Chris At The Pictures

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

TRANCE: revisiting Danny Boyle's stylish hypno-thriller

6/25/2019 05:03:00 pm 0
TRANCE: revisiting Danny Boyle's stylish hypno-thriller

This week sees the release of Yesterday, the new film and first collaboration from director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis. The film (a light-hearted comedy about a man who wakes up one day in a world without The Beatles) is Boyle’s first since T2 Trainspotting. Even without the next James Bond picture (now directed by Cary Fukunaga and shooting amidst endless production problems) to his name, the Manchester-born filmmaker is a legendary voice in British film. 

A back catalogue featuring the landmark Trainspotting, the groundbreaking 28 Days Later and even the offbeat Millions (a now oddly wistful piece which sees the UK adopt the Euro as currency) has been revisited by any number of retrospectives, but the one feature to avoid any kind of serious consideration is his 2013 hypnosis thriller, Trance.

Even Sunshine, the film ironically killed by the weather in its opening weekend, has seen much re-appraisal by a hardcore of dedicated sci-fi fans (though debates over its final act still rage). Coming hot on the heels of his astonishing work for the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony (that established him forever as a national treasure), Trance found Boyle returning to his enfant terrible origins with a visually-arresting romp replete with sex and violence.

James McAvoy stars as Simon Newton, an art auctioneer in cahoots with Vincent Cassel’s no-nonsense thief, Frank. During a heist to steal a painting (Fancisco Goya’s Witches in the Air), Simon attempts to take the prize from Frank to avoid suspicion by his employers, but is struck across the head, incurring a heavy dose of amnesia. When intense questioning and torture fail to produce the Goya’s location, the gang seek the aid of hynotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson). 


Initially meant to be an outsider to the job, Elizabeth slowly comes to take on a femme-fatale role, challenging Frank’s leadership of the gang and leveraging control over Simon. Revelations about Simon’s past begin to come to light, and the search for the Goya becomes somewhat secondary to a stylish, seductive puzzle. 

Trance opened to decidedly mixed reviews: while many outlets praised Boyle’s direction and the performances of McAvoy and Dawson, they also found fault with the screenplay and lack of psychological subtext. Just about breaking even with a paltry $24 million worldwide on a $20 million production budget, the film came and went in a flash. Unlike many of Boyle’s previous films, it had no cultural significance (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting), massive Hollywood names (The Beach, 127 Hours) or easily sellable sci-fi spectacle (28 Days Later, Sunshine). Its heady mix of mystery-thriller premise and full-blooded exploitation sensibilities clearly missed the mark with audiences.

For my money, Trance still holds up as one of the most entertaining movies of the decade: three years before making waves with his multifaceted turn(s) in Split, James McAvoy relishes a role that requires layer-upon-layer of repressed memories and duplicitous facade. It’s difficult to illustrate without spoiling the surprises, likewise for Rosario Dawson - Elizabeth is another character who takes unexpected turns as the narrative unfurls, but Dawson plays her with stony conviction from the word ‘go’. Vincent Cassel is having a lot of fun as the sneering crook - who else could give such a great line in shouting and spittle?

They’re all captured beautifully by Boyle’s longtime DOP, Anthony Dod Mantle. Roger Deakins’ may carry the crown when it comes to digital cinematography, but Mantle (who won an Oscar for his work on Slumdog Millionaire) is sure giving him a run for his money. His masterful use of lens flare, reflection and the neon hues of Soho makes this one of the most striking movies ever made - he’s the only cinematographer who can make a traffic interchange look attractive.


Fellow collaborator, composer Rick Smith (frontman of Underworld), joins the fray with an eclectic soundtrack featuring music from Moby, UNKLE and Emeli Sandé, and his own scorching electronic symphony. Bombastic and fizzy is the default mode, but as the story morphs into something more tragic, so does the score: the track ‘Solomon’ is as haunting as anything Vangelis ever composed.

There’s no getting away from the fact that - as many of the reviews noted - the film is little more than empty spectacle: its diversions into the realms of pseudo-psychology and hypnosis remains entirely a method of narrative progression and visual playfulness over any serious depth or analysis on the human condition. The later movements into naked bodies and bloody shootouts do little to avoid these accusations, but there’s barely a director alive who could make that transition feel so natural.


His great command of the brief action sequences and total lack of inhibitions when it comes to sex makes his departure from Bond all the more gutting - there’s no promise that his take on the Ian Fleming icon would be any more feminist (though current script rewrites from Phoebe Waller-Bridge might’ve proved helpful there), but it would at least deliver the adrenaline shot the franchise sorely needs.

Trance is the sort of film that may be under threat in the current market, and its chances of standing up against the latest crop of megablockbusters would be about slim and none. This strange, hypnotic underdog still takes my heart over any number of those - if anything, its financial disappointment makes it easier to root for, to say nothing of its pure technical exhilaration. It’s not big, it’s not clever...but it is a heck of a ride.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

BUMBLEBEE - Review

12/16/2018 09:17:00 pm 0
BUMBLEBEE - Review
Hailee Steinfeld in BUMBLEBEE (Paramount Pictures (c), photo by Enrique Chediak)
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Well, here’s a Christmas miracle: after a decade of increasingly puerile cruelty, the Bay/Spielberg Transformers franchise finds a heart. Hailee Steinfeld leads this 80s-set prequel as Charlie, a budding mechanic who discovers the titular robot in a junkyard. Disguised as a rusty Volkswagen Beetle, ‘Bee’ is on the run from a war on his home planet, Cyberton, and tasked by resistance leader, Optimus Prime, with finding the freedom-fighting Autobots a new home. 

