Saturday, 22 July 2017

Review: Dunkirk





Dunkirk
Cert: 12A / 106 mins / Dir. Christopher Nolan / Trailer



Well it's hard for me to absolutely rave over Dunkirk, not least since all I've seen for the last fortnight is pull-quotes telling me how life-altering an experience it would be, setting the bar unreasonably high. It's not. It's very good and certainly a unique film, but while he thankfully steers clear of the open-goal mawkishness of the genre, Nolan's project almost feels held back by its run-time and Certificate 12A compliance*1. This is a beautiful looking piece of work, with Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography and the outstanding sound design stealing the show from the on-screen performers*2 (Hans Bjnerno's aerial camerawork is particularly balletic).

The film follows three groups of people (beginning separately one week, one day and one hour before the Dunkirk evacuation) as their story threads gradually intertwine in the heat of battle. A British soldier desperately trying to leave the beach before attacking enemy aircraft kill him and his comrades, a small pleasure cruiser which sets off from Weymouth to assist in the rescue mission, and a trio of Spitfire pilots headed across the English Channel to help take out the attacking Nazi forces. Chronologically it's not a 'regular' film, and I felt a little resistance from the audience I was seated with*3, particularly since once the timelines begin to converge it briefly makes less sense, not more. Overall, while the period-detail is exquisite here*4, the story is more about feeling and tension, and the realising (of course) that the people who lived through those moments didn't know how it would all turn out.

But I particularly liked that a film of this scale only ever tells its stories from an individual (or small group) perspective. The grandiose morale-boosting and general flag-waving of most war epics is all but absent. If anything, the film succeeds thoroughly in presenting the misery and confusion of armed conflict. Dunkirk is to the war-movie genre what It Comes At Night is to horror; eschewing the tradition of self-contained narratives to be more of a visual tone-poem.

Unusually for Nolan's work, I'd have preferred the film to be about half an hour longer, or at least more tightly knit, to do more justice to the individual unfolding stories.

Although if we'd had that extra screen-time, I'm pretty sure it would have gone towards an extension of Sugary-Tom's Scenic Sky-Tours

[ Spoilery-bit: highlight to read ]
Seriously though, not withstanding the question of 'could a Spitfire glide for that long after its engine has cut out?', what's Tom's game here? I'd assumed he was trying to keep the plane in one piece and land it for repair and re-use, since it had only ran out of fuel. But then he gently lands on the far end of the beach, torches it and awaits capture by Ze Germans. If he's trying to keep the machinery out of enemy hands, why not just parachute out earlier and let it crash? Plus, if he'd bailed out by the pier, Commander Branagh could have picked him up instead of an armed Nazi escort. Because there's no fucking way they're letting him live after his antics up there.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Difficult to say as I've not really seen anything like this, tonally.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the big screen and big sound, absolutely.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I have absolutely no doubt that this is the film Christopher Nolan wanted to make, and that is a great thing.


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


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?
Not that I heard.
Poor show.



Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Not including a plethora of level-1 stunt performers, this film stars that Mark Rylance, and he's in the upcoming Ready Player One alongside Ben 'Krennic' Mendelsohn, Hannah 'First Order Officer' John-Kamen and Simon 'Plutt' Pegg.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Is it wrong of me to want a 15-rated version of this film? To really ramp up the carnage? I wasn't expecting Hacksaw Ridge, but there's a film that doesn't flinch from the terror of warfare. [ BACK ]

*2 While the ensemble cast are on generally fine form here (even Tom 'The Mumbler' Hardy who - naturally - is given a flight-mask to talk through), I can't not say that Mark Rylance plays civilian rescuer Mr Dawson like it's the first time he's read his lines, and Barry Keoghan plays his young charge George like he hasn't been given a script. Both are far better than this and the film succeeds in spite of them, not because.
There. I said it. [ BACK ]

*3 Bless them though, I've moaned about the cinema-etiquette of senior audiences in the past, but this lot were on best behaviour. Not a rustling wrapper or mid-movie conversation to be heard. [ BACK ]

