Sunday, 12 August 2018

The Meg



Accentuate The Posi-Stath, Eliminate The MegaTeeth

The Meg
2018 China/USA Directed by Jon Turteltaub
UK cinema release print.


Based, very loosely from what I can gather, on the first of a series of novels by Steve Alten called Meg - A Novel Of Deep Terror, this film has been stuck in Hollywood development hell for just over 20 years. However, it’s finally surfaced into the wild waters of your local dodgyplex cinemas so you can enjoy The Meg in the cinematic environment it was best designed for.

The film tells a cautionary tale of what happens if you let the giant sized, likeable personality of modern action cinema named Jason Statham go toe to toe with a giant, pre-historic shark called Megaladon. I loved the trailer to this and it was a no brainer that if you put The Stath against a giant sized shark in your movie then I was going to be first in line to see this thing when it finally hit cinemas. Despite some problems in terms of the audience this has been pitched towards, because of just what the producers have allowed to be ‘gotten away with’ in terms of a piece of art depicting the eating habits of a vicious predator, I can confirm that the film is, indeed, a bit of a fun ride and definitely worth a watch if you are into shark movies.

Now, the premise is that, after a pre-credits sequence where a top Navy undersea rescue guy called Jonas, played by the always watchable Statham, has to sacrifice the lives of two of his crew to save many more because he saw something big which nobody else believes exists... we have a crew from a big, billionaire funded ocean research base penetrating the shelf of the ocean as they’ve figured out it’s actually just a bit of cold cloud keeping the mysteries of the ‘even deeper undersea world we’ve never seen before’ away from the rest of the ocean. Of course, the sub and crew they send down there runs into trouble so Jonas is pulled out of self-imposed retirement to help out and, when the rescue is accomplished (not without cost) he bonds with the team as they fight to track down and destroy a giant megaladon shark which escapes from ‘the other undersea kingdom’ and keep it from chowing down on pretty much everyone in the vicinity.

So, yeah, as you would expect, this film is full of shark/action movie clichés but it’s also, to a certain extent, self aware of the silly concept and you have an excellent cast headed by Statham, ably supported by the likes of Bingbing Li, Winston Chao, Ruby Rose and Cliff Curtis... all pitching in to give a credible set of performances to help the audience suspend their disbelief and to make sure they’re rooting for the right people. We even have Rainn Wilson playing the walking cliché of a  half likeable, half dangerous and clueless billionaire to give the audience a ‘corporate greed’ style character to be wary of. And it’s great fun.

Now, the film does do a lot of stuff which is a little frustrating in terms of trumpeting the fact that it probably doesn’t think much of the intelligence of the audience a great deal in several places. For instance, there’s a sequence where the camera suddenly and for no apparent reason switches to a POV of the character in the water and, every time that character suddenly looks under the water to try and see the title creature, the camera goes down and then comes back again. Of course, you just know that on the last time the camera goes under the shark is going to be right up close and personal and, although you feel the almost obligatory tension in the way this small sequence has been constructed, you kind of are already fed up with it before it’s even played out. So it’s a shame that this is a trick the director uses at least two variations of throughout the running time of the movie.

Another thing the director seems to like to do here is a lot of double takes of things happening. So, for instance, you’ll have the shark come towards the camera and then get a reveal to show that the behemoth of the depths has missed its human target before, oh no, it’s just come straight back for another chomp, kind of modus operandi. Again, I don’t mind it once but it does get predictable, especially in the demise of one of the main characters about two thirds of the way through the movie and, although it certainly doesn’t kill the fun of the piece, it does get played out after a very short time.

The main problem here, though, is the lack of blood and gore on display in the picture, considering it’s a shark movie. There’s way less than even the original Jaws and it really says a lot about the mentality of the studios behind these things that this has a 12A, kid-friendly rating on a movie which is supposed to be about big teeth and rending flesh. Even a small sequence which 'makes a thing' about a discarded limb fished out of the ocean doesn’t really have any blood to be seen in it and is executed in the most kid-friendly manner you could think of... and if you have read some of my previous reviews you’ll know I am not happy about movies that deliberately hide the consequences of violence to get a lower rating. If kids can’t see the consequences of these kinds of things then they are more likely to rush blindly into danger themselves, is my take on that whole bloodless violence phenomena which seems to have overtaken the American studio picture.

All that being said, though, I still had a pretty great time with this movie and especially with the ‘French ending’ which I shall say no more about... except to gracefully acknowledge that I like the odd pun. I’d quite like to hear the score on this one away from the images but, alas, it’s only available as a download and not on a proper CD so it looks like I’ll have to give that purchase a miss. Still, a likeable movie with a few genuine surprises... in the way they’ve been executed at least, if not in terms of expectation of something happening in any given scene... and this should be a definite crowd pleaser of a piece.  That is, if your crowd happens to be composed of people who like watching shark bait splashing around in the water and causing general mayhem and havoc as the stupid humans in the way of the title character try to escape the big chomp. The Meg is definitely better than some of the more recent shark movies I’ve seen in cinemas over the last two years and worth taking the swim to your local for.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Calvary



I Sin On The Craic

Calvary
Ireland/UK 2014
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Entertainment One Blu Ray Zone B


I’m not that familiar with the work of actor Brendan Gleeson, it has to be said but, after seeing him turn in a phenomenal performance in Hampstead last year (reviewed by me here), I thought it was high time I caught up with at least one other of his films and I knew the word of mouth on Twitter for Calvary when it was released a few years ago was pretty good.

And it is, to be fair, a pretty amazing film and although the title is a bit of a spoiler, perhaps, if you know what it actually means (I don’t remember it being explained in the film itself), it’s a film which maybe gives you a little bit of hope as to what the outcome, as inevitable as it seems, is going to be as the central character weaves a spell of magic and righteousness as he goes about his daily business.

So here we have Brendan Gleeson playing Father James, a man with a grown up daughter from a wife who has since died with James embracing religion and joining the priesthood as a result of this incident. The film starts with him in his confessional box and a man, known to James but whose identity is withheld from the audience until the final reveal at the denouement of the movie, explains to him how he was raped and regularly molested as a child by a catholic priest. The priest in question is long dead but the man says words to the effect that nobody takes any notice when a bad priest is killed. However, if a good priest is murdered then that’s something people will have to take notice of so he tells Father James that he will meet him in one week’s time on the beach, where he will kill him. He is giving him one week to put his house in order and prepare for death.

Yup. That’s the plot set up and the film follows the duties and journeys among a whole village full of, often quite hard to stomach, people as the week progresses, each day heralded on screen in white lettering as it begins. And, of course, as the week unfolds before your eyes and Father James’ daughter comes to stay with him, not knowing of the impending peril he may be in, you try to figure out just which of the people Father James visits in his duties to humanity is the person who has threatened to end his life at the end of seven days. It’s hard to tell, actually, because Gleeson’s performance is subtle and he’s not giving anything away that you would catch on the first viewing and the way the director deliberately distracts you in the case of one person is... maybe detectable but it’s easily forgotten as the telling of the tale unfolds and so, I have to say, I was as surprised by the final reveal in the movie as anyone.

The casting is great here too. Gleeson is unbelievably brilliant and he’s ably backed up by people like Chris O’Dowd as the local butcher, M. Emmet Walsh as a very old writer (it took a few scenes for me to recognise this star of Blade Runner, reviewed here, in this), Dylan Moran in a stereotypical role (which I almost wish he’d stop accepting so he can go off and do a wider variety of parts) and a whole host of other, brilliant little character actors which includes an outstanding performance from Kelly Reilly as Father James’ daughter. Actually, she’s got red hair in this one and it’s the first time I’ve noticed how uncannily like a young, 1960s incarnation of Cilla Black she is (from her Work Is A Four Letter Word period).

Of course, the real star here, in a way, is the cinematography and the compositions in which the director renders his film. It’s absolutely beautiful to look at, executed with a very languid pacing which allows you to appreciate the bright colours and the dark contrasts of the surrounding landscape. This includes some unusual introductions into shots too. Like, for instance, the moment where Father James’ daughter finds him fishing. Instead of starting the sequence with an establishing shot filling the frame, we instead take a voyage with Kelly Reilly’s bare feet as she walks through the earth to him (without us even knowing whose feet we are following) before the edit takes us to the  shot that most director’s would have started the scene off with... it’s nice stuff.

