Posts Tagged ‘review’

Artwork by IBTrav
Tattoo by Gillian Turner Ink

“What’s your favourite movie of all time?” It’s a question which routinely has the respondent casting their mind back to classically “great” films; relegating their oft-watched, rarely-admitted choices to the “guilty pleasures” bin for a later, tacit confession. While there are any number of titles I love which fall under the umbrella of more conventional cinematic greatness, the simple truth is the same now as it was when I first saw it in 1997: Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion.

It’s the story of two inseparable best friends who, confronted with the prospect of returning to their hometown and facing their high school tormentors, craft an elaborate lie (wherein they invented Post-its) to finally gain the respect and envy of their peers. Typically, this doesn’t go to plan, but – like Dorothy before them – the ladies ultimately learn that they had what they needed all along in their humble, pre-Post-it life: happiness, and each other. The two are played to perfection by Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow; who seem to so enjoy playing these women that it’s impossible not to find their fondness and humour infectious (and both of whom deserve credit for crafting two entirely new characters in the “dumb blonde” mould that could easily have veered into their more recognisable performances in Mighty Aphrodite and Friends respectively). At its heart, Romy and Michele is a film which – like its characters – doesn’t take itself too seriously and offers no apology for being exactly what it is: a hilarious, often ridiculous paean to friendship, individuality and self-acceptance.

In my early teens, and positioned squarely parallel to the titular characters on the high school popularity ladder (to wit: somewhere around the bottom rung), the story of two outsiders who escape their small town and learn that life is best lived on your own terms resonated with me as a beacon of hope. As an adult, and having long-since entered triple digits in my viewings of the movie, it’s a 90-minute capsule of pure joy that’s guaranteed to lift my mood regardless of anything going on around it; but has also served as a two-decade reminder to reject the notion of guilty pleasures entirely – at least as far as pop culture and media is concerned. (If your vice of choice is burning down orphanages, we maybe need to talk.) The self-consciousness we feel in attributing “guilt” to these pleasures arises solely from a concern for what other people will think of us for admitting it: where perceived artistic merit is at odds with actual, honest enjoyment. When I first met John, I asked him his favourite movie and he answered “Supergirl” without hesitation or any desire to impress me. It’s no coincidence that this is also the man I plan to marry.

But, for a premise as shallow as its protagonists, Romy and Michele is – in its own, unapologetically ridiculous way – a great movie; arguably because of its very eschewal of any staid ideas of “greatness”. Indeed, the point at which these women’s erstwhile carefree lives veer off course is the moment they begin to feel the need to justify them to the very people who made them miserable to begin with. Their decision to show up as “sophisticated, educated, successful career women” is one rooted in a modality of success that’s completely at odds with anything they would actually wish for themselves. Even Michele’s nightmare scenario of working at a discount outlet (“How am I gonna impress anyone by selling Ban-Lon smocks at Bargain Mart?!”) is closer to their actual dreams of self-expression through fashion and allowing others to do the same. The role of businesswomen is exactly that: an outfit they try on which turns out to as ill-fitting as the underwear riding up Michele’s butt crack.

It’s a sentiment compounded when former class nerd Sandy Frink shows up to the reunion and, having invented “some kind of special rubber or something” (“Like, for condoms?”) is universally declared the ”most successful person in our entire graduation class.” “Well,” replies a delightfully dorky Alan Cumming, “I guess that depends on how you define ‘success’. If, to you, success means having a house in Aspen, one in Acapulco, penthouse in New York, mansion in Malibu, a 60-foot yacht, an 8-seat Windstar, a Bell Jet Ranger, a Bentley, a personal trainer, a full-time chef, a live in masseuse and a staff of 24 then, yeah…I guess I am successful.” Crucially, however, Sandy isn’t presented as an object of envy, and the only sycophant trying to ingratiate themselves upon the revelation of his newfound wealth is the girls’ chief aggressor, Christie Masters; fawning, “You looks so rich! …I mean great.” Sandy’s narrative is the typical model through which high school outcast revenge scenarios are enacted: rubbing your success in your bullies’ faces to show them the error of their past cruelties. But what the film makes clear is that this particular version of success is still rooted in an outer veneer of prosperity that hasn’t equated to lasting happiness. “No matter how much I accumulate, there’s still one thing I just don’t have. […] I don’t have you Michele.” Sandy is at his happiest when he’s finally allowed the one, simple thing denied to him at prom: a dance. The opportunity to embrace his inner (and outer) weirdness alongside Romy and Michele is the real triumph.

