Spider-Man: Homecoming – review

Film

So Spidey is back – and now with added baby-faced Tom Holland. Back in the day Tobey Maguire had three goes at the role with Sam Raimi directing: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007). Then Andrew Garfield had a crack with Marc Webb in charge: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014).

And each, arguably, suffered from the law of diminishing returns. Spidey wasn’t dead but he had been battered pretty thoroughly. Then he popped up, teasingly, in Captain America: Civil War (2016)played by a young Tom Holland. And everyone loved his – albeit short – take on the character. Seems Spidey had returned and this time he was part of the MCU.

Hooray, this felt fresh and well-timed.

So we get Spider-Man: Homecoming a year later. Now some say this version of our arachnid hero is the best yet. Not just because having a younger actor play the role REALLY works and makes more sense (he’s supposed to be a schoolkid), but also because Tom Holland just seems a better fit as an actor than Maguire, and certainly Garfield.

Because, frankly, Holland plays to his strengths, making him cocky and intelligent yet vulnerable and with a big heart, which, naturally, brings him to Tony Stark’s attention. For you see, with Homecoming, he’s very much Tony’s protégé, with Tony a sort of tough love father figure towards Peter.

And as part of that tough love, after helping Stark out in Civil War he gets cuts loose, and told to basically stay out of trouble until he’s called upon, with Happy (Jon Favreau) his reluctant minder.

During which time hard-as-nails salvage guy Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is nicking alien artifacts found during the aftermath of the chitauri attack on New York and turning them into weapons – and in doing so becomes the Vulture.

So little Peter has to prove he’s got what it takes to bring Toomes down, change from boy to man, and prove his hero status to become a fully fledged Avenger.

Which is all well and good. But the nice touches for me in this film come from things we’ve not seen before. THANK GOD the filmmakers didn’t show us how Peter got his powers and came to live with Aunt May. We’ve seen it so many times. Save for a quick line about being bitten by spider and how his aunt has been through a lot, that’s it. Great, let’s move on.

More thought along similar lines has also gone into Peter’s suit. As it’s made by Stark it comes complete with gadgets galore and a PA, but with a little twist to contrast Iron Man’s JARVIS. So from the types of web he can use (grenade, taser) to the suit’s modes (kill, surveillance), it adds a lot more to Spider-Man in terms of his capabilities as a hero and how he can fight.

Yet, as Tony points out, he needs to be a hero without the suit (much like Tony’s own journey in Iron Man). So there’s a couple of pivotal – and fairly emotionally weighty – scenes where we get to see what Peter is really made of. And it helps, of course, to have a worthy foe, because in Michael Keaton we get both comic book pedigree (Batman, Birdman) and oodles of charisma, where he can flip from charm to menace at the drop of a hat (he should really play baddies more often, it suits him).

Ultimately, it’s great that Spider-Man is with Marvel now. Sony, for all their efforts, never really found their groove with this character. And given the fact that Marvel just continue to go from strength to strength as they expand their universe, it’s encouraging that Spider-Man is now a part of that. Roll on Thor: Ragnarok.

Baby Driver: the musical that wasn’t

Film

Edgar Wright first came to most people’s attention with his Cornetto trilogy: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013). In-between, he threw in a career highlight – the utter batshit curveball that was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010). For lo, it contained a truckload of cool music and a baby-faced lead (Michael Cera), whose character was part of the delightfully named indie band Sex Bob-Omb.

Uber cool, and oh so fun.

He then went off to do Ant-Man and it all went tits up.

But a true measure of a person’s character is how you bounce back and, with Baby Driver, he’s come back blazing – with a crime flick he’s had brewing for quite a few years, and is quite possibly his best work to date.

The movie features a baby-faced getaway driver, Baby (Ansol Elgort), who’s prodigious behind the wheel but wants out of a life of crime. One last job and all that… However, bad boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) has leverage so Baby, for now, must play the game. Not just with Doc, but also his ragtag group of unhinged robbers, in particular Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (John Hamm) – who both can’t get the measure of Baby and suspect him of not taking this crime stuff seriously.

Hamm and Foxx are blinding casting. They practically steal the film from Elgort. But you’d expect as much. Ansol has to play the straight hero and it’s always the case that the baddest bad guys get to have all the fun.

Bats, like his name, is batty, batshit, a live wire, totally unpredictable and definitely not a team player – which begs the question as to why he’s there. But why not? He’s mad and has skills, which makes robbing banks more fun, no? Buddy, too, starts with the charm (easy for Hamm), doing his Bonnie and Clyde thing with wild wife and partner in crime Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). But he, too, is not a nice guy. Hamm plays him just on the right side of menacing and cartoonish. Close to caricature at times, but events unfold which cause him to turn on Baby in a deliciously evil way – and this arc is some of the best work Hamm’s done in years.

