Monthly Archives: December 2015

2015 in Words & Stuff

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It’s that time again where I list my top 10 films from this year!!

“How prestigious! But what sort of award is given!?” I hear you say. Well… nothing. Nothing apart from the quiet congratulations from a non-professional writer criticising things from behind a monitor like all good internet users.

So how has 2015 been? Well, apart from comedy films, which have mostly been as funny as spilling red wine on your beige carpet and then trying to soak it up with coffee granules, there have been a lot of good films this year and it looks like next year will be a bumper year as well… at least if you enjoy being a childish nerd who wants to be a superhero like myself.

As always there are rules that must be strictly adhered to in order to have fun.

Rule 1 – This is based on the films I’ve personally seen in 2015

Rule 2 – A number of films have been excluded because I was getting either sunburnt or bitten by mosquitoes somewhere in south-east Asia for 3 months

Rule 3 – This might not be an accurate representation of the score I gave the films during my review because hindsight and reflection are wonderful things

Rule 4 – My original review can be found by clicking the header

Rule 5 – Stop typing, people are getting bored already… so here goes!!! (Insert fireworks here)

The Almost Maybes

Ant Man: Ant Man is like Honey I Shrunk the Kids gave birth to Ocean’s Eleven. Yes, it’s a Marvel film so you probably know what to expect but it’s fun and worth a watch.

Bridge of Spies: A fascinating look into a true story of James B. Donovan a master negotiator at the height of cold war fever. Written by the Coens and directed by Spielberg it’s a solid film.

Crimson Peak: Not the best of films and horrendously marketed this film looks stunning and is probably worth a watch for this reason alone. If you are into gothic romance then this is the film for you.

Everest: Perhaps this will be more impressive on the big screen but I found it truly gripping even though I pretty much knew what was going to happen. The scenery is beautiful and terrifying and makes you really appreciate that nature takes no prisoners.

He Named Me Malala: I wish this film had a better story narrative but then again it’s a documentary about one of the most inspirational people of recent times.

Sicario: Still not entirely sure whether I liked this film or not but holy crap! The production values in Sicario are astounding.

Steve Jobs: An amazing script and interesting narrative structure are mixed with some solid performances in Steve Jobs. Whether you like Apple or not this is worth a watch.

The Gift: A bit of a sleeper this one. Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is not one to sleep on though. Stick with it because it starts real slow but ends in a neutron bomb.

The Good Dinosaur: To be honest there are better films that should have received an honourable mention but the animation in Pixar’s latest is out of this world.

The Walk

A rare film that is definitely worth watching in 3D over 2D. It starts a bit crappy but the more you watch the more you get into it so by the time you see the tightrope walk between the twin towers you’ll start finding chunks of your chair underneath your fingernails!

My Personal Top 10

10. Me Earl and the Dying Girl

A massively underrated indie film about a high school kid who is forced to make nice with a girl from his class who has just been diagnosed with the big C. It’s a really respectful view from the outside in of someone who is dealing with a terminal illness. It comes full of all the joys of an indie film and something that is different to your average Hollywood film.

9. The Man From U.N.C.L.E

I know I’ll be in the minority here by including this anywhere near a top 10 but I like doing stupid things sometimes. The Man From U.N.C.L.E held a special place in my heart so this only had to capture about sixty percent of what made the original TV series great. This is loud, fun and sexy.

8. Ex Machina

Similar in tone to the seminal film Moon, Ex Machina is an excellent piece of cinema especially since it is a directorial debut. This tense thriller can feel a little off paced at times but is beautifully written and acted, constantly subverting who is the good guy in the story. It also probes the question of how far is too far when it comes to technology.

7. Jurassic World

It’s inevitable that the soon-to-be second highest grossing film of 2015 (assuming Star Wars has it’s way) finds it’s way into the top 10 but it’s also totally justifiable because this is a terrific reboot of franchise that is held dear by soo many people. This finally feels like a film that displays a fully functional, living, breathing theme park. It’s not without it’s flaws but it manages to overcome all of them with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

What? Only at number six? sacrilege! burn him! But on a serious note it’s a return to form for Star Wars…. finally. Apart from the higher production values you could place this next to The Empire Strikes back and it wouldn’t look out of place because Abrams nails the feel of originals whilst providing enough spectacle to keep you entertained the whole way through.

