Thin Air

Posted: August 13, 2019 in Book reviews, horror
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51KucvZBi0L._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_by Michelle Paver

Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain on Earth. It’s 1935 and a British expedition plan to be the first to reach the summit. The book’s narrator is Stephen, he’s the team doctor and his older brother Kits, who he has a fractious relationship with, is another of the climbers. The group, five British men and a small army of Sherpas, are following the route taken by an Edwardian party led by a man named Lyall. Lyall’s expedition was a failure and several men died. Lyall survived and wrote a book which Stephen and Kits read as a child, which is part of their reason for undertaking the expedition.

Before the expedition starts Stephen has a disturbing encounter with a man named Tennant, the only other survivor of Lyall’s expedition, who warns Stephen and his group not to follow the same path.

They ignore his warnings and begin their slow ascent.  As the journey continues Stephen becomes more and more convinced that there is a spectre on the mountainside, an entity that means them harm.  Kangchenjunga is one of the deadliest places on earth, but a restless spirit might make it even more hazardous for Stephen and the others.

 

Paver’s central idea is a great one, there have been many haunted houses over the years, not sure I’ve seen too many haunted mountains, but given even today may people don’t return from attempts to claim the highest peaks, the idea of restless spirits hovering between base camps is a doozy.

Her research is meticulous, and goes into incredible detail about how such an expedition mounted in the 1930s may have functioned. Similarly her characters feel real for the time, especially in their, at times, barely disguised racism in their treatment of the Sherpas, and yet despite this there are no pantomime villains here, well except maybe for Kits because I think she does overdo the smug older brother trope a little.

There’s a lot of build-up before anything supernatural happens, and at times it feels a little like a travelogue, but her prose is good and, as stated, her research excellent, so the book is always interesting, and there is a subtle but mounting sense of dread as they draw closer to the mountain.

Once they’re climbing for real the horror begins. This isn’t a gorefest, and I’ve read quite a few reviews that state it isn’t very scary, and in truth it isn’t that chilling, and I can see what some people have said about the ending being something of an anti-climax, but when it works it’s very unsettling, especially when Paver puts you on that mountain, because it’s easy to imagine you’re on the mountainside, all alone in a blizzard, with only thin canvas between you and the malevolent spirit outside. The origin of that spirit, when it’s explained, is pretty horrific as well.

Perhaps it never quite lives up to its high concept (pardon the pun) and maybe it almost works better as a tale of men against the environment than a ghost story, but I enjoyed it and was never bored. She wrote another book beforehand that sounds similar, with a ghostly presence haunting an arctic research station, and on the basis of Thin Air I’m inclined to search it out.

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Live and Let Die (1973)

Posted: August 11, 2019 in horror, James Bond
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Bond is back, but Connery has disappeared again, leaving 007 behind to make highbrow fair like, er, Zardoz. After dallying briefly with the idea of Burt Reynolds or Adam West, the producers insisted on a British actor, and in the end the man taking up the 00 licence was the Saint himself, Roger Moore.

It’s easy to make fun of Moore, easy to deride him as an actor and a Bond, but he made several of the most enjoyable Bond films, including this one.

Is it From Russia with Love or OHMSS? Not remotely! Is it better than many of the films that preceded it? Indubitably. Live and Let Die follows in the footsteps of Diamonds as a lighter Bond film, it also, in line with several Bond films, takes inspiration from other genres. Some might decry Bond becoming a follower rather than a leader but, for the most part it’s what’s kept the franchise going for as long as it has, it’s ability to reinvent itself.

Here the influence is Blaxploitation, and while some of the attendant lingo might be more than a little wince inducing now (honky, spade, pimpmobile) taken in the context of its time you could argue this is quite radical. Yes the majority of the black actors are the villains, but there are a decent number of them, and some are the franchise’s most iconic villains. Obviously I’m coming at this from the angle of a white middle class male so feel free to disagree.

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After hiding an Italian agent in his wardrove when M and Moneypenny come around, Bond’s off to New York to investigate the deaths of three British agents. He quickly becomes the target for gangsters led by Mr Big, who seems to be in cahoots with Dr Kananga, the dictator of San Monique (what can be the shocking connection between the two men???). He also comes across a woman named Solitaire who has an almost supernatural ability to predict the future.

