Saturday, 27 August 2016

Review: War Dogs





War Dogs
Cert: 15 / 114 mins / Dir. Todd Phillips / Trailer



No film with UB40 on the soundtrack should be this much fun. I mean, it's only the briefest of audible appearances from R*d R*d W*ne, but it was enough to get my back up straight away. The rest of the soundtrack is nicely eclectic in a way which isn't trying too hard (Suicide Squad, take note), but is also largely unpredictable. And in that respect, it fits the film quite well.

The True Story*1 tale of two unlikely arms dealers sees Jonah Hill and Miles Teller playing their exaggerated roles surprisingly straight (to the credit of both), as they manage to land a legal (if morally questionable) US military weapons-supply contract, which they end up fulfilling without morals or legality. The story is narrated retrospectively by Teller's character, David, so we know that he makes it to the end. For everyone else though, all bets are off.

Without knowing anything of the facts behind the case, I enjoyed it very much. Both of the leads are inherently watchable no matter how obstreperous their characters become, and while you're never completely on their side, you'd much rather see them succeed than fail. The film feels longer than its 114 minutes, but there's little downtime in the tale of escalating danger and administrative oversight. This is also beautifully shot; there are visual nods to Tarantino's early movies, and the Miami setting (when the story is taking place in the US) is deliberately reminiscent of Scarface. Although as the film goes on, it becomes clear that rather than passing a flirtatious note under the desk, writer/director Todd Phillips has penned a flat-out love letter to De Palma's greatest creation (right down to that poster at the top of this review). Hey, I love Scarface too, so it didn't bother me.

Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that War Dogs will get the exposure or recognition it deserves, because it appears to have been marketed largely as a comedy (Hill and Teller are both great comic actors, of course, and director Todd Phillips' Hangover connection has become his default epithet). While there are certainly laugh-out-loud moments in the movie, they arise from the absurdity of situations rather than scripted gags, and it's not really the chortle-fest some audiences might be expecting. Tonally, this is closer to The Wolf Of Wall Street (also fantastically funny in places) than any of the frat pack comedies it's borrowing the principal cast from.

A colourful movie painted entirely from grey-areas, War Dogs is better than you're probably expecting it to be…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
As mentioned above, it's rather like The Wolf Of Wall Street, with maybe just a smattering of American Hustle.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the cinematography, yes.
The story can be watched at home, though
.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it just about does, although the film's pacing is often its own worst enemy.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Not quite, but everyone involved with War Dogs should be proud.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't, but there are a few boot-shots in there.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well, Miles Teller was almost Han Solo but that ain't close enough, so let's go for Jonah Hill who appeared in Django Unchained, as did Sam 'Windu' Jackson.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 The words 'based on a true story' are usually a millstone around the neck of any movie, but any eyebrow-raising absurdities in War Dogs feel completely in keeping with the military and governmental organisations the lead duo are dealing with.

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: Swallows And Amazons





Swallows And Amazons
Cert: PG / 97 mins / Dir. Philippa Lowthorpe / Trailer



In a rare display of cinematic synchronicity, we get a Summer-holiday adventure movie which is about an adventure during the Summer-holidays (The Purge, take note). This re-telling of Swallows And Amazons still has its quintessentially English vintage-setting and the earth-tones colour palette to match, but largely manages to avoid the Jolly Hockey-Sticks™ trap many of us were fearing. While there are cultural nods that the younger audience members may need explaining, the core of the story is more about the social interaction between children, making it pretty timeless.

Full disclosure, this was my introduction to Swallows And Amazons. I haven't seen the 1974 film, and if we covered the book(s) in school, I've long since forgotten all about it (although Mrs Blackout has very fond memories of both). This is worth mentioning because Phillippa Lowthorpe's 2016 adaptation features a new 'espionage' aspect which, while it hasn't exactly caused controversy, is the kind of thing that will always concern the purists.

That said I didn't notice the join, and having spies in a children's adventure/drama set three years before the Second World War feels perfectly natural to me. And with the story centering around six youngsters, this is very much A Children's Film. Which brings us to the downside, unfortunately. Let's just say that the talents of performance-delivery are not distributed evenly throughout the young cast, and it occasionally feels a bit like the Children's Film Foundation*1. That never quite derails things, but the screenplay is already torn between wanting to stick to the ethos of a more innocent drama and wanting to bring more edge to the source material, so ropey acting is an unwelcome distraction.

