LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP: TOO SORELY NEEDED ATTRIBUTES

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Love and Friendship is a welcome respite from the noisy yet underwhelming blockbusters of this season that have taken up residence in multiplexes across the country. Fans of Jane Austen’s film adaptations may find themselves pleasantly surprised, gone is romance for the most part but in it’s place is a rebellious cheeky sense of humour and Kate Beckinsale with her best performance in years.

She stars as Lady Susan Vernon, a very different type of Austen heroine. The film begins with Lady Susan being kicked out of the Manwaring estate. Such words weren’t of course used in that time but the gossip that could result from such an event could be a great deal more vicious. Susan Vernon is a ‘lady’ who reputation precedes her as she arrives at the home of her brother-in-law Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell). Catherine and her brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) are well aware that Susan Vernon is a lady of ill repute despite what Charles says, however Reginald is a man you see and Lady Susan knows how to deal with most men unless they are as she notes “Too old to be governable and too young to die.” Soon the earnest Reginald is quite taken with Lady Susan as she attempts to marry her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) off to the insufferably buffoonish but sufferably wealthy Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). Sir James has come to the Vernon’s estate Churchill as Frederica has run away from the boarding school that Lady Vernon packed her away to.

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Part of the charms of these films can be found in how the stories expand with a growing roster of characters in the ensemble becoming relevant to the plot. These include Susan’s best friend Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) and Stephen Fry as her disagreeable husband Mr Johnson. For some this will prove a special treat reuniting director Whit Stillman with the two stars of his The Last Days of Disco 18 years later, even more special considering Sienna Miller was originally cast as Lady Susan. Image result for love and friendship movieThe chemistry between the two is most enjoyable here, Susan Vernon is a sly woman who trusts Mrs Johnson with all her schemes and private feelings and their dialogue is deliciously polite while speaking ill of others. Why Susan who seems aware nobody can be trusted shares so much perhaps suggests a need for friendship above all else. After all as cruel and manipulative as Susan Vernon proves to be, she is navigating a world that can be cruel to women indeed and despite using her daughter as a pawn Lady Vernon points out to Frederica in one key scene the options available to women in their position and how to make the best of it. Women did have their own power in domestic circles back then, at one point Catherine Vernon informs her husband he has business in London because she wants to go there and after a moment of perplexity he nods and agrees.

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There are themes here that were ever present in Austen’s work, the way young women could have their reputation destroyed in one impetuous moment by following their heart while young men could survive the scandal and how fortunes could be lost with a deceased husband leaving you at the mercy of the kindness of snobby relations but the key difference in Love and Friendship is the heroine. Lizzie Bennett dreams of being an independent woman respected her for her smarts nobly and patiently overcoming the patriarchy of the day before ultimately marrying for love. Lady Susan is not noble or patient, she’ll have her cake and eat it too, the film based on a posthumously published epistolary novel Lady Susan it may surprise some to learn it was one of Austen’s earliest writings.

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Love and Friendship differs from other Austen adaptations in other regards too. Shot on a relatively low budget mostly in Ireland, the film has no sweeping vistas, soaring musical scores or romantic lighting. It is shot rather matter of fact, framing everything in a realistic low key manner although the costumes by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh are gorgeous and well presented. Pay attention and you can see Lady Susan dresses reflecting her changing circumstances. Title cards and musical cues introduce characters in a modern and humorous way but like everything else in the film is done in an elegant and understated way. Only Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin goes big as a man not without good intentions but rather socially awkward and well…moronic. Bennett plays his stupidity just the right side of good natured that he is a delight for the audience whenever he appears onscreen.Image result for love and friendship movie

This is Kate Beckinsale’s film though, after some period pieces as a cute young ingénue early in her career she made a splash with a pair of leather pants  kicking ass in the rather unworthy Underworld. Since then she’s played the hot wife/girlfriend or hot action babe in her most high profile American films; Van Helsing, Total Recall, Click, Contraband, The Aviator, Pepsi Ads, Serendipity, Underworld: Awakening and Pearl Harbour. The once enrolled Oxford student here is back in a period piece but instead of a rose cheeked innocent infatuated with her beau, she’s a kittenish vixen who fails to blush no matter what she is being accused of. Remaining calm and clever under all circumstances Lady Susan outwits those against her plans and remains insistent of her own good character with so much confidence that you admire the character for her own steadfastness and defiant self-interest. You wouldn’t want to be a relative of Lady Susan but she’s entertaining to watch from beginning to end. I note with interest despite her wit and composure that the object of her affections the married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain) and a huge driver of the plot remains little seen throughout and is given no dialogue. No doubt though, he looks like a right prick.

