Friday, 18 January 2019

Glass: Shyamalan blows it

It's January 2019, and we're staring down the barrel of probably one of the biggest years for superhero movies since 2018. With Marvel about to shatter box office records worldwide, the X-Men due to reboot again for a new generation and DC set to, uh... do whatever it is they do, it would seem the time is ripe for a bold, original voice to bring some fresh commentary to the genre. Step forward M Night Shyamalan, who kind of had a stab at this with 2000's Unbreakable, then retroactively incorporated 2017's Split into the same cinematic universe in a tossed-off mid-credits scene that would have been a great MCU-referencing gag if only he hadn't then decided to turn into a full-length feature.

So does Shyamalan bust open the superhero mythology? Can we ever see caped crusaders in the same way again? Does Glass have anything useful to add to the global conversation whatsoever? Respectively: no, yes, and kind of, eventually.
"Who painted this room, Stevie Wonder?"

An extended prologue reintroduces us to Bruce Willis' indestructible - you might even say unbreakable - David Dunn and James McAvoy's alarmingly ripped multiple schizophrenic Kevin Crumb, whose many personalities are collectively known as The Horde. The former is on the hunt for the latter, and with the help of Dunn's son (played, wonderfully, by the same actor who played him as a kid nineteen years ago) these two super-powered (or ARE they?, etc) weirdos briefly face off before being captured and chucked into a loony bin by Sarah Paulson's psychiatrist Ellie Staple, who appears to have been taking make up tips from a psychotic ventriloquist's dummy.

And so we're off into a whirlwind of adventure, as these two freaks of nature are pitted against each other in a tense battle of strength and wits that will - oh no wait sorry hang on, silly me, I was thinking of something fun. What I meant to say is that Dunn and Crumb spend the best part of an hour locked in their cells having long, boring chats with Dr Staple about whether or not their powers are genuinely "super" or just exaggerated everyday skills. Dunn's original nemesis, Mr Glass, is conveniently locked up in the same hospital, but in a typically Shyamalanesque twist the director has hired the effervescent Samuel L Jackson and then told him to sit motionless and silent for an eternity.
"You mean I don't even get to say 'muthafucka', muthafucka?"

All of this seems deliberately anti-superhero-movie, and fair enough, but goodness me is it patience-testing. It's unclear what any character wants from any of this or why we should care, it goes nowhere for a really long time and it revolves entirely around the "are they superpowered?" question, which frankly just boils down to semantics. Batman and Iron Man aren't superpowered but you don't see Robin or Pepper Potts sitting down and yakking about it for days on end.

At one point Shyamalan seems to realise that as he's spent millions of dollars and several years getting these three actors in the same film, maybe he should get them in the same scene, so sets another tedious blah-fest in a large, inexplicably pink room where they sit next to each other but don't interact at all. It's all so dull that you start to pick holes in the film, like how Dr Staple was able to whisk two dangerous individuals off to a psychiatric hospital just like that, or why that hospital only employs one nurse at a time and a handful of guards who are the dictionary definition of useless, or why - with all this talk of superheroes being fictional - nobody ever says how much they're looking forward to Avengers: Endgame. In fairness, some of this is arguably explained in the film's climax. Explained, perhaps, but not excused: if you're going to have a big reveal, it helps if the audience have been invested in the mystery all along (cf The Sixth Sense), rather than alienated to the point of contemplating how long it is till Captain Marvel comes out.
"Seven weeks? SEVEN WEEKS?!"

The plot does thicken a little, there is, perhaps, a vaguely new and interesting take on the old "can vigilantism be justified?" chestnut and Shyamalan offers a neat idea surrounding that question in the dying moments of his film, but it's not enough. After hinting towards the kind of big-budget climax we've been itching for, he delivers a tussle in a car park; James McAvoy's jaw-dropping performance in Split is repeated here to considerably lesser effect, and Samuel L Jackson's genuine superpowers as an actor are completely wasted. But most crippling of all is that Dunn and Crumb's stories barely connect, and when they do it feels like Shyamalan's desperately trying to justify the idea of bringing them together and never truly succeeding.

