Sunday, 31 July 2016

Review: Finding Dory





Finding Dory (3D)
Cert: U / 103 mins / Dir. Angus MacLane & Andrew Stanton / Trailer



Okay, it's Sunday night and like a kid putting off their homework, I've been sitting on this one since Friday afternoon. I have, however, been giving it some thought and the fact is, I just don't have that much to say*1 about Finding Dory.

That's not to say this isn't a very competently written, produced and performed piece, nor that I didn't enjoy the film thoroughly. I smiled and laughed my way through it, as did the sizeable audience. But at the end of it all, I got up and left the cinema accompanied only by the satisfied feeling that it hadn't been time wasted at all (which, in itself, is actually an understated compliment).

Sauntering into town a mere thirteen years after its progenitor, Finding Dory uses many of the characters from the first film and many of the same gags as a result. The fact that they're always well-intentioned and sincere works in its favour, as does the film's relentless sweetness. The central plot strand itself also isn't a million miles away from what's come before, so if you're a cynical parent who's been force-fed Finding Nemo to the point where the Stockholm Syndrome's worn back off again, you may want to bundle your youngsters off with their friends (and associated cinema-going guardians) for this one.

At just under an hour and three quarters, it's slighly too long for the story it's telling, made more prominent by a third-act which keeps extending itself into More And Bigger Crescendos Before The Credits Can Roll. A couple of the younger patrons got a bit fidgety by this point in the movie; something to bear in mind if you're paying for them all to sit in the flicks. And to make matters worse, I'm also going to tell you to stay until the end of the credits for a great reference to Finding Nemo. The scene's over a minute long, so it's worth hanging around for if you're a fan of the first film. As for the saccharine-level? Well, it's a U-rated Pixar movie, so you should know what to expect by now ;)

But in all seriousness, there's very little to dislike here. Finding Dory is consistently funny and thoughtful, and manages to raise disability issues in a way that's relaxed and ideal for youngsters and parents alike.

It's just a film that I was able to appreciate completely, then file as watched



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Finding Nemo?


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you're passing that way and you want something emotionally pleasing and in 3D.
Other than that, this will be just fine to watch at home
.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
The film's been a long time coming and it hasn't really brought any new ideas with it.
So in that respect, actually yes
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Ellen DeGeneres is reliably fantastic once again, everyone else just about keeps up.


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


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Bill 'BB-8 Voice Consultant' Hader does vocal-work here, as does John 'Derlin' Ratzenberger.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
^^ And it's actually better than 'quite' good, but it's not as good as the 'pretty awesome' it'd get if I awarded it a 6.
But I don't do half-marks, and I don't like marking out of ten, so there we go.


*1 No, really. Not like other times when I'll say I don't have much to say and then go on to write 1,500 words about someone repeatedly using the wrong accent, etc, all the while skirting around the central issue of me picking up on entirely the wrong thing(s) whilst watching the film.

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.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Review: Jason Bourne





Jason Bourne
Cert: 12A / 123 mins / Dir. Paul Greengrass / Trailer




[INT. A LUGGAGE LOCKER-ROOM, ATHENS. DAY.]
Jason Bourne uses a key he has been given to retrieve sensitive material which has been placed in an otherwise unidentified locker for him. Among the weapons and passports is a black USB drive containing encrypted data. We know it's encrypted because the drive has the word ENCRYPTED embossed into it in 36pt white Helvetica caps.
#VisualStorytelling


^^ That's what Post-Snowden™ filmmaking means, apparently. Well, that and putting the word "Snowden" into the script every fifteen minutes or so, in a bid to resonate with the audience who'll have heard the name but know little of the situation surrounding it. Although we'll come back to that demographic of viewer in a while.


And so we're back, this fifth installment of the franchise making reference to the fourth one with about the same frequency and fondness as its marketing campaign (which is to say not at all)*1. Jason Bourne (Mr Damon) is making a tidy living off-the-grid by punching people in car-park punching competitions, when former-CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Ms Stiles) tracks him down in a bid to get his face onto CCTV cameras throughout European capital cities. By absolutely no coincidence at all, the CIA (Mr Lee Jones and Ms Vikander) pick up on this. Because it's 2016, there are also heavy-handed references to social-networking and privacy-vs-security issues, courtesy of Mr Ahmed. Anyway, carnage ensues.