Love and Friendship is Austen but not as you know it and Beckinsale is as good as you have ever seen her. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come in the next stage of her career.

-Lloyd Marken

Love & Friendship (2016)

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SUICIDE SQUAD WILL TEST YOUR WILL TO LIVE

Image result for jared leto the jokerImagine a comic book movie of refreshing anti-heroics, witty repartee amongst its characters, well choreographed action scenes and attitude to burn. Imagine no more. You can grab a DVD of, download, stream, get from vending machines or hang out on a mate’s couch looking at him as he play acts out the whole movie of Deadpool or for that matter 2013’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It will be cheaper and depending on your friend’s acting prowess a damn sight better than seeing this new Suicide Squad at the movies.

Whoever created the trailers for Suicide Squad should be hired to do the work for the next Ghostbusters movie by Sony.

Those trailers popped with energy, eye popping visuals and sass. You can’t deny the Brothers Gibb and Queen helped up with that, (Bohemian Rhapsody and Becky Hanson singing I Started A Joke played over the trailers) but after lacklustre marketing for Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters, Star Trek: Beyond and X Men: Apocalypse the Suicide Squad trailers promised at the end of this summer there would be one bright spark of originality and fun. Then Batman’s Mum Has the Same Name As Superman’s Mum came out and underperformed and there were rumblings of re-shoots, cuts for PG-13 audiences and instead of rejoicing about the fact that Suicide Squad would be vastly different to the current DCEU light lifters instead there was disquiet and a need for re-direction. Now Jared Leto is nodding his head as interviewers note his on air screen time is so small you could argue his role is that of a cameo and he’s playing the Clown Prince of Crime for fuck’s sake.

Somebody call Al Pacino, Gene Hackman,

Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell or Billy Bob Thornton or anybody else who’s played a legendary movie coach and sent them over to Warner Bros. and TELL THEM TO GET THEIR SHIT TOGETHER! FYI Warners this is what shit together looks like.

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Honestly I would’ve been kinder to Batman Vs. Mopey Superbeing Who’s Superbummed About Rescuing People Cause Feelings and His Girlfriend Is Super Nice and Looks Like This, Image result for amy adams vanity fairhad I known how underwhelming the rest of the blockbuster season would be except for you Ricky, you brought it little buddy. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE   hunt for the wilderpeople

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Harley Quinn was created in 1992, by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for the much respected Batman animated series of the time, which is relatively recent by comparison for most DC comic book characters as for example the Joker whom first appeared in 1940. Dr Harleen Quinzel has built up quite a fan base in the relatively small time, studied for the contrast of her kick ass persona that still is very much under the spell of a man who may not really value or treat her well. Someone who has robbed her of autonomy and sanity but also made her a stronger individual rebellious of society’s expectations. Fans have been waiting a long time to see her on the big screen and Margot Robbie does not disappoint. There’s no denying the attractive actress wears hot pants well but Robbie subtlety shows that her sexuality is just another weapon in this character’s arsenal. An important aspect of the character is she appears a harmless beguiling woman capable of inflicting incredible violence with no restraint. In addition to being a fighter she’s also lovesick for the Joker. Image result for jared leto margot robbieYet how much can two insane and immoral characters be with a messed up power dynamic be in love? Does the Joker really love her and does she really love him? These are intriguing questions. The Joker appears throughout the story focussed on being reunited with his incarcerated woman, risking much but she’s also partly incarcerated due to him abandoning her. She exists this way because of his brainwashing, is there affection there or are they merely playing the part of a couple. It is a new take on the Joker being done on film to give him a lover and their relationship could prove fascinating but the bulk of their only time onscreen are mostly brief flashbacks that barely establish their relationship let alone probe the dynamics of it. Which is a shame because it’s the most interesting thing above the film. Talks of a Harley Quinn spin-off should be met with approval and despite the film’s flaws, getting the adaptation of a beloved character right straight out of the gate is rare and should be celebrated.

Image result for suicide squadIn fact most of the squad are full of interesting characters well realised by the actors playing them. There’s Amanda Waller played by Viola Davis, an intelligence operative who puts the squad together and sees metahumans as the next strategic upper hand in world affairs and deterrent. The most powerful being in the squad is Enchantress, a witch goddess who has taken over the body of the archaeologist who found her Dr. June Moon (Cara Delevingne). Dr. Moon can bring her forth but can’t necessarily control her. Leading the team is her boyfriend Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) who is looking for a way to free June from the Enchantress. Actually he’s not, he’s not doing much of anything actually for a Special Forces soldier he spends most of the film being rescued and losing everybody’s respect. Being a good guy not as powerful as evil people he has to lead could have been a fascinating dynamic but mostly he just stands there and points guns until it’s all a bit too much for him. His only real display of a personality comes when he is dismissive of hitman Deadshot (Will Smith) despite their shared military background.

