Movies – Room Review (or “The One Where The Star Doesn’t Get Top Billing”)

February 3, 2016

In an episode of Baddiel & Skinner: Unplanned, the comedy duo were asked how they decided upon the order of billing in the title. The answer was simple; it was alphabetical.

For ensemble pieces, I think that’s a good system, while for shows where there’s one obvious lead, I think it’s fair that the main star is given the first name check.

And yet there are sometimes odd exceptions. One that comes to mind is the West Wing, where the largely unimportant Rob Lowe was always first on an otherwise alphabetical bill. Ego? Perhaps.Room

Room is another example of this.

Whether it’s imdb, Google or even the poster, the message is clear; it’s ‘Room, starring Brie Larson’.

And yet that’s not really true. Room – a movie about a young woman and her product-of-rape son who have been kept prisoner for years in a shed until they manage to escape and reintegrate into the real world – stars 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay.

This is a movie told almost entirely from the perspective of a wee boy (Trembley) who has never seen set foot outside of the four walls of ‘Room’. The focus of the movie rarely strays from him.

And yet presumably because of his age and maybe even because of marketing, he’s not considered the star.

That’s a pity, because he obviously is the star, and I say that as someone who finds child actors mostly crap and/or obnoxious. He’s really good.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with Brie Larson’s performance either, but she’s very much the supporting artist.

Anyway, away from the politics of billing, I guess you’re keen to find out if the movie is any good?

Well it is and it’s not. It gets rave reviews from most critics, and I would certainly have considered them justified up to a point, but for me it goes on too long.

The first half of the movie – up to and including their escape and hospital stay – are absorbing and highly original. But the second half – as we see them slowly readjust back to a normal life – just felt like it went on and on. It was dreary.

You know how some films end too soon and you think to yourself “I’d have liked to have seen what happened after the big finale?”. Well the opposite is true here. It’s a bit like if Return of the Jedi had an extra hour attached to the end of it where we got to see the whole after-party on Endor and then the next day where they are all hungover and talking about going back to their own planets. That wouldn’t be exciting, and neither was the second half of Room.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say it ruined it – I still enjoyed it in the main – but had that section been condensed into a faster paced 30 minutes, I think it would have made the movie better.

So basically, this was a game of two halves, but having said that, I still think it’s worth going to on the strength of the first.


Movies – Spotlight Review (or ‘Engaging and Engrossing, But Is It Worthy?’)

January 31, 2016

While I certainly don’t want to be swayed by other people’s opinions before going to see a movie – a notion that I accept is somewhat ironic considering I’m writing a review that will probably influence the opinions of others before they see it – I did read a couple of conflicting views of Spotlight from people I know before venturing out to the cinema last night.

One person said that he thought it was excellent; a gripping ensemble piece where the cast – pardon the obvious pun for the second review in a row – share the spotlight so that there is no obvious lead.spotlight

Another guy said he thought it was far too ‘worthy’; a predictable and plodding movie designed with the intention of winning Oscars rather than telling a good story.

Now those are two contrasting views at the opposite ends of the spectrum. If you read them before you go to see it you wouldn’t know if you were going to be engrossed or annoyed.

So what did I think of it?

Honestly, though I err towards agreeing with the first guy, I can understand to an extent what the second guy is talking about.

It’s true to say that this is a great ensemble piece. The likes of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James share equal amounts of screen time and don’t stand out as obvious leads.

But then it’s also true to say that thanks to Mark Ruffalo, it does feel a bit ‘worthy’. Personally, I felt he let the side down because he was so obviously ‘acting’, and though the types of people who give out Oscars are known to love that sort of thing, I don’t. To me, a good actor is someone who makes it look like the character they are playing is them being normal. The rest of the cast manage this easily, but Ruffalo – with his fake accent, occasional shoutyness and over the top body language – just came across as someone doing an impression. He’s trying too hard.

I disagree with the second opinion though where he said that it’s plodding and predictable. To me the movie never slowed down or became dull, and the two hours flew by. Predictable? Well there weren’t any shock twists like it turned out that the kids were raping the priests, but what do you expect? It’s a true account of the slow and painstaking process good journalists must go through to complete a story.

And I suppose that’s at the heart of the matter, isn’t it?

If that sounds interesting to you, then you’ll enjoy it. If you go along looking for something more thrilling and action packed, you probably won’t.

