Chris At The Pictures

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody - Review

10/25/2018 01:10:00 am 0
Bohemian Rhapsody - Review
Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (Twentieth Century Fox (c), still photo by Nick Delaney)
★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

There’s a moment approximately two thirds into Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer’s long-gestating biopic of rock legend Freddie Mercury, when its tawdry by-the-numbers biopic act slips, revealing the dormant hatchet job beneath. Mercury’s (Rami Malek) bandmates confront their unruly figurehead about his recent spate of drug-fuelled abandon, and Brian May (played uncannily by Gwilym Lee) accuses his friend of destroying their “family”.

This particular F word encompasses the central dishonesty of this efficiently constructed but morally dubious film. “Family” here extends beyond the band, to Mercury’s parents and his ex-wife, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). They’re posed as the wholesome, loving opposite to those with whom the lead singer allegedly chose to surround himself on his journey of self-discovery: Freddie’s complex relationship with his sexuality and subsequent carousing are framed as the direct cause of Queen’s fracture.

By Brian May’s own admission (“In a way, all of us were out of control..it screwed us up."), the blame did not lie purely on Mercury’s shoulders, yet the lead guitarists’ producer credit - and that of drummer Roger Taylor - speaks volumes. Simple queer erasure - something many fans feared from initial marketing - would almost have been preferable to this portrayal of Mercury as an upstart; a self-centred child whose various lovers and friends are depicted as a uniformly leather-clad, opportunistic bunch who urge him to pursue a solo career in the hopes they might reap some reward.

Malek’s performance is as passionate and honest as one can be when adhering to such a compromised script. He achieves the endlessly spry, whiplash physicality of Mercury’s live performances perfectly, but there’s some eye-watering wig work and his prosthetic overbite is one spittle fleck shy of caricature. Plus, the scenes of album recordings and stage shows utilise real recordings of the band, and Freddie’s vocals lie atop the footage of Malek’s noiseless crooning like oil on water.

Though not exactly taking a backstage in terms of screen time (whatever the film’s moral assessment of Mercury, he is certifiably the lead), Malek is poorly served in the recreation of epochal studio moments (all, incidentally, playing out like a chronological karaoke playlist). True, he brazenly blathers at a disparaging manager (Mike Myers) about the operatic inspiration for the titular track, but his main role in the band’s recording time is to hear May, Taylor and John Deacon come up with all the legendary riffs and beats. Bohemian Rhapsody’s Freddie Mercury is far too busy drinking, getting ‘high’ (limited by a 12a/PG-13 certificate, the film alludes to drugs with vague shots of powder on tabletops) or otherwise acting out to contribute anything.

As if this weren’t enough to conjure a version of the artist that he himself would likely detest, Mercury’s struggle with AIDS is also reworked to fit a rise-fall-redemption narrative. His diagnosis with the disease in April 1987 is retconned to take place just before the band’s sensational performance at Live Aid in July 1985, in order to bookend the film.

These twenty minutes of pure aural wildfire are recreated with stunning accuracy, but the joy of experiencing those classic anthems in all their glory is insufficient recompense for character assassination. All the seat-rocking surround sound and copy-pasted CG crowds money can buy will never match the emotion of the original footage, Singer’s paper-thin replication leaving this critic wondering "Must the show go on?"

Saturday, 20 October 2018

'The Streaming Pile' - October 2018

10/20/2018 10:31:00 am 0
'The Streaming Pile' - October 2018


Welcome to this first edition of The Streaming Pile; my excuse to use a good pun thinly disguised as a monthly column discussing the latest crop of Netflix', er, 'cinematic' content. This month saw the release of three fairly high-profile films (as opposed to the usual strain of Friday night horror dreck): Operation Finale, 22 July, and Apostle.

Chris Weitz (directing for the first time since 2011's A Better Life) oversees Operation Finale, a historical thriller detailing the hunt for Nazi war criminal and architect of the "Final Solution", Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). On his trail is Oscar Isaac as Mossad agent Peter Malkin. Malkin tracks Eichmann to Buenos Aires, but complications arise when he and his team must secure their prisoner's signature, to officiate his appearance before a court in Israel. 