Anybody holding their breath for Will Smith to play against type as a ruthless killer should start inhaling now. Smith plays Floyd Lawton, a father and a good man who just happens to shoot people for a living but hey we only see him kill a criminal. Smith one of the most likeable movie stars on the planet is cool, funny and sympathetic here but the most prickly he gets is being a smartarse to Flagg. The Fresh Prince made the smart play segueing into a different kind of character as apart of an ensemble film rather than rehash past glories but the film doesn’t reward his choice and I really would have liked to see Captain Steve Hiller return. Image result for will smith jeff goldblumAs Richard Jackson pointed out he concludes many scenes with “let’s do this” which remains unclear since they basically were doing the same thing they are doing now. Quinn and Lawton form a bond in the movie although why is unclear except maybe the two characters are aware of the good chemistry that Robbie and Smith had in Focus. Rounding out the team is gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who has the superpower of projecting flames (arguably one of the most powerful members so naturally he doesn’t want his powers following a tragic incident from his past), bank robber Captain Boomerang who has some reaaallly cool Boomerangs, a mutant played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje called Killer Croc (although nobody is going to use the word mutant in DCEU film), Slipknot (Adam Beach)who is really good with ropes and Flag’s bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who wields a magical samurai. Most of these members are hardly super powered but apparently the powers that be see them as a fallback if the next Superman goes rogue. Why use bad guys too after Batman worked so hard to lock them up? So that they can be plausibly denied and expendable except we never see these guys do harmful things to innocent people (an effective choice in say The Godfather but here denies the whole point of what makes these characters different in this genre). Image result for amanda waller viola davisWe see Amanda Waller kill an innocent in cold blood which is supposed to make her look cool and ruthless but makes her more evil than the squad. Interestingly Viola Davis read M.E. Thomas’s autobiography Confessions of a Sociopath to prepare for the role and described Waller as “relentless in her villainy” so the act is true to the character but is not as appealing as other aspects of her character. Or again we don’t really see enough of the character to understand the complexity and contradictions at the heart of her. That’s the problem with the film, Waller, Quinn, Joker, Deadshot and Killer Croc are interesting characters and Davis, Robbie, Leto, Smith and Akinnuoye-Agbaje are good actors but we get tantalising glimpses rather than hard looks.

The attitude and sass of these characters is infectious and the saving grace of the film, a scene in a bar late in the film has the right kind of energy that should have appeared in bigger doses to establish characters and develop relationships.

The most disappointing aspect of this action film is the action scenes often boil down to people shooting at things and lacks real excitement and inventiveness. Given the expensive sets and effects it is disappointing that they weren’t put to more effective use with the set pieces, cinematography that includes spectacular shots like this film jared leto cara delevingne suicide squad margot robbiefilm jared leto cara delevingne suicide squad margot robbiethat are sadly not in abundance throughout. Former submariner and director David Ayer made the critically acclaimed Fury and End of Watch but here with a $175 million budget something has been lost. Speaking of lost, many questions are raised by the editing of the film suggesting that key scenes were scrapped and re-shot hurting the narrative flow of the story.

Suicide Squad frustrates with missed opportunities, an action film that fails to excite with its action scenes, a film of bad guys that don’t appear to be all that bad and flashbacks that hint at a story we’re not told. Suicide Squad was the last and great hope of 3 weeks of watching disappointing blockbusters that kicked off with Central Intelligence. None were bad and none were great, the best thing that can be said about Suicide Squad unlike most of the others is that it makes you excited to see these characters again in a film worthy of them.

-Lloyd Marken

JASON BOURNE – YOU KNOW THIS FILM

Image result for jason bourneJason Bourne. You know his name. David Webb actually. You know his skills. I’ve never seen a magazine used like that. You know the man. sports matt damon boston red sox world series team america Jason Bourne a new fragrance for men from Paul Greengrass that smells very familiar. A good litmus test for how one will react to Jason Bourne will be in how much they enjoyed The Bourne Ultimatum.

