Our explosive opinions explode on to our latest explosive episode as we explode Coco, Darkest Hour, Early Man, The Cloverfield Paradox, The Post, and Braven, in what promises to be our most explosive explodisode yet!
Jason Momoa is a lumberjack, and he’s OK. Momoa stars as the improbably-named Joe Braven, the owner of a logging company in Newfoundland, Canada. He’s just a regular guy: decent boss, loving father and husband, that sort of thing. His life seems generally happy; his only real difficulty is his father, Linden (Stephen Lang), who is suffering from dementia, and whose condition is worsening. Linden gets involved in a bar fight after he goes wandering and mistakes a young woman for his now deceased wife. Linden is rescued by Joe (this scene establishing that Joe knows how to handle himself in a fight) and, while Linden is being treated in hospital, the town sheriff tells Joe that if this happens again he will have to arrest the man who he knows has dementia (this scene establishing that all movie police officers are required to be wilfully unreasonable and unhelpful).
After discussing his father’s continuing care needs with his wife, Joe decides to take Linden to their cabin in the forest to close it up for the winter. Linden is typically happy at the cabin so it is a good place for Joe to try and catch him in a lucid moment and have a frank discussion about his condition.
Shortly after arriving, though, they discover that the cabin has been used to stash a large amount of drugs, the kind of amount sufficiently large that the owners of the drugs will have no qualms about killing any witnesses to. Just as Joe and Linden are about to cut short their trip and leave, the owner of the drugs, Kassen (Garret Dillahunt), arrives with his heavily-armed gang, and Joe is going to have to fight his way out. There’s an added wrinkle in that Joe discovers that his daughter has stowed away in his truck.
First time director Lin Oeding (whose career until now has been primarily as a stunt co-ordinator), working from a script by two first-time writers, has created a solid, confident and unhurried film that belies the inexperience of the trio. Braven‘s first half is a fairly slow burn, but it does a solid job of setting Joe up as a likeable character, one we can care about, as well as demonstrating that he is capable and resourceful. Simple things, like setting up early on that the family use the cabin for hunting, or that Joe’s wife is an archery instructor, and certainly aided by Momoa’s physical size, mean that when our protagonists are called on to become action heroes it’s not a difficult jump to believe it, rather than wondering how an ordinary Joe (sorry) can be this bad-ass, or have to explain to the audience how this regular dad was, in fact, some legendary SAS Green Beret Spetsnaz Delta Force Commando mofo.
The second half, having established all of this, is a considerably crunchier and more brutal affair and, while there’s not quite as much action as you might expect, what there is is handled with efficiency and a refreshing lack of flashiness or being overly-stylised. All of the main players acquit themselves pretty well, though, naturally, it’s Momoa who is the standout, though the big surprise to me, given his physique, and his previous roles, is that here he is more towards the action of a Liam Neeson in The Grey rather than an Arnie (both Arnie and Momoa played Conan, if you recall).
Braven was sold to me as a throwback to late 80s/early 90s style action films, which I was very much onboard with the idea of. And it is that, more or less, even if it’s more of the middling sort. That’s what Braven is, I guess: a mid-grade action film. Competent, serviceable Saturday afternoon fare, never going to rub shoulders with the action movie greats (or, to be honest, going to be remembered a month after you watch it), but a perfectly acceptable way to spend an hour and a half of your time. Could’ve done without the racism, though, the presence of which particularly stood out as I only noticed one instance of it. Weird.
Leaked by one of the authors, Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers detailed the extent to which the U.S.A. had been monkeying with the situation in Vietnam well before entering conflict openly, its reasons for doing so, and perhaps more shockingly, the government’s honest assessments of how well, or rather badly, the war was going. The New York Times started to publish stories culled from these in June 1971, soon drawing legal bother from Nixon’s administration.
Meanwhile in Washington, editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, played here by Tom Hanks, is trying to move his paper’s reputation from a regional concern to a major player on the level of the Times, and is disappointed to have missed out on this. He encourages his staff, in particular assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) to find out where this came from. He eventually does, meaning a headache for publisher Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep.