The moment where an adult Romy finds herself once again humiliated at the hands of Christie Masters is the one wherein she has the most important realisation of all. Christie, clinging to her marriage with Romy’s one-time crush as a trump card in her lifelong game of oneupmanship, is visibly nettled by Romy’s lack of reverence for her marital bliss (her husband’s philandering notwithstanding): “Three kids?” deadpans Romy, “God, you must feel really tied down.” When Romy is unwittingly caught out in her big lie about Post-its, therefore, Christie seizes the opportunity for a highly public exposure in front of all their gathered peers. Arguably the greater victim of Christie’s mistreatments in their youth (if for no other reason than Michele was too oblivious to notice), Romy is momentarily broken by this return to loserdom; that is until Michele – in a rare moment of wisdom on par with her dream self knowing the formula for glue – stresses what the audience has known along, “I never knew we weren’t that great in high school. I mean we always had so much fun together. I thought high school was a blast. And until you told me that our lives weren’t good enough? I thought everything since high school was a blast. I think we should go back out there as ourselves and just have fun like we always do. The hell with everyone else.” Presumably Shakespeare was responding to his own bitchy prom queen persecutor when he had Polonius announce “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

This wake-up call proves the catalyst for the girls to take charge and return to the reunion dressed as the one thing they’ve successfully been from the start: themselves. It’s also the lead up to what is, for my money, the most satisfying clap back in cinematic history, when Romy finally confronts her nemesis in front of the assembled masses and asks: “What the hell is your problem, Christie? Why are you always such a nasty bitch? You get some kind of sick pleasure from torturing other people? I mean, yeah, okay: so Michele and I did make up some lame story. We only did it because we wanted you to treat us like human beings. But you know what I finally realised? I don’t care if you like us. Because we don’t like you. You’re a bad person with an ugly heart, and we don’t give a flying fuck what you think.”

And that moment – tattooed forever on my person – is the film’s take-home message. Success can be defined in one of two ways: how we’re perceived by others, or how we choose to think of ourselves. It’s not to be found in the accumulated millions of a special rubber empire, or the fawning adoration of our peers – it’s living your best, most authentic self with the funnest person you know. It’s the same sentiment expressed by that other well-known fashionista Carrie Bradshaw, who told us to find someone to love the you you love. The real victory isn’t putting Christie in her place – it’s overcoming any remaining self doubts and returning to their home in LA where the girls can get back to doing what they do best: looking cute and having a blast with their best friend in the world. Let’s fold scarves!

Mark Liddell 2017 | Facebook | Flickr | Instagram | Website

Averaging about 6 movies a month (and 75 in total), it’s fair to say I got my money’s worth out of my Cineworld Unlimited card in 2016. What’s less clear is whether I was blown away by any of them in the way I was in 2015 with Still Alice: a solid 10/10 in a way that nothing last year really came close to. (Indeed, if I were going purely by films I saw at the cinema in 2016 vs those released that year, I’d probably appoint The Force Awakens my favourite on account of seeing it again for the third time in January.)

Categories that typically shine were uncharacteristically dull: Oscar-bait drama Room was marred by a clumsy soundtrack whose every chord was calculated to dictate what the viewer should be feeling at any given moment; The Danish Girl was commendably gorgeous to look at (and shares a cinematographer with Room in Danny Cohen), but while people were divided on the subject of casting a cisgender actor in the lead role, it unquestionably denies transgender people the ability to tell their own stories by adapting David Ebershoff’s highly fictionalised retelling of Lili Elbe’s life and not her own (readily available) notes and letters. With the exception of the hilarious Deadpool, even superhero movies in 2016 were pedestrian: Marvel’s other efforts were entirely forgettable, and it’s hard to say which major DC franchise audiences hated more. (For my money, Batman v Superman was infinitely worse, but that’s hardly a compliment. You’d think Suicide Squad screenings came with a mandatory waterboarding the way people reacted, but it would be a kindness to describe it as anything beyond “watchable”.)

