Bob Odenkirk

Incredibles 2

17/07/18

With a fourteen year gap between the first film and this sequel, writer/director Brad Bird can hardly be accused of rushing things into production – and the original was so perfect, it almost makes me wish he’d chosen to leave it as a standalone. But whether we want it or not, here’s a follow-up and it’s very every bit as assured as you’d expect from Pixar.

2 takes us straight to the heart of the action as Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), and Huck (Dashiell Power) take on the villainous Underminer, who is wreaking havoc in the city centre with the aid of a huge drilling rig. The Parrs are somewhat hampered by the fact that, whilst doing their super heroic duties,  they also have to mind the newest member of the family, baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), but at least they have the help of Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), still the coolest super-dude on the block.

It quickly becomes apparent that not much has changed in the city of Metroville. Superheroes are still outlawed and the Parr family have been reduced to living in a shabby motel, whilst tackling villains in their spare time and generally being vilified by the press for having the temerity to do so.

But things start to look up for the Parrs when they are approached by wealthy communications mogul, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who, with the help of his tech-whiz sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), is planning to make superheroes respectable again and, what’s more,  they have the kind of funds needed to back up such an operation. After some consideration, Winston decides to start the ball rolling by focusing his efforts exclusively on Elastigirl.

This means she now has to go out and fight crime on a nightly basis, while her husband stays home to mind the kids. This would be fine, of course, but unfortunately Jack-Jack is now displaying signs that he too has special powers and, while the others members of the family are content with just one apiece, he has been blessed with many different abilities. Furthermore, if he doesn’t get a cookie exactly when he wants one, he’s apt to turn into a raging monster. (Bird is making a point here, I think…) Elastigirl soon finds herself taking on the mysterious Screenslaver, a villain who specialises in hypnotising victims by making them look at a screen… hmm. That sounds depressingly familiar.

Incredibles 2 does exactly what its progenitor did so well. There are action set pieces aplenty (perhaps one too many, which gives proceedings a slightly saggy middle, but that’s a minor niggle), the 60s style artwork is er… incredible and, best of all, there are the characterisations, the animated faces somehow allowing you to share each person’s inner life. I’ve rarely seen it done as convincingly or as effortlessly as it is here. If the Screenslaver’s secret identity is easily guessable from early on, well, we should remember that these films are aimed primarily at children, even if Pixar do excel at creating material that’s also suitable for big kids like me. All in all, this is a resounding success, so what’s not to like?

And… what do we think? Incredibles 3 in 2032?

Sounds like a plan. I hope to see you there.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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The Post

21/01/18

In the era of fake news, here’s an interesting concept – a film about real news. More specifically, a film about a newspaper’s quest to tell the truth that doesn’t come across as some kind of hollow joke. There was a time, it seems, when newspapers were prepared to risk everything to fight for the right to free speech, and that time was 1971.

Stephen Spielberg’s The Post may be set in the past but its story couldn’t be more prescient. We’ve recently had the Paradise Papers, but back then it was The Pentagon Papers, a series of purloined documents that proved that President Nixon’s administration – and indeed, many others before it – had lied to the American public about the Vietnam war, insisting that it was a winnable cause even when they all knew full well it wasn’t. This secret sent untold numbers of young soldiers to their deaths.

When reporter Daniel Elisberg (Matthew Rhys) learns of this, he decides to turn whistleblower, stealing a bundle of secret government files and handing them over to the New York Times. They have every intention of publishing the story, but Tricky Dicky gets wind of their plans and serves them with an injunction, forbidding them to go to print. The files subsequently find their way onto the desk of a reporter for the Washington Post. Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is eager to get the scoop, but first he must convince the Post’s owner, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) to give him the green light. Graham is struggling to assert her authority at The Post just as it prepares itself to float on the stock market. Having inherited her position from her late husband, Kay finds herself continually marginalised, lectured and talked down to by her male employees – and, she’s all too aware that publishing the banned documents could land her and Bradlee in jail and finish off the newspaper once and for all…

The Post is a compelling piece of docudrama, helmed by a director at the peak of his powers – it’s sobering to note that Spielberg made this film largely because he had a few weeks to kill whilst waiting for the special effect shots in his upcoming Ready Player One to be processed. Given the quick turnaround, it’s astonishing that the film is as assured as it is. Furthermore, Spielberg has managed to pull in two of Hollywood’s major power players for his lead roles. Amazingly, Streep and Hanks have never made a film together until now.

