Bill & Ted Face the Music

It’s been almost 30 years since Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter last appeared on screen as Bill and Ted, Face the Music brings us up to date with the popular and quotable character’s.

Written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, we find Logan and Preston struggling to find the song to reunite the world. Still married to their 15th century English princesses and now both have daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) who seem to be growing up the very images of their dads.

The story takes us on a time travelling journey as Bill and Ted move through the future to discover which of their future selves has the song that will not only reunite the world but, it seems, will save it.

I would say I didn’t watch Bill and Ted as a fan, I’ve seen the original films and remember them fondly enough, but wouldn’t say I remember them in any detail. It’s perhaps because of that Face the Music didn’t really work for me.

It’s not a disaster of a film and there was nothing to hugely dislike. However, very few of the jokes landed and while Reeves and Winter are fine, I was less convinced by the slightly grating impression of them by Weaving and Lundy-Paine as their daughters.

The story feels a bit of a mess and is rather repetitive as they visit slightly different future versions of themselves alongside their daughters popping around history putting together a band. The final act of the film is perhaps its best, although the finale itself seems a bit of a thrown together after thought.

Maybe it misses for me because I’m not a particular fan of the films and if this works for those that are because it’s full of references and nods to the originals that passed me by, then that’s great.

But for me it was a pretty average comedy, not enough laughs and a story that wasn’t that interesting, but there’s nothing to dislike, maybe just not enough to like.

Get Duked

Showing on Amazon Prime Video.

Written and directed by Ninian Doff, Get Duked fits into that very British mould of off the wall, low budget comedy thriller/horror. Set in the unlikely context of the Duke of Edinburgh award, we centre on a misfit group of four teenage boys dropped into the Scottish highlands for a few days of orienteering, camping and teamwork. What the boys stumble upon is a drug filled scottish highland farmer community and a plot by the local landed gentry to use the D of E youngsters as hunting prey to cull society’s poor for the good of the species!

The film plays out with the same off the wall silliness that the plot suggests it should, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s also not the only thing, the film also delivers a nice look at the relationships of the boys, a subtle look at how they play against their stereotypes and a nice dose of social commentary with Doff doing a good job of balancing this throughout the film.

Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon and Lewis Gribben give us four engaging and believable central characters who never over play the farcical situations they find themselves in and with some nicely toned comedy cameos (Alice Lowe particularly) around them it all adds up to an enjoyable 87 minutes.

It’s not perfect, it feels a little all over the place at times and not all the jokes land, but for a bit of budget comedic fun, it delivers plenty to enjoy and is much smarter than many a high profile comedy that come nowhere near the subtlety, humour or social commentary that this does.

It’s 87 minutes long, there is plenty to enjoy and enough good things in it to overcome its faults.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

On Sky (in the UK) and available to stream.

Directed by Joe Talbot, starring Jimmie Fails and written by them both. This film draws us into the world of Jimmie Fails (Playing his namesake character) and Montgomery Allen (Johnathan Majors), who spend their day’s travelling to a house in the city that Jimmie believes was built by his grandfather in the 1940’s and maintaining it, the maintenance is not asked for or wanted by the current owners, but they insist on doing it anyway.

This is only the premise on the surface, in reality we have a melancholy story looking at displacement, community, friendship and a desire to find a way to hold on to it at all costs. While the main cast are all black, this is not primarily a film about race, it’s about the treatment of a community and how they as both a location and a people are moved from and priced out of the places that they and their families called home.

The film tells a methodical and deliberate story, it never rushes and is happy to take its time focusing on the depth of its central relationships. Fails and Majors offer two very watchable and engaging central performances with good support across the cast.

It’s not a wholly succesful piece, it is sometime a little slow for its own good and the narrative sometimes feels a little disjointed. Overall, however, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is an interesting and thoughtful film, engaging and interesting and glorious to look at with some beautiful cinematography.

It’s not going to be anyones idea of a bit of throwaway popcorn film fair, but for something a little different which thoughtfully examines a real world issue, it’s worth a watch.

I’m thinking of ending things

Showing on Netflix.

Based on Iain Reid’s book and written and directed by Charlie Kaufman is Netflix’s new film starring two of our favourite Jessie’s (Jesse’s) Buckley and Plemons.

We find Jake (Plemons) taking his girlfriend to visit his parents on a snow storm filled day at their isolated farm house. His girlfriend though is having second thoughts about the relationship and is thinking of ending it as she is unsure that they have any kind of future.

I’ve not read Reid’s book so came into this with no prior knowledge of the story. This is complex film and will not be for everyone. But, for me, this is two thirds a good and intriguing film, one third overly complex and melodramatic.