Moreover, inbetween burning rubber for bad guys Baby has another story. Of love, with the impossibly gorgeous Deborah (Lily James), who literally has nothing going on in her life and falls for Baby’s strong and silent shtick straight away (this only happens in the movies).

But first, he’s got bad guy stuff to do before they can run off into the sunset.

Now this may sound like I’m being cynical but I’m just poking fun.

Yeah, Wright steals a lot from loads of movies, but all filmmakers do. As long as you put your own spin on your work it can feel fresh and fun – and this film really does (96% Rotten Tomatoes). It’s also worth saying that not for a long time have I seen a film that weaves music into its fabric quite so effortlessly. It’s balletic at times and almost a musical (although there’s no bursting into song particularly).

Also, with Tarantino off the boil these days (close to retirement?) it’s left to directors like James Gunn and Edgar Wright to fly the flag for music in film in oh so delightful ways. (We can’t have Hans Zimmer do every score now, can we? And Christopher Nolan does seems to monopolise his time anyway.)

But other than music, there’s no real common ground between Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver – except a sense of fun. I mean, the latter probably shares more DNA with Wright’s Scott Pilgrim and plays like the demented lovechild of Heat, The Town, Natural Born Killers and Reservoir Dogs, but hopped up on sugar, coffee and optimism.

Or Drive if it had a sense of humour. Boom.

There’s very little fat either.

Wright wrote the screenplay and it nips along at a decent pace, each character getting their moment. But Wright, smartly, keeps the focus on Baby, who’s in pretty much every scene.

And what casting Elgort is.

At the time of Scott Pilgrim I remember thinking THAT lead came out of leftfield, but turned out to be genius. I mean, who would’ve thought Michael Cera could pull off fight scenes so convincingly? And here, as Baby, Elgort is an inspired choice.

I knew little about him (The Fault in Our Stars fame and was on the shortlist for the young Han Solo movie) before this film, but reading up, he’s as much a musician as an actor. Even took ballet lessons as a kid, which makes sense, given some of the scenes in Baby Driver required, athleticism, shall we say? (And I don’t mean sex, if that’s what you’re thinking.)

His journey is interesting too. A strong and silent getaway driver (Ryan Gosling in Drive?) who connects to his past by listening to old cassette tapes (Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy?) means he’s following in the footsteps of some big actors. But he owns the role. Particularly when he could have been all but swallowed up by the bigger actors like Spacey, Foxx and Hamm swanning about the place.

Wright has talked about a sequel – which would be the first time he’s done that in his career. To me, this film feels fairly complete as a story, but I’d be open to the idea if it was a REALLY good story. The studio is keen, so we’ll see.

But if you were on the fence, go see this film. It’s so much fun. And if you were expecting a Hott Fuzz type affair, this ain’t it. Wright evolves with each film so you can’t really pigeonhole him. I’m excited to see what he does next.

Wonder Woman: a review

Film

Sitting in the pub with my partner after having just seen Wonder Woman, we got down to the tricky job of dissecting the latest DC offering in a balanced way, lest we get carried away with the hype. (I say we, I’d better recuse her from this review henceforth – as all these opinions are my own. And she’s die-hard Marvel anyway.)

Because when I say hype, I mean the fact that this is the first* superhero film (from Marvel or DC) to have a female lead (Gal Gadot) and director (Patty Jenkins).

*Captain Marvel will have a female lead, director and two female screenwriters, but it’s not out until 2019.

Which, in 2017, is a somewhat ridiculous state of affairs. I mean, how have studios ONLY NOW become dimly aware that women can create good movies that’ll get you a decent return on investment? They can write them, direct them, act in them and produce them. And audiences want to see them. What a revelation. It’s a crazy world in which we live; this Hollywood sausage fest.

But I digress. I’m a guy so I’m part of the patriarchy and thus part of the problem. And it is still a problem, as the backlash to the women-only screenings of the film have demonstrated.

So it’s clear we needed this film to do well.

Not only from a feminist point of view, but also commercially. Because after the slamming DC took with Batman v Superman and Man of Steel and Suicide Squad they badly needed a hit. Not that we can force this film to be good through sheer willpower, of course. But we can hope.

And happily, it’s decent. There you go, there’s my review. You can all go home now. Oh, you want more? Ok fine.

