Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Crawl - Review

Director Alexandre Aja makes a big splash with this year's sleeper horror hit Crawl. Like many great horrors, the title has a double meaning. Not only do the monsters crawl but the majority of the action takes place in a crawl space beneath a house... plus it makes your skin crawl!

Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a collegiate swimmer, must travel back home to check on her estranged father (Barry Pepper) during a hurricane when they both become trapped in the basement with a vicious alligator. With no one coming to their Gator-Aid, they must work together as flood waters and tensions rise around them, bringing fear and their troubled past to the surface in a race against time.

Having made his name with French horror Haute Tension aka Switchblade Romance, Aja has abandoned any notion of a twist that featured in that film that split audiences right down the middle like a gator chomping through a Floridian. This is an old school thriller that is as lean and mean as a hungry alligator during hurricane season. Also, he gives the humour present in his Piranha 3D remake a wide birth to focus on building the tension and emotion... although he still knows when to throw in an effective and gory kill to satisfy the blood lust!

Scodelario makes for a tough, resourceful scream queen whose fiercely competitive swimming background helps to level the playing field once the protagonists are underwater. At times, when drenched and vunerable, she is almost the doppelganger of Emma Stone and she will undoubtedly have audiences on her side willing her to survive.

The film does have a standard OTT premise needed for a good old-fashioned horror thrill ride but the writers make sure to ground this in as much believability as possible. Decisions made by characters feel authentic and the barriers to their escape flow naturally that you never scoff or remark "well that would never happen". Plus the tension and threat is maintained throughout to the point where no one is safe... even the dog!

A genre cross between Jaws and Hard Rain, Crawl is a gripping horror with bite that will once again make you afraid to go back in the water and is the most thrilling way to spend 87 minutes in Florida until Galaxy's Edge opens later this year!

4 stars

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home - review

Spider-Man: Far From Home is the 23rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it finds itself in a similar situation to the Ant-Man films. After the overwhelming intensity and drama of the Avengers movies, the stakes for Spider-Man's European Vacation (or Magical Mysterio Tour) are smaller, the tone needs to be lighter and more hopeful but it also must nail the superhero landing and bring Phase 3 to a close whilst simultaneously addressing "The Blip".
The Blip is canonically what the MCU is calling the second snap which brought back half of the world's population following Thanos's original snap... although why they didn't call it "The Snappening" we will never know.
To be fair, Far From Home hits the ground running with a poignant but amusing high school news video bringing everyone quickly up to date with how those teenagers who disappeared would fit back into school... in short they must take their midterms again but get rewarded with a trip to Europe for a science holiday. Conveniently, all the main characters from Homecoming all got snapped at the same time so the gang is all here.
Peter is having the hardest time adjusting. Aunt May seems to be flirting with Happy Hogan. He is dealing with burgeoning feelings for MJ and he is struggling to cope the loss of Tony with the pressure of being the hero as the world looks to someone to take over the mantle of Iron Man.
That hero could just be Quentin Beck, a mysterious superhero dubbed Mysterio by a mispronunciation on Italian TV. With armour that looks like Thor, mystical green powers like Doctor Strange and the flight capabilities of Vision, he is the Avengers all rolled into one... well, at least the ones who like to wear capes!
Not only can he fill the shoes of Iron Man but he could fill the role of surrogate father that Peter has struggled to replace following the deaths of his father, Uncle Ben and now Tony.
Tom Holland has continued to grow into the role since Civil War and is now the definitive on-screen Peter Parker and Spider-Man... and Night Monkey. He is able to go from comedic one-liners to tearing your heart out at the flick of a web shooter and will undoubtedly be the heart of the MCU going forward into Phase 4.
Newcomer Gyllenhaal is excellent as Beck/Mysterio and the film truly comes alive in the second half of the film once Gyllenhaal goes, as I like to dub, "full Okja" which leads to a sequence that easily tops Doctor Strange's trippy visuals as Mysterio's demonstrates the full extent of his powers.
To discuss much more would stray too close to the deadly spoiler realm so... spider-lips are sealed.
Director Jon Watts has so far taken Spider-Man from New York to Washington in Homecoming and now on European Vacation in Far From Home so I expect the next logical step is to complete his trilogy and have the next film set at Christmas.
Phase 3 may have come to an end but the two incredible post-credit scenes, it is far to say, have flipped everything upside down and it will be very interesting and exciting to see where Spider-Man and the MCU are headed.

3 stars

Monday, 17 June 2019

The A24 Project - Episode 19 - De Palma & Swiss Army Man

Brian De Palma is the subject of A24's second documentary De Palma as he shares experiences and insight into a career that has spanned over fifty years and in Swiss Army Man Paul Dano is a suicidal young man who encounters a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe in one of their most original films.

