Blinded By The Light (2019)

This is a great film about Bruce Springsteen. I mean, he’s not in it (with the exception of a photo of him in the end credits) but it is very much him. Like, essence of Springsteen (worst fragrence name ever). It’s a film about the power of words and music. About how music can help you make sense of a shitty world. About how it can transcend geographical and genre boundaries, and really make you FEEL something. That’s the films biggest strength; the way it affects you on a pure emotional level.

This film has issues, not really big enough to count as flaws, more slight annoyances. There are times where Viveik Kalra’s performance isn’t QUITE what it needs to be and feels a little flat. There are other times where he completely nails the emotion, so it’s obviously not beyond him, but there are times where his performance doesn’t really work (particularly in the first half). There are some moments which aren’t needed. The opening scene, in particular, serves no purpose. It’s just a “here’s the main characters when they were children”. It kind of showcases the relationships between certain characters, but that could have been done more naturally. The music, whilst it’s good, it is a bit repetitive. There are some songs which are repeated multiple times. As such it doesn’t really compel you to go out and listen to Springsteen in the same way as Yesterday made you want to listen to the Beatles. The story is one you’ve seen before (would it be rude to call a true story “a bit cliche in parts”?). Some of the characters’ motivations aren’t clearly defined in terms of the film’s narrative, you’re not really sure what the end goal, what is the main character reaching for and aiming to achieve etc. It also has moments where entire groups of people burst into song in a way that breaks reality. We can hear the music being playing, but except for the main character nobody else can, they’re just hearing him singing, so how are they dancing to the beat of the music if they can’t actually hear it? I know that’s a really weird thing to pick out, but I’m not the biggest fan of “main characters break into song” at the best of times (which is weird as my favourite television show of the last few years is a musical) and I feel it has to be done well (and for a good reason) for it to be effective (for example, it worked PERFECTLY in Rocketman). It could be argued that it’s alluding to Bollywood tradition, merging Bollywood tropes with western music, but it doesn’t have the right atmosphere and speed for it to truly work. There are other moments with music which work a lot better. When the lyrics come up on the screen at important parts it works wonderfully and it allows you to see how the character is thinking, you can feel him connecting to those parts of the music.

It may not seem like it but I did enjoy this movie. Was incredibly heartwarming, and a lot of the supporting performances were great (Nell Williams in particular). It reminds me of a slightly below-par Nick Hornby at his best. Considering how much I love some of Nick Hornby’s stuff (High Fidelity is still one of my favourite books) that indicates how highly I rate this movie. So yeah I’d go see it. It might not be your favourite movie, but I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

Advertisements

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Now I freely admit that these reviews are purely subjective, based entirely on my opinion and tastes. As such there are times where my reviews don’t line up with popular opinion. To the point where “Well I Liked It” is an award I give at the end of every year to films which I like but everyone else seems to hate. Previous films I’ve nominated for that have included Gringo, Murder On The Orient Express, Table 19, and The BFG. Conversely, there are times where it goes in the opposite direction, where a film is loved by everybody except me. The best examples of these tend to be horror films; The Shallows, The Gallows, The Marshmallows (I may have made that last one up). Films which I just didn’t get. I mention all of this to provide context for this review. I really disliked this film, for multiple reasons.

Don’t get me wrong, from a technical standpoint it was great, the performances were sublime and it nailed the look and feel of the time. It truly feels like it belongs in the time it’s set in. There aren’t many anachronistic nods and winks, you know, where someone makes a comment that we know has comedic implications, like “Westerns will always be the most popular movie genre”, or “Rosemary’s Baby? That will never work as a film”. As such you’re not really pulled out of the film that often by the dialogue. The film itself, however, is incredibly tedious. Almost 3 hours long with 20 minutes of story. I spent so much of the film bored. 90% of the film was not needed. Actually, entire sub-plots and characters aren’t needed.

That doesn’t compare to two things which push it into dislike territory for me. One was the deification of Roman Polanski. I get he was important in the reality, but this film isn’t about reality, and if he wasn’t mentioned you wouldn’t notice his missing. I know back then people did deify him, but to a modern audience, it’s weird to hear it. It would be like watching a film about a pop-punk band in early 2000’s and they constantly mention how much they love lostprophets.