To bring you up to speed, Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, lives on a hidden island inhabited solely by women (Amazonians), which is led by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). We meet Diana as a wild child who wants to be a warrior, which is against her mother’s wishes. This is because the land in which they live was created by Zeus to protect them from the God of War, Ares. And Diana, of course, is special.

Then we jump ahead to her all grown up and now the best fighter on the island. She’s ready for a scrap but with no enemy. Luckily, WWI fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) literally crashes into her world; when his plane falls into the sea.

She rescues him and meets her first man. Then learns of the outside world and the fact that it’s engaged in the biggest war in history. Naturally, she suspects Ares is behind it and wants to help. So she joins Steve on his return to civilisation before they take on evil bad guys.

Plot wise, that’s the setup.

And suffice to say, after the relatively damp squib that was Suicide Squad (Margot Robbie aside), this story feels fresher. Perhaps because it’s simpler and the WWI setting helped. Perhaps because it’s got more humour than the last two DC movies. Whatever the case, it’s an exciting ride and fits comfortably in the middle of the DC pack. (Which is no bad thing, sitting behind, in my mind, the likes of The Dark Knight Rises and Watchmen.)

Gal Gadot very much looks the part, too. Lithe, limber, exotic, and immensely beautiful. The one question that hung over her is whether her acting chops were up to it? After all, she’d really just had a few Fast & Furious films to her name. For the most part she’s convincing in the role.

We have to remember she has a lot of screentime and needed to hold the audience throughout. It helped having Chris Pine alongside her and the two worked well together. Trevor as the weary spy, the realist, the pragmatist. Diana as the optimist, full of love and new to the world of man and his murky moralities.

And on the feminist front it has a few nice touches in the script. Such as when Steve and Diana discuss the ‘pleasures of the flesh’ and whether men are needed, other than for procreation. And when Diana is trying on clothes and remarks, ‘How am I meant to fight in this?’

Ultimately, this was a tough gig for both Patty Jenkins (who hadn’t directed since Monster in 2003) and Gal Gadot, to not only deliver a superhero film, but also ensure it was as feminist as it could be, and also got a big return for the studio. No pressure then. Happily it’s smashed the Box Office and seems to have been a reasonable hit with feminists.

I guess the question for DC is, what next? For if they’re clever they’ll introduce more female characters into their movies and, perhaps, it could be their unique selling point over Marvel?

You could argue that female superheroes are nothing new (Catwoman, Aeon Flux, Lara Croft), but this feels like a turning point. In that Hollywood are actually putting some effort, talent and budget into these movies now.

Moonlight: tough, tender and touching

Film

‘You say it best, when you say nothing at all.’ Now why am I quoting Ronan Keating? Well, it seemed apt for this review. Given that the (now Oscar-winning) film Moonlight, is a tale where words are used sparingly, so they stand out and have weight. And a lack of words have perhaps even more weight. Particularly these days, when so many films are crammed with endless dialogue, an in-your-face score and flashy editing.

So this film feels distinctly different. And it’s a worthy awards winner, not just because it’s a breath of fresh air in terms of showing not telling a story, but it’s beautifully shot and the score doesn’t hammer you over the head dictating what you’re supposed to feel every five seconds, too.

And subject wise, it’s vitally important. As it’s about a young black man growing up in a poor part of Miami and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. So it’s something you might expect to win at the Oscars, or at least be in the conversation. But, following last year’s #oscarssowhite debacle, if this film hadn’t won, it would’ve lost to one that glorifies Hollywood’s heyday, La La Land. A film in which a white guy educates/mansplains to a white girl about the merits of jazz (historically black music). So Moonlight winning was big news. It really was. It’s the first ever film with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film and the second lowest-grossing one to win Best Picture at the Oscars. And the film’s editor became the first black woman to be nominated, too. So yeah, big news. 

Moreover, if we’re on the subject of talking about subjects on which we’re not an authority, then I’m a prime example. There’s nothing in this film to which I can directly relate. I’m not black or gay and I had a decent upbringing etc. That said, we don’t have to immediately identify with all stories that we see at the cinema, but they have to speak to us in some way and engage us emotionally. And if you’ve ever struggled with identity and loneliness, then this has something for you.

So in terms of the story of this film, plot wise, relative newcomer director Barry Jenkins serves it up in the form of a triptych, visiting the main character, Chiron, at three key points in his life; as a child (Alex Hibbert), teenager (Ashton Sanders), and a man (Trevante Rhodes).