I’m a fan of Roger Moore, but even I’d concede he should have quit the franchise long before he did. Here though he’s a joy to watch, effortless and charming, with a hint of danger and, for a guy who’s actually born before Connery, someone who looks in better shape than Sean did in Diamonds.

Roger was in on the joke but, unlike Connery, he plays it straight and leans into the ridiculousness of Bond. He doesn’t have the predatory physique of Connery, but similarly the vulnerability of Lazenby is nowhere to be seen. Moore’s Bond is brimming with self-belief, an assured confidence that sees him stare death in the face with a smile, most of the time. That isn’t to say he doesn’t face his mortality. When he’s on the verge of losing a finger to Tee-Hee, or on that island surrounded by crocs he does have the decency to look slightly worried.

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He’s not a nice guy though, from his assertion to Rosie that he wouldn’t have killed her before they made love, to telling Solitaire she’s safe now even though he’s planning to use her as bait. And on the subject of Solitaire, loading the deck with lovers cards is pretty far from 007’s finest hour. The only (slight) get out is that he’d already picked a genuine Lovers card from the deck, as did Solitaire, so you could argue it was always destined to be, or maybe the cards were picking up on Bond’s future deception? Time paradoxes aren’t usual for Bond, but then again this isn’t a usual Bond film. (but I’ll get to that).

Does Moore always convince in a fist fight? Maybe not, but he looks the part, and how iconic does he look in dressed in black touting a big fuck off .44 magnum at the end?

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As Mr Big/Kananga (sorry!) Yaphet Kotto is excellent. Urbane and intelligent, yet capable of flashes of anger and more than happy to do his own dirty work as required. Yes, the Mr Big prosthetics are a trifle silly, as is the fact 007 doesn’t cotton on, but he’s a top draw villain for me, shame about how he dies though. “Names is for tombstones, baby” is a wonderful line though.

As Tee Hee Julius Harris is clearly having fun. He’s a neat henchman with his pincer for an arm (and nice to see a villain’s oddity get a backstory!) to his affable nature, he genuinely always looks pleased to see Bond even though he’s about to try and kill him.

Neither of these men are the best villain however, which is kinda insane given how good they are, but they’re not the late Geoffrey Holder, they’re no Baron Samedi. I mean he isn’t in it that much, but he dominates the screen, he’s a giant of a man yet walks with the grace of a dancer (hardly surprising given Holder was a dancer and choreographer) and his deep baritone voice is a joy to behold (and by all accounts he was a lovely man in real life). All this is before he’s done up in his Baron Samedi get up, and this just propels him to another level. His fight with Bond is short but memorable, especially his demise in a coffin full of snakes.

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Best of all he’s a henchman like few others. A henchman who isn’t killed. Or is he? Were the snakes in that coffin non-venomous? Was he immune? Or is he really Baron Samedi, the man who cannot die? I mean he’s clearly still alive at the end, sitting on the front of the train uttering a wonderfully malevolent laugh, which doesn’t strike me as something a regular person would do.

And this is the thing about LALD. It’s the closest Bond’s ever got to an out and out horror film. I mean, either Solitaire is incredibly lucky, or she really can predict the future, which implies the supernatural is real, and if Samedi really did come back from the dead…

Whichever way you look at it this is a film with a unique and iconic production design, and certainly the most skulls we’ve ever seen in a Bond movie (and clearly was an influence on Spectre’s pre-title sequence).

2012_CSK_04431_0008_001(live_and_let_die).jpgAs Solitaire it has to be said that Jane Seymour is gorgeous, but yet again she doesn’t get a whole lot to do. She’s mysterious, but in terms of agency she really has none. She’s a slave to the cards, until she becomes a slave to love (or at least lust!). It’s also somewhat problematic that we have the virginal white woman held in the power of malevolent black men. Maybe it would have been better, as was originally considered, if Solitaire had been black as well (though she is white in the book).

Of course does get a black love interest in Gloria Hendry’s Rosie Carver, sadly she’s not one of the better Bond girls. As Bond’s allies we get Lon Satton as the poor unfortunate Agent Strutter, and Roy Stewart as Quarrel Jr. A nice call-back to Dr No. Thankfully Quarrel Jr. survives! Hurrah.