But if it’s the former, then the movie does a great job of explaining how the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe happened upon the cover-up going on in the Catholic Church, and gave an insight into how Boston society as a whole managed had previously and unwittingly swept it all under the carpet.

I guess you’ll just have to decide for yourself whether or not that sounds interesting.


Movies – The Big Short Review (or ‘I Was Entertained And Educated’)

January 28, 2016

 

You would think that a movie about Hedge Fund Managers betting against the housing market wouldn’t be the most riveting of subjects, but in this case, the odds have been defied.

Having seen The Big Short – the movie about the run up to the 2008 banking crisis starring the likes of Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt – I came away from the cinema feeling not only entertained, but TheBigShortCSHeaderthat I’d learned something.

As much as I have a decent enough grasp on finance and the economy – I have an MA/Hons in Business Economics – the actual reasons for why it all went tits up was something I’d never really paid much attention to. Throughout The Big Short, it was explained in simple terms to give the viewer the chance to be able to keep up. So for example, to keep the viewer’s attention, they have Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explain the basics of  subprime mortgages, and later on a celebrity chef equates the grouping of this less than steady mortgages to reusing leftover fish in a stew the next day.

Now sure, that might be a little too simplistic, but it got the job done and allowed everyone to keep focussed and understand what was going on and why. From doing a bit of reading, it seems as though it’s a historically accurate account of what went on and is not sensationalised for the sake of art, which is to its credit.

So really, they turned what could possibly have been a dreary subject matter into something you could – pardon the pun – invest in.

If I was to take any issue with it, it’s that I find Steve Carell hard to take seriously; and believe me, we were supposed to take him seriously even though this had comic elements. Try as he might though, I just don’t think he can shake off the character of Michael Scott from The Office. Maybe that’s just me.

But that aside, The Big Short is an informative, educational and entertaining movie. You should go to see it.


Movies – Creed Review (or “A Worthy Addition To The Franchise”)

January 17, 2016

I love everything about the Rocky movies; the music, the fights, the training montages and the storylines, such as they are.

They are just honest, likeable films that should be staple viewing for any bloke.

So I was more than a little bit excited to go along to the new Rocky movie in everything but name, Creed.

Did it live up to my inevitable expectation?

Movies: Creed Review – What’s It About?

Apollo Creed’s bastard love child wants to become a professional boxer, and enlists an initially hesitant Rocky Balboa to train him. It inevitably ends in a boxing match against the world champion in – bizarrely – CreedGoodison Park, Liverpool.

Thoughts

Well I really enjoyed it, but that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

The thing about it though was that from a creative standpoint, it was fresh enough and interesting enough to justify the 133 minutes, and it didn’t drag in any way.. Rather than being another rags to riches storyline, it presented the young Creed as someone who came from a mostly privileged upbringing who has to prove himself against the shadow of his famous father. That’s at least a break from the norm in what is really just Rocky VII.

And the use of Rocky Balboa himself is good. He manages to play a major part in the movie without overshadowing Michael B. Jordan’s main character, and as always Sylvester Stallone is top-notch as the charmingly simple ex-prizefighter.

The music, while nowhere near as good as the soundtracks of Rocky III or especially Rocky IV, was also enjoyable, though it was only when they went back to variations on tracks like Going The Distance that I wanted to cheer.

I think what stood out the most though was the direction of the boxing matches. They were so immersive and dynamic that they made me feel as though I was in the ring with them as part of the action. I’m assuming that what the point, and they’ve done it brilliantly; I was enthralled.

If you’re not sure about Creed because you haven’t seen any of the previous Rocky movies (although it astounds me that there are such people out there), then don’t be. The person I went with hasn’t seen a single one of them, and she found no problem following the narrative or the characters.

Really, it’s just a brilliant addition to the franchise as well as a top-notch stand alone movie.

It starts my 2016 reviews on a high.

Hopefully it’s not all downhill from here…

 

 


Doctor Who – The Husbands of River Song Review (or ‘River Finally Has An Age Appropriate Doctor’)

December 30, 2015

Apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for my review of The Husbands of River Song to be posted, but this really is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and watch it again.

Because let’s face it; I wasn’t going to review it on Christmas Day while still suffering from a Food Coma.

Anyway it’s here now, so let’s get to it…

Doctor Who – The Husbands of River Song Review: What’s This One About?