More jarring than that is something very specific to Tarantino; feet. In case you hadn’t heard, he kind of has a foot fetish. A fact he makes ABUNDANTLY clear during this film. There are multiple scenes where female characters put their bare feet up to the camera. Here’s an example:

7838de257b1be3b0-600x338

How is that anything but jarring? It adds nothing to the film, it just takes you out of it completely. It’s incredibly distracting and kind of weird. The only thing it adds is more material to the director’s wank bank.

Normally with films like this, I’d say it should have been cut down, with this I think it should have been made longer and made into a TV series instead. It would have allowed it to compartmentalise some of the separate plots into their own distinct sections, with the overarching themes running in the background. It also would have allowed some of the performances to have more meaning. As I said, the performances are REALLY good. Dakota Fanning is suitably creepy, DiCaprio and Pitt are on top of their game. Two performances deserve a special mention though; Mikey Madison and Julia Butters. Two people I’m not that familiar with, but I’ll be keeping an eye on as they are mindblowing in this. Julia Butters, in particular, gives the film most of its emotional weight when she’s on-screen.

It may seem like I hated this film; I didn’t. The closing scenes were too good for me to hate it. They were scenes of chaos with some amazing performances. It’s not good enough to make me like it though. Many people love this film, and I get why they would. It’s just not for me, at all. And that’s okay, I don’t have to like everything, and I sincerely doubt Tarantino will give a shit that one person didn’t like it.

Good Boys (2019)

They’re kids, but they’re swearing? Hilarious! Hahahahaahahahahaahahahahahaahahah. The story is terrible and sexist, but look, there’s a kid swearing, hahahahahahahahaha.

That’s what I worried this film would be like. That it would focus so much on making these kids seem like adults that it would forget to make them kids. That it would just be a gimmick, and a gimmick which will wear itself out pretty quickly. This film actually worked though, was really funny, heartwarming, and most importantly, it let the kids be kids. It had plenty of moments where it played off their innocence and naivety. The best moments are when it comes to drugs, and they refuse to throw it in the river because of the negative effects it could have on the environment. Moments like that are kind of cute and wholesome, kind of like a season finale of a long-running sitcom. It also has a surprisingly good attitude to women. There is a moment where they fly a drone camera in order to spy on two women, but they get called out on it and are suitably chastised.

Actually, that’s pretty much a good summary of the general tone of this film, a season finale. You feel like you’ve known them for a while. That’s not always good though, the familiarity doesn’t really breed contempt, but it does sometimes seem to breed complacency in terms of the script. There are moments where it is a little bit too by-the-numbers, a little too bland. And then there are moments where they accidentally sell a sex doll to Stephen Merchant. The madcap moments are brilliant, with one notable exception.

There’s a scene where they go into a frat house to buy some drugs (it makes sense in context) and the frat guys are complete dicks, so one of the kids ends up shooting him with a paintball gun. This leads to a scene where a room full of men in their 20s are attempting to beat the shit out of pre-pubescent kids. And the stuff they do should logically kill them. That scene’s a little uneasy to watch, mainly because it completely takes you out of the film, you realise you’re watching something fake and it breaks the immersion.

That’s a shame as the rest of the film is believable to the point of embarrassment. It makes you remember what an idiot (and kind of a dick) you were when you were younger. The situations aren’t universal, but the motivations are. It’s a film about acceptance, personal growth, and adjusting your ambitions. These are things which we all went through as kids, and are still going through now. It’s that kind of relatability which anchors the best moments of the film. None of this would matter if the actors weren’t at the top of their game, thankfully they all are. We all know Jacob Tremblay is talented, but Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon are great too. Noon, in particular, gives a strong performance that carries the film through some of the weaker moments. Molly Gordon and Midori Francis are also great, and share a chemistry which makes me wish they could lead a film together.

So in summary, you don’t HAVE to see this film, but I strongly recommend you should.