There was a lot I enjoyed, from the start it is slow paced and keeps you on edge as the relationship between our two main characters is seemingly strained and uneasy. The 4:3 presentation adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the story, the feeling of been trapped be it in the car, in the relationship or in the house.

It took me about 40 minutes to realise that the story was not what it seemed, the subtle clues start to add up before it becomes more clear.

The always watchable Buckley and Plemons do an excellent job with the difficult material, with Toni Colette, David Thewlis and Guy Boyd offering strong support.

What we have is a story about loss, regret, sadness and what-ifs, which in the main was smartly told. The final act was more difficult to go with as it heads off down a more “abstract” route, which confused rather than clarified.

I’m thinking of ending it is likely to be divisive and will not be for everyone, but for me was an interesting and intriguing story for the most part with two fine central performances. If you are up for a piece of more challenging film watching give it a go.

Tenet

Christopher Nolan films have become an event, highly anticipated and much discussed and none more so than Tenet, the first major film release since cinema reopened. What more could cinema ask for than an event film that will create enough conversation to drive an audience?

In Tenet, it has got the film it perhaps needed. The story is a “Bondesque” saving the world tale, our main character, John David Washington’s, The Protagonist, is recruited into the world of international espionage to stop Russian Oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) carrying out his world ending plan. To do this The Protagonist must master and use “time inversion” to move back and forth through time to achieve his aim.

Playing with time and our idea of the reality of what we see on screen is a very Nolan trait and, as it does here, adds greatly to the intrigue and skill of the story telling.

One of the criticisms of Tenet is it’s too complex, for me it wasn’t. I really enjoyed it. The trick was to not over think it, there’s a line early in the film where they are explaining time inversion with the basic rule, don’t worry how it works it just does. Take that and run with it for the rest of the film and you’ll have a fine time.

Because once you get past the complexities that the story introduces, you have a top notch thriller. It’s fast moving from the opening scene and it’s a film for the big screen. The action is big, the effects, most of which are physically done, are of cinematic scale. The performances are strong throughout, Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki are excellent in the lead roles, but the show is often stolen by Branagh’s Sator.

This is not Nolan’s best film, but it is a good one and probably exactly the film that cinema needs to bring people back, it won’t be for everyone, but if you don’t over think it and go with what’s happening in front of you, you’ve got a fantastic thriller that even at 150 minutes whizzes by and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Abominable

Showing on Sky Movies (UK) and available to rent.

Written by Jill Culton, Abominable was 2019’s big animation for DreamWorks. A young girl, Yi, finds a Yeti on the roof of her apartment building who has escaped capture and is on the run. She discovers he was taken from Mount Everest and promises to help him home with the uninvited help of her two friends. On route they discover that Everest, the name they give him, has mystic powers that help him to interact with nature which comes in handy as they try to evade their pursuers.

As you’d expect from a studio like DreamWorks, it is beautifully animated and the attention to detail and the world they inhabit immerses you fully. It also has a real warmth and charm to it, with a story of discovery, family and coping with loss threaded through it.

However when it comes to animation, my high watermark is still Pixar, they, at their best, use animation to tell stories that emotionally engage and pull you in like no other. Abominable is not at that level, its story is a relatively well trodden one, an A to B adventure tale with some peril, but that said it is certainly at the better end of the animation quality scale.

While it is unlikely to go down as a classic, with a likeable voice cast, beautiful animation and some warmth and heart to it. It’s certainly enjoyable and a nice way to spend just over 90 minutes of your life.

Official Secrets

Available to stream and currently on Amazon Prime Video.

Written by Gregory and Sara Bernstein and directed by Gavin Hood, Official Secrets is based on the true story of Katherine Gun an employee of Britain’s intelligence and security agency who in 2003 leaked an inflammatory email from the US’s National Security Agency (NSA). The email made a request for information to be gathered that could be used to coerce members of the UN security council to support the US’s request for a resolution to invade Iraq.

The leaked email was published by The Observer newspaper and during the investigation into the leak, Gun admitted that she had leaked it, which lead to her being charged under the official secrets act. The film focusses on the period of just over 12 months from finding the NSA email to her court case.

Full disclosure, I’m a fan of any well done drama that focusses on the behind the scenes, underhand tactics of the machinery of government and the story of Gun certainly has that and Hood’s film tells it well.

Kiera Knightley plays Gun and gives a solid performance capturing the pressure that Gun must have felt as well as the bravery of knowingly putting herself and career at risk for something she believed was right.

