Film review – The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Starring Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

Certificate 15

Baltimore, 1962, and a mute cleaner at a high-security government laboratory embarks on a relationship like no other in Guillermo Del Toro’s BAFTA-winning masterpiece The Shape of Water.

Sally Hawkins, giving one of the best performances of her career, is Elisa Esposito, the mesmerising heroine who lives above a cinema, is friends with a neighbouring artist (Richard Jenkins), and lives a lonely existence. While he has designs on the cafe worker nearby, she’s an achingly solitary figure who cleans up at the lab a bus ride away.

This is a world of classic Bakelite gadgets and Cadillacs, the sort of nostalgic design you’d expect from a visual maestro like Del Toro. (He’s a film maker who could shoot a movie about the phone book and I’d happily hand over my cash).

Following the fascinating misfire that was Crimson Peak, he’s hit the bull’s eye with this heart-rending tale which feels like a mash-up of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Amelie, Delicatessen, Frankenstein, Hellboy and ET. And yet despite its influences, it’s also like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

Witnessed after the mega bucks Black Panther, where I didn’t believe in any of the characters, each of Del Toro’s protagonists here feels like they live and breathe, whether it’s air or water.

The casting is spot on, probably because the role was written for Hawkins, and Michael Shannon personifies the tough government stooge so well I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is a perfect accompaniment to the unfolding drama that washes over me, and though I try and remind myself it’s only a movie, the fate of the amphibian man at the heart of the drama is as compelling as ET’s in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic.

I’m on edge throughout as I just want a happy ending. While i’ll obviously not spoil a thing, I’ll happily see this again to soak up the wondrous imagery, nail-biting action and beautiful romance.

Having been hooked on Guillermo’s work since he started making waves in world cinema in the late 1990s, it’s a relief to say he’s finally made his masterpiece.

Don’t wait for the home release. Rush out and see it at a decent art house cinema, and not a certain multiplex where they turn the lights on the split second the credits roll.

Easily one of the best films of this or any other year.

Gracias Guillermo.

9/10

Advertisements

Movie review – Black Panther

Movie review

Black Panther

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Martin Freeman

Certificate 12A

Unlike Marvel favourites Spider-Man, Captain America, Hulk, Doctor Strange and Thor, Black Panther was never given a dry run as a TV movie.

Launched in the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation barely got a look in as an animated hero either. Which seems odd as he has such a rich back story and interesting characters.

However, now Marvel has a decade’s worth of blockbusters under their belt, it’s clear they’re willing to take a few ’risks’, such as an African American superhero.

Of course this should have all happened decades ago, and at one point it looked like it would with Wesley Snipes, but he opted for a lesser Marvel character – Blade.

No, Black Panther’s road to the big screen has been a long, rocky one.

And at the helm is director Ryan Coogler, whose critical success with Rocky sequel Creed proved he could breathe life into one of Marvel’s most ambitious movies.

As a fan of the comics, thanks to black and white British reprints from the early eighties, I was keen to see if the movie worked, but the trailer left me cold. Generic shots involving flying vehicles and expensive futuristic cityscapes all felt rather derivative.

Then the reviews arrived, and critics claimed it was an epic like no other.

So I settle in for what is admittedly a visually stunning adventure, but while millions of dollars were obviously spent on the effects and stunning costumes, about a tenner was spent on the script. It’s a yawnsome array of humdrum one-liners, clumsy exposition and forgettable monologues.

There are some standout lines, most notably from excellent villain Killmonger during the obligatory showdown. It’s one of those movies where the villains are far more interesting than the heroes. Michael B Jordan is more rounded than Chadwick Boseman’s bland, noble hero T’Challa. He sounds like a young Nelson Mandela throughout, but the banter with his sister Shuri falls flat.

On the subject of which, Shuri, the gadgets mistress – a Q to Boseman’s Bond if you like – is one of the most memorable characters in the movie. Letitia Wright, last seen in the excellent Black Mirror, is a fun, engaging breath of fresh air, and along with a scenery-chewing Andy Serkis and ever reliable Martin Freeman, helps lift the film to another level.