Though placed chronologically before Michael Bay’s own efforts, this serves as a soft reboot/retelling of the 2007 original, with Steinfeld taking up the Shia LaBoeuf role (albeit with a total absence of masturbation jokes). Charlie is a far more sympathetic character, however, and allowed more motivation than Sam Witwicky’s simple quest to get laid. A once promising diver, she’s retired to the garage, obsessed with a broken corvette that she and her recently-deceased father used to cherish. 

Steinfeld brings lovable wide-eyed wonder to Charlie, providing not only this franchise’s first fully-rounded character, but one which young audiences can admire and sympathise with (her mother fusses needlessly, her stepfather is embarrassing, her brother steals their affections, and so on). When she sees Bee metamorphose from motor to mech for the first time, her closely-guarded sadness begins to transform (sorry) into something much closer to hope. One immediately feels echoes of E.T. and The Iron Giant which continue to emerge as the two form a delightful double act.

Christina Hodson sneaks more than one fish-out-of-water cliché into the screenplay, but that crucial presence of genuine pathos sets this prequel light years beyond what we’ve come to expect. The scenes of Bee attempting to navigate the family living room or learning to hide in plain sight are gems of physical comedy, and all based in the burgeoning emotional bond between teen and titan. Even John Cena (carving a great slice of ham in the undemanding role of ‘generic special forces man’) is gifted a neat moment of empathy. 

Perhaps more surprising still are the scenes of robo-rough-and-tumble. Director Travis Knight - whose last film was the wonderful animation Kubo and the Two Strings - knows how to make proper use of space in an action sequence, electing to pull the camera back and slow down the editing pace. A hectic opening skirmish on the robot homeworld - a landscape not short on spikes, girders, and other untidy metalwork - is still more tangible than anything glimpsed in the series thus far (a relief to those fearing the scrap metal orgies of episodes past). Our combatants have also been reduced in number by a factor of ten, and redesigned to more closely resemble the iconic action figures.

Painted in bright, primary colours, their retreat to the crash-bang-wallop of child’s play is symbolic of what this franchise should have been from the start. The heroes are heroic, the villains are villainous, the music is a joyful 80s mixtape, and at no point does Optimus Prime turn into a murderous zealot. Rejoice!

Thursday, 13 December 2018

AQUAMAN - Review

12/13/2018 04:35:00 pm 0
AQUAMAN - Review
Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry in AQUAMAN (Warner Bros. (c), still photo by Mark Rogers)

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Jason Momoa’s effortless charisma and a rich score from Rupert Gregson-Williams are all that prevent the DC universe’s latest voyage from totally capsizing. In all fairness, neither Aquaman or its leading man can be blamed for the reverse-engineered structure of Warner’s answer to the MCU - our protagonist has already appeared in two previous instalments before this; his actual origins story. Nor can they be blamed for the simple fact that digital technology - as powerful as it is - simply isn’t able to convincingly deliver the vast underwater world demanded by the premise. In a comic book? Yup. In animated form? Fine. In a 143-minute ‘live action’ film? Give it five years and a breakthrough in swimming simulations, then we’ll talk.

In the meantime, however, this overstuffed adventure will have to tide fans over. Despite saving the surface world in Justice League, Arthur Curry (Momoa) refuses to accept his Atlantean heritage. His mother, Atlanna (a quite literally washed-up Nicole Kidman), fell for human lighthouse keeper, Tom (Temuera Morrison, rather shoddily de-aged). But beneath the ocean waves, Arthur’s half brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), rules with an iron fist, planning to wreak havoc on the human world for their crimes against the environment. With the help of sea sorceress, Mera (Amber Heard, in a wig that the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race might generously deem “a bit much”), Arthur sets out to reclaim the all-powerful trident of Atlan and reclaim his soggy throne.

Director James Wan upturns the tech toybox to play out his kid-in-the-bathtub fantasy, but an enormous visual effects budget is all for naught when spread so unevenly. Giant seahorses, crab monsters and sharks with “frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads” are impressively rendered, but the compositing of human characters leaves much to be desired. There’s a difference between pushing the boundaries and simply pretending they don’t exist: watching the climactic showdown (two armies of pixelated humans astride copy-pasted monsters smashing into one another), I finally understood how audiences of 2002 felt, experiencing George Lucas’ unchecked digital ambition unfold. With the exception of one impressively physical fistfight in the bowels of a submarine, derring-do here is an entirely weightless, witless affair.

But that’s where similarities to the Star Wars prequels end. In 2018, such displays of extravagance are the norm, no longer the stuff of a single visionary auteur fusing Greek tragedy with the cutting edge of filmmaking. Plus, while clunky expositional dialogue wasn’t exactly thin-on-the-ground in Lucas’ trilogy, Aquaman positively drowns in its own storytelling. Besides Arthur’s main quest for the trident, we also have Orm’s uprising, numerous flashbacks to our muscleman’s childhood, and a second, altogether more entertaining villain in the shape of Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a pirate with a score to settle (and the laser-spitting helmet to prove it).
So, let’s take stock: a hairy hero’s quest to show his worth by reclaiming an ancient weapon, a lush fantastical world, a super-powered royal family, a sibling rivalry that threatens to lay waste to the outside world, and a secondary antagonist with a penchant for face-based plasma: yep, it’s Kenneth Branagh’s Thor...with drumming octopuses!

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 with 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 5
'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.