Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Review: Sully





Sully
Cert: 12A / 96 mins / Dir. Clint Eastwood / Trailer



The new Clint Eastwood directed movie, Sully - the story behind airline pilot Chelsey Sullenberger and the famous forced water-landing in 2009 whereby he successfully prevented any fatalities - is currently sitting at an 85% critics' approval rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, with the audience response slightly higher at 87%. I only mention this because if you want to read something reassuringly positive and uplifting about the film, that's where you'll find it…

Fresh from failing to adequately depict or explore PTSD, Uncle Clint manages to take another remarkable story which would have made a fantastic documentary, and instead fashion a mawkish, simplistic and completely patronising TV melodrama. Naturally, in addition to several depictions of the forced landing in question, the film also features two exquisitely CGI'd sequences of a passenger jet crashing into the New York skyline in a ball of flames and seared flesh, just to show that our heroic captain is having 'episodes' after the incident and absolutely not at all to be exploitative and dramatic about an event where everyone actually survived. Dear me no, no. Dear me, no.

Todd Komarnicki's screenplay*1 clunks from one scene to the next, with characters either narrating exactly what's happening on-screen or just verbally spouting their inner monologues full of clichéd platitudes to fill the gaps. Overall, it's Aaron Eckhart who manages to escape with the most dignity, starring as Sully's co-pilot with the fewest lines in the script. And don't let the reviews kid you, Tom Hanks' performance in this film is in no way special or extraordinary; he just plays Tom Hanks With White Hair, metaphorically phoning in his performance (unlike Laura Linney as his wife, who literally phones in hers). Meanwhile, the dastardly crash-investigation team smirk and twiddle their moustaches for two and a half acts before Mr Eastwood stops one beat short of sending a silver-service butler into the courtroom to announce "And now ladies and gentlemen, some humble-pie of truly epic proportions is about to be served!". All that remains is a closing-credits sequence whereby the actual real Mr Sullenberger is reunited with his actual real passengers in an aircraft hanger for forced jollity all round. Like the film hasn't already shown the guy going through enough without having to appear as himself in a bad version of his own worst day.

I'm very much aware that due to its content and tone, Sully is a sort of cinematic sacred-cow. I don't care, this is a terrible movie and it needs to be called out. The film doesn't celebrate Chelsey Sullenberger, it patronises him to within an inch of his life, and Clint Eastwood couldn't direct traffic on a one-way street.

Anyway, if memory serves, Denzel Washington did pretty much the same thing, but with a crushing hangover to boot. I think we all know who the real hero is here…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Biting the inside of your own cheek to avoid shouting at the screen for an hour and a half.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Yeah, the four (four) flight simulations we're treated to at the film's climactic courtroom scene work so much better on the big screen.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
According to the folks over at RT, yes.
Obviously, I beg to differ
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not even Eastwood's best as a director, and that's saying something.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Y'know what? I might, a little bit…


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Sam Huntingdon, who was also in Fanboys alongside Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Ray Park and a metric shit-ton of Star Wars references.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 The poster cites this as "The untold story behind the miracle on the Hudson". Untold story. It's based on Sullenberger's own book. That's where we are before we've even sat down in the auditorium...

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.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Review: Office Christmas Party





Office Christmas Party
Cert: 15 / 105 mins / Dir. Will Speck & Josh Gordon / Trailer



Okay, much like the film itself, this review of it will feature some unnecessarily bad language; sporadic and largely inoffensive in the grand scheme of things, but acting as a lexical placeholder so that nothing more meaningful has to be written. Like I said, as per…

INT. DREAMWORKS SCRIPTING OFFICE. DAY.

TWO DISHEVELLED MEN SIT OPPOSITE EACH OTHER AT A LARGE DESK.

BOB: So Terry, we're making progress here, finally. Our seasonal comedy has got eight producers, six writers and two directors working on it, as well as a crowded cast-list, over-headlined by supporting actors. You've had four weeks to come up with a title, what have you got?