David Hedison is Felix, and it’s kinda ironic him giving Bond shark advice given what’ll happen to him in Licence to Kill! Still, he’s always been one of my favourite Felixs, and other than Jeffrey Wright the only Felix to be in more than one film.

Finally there is Clifton James as Sherriff J.W. Pepper as well. Again a divisive character, but for me he’s a lot of fun, and utters some memorable lines (“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine?”) He probably shouldn’t have shown up in The Man with the Golden Gun though.

After some substandard action fare in Diamonds, there’s some great set pieces here. The bus chase is fun, and the crocodile leap is inspired. The Louisiana speedboat chase is nicely shot, and comes to a neat conclusion. Bond hand gliding to Solitaire’s mansion is great, and Bond infiltrating the voodoo ceremony is just fantastic. Bond’s final fight with Tee Hee is good too.

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It’s not perfect, the Bond-less pre-title sequence is a bit of a chore (but have we ever met the villain and the girl before Bond before?) but I guess they didn’t want to ape the intro of George. The plane chase with Mrs Bell is a trifle silly, and Bond’s method of killing Kananga does a disservice to that character (and is surprisingly bloodless).

Also, just who is it that tips Bond off that Rosie is a wrong-un by slipping him the Queen of Cups? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

A final word on the music. Paul McCartney and Wings’ title track is easily one of the top five in the franchise, and much as I adore John Barry, George Martin’s score here is wonderful and perfect for this film.

One of my favourite films in the franchise and probably tied for Roger’s best Bond flick all round (I’ll let you know if a couple of films time)

Anyway, James Bond will return, with an extra nipple…

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Reservoir Dogs

Posted: July 27, 2019 in Book reviews
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By Quentin Tarantino

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Six criminals using codenames are hired to rob a jewellery store, but when they’re ambushed by the police a simple job turns into a bloody massacre. The survivors rendezvous at a deserted warehouse where it soon becomes apparent that one of them may be a rat.

Though not the first thing Tarantino wrote, Reservoir Dogs was his feature length debut, a violent crime thriller that cemented his reputation from the off as a man able to coolly marry violence with almost effortless dialogue.

Now I’ll be honest, I was never the greatest Reservoir Dogs fan in the world, it has a nasty streak running through it that always put me off somewhat, and I’m not even sure I could tell you the last time I watched it, but reading the script has planted the seed in my head of wanting to see it again because it reads so well.

In many ways Tarantino is a terrible example to look at if you’re planning to write screenplays yourself, not because he’s not good at what he does, but because he breaks so many rules. That he gets away with this shows you just how good a writer he is.

A standard rule of thumb is that sections of action or dialogue in a script should be relatively short, three or four lines at most, but Tarantino throws this rule out the window, douses it in petrol and sets fire to it while Stuck in the Middle with You plays on the stereo. Forget acres of whitespace as a good thing, his pages are packed with words, dense paragraphs three or four times the industry standard.

I suspect a lot of prospective screenwriters have flopped by trying to emulate Tarantino, thinking all it takes is cool, pop culture references and witty dialogue to write the next Pulp Fiction, but at his best there’s more to Tarantino than that.

His scene descriptions are quite stripped back, and at times his dialogue is relatively mundane taken out of context, it’s just that the turn of phrase he can bring to bear turns a chat about Like a Virgin, or the ethics of tipping into conversations you can’t take your ears off!

This is actually a sparse script, the story is fairly straightforward, we know early on who the undercover cop is, but the pleasure is in the interactions between the characters. Many have accused all Tarantino characters of sounding alike, I know I have on occasion, but on the page it’s so clear that every character in this has his own voice. You could remove the names and you’d still probably be able to identify Mr Pink’s dialogue, or Mr Blonde, or Nice Guy Eddie, or Mr White, and whilst you may not like these characters, they’re all interesting and they’re clearly each the hero of his own story.

I haven’t always liked everything Tarantino’s done, especially his later work, but reading Reservoir Dogs one thing is clear. The guy has talent.