The scenes between Isaac and Kingsley are - as one would expect from two of Hollywood's finest presences - riveting, and there's certainly thrills (however scattershot) to be had in the Argo-like mission to capture Eichmann. The supporting cast are - perhaps as a result of having to square up to the two leads - somewhat less engaging, and the casting of American comedy staple Nick Kroll as one of Malkin's subordinates is more distraction than revelation. 


Also, the moral conflicts presented by Eichmann as an attempt to throw Malkin off his game feel thin and half-baked, and are almost immediately disregarded by the viewer because (thanks to seven decades of hindsight) we know him to be a cruel, deceitful manipulator. Nevertheless, it's a largely gripping race to the finish with a sublimely righteous coda.


Far less successful (and efficiently constructed in all the wrong ways) is Paul Greengrass' 22 July, which details the events and aftermath of far-right Anders Breivik's attack on a government building and a Workers' Youth League summer camp in 2011.


Greengrass begins with a well-detailed re-enactment of the atrocities, then following both Breivik's internment and one of his victims, Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli). And it's that latter half (largely centred on the all-too engaging Anders Danielsen Lie as Breivik) that presents a problem: this is one instance where the United 93 director's even-handed, tell-both-sides cadence is unsuccessful at best, and abject moral cowardice at worst. 


Its frame is cold, its focus is askew, and fails to make any real statement beyond 'this is what happened'. When it comes to showcasing such appalling acts of violence, taking a detached standpoint is precisely why monsters continue to rise in Breivik's stead, because cinema (and the media as whole) continue to give his ideologies as much air - if not more - than the voices of his victims. Simply presenting a competent, functional thriller-drama - as Greengrass does here - is not enough anymore.


Gareth Evans' Apostle, too, contains no deeper message, meaning, or political persuasion...and is all the better for it. In stark contrast to the timid Welshman's previous efforts - high-octane martial arts duo The Raid and The Raid 2 - this slow-burn chiller takes its cue from classical British horrors like The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General. Dan Stevens (who, for this writer's money, doesn't appear in enough movies) stars as a tortured traveller, bound for a remote island in search of his kidnapped sister. 


The tiny isle is the home of a religious cult under the sway of Michael Sheen's rabid preacher, Malcolm. Stevens' character, by virtue of existing in the early 1900s, has never seen a film before and hence doesn't run a mile when confronted with the aforementioned premise and it's connotations. Thus, he's caught off-guard when the eerie power of the island and Malcolm's religious fervour take a darker turn.

What happens next is best left unspoiled, but rest assured that fans of The Raid films (who might find themselves on uncertain turf here) will be more than sated by the final act. Their salvation is signalled by the moment when someone has their leg broken from under them while another takes a spear through the face: "There he is! There's our Gareth!"


Operation Finale, 22 July and Apostle are now available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

First Man - Review

10/17/2018 03:09:00 pm 0
First Man - Review
Ryan Gosling in FIRST MAN (Universal (c), still photo by Daniel McFadden)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Damien Chazelle makes the hat-trick with this extraordinary film that, appropriately, puts the man first. Ostensibly depicting the trials and tribulations of NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs, First Man reveals itself to actually be about those of Neil Armstrong, in a refreshing break from space films that are less concerned - thematically, at least - with the inner workings of their central characters (Gravity is about survival, Interstellar is about time, The Martian is about collaboration, and so on).

Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his hopes, fears, treasures and turmoil are laid bare years before the dawn breaks on July 16th, 1969. Most are unspoken, all are devastating. The film begins with the death of his young daughter, Karen, and from there explores the near-decade Armstrong and his wife, Janet (Claire Foy) spent in the wake of that tragedy. Neil is concurrently engaged in constant danger, training for the race to reach the moon.

Far from a demonstration as the La La Land director’s new muse, First Man is the ultimate utilisation of Gosling’s best qualities as a restrained performer. His Armstrong speaks softly, withdraws from crowds, and has a crucial lack - if not active avoidance - of patriotic charisma (that cocksure role is taken up by Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin). Gosling says everything with a bowed head, an unfocused gaze, two fingers upon a pane of glass.