5. Inside Out

Pixar’s best film yet. Fact. Pixar’s best animation yet. Fiction. The quality of the animation and the entertainment value of Inside Out doesn’t hit the heights of their previous films but it is the most adult, thoughtful and introspective film they have made yet. The concept and the scripting are both brilliant but it’s perhaps only as an adult that you can truly understand the layers of complexity that are prominent throughout this amazingly crafted narrative.

4. Whiplash

This was a bit of a surprise. Whiplash features two incredible performances by J.K. Simmons and Myles Teller. Don’t let the Fantastic Four (Teller’s latest film) put you because this is an enthralling tale of obsession, compulsion and drive. The ever changing dynamic between the two leads is a joy to watch as is the truly brilliant final sequence.

3. The Martian

If this was a bit more dramatic with an extra dose of pure entertainment this would be firmly placed at number one. If you like science fact or fiction this will have you bowled over. The script is so good that there were people coming out of the cinema asking their friends and partners if this was a true story. Matt Damon is a loveable lead and although it’s not exactly rapid in it’s pacing I was never bored and always wanted more problem Martian problem solving.

2. Straight Outta Compton

Check it out, this shiz is dope yo! Hip Hop movies have often been overlooked because they are mostly gigantic turd platters but Straight Outta Compton is as far from this as you can get. Not only does this film portray a fascinating drama about those who pioneered the Ganagster Rap movement it also subtly educates even the keenest classical music fan about why this music was invented and that the lyrics aren’t just “Yeah, bitches and clubs and weed” it’s a lot more than that. Fantastic film. Worth a watch by everyone.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max is mind blowing. I loved the originals because it embraced a sense of absolute madness that is not found in any other film. If the originals were a slice of delirious madness then Fury Road is the whole pie, served by Marilyn Manson, on top of a turbo charged procupine… that’s on fire. The colour work really drives home the emptiness of the post-apocalyptic landscape that only serves to provide logic and reason to the total collapse of any sort of sane society. Imagine your eyes being smashed in by a hammer covered in bees and you are somewhere near the sheer visual spectacle of this master piece.

There you have it. Some super awesome films. Of course not every film has been super awesome, there has been some tripe spewed over the film screens.

The Garbage Collection

Absolutely Anything: This film is like getting celebrity branded perfume for Christmas; full of promise until you see what is actually inside the wrapper. How you can have Simon Pegg, the cast of Monty Python, Eddie Izzard and Robin Williams yet only provide laughs once every… well… once is a total mystery.

Fantastic Four: Don’t let the first 30-40 minutes fool you. It does that. It lulls you into a false sense of security that this might not be quite as rubbish as everyone made out it to be, Then, when you least expect it it steals the money from your wallet, kicks you in the balls and backwashes your expensive Innocent smoothie. Not a pleasant experience

Hot Pursuit: Comedy’s don’t get any more desperate than this miserable attempt to be anything more than just a dull, painful toothache.

Jupiter Ascending: I was actually travelling across Asia when this film came out and now i’ve seen it I was I was travelling across the moon, past venus and mercury and straight into the sun because this is one of the worst films I’ve seen in such a long time. Weirdly the world-building is great but everything else is so bad that it’s hilarious. That’s the point right? To be an ironic pastiche of bad films? No?! Well how was this film allowed to be a thing?

The Transporter Refuelled: Nice try but no-ones going to believe that Ed Skrein is a suitable replacement for Jason Statham. It’s puerile and trashy and lacks any and all the charm of the original. The budgets also been chopped in half so look out for the final fight on the “definitely real rocks” on top of the cliff face. They definitely aren’t small crashmats shaped and coloured like rocks. Bring some sort of eye solution because you’ll get tired of rolling them.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A New Hope!