Actually, it wasn’t until a scene where Gleeson is talking and praying with a French woman in church that I began to notice just what kind of modus operandi McDonagh was employing throughout the picture. The lady in question has just survived a horrendous car accident which killed her husband and as the two of them are talking, seated side by side in the very dark church, all you can see are the two upright panels of stained glass windows lit up behind them and the light on the front of their faces, in close up contrast to those windows. When we go to a more close up of Gleeson, it becomes evident, for example, that the heads and shoulders of those characters are only lit at the boundaries of the frame of those windows and carry the shape on down the screen... so there is hardly any light on them where the darkness on the left and right of those framed rectangles go.

Once I’d spotted what he was doing here, I soon discovered that the director starts using both the natural landscape and the interior environments as things which can be filled in or be in contrast to the shapes made by the way their surroundings are lit. People filling in for the parts of the environment that you can’t see, in other words. Such as that same woman’s head standing in for an invisible central strut to a big set of windows at an airport. The whole movie, once I’d noticed what was going on, seemed to me to be built out of vertical lines, upright blocks, various framing devices and, often, half lit faces. And, of course, it’s all the richer for it.

The film has a much more naturalistic acting style to contrast against the quite overtly rigid and controlling compositions which imprison the characters in the narrative space and I’ve already talked about what a grand job all the performers in the film do. What this approach to the acting also does is to usher in the final ‘showdown’ between the priest and one of his ‘customers’ in the parish almost by stealth. There are logical expectations as to where the film is going and the ‘week in the life’ approach to the central character and his attitude to life and others kind of lulls you into a certain attitude adjustment as to where the film is headed before it gets there. I’m not saying the end of the film is a total surprise but I really don’t want to discuss the scene which everything is leading up to here because it’s a huge spoiler.

However, I will ask you to take note of what Father James tells his daughter is the ‘most over-rated virtue’ towards the end of the film and to maybe look at the final few shots of the movie, after the ‘showdown’ has occurred and maybe find some kind of final word on where the characters are heading just before the credits roll. That being said, there is a certain amount of ambiguity in the final scene too but, as I said, I think the discussion about virtue may be a way into a sense of closure for the film (or it was for me, at any rate). As the credits play out, stick around if you want to see a few location shots scattered here and there which may, or may not, add comment to the consequences of the events of the movie as it plays out.

And that’s me on Calvary. A mind blowing film which I would absolutely recommend to pretty much anyone who asks me about it. If you have a love of cinema and the places and mindsets where it can transport you and, especially in this case, the way in which it can inspire thought about the tunnel vision of different people to deal with specific problems and the consequences they have for everybody else, then you really should add this one to your list. And that’s all I’m saying about it here.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Wild Cards - Mississippi Roll



Emotional Roll-ercoaster

Wild Cards - Mississippi Roll
Edited by George R. R. Martin
Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0-7653-9052-3


Mississippi  Roll is the 24th in the series of the long running Wild Cards mosaic novels which I’ve been reading since they first started getting published, sometime back in the 1980s if I recall correctly. Now, after that initial spurt of amazing early novels, the entries in the series have been rather sporadic in their releases over the decades, spanning multiple publishers and sometimes having as much as seven years between new novels. Indeed, I seem to remember one of the novels was only out a week or so before the publisher went bankrupt and the novel became very hard to get hold of. It was an important linking novel too, where something significant happened which, as far as I was concerned, was important info for future novels (all I can say about that one is… thank goodness for eBay and for the writer who sold his last spare copy and signed it for me). Although I believe it’s going to be back in print at some point.

It seems amazing to me, then, that in less than a year since this 24th novel in the series was released, two more new Wild Cards novels have been released with another already on its way. So… definitely a bumper year for Wild Cards then and one wonders if the fairly recent purchase of the TV rights to the series meant that the team of writers who put together these interlinking story arcs thought they would get some more source material out there while the property is slightly hotter than it has been in a while. Of course George R. R. Martin’s name on the cover as editor, though I don’t think he’s written any of the sections of Mississippi Roll himself, can’t hurt sales of the books.

Bearing in mind the drip feed publication schedules the series has had in the past, one thing that isn’t sporadic, despite being written by multiple (and extremely talented) writers is the quality of the stories. The Wild Cards novels, chronicling the last 70 years of the Wild Card alternative history of our planet, since the Takisian virus ravaged the Earth and separated people into super powered aces, hideous jokers or nats (naturals), have always been absolutely gripping in the way the characters of this alternate world have been portrayed. Mississippi Roll, I’m happy to say, is certainly no exception to this rule… it’ a real page turner.

The way this novel works is with a framing story which starts and finishes the main tale and inserts a chapter between each of the plug in chapters, which follow an individual set of characters created by the specific writer of that chapter… although those characters do, of course, appear often in all of the stories, interconnecting with each other to build up the main arc of the novel. The novelty of this particular Wild Cards novel is that around 90% of it is set on a paddle steamer that is, quite possibly due to certain plot points, on it’s last ever entertainment cruise before being put out to pasture. Something which the original captain doesn’t want to happen.

And when I say original captain I mean his ghost… or more probably the Wild Card ‘turned’ version of the captain after his death over fifty years before. A man barely visible to most and who is condemned to walk the decks of the beloved steamboat he built and to which his ‘spirit form’ is somehow bound, unable to leave. As you meet 'Steam Wilbur', as his occasionally glimpsed 'ghost' has come to be known, you slowly see just what’s at stake and how he helps out the various guests in the stories for their small parts of the tale. 

The bigger picture, that is to say the ‘other’ bigger picture, is the fallout from the doomsday adventure which reached its peak in the last Wild Cards novel High Stakes (reviewed here). The various refugees, or at least a small portion of them, are smuggled aboard the steamer and are being hidden by the current captain because they are not being welcomed in America, whose government are trying to ensure they are being shipped off to a Joker Island in Ireland (hmm... I can’t think but this treatment of refugees by the Americans is reminiscent of something familiar right now). As the steamer docks at various points along the river over the week or so the boat takes until the tale reaches its epic conclusion, various refugees - jokers, aces and nats alike - are being illegally hidden on board and then dropped off with various people along the route who can grant them at least a chance at a safer life.

And that’s the main set up and it also gives you the chance to remake the acquaintance of some of the more recent characters who have joined the Wild Card universe… such as ex-Fort Freak copper Leo, who now, along with the love of his life, works as an insurance agent and is on board trying to solve the possible mystery of a recent death on the steamer. And, as usual, each and every story in the compendium is absolutely brilliant in its own right and adds weight to the main event going on in the linking narrative.

As you would expect, the detail and emotion of the various characters and their relation to the world around them is unparalleled but the background history of Wilbur, which gets frequent revisits in the linking chapters, is truly tragic and as the story goes full steam ahead to its conclusion, you’ll wonder what this poor ghost’s final fate will be. All I’m saying is that the ending of the novel is a real humdinger but at the same time leaving the fates of some of the regular characters… such as Billy Ray, The Angel and the Infamous Black Tongue… open ended enough that they can presumably be picked up in the next two books, which I’m informed will form a trilogy with this one.

It’s the final couple of pages, however, that really give you the emotional kind of gut punch I associate with the series and all I will say is that, when I read… literally the last sentence of the novel… there were tears in my eyes and they were soon running down my face waiting for some kind of mop up crew. I can’t tell you why though because, in some ways the ending doesn’t go where it’s been threatening to go and, while not entirely optimistic, it’s certainly a soppy and sentimental one so… yeah, if you know me then you will probably be able to guess I would be a blubbery by the end of his one.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about Mississippi Roll. Another outstanding story from the Wild Cards universe and I’ll be reading the next couple sometime over the next few months. So, yeah, more Wild Cards reviews coming to this blog fairly soon, I’m happy to say.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

In Darkness



Sight Unseen

In Darkness
UK/USA 2018
Directed by Anthony Byrne
Universal Region B


I know we live in a bizarre time where cinema release patterns can go hand in hand with low quality downloads and home video versions... sometime without any real access for the majority of potential customers at all from the likes of seemingly evil corporations like Netflix. Even so, I have to say, I was surprised to find that, less than a month after it got a limited cinema release in this country, I was able to pick up a DVD of In Darkness from Fopp records (or Amazon, for that matter) for only the price of a crisp, five pound note. I think I was prompted to look at this one by seeing an interview with actress Natalie Dormer via a Twitter link and, having seen this now, I’m not sure if that was a good call or not.

In Darkness was co-produced and co-written with Miss Dormer’s fiance Anthony Byrne, who also takes up directing duties here and, on the strength of this, I’d have to say that I think he’s probably a much better director than he is writer. I was really optimistic when I started this film because, frankly, the first 20 minutes or so are absolutely compelling.