*4 Although as I was leaving, I overheard one patron saying to her friends "the only thing was, the seats on that train in the end looked too modern!", referencing a post-evacuation scene back in Blighty. It was all I could to to keep myself from interjecting 'That's probably because you've sat on them. Train companies were still running that same stock (albeit refurbished) in and out of London until the late 1990s'. I'm not even a train geek, I just used to commute on the rattly bastards… [ BACK ]

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, 18 July 2017

The Super-Fan Diaries, vol.1




[ The following post is archival material, written for another site/platform, but never published until now. While the text has been reviewed/proofread, it is presented here in its original, unexpurgated form. ]



My name is Ian, and I am a Cineworld Super-Fan.

It wasn't always this way of course. When I was younger, I'd go to the movies when something took my fancy or a big, event-film dropped, but it was an irregular, even occasional past-time. Then a brand spanking new cinema opened in my town, courtesy of The Cineworld Filmographic Projection Co, and never had the magic of celluloid been so readily accessible. Better still, word was going round that Cineworld also offered some manner of subscription-card, whereby customers could watch as many movies as they wanted, and at any time for a monthly fee which was less than the price of two regular tickets. As many as I wanted. Imagine that.

It was then, in 2007, that Cineworld became 'my local'.

I'd go two or three times a month at first, making sure I at least got my money's worth from the card, but as the months and years strode on I visited more and more. Comedies, thrillers, horror, animation; I'd give any promising-looking flick a try, I just needed film. By 2013, I'd even upgraded my membership to cover Cineworld's West-End London locations, a 45-minute train ride away. With a bit of canny scheduling, I could zip into the capital and watch three or four films back-to-back; works which were too indie or niche to be shown at my local 5-screener. And all the while still making two or three weekly visits to my local.

I was in cinematic free-fall.

Then, early in 2015, I received a direct-message through Twitter. It was from Cineworld themselves. I'd tweeted them before as I'd taken to 'checking in' when I sat down to watch a movie, and they'd favourited the occasional judgement of mine on those reels, but here they were, contacting me, unbidden. What could it be about? "Would you like to take part in something special?" they asked. It should go without saying that the answer was a resounding yes. "Great! More details will follow…" they replied and with that, signed off, leaving me wondering what I'd agreed to.



When the invitation arrived, the crisp black envelope held within it the words that no friends, no family, even no cinema-staff could say to my face. "You are one of our Cineworld Super-Fans!" the card beamed. Like any cineaste in my position, I could only accept, and not deny, this fact. If wasn't a judgement or an opinion, just a fact. But wait, the card went on to invite me (and a tantalisingly unspecified number of other Super-Fans) to London for 'a special day' at the O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome) in Greenwich. Again, I unquestioningly confirmed my attendance, travel arrangements were made and a sunny Saturday in July set aside. All the details were finalised, except for the actual contents of the 'special day'.

After the now-familiar journey into London, I travelled the insanely hot Jubilee Line to North Greenwich, my nerve-insured punctuality causing me to arrive over an hour early. Cineworld's helpful staff (but then, they unfailingly are) pointed me in the direction of the bar-area, where members of the PR team were already preparing.

We sat and chatted movies, work, movies, life and movies, and I gently (clumsily) attempted to mine more information about the day ahead. Just how many Super-Fans were there? After all, we'd been mysteriously summoned to one of Cineworld's largest, flagship cinemas. 150? No. 100? No. 50 then? No, 10. Ten. I represented one tenth of the Super-Fandom? Apparently so. Wow. How's that for special?

Gradually my fellow Super-Fans and their plus-ones arrived, each from farther afield in the UK than myself. Once assembled, we were shown into a specially reserved auditorium and thanked for our attendance. Yes, Cineworld were thanking us. A goodie-bag awaited each of us (and I'm not talking about a carrier bag with some money-off vouchers, this was a branded messenger bag containing a t-shirt (no, not a Cineworld one, they don't want us posing as staff), a book, two DVDs, some of that high-end popcorn and a proprietary enamel-destroying soft drink). A behind-the-scenes tour followed, including the projection-area (it'd be unfair to call it a room, as it's the lengthy hub which links all eleven of the screens) and a walkaround of the largest 3D screen in Europe. This is all very geeky, naturally, but let's not forget why we were all there.