It’s not a bad movie, though some ropey CG rhinos, confusing action scenes with the gravity-defying hero, and an improbable laboratory which looks like a tourist attraction at Epcot does jar a little. And the ritual fight scenes feel like a musical waiting for a rousing song that never comes.

And don’t get me started on those masks and suits that appear out of thin air. The Batmobile’s instant CG shields bugged me in 1992’s Batman Returns, and this looks even more improbable.

Yes it’s a fantasy but the best comic book conversions, like Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, have a believable gravitas. This just feels like anything can be summoned from thin air.

Solid support comes from Get Out’s BAFTA-winning Daniel Kaluuya, while Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker and Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira help give the saga some heft.

Given the mammoth box office returns after week one, safe to say a sequel is in the works, but before that, our hero and a few sidekicks return for the enormous Avengers: Infinity War.

I hope Coogler and Boseman have a better script for Black Panther 2. So much time and effort was taken on the look of hidden kingdom Wakanda, that it would be nice if the dialogue matched the occasionally stunning vision.

7/10

Film review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Film review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

Mildred Hayes, like Fargo’s Marge Gunderson, is a role many actresses would give their eye teeth for. And when Frances McDormand picks up an Oscar or BAFTA (or both) for the role, it will hopefully attract a new wave of interest in one of the best films of the past 12 months.

Mildred has suffered an unimaginable personal loss, and when she arrives at the eponymous billboards in the opening minutes, she hatches an idea that sets in motion events which drag the residents of Ebbing into a maelstrom of revenge and repercussions.

Key to the developments are Sheriff Bill Willoughby (a terrific Woody Harrelson) and officer Jason Dixon (a powerhouse Sam Rockwell).

As with Fargo there are assorted peripheral characters who add light and shade to the proceedings. Peter Dinklage gives a typically wonderful turn as Mildred’s suitor, while there is solid support from John Hawes, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Condon and Clarke Peters.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh, who memorably gave us the wonderful In Bruges, has created such an immersive drama, bursting with juicy dialogue and outstanding scenes, that it almost begs for another movie examining the lives of different characters in Ebbing.

And as with Fargo, Carter Burwell’s score is a treat.

Kudos to Film4 for providing some of the $12m budget. This is one of their best co-productions in some time, and when they take home Oscar gold this spring, let’s hope it will pave the way for more films this good.

9/10

Film review  Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

Film review

Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black

Certificate 12A

I can’t say I was desperate to see a sequel to Jumanji, the 1990s Robin Williams blockbuster in which kids get trapped inside a board game and play to get back to the real world.

And the concept of Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black as two of the four protagonists fighting for their life also left me cold.

Don’t get me wrong. I like them both, but I’ve never rushed out to see the new Dwayne or Jack movie. They’re just not magnetic enough for me.

However, Karen Gillan has that winning mix of sex appeal and quirkiness to win me over, so on a bleak January morning I settle in.

I’m not expecting much, so as the movie opens with references to the original, and so much product placement I feel queasy, I fear the worst.

On the surface this may be a Jumanji reboot, but once I get past the feeling I’m watching a mash-up of It and Stranger Things (thanks to a creepy house, yellow rain coat and lovably nerdy students), I realise the heart of the piece is The Breakfast Club transplanted to the jungle. (The nerdy guy, the jock, the princess and the geek girl reflecting on their shortcomings).

And I’m happy to say it’s one of the most enjoyable family adventures I’ve seen in years.

The plot: while four fellow students are given detention and have to de-staple a bunch of magazines for recycling, they happen across a 1990s video game.

And wouldn’t you know it? They are soon transplanted to the jungle. The twist being the geek is now the muscle-bound charismatic hero. The athletic jock is now the diminutive, weapons-carrying sidekick. The selfie-obsessed narcissist prom queen is a chubby middle aged man, and the shy geek is a Lara Croft-style kick-ass heroine.