It starts off with a truly wonderful title sequence where a series of shots of the inner workings of a piano, bathed in red, synch up to the piano part of the accompanying music and then we go onto various shots of things which will mean something later in the movie... a scarf, a metronome... but mostly a shot of an eye, also initially bathed in red, which I’m guessing must be in homage to the opening title sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo. Indeed, we even have the eye blinks from that opening sequence which, in this case, usher in new colour palette treatments of the 'eye shot' as Niall Byrne’s score, sadly only available as a download rather than a proper CD, gives us a sinister composition which, by the end, briefly ends up in the same domain of some of the more abstract compositions of György Ligeti.

We are then taken into the first shot of the movie which is of a young lady being strangled by a gloved killer and, yes, it looks like it’s been hoisted straight out of an early Dario Argento giallo and it feels very 1970s, especially with the score going full-on like something you’d hear from Ennio Morricone in the likes of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage or The Cat O’ Nine Tails. Then we get our first and, sadly, only surprise of the story when it turns out this is footage from a fictional film and we pull back to see we are at a scoring session for a movie in which our anti-heroine Sofie, played by Natalie Dormer, is playing the piano part in the orchestra.

It’s here that we are first presented with the idea that Sofie is blind and, after the sessions wrap for the day, we follow her on her journey home. It looks like she works in Westminster, if the platforms are anything to go by and there are definitely a couple of Jubilee line stops shown on her daily journey. Her travels in the film also take her to Camden Town, it seems, as I noticed her going past Mega City Comics at one point in her travels.

When she is home, she listens to a mock up demo of the score that she is helping to perform for the film and it’s a great juxtaposition because the sinister, gialloesqe notes becomes her own soundtrack for the audience as we watch. A musical window onto the world in which she lives as the source music turns into non-diegetic and vice versa. Which is kind of interesting stuff. We also see that she uses the ticking of a metronome to help her concentrate past other noises in the night and help get her to sleep. We also meet her upstairs neighbour, played by Emily Ratajkowski, who is the daughter of a war criminal given sanctuary in the UK and who soon takes a dive out of the window, leaving Sofie as a kind of ‘sound witness’ to the events which may have played out in the flat above her. Sofie also finds herself in possession of something which various interested parties are trying to reclaim, by any brutal means necessary, as she becomes embroiled in a plot involving various different factions and some really good actors like Neil Maskell, Ed Skrein, Joely Richardson and James Cosmo. So there’s a lot to recommend in this film, for sure.

Ditto on the direction and composition of the movie There are some lovely set ups with some nice fluid camerawork, occasionally punctuated by some fast and jerky hand held stuff at appropriate action points. The film looks gorgeous and the acting by everyone, especially Dormer, is first rate so I really didn’t mind paying a fiver for this movie. There are even some unusual scene juxtapositions... for example, where the post autopsy body of the upstairs neighbour is being washed in the morgue by her father which is cross cut with a scene of her in flashback, taking a shower. It’s a strange sequence but I’m all for seeing unusual things in cinema.

However, the problem with this movie is that, after about twenty minutes, I’d figured out all of the upcoming twists, especially the ‘big’ reveal in the last two minutes of the film. I’d suspected one or two things very early on and, unfortunately, the overly convoluted windings of the plot meant that none of my suspicions were diminished and... well, like I said earlier... no surprises here. In some ways, I wish the writers had the courage to stick with the simplistic set up of the opening and leave this premise untouched but, as the movie wore on, I just kept getting a little more discouraged that things were going exactly where I suspected they were going to go... which is a bit of a shame.

So, yes, ultimately, In Darkness is a bit of a visual and audio feast of a movie which packages things beautifully but can’t quite hide the fact that what is actually being packaged is a little bit run of the mill and less interesting once the contents are revealed. If you like good cinematography and music, however, then you might want to pick this one up while it’s still relatively cheap.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp



Anty Hero

Ant-Man and the Wasp
2018 USA Directed by Peyton Reed
UK cinema release print.


So... hot on the heels of Avengers - Infinity War (reviewed here) we have the new Ant-Man movie kinda filling in on what was happening to this character just before the events depicted therein (for most of the movie... aside from two post-credits scenes here).
 
Ant-Man And The Wasp reunites Paul Rudd as the Scott Lang version of Ant-Man/Giant Man with Evangeline Lily as the Hope Van Dyne version of The Wasp. We also continue to catch up with both the original Hank Pym incarnation of Ant-Man, played once again by Michael Douglas... and the three ‘crooks turned honest businessmen’ friends of Scott, highlighting Michael Peña’s character Luis front and centre.

We also get a few new villains played by Walton Goggins as a business tycoon who was a character from the Iron Man comics and also, another character from Iron Man, The Ghost, is the main super powered problem for our intrepid hero’s here... although curiously, the character has had a sex change and is played by Hannah John-Kamen. That being said, she’s one of the most compelling and interesting characters in the movie so I had a good time with her here. Two other old school Marvel superheroes also, technically, make their first and second cinematic appearances...

First up we have Lawrence Fishburne playing the original Black Goliath, although he’s never referred to that on screen, only by his secret identity. Secondly, we have Michelle Pfeiffer playing the original Janet Van Dyme version of The Wasp. It has to be said she looks nothing like the original character (although, strangely, Evangeline Lily really does) but she does a really good job with the small amounts of screen time she has in this and brings a much needed gravitas to certain sections of the film.

Okay, so I didn’t enjoy the first movie all that much the first time around... although it kinda grew on me a little later. I did, however, enjoy Scott Lang’s appearance in Captain America - Civil War (although I liked that movie less than many of the others... my review here) and it’s the events of that film which lead to the set up in this one. After the ‘happy ending’ of Ant-Man (reviewed here), Scott Lang is no longer on speaking terms with Hope and Hank. Sure, he’s just about to end his two year house arrest and is not allowed to be speaking to them anyway, as they are wanted fugitives since Scott used the Ant-Man costume to help ‘Team Cap’ in Civil War. However, due to those events, they have fallen out anyway but, luckily, a certain incident from the first movie, where Scott visited the Microverse (sadly without finding any of the Micronauts), means they actually need certain information inside Scott’s head so they abduct him to help while an ‘ant’ covers for him wearing the security tag the FBI have put on him.

And then things escalate really quickly as the various characters I mentioned above start to appear and... well never mind quantum entanglement... everybody is getting tangled up in this adventure which has a fast pace and is hugely entertaining. In keeping with the characters, the film focuses a little more on the humour in various situations than the majority of the Marvel movies of late and when you inject that into some quite well choreographed action sequences where various vehicles, people and everyday household objects are shrunk or grown to giant size at the flick of a switch, the film just keeps buzzing along without ever really getting dull or outstaying its welcome.

Pretty much all the performances are fantastic and we also have Christophe Beck returning to composing duties although, and this is a really bad move again from Marvel, you can only get this thing as an electronic download rather than on a proper CD with a high quality recording (so they’ve lost this soundtrack buying customer with this poor decision).

Now when it comes to the ‘shrunken houses’ which Hank and Hope lug around with them... well first of all I will say that if you look around at various little characteristics of this, you’ll realise that it’s an expanded model rather than a shrunken building. This doesn’t, however, explain why you can just cart it around with you wherever you go without having the plumbing fixed up and electricity working. Nice idea but credibility is out the window here (as much as it could be when we have characters who can survive being shrunk and expanded at a fast rate without any lasting physical side effects to their well being).

Now, one thing I was disappointed with is in the differences between the trailers and the final presentation of the film. At least three of my favourite trailer moments never made it into the final cut of the movie and this is somewhat unfortunate. Maybe film companies should hold up on constantly promoting upcoming releases so early and instead wait around a few more months until they know roughly what footage from the final movie they have to play around with. I was waiting for lines and scenes which didn’t drop and this can be frustrating when you’re viewing a film for the first time.

The other thing is there are no great revelations in this one. My cousin in Australia saw this a few weeks ago and I pretty much described to him my predictions for the mid/end credits scene because it just seemed so obvious to me what was going to happen. Sure enough, the one thing you are expecting to happen here, if you’ve been keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, does. However, even the obvious ending (which I won’t spoil here for you but I suspect most of you will have figured it out long before you sit down to watch this one) is tempered with a certain amount of tension because, ‘the thing that happens” comes at the actual worst time it could for these characters and gives a little more of a cliff hanger than the audience might have been expecting here (or at least, it did for this audience member).