Still unsure of her position as publisher after the death of her husband, she’s trying to balance the mission of the paper to uncover stories just like this and to protect the institution from the financial harm that seems to be a real possibility, coming just days after a launch on the stock exchange which could prompt skittish investors to back out of the business-saving deal. Her family, advisors and the Post’s legal team are firmly against publishing the story, Ben Bradlee and the editorial team insist that it go out. Graham must make the call, and deal with any repercussions.
It should come as no surprise by this point that Steven Spielberg knows how to put a film together, and while I’d not count myself amongst either’s most ardent fans, Hanks and Streep give good performances amongst an excellent supporting cast. The period detail seems on point, and it looks and sounds every bit as slickly professional as you’d expect from a crew like this.
On paper, The Post is a very good film, but it left me pretty cold. Not entirely so – it’s well on the right side of average – but I couldn’t find much to hold my interest. There seem to be long stretches that reduce to someone saying they should publish, then someone saying they shouldn’t, then another person saying they should, and then I nodded off for a bit. Quite literally. It’s been a long week, and the middle stretch of this, where the decisions are being formed and that’s really the heart of the character development for Graham in particular, are really rather dull.
There’s a little more interest for me in the first and final acts, when we’re still trying to uncover what the mystery story the Times is sitting on was, and then the actions taken by Nixon’s administration in response. But that middle stretch? The questions at the heart of the film and the supposed relevance to today’s blighted media hellscape, and the buffoon currently running the USA? Super-boring, entirely under-examined and not even remotely entertaining.
So, where does that leave The Post? For all that, it’s a well made film, and I can’t imagine anyone watching this and feeling like they’ve wasted their time with it. But I can’t imagine that we’ll be thinking much about it in ten years, in five years, or next year. It’s a fine film, but it’s a minor work for all involved.
Get to it eventually, but not worth making extraordinary efforts to see.
Remember the halcyon days of February 2008? A precious time where the full ramifications of the global financial meltdown were still to be realised, where Lost hadn’t become 100% crap yet, and JJ Abrams had, just a few months previously, given his pretentious “Mystery Box” TED talk in order to buy himself some time ahead of Lost definitely becoming 100% crap.
Perhaps most importantly February 2008 gave us the much-anticipated first reveal of that mystery box; Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield – a film whose marketing preamble serves as a masterclass in word-of-mouth awareness to this day, and which actually managed to be pretty good in spite of itself. Indeed so successful was Cloverfield in resurrecting the monster movie genre that a mere 8 breathless years later producer Abrams rushed out 10 Cloverfield Lane; a schlocky, bunker-set survivalist script re-appropriated and re-tooled to service the needs of the Cloverfield Cinematic Universe. Again, against the odds, Lane proved to be a pretty decent movie for the most part, and Abrams’ notion of the CCU as a framework for interesting, low-budget genre experiments seemed like it might not be so bad of an idea.
A much more scant two years hence, we find ourselves privy now to The Cloverfield Paradox; another re-tooled script cherry picked by Abrams to flesh out the Cloverfield vibe and, we were promised, answer some of the obvious questions left open across the previous decade.
[INSERT ALARM BELLS HERE] What about the mystery box? What about those answers being of less importance than the questions themselves?
Paradox takes place aboard an Earth-orbiting particle accelerator manned by an international crew of astronauts and technicians, all as part of a desperate last-ditch attempt to solve the planet’s looming energy crisis. As the world below slowly tears itself apart in snatches of newsreel dedicated to “oil wars” and other such suitably nebulous goings on, the crew of Cloverfield Station spend a couple of years trying to get their big energy gun to shoot straight, much to the protest of the naysayers who presumably learned nothing from CERN and who seem worried that the accelerator will rip a multi-dimensional hole in space-time.
And it does! Because of course it does! That is, after all, how physics works, especially all of the physics with the word “quantum” prefixed to it. After finally initiating a successful test firing the crew of Cloverfield Station are somewhat perturbed to find that the unusually loud banging sounds accompanying the light show are not just the central heating finally kicking in, but in fact the audible output of Quantum Shenanigans. Said shenanigans see the station make an inter-dimensional hop across space-time to a region of space they are not familiar with and which, when they finally do re-establish communication with Earth, is revealed to be part of an alternate reality. Cripes!