This is Knightley’s film as the story focuses almost solely on her act and its impact and only touches on the impact to the British and US governments and some of the legal arguments that were core in the decision to invade Iraq. Knightly is supported well enough by Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes and Adam Bakri as her husband, but Knightley does the vast majority of the heavy lifting.

The film moves on at a good pace and doesn’t get bogged down in exposition or behind closed doors legal debate. It is much more a personal story of dealing with the cost of making a decision based on your beliefs regardless of the personal cost.

This is a story told from Gun’s perspective and I’m sure there is a counter argument to the position it takes, but for what the film wants to say it does a good job of telling a complex and intriguing story and one I found engaging from start to finish.

An American Pickle

Showing at the cinema!

Written by Simon Rich, based on his own short story and directed by Brandon Trost, An American Pickle is Seth Rogen’s latest comedy vehicle and importantly my first trip back to the real world of cinema for 5 months.

Rogen plays Herschel Greenbaum a ditch digger in his native country who then emigrates to an early 20th century United States where, after a pickling incident, he finds himself in 21st century Brooklyn. With all he knows lost, he discovers his only living relative, Ben (also played by Rogen) who tries to guide him through this very different world.

It is far from perfect with an unoriginal premise which follows the classic “fish out of water” storyline. The storyline itself is chaotic and a bit of a structural mess, with plot holes a plenty. But what it does have going for it is something that isn’t often associated with Rogen’s films and that is a certain charm.

In Herschel particularly, Rogen presents a character whose quiet confidence in his own ability and desire to succeed make him strangely endearing. There is also an interesting exploration of loss, with both of Rogen’s character dealing with loss of loved ones and having seemingly different ways to remember and honour them.

An American Pickle is a bit of quirky piece of work, the storyline is a nonsense, although it recognises its own stupidity early on, there is some very obvious social commentary with hipsters, social media and over analysis of inflammatory speech all getting a mention. But overall its charm and warmth and quirky take on the story won me over.

It’s not going to be a classic, but was an enjoyable return to cinema action.

Nigerian Prince

On Netflix.

The second of a couple of enjoyable films from last weekend is Faraday Okoro’s Nigerian Prince. Starring Antonio J Bell and Chimaza Uche it follows Eze (Bell) who, after some local trouble, finds himself sent to his parents home land, Nigeria, to learn about who he is and where he’s from. He finds himself staying with his Auntie but soon realises Nigeria isn’t for him. He then meets his cousin Pius who is a full time scam artist, including playing his own part in the infamous Nigerian email wealth scams that lend the film its name and in Pius, Eze sees his ticket home.

The film was not what I’d expected, based on the idea of the Nigerian Prince email scam I was expecting something a little light and humorous, but actually what we get is an often dark look at the criminality behind such scams, organised criminals, abuse from public office and people in all kinds of roles prepared to take money to turn a blind eye.

Not sure how this has gone down in Nigeria, as it doesn’t reflect well on their society or way of life, but as an outsider it gives a disturbing glance at an economy that is still built on just as much bribery as legitimate business.

The performances especially from the two male leads Bell and Uche are solid and even if the film feels a little ill disciplined, with numerous shifts in story focus it still made for and intriguing and enjoyable watch.

Honey Boy

Showing on Amazon Prime Video.

Directed by Alma Har’el, Honey Boy is written by and stars Shia LaBeouf and looks at the life of a young actor, Otis, and how his background and experiences have landed him in rehab for the fourth time.

LaBeouf wrote this while in rehab in 2017 and started filming it two weeks after he finished his treatment, so what we get is a very personal reflection on LaBeouf’s own life and struggles.

It’s a hard look at generational abuse and addiction told from two points of view, the majority is spent living the experiences of 12 year old Otis, played by Noah Jupe, living in a cheap motel with his father and then his 22 year old self, Lucas Hedges, in rehab, fighting the system, struggling to understand the value of the treatment and how it’s supposed to help him process his experiences.

This is not a fun watch, but that does not stop it been a worthwhile one. Anchored on 3 strong performances, especially LaBeouf and Jupe, it is a tough look at the challenges of childhood and parenting when the only experience is abusive and addictive behaviour.

What’s smart with Honey Boy, is its subtlety. The abuse and addiction is always subtle, on the surface it often looks like everyone is doing their best. His father aware of his demons is trying to support his son the best he can but as Otis looks back you realise how damaging his relationships have been and how hard it is to break the cycle.

This is a very personal story for LaBeouf but is a really well told one, with three excellent central performances that gain your sympathy and frustration, LaBeouf in particular, in equal measure.

A difficult and touching film but well worth checking out.

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