Now You See Me: The Second Act

A sequel that will hopefully disappear into thin air

After being persuaded (read: forced!) by my friend Sam to watch ‘Now You See Me’ I was pleasantly surprised – the cast were charismatic enough,  the tricks they pulled off were entertaining and, aside from a plot twist that made no sense whatsoever, it was a nice slice of fantasy entertainment. 24 hours later, after coming out of its sequel, I felt no such positivity.  ‘Now You See Me: The Second Act’ is bland, boring and blithely bloated. You come out of the cinema not feeling fooled or tricked – but scammed for giving up 129 minutes of your life for such maddening rubbish.

One year on since they outwitted the FBI and the Four Horsemen have become Three – J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) , Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – as the ‘lady horseman’ grew tired of waiting around for further instructions from the Eye. Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is still working at the FBI, doing all he can to keep the Horsemen in hiding and under the radar. He sets the Horsemen a new mission to hijack the launch party of a new software, inviting Lula (Lizzy Caplan) to join them. The mission gets hijacked by Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) who kidnaps the Horseman and forces them to use their skills to go steal a data-mining device. Dylan has no idea where the Horseman are so breaks Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to help find them. What are the chances that vengeance-seeking Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) may be involved somehow?

Writing the above paragraph was exceptionally difficult in the attempt to avoid being convoluted as that is what the film is – a far too convoluted series of ‘tricks’ that make no sense whatsoever. Whereas the first film was fun and flashy this one gets bogged down by attempts at pathos. Much of the plot is devoted to Ruffalo’s character mourning the death of his magician father 30 years on. This wouldn’t be so bad a plot point  were it not for the fact that Dylan is not a likeable enough character for the plot to hinge on and the fact it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s also an overwhelming sense when watching these sequences that the filmmakers are hoping for a third movie with a seemingly impossible reunion.

If magic is entertaining the masses with the impossible this film is the opposite – entertaining no one with the improbable. Very rarely does the story actually make sense – with the twists, trickery and questionable character motivations trying so hard to be clever they end up failing. That’s also true of some of the dialogue which regularly made no sense whatsoever. Ordinarily I’d then quote of one these lines as evidence but they must have been that ridiculous that my frontal lobe totally rejected storing them for future reference.

These crimes against cinema would be somewhat forgivable if the characters were likeable or the cast were enjoyable to watch. Sadly that is not a saving grace here. My disdain for characters played by Jesse Eisenberg continues, Dave Franco is unbearably vanilla and Radcliffe is supremely irritating. Harrelson would be the film’s saving grace  were it not for the fact he ends up playing a dual role as the evil twin brother of his character. He’s  so stereotypically camp that it’s offensive, his costume horrendously cheap and played so hammily you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. Lizzy Caplan is a welcome addition – as she is to everything she stars in – yet is still stuck in a one-dimensional role as a manic pixie girl type chasing after Dave Franco’s character. Although she is given some rather meta dialogue – about being the ‘lady horseman’ and who will be playing the ‘floozy’ when they go undercover – these are not admirable additions by the script writer. More the least they could do by using such one dimensional characterisation.

Although there is one impressive set piece (the heist to steal the data chip) and it was more than thrilling to see my ‘ends on the big screen (hello Greenwich!) the rest of the film is lacking in warmth, wit and, well, magic. It’s short on logic and right now seems to represent this year’s very dull summer of blockbusters.

1 star

 

 

Gods of Egypt

If you like so-bad-that-it’s-good then this is for you.

Writing a review of this film seems semi-futile as Mark Kermode did such a a good job with his (click here for his vlog post) but I’m going to  give it a go. Mainly because although I agreed fully with everything Mark says in his review we have one difference, I bloody loved how ridiculous and brainless the film is. It’s the level of awful bomb movie that you don’t see very often, that ends up being hilarious by by taking its failed spectacle far too seriously. I genuinely think this has the potential to be a cult classic – turned into drinking games and quote-alongs, so unbelievable and propestrous that it has to be seen.

In an alternate version of Ancient Egypt the world is flat and ruled by Gods who live amongst humans. They also happen to be twice the size physically of the mere mortals and bleed gold not blood. On the day of the coronation, with Osris (Bryan Brown) abdicating and giving the throne to his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Osris is killed by his jealous brother Set (Gerard Butler). Set then strips Horus of his eyes, which contain all of his power, but stops himself from killing Horus as his nephew’s lover Hathor (Elodie Yung) offers to be his slave if Horus is spared. Instead Horus is exiled and Set becomes a tyrannical leader of Egypt. Bek (Brenton Thwaites) is a mortal thief who has little belief or faith in the Gods but when his girlfriend is killed, Zaya (Courtney Eaton), Bek makes a deal with Horus. If Bek helps Horus regain his eyesight and therefore power Horus will help bring Zaya back from the dead.

I don’t know where to begin with this one. There are so many things wrong with this film that somehow end up being so right. Literally from the opening credits, the title page, I snort-laughed. Somehow director Alex Proyas has managed to make even the title page pretentious. It then continues from there. We have a voice-over narrator (an often ill-used device resulting in cheesey-ness) who happens to be an older Bek (again the element of foresight in narration ends up being rather cloying) who explains things in a way that somehow manages to be condescending AND stupid. The script as a whole is so stupid that I feel that to be accurate I must refer to it using quotation marks – the ‘script’ and ‘story’ is so kitsch and  pantomimic, full of pointless non-sequiturs that either go nowhere. This is pure B-movie territory with a big blockbuster budget ($140 million budget in case you were wondering).

Where that money went? Well I’m not quite sure. It’s certainly not on the special effects which are dire. Truly and utterly awful. Every scene is a green screen disaster. The decision to make the gods twice the height and size of the humans may have seemed novel during pre-production but in execution ends up being awfully brilliant. My personal favourite (another snort-laugh was emitted at this point) had to be when Horus is in the bath and the human women are helping him. It’s hard to describe, or to truly reflect the brilliance of the moment, but everything about the scene is uncanny-ily dreadful.