In A24 Hour News, Dallas and Lee discuss the breaking news that Robert Pattinson is dropping out of The Souvenir Part II and look at the hype machine for the upcoming Midsommar.

Alternatively, you can download or stream The A24 Project on Apple Podcasts, GooglePlay, Spreaker and Spotify.

Monday, 3 June 2019

The A24 Project - Episode 18 - Green Room & The Lobster

What's your desert island band and if you were to be transformed into an animal what would it be?

Lee Hutchison and Dallas King look at Green Room, about a punk rock band who are forced to fight for survival after witnessing a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar. The film stars the late Anton Yelchin who died tragically after the film was released, we celebrate his short but special career. We also discuss The Lobster directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, one of the most original films in the A24 catalogue, it's set in a dystopian near future, where single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.

In A24 Hour News, we look at the success of The Lighthouse at the Cannes Film Festival.

Listen to the episode online here - https://www.thenerdparty.com/thea24project/episode-18-green-room-the-lobster

Alternatively, you can download or stream The A24 Project on Apple Podcasts, GooglePlay, Spreaker and Spotify.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Hugh Jackman: The Man, The Music, The Show - review

Scotland is no stranger when it comes to superheroes. The Avengers have assembled in Edinburgh to deep fry their kebab in Infinity War and turned St. Abbs into New Asgard in Endgame.
The Scots have welcomed the likes of Captain America, Black Widow and Thor with open arms and an Irn Bru and now it does the same to the most famous of X-Men… Wolverine.
For the Tony award-winning, Oscar-nominated Hugh Jackman has chosen Glasgow to play host to the very first performances of The Man, The Music, The Show.

Embarking on a world tour at the age of 50, one might have expected to see Old Man Logan but the audience was treated to The Greatest Showman moving around the stage with the energy of a New Mutant.
This chappie must be drinking from The Fountain of youth because he was tapping those Happy Feet for 2.5 hours.
Opening with The Greatest Show, it is obvious that this Chappie is having the time of his life (not the Dirty Dancing song). His enthusiasm is infectious and it ensured that the capacity crowd at the SSE Hydro was anything but les miserables.

Ably backed up by a band and dancers, plus an rapturous reception for Keala Settle who appeared for This Is Me, Jackman effortlessly moves through his career; from his first job playing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Carousel, a performance of You Will Be Found from Dear Evan Hansen featuring a local Glasgow choir before ending act one with a medley from Les Miserables.

The Met Gala took place this week and the theme was camp but I think all the camp was taken by this show as Jackman brought out The Boy from Oz Peter Allen for a spot of audience interaction to kick off the second act, and to his credit, no matter what the Glasgow crowd threw at him, he dealt with it in his stride and in character.

Followed by this, he took a trip down memory lane through some of his favourite movie musicals before launching into a huge dance routine.
And this is a sentence one would never expect to write; there is a moment where Wolverine tap dances to Thunderstruck by AC/DC… and I say that because at the end Jackman is so worked up his facial expression changed to the point I was like “It’s Wolverine” followed by him recreating the famous “Schnick” poses using drumsticks.

The only other actor who I have seen capable of working an entire arena into a frenzy and have them hanging off their every word is The Rock, The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment. Well, Jackman is certainly the Most Electrifying Man in Musical Theatre entertainment.
As he brought it home with From Now On, the capacity crowd was on their feet giving him a well deserved and earned standing ovation, as this really was... *don't say it, don't say it, don't say it* The Greatest Show!

5 stars

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Glasgow Film Festival: Mid90s review

If you are a fan of the TV series Spaced, you will remember a scene where Tim and Daisy bond over watching skate videos. Making increasingly more audible and physical reactions as the falls and hits as people fall off their boards get more and more extreme and intense.
This was the scene in the Glasgow Film Theatre during the Opening Gala UK premiere of Jonah Hill’s Mid90s.
They were one voice reacting with uproarious laughter one minute and shock and horror the next as the lead character Stevie (played by Sunny Suljic and based only slightly autobiographically on Hill), learns to face what life throws at him, whether that be ollies, grinds, girls or punches; pick himself up and get back on the board.
It is a testament to Jonah Hill’s directorial debut that if you didn’t know, you would believe that Mid90s was made in the Mid 90s.
Shot entirely on 16mm, it has the look and feel of the skate videos that the character of Fourth Grade wants to produce.
Soundtracked by some of the period’s greatest hits (who didn’t have a copy of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged gig on at every gathering?), Hill showcases some real talent behind the camera. Particularly during a house party scene that features some Superbad use of editing and camerawork. Now that is superbad meaning good of course, as was the vernacular in the Nineties.
There is a rawness to the film that is reminiscent of Larry Clark’s Kids. Although not as extreme or exploitative, it is honest in its portrayal of what the youth culture was engaging in at the time.
Mid90s is about finding your place in this world and Jonah Hill may have found his place in the industry. Albeit a future where he is behind the camera instead of in front of it.

