Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Big Sick: Blu Ray Review

The Big Sick: Blu Ray Review

Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter
Director: Michael Showalter

With a strong footing in truth, The Big Sick's rom-com cum cultural clash love story has rightly sent the genre back into fresher territory.

The Big Sick: Film Review

Silicon Valley's Dinesh aka Kumail Nanjiani stars as a version of himself in a story ripped from his own life.

Wannabe stand-up Kumail is working in a club one night, when he's heckled by Zoe Kazan's Emily. Intrigued, Kumail ends up striking a relationship with her after the show. Despite trying out an awful chat-up  line with Emily, the pair connect and end up in an easy relationship.

However, what Emily doesn't know is that Kumail's Pakistani family is trying to set him up with other women in an arranged marriage, via a series of dates which happen at family meals. (In one of the more excruciating touches, the women his parents have selected for him just happen to drop by during meal-times for an appointment.)

When this revelation hits the pair, Emily splits from Kumail, leaving him devastated. But things get worse when he gets a call to say Emily's seriously sick in hospital...

In many ways, The Big Sick is your typical romantic comedy.

Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl and problems and obstacles persist in the course of true love. So far, so tried and tested formula.

The Big Sick: Film Review

However, what The Big Sick brings to the table is a large degree of freshness, some genuinely funny moments and some sweet insights into the cultural clashes which are, of course, inevitable.

And really, at its heart, this is not a film that defies convention.

In fact, the only defiance is Kumail's insistence on going against his family wishes and avoiding spending time praying in the basement, choosing instead to play games on his phone, until his allotted time has passed.

Yet, being grounded in so much truth and veritas, (unsurprising as it's ripped from Kumail Nanjiani and Emily's real life romance), what The Big Sick manages to do is breathe some life into a genre that's been stale for a while and subverts expectations of those going into it.

Nanjiani brings his usual deadpan flair to the delivery, but thanks to a cleverly written script that fizzes with life and reality, there are some truly amusing moments. Mainly due to the ease of banter between the two and a slight subversion of the usual gags you'd expect about cultural stereotypes.

From a great gag over Kumail's Uber-career to the genuine warmth these two share, there are very much the signs that The Big Sick is keen to inject some humour where it's never been before.

It's not entirely perfect though.

The Big Sick: Film Review

At just a shade over 2 hours, there could have been some excising on the script front (a slew of comedy bar scenes seem a little unnecessary) to ensure the perfect mix, but it's a minor complaint.

The other interesting angle The Big Sick brings is that at its heart, it's a two-pronged relationship comedy.

Not only does Emily and Kumail's relationship take up the time on screen, but there's also a large amount of the film which is devoted to Kumail's relationship with his potential in-laws, played by a terrier-like Holly Hunter and an easy-going career best Ray Romano. There is also the battle between Kumail's family and their desire to do right by tradition and his desire to break away from that. (Interestingly, the final resolution doesn't quite provide all the answers and really does feel like there are more questions than answers.)

As Emily's parents battle their wariness and try to protect their daughter from the indirect charm offensive launched by an awkwardly bashful Kumail, what also emerges is profoundly sweet and utterly charismatic despite its inevitable outcome.

There's a great deal of earnest charm about The Big Sick and it's difficult to be profoundly cynical against its intentions. But in crafting a rom-com that's genuine and earnest, The Big Sick succeeds in being a genre best and ensures the entirely over-stuffed category is given a new lease of life. 

Madame: Film Review

Madame: Film Review

Cast: Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel, Michael Smiley, Rossy de Palma
Director: Amanda Sthers

Trying to blend Cinderella with an attempt at insight into a decaying marriage doesn't quite reap the rewards it should for Amanda Sthers writing and directorial attempt, Madame.
Madame: Film Review

Holding a dinner party for the London Mayor in Paris, pressed Anne (Collette, tart and relatively convincing as haughtiness gets the better of her) forces her maid Maria (de Palma) to step in as one of the guests, fearing 13 at the table is an unlucky number.

But thrust into a world she can only comprehend through servitude, Maria catches the eye of the family art appraiser (Smiley, a welcome presence on screen and a sign that Europe has a differing eye on romantic leads).

As the two grow closer, the lies have to be maintained, but Anne finds her tolerance for the charade shrinking as Maria finds her heart opening to he possibilities of love and life beyond her downstairs role.