Have you ever dyed your hair green because it looks like Kit Fisto’s squidlocks? Ever punched an asthma kid and stole his inhaler just so you can sound like Darth Vader? Ever stuff a midget into a trash can because you desperately wanted your own R2 unit? If yes: you will love this film.

I feel like I’m going to be the odd one out here by not giving the latest Star Wars an 8 out of 5. I did think it was a very good Star Wars film but therein lies the problem. If you are a super Star Wars nerd then this is like giving an ice lolly to a gorilla on a hot day; you’ll lap it up and you’ll love it, but if you’re not a fan don’t expect to become one because of this film.

So let’s start with the dark side of this film. There is nothing new here. That’s my biggest problem.

The (spoiler free) plot is simple: There are rebels fighting the good fight against a bunch of storm troopers who are headed up by Kylo Ren; a powerful Sith who reports to a Sith lord – same as Empire Strikes Back. One of the leaders of the rebels has some important information that is stored inside a droid and sent away so the Sith don’t find it – same as A New Hope. The droid stumbles upon a young desert dweller who happens to be gifted in the force – same as A New Hope. The race is on to get the information in the right hands before an inevitable showdown between the soon to be jedi and the Sith – same as A New Hope.

It’s all just a bit too familiar. There are other similarities as well that I can’t go into without delving into spoiler territory but even from the trailers you will know that Kylo Ren wants to finish what Vader started, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) return “home” to the Millennium Falcon. There are TIE fighters and X-Wings and everything you loved from the original trilogy and even a rubbish gonk droid (no pun intended). Thankfully there isn’t a Jar Jar in sight.

Don’t let that put you off though because there are many, many things that keep it on the path to the light side.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is just brilliant as the universes new threat. He is beautifully unhinged and so consumed by emotional turmoil that you are never sure of what will happen next with him. There is a desperation in his performance that was missing from young Anakin in the prequels making Ren instantly more vicious and compelling.

Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) have a fantastic on-screen chemistry which is only helped by a semi-whimsical script. This keeps it feeling light-hearted even in the middle of chaos in a similar way to what original trilogy did with such charm.

Then you have BB-8. This little sphere droid deserves a mention because it’s unquestionably the new R2D2. It is remarkably anthropomorphic making you care for this little fella’ more than you probably should.

The BB-8 droid isn’t the only weird but impressive character as J.J. Abrams takes the franchise back to it’s roots by making a much of it as possible real animatronics. It’s fantastic to see because as good as CGI is it still can’t trick the human eye so to see so many ‘real’ aliens breathes into the local society.

It’s ironic then that all of the above is eclipsed by the CGI moments. What I’m talking about here are the scenes with aerial dog fights which are both beautiful and breath-taking. The scenery the ships traverse and the manoeuvres they pull brought out the giddy 5 year within me and a big smile was slapped across my chops faster than a feminist can slap you for pinching her derrière.

The Force Awakens is unmistakably a return to form for a film franchise that has been mostly forgettable or at least regrettable for the last 30 years. Abrams firmly re-asserts everything that was great about the original trilogy which gives hope for the future of the franchise but by re-telling all too familiar stories it is unlikely draw in people with little love for the original trilogy. Still, if you already are a fan; this is the film you are looking for.

The Good, The Bad & The Outcome

+ TIE fighting
+ Return to the quality of the original trilogy
+ BB-8!

Nothing particularly new
– If you are not a fan then move along

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In the Heart of the Sea

Young Hearts, Ron Free

Avast me ‘arties! Gather ye round as I spin a bountiful yarn about Howard’s new tellin’. Tis a tale so large you’ll ne’er believe it true but what follows is my recountin’ of such fable so settle in ye scurvy ridden bilge rats!

Whilst this kind of talk is exactly 127.3% inaccurate when in reference to this film it is a good representation of how I felt when I left the screening because the film is really evocative of an era rich with stunningly wooden sailing vessels but void of vitamin C.

The film’s set is probably one of the premier attractions of the film as the craftsmanship of the costumes, the port town of Nantucket and of course The Essex (the featured whaling ship) are all exceptional.