Now, I've been quite facetious about the whole thing so far, but Jason Bourne*2 is actually a fairly entertaining film. Tonally, it runs a middle-ground between the first three movies' habit of belligerently withholding plot-points from the audience, and the fourth one's habit of spoon-feeding them instead. Despite repeatedly lunging for the zeitgeist with both hands, the film brings little new to the genre (or to the series, in fact), but it's reliably solid nonetheless.

The performers are something a mixed-bag, as we've come to expect. Julia Stiles acts the part but has trouble delivering her clunky dialogue with any real commitment. Meanwhile, Alicia Vikander fares slightly better, but seems to have joined in with the whole espionage-thing by changing her accent every twelve minutes. And Tommy Lee Jones struggles with his inability to personify anyone other than Tommy Lee Jones™, second only to Matt Damon's identical debilitation. You're constantly reminded that you're watching the cast, rather than the characters, but when they're this good anyway, it doesn't de-rail the movie.

I don't think this entry is the best in the series, and yet I say that as someone who hasn't particularly loved that series anyway. Despite my (manifold) gripes, the early installments were far more robust in terms of film-making. But the sequel-klaxon is duly sounded here, so I'm sure Mr Greengrass will be having another go.

Jason Bourne is either a self-aware, modern tour-de-force which simultaneously entertains and philosophises with the audience using a combination of action and meta-reconnaissance, or it's a cheap-ass thriller using the Bourne-brand as a pass to ride with the big-boys, using shaky-cam to overcome the 12A restrictions on graphic violence and using the climate of techno-paranoia as an inadequate smokescreen for bullshit, clichéd machismo.

It's definitely one of those, but I'll admit it's enough fun either way...


Best line: a scene early in the film shows a covert hacking-hub in Greece. Among the controlled chaos within as activists bustle around the operations centre, one line is subtitled for the audience from the Greek: "...use SQL to disrupt their databases!". Now, given that SQL is a programming language designed for building and managing databases, that's a bit like saying "use the custard to disrupt their trifle!" and is indicative of a script which hurls faux-technobabble at the audience hoping they won't have any real knowledge of the subject(s) being discussed. This level of unwieldy background noise runs throughout the film, of course, but it's the fact that this line is translated and presented on-screen which makes it stand out, blowing its own cover instantly. This is the best use of 'I don't know what that means but I'll write it anyway' since "They're ready to go... the hashtags will tip them over!" back in April.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
I'm going to go right ahead and say Bastille Day, even though this isn't as much fun.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you like 'em big and loud.
You won't lose too much by watching this at the tail-end of a Bourne-marathon in your living room
.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
As amiable as it is, not quite because it takes itself so seriously.


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?
There is.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This movie stars Riz 'Bodhi Rook' Ahmed.
It's okay that reference will be familiar soon enough, trust me.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 I don't care what people say, I quite enjoyed The Bourne Legacy. I mean, I've never felt the need to watch it again since, but I quite enjoyed it.

*2 Really though, what kind of title is that? We're used to them being a bit more dynamic, springboarding off the borderline-pun of The Bourne Identity (because he wasn't 'born' with it; do you see?). Anyway, I've thought of some better titles if they want to ret-con it for the DVD release...
• The Bourne-Broker
• The Bourne Cocktail
• From Dusk Till Bourne
• Hung, Bourne and Quartered
• Bourne Free
• Bourne Again

Seriously Universal, hit me up. No need to pay me, a mention in the credits will be fine…


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.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Review: Star Trek Beyond





Star Trek Beyond (3D / SPOILER-Y. ish.)
Cert: 12A / 120 mins / Dir. Justin Lin / Trailer



Well, it's a pan-galactic level of irony we're at when the kid who popularised the use of the term MILF turns out to have been into dudes all along*1! I would not have called that one.

Just over three years into their five-year exploratory mission, the crew of the Enterprise are keeping themselves busy, yet boredom and despondency has set in overall*2. The film opens with a diplomatic meeting being simultaneously tedious and comically haphazard, and might actually be more fun than anything in the previous movie; although it also turns out that it's the most overt fun that this one has, too.