Stop me if you ‘ve heard this one before. Jason Bourne is free, roaming the world having defeated his enemies at the end of the last film. Yet things nag at his conscience, he worries that they’ll come for him and new flashbacks never before experienced suggest other players played by the latest older white guy to appear in this film that point to an even larger conspiracy theory and an older black ops program that predates the one from the previous film. Somebody inexplicably decides to unearth Bourne even though it has never ended well for the CIA. The old white guy turns out to be responsible for everybody’s misery although the may try to be ambivalent about this at first. No matter how many operatives Bourne faces, there will be a particular assassin he duels with for the bulk of the film. There will be at least one spectacular car chase for the ages and one extremely well choreographed fight scene where the music stops and there is only the sound of grunting, impacts of blows and the snapping of bones.

An up and coming actress will have a pivotal role in the CIA and assist Bourne when she uncovers clues about the conspiracy theory. Joan Allen counts as up and coming – I expect big things from her in the future.

It’s no wonder if that all sounds familiar because, if not exactly the plot of the first film The Bourne Identity (a more upbeat film with Bourne actually amnesiac with the delightful Franka Potente as a love interest), it has certainly been the plot of every sequel. The Bourne Supremacy worked as a mirror to the first film with a darker, grittier style that benefitted emotionally from the feelings we had for characters from the first film. It seemed unlikely that the last we’d see of Jason was walking down that street in NYC since our imaginations ran riot with ideas of possibilities for the character. It’s fair to say none would have been as dispiriting as where we find him here. Having been on the run and in hiding for years, he makes a living as an underground fighter living off the grid. Former CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the only other character returning from all previous entries hacks the CIA and retrieves information about Jason’s comic book origins – cough – sorry past. This puts both Parsons and Bourne on the radar of the CIA again who meet in Greece as a taskforce is headed up by new CIA IT guru Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and over seen by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).

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The hook of The Bourne Ultimatum was Bourne came home to America to finally learn who he really was. This was supposed to make it unique and a continued development from Supremacy. It wasn’t. It was a cold repeat of moments that were better done in Doug Liman’s Identity and Greengrass’s own Supremacy. With star and director having recently rejuvenated their careers with the quality films Captain Phillips and The Martian you can’t be faulted for hoping this sequel might reverse this summer’s trend of undernourishing blockbusters. After all it’s been 9 years and during interviews there was a lot of talk by the creative team of how the world has changed with social media data collection, Snowden, Greece’s debt crisis, civil unrest and terrorist attacks in European metropolitan cities. Indeed there are many references to how the world has changed in this new film but it’s all lip service and nothing deeper is done with them.

If there is something new brought to proceedings it is that Bourne is now aged and dour, the ravages of this life lived are showing and with no character he trusts to play off his dialogue is minimal perhaps due to the fact that screenwriter Tony Gilroy is not on hand to write it. Narratively this makes sense but means Damon has less opportunity to portray a character and not a bas-ass automaton. Jason Bourne matt damon motorcyleThe superhuman Bourne here is a far cry from the highly skilled assassin of the first film who was one of many well trained spies. In this film, people say his name like a punchline or whisper it reflecting his legendary status in the CIA but also our popular culture. For some that will be enough, Matt Damon is back playing Jason Bourne and he remains a likeable if worn down hero. There is something compelling about the character and the way that Damon plays him that places the audience on his side and even here makes one consider even another sequel being made where the character can be further developed.

Greengrass and his team have not lost the knack for staging ambitious action sequences involving hundred of extras in global cities across the world, for example the riots in Athens (shot in Tenerife, Canary Islands) puts real scale and scope on the big screen as opposed to very pretty animation. Rather than quick cutting to death to hide a million sins, the people behind the scenes have done these stunts and captured the action on film in a clear but exciting fashion. The chases and fights are so retro they’re fresh, the destruction of 170 motor vehicles in the making of the car chase on the Las Vegas strip is the kind of vehicular mayhem you rarely see these days and is most welcome. Alicia Vikander has a few layers to her character too but ultimately nobody really engages interest with the audience. Bourne here is a bit too broken, at least Nicky is doing something with her life. In the books David Webb becomes an academic with a family, constantly drawn back into his former life but at least one can argue this way Bourne isn’t saddled with a revenge tale audiences know by rote. Because as it is already, this is a film you’ve seen twice already and when it was done better.

-Lloyd Marken

STAR TREK: BEYOND COVERS FAMILIAR GROUND

Simon Pegg the fan boy who made good has finally become part of the establishment co-writing the latest Star Trek movie. It took the original cast 16 years to get old  but only 7 years after the 2009 reboot introduced a hip new happening cast to take over these iconic roles and now at the age a lot of the original actors were when they began the TV series a lot is made in this film of middle age ennui.