Crawl (2019)

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a fun animal-based disaster movie. By which I mean one that’s realistic, so that counts out Rampage etc. Shame as they’re great to see in cinemas and really allow directors to show off what they can do. This is a film about alligators hunting people who are trapped in a house during a hurricane, that sounds fun. Also, it’s only about 90 minutes long and scores very highly on rotten tomatoes. All good signs.

With that in mind, I have to say, I don’t see it. I don’t get the great reviews for this. I was not a fan of it. For a 90 minute movie, I spent a lot of time looking at my watch. It never really engaged me. I think part of that is because it only had 2 main characters who were present throughout the whole thing. For a lot of the movie, one of those characters was in a safe space and wouldn’t get harmed, the other was the main character. As such there was no real sense of dread as you knew that they were going to survive at least until near the end. It’s impossible for a film like this to get a sense of dread if you know that the characters aren’t in danger as the story won’t let them be. This film does kill some characters, but they’re characters who appear for a few minutes, and then die. Their entire purpose is to get some blood in the movie, but since you don’t really know who they are you don’t care about them. This could have been solved very easily; instead of setting it in a house, set it in an office block or a shopping centre. Just SOMEWHERE where you have more characters. That way you can start with a group of 5-6 people and then whittle them down as we get to know them. If you avoid establishing which ones are the main characters then you give an air of “all bets are off” so you don’t know who’s going to survive. The issue with this is because there are only two people, and they’re in a confined space, there’s not much you can do with that from a narrative standpoint. Most of this film consists of the characters making progress, and then that progress is immediately negated. It also features one instance of really weird editing. There’s a moment where a character is struggling to reach a flare, and it flashes back to her in her youth, reaching her hand out to her dad to help her out of a swimming pool. A bit weird but nothing more than that, but there’s then a scene almost immediately after that where she’s literally reaching out to grab her dads hand to help pull her up onto the roof. I feel that’s a much better thematic link and it’s really strange they wasted it. I almost forgot that though as it’s near the end and the closing shot just looked kind of cheap and weird, almost like it was from a video game.

The two characters we do have are kind of intriguing though. Kaya Scodelario’s character veers from really smart to really dumb, depending on what the plot needs at that moment. For example; when she struggles to move the body of her father, she immediately finds some sheets to put him on to help move him. Very smart. But as she drags him she drops her phone where the gators are. That’s not the dumb part. The dumb part is she sneaks to get the phone, and then when she has it, instead of going back to safety with the phone, she stands still and makes the phone call in an unsafe area. There’s also a scene where she gets the attention of someone by shining a flashlight outside, yet when the police arrive a few scenes later, resorts to shouting instead, which can’t be heard over the sound of the wind and rain. There are also MULTIPLE scenes of someone standing in waist-deep water instead of just moving to stand on the thing right near them that gets them out of the water (in one example, a character literally stands next to some stairs).

I’ll admit some of it was good. The aforementioned moments where the characters were smart are great to see. And you can’t fault the acting at all. Also, with the exception of the closing shot (actually most of the exterior scenes) it all looks and feels real. You’re never really too aware of CGI.

So yeah, that’s it. I wouldn’t really recommend this tbh, unless maybe you’re super drunk.

Sometimes Always Never (2018)

So, this is the first review since my big announcement, for those who missed it, it’s here. So with that in mind, what piece of horror media will I review to get in the mood for it? Oh, it’s a film about scrabble. It does feature death, maybe. It’s about a family struggling with someone running away years ago, and still suffering from not knowing what happened. The father copes by playing scrabble. Yeah, it’s strange, but within the context of the film, it works. This film is all about the script and the characters, and it completely nails both of those. The dialogue is razor-sharp and the characters are all well-defined to the point where you feel you have already met these characters.

The way they interact with each other is really sweet too, you understand the family dynamics easily and it’s incredibly heartwarming at times. So why have I not raved about great this movie is to everybody? From a technical standpoint, it looks a little cheap. I’m not sure if it was a stylistic choice or not but it didn’t really work for me. Also whilst the script is good, the story kind of meanders and doesn’t do enough. Characters are heavily focused on for one scene then never mentioned again. It aims for a slice-of-life dramedy but adds a bit too many plotlines which go unresolved to really seem satisfying. It seems at time that the story doesn’t know what it’s about so aims for as many themes as possible in the hopes of finally grasping onto one. The title comes from a discussion about buttons on suits (you sometimes do the top one up, always do the middle one up, and never do the bottom one), it seems a bit weird for a film where the themes are scrabble and words, to take the title from a rule about suit-buttons. It’s like they put that scene in just to explain the title.