What’s most fascinating here is to note how the publishing process has changed over the decades. Spielberg’s cameras linger almost voyeuristically over the process as the ‘hot metal’ printing presses are tortuously put together – and I love the scene where reporter Bob Bagdikien (Bob Odenkirk) attempts to make a covert call from a street pay phone, his nickels and dimes raining onto the pavement as he talks. Hanks is great as the news-hungry Bradlee and Streep gives an object lesson in understatement as Graham. The scene where she finally tells the men in suits what they can do is priceless. Make no mistake, this is also a feminist film in the truest sense of the word.

Having said all this, I don’t see The Post bothering Oscar too much this year – there are simply more exciting offerings to choose from. But – in its quiet, unassuming way – this is an important release that has plenty to say about the way government’s operate and how important it is to preserve the right to bring their actions to the public’s attention. Sadly, these are qualities that we are in danger of losing altogether. The events in this film eventually led to the impeachment of a President. What would it take, I wonder, to achieve a similar outcome now?

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Disaster Artist

08/12/17

Let me begin with a question: is it ever possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? In this analogy, the sow’s ear is Tommy Wiseau’s movie, The Room (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/12/04/the-room/), a film of such toe-curling ineptitude that it actually hurts to watch it – and a film, moreover, that – since its initial release in 2003 – has somehow recruited a sizable coterie of avid fans, who gather at regular midnight screenings around the world to celebrate its general naffness. The potential silk purse is The Disaster Artist, the film about the making of The Room, in which James Franco plays Wiseau and, in a hubristic gesture that Wiseau would undoubtedly approve of, also directs.

Franco’s film opens in San Francisco in the 90s, where we meet young wannabe actor, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who is struggling to make some kind of impact on the local theatre scene. At a workshop, he encounters Wiseau, a mysterious long-haired individual who, when invited to improvise in front of the other students, unleashes a ‘performance’ of such unabashed fury, that the more inhibited Sestero immediately wants to know more about him. The two men become buddies and, when Wiseau casually suggests that they should go to Los Angeles and ‘get into the movies,’ Sestero happily goes along – Wiseau already has an apartment there and he’s perfectly happy to share it. It soon becomes apparent, however, that there are a lot of unanswered questions concerning Mr Wiseau. Where does his seemingly bottomless pit of money come from? Why does a man who claims to be a native of New Orleans have what sounds like a middle European accent? And why is he so willing to go to any lengths to impress Sestero? Will there be a price to pay?

When, after months of fruitless auditions have resulted in exactly zero film or TV roles, Wiseau announces that there is only one option left: he will write a movie script for the two of them to star in – and then he will direct it. Which is pretty much what happens. Wiseau’s complete ignorance of the film-making process means that he ends up spending over six million dollars on his little vanity project and, since he seems reluctant to heed any advice from professionals, the result of all his labours is an incoherent mess but, undeterred, he sets about arranging a premiere…

It would be very easy to make a cruel comedy out of this but, though the film is often laugh-out-loud funny, Franco’s evident affection for Wiseau shines through in every frame. As the director has said in interviews, it takes as much commitment and ingenuity to make a bad film as it does to make a good one and it will be a hard-hearted individual indeed who won’t feel for Wiseau when his beloved project is greeted by hoots of derision from all who see it. Franco’s impersonation of Wiseau is uncannily accurate, as are most of the other performances here. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot some big names in cameo roles: Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Seth Rogan, Josh Hutcherson, J.J. Abrams. Oh yes, and there’s Bryan Cranston actually playing himself. Most telling of all is the extended sequence at the end of the film, where scenes from The Room are played alongside their equivalent from The Disaster Artist. They are virtually identical.

So, the million dollar question. Do you need to have seen the original movie in order to enjoy this homage? Well, it may not be an essential requirement, but it certainly helps me to fully appreciate the care and attention that has gone into this project. Mind you, with the new interest in The Room that the film seems certain to generate, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a general re-release is waiting in the wings, which I’ve no doubt will be a bonus for Mr Wiseau.

So, returning to my original question, in this case yes. The sow’s ear has become a silk purse – and this is definitely one of the most intriguing films of the year.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney