Toy Story 4 (2019)

I don’t care about this movie. I don’t care that it’s missing one of the main voice actors to him sadly passing on. I don’t care that it seems like a cash-grab. And I don’t care that it kind of overrides the perfect ending of Toy Story 3. I don’t care about any of this, because I fucking loved this movie. I loved this movie from the opening scene, a flashback to between Toy Story 2 and 3 that makes a nice change of pace for these films, normally they end with you crying, this film starts with it. From the moment this film opens it grabs you by the heart and never lets go, culminating in what I believe is one of the great closers of all time when it comes to movie series. The others felt like potentially they could have ended the series, this feels like it has to, there’s no way to continue it in a satisfactory way.

I did think that of the third film at the time, but looking back that was possibly a bit naive to assume that just because Andy (and the audience) held Woody in high esteem, that Bonnie would too. I’ve seen some weird reviews of this film calling Bonnie a bitch because she doesn’t play with Woody, which is strange because, you know, she’s a child, and children sometimes get bored of certain toys. I think that’s why it’s weird when people call Sid from the first movie a psychopath because he mutilated toys, forgetting that just because we know they’re alive, doesn’t mean he does. If Pixar made a movie called Lettuce, about sentient salad, would that mean the people in the film who ate it are evil? No, they’re just hungry.

They’re not the only weird reviews, I’ve also seen some really weird reviews saying things like “I didn’t like it”. Which is unfathomable to me. If you liked the first 3 (i.e. are you a human?), then you’ll like this one too. It’s not wildly different, but it’s also not the same. It’s the kind of film only Pixar would make. It plays with expectations brilliantly, setting up expected villains only to pull the rug away from their villainess. Before that, they do seem genuinely creepy and it made me think I really want a Pixar horror film.

Onto the best thing about this film: it looks SUPERB. You kind of forget it’s animated after a while, there are so many things going in the background, nothing exciting, but it really helps build the fact that this is reality. The performances are good, but most of the actors have been playing these characters for decades, so that’s to be expected. The new ones hold their weight too. Keanu Reeves slots into this universe brilliantly, as do Key And Peele. Christina Hendricks is one of the best additions though, not as comedic as the other two but responsible for a lot of the emotional depth this film has. The true new MVP though? Tony Hale, in the wrong hands this character would be annoying as hell. If you gave this role to a comedy actor known best for madcap fast-speaking (Kevin Hart, Jim Carrey etc) then it would have been too much, it wouldn’t have seemed real. Hale plays him with just the right vulnerability, but also the comedic chops to make repeated suicide attempts in a kids movie socially acceptable

So in summary, go see this film, in fact I’m disappointed you haven’t already. Yeah it’s almost 2 hours long, but it really doesn’t feel like it, it flies by.

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Ma (2019)

I enjoyed this, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t see any trailers. This film is a real slow-burner. It’s all building up to the final moments, but too many of those were in the trailer, which kind of ruins it as it means you’re spending a lot of time building up to something you know is going to happen.

That’s one of the films biggest downfalls, that whilst it is good, it’s not exciting. You’re not focused on what IS happening, because you’re too busy thinking about what you know WILL happen. That’s a shame because what is happening is a really good piece of film-making backed up by some great performances. Some of the character work could be stronger. Ma’s descent into madness is kind of frustratingly handled. You know like when a sitcom has planned a romance, but the series has like 24 episodes so the romance aspect is incredibly drawn out and stop-start, so it seems like things keep putting them back at square one you keep having those “oh, we like each other” moments? Yeah, it’s like that. It’s incredibly stop-start to the point where there are too many breaking moments. On the bright side, this means that when THAT moment happens (she runs someone over and leaves them for dead) it is IMMENSELY satisfying. The whole closing stretch is superb, but it is a somewhat (dare I say) boring journey to get there.

It doesn’t help that a lot of the characters are dicks, there’s not many you sympathise with. This would be okay if some of the kills happened earlier as then you’d have some catharsis from their pain, but because it takes so long for the violence to happen you just end up watching terrible people being awful for most of the film.