Essential reading for fans of his work and/or those interested in screenwriting, just don’t plan on copying his style, because you’ll fall flat on your face if you do.

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

Posted: July 23, 2019 in James Bond
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Connery is back!

And to celebrate he beats up some stereotypical foreigners and throttles a woman in the pre title sequence.

Bond hits the 70s, and the producers move heaven and earth to bring back Connery, which proves something of a mistake. They don’t quite seem to know what to do with him, and Sean can’t be bothered to try and inject any kind of menace into the performance. This Bond is barely recognisable as the man who fought Red Grant. It doesn’t help that Connery is older and, with the best will in the world, slightly less lean than he once was. Less a caged tiger, 007 has become a toothless old circus lion fooling around with clowns.

Which isn’t to say Connery, or the film, don’t have their moments, but they’re few and far between and sandwiched between some incredibly dull set pieces.

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The pre-title sequence is clearly supposed to show Bond getting revenge for the death of Tracy, but it falls flat, in part because this is a different Bond and a different Blofeld, and in part because there’s no sense of threat. Connery’s camp hand gestures don’t help, and while Grey is wonderfully effete later on, here it’s just very obvious that this isn’t the hard-edged git who killed Tracy (well, technically the getaway driver of course).

Once we get into the film proper, those warning signs from the first section grow louder. I happen to like Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, they’re amusingly lethal (except when it comes to 007 who they go to Dr Evil lengths to avoid killing at one point) but they’re also exceedingly camp. Watching them murder their way through the diamond route is surprisingly good fun though (fun fact, Bruce Glover is Crispin Glover’s dad, which technically makes Mr Wint Marty McFly’s granddad, kinda)

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Bond really is a smug git, and Lee has some lovely facial expressions here, you almost imagine M might be quite happy if someone offed his most insufferable agent.

There’s a nice Moneypenny scene—in uniform again, and apparently she and Connery filmed their bits separately—as Bond takes the place of diamond smuggler Peter Franks. I liked this bit, it’s always good to see 007 go undercover and do some actual spying, and he’s back to being a policeman again it seems.

In Amsterdam he meets Tiffany Case who, for some reason keeps changing her hair. Bond is of course a perfect gentleman (not) and the collars and cuffs line is a trifle cringeworthy.

All’s going well until Peter Franks escapes and makes it to Holland. Cue a decent fight in a lift, after we’ve seen Connery snogging himself outside, and after a rare example of Sean doing an accent. “Who is your floor?”

Sadly the fight’s undercut somewhat by Bond slipping his wallet into Franks’ pocket for Tiffany to find. Not only do we discover Bond has his own Playboy card, but it seems Tiffany has heard of Bond, in fact she makes it sound like everyone’s heard of Bond—though clearly nobody’s seen him! It’s a terrible moment for a spy, and marks the beginning of the “Your reputation precedes you, Mr Bond” era.

Then it’s off to Vegas and the camp goes through the roof. There’s an argument that Bond always feels slightly out of place in the States, and never more so than in Vegas. I love Vegas, but it’s brash and colourful and obvious, everything 007 shouldn’t be, and the gangsters here seem like a throwback to the fifties and sixties. Gotta love an undertaker named Slumber though.

After a brief dalliance with Plenty O’Toole, Bond finally seduces Tiffany; or is it the other way around? After Plenty is mistaken for Tiffany and killed (in a scene that doesn’t make any sense without the deleted scene where she nabs Tiffany’s address) Ms Case decides to nominally join the side of the angels.

Fun fact, the clown balloon game Tiffany plays in Circus Circus? I’ve done that!

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“Who’s he, your mother?”

Bond finally discovers the diamonds are being used by Dr Metz to build a satellite at a remote research facility owned by mysterious billionaire Willard Whyte. And then we get two of the dullest car chases in the franchise. I’m not sure why they’re faking a moon landing there, nor am I sure why the astronauts stay in character and move in slow motion even as 007 nicks their moon buggy, but the resultant chase is yawn inducing, and soon afterwards we get a bland car chase through Vegas, which even the two wheel stunt or a proto JW Pepper can’t save.

maxresdefaultThankfully Bond’s infiltration of Whyte’s penthouse is wonderfully done, cool, nerve-wracking and very James Bond, and his confrontation with two Blofelds is nicely done too, and whilst his plan doesn’t pay off, his trick to try and ID the real Blofeld is smart thinking.