Christmas Day hijinx and what – I assume – will be River Song’s final appearance in the show.

But then I’ve said that before.

Thoughts – Light Entertainment For All The Family

Before I get down to business with the main thrust of my review, I’ll just be brief with this, because I’ve said it a few times over the years and I don’t think it needs to be delved into too deeply again.

I wonder if anyone sat at home and wondered "Gosh, how did they do that special effect"?

I wonder if anyone sat at home and wondered “Gosh, how did they do that special effect”?

Put simply, this is a Christmas Day episode and seeing as it wasn’t one where the Doctor regenerates, it therefore makes sense for it to be quite light. After all, nobody really wants to spend Christmas Day working out overly complex plots or being depressed by the bleakness of our own mortality; the latter point is covered by Eastenders a couple of hours later.

No, this should be fun and maybe a little bit frivolous.

Some might not like that, but I’m happy enough with it.

So on that score, this episode did not disappoint.

This Must Be The End Of River Song Now?

For me, the main point of discussion is the stuff with River Song.

 

If you’ve read my reviews over the years you’ll know that I felt the River Song story arc just got away from Steven Moffat. What started as a good idea in Silence in the Library spiralled out of control to the point it seemed as though he was making it up as he went along.

Now she’s back again and considering this is meant to be her final meeting with the Doctor before she sees him for the last time in the aforementioned David Tennant story, I imagine that this is the end.

As a viewer, I could take two approaches.

I could just block out everything else and take this final appearance on its own merits. If I go with this option, The Husbands of River Song works. It’s touching, quite sad and well acted.

I can't look at Peter Capaldi in that suit without thinking of...

I can’t look at Peter Capaldi in that suit without thinking of…

So it would get thumbs up.

But as a long-term viewer, I should be taking a different approach.

I should be able to watch this and know without having to look stuff up how River and the Doctor got to this point. I should know the background of the diary (and I thought I did, but apparently not), I should know without being told that this restaurant is the last place they meet before the library and I should be swept up in the emotion of a story arc that has lasted for almost 10 years.

I can’t do that though.

The story arc is too complex and out of control. I don’t want to read up on stuff to refresh my memory, even though it seems like my memory is cheating me.

For some reason, I thought it was on record that River only ever met two incarnations of the Doctor, and I also thought that rather than a diary, it was stated that she had in her possession his biography.

I’m probably wrong here and I imagine a certain section of fandom (you know, the ones who call themselves ‘Whovians’, idolise Osgood and have diagrams of the River Song story arc on their bedroom walls) are probably tutting away at me for not knowing this stuff off by heart, but the way I see it, if I’m confused then 99% of the viewers probably feel a bit lost by it as well.

So although it was a good end to the character, I think I’m really just glad that it’s an end of any sort.

Random Observations

  • One thing that is disappointing about seeing River go though is that for the first time, Alex Kingston is acting alongside someone she has chemistry with. Had this been the case all the way though, I maybe
    ...the Vultures from Splash Mountain

    …the Vultures from Splash Mountain

    wouldn’t be so sick of her.

  • I’ve said before that I think Peter Capaldi is a better actor and Doctor than Matt Smith was, but if anything emphasises the point, it’s this episode.
  • And isn’t it good that River finally has an age appropriate version of the Doctor to hang around with.
  • I couldn’t help but think Peter Capaldi looked like one of the Vultures from Splash Mountain in that last scene.
  • Is it not a little strange that of all the days to finally have availability for a booking, they have Christmas Day? Not April 7th? Or October 10th?
  • And are they counting a year on that planet in Earth time or by their own planet’s time? If it’s the latter then that’s a very long wait, and the hostess has aged remarkably well.
  • I’m not a fan of Matt Lucas’s acting ability and by association his character in this story.
  • Greg Davies was good though, but there’s an argument to suggest that he’s not actually a very good actor.
  • I enjoyed the stuff with River not knowing who the Doctor was, which made sense with the idea I had in my head that she only ever knowingly met Tennant and Smith.
  • That alien dude who opened up his head must struggle to play football. Imagine trying to go for a header under those circumstances?
  • And why not just keep the item in his pocket?
  • Finally, the scene where The Doctor got to ‘do entering the TARDIS for the first time the right way’ was superb.

Doctor Who – The Husbands of River Song Review: Final Thoughts

The Husbands of River Song was a good Christmas Day story. It was light, it was fun and in the end it was quite emotional.