Though not explicitly stated by anyone on-screen (the 60s produced many revolutions, but open honesty about mental health wasn’t one of them), Neil’s depression is obvious to anyone who recognises that need to stay silent because admitting pain or anguish would make it real. Here’s a portrait of masculinity that flies in the face of everything one is taught from childhood of these supermen who trod amongst the stars.

Not that Armstrong is absolved entirely of blame for his continued distress. Claire Foy provides the crucial (and utterly indelible) voice of the audience as Janet, who desperately attempts to break down her husband’s emotional Faraday cage. In one of many moments of sheer heartbreak, she demands that Neil sit down and explain to their children that his small step may be a one-way trip. The boys reactions are muted, and they go off to bed almost as they would any other night, just as they returned to playing in the garden when an earlier test run briefly leaves their father spinning hopelessly above the Earth.

Because, for them, it’s impossible to truly comprehend what it means when your father tells you he might not come home. But Chazelle ensures we get the picture, with speaker-shattering launch sequences and dizzying Zero-G acrobatics that are second to none. Faces turn blue with unpreventable gasps and teeth are clenched together as though doing so will somehow hold the tenuous screws of the landing craft in place. Immaculate period detail hammers home the cramped, roughshod reality of early space travel like never before.

Production designer Nathan Crowley and special effects house Double Negative are not all that connects First Man to Interstellar (the inescapable benchmark to which all films of this kind must now compete). Justin Hurtwitz’s sonic accompaniment - by turns delicate and unnerving - follows Hans Zimmer’s lead and departs from a classical action score. The cue which heralds the climactic launch of Apollo 11 itself, however, would feel right at home amongst the late James Horner’s score for Apollo 13 (something about a soaring rocket seems to demand such a stirring piece).

Also present is the connection between a father and his unreachable daughter that forms the emotional core: one comes to realise very quickly that Armstrong’s devotion to his mission is so much more a personal quest than a political or occupational one. That this peace comes at the cost of lives, amity between nations and familial upheaval only adds to the burden of a man who just wants to escape the noise of the Earth as he does the din of a White House party.

Chazelle, Gosling and cinematographer Linus Sandgren reward him that, finally, on the largest canvas possible. Painfully intimate 16mm photography gives way to the liberating clarity of IMAX. Neil steps onto a globe all of his own. He - and the audience with him - breathes fully for the first time into a blissful silence. First Man may not end with a bang, but we certainly provide the whimper.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

"The Greatest Snowman" or: How I Learned To Love Confused Customers

10/10/2018 03:51:00 pm 0
"The Greatest Snowman" or: How I Learned To Love Confused Customers

“Two for the...uh...that one with...” the middle-aged gentleman stood across the till from me turned desperately to his partner, who returned his blank look. I waited. The silence stretched. The queue fidgeted.

“Oh, bloody hell, what’s it called again?” he gesticulated to no-one in particular, before clapping a hand to his forehead. Sighing internally, I scanned my screen for the list of possible titles.

Insidious 3?”
“No.”
Three Billboards?”
“No.”
Darkest Hour?”
“No.”
All the Money in the World?
“Yes! The J. Paul Getty one! All the World’s Money! Knew it was something like that.”

When you start working at a multiplex, there’s a lot you prepare yourself for: an unshakeable popcorn smell, complaints about how you need to “take out a mortgage” to afford a cinema trip, and, of course, the usual mental strain that comes with a largely thankless retail job. But one unforeseen difficulty in getting patrons from queueing to viewing is their inability to remember what multimillion-dollar filmmaking exercise they’re donating to in the first place.

For the cinemagoers, they rest comfortably in their assumption that we can translate their request for “That one with Joanna Lumley” into “One for Finding Your Feet?”. For those of us on the other side of the counter it’s occasionally frustrating, but never dull.

The categories for incorrect titles are as manifold as the misnomers themselves, but after a few months, the repeat offenders become obvious: mispronunciation, misinformation and abbreviation.

Mispronunciations from those who count English as a second language are fair play, but from native speakers it’s amusing, if a little worrying. See, for instance, the Christian Bale western, Hostiles, spoken aloud by one Cambridge University student as “Hoss-teal-ezz”. Or, how about that new movie about space wizards, Star Wars Episode VIII, with the roman numerals pronounced as “Veeeee”.