Sthers may scatter her film with contemporary references such as Brexit and Aung San Suu Kyi  but her attempts to make something timeless sees her hoist by her own petard.
Madame: Film Review

Madame is not a film that feels for farce or grasps at depth; it feels in some ways incomplete and woefully undercooked in places. Certainly an ending frustrates, even if some may consider it inherently French. 

The trouble is that while Sthers peppers her film with the French approach to offering both unconventional romances their time in the sun and some kind of commentary on what makes France so appealing, its deployment fails to engage and indulge either the sense or the heart.

Ultimately, Madame is more a film that starts off familiar, offers fresh eyes on a tired story but then fails to utilise its differing USP for anything other than the fanciful.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Atomic Blonde: Blu Ray Review

Atomic Blonde: Blu Ray Review

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella
Director: David Leitch

Atomic Blonde: Film Review

Blazing style clearly over substance, Atomic Blonde's Cold War story breathes a chill over proceedings.

Whether it intends to or not is another matter.

Theron stars as Lorraine, a hard vodka drinking super spy who starts the film being debriefed by her boss Eric Gray (played with the usual brilliance by Toby Jones) and a CIA stooge (a bearded John Goodman).

Tasked with tracking down a list that could hold a complete breakdown of every spy and their alibis, Lorraine meets her contact David Percival (played with relish and energy by James McAvoy) in Berlin at the fall of the wall.

However, unsurprisingly things start to go wrong and soon Lorraine is in the cross hairs...

Atomic Blonde: Film Review

Trading more off a killer soundtrack that includes iconic tunes of the era like New Order's Blue Monday or Father Figure from George Michael, Atomic Blonde sadly lacks the moves to fully convince in this ripped-from-a-graphic novel.

There is one singularly impressive fight sequence inside an abandoned house that seriously showcases some incredible choreography and some impressively desperate close hand combat. Stripped of any OST or reliance on cool tunes to punctuate its narrative or execution, the grunting and bone-crunching fight stand alone of anything else this year.

But despite Theron's commitment to the icy blonde she inhabits and the fact she looks like a Debbie Harry clone thrown deep into the spy world, Atomic Blonde feels hollow, an exercise more in precise cool than a precision film of the spy genre, packed with twists. 

Atomic Blonde: Film Review
Once again, it's a film that has a commitment more to its origins than its cinematic execution, its pop stencil ethos and its desire to be cripplingly cool, ripped as it is from the Oni Press graphic novel series "The Coldest City"

It's not without merit; it's more that outside of its one truly raw and gritty fight sequence, it feels more of a hollow disposability than anything else. There's certainly little to cling on to after the lights have gone up - which is a real shame, given that Theron's a great actress and a female action lead of this calibre rarely comes along in a relatively mainstream Hollywood release.

Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly MacDonald, Will Tilston
Director: Simon Curtis

Very much a warts and all portrayal of one of the world's most famous children's icons, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a cautionary tale about the damage done to others by fame and neglect.
Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

With a strong anti-war message, Goodbye Christopher Robin is the story of the playwright A A Milne (Gleeson, sombre and at times, drawn) whose London arty life is irrevocably changed when he returns from the first Great War.

Shell-shocked and sleep-walking through life, Milne, along with his flapper wife Daphne (Robbie in chocks away mode) relocate to the English countryside after their first child is born.

Milne believes the countryside will inspire his anti-war writing, but Daphne, disappointed at birthing a boy rather than a girl and fearing he will be conscripted, stays in London to party and forget the perils.

Left alone with Christopher Robin and forced to take on the kid when nanny Olive (Macdonald, the film's heart and vocal conscience) has to look after her ill mother, the pair bond as young Christopher helps him through post-war life and yearns for a father.
Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

As the duo spend more time together, the whimsical world of Winnie The Pooh is born - and despite AA Milne saying the story would be for his son, it soon becomes a worldwide phenomenon, leading to an even stronger sense of estrangement in the Milne family.

Served with a large degree of as much sugariness as Pooh's beloved honey, Goodbye Christopher Robin comes dangerously close to over-egging the pudding at times, with the mawkish manipulation being piled on to occasionally over-bearing moments.

With the saccharine overdose being largely confined to the dimple-faced moppet playing young Christopher Robin and his fatherly interactions, there's little insight into what fully led to the bear's creation other than some downpat broad brush strokes applied to the stiffly-starched English accents and rather withdrawn adult acting.