Oh, yes. Why we were all there. This was another previously raised and enigmatically unanswered question. Giving us our welcome/introductory briefing, Cineworld's PR told us (and I'm paraphrasing here, but not too much) "We've seen what you guys have been doing on social media, we like it very much and we wanted to say thanks". Cue a collection of fewer than twenty film geeks thinking "…yeah, I thought that's what you said. You're thanking us for loving what you do when you're the ones doing the work to make it great?". As gestures go, it's pretty hard to beat. The Super-Fans programme, we were told, was to run from July to December, with a surprise for us every month, this being the first.

And the other major component of the day's surprises was to be a special advance screening of the new Pixar movie, Inside Out, with unlimited complementary refreshments (and if you've bought any refreshments in a cinema ever, you'll appreciate that this in itself is a big deal). Of course, once you're told you can go wild at the concession stand - particularly with everything else that's being laid on for you - you do the sensible thing and don't go wild. I'm not sure if social experimentation was part of Cineworld's agenda for the day, but it would have made for an interesting study.

And so after our guided tour and lunch at Frankie & Benny's (no, seriously, spoiled rotten), the Cineworld Super-Fans were the first public audience in the UK to see Inside Out (an online embargo was placed on discussion/reviews and duly observed here at Blackout Towers, but we were only a week ahead of the full release, and I happen to know that Picturehouse were running a students-only screening the very next day. Nevertheless, words were typed, but duly withheld). It's is a very good film; funny, thoughtful and intelligent. A story told for the reasons of the narrative itself, rather than a blatant ruse to try and sell spin-off merchandising (although, this being the twenty first century, there's plenty of that, too). While I'm aware that it certainly connected with others far more than it did with myself, I still got a lot out of it, and can see the value of the brightly-coloured psychological analogy on display; Freud in felt-tips, if you will.

After this, the gathered Super-Fans were offered the chance to watch a 3D screening of Ant-Man, with added D-Box enhancement (short version: shaky-seats). Not an exclusive screening obviously, but consisting of complementary seats reserved right in the centre of the auditorium and the aforementioned mega-snacks, certainly a welcome addition to the day's proceedings. And as much as the D-Box is a total gimmick, it's a gimmick which works perfectly for a movie like this, with the audience in the special-chairs feeling every swoosh, sway and punch thrown throughout the film.

After Ant-Man, though, it was early evening. The Super-Fans thanked their hosts sincerely, and began the arduous trek homeward, laden with all the merch and snacks they could carry. Not me, of course. I think we've established by now that I rarely use the words 'cinema-going' and 'restraint' in the same sentence, unless it's one designed to highlight their disparity. Having travelled the shortest distance to be at the O2, I still had time to slot in another movie which wouldn't be playing at my local and still make it home at a reasonable hour. That movie was The Gallows, and while it was hardly my favourite of the day, I'm still glad I watched it in the environment it was meant to be seen in; a Saturday night multiplex full of shrieking viewers. Somebody enjoyed it, at least.

That, my friends, was my first day as a Cineworld Super-Fan. And I'd been assured it wouldn't be my last. I'd like to say that I swapped details with my cinematic comrades that day, and that we all had plenty to discuss and dissect on social media afterward. Unfortunately, I'm atrocious at actual human-networking in meat-space, so other than brief and polite chit-chat, I didn't really get to know the other Super-Fans as much as I'd have liked. No matter; in the intervening hours, I'd at least managed to glean that we'd all be meeting up again for another event in two-to-three months time. Networking could wait. My homebound train, on the other hand, couldn't.

And at the end of all this, as I type these words before daring to go to sleep and losing some of the day's lexical momentum, I'm still actually no clearer as to why this all took place. What's in it for Cineworld other than preaching to the choir? It's a question which several people had asked me on the run-up to the day's events, and one I'm no more qualified to answer after the fact. But the fact that it did take place is more than enough.