Misinformation depends entirely on one’s exposure to the advertising campaign of the film in question. Despite posters plastered across the sides of buses, adverts playing on television, heavy Oscar buzz and a basis in Blitz-era nostalgia, one late-January release inexplicably proved enormously difficult for British citizens to recall. Thus follows a complete list of wrong labels I received for Joe Wright’s World War 2 drama, Darkest Hour:

The Darkest Hour
Our Darkest Hour
Darkest Night
Heart of Darkness
The Darkness
Hour of Darkness
The Hours
Last Hours
Finest Hour
Their Finest
Churchill
Winston Churchill
The Longest Day

Most forwent any attempt at the correct three syllables and simply asked for “The Winston Churchill one”.

Other marketing mishaps include “Last Call Pitches” (the tagline for Pitch Perfect 3, which enjoyed a larger space on the poster than the actual title) and “Wallace and Gromit” in place of Aardman’s Early Man, a film which sold itself mainly on homegrown affection for the Bristol-based studios original duo.

Abbreviation is where the definite/indefinite articles or any other words deemed extraneous go to die. The former is easily forgivable (also working in reverse, adding “The” to titles that never had one e.g. The King of Thieves). The latter is the most entertaining of all categories, usually reserved for films with unreasonably long names, needless subtitles, chapter numbers and so on. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proved especially popular in this respect. Besides one patron who spoke in a hugely immersive southern drawl, not a single customer bothered to go the whole hog. “Ebbing” was the first to go, followed by “Outside Missouri” (once replaced with exasperation as “Three Billboards in whatever”). By the time its run in UK cinemas was coming to a close, this once prized Best Picture nominee had been reduced to “Billboards”. A personal favourite would be the supremely confident woman who requested a ticket for “Three Billiards”.

But by far the most notable entry here would be (deep breath) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Customers - understandably - had so much trouble getting through all eight words of this twee British confection that many resorted to “The Guernsey Film”, “The Potato one”, or, brilliantly, “The one with the stupid title”.

All this anecdotal evidence might lead one to consider wrong titles a source of irritation for those of us attempting to whittle down a sizeable Friday night queue. With sparse exceptions (such as a customer who repeatedly and angrily denied that he meant to say The Last Jedi when he asked for “The Last IMAX”), the very opposite is true.

Working in hospitality is repetitive, often exhausting and largely unrewarding, so those manning the concessions stand take our small pleasures where we can. Sometimes it’s worth spending seven hours behind a cash register, dashing about to refill endless popcorn bags, just for that one faintly amusing anecdote about the patron who changed the delicate, intriguing A Simple Favour into the more brusque “Do me a favour”.

So next time you arrive at the box office, desperately trying to recall the name of the film you’re about to pay £10.95 to see, don’t fret. No Googling the cast list, no scanning the foyer for a poster, no turning to your date/friend/mother for help; just give it a shot. Whether you leave out the episode number of the latest Star Wars film, mispronounce a foreign title or accidentally fuse the smash hit P.T. Barnum musical with a Michael Fassbender thriller, we’ll help you find your way.


This article was inspired by the writer’s current working experiences in a British cinema, as well as this Letterboxd list: https://letterboxd.com/shawn_stubbs/list/wrong-movie-titles/

Please share your experiences on Twitter, using the hashtag #WrongTitle

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

'Venom' - Review

10/03/2018 02:24:00 pm 0
'Venom' - Review

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Here is Sony Pictures' second attempt to build a Marvel universe to rival Disney's (stop laughing, they're deadly serious). Venom - seemingly dumped on our world from a rip in the space-time continuum splicing the year 2005 with the present day - sits comfortably alongside the likes of Elektra, Ghost Rider and Daredevil. Grimdark pretentions? Check. Positioning of protagonist as edgy antihero? Check. Ludicrous rubber costumes? I wish.

Star of the show here is the eponymous blob, a parasitical alien which attaches to a living host and imbues them with superhuman abilities. Venom finds a vehicle in smug, down-on-his-luck journalist, Eddie Brock (a spectacularly miscast Tom Hardy). "You look like shit!" exclaims the owner of Brock's local corner shop, as he swaggers cooly past with hair perfectly styled, sporting just the right kind of stubble and trendier clothes than anyone else within fifty miles.

