Monday 28 March 2016


Fuck Birdman. Seriously. If you thought that was clever, with its faux-one-take structure, then wait till you cram Sebastian Schipper's 138-minute, genuinely edit-free marvel Victoria into your eyeballs. A heist movie that drags you by the hair into a doomed bank job and its catastrophic aftermath whether you like it or not, it's like being inside Reservoir Dogs and never blinking.

Shot in real time (obviously) on a brutal, early Berlin morning, Victoria begins with the violent flashing of a nightclub strobe light; it's an assault on your eyeballs for sure, but as such it's merely softening you up for what's to come. Schipper, with cinematographer and partner-in-crime Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, latch on to a girl (Laia Costa) dancing in the club and stick to her like glue for the next two hours. We watch, protectively and uncomfortably, as she strikes up conversation with a gang of obviously no-good #lads, taking a shine to their most charismatic member (Frederick Lau). There's a sense that fates are sealed from this moment, and as much as you want her to turn round and go home, you 're stuck with the inevitable, devastating consequences that follow.
It's impossible to separate Victoria's form from its content: it's not a story that just happens to be shot in one take, it's an exercise in total narrative immersion. It would be both a cliché and incorrect to say that you feel like you're actually there, but you do completely ignore the fact that, in this group of five people, there's a sixth dude constantly hanging around with a camera, shooting every sweet, tense, awful moment. The machinations Schipper uses to get around the self-imposed complexities of the plot are by turns obvious and ingenious, but crucially never attention-seeking, while the hurdles he places before Grøvlen as he sends him from street level to rooftops, in and out of cramped cars and across town are almost cruelly inventive.

Laia Costa's performance, meanwhile, is mind-bogglingly impressive. It's a piece of pure theatre; Victoria's arc is ridiculously ambitious, but Costa sells it without a whiff of fakery. There are moments when it's easy to snort a derisory "well, she wouldn't do that", but how do we know? We only just met her. Lau's character Sonne, meanwhile, undertakes a polar opposite journey, meeting Victoria in the middle as their lives change forever under the dawn of a literal and figurative new day.
If the first half feels a little undercranked, it's a necessity brought about by the unavailable option to compress time with editing while we get to know the characters. The result, arguably, is more investment in them and their situation, and this pays off in buckets in the second half - which is anything but uneventful (it's no coincidence that 99% of the stuff in the trailer comes from the film's back end). Most of it will surprise you, some of it won't - a conveniently temperamental getaway car briefly provides an incongruous heist movie trope - but if it doesn't impress you, on a number of levels, then nothing will. Except maybe Birdman.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

"People hate what they don't understand," explains Martha Kent to her supernaturally strong but somewhat dim adopted son Clark, who's confused about the general animosity he's attracted after casually wasting thousands of human lives at the end of Man Of Steel. If only someone had taken Zack Snyder to one side before he embarked on directing that film's sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, and offered him the same advice; maybe then he wouldn't have excreted such a mass of hopelessly incoherent wreckage, and we wouldn't be praying that he never sets foot near such beloved icons of pop culture again. Just a thought.

The gist of Batman v Superman, such as I could ascertain, is as follows: Batman distrusts Superman's unchecked alien powers and therefore reaches the obvious conclusion that he must kill him immediately. Superman also dislikes Batman, for reasons that escape me right now. I'm not sure it matters. They fight, they make up, then they fight someone else. This process takes two and a half hours to play out, although due to a bizarre contortion of time that final fight lasts around eight weeks.

With this basic premise in mind Zack Snyder has set about making the experience as baffling, boring and bereft of joy as is humanly possible, and at that he has succeeded enormously. Scenes which appear to have been shorn of their beginnings and ends smash up against each other with little regard for narrative cause and effect, as if William Burroughs had arranged them during his cut-up period. Characters vomit reams of dialogue through stoic grimaces and ponderous frowns without saying anything helpful or interesting, and when they're not doing that they're punching or shooting each other for days on end. Any attempts at levity - I think I counted three - are immediately smothered by the crushingly dour mood, and Snyder's insistence on grading everything in that cobalt blue tint that enjoyed a brief moment of originality in around 2008 ensures that it's nigh on impossible to distinguish one location from another.

David Goyer's script takes a potentially interesting metatextual stance in having characters berate the unbridled carnage that made the climax of his previous Superman film so dunderheadedly offensive, but the concept goes no further than that. One fantastical metaphorical possibility is that Bruce Wayne is introduced as an embodiment of Man Of Steel's critics, sent to spank Kal-El's steely buttocks before - in Goyer and Snyder's sweetest dreams - making peace with the last son of Krypton and realising he's not such a bad cove after all. If that was the intention, though, the plan is somewhat derailed when it becomes clear that the new film is easily its predecessor's equal in terms of piling nonsense upon nonsense, like an eye-wateringly expensive game of nonsense Jenga.
What I'm basically saying is that this is me.

Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck, tasked with playing two of the most fascinating figures in pop culture's entire history, are fighting a losing battle here. They've both proved themselves capable of charm, wit and depth in the past, and although such qualities would seem relevant to their roles in this film they're simply not allowed to manifest. It's painfully obvious that these aren't intended as the Batmen and Supermen of Michael Keaton, Christopher Reeve or Christian Bale, but under Zack Snyder's direction they almost make you yearn for George Clooney.