My name is Ian, and I am a Cineworld Super-Fan.



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, 16 July 2017

Review: Spider-Man - Homecoming (second-pass)





Spider-Man: Homecoming (IMAX 3D / second-pass / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 133 mins / Dir. Jon Watts / Trailer



So I went to see Spider-Man again, at London's Leicester Square IMAX*1, this time. And while the film obviously no longer held the element of pleasant surprise for me, I loved it every bit as much. More in some places. There won't be any wanging-great plot spoilers in this piece, but I'll be coasting over some of the events and characters which do and don't appear, hence the spoiler-warning.

[ On a side-note that I may as well slip in here, I loved that before the movie there was an ad for Dell gaming-computers using modified footage from the film. And in that sequence in the movie, you notice that the laptop Peter actually uses in class has the logo obscured. His friend Ned later uses a machine with Dell branding on it, though. Now, given that the current rights-owners to Spidey are the same people who'll work photo-realistic tech-appearances into an animated feature, I think someone in the Sony Brand Placement department is currently furious about the 'deal' that's been struck with Marvel. And I couldn't be happier at that thought. ]


So when I left the cinema after watching Homecoming for the first time, I felt something which hadn't come over me for quite a while. Excitement. Not the anticipation and intrigue I get before a movie, but the feeling that a huge door has been kicked open and now anything is possible. The endings of Doctor Strange and Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 were satisfying, but this was a buzz I haven't had since the closing moments of Amazing Spider-Man 2 (ironically enough), or Iron Man 3. It was that feeling of wanting to go right back in and watch it again. Immediately. And a few days later when I left the IMAX auditorium*2? There it was again. Outstanding stuff.

At that final shot (of the main film), where Peter Parker has returned home and found the real reward of his labours awaiting him? That look on his face of triumph, humility and acceptance, all at once? The camera panning slowly to the figure behind him, slightly out of focus, and that final line of dialogue? The first tim I saw that, I grinned like an idiot; the second, I had tears in my eyes. At Peter's side, we've taken our first step into a larger world.

The first distinction which makes the film work in a crowded marketplace is that while it's a reboot, it's not an origin-story. Thankfully. Either Marvel are confident in their target audience's familiarity with this flagship super-hero by now*3, or even they don't think they'll get away with telling a variation of the same story for the third time in fifteen years. Narratively, this gives the film a wider scope than many of the series' standalone movies featuring a 'new' hero.

It's also important to note that the new movie isn't 'classic comic' Spider-Man, either in tone or execution, but that's always been the way of the MCU. To take the core traits of the characters and reinvigorate them to fit a new, larger story. Homecoming does this even better than most in the series - Holland is his own version of the web-slinger, but still intrinsically the Parker/Spider-Man we expect. In terms of bringing a character we know into a story we don't and having them interact with the continuity, this is MCU at its absolute finest*4.

Instead we get relatively subtle (if still incredibly direct) cues from the script as to what's brought Parker to our attention this time: He was bitten by a spider (which is now dead), and Aunt May has had a tough old time of things lately (presumably because Uncle Ben is sitting on a cloud somewhere, next to a spider). Peter's climbing and acrobatic skills are inherent to him, he builds his own web-shooters, and everything else comes courtesy of the Stark-engineered suit. But the writers (and even I'm embarrassed to say that there are six of them on this project) don't feel the need to dot-every-i and cross-every-t, just yet. Familiar names like Mary-Jane Watson, J. Jonah Jameson and Gwen Stacy haven't been shoehorned into the story. Just yet. This is MCU Spider-Man, more concerned with its wider tableaux*5 than providing a fan-service checklist of Greatest Hits references*6. Although on a nemesis-level, with Vulture well and truly established, we get Shocker and Scorpion bookmarked in the continuity for future rumbling, as well as a few other character-seeds sewn into the bargain.