I’ll say now though, NONE of this is due to the performances. Octavia Spencer continues to show that she can do almost anything. I’m pretty sure Diana Silvers is the love child of both Liv Tyler and Anne Hathaway. McKaley Miller as well is perfect for the role and I want to see more of her work. Luke Evans is suitably disgusting and creepy, in a way I didn’t think he’d be able to do.

I’ve mentioned loving the ending, there’s one exception to that, the final shot. Spoiler warning by the way. The film ends with Ma realising her situation is helpless (her house is burning down with her inside it), accepting her fate she goes back to her bedroom and lays with the corpse of Luke Evans character, it’s kind of sweet and a great ending for a tragic character who only wanted to be accepted. It’s a beautiful closing shot full of pathos, just the two of them together in death, ruined by an aerial shot of the house burning down. I feel that shot kind of took away from the moment and made it feel smaller.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

I’m always wary when people describe films as “one of the worst of the year”, particularly when it comes to films with female leads (the new Ghostbusters, for example, was at worst, inoffensive and bland, yet received the vitriol usually reserved for a fart at a funeral). Let me reassure you, this film is as bad as you have heard. I haven’t seen anything this bad since the new Hellboy. In fact, I think this might be worse, it seems to fail in every single aspect of what makes a film good.

1. It Doesn’t Fit The X-Men Timeline

Like, at all. People criticise the MCU for being inconsistent with timelines, but this just takes the piss. Let’s get the obvious out of the way; so there are essentially two X-men timelines in terms of cast, right? There’s the old one (which is technically the new one as the films are all set in the present day), with Patrick Stewart etc. Then there are the new ones (which are the old ones as they’re prequels) starring McAvoy etc. The first Stewart film was set in 2000, whereas the McAvoy ones start in 1962, this one is set in 1992, so 8 years away from Stewart, but 30 away from McAvoy, so obviously they use the McAvoy casting group. That’s f*cking weird.

2. Pulls A Snyder

As I’ve probably before when mentioning Batman Vs. Superman etc, Zack Snyder has a very specific problem with his directing style: he creates good looking shots, but to get to them people do very stupid things. This film has a tendency to do the same thing, well, it attempts to, it forgets to do the “make the actual shot look good” part, so you end up with shots which they build up illogically. One in particular that stands out is when they’re rescuing people in space, and one of the X-Men exits the spaceship to save someone and ends up just floating in space, holding one of the other characters (presumed) lifeless body, and instead of going straight back to the ship (you know, where they can breathe), he just stays staring there for like 10 seconds.

3. The dialogue.

The dialogue here is, well it’s not good. It has some of the worst dialogue Jennifer Lawrence has ever had to utter (which considering she was in Serena, really takes something). There’s one line in particular is cringeworthy:

“We’ve saved you so many times, maybe you ought to rename us X-Women”

This comes immediately after a scene where two male characters are integral to saving lives, so it makes NO sense and is just there to get a “woo” moment from the audience. It also wastes the one F-Bomb they have, wasting it on a character who delivers it with all the menace of strawberry yoghurt. Completely wasted, he delivers it flatly, and none of the characters even respond to it.

4. Wasting characters.

It’s not just the f-word they waste. They have Quicksilver, who is one of the best characters in the franchise (and handled A LOT better in this series than it was in the MCU), and they decide to sideline him for most of the film. This is really weird as just after that they kill off Mystique (Apparently, because Jennifer Lawrence didn’t want to play the character anymore). Now, this is tipped to be the last movie in the franchise, so wouldn’t it have made more sense to kill Quicksilver, and sideline Mystique?

5. Wastes Ideas

One of the most frustrating parts of this film is it occasionally flirts with interesting concepts. The biggest one is that Xavier has become ego-driven and affected by fame. Which is another idea; at the start of this film the X-Men are heroes, with a direct line to the US government. How will these characters react to finally being loved and adored? No idea, this film throws that aside.

6. The Story

There’s no compelling villain in this film. The main villain isn’t actually Jean Grey, as the marketing suggests. She is for some of the film, and then she suddenly has a face turn and the villain becomes someone who she gave some of her power too. So essentially she’s a less powerful version of one of the main characters. So there’s no sense of drama, at all. She belongs to an alien race who are never really explained. We’re given their name and a VERY short backstory. How short? Put it this way, the detail they’re given is less than the detail we STILL get every time they reboot Batman. It’s also never explained why they already have important government positions before the invasion. The final third was rewritten, and you can tell. Not just because of a car suddenly changing into a train.