The solution is simple – as Daniel Brühl‘s character Schmidt points out, “from what we know of quantum physics, if we fire the accelerator again everything will be reversed.” I’m… I’m not paraphrasing there. So, we probably shouldn’t worry too much…
…except that this incredibly ill-defined version of Quantum Shenanigans allows for some very silly stuff to happen that will prove quite the encumbrance in our team’s mission to make it home; stuff like Chris O’Dowd’s arm being BITTEN OFF AT THE SHOULDER BY A WALL. Were that not enough, said arm makes an autonomous return whereby it is kept in a perspex box for the rest of the movie. Chris is not bothered by this at all, by the way. Ahhhhh, those Irish lads!
Yes, the old “Haunted House In Space” trope is the order of the day from here on in, albeit enabled by that handy strain of physics-as-magic that essentially means all bets are off, and nothing need be considered too stupid from a plotting standpoint. The annoying thing is that director Julius Onah shows enough understanding of his craft to raise the suspicion that there might actually have been a good movie in here before Abrams interfered. We’ll probably never know now how the originally-envisaged movie might have panned out, but the overwhelming, undeniable impression here is of a dissonance betwixt producer, director and script that sees the whole thing tie itself in knots trying to serve what is surely the slightest of purposes; explaining away a big, daft monster.
Arguably the most egregious offence is the waste of a really, really great international cast. Brühl and O’Dowd are joined on their ridiculous mission by the likes of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, John Ortiz, Aksel Hennie and Zhang Zi-fucking-yi, all of whom have posted performances prior to this that put them beyond reproach, and all of whom ought to be asking themselves if they ever want to sign one of JJ Abrams’ “Mystery Contracts” again.
The world’s most popular sport and its “origins” are brought to the big screen in plasticine form by the considerable talents of Aardman Animations luminary Nick Park in Early Man, Park’s first feature length work since 2005’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. (I’m more than a little disconcerted by the fact that it is already 13 years since that film was released, and if anyone wants me after this podcast has been recorded, I’ll just be over here in a ball, alternately crying and trying to work out who turned on the Frontier: Elite II-like time accelerator on my life.)
Man once lived alongside the dinosaurs, until a bloody great rock from space killed off all of the oversized lizards, leaving only humans, mammoths and other, more manageably-sized, animals of the kind we are largely used to today. And the odd enormous, fanged mega-duck, naturally. The death of the dinosaurs wasn’t the only gift bestowed upon the humans by space rocks, though, as unto man was bestowed the beautiful game, events we see in an entertaining and inventive opening montage, as a glowing, football-sized meteorite is kicked around, at first because it’s bleeding hot, but then with increasing purposefulness as the game begins to find a recognisable structure, including the use of piles of prehistoric jumpers as goalposts.
The timid, unambitious, descendants of these footballing pioneers now live in a small and isolated valley, where they gather in parties to hunt their fearsome prey, the bunny rabbit. They have lost touch both with their ancestors and the modern world, but their Stone Age existence is soon brought into contact with the modern Bronze Age when the Tom Hiddleston-voiced villain, Lord Nooth, invades their valley in order to mine the copper to be found there. The hunter-gatherers, led by Eddie Redmayne’s Dug, are turfed out of their valley home and into the surrounding badlands.
After a failed attempt to attack these foes, Dug finds himself in a Bronze Age city where he is mistaken for a player from the local football team, and reigning champions, Real Bronzeo. He is eventually discovered, and arranges a wager with Lord Nooth to play a football match against the champs, with the Stone Age players getting their valley back if they win, or agreeing to spend their life working in the copper mine if they lose. Cue your typical sporting underdog story, perfunctory training montage and final contest.
It’s all so humdrum. While _Early Man _ has some of the charm that made Wallace and Gromit such enduring favourites, it has little of the humour or entertainment, and I found myself thoroughly disappointed. Many of its best parts are recycled: seeing a character use a beetle as a prehistoric beard trimmer is mildly amusing, but it’s _The Flintstones _. Action replay by puppet show is novel, but the accompanying analysis by an Alan Hansen-like commentator was done before, and done considerably better, in _Robbie the Reindeer in Hooves of Fire _ twenty years ago.