It could have been the cast. We’ve got GOT Danish heartthrob Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerald Butler and even Geoffrey Rush – who must have been on set for about a day to film his scenes then scarper off. I feel like I should give Coster-Waldau some credit for his performance, for the most part he tries admirably to deliver the dire dialogue and when he doesn’t he still seems to embrace the dross. Managing to say such lines as ‘I can understand killing for a throne, but this is madness!’, ‘I’m sorry that the corpses of my parents have inconvinced you.’ and ‘It’s lettuce!’ with a straight face and a desperate will to make them effective makes for a truly hilarious experience. His buddy partnership with Thwaites as Bek is memorable only for Coster-Waldau as Bek both as a character and Thwaites portraying him is dreadful. Bek is a total Mary/Gary Sue , utterly perfect at everything he tries to do. Except for speaking dialogue, he’s pretty awful for that. In fact the only things I wrote down in regards to his performance after seeing the film is ‘eyebrows’. There’s some serious eyebrow going on here.

Gerald Butler plays Gerald Butler. His performance stands out like a sore thumb as whilst everyone else speaks with this strange hyper-English accent he speaks in his Gerald Butler roar. It seems a dark day to be saying this but he does manage to out-act everyone he is on screen with. My favourite performance however was Chadwick Boseman as Thoth, providing us with a character who personifies the strange campness of the entire film. However, as a consequence, I fear I will end up taking his portrayal as Blank Panther a lot less seriously. The moment that really summed up just how bad this film was going to be was the appearance of  Rufus Sewell, a man who can actually act but has recently spent his career in this type of Hollywood underworld cinema. Considering he is the in the film and providing the kind performance full of knowingness and campery that we’ve come to expect from him, it’s truly amazing that the film’s director seemed surprised at the film’s reception  (click here for more). 

To conclude I will finish with my top five lines of the film as I genuinely feel the level of absurdity the script reaches may be beyond words.  It’s a shiny big disaster with weird oddball moments and brilliantly bonkers.The acting is lacklustre, the story mediocre but the film is impossible to resist. If only it were half an hour shorter (it’s 127 minutes long) then this would be a perfect awful movie.

5) Set: Behold the fate of those who stand in my way. I will bring them reckoning!

4) Horus: I don’t need any more worshippers. Tributors that rot and stink. Get out! Unless you’ve got wine…

3) Ra: When you stray from your past, you grow weak.

2) Horus: The dead don’t speak to the living

1) Ra: Normally when a bird lands on my beat I kill it, before it can shit.

Film quality: 1.5stars

Film enjoyment levels: 4.5

 

Mother’s Day

A smorgasbord of star-studded schmaltzy smug-ish sentiment.

Having not seen ‘Valentine’s Day’ (2010) nor ‘New Year’s Eve’ (2011) I knew of the infamy of director Garry Marshall‘s ensemble romantic comedies but I don’t think I was truly prepared for ‘Mother’s Day’. It took me about 1/4 of the film, roughly 30 mins, to realise that the only way I could endure (the only verb choice that really captures how I felt) the remaining 3/4 would be by turning off my settings for common-sense, logic and cynicism. As a result I found only the first section truly excruciating, the remainder only vaguely unpleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so contrived or ridiculous. ‘Mother’s Day’ is essentially a feature film that is the personification of a money-free Hallmark card. Paper thin and totally empty.

Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widow with two daughters; his wife was a marine who dies in combat. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a divorcee with two sons. Her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) has just married a twenty-something called Tina (Shay Mitchell). Sandy’s best friend is Jesse (Kate Hudson). Jesse is married to Russell (Aasif Mandvi), an Indian doctor; they have a young son together. They live next door to Jesse’s sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) who is married to her lesbian partner Max (Cameron Esposito); Max has a son whom Gabi adopted. Jesse made a new friend at her mother & baby group, a young mum called  Kristin (Britt Robertson). Kristin is in a long-term relationship with Zach (Jack Whitehall) who is an amaterue comedian. Kristin won’t marry Zach until she meets the mother who gave her up for adoption, a legendary business-woman and workaholic called Miranda (Julia Roberts). 

That is genuinely the most contrived plot summary I have ever written in my 14 months of writing this blog. I intentionally included facts about race/sexuality/personality which often feel needless when I write about other films. The reasoning is simple – Mother’s Day makes such a big deal about being ‘inclusive’ and having a range of representation. But it doesn’t. Not really. Yes there is a lesbian couple, but we don’t actually get to know them. They merely serve as plot points for Jesse’s storyline about telling her seemingly racist mother that she married someone of another race. The majority of the film’s ‘jokes’ come from these exchanges, where her mother calls her new-found son-in-law a ‘towelhead’ amongst many others. It’s a huge misstep as the way it is treated and mined for laughs is in itself racist. The movie tries to be self-aware about racist and homophobic attitudes yet uses them in such a casually offensive manner.

Another recurring excruciating element of the film are Jack Whitehall’s stand-up sequences. They are painfully contrived, like most of ‘Mother’s Day’ in all fairness, but considering being a stand-up is Whitehall’s job it feels like an advanced skill that the film manages to get them so so wrong.

Then there’s Julia Roberts, rumoured to have been paid $4 million for three days worth of filming. The film uses an approach to show just how ‘big’ Miranda is by having her appear everywhere within the film, frequently using adverts and infomercials to showcase her omnipresence.  It’s a touch I quite like (sound the alarm!) if only the ads themselves had been infuriating. There are glimmers of Roberts’s talent here, certain looks she gives, that remind of just how talented she is. Unfortunately that is lost by her having to play a previously stereotyped ‘business-woman’. She has no personal life, only business. Therefore she is cold and treats practically everyone as if they are worthless. So glad to see we’ve progressed beyond that cliche!