We then move on to Kirk and Co essentially getting a memo which reads: We've got a rescue-mission for you to go on which is, in all likelihood, a trap. Unfortunately, we dismissed the department responsible for trap-analysis after than whole Khan-incident and haven't got round to replacing them yet, so we are unable to confirm if this is actually a trap. If you could run along there and find out either way, that'd be lovely thanks. Best regards, Starfleet Command (also not yet fully replaced). This movie also (re)confirms that the Enterprise is basically the flying version of Xavier's Mansion. Apparently there's an ejector-button for the 'saucer' section, but that only gets pressed after the rest of the ship has been destroyed, anyway. Seriously, this isn't a spoiler. Getting needlessly spanged is written into the Enterprise's contract.

To cut a long ramble short (or, more accurately, to insert a short ramble into a longer one), Star Trek Beyond is very much A Star Trek Film™. There's nowhere near the amount of trope-recycling we've seen previously (or if there is then it's in minutiae so small that I didn't pick up on it), but similarly, this never tries to be anything more than the thing it already is. Fine for the undemanding members of the fanbase, but the hardcore Trekkers and casual Summer-audience alike may be left wanting. That's no great sin in itself, but the 2009 series-opener showed us that you can play to both crowds with equal skill, so why not continue that?

The 3D is immersive enough and rarely distracting, but a lot of this film is dark by necessity, so the light-loss could well be problematic if your cinema's projector appears to be on the way out (just saying, because Screen 1 doesn't have this problem but Screen 5 does). There were entire sequences where I had pretty much no idea what was going on. Although to be fair, that seems to be down to Justin Lin's direction, too. It's ironic that the guy who brought us some of the best Fast & Furious movies can direct the dialogue to great effect in Star Trek, but seems to struggle with the action scenes. Or maybe that's just the strength of a cast who are completely at-ease with each other?

Speaking of the cast, I find it genuinely amazing that Sofia Boutella's intelligent, athletic warrior Jaylah gets more character-depth in three scenes than Zoe Saldana's Uhura gets in three movies. Yes, including this one. The core-trio of Pine, Quinto and Urban are the confirmed immovable objects of the new series, but that doesn't mean they can't be complemented by the unstoppable force of their supporting crew. Other than Jaylah's introduction, this movie seems content to coast along roads already travelled rather than boldly going anywhere new.

As a strictly-civilian viewer, I quite enjoyed Star Trek Beyond, but it left no great impression other than that of a film which could be more


Oh, and since when has it been acceptable for a series of Star Trek's stature to not know the difference between a nebula and an asteroid-field, for crying out loud..?


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well let's be fair here, The Other Star Treks


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For maximum effect, sure.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does, but the film's half-hearted ambition is on display, too.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not.


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 is (and it's textbook).


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of the casually-misogynistic Dengar from The Clone Wars is in it. Oh, and he wrote it as well.
And I swear blind that I saw a Clone Wars-era medical station in here, too.
No word yet on an R2-D2 cameo, but it's early days...


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And for the record, I'm actually with Pegg on this one (for once). Sulu's sexuality and relationship-status are completely unnecessary to the over-arcing plot of Star Trek Beyond, but it's a great bit of character-building for someone who's meant to be a main-player, but has so far been little more than a branded accessory.

*2 Which is a great point that says a lot about human complacency in extraordinary scenarios. Can you imagine our ancestors of a hundred years ago being bored at all in our society? And yet here you are; killing time reading this. And I've written 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: Star Trek Into Darkness (second-pass)





Star Trek Into Darkness (2D / second-pass)
Cert: 12A / 133 mins / Dir. J. J. Abrams / Trailer



I'd be crap in Starfleet, me. It seems you have to be ready to needlessly sacrifice your own life every twenty minutes or so*1. Apparently trapped in a volcano? Just deal with it, mate. Toast burnt? Go down with the kitchen. Their HR department must be utter bedlam. Mind you their 'that's probably a trap' review-team all seem to have all booked the same week off, too.

So anyway, it becomes clear fairly early on with a bunch of heavyweight exposition surrounding the Klingon situation, that this film is a definite step away from the mainstream appeal that its predecessor established. Even though Into Darkness is a reasonably accomplished mystery/conspiracy-thriller, it's one which takes place firmly in the Star Trek universe, with the self-referential plot points and easter eggs ramped right up. Perhaps too far, but that's not an argument a Star Wars fan can convincingly make.

The film has become oddly polarising, of course, with some of its most vehement detractors being part of the fanbase itself. Still, if there's one thing that 2016's taught us, it's that online-fandom is in crisis-mode.