Why the hell don’t Wint and Kidd just kill him when they get the chance though?

Bond rescues the real Willard Whyte, after first reinforcing the patriarchy by nearly drowning Bambie and Thumper, but he’s too late to stop Blofeld launching a rocket, and before you can say “One million dollars” Blofeld has a laser armed satellite in orbit that he’s planning to sell to the highest bidder, though to paraphrase Number 2 in Austin Powers, why didn’t he just content himself with Whyte’s billions is anyone’s guess.

As diabolical lairs go, an oil rig is a trifle banal, and whilst a more exciting finale was planned, what we actually get is, well again a bit dull, and Bond’s plan to swap a marching band tape for Blofeld’s master control tape is about as half arsed as you can get.

Still at least Bond finally gets revenge for Tracy by, er, making Blofeld seasick or something.

I do quite like Bond’s final, and fatal, battle with Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, though the films ends as it began by being as camp as a row of tents.

Really this is a Moore era Bond film that just happens to feature Connery, and whilst Connery tries to lighten his performance, you can’t escape the conclusion that he’s a man who isn’t right for this film. He’s not the animalistic Bond he once was, yet isn’t charming enough to pull off a lighter Bond the way Moore will.

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As Tiffany Case, St John starts well, but it’s all down hill from there. Initially she’s a cool and sassy professional, more than happy to change sides if it’ll keep her out of jail, but by the end she’s a squealing bimbo who seems to have lost half her IQ—the scene with the submachine gun is just terrible. It’s a shame. Jill St John was gorgeous and could have been a great Bond girl.

With Grey we get our third Blofeld in a row, and is it even the same man? Forget his appearance, his entire attitude has changed, and it is mildly amusing when he exclaims that science was never his strong suit, given in the last film he was running a bioweapons laboratory. Fair dues though, he’s the only Blofeld who could pull off a dress, and probably the perfect Ernst Stavro for this film.

The soundtracks good of course, and its always nice to see Q in the field, not sure he should really be running a heist in the casino, however.

Bringing back Connery no coubt kept the franchise ticking over I guess, but this is a new era for 007, and to be successful in the 1970s you really need something…Moore…

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Midsommar

Posted: July 20, 2019 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Ari Aster. Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Wilhelm Blomgren and Will Poulter.

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After tragedy strikes her family, college student Dani (Pugh) is traumatised and becomes ever more reliant on her boyfriend Christian (Reynor). Unbeknownst to Dani, Christian has been considering ending their relationship for a year, egged on by his friends Josh (Harper) and Mark (Poulter) who see Dani as too needy. Given her current emotional state Christian doesn’t think he can finish things just yet.

When Dani learns that the three men are due to attend a midsummer festival in Sweden at the invitation of another student— Pelle (Blomgren) who originates from the remote community— she is annoyed and in trying to placate her Christian invites her along, not expecting her to accept the invitation.

She does accept and the four of them, plus Pelle, venture to the remote commune where they are welcomed as honoured guests and partake of hallucinogens. The locals seem a bit odd, but they’re very friendly.

As the festival continues however, things start to shift, and this might not be the relaxing academic experience any of them expected!

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And so after last year’s Hereditary comes Aster’s sophomore effort, on one level a very different film to his first, yet in some respects very similar and whether you like it or not will probably depend on your willingness to go with it, and your patience for arthouse.

The first thing to say is that whilst this is a horror movie, it’s a very different kind of film to Hereditary, a film which did at times disturb and, quite frankly, shit me up. Midsommar isn’t remotely as scary, and oddly given its subject matter, it isn’t remotely as disturbing.

With Hereditary a certain fatalistic inevitability hung over the film. Characters had no escape. The same is true of Midommar to a certain extent, and yet it never quite unsettles as much as it should. In part this is down to the cinematography, everything is so bright and colourful that it’s hard to feel threatened (which I appreciate is kinda the point), but it’s also in part down to the script and the pacing.

