guide to parents on how to hack into their childrens' computers and social media accounts if they wanted to spy on them.
The information comes thick and fast and tech-savvy millennials will likely be two-three steps ahead as they quickly use their knowledge of the online world to piece together the clues.
Others not so au fait with the technology may find themselves baffled or even utterly lost as to what is going on.
Although the film has found a new way of delivering a tried-and-tested story, unfortunately the film comes hot off the heels of a TV mini series on Netflix that features a very similar plot with an identical ending that results in a case of diminishing returns for Chaganty's feature.
An interesting look at how reliant we are on the technology that has permeated every aspect of our lives but if you are Searching for the best films of 2018 at the end of the year, this is unlikely to feature in the google search results.

3 stars

The Spy Who Dumped Me - Review

With a title like The Spy Who Dumped Me, the Spectre of the world’s most famous spy might loom large over this but beyond a gender-bending twist on an iconic poster shot, it has much more in common with Melissa McCarthy’s Spy. It also achieves something a Bond film never did and has something it's never had. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours thanks to two well-written, fully developed strong independent female characters!
Mila Kunis is attempting to get over being dumped over text by Justin Theroux’s Drew, only to discover that he is a spy in the CIA and sends up involved in a plot to deliver a mysterious package to a mysterious buyer in Europe with her manic, crazy best friend Kate McKinnon along for the ride.
It is refreshing to see a movie written and directed by women, which although at times is a generic action comedy, features such a strong, convincing female friendship which is about regaining control and self-belief and not being defined by a relationship with a man. Either the super spy from her past or the dashing British agent hunting them across the EU.
The film sparks when Mila & Kate share the screen and features great supporting turns from Gillian Anderson as an M-style boss of MI5 and Ivanna Sakkho (who is definitely NOT Elizabeth Olsen) as a Russian assassin.
It is almost like you do not need the men at all and to be honest, Justin Theroux and Sam Heughan (Outlander) hardly register in terms of screen presence in comparison to the chemistry between Kunis and McKinnon.
The spy plot is incredibly generic as we see the two women become fugitives from the police and forced to travel hop across Europe from one set piece to another, experiencing plot twists and developments seemingly recycled beat-for-beat from Spy and, bizarrely at one moment, Zoolander.
There is also some jarring tonal shifts in terms of language and violence as it struggles to decide if it is a PG-13 action comedy or R-rated comedy.
Easily gets two stars, one for each of its leads, but in terms of a sequel? Certainly Never Say Never Again if they figure out exactly what their target audience is but until then it might be For Your Eyes Only.

2 stars

Thursday, 30 August 2018

The League of Gentlemen Live Again! - Review

"You'll never leave!"
That is the inviting but threatening welcome that greets people when arriving in the town of Royston Vasey. Very much a local town for local people.
It would be fair to say that nearly 20 years on from when audiences first visited the town in 1999 for the BBC series, the creators have never really left the characters behind.
Individually the team have gone on to great success in their own rights; Mark Gatiss (Dr. Who, Sherlock), Jeremy Dyson (Ghost Stories) and Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton (Psychoville, Inside No. 9).
Yet in this culture of golden age thinking and nostalgia, with every other band from the Nineties regrouping and going on a cash-grabbing money making tour, the question arose; would we see the return of the League?
The answer was yes but as evidenced by the incredible three-part Christmas TV special, the reformation was not fuelled by a desire to line their pockets but a genuine love of the characters and need to continue their story in this modern era.
At a sold out SEC Armadillo in Glasgow, it was clear that the majority of the audience was made up of hardcore fans as evidenced by the "You're my wife now Dave!" t-shirts and people with sellotape strapped to their faces pinning back their noses.
Many of whom would take the time to pay a visit to the Local Shop where they could pick up some of Pauline's Pens or sample the Precious Things of the shop.
The show is very much a tale of two halves.
The first half features the team in their traditional tuxedos from when they first started performing on the comedy circuit and rattled through some of their most iconic, classic sketches at a breakneck pace including a game of "Go Johnny Go Go Go Go!"; Stella, Charlie and Tony playing Trivial Pursuit;
The skill of the trio is evident as they easily morph into the recognisable characters simply by altering their voice or mannerisms.
All this leads to a fantastic first act closer from Legs Akimbo Theatre Company as director/producer/writer/actor/choreographer Oli Plimsolls laments the lack of awards recognition given to his issue-based childrens educational theatre. Taking aim at all sorts of targets from the West End including a hilarious barb aimed at Stomp but simultaneously a thinly veiled dig at the lack of recognition that the League themselves received during their original TV run.
The second half is fully set within Royston Vasey and begins with a West End/Les Mis-style musical number between Tubbs and Edward (in full costume and make up) that continues on from the cliffhanger at the end of the Christmas special.
The audience roared with approval as all their favourite characters made their return including Les McQueen; Geoff, Mike and Brian; Herr Lipp; Papa Lazarou and even one character from beyond the grave.
It would be doing a disservice to those attending the tour to spoil the surprises in store during the second half which is all brand new material. For those unlucky to get tickets, you will just have to wait for the inevitable DVD that will hit shelves just in time for Christmas!
Despite working on different projects over the last ten years, the group haven't lost a step during their sabbatical as the comic timing between Gatiss, Shearsmith and Pemberton is exceptional and the love and chemistry they share with each other is evident to the audience who gave the team a well-deserved standing ovation.
The League of Gentlemen Live Again! might be billed as a local show for local people but there truly is something for everyone on this celebratory tour that cements the League's position as the UK's greatest comedy troupe.