The really nice thing about this movie, though, is that the main problem of the story is not conquered by opposition but by the spirit of camaraderie and kindness. Apart from Walton Goggins, all the other characters who take the darker route in this film are never portrayed as anything other than complex shades of grey and the denouement of certain situations, before the two post credit scenes, is pretty well put together and went exactly where I was hoping they would go. I think between The Ghost, Thanos and another character from this I won’t mention, Marvel are getting much more out of their villains than pretty much anyone else and they are not there purely to be just another antagonistic force anymore. So well done to Marvel for making this work.

And that’s me done on this one. Not much else to say here. A sequel which is certainly respectful to the first film in the franchise and I sincerely hope a third installment is on the cards. One of the post credits scenes gets a bit like a certain end scene in the 1980’s Flash Gordon movie and this tries to, by way of homage (I suspect), cast doubts on whether there will be another chapter in the saga. I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing more of this crew in the next Avengers movie, to be fair. One last thing though... very well done to the writers/director etc for the very last, post credits scene. Here, we have a potentially hilarious scene showing something quite fun but, because of events witnessed and a chilling message on a TV screen, the whole last moments of the film are a truly interesting juxtaposition of humour and post-apocalyptic terror, so to speak (you’ll know what I’m talking about once you’ve seen the film... if there’s anyone left still to see it after it got a, bizarrely, very delayed release in the UK). Kinda looking forward to seeing how the next year of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is handled because... well, I think it will be an interesting one, whether the films work tonally or not. As for Ant-Man And The Wasp... a huge slice of fun. Go see it.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Mismade Girl



Miss Maid Of Honour

The Mismade Girl
(Juliette Society Book III)

by Sasha Grey
Cleis Press 
ISBN: 978-1627781824


So here I am with a review of what is, sadly, the final installment of The Juliette Society trilogy by the quite remarkable Sasha Grey. I’m not going to labour the long and awesome history of the author again other than to say, if you’re going to be reading something which, on the surface at least, is manifesting itself as erotic literature then there’s surely nobody more qualified than Ms. Grey to accurately portray that kind of journey. If you want to know more about her history then you could take a look at my reviews for the previous two instalments in the series… The Juliette Society (reviewed here) and The Janus Chamber (reviewed here)… or you could simply google her name although, beware, if you do that you may find that the majority of your search results will more than likely be firmly entrenched in the exciting category of… “not safe for work” (NSFW).

Now, The Mismade Girl is the usual fun and very interesting ride that the first two novels in the series have prepared us for although, if I had to pick a winner, I’d have to say that The Janus Chamber is my favourite of the three due to The Mismade Girl having a fair few less movie references and discussions of cinematic history than the previous two volumes. Fans of these needn’t worry, however, as the central character of Catherine (who I can only assume is a manifestation of the writer in terms of her personality and interests) still maintains an interest in the art of film and reminds the reader, on more than once occasion (the books are written in the first person viewpoint) that the character used to be an aspiring director and film studies student.

Indeed, it’s already only towards the end of the second chapter when she starts talking about John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (reviewed by me here) and a little later goes on to discuss the way certain movie sequels are perceived as being better than the original of a franchise… although, it has to be said, I wouldn't necessarily agree with everything she picks out by way of an example. She also, within the space of just two paragraphs, neatly touches on the current and quite necessary zeitgeist of equal pay for women and the necessity for better lead roles for actresses in the American film industry. So you really have to admire the lady here.

Another great thing which comes up in relation to the horror film genre is the word kenopsia, which I’d never heard before and, sure enough, I couldn’t find it in an English dictionary. But, again, hit a search engine and you’ll find it soon enough and see why this made up word is so appropriate for the analogy Grey is making here. It means, to quote the writer here…

“... the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that's usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet - a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds - an emotional after image that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are conspicuously absent… they glow like neon signs."

Isn’t that great?

This is just another of one of the writers more educational moments in a series of books which are full of wonderful and often cunning observations which are revealed in various ways in context to the experiences of the main character and are sprung, ninja-like on an unsuspecting reader in the most enlightening ways possible. For instance, if you want to be a little wiser about just how few big corporations are actually controlling and owning everything you buy, including stuff like that favourite organic or fair trade product you like, then this is the novel to point you in the right direction as to which questions you should be asking.

The story itself is a natural continuation, set a couple of years later, of the events detailed in the previous two volumes, picking up from the threads of the ‘missing presumed dead’ Anna and the certainly very dead Inana Luna, the sexual art siren whose fiery path Catherine was following in her role as a story hungry journalist in the second volume.

This time around we have her involved with a sex tape scandal (based on something which happened in the first novel), a car accident, a sexual paradise compound in a foreign country and, of course, various parties. If there’s one thing Sasha Grey does really well in her writing, bearing in mind she tends to do everything really well when it comes to her obvious intelligence and talents as a wordsmith, it's those party scenes. She somehow manages to write these seemingly throwaway revelry sequences with the ease and camera eye of one of those 1960s movie set pieces… as Catherine wanders around and interacts or observes various little vignettes in her walkthroughs. And, of course, being as this is written in the guise of an erotic novel, a fair few sex parties are on display here too.

Also, her imagination is not a phenomenon limited to her writing and I wonder if thoroughly sinister and attractive scene setters like the following, also come from her apparent skills as a DJ, as much as they do her own experience of such a milieu…

“The music is interesting, and creepy, and it takes me a moment to realise it's The Beatles being played backwards over Wagner, but there's an underlying bass line tying them together into something that curiously works."

Go on, wouldn’t you at least like to be at a party like that at some stage in your life?

I said earlier that The Mismade Girl is the last part of a trilogy and it does seem like it’s got a natural conclusion to all that’s gone before it. Indeed the title itself is a metaphor for a specific type of magic trick, again something I didn’t know myself, which Ms. Grey uses as a metaphor for a process of metamorphosis for her main protagonist that pretty much leaves things with a profound change in the character. I don’t see how the central character can go back to her original state of being after all the hands have been played here. And, as it happens, Catherine’s epilogue, which is directly addressed to the reader, certainly implies a state of conclusion to the trilogy as it stands. That being said, I do think the possibility of a future trilogy continuing things isn’t completely out of the question either but, well… we shall just have to wait and see what the writer does in the future.

One thing's for sure… when people mention Sasha Grey to me nowadays the first thing I think of is…  a brilliant, modern writer. All the glam and erotica, nice as it is, runs it to second place. So there you have it… as with the previous novels in the series, The Mismade Girl is well worth your time if you’re a fan of good, intelligent, observational writing. However, if you’ve not read the others then I would start with those two first.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Mission Impossible - Fallout



A Running Cruise

Mission Impossible - Fallout
2018 USA Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
UK cinema release print.

So here we go again. The sixth entry into the big budget, big screen versions of the popular Mission Impossible TV show is with us and, once again, the trailer managed to drag me in using the cunning ruse of a running Cruise doing lots of action stuff against a coolish sounding score. Which always works on me, to be honest.

For a few years now, I have observed that each one of these films released always seems to be even better than the previous movie in the series and this culminated in my favourite of these fizzy, spy action confections from the Mission Impossible team, Rogue Nation. I have to say that, while Mission Impossible Fallout carries on the same story, set a couple of years later, this one doesn’t actually get nearly as good as that previous installment. Although it’s still a pretty cool movie and certainly as good as the third and maybe fourth movies. Nothing to rival that wonderfully spy-hard cool opera house sequence in Rogue Nation though, alas.

The plot set up is that, with the captured Solomon Lane (played once again by Sean Harris) in the hands of various governments, the remnants of his terrorist group The Syndicate, calling themselves The Disciples, are being held together by a mystery man known only as John Lark. Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt whose mission, should he choose to accept it, is to get back a load of stolen plutonium from The Disciples and, presumably, find out who John Lark is and shut The Disciples down before they blow various countries up etc and destabilise the world as we know it.

So, yeah, business as usual and Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin from previous films in the franchise are there to help him do it. Unfortunately, Jeremy Renner doesn’t return here as he was busy shooting the sequel to next year’s follow up to Avengers - Infinity War (reviewed here) but instead we have a new character played by the current Man Of Steel himself, Henry Cavill. Of course, Cavill is no stranger to the spy game as he played an interesting variant of Napoleon Solo in the recent The Man From U.N.C.L.E movie (reviewed here) and, sure enough, he does a pretty good job here as the ‘blunt hammer’ of a character he is initially introduced as. Also back in the mix, we have the very welcome return of Rebecca Ferguson as the double agent Ilsa Faust from the last movie and an interesting turn from actress Vanessa Kirby playing a character called White Widow. There’s also another, very special returning character... but I’ll get to her in a minute.