He's on the trail of billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a cardboard cutout superviallain obsessed with human-symbiote experimentation. Brock's investigation (assisted by an upsettingly underused Jenny Slate) exposes him to one of the parasites. Hence, Venom - a giant, foul-mouthed monster with a penchant for biting people's heads off - is born.

But before the beast is unleashed, we must suffer an hour of 'Superhero Origin Stories for Dummies', replete with a plodding romance subplot (Hardy and a bored, bewigged Michelle Williams conjure no chemistry), unintelligible action sequences and broiling inner turmoil. At least, that's what one assumes Hardy is going for with his Jim Carrey-esque line in spittle and shrieking.

When the latter half finally sees Venom emerge, things fail to improve. An age rating promising gory ultra-violence is all bark and no bite, with most antagonists dispatched in a blur of swinging tentacles and nondescript crunching sounds. The genuinely enticing body-horror aspects of the comic book source are buried, and the Bronson star's clear commitment to depraved lunacy proves all for naught. 

It's difficult to see loyal fans of the Venom character - still searching for salvation after Spider-Man 3 - getting back on board (incidentally, the producer who insisted upon Venom's involvement in said misfire, Avi Arad, returns to supervise this outing). As a disposable piece of popcorn fodder, it's merely hopeless. As the basis of a major cinematic enterprise, it's poison.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

'Mile 22' - Review

9/26/2018 07:29:00 pm 0
'Mile 22' - Review

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Director Peter Berg’s trademark patriotism mutates into the jingoism we all feared lay beneath the surface in this relentlessly nasty film. Mark Wahlberg (in his and Berg’s fourth joint op) stars as Jimmy Silver, a US overwatch soldier tasked with escorting top-priority informant, Li Noor (The Raid star Iko Uwais), out of hostile territory. 

This is the sort of machismo-fuelled bulletfest that seems to fly in the face of everything the Berg/Wahlberg duo have rallied against in their previous efforts. Whether the raw and upsetting nihilism of Lone Survivor, the fallout of corporate neglect in Deepwater Horizon, or the devastation of ordinary lives in Patriot's Day the pair have always dealt with violence and heroism. The downfall of Mile 22 is its oblivious conflation of the two. 

First-time scribes Graham Roland and Lee Carpenter fumble every possible opportunity for emotional resonance, clearly hoping that bravado alone will save them having to write anything resembling a character. Wahlberg is an instantly irritating screen presence here; a rubber band-fiddling pottymouth whose bad behaviour is excused by various, non-specified mental disorders. The film posits him as a good man caught in horrific circumstances. Don’t be fooled: Silver is unsympathetic and risible from the word go. We’re supposed to be cheering him on, but the only applause you’d hear within a million miles of this film is if the audience was asked - likely at gunpoint - to clap every time there’s a cut. 

The editing (choppy or sloppy, it’s hard to tell) is about as graceful as a dozen blows to the head, and renders Uwais’ signature talent for balletic martial artistry totally mute. Everything from car chases to firefights to boardroom debriefings blend into one unintelligible mass of hurled insults, cruel splatter and American flags. It’s impossible to tell what’s going on, where it’s all happening, why you’re supposed to care and, crucially, when it’s all going to stop.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' - Review

7/26/2018 12:04:00 am 0
'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' - Review

★ ★ ★ ★ ½


One doesn’t often clamour to declare a franchise’s sixth instalment its finest hour - unless you happened to be me in the immediate aftermath of Revenge of the Sith - and yet, here we are. Mission: Impossible - Fallout leaves no nail unchewed in its quest to outdo every previous instalment (nay, every action movie released in the last decade) with minimal digital trickery and maximum physical impact.

The plot (largely surplus to the requirement of whichever death wish Tom Cruise fancied living out during that day’s filming) finds Ethan Hunt and company (Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Rebecca Ferguson) in pursuit of stolen nuclear material. Given Ethan’s propensity for going rogue, he’s lumped with the CIA’s favourite blunt instrument, August Walker (Henry Cavill).