7. Everyone is an idiot.

Well, I say everyone, the government gave Magneto his own land. That’s Magneto, who has tried to overthrow the US government multiple times, and basically attempted genocide. Why would the government give him land? It makes no sense.

8. It’s too late.

This is a poor end to the franchise. Which is a shame as this franchise already had the perfect closer: Logan. That is genuinely one of the greatest superhero films ever, and the perfect goodbye. That film gave the franchise a lot of good will, which has now been thrown away in this, this, this, REALLY bad film. It’s REALLY bad. And the fact it came after Logan (and is the first superhero film to come out since Endgame), just makes it seem even worse.

Late Night (2019)

I had medium hopes of this, on the plus side; Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling. On the downside; almost no trailers at the cinema, almost no advertising at all to be honest, almost like the studios had no faith in it. So I thought it might be good, but I had worries I would be disappointed. Thankfully that’s not the case here, this is probably one of my favourite films of the year so far. It was incredibly funny and VERY heartwarming. That was actually the most annoying part, word of advice; don’t eat salty popcorn in a film where you’ll need to wipe your eyes, if anything it will just make it worse.

So why does this film work? Well, the main reason is the cast: Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling are both at the top of their game here. Kaling doubly so as it’s her script. She’s probably best known from her performances in The Office and The Mindy Project, but anybody who knows about the crew of those projects also knows that she wasn’t just a performer, she wrote a lot of them too, so she’s not exactly inexperienced when it comes to writing. This is her first attempt at a feature and it does kind of show. There are moments where it seems like she’s not used to having that much time, so a lot of plot points occur really quickly when in reality they could have been held off slightly more. This is definitely true when it comes to the relationships between some of the characters, characters become close slightly quicker than they need to, then because there’s still a lot of the film left, they’re pushed back, then they’re close again, and so on.

Mostly though…..this film works. It really works. When it bites it does so with the ferocity of a rabid goose (can geese even get rabies?). And the points it makes are still important and relevant ones to make. They’re not just walking around going “sexism is bad!”, they’re pointing out how institutions which have historically been full of white men do not respond well to people who don’t fit that mould and as such deem people who don’t as outsiders, which makes it harder for them to get work. It also has a lot to say about female sexuality, and how the media treats them as they age.

This is as good a time as any to mention my (very) minor quibble with this film; it doesn’t really feel like it takes place in this universe. There are moments where they could refer to real shows, but in the end, they go with fictional ones, it just kind of breaks the immersion ever so slightly. Like I said, that is a VERY minor quibble though. I loved this movie and would highly recommend it to almost everyone (except Keith). I won’t recommend it passionately, I won’t scream my love for this film from the rooftops like I do other films (Persepolis, Bogowie etc), but if someone says “I feel like going to the cinema, not sure what to see though, I might go see the new X-Men film”, I will recommend this film to them, because it’s great, and Dark Phoenix is f*cking terrible (spoilers for Thursday’s blog).

Booksmart (2019)

I was kind of looking forward to this, I loved Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird and was hoping to see more of what she can do. She’s starred alongside Bette Midler on Broadway so she’s obviously very talented, but I didn’t really feel her in this. Her performance seemed a bit too over the top, a bit too Will Ferrell. That kind of overblown over-dramatic comedy performance is loved by some people, but it never really works for me, just a personal opinion. Kaitlyn Deaver, on the other hand, is great in this. I’m not that familiar with her work which is weird as she’s been in things I’ve seen before: but those things have been Detroit and Men, Women And Children, two films which are definitely ensemble pieces (in the case of MW&C, to its detriment), so this is the first time I’ve really seen her take centre stage, and she nails it. Giving enough vulnerability and frustration to her performance that you can’t help but root for her in her struggles, and she’s involved in the main heart-breaking moments of the movie.