And all are heart-breaking in their own way, filmed in a sort of dream-like, hazy quality, like a nostalgic memory. (I’ve heard someone describe this film as Terence Malick directs an episode of The Wire.) And there’s a grittiness and realism about the whole thing as well, and this extends to the score too, and my Ronan Keating point. Because it’s rare to hear music weaved through a film quite so beautifully and respectfully. In a way that’s not overbearing or intrusive, and in some cases there’s no music at all, which may make you feel uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Some scenes and character moments need that level of discomfort, and Jenkins doesn’t shy away when you might expect him to, letting the camera linger for longer than usual. Which is brave and effective.

He also draws impressive performances from the cast, in particular the three actors that play Chiron are outstanding. Black (Trevante Rhodes) who plays him as a man, really shone, capturing the mannerisms of the two preceding actors astonishingly well. Saying so much with so little. And Naomi Harris as Chiron’s mother also puts in a convincing performance across all three story chapters, squeezing more out of a drug addict role than most actors would manage.

And Mahershala Ali as a father figure to childhood Chiron, adds layers to your standard hardened drug dealer too, breaking down our expectations of masculinity and picking up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his troubles. (He’s also the first Muslim to win an Oscar.) He sets up the first third of the movie in terms of the feel and tone and his section, and the last, were, to me, the strongest. 

So you’ve really got no excuse. If you haven’t seen this yet. Go see it. It’s important, topical and a vital piece of cinema. It’s also a beautiful story. 

Best bad movie accents

Best Of lists

The dreaded accent. When a casting director calls an agent and asks if their client can do X accent, the answer always has to be, ‘Of course! Are you kidding? They’re a natural!’. It’s either that or the casting director ALREADY KNOWS the actor in question cannot do said accent for love nor money, but they’re a big star and will pull in audiences regardless of whether they drift from American to English cockney to South African, and all things inbetween.

Anyway, here are some of my favourites that – God bless ’em – tried their hardest to pull off something beyond their mother tongue.

Gerard Butler

Ok, recently I watched Olympus Has Fallen and, a week or so later, London Has Fallen, and his American accent is wobbly at best. But then, the whole movie is kind of a joke, so an accent is the least of our worries here.

Jason Statham

Suffers the same fate as old Gerard, in that his American accent is like the weather. Sometimes good sometimes bad, but it’s anyone’s guess what’ll turn up on the day. Maybe it’s just action stars? They’ve never been great at accents, I find.

Don Cheadle

His stab at cockney in the Ocean’s films was truly something. And the problem was it seemed like he was GENUINELY taking it seriously and not some quirk where his character found it amusing to do silly accents.

Natalie Portman

Now it pains me to stick her in this list but her ‘English’ accent in V for Vendetta jarred with me for the entire film. Pity, as she’s SUCH a good actress too. And I bet she’s got a good accent or two in her locker. Just not in this case.

Nic Cage

Not known for immersing in a part his mediocre Southern drawl in Con Air was pretty patchy. And Italian in Captian Corelli’s Mandolin? Hey, forget about it.

Cameron Diaz

Poor Cameron, ever the sun-kissed Californian beach babe. Her go at Irish in Gangs of New York was admirable but it didn’t convince anyone. DiCaprio’s wasn’t a whole lot better, if we’re honest.

Anne Hathaway

Now for Americans, an English accent is tough at the best of times, so what made Anne think she could manage a tricky regional one in One Day? Truly awful.


Then there’s those actors that poke fun at themselves because they KNOW their accent is a big joke. They’re in on the gag.

Brad Pitt

In both Inglorious Basterds and Snatch he revelled in his shoddy accent, either put on for a scene or two (the former) or the entire film (the latter). Although he’s also come a cropper attempting a serious Irish accent in The Devil’s Own.

Kevin Costner

It’s funny, in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Costner didn’t attempt an accent at all and just used his own. Weirdly, it didn’t bother me at the time. But it still makes this list. Hooray for Carey Elwes calling him out on it years later, though.

Sean Connery

What’s great about Highlander is Connery was meant to be Spanish and he simply didn’t bother AT ALL. Already a huge star he probably felt turning up was enough. He was probably right too. Given Christophe Lambert’s ‘Scottish’ was even worse.

Has Wes Anderson lost his way?

On my mind

Sorry all, it’s time for a little rant. I tried to bottle it up but it’s going to make its way out eventually. So let’s have it and start with exhibit A, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Now I haven’t seen it since release, but I rewatched it the other night and have to say, I thought much the same the other night as I did a few years ago… in that it’s just too much. As Hall & Oates say, I can’t go for that.

And here’s why.