4 stars

Sunday, 10 February 2019

The LEGO Movie 2 - The Second Part

In The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, there are continual references to the fact that five years have passed since the events of the original movie and it wasn't until about the third or fourth reference that it finally sunk in that it has actually been five years since the world discovered that the jokey idea of a movie based on LEGO proved that everything was indeed awesome!
However can they recapture lightning in a bottle and "build" on the success of the first one?
Well, YES... and no.
Having been banished into the Mad Max: Fury Road-esque Apocalypsberg after the continued attacks from the beings of Duplo Land, the remaining Master Builders are kidnapped by the Queen of the SISTA system and Emmett must learn how to grow into a tough, grizzled hero in order to save the day, ably assisted by Rex Dangervest.
While the Second Part may lack the surprise factor of the first film, similar to the way you cannot recapture that feeling of that first time you complete building your LEGO Dark Knight Tumbler, it does have some magic and meta touches to it. That actually lead to a very touching finale.
The major surprise in the first film was when Emmett transferred from the LEGO world into the real world and it was discovered that everything was being controlled by human beings and the second part cleverly builds on this.
It is not going to be a shock to anyone on how the "SISTA system" and "ArMamageddon" come into play in the third act but it is a rather moving storyline that shows the true power of LEGO, playing and creativity.
One of the creative choices that is inspired and a complete joy, is Chris Pratt's decision to play the character of Rex Dangervest as his dad in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Kurt Russell in his iconic role of Jack Burton.
Just like the new song that repeats ad nauseum, this movie will get inside your head and leave you with a massive smile on your face because the jokes are on point, the vocal performances are infectious and it is just a hell of a lot of fun.
LEGO, essentially a pile of random bricks, is only limited by people's imaginations and while it might not be as imaginative as the original, it is still a lot of fun and proof that everything is still pretty darn great... if not quite awesome.

3 stars

Monday, 28 January 2019

Vice - Review

Adam McKay actually foreshadowed his work on Vice back in 2004 with his breakout comedy classic Anchorman. In the final moments of the film, the narrator informs the audience that Brick Tamland would go on to become one of the top political advisors... to the Bush administration.
Fast forward to 2019 and we have Steve Carell playing Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush. Now that is one hell of a long game payoff for a gag.
That is just one small way of indicating to the audience that this is not going to be your standard rags-to-riches, rise and fall Oscar bait biopic (albeit one that has been nominated for 8 Oscars).
What McKay attempts instead is to try and give audiences some understanding of who Dick Cheney was as a person and the circumstances that led to him becoming, arguably, the most powerful man in the world and the puppet master behind Dubya.
This is achieved using a similar style to his Oscar-winning The Big Short, which tried to explain how the 2008 financial crisis occurred. There is narration from a third party, cutaways, flashbacks, Shakespearean soliloquies and even a wonderful premature end credit sequence where Cheney lived happily ever after and never entered politics again... before Bush calls him to be VP.
Compared to The Big Short, Vice comes up a little short in terms of the visual impact of its storytelling but what it does have is a true powerhouse of a performance from Christian Bale "channeling Satan" to become Dick Cheney.
Propped up by his devoted wife Lynne (Amy Adams), they are like a real life Frank and Claire Underwood as they plot and scheme their way to absolute power.
Bale is so good in the role that he simply disappears and becomes Cheney, and goes as far to make this reviewer doubt himself and nearly come away thinking, "well at least Cheney did have one redeeming quality, he was a devoted, loyal family man"... but then right at the end he shows his true colours!
Cheney might not have ever had the top job in US politics but there is a very good chance that Bale will take top honours on Oscar night.
Vice, like a drug, shows that power is an addiction but just like narcotics, it lures you in, gets you hooked but ultimately needing and wanting more from it.

