Thursday, 14 December 2017

#97 STAR WARS - EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI


Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isacc, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, laura Dern Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran and Benicio del Toro. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Budget $??? Running time 152 minutes.

The war rages on among the stars. The First Order continues its purge of the old Empire and resistance alike under the rule of the Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is tying to lead what's left of the Resistance's fleet to safety ahead of a battle fleet lead by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), while trying to buy time while Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Chewbacca try to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to give up his life of a hermit on Ahch-To – a planet that was the birthplace of the Jedi religion – and join the resistance as a beacon of hope. And onboard the Resistance's flag ship, Finn (John Boyega) just wants to get away from it all that is until he meets Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) a young grief stricken Resistance officer and sets off on a mini quest that might just save her fleet. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is struggling with the duality of his feelings and the guilt he's still feeling for murdering his father, Han Solo in the last film. AND Poe Dameron (Oscar Isacc) just wants to jump into a ship and blow stuff up.

And that, apart from the stuff involving Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio del Toro, Lupita Nyong'o, BB8, R2 D2, C3PO, some odd fish-faced nuns, a group of slave kids, and of course the Porgs is that! No wonder this film is over two and a half hours long!

What an utter, utter delight! What a thrill! What a glorious ride! What the ruddy what?

I simply wasn't expecting to love this film as much as I did, in fact I'm simply staggered by just how entertaining and thrilling this film was. It's packed to the literal gills with incident, plot and story, often for expense for character development. All too often just as we're getting used to watching these characters we cut to what the others are up to, although what this does is give us a sense that this war touches the lives of everyone in this galaxy and it does give the film a sense of urgency. I saw this just 9 hours ago and I'm still reeling from it, there was so much to take in, so many great scenes and incident that I'm still giddy with excitement. Among the stories told those that stand out for me were the treads involving Kylo Ren, Rey and Luke Skywalker. 

The direction is very good, the effects, model work and cgi is, in a word, superb. The action and battle scenes, which starts with the very first scene are just glorious, exhilarating and most surprisingly not too jarring, you're actually able to work what's going on which is rather rare these days. Written and directed by Rian Johnson the film, despite it's vastness, feels like the vision of one man rather than a  committee demanding a checklist of tropes to tick off to satisfy focus groups. 

It's not perfect, it stumbles in the middle, losing momentum as one group of our characters become prisoners to another and the back and forth can, at times, be a little jarring, but the thing is I forgot I was sat in the cinema!

This is a great addition to the canon of Star Wars and one that ranks alongside Empire Strikes Back as one of the best. After a glut of some bloated action flicks based on long running franchises this year, I'm looking at you Transformers, Pirates, Fasters and Leaguers this was a superb and utterly delightful romp!

9/10





#96 BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL



Starring Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki written by Tetsuya Oishi. Based on a Manga by Hiroaki Samura. Directed by Takashi Miike. Running time 141 minutes. Certificate 18.

When disgraced Samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) is infected by sacred bloodworms given to him by an 800 year-old nun he is forever cursed with immortality, and although he can never die, he still feels the agony of healing after each and every wound and injury.

52 years later, the sole survivor of a massacre that claims the lives of her parents, Rin (Hana Sugisaki) stumbles into Manji's life and begs him to avenge the death of her family by hunting down Kagehisa Anotsua (Sōta Fukushi) the master swordsman who killed them. It transpires that Kagehisa dreams of destroying all other Dojos so that his will be the only one. Manji reluctantly agrees and together they embark on a quest for vengeance culminating in an utterly blood-soaked final showdown that will see the deaths of literally hundreds of Samurai.

This is the 100th film directed by Japanese legend Takashi Miike whose films range from bloody violent Samurai movies and Yakuza crime flicks to family friendly movies.

Blade of the Immortal is unlike an American or European film you'll ever see. It's beautifully shot and the pacing and structure is strangely alien, particularly if you're used to having your stories laid out in a nice little line. Japanese films often seem structured in such a way that the audience has to play attention and they seem to be expected to fill in the blanks when and wherever necessary. 

The action is superb, the violence almost balletic in nature, the running time is somewhat bum numbing. Although that said the relentless sword fighting never gets boring, somehow Miike is able to present fight after fight with aplomb and skill. It's helped that the villains culminating in the final showdown between Manji and Kageshisa, seem to get bigger, better and more outlandish. Ranging from one-armed men with the sharpened bones of his arm stump acting as a pretty savage stabbing weapon to a fellow immortal with a death wish. 

This is an operatic and sweeping epic action flick that contains many images that will stay with you long after the movie has ended. It's also impressive that a film with such a simple structure should still engender the characters with real depth and feelings that we the audience care for them. 