The cast are pretty damn good in this though. Bill Nighy’s accent sometimes wavers but never too distractingly. Alice Lowe continues to be great, Louis Healy has a future in ITV dramas, and Sam Riley really shows off his range. The oddest highlight for me was Ella-Grace Gregoire. She’s not in it for long but has great screen presence and her natural charm lights up the scenes she’s in. This is helped by tremendous chemistry with the aforementioned Healy and Lowe. Interested to see what she does next and looking forward to it.

There is a really heartwarming and lovely film within this, it just tries a bit too hard to be a mix of Wes Anderson and quirky British drama, whilst never really approaching the heights needed for both.

Lets See You Do Better

It’s coming up to Halloween and I’m preparing myself for this years blog, which I’m hoping will be the Halloween franchise (I know, doing Halloween films at Halloween, SO original). As I’ve gone through the past ones I worry I might have come off as negative. Writing a film is really hard, and writing a good film is even harder. It’s easy to tear down peoples efforts from behind a screen, mocking them and insulting them. It’s harder to create. So that’s what I’m doing. Most of my posts on here have been about other people’s writing, and it’s about time I showcased my own and opened it up for the same criticism I give others. I’m attempting a horror script from a well-known franchise. I present here the opening scene; let me know what you think, how you think the story will go, any suggestions etc. So read, interact, and hopefully, enjoy. 

First Draft

Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (2019)

I had weird expectations for this. I loved the original TV series and was thoroughly underwhelmed by the reboot. So whether I liked it or not, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Basically, I went in hoping for greatness, but willing to be let down. So how was it? Actually, it was really funny, it got some of the loudest laughs I’ve heard in a cinema in a long time. I think that might be because it was a kids film so people feel less guilty about openly laughing, some people don’t laugh loudly during adult comedies because laughter is for kids. I don’t agree with this, but it is something people do. Even at the funniest comedies, you’ll have people who react to jokes with inward laughing. There are no such qualms with this, it almost encourages you to audibly react. Not all the jokes land though, and the ones that don’t are generally the ones aimed towards a younger audience.

It’s this audience aiming which is the biggest failing of the movie. That, and doing what the TV series did. Anyone who watched the TV series loves the songs, they were often the highlight of the episode and some of them were genuinely great songs. Trouble is that doesn’t really transition well to a feature-length movie. In a sketch show-like format, you can take 3 minutes of music and just put it there, it doesn’t break up the flow or destroy the rhythm. But you can’t do that in a feature-length film with a narrative. It tends to be a signal to “stop the plot, we’re doing a song now”. There are 4 songs in this film, and at the very least one of them should have been cut. The Nero song goes on too long and completely disrupts the narrative. The one at the end is okay because it comes at the end, and kind of works but isn’t necessary. The first one you hear is the Boudicca song, I think this one is needed because it’s a great reference to the original series, also if you hire Kate Nash you probably should have her sing at some point. I’m not saying cut the songs completely, the reason for that comes in the song about The Battle Of Watling Street. You need other songs in the film otherwise that one stick out as an oddity too much. And this film NEEDS this song. It’s everything the songs in here should be; funny, catchy, and informative. Crucially, it advances the narrative. It doesn’t have a big enough budget to do a full-scale battle, so to showcase that through the medium of a rap battle is genius. If the rest of the songs were like it I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I’m willing to put up with Nero if I got this. Also, it has the line “I’ve got 99 problems but the Brits ain’t one”, which I can’t imagine many kids understood as a reference.