Ten years ago I was a big Wes Anderson fan. Huge. But I admit, I came late to the party and didn’t really discover his work until The Life Aquatic (2004). However, this STILL remains my favourite from his filmography. I love it.

Simply put: because it has indie quirk (just enough), emotion (quite a lot, actually) and a wonderful soundtrack (Seu Jorge covering David Bowie). Plus I engaged with the characters, particularly the central pairing of Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. In short, I thought it was cool. Really cool. Like Quentin Tarantino giving us Vincent Vega on the dancefloor kind of cool.

And regarding his other films, I also enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), although not to the same level. But whatever, we were still in positive, Wes Anderson-is-great-land at this point. So that was ok.

Then he had a go at stop motion with Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). And, yeah, it was what you’d kind of expect from him dipping a toe into this type of filmmaking, in that it was genius. His style (at this time) was a perfect fit. He’d even got Jarvis Cocker in there, what a legend.

Then came Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Now this was a film I enjoyed, but found that little concerns were starting to creep into the back of my mind. For starters, the cast had grown. A lot. And it seemed Wes was becoming a magnet for them; where every actor from his past projects were like iron filings and getting inexorably dragged into his orbit for every new project. Regardless as to whether they were a good fit or not.

He has also cranked up the quirk factor too. So that now we had every character posing bang in the centre of each shot. With their movements clipped, precise, and oh so Wes Anderson. His signature style – used maybe sparingly a decade ago – was now fully locked down and his de facto approach to directing. It was like discovering sugar and wanting more, and more, and more. Or heroin. Yeah, Wes had become a junkie, shooting up on his own style. The bastard.

In short, whilst I quite liked this film, I was becoming concerned. Was it time for an intervention? Could Wes be saved? Not by me, but whatever. There was more to come…

… in the form ofThe Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). And the nagging feeling flooded back. But this time it was no longer at the back of my mind, but noticeably front and centre and tasted bitter.

Add to that the fact that we’d also entered the Twilight Zone in terms of aspect ratios. So I was now trapped in some perfectly square shot, one which had been cropped by the twee police for the Instagram generation. All complete with saturated colours galore. And there was no escape. Arrgh god, Wes, what had you done?!

Somehow, a director I loved a lot had gone and gorged on his own medicine. And you know what they tell you right? Never get high on your own supply. Well, Wes had. And now he was inflicting his habit on the rest of us. Which, frankly, is unfair.

And the biggest problem was that, in some ways, there was nothing wrong with the core story and characters. There was good stuff in there. I mean, Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustave was a sublime creation. But it’s just that the sugar coating meant I was constantly taken out of the story. I couldn’t swallow this pill Anderson was serving up, it was too sweet, too sickly.

So the medicine, I’m afraid to say, just wouldn’t go down. But then, maybe I’m out of step with popular opinion? The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s most critical and commercially successful film to date, so what do I know?

And the rumour is his next film might be another stop motion. So maybe this is a chance for him to cut back a bit on his style and let the story and the characters do the talking instead? We’ll see, but I doubt much will change. From his point of view he’s found a sweet spot and there’s nothing to suggest he intends to stop now.

 

Suicide Squad: The Harley Quinn show

Film

We all knew it would work, didn’t we? Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Arguably, there’s never been a better match of actor and character in a superhero movie (except maybe Jack Nicholson as The Joker, but that was decades ago).

And with the addition of Will Smith – reuniting them after their pairing in con film Focus – you know the lion’s share of scenes will have gone to those two. Not that that’s a bad thing. But when watching David Ayer’s Suicide Squad I did wonder – more than once – what the rest of the cast were actually doing there, other than to make up the numbers.

It’s a bit like the XMen films. You have so many characters that giving them all something interesting to do is a tall order. Although maybe that’s just an excuse and the filmmakers should really just try that bit harder. (After all, we’ve had a few great XMen films in the past.)

suicide-squad-trailer-deadshot-gun

But to backtrack, in case you’ve not seen the trailer or know anything about superhero films or have any idea what the Suicide Squad is, let’s recap.

‘They’re bad guys. The worst of the worst’, says Viola Davis’ shady Government official Amanda Waller. For it is she that pulls the strings of the squad, getting them to do her evil bidding. And she’s as cold as ice with it, sending them into situations where you wouldn’t want to risk your precious heroes like Batman and The Flash.