3 stars

Friday, 25 January 2019

RSNO Sci-Fi Spectacular - Live Review

Tonight the Filibuster team from The Nerd Party were invited to the Usher Hall for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's Sci-Fi Spectacular show celebrating some of the greatest and most iconic music cues from science fiction cinema.
For the last four years, the RSNO have performed at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, providing live scores to cinematic classics such as Back To The Future, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Jaws.
These events are always hugely popular and the Sci-Fi Spectacular was no different with a packed audience eager to hear the tunes from their favourite films and it always seems like the orchestra are having as much fun playing them as the audience do listening to them.
If you noticed a theme with the film choices for the live score events, it would be no surprise to learn that the first half of the show was dedicated to the music of John Williams and the Star Wars saga (prequels and originals).
From the Opening Titles of A New Hope (including Fox fanfare) through Across The Stars to Princess Leia's theme, Williams's contribution to the success of the saga is undeniable with the images and soundtrack unseparable in the mind.
In fact, based on tonight's concert, you would be forgiven for thinking that Williams soundtracked the entire genre as the second half also included his suites for Close Encounters Of Third Kind and E.T.
Yet other composers did make an appearance, from James Horner's work on Avatar to Michael Giacchino boldly going where one man had gone before with his rousing reinvention of the Star Trek theme to Jerry Goldsmith's work on Alien.
But there was time for the RSNO to take us back to a galaxy far, far away for an encore of the Imperial March.
Now that's value for money. A trip through the galaxy and time and space and you don't even have to leave your theatre seat.

The RSNO presents Sci-Fi Spectacular plays Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 26th January, 3.00pm & 7.30pm. For more details visit rsno.org.uk/film

Listeners of The Nerd Party can get a 20% discount on tickets for the show by using the code JEDI20.

Glasgow Film Festival - Top Ten Films To See At #GFF19

This week the Glasgow Film Festival announced the full line up for this year and once again they never fail to deliver the goods.
From 20 February to 3 March, the city's 15th annual celebration of cinema will feature 337 events and screenings including 7 World premieres, 102 UK premieres and 49 Scottish premieres.
The full brochure can be viewed and downloaded here but for now, here are my top ten screenings you should grab a ticket for when they go on sale at 10.00am on Monday 28th January.
Tickets for all performances can be booked here.

Every year, GFF pull out all the stops when it comes to their Special Event screenings and 2019 is no different with 20th anniversary events for The Blair Witch Project and Fight Club but as someone called Dallas, the screening for me had to be a 40th anniversary celebration of Alien that includes a scary, interactive laser tag build up to the main event.

Dragged Across Concrete
Following on from his incredible debut Bone Tomahawk and sophomore effort Brawl On Cell Block 99, can writer-director S. Craig Zahler make it three for three with his latest film?
At the very least, this tale of two police officers' descent into the criminal underworld should continue the welcome career re-Vaughn-aissance of Vince Vaughn following his revelatory turn in Brawl with another film that is as harsh and unforgiving as the concrete surface after which it is named.

Eighth Grade
As one half of The A24 Project, it is no surprise to see this film on the list. Originally released in the US in August 2018 having made its way through the festival circuit (picking up Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award nominations along the way), UK audiences have to wait until 26th April to see Bo Burnham's stunning coming-of-age film go up against Avengers: Endgame... unless of course you are lucky enough to catch this screening complete with Q&A with Burnham!

Fighting With My Family
When it comes to cinematic tag teams, can you think of an odder but more perfect pairing than The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment and King of the Box Office Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Stephen Merchant? IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK!
Produced by (and starring) The Rock, Stephen Merchant directs Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden in this comedy-drama based on the true story of how Norwich-born Saraya-Jade Bevis defied all the odds to make it to the top of the WWE as Paige, becoming a WWE Divas Champion along the way.

This year's Opening Gala is Jonah Hill's directorial debut and another coming-of-age story for A24, this time set in the mid 90s and revolves a 13 year old kid finding a place in the world of skateboarding and the music that defined an era.

The Sisters Brothers
The cast list alone is enough for Jacques Audiard's Western to make the list as it includes Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The Surprise Film
Place your bets now. Possibilities include Serenity, Us, The Kindergarten Teacher, At Eternity's Gate, Hellboy and High Life.

Under The Silver Lake
Completing the hat trick of A24 films screening in Glasgow, David Robert Mitchell's urban noir promises to subvert the genre in the same way as he did with his horror debut It Follows.

The Vanishing
What's this? A Gerard Butler film being a must see at a festival?! No, it's not a sequel to Geostorm. Butler actually has form when it comes to homegrown filmmaking, just check out Dear Frankie. In this film, he costars with Peter Mullan as part of a trio of lighthouse keepers who are assigned to a remote island but a terrifying discovery threatens to pull the trust and friendship between the men apart.