It does hurt to say this, but I did quite like the performances and storylines involving both Aniston and Sudeikis. Whilst there was still a whole lot of ridiculousness, particularly with his female harem of friends which included seemingly the only black person in the whole of Atlanta (a larger lady who is loud and proud. Sigh.), it was during these storylines that showed the film had a tiny murmur of well-meaning intent.

Otherwise ‘Mother’s Day’ is devoid of charm and rather sickly. It’s an opportunity to see actors you have liked in other movies interact with each other in contrived scenes and only communicate with pseudo psycho-babble. It’s smug and begrudgingly acted. Avoid.

1 star

Alice Through The Looking Glass

Disney provides a sequel that no-one actually asked for

Alice Through The Looking Glass is, quite literally movie-making by numbers. The end-product is tick-boxing, almost as if it is following a guide called Pretending To Be Weird For Dummies, but it was only ever made due to the admittedly very large numbers of the first film. Six years ago Alice In Wonderland made a worldwide total of $1,025,467,110 at the box office. It currently ranks at number 23 of the highest grossing films worldwide. It’s therefore not unsurprising that this film was made, though the fact it took six years to get it done is and the fact its sequel film is equally mediocre is no excuse at all.  Interestingly Alice Through The Looking Glass was predicted to earn $55–60 million  from its opening weekend but instead earnt only $27 million. Alice In Wonderland earnt $116 million  in its opening, a difference with its sequel of 70%.  Considering it earnt so much money Alice In Wonderland had a frosty reception with critics and audiences alike. Clearly the people sat around the table who greenlit Alice Through The Looking Glass cared more about getting money out of its audience as opposed to actual enjoyment or satisfaction. Deciding to see ATTLG was due to curiosity and to quote the 1951 animated Alice In Wonderland, “Curiosity only leads to trouble.”

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has spent the past three years sailing the high seas upon her father’s beloved ship ‘Wonder’. Alice returns home she finds that her family’s finances are so poor that they will have to either give up ‘Wonder’ or the family home. It’s at this point that Absolem (Alan Rickman) in the form of a butterfly calls her back to Wonderland. The Mad Hatter/ Tarrent Hightopp (Johnny Depp) believes that his family may actually still be alive. No-one else believes him which is causing him to fade away. Alice must use a time travelling device stolen from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to save Hatter. Old foe Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) wants the time travelling device for a different reason, to get revenge on her sister White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Will Alice succeed in her mission to save Hatter, will she be intercepted by Time or will Wonderland be destroyed forever through her trying to change time?

 SPOILER ZONE (SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU WISH TO AVOID SPOILERS) The main problem with this film, its fatal flaw if you will, is that so much of it is so utterly pointless. Time tells Alice from the outset that she can’t change time. But she tries anyway, for an hour of the film’s running time, only to find out that she can’t and in the process may have destroyed Wonderland for ever. Not only does it lead to feelings towards Alice akin to my current view of Bran from Game Of Thrones ( I still can’t hear the phrase ‘Hold The Door’ without nursing an internal sob) but there’s also an ironic feeling of having had your time wasted. Time is established as a villain who accent-wise seems to be impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger yet arguably (this may have come about due to my less than satisfied feelings towards this film) he was surely trying to do the right thing? Alice is the one who nearly destroyed everything, yet she is the one lauded and celebrated from stopping it happening..? 

Anyways…the big problem that Alice In Wonderland had was that it tried to be weird. The ridiculousness of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter personified this problem with a truly grating performance. Mercifully he has less screentime in this one but it is still enough to make you wince and feel slightly creeped out. It’s a combination of make-up, costume , performance and vocal choice that I just do not understand. Wasikowska is wonderful as Alice, an actual wonder to watch in a land filled of synthetic versions of it.In fact I’d argue the film’s best moments are when Alice is bringing that wonder into the real world – how society views her with such ill-regard and her brief stay in the ‘care’ of female hysteria speicliast Dr Bennett (an underused Andrew Scott) are moments when the film feels real fresh and lacking the self-consiousness that lingers of the rest of it.

A surprising appearance of Richard Armitage as King Oleren reminded me of Middle Earth and how Peter Jackson managed to create a fully fledged world that athough different from ours seemed equally real. That has not happened with AIW or ATTLG. Instead we’ve been given two films that try to be quirky and strange yet are truly not – neither film has heart to it – and are instead synthetic manifestations of it. The first film may have succeeded on trying to profiteer from the ‘strange’ but the huge defeat of its sequel suggests that people have learnt their lesson. On a grander scale it’s hard not to ponder what this huge loss means for future Disney films. Nearly all of Disney’s upcoming slate is of remakes or reimaginings as they seemed to be safe entities with a pre-sold audience. Just a few weeks ago with Jungle Book (click here to read my review)  Disney proved it could do it well. But after this, I’m not so sure now. Hollywood has taken an approach of putting all of its eggs (monies) into one safe basket (a film based on a book/previous film) yet the scale of ATTLG box office after numerous others may require a change in thinking.

A huge budget and elaborate sets yet no-one appears to have worried about the plot. It’s a mess.

1.5stars

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Meh. Vanilla. It’s okay.

The three statements above are the three different ways I’ve answered the question, ‘What did you think of Batman V Superman?’ in the past 14 hours. Although there are aspects of the film that are good and entertaining that is just what they are, aspects. The film overall is a bloated disaster – 151 minutes of too many ideas fighting for screentime which end up being incoherent and underdeveloped. Instead of a typical review, in which my thoughts on the film would be as nonsensical as the film itself, I’m going to use a list to let my great ideas have an organisation and a flow (lesson to the film-makers there…)

The good

The visuals

Aside from Cineworld at the o2 Arena screwing up the calibration of the sky superscreen (having forced the audience to watch all the ads, trailers and 25 minutes of the film with only one eye open as the projection was out of focus, they then decided to stop the film and spend 15 minutes reformatting before restarting the film. Cineworld have done not anything to compensate for this screw up and literal headache) when watching this film you can see where the money went. In fact, I suspect that is what director Zack Snyder wants us to do. The fights are big and brash, the costumes and special effects are spectacular. The cityscapes are breath-taking (if of debatable geography). In terms of big screen spectacle, it’s all here. Some sequences appear straight out of a comic book in terms of iconography and style, such as when Superman arrives at a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration and he is being aligned as a Messiah-eque figure.