Of course the physical effects are over-laid with enough CGI to make Beowulf proud which some viewers may find a turn off but for me I thought it was relatively tactful. For example the wide shots of Nantucket are obviously CGI but they don’t linger. The stormy weather is again obviously CGI but these scenes are few and far between.

This allows more room for practical effects and real physical objects to shine through. Even the mysterious white whale was relatively subtle. The clever use of aerial shots provide a sense of scale that enhances the on screen action and when the whale is close up there is a fine attention to detail which means you don’t sit there screaming “FAKE!!” at the screen like you are watching wrestling, X-Factor or the boobs of your average porn star.

If I have one piece of advice for this film though that would be do not go and see it in 3D. I should point out that during the trailers the 3D wasn’t working at all in my screening so when it was “fixed” I don’t know if was “fixed” or if it was fixed like I fix my car; ignore it, hope it doesn’t blow up. However, a lot of the 3Dness was really janky and I started wondering if I was still drunk from my Christmas party.

In case you haven’t guessed it yet; the film’s plot is basically Moby Dick or rather the true story that inspired Moby Dick. It’s interesting because Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) is desparate for a successful novel and turns to a now middle-aged, but still traumatised, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) for his extraordinary tale of survival when he was a 14 year old ship hand.

The tale then essentially follows 3 plot threads, the whale attack that sinks their purpose built whaling ship, the crew’s attempts to survive and the relation ship between the young ship’s captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and it’s first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth).

The latter of these 3 is probably the weakest aspect. We are told right from the start that the relationship is like that of a strained marriage. This is quickly realised with Pollard trying to show the bravado of a confident husband but his wife Owen shoots him down in front of all his friends leaving him to sulk for most of the rest of the film. The two barely talk after this so this idea of conflicting personalities ends up as jetsam; thrown away to just drift through the film.

This is a bit of a shame as most of the characters are mostly likeable with the exception of the actual whaling making it hard to really root for or against any one individual.

You will definitely root against the vicious whaling though is both saddening and gruesome but those were the times – oil from the ground was as fictional as Donald Trump’s hair.

In the Heart of the Sea because feels like a personal love affair with the original literary classic so director Ron Howard must have had a bit of free reign over this film. It’s not just a labour of love though, it’s a pretty decent film that takes a famous novel and provides a re-telling in such a way that fans of the original novel can’t be moby dicks about the fact it isn’t faithful to it’s inspiration because, quite simply, it’s not meant to be.

The Good, The Bad & The Outcome

+ Great Setting
+ Decent CGI
+ Interesting take on a classic story

The 3D version
– Captain and first mate dynamic
– Whaling 😥

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Sisters

Shitsters

Alright let’s face facts; when you see ‘top ten comedies of 2015’ including the likes of Spy, Mortdecai and even Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 as the best of 2015 you know it’s been a terrible year for comedies.

Sisters adds to the stockpile of turds we’ve seen floating down the river humour this year by being somewhat comparable to Hot Pursuit.  Whilst this is undoubtedly a better movie than Hot Pursuit it’s not bad enough to make it ironically funny or memorable and yet it’s not funny enough to make you laugh out loud.

I’ve seen many reviews praising Sisters for being hilarious and perhaps I watched a different cut because (apart from one person in the cinema) there was only the odd murmur in my screening which was thankfully a whimsical chuckle and not the last gasps of someone bagging themselves to make the pain stop.

I should probably start off with a mention that the main characters; Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler) and Kate Ellis (Tina Fey), should probably be praised for being quite progressive. They swear, they drink, they smoke weed, they perv on men but they still like nails and make-up and dresses. In short the characters manage to dodge what could be a feminist/patriarchal minefield by being not fitting the stereotypical roles often portrayed in Hollywood for both male and female alike.