5 stars

Monday, 27 August 2018

BlacKKKlansman - Review

2018 is being widely viewed as a game-changing year in cinema. The #MeToo movement is starting to make changes behind the scenes in the industry; LGBTQ+ are beginning to experience more representation on the big screen (Call Me By Your Name, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Love Simon and Hearts Beat Loud); #52FilmsByWomen.
However when 2018 comes to a close, two of the most important films to be released this year will both feature "Black" in them.
Black Panther is the highest grossing film in the US, and second worldwide to Avengers Infinity War. It caused Hollywood to sit up and take notice that African-American audiences will come out in force to see strong, heroic black characters on the big screen. It represented a huge step forward.
Spike Lee's BlacKKKlansman also features a strong, heroic black character but looks back at the past and to the future to show that not much has really changed and there is still a lot of work to do.
Based on one of those incredible true stories that sounds too crazy to be true, John David Washington (son of Denzel) stars as Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer who managed to become a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
A new recruit to the Colorado Springs police force in the early Seventies, the rookie takes a huge punt and calls up the local chapter of the KKK and establishes a rapport with them and gets invited to join.
Obviously he cannot attend himself so it becomes a joint operation with a white officer playing Stallworth while at the meetings. This responsibility falls to Philip "Flip" Zimmerman (the always excellent Adam Driver).
The investigation that follows is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
The humour naturally comes from the juxtaposition of this intelligent, streetwise man taking the KKK for a ride as he worms his way into the Klan over the phone. Even getting to the man at the top of the chain David Duke (Topher Grace).
Given what transpired in the investigation, it is safe to say that the KKK do not come out of the film looking like the sharpest tools in the box as the two Ron Stallworths run rings around them. In fact, there is a certain trio that make the Nihlists from The Big Lebowski look like criminal masterminds.
However Lee never looks to dampen or diminish the threat, power and hate that made them so dangerous.
This is evident in several scenes; A crosscutting between a Black Student meeting where a lawyer talks about a horrific case and the initiation ceremony for new KKK members that ends with a party and watching Birth Of A Nation; the naive Stallworth stating that America would never elect a man like Duke to political office and the ending of the film which jumps forward to real life footage of the Charlottesville protests from last year that saw the death of a protester by white supremacists driving through people.
It was a stark reminder that the fight is not over and the war rages on. For despite it being a period piece, it feels fresh and startlingly relevant as many of the phrases and language used e.g. "America First" generated awkward laughter in the auditorium due to its prevalence in Trump's campaign.
BlacKKKlansman is easily Spike Lee's best and most important film since The 25th Hour and it is a welcome return to form for one of cinema's most important voices. So Do The Right Thing and watch it on the big screen ASAP.

4 stars

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Hearts Beat Loud - Review

You know that feeling when you hear a song on the radio, or Spotify. It starts off similar to hits you have heard many times over, before the chorus kicks in and suddenly becomes something truly special and before you know it, you are tapping your foot and it has wormed its way into your brain for all good.
Welcome to Hearts Beat Loud.
With a story about the owner of a failing record store who discovers a new lease of life through making music with his daughter, fans of cinema can see exactly where this film is going to go. One that will probably end with the band performing a show in order to save the store, where someone puts the show on Facebook live causing them to go viral, become a huge success and ensure the future of the store.
However, Hearts Beat Loud is not that film and it is all the better for it.
Nick Offerman plays Frank Fisher, owner of Red Hook Records in Brooklyn and father to Sam (Kiersey Clemons). The store is closing due to rent increases (which clearly don't affect his large Brooklyn loft) and he needs to reevaluate his future before Sam goes off to medical school in Los Angeles.
In the hands of another filmmaker, this would be Sam's story. A coming-of-age story in that final Summer before college where she finds love and music.
Instead, it is a two-hander, with both father and daughter facing some tough choices about their future. In fact, here it is the adult father figure who needs to grow up as opposed to his daughter.
They might be on different paths but the one thing they have in common is music.
One night after Frank pesters Sam into sacking off study for a "jam session", the two write a song eponymously called Hearts Beat Loud. A joyful, modern pop song that the audience witness in its full creation as layer upon layer is added in a sequence that is superbly edited.
Offerman, who is most famous for playing the grumpy Ron Swanson in Parks & Recreation, deftly balances the sad sack of a man who is failing at life but truly comes alive through music with an infectious, giddy enthusiasm. Plus it looks as though he plays all his own instruments!
He is perfectly matched by Kiersey Clemons as Sam who has a stunning voice and after a couple of small parts in the Flatliners remake and Bad Neighbours 2 should be destined for stardom after this.
There is great support from Toni Colette (continuing a banner 2018), Ted Danson and Sasha Lane (as Sam's lesbian girlfriend in a sub-plot that is admirably played straight and without any sense of sensationalism or shock. It is simply a relationship).
Just like a sports team is only as good as its players, a film about music is only as good as its songs. Luckily, Hearts Beat Loud is not a one-hit wonder but has several chart worthy songs penned by Keegan DeWitt and performed by the cast.
We Are Not A Band also sing a song called Everything Must Go but it would be more apt to say everyone must go and see this film. One that will fill your heart with joy and have audiences singing its praises out loud.

4 stars