MESSIAH

 Batman

Whilst I was initially in the ‘Say No To Ben Affleck as Batman’ camp, I did begin to change my mind when the first trailers and posters arrived. As a lover of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns I could see how Affleck’s portrayal would be most similar to Miller’s Batman. A Batman who is aged, haggard and embittered by battle.(The image below shows the film’s main link to the 1986 seminal comic book.) For the most part in this movie it works. Affleck is charismatic enough as Bruce Wayne and imposing enough as Batman. It’s almost a shame that he didn’t get his own standalone movie prior to this one to fully establish his character, though perhaps the decision to open this movie with yet another retelling of the Wayne shooting/origin story indicates to us that a standalone Batman movie may have possessed little originality. 

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Wonder Woman

I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Gal Gadot plays Wonder Woman/Diana Price. The trailers gave that one away long ago, yet the film treats it as though it is a secretrading by hinting then having a big reveal that is slightly unnecessary. Though she may not look exactly like the Wonder Woman from the comics I used to read (she’s rather slim-line in comparison to the Golden age version) she does possess a lot of power and successfully shares the screen with her male counterparts (as opossed to having them steal the limelight). The moment when the three are first united did induce a real Fangirl moment for me, seeing the Trinity together. In fact I would happily argue that she steals the show from the broody boys…

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Easter eggs

There are many moments in this film that are for the fans, moments that casual fans may get but not appreciate or may not even ‘get’ at all. I’m not going to state them fully here, just in case you’re reading this and want to avoid spoilers, so I’ll write them out but fill in the gaps. I liked seeing ………… in the ……….. I also loved the use of …… to show …………. Finally, the appearance of ……….. in the ……….. was an excellent yet subtle touch. These three aspects alone got me more involved in the next film than the film I was currently watching. By the way, there ARE NO AFTER CREDITS SEQUENCES. Don’t sit through all the credits it’s pointless (Hey Sam if you’re reading, yes I am referring to you here!)

Soundtrack

I don’t think you can go wrong with a Hans Zimmer soundtrack.His collaboration here with Junkie XL is immensely successful. The score for this film is beautiful and emotive, something I would actively choose to listen to outside of watching the film which I don’t often think/do. My personal favourite is the rather aptly-named ‘Is she with you?’ 

The bad/ugly

Superman/ Lois Lane

I know it’s cool to hate on Superman, but I am quite fond of him. To some he may represent archaic ideas of patriotism, but so does Captain America and that guy walks around wearing stars and stripes. Yet Dupes has never had the cinematic renaissance that Batman has had twice (1989 and 2005). The 1970s/80s films are enjoyable yet of their time, Lois and Clark was entertaining yet cheesy, and Smallville was ocassionally good if rather tween-y.In more recent years, Superman Returns was long and dreary whilst Man Of Steel was interesting yet lost its audience in the overlong battle-heavy final sequences.  Batman V Superman is not his movie either. Poor Henry Cavill spends most of the movie showing off his range of emo frowns. It’s that or rescuing Lois Lane THREE times. It’s all Amy Adams gets to do in the movie, which is a real shame as she is an incredible actress playing a character with incredible potential. 

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Dreams

Of all the time-wasting nonsensical moments in the film, it is the dream sequences which really stand out for all the wrong reasons. There’s no entry point into them, you’re suddenly immersed in them with no idea of what is going on in them. Then the character wakes up and the audience is even more confused abiut what is going on. If the plot was more coherent it would be less problematic, but as the plot is so stodgy and indecifrable the moments just confuse as opposed to enhance what is going on in the main event.

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The plot

Speaking of the plot, very little of it actually makes sense. Motivations are blurred from the outset with very few that are actually convincing or believable. It feels like this is a Batman movie forced in with a Superman movie, the story jumps between one then the other without any link. Moments drift, storylines are picked up then dropped and things happen without explanation. I’m going to stay intentionally vague on this one to avoid further spoilers. Let’s just leave this with saying that everything is miscalculated and heavy-handed. Ultimately it’s a very hollow 151 minutes of things happening for little reason or care.

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‘Hello darkness my old friend’

A schism has formed over this movie between critics and fans. As someone who considers themselves to be both, I think the main argument over the ‘darkness’ of this film is flawed. I’ve read a lot of reviews talking about how this film is ‘too dark’ and fans retaliating with ‘the comic books are dark, it’s how it should be’. My answer to this? No. Yes some of the comic books are dark. Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, Jim Starlin’s Death in the Family and Jeph Loeb’s Hush (to name but three Batman story arcs) are dark, haunting and Gothic. Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy is dark, haunting and Gothic. Batman V Superman is not dark, haunting and Gothic. It’s murky and shallow. Its darkness is artificial and synthetic. It’s a wannabe-emo in contrast to the aforementioned masterpieces. It pouts, moans and frowns. It tries to make important statements and points but these are empty and ill-informed. It’s like wearing a band t-shirt when you don’t really know the band (one of my biggest pet peeves). Having your actors grimace and setting most of the action at night, fighting for ‘what is right’ does not a maketh a ‘dark’ movie. A coherent plot, one with depth, does.

