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).

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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.