After landing in their new home (those Hawaii backdrops are glorious on the big screen), our fish-out-of-water heroes are soon introduced to Rhys Darby’s avatar character, a genial sort who fills in their back story and mission before leaving them to it.

Cue rocket-launching bikers, killer hippos and no end of human and geographical hurdles to overcome.

As our heroes overcome their personal differences and adjust to their own new special abilities, what unfolds is often a joy.

The highlight is Black teaching Gillan how to flirt as she attempts to sidetrack intentionally generic bad guy avatars.

Director Jake Kasdan does a great job of juggling the epic set pieces, while the cast interact so well, I’m not surprised it’s become one of the biggest blockbusters of the past 12 months.

If you get the chance, see it on the biggest screen possible and enjoy as Johnson, Gillan, Hart and Black take you on a magical adventure which is even quite touching in places.

Those glorious vistas will lose a lot on the small screen, as I’ll find out when I watch it again, and again in a few months’ time. And no, not just because (a recognisable) Karen Gillan has finally landed the blockbuster she deserves.

Given the huge box office returns, a sequel is only a matter of years rather than decades.

I have a feeling Mr Williams would have been proud.

8/10

Film preview – The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy 

Film preview

The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy

Starring Robert Kazinsky, Samantha Barks, Tony Way

Directed by Mark Murphy

Comedies are like soufflés. You might have the best butter, sugar and eggs, but there’s something in the cooking that leads to the confection either being light and fluffy or collapsed like a deflated balloon. Not enough sugar or sweetness and it obviously ends up bitter. Too much and it becomes hard to swallow. Too many eggs and half can end up on the cast’s face.

Thankfully writer/director Mark Murphy, who made Howden and Bubwith-shot chiller Awaiting, has scored a bull’s eye with his new movie The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy.

It’s another feather in the cap of local film outfit Goldfinch Entertainment (formerly GSP Studios), Yorkshire-based film producer Alan Latham and Eric Woollard-White.

The Revenger is due for release later in 2018, but I was given a sneak peek at the tale of one man, his scheming bride-to-be and the characters who orbit around them.

Now I won’t give too much away, but the skill of the movie is pushing certain characters to breaking point, and just when you start to lose sympathy with a key protagonist, the plot changes course.

“If it bends it’s funny, if it breaks it’s not,” is a good comedic rule of thumb that always stands up, and The Revenger bends just enough to ensure the comedic snapback is perfect. (No, that’s not a funny baseball cap).

It helps that the casting is wonderful. Robert Kazinsky (Pacific Rim/Warcraft) is spot on as Mark, the lovelorn hero, while Tony Way (Edge of Tomorrow) is excellent as his best mate, Tim. Some actors have funny bones, and Way is one of them. His face has the comedic appeal of a clown car’s airbag. He’s in danger of stealing the show if it weren’t for Samantha Barks’s Connie, the axle on which part of the vehicle rests. Her mix of sex appeal and comic timing is irresistible, especially during a scene reminiscent of Carry On Camping. But despite her character being capable of horrible things, one tear-streaked scene in a car can also break your heart. If there was any doubt after Les Miserables that a major talent had arrived, this should prove the naysayers wrong.

The film also has a dash of Wedding Crashers, and while some will be reminded of Four Weddings and a Funeral, not least because of the presence of Anna ’Duckface’ Chancellor at her outrageous best, it also feels like a comedy from centuries ago. Amorous in-laws and a sidekick will leave many howling while others watch through latticed fingers.

Solid support comes from Ivan Kaye (Vikings), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Peter Pan) and Edward Speleers (Downton Abbey).

In short, The Revenger is a witty, snappy, stylish comedy which deserves to do well here and overseas.

There are now two major British weddings to watch in 2018, and as we wait for the royal one, here’s a four-word review of a fun, fictional diversion that’s crucial given the title.

I laughed. A lot.