A very satisfying and unique film and well worth checking out, particularly if you like blood-soaked Samurai flicks about revenge and honour.

8/10

Saturday, 9 December 2017

#95 A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH


Starring David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey and Marius Goring. Written and directed by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell. Running time 104 minutes. Budget £320,000.

Re-released and restored to all its glory, this is one of my all-time, top-ten favourite movies. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen it, although this was the first time on the big screen. God bless the NFT!

The story sees Peter D. Carter (David Niven), a R.A.F Squadron Leader forced to bail out of a burning Lancaster bomber over the English Channel without a parachute rather than burn to death. Before he jumps he dictates one last message of love for his family to a young American radio operator June (Kim Hunter) and in his final minutes the two connect, then leaps to his almost certain doom...

Meanwhile in heaven, his fellow Lancaster pilot Rob Trubshawe (Robert Coote) waits his chum's arrival, and 30 minutes after Peter fails to arrive, the alarm bell sounds and it is discovered that the angel sent to collect him, Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) missed Peter thanks to a frightful pea-souper and so Peter accidentally avoided his own death.

Instead he awakes on a beach and discovers to his astonishment that he's still alive, more over he incredibly meets up with June and instantly they fall in love. 71 is sent to Earth to fetch Peter, but he refuses and demands the right to appeal the decision because in the allotted extra 20 hours he's had he's fallen in love with June. 71 informs him that he has three days to find a defence counsel to represent him.

But is Peter experiencing reality or is he suffering from traumatic head injury? June turns to her friend, noted brain specialist Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) for help, and intrigued by the young poet Peter's plight takes charge of him so he can get to the bottom of the situation. He realises the significance of Peter's hallucinations and the importance of Peter defending himself in the courts of Heaven, but Peter can't find a suitable candidate to be his Counsel and his physical condition worsens. As luck would have it on the day of his appeal, Peter is sent for life-threatening surgery and Dr. Frank is killed in a terrible motorcycle accident, thus giving Peter the Counsel he so desperately wanted and the chance to properly fight over the little matter of Life and Death.

This is a truly moving, wonderful and utterly beautiful film, it's charming, funny, perfectly balanced and utterly satisfying.

The performances are all divine, David Niven is that rare actor who simply shined in every film he made, and in this he is incandescent. Roger Livesey brings such intelligence and wit to his role as the hyper-vibrant Frank that his death makes you mourn his passing. And Kim Hunter's eyes convey with just simple tears the love she has for her dashing young pilot lover. With a staggering exquisite script, some simply perfect acting and excluding Britishness through every pore and fibre of its being, this is a perfect movie. Not one bum note, not one bad line. From the genius of filming heaven as a black and white galaxy-spanning modernist idyll to the technicolour wonder of a simple Dorest beach in summer. This is a film that fills you with awe and leaves you moist eyed with wonder.

If you've never seen this film, you must! It will resonate and sing to you in a way that no modern film will ever do. It is a fantastic slice of British life and shows us just what we can achieve when we are at our best.

10/10



#94 THE DISASTER ARTIST


Starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison brie, Are Graynor, Josh Hutcherso and Jacki Weaver. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Based on the book The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Budget $10 million. Running time 103 minutes.

The story behind the making of, what is considered to be, one of the worst film ever made The Room.

Set in 1998, the film follows young 19-year actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) who one day during acting classes meets the mysterious Johnny Wiseau (James Franco) - a strangely accented and mannered man of indeterminate age and ethnicity and together they set off for Hollywood to find fame and fortune. While Greg has some early luck, Johnny doesn't and after one too many knock backs decides that if Hollywood won't come to him, he'll come to it and sets off to write, direct, produce and star in his own film called The Room, the the help of his friend, Greg. The movie follows the making off the notoriously bad $6 million film, financed exclusively by Wiseau himself as he hires a full crew, buys all his equipment and sets off to make a star of himself, even going as far as to book a cinema to screen the finished film, not only at a preview but also so it becomes eligible for Oscar consideration.

The Room, is a film of staggering ineptitude, which once seen can never be forgotten. Nowadays Wiseau declares it was always his intention to make a comedy, which The Room most certainly is. Although it's highly debatable that it wasn't his first intention, indeed it seems far more believable that Wiseau was making what he thought to be a serious social drama. What he ended up with is a film so bad it transends the word bad and becomes something approaching a work of genius.

In complete contrast, The Disaster Artist is an extremely well made and extremely funny retelling of the story behind The Room. It's well written, well acted and very well directed, indeed every single thing that The Room isn't. Best of all, you don't need to have seen The Room to enjoy this. Likewise, James Franco is extremely generous in his portrayal of Wiseau, he never once makes him a spectacle of mockery and fun. He also avoids cheap gags and shows the frustration and pain of a creative person as he struggles to realise his dreams, regardless how bad that dream might be.

