Monday, August 31, 2020

TENET (some spoilers but they won't deter your fun)

Try to feel it!
TENET is a return to form  for Christopher Nolan after the technically brilliant but narratively simplistic and arguably jingoistic, DUNKIRK.  He is far safer in his home territory of cerebral sci-fi and kinetic action sequences.  In TENET, the big concept is that a future scientist created a technology to reverse an object's entropy. So it's not technically time travel but it does involve people and objects (cars/guns) going backwards from our present-day perspective.  None of it really makes sense, and there's a funny early sequence where poor Clemence Poesy has to do her best Basil Exposition impression, both explaining the concept AND telling us not to think too much about it.  

Realising the danger of this tech, the future scientist splits the algorithm into nine parts - like Horcruxes or Infinity Stones -  and hides them in our present. (Why doesn't the scientist just destroy it? Who the frack knows.) This naturally pisses off vague future people, who want to find and re-assemble the algorithm and use it to wage war on the present. 


It's not a very original plot is it?!

Why does the Future hate us, mummy? They hate us for the same reasons Greta Thunburg hates us.  Moreover, they are making a massive gamble that by wiping us out they won't also make their own existence void. And so they enable a present-day Russian oligarch called Sator to re-assemble the Infinity Glove, sorry The Algorithm, starting with a piece that was hidden in the closed Soviet city where he grew up.  

Is this a spoiler? Well yes, but not in any way that should detract from your enjoyment of the film.  The real fun is in seeing how Nolan takes us and his Protagonist through his world where the action is happening simultaneously in linear and reverse time. It’s a lot of fun of seeing events replay themselves from different time perspectives, and recognising little Easter eggs laid early in the film pay off later on.  This involves hand-to-hand combat scenes and car chases where people are fighting in dual times. It's all just enormous fun and technically an absolute marvel. No other film-maker is going to literally crash a 747 into an airport hangar for you.  And the delightful insouciance of Himesh Patel's Mahir explaining this plan is presumably a meta-comment on Nolan's own audacity.  

Another reason why this film is fun is its knowing humour.  First off, we have John David Washington playing against the very notion of suave sophisticated Bond - throwing barbs about snobbery back at Michael Caine's knighted fixer.  But mostly, it's all about Robert Pattinson's Neil, who starts the film as a kind of crumpled linen-suited alcohol soaked minor diplomat but ends as something of a hero.  I couldn't resist his rakish charm, perhaps modelled on a younger Jeremy Irons?  Let's see more of this! Every time he wasn't on screen - for example a deathly dull interlude on a yacht in the middle of the movie - I wanted to press the fast forward button.

Tailoring goals.

Another reason to love the film is its intelligence and its absolute refusal to dumb down for a mass audience. And to all the reviewers out there who claimed they couldn't understand what was happening, my retort is to DO BETTER.  Nolan takes great pains to colour code the timelines and to play back scenes so that we really understand what is happening from each angle. If you don't get it, that really is on you.

That said, there are limits.  Nolan's refuses to give the protagonist a name. He's called The Protagonist. He even has a conversation with Dimple Kapadia's arms dealer about who really is the protagonist. This is the sort of pretentious wank that only literary theory students should be allowed to indulge in.

The plot is also - sci-fi concept aside - pretty hackneyed. The idea of protagonist and antagonist in a race to assemble a MacGuffin that can - da da daaaaaah - end the world - is fairly common. And even at the micro-level, the idea of a protagonist falling for a waif-like blonde abused by her evil oligarch husband is pretty well-worn. Indeed it's something straight out of a B-list Bond movie like NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN

I am a waif-like blonde on my abusive lover's yacht, please help!

As is Kenneth Branagh's awful Russian acc-yent.  Could they really have not found a Russian actor to play Sator? Not to mention poor Elizabeth Debicki basically just reprising her role from THE NIGHT MANAGER here.  Every time Nolan tries to make us care about the fate of her and her son, I thought, I just don't care at all. Also, if you marry a very rich old Russian dude, are you not somewhat suspicious about what he did, and what kind of man he was and is, to get all that money?  My sympathy is thin. Let's get back to cool action sequences!

Please save me from my luxury yacht - again!

Anyway, B-grade Bond plot and silly Russian accents aside, TENET is a superbly fun and twisty, technically marvellous ride. And for the first time since THE PRESTIGE, I actually CARED about the characters. Not the stupid woman and her pointless son, but the evident bromance between Neil and The Protagonist. Now there's a sequel I wish Nolan would break his no sequel rule for.

TENET has a running time of 130 minutes and is rated 12A in the UK and PG-13 in the USA. It is on release in the UK and wherever the pandemic is allowing cinemas to be open.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

TROLLS WORLD TOUR


TROLLS WORLD TOUR is yet another film that should've been released in cinemas but is now available for you to stream at home. And I'm pleased to report that it's a delightful movie - and a worthy successor to the 2016 original.  