Unfortunately though; almost all the characters in sisters are fucking terrible and whilst Fay and Poehler seem like people who you could go to the pub with, they play the characters of terrible human beings. The whole film is based on the premise of these two ungracious ass hats crying about how unfair and unjust it is that their parents are selling a house they haven’t lived in for about 15 years. They both have such a spiteful dose of selfishness and disrespect for their parents from the outset of the film that I almost instantly wanted them to be thrown into the fires of Mount Doom.

I get it. I know they are meant to have some revelation and become better humans but seriously, fuck these shitty backstabbing humans because even at the end of the film they don’t seem to have changed it’s just a case of “Ooops we destroyed your house. sorry parents”.

We are also meant to believe that Kate is a wild child and Maura is straight-laced and decent but this is never fully realised. Maura is the main offender here. Her diaries talk about helping sight impaired people read instead of partying  yet she wholeheartedly goes along with inviting everyone to a no-holds barred party which includes buying enough booze to take down Oliver Reed and seeming all too happy to get tiny pinch of pure ‘blow-your-tits-off’ cocaine. How is that representing her as the reserved angel she’s meant to be?

Not content with having 2 obnoxious lead characters in waltzes Alex (Bobby Moynihan) who has to be one of the poorest character choices in comedy since Jar Jar Binks.

Alex is meant to be one of those guys who tries really hard to be funny without ever being funny. So let’s get this straight. The writers deliberately included someone who thinks he is funny but isn’t actually funny… in the hope that this will be funny. I guess praise should go to Bobby Moynihan’s performance here because he really does come across as a socially inept individual with the humour of a stick of celery. Well done. Nailed that character!

We then have Brinda (Maya Rudolph) who plays a stuck up bitch who could have been funny if she stayed miserable and hostile to the lead characters but she spends the whole time being a puppy who occidentally got locked out of the house. “Please let in?!”. 

It’s perhaps ironic then that the funniest character was Pazuzu (John Cena) the dealer because he says next to nothing. Instead he just stands there emotionless being about 2 feet taller and wider than everyone else. The contrast of this gargantuan stone cold drug peddler looking unimpressed with a room full of 40 something year old parents reclaiming their youth was not exactly side-splitting but he was, at least, amusing.

I guess the only part that came close to being hilarious in my eyes was the scene where a musical ballerina toy goes to the dark side by err…  being stuck somewhere it shouldn’t. A potential second scene is in a shop where the two leads show their ineptitude at trying on outfits (see picture above) but these moments are few and far between.

There have been plenty of other films that portray a party getting out of control and plenty that are more memorable than Sisters. Still, If you are wanting Christmas early then you can always go and consume this turkey!

Go See

  • Progressive female leads
  • Ballerina in the dark
  • John Cena

Avoid

  • Malicious lead characters and bad supporting characters
  • Bobby Moynihan
  • Void of hearty laughs

Overall

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Bridge of Spies

Political Intriguing but Not Enthralling

Films are not just a product; a specific piece of art created at a specific point in time, they also have the ability to tell us something about the era in which they were made. If this statement is considered debatable then Bridge of Spies is a pretty convincing argument for it being true.

To put this into context let me detail the film’s plot.

It’s the height of the cold war. The American public are bombarded with propaganda; communism is attacking the American way of life and the enemy is already inside, hiding in plain sight. This fear is proven as a reality as Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Russian spy, is captured.

Here we are in 2015 being bombarded by propaganda about the dangers of ISIS and how Islam is threatening our way of life. The enemy is already here with local sympathisers carrying out attacks in the name of ISIS so we should all feel scared right!?

James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an insurance lawyer who is approached by the government officials asking him to represent Abel as a semi-reputable lawyer. The trial is meant to be an open and shut case, a tick in the box as a symbol of democracy if nothing else. Donovan is the voice of reason in the midst of war fever doing his best to play by the rules that make his nation great. Even when that fails he pushes for the death sentence to be avoided.

Today the government are all to ready to sidestep the values that they claim to believe in the pursuit of war and profiteering. You only need to look at David Cameron claiming that Russia bombing Syria would radicalise more people, only to feverishly argue for bombing Syria a month or so later, to know that ideology is easily wavered in such times.