Vox Lux
Now I was lucky enough to catch this film in New York in December but I can heartily recommend this dark cousin to A Star Is Born to anyone attending the festival. My only caveat is, don't read or watch anything about this film before seeing it. It is best experienced, like revenge, cold.
Very surprised that Natalie Portman's performance in this has not made more waves on the Awards race this year and she is fantastic.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Fyre: The Festival That Never Happened - Netflix Originals Review

If one wanted to use a film quote to aptly sum up the failure of #FyreFestival that went from the "hottest party" to an example of the perils of PR, marketing and poor event management that will be taught in schools for years to come, one need look no further than Jerry Maguire:
"I'm finished, I'm fucked. Twenty-four hours ago, man, I was hot! Now... I'm a cautionary tale. You see this jacket I'm wearing, you like it? Because I don't really need it because I'm cloaked in failure!"
In 2017, the world watched on social media as a group of privileged American "influencers" had a meltdown on Twitter and Instagram as they arrived on an island in the Bahamas for an exclusive music festival only for it to go horribly wrong and quickly turn into a "first world problems" version of Lord Of The Flies as panicked Instagrammers ran around trying to find tents to sleep in and wept about the awful state of a cheese sandwich.
This Netflix originals documentary (one of two on the festival out this month) has been developed by one of the teams who were involved in the marketing of #Fyre so they have behind the scenes footage of owners Billy McFarland and Ja Rule as they plan to put on an event to help promote their music booking app #Fyre but just seem more concerned with having a massive piss up with supermodels on a deserted island than actually planning the logistics of successfully delivering a high-end, luxury event for people paying thousands of dollars to attend.
As the film counts down to the day of the festival, the sheer level of ignorance, ineptitude and stupidity on show is staggering as the team, under the leadership of McFarland, lurch from one disaster to another. McFarland, despite being in the face of an insurmountable number of problems, just keeps moving forward. It was as if he was the captain of the Titanic who could see the "Iceberg, right ahead!" and just continued on his current course, thinking everything will be fine, even to the point he goes down with the ship.
He is the physical embodiment of the dog in the house on fire meme "This is fine" and the festival-goers are Donald Glover walking into the room on fire meme!
The film has been described as a Jaws for millennials and the description is apt because the #Fyre team (including the affable, nice Andy King who has the single most shocking anecdote you will hear this year regarding Evian water) come across like the Murray Hamilton's Amity Island beach. He knows there is a shark that could kill everyone but still lets them in the water. The #Fyre team know the festival will fail, that they don't have enough accommodation and food for everyone (not even getting to the fact the accommodation is not what was advertised) and yet they still let them come to the island!

"I'm pleased & happy to repeat the news that in spite of some rumours, we have plenty of tents & cheese sandwiches for everyone attending. It’s a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Fyre Festival as you know, means Friendship!"
There is an old adage in Hollywood that "you couldn't make it up" and that the truth is stranger than fiction and this is one of those stories which is so incredulous and unbelievable in how it all unfolded that you will be sitting slack-jawed and shaking your head in disbelief throughout.
It is a fascinating look at the world that we currently live in and a timely reminder of the power that social media can have over our lives and that sometimes we should take a step back and switch off every now and again to avoid getting burned.

4 stars

Monday, 21 January 2019

Mary Queen Of Scots - Review

Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off. *Spoiler* Only it isn't really. It is historical fact and it's the exact name of a play by Liz Lochhead so the new film by Josie Rourke is spoiling nothing by beginning the film with Mary Stuart's walk down the Green Mile to her death before jumping back in time 25 years to see the events that would lead her cousin Queen Elizabeth I to sign her death warrant.
Let's quickly address the elephant in the room shall we? No, not the fact that the Scot Mary Stuart is played by an Irishwoman and the English Queen is played by an Aussie in the greatest piece of Scottish cultural misappropriation since Highlander had a Frenchman play a Scot and the world's most famous Scot playing a Spanish-Egyptian! We're talking about the fact that despite introductory text saying that Mary moved to France as an infant, she returns to Scotland at the age of 18 with a perfect Scottish accent (well done Saiorse Ronan who puts Christopher Lambert, Mel Gibson and even Chris Pine admirable efforts to shame).
Historical inaccuracies aside, this account of Mary's rise and fall is well handled by Josie Rourke, who until this point is best known for her stage work directing for the National Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse but on this evidence will seamlessly transfer to further outings on the big screen.
In spite of what the trailers may have implied, with shots of Mary upon a noble steed riding with soldiers and talking about how "swords are not just for show", this is certainly no Braveheart or Outlaw King. The battles hear mainly take place within the walls of castles and parliament chambers as the two Queens become pawns and are maneuvered into opposition by the very knights, bishops, etc who they are meant to govern e.g David Tennant's John Knox and Guy Pearce's William Cecil.
Whilst some will claim that films like this seek to widen any discourse between England and Scotland, similar to the re-release of Braveheart just before the Indy Referendum, in fact what this film sadly highlights is the fact that even 450 years on, some men are still very uncomfortable being ruled and governed by a woman!
One need look not further than the scene where Elizabeth tells William Cecil that she has almost become a man whilst ruling as Queen, unwilling to take a husband as she believes all they will do is scheme and plot to usurp her and take her crown. The exact thing that happens to Mary with her husband Henry Darnley (played by louche, debonair swagger by the Scottish star of the moment Jack Lowden) and her court of supposedly loyal subjects.
As one would expect from a theatre director, Rourke really brings out the best from her actors allowing them to drive the drama forward and the cast is uniformly excellent but the male cast are outshone by the central pairing of Robbie and Ronan (which when written like that makes it look like the film is about a secret meeting between members of Take That and Boyzone during the Nineties).
Their (albeit perhaps fictional) face-to-face meeting is a masterclass that proves that the pen is mightier than the sword and a battle of words can make for just as thrilling a contest as an epic battle of swords and shields.
So while Mary Queen of Scots may have had her head chopped off, Mary Queen of Scots proves that Saiorse Ronan and Margot Robbie stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field proving themselves to be two of the finest actresses of their generation.