TERRY: Well, just erm… how does this grab you?

TERRY slides a note over the desk to BOB.

BOB: …how does what grab me? This is a sheet of paper with three words written on it. In fact, this is the sheet of paper I gave to you a month ago with the broadest possible outline for the movie scrawled over it. That's my writing. It just says "Office Christmas Party". That's when you asked what the film was about and I had to distil it as much as I could because I was on the phone to the distributor at the time. That's the setting of the film, the background, the concept. Where's my fucking title, Terry?

TERRY: …it's the simplification of-

BOB: I'll tell you what's simple, Terry. YOU. You've had a fucking month to think of a zippy title to attract the 25-35 crowd, high on Christmas cheer and the 'fuck it, it's December, let's go out watch a movie and get hammered' spirit which comes of working with people you hate for the other eleven and a half months of the year and you've done precisely fuck-not-nothing! As a title - an actual film title - "Office Christmas Party" is perfunctory, reductive and unimaginative. It shows complete contempt for an audience that we think needs everything spelling out for them, in the largest letters and lowest-common-denominator sight-gags. In fact, I'd bet a pound to a fucking penny that presenting this in a title-sequence will consist of one shot with the text laid in a single line across the screen in Helvetica bold, solid white, belying any irony while displaying the total lack of imagination that's gone into the whole, sorry project…

TERRY: I've read the script, Bob. That title works.

BOB: …Yeah, fair point. Scotch?


The chosen title, and perceived logic behind it*1, tells you all you need to know about the film.

And y'know what? The film's not awful. It's just a series of disparate sketches, some far more successfully executed than others, awkwardly tacked together with a screenplay so mechanical it makes Optimus Prime look like something you'd buy at the Deli-counter. If you like people swearing, people falling over, people over-acting drunk/high, too many dick-jokes and the occasional boob, this is your film. Sure, you can get better elsewhere, even with the same overall lack of dignity, but Office Christmas Party is a movie every bit as forced and clichéd as the workplace gatherings it claims to be satirising.

The weirdest thing is that it features a cast you've enjoyed elsewhere struggling through the half-written script as if they're reading it for the first time, playing themselves all the while. Kate McKinnon, TJ Miller and Karan Soni coast on the charm they've accrued this year in much better movies, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston continue to be stuck in the rut of mediocrity to which they've become accustomed, while genre-regulars Jillian Bell and Rob Corddry lend the kind of screen support that will do them no favours in climbing higher up the ladder. At least Olivia Munn is moving in the right comedic direction. Just.

Not without smirks and a couple of guffaws, just nowhere near enough to cover the cracks which make up the entire rest of it. While it pushes (way too) hard for the happy-everyone ending, the film doesn't even try to tug at the audience's heart-strings. This, I suppose, is a blessing.

For best results watch once only and in An Advanced State Of Refreshment™.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The kind of thing that Universal usually wheel out at this time of year. Even though this isn't Universal's. Sure feels like it, though..


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
No, this is a £3 DVD from Asda while you're picking up pizza, some beer and a bottle of cheap vodka.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Nope.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Nope.


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 movie stars that Jamie Chung, and she was in Suckerpunch with Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 and the choice of typeface as well. I'm not making that shit up. Bizarrely, the title-shot in the film uses Helvetica whereas the poster uses Arial. That's how little effort has gone in, here.

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.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: Elstree 1976 (second-pass)





Elstree 1976 (second-pass)
Cert: 12A / 101 mins / Dir. Jon Spira / Trailer



The boy, it appears, does have patience after all. After missing its appearance at the 2015 LFF and catching it on VOD instead, I've finally managed to see the Star Wars documentary Elstree 1976 in a cinema as part of its nationwide screening-tour, which included a Q&A session with the director Jon Spira, composer Jamie Hyatt and the hero of the battle of Yavin, John Chapman.