So the film is full of the usual action sequences and I was absolutely horrified as to how much of the stunts Cruise gets to do here. Sure, we all know the story of how he injured his ankle jumping between two buildings and, yes, you can totally see that shot in the final cut and feel the pain of the star as he does things to his ankle that  he’s not supposed to. What really worried me, though, is that he’s also flying helicopters quite dangerously by himself, riding motorbikes against traffic and even performing a free fall rescue operation and halo jump (for which he trained for about a year) and, wow, I’m so amazed this guy is a) able to get insured on set/location in any country other than Hong Kong and b) hasn’t accidentally killed himself making one of these things yet. This guy is certainly dedicated to his craft, though, so despite heavy qualms about his personal beliefs off of the set, you have to give this guy a lot of respect for these kinds of shenanigans. Not to mention he’s also a pretty great actor with a very likeable on-screen presence (and I know from a first hand story on a bus ride from one of his old costumers that he’s a pretty nice guy to be around on set with too).

The film is a blast if you like stunts and action sequences as they are all done with the usual slick, professionalism that this kind of high profile Hollywood blockbuster usually achieves but my biggest problem is that... okay, it’s good but there are absolutely no real surprises in it. There’s a so called twist in this and there are also a fair few scenes set up to fool the opposition and, for effect, the audience at the same time but, honestly, if you’ve seen just a few of these films then you’ll see all this stuff coming a mile off... not to mention the ‘not so well hidden’ true identity of John Lark. That one’s kinda obvious. So the lack of ‘I never saw that coming’ really does bring the film down a level, I think.

That being said, it’s still a blast and it also sees the return of Michelle Monaghan in a quite respectfully highlighted role in the last big section of the film, reprising her character from the third and fourth films and finally tying up that ‘big loose thread’ from the third one which people like me have been so worried about since that installment. Things seem definitely finished up with that character and Ethan Hunt in this one but they don’t do this in the obvious way and it’s not what you’re thinking... perhaps the only half surprise in the movie is the restraint by the writer/director not to do the obvious thing with her character... which is kinda nice.

And of course we have the all important score by a composer I quite like this time around, Lorne Balfe. Now, as much as I would have preferred the director retained the services of composer Joe Kraemer, as his score for Rogue Nation was possibly the best of the big screen franchise scores, Lorne Balfe does an excellent job here, as I knew he would. I really have to listen to the CD when it comes out (with extra music not on the stupid electronic release I’m told... Woohoo!) to get a more accurate impression from the score as it gets covered up by various explosive actiony noises here but from what I can hear of it, it’s not too shabby. He didn’t, from what I could make out, use Lalo Schifrin’s classic title melody as much as some of his predecessors (although The Syndicate theme also seems to be back here too) but when he does use elements of it he makes them count and I am looking forward to hearing this one away from the movie (I thought his score for the reboot of The Sweeney was superb).

And that’s about all I have to say about this one. If you are a fan of these films then you will already know what to expect and you’ll probably have a good time with this one. If you are more casual in your Mission Impossible viewing habits, however, then I would say you would be doing yourself an injustice if you didn’t watch Rogue Nation before watching Mission Impossible Fallout, to be fair, so you can get a sense of the recent history of the series. Definitely one to watch, though, when you’ve seen the others... should you choose to accept that mission.

Mission Impossible at NUTS4R2
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to click on one of the titles below to take you to my review.

Mission Impossible
Mission Impossible 2
Mission Impossible 3
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation 
Mission Impossible: Fallout

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Searching



Screen Of The Crime

Searching
2018 USA Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
UK cinema release print. Pre-release preview.


Okay, so Searching is a really interesting movie with a fairly fresh (or should that be refresh) take on the old police procedural style movies where a family member helps the cops to solve a crime. And it’s really great because it gives us a fairly new kind of cinematic experience ... it’s a little like the format of Unfriended (reviewed by me here) but with a much more ‘filmish’ bent to the way in which it is shot... I’ll explain that statement in a minute but this is definitely a much more sophisticated beast than the low budget horror movie mentioned above.

The plot, as you'll know if you’ve seen the trailer, is about David Kim (played by the new Mr. Sulu himself, John Cho), a father whose teenage daughter Margot (played here by Michelle La) goes missing. As events unfold, he realises that what she has been telling him about her life for the last six months and the actual reality of that are two different things. As little revelations occur, he uses various computers and online web sites to help Detective Rosemary Vick (played by Debra Messing) in her search for his girl. And that’s the basic set up and that’s mostly about all I’m going to reveal to you about the plot, such as it is.

The film starts off with a montage of David going through files on his computer... and all you see is the computer screen as he goes through various images, messages and videos and, for the next five or ten minutes, we see Margot born and how she grows up over the years. We learn about how important David’s wife, Pamela Kim (played by Sara Sohn) is to everybody and we watch her beat cancer only for it to come back and claim her life. All this set up is great, beautifully conveyed (and emotionally scored... there’s a lot of piano here too, to reflect the fact that Margot is learning the piano throughout her life) and if the sequence had just finished after that opening, I would still be heaping praise on this movie even if it turned out to be a clunker but, as it happens, the film is quite special. Here’s why...

I don’t know how I didn’t pick up on this when I saw the trailer but, the screens don’t stop when this sequence is done. The whole of the movie is told through what people, mostly David, are seeing and doing on their computer screen. You see David a lot because he’s often on Face Time or on Skype and, as you may or may not know, the camera on the computer often leaves a live feed of you and what you’re doing when nobody is on the other end of those kinds of software applications. So quite often we can see Dave in one of the windows as he fiddles with various things on screen and this gives the audience the desired stimulus to empathise completely with his character.

But this movie is way better than that... it’s not just blandly looking at a static image of one screen or another. The director takes this footage and, just as he would with first hand footage, he will zoom or pan into certain bits of the screen and edit out what’s not required to highlight and de-emphasise desired story elements. It even, as I mentioned before, has a score playing through the film... a quite effective one by Torin Borrowdale, to add tension and drama as certain revelations happen on screen.

The director also effectively uses little rest points to signal, almost subconsciously, the end of certain sequences and the beginning of others... such as using a giant shot of a blank flashing cursor quite memorably in a couple of places to usher in the next stage of the movie. There’s a lovely sequence where something fairly familiar to PC users suddenly becomes a surreal moment due to the unfamiliarity of seeing it so big on screen and with an underscore... not going to say what it is but the way it suddenly brings rest to the film’s pacing is quite brilliant.

I also enjoyed that at, one point, the film footage switches from David’s IBM compatible PC Windows machine to his daughter’s machine, which is a proper Apple Mac, because the blocky and slightly blurry picture resolution seemed to sharpen up a little while the Apple computer was telling the relevant portions of the story. As an Apple user both at work and home for over two decades, this really worked for me.

Now, I have to say that, if this was a movie shot in a standard manner, then I would have seen the ending of this film coming way before the finish. As it was though, because of the format that has been chosen to express this, my initial lead suspect (and perpetrator in this piece) was soon pushed out of my mind as I didn’t think the writers and director would even begin trying to attempt a twist of that magnitude in this kind of style. I really didn’t expect them to be running before they’d even proven they could walk but... oh yeah... they totally go where I suspected they wouldn’t for the end game of the movie and, bearing in mind the limits of the format, they really don’t cheat, much, in the way they achieve the general unfolding of the story. In fact, there’s a brilliant scene where David has set up multiple screens recorded on his computer (not being monitored by him at that time because he has to be in the footage) and, not known to him but clear to the audience, a major break in the investigation appears to be coming in from the detective but he’s not around to answer any of her calls.

Also... and again this may be due to the nature of the format... I was completely taken in by a scene where a character is suspected of ‘doing the deed’ and then it turns out to be a red herring. Was totally invested in the film being over soon after but then... things carry on and there’s a beautiful plot revelation at the eleventh hour which I won’t elaborate on here but, in keeping with the various apps and websites used throughout the movie to track and progress the investigation, it all involves around a stock photography site. Considering my own profession as a graphic designer, I especially liked this element.