Further major and minor irritants abound throughout, not least of which is Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, possibly the most teeth-itchingly annoying performance of modern times. Not only is Luthor painful to watch, but he gets the lion's share of plot inconsistencies to boot. He's given no backstory or motivation so we have no idea why he's doing whatever it is he's doing; he's thrilled to see Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne chatting at his party despite the fact that, by rights, he should have no idea who the mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter is; his assistant finds Wayne snooping around in a private room but just leaves him to it, and he miraculously knows to use Lois Lane as bait to trap Superman in an early scene that is so under-explained it's like it fell out of a different movie.

In fact Batman v Superman raises an entire catalogue of questions it can't quite be arsed to answer: why, for example, doesn't Bruce Wayne design a bat-cowl that covers a decidedly identifying mole on his cheek? Why does Amy Adams need to play an entire scene in the bath, naked? Why is there a gigantic statue of Superman in Metropolis when everyone hates him? What in the name of all that is holy is going on in that astonishingly misjudged dream sequence? Why do we need to see Bruce Wayne's parents murdered (complete with pearls clattering on the pavement in slo-mo) for what must be about the ninth time? And what the fuck was anyone thinking when they picked that reason for Bats and Supes to kiss and make up?
Don't even get me started on this fucking thing

I could sit here all day bringing up other pointless and ill-conceived characters, gaping plot holes and forehead-slappingly stupid plot devices (here's one: a Kryptonite spear, intended to weaken Superman, actually renders everyone who touches it unfathomably moronic), but it's as exhausting to detail them as it is to watch them unfold before you. Only Hans Zimmer's new theme for a certain Amazonian warrior princess raises a smile, although the rest of his score is employed in such a way that it feels like he's personally battering you around the head with a pair of woks while a 200-piece choir shouts at you.

How Warner Bros and DC have arrived at this point is no doubt confusing to them, but it seems reasonably clear that much of the blame rests at Zack Snyder's feet. Batman v Superman isn't so much directed as ejaculated, and the resulting mess is going to require an extremely hot wash to shift. Snyder seems to have no concept of light and shade, of memorable moments or of genuinely epic storytelling, which he confuses with excessive CGI and loud noises. Perhaps his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach is best exemplified in the long-awaited but tediously leaden fight between the leads, during which Batman wrenches from the wall an actual kitchen sink, which he uses in an attempt to render Superman senseless. He needn't have bothered; Snyder has already done the job for him.

Monday 21 March 2016


Depending on your current geographical circumstances, Disney's latest animated film about cuddly talking animals might be called Zootropolis, Zootopia, Zoomania, Zoogie Nights, Zood Where's My Car or Zoolander 2. But it matters not, for whatever you call it (although Zoolander 2 would be a bit confusing), this is Uncle Walt's best offering since the majestic Wreck-it Ralph, which is only really saying that it is better than Frozen and Big Hero 6. Why those films are so popular is quite beyond me; anyone would think they weren't aimed directly at miserable 40-somethings with hearts of lead.

Zootropolis (let's call it), of course, isn't aimed directly at me either, but I was caught in the peripheral spray of its eye-popping inventiveness, its wholeheartedly right-on social commentary and its fucking hilarious sloths, so I am therefore fully qualified to comment on its quality. "Anyone can be anything", runs the film's mantra, and while I am aware that science currently restricts me from being, say, an ocelot, I can at least pretend to be a film reviewer for a few minutes, so here goes.
Set in a world where human beings never existed to clog up the planet with pollution, caravans or TV shows presented by Nick Knowles, Zootropolis depicts a universe in which all animals get along and crack on with their lives regardless of class, race or position in the food chain. Into this furry utopia steps idealistic bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who finds herself reluctantly teaming up with shyster fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) for a mismatched-buddy yarn that won't tax the plot-untangling department of your noggin but throws in an entire farmyard of smart gags and daft set pieces to make up for it. The scene in which Hopps "incites a scurry" in a district populated entirely by tiny rodents, for example, is the most fun I've had watching animals in a movie since The Revenant. Apart from the sloths, of course, who I think I may have already mentioned really are fucking hilarious.

Hopps and Wilde's investigation into the mysterious disappearance of several mammals is an enjoyable bit of whodunnitery, replete with red herrings (not literally; bit of a missed opportunity there), improbable clues and other police procedural standards, but that's not what Zootropolis is really about. The metaphors start to bash you around the head a little hard as the film goes on, but you hope it's so that the small people in the audience, whose intelligence is only marginally below that of the average film blogger, will soak up the messages: don't judge people on ill-founded stereotypes; rise above the expectations of those who judge you, and question those in power and their motives. It's pretty righteous stuff, but it's a humungously worthwhile and relevant thing for a kids' film to be saying, and it's done so intelligently that the life lessons slip almost unnoticed between the comedy stoned yak and the comedy gangster shrew.
And the fucking hilarious sloths

It will be of little surprise or interest to learn that the animation and background gags are spot on, that the world is beautifully and imaginatively realised, or that some of the voices are a bit too distractingly recognisable (sorry, Big Dris), so I won't mention any of that. It's Zootropolis' moral core for which grown ups will remember it the most; I don't know if its target audience will feel the same way because, despite my youthful good looks, I am not a child and I didn't have one to hand when I saw the film. But let's hope it all sinks in, because I for one believe that children are our future, and if we teach them well and let them lead the way while simultaneously showing them all the beauty they possess inside, then one day we can all live in harmony and total agreement that, seriously, the sloths are fucking hilarious.

Thursday 10 March 2016