8/10

Bright – Movie Review

Bright

Directed by David Ayer

Starring Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace

So, after months of plugging, Netflix unveil their highest profile streaming movie to date.

Bright has the production values of a major motion picture, the heavyweight star appeal of Will Smith, and a high concept premise: an alternate LA, filled with orcs, elves and fairies.

Will Smith is Ward, the foul-mouthed cop teamed with Joel Edgerton’s Jakoby, the long suffering Orc crime buster who spends most of the movie being sworn at, beaten up or worse.

Their chalk and cheese partnership forms the backbone of the story involving a magic wand, a dark lord and an endangered elf.

Which is all very Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings with Ayer’s previous movie End of Watch thrown in and a heroine reminiscent of Leeloo from The Fifth Element.

It’s brutal, bloody stuff which for 90 per cent of its running time is hard to stomach. The seemingly endless macho posturing, face offs with gang members and swearing is so abrasive, i’m worn down by the sheer nastiness of the whole production.

Smith is usually good value for money, but even his charm can’t save this Christmas turkey.

Edgerton is okay as his sidekick and Noomi Rapace adds malevolence as the big bad.

So, 30 years after Alien Nation posited an LA filled with ETs, and mismatched cops tackling bad guys,this unofficial remake makes that bad film look a lot better.

It’s toxic stuff alleviated only by some great photography and flashes of excitement. The whole time I’m watching it I want it to get better, and be less brutal, but it feels like crawling through a two-hour long tunnel of offal.

The only bright bit comes at the end.

The music is yawnsome, the script mostly dreadful with the odd decent one liner from Max Landis, and on the whole a horrible experience.

No matter how much you may love the Fresh Prince, or the good ideas, avoid at all costs.

2/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Spoiler Free Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Directed by Rian Johnson

Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver

Certificate 12A

There was a time the average gap between Star Wars movies was three years. But when Disney took over the franchise in 2012, they planned on releasing at least one Star Wars-related movie a year. And with Kathleen Kennedy in charge, 2015’s The Force Awakens proved the franchise was in safe hands.

Now we have the eighth chapter in the saga (ninth if you count the sublime episode 3.5, Rogue One).

And with JJ Abrams passing the baton to Looper’s Rian Johnson, we’re off on another dazzling adventure.

The opening space battle is pure Star Wars. Dizzying, thrilling and glorious cinematic magic accompanied by John Williams’ bombastic score.

Seconds after the opening crawl, I have a big stupid grin as Rebels fight the bad guys; a familiar face pops up as an evil officer, and the whole thing slots together beautifully.

But that space battle is just the eye candy-laced doorway to one of the most complex, divisive and bold chapters in the saga.

Safe to say The Last Jedi will leave die-hard fans emerging from the theatre processing what they’ve just seen.

Johnson takes the saga to interesting places, and though the script could have done with some polish, one scene involving a key character’s actions against insurmountable odds definitely needed rejecting at the script stage. Some force-related feats push things too far.

The new cast we met in The Force Awakens feel a lot more at home here. Not that they did a bad job in TFA, but it’s good to see the likes of John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac given a chance to flex their acting muscles.

Obviously given the passing of Carrie Fisher, the whole movie feels like a tribute in all the right places, but if the film belongs to anyone it’s Mark Hamill. The hermetic Luke Skywalker is now as weathered as the craggy island he calls home.

Giving a terrific performance as the hero millions grew up with, to see him back in action for the first time since 1983 is a treat fans never thought they’d witness.

And while old beloved droids like C-3PO and R2D2 are also back, BB-8 steals the film once more.

There are inevitable nods to The Empire Strikes Back, but at times it also feels like the first episode of the revamped Battlestar Galactica, with a touch of The Two Towers’ Helm’s Deep thrown in for good measure.

There’s also a low tech clunkiness to the props. Maybe it’s hi-def cameras showing more than film ever used to, but some gadgets and sets feel a bit Blue Peter. Then there is Snoke’s lair, a blood red screen which looks striking but temporary, like a stage set.