This was a very funny and enjoyable flick whose only downside is that it makes you want to watch The Room again.

8/10

#93 WONDER


Starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs. Written by Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad an Stephen Chbosky. Based on the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Directed by Stephen Chbosky. Budget $20 million. Running time 113 minutes long.

Was this wonderful or did my mind wander and make me wonder why I'd gone?

Welcome to The Mask 2.0, or Wonder as they'll have you believe. The not true story of a boy called Auggy (cos being born with a terrible genetic facial deformanity isn't enough of a problem so you need a stupid name to go with it) played by the star of the film Room (Jacob Tremblay). The film follows home-schooled, midly disfigured Auggy as he embarks on his first year of school and how he adapts to this terrifying new world filled with 1st World People's offspring and their problems, most of which seem to consist of how to fill their vast houses and huge people carriers with more tat.

The film shows the effects of Auggy on those closest to him in little chapters each named after the character and it's all very sweet and charming. Managing never to be too button pushing or  over sentimental, a thin line it tight-ropes along, only occasionally stumbling but never falling off, until the applause filled finale that sees the whole school riser up and hail Auggy as Wonderful, but not just cos of his, you know, 'face' but because he's 'special', and not in that 'special' way that we tend to say when talking about kids who might be less than, 'special'.

Anyway,  this isn't a terrible film, it's very sweet, and good natured and it has a lovely happy ending, but what more do you expect?

Not a horrible experience, but not horribly good either. No real need to see this, although it's always lovely to see Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. That said, if anyone can tell me what the fuck he does for a job I'll be impressed. I have no idea what he does or the effects of Auggy on his life. He's just there to offer the odd piece of fatherly advice before he fucks off to do his job. I like to think he's a government sponsored assassin and when he's not being a loving father he's butchering enemies of the state in the most agonising ways possible.

No one in this film is horrible, not even the bully, who's just a victim himself of unwanted pressure. Looks nice, it's mildly entertaining and Jacob is a joy to watch, but that's it really.

6/10

Saturday, 2 December 2017

#92 BATTLE OF THE SEXES


Starring Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silevrman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cummnig, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell and Eric Christina Olsen. Written by Simon Beaufoy. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Running time 121 minutes. Budget $15.5 million.

Based on a famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), when, in response to Billie Jean King having the audacity to demand equal prize funds as the men, former World No. 1 player Bobby Riggs declared that there wasn't a woman tennis pro alive he couldn't beat and challenged her to a match.

The film follows Billy Jean King as she takes her all-women tennis tournament on across America and her burgeoning lesbian relationship with the team hairdresser Marilyn Barnet (Andrea Riseborough), set against the the media circus Bobby throws up in anticipation of the final showdown between him, the self styled King of the Chauvinists and King.

The trailer would have you believe this is a Steve Carell comedy and it's not. Emma Stone carries this film and provides the glorious emotional heart of it all. She is simply wonderful in the role. Carell is equally as good, but this film is told more from King's point of view rather than Riggs.

The period detail and soundtrack are delightful, the performances top class and the final match between is superb! A totally enjoyable movie even, if like me, you're not remotely interested in tennis.

Overall, this offers a very satisfying and thoroughly entertaining movie, that aces the dreariness of Justice League.

8/10

Saturday, 18 November 2017

#89, #90, #91: JUSTICE LEAGUE



Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miler, Henry Cavill, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, ConnieNielsen, J.K. Simmons and Ciarán Hinds. Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon from a story by Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder. Directed by Zack Snyder and a little help for Joss Whedon. Budget $300 million. Running time 120 minutes.

"That wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be." - movie punter after leaving preview.

Good news everybody! This wasn't as terrible as Batman vs Superman, or Man of Steel or Suicide Squad! Although admittedly it wasn't as good as Wonder Woman. Or Thor: Ragnarok - but then it's not fair to compare DC movies to Marvel ones, so I won't mention Captain America: Winter Solider, Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy.

Maybe I should end the review there?

Doing away with the need of having one of the dreary plots that so drag down modern films these days, Zack and the gang wisely opt for just throwing 120 minutes worth of incidents at us in rapid succession in the hope that we don't notice this film has less depth than a saucer's worth of spilt tea.

The 'story' sees Batman - Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) putting together a band to fight against Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) in an upcoming 'Battle of the Bands' tournament to be held in a disused Russian nuclear power station. Off Bats goes traveling the world and recruiting newbies Flash (Ezra Miler), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aqua Man (Jason Momoa) to join him and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) before literally resurrecting Superman's career just in time for the final showdown against Stephenwolf and His Flying Beetles. And that's the 'plot'. Indeed it's basically the trailer but stretched out for an additional 117 minutes. Oh plus two of those unbiquitous post credits stings, if you're counting.