But Homecoming isn't just an advert for the next film in the series. The story develops and grows Parker's character rather than just setting it up for something else. Indeed, by the way this chapter is wrapped up (and the credits-stings in particular), you get the feeling that while Marvel are more than happy with the integration between rights-holders, Sony are playing things like they're not sure what happens next. Stark's line about Toomes' crew being 'below the Avengers pay-grade' would seem to imply that Spidey's solo adventures could be Sony-only ventures. Nothing is ruled out, but neither is it writ in stone. The question is, do Sony get to carry on using the Tom Holland Spider-Man in their own standalone movies if they don't include any other MCU trademarks? And the next question is, would we want them to? The Venom movie might go some way to answering those, but according to Marvel producer Kevin Feige, our friendly-neighbourhood web-slinger won't be present for that one. Which feels a bit like making a Joker flick that doesn't also feature Batman; possible, but weird.

And how long will Spidey be around in the MCU timeline? This film doesn't commit to inducting him into the permanent line-up of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, but nor does it write him out of the future, either short or long term. Any future MCU-appearances (even a flash of the suit or mention of a character-name, presumably), will require the ongoing agreement between Marvel Studios and Sony which is currently in place*7 (although Deadpool managed to squeak round this with its heli-carrier appearance), so in for a penny in for a pound, right?

We should anticipate significant spider-presence for the foreseeable future, I think.
In the meanwhile, I'm off to see Homecoming again…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
MCU-stuff. Spidey-stuff.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Yes.


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


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Best? Difficult to say. Not least because the groundwork has been laid for it to get even better.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shall look sternly over my spectacles and ask you to explain yourself.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Still not sure. Thought I heard one in the ferry-scene first time round, but didn't hear it at all this time.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Pre Vizsla's in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Despite that particular cinema having a constant schedule of films to show in the format, this has been the first movie outside of Star Wars which I've seen (indeed wanted to see) in IMAX. [ BACK ]

*2 The IMAX experience was amazing again, as I expected (indeed, that's why I went). It's so good to see the (almost) ghost-less 3D in its intended colour-range. The big one at Cineworld's Leicester Square is the best screen for audio/visual reproduction, but with some of the worst leg-room I've ever experienced. I'm 5'11", that's not exactly lanky, and even I was getting knee-cramp by the 45 minute mark. [ BACK ]

*3 It should be noted that 2008's The Incredible Hulk played much the same hand, leaving the heavy-lifting of historic exposition largely to the viewer's memory of Bill Bixby, and of the 2003 cinematic offering from Ang Lee. [ BACK ]

*4 Although obviously, The First Avenger is still the greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Don't bother disagreeing, I will fight you on this. [ BACK ]

*5 It's arguable of course that the original comic Spidey was in the wider Marvel universe to begin with, and the stories still had room to fit those names into their roll-call... [ BACK ]

*6 And that's not to put down Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man flicks at all, it's just clear that there was going to have to be a significant style change when Parker stepped into the MCU. [ BACK ]

*7 Although speaking of cross-promotion: during a chase-scene, Peter Parker - who says in the film that he's aged 15 so was born around 2002 - points out that Ferris Bueller's Day Off is "a great movie". That would be the Ferris Bueller's Day Off which was released in 1986, sixteen years before he was born. Yet in Captain America: Civil War, Parker refers to The Empire Strikes Back as "that really old movie", despite it only being six years older than Bueller. The hell, Parker? (although the vintage Kenner X-Wing which hangs in Peter's room could well be an allusion to this apparent anomaly). [ BACK ]

+ + + + +

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: It Comes At Night





It Comes At Night (SPOILERS! …I suppose?)
Cert: 15 / 92 mins / Dir. Trey Edward Shults / Trailer



Credit where it's due, if you want to give your film a strong opening, go for someone leaving the house with an incapacitated elderly relative in a wheelbarrow, whilst carrying a rifle and a can of petrol. Yeah, that got my attention. It Comes At Night is a film which both infuriated and delighted me (despite everything I'm about to go on and say) in equal measure.