4 stars

Friday, 18 January 2019

Glass - Review

Even by Unbreakable, writer-director M. Night Shaymalan's films had become synonymous with a twist ending. In fact, The Sixth Sense arguably began the current *SPOILER WARNING* culture we have now, albeit at a time when social media was in its infancy.
However with his 13th feature film Split, he pulled off his greatest trick. Revealing at the film's conclusion that James McAvoy's Kevin Wendell Crumb existed within the Unbreakable universe and it was a secret, stealth sequel to the film setting up more possibilities than Kevin had personalities.
Unbreakable is one of the finest superhero movies (coming at a time before the genre would see its resurgence through X-Men, Spider-Man and the MCU) and the best movie *about* comic books ever made.
The prospect of seeing this expanded universe of Bruce Willis's David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price share the screen with Hedwig, Barry, Dennis, Patricia, The Beast et all is a tantalising prospect.
Therefore it would be fair to say that Glass shatters those expectations as easily as Mr. Glass's brittle bones. Shaymalan does not deliver his version of Avengers Infinity War but instead gives us a superhero version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest as new character Dr. Ellie Staple (the always terrific Sarah Paulson) forces the captured trio to face the possibility that their superhuman powers are simply in their mind. A result of trauma coupled with an over-exposure to comic book culture which has come to oversaturate the world.
It is very pleasing to see Bruce Willis deliver his best performance in years. In fact, one could go as far to say that his last great performance was Unbreakable back in 2001 but it is good to know that he can still turn it on when he gives a damn about the project and not just in it for the paycheck.
Samuel L. Jackson is also on fine form but spends much of the first act in a rather comatose state but soon gets the opportunity to start monologuing before too long.
However the real star of the show, once again, is James McAvoy. Having spent time with the characters in the first movie, his skill and craft has been honed even more that the audience can know instantly tell which of the main characters within Kevin are emerging each time just by his body language. It is an incredible sight to behold and if the world was a just and fair place, this is the type of performance that should be considered when it comes to Awards season. No one else has done anything like what McAvoy has done with a character(s) over these two movies.
Yet the multiple/split personality is perhaps where Glass ultimately loses its superpowers as the film struggles to settle on a tone, changing almost from scene to scene as quickly as Kevin's personalities come into the light. Although titled Glass, it is very much a Split sequel and the sheer energy of McAvoy seems at odds with the quiet and stillness of the other two characters. The film's pacing is languid and more in keeping with the slow burn of Unbreakable but starts with a bang and builds to a third act "showdown" that is full of the traditional twists and turns you would expect from this filmmaker but in a way that is so bold and unexpected that it will undoubtedly Split opinions, pardon the pun.
While it might not quite shatter the glass ceiling of the perfect superhero trilogy, Glass is a fascinating and thrilling analysis of comic book culture and the way we view "heroes".

3 stars

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Colette - Review

Rather surprisingly, Colette is not based on the fallout of the shocking Oscar snub of Toni Collette for Hereditary but the true story of Colette Willy, the wife of the famed French author and his muse and ghost writer who created and wrote his finest work, the Claudine novels.
Despite the fact that Colette is apparently one of France's biggest selling authors of all-time, this reviewer was shockingly ignorant of her and her story (particularly when a Wikipedia search post film revealed she wrote the novel that was turned into the Oscar winning film Gigi).
Yet that does not matter as the film does an excellent job of taking the audience through Colette's story. From timid, meek ingenue to muse and ghost writer (sometimes to the point of tortured slave labour), through her burgeoning sexual awakening to the point where she truly discovers herself and stands up to her husband demanding full credit for her work.
*Note - these are not spoilers as it is all in the trailer*
Now men taking credit for other people's work is certainly nothing new and what Colette does very well is remind us that sadly not much has really changed in the 119 years since the publication of Claudine a L'Ecole.
Yet Henry Willy, played with relish by Dominic West, is playful, charming, seductive and persuasive in his controlling ways and arguments to keep his name on the books, claiming he is a "brand" and any suggestion that he did not pen the work could be catastrophic and ruin their lifestyle which the books pay for.
He is in many ways the perfect abuser and despite his obvious charms, one hopes that Colette will find a way out from under his grip.
Knightley impresses as Colette, coming into her own just as Colette does when she experiments with her sexuality and gender role. She has always seemed more comfortable and fitting within a period setting and it is no different here, doing a fine job of reminding people of this trendsetter and inspirational role model.
Colette. The best a woman can get. Or should that be the best women can be?