A lot of the media focus has been on this film being Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut. So how does she do? Well firstly, I feel the need to point out that writers are severely underpraised in terms of media, and that’s something that needs to change immediately. We need to see “from the writer of…..” more, but that’s an argument for another day. Does Wilde work as a director? Kind of. There are some complicated scenes which she handles beautifully, and there’s one scene near the end where the main characters are arguing and you see camera-phones gradually light up behind them, incredibly subtle and brilliant. Sadly this then leads to the dialogue being drowned out by music, which is a weird choice, as if you do that, and it’s not a montage, it kind of feels like the director wasn’t confident enough in the dialogue being said and wasn’t sure it would do what was needed. The argument is the best scene in terms of how it develops these characters, and I personally feel we kind of need to hear what’s being said to have the full impact. There are other scenes which cut weirdly and don’t really flow together well. But mostly she does it well, I mean, there is one scene where she focuses way too long on something and makes it obvious what’s going to happen, but I can see why that was done. There are a lot of scenes here which look superb, the party scenes, in particular, have a lot of background detail which you could easily miss if you’re not paying attention. I feel she’s about 1 film away from truly being great, but it’s definitely one of the strongest first-time comedies I’ve seen in a while.

This does manage to be the only film which has characters which are both underused and overused. Okay, let me rephrase that, they’re misused. There are some characters introduced at the beginning who only come back later on because they were introduced earlier on, I would have liked to have seen more of them if the writing had a more natural reason to bring them back. As it is it feels like when you watch a holiday episode of a TV show and it features the exact same characters and it just feels a bit weird as why would they all go at the same time when half the characters hate each other? So should you see this? I’m not sure, I wouldn’t pay full price at the cinema to see it, but if it’s on netflix or you get a chance to watch it in a group of people whilst drinking, do it, and you’ll enjoy it.

Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (2019)

The best way to describe this film: effective. It did what it needed to. You go to it to see giant monsters hit each other, and that’s what you get. And those parts are good. The monsters themselves look fantastic, mostly. There’s a few where they look a bit too much like they belong in a PS2 video game. Also one of them looks like it’s kinda sexualised, which for a giant monster is kind of weird. Now, the humans. A complaint of the first Godzilla film was that the people weren’t that interesting (outside of Bryan Cranston who died early on), and this film definitely improves on that. Millie Bobby Brown’s character, in particular, is a delight and will make you feel all the emotions, the rest? Not so much. That’s probably because there’s so many of them so you don’t really get to connect with many of them. And the ones you do connect with are, well there’s no kind way of saying this, kind of dumb. Not only do the characters doing shitty things do them for stupid reasons, but the people opposed to them miss out on giving them a really obvious armour-piercing response (partly because if they did I don’t think the writers could have given them a good response). But yeah, a lot of the characters aren’t needed. Sally Hawkin’s character, in particular, seems like a complete waste of her talents. Did they not see Shape Of Water? She’s really really good, guys, and you have her in for about 2 minutes. And it’s not even done in a way like Psycho where it’s shocking to kill of an established actor to set off an “anything can happen” tone because her death is incredibly underwhelming to the point where I can’t actually remember it happening.

It’s not all bad though, the action scenes are actually well-defined so you can tell what’s happening, it doesn’t just look like an incomprehensible mess. That’s always the hard part, Transformers is a great example of really incomprehensible action scenes. To be honest, though I think part of that is because it’s live action and I feel the new version of The Lion King could have similar problems. In animation, each character (well the main ones anyway) are visually unique in terms of colour schemes and stylised looks. Yet when it becomes live-action you kind of lose that in the name of “realism”. There was a concern that could happen here, that it would all just look like blobs and fur randomly hitting each other. Thankfully that’s not the case, the monsters are all visually unique, and amazingly they all have personalities too. They’re not mindless things with an appetite for destruction, slashing through cities in a November rain.

This film is A LOT bigger than the previous one, everything is amped up. Which brings me up to the big downside; what happens next. The next film is Godzilla Vs. Kong. But in this film, Godzilla is a fire-breathing giant. There’s no contest, Godzilla is too overpowered by comparison. I can’t see how they’re going to make it seem like a fair fight, it’s like having Mike Tyson vs. Stephen Hawking in a boxing match, after Hawking died.