Kudos to Shyamalan for pushing the real-worldliness of his superhero trilogy, but it's unlikely to find its place as a key text in the annals of the genre. Unbreakable took a hundred minutes to get going and then promptly ended, Split boasted a magnificent central performance and little else, and Glass is a weak and ultimately misguided attempt to tie the two together. It's still better than anything DC have curled out in the last five years, but you'll have a better, cheaper time if you just stay at home and stick the Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer on again.

Friday, 11 January 2019

The Steadfast And The Furious:
Ranking the 12 Angry Men
in order of angriness

As the global celebrations to mark 61 years, ten months and some days since the release of Sidney Lumet's unspeakably sweaty kind-of courtroom drama 12 Angry Men continue, I thought I'd do my bit for freedom and justice by investigating just how angry those twelve men really are in relation to each other. Frankly I'm surprised nobody's done it before; you might think that's because it would be an utterly pointless waste of everybody's time and effort. But like Henry Fonda's inspirational Juror 8, I shall attempt to convince you that you are in fact a massive wrong idiot. So sit down, take the oath and prepare... for JURY FURY!


#12: Juror 8 (Henry Fonda)
Mild-mannered architect Juror 8 is the only one in the room with an ounce of dignity and common sense, turning a jury full of boiling blowhards round to his way of thinking by being the coolest cucumber at the table. The kind of liberal snowflake that would make Donald Trump spit fire, he's the hero the world needs in 2018, if only he wasn't dead and also fictional.
Angriness: Total Zen

#11: Juror 12 (Robert Webber)
More interested in repeatedly removing and replacing his glasses than in the fate of an accused teenager on death row, slick ad exec Juror 12 is too dumb to be angry about anything. He is, however, by far the most egregiously indecisive man on the jury, changing his verdict no fewer than three times. Come on dude, this isn't 12 Vacillating Men, is it?
Angriness: Don Draper cool

#10: Juror 2 (John Fiedler)
Timid milquetoast Juror 2 is the one most likely to become a serial killer in the future, but here he keeps his rage in check by just generally shutting up and offering throat lozenges around the table. Only when driven to the furthest extremes of his patience does he truly let rip by refusing a cough sweet to Juror 10. Terrifying.
Angriness: Barely irked

#9: Juror 4 (EG Marshall)
One of the last jurors to succumb to Henry Fonda's charms, Juror 4 simmers gently in his suit while all around him exaggeratedly loosen their ties to reinforce the point than man alive is it hot in here. He looks like he might pop at any point (maybe he's just constipated), but only when Fonda pushes him to remember a movie he watched a few days ago in order to prove a point does Juror 4 produce a single bead of sweat on his bone-dry pate.
Angriness: Mildly perturbed

#8: Juror 1 (Martin Balsam)
The foreman's job on a jury is to maintain order, so you'd hope that he wouldn't fly off the handle in the face of even the most heinous annoyance, like someone standing on the left of a tube escalator like they DON'T HAVE A FUCKING CARE IN THE WORLD. Juror 1 is a calming influence on the rest of the jury, but he does get his knickers in a minor twist when someone suggests he's doing a shit job. The argument is over before it's begun though. Textbook foremanship.
Angriness: Whatever mate, not bothered, just stay out of my grill

#7: Juror 9 (Joseph Sweeney)
At last the hackles start to rise. Juror 9 is 208 years old and a reasonable man, but Juror 10's blind prejudice is enough to push even this sleepy old coot to raise his voice and get a bit shaky. Fortunately Juror 8 calms him down before he goes into cardiac arrest, but you wouldn't have wanted to go up against this guy in the war. (the Napoleonic wars lol) (because he's old you see)
Angriness: Fetch me my pills, Mildred

#6: Juror 6 (Edward Binns)
Juror 6, aka John Q Everyman, is a blue collar guy who just wants to do the right thing and get back to bricklaying or tiling or whatever it is he does, nobody can remember because he's the least significant character. But he does threaten to pop his cork once or twice, or at least I imagine he does. Like I say, I can't really remember anything about him. Seems like the type though. Would probably have voted Leave "to teach the establishment a lesson".
Angriness: Some, I guess