And yet, bizarrely and equally so, the sense of detachment and the underlying sadness of lives wrecked within (Milne's PTSD haunts him at every turn, wife Daphne's denial pushes her to seek solace in London away from the boy she could lose and son Christopher's growing resentment over the fame he's handed and the lack of familial attachment) really hint at the dark story underneath it all.
Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

This is perhaps Goodbye Christopher Robin's strength - it's not a film that celebrates an icon in many ways.

If anything, it shows a deeply tragic personal correlation between fame and its cost.

Pre-reality shows and post war with England aching for a return to more optimistic times, this is a harrowing introspective look at the trappings and perils of the creative world.

It puts a uniquely human spin (albeit occasionally laden with a spoon rather than a dollop) on proceedings and deserves to be saluted so.

Perhaps if some of the sentiment hadn't been ladelled on with such heft, this immensely thoughtful biopic could have been intensely more emotionally satisfying.

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review

Cast: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton
Director: Angela Wilson

Feeling more like an episode of Masters Of Sex, with some kinkiness thrown in as well, it's no surprise that Professor Marston and The Wonder Women releases the same week as Justice League.
Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review

Centring on Evans' Professor William Marston aka the man who created the Wonder Woman comic and his wife Elizabeth (Hall), Professor Marston and The Wonder Women details how the renowned psychologist developed the feminist comic in the 1940s.

While lecturing at Harvard, Bella Heathcote's Olive Byrne catches the eye of William and his wife, and she's invited to join them in an intellectual three-way as he looks to develop the lie detector.

Frustrated at his lack of breakthrough, and with his wife unable to secure a PHD from anywhere, the two find their energy centred and re-focused with the introduction of Olive - not to mention, an attraction as well.

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women is a curious film, one which takes the time to build up the central relationship and dynamic of the trio, but falters at anything else outside of it.
Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review

Beginning with Marston facing a 1940s panel chaired by Connie Britton's Josette Frank who's unhappy about the content of the Wonder Woman comic, the film flashes back to the development of the relationship and as a result, the film's raison d'etre seems to slightly suffer in the process.

Perhaps it's due to an expectation of the Wonder Woman side of things garnering attention, but in truth, the germ of the idea that comes late in the piece feels a little rushed and the outrage which sees people collecting and burning the comics feels piecemeal and under-developed.

Far more successful is the examination of the trio, the introduction of bondage and the embracing of the polygamy side of things (even if questions from the children don't appear and a stereotyped neighbourhood brawl feels more perfunctory than anything) serves the film better.

Central to proceedings is Heathcote's mix of innocence and desire. Her Olive, even if she does appear to be channeling a younger Heather Graham in looks, adds much to the yearning among the learning atmosphere that writer / director Robinson seeks to build.

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review
The societal clashes rear their head late in the piece, and as the comic house of cards begins to collapse and the relationship falters, you genuinely feel for the trio and feel the accusations sting that others hurl at them.

Ultimately, Professor Marston and The Wonder Women is beautifully shot and offers up some stellar performances from the central trio, but its lasso of truth tends to loosen when it casts itself wider and tries to latch on to anything else which isn't related to them.

Society may have the ties that bind in Professor Marston and The Wonder Women, but the way the stories loosens itself from the shackles of Hollywood's more traditional trysts and tropes gives it a sensitivity that's hard to ignore, an eroticism which is occasionally contagious and a narrative that intrigues deeply.

Monday, 20 November 2017

All Eyez on Me: Blu Ray Review

All Eyez on Me: Blu Ray Review

Tupac's legacy feels slightly squandered in this over-long formulaic biopic that seems more interested in hitting Tupac moments than going deeper.
All Eyez on Me: Film Review

A charismatic Shipp Jr channels the looks of the late rapper with ease as the film jumps back and forth in his timeline detailing Shakur's childhood, rise to rapper and struggle with the criticism aimed at gangsta rap.

Framed under the auspice of an interview from Clinton Correctional in 1995, Boom's film suffers from plenty of chopping and changing around early on, as the film sets out its intentions to capture the key moments of the life rather than to assemble a more coherent narrative and pertinent overview of Shakur's life.

With commentary on the injustices in Tupac's life, the mistreatment of African Americans and lots of angry outbursts from his mother (played by The Walking Dead's Michonne), the film seems to be aiming for incendiary but never fully catches fire.