In the near-future in an undisclosed U.S. woodland location, a family struggles to subsist in a remote farmhouse, having barricaded themselves away from the remnants of a civilisation destroyed by pestilence. Anonymity is synonymous with longevity when you don't know who you can trust, and the arrival of a desperate, bedraggled stranger throws their delicate routine into turmoil…

On the plus-side, Trey Edward Shults has written and directed a beautifully tense film. It's a languorous chiller which delights in disturbing rather than throwing jump-scares at the viewer (although there are a few of those as well, to be fair). The cast buy into this ethos perfectly, their muted and repressed performances adding to the claustrophobia. Defined, perhaps unofficially, as post-horror, the film is almost a mood-board, rather than a picture-book. An montage of feelings, rather than a linear chain of actions. And if that description gives you pause for thought, you'll probably be on the same page as I was for It Comes At Night

What comes at night? Well, I've been down on 'studio-horror' for some time now*1; the ludicrous plots, the quiet-quiet-bangs and that thing they do at the beginning of the third act where a character conveniently uncovers the entire back-story of their supernatural nemesis. That's paint-by-numbers horror for lazy audiences and I think it's insulting. Shults' film on the other hand takes a more casual approach. At the start of the movie, we don't know the mechanics of the apocalypse which has befallen society to bring it to the point where Paul and Sarah are barely surviving entirely self-sufficiently in a remote farmhouse. We don't know why they're far enough down the line that they're not using their TV or radio to scan for information or help despite having solar-power, yet at the same time they don't seem to be so far into isolation that they've gotten rid of things like the bedside lamps they no longer use. We don't know the specifics of the airborne virus they're trying to guard against, or the reason they daren't venture out after darkness. We don't know why the family wear gas-masks to protect against the infection outside, yet don't appear to have a hermetically sealed house and aren't worried about cross-contamination from particles trapped in their clothes etc. We don't know why they're living in a house large enough to have brick chimney stacks (ie it's not a wooden shack) and have working plumbing (we see the shower being used), yet we're told they use an outside toilet and they pump their drinking water from a well outside (which would be more prone to compromise, surely?).

We don't know these things at the start of the movie, and we don't know them by the end, either. Just… not explained. It feels a little like Shults shot his film saying to the cast "don't worry, all the context and backstory will be done through flashback sequences", then the time and budget ran out before those could be filmed. At only 92 minutes and with so many unanswered questions, I couldn't help feeling a little short-changed. What comes at night? Hallucinations, memories and nightmares, apparently.

But I thoroughly enjoyed the film I watched, in fact it'll be great when it's finished. This feels like a really good standalone-episode of The Walking Dead, where the larger world is already established in the audience's mind, and the more danger comes more from social interaction with the living than any monsters roaming about. But it's not that. At least, not that we're shown. Post-horror apparently means not having to worry about details, only snapshots and fragments. It's difficult to empathise with any of the players when we don't know the broader context of their situation, only the minutiae of their domestic existence. New characters arrive in the story, which would normally be the storytelling device by which the past is fleshed out, but they're giving up little-to-nothing, either. Every character we meet (with the possible exception of the 5yr old kid and the dog) has a greater knowledge of the story than the audience, at the start, middle and end of the film. We don't go on a journey with anyone, we're just looking into the bus as they cruise past. So other than in the broadest, most circumstantial sense, it's impossible to feel anything for them. An air of mystery is nice, Mr Shults, but don't leave it up to me to imagine the wider narrative; you're the one being paid to tell the story after all…

Too loose and open-ended to be a narrative-piece, but too fixated on quarantine procedures to be a conceptual-work. I'm pretty sure It Comes At Night is allegorical, I just have no idea what for.

Scariest line:
"You don't like bread pudding? What's wrong with you?"

Okay, maybe this is a horror after all…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Oh, something like Personal Shopper, probably.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the atmosphere, yes.