And the Vegas-style Canto Bight features a few too many weird characters in the now obligatory cantina-style scene that adds colour to most SW movies.

As it’s the longest of the saga, my oft-repeated comment of it being 20 minutes too long is completely on the money.

The Last Jedi is still a compelling sci-fi adventure, but kids will be restless in the second act, and their parents nursing aching legs by the finale.

So, a flawed but fascinating chapter which fails to match the dizzy heights of Empire and Rogue One, but is still a must see on the big screen. The 3D is pretty effective, the sound design excellent, and that shot of fighters soaring over salt flats, leaving scarlet scars in the Earth is unforgettable.

Who knows what’s in store for Episode IX, but with JJ Abrams back at the helm, it should be much tighter than this ambitious curio.

8/10

Film review: Paddington 2

Paddington 2

Starring Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins

Certificate PG

Directed by Paul King

Perfection, as we all know is an elusive quality. We may strive for it, but despite Fairground Attraction’s foot-tapping pleas, few things are rarely perfect.

Except occasionally a film comes along where everything clicks. The right producer hires the best director and the ideal cast and crew, together with spot-on effects technicians. And the story is strong enough to carry the weight of expectation from start to finish. Every second of celluloid is a well-crafted dream; finely tuned, expertly crafted and dovetails with the next scene.

It’s a film with a start, a middle and end. It makes sense. There’s a cross generational appeal, so those pushing 50 can enjoy what’s on screen as much as those in the spring of youth and the winter of their years.

Paddington 2 is one of those movies, a film so utterly wondrous, it feels like a dozen Christmases rolled into one.

Three years to the day after seeing the first Paddington movie on the big screen, I’d hoped the sequel would live up to that wonderful starter of a motion picture. A film which introduced us to the eponymous bear from darkest Peru who finds a new home in London with the Brown family and proceeds to steal the hearts of almost everyone around him.

Film one was a toe in the water, a brilliant mix of wry humour, sight gags, action scenes and delightful musical segues. It was everything I’d hoped for from the bear who stole my heart as a six-year-old kid reading Michael Bond’s books for the first time.

With the ideal casting of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters as key members of the family who take Paddington under their collective wing, the inevitable move for the sequel was to pluck the bear from his adoptive family.

While trying to save up enough cash to buy a pop-up book for his Aunt Lucy, so she can experience a flavour of London in Peru, Paddington embarks on a window cleaning round, which owes a spiritual debt to Wallace and Gromit and countless silent movie stars.

There are so many gags in Paddington 2, it’s hard to keep count of the amount of times I giggled, but it’s a lot.

When ham actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, in a career-best performance) pinches said book, for reasons which eventually become clear, there’s no prizes for guessing who’s framed for the crime and winds up doing a long spell inside.

So most of the movie is a prison caper, but the likes of which you’ve never seen. Brendan Gleeson gives another of his effortlessly brilliant performances, this time as a fearsome prison chef.

Paddington, seeing the best in everyone, proceeds to change the lives of those inside, while back in that moneyed region of London he had to leave behind, the locals are falling apart without him.

Writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby construct such a beautifully crafted screenplay, there’s no lull in the story from minute one to the breathtaking final few minutes. In terms of emotional sucker punches, the finale is up there with ET for the most tear-jerking final 15 minutes of any film I’ve seen. Yes, it was dusty in that cinema, and yes, I did get something in my eye. A lot.

And as with film one, Farnaby leaves me giggling like an idiot as the amorous security guard who takes a shine to Grant’s disguised nun. (In film one, Farnaby’s flirting with Hugh Bonneville in drag was one of the funniest scenes of 2014).

Director King proved he could tell a beautifully touching and original tale with The Bunny and the Bull many years ago, and armed with a bigger budget three years ago, he adapted that indie quality with great success. I’d wondered if Paddington was a fluke and he’d drop the ball with the sequel, but with the training wheels off, he’s now become the Chris Hoy of British comedy directors. A more assured but no less brilliant film maker whose lightness of touch is astounding. And that pop-up book scene with Paddington and his Aunt is among the best things you’ll see on screen in this or any other year.