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Lex Luthor

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor appeared like a strange choice since it was first announced. This was embraced by Zack Snyder who promised great things, new take on a classic archvillain. In the comic books Lex Luthor is a charismatic business magnate who is physically powerful and formidable. He is shown to be a true threat to Superman. Charismatic, powerful and formidable are not phrases one would associate with Eisenberg. So perhaps this would be a refreshing new take on the character? Nope. It’s Jesse Eisenberg playing  Heath Ledger playing the Joker as Lex Luthor. He is weedy, has daddy issues and rambles. Everything he says is either shouted or mumbled. His hand mannerisms are twitchy and strange,  dominating each frame. This man is no threat but a nuisance who gets in the way. To use his performance as an analogy for the entire film – it’s devoid of depth and is ultimately lacking. 

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Zoolander No.2

Another example of a sequel that is a poor imitation of the original.

In 2001 (15 years ago!) the world was posed a question, a question for the ages, “Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?” Derek Zoolander found the answer by the end of the film (spoiler alert!) with family, friends and a charity project running “The Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too.” Within the first three minutes of the sequel all of that resolution is turned on it head, then burned to the ground and thrown away. If the intent was to then set up the sequel as being completely different, and ‘fresh’ compared to the original, then the fatal flaw in that plan is writing a film that’s funniest (and only) laugh-inducing moments are references to the original…

Justin Bieber is dead. After running away from assassins on motorbikes (having displayed some serious parkour moves) he is shot countless times. In his dying moments he manipulates his face into Blue Steel and takes a selfie, then gives into his fatal injuries. He is the latest in a long line of celebrities to be assassinated, taking a Derek Zoolander-themed selfie before dying. The fashion division of Interpol need his help but no-one knows where he is. Seven years ago, after the death of his wife and losing custody of his child, he decided to become a ‘Hermit Crab’ and go into hiding. Only one man can bring him out of his slump…

From the opening sequence alone you can tell how the rest of the ‘humour’ of the film will play out. An opening sequence is so key to a film, so crucial for setting the tone and level of the rest of the film. In this case? Well, it’s such a pandering sequence – ‘Hey! You average Joe, you hate Justin Bieber right? So we’re going to kill him off to make you laugh. We can make your dreams a reality. Love us!’ It’s a problematic choice for multiple reasons.

1) Hating Justin Bieber seems so last year/s. He’s had a bit of a renaissance in the past 18 months so the hate has become, for most, either ambivalence or embarrassed adoration. Therefore the slightly dated nature of the script becomes apparent. He’s also an easy target, one of many that are used to minimal effect, within a script seemingly tailored from social media circa 2013/4.

2) It’s an overlong sequence. Stretching out the humour becomes a motif of the film. Pacing of jokes never really seemed an issue with the first film (queue my rewatching it ASAP) but it is a real issue here. The ratio between gag build-up and punchline is definitely off.

3) Having Bieber appearing to do parkour, then being shot at least 30 times before taking a selfie before dying demonstrates how overblown and tacky the film will be. Zoolander No.2 presumably has a bigger budget, gladly and gawdly shows this fact off.

4) He is one of the countless celebrities to be shoehorned into an overwrought and clunky script. Though his role in the events of the story is clear (if rather ineffective) many others are not. A few stand out in terms of strange but also strangely funny (I’m looking at you here Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiefer Sutherland) but others are borderline pitiful (Anna Wintour and your crew, you didn’t, to quote Tim Guun, ‘make it work!’) 

Zoolander No.2 is a difficult watching experience for fans of the original. The plot is thin, the jokes humiliate rather than delight and the frivolity leaves the film rather throwaway. Like its eponymous character, Zoolander No.2 is empty and full of air. It may be filled of those who are ‘really really ridiculously good-looking’ but it’s forgotten that there’s more to life than that.

I hope they had more fun making the film that I had watching it. Disappointing.

Triple 9

A.K.A what happens when bad movies happen to good actors

Sometimes you will go the cinema and see a film for one actor you particularly like. Occasionally, you are lucky enough to see a film that for two or three of actors who like. It’s rare to find a film that has an entire lead cast that you truly admire. Triple 9 has a cast made up of some truly talented actors (listed with my favourite of their works):

The trailer for the film looked engaging enough, full of twists and deceit. Then, last night at Cineworld’s Unlimited Secret Screening, I got to see Triple 9. The film is a flawed, convoluted and bitterly depressing 116-minute journey. In all honesty, I would have walked out at about 30 minutes in, if it were not for wanting to find out what happened to the characters played by the above actors along with the fact that I wanted to write a fully-informed review about it. My main hope from writing this review is to discover why I instinctively and vehemently did not like this movie.

Michael (Ejiofor) is the head of a criminal crew that is formed of cops and criminals. The film opens with Michael and his crew (Reedus, Mackie, Paul and Clifton Collins Jr.) undertaking a bank robbery. The men are vicious, with an arsenal of tools to threaten. These include guns, explosives and even a portfolio of information about the bank manager’s personal life to adequately blackmail. The crew get what they came for and leave, but their escape is made messy by greed, which leads to the accidental opening of a dye pack which marks all of them. This mistake aside, all appears well and they hand over the item they stole for gangster Irina Vlasov (Winslet). She withholds their payment however, as she wants them to commit an even more high-profile robbery. A robbery that the men think would be impossible. That’s when one of them realises that it would be possible if the gang splits into two. One half would commit the robbery itself, whilst the other half would provide the police with a distraction. The only crime that would distract an entire police force would be  a Triple 9 – the shooting of a fellow officer. The new partner of Marcus (Mackie) would be the ideal target. However Chris (Affleck) is the Sergeant Detective’s (Harleston) nephew, and both men are highly suspicious as to the identities of the crew.  

First and foremost, it is not the cast who are at fault with this movie.Each of the actors brings a great deal to role, not one of them phones in their performance. Each actor uses what little they have been given to great effect. It’s practically everything else that is a problem. The opening sequence is comprised of tight-framing, minimal lighting and dialogue that poses more questions than answers. By starting in media res (mid action) the film trying to engage you what is going on, but does not provide any reason to actually care about the characters who are participating in these events. This is true of the entire film, we are given little-to-no reason to care about any of the characters. The crew are not charismatic or conflicted enough to be anti-heroes, and the ‘heroes’ are too flawed to side with.