In this sequel, Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and her best friend Branch (Justin Timberlake) are living happily in their world of pop-music loving happy trolls. That is until they realise that the world is full of all different kinds of troll - and shock horror! not all of them like pop music! Some are into rock, or reggaeton, K-Pop, classical music or country.  Back in the day, their troll ancestors decided that the differences between the trolls were to great for them to live (and sing!) in harmony, so they all went to live in their isolated communities.  In the present day, a rock music loving troll called Barb wants to reunite all these trolls, and restore harmony by playing a magical power chord that makes them all love rock music. At first Poppy also buys into the idea that they should all be united, although for her this means loving pop music.  And so begins a short film about learning that people are better off doing what they love, and that true harmony comes from respecting difference rather than enforcing unity.

What I love about these films is how wonderfully imagined they are - the characters are so adorable - the colours so bright - the songs so infectious. The designers clearly had fun creating characters to embody the spirit of the different music styles - with a particular shout out to whoever came up with the look for Kelly Clarkson's country singer, complete with piled up Dolly Parton hair. This isn't a film with the knowing cynicism of SHREK. It's just genuine heart-felt heart-warming earnest fun.  And I think that's truly what we need right now.

TROLLS WORLD TOUR has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated PG. It is available on streaming services. 

BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN


BIRDS OF PREY is another movie that should have still been in cinemas but is now available to stream because of Covid-19. It's a loose spin off of the risibly bad SUICIDE SQUAD, featuring the break-out star of that film - Margot Robbie (ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD) as Harley Quinn.  The demented former psychiatrist turned girlfriend of Joker starts the film dumped and "emancipated"- except without "Mr J"s protection every gangster she ever offended is after her.  So, she drums up a commission from local wannabe gangster-king, Roman Sionis (Ewan Macgregor) to find a little girl (Ella Jay Basco) who has stolen a super-valuable diamond.  Problem is - when Harley finds the kid, Cassandra Cain, she realises that she kind of likes being a big sister.  Harley also realises that Sionis is a total creep and she really doesn't want to hand Cain over to him and his knife-wielding sidekick Mr Zazz (Chris Messina).  So, Harley bands together in common cause with a bunch of women who have been after her for most of the film - the cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) - the wronged mafiosi child turned vengeful masker heroine The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) - and the genuine superhero Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell).

I have to say that I enjoyed this film far more than I was expecting given my awful experience with SUICIDE SQUAD.  I had also suspected that Robbie's high-pitched infantilised Harley Quinn might grate over an uninterrupted two hour run-time.  But amazingly, Robbie showed some depth in the role, and I really loved her athleticism in some superbly choreographed hand-to-hand combat, as well as her genuinely nurturing role with Cain.  I also loved seeing so many thirty-something actresses get parts where they are truly kick-ass and agents of their own fate - with a particularly scene-stealing turn from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the bizarrely preppy Sicilian vengeance-machine. I also loved Cathy Wan's kinetic direction and the ballsy use of a non-linear timeline and breaking the fourth wall.

The only let-down was casting Ewan Macgregor as Soinis. He really isn't that menacing, and this is a particular problem with a troubling scene where he humiliates a woman in his club.  I kept wondering where the actors were nowadays who could pull of that kind of funny creepy turn that Christopher Walken did so well in KING OF NEW YORK. Harley Quinn deserved a better antagonist. 

BIRDS OF PREY has a running time of 109 minutes and is rated R. It's available to rent and own.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

EMMA. (2020)



Autumn de Wilde's directorial debut is a handsomely made new version of Jane Austen's iconic romantic comedy, Emma. Except here it's cast as "Emma." with a full stop after it because the director wants us to know it's a period drama.  The film reflects some of this heavy handed and just bizarre gesturing. Why, for instance, do Harriet's schoolmates need to march around the village in red cloaks like something out of The Handmaid's Tale?  There's also lots of plain bad judgment.  Why does Mr Knightley have to be shown arse-bare? I blame Andrew Davies.  Why is Harriet's school bedroom more lavish than a country house?  Why do we need to see Mr Knightley petulantly throwing a fit when his initial attempt to propose to Emma is interrupted - and yes, dear reader, that is not a scene from the novel.

Still, one can forgive this EMMA.(!) its occasional lapses, and indeed its lack of ambition relative to - say - Greta Gerwig's superb meta-textual LITTLE WOMEN. This EMMA. is a movie for our strange times - and thanks to our strange times, available to stream at home. It is very pretty, very soothing, very funny, and very romantic. And indeed, apart from the lapses cited above, comfortingly faithful to the original text. 

It tells the tale of a spoiled young rich girl called Emma who takes pity on an illegitimate schoolgirl, much her social inferior, called Harriet. Rather than marry a solid, decent farmer, Emma persuades Harriet to aim socially higher, for the oleaginous reverend Mr Elton. Meanwhile Emma has her head turned by the similarly charming but nasty Mr Churchill, becoming nasty under his influence, until a third act redemption, with the social order being restored.  