Essentially, they’re canaries down the coal mine and very much on the expendable side. Bad guys forced to do good. For example there’s a Hispanic gangster fire guy (Jay Hernandez), a crocodile (Addiwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an Aussie boomerang-throwing burglar (Jai Courtney), a master assassin with funky dress sense (Will Smith) and everyone’s favourite deranged-by-the-Joker psychiatrist (Margot Robbie). Plus some other walking clichés but I’ve given up listing them, you’ll just have to check IMDb.

lead_960

They’re tasked with rescuing someone from the remnants of a city that an ancient – and rather pissed off – witch called Enchantress (Cara Delivigne) has torn to shreds in a sort of Viggo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters kind of way. Plot wise, that’s kind of it. So somehow we have a film in which lots happens, but also, bafflingly, very little at all.

Furthermore, there’s been talk online of how the film starts about three times. Or that it takes maybe 20 minutes to get into the actual story. Either way, you could argue that – if you’re going to be tough to please like me – it never really does get going. Robbie does her best to lighten things up but it often feels like she’s in a different movie to everyone else.

Particularly Joel Kinnaman’s dour Colonel Rick Flag; who leads the group in such a gruff manner it’s as if he sucks the life out of scenes simply by turning up; like some sort of Dementor in army fatigues.

SUICIDE SQUAD

Then there’s the Joker. One of the best comic book villians ever to grace the screen and first made famous by Jack Nicolson, then updated for the modern age by the genius of Heath Ledger (the latter gaining a posthumous Oscar in the wake of his death).

So now we have Jared Leto giving us his take, going all method during the shoot; with stories of him sending dead rats to cast members there’s no doubt he got into character for the role. And really, this just added fuel to the fire getting us all revved up. His Joker would be something special. Even perhaps, whisper it, the best yet?

And then… what did we get? A couple of scenes here and there but largely diddly squat. Nada. Zip. Zilch. David Ayer took this great character and frittered him away on some meaningless encounters, giving Leto precious little to work with. But perhaps I am missing the point? Was this not a Joker movie? Is he not the biggest bad guy in the film? If not, then why bother to hype him up at all?

suicidesquad

If you’re going to focus on Smith and Robbie’s characters then why not give them some sort of combined backstory and shared history the actors can sink their teeth into? Play up to their chemistry. Or if you’re going to do a Joker and Harley Quinn film, do that. With the rest of the squad as peripheral characters. Maybe Deadshot could have taken it upon himself to free Harley from the Joker’s influence?

I get that screenwriting is a monumentally challenging thing to get into any semblance of something coherent that’ll engage audiences. But surely if in doubt, KISS right? Keep it simple, stupid.

So structurally this film is somewhat all over the place and feels thrown together in a way which slightly vexes me. And it gives the audience very little with which to identify in terms of characters. Granted, ensemble movies are a tricky beast at the best of times and, whilst I’m loathe to use Marvel as a blueprint, they just do it so much better.

suicide-squad-will-smith-margot-robbie-0

Whether bringing together established characters (Avengers) or introducing entirely new ones (Guardians of the Galaxy) they make it seem much more seamless and, crucially, make us care about the characters involved.

So, anywho. Before it seems like I’m too down on this whole movie, let’s put things in perspective. There were some good performances to be had (Robbie, Smith, Davis, Leto) and David Ayer did a passable job of setting up the squad and it’s a reasonable enough Friday night popcorn type of watch. So there’s that. And it also seems to have done well enough to suggest a sequel isn’t going to be a big ask of the studio.

So for the second one I really hope they come up with a better structure and more credible story for the squad. Stick Smith and Robbie front and centre and, for God’s sake, keep the tone as far away from dark and gritty as possible. DC has more than enough of that going around and superhero films are supposed to be fun. Aren’t they?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice review

Film

Zap! Crash! Whack! That’s how the old Batman TV show went. And, in 2016, you could say nothing much has changed. At least near the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those not in the know, this film is a continuation of DC Comics’ universe – in terms of picking up the story following events in Man of Steel in 2013 – where Superman (Henry Cavill) tore Metropolis to pieces fighting General Zod (Michael Shannon). Buildings collapsed and people died, including many of Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) employees; giving him as good a reason as any to hate Superman, seeing him as an alien who operates without limits or accountability and is capable of wiping out the human race.

upermanwalks

On the flipside, Superman/Clark Kent sees Batman as a dangerous vigilante, as bad and morally corruptible as the criminals he puts away. Add to this a young Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) stirring up trouble, giving us as many twitches and mad tics as he can muster, and you’ve got an interesting recipe for a compelling plot.

batman-vs-superman-ew-pics-5

And plot, in a way, is a daunting place to start, because writers David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio are essentially attempting to tell two and a half, or perhaps three and a half stories in one go. We have: Batman, Superman, Lex Luthor, and Wonderwoman (Gal Gadot), the latter who pops up briefly here and there pursuing her own mysterious motives.