The story that then plays out appears cleverer than it actually is, often leaving the audience unsure what is going on but not motivated enough to figure it out. There is little connection between each scene, jumping around between different characters at different times, without any clarity of how much time has passed. It drifts between place, people and time without giving the viewer anything to anchor on. If a point is trying to be created through this technique, some attempt at social-cultural-political commentary, it does not succeed.

Then there’s the music which accompanies each sequence. The entire soundtrack is a lesson on how not-to-be-subtle, and how-to-bulldoze-your-audience. A soundtrack which is effective at building tension should be a mix of soft and loud to truly emphasize the points of tension. It should not be turned up to eleven for Each. And. Every. Single. Dramatic. Moment.

The cinematography is another example of how the film tried to be clever, but instead isolated the audience.  There’s shaky cam, fast-paced editing with a camera that moves too fast to allow the viewer to actually focus on anything. On the Sky Superscreen at the o2 Arena the effect was rather nauseating instead of tension-building.

Finally, for a cast of this skill and range, a director who could reign them in would be key- a key requirement that was clearly forgotten or ignored. At times many of the cast mumble their lines, making dialogue frequently incomprehensible. Perhaps this was a choice of tone, but frustrated audience is perhaps not really a tone. Many of the actors chew the scenery with over-acting and flailing about, always looking so bitter or impassive at what is going on. Then there’s Casey Affleck, not chewing the scenery but chewing gum in every single scene. His manner of chewing gum in this film rivals the mastication skills of a cow, imposing on his dialogue and stealing every scene he’s in just because it is so aggravating. Someone seems to have told him that his character must be channelled through his chewing gum habit, because Affleck seems to put every once of his acting skill into they way he chews that gum. I’ve never seen chewing gum chewed so aggressively or arrogantly outside of the secondary school I work out. He uses it to show the mood of his character, clearly using that instead of acting to provide any semblance of characterisation.

For a film that wants to be the next The Usual Suspects, L.A Confidential or Training Day Triple 9 is a film that is far too hurried (a remarkable feat at two hours long) and far-fetched to be so. For an account of corrupt cops that is completely true, and is far more powerful and gripping, watch Precinct Seven Five.

The 5th Wave

The worst film of 2016 (well, 23 days in at least…)

Did you know that discount retailer Poundland (for those outside the UK it’s a shop where everything costs £1, which is roughly 1.32 euro or 1.43 dollars) stocks its own brand of Lego Star Wars? It’s called Battle of the Galactic. It’s an incredibly cheap and tacky-looking rip off of the original. That is what ‘The 5th Wave’ is to franchises like ‘The Hunger Games’ or even ‘Maze Runner’ and ‘Divergent’. It’s cheapily made, poorly constructed and steals the best bits from other films/books then regurgitates them into a mediocre mess. What makes this film even more ‘impressive’ is that it is not even ‘so bad it’s good’. It’s just really really bad and remarkably boring.

Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) was a ‘super normal teenage girl’. She had friends, went to parties, had a 2.2 family and had a crush called Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) who she spent most of her time day-dreaming about. But then… ‘it’ appeared. Some sort of alien space ship came from nowhere and started hovering above America. For ten days nothing happened. On the tenth day the first attack happened (the 1st wave) and destroyed all electric currents, followed shortly after by waves 2, 3 and 4. Most of the Earth’s population has been killed, with Cassie going with her family to a refugee camp. It’s at the camp that she is separated from her young brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur).  Nobody knows when the Fifth Wave will strike, or in what from it will strike, but it will happen. Against a backdrop of mistrust and fear Cassie makes a desperate journey to find her little brother, on the way meeting mysterious stranger Evan (Alex Roe) who may just be her only hope.

I would like to apologise in advance if, when you read that plot summary above you thought ‘Hey! This doesn’t sound quite so bad!’ Upon rereading it I have made the film sound far more interesting than it actually is. Between each of those events there is so much talking, needless and endless mundane talking, and dire reflecting. Whenever the action picks up it’s then forced to slow again by some pitifully-lacking, poorly-scripted, cliche-ridden sentiments.  For a film that is supposedly the end of the world, the world it features is so dreary and mind-numbingly boring that you do end up wishing for armageddon to happen so the film will end and you can go home.

Considering this film is a 15 (Hunger Games interestingly is a 12A) there is little to warrant it. The action here is so minimal, so bland and lacking in emotion compared to the superior franchise. The set pieces the film possess are so ineffective, clunky and predictable that there is little chance for escapism. The film becomes more and more absurd with each mind-numbingly boring sequence, yet remains utterly lacking in enjoyment. There is an occasional some-what amusing joke that gets shoe-horned into the narrative, but these moments are few and far between.

However, there was one factor about this film that was really reassuring – that will allow me to sleep a little lighter at night. The one thing I did learn from this film was that no matter how bad the alien apocalypse gets, I can still get my beauty products. There’s Moretz’s survivalist with the perfect hair, the sergeant (Maria Bello) with the perfect lipstick/foundation combo, and the smoky kohl-rimmed eyes (a pretty bad-ass Maika Monroe). It’s immensely reassuring to know that no-matter how desperate my battle for survival may get, my look will still be on-point. 

This film is not entertaining enough to hate-watch, or to watch ironically. There’s not even enough to make a drinking game out of it. I can’t even be bothered to turn this into a film rant. It’s just bad. It’s cheapily made, lazily shot with adequate-enough acting. The obvious intention is for this to be the start of a new franchise, one which nobody will want. In a week where I got to see ‘The Revenant’, a film which proved the potential power that film can have, I endured this film which shows that not everyone can handle the responsibility that the great power of cinema can have.