With both the CIA and a shady organisation known as The Syndicate on their tail, how do they intend to do all this? “I’ll figure it out” is the general mantra adopted by Hunt, his put-upon comrades, and director Christopher McQuarrie. And figured it out, he has. Every set piece - whether it’s a motorcycle chase into oncoming traffic in Paris, a rooftop pursuit in London, or an actual HALO jump performed thirty thousand feet in the air - surges with unbelievable adrenaline, each more thrilling than the last. Even in a standard cinema, the IMAX footage (including said skydive) shines brightest of all, the lack of stuntmen in Cruise’s stead laid beautifully bare.

Cruise - who broke his ankle in a comparatively minor stunt, leaping between rooftops (just another day at the office!) - continues to display levels of physical aptitude suited to a man half his age, but his portrayal of Hunt still stands even when removed from the sheer spectacle. With a history such as his, our favourite IMF operative is an understandably twitchy presence who smiles little and frets often, fueled by the desire to prevent nightmares of his lost love, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), from becoming reality.

Cavill, by contrast, is statuesque and supplied with a resolute workman’s grin. Justice League died so his moustache could live, and it proved a necessary sacrifice. Ditching the clean-shaven boy scout look serves him well in a role that seems tailor-made for his physical prowess and roughshod charisma, not least during a furious bathroom showdown that calls to mind the most chest-shattering moments of Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2.

Whilst images crunch the bones, pulses are pounded by Lorne Balfe’s score, which hits the ground running from the opening logos and barely pauses for breath. It’s not packed with memorable cues (the Lalo Schifrin original theme is given some fancy reworks), but Balfe should be commended for his ability to deliver music to match the mayhem.

As is standard practice for the franchise, this entry suffers from a convoluted plot, and works best when it sheds the scheming and puts pedal to metal. McQuarrie and Cruise know that in a post-Mad Max: Fury Road landscape, simplicity is key. With an action sequence involving a fleet of trucks, cars, explosions and flamethrowing guitarists now embedded in the moviegoing consciousness, there’s no further you can go (besides maybe filming the entire thing in outer space). It’s time to go back to basics, and maybe the greatest victory of Fallout is achieving the highest possible stakes with the simplest image: a man clinging to a rope. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to survive the final thirty minutes without gripping onto your seat, stuffing your knuckles into your mouth or simply swearing out-loud in disbelief: impossible? I’ll say.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again' - Review

7/22/2018 11:50:00 am 0
'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again' - Review

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

This prequel, sequel and so much more than equal to 2008’s surprise smash hit plays to every strength of its ludicrous premise, star-studded cast and indestructible jukebox soundtrack. Amanda Seyfried returns as Sophie, no longer planning the wedding of her dreams but instead a celebration for her recently passed mother and former Dancing Queen, Donna (Meryl Streep). The narrative flits between Sophie’s attempts to do right by her mother, her longing for distant Man After Midnight, Sky (Dominic Cooper) and the past flings of the young Donna (Lily James).

One might argue that having a predisposition to ABBA might make you a tad biased towards Here We Go Again (as the proud inheritor of a signature edition CD of their greatest hits, I plead guilty), but I’d argue that anyone with a beating heart would feel the same. It doesn’t matter how reluctant you feel going in, how utterly illogical the timeframes, nor how much your ears bleed from Pierce Brosnan’s crooning; the instant Seyfried lets loose the first strains of ‘Thank You For The Music’, the battle is all but lost.

The first Mamma Mia is a fun film. The second is a great one. It’s funnier (a single line from Christine Baranski damn near slew me), better-looking, genuinely well-acted and has emotion simply bursting from every pore. James is a total dream in the lead role, and her supporting cast take up the challenge with fizzing aplomb. The three younger incarnations of Sam, Harry and Bill (Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård hand the stage to Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan) are all suitably dashing. Gold stars are awarded to supporting turns from Cher (in a late appearance as Sophie’s grandmother) and Omid Djalili (playing a perfectly po-faced passport officer).