Donovan’s foresight pays off as an American spy is captured in Russia. A like for like trade is proposed but of course the US and Russian governments cannot be seen to be working together because co-operation would be terrible right? In order to negotiate the trade Donovan has to travel to a Berlin where a large wall is segregating the populace.

A wall? Isn’t that the main policy of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign?

There is more to Bridge of Spies than just a social commentary on history repeating itself. The acting is excellent from start to finish. Normally I find Hanks pretty dull but actually I found him quite captivating and dynamic in Bridge of Spies.

It’s Mark Rylance who steals the show even though his role is a supporting one. The Russian spy gives a sum total of zero fucks to all the commotion going on around him so it’s hard not to like him. It’s not like he is arrogant or cocky, at some point Abel accepted that he will likely be caught and face an uncomfortable final chair so he is totally un-fazed when it comes true.

Would it help if the scripting was also very good? It would. In fact, it did. The Coens and Matthew Charman providing just enough variation of dialogue – an occasional laugh here and the odd swear word there – keeps your interest all through the film.

Unfortunately the word ‘interesting’ is the most apt descriptor for Bridge of Spies. It is undoubtedly a fascinating true story but it’s not riveting. I think what it all boils down to is that it feels like Spielberg being Spielberg which is a little too safe. Too much of a known quantity.

I’m glad I saw Bridge of Spies because it’s certainly well crafted, especially when juxatposed with the events that are happening in middle east right now, but it’s not something I would go out of my way to watch again. If you can’t relate to Donovan as a character then there is precious little else to go on so this cold war drama won’t be everyone’s warm cup of tea.

Go See

  • Social commentary
  • Well written
  • Well acted

Avoid

  • Interesting but not hugely entertaining
  • Limited replay factor
  • A safe Spielberg film

Overall

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The Good Dinosaur

Tall Tale to Tell

Jessica Simpson is beautiful right? Or at least she was – last thing I saw her in was Dukes of Hazard – but I struggle to remember a time where she said anything worth paying attention to. Actually; I tell a lie, she once said she didn’t know how to use a dishwasher which I still find mind-blowing/hilarious to this day.

The Good Dinosaur is like Jessica Simpson.

It looks absolutely incredible, better than any other animation I have seen. From the first moment the river flows majestically past the dinosaurs I had to stop and question whether this was actual real filmed locations with dinosaurs animated over the top. It wasn’t long after I scraped my jaw off of the sticky, popcorn coated floor that I found it slamming into the ground again only this time it was because of a branch with water droplets on it.

It’s hard not to gawp.

Normally, being taken out of the film’s narrative is a bad thing but The Good Dinosaur gets away with it. This is primarily because the film is slow paced, holding shots of scenery primarily for you to stare at in awe.

The story follows the notion that the dinosaur-ending meteor missed earth. After repeatedly being inept at the farming duties requested of him by to his father Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and his morther Ida (Frances McDormand); Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), the smallest of three Apatosaurus siblings, is given a special task of catching the ‘critter’ who keeps stealing the corn stored for winter. It turns out the critter is a scruffy human child named Spot.

Having also failed to smash Spot’s feral little face in with a spiky club (no really – that’s accurate!) Henry drags Arlo along to finish the job. In a scene that is not too dissimilar to Mufasa’s death in the Lion King; Henry is crushed by a stampeding flow of water through a ravine. Arlo somehow survives and has to find his way home. To his surprise Spot is there to help.

The film tries to show the value of friendship, forgiveness and open mindedness but that’s not worth paying close attention to. Instead, what I took from it is that nature is both beautiful and terrifying because much of the film doesn’t make sense.

Let’s take the geography as an example. Arlo and family live in a valley and are simple farming dinosaurs, which actually compliments the film very well. The slow pace nature of their life affords you the time to admire the surroundings notice all those little touches that makes the animation superb whether that’s the rows of corn planted farmland or the glaciers surrounding their idyllic locale.

Arlo’s journey home takes him through the wild west like he’s wandered into the wrong set. Where did the mountains go? I mean if you can lose a mountain range you must either be blind, a teleporter or the Post Office at Christmas time.