Rocketman (2019)

“this year’s Bohemian Rhapsody”. No, let me nip that in the bud right now; this is not Bohemian Rhapsody. In terms of tone, structure, and style, this is completely different from Bohemian Rhapsody. They’re similar in the fact that they’re both biographies of musicians, but by that logic, Fawlty Towers is the same as Psycho. In terms of how it treats the subject, this is more like Get On Up than Bohemian Rhapsody. Whilst Bohemian Rhapsody builds the subject up, telling the audience about their greatness, this film almost delights in exposing their flaws. It’s brutally honest about the problems he has gone through and is so harsh towards them that if it wasn’t made with Elton Johns approval it would feel like a character assassination.

I felt that Bohemian Rhapsody’s biggest flaw is that it felt too restrained by the confines of the rating, it’s hard to tell that story under a 12 rating. Rocketman is a 15, and to be honest, it needs to be; if they toned down the drugs and sex this would be less of a story. The good thing though is that it never feels gratuitous, you don’t feel like they’re swearing for the sake of swearing, or showing sex solely for the purposes of titillation (although it did make me realise how rarely we see male gay sex in film).

I like how they told this story, it was almost a jukebox musical, the characters would randomly burst into Elton John songs in a way that could have been annoying. For me it really worked for two reasons:

  1. The story is being told via flashback, it’s Elton telling the story to people, so of course, he would express his history through songs he knows.
  2. It’s an Elton John movie. It has to be fantastical, it has to be out there, it has to be more extravagant than a movie.

That last point is very important. Bohemian Rhapsody was a good film, but it wasn’t a Queen film, there was nothing about the way they told that story that was Queen-like, it was a good film, but it was also quite standard in terms of the way the story was told (although the editing was ATROCIOUS for some of it, cutting way too quickly in conversations). The way they tell this story is very Elton John, it breaks the bounds of normality and does something unique and fantastic. And yes, it is fantastic in the way it looks. The set-pieces are unique and brilliant, it turns out Dexter Fletcher is REALLY good. The only film I’ve seen of his before was Eddie The Eagle and that was a different beast entirely. He did a part of the Queen movie (what was that called again?) but I can’t really tell which moments. He really should get plaudits for this, this had a budget of £40million yet looks larger. I genuinely believe if you gave him a Bond film he would knock it out the park (I mean, I still wouldn’t watch it, because ewww Bond). It’s not just Fletcher who deserves praise (but, and I cannot say this enough, he REALLY does), Taron Egerton does too. He gives a career-best performance here, him and Fletcher really seem to bring out the best in each other. It’s weird, he doesn’t look like Elton John at all at any time in this film, yet he plays him perfectly. It’s a bit like Michael Sheen in The Damned United (which you should all watch by the way), he doesn’t look like Brian Clough at all, but he behaves like him and captures the person’s essence so well that you cannot hope for someone to play them better. Actually, the best example would probably be Harry Enfield when he was on Spitting Image. He sounded nothing like the people he was doing impressions of, but he captured their personalities so well that it worked. It’s the same here, Egerton really captures Elton Johns personality in his performance (and his vocals are really impressive too).

So in summary: go see this film. Godzilla may be out now too, but this is true spectacle cinema.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

A good reviewer stays unbiased throughout, I am not a good reviewer so I’m going to say from the outset that this film earned a place in the “good films of 2019” end of year blog based solely on how great the first two films were, the fact that the trailer for this featured John Wick riding a horse, and for having Anjelica Huston in it. This film would have had to fuck up badly for me to dislike it. I’m so glad it didn’t. This carries on the tradition of John Wick films being the new standard-bearer for action films. No longer are they just “dumb fun”, and really, anybody who calls the John Wick franchise dumb really has no idea what they’re talking about. This is a great story about redemption and consequences, a story which runs through at least 4 films. Actually now I’ll mention one of my 3 issues with this film: it doesn’t work as a standalone film I don’t think. It sets up the next one too much so when it’s over you don’t really feel narratively satisfied. It’s the cinematic equivalent of really good tomato soup, yes it’s good as a starter, but it’s just not enough. Second problem: the action scenes. Now don’t get me wrong, they are FANTASTIC in terms of the scenes themselves, the choreography and lighting lead to them being some the best fight scenes you’ll ever see, it’s just…..well I don’t think all of them are necessary. There’s some which go on a bit too long and just seem to be an excuse to HAVE a fight scene, the fight scenes lead the movie rather than the other way around. The third issue: the main villain isn’t that interesting, kind of. The main physical threat anyway, doesn’t really have enough to do. Asia Kate Dillons character is kind of the big bad villain, orchestrating everything, and they’re fantastic, I just feel it’s a bit too late in the franchise to introduce a character like that. Side note: the John Wick franchise has now featured one non-binary actor, and a genderfluid one, and done so without even mentioning it or making it the character-defining trait, they’ve just put them in there and let them be amazing (Ruby Rose is still one of the highlights of John Wick 2, and Dillon is a definite performance highlight of this one).