So... yeah... Searching is an old school missing person yarn with a very modern setting (computer screens) but which is expressed through that modern setting by a very traditional film-making skill set, such as the use of pans, zooms, tracking shots, time edits, establishing shots of sorts (rendered as website landing pages, etc) and an accompanying musical score which is again, composed and performed fairly traditionally to capture the emotions and tension of the story. It’s all very well done and, though I hate to think it’s going to be that influential in terms of having to sit through a hundred gazillion copycat movies of this one anytime soon, I really think that lovers of cinema and the thriller genre in particular, should go and see this one. Searching hits UK cinemas at the end of August 2018 (and US cinemas next week) and is well worth a visit. My one piece of advice would be, due to the resolution of this kind of format on a big screen, that you don’t sit too near the front... get some distance on it. Definitely go and take a look at this one, though.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Green Lantern/Green Arrow



Green Titans

Green Lantern/Green Arrow -
Hard-Travelling Heroes

By Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams
DC ISBN: 9781401280420


“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power… Green Lantern’s light.”
Green Lantern


One of those fragmented, early childhood memories I have is from the very early seventies. I would have been maybe two or three years old but I was already into comics, especially the American superhero stuff which was a lot more intriguing than some of the British comics at the time (unless you were really into Disney). Note to parents: if you want to start your kids reading early so they are way more advanced than the other readers in class, give them comics like Superman and Batman and they’ll soon want to know what’s being said when these characters take on monsters from space and such like in the colourful drawings.

I remember I used to regularly stay with my nan and uncle for a few hours one evening a week in the early 1970s and my uncle would always be reading at least three science fiction novels at any one time plus there would be one or two comics laying around. These were mostly DC comics (although I remember those non-coded drug issues of Spider-Man turning up) which he would either pick up with the novels from a cornucopia of sci-fi, crime and sleazy novels called Comyn’s Books* in Tottenham (if I remember the name correctly... now sadly long gone) or from one of the nearby news stands or possibly the only other news stand I knew that sold American comics at The Angel, Edmonton (that news stand is also now, alas, long deceased).

Anyway, I remember one of the titles he used to read was definitely this Green Lantern/Green Arrow run of comics from 1970 and I can just about remember flicking through the first issue, number 76, and taking in the pictures. Of course, I didn’t know how important this run would become in the history of comics at the time, nor how influential but, I did love the artwork by Neal Adams (who didn’t) and I kinda knew it was very different to a lot of the other DC comics at the time because the two heroes featured on that classic cover of Green Arrow destroying Green Lantern’s power charger (yeah, like a lot of comic covers in the day, that didn't actually happen in the issue itself) were to be found inside constantly at loggerheads with each other in this and later issues. I knew something was going down here but I was too young to know what.

Of course I’ve caught up with the odd back issue of this relatively small run of about 13 issues (and short story appearances in The Flash) in the intervening decades but, somehow, not most of them and this beautiful deluxe edition hardback from DC (also available now in paperback) finally allowed me to catch up with these guys in a complete reprint of this important run of comics. Why is it important? Well… at the time it was…

The Silver Age Green Lantern, despite being mentioned in Donovan’s groovy hit song Sunshine Superman, was a failing character by this time in that sales had really hit a dip and cancellation was looming. So editor Julius Schwartz gave the character to comic book writer extraordinaire (as he would certainly be known by some after this take on the character) Dennis O’Neil, who writes not one but two introductions to this collected edition, to see if he could do something to turn around the fortunes of this ailing character. And he certainly did… taking on the political and social issues of the day and giving Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) a counter balance in the form of Oliver Queen (Green Arrow… who somehow seems to be known as just Arrow these days in TV land). The whole point was to keep away from the cosmic adventures (that didn’t quite happen but even the stories set on other worlds were metaphors for what was going on in the then and now, such as overpopulation) and to send the two emerald avengers on a road trip around America to argue out and find compromise on the issues of the day. This was no longer going to be a world of black and white problems with easy solutions… this was going to be a world of barely discernible greys when one or the other of the two title characters, sometimes both, would end up being shown that they were making bad judgements and, sometimes, they would fail to get the happy resolution they might be expected to get in any other DC superhero title at the time.

So the banner with the distinctive masthead I loved as a toddler came into being on the first issue of this legendary run, Issue 76, for the first story No Evil Shall Escape My Sight. This one starts off with an absolutely beautiful Neal Adams splash page of Green Lantern flying towards the reader over the top of some traffic in a busy New York City street while various credits are rendered in funky lettering and integrated onto the side and back of a truck. This is gorgeous stuff and demonstrated why Neal Adams was so highly regarded as an artist in his day and is still considered as very influential with his mix of realistic drawing style combined with dynamic layout design.

O’Neil’s story quickly sets the tone for what was to come as, instead of a super villain, we have Green Lantern rescuing a villainous slum landlord who is being ‘attacked’ by some kids. After he tries to do what’s right in the eyes of the law the people in the street throw cans and bricks at him to suggest their displeasure at Green Lantern’s intervention and neighbour Green Arrow gives Hal Jordan a quick lesson in the issue of Law Vs Justice. After dealing with the strips villain under circumstances written to ensure the two are still seen by readers as the ‘heroes’ of the strip, it’s proposed that Green Lantern and Green Arrow (accompanied by one of the Galactic Guardians, for a while) go on a road trip of America to explore the dark underbelly of a nation still labouring under the horrors of the war in Vietnam and turning their hand at trying, not always successfully, to find some kind of a solution or compromise to the social injustices of the day.

And that’s more or less what this run of issues did… until it finally got cancelled but, not after it got itself noticed by the rest of the comics world, for sure. This handsome tome faithfully reproduces (sadly, sans the adverts of the day) the entire run and, even now, I found myself surprised at the direction some of these issues go as the two heroes take on pollution, racial intolerance, drug dealers, political corruption and even handle religious imagery in what must have been a very risky way for the day.

In their adventures, they are often accompanied by Oliver’s on/off girlfriend Black Canary, who is very much a feminist icon, I reckon (even at three years old I was a big fan of her costume incorporating fishnet stockings). I love the way that she’s described and drawn in action here as a total powerhouse who hates violence but is forced to use it to keep the bad guys at bay. Love the pained expression on her face as she is obliged to make short work of her adversaries.

Another impressive thing is the running continuity between issues, which take place in the same real time as the issues were published (so after a few issues the guys have been on the road for six months, for instance). As the characters get injured during their various confrontations, their wounds (not to mention their emotional scars such as when Green Arrow discovers that his perpetually young sidekick Speedy has turned into a junkie), stay with them over a number of issues. Another example is when Green Arrow gets shot in the arm, for instance. He’s still complaining about that bad arm and it becomes a major plot point even in the last story in the series. This is good stuff.

I also appreciated some of the pop cultural references in the strip too. Such as when the characters are attacked by birds under the influence of a mind controlling child and Black Canary compares the incident to the Alfred Hitchcock movie version of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds. Sure enough, there’s a wordless cameo of Hitchcock himself in the left foreground of the panel. Wonderful stuff.

This was a great and important comic and, comparing the social issues described within the pages, you’ll soon realise that many, possibly all, of these problems are still with us today… some in an even more magnified form. So, yeah, great comic and a truly lovely and respectful reprint of them can be yours to read now. Green Lantern/Green Arrow - Hard-Travelling Heroes is an absolutely excellent book and a must read for anyone who considers themselves interested in the history of the form. Grab this one while it’s still relatively easy to get hold of. You really won’t want to miss it.



*If anyone remembers this bookshop or has photos of it, please share with me on Twitter.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

The Endless



Cthulhu Hoops

The Endless
USA 2017
Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Arrow Blu Ray Zone 2


Warning: Some spoilers on this one, I guess.

Okay... so all I can say is that I’m really glad that I saw these two director’s movie Resolution (which I reviewed right here) before I saw this one. As it turns out, the low key approach that it shares a couple of characters and ideas with that earlier film is like saying The Empire Strikes Back shares some characters and ideas with the original Star Wars (resubtitled Episode IV: A New Hope for modern, post 1977 audiences). The Endless is less a shared universe movie and more a direct sequel to the original. The directors play the main protagonists in this one, who were minor characters in the first, using their own christian names as character names. However, the two main protagonists of the last film are seen in a sizeable sequence towards the end of this film too. This one also, kinda, explains what was happening to these two, how... or at least why... the artefacts that made up that story kept appearing and also, although set ten years or so after the first film, we get director Aaron Moorhead’s character Aaron watching the sequence we saw where Mike first arrives at the cabin in Resolution. Which will make more sense once you see The Endless.

Furthermore, although it’s a direct sequel, it’s a little bit like a rerun or almost a partial remake, in some ways, of the first and one wonders if the two directors are just reworking their ideas in a greater exploration of the Lovecraftian stew they concocted for Resolution. Indeed, The Endless starts right off the bat with a direct quote from writer H. P. Lovecraft, as though the two are instantly stating their alignment with the ideas, or at least style, of that writer for the audience... wearing their influences on their sleeve in pursuit of a more 'up front' movie than the first, perhaps.