Some of the wildlife doesn’t make sense either. At one point Arlo meets a Styracosaurus who is either mentally disabled or stoned and provides no character or plot advancement in any way, shape or form.

The animation of the dog-like Spot, who is probably the best character, and in fact all the dinosaurs are friendly and cartoony yet parts of this film are quite dark such as when Arlo’s father dies and indeed the next 30 minutes of Arlo injuring himself as he tries to find his way home. We even had one or two kids ushered out of the cinema, crying as they went, because of this.

Director Bob Peterson was replaced by Peter Sohn about a year ago and promptly re-imagined large parts of the film. Perhaps this explains why some of the film feels serene, thoughtful and slow paced (much like it must have been like to be an apatosaurus) and some of it feels like a man in a suit said: “I want action scenes, stoners, hallucinations and giant waterfalls – also see if you can get a pee or a poop joke in there somewhere!”.

Neither of these approaches are fully realised but I know which one I prefer. I think if they went all in to make this just a visual masterpiece even at the detriment of strong characterisation and plot development it would have made the better film. Instead they try to wedge it’s large frame into the Pixar mould leaving us with The Good Dinosaur rather than The Amazing Dinosaur.

Go See

  • Looks phenomenal
  • Spot
  • For the slow paced sections

Avoid

  • Pulled in two different directions – literally
  • Maybe not suitable for the very young
  • The more child friendly parts

Overall

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Black Mass

It’s All-Whitey

There I was, sat at work, nervously searching for “Black Mass” images. I say nervously because, well, it does sound a bit like a euphemism for a particular appendage known to be rather large in certain races.

Ironically; the origin of the term Black Mass appears to come from some sort of sexual ritual which was, at some point, assimilated into a Satanism by involving worshipping, black candles and hearty doses of butt nakedness.

I can only assume that the title Black Mass is a reference to James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) being somewhat of an evil person and therefore satanic rather than a reference to him being a massive penis yet it so easily could be have been the later!!

That said; this film portrays him as having a nicer side to his character. He barely seems to drink, doesn’t smoke and doesn’t do drugs – he just peddles the stuff instead. Outside of his business ventures he is a caring brother and loving son who happens a remarkably low tolerance for idiots and snitches.

This is one of the main problems with the film. It’s nothing that you haven’t seen before. We have seen plenty of gangster movies that shows the kingpin being caring to old ladies or those close to him then; only 5 minutes later, bludgeoning someone else to death.

What most of those movies hold above Black Mass is that a lot of them have a sense of style. Now, I’ve never been to Boston where all this took place but if director Scott Cooper or art director Jeremy Woodward tried to evoke the vibe of 1980’s Boston then I can only assume that Boston is a hugely uninspiring place.

One part of this film you don’t see that often is Johnny Depp in a serious role. It’s clear that he can still perform well in these roles but unfortunately Whitey simply isn’t that interesting due to his often quiet, introverted and calculating nature. The few moments of blind rage highlight why he is a dangerous man and also provide a few rare moments of excitement in an film that otherwise drags its feet.

It will come as no real surprise that story follows Whitey’s escalation from a small time crook to the Boston’s overlord and subsequently falling into all too familiar trappings of a criminal over extending his reach and everything crumbling around him.

The only refreshing part of the storyline is Whitey’s childhood friend/acquaintance John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) who helps take down the Mafia and anyone who stood in Whitey’s path whilst simultaneously covering up his own illicit activities.

Even though Whitey becomes the kingping of Boston you never really get the feeling that he is the big shot in town. He doesn’t flash his cash and only ever holds the company of one or two people so it only ever feels like his network is a handful of people strong.

How the FBI let Connolly talk them into the actions they took is also confusing. The logic behind Connolly’s strategy of empowering Whitey to get rid of the Mafia isn’t exactly sound but at least it’s believable unlike his attempts to cover-up for Whitey which ultimately boil down to “Come on man!?! nuh-uh…this guy? pshhh.”