But above such trifling matters, Swallows And Amazons is a difficult film to actively dislike, because it's clearly coming from a place of great affection. While it's by no means perfect, this would have been very easy to get disastrously wrong, and Lowthorpe's vision holds it all together well. Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott are always great value for money, and Jessica Hynes and Harry Enfield bring a lightness of touch to the background. It's maybe a little televisual, but I'm glad the story has been told as a 90 minute film rather than being split into episodes.

As much as it sounds patronising or reductive to describe Swallows And Amazons as 'a sweet little film', that's precisely what it is. And there's no shame whatsoever in that…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It's a bit Famous Five of course, but it's also a bit 39 Steps.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
This is a Sunday afternoon movie, and the cinema or your sofa will be fine either way.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Just about, yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No, but it's in the top half of the list.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nope.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film's got Kelly Macdonald in it, who starred in Trainspotting all those years ago alongside Ewan 'Kenobi' McGregor.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And while I'm not going to be so callous as to name them here, the worst offender in this department is so wooden that the film's outdoor setting meant they needed two fresh applications of creosote throughout production…


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: The Purge - Election Year





The Purge: Election Year
Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. James DeMonaco / Trailer



Once again, the passage of time and semi-detached retrospect conspire to raise my eyebrow, as I re-read old reviews and marvel at how much I enjoyed the first Purge film and really didn't care for the second. And I'm only surprised because The Purge: Election Year is - against all expectations - quite a lot of fun.

The film takes place nineteen years into the annual Purge*1 where a progressive US senator, who wants to see the legalised crime-spree abandoned, is targeted by the powers who would rather it continue in perpetuity. Here be carnage…

Now, assuming you've watched the previous movies (and writer/director James DeMonaco is very much making that assumption), two things have changed this time around. Firstly, the screenplay doesn't actually bang on about the in-movie reason The Purge happens (Patriotic™, guilt-free, cathartic cleansing, etc). This is only the third entry in the series and already everyone concerned knows they're playing strictly to their established audience. Secondly, the screenplay doesn't spend time banging on about the perceived morality (or lack, thereof) of The Purge, which has been thusfar rendered even more patronising given how much the core-concept Just Wouldn't Work™*2. As a result, The Purge: Election Year quickly becomes a fairly effective survival-thriller, evoking The Walking Dead in its better moments, and a gleeful revenge b-movie in its lesser ones.

The overly smarmy conspiracy theory motif rears its head by the third act, of course, excitedly laying-in to conservative, capitalist conformity with all the gusto of a movie which isn't produced by one of the largest film studios in the world and hasn't charged you an exorbitant rate to sit and watch it ;) That said, it's part of an actual plot-point rather than the heavy-handed setup used on previous occasions, so it's forgivable. And sure, the film's climactic battle descends into ridiculous macho brawling, but the gunfire and melee are actually what the film does best, so again: no foul.

Best line: an ageing (ie Wise™) woman watches a TV report about young people visiting the US with the sole intention of taking part in The Purge. "Murder tourism… what's happened to our country, Joe?" she asks, apparently forgetting that The Purge (which has always been about All The Murders™, remember) is about to enter its nineteenth year. Like this is only a problem when All The Foreigners get involved...

All in all: far better than I expected it to be, largely because the series has stopped taking its own premise so seriously.

Anyway, if The Annual Purge takes place in March as noted on-screen, how come these movies are released in the Summer months (in the UK, at least)? What the hell kind of bullshit marketing is that?



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It's a little bit Hostel, a little bit Walking Dead.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you really can't wait the requisite three months for the DVD/BRD.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
This one actually does, yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Cast: hopefully not, although it's solid enough work.
Director: could well be, yes
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I will not.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is not.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: That Frank Grillo's in this. And if you remember, he was in that Captain America: The Winter Soldier along with Sam 'Windu' Jackson.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 I think it's nineteen. The "fifteen years later" flashback in the trailer is replaced with an "Eighteen years later" card in the final movie, implying that The Purge has been taking place for nineteen years (providing this earlier scene occurred during the first Purge, which isn't explicitly stated to be honest). Either way, that's a metric shit-ton of The Murder™ on an annual basis. Who's doing all the paperwork? I mean, I'm not saying I'd be great at that job, although I am and I would. Just leave me a message in the Comments, we'll go from there…

*2 Short version: all crime in America is legal for 12 hours. As if all the crimes which could be committed within a 12-hour period could be just swept under the carpet the following morning. It's a Friday Afternoon concept if ever I've heard one...