There's not actually too much more to add to my first review of the film; it's an intimate, charming and utterly fascinating look at some of the lesser-known faces of 1977's A New Hope, presented in the form of intercut interviews with former cantina aliens, X-Wing pilots, stormtroopers and more. I'd previously mused that a film this niche would perhaps go right over the heads of a 'civilian' audience, but that's exactly who was present at Oxford's Ultimate Picture Palace this evening. Unlike the recent Gary Numan doc, these weren't particularly fervent Star Wars fans, or even documentary fans, just a selection of punters curious enough to want to look through the window into another world, and this film held their attention throughout, even when I could sense that they were a little lost by the minutiae of the GFFA. It was interesting to see which aspects of the cast's reminiscences resonated with them, as well as the parts which were perhaps too inaccessible (they seemed to find Boba Fett actor Jeremy Bulloch's description of all the pens he carries for signing different items highly amusing, for some reason. Even after the man tells the tale of the time his silver marker leaked all over a poster which had already been signed by many other performers. I was wincing through that section (as was Jeremy, recalling it), but presumably this doesn't sound like a big deal to the The Normies?).

A thing which did surface more the second time I watched it was the borderline transient nature of the convention/autograph circuit, which was underlined by John Chapman speaking afterwards. Elstree 1976 is already a sincere study of the scene, but it's definitely not a 'look at what these movie extras are doing these days'. It's more look at what they were doing then, a snapshot taken when the documentary was made. Several of its stars have since moved away from the circuit, having either scratched that itch or just gotten tired of the hierarchical politics surrounding the whole thing. The film makes no judgement of either the actors, nor the fans who adore them, but nor does it take issue with them stepping back into the relative obscurity of regular life. This is a film about ordinary people that celebrates their ordinariness.

If you like old-school Star Wars, you'll enjoy Elstree 1976. Otherwise you're probably going to be like the couple sat behind me who didn't appear to know what the film was about (at all) before it started, despite being interested enough to have bought tickets to watch it. Which I suppose is fair enough if you're the proprietor of a cinema...



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The decent bonus-documentaries from the old days which actually used to impart something about the production of a film, rather than those ones you get now which are basically a showreel of the cast and crew all saying how wonderful it is to be working with each other and little else.

Meow, I know
.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Well, despite initially missing this at the 2015 London Film Festival, I've finally got to do just that. So for me, yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does, previous bugbears still upheld.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
In the director's case, we'll wait and see.
He freely admitted in the Q&A that this level of intricate fandom wouldn't really work with any other series or franchise, so I shall watch Jon's career with great interest
.


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?
There isn't.
Mind, who's the performer inside the Stormtrooper suit who goes tumbling off the Death Star gantry where the Wilhelm is used? That's what I want to know…



Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The entire featured cast was in Star Wars.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


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: Bleed For This





Bleed For This (SPOILERS, technically*1. And bad language, certainly.)
Cert: 15 / 117 mins / Dir. Ben Younger / Trailer



And so, December is almost upon us and I braced the now-freezing elements as well as my less-than-warm reservations*2 for the true-story movie of Vinny Paziena, the successful Rhode Island boxer who suffered a broken neck in a car crash in 1991, then worked towards an unprecedented recovery and back into the ring to carry on fighting.

As you might imagine, writer/director Ben Younger's film isn't a barrel of laughs, although a few uneasy chuckles are scattered among the scowls, frowns and wincing. The path to righteous retribution is gritty and painful, and Miles Teller puts in a decent turn as the troubled boxer. Also supporting ably are Aaron Eckhart as the only trainer in history who's not a washed-up, exploitative sociopath, and Ciarán Hinds as the only father/manager in history who's not a bitter, exploitative sociopath (Ciarán channelling his best Robert de Niro here, arguably better than de Niro can manage these days).