Some people won’t like that, but I did.

And if this is the final appearance of River Song – and I really hope it is – then it was a good way for her to bow out.

 


Movies – In The Heart of the Sea Review (or “One Day I’ll Remember Nobody Gets Swallowed By A Whale In Moby Dick”)

December 29, 2015

It occurred to me around an hour in to watching In The Heart of the Sea that I’d seen a dramatisation of Moby Dick before.

The BBC did a version of it called ‘The Whale’ back in Christmas 2013.

And then I remembered once again – much to my disappointment – that in Moby Dick, nobody ends up being swallowed by a giant whale. That’s the Bible story, Jonah and the Whale.in-the-heart-of-the-sea-poster

I wonder if I’ll fall into that trap again in a few years time?

Oh well.

Lack of being-swallowed-by-a-whale aside, this simply ends up being a retelling of the Moby Dick story, with the added twist that Herman Melville is hearing all about it from one of the survivors of the true story it’s based on.

Is it a good retelling of this story? Yes, I would say so. Apart from Chris Hemsworth’s painful attempt at an American accent, everything flows well, looks good and it doesn’t get boring.

Put simply, it does the job.

If you’re not familiar with the story of Moby Dick, then it’s definitely worth seeing, but if you’ve seen a dramatisation of it before, I’d perhaps suggest giving it a wide berth (look, a nautical term!) until it’s out on DVD.


Star Wars – The Force Awakens Review (Spoiler Free): Can It Live Up To The Hype?

December 17, 2015

The problem with any new Star Wars film is that it will likely struggle against the weight of expectation that a passionate and intense fan-base will have for it.

If you ask 100 people what they thought about Episodes 1-3, around 90 will say they didn’t like them.

Episode 1? Sure, I get that.

Episode 2? It has aged terribly thanks to an absolute over-reliance on CGI, and it also had some really bad acting.

But Episode 3? That, for me, was great. Everything that needed to happen in it happened. I’ve watched all six movies over the last week and I enjoyed that one the most.force

Expectation is a big thing though. Anyone who grew up in the 70s or 80s grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy. Are they great films? Well they are very good, set in a rich and well realised universe, but they are hardly brimming with sparkling dialogue or exceptional acting.

But because we watched them time and again growing up, we have a huge softness and affinity for them; perhaps through rose-tinted specs.

Can Star Wars: The Force Awakens compete against those idealised views of what a Star Wars film should be?

Is it as good as fans want it to be?

Or is it just a decent film in its own right?

For this review, I will avoid spoilers completely. After all, it’s only 13:22 on release day in the UK. The chances are many of you won’t have seen it yet, and if you’re anything like me, you probably want to avoid even the slightest indication of what it’s about.

So I’ll abandon my usual format and get straight to the point…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Was It Any Good?

The short answer is yes it was.

By every standard that you would individually measure a film like this on, it came up trumps. It looked great, the acting was fine, the plot moved along briskly, it kept my attention, it combined drama with some comic (but not played for laughs) moments and it had plenty for old fans like me to get a nostalgic kick out of.

The long answer is the key to whether or not it will be remembered by the many as being in the same league as the original trilogy.

As much as there was to praise it for, I think to a large degree this was a retelling of A New Hope. Many aspects of the plot seemed to be lifted out of that to the point where you could question the lack of originality involved.

The same could be said for the characters.

In The Force Awakens you’ve the likes of Rey, Kylo Ren, BB-8 and Snoke who are essentially Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, R2D2 and The Emperor with a new lick of paint. And while Rey (the very good Daisy Ridley) and BB-8 are more than a match for their original counterparts, the villains aren’t a patch on what came before them. The fact that they have tried to replicate Vader and Palpatine is slightly baffling; they were never going to be as good.

But I suppose to have the same type of villain is the safe choice.

And that’s what The Force Awakens is; it’s safe. It plays to what has worked well in the past without trying to push the boundaries or be unique.

Is that what the Star Wars franchise needed to get back on track? Probably.

Will fans like it when they see it? Yes.

Will those same fans look back on it in 5 or 10 years time and talk about it in the same breath as Episodes IV – VI? For the reasons I’ve already mentioned, probably not.

But I still enjoyed it, and will likely go to see it at the cinema again.

And that – as far as I’m concerned – is a mark of quality.

 


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