This means that the FBI and almost everyone who comes into contact with Connolly looks like a monumental embarrassment to any school debate team. It’s almost like the department is run by Benny Hill, Droopy dog and a half eaten sponge pudding. In fact if it wasn’t for some decent acting from all of the supporting cast – particularly Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon and Corey Stoll – I fear the whole film might have been as much as a fucking shambles as the Boston division of the FBI.

At no point does this film ever feel fresh or new and there feels like big gaps are left in the story’s timeline as well as some of the character development. Uninspiring art direction and scripting leaves the film feeling bland and unimaginative and whilst this isn’t enough to make it un-watchable it certainly doesn’t feel like Boston is the black heart of Massachusetts.

Oh wait: Black Massachusetts… Black Mass?!

Go See

  • Johnny Depp in a serious role again
  • Supporting cast
  • The few moments where Whitey goes psycho

Avoid

  • Never get the feeling that Whitey is a kingpin
  • Bland setting
  • Nothing you haven’t seen before

Overall

Stars_3

The Lady in the Van

Stuck in Second Gear

Every year my girlfriend’s family hold a gathering because, well, it’s just a nice thing to do. I was warned that it would be awful and boring and I’d run screaming because of all the people but in reality it’s a bit of chatting, a couple of board/card games, the occasional walk in the countryside and a few pints here or there.

The first year I attended the grandma came over to me and said “I have been very impressed by you.” I know, I was just as shocked as you that someone could be impressed by me rather hold a mild disdain for my presence. She continued, “You have just sat there and quietly observed everything going on around you and I can see that you are trying to get a feel for who everyone is.”

That’s actually very astute because I consider myself to be an observer. At least, I am until I have a basic handle on the company I’m keeping; after which I will turn up at the wild-west themed party dress in a cow onesie complete with fake udders or a “dress to impress” Oscar themed party dressed as Miximus Decimus Meridius from Gladiator shouting “are you not entertained?” much to the ire of one of managing directors at my previous workplace!

Allan Bennet (Alex Jennings) may not have the extroverted/moronic streak that I sometimes have but he is definitely an observer. In fact, it’s the portrayal of Allan that I found most fascinating in The Lady in the Van. It could be argued that this is because I saw something of myself in Allan but I think there is more to it than that.

If we look at Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith) it becomes clear that the film isn’t really about her. The whole story is told from the point of view of Allan and because of that we learn precious little about Mary’s life. Early on we learn that she has hit, and presumably killed, a motorcyclist which has left her afraid that she will be caught and put in prison. We also learn early on that Miss Shepherd was both a keen, elegant and prized piano player. What has turned her into the crotchety, bitter and thankless old lady remains a rather large void within the film.

Ironically, given that Smith’s character is the one you came to watch, almost all scenes with her are related to her apparent senility and barely develop the character or the viewer’s empathy for her. Because of this she becomes rather one dimensional leaving your fascination to lie with Allan instead.

That said there is one underlying theme to Miss Shepherd that needs to be mentioned and that is the devastating effect of institutional bullying courtesy of the church. This manifests itself by the head nun within a convent routinely berating Miss Shepherd for going against God’s will by playing the piano so your core being is filled with music this causes inner conflict and emotional trauma, which is one potential reason for why she is like she is.

What was most fascinating about Allan’s character is that there are 2 of him. One who goes about his daily life being somewhat socially awkward and not very adventurous and then there is the other Allan who is purely the writer. Thanks to some decent script work you are placed directly into the mind of a scribe as he talks to himself to try to organise and improve his thought process before setting pen to paper.

Whilst this is the most fascinating part of the film don’t expect much more than what you have seen in the trailers. Most of the humorous moments can be seen in the trailer and whilst Maggie Smith’s portrayal of Miss Shepherd is undoubtedly impressive there are no real defining moments to the film as the engine is running it’s just not being revved.

Go See

  • Maggie Smith
  • Insight into the mind of a writer
  • Well scripted

Avoid

  • Miss Shepherd is one dimensional
  • It’s all in the trailer
  • No dramatic high points

Overall

Stars_2_5