There are a few moments like that, things which kids won’t get, but crucially are subtle enough that kids won’t know they didn’t get them. The references aren’t staring you in the face and obvious. Two examples; the first one is where the Romans try to find out which Celt farted (sounds immature, but it works in the context of the film) and someone shouts out “I’m Fartacus”, this then catches on and everybody says it, until you get “I’m Fartacus, and so’s my wife”, in case there was any doubt this was a deliberate Monty Python reference, soon afterwards you have someone talk about the correct grammar of “Romans go home”. The second one is much more subtle, and BRILLIANT; casting Derek Jacobi as Claudius. Derek Jacobi’s most famous role; the title role in I, Claudius. That’s a fantastic piece of casting, yet one which the target audience won’t fully understand, yet also won’t be sitting there puzzled. They’ll just see a guy playing Claudius, whilst the parents will understand.

So should you see this? I’d kind of say yes but not full price, and don’t expect your life to be changed. Go in expecting fun, and you won’t be disappointed. An incredibly funny film with a great cast, also it’s definitely the only kids film to make a #metoo reference, I just wish it had the original cast in it somewhere.

Beautiful Boy (2018)

Okay so the last two films I’ve seen, well they have not been the best. Actually, it’s not been a great last month or so really; I Love My Mum, Bright Burn, Songbird, Dark Phoenix, it’s been a bad run. With a few notable exceptions (Spider-man, Toy Story) I couldn’t be blamed if I was slightly losing my enthusiasm for film. The last film I really enjoyed that wasn’t part of a franchise/reboot was Late Night. I’ve been crying out for something unique and good. Okay, this is based on a book so isn’t technically original, but it is very very good. Incredibly emotive and stylish. It’s a story about a teens addiction, and his family’s reaction to it, particularly his dad. This is not just a story about addiction, but also about family love. Their relationship is integral to the plot, and you completely buy into it. The big problem with it is how distracting it is to have Amy Ryan and Steve Carell reunited on screen and have it be so serious, they were a great comedic couple on The Office, so it’s weird to see them together and have it be so serious. Other than that weirdness, the cast is pretty solid. Carell is so good at being serious that at this point it no longer comes as a surprise. His chemistry with Timothee Chalamet is electric, you genuinely feel like they care for each other. It’s also great to see Jack Dylan Grazer in more stuff, he’ll have the lead in a sitcom at some point, I guarantee it.

It’s also a great-looking film. Don’t get me wrong, there are no shots here which you’ll frame and hang on your wall, but for Van Groeningen’s English-language debut he really shows what he can do, using his shots to tell a story, framing characters in such a way that just by a single shot you can see character relationships. There’s a stark brutality to some of the shots

I’m not saying this is the perfect film, but it doesn’t have any major negatives to it. It’s almost two hours and does kind of feel it. Also, there are moments where it seems to make certain insinuations about what caused the addiction. I don’t think some of them are deliberate, but someone with a knowledge of film language won’t fail to see the (possibly unintentional but still uncomfortable) implications.

But that aside, it’s still definitely worth your watch. I’m trying to think of one word to describe it and all I can come up with is; beautiful. It has a timeless quality and feels like a film that’s always existed, highly recommended.

Songbird (2018)

Occasionally there are some films released that for whatever reason I don’t end up seeing at the cinema. I try to make a list of the ones I’ve missed and watch them, but there are some I have sadly still not managed to watch (Anna And The Apocalypse, Ingrid Goes West, and Tragedy Girls are three films I’m still really disappointed in myself for not catching yet). It can be harder to grab my attention when I watch at home due to more distraction, yet there are some which have ended up being some of my favourite films (The Last Word and The Young Offenders being the best examples). And sometimes there’s a reason I didn’t see at the cinema, and that reason is the film is pretty terrible, incredibly boring with nothing resembling a plot, and featuring actors who I usually like yet when they share a screen have less chemistry than a science experiment which consists of throwing mud at a chicken (conclusion; it annoys the chicken). This is one of those. I really wanted to like this film. I want Cobie Smulders to be in great films, yet with the exception of MCU films the only time I’ve seen her in a film I’ve enjoyed it’s turned out to not be her but Gemma Arterton.

I also usually love Jessica Hynes, she’s usually really great in things. Plus, Mandeep Dhillon has been in so many brilliant-yet-unknown TV shows (seriously, check out Some Girls if you haven’t already). Plus it’s a film about a musician, how can I not love this? The last British film about a struggling musician I watched was Wild Rose, and that movie was emotional to the point of sheer brilliance at times.