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Review: David Brent - Life On The Road





David Brent: Life On The Road
Cert: 15 / 96 mins / Dir. Ricky Gervais / Trailer



8And lo, did the distributors spake, "In ye Summer-time, specifically in ye monthe of Auguste, just after ye A-Level resultes are borne forth, ye shall release a filme which hath been made from a thing off ye tellye."
9 "Whether it doth be Ye Lemonne, Ye Partridge, Ye Inbetweeneres or even ye blaggard Whitehall Himselfe, thou shalt adapt the small screen to the large. For, 'tis the formula."
10 "And so it shall be that ye kiddes who scoreth badly in their exams shalt want to go out, and taketh their mind off despaire with laughter. Verily, those kiddes who passeth with flying colours shalt want to celebrate with goode feeling and merriment." Thus, the cinema shalt be all thinges to all children, the melting-pot and the force which bringeth together. And they shalt remember it fondly and with greate kindness.

~ The Book Of Film, Chapter 6, v8-10


Okay, various IRL events and time-management issues mean I've been procrastinating over this one for a week (with the exception of the pre-written introduction, above) and have now lost all momentum*1. These are my thoughts in brief on David Brent: Life On The Road, in no particular order of preference or severity…

Like most of these things, this isn't really a film. More a TV special which has been strung out to a length that would be deemed acceptable for a cinema release.

The mockumentary format is tried and tested, and Ricky Gervais inhabits his most famous creation with unique and practiced ease. But there's the feeling that all this is around ten years too late (the Office Christmas Specials, a coda to the two full TV series, aired in 2003). Although he's been continuing sporadically to expand the Brent canon in the meanwhile, the comedy landscape has changed a lot. While the original series is still held as a high watermark of TV comedy, it's done so in a historical context; ie you wouldn't get away with exactly the same format in 2016. And guess what…

Life On The Road is always very watchable but never really felt like something i could laugh at, largely because by guffawing I was either going along with the awful jokes and mistakes Brent makes, or mocking the misguided fool making them. It feels like 'punching down', either way. In Gervais' directorial hands, the lead character's failures become an unironic swan-song that's more uncomfortable than amusing.

Ultimately, the film's not that funny. The faux-pas*2 and awkward silences are there in abundance, but what made The Office so great was the reactions of every other character to Brent's excesses. Life On The Road has to introduce everyone other than Brent very rapidly, so we're never fully seeing events from their point of view. And apart from anything else, the audience wasn't rooting for Brent in The Office, they were rooting for Tim and Dawn. The closest this film has to their detached exasperation is Ben Bailey Smith's rapper/sidekick, Dom, who is underused as a comic foil at best.

The closest comparison I could make in terms of tone, era and comic-persona would be Alan Partridge. And while it's funny watching Partridge fail because he's a terrible person reacting in exaggerated comedy situations, Brent is just a terrible person in an everyday one. David Brent has become a real version of a real thing (and that's a compliment to the acting and the writing, if anything). If I want to see people trying their hardest to politely ignore racist comments? It's 2016, I don't need to go the cinema, that shit's everywhere

Those awkward silences were probably exacerbated by an audience of around 20 people scattered over a 270-seat auditorium. The laugh-gaps in any movie feel more hollow in that situation. Maybe this would have worked better in a later (ie more populated) screening? Then again, the beauty of the TV series was that it was immersive even if you watched it alone.

The script even throws a few 'oh, it's not as good as the TV series' jibes in its own direction, as if pointing out the obvious somehow makes it less true.

On an even more nit-picky level, there are far too many shot-angles for this to pose as an actual documentary (unless the standard docu-crew comprises four camera operators, these days?).

By the time the closing credits come round, the lead character has done nothing to earn the social and moral awards given to him, nor the bittersweet ending which accompanies them, other than perhaps 'not giving up', which wasn't really an option open to him anyway. It has its moments, certainly, but I think the biggest problem with Life On The Road is that the writer, director and headlining performer are all the same person. Restraint is everything in comedy, and that's in ironically short supply here. Plus, you can't build up a nostalgic glow for someone who's meant to be a dick in the first place…


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, The Office I suppose.
Although if you use that as your benchmark, you may come away emptyhanded
.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
No, it's not a film.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
With the best will in the world, no.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Given that the director essentially is the cast and what that person's back-catalogue consists of, no.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Probably not.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Definitely not.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well, this movie stars Ricky Gervais (and won't let you forget it), who's worked on several projects over the years with Warwick 'Wicket' Davis.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 All week it's been 'and after I've done that I'll type up my Brent-review'. Don't even get me started on the words I haven't written for Swallows and Amazons…

*2 What's the plural of 'faux-pas'..?


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.