They do, however, do a reasonable job of weaving it all together, but it’s a lot of jumping around and I bet the filmmakers were ruthless in the edit room.

bat1

But that’s all I’ll say plot wise, as it’s best you go see it and see what you think. For me, a slightly simpler story would have nice. That said, if you’ve seen any of the trailers there won’t be too many surprises as most of Wonderwoman’s best bits are there, as are Lex Luthor’s – and you can pretty easily work out where the whole thing will end up.

Complicated plot but simple story. (Not sure I’m making sense but I’m sticking with it. Bit like the film, wahey!)

sup

What I will say is that the first two thirds are the most interesting. There’s a lot of stuff about whether Superman is a false God or not, and about Batman wanting him to face the consequences of his actions. And with montages of TV talk shows discussing Superman’s place in the world weaved throughout early on, it feels like sections have been lifted straight from Alan Moore’s Watchmen a la Dr Manhattan. Which is no bad thing, if done in a fresh way.

Director Zack Synder also manages to nail the tone fairly well. Gritty and dark, but not completely Christopher Nolan. And some of his stylised shots of Superman hovering over buildings or being touched by many hands in a crowd are really quite sublime. As is his (and Affleck’s) take on Batman. Affleck keeps him stoic and resolute for the most part but conflicted (as all good antiheroes should be), which balances nicely with a quirky, technology-savvy Alfred (something we’ve not seen), played superbly by Jeremy Irons (who knew he had such a touch for comedy).

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-ben-affleck

The bits where I feel this film falters is more to do with DC’s attempt to follow the Marvel blueprint, particularly with a smashy smashy bad guy final third. I felt it was all going quite well up to that point, but it’s then as if the filmmakers couldn’t resist splurging their budget on some fancy effects to please 14-year old boys. But then, some would argue that director Zack Synder is a bit of a teenage boy at heart anyway, so no big surprise.

Similarly, whilst Synder got the tone more or less right, I think Hans Zimmer let him down a bit on the score, which just felt too overblown and portentous. It all got a bit too much as it went on, droning and banging away with lashings of doom and gloom. But we’ve all seen 300, so what did I expect? Perhaps I just prefer the light-hearted Marvel banter. (Now there’s a thing.)

batman-vs-superman-ew-pics-2

And another point upon which to focus on the Marvel versus DC front… it’s quite amusing to watch the way they set up their forthcoming Justice League movie, leaving subtlety very much on the cutting room floor. We get a small shot of Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman and a brief scene between Bruce Wayne and Wonderwoman (despite the fact we don’t even learn her name during the film) and it all feels a little bit tacked-on-at-the-end-before-we-forget. I’d have liked to see a lot more delicate threads and strands of a larger world weaved throughout – unless it was there and so subtle I missed it?

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-henry-cavill

So whilst this may sound like a big rant, it’s really not at all. It’s quite a good film for the most part and there’s a lot to like. But – here’s the rub – there are still many things that happen which we’ve seen time and again in the last decade of superhero flicks. C’mon DC, be bold, be brave. Change up the format, don’t just copy Marvel.

After all, taking a risk and a leap of faith is what superheroes do.

(Ps I’m still very keen to see Suicide Squad as it may bring something fresh. At the very least an unhinged Margot Robbie should be worth the price of admission alone.)

The top 5 performances of Ralph Fiennes

Best Of lists

Somehow, I’ve not written about the living legend that is Ralph Fiennes before. And, these days, he’s just getting better with age. Well it’s high time we address that and look at my pick of his best performances.

So here they are, my favourite five. Do you agree? What would yours be?

Voldemort
Harry Potter (2005-2011)
A twisted, reptilian serpent of a villain, stealing every scene as poor Daniel Radcliffe tried to keep up. His take on Rowling’s primary bad guy was just as you’d want it to be – melodramatic, flamboyant, tortured, deliciously evil and highly watchable.

the-lost-story-of-how-tom-riddle-became-lord-voldemort-is-as-epic-and-insane-as-you-would-833734

Harry
In Bruges (2008)
Where did this performance come from? Who knew Fiennes was so funny? Obviously it helps to have a dark comedy penned by ‘the Irish Tarantino’ Martin McDonagh with zingers aplenty to get stuck into, but Fiennes’ performance was deadpan genius.

In Bruges

M. Gustave
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
In probably the quirkiest Wes Anderson film yet, Fiennes ran the show as enigmatic Hotel Manager M. Gustave, thoroughly embracing scenes with casual shootouts, jailbreaks and geriatric loving; as if it was the easiest thing in the world to pull off.