Assuming, that is, that it's not in screen 6 of Cineworld Fulham Road, who show a film where darkness is not only key but almost a character in itself, by having the 'dim' house-lights on throughout. Not the big house-lights which come on during the credits (and obviously not the 'cleaning' lights which the public rarely sees). But the central strip running down the centre of the ceiling, and illuminating everyone in the room. The film's characters are padding around in suffocating darkness, while I can see the patron a few rows in front of me picking their nose. I didn't have to worry about deciphering my scrawled notes for this film, since it was light enough to write by. Added to this is the Fire Exit sign which bleeds onto the lower-left of the screen, yes Fulham Road have previous on this one…


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
For me, to some extent but not enough.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I couldn't tell you. I hope not.


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 1: Uncle Owen's in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Having watched a metric shit-ton of it in my youth, as well as countless straight-to-video duds where the cover art is head and shoulders above anything the actual film has to offer, hence my selecting it at Ritz Video[ BACK ]

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.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Review: The House





The House
Cert: 15 / 88 mins / Dir. Andrew Jay Cohen / Trailer



This review is dedicated to the occupant of seat C4, in screen 9 of Cineworld's Leicester Square cinema, at the 12:15pm showing of The House, on Saturday 8th July 2017*1.

Now, I like to be as punctual as possible with my cinema-viewing. I aim to arrive at the doors of the auditorium itself at the start-time on the ticket, or shortly thereafter pending queues etc. I know there are twenty-seven minutes between that time and the on-screen arrival of the BBFC card (everything thereafter being the film itself). I also know that within those twenty-seven minutes, people will be entering the room on a steady basis and probably, depending on my seat-location, edging past me to get to their own. I'm fine with that (providing it's before the BBFC card), I just don't want to be that guy.

I mention this because I was pretty much on-time, as above, for my viewing of the new Will Ferrell / Amy Poehler comedy, The House. And as I entered the room, seat C4 was already occupied. Fair play, I thought, this is a man after my own heart, a patron who wants to take in the entirety of the presentation*2. Like myself, this was a viewer escaping the bustling activity of London's West End on a Saturday lunchtime and enjoying the group-solitude of cinema. What I'm saying is, this guy clearly wanted to be there as he'd arrived before I had and had bought snacks at the concession counter. Which made it all the more funny when he sat through the adverts, trailers, promo, more ads… and then left the film four and a half minutes in. Such is this man's judgement and foresight, he doesn't need to know what he then missed, he just knew when the script dropped a rape-joke*3 four minutes into the run-time that it's not going to get any better than this.

To be fair, I knew that as well, but I can't review a film after only watching the first scene. If I'm going to objectively hate something, I want all the evidence.


Scripted Joke Interlude #1
EXT. SUBURBAN STREET - DAY.
Middle-aged parents KATE and SCOTT are walking down their drive, explaining to their teenage daughter ALEX that taking drugs in college is a bad idea.

ALEX: But you're always saying how you smoked a lot of pot and peed outside in college?

KATE: Okay, they used to call me 'smoke a lot of pot and pee outside Kate'...

This is the first verbalised joke in THE HOUSE. The conversation moves on after this, the second line was the punchline. It was a joke. This is the bar that the film sets itself. A bar that the film spend the rest of its mercifully-short runtime smashing its own face into, hoping to raise laughs from the audience in lieu of words.


Now, you may be tempted to judge this film by its trailer, and save yourself 85 minutes. You're free to do that, but I assure you that the 2½ minutes of the promo necessitate a tightness of editing and brevity of dialogue that the completed film does not even know is possible. From the initial scene mentioned above, this is a screenplay full of placeholder lines where the jokes should be; where every plot point is explained three times in immediate succession by different characters, then explained again three scenes later. The needless repetition and verbal floundering is a sign of poor ad-libbing and even worse editing. It's only 88 minutes long. Including the credits. Imagine being writer/director Andrew Jay Cohen and not even coming out with enough footage to cross the line of an hour and a half.