#5: Juror 5 (Jack Klugman)
Ah, young Quincy, M.E. Born in the slums and handy with a switchblade, Juror 5 is a lean, mean, killing machine, only he's learned that politeness gets him further with The Man. But if you start dissing the streets he grew up in, like Juror 10 does, you're gonna get a flick knife between the ribs, buddy, and then you're gonna need a real Medical Examiner to find your small intestines for you. So zip it!
Angriness: Keeping it in, but only just

#4: Juror 11 (George Voskovec)
A vaguely-European-born, naturalised American in a room half full of dimwitted racists, Juror 11 takes quite enough shit from Jurors 3 and 10 about outsiders all being the same. He's at his best when hilariously correcting his neighbour's grammar, but later on you just know he's permanently on the verge of busting out some obscure Eastern European swears.
Angriness: Kecáš kraviny!

#3: Juror 7 (Jack Warden)
Oh, dis guy. Fuggedabahdit! He's got tickets to the game tonight and ain't nuthin comin' between him and a session of glorified rounders, least of all some punk kid who 86'd his old man. Juror 7 spins on a dime from being your best pal to your worst nightmare, but he's most angry about his receding hairline, hence that hat that he keeps on in a freakin' sauna.
Angriness: Why I oughta -

#2: Juror 10 (Ed Begley)
Barking mad from the word go, Juror 10 is incensed that he even has to contemplate the possibility that this little bastard might not be guilty. They're all the same, y'hear! Ya can't teach 'em anything, y'see! After an hour and a bit of frequently exploding with intolerant bullshit, he eventually pipes down when he finally realises that he's a big jerk and nobody likes him. You dream that dickheads like this would have this kind of epiphany.
Angriness: Racist volcano

#1: Juror 3 (Lee J Cobb)
Finally, the most enraged, irate sack of shitty wind in the room is Juror 3, a man so roiling with incandescent fury that the animators of Inside Out based the character of Anger on him. He's pissed off with everyone and everything, particularly kids, because his own son hates him for some unfathomable reason. Finally Juror 8's irritating unflappability shows Juror 3 that the person he's angriest at is himself, and quite rightly too because he is a ginormous cunt.
Angriness: Apo-fucking-plectic

Friday, 4 January 2019

We don't talk enough about Will Young's Coriolanus documentary

Because I am extremely intelligent, intellectual and (*checks thesaurus*) erudite and stuff, I recently watched Ralph Fiennes' 2011 film Coriolanus, which is based on a play by William Shakespeare that, according to every single review, is one of his lesser known works. But I had heard of it, because I am highbrow, bookish and perspicacious. In fairness I had only heard of it because Ralph Fiennes made a film of it, but that - as I think you'll find Emilia remarked to Desdemona in Othello - is neither here nor there.

What is both here and there is that after watching Coriolanus on DVD (which is an archaic form of physical media, used for storing audio and visual data on, that we used to have in the olden days), I ventured to the Special Features section. This is something DVDs - and their high definition successors, "Blu-rays" - included to enhance your enjoyment and understanding of a film. In one of many tragedies of the 21st century, streaming has more or less done away with the joy of the Special Features, thus denying the average viewer the chance to witness what I - a proud user of physical media - stumbled across next.

For there, listed casually among the numerous extras (two is a number) as if it was a perfectly normal thing to have on a DVD of a Shakespeare film, was something calling itself Behind The Scenes Of Coriolanus With Will Young. Here's proof, for anyone who quite understandably thinks I'm making this up:
Yes, that's right:
Well now. This was unexpected. I had just sat through two hours of some pret-ty cerebral stuff, let me tell you, and I was not prepared for a deep dive into its creation by the winner of series one of Pop Idol. But, as Shakespeare said in his bestseller The Bible, judge not lest ye be judged. I decided to give Will the benefit of the doubt and see what he had to bring to the party.
Frost / Nixon. Paxman / Howard. Young / Fiennes.

The half-hour documentary begins with sombre music over establishing shots of Belgrade, where Coriolanus was partly shot, followed by images of soldiers sneaking through streets and shooting at an unseen enemy. Don't panic though, we haven't been plunged into the Yugoslav Wars of 1991-99; these are merely actors, acting in a film. A film called Coriolanus. Having set the tone as one of gloom and dread and with the very real prospect of Slobodan Milošević doing something unspeakable just round the corner, with no warning at all the film suddenly cuts to chirpy pop-moppet Will Young standing in the street and looking confused, like he fears he may have accidentally wandered into an actual war.