The film starts in a very similar manner to the first but, in this instance, after escaping from a weird ‘UFO Death Cult’ ten years or so prior to the events in the film, Justin is sent some video tape footage which forces him to track down some old hardware to play it on at a local boot sale. I actually like the fact that the writing allows for the obsolescence of the technology to require effort to access it in the first place and I saw a similar ode to obsolescence played out in a scene in the combined Ringu/Ju On sequel Sadako VS Kayako a couple of years ago (which desperately needs a subtitled physical release in the UK instead of a stupid, corporate streaming version... my review of the Frightfest screening of the film can be found here). I also liked that buying the technology to access this means that Justin sacrificed the money saved for buying a new car battery and this will have consequences, or at least complicate things for the two characters, further on down the line.

After seeing footage of one of the people at the cult, Justin convinces Aaron to take them back for a visit and so the two go, only to find that all the people they used to know are somehow un-aged over time and with a, mostly, welcoming attitude. And there are some nice sequences in here...

Such as the felt (rather than seen) presence of some large, Cthulhuian monster roaming around the landscape and a tug of war game with, probably, the same creature. And the odd appearance of artefacts utilising what can only be likened to ‘missing time’ in the main characters. Also, it’s hard for our characters not to notice that there are now two moons in the sky in the area they’ve gone to... explained as a naturally occurring, mirage style phenomena by members of the cult. It’s nicely done, though and is possibly the most interesting effect in the whole movie. This is coupled with some cool design transitions every now and again focusing on circular shapes which hints at what is really going on here.

However, when those double moons I mentioned suddenly become three moons, things start to go wrong for our heroes, who have become separated from each other due to an argument and who are now wandering around the local landscape trying to find each other. However, what they find instead is... time loops created by the ‘ancient unspeakable presence’ that we glimpsed (or quite noticeably didn’t glimpse, in actual fact), at the end of the last movie. Loops where people are trying to break their personal cycles... whether they last months, seasons, years or, in one case, literally a few seconds, by killing themselves in various ways. Furthermore, the two central characters from the last movie are more than aware now they must be caught in one of these time loops and Aaron, kindly, doesn’t let Mike know that his wife, played once again by Emily Montague, is actually in the commune a mile or so away and very much in a kind of loop herself, one must assume.

The film has the same stylistic traits of the previous, with small, almost imperceptible hand held camera movement a lot of the time and lots of light contrasting with a slightly subdued colour palette. There is actually a score for this one by Jimmy Lavalle although, a lot of the time, it’s kept quite minimal. The acting is all pretty great and, joining the directors along with Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran from Resolution, we have some good supporting cast such as Callie Hernandez and Tate Ellington doing some nice work here.

And... I don’t really have too much more  to say about it than that. It’s less subtle than the first movie, perhaps a little over the top at times with a run time which could maybe have been cut by 20 minutes or so once all the points have been made. Like the first one, however, it rambles along at its own pace and, although I have nothing against films that take their time, I did find this one dragging just a little towards the end. If you liked Resolution then you’re probably going to really like The Endless because, I think, despite it being a bit more overt with its portrayal of events, it’s a slightly better movie than the first. That being said, I definitely think you’ll have a far richer experience and appreciation of this film if you see Resolution first so, if you’ve not seen that one then I would definitely seek them out in chronological order. Both worth a watch for people who like low budget horror with a strong mystery element in the DNA of the films they are watching.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Incredibles 2



Fantastic Five

Incredibles 2
USA Directed by Brad Bird
UK cinema release print.


Okay, this one’s kinda fun.

Despite dropping the definite article preceding the rest of the title, Incredibles 2 is still a sequel, 14 years later, to The Incredibles. I guess they’re thinking that if they want to ignore this sequel later down the line they can slap it back on and call that one The Incredibles 2 maybe?

Now there was no way in my mind that this follow up was ever going to be as good as The Incredibles because, frankly, that movie was one of the top ten greatest animated feature films of all time, as far as I’m concerned. However, I have to say director Brad Bird has done a good job on this one and it’s still a pretty great movie. It’s also not, quite, just a repeat of the first film although, honestly, there are some structural similarities and the ‘not such a surprise’ villain is a similar kind of reveal, in some ways, to the plot twist of the first movie (which I think was handled a little better).

This one concentrates on Elastigirl, voiced once again by Holly Hunter, as she embarks on a superhero campaign, marketing to bring ‘supers’ back into the limelight and stop them from being illegal anymore. Meanwhile, Mr. incredible, voiced once more by Craig T. Nelson, is left at home holding the baby and being a house husband trying to keep things going by solving a problem with Violet’s love life and Dash’s mathematics homework while trying to cope with baby Jack Jack’s growing list of super powers. And, like the first one, it all seems to work really well.

Now, the director does take things into slightly different waters where the first movie didn’t go, in one scene where he has anthropomorphised an animal... which does seem to mark new territory here in that, like in the first of the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons of the 1940s, it seems a little out of place in a film which is primarily a version of the world we live in (albeit one where super powered humans actually exist). However, I have to say that the sequence in question, where Jack Jack goes toe to toe in a ferocious fight with a racoon, is a pretty cute scene and it’s not too intrusive within the chemical mix of the rest of the movie, in that it in any way dominates the style of the remainder of the story. It’s just a fun scene which you can let go of as soon as it’s over without, necessarily, thinking about the way the ecosystem of the ‘Incredibles Universe’ works in these films.

As with the first film, it’s all very nice to look at with rich colours, neat editing and it all moves along at a breakneck pace. Everything, again like the first film, is held in place and glued in all the right places (pretty much wall to wall, in this case) by Michael Giacchino’s incredible score. Now, it has to be said that while the soundscape he used for the first movie is back here, as it should be, the film is not quite as derivative of the style of the first film’s rejected composer John Barry. For instance, you can hear the temp track of films like Goldfinger and Thunderball screaming through in the music from the first film to such an extent that you can literally just drop tracks from the Bond films into The Incredibles and they would be timed to hit exactly the same dramatic points. That being said, there’s one cue in the new film where Elastigirl is on the way to her first day on the new job which sounds like a glorious mash up of John Barry’s Into Miami from Goldfinger and Jerry Goldsmith’s Your Zowie Face from In Like Flint so... you know... some of this homage is still present in a few places. It’s maybe not quite as fun as his first score but it’s still pretty great and works well, again, as a stand alone listen.

I think there were maybe a few missed opportunities in terms of cameos of characters from The Incredibles that might have made it into the second but because it’s trying to do, to some extent, it’s own thing in terms of story (although there are some marked similarities, too), I can’t really blame the writer/director for having a few characters sit this one out. That being said, he still has deliberate echoes of the first film finding their way into this so the fans and admirers of the original don’t feel too disappointed. So... we have a scene with Edna Mode, voiced once again by the director, getting to grips with baby Jack Jack’s new powers and we have a plot set up involved around a superhero coming out of retirement and facing possible betrayal at some point in the story. The point is, though, that despite having this kind of thing built into it, it never really feels like you're retreading old ground and Bird seems to really hold everything together in order to give us a new adventure from the heroes we’ve come to love.

And that’s me done on this one. Incredibles 2 lives up to the superlative of its title and gives people who loved the first one something else to give their affection to. If you’re already on board with these characters then you should have a great time with this one. If you’ve not seen the original, however, you might want to go back and watch that one first as this one starts off literally with a flashback scene which picks up, to the second, where the last one finished. Whichever film you watch first though... have a good time.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Secret Of Marrowbone



The Fours Of Perception

The Secret Of Marrowbone
(aka Marrowbone)

Spain 2017 Directed by Sergio G. Sánchez
UK cinema release print.


Surprisingly... since I didn’t rate the trailer for this one much and especially in regards to the fact that I generally expect films that have had a name change before they’re released in England to be quite bad (thus warranting said name change in the first place... this film was originally titled, plainly, Marrowbone in the stateside release)... it turns out that The Secret Of Marrowbone is actually quite a well put together movie.

Following a quite long pre-credits sequence involving a mother and her four children fleeing to a new, relatively isolated home after allegedly horrendous events involving her husband, the film’s credit finally comes up (after the mother has died and the children’s worrying father has just found them), with the titular secret still firmly in place. Time has moved on after the credits and the four children are waiting out the months, hiding in plain sight and maintaining the fiction that the mother is still alive until the oldest of the four, Jack, turns 21 and they can no longer be separated by the authorities.