There no doubt it’ll land technical awards for effects, and maybe production design, but if there’s any justice, this should also land a BAFTA nod for Best Film. It won’t of course. That will be reserved for a socially conscious, political drama deemed far more worthy, but for me Paddington 2 is easily the best British film of 2017.

Michael Bond, the little bear’s much missed creator, would be more than proud.

9/10

Film review – Justice League

Film review

Justice League

Certificate 12A

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ciaran Hinds

Apparently Justice League, the long awaited conversion of the hit DC Comics series, is one of the most expensive films ever made at a reported $300m. At times you can see where the money went, though there are scenes where the visual effects look like they were knocked up with a £1.99 app.

Going in, my expectations were at rock bottom. After all, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice had lowered the bar to almost Superman IV/Batman and Robin levels of badness, so in the words of Yazz or a lift attendant in a basement, the only way is up.

Director Zack Snyder has long been one of the genre’s premier visual stylists, who came tantalisingly close to cracking sublime graphic novel Watchmen, and did a fine job with 300, while Man of Steel was hit and miss.

Rocked by a personal tragedy, Snyder left the movie early in 2017, so Joss Whedon stepped in to finish it, adding his own flourishes.

There’s a scene in a graveyard where I half expect Buffy to turn up singing Going Through the Motions from the peerless Once More With Feeling episode.

But that will have to wait for Whedon Buffy/Batman crossover episode, of which we can but dream.

Back in the real world, and here’s the plot.

Millennia ago, bad guy Steppenwolf (an unrecognisable Ciaran Hinds) and his legions of Parademons attempt to conquer the planet via the combined power of three ’Mother Boxes’.

However, thanks to the forces of Olympian Gods, Amazons, Atlanteans, humans and Green Lanterns, Steppenwolf’s army are repelled, the mcguffin boxes are separated and hidden in locations around Earth.

Fast forward to now, and Superman’s death at the end of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvSDoJ) has left the world in mourning.

The Mother Boxes reactivate; Steppenwolf returns to terra firma and starts collecting DC’s answer to the MCU’s Tesseract.

In one of the best action scenes, he attempts to retrieve one from Wonder Woman’s idyllic island of Themyscira.

Queen Hippolyta warns her daughter, Diana Prince, who joins Bruce Wayne, and they go off to recruit other metahumans (aka superheroes) for their mission.

Wayne seeks out ripped surfer dude Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Big Bang-worthy nerd Barry Allen (though Sheldon Hofstadter might be a better name), while Diana tries to find emo-cyborg Victor Stone, a man blinged up with shiny metal attachments perfectly fused to his skin.

Socially awkward, lightning-fast Allen jumps at the chance to team up, while the others are more reluctant. (Hmm, wonder if that will lead to some last minute saving the day posturing. Possibly).

As Steppenwolf continues to wreak havoc during his box-hunting, the scene is set for more action set pieces in which the Justice League slowly comes together.

To reveal much more would be spoilerific, but despite the overly complex plot and generic bad guy who looks like a hybrid of Thanos and a Thor villain from the Marvel movies, this is not the car crash I’d feared. One of the many problems is the exposition. While en route to tackling the bad guys, Bruce, Diana and company stand around talking. A lot.

Exposition is always best during action scenes, so even Wayne fixing bits on his Batship would be better than just character A talking to character B.

Bruce may be loaded, but who builds and maintains his armoury? Jeremy Irons’ Alfred, who spends most of his scenes dispensing quips and operating a keyboard? Unlikely. I’m guessing Wayne Industries has an army of interns working behind the scenes, but that’s worthy of another movie.

As the third act arrives, and our heroes face off against the big bad and his army of demonic soldiers, I find I’m enjoying the ride. It’s obviously not Whedon’s peerless superhero team-up Avengers Assemble or as empty as David Ayer’s cosplay-friendly “Hey, we’re the bad guys” Suicide Squad.