3 stars

Stan & Ollie - Review

If you asked anyone who watched Jon S. Baird's adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Filth that featured a career-best performance from James McAvoy what his next project would be, it is doubtful any of them would have picked a biopic of one of the greatest comedy duos of all-time Laurel and Hardy.
The two are worlds apart with the only real connection being that Bruce Robinson would have certainly gotten them into plenty of fine messes.
However it is clear with every frame of Stan & Ollie that Baird is a genuine fan of the double act and that love and appreciation shines through the screen. Whether that be in a pitch perfect recreation of their iconic dance from Way Out West or their hilarious theatrical stage routines.
However Baird is not afraid to peek behind the curtain and show that behind the make up and fame was a very tumultuous and complicated relationship between the two performers.
Biopics that play out as simple rags-to-riches tales that speed through all the big moments like a jukebox musical playing all the hits can be crowdpleasing but ultimately shallow and dull affairs (*cough* Bohemian Rhapsody*). It is refreshing to find one that focuses on a story or period of history that the public may not be too familiar with in order to show the world who these people really are (or were).
Following the acrimonious break up of the duo due to Laurel's stubbornness over his contract, the two went their separate ways before falling on harder times and reuniting for a theatre tour in the UK with the eye on securing finance for a future film that would put them back on top.
As the two former partners and friends travel round the country performing some of their classic routines to audiences who have moved on with the times, it is clear that they are carrying round more baggage than just their carry on luggage.
The performances of Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy are spot on, with Reilly disappearing under some impressive make up to become the duo and the two actors spark off each other both on stage and off as they seek to resolve their differences before it's too late.
The chemistry between the two transfers over to the other relationships in their lives, their wives (played with steel and scene-stealing guile by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda) but it is clear who the real love of their lives was. It is no coincidence that Laurel (and others) refer to Hardy as "Babe".
The result is an affectionate tribute that packs a surprisingly emotional punch that will have audiences crying tears of sadness and laughter to the point their faces will look like another fine mess they have gotten themselves into.

4 stars

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Front Runner - Review

1988. Ah, the halcyon days of US politics. When the press publishing rumours of a reported affair was enough to have a candidate drop out of the race.
That is not a spoiler. It is the crux of this true life story of Senator Gary Hart. America's golden boy. The titular "front runner" for the Democratic nomination and the man many believed was capable of beating George WH Bush and be the next President... Unfortunately the man just couldn't keep it in his pants!
Jason Reitman's expose of this story is about more than just one man however. This captures a monumental turning point in how the press and the media reported on politics.
Gary Hart's position was that his private life behind closed doors did not affect his ability to perform his job or influence his policies. It was a view that until that point many agreed with, including the likes of The Washington Post (which actually makes for an interesting double bill with The Post), but there were others that believed that politicians needed to be held to a higher ethical and moral standard than others and if you were in the public eye, you were fair game.
Jackman is terrific as Hart. Using his natural charisma and abundance of charm to be the man who could be President when talking about policies (or women) but is equally stiff and awkward around cameras, with his frustration and anger reaching boiling point.
Reitman fills out his cast with regulars such as JK Simmons (once again on fine expletive dropping form), Vera Farmiga and a host of talent that would slot quite easily into a walk and talk segment on The West Wing.
However this is where the film finds itself lacking. It seems churlish to compare and contrast but while it does a perfectly adequate job of retelling the story in the style of a 70s/80s political drama, what it really needs (with the monumental change in the focus of the media at the time) is the satirical bite and razor sharp wit of Aaron Sorkin or In The Loop or The Thick Of It. Satires and comedies that have become worryingly more like documentaries.
On paper, this movie had everything you would for in a prestige Awards season film (great cast, seasoned director, based on a true story, timely political statement), however just as Gary Hart found out to his cost, sometimes that is just not enough and you go from The Front Runner to Also Ran in a heartbeat.