If I was asked to identify the biggest flaw with the film, I’d say the length. There’s really nothing gained from the near two and a half hour running time (and rumours suggest there may be a 3 hour director’s cut in the works!) and after I came out it wasn’t long before I exclaimed on Twitter that this was a film that takes 147 minutes to tell the same story The Wicker Man told better in less than 90.

Which isn’t to suggest it drags, I checked my watch a few times but overall despite its slow pace it’s rarely boring. In part this is down to Aster’s inventive direction and Pawel Pogorzelski’s glorious cinematography. This is a film that looks gorgeous, especially during some of the trippier scenes, with flowers breathing and hands and feet being overtaken by nature itself.

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Chidi had a sneaking suspicion this might not be the Good Place

It just feels indulgent, as if Aster’s success with Hereditary has given him carte blanche to make the film he wants to make, and bugger the consequences. He isn’t alone in this, most successful directors suddenly lose the ability to edit once they have complete creative control.

The other problem is that for the most part it doesn’t surprise.

There’s a scene midway through that’s a master class in suspense, but in part this is down to the fact that you can see what’s coming, it just takes an agonizing age to get there. But this is probably the most affecting part of the film. Similarly, whilst for one character the film doesn’t end how you might imagine, on the whole you could probably guess roughly what’s going to happen to everyone else.

It’s also one of those films where you find yourself screaming at the characters. A couple do decide to leave after the shocking event in the middle of the film, but most don’t, and whilst I accept they’re anthropology students, it beggars belief than more of them don’t decide to get out of Dodge, and as their numbers dwindle the lack of threat perception just gets sillier.

The script is genuinely, and intentionally funny in places, which again undercuts the overarching menace, and much like Us from earlier in the year at times I couldn’t help feeling this worked better as a comedy than a horror, but a certain scene involving Will Poulter and a tree is bloody hilarious.

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Aside from the look of the film, its other positive is in the performances. Pugh is astonishing. Creating a character wracked with grief, and clearly suffering PTSD (and there’s a slight suggestion of wider mental health issues). Her screams of anguish are genuinely heart-breaking, and in this Midsommar does mirror Hereditary in that both films revolve around a central woman who’s suffered a traumatic loss and is consumed by anguish. Toni Collette should have been up for awards and was overlooked, I fear Pugh will suffer a similar fate, which is a shame.

As Christian Reynor does a good job of making him a dick, and he increasingly becomes more dickish as the film goes alone, though as much as several characters are inherently unlikeable, none of them deserves their fate, and another slight quibble for me would be the way, at times, it almost feels like Aster believes the community members are nominally the good guys in all of this.

As a fan of The Good Place it’s great to see Harper getting film roles, and as Mark Poulter is great and gets many of the films laughs.

Sadly aside from Pelle most of the cultists are a tad interchangeable.

This is a film full of wonderful performances and its gorgeous to look at, yet it’s also overly pretentious and self-indulgent. As a study in grief it works, as a folk horror perhaps less well.

Yesterday

Posted: July 11, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Himesh Patel and Lily James.

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Jack Malik (Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter who’s reached the end of his rope, with no one interested in hearing him play, except for his manager and friend Ellie (James) he’s decided to quit music and give up his dreams.

But then, during a worldwide blackout, he’s hit by a car. He’s badly injured but make a full recovery. There’s just one problem, he now seems to be the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles. With a whole lot of classic songs rattling around inside his head, and in a world without John, Paul, George and Ringo, Jack becomes an overnight success, but is fame all it’s cracked up to be?

Yesterday has a lot of problems, which doesn’t mean it’s terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just incredibly lazy. A film that relies on a hackneyed plot that rarely scratches the surface of its high concept premise.

The plot collapses if you think about it for more than 5 seconds, and it undercuts its own point almost immediately. It wants us to believe the Beatles are important, that their music is special and makes the world a better place, yet the Beatles’less world is objectively no different to our own, even before you get to all the other things that no longer exist (mild spoiler; it’s not just the Beatles).

The whole point of a “what if” tale is that the world should be very different. What if Hitler died in World War 1? What if Penicillin was never invented? What if JFK survived Dallas? All of these things would make the world manifestly different, but we seem to be getting along just fine without the Fab Four, so what’s the point?