Yes, some of the effects are ropey; JK Simmons’ Jim Gordon is given a woeful lack of screen time; Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is utterly wasted, and as with BvSDoJ and Wonder Woman (2017), the generic finale involving mostly empty streets is hampered by too much CGI and green screen work. But I’ve no doubt Whedon’s involvement helped immensely.

A shame Ben Affleck looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, but hey, it’s still Batman, the comic book character I’ve loved for most of my life up there on the big screen, wrecking every vehicle he pilots or drives, and still looking uber cool as he crashes from scene to scene.

Some of his colleagues may be second-rate heroes, but like the age-old tradition of the pretty girl befriending a less attractive lass to make her look better, the Dark Knight is still magnificent, eclipsing his less alluring second rate allies.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (definitely not in the second rate category), continues to shine, even if this project lacks the emotional heft of her blockbusting solo movie.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman looks great, and can carry a scene, so his pending standalone movie is not too horrific a prospect, though I doubt Cyborg or The Flash will land solo films. They’re just a bit too bland.

Without the chorus of seat-kicking kids talking all the way through it, I’ll happily watch this again when it arrives on TV in a few months. Some scenes and characters might even make more sense.

This has been a terrific year for superhero movies. And while Justice League may not match the dizzy heights of Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, Spider-Man Homecoming, and Wonder Woman, like all good fantasy cinema, it’ll help take your mind off real world problems for a couple of hours.

For that alone it’s worth the price of admission.

7/10

Gig review – Koyaanisqatsi with Go Go Penguin

Gig review – Koyaanisqatsi with Go Go Penguin

Hull City Hall

I can’t remember the last time I saw Koyaanisqatsi, Godfrey Reggio’s stunning art house film from the early 1980s. I remember buying it for a friend’s birthday or Christmas present in 1994, so it was way before then. In fact it’s been so long, I feel like I’m watching a different film when it’s screened at Hull City Hall.

The major difference this time is the score. Philip Glass’s seminal soundtrack is absent, replaced by an original live performance by Go Go Penguin. And boy do they earn their money.

The three-piece tackles such a labour intensive work, I’m exhausted for them during some of the full on bits. Or maybe that’s the painkiller kicking in for my broken wisdom tooth. Either way it’s like watching a new film.

When the movie was released, time lapse footage of anything was a rarity. Cities and landscapes on fast forward were a stunning sight, with cars flowing to and from cities like red and white blood cells pumping through a heart. These days I shoot time lapse all the time on my iPad or phone. Back in the days before digital, I imagine the process cost a fortune. Little wonder the movie needed a big backer and few were bigger than Francis Ford Coppola in the days when he was a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the maestro, but when a sniffy wine salesman shot me down in a Californian vineyard back in 1995 for trying to buy a ’small’ bottle of Coppola’s wine, I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about the name.

(In retrospect the Scooby Doo tee-shirt and Hawaiian shorts probably didn’t help my case in such a buttoned up, conservative vineyard).

I digress.

Koyaanisqatsi without the Glass score feels like watching Jaws without John Williams’ masterful soundtrack. It’s good but it’s not right.

However, as an accompanying film for a fine chunk of jazz, it works a treat. A shame nobody has shot a homage in Hull to celebrate the City of Culture. (I did film some great time lapses outside the venue in the spring, which almost begs for a highbrow classical score. Great way to pass the time if you love people-watching and are waiting for a friend or relative to arrive).

Did it wow me? Yes and no. Love the film, great new score, but I’ll admit I was sidetracked by earache, and not because of the excellent musicians.

I’m glad I went, but I wouldn’t rush to see it again. Koyaanisqatsi is one of those movies worth a look every few years, or in my case decades, preferably with the original score. I’d like to see Go Go Penguin provide backing for other arthouse classics without much dialogue.

That said, maximum respect to Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) for their bold interpretation of a 1983 classic.