Watch it. Or don’t. Either way – it’s bad.

 

The Last Witch Hunter

Lightweight, idiotic and trashy – but not in a good way…

First with the positives; I got to walk on a red carpet last night! After picking up the tickets to the premiere from a tent just off Leicester Square Gardens, then seeing the hundred-odd people surrounding the red carpet, I then got to walk it! It was a pretty incredible experience. Although it was brief, and unsurprisingly no-one knew/cared who I was, it was a bit like walking on air. Perhaps more of a case of floating along than walking the red carpet. There was a brief Q&A before the actual screening of the film – with three of the main stars (Vin Diesel, Michael Caine and Rose Leslie) and director (Breck Eisner) which was also exciting – primarily as I can now say I was sat less than 20 feet away from Michael Caine. Now onto the less positive stuff; i.e. the film itself…

800-years-ago Kaulder (Vin Diesel) lost his wife and daughter to murdering witches. Determined for revenge/justice he joins a raid to destroy the Queen of the witches. Many of his peers die, but Kaulder does not. Kaulder is the last man standing in a face-off with the Queen, one which results in both of their apparent deaths. However, the Queen curses Kaulder in her last breaths to remain immortal – never to love and never to find peace. Now living in present day New York, Kaulder works with a religious sect to combat the thread of witchcraft. His liaison, Dolan 36 (Michael Caine), is one of his closest friends and about to retire leaving Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood) as his replacement. But when tragedy strikes, and Kaulder realises the Queen is returning, he must rely on help from the unlikeliest of people – a witch called Chloe (Rose Leslie).

Oh dear. Just, oh dear. This film is as good as its trailers (i.e a shambles). Again, as I have done with previous reviews, I will rely on bullet points to make my rant somewhat comprehensible.

  • The Plot – Derivative and out-dated. During the Q&A the director boasted of the film’s originality; proud of the fact it is not based on a comic book/tv series etc. After watching the film, this appears to be a flawed statement. The narrative is far from ambitious or new. The plot twist is immensely vanilla. All of the dialogue is just exposition, telling the audience what has happened/what will happen next. The scene with Max in the bakery, and the conversation between Kaulder and Dolan 37 exemplifies this, with Kaulder actually saying to 37, ‘Did you understand any of that?’ This is purely for the ‘benefit’ of the audience, who are clearly being presumed to be of minimal intellect. Kaulder then ‘kindly’ explains it to 37/us. The actual mission Kaulder is on is both absurd and poorly-paced, drifting from one set piece to the next. The story itself is messy, and how it is told it unbearably flat.
  • Gender roles – Who doesn’t love a casual bit of misogyny in their cinema? In a year that saw our silver screens graced with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road we have a film that returns us to the woman-as-sidekick/pretty face. Considering how fierce her turn as Ygritte in Game Of Thrones was, Leslie is ill-served here. Her character is a witch, dressed in black and with loads of jewellery (another tick for the lack of originality box). The character could have been given any career but no, Chloe works as a bartender. [Spoiler alert!] it gets burnt down at some point and she spends a good chunk of time blaming Kaulder, moaning that the bar was all she had. Clearly she had forgotten just how big her Central New York apartment is (a problematic feature of tv/film is giving broke characters unrealistically fabulous apartments – a topic for another time). She then spends much of the time in emotional turmoil and needing to be rescued. Her witch powers are the kind that requite her to sit still and go into people’s minds – disappointing considering she could have been scripted to instead kick ass with her powers or even be able to defend herself without his help. The fact Vin Diesel himself must be almost twice Leslie’s age, and his character about 775 years older, a suggested romantic subplot is both ridiculous and patronising. Why not hire an older actress if so insistent on partnering them off? The fact that her accent wavers from cut-glass to eardrum-slicing really doesn’t help her characters attempts at appeal.
  • Vin Diesel – Kaulder is sad (blank expression and monotonal voice). Kaulder is being sardonic (blank expression and monotonal voice). Kaulder is being brave (blank expression and monotonal voice). Vin Diesel crosses the line from being hilariously bad in this role to being depressingly bad. His attempts at quips and banter fall flat without intonation and emotion. Vin Diesel in person has a great deal of charm but is so unconvincing in this with an incredibly wooden performance. Coincidentally you’ll spend the whole film waiting to boom the line, ‘I am…’ Character traits for Kaulder are heavy-handed added on – his predilection for watches to show that he’s deep and reflects of time because he’s immortal. He drives a fast sports car because he can afford one as he’s lived forever. He only sleeps with air hostess as he has a fear of commitment. All of these attempts at providing depth instead reveal how transparent the plot and its characters are.
  • Direction – The special effects are so bland and unspectacular, almost sludgy in presentation. Even without advertising (which has a separate budget) this film cost $90 million to make. Where did it all go?

This film is not even entertaining to be ‘so bad it’s good’. It’s just bad. Bad and boring, which is an unforgiveable crime in cinema.  Avoid.

The Visit

Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers.

Aged nineteen a small town girl, living in a lonely world, ran away with a substitute English teacher. Her parents had tried to persuade her that it was an awful idea. They had begged her to stay. On that afternoon, before she fled, something ‘awful’ happened during that confrontation, which led to the relationship between her and her parents being severed. The girl and her now-husband had a baby girl shortly after, followed two years later by a baby boy. Ten years later the substitute English teacher ran away with another woman, leaving behind his wife and two young children. A difficult five years followed, with the three still struggling to come to terms with the abandonment. That’s when a message arrives from her parents, who found them online. They acknowledge that it may be difficult to re-establish their relationship with their daughter, but would love to start one with their grandchildren. The grandchildren agree and beg to visit their grandparents. The mother reluctantly agrees, sending them off to her old hometown, whilst she herself goes on holiday with her new partner.