Adjusting the judging criteria then to films I enjoyed purely for enjoyment’s sake, it fell to a different genre entirely to pick up the slack: which is why – in ranking the movies of 2016 – I’m awarding my top pick to:

Best: Moana

In a year of Brexits, Trumps and the statistical probability that one of your childhood heroes died in 2016 (RIP Carrie Fisher), it’s perhaps unsurprising that I found so much comfort in the escapism of animated movies. Admittedly, Moana might not be the most original entry in the Disney ouevre: a plucky outsider with an animal sidekick sings her way through a quest narrative, with echoes of (to name a few) The Little Mermaid’s cloistered princess longing for a wider world, Mulan’s (im)perfect daughter railing against familial expectations, and The Lion King’s reluctant ruler with a deceased relative spirit guide. If there’s a certain familiarity to the storyline, however, it’s executed so masterfully that you’ll soon find yourself swept along on the journey regardless. Moana eschews the archetypal lynchpins of a princess narrative (she’s perfectly capable of saving herself, and the love story is one of self-acceptance and empowerment), and while I could easily praise the beauty of the animation, its greatest strength is in the telling. It unfolds so delightfully that I laughed, smiled and, yes, cried my way through the entire thing (minus one overlong sequence involving a villainous crab) and have been singing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack on a daily basis ever since.

Runner-Up: Kubo and the Two Strings

For almost every reason I loved Moana, but with my personal kryptonite from a childhood of Ray Harryhausen movies: stop-motion animation! Bonus points for a kid’s movie that dares to go darker.

Honourable Mentions: tapping into that other outlet for escapism: mindless violence – Green Room (tense, claustrophobic, brutally droll, and unapologetically violent) and Don’t Breathe (which cost me the majority of my fingernails).

Worst: Midnight Special

Choosing the best movie might have required some thought, but the same definitely can’t be said for the worst, which goes – unequivocally – to this dreary, shambling, plotless pile of crap. With each passing minute, I became further infuriated with the complete lack of storyline masquerading as the film’s central “mystery”, and the only improvement that could have been made is if I’d gone with my gut instinct and walked out after the first half hour. Just the absolute worst.

Runner-Up: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Here partially facetiously (but also kind of not), perhaps Rogue One wasn’t the second-worst movie I saw last year, but it was definitely the biggest disappointment. Despite having two elements almost guaranteed to win me over (to wit: a female lead, and having Star Wars in the title) one could argue that Rogue One was a victim of its own self-generated hype – trying and failing to live up to the success of the blindingly impressive Episode VII – but truth be told: it’s just not very good. From the opening sequence onwards, the movie jumps with no real focus from one forgettably-named planet to another like some faceless masturbator on Chatroulette, and never really finds its footing from there. Every actor feels like they’re starring in a different movie, with special mention to Forest Whitaker who leaves no piece of scenery unchewed, and the rest of the cast so bland and forgettable that I quite literally struggled to recall anyone’s name besides Jyn’s the minute the credits rolled. Chirrut Imwe (whose name I had to google to write this) is a blind martial artist who not only feels utterly out of place in a galaxy far, far away but is a character trope so clichéd as to have his own category on; and not since Jinkx Monsoon’s “Water off a duck’s back” have I been so irritated by a repetitive and monotonous catchphrase as “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me”. He’s also a victim of the script’s second worst offense, when – after having a bag placed over his head – he responds: “Are you kidding me?” [OK, that’s pretty funny] “I’m blind.” [Sigh. The writers didn’t place enough faith in the audience to assume they’d get the joke without someone spelling it out for them.] though that doesn’t even begin to compare to Darth Vader’s actual. fucking. pun. of “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director” whilst Force-choking said character. (Not for nothing: the director of Rogue One would do well to have heeded his own advice during production.)

Problems like these contribute to a movie which ultimately just doesn’t feel like it belongs in the same universe as the established movies (discounting the prequels), and the frequent parade of cameos (everyone from series mainstays R2-D2 and C-3PO, to Cantina extras Ponda Baba and Doctor Evazan) feel crammed in and tacked on to remind the viewer: “no, really – you’re watching a Star Wars film regardless of what you might be feeling.” Maybe the alarm bells should have been ringing the minute George Lucas – notably outspoken about The Force Awakens – voiced his approval of the finished product.

Even if I could have forgiven the film it’s many other faults, however, its greatest crime is reserved for the indignity it inflicts on the late Peter Cushing and (now, tragically) Carrie Fisher: with some of the most horrendously ill-conceived, suspension-of-disbelief-shattering CGI since that digital baby in the last Twilight movie. Plumbing the depths of the uncanny valley, Grand Moff Tarkin and (young) Princess Leia are resurrected so unconvincingly as to jar you out of every scene they appear in, jerking mechanically through the sets like they’ve just crawled out of the movie’s inevitable video game tie-in. With the film happy to recast Mon Mothma and – soon – Han Solo for his own tie-in movie, it’s an inexplicable choice not to have another actor play the part: not least because Cushing-alike Guy Henry not only voices Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One but provided all of the motion capture for the monstrosity which eventually appeared on screen. Equally, Princess Leia – for the one line she utters – could just as easily been shown from behind: the white robe and distinctive hair buns alone providing even the least Star Wars-knowledgeable audience members enough clues to gather who was speaking. Beyond just this movie, the ramifications for what it means for Episode VIII onward in Fisher’s absence is a chilling thought.