But the best thing about the Star Trek reboot was the personal interplay between the core characters. The explosions were pretty, but they weren't why everyone was sitting there. And seeing as vast swathes of Starfleet's employees have been killed in Into Darkness (not to mention the potentially thousands of San Franciscan fatalities), how do you plan to top that without setting up the ramps for shark-jumping? On this particular evening, I didn't have to wait long to find out.

I don't think I necessarily enjoyed Into Darkness tonight more than the first time I saw it, but I certainly enjoyed it more than I remember enjoying it. Somehow.

A firm enough movie, but it seems hesitant to write too much on 2009's clean slate


And crap pseudonyms aside, every time someone says "John Harrison" with a straight face, I think of Tony Harrison. Which just makes it even worse.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Judging by the screenplay here, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Again, not really an option right now, but if you get the chance then yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it does, but the aims of the film and the requirements of the audience aren't necessarily the same thing.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not, but only because they've all been so great elsewhere (and/or in earlier/later installments).


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 is.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film was directed by the same chap who directed The Force Awakens. Oh, and R2-D2's in this one, too. Again


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 To be fair, I've always been more the 'inept Stormtrooper' type, which equates to roughly the same outcome in terms of the company's health-insurance policy.

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: Star Trek (2009 / second-pass)





Star Trek (2009 / second-pass)
Cert: 12A / 124 mins / Dir. J.J. Abrams / Trailer



Gotta love the triple-bill! As much as I enjoyed the 2009 reboot of Star Trek (which was in the days before I wrote about everything at the cinema), it strikes me as odd that tonight was only the second time I'd seen the film. Although this underlined the fact that I'd completely forgotten that Thor is Captain Kirk's dad (even though I somehow remembered that it's Bruce Banner who's driving the aggro-bus for this movie).

JJ Abrams Star Trek is essentially the textbook on how to retool and reinvigorate a long-running franchise, giving a baggage-free fresh start to new and casual audiences, whilst being respectful to both the series' tone and existing continuity (for the long-time fans who will be going to see it no matter what). There are still plenty of nods and in-jokes to the 'old' timeline, of course, but they're telegraphed enough that the civilian audience*1 doesn't feel excluded by them.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban are fantastic here, both individually and collectively with an instant chemistry that's perfect for the roles. Leonard Nimoy is a welcome addition of course, but he feels over-used by the time he whistles the closing lines of the movie. And Anton Yelchin's Checkov is irritating as hell. There, I said it*2. It's far more poignant watching him now, of course, but that's largely because I've seen him not be the "I know this!!" kid from Jurassic Park in his other work. Because if there's one hurdle the film can't clear, it's that long-established characters who aren't in 'the main three' are reduced to one-note extras here, and giving them their own little scene in which to shine only serves to underline that. Zoe Saldana's Uhura is similarly afflicted, getting a great introduction and set-up, then being stuck at the back of the set with little to do. But more on that later.

From a more technical standpoint, the amount of lens-flare on the bridge of the Enterprise now feels like a warning-shot for Into Darkness, and will someone please buy cinematographer Dan Mindel a tripod or two so he can keep the cameras in one place for an entire line of dialogue? But Michael Giacchino's magnificent score holds the whole thing together. In many ways, his main theme is more memorable than some of the underused characters.

But my nitpicking belies the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek. It's an enormous amount of fun and a very robust space-adventure. And I say that as an honourable member of The Opposition.

Besides, Simon Pegg's presence alone means it's nice to watch a film where it's not Chris Hemsworth that's murdering a Scottish accent*3



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It'd make a pretty good companion-piece to Guardians of the Galaxy.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
A moot question at this point but if you can, yes.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No, but it's up there.


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


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I believe so but I didn't catch it, so let's go with no.
Unless you know otherwise?



Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got the voice of Greg 'Snap Wexley' Grunberg from off of The Force Awakens in it. Oh, and R2-D2, as well.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
^^ The film itself is a very strong five, but Quinto gives it an extra point.


*1 Of which I am a member, let's be fair.

*2 I said it in 2009 and again in 2013. It'd be hypocritical of me to change tack now. It's nothing against Yelchin necessarily, just the characterisation, performance and way he's directed.

*3 Yeah, yeah. I know that James Doohan's accent in the original series was bad, but a shit joke about a shit joke is still a shit joke. Maybe Hemsworth and Pegg should star in an action-comedy about a couple of Glaswegian cops, sent on assignment to Los Angeles? Actually, I shouldn't even joke about that…


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.