The grandchildren make their own way there by train, and are met at the station by their anxiously waiting grandparents who are holding a banner decorated with welcomes. They drive back to the family home, and a mutual fondness is formed. The grandparents dot on the grandchildren and their quirks, and the grandchildren are bemused by these old folks whose bedtime is 9:30pm. At 10.15pm the granddaughter leaves her bedroom to be greeted by her grandmother pacing the downstairs in a trance and projectile vomiting. The next day this is explained away by a tummy bug.

For the rest of their week-long stay the grandchildren realise that there is more than just character quirks going on here, something is seriously wrong. What makes them think this? The grandfather stores hundreds of used adult diapers in the shed. The grandmother runs around the house naked at night scraping the walls and crawling around the floor. She sits in a rocking chair cackling to herself whilst staring at the wall. She chases them underneath the house. She has a breakdown whilst discussing ‘that afternoon’ and also spends one night waiting outside the grandchildren’s room holding a knife.

When having a conversation via Skype with their mother they hold the camera towards the grandparents and the plot twist is revealed – those are not actually their grandparents. The mother tells them to try to escape and that she is on their way. The grandchildren are trapped into playing a game of trivial pursuit, during the course of which all is revealed. For when the granddaughter escapes into the basement she find the bodies of an elderly couple – a framed photograph beside them reveals that they were her grandparents. The imposters are escaped mental patients, who wanted to pretend to have a family just for a week. They were jealous of the actual grandparents, who were volunteer therapists. In fact, the fake-grandmother had actually drowned both of her own children.

Two confrontations happen, with fake-grandfather rubbing a used diaper in the face of the grandson and the fake-grandmother chasing the granddaughter around a locked bedroom. The granddaughter kills the fake-grandmother with shards of a broken mirror. The grandson, with the aid of his sister, kills the fake-grandfather by slamming his head in the fridge doors multiple times. The mother then arrives and takes them to safety; the final scene has the mother revealing the ‘awful’ events of that afternoon fifteen years ago. She had slapped her mother and her father had slapped her in return. Fade to black.

There are so many issues with this film it is hard to start. So instead of a normal review, which would instead become an incomprehensible and lengthy rant, I will instead use bullet points to divide these issues into sections.

  • Child Safety: The fact the mother does not actually check the children have been collected by the right people. Yes, she has not seen or spoken her parents for fifteen years who explain her reluctance to do so, but surely any parent would want to perform some sort of check? This aspect then undermines and already ridiculous plot twist. During the week the mother tries to explain away the oddness of the grandparents by stating that they elderly. But, realistically, the problems that the grandchildren are describing cannot be explained by that when considering how old the grandparents should be. If the mother was nineteen when she had the children, the oldest of which is now fifteen, her parents really couldn’t be much older than seventy. When her children describe these incidents to her, wouldn’t she be shocked that her parents were acting in such a way?
  • Plot twist: After a week of increasingly terrifying antics from the grandparents – which they attempt to explain away with a night-induced form of sleep disorder as well as a– to explain be explained away by the fact ‘well, they were crazy’ is so flawed and archaic that it’s offensive. Considering this is 2015, to have a portrayal of escaped mental patients is already asking for trouble, but to then assign them traits such as staring into the distance at nothing, an obsession with bodily functions, homicidal tendencies (involving knives, hammers and ovens), crawling along floors, scrapping at walls and screaming is disturbing in its facileness. The fact that both grandparents try to explain away their behaviours with varying excuses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s may anger some, let alone the fact the children do not question whether these things could actually be related to the frightening behaviour of their grandparents, is also problematic.
  • Storytelling: This is yet another M Night Shyamalan film that depends on a twist. The Sixth Sense is viewed as his best attempt at this, though that film only holds up for two viewings maximum before the novelty is shed. Interestingly, at the preview screening I attended Shyamalan was asked whether he wrote the plot twist first then filled in the rest. Shyamalan vehemently denied this, claiming he wrote stories about people and the twist followed. There is no evidence of this claim upon watching The Visit. Unlike The Sixth Sense, few will inflict a repeat viewing upon themselves. The film hinges on the twist, and your opinion on the twist will depend on whether you actually care about the main characters.
  • Characterisation: The grandchildren will divide audiences. 15-year-old Beca is a profoundly pretentious wanna-be documentary maker, who views life as a series of moments that she could record if they have the correct lighting and naturalistic elements. 13-year-old Tyler is a wanna-be rapper who tries to make up for his pre-pubescent features with attempts at charm and swagger. He likes to freestyle rap. They are each given a character trait which the film deems in need of ‘fixing’. Beca has low self-esteem and cannot look at herself in the mirror. Tyler is a germaphobe. Again, if you end up caring about the characters who may consider this important. Or, you may think it’s a waste of time.
  • Shaky Cam: Used to tell the entire film. Overused and nausea-inducing.
  • Genre mash-up: A blending of genres can work. This one doesn’t. Shyamalan explained that he wanted to blend family drama with the horror elements, along with comedy. The result is a film which is confused about what it actually wants it to be. It creates tension, sheds it to try to make you laugh, then tries for a quick scare.
  • Ending: Five people die during the film. By having a final sequence with the mother recounting the events of that afternoon fifteen years ago, reconnecting with herself and her past, then suggests that this was the entire purpose of the movie. That everything her children endured, and that those five people died for, was to allow her to come to terms with the events and herself. The fact the actual events of that afternoon remain secret creates tension that is bound for anti-climax. For what could be as awful as what her children endured, or the fact both her parents are now dead? Yes, the fact she hit her mother and her father retaliated was awful, but if one were to rank awful events during this film it would not own the number one place. The fact we are not given many opportunities prior to develop sympathy for her, reduces the emotional response that is supposed to be generated.

The Visit is only roughly ninety minutes long, but it feels like so much more. It’s bloated with ridiculousness, flawed ideas and frustrating characters.

M Night Shyamalan explaining his 'craft'

M Night Shyamalan explaining his ‘craft’