Captain James T. Kirk, the lustful wanderer always looking for the undiscovered country, here feels lost having surpassed his father’s age and therefore apparently his shadow. Talking over with Starfleet command he’s become disenchanted with going in search of new horizons and considers taking a desk job as a Commodore which fits with William Shatner’s version ending up an Admiral at one point and also maybe reflects that this is a different Kirk. There’s a nice drinking scene between friends  Kirk and medical officer Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) that deals with this but lacks Commander Spock to complete the triumvirate. Reference is made about the closeness of Spock and Kirk but all evidence suggests they’re barely able to carry out a conversation between the two of them.star trek star shot trek beyond

Into this state of mind the U.S.S. Enterprise is called to help out on the fringes of known space where they are attacked by a new type of a species and end up crashlanding on a nearby planet with the crew separated into groups. Sadly the late Anton Yelchin is given little to do as navigator Pavel Chekov but raises a few smiles. While the bulk of the crew including helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are held prisoner by mysterious villain Krall and plot escape, Bones and Spock are put together as an odd couple forced to survive and admit some of their feelings. Spock is dealing with breaking up with Uhura and whether he is best needed elsewhere with the endangered Vulcan race having received news that Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has passed. Engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) meets a “friendly” alien called Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who is repairing a ship to leave the planet and could be their best hope of escape. Chris Pine as Kirk meanwhile ends up riding a motorbike like a Crusty Demon which sent the internet into meltdown last year fearing a Fast and Furiousifcation of Trek by director Justin Lin.

Mic movie film trailer artsSome of the action is poorly shot due to darkly lit sequences but most are very exciting. Space battles against bug like small explosive vessels are a neat twist on the classic dreadnought engagements of old, Sofia Boutella gets a great hand to hand combat sequence and an early scene aboard Starbase Yorktown in the first act sets up later the finale where people fight in various gravity vacuums and ride ships down tunnels that barely fit them. There’s a child’s joy in some of these action sequences of building a set and then staging something exciting in it. It may be worth checking the film out in 3D and one positive that can’t be stressed enough is how good the special effects look in this film and how beautifully realised the world is.star trek star shot trek beyondstar trek star shot trek beyond

There’s many references to the sometimes maligned Enterprise series and an interesting development about the villain even if we never really understand his motivation, a very touching inclusion of the original cast and a renewed focus on bringing it back to the characters and where they are emotionally. The problem here is they are not nearly as interesting as they were in previous films. Quinto and Urban in particular nailed the characteristics of Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly previously but seem too comfortable and low energy in this. So much so I wonder if there is a phone ringing nearby. star trek star review trek beyondThe most involving character is new addition Jaylah with PTSD from her family’s death and simple heartfelt references to a ship being a home. Alas the old crew as a family doesn’t seem as together emotionally or physically. Star Trek: Into Darkness was full of references to another Khan centric film but arguably still more engaging than this. Critical and peer responses to this film have been more positive than my assessment of it so feel free to explore this latest undergoing for yourself but as an enormous fan of the reboot I find myself missing the old gang more and more as this young crew ages. Alas Yelchin now leaves the role sadly and it’s not a bad film to dedicate to him and Nimoy’s memory. These voyages are ongoing but it’s nice to remember those who have gone before.