This film had a troubled production, it's original director and co writer Zach Synder had to leave the project due to personal tragedy leading to Joss Wheddon to step in to finish the film, it's rumoured that he shot approximately 15 - 20% of the film, so this is still primarily a Zach Synder film. Joss can be credited with helping Marvel to cement it's cinematic approach and is responsible for writing and directing the first Avengers movie. He's also credited with co-writing the screenplay on this and it's safe to guess that he's the man responsible for injecting the much needed humour into Justice League. Zach Synder in comparison is the 'creative genius' behind Batman Vs Superman and Superman: Man of Steel, two of the most crushingly tedious and poe-faced superhero dirges ever made, indeed it's him who single handedly hamstrung the DC Universe by making the films laughter free zones in the first place. A quality that Marvel realised early on is needed if you're going to make a film about groups of people in outlandish costumes hitting other groups of garishly dressed people in the face. Zach's also the man responsible for the decision to all but do away with the use of colour. An odd choice for films featuring characters dressed in a variety of primary colours.

But enough back ground waffle is this film any good?

Well, here's the thing. It's not a terrible film, it's certainly not another Superman or Suicide Squad, indeed it's actually rather entertaining, thanks mainly to the casting of the League who are all great choices, and this film remains entertaining right up until the arrival of the third act and the huge elephant in the room, Steven Wolf. He and his utterly generic band of cannon fodder the Parademons are pointless, tedious and rubbish. That coupled with the studio's demand that the film's running time be a very brisk 120 minutes meaning they can shoe horn in an extra screening per day thus making more money, at the expense of any depth, characterisation, or back story. And certainly no time at all for any origin stories for some of these new heroes.

Steve Vulf's quest is to uncover three 'Mother' boxes hidden somewhere on the planet and combine them to create a Trinity device that will then transform the Earth into his home world and all its population into more Parademons. Luckily the three boxes have been cunning hidden to prevent Steve Wolfie from, you know, combining them. The Amazonians built a huge keep to hide theirs in and have posted an elite guard of warriors to guard it for all eternity. The Atlantans have done the same but at the bottom of the deepest ocean on the planet and the Humans, tasked with protecting the third ultimate weapon just dropped theirs in a ditch at the bottom of the garden. Stevie Wulf turns up and finds them all no problem at all, just pops right up next to them and steals them, bold as brass. In fact, so generic and bland is his 'quest' that as a result the outcome of the movie is never, not even for one iota in doubt. We know how this is going to play out, we know the beats, we know everything, we even know who's going to turn up and save the day.

It seems unfair to judge the film as a whole, far better to review it on the fun part, the 'putting the band' together part of the film and it's that part that's really entertaining. The interplay between our heroes is fun, the Flash in particular is a great laugh and there's a real sense of camaraderie between them all. There's a great scene early on that sees the League working together for the first time to rescue abducted humans from the Parademons that is the highlight of the film.

I've now seen this film twice, I have to see it once more and that'll mean I'll have seen it three times in the space of four days. As such its flaws come to light and are amplified to the Nth degree. On the first screening I was left feeling utterly ambivalent, puzzled that I didn't feel polarised by the film, I neither hated it nor loved it. The second time round I found myself niggled by plot holes, of which there are many! But it seems churlish to list them all now, but there are two that I have to flag.

1. There is a distinct lack of threat to humanity in this film, apart from three police men, a shop keeper and her son, a beggar, a strange Icelandic community and a single family living next door to the nuclear power station humanity is totally missing from this film. Surely Superheroes sole purpose is to save people?

2. What the hell is going on with this cinematic Batman? he likes to kill living beings with a variety of guns, machine guns, cannons and weapons capable of firing projectiles. Yes, a biggie really but this one really narks me. Bruce Wayne aka the Batman, whose parent's death at the hands of a gun welding mugger lead him to become the masked vigilante in the first place seems to have no aversion to using guns to kill his opponents. In fact I'd say he positively relishes the opportunity. THIS IS WRONG. Hollywood. Sort it out.

Overall, this just about does justice to its source material, or at the least isn't leagues away from doing so. It's fun and rather entertaining but sadly let down by a truly generic and boring villain. Well done for DC in not totally fucking it up. Let's hope the punters decide to give you another chance.

Still nowhere near as good as Marvel but showing signs of some improvement, hopefully not too little too late.

6/10

P.S.
Best of all there's no spinning vortex of doom! Instead, there's a sort of burrowing tentacle crystal thingie.