The songs are still largely crowbarred in, but this time around it’s a knowing, satisfying kind of shoehorn delivered by a script that knows exactly what you came for. Besides a smattering or reprisals, the chosen playlist is rife with a selection of underplayed classics (‘Angeleyes’ was a particular hit with my tear ducts) and pushes the boundaries of credulity beyond breaking point: the circumstances surrounding a performance of ‘Fernando’ are so incredulous that you’ll positively (if not literally) shriek with joy. And joy is the dish of the day in this smorgasbord of cheese, cheers and Cher, making Here We Go Again the surest hit of this summer: boy, is it gonna make money, money, money.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

'Whitney' - Review

7/19/2018 01:58:00 pm 0
'Whitney' - Review


★ ★ ½ ☆ 


Like a stone upon the surface of a lake, this documentary detailing the life, labours and loves of pop star Whitney Houston skims close to many truths, but eventually sinks in search of a scoop. Academy award-winning writer-director Kevin MacDonald’s handling of his topic is efficient but oddly heartless: emotional moments (Houston’s famous performance of ‘I Will Always Love You’ in Johannesburg, camera-phone footage of her disastrous comeback tour in 2010), would pack a punch even without the context of the doc’s wider story. Her key chart-toppers are placed by MacDonald and his editor Sam Rice-Edwards into the wider context of America’s various conquests throughout the seventies and eighties and up to the turn of the century, fragmenting the film as it tells the various stages of her story.

Unfortunately, these bookmark montages are emblematic of a wider problem with the film: it’s all about how Whitney’s story unfolded before the world, but never how the world shaped her story or her music. Interviews with various members of her family dig a little deeper into her constant battle with drugs, her sexuality, her family’s background in black gospel singing and what her success meant to that community, but the singer’s own words - already hard to come by, as Houston made very few TV interviews - are notable only by their infrequence. Whitney’s glittering construction and swift pace leaves little room for reflection, with an unedited home video recording of Whitney and her mother, post-performance, serving as the only real pause for thought.

As with Nick Broomfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me?, perhaps the fault lies with a white British director taking on a subject so inherently tied to the voice of black America in the last decades of the twentieth century. In the case of Kevin MacDonald, we even have a storyteller who, by his own admission, was not fond of Whitney Houston before starting his research and found the whole sorry affair of her death “distasteful”. The whiff of a smoking gun is detected in the air towards the conclusion, but with the Houston family and her closest friends decidedly split about who or what was to blame for her tragic end, it’s a feeble finale.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

'Adrift' - Review

7/05/2018 09:46:00 pm 1
'Adrift' - Review

★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Two great performances keep Baltasar Kormákur’s latest disaster drama resolutely afloat: Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin star as real-life couple Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, whose voyage from Tahiti to San Diego in 1983 took them directly into the path of Hurricane Raymond. The film plays out in a split time-frame, beginning with Tami waking aboard the wrecked vessel, before flashing back to detail their romance, and leading towards a dual finale.

This narrative structure - in sharp opposition to the linear unravelling of Kormákur’s previous film, Everest - contrasts the sun-kissed days of Tami and Richard’s growing connection against the survival thriller of Raymond’s aftermath. Turning up the cheese to reinforce the grit, it results in an incredibly effective sense of gnawing inevitability, always keeping us one match cut away from tragedy.

Woodley has grown a lot as a performer since the Divergent series that made her the household name of teenage audiences (even in rocky fare like Oliver Stone’s Snowden, she acquits herself well), and here she’s as steadfast as we’ve ever seen her. Her performance walks an impressive line between Sandra Bullock in Gravity and - strangely - Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games series: there’s that same grounded aura of rags-to-resolve as Tami deals with the devastation.

Claflin, too, is excellent. His endless charisma is a valuable asset during the scenes of seaborne young love (i.e. he looks good sailing into port with his shirt hanging open), and his ability to switch from wry humour to wan acceptance sees us through the darker moments. Richard was originally to be played by Miles Teller, and (no offence to Teller) I think the film owes a debt of thanks to those “scheduling conflicts”.

What small amount of artistic liberty the film takes is all to do with pathos, as opposed to narrative neatness. As the remainder pays attention rather than lip service to reality (its approach to the logistics of finding oneself shipwrecked would make for a fine double bill with All Is Lost), small fictional reveries can be forgiven. Adrift may not be a note-perfect depiction of a true event, but as a showcase for two stars at the top of their game; it hits all the right ones.