This film also continues the BRILLIANT world building of the first two. It’s part of why I love these films, there’s so much that goes unsaid about the universe but is just implied and shown, it really sets it up as a universe which actually exists, and also means you have to be paying attention to everything. You actively engage with the films because you have to, you can’t just sit back and dip and out.

So in summary, yeah this film is great. But it could also be the film in the series where the cracks start showing, it all depends on where they go next, I can’t wait.

Long Shot (2019)

I think I’m at the point where “new film by Jonathan Levine” will sell me on a movie. 50/50, Warm Bodies, The Night Before, and now this. I mean, it won’t be enough to make me pay full price for a DVD of a film I haven’t seen by him, I mean, he did still make Snatched which was pretty woeful and a waste of Goldie Hawn. This film is entertaining as hell and well worth a watch. Everything works well and flows together in this film, it’s a great example of everybody working well to create something great. The director brings the best out of everybody, Theron and Rogen have great chemistry, the ensemble cast work well together, the soundtrack is fun, and the script is superb.

Actually, I’ll give more about the script here because it really deserves plaudits, yeah the dialogue is a little too “Seth Rogen” at times, but mostly it’s a pleasure to sit through. The comedic set-pieces are hilarious, some of the dialogue is razor sharp, and when it uses the film to state something about the world, it does it in a way that is unsubtle enough for you to notice, but subtle enough that it doesn’t smash you over the head with it. It says a lot about modern news, modern politics, and modern gender. “The woman who stays with the man who has cum in his beard gets more flack than the man with cum in his beard” (I’m paraphrasing I think) is a gross way to make a very pertinent point. That’s what this film is GREAT at, focusing on what modern women have to put up with on a daily basis from a supposedly post-feminist world. A world in which “but women are equal” is said five minutes before “We can’t have a female president, what about when she’s on her period?”. And that is this world btw, make no mistake about it, it definitely is. Female politicians get described in one of two ways: icy and unemotional, or hysterical and emotional. If they show any form of passion they get slated, if they show none they get slated too. Think of how many of the criticism of Hilary Clinton were based ENTIRELY on her gender. Things like that annoy me, because I think Theresa May is an awful person, but it’s not based on gender, it’s based on the fact she seems to hate evidence-based policies and instead focuses on things to gain headlines. This is probably the most satirical film Rogen has been involved in since The Interview, but whereas that was focusing on large-scale politics, this focuses more on day-to-day stuff which effects everybody in modern countries; from the aforementioned gender issues, through to news all coming from one giant conglomerate, it takes a lot of shots, and hits like 81% of them. There are a few which probably won’t date well. Actually, considering a large part of this film is about Theron becoming the first female president, I really hope this film becomes outdated quickly.

This film isn’t perfect at all, it’s a bit too long and formulaic. The length is a definite issue, the opening spends too long setting up the characters so obviously that it doesn’t make them seem real, it only really tells us what we need to know, and doesn’t leave anything unsaid either, as such you feel like these characters don’t really exist outside of this film. Also, you can basically plot out the entire film from the opening. But I suppose that’s not the point with this film, it’s not about where it takes you, it’s about how it takes you there. It’s a bit like a really good cover song, whilst it’s not original, it does something different with what you already know to create something wonderful. So yeah if you get the chance, go see this, and not just because it features this song, which is one of my favourites and genuinely made me slightly squee when I heard it in the film. Also, Andy Serkis is delightfully disgusting in it. It’s also delightfully sweet and lovely, but gross in parts, a bit like having sex with someone who doesn’t wash.