Gareth Mallory
Skyfall (2012)
Filling Judi Dench’s boots as M is a hell of a tall order, yet Fiennes effortlessly slotted into Sam Mendes’ world of Bond as if he’d been there all along. Initially we’re unsure of his motives (in terms of Bond) yet they come to earn each other’s respect.

skyfallreduced-0017

Lenny Nero
Strange Days (1995)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron, this gritty sci-fi thriller was a favourite of mine growing up. Largely due to Fiennes’ committed performance as former LAPD cop turned bootlegger. Worth seeking out if you’ve not seen it.

RF Strange Days

RIP Alan Rickman: we’ve lost a great

My musings

First David Bowie goes then, mere days later, we lose Alan Rickman. Both 69 and both lost their battles with cancer. This just isn’t acceptable. It’s so, so sad.

But I am sure the man that so artfully played Severus Snape in Harry Potter wouldn’t want us to be morose and down in the dumps, oh no. For little do people know, but Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman was a bit of a joker and had a great sense of humour. That’s the rub kids, he was acting. Acting. And he was bloody good at it too.

So rather than mourn his death let’s celebrate his life and, more specifically, his excellent body of cinematic work. Known for playing bad and despicable types, Rickman’s first credit on IMDb is for the nefarious Tybalt in a TV movie of Romeo & Juliet in 1978. This must have set the scene for what came next, surely? For a decade later, having worked steadily in TV and theatre, he made his big screen debut as the delectable – and thoroughly evil – Hans Gruber in Die Hard in 1988. A classic bad guy, and thoroughly worthy opponent for Bruce Willis’ cop in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Alan-Rickman-alan-rickman-16144112-2000-1063

For me, the next time I saw Rickman chew up the scenery and scare – and hugely entertain – everyone around him, was as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991. Again, surrounded by Americans who weren’t quite sure what to do with him, they muddled by as best they could as he threatened to ‘cut their hearts out with a spoon.’ His legend status was beginning to cement nicely.

robin-hood-prince-of-thieves-1991-720p-brrip-h264-aac-mp4_snapshot_02-20-43_2012-02-09_00-41-55

He then decided to tone it down a bit, taking the role of the Metatron (the voice of God) in a quirky indie flick called Dogma, starring a young Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. His entrance, causing Linda Fiorentino to raise an eyebrow (no easy thing, she’s fiesty), proved he was very much in on the joke.

fhd999DGA_Alan_Rickman_002

Demonstrating his comedy chops were just as fearsome as his bad guy routine, he continued the trend that year playing a jaded and exasperated actor slowly unravelling (and massively enjoying himself in the process) in cult hit Galaxy Quest, a send-up of Star Trek, opposite Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen.

Then, in 2001, we got to see his take on the character for which he’s most well known, Severus Snape in Harry Potter. At the time just a fledgling film and not the juggernaut franchise we now know and love. And whilst the whole cast went towards making it a success – and spawning the aforementioned franchise – Rickman’s performance as Snape (probably the most accurate portrayal of a Harry Potter character by any of the cast) was no doubt a big part of that success.

So with the franchise going from strength to strength for the rest of that decade, Alan was kept busy, but to his credit he never let the character of Snape go stale. He was always finding new ways to give him more depth and nuance. Even make him sympathetic (he was helped by Snape’s arc in the source material, but J.K. Rowling was still writing the books and he still had to put it across what he did know convincingly on screen).

On a break from Potter in the early days he also managed to get in a romantic comedy, of sorts, in Richard Curtis’ obligatory one-to-watch-at-Christmas movie, Love Actually. Despite the gargatuan cast, he stood out. His relationship with Emma Thompson’s character is one of the most heartbreaking and affecting story strands in the whole thing.

LOVE ACTUALLY, Heike Makatsch, Alan Rickman, 2003, (c) Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

In 2010, in what I consider to be an inspired bit of casting, he then played the Blue Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. His dour delivery of lines striking just the right note to stop the film from becoming too overloaded with Johnny Depp’s mad overacting.

A few years later, in 2014, he even turned his hand to directing, in a moderately well received period piece A Little Chaos, starring Kate Winslet.

And, even though he’s now gone, we may see him again, or at least his voice, as he reprised his role as the caterpillar in the not-yet-released Alice Through The Looking Glass.

So on a final note, to paraphrase/steal a line from Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black… Alan Rickman isn’t dead, he’s just gone home.

But if I’m wrong, RIP Mr Rickman, wherever you are, you’ll be missed beyond measure.