3 stars

Saturday, 5 January 2019

The Favourite - Review

Similar to the main characters jostling for the affections of the Queen, The Favourite is currently living up to its title as one of the favourites for this season's Oscar race but one expects it will not have to lower itself to such underhanded tactics as Sarah and Abigail resort in order to curry favour with the voters.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Killing Of A Sacred Deer) brings his trademark sense of humour which is blacker than the Black Death to this acerbic retelling of this historical menage a trois.
The way that Abigail (Emma Stone) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz) scheme and play each other off Queen Anne in a continual battle for her affections, position and power makes it feel akin to the classic All About Eve. If the film had been about another famous Anne, it could have been called All About Cleves.
Queen Anne has a collection of bunnies named after her lost children and the metaphor runs deep as Anne herself at times feels like a frightened rabbit at the mercy of two cunning foxes stalking their prey, albeit too obsessed with fighting each other to truly go in for the kill.
The scenes between Stone and Weisz are electric. Trading witticisms, backhanded compliments and insults as barbed as Negan's baseball bat Lucille from the Walking Dead, and twice as dangerous.
Colman excels as the Queen who is portrayed in public as weak, stupid and cuckolded by Sarah but as the film progresses, questions are raised as to who is really playing who? This leads to an incendiary fallout in the conclusion and an audacious final shot from Lanthimos.
All three women will almost certainly be nominated for awards but it seems a disservice to have them face off against each other (ironically). They are equally great and arguably all leads in a film that aces the Bechdel test to the point the audience forgets that there are actually male characters as well (something the women seem as disinterested in at times). Of these, Nicolas Hoult is the standout as Harley, a man who has schemes of his own afoot.
A period piece as sumptuous to look at and full of romance as a Jane Austen novel but with a cut-throat sense and sensibility more often seen in Game of Thrones.

4 stars

Days of Future Past: Has Science Fiction become Science Fact?

If by some miracle a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would sound so absurd, so far-fetched that everyone would laugh him to scorn. The only thing we can be sure of about the future, is that it will be absolutely fantastic" 
      - Arthur C. Clarke, World's Fair, New York, 1964

It all started with one simple question: “Why don’t we have hoverboards yet?”
It was January 2015 and film journalists were already preparing their articles ahead of the 5th October 2015. The date that Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future in 1988’s Back To The Future Part II.
Science Fiction films were previously the work of fantasy. Writers and filmmakers creating a vision of the future that they imagined *could* potentially come true but never really thought they would be held accountable for.

"Science fiction was an expression of 20th century man's hopes, dreams and aspirations. A heavy percentage of science fiction is merely rubbish. Big eyed monsters, space battles or something of that nature. However science fiction has one thing in its favour, that even a story that from a literary standpoint is complete trash may prove very prophetic"

While the science fiction films of the past have earned their place in history, the clock has kept ticking and time has begun to catch up with these works of fiction, whether they are novels, television shows or films.

Outside of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terminator 2 Judgement Day, Back To The Future Part II was the first science fiction film to have a set date that people could finally analyse and compare fact to science fiction.
It presented a vision of the future that featured flying cars, self-tying laces and the release of Jaws 19. To be fair, they got the resurgence of 3D correct. They were also a year out with the Chicago Cubs World Series Win but we’ll let them off because they weirdly kindly of predicted the rise of Trump.

The year is now 2019 and we have reached a time when science fiction is becoming a reality.
The science fiction films of our past are becoming the present. The year 2019 is the setting for films such as Daybreakers, The Road, The IslandAkira and one of the most influential films of all-time, Blade Runner.

What, if anything, did they get right about the future? And what can they teach us about technology, science, health and politics?
Arthur C. Clarke said "One mark of a first rate scientist is an interest in science fiction and conversely, the mark of a second rate scientist is a lack of interest in science fiction."
Where films got their predictions correct, was it because scientists were inspired by the technology seen in the movies? A sort of self-fulfilling prophecy so to speak?

Over the course of 2019, I will examine in detail a series of science fiction films to determine how prophetic they actually were.
The criteria for selection was they had to be set in a specific time period in history or the near future i.e. 2001, 2019, 2032, etc.
Also the films must have been released at least ten years prior to their setting to allow for a reasonable period of time for their predictions to take effect (sorry Geostorm, set in 2019 but released in 2017).

The films that will be analysed are as follows (in chronological order of setting):

  1. 1984
  2. Escape From New York
  3. Death Race 2000
  4. 2001 A Space Odyssey
  5. Timecop
  6. Back To The Future Part II
  7. Barb Wire
  8. V For Vendetta
  9. Rollerball
  10. Akira
  11. Daybreakers
  12. The Island
  13. The Road
  14. The Running Man
  15. Blade Runner
  16. Johnny Mnemonic
  17. The Purge
  18. Soylent Green
  19. Her
  20. Metropolis
  21. Children of Men
  22. Snowpiercer
  23. Moon
  24. Demolition Man
  25. Twelve Monkeys