Although it borrows heavily from the trope-bank (more on that shortly), Bleed For This is actually at its best when it's a story about people. Although it's central to the story, the film isn't about the sport, that just serves as a backdrop to frame the characters. Well acted all round and strongly directed from Younger, the efficient screenplay doesn't spoon-feed the audience too much, although with a plot this linear it doesn't have to. The film also does this weird thing where various clips of news and archive fight-footage feature the real-life Vinny Paz, rather than Miles Teller's portrayal. But not all the clips. And it's all the more noticeable because they don't look that alike. I suspect it's meant to be a tribute, but it's a weird way of doing it.

All in all, I thought Bleed For This was actually a pretty decent (if low-key) drama all the time it wasn't trying to be A Boxing Film™ and applying unrestrained cliches accordingly:
Plucky working-class underdog*3 determined to fight, against expectations and recommendations.

Grizzled old promoter saying "Ya got heart, kid!".

Training-montage with musical backing (three of these).

A flashback sequence in the final act to remind the audience of things which happened less than an hour ago.

A final, climactic, blood-stained match with female members of the family watching from between their fingers on the TV, which goes the full twelve rounds without anybody losing consciousness so is then decided upon by the judges. Yes. Fucking again (cf this and that). Everything the audience goes through with Vinny - the sweat, the pain, the anger, the frustration, the fear, the determination… none of those are what earns Paziena the title. That was done by the opinion of a guy sitting at a desk.
That's not redemption, it's fucking admin.

"Hey Terry, both of these lads are still standing after the full twelve rounds, which one do you think should win?"
"Well neither of them yet, obviously Bob. Tell them to keep punching each other in the face until only one of them can walk out of the ring. That's what they're fucking well there for, after all. I'm here to make sure they don't start biting or stabbing each other, not to hand out 'I tried hard' badges, for fuck's sake. If I knew this was going to be down to my opinion, I'd have called it an hour ago and been at home by now…"


But like I say, apart from being A Boxing Film™, it's a passable enough drama.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The kind of films where people argue in between wearing shorts and punching each other in the face.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
There's nothing particularly cinematic about it, I've got to say.
Especially all those reaction-shots during the actual face-punching
.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so, yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not, but it's a solid effort.


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


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


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well, Miles teller was in the running to be the young Han Solo (and yes, I'm glad that didn't pan out), however, this film stars Katey Sagal who was in that Sons of Anarchy along with Jimmy 'Organa' Smits.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 It's a 'true story', the facts have been out there since they happened in the early 1990s. Although I'll understand if you don't know the outcome of the climactic match before watching the film (I certainly didn't). Anyway, no spoilers in this particular paragraph, just in the review above.

*2 Yeah, I didn't want to open the review with a sluice of negativity (although if you're reading the footnotes as you go then I've pretty much done that anyway), but I wasn't looking forward to this if I'm honest. We're not even into full Oscar-season yet and I've already had enough of Worthy True Story Films™; 2016's been angst-ridden enough as it is without putting myself through the ringer when I sit down in the cinema, too. Added to this, I don't seem to have a great track record when it comes to The Boxing Films. Even with the training, skill and passion inherent to the sport (I imagine), it still comes down to two people getting Punched In The Face, and that's what The Stath is for, right? The trailer for Bleed For This is basically just a guy saying "Hey. I might be disabled now but I still want to get Punched In The Face, because that's all I know and when you think about it there's something kinda inspirational about that, don't you think?". Like doing an inherently stupid thing for heartfelt reasons automatically makes it a good thing. Again, cf 2016. And what's that you say? The film's got the lead actor from the Fantastic Four reboot in it? Well, where do I sign up? To be honest, Bleed For This could only have been less appealing if it featured a duet between Peter Kay and James Corden singing about how great they are, a backing choir of three Katie Hopkins clones and Piers Morgan playing a foghorn. And if that's what I'm feeling before I go into a movie, it's really going to have to work hard to impress me.
But Like I said, I didn't really want to open the review with that paragraph...

*3 Although not to piss on the film's parade unduly, but the guy's not an angel by any means. While his convictions all occurred after the events of this movie, you can't imagine that Vinny was into crochet and The Archers growing up, y'know?


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.