All Eyez on Me: Film Review

In fairness, during the scenes of musical excellence, Bloom turns up the dial to 11 and the film crackles with the kind of electricity that's needed and was seen in the likes of Straight Outta Compton. But these are too few and far in between over the bum-numbing 140 minutes run time.

As the rise to Death Row Records settles in, it becomes clear that the script's less interested in providing fully fleshed out characters and is more interested in assuming characteristics and stereotypes for the likes of Sugg Knight and Snoop Dogg.

Ultimately, this slightly hollow and pedestrian approach to what really should have been a home-run means that All Eyez on Me ends up being something where you'd rather avert your eyes elsewhere. Time-hopping doesn't help generate a sense of emotional depth and ultimately when the end arrives, there's little to no feeling on the audience's behalf as it transpires on screen.

With little sense of flair, and a script that makes Tupac's life seem more disjointed (and in the case of legal arguments, more brief and simplistic than it is) All Eyez on Me fails to engender a sense of inspiration in its subject.

All Eyez on Me: Film Review

Sunday, 19 November 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes: Blu Ray Review

War for the Planet of the Apes: Blu Ray Review

In the concluding part of the trilogy, you'd be forgiven for expecting that it would be full-on action for Caesar and his pals as the fight for the earth continued.

But, if you're anticipating being delivered apes with all guns blazing, then director Matt Reeves, the incredibly talented WETA Digital team and the ever-under-appreciated Andy Serkis have a very big surprise for you.

War for the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes: Blu Ray Review

In the final chapter, Caesar (mo-capped Serkis) has become a legendary figure to both the apes and humans, held in both reverence and fear by both sides. On the run and in hiding, Caesar's world is shattered when an ambush from the humans (led by Harrelson's Colonel) leads to very personal losses.

Against the wishes of the rest of the apes, Caesar heads off on a quest for vengeance, endangering the apes' future and his own...

Mixing up a degree of a simian Band of Brothers, an end-of-times Western and a psychological rumination, War For the Planet of the Apes is not your average blockbuster thrill-ride, but an absorbing conclusion to a consistently intelligent and entertaining series.

The power of this trilogy of films has been one about the clashes of ideologies, the divisive line between human and animal, and the perilous balance between descending into madness. In War For The Planet of The Apes, it's Caesar whose journey is the most important, and who stands to lose the most after deciding on a course of revenge.

Thankfully, a wonderfully nuanced turn from Serkis imbues this outing with the requisite and expected emotional depth that we've come to expect from the series. And while the signs are on the wall (quite literally throughout) of another paean to Apocalypse Now, thanks to a Kurtz like turn from an almost messianic Harrelson, those behind the script deserve to be commended for not launching into a salvo of bullets flying and explosions (well, right away at least.)

In fact, it's the almost mournful script that elevates this from the primal mud; early parts of the movie have a Western feel to them as Caesar and his small troop move on after a tension-filled action burst of a beginning. It's just as well, because the rumination-like feel of the script and execution thereof is slightly muddied by the introduction of a comedy "Bad Ape" (voiced with requisite catchphrase glee by Steve Zahn) and the need to ram home some of the inspirations for the finale.

War for the Planet of the Apes

It's to be understood why, given the almost dirge-like feel to the proceedings (not a bad thing by any step of the imagination) and how it ends up as some kind of allegory of a fight between workers and unions, Spartacus meets Shawshank Redemption and riddled with Holocaust imagery, such as ape crucifixions as well as the obligatory Ape Escape sequences.

Harrelson deserves commendation for adding an edge to his Colonel, and a tragedy to proceedings. Rather than head into OTT territory, there's a subversion of expectations in War For The Planet of the Apes that he helps deliver.

It's not that there are not meaty concepts within this film, more a feeling that morally things are grey - and once again the digital apes deliver that in spades in their performance. Even Harrelson's Colonel wryly remarks while staring down Caesar that his eyes "look almost human."

Layering both tragedy and pathos in relatively equal measure, and despite some faltering turns in the story early on, (mainly involving a Nell-like child), War For the Planet of the Apes delivers a finale that crackles with delicious nuance as it debates whether Caesar (and by extension all of us) is right to succumb to his demons.

War For The Planet of the Apes is a sublime conclusion to the franchise, and a timely reminder that combined with intelligence and digital excellence, these Apes manage to mirror our human lives and future pre-occupations  in ways that may actually surprise cinema-goers.