This ridiculous mess of a movie is so staggeringly sub-par that even the likes of genre stalwarts Melissa McCarthy and Tina Fey haven't put their names down to appear in cameo roles. Although they could well be in entire plot-strands which have been cut from the movie, so disjointed and erratic is the final product. Ironically, the choreography in the brief fight sequence is executed with an enthusiasm and efficiency that the screenplay writers can barely dream of. Jeremy Renner (yes, the Avenger) turns up in act III as a criminal overlord for some reason, executing the same regretful grimace and decision-making process that led him to appear in a series of British TV adverts for mobile phone contracts. He's no Winston Wolf, that's for sure.

Scripted Joke Interlude #2
INT. 'THE CONTAINER STORE' - DAY.
Middle-aged parents KATE and SCOTT are walking around The Container Store with their teenage daughter ALEX. We know it is The Container Store because there is a sign on the front of their shopping trolley which reads "The Container Store" and also because there are containers of varying sizes on shelves and standalone displays. This is the setup for a joke. Suffering from a severe hangover, KATE reaches onto a nearby display to grab an opaque container. She removes the lid and vomits violently into the box (vomit unseen by audience).

KATE: …it's a good job this is The Container Store and there are containers everywhere.

SCOTT then opens the front of a container about the size of a coffin and jumps in for no reason, tipping it over. The scene ends.


Amongst about a hundred other poorly conceived ideas, the film has a scene featuring a generic US Club-Standup™ playing to an audience of one, who's finding the act absolutely hilarious while observers look on blank-faced at the below-average execution of it all. It's a pretty good allegory for the screening I was in as I only heard one other audience member make any noise of humorous appreciation throughout, and even that wasn't enough to make you think the person was watching 'a comedy film'.

I yearn now for those sweet, heady days when I thought that C.H.i.P.s. would be the worst comedy I'd see this year. On the Hollywood career-ladder, The House is a film you make on the way down. Utter, utter shite.

The cruellest touch might be the the eventual and uncomplicated title card proffering the words "THE END" in massive letters, raising the hopes of the audience like a hostage hearing a police siren outside of the building in which they're being held. This card is immediately followed by a slew of shit out-takes from the film, feeling like the siren tailing off down the street to some other crime-scene. To be fair, at least this is a sign that you can leave the room.

Unless you're the lucky holder of ticket "C4", in which case you need no such permission…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
In the dysfunctional family of studio-comedy, this is the inbred sibling of Sisters.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
No. Absolutely not.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
No. Absolutely not.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Amy Poehler is better than this.
Will Ferrell isn't
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shall ask you, loudly and in a public space, to explain yourself.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
There was a one in the VW Golf GTE advert which ran immediately before the film, but a) that doesn't count and b) even if it did, this film doesn't deserve for that to count.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Speaking of before-film activities, while two of the trailers which ran in front of The House ('Geostorm' and 'Rough Night') feature no familiar faces from the GFFA, the others were for Logan Lucky (with Adam 'Kylo Ren' Driver), American Made (with Domhnall 'General Hux' Gleeson) and Detroit (with John 'Finn Boyega). And I only mention this because when you think of the difference in subject and tone between those films, it illustrates that the distributors have no fucking clue who's going to be watching The House.


So anyway it's a Level 2: Amy Poehler's in this, and she was the voice of Joy in that Inside Out, alongside John 'Derlin' Ratzenberger, Frank 'Yoda' Oz, Bill 'BB-8' Hader and Jim 'has done voice-work in eight Lucasarts SW video games' Ward.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Yes. One.


*1 I don't facetiously mean myself here, I was in seat B7. [ BACK ]

*2 It's not like I sit there myself like an eager puppy for just under half-an-hour, gazing in awe at TV adverts shown on a big screen. But I'll use that time to check-in on Facebook/Twitter, and on a day like today prepare something to scribble on as I'll be seeing another film almost immediately afterwards. Plus, I enjoy watching the trailers when I've finished arseing about doing all that (more on those trailers later, though). Those twenty-seven minutes are my get in the zone time. [ BACK ]

*3 And the intended get-out from writers Brendan O'Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen seems to be "oh, it's okay because it occurs during a conversation between two teenage girls, so that's okay", irrespective of how flippant and tasteless it would be coming from any character in this film. [ BACK ]


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.