I very much liked Anya Taylor-Joy (THE WITCH) as Emma. She gets that Emma really is a frightfully selfish snob at the start of the book with a nastiness that Gwyneth Paltrow simply wasn't willing to explore in her screen version of the heroine.  I also rather like Billy Nighy playing himself / Emma's hypochondriac father.  Whoever decided that his heavily brocaded jackets should camouflage themselves into his armchair and screens is a genius - and I like how the added comedy of the screens allows for a declaration of love later.  I even liked Johnny Flynn as a less than austere Mr Knightley and Mia Goth as Harriet Smith.

But the stars of the show are always in the smaller parts - with Miranda Hart heart-breaking as Miss Bates - and Tanya Reynolds of SEX EDUCATION simply brilliant as the odious Mrs Elton.   On the other hand, Amber Anderson was deeply anonymous as Jane Fairfax.

Overall, this really is a very charming, light, uplifting and wonderful piece of escapism. 

EMMA. is rated PG and has a running time of 124 minutes. The film is available on streaming services. 

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)


I'm not a huge fan of horror films - blame watching THE EXORCIST and THE SHINING waaaaay too young.  But needs must in these strange times.  THE INVISIBLE MAN is one of a handful of current releases also available to stream during the lockdown, and I thought I would give it a go. The good news is twofold - first, despite being written and directed by Leigh Whannell of SAW fame, it really isn't that horrific so people who have a low tolerance for horror can watch it; second, it's a really well-made and gripping thriller. 

The only name star in the film is Elisabeth Moss (THE HANDMAID'S TALE) and she basically carries the entire movie. As the film opens she's executing a plan to escape her abusive but mega-rich super-scientist boyfriend from their eery modernist mansion.  She hides out in her sister's boyfriend's house - said boyfriend is handily a cop.  And when her abuse ex apparently commits suicide, all seems rosy.  The problem is, an apparently invisible man is stalking her, frames her for murder,  and has her incarcerated as a psychopathic killer. Naturally there are more plot twists and jumps, but fair to say that this is a really slipper, clever drama that kept me guessing.  Even better, it's filmed in a really clever way, with lots of great jump cuts, and invisible man POV shots. The atmosphere is intense, tricksy and enthralling.  I would highly, highly recommend this film and insofar as it sets itself up for a #metoo revenge drama sequel, I am here for that.

THE INVISIBLE MAN is rated R and has a running time of 124 minutes. It is available on streaming services.

MILITARY WIVES


I've been taking advantage of certain studios making current releases available to stream at home.  The choice is limited, and MILITARY WIVES is perhaps not the movie I would have plumped for on a Saturday night had the full choice of London's cineplexes been made available to me.  Nonetheless, it did want I predicted and wanted - it was lightly funny, rather moving and allowed for some catharsis in these strange times.

Based on a true story, the film is about how women cope when their service-people go off to war.  There are lots of small but moving moments - of a woman packing away her husband's things as she becomes effectively a single mother for six months - or another woman telling a protestor she doesn't have the luxury of being against the war, she has to live with it.  You have to admire the grit and no-nonsense courage of these women who keep home life going, knowing their loved ones may not come back.   What I really like about the film is that it shows you a slice of life - with its own codes and expectations - that I hadn't known existed.  Because the wives are in some ways as regimented as their spouses - and when the fighters go to war, the highest ranking wives have to come up with "clubs" that keep the wives' morale boosted.

And so we have the Military Wives Choir - led by  the no-nonsense Sharon Horgan (CATASTROPHE) and the uptight closed off Kristin Scott Thomas (FOUR WEDDINGS etc).  Both actors are playing to type and the personality clash is both inevitable and inevitably resolved. Naturally, Sharon Horgan's character wants the women to sing pop songs and to be inclusive. Naturally, Scott Thomas' character wants the women to be dignified and to actually practice scales and keep time.  Quelle surprise - it takes both skillsets to create a choir that is genuinely good enough to sing at the Royal Albert Hall's memorial concert. Naturally there has to be a third act falling out and making up, just in time for the big concert.  Naturally, one of the wives turns out to have an amazing voice.

So none of this film is surprising in its broad strokes, and it's only intermittently funny in its scenes.  One wishes Sharon Horgan might have been allowed a pass at the script.  But what the film does do is show something of the real ordeal that these spouses endure, and some of the tougher details of military life.  I can't deny that it got a little dusty in the room on a couple of occasions, and genuinely put a smile on my face by the end.  The film appeals - after all - to that same spirit that has all clapping for carers. In adversity, we seek shared uplifting experiences. Which makes this film rather fitting for this moment. 

MILITARY WIVES is rated PG and has a running time of 113 minutes. It is available to stream on Sky, Amazon, Apple etc.