-Lloyd Markenstar trek star shot trek beyond

A BRAVE NEW WORLD WITH NEW GHOSTBUSTERS

When is a movie not a movie? The new Ghostbusters could be an example of such a thing. There are seldom few reviews out there that don’t feel like diatribes about gender, remakes and fan service. Negative reviewers feel compelled to point out their history with the franchise and whether they enjoy female led films. Positive reviews take the time to scold small brained insecure men who couldn’t deal with women being at the forefront of a beloved franchise. Which is fair enough because there were puzzling and unsettling paradoxes here. For example, late last year several underwhelming trailers were released for this season’s blockbusters but even bad trailers for anxious releases get more likes than dislikes on YouTube. Not so for the Ghostbusters trailer whose unprecedented negative rating seemed the result of a concerted effort by those with a sexist agenda. Paul Feig has made 3 films previously with female centric casts in traditionally male dominated genres. Bridesmaids (gross out comedies), The Heat (buddy cop action) and Spy (ummm the spy genre). None of these caused controversy or debate albeit Bridesmaids was celebrated a little for breaking new ground. Is it that fan boys particularly felt under attack for the casting in their beloved franchise? Was it a perverse extension of the mindset that had caused a stir when Daniel Craig was cast as blond Bond? Yet these are different characters in a new iteration, Bill Murray remains the only actor to have portrayed Peter Venkman, you can leave those old films on a shelf unharmed. After years of false starts and Harold Ramis’s passing, doing a new take with a female led cast felt like a great way to organically do something new, different and fresh. Plus the old cast were showing up in cameos to give their blessing. While that often is a case of writing enough numbers on a cheque surely the old fans would not want this to fail if the old cast didn’t? It can’t be worse than say Blue Brothers 2000? Ghostbusters  peter macnicol ghostbusters ghostbusters 2Ghostbusters for some holds a special place in their heart the way Superman and Star Wars does for others. Yet the response for this film seems a little over the top given how much Ghostbusters II failed to fire. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy are well established movie stars now in their own right and at one point Elizabeth Banks was rumoured to be under consideration (what the hell happened there Hollywood?!) although Kate McKinnon does look very similar. wink ghostbusters kate mckinnon winkingThe trailers and marketing were subpar but the negative reaction has also felt targeted and revealed some ugliness. On the other hand the implication that people who don’t like this film are all sexist is insulting to both genders and something Sony seems happy to have exploited.

So here we are…maybe we can talk about the film now for a bit. Wiig stars as physics professor Dr. Erin Gilbert trying to get tenure at her university when an old book she co-wrote about paranormal research is re-published hurting her chances. She tracks down her old friend and co-author Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who is now continuing paranormal research at a technical college with Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon). She tags along with them in their latest investigation and wouldn’t you know it they come across an actual ghost which thus begins their adventures of busting ghosts. Soon enough they’re joined by Transit Officer Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who calls them to one scene and reveals herself an expert on old historical landmark buildings and their hauntings. All four are entirely new characters with echoes of the original quartet, Yates is Ray Stantz-the believer super excited by what they’re doing, Holtzmann is Egon Spengler – socially awkward and tech minded, Tolan is Winston Zeddemore-the practical outsider (references to Patty or Winston as being streetwise I don’t get, they were just very grounded and smart in that sense) and Gilbert is Peter Venkman-interested in other things including in an adorkable way the opposite sex. Not to sound too politically correct but Patty Tolan in the trailers seemed a throwback to old stereotypes of African American women. In the film she is more well rounded and arguably the most likeable character compared to killjoys chasing tenure and others complaining about Chinese take-away.

The film following all the media coverage seems oddly prescient in retrospect, the film’s villain is a little man who studied the ghost research of Wiig and McCarthy only to use it to cause more havoc and bring about him becoming a more powerful giant being. A thinly veiled reference to the stereotype of a basement dwelling fan boy geek who can’t relate to women and who has delusions of grandeur. Some have suggested this is an attack on the franchise’s fan base but who wants to identify as this guy? More disappointing is the fact that this idea for an interesting villain isn’t further developed.

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Ah. Old New York city with your rampart crime and filthy streets.

The film follows trends of blockbusters these days, less scary and sexy than previous incarnations or more pointedly less adult and more family friendly for four quadrant appeal. Boston fills is for New York City for the most part, there’s a great deal of CGI which has less impact than practical effects. Everything has less impact! A neat touch though is McKinnon slowly developing the tech throughout the film after each encounter to make it more practical and combat effective which comes in handy during the finale.

kristen wiig ghostbusters kate mckinnon melissa mccarthy leslie jonesThese are some of the most likeable female comedic actresses working today and they remain likeable in this film. I read a really good piece by Matt Zoller Seitz citing how here is a blockbuster with four women in the lead who are all about the work, not defined by their relationship to a man, are all supportive of each other, surrounded by people (mostly men) saying they can’t do their job before they prove ultimately they can. These are all great things to have in a blockbuster but as a scary film it’s not scary enough, as a comedy there are great spaces of time between laughs throughout and chemistry wise something is off with this film. The new Ghostbusters film isn’t bad but it ain’t great either and don’t both genders deserve a great Ghostbusters film?

I’ll close with this picture. These little girl wants to bust ghosts, were there little girls who wanted to busts ghosts in 1984 but were told they couldn’t just because all the Ghostbusters in the movie were men? I don’t know, my sister had Princess Leia, Supergirl, She-Ra and Rainbow Bright so it didn’t come up. If this movie makes it a little easier for these girls or any girls to play being a Ghostbuster, if it spurns an interest for these girls or any girls to do science, if it makes these girls or any girls have a more positive image of themselves as women then that’s a good thing. I hope they enjoy the film too.