Lord Nooth, looking a little like a bald version of _Were-Rabbit _’s Victor Quartermaine, is a pretty bland villain, and I wonder why they bothered to cast Tom Hiddleston as the voice when all he has been asked to do is sound like one of the French knights from _Monty Python and the Holy Grail _. If the character had to be French, then wouldn’t this football film, of all films, be the one where you should cast Eric Cantona?
There is a lot of reliance on (some pretty naff) wordplay, and even then writers Mark Burton and James Higginson seem to have run out of ideas pretty quickly. The grand ruler is called Queen Oofeefa, and that weak pun, plus a Manchester United reference that should have been worked harder, is pretty much all they have. Naming your team for the world’s biggest football club seems like a good idea, but simply swapping out the Madrid in Real Madrid for Bronzeo seems particularly insipid and uninspired, especially for a studio typically so proficient at punning. As usual, putting three or four of the best jokes into the trailer (including, by far, the film’s best joke) certainly hasn’t helped matters. There are flashes of something in here – “Sliced bread?!” Wow! That’s like the best thing since… ever!” – but sadly it never really gets going, and even at only 89 minutes it outstays its welcome.
One last thing: Park and his team are skilled animators, but I wonder if I am alone in tiring a little of Aardman’s trademark style: all goggly eyes, wide mouths and square teeth. I’d like to see them try something a little different for their next outing as I’m quite bored of this look.
Oh, and another last thing. Making that last last thing a penultimate thing, I suppose. Whose dunderheaded idea was it to release _Early Man _ in January, IN A WORLD CUP YEAR?! Football films are few and far between as it is, and in 6 months Studio Canal could’ve ridden FIFA’s coat tails and let the tournament hype do much of their marketing for them. Baffling.
1940 was, all things considered, a garbage year. Nazis! Nazis everywhere. Well, mainly mainland Europe, spreading quickly across France. With Allied forces on the run, Neville Chamberlain finds himself facing, and losing, a vote of no confidence. The only acceptable candidate for a grand coalition government is Winston Churchill, who is duly sworn in by a sceptical King George VI, with Churchill himself only tolerated rather than supported by his party, the Tories. For listeners outside of the U.K., that’s the evil party, although, well, they’re not so bad when compared to the Nazis. Nazis are just the worst.
This film only concerns itself with a few weeks of World War Two, but they’re pivotal. With Allied forces being overwhelmed and driven back to Dunkirk with seemingly little hope of rescue, there’s the general feeling amongst the war cabinet that the situation is hopeless, and that the course of action that will minimise the loss of life and allow some semblance of normality on the homeland would be to sue for peace.
Churchill will hear of no such thing and presses for options to continue the fight, including the now famous evacuation of Dunkirk. This intransigence pushes Chamberlain to start agitating behind the scenes for another vote to depose Churchill, giving Churchill another front to fight on. However, after sampling public opinion, Churchill pushes through with his instincts and rallies parliament and the public to fight the Nazi threat to the end.
Now, all of that makes for a relatively interesting work of fiction looking at the levers of wartime politics, and a capsule take on why Churchill is held in such regard to this day. Unfortunately the critical part of that last sentence was “work of fiction”, as in terms of accuracy, or at least verifiable accuracy, I wouldn’t trust this film much past it saying “World War Two happened”.
Most of the critical moments that inform the film’s look at Churchill, and indeed his political rivals, are inventions, in particular the brain-meltingly idiotic “Churchill runs off and takes the Underground to chat to the people” sequence that could not be sappier and hokier if it tried.
Most of the discussion about Darkest Hour revolves around Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill impression, which may be why I was expecting something much more powerful than was delivered. It’s a decent impression, to be sure, but that does rather get in the way of connecting with Churchill as a character supposedly being tested to the point of abandoning his beliefs.
Still, Churchill is a fascinating enough character to shoulder the burden of the film, and its certainly an enjoyable enough watch. When, as here in Darkest Hour, you only pull the laudable, admirable bits of Churchill’s character, it’s obvious why he’s still frequently ranked as the best Brit what ever lived and that.