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The original script was by Jack Barth and Mackenzie Crook and was called Cover Version, but when they dropped out Richard Curtis took over and rewrote it. The original sounds more interesting, because the protagonist doesn’t become a worldwide hit, he archives only moderate success. It was also Curtis’ decision to make it a romcom, which I have no problem with, and I like a lot of Curtis films, but if you’re going to use a high concept like the Beatles ceasing to exist as mere window dressing for a love story, you could at least come up with something more than the by the numbers “He doesn’t know she exists” story we get here.

Back to the plot anyway. There’s a writing axiom that suggests you can get the audience to buy one contrivance, one fantastical moment, per film, but Yesterday just keeps piling them on. First the Beatles vanish, then we’re expected to believe that this ordinary young man becomes an overnight sensation playing random Beatles’ songs, never mind that the Beatles success was in part down to their place in time, four young lads from Liverpool who exploded onto the scene in the early 60s, a time very different from now, and never mind that their style evolved from rock and roll to folk, country and eventually psychedelia, apparently their songs are so good that the world will lap them up out of order and played by a nervous young man from Suffolk rather than four likely lads from Liverpool.

That Yesterday is inoffensively enjoyable is down to other factors. An engaging cast for starters. Patel makes for a likable lead, and I suspect the former EastEnders star will go on to bigger and better things. Lily James is a great actress, but her movie choices are a tad erratic at times. She does her best here with a drippy character, but she deserves better.

Joel Fry as Jack’s roadie Rocky is a hoot, and Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal, are great as Jack’s parents.

Ed Sheeran as, er, Ed Sheeran, is nowhere near as annoying as you might expect him to be but his appearance is a trifle jarring (and the appearance of one particular character later on is a wince inducing misstep in my opinion).

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Finally we get Kate McKinnon. She’s a great comic actor, but her money obsessed music producer is straight out of central casting.

As well as the cast, we have Boyle who directs with enough verve and style that I was never bored, and finally we have the Beatles themselves, or rather their music, and the film leans heavily on their catchy tunes, even if it never tries to dig into what makes them so wonderful, it’s content to just love you do.

And Curtis’ script does have its moments, in particular as Jack struggles to remember as many lyrics as he can.

Maybe I’ve just thought about it too much rather than buying into the premise, but as enjoyable as this fluff is, with a cast like that, a top draw director, and the music of the Beatles to draw on, this could have been so much more than a predictable there’s more to life than fame rom com.

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Spider-Man: Far from Home

Posted: July 9, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by: Jon Watts. Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.

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Okay first things first. This is going to be, as far as possible, a spoiler free review of Spider-Man; but, in talking about this film I will need to reveal things about Avengers: Endgame, so if you haven’t seen that yet, for goodness sake why not?

Seriously I’m going to spoil Endgame so don’t scroll past thus picture of a warm and cuddly Sam Jackson unless you’ve A/ already seen it or B/ really don’t care.

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Still will me?

Thanos has been defeated, and the Snap has been undone. The 50% of people who vanished five years ago have returned in what’s being termed The Blip. The downside is that they’re the same age they were when they were snapped out of existence. Which is how come Peter’s still 16 while a weedy kid from several years below him is now a buff teenager with designs on MJ.

The world is also getting used to the fact that Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow are no more, and in particular the loss of Tony Stark cuts deep, especially for Peter Parker (Holland) who idolised the man. Struggling with trying to live a double life as a normal kid and a friendly neighbourhood webslinger, and wanting more than anything to enjoy a school trip to Europe so he can finally tell MJ (Zendaya) how he feels about her, Peter ignores a call from Nick Fury (Jackson) much to the astonishment of Happy (Favreau) who advises; “You don’t ghost Nick Fury.”

Once in Europe Peter finds that Fury isn’t so easily dissuaded, especially not when the world is in peril thanks to elemental creatures that have already destroyed the Earth of Quentin Beck (Gyllenhaal) a man with amazing powers who soon garners the name Mysterio.

Peter really doesn’t want to step into Iron Man’s shoes, but with great power…ah you know the rest. Will Spidey step up, and can he defeat the Elementals with Mysterio’s help?