-Lloyd Marken

FINDING DORY FAILS TO FIND ALL OF PIXAR’S FORMER INSPIRATION

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Finding Dory arrives in a summer of underperforming sequels, 13 years after the beloved original Finding Nemo. Animated films go through years of production but Dory comes out as Pixar’s CCO John Lasseter announces the studio will add no further no sequels to their slate and produce more original content. If it is like The Good Dinosaur that might not help but if it is like Inside Out… Since being re-purchased by Disney, Pixar has produced more films of less quality it seems and so Finding Dory arrives with a lot to prove perhaps unfairly.

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Such concerns don’t account for the character of Dory (voiced by the talented Ellen DeGeneres)  who is so damn lovable she buys the sequel of a lot of goodwill. For those who may not remember before Ellen became the next Oprah, DeGeneres in 2003 was a failed sitcom star most famous for being a good comedian and the girlfriend of Anne Heche once upon a time. Although it has to be said her hosting of the 53rd Emmy Awards (the first major American show business awards show following September 11, 2001) remains one of the best hosting performances of all time.

Playing Dory was a big gig for her and the beginning of something new in terms of her career. A decade on and DeGeneres returns to the role as if she never left. A fascinating scene-stealing co-lead in the last film, giving Dory her origins and backstory only enhances the character. A throwaway line from ‘Nemo “I’m looking for my family-I think.” is elaborated upon here and creates more heartache and nuance regarding her memory loss. She starts to remember a father Charlie (Eugene Levy) and mother Jenny (Diane Keaton) who loved her and sets off on an adventure to find them (the inverse of the first film’s quest for a parent to find their child).

Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory finding dory dory baby dory disneySome of these flashbacks become more and more heartrending as we see a super cute young Dory remember two parents who wanted her to live a full life and be positive but secretly had their own fears and doubts. People with a disability and their parents will find these scenes particularly resonate. A sequence that reveals the significance of pebbles and sees a reunion of sorts shouldn’t leave a dry eye in the house. It’s the film’s heart and proves Pixar still has what it takes to hold the audience in the palm of their hand.

Yet like all sequels Finding Dory can’t quite measure up to the original. Some characters return from the original only to have less impact than they did the first time around. Two wise decisions are made by the filmmakers but don’t always bear fruit. First while initially setting off together Marlin and Nemo are separated from Dory. This allows us to have a story with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) but their story is not as interesting as Marlin & Dory’s or Nemo & Gill’s was and Marlin hurting Dory’s feelings disappoints after the last film’s events. Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory octopus finding doryFaring better is Dory’s story where she goes through a Marine Park facility assisted by local octopus Hank (Ed O’Neil) who is even grouchier than Marlin. Secondly going through the park allows for a new environment and the fish navigate land in some inventive ways as opposed to sticking to the open ocean again. Yet the open ocean was so beautiful in the previous film and as a result this sequel is less spectacular as a result. Although the finale seems rather grand in scale.

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It seems disingenuous to compare any film to Finding Nemo let alone its sequel which is rather good. Remember that scene though in ‘Nemo where Marlin and Dory went into the deep ocean and the screen went completely blank. I went and saw Finding Nemo with an old high school friend called Rachel who was always good at school and is now an academic. The cinema went completely dark as the screen went blank and silent. Then Marlin was muttering away and Dory called out “Who’s there?! Are you my conscience?” When Rachel really loses it she completely convulses. We both laughed so hard that night, I’ve never forgotten it. Yeah… I don’t remember laughing that hard this time around.

-Lloyd Marken

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE-THERE’S WORSE FILMS OUT THERE

I don’t want to go to my 20th high school reunion, I couldn’t have imagined feeling that way when I graduated in 1998. I wasn’t a popular kid at school but I’d finally found my niche and had a gang of friends, wouldn’t we be curious how everybody had turned out and 2018 seemed so far away. I figured I’d be a history teacher and failed actor, married with some kids and just trucking along like anybody else. Then life happened and as those 20 years draw closer to an end I find I’m not where I want to be and I’m not who I hoped I would be. This is not unusual and the advent of social media has chipped away the question of how people are going since for the most part that can be answered in few mouse clicks. I can’t imagine what it is like for someone who was popular in high school and shares similar sentiments to me. I’m told there’s always dark horses who make an impression at reunions since once they were free of school life they went on to accomplish great things.