A few more behind-the-scenes shots follow, before Will properly introduces the documentary, and himself, informing us that "it's my first time being involved in the production of a film". Now I have nothing against Will - in fact a few years ago I was gifted a coaster bearing his cherubic face as a birthday present, and to this day I still place piping hot mugs of tea on the Young countenance - but I had to admit to total bafflement regarding his suitability for the role of presenter of a Making Of documentary about a film based on a lesser-known Shakespeare play, directed by and starring one of our leading thespians. I mean, was nobody with a little more appropriate gravitas available? Was Derek Jacobi on holiday? Was Nigel Havers too expensive? Had Pam St Clement taken the phone off the hook?

What Will hadn't mentioned, and never does in the twenty-five minutes his documentary lasts, is that he was an executive producer on Coriolanus. That's all he needed to say to ease my troubled mind, but presumably out of modesty he withheld that vital scrap of information which would have made everything clearer. I had to find it out myself later, and while that was a pity, I did unearth the fact that he decided to invest in the film because he basically had buckets of cash lying around and no idea what to do with it. How he arrived at the decision to spunk it on a Shakespeare adaptation and not, say, Anything Is Possible: The Will Young Movie, I have no idea. If you're reading this Will, do get in touch and let me know.

The documentary proceeds in the way most of these things do, with each Head Of Department explaining what they do to an incredulous Will Young. His delight at being on a film set is infectious, and his puppy-dog innocence is charming and endearing, which is lovely but only increases the sense that someone like Patrick Stewart should be asking the questions instead. But then Will literally asks the film's military advisor if the actors shooting at each other ARE USING BLANKS, and you realise that that ferocious line of questioning would simply never have occurred to Sir Pat. Nor would that venerable officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire have dared to tell Coriolanus' make-up artist that "you have the best voice EVER, I think you should do the voiceover for the movie in the cinemas!" It is unclear what Will means by this but by God he is excited about it.
Later in the documentary, Fiennes' co-star Gerard Butler - whose association with a Shakespeare adaptation is almost as unlikely as Will Young's - tries to steal the Leave Right Now singer's thunder by recounting an unbelievably shit practical joke that he got someone else to play on a fellow actor, but we're not fooled. This isn't your party Butler, this is Will Young's party. Perhaps inspired by the bearded Scottish man's tomfoolery, Will later tries to get each interviewee to say something nasty about Ralph Fiennes, but to no avail. Eventually Production Designer Ricky Eyres ("aka Rick", Will says, doing finger-quotes around 'Rick' as if it's the maddest variant of 'Ricky' he's ever come across) capitulates, unconvincingly describing Fiennes as "murder", and Will's pleasure at pulling off this mischief is palpable.

Another trivia nugget that goes unmentioned is that Will had a cameo in the film which was cut for reasons which may or may not be quite obvious. Referring to himself in the third person in another interview I had to find myself, Will says: "There were all these acting greats, and then Will Young pops up to say a few lines. It just didn't work." Is he being too hard on himself? Difficult to say, but bear Will Young's assessment of Will Young in mind as you watch the clip below, which is my absolute favourite moment in the documentary: an utterly astonishing vignette, which is neither introduced nor explained. It is simply allowed to exist in the middle of a documentary about Ralph Fiennes' brutal, brooding adaptation of William Shakespeare's politically-charged play Coriolanus.

I urge you to watch that as many times as possible to truly appreciate it to its fullest.

There's plenty more to enjoy in Behind The Scenes Of Coriolanus With Will Young, but I've given enough away for free as it is. As far as I can tell you can't stream it, so you're just going to have to invest in an actual hard copy of the film if you want to bask in its oddness. It might be a complete and total mismatch of presenter and subject matter, but I have nothing but respect for Will Young for financing a perfectly good movie, making a short film about it and - perhaps above all - resisting the urge to lean into camera and, with a cheeky grin, chuckle about the film's title containing the word "anus".