Well, one issue is the music. It’s established she’s a musician who was in a band that had a massive hit in the 90’s and is now reduced to tiny pubs. That doesn’t affect the plot much, like there’s nothing really that happens that could only happen to someone with that background. There are not many moments where people recognise her (which would have led to some great comedic scenes) or (and this is the biggest wasted opportunity), press intrusion on her private life. The film is ostensibly about her band breaking up and so she decides to go to university to study marine biology, I think. I mean, that’s what happens are the start of the film and seems to be the inciting incident, but it never incites anything. We never see her in classes, or studying, or meeting large groups of new people. We see her meet her dorm mates, but that just leads to more story dawdling. Apparently, this film was highly improvised, and it shows, there’s zero focus to the scenes, the scenes happen yet nothing happens in them. They’re just people filling time with dialogue. This means that a lot of moments feel false, particularly the main romantic relationship. It never feels real and they never seem to feel fully comfortable with each other.

This would be fine if it was a great example of an art-house film. If the mood and beauty of the whole thing rendered it a work of cinematic brilliance. But it’s not, it looks okay, but never more than that. Because of the improvised nature of the film that makes it really hard to tell a story visually as you don’t know what the story is when you’re filming. So everything looks kind of, I don’t know, standard? Like it’s been filmed, but in a way that doesn’t showcase film language. I’ve seen it described as “shot like a student film” and that seems painfully accurate. Actually no, it doesn’t. Film student directors tend to put A LOT of thought into shot composition, the good ones do anyway. So yeah, that’s how I’m ending it. It’s a film without love, without story, and without care.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)

Was kind of curious about this. I knew it was about Ted Bundy, and I knew he was played by Zac Efron. I half expected to message someone and mention how impressed I was with Efron’s performance, and how brilliantly he portrayed a psychopath. So, did he portray it well? It’s difficult to tell. Ted Bundy is kind of known for being charming, and using that to entice his victims. The film nails him being charming and likeable, but then doesn’t really show enough of the murders. It’s a Ted Bundy film where he doesn’t do much of the thing he’s best known for. Which is really weird. A lot of the film is about him being arrested and dealing with the court case, whilst protesting his innocence. This didn’t really land for me as the audience knows he’s guilty. We see very little of the Ted Bundy we know, which makes this film a bit weird, bit interesting. It’s the kind of film you watch once, but you don’t need to watch it again. I feel my issue with this film isn’t what the film is, but what it’s not. It’s not an interesting study into his psyche, it’s not stylish enough (it occasionally comes across as a lazy-Fincher), and it’s not brutal enough. At times it’s even kind of dull. It’s a shame as when Ted Bundy does kill people, Efron is great, Efron unleashed is incredibly impressive and brilliant, he just doesn’t show it enough. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, but strange. Never expected to see James Hetfield in a film like this. Same with Haley Joel Osment. John Malkovich is shockingly underused though it has to be said.

I have seen some weird articles about this film, saying that Efron is too good looking to play Bundy and that having Bundy as such a handsome and charming person is dangerous. That’s a weird take, it’s essentially saying this film is dangerous because it teaches you to judge people based on actions rather than appearance. Who’d have thought that “Pretty people can sometimes be assholes” would be a controversial opinion? Conversely, wouldn’t this mean that only ugly people can be bad? Trust me, I’m ugly as hell, and my body count doesn’t even reach double figures (unless you include the diamond spatula incident, and I still blame Marilyn Monroe for that as she forgot to lock the monkey cage). People associate beauty with good, so when you see a good-looking person commit acts of evil it’s hard to comprehend. Not that you’d really know, as like I said, most of this film is just Ted Bundy as a wacky guy escaping prisons and hanging out with women (did we really need a Ted Bundy sex scene?).

I know this has been quite rambling, but it’s hard to talk about this film with any passion. It doesn’t inspire annoyance, or love, or anything. I watched it, but never really felt truly engaged with it, and that’s the films biggest problem. It just exists, doesn’t tell you anything new or interesting, it just happens. Not sure if it’s the script or the direction but it never really grabs your attention. For a film about murders, it’s incredibly lifeless.