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And so our seventh standalone Spider-Man film in less than 20 years, arrives, featuring our third Spider-Man in that time, and whatever your view of the films (and I wasn’t totally sold on Homecoming) there’s a strong argument that Tom Holland is the closest fit to the comic book webslinger we’ve ever had, but much as filling Iron Man’s shoes is a big ask, being the first post Endgame MCU film equates to pretty big shoes to fill as well, especially so soon, but thankfully Holland and co fill them well, and this is perhaps the perfect film to follow the end of phase whatever, much as Ant-Man 2 was a nice palate cleanser to follow Infinity War.

Not that Far from Home is a lightweight knockabout comedy by any means. I mean, well it is those things, but there’s deeper, darker things afoot, but Watts directs so effortlessly that you don’t realise it, at first at least.

But whilst on the face of it this is a teen comedy that sees Peter Parker and chums decamp to Europe for all manner of japes, it’s also a tale about responsibility. For all his power, Spidey doesn’t want to save the world, as he tells an audience early on who start badgering him about whether he’s now an Avenger and whether he can take Tony Stark’s place, “Don’t you guys have any neighbourhood questions?”

But whilst Peter might want to keep things lowkey, Fury needs his help to battle the extra dimensional elementals, and he isn’t above semi kidnapping Peter, or using emotional blackmail to get the job done, and Jackson is at his gruff best here.

Playing good cop to Fury’s bad is Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, a man who watched his own world burn and who understands about responsibility, and a man who’s more than happy to fill the void left by Tony’s passing.

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And whilst Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t appear here outside of flashbacks, the absence of Tony Stark looms large, and whether intentional or not it’s a neat trick to be able focus on the guilt and loss that have always been part of Spider-Man’s emotional makeup, whilst managing not to focus on Uncle Ben for the umpteenth time (Though Ben Parker does get a nice call back if you spot it).

Gyllenhaal is excellent here, playing the melancholy of Beck well, and coming across like a friendly uncle, or big brother, and it’s no wonder Peter bonds with him, and Gyllenhaal and Holland have great chemistry. Gyllenhaal genuinely looks the part of the chisel jawed superhero as well.

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As MJ thankfully we get a lot more of Zendaya this time out, and she’s excellent as a very different kind of MJ, spiky and playful, and thankfully not falling into the trap of being a smart cookie who’s an idiot when it comes to one specific thing. Again she and Holland have nice chemistry (I think it’s fair for say Holland works well with everyone in this.)

Jacob Batalon is back as Peter’s best buddy and ‘man in the chair’ Ned, and he’s as much a joy to watch as he was in Homecoming. In particular he and Angourie Rice as Betty have an amusing plotline running through the film. I do hope we get to see more from Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson next time out, the repurposing of the comic book jock as a social media obsessed rich kid is an interesting one, they just need to make more of it.

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Marisa Tomei is back as, let’s face it, possibly the hottest Aunt May, and she gets a bit more to do, plus some nice scenes with Favreau, and it’s nice to see more of Happy, who provides some nice humour and backup to Spidey.

The comedy is excellent throughout, with lots of plumb lines like “I can help, I’m really strong and I’m sticky!” and the film really does work as well as a teen comedy as it does a superhero film, even if the two teachers are played a little too broadly at times.

The action set pieces are awesome, especially the finale in London, and whilst the cgi does look a trifle ropey at times for the most part the fights look good. The Elementals aren’t the greatest villains ever, but what are you going to do, eh?

Humorous and exciting, and managing to walk a tightrope between lightweight comedy and coming of age drama, this really is a top-notch Marvel film, and a hugely enjoyable Spider-Man film in its own right, and one can only hope Marvel have Holland locked in for more films, because I could watch him as Peter Parker all day.

Oh, and a VERY IMPORTANT tip here. Stay right to the end of the credits. Forget your disappointment at the lack of anything in Endgame, or little snippets that barely seemed worth the wait, because Far from Home has arguably two of the most jaw dropping end credits scenes in the whole damn Marvel Universe, and as eek inducing as that first one is, I did almost cheer when…well, go see the film, you’ll understand why!

More Spidey soon please Mr Marvel!

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