Dishonourable Mention: Storks, which I walked out of but will forgive on account of being marketed to 10-and-unders.

Here’s looking ahead with more hope for 2017!

The week in which I tackled the entire Metal Gear Solid series: only horrifying when you remember that each game is somewhere in the region of 20 hours long. (more…)

Wherein I continue to fancy myself a qualified game critic.

Most of the games I play these days are direct sequels in series I’m already invested in, though developers do, on occasion, find success in completely original works. To counterbalance yesterday’s lot, all of today’s games fall into that latter category. (more…)

Spring has sprung! And brought with it abject ridiculousness. On Saturday, I got to the root (no pun intended) of my recent toothache: as it turned out, the head on my sonic toothbrush had come loose and the vibrations were tearing my gums apart. Good to know. That same day, in preparation for the evening’s pizza/wine/shitty-movies festivities, John and I went in search of social lubrication. Alas, my elation at being outdoors in a t-shirt for the first time this year was quickly superseded by apoplectic rage at being refused to have alcohol sold to me by some chinless hag in Sainsbury’s. (One of the few occasions where I’ll voluntarily proclaim that I’m twenty fucking seven.) Granted though, this was nowhere near as galling as the story our friend, Nicola, told us that night; about the time she was ID’d for not looking 25, showed her driver’s license which proved she was 24 and had the fucktarded wench at the checkout turn to her and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t sell this to you.” Nicola literally had to call a supervisor over to explain to this utter ‘tard that the policy was about looking 25, not being; and – adding insult to injury – the legal drinking age in the UK is actually 18, which makes the store’s policy almost as ridiculous as their employees’ attempts to enforce it. I went to bed that evening with the worst pizza pregnancy, and awoke to find that the “one” glass of rosé I’d had seemed to have manifested itself as several empty bottles the following morning. Reverse Jesus!

Just this morning, our new coffee table arrived: a vintage steamer trunk from the 1920s. This naturally necessitated the purchase of some coasters, though quite how how I ended up buying everything else on my Amazon wish list is something of a mystery. Before buyer’s regret had a chance to set in, however, I received a phone call from my bank telling me that my shopping spree had been flagged as “suspicious activity” and – as a result – that they’d frozen my account. I’m still not entirely sure if I should feel irritated or grateful. And, because these things always come in threes, my suspicion that the ‘i’ key on my laptop was broken has – in the process of typing this very entry – been definitively answered. Hurrah.

Anyway, it’s become painfully apparent that a fair amount of my time since being back has been consumed by my re-introduction to the world of console gaming. Indeed, the PlayStation Network introduced with the PS3 has even developed a badge of sorts to let you know just how much life I’ve wasted on these endeavours:

To put it in perspective, those trophies are only attainable by completing various “achievements” within the game. These range from the obvious and attainable (bronze: complete the game on easy, silver: complete the game on medium…), to the rewarding and challenging (shoot a zombie in the head while it’s jumping in Resident Evil 5, find all six hidden relics in Tomb Raider: Underworld), to the utterly obscure and fucking ridiculous, impossible to even discover let alone complete without the assistance of an online guide (the most egregious one that comes to mind being Final Fantasy XIII’s request that you put in roughly the same amount of time it took you to finish the game in order to “collect every weapon and accessory” even after the developer’s stop rewarding you with a sftoryline thereby removing any incentive to find them because you’ve finished the fucking game).

The highest accolade is the platinum trophy (of which each game has but one), attainable only by exhaustively completing every inane and painful task their creators set you in order to achieve a 100% completion rate. And, as you can see from the picture above, I already have four of them…including the life-consuming platinum trophy for FFXIII. The only consolation? My crippling OCD dictates that I would have done all those things anyway, so at least now I have a badge to impress other geeks across the globe. (And – in the case of online gaming – you can gauge other people’s trophies to save yourself teaming up with someone shit, and/or purposefully place yourself on the opposing team.)

In either event, I sometimes write LiveJournal entries for the amusement of no one but myself, and – as I’m about to express my views on the highs and lows of the games I’ve been playing of late for the purposes of my own recollection – I’ll forgive you for reading/ignoring the rest of this post as the fancy takes you. (more…)