It makes very little effort to show the other side of Churchill’s character and deeds, bar a small reference to the failure at Gallipoli, which does at times have this edge uncomfortably close to hagiography and propaganda. Not for this film to mention, for instance, his quite horrendous racism, or role in starving three million Indians, or his other steadfast defences of Imperial atrocities.
I suppose that’s just not in this film’s remit, but there’s something about the combination of inaccuracy in this look at the events and incompleteness of the examination of Churchill’s character that makes it seem almost like a waste of effort on everyone’s behalf.
Shorn of that concern, which, to be honest, may be the sort of concern that only develops when you have to write a review about it, Darkest Hour is certainly a well put together film, with a talented cast in front of and behind the cameras, and kept me entertained for the two hours or so it lasts. It’s just not a great source if you want to be informed at the same time. Citation needed.
Is the latest from Disney-Pixar, and as such you’ve probably either seen it already or are at least very much aware of its existence. Set in present day Mexico it is the story of Miguel, a young boy who aspires to be the world’s most famous musician but is somewhat hampered by his family’s generational ban on absolutely anything related to music. The reason for this ban is the apparent abandonment of family by Miguel’s great great grandfather who, as his grandmother explains it, left home in pursuit of fame, essentially orphaning his infant daughter. That young girl is now Miguel’s great grandmother Coco, and while she is still with us her advanced age has rendered her an almost entirely passive presence in family life.
Miguel decides that if he is ever to realise his dream of stardom in the mould of his great hero Ernesto de la Cruz, he must break free of his family and earn the approval of his great great grandfather, a plan that necessitates journeying into the Land of the Dead where our young hero meets Héctor, a charming troublemaker who becomes Miguel’s guide in the afterlife.
Even an ignoramus such as myself who knows little of Mexican culture has a pretty good chance of being familiar with that nation’s obsession with family and the remembrance thereof, a tradition that culminates annually in the famous Day of the Dead celebrations. It is a rich cultural vein that offers a good deal of potential for adventure, however, as with most such cultural appropriations for the benefit of primarily English speaking audiences, there is an equal potential for national affront and ill-informed offence. It is with some degree of (albeit unqualified) relief then that I report Coco appears to be a thoughtful, broadly respectful foray into the character of a national identity that is, I wager, far more profound in its message than anything else we’ll be talking about tonight.
Initially I was slow to warm to Coco; for sure there were laugh out loud moments in the first ten minutes that are funnier than anything I saw throughout the whole of 2017, the characters are immediately endearing, the animation and production design are sublime, and the score wonderfully evocative, if a little predictable. For some reason, however, I spent the first 30 minutes or so unsure as to whether I was actually going to be able to engage with the movie on an emotional level, perhaps as a reflex reaction to the technical perfection. At one point I found myself impressed by a particular camera move, lost myself in the complexities of how such a virtual flight path might be made to look so natural, and thereafter spent more time focusing on this than on the actual plethora of entertainment riches laid out before me.
Ultimately however I was essentially broadsided into emotional complicity somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour in, rendered helpless to do anything other than sob embarrassingly into my wife’s sweater for pretty much the last third of the movie. The catalyst for this, an emotional plot twist that, while not difficult to spot coming, surprised in its depth like some sneaky heart tsunami suddenly reaching land as a mile high wall of remorse, was so overwhelming that it essentially sucked my eyeballs into the screen and refused to give them back until I damn well bore witness to everything else this film had to say about love, family, parenthood and remembrance. I can’t recall another occasion where a movie pulled this kind of a rope-a-dope on me, and it certainly caught me off guard; the last Pixar movie I think I saw was Inside Out, and in that instance I went in expecting exactly this kind of reaction yet left feeling utterly numb to it all.
Technically Coco is a marvel, testimony to what can be achieved creatively through tools we were told were here to massacre traditional animation techniques and leave us forever cold, and remarkably all rendered in real time on a single 1080Ti while the rest of the world’s GPUs are out mining Bitcoin. Everyone involved really ought to have a medal, but the most impressive achievement of all is how convincingly Coco renders a beating, human heart.
Really a quite remarkable movie.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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