The solid cast of four... Jack (George MacKay), Billy (Charlie Heaton), Jane (Mia Goth) and Sam (Matthew Stagg) have already befriended local librarian Allie during that opening sequence... played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who I’ve loved in everything I’ve seen her in so far with special shout outs to The VVitch (reviewed here), Morgan (reviewed here) and, to a lesser degree (although she was no less brilliant in it), Split (reviewed here). She is their ally but knows nothing of the hidden secret lurking in the new family unit, the discovery of which will eventually lead to a shift in her perceptions of what’s happening, to some extent.

Now, it would be inaccurate to say that I didn’t figure out the conclusion of the movie’s reveal here as we are getting fed clues as to what’s going on with regards to the ghosts of the house and such like all the way through the narrative. However, it would also be true to say the film took me by surprise at the end purely because, like one of those good old giallo thrillers of the 1970s, The Secret Of Marrowbone kind of presents us with so many possibilities of just what that secret could be that, by the end, you are bound to be focussing on one more than the other and, alas, I somehow failed to concentrate on the solution to the mystery that lay within for favour of another. So, unusually for me, the film retained its secret to some extent because of the almost needle in a haystack pursuit required to hit upon the right combination of story elements. Of course, once all is revealed you can look back at how things have been referred to in the story and how the true facts of things can sometimes lend possibilities which aren’t necessarily signposts to the true destination. For instance, when the importance of avoiding mirrors is raised a number of times early on in the film, it threw me off my original solution due to other possibilities that could be deduced from such a warning and all I can say about this is... very well played Mr. writer/director Sergio G. Sánchez.

The cast of the film all acquit themselves more than admirably and help lend credence, with the smoke and mirrors of their trade, to the mystery which slowly unfolds, in its own good time, as it is revealed to the audience a little before the people in the story, regarding their secret. And if that seems an absurdly enigmatic thing to say about the film here... I’m sorry but I don’t want to post any spoilers so these kind of verbal gymnastics are necessary to protect the secret as much as the Marrowbone children in the film would.

In some ways, the main protagonists, especially the four children who live in the house, are just like the inhabitants of an old Enid Blyton book like the Famous Five or Secret Seven and, honestly, I’d say that this is exactly how the movie plays out, in some respects. Like a children’s Enid Blyton adventure but, using the syntax of horror cinema in a few key places to add coal to the fire of the secret at the heart of the mystery. Whether this is, or is not, an actual horror film I shall leave for you to decide... except I shall say that, within my own strict definition of what comprises such an affair, I would argue that it definitely isn’t in any way a horror movie but that’s not to say the film doesn’t have some sinister and scary moments which horror fans will appreciate. And that stuff is all fairly well done here, too.

Mr. Sánchez’ direction, editing and use of slow camera over some nice shot compositions are all excellent and the score by Fernando Velázquez is typical of that composer’s work in this vein... that is to say it’s excellent, appropriate and possibly great as a stand alone listen (although I will have to wait until the CD arrives before I can confirm that last comment). Also, although she isn’t in it as much as the four other main protagonists, Anya Taylor-Joy’s presence lends the production a certain weight, not just in terms of her acting, which is always fine but, also, in the striking and slightly off kilter beauty she manages to project to the camera... a face not easily forgotten.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about The Secret of Marrowbone, though, is that it manages to tip its hat on the most important of the end reveals in a way that doesn’t provoke disappointment (at least not in this viewer) but in a way that one could go back to the film again and watch it as a completely different kind of experience to the first viewing. That is to say, the weight of the finality of the end solution and the, strange but possibly welcome ray of hope for at least two of the characters at the end of the movie, is not something that crushes the weight of the build up of the rest of the film and, instead, works hand in hand with the central logic of the piece in a way that doesn’t stifle your interest in the characters. Which sometimes happens in films with this kind of 11th hour plot reveal, it has to be said.

The Secret Of Marrowbone is a better movie than it’s currently being given credit for and certainly worthy of your time if you like a good old fashioned mystery with elements of the horror and supernatural thrown in as seasoning to the dish. Definitely one to check out if you have nothing else on.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Skyscraper



Fire Hard

Skyscraper
2018 USA Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
UK cinema release print.


I guess it would be somewhat lazy thinking for me to say that Skyscraper is really just The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard but, then again, it’s kinda lazy writing from the people coming up with these kinds of ‘seen it, done it’ story ideas in the first place so, you know, I’m just going to say it anyway.

Skyscraper is the latest fun romp of a movie headlining Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) in the lead role. I kind of see him as this generation's Errol Flynn in the kind of choices and personae he seems to be inhabiting of late and I have to say that, although a lot of the movies he’s in aren’t exactly think pieces, I have a lot of time for these light and fluffy action vehicles he’s so good at supporting.

In this one we see him as the one legged health and safety man, Will Sawyer, who has come to Hong Kong to give the once over for a brand new skyscraper, the world’s tallest building, before it’s opened for the public. And, yeah, in a brief pre-credits sequence, you do get to find out just how he comes to only be in possession of part of his right leg and you also you get to see how he meets his wife Sarah, played by Neve Campbell. His wife and two young children accompany him on the trip to this quite beautiful looking building, The Pearl, which presents itself as it gets near the top as two fingers holding a globe. They are the only people staying at the building before its due to be open to the public (asides from the owner and his team)... in a canny move by the writers, I’m guessing, so they don’t have to deal with gazillions of extras running around in their disaster scenes of burning debris.

Why does the building catch fire? Because those Die Hard style terrorists are trying to flush the building’s owner out so he grabs the most valuable thing in his safe, a drive with all the criminal pay offs they’ve been extorting from people globally... and safely shut it down while the owner is still alive so it doesn’t 'auto send' to the police on his death (I never know how you get computer drives to do that, myself). Sawyer has been set up and put in this situation by another member of his old military team (seen in the pre-credits sequence) and it’s up to him to somehow get back into the burning building past the police, locate his wife, children and the owner... and then somehow get them all out of there alive.

And in many ways its the fun kind of warm hearted bonding combined with hard edged action we’ve come to expect from movies starring The Rock... with a touch of flaming mayhem thrown in for good measure. Now, that being said, there are some terrible clichés and stuff you’re going to have to pretend you don’t notice if you want to have the best time possible with this movie.

For instance, near the start there’s a whole bit of business where The Rock is drumming into this wife that the best way to fix her phone is to use the old, tried and true method of switching it off and on again. Yep... so straight away you know there’s going to be a scene in this movie somewhere where something has to be rebooted and she will remember her husband’s advice and go for it. And... yeah... of course that happens.

Another slight issue is The Pearl... which is the name of the big globe near the top of the building which the structure takes its name from. Early on in the film, Will Sawyer is given a demonstration of the beauty of this place, which can have invisible walls so you can be ‘walking on air’ over two hundred stories up and which has a load of confusing, rising screens which come out and act like an elaborate hall of mirrors with feedback of the occupants walking around at various angles and zooms. And... yeah... if you know anything about movie history you’ll be thinking that the big, end confrontation of the movie is going to take place here as a partial homage to Bruce Lee’s final confrontation in Enter The Dragon. And, of course, if you are thinking that... you wouldn’t be wrong. Why else have such an elaborate set up demonstrated for you if they’re not going to make full use of it later. It’s not the only film to have done this over the past year, either.

So yeah, clichés abound and we even have the kind of villainous characters who kill off their own people to either prove a point or save on their payroll. I’ve never been able to work out movie villains who have this penchant for killing their own crew. How would this kind of behaviour inspire loyalty? What makes you think anyone is going to want to work for you again? Assuming you didn’t already kill them all off on their first job with you. So, yeah, Hannah Quinlivan’s character Xia makes a nice killer and I would have liked to have seen a few more action sequences with her but... seriously... who wants to hang around with this lady when she’s as likely to kill her worker bees as much as her opposition? Not me, for sure.

However, these are all the kinds of Hollywood style shenanigans you would expect from a movie like Skyscraper and with effective acting to portray likeable characters, supported by some decent action editing and a Steve Jablonsky score which will, apparently, be getting a CD release sometime in August (I’m happy to say), Skyscraper is a fun ride and a nice evening out at the cinema. And, yes, you can bet The Rock makes all kinds of weaponised, survival moves with his handy, prosthetic leg. Short review here for such a tall building but I don’t have much more to say about this one. If you like The Rock’s movies you’ll already know what to expect and this one certainly lives up to those expectations. Maybe give it a go if you are into these kinds of films.