I think of one man in my  old drama class who did an assignment when we  were studying Brecht. He stood in the middle of the room pretending he was on a ledge planning to commit suicide while a video played of him as someone else(maybe his consciousness) telling him not to jump. There were other props too. I wasn’t a good friend of the man, a nice enough guy, we ran in similar circles but I think we might have even quarrelled once. He was a big tall overweight kid with a soft voice, I guess some people figured he was gay but at our school back in the mid 90s, long before Glee, kids didn’t come out at school. By the time we went to pick up our last report cards a month after graduation rumours were ablaze with kids long assumed to be gay now openly out. Kids can be very incredibly cruel, if I’d been gay I doubt I would’ve come out during those years. I suspect that’s how it was for those kids. Sometimes a party might have happened and somebody would say somebody said something to them but half of that could’ve been just the usual rumour mill. Yet nobody came out until after graduation and then several did immediately. Some it took a bit longer.

Sometimes I think about that big kid and his assignment. How close to the truth was that assignment for him, rarely can you do something so honest and compelling if there was not some truth within yourself being expressed. I wish I’d told him how brave and good his performance was, that he was right – life was always worth living.

I saw on a website about ten years ago geared towards looking up old colleagues that he was doing well. After graduation he hit the gym and came out. Within a year all that fat had turned to muscle and he was signed with a casting agency and getting work as a model and an extra. He got bored with that and could see the instability of such a career so he went at Jeans West at 19. Lots of people do that but he went and did business courses part time and ended up being the store manager. By his mid 20s he was running his own business and had also opened up his own art gallery full of work he’d produced. Simply put to the rest of his graduating class and anybody who had unfairly treated him – he’d fucking showed us and good on him.

Dwayne Johnson plays such a man Robbie Wierdicht in Central Intelligence where he is bullied in high school relentlessly except for the kindness of Kevin Hart’s star student Calvin Joyner. Flash forward 20 years and Calvin Joyner is a middle level office drone who never delivered on the promise of his youth. Calvin’s mood is despondent and it’s starting to affect his marriage to his high school sweetheart Maggie Johnson (Danielle Nicolet). Man that’s a thankless role for an actress, even if Maggie is being reasonable she is always without the knowledge of the audience and lead characters and spends most of her time being negative instead of supportive towards Calvin. Nobody should spend their lives with someone who is endlessly miserable but most people stand by their partners through bad times and depression. We get the sense Maggie has been doing that for a while but we don’t see it, plus she never gets to join in on the fun with Calvin and Robbie. Danielle Nicolet does her best but you can see why Rose Bryne has previously commented that guys seem to have the fun roles a lot. One actress who does get to do cool stuff in the film is Amy Ryan but more on her later.

Excitable loud mouth comedian Kevin Hart dials it back a bit here to play regular joe Calvin and The Rock unleashes some of his softer side flipping the script. Hart’s ability to dial up though is well used for his character’s exasperation at his predicament. Robbie Wierdicht comes back into his life randomly one day and suckers him into catching up over some drinks and reveals he is now a buff CIA agent. Dwayne Johnson has always displayed a sense of humour and sweet disposition within his imposing frame. He plays well Robbie remaining in awe of Calvin despite his own new killer skills he expresses himself like a high school senior excited to be hanging with a bro. This is a guy who finally has a friend to hang with. There’s also hints that this maybe partly an act for his character.

Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) shows up to inform Mr Joyner that Robbie Weirdicht is a liar, a rogue agent who killed his partner and is now an enemy of the state. Robbie declares he’s been framed and needs Calvin’s accounting skills to clear his name and catch the real bad guys.

I’ll be honest, I thought the film was rather average (obvious telegraphed poles rarely amuse me) but I’m thinking back to some bits and smiling. On a $50million budget, director Rawson Marshall Thurber has made some good action sequences even if some of the stunts are CGI augmented and unrealistic. The two leads have good chemistry and seem to enjoy adding new shades to their established personas. At the time I rolled my eyes at too many contrivances and predictability but there are laughs to be had here and one very satisfying cameo at the end. Maybe I’m getting too old for broad comedies but does that mean this film is supposed to appeal to teenagers or to me? Because I’m closer to the age of the central characters.

Central Intelligence is enjoyable enough, my favourite scene is when Hart is asked if you’re in or out? Yet if given the choice between watching it again or going to my own high school reunion, well then not everybody is on Facebook and there’s still some things I’m curious to find out. Maybe I can finally tell that guy, “Hey that Brechtian performance was great and I’m happy you’ve made a good life for yourself.”

-Lloyd Marken

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