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

 

 

The Neon Demon

“Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Where to start? Yesterday I had the privilege, courtesy of Little White Lies film magazine, to attend a preview screening of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s The Neon Demon, at the very schmancy Soho Hotel with my friend Galia. The film is not released until June 24th in the States and not until early July in the UK. However the film had its international premiere at Cannes last month which led to a substantial amount of reviews. As it stands on June 2nd the film has a rating of 6.8/10 on IMDB and 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s looking like The Neon Demon is not going to be the new Drive (7.8/10 and 92% respectively) and there’s one really good reason for that. Refn’s return to LA is with a film that confuses depth with emptiness, mistakes meaning with vapidity and chooses style over substance. The result is an exploitation movie disguised as art, smothered with layers of pretension.

16 year-old Jessie (Elle Fanning) has just moved to Los Angeles. No-one appears to know or care that she is there. Jessie knows she is beautiful, She also knows that beauty is dangerous and that other women would kill for it. After her first photoshoot with amateur photographer and potential love interest Dean (Karl Glusman) Jessie is befriended by makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). Ruby offers to be the friend Jessie so desperately needs yet Ruby’s other two friends Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), models only slightly older than Jessie, view Jessie instead as threat and competition rather than a new-found friend. It soon seems like everybody in LA wants a piece of Jessie, her beauty is admired and envied in equal measure – but what will it end up costing her?

What rather infuriates me reading back the plot summary I have just written is that I have made the film sound fun. It isn’t really. Moments of the film are, when the film casts a satirical eye on LA and the modeling industry, but when the film loses focus and Refn seems busy being self-congratulatory about his own brilliance – that’s when you see the film for what it really is. Vapid and empty. I’m sure it would be easy to argue that was intentional, a reflection of the 21st Century’s perception of models and beauty (blah blah yah yah)… but no.

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Prior to the film’s screening its director and lead were invited to talk about the film and answer some questions (picture courtesy of Galia). Refn said, and not for the first time in the promo for this film, that ‘I wanted to make a film about the 16-year-old girl inside me’. This resulted in awkward stifled guffaws from an audience who hadn’t yet seen the film. For the first half of the film there are instances where you can see very loosely what he means by this. Jessie’s interactions with casting agents (Christina Hendricks), auteur photographers (Desmond Harrington) and wildly miscast ‘scary’ motel owners (Keanu Reeves) explore the vulnerability of the young in an industry that can be so parasitic and vampiric. It is during this period that the cast really shine. Fanning possessing an ethereality – an otherness that draws yet repels – Malone unnerving as a metaphorical wolf in friends clothing, Heathcote and Lee wonderfully cold as Jessie’s rivals.    

It is these more conventional moments that are some of the most engaging. They are intersected with moments that are more exploratory and ‘artistic’ (read: rather deluded and self-indulgent). These moments are overlong, assaulting the senses in a way that should be poetic but instead aggravate. However the soundtrack during the entire film is phenomenal – throbbing away and pumping tension into each scene. And, it must be said, the use of colour and lighting during these moments and the film in it entirety is truly extraordinary. Refn’s color blindness means that his use of colour must alway be in high contrast so he can see it (fact courtesy of Galia). The use of lighting and colour within each of these sequences establish then reflect the tone and ongoings in each sequence. It’s almost as if his use of colour reflects the dichotomy of the human experience…. (sorry I had to try at sounding like a proper film critic!)

It’s the film’s second half that gives into Refn’s epicureanism, resulting in the film becoming even less of a narrative (there wasn’t really one to start with) and more a spiral of ‘well that escalated quickly’. Things get weirder, even weirder, and then weirder yet. It is these moments that are the most problematic. I like weird. I am weird. But I need my weirdness in cinema to be purposeful. I don’t need to see a character deepthroating a knife without purpose nor a character performing necrophilia on a dead model again without purpose. Don’t even get me started on the shower sequence. I’m not the only one of the audience of about 50 of us who felt this way. The gasps and intensity of audience focus hugely shifted at this point, with the grosequeties accompanied by laughs of disbelief instead of the intended wonder.

These scenes have resulted in extreme horror from The Daily Mail (quelle surprise) with headlines such as “Coming soon to a cinema near you: Grim film featuring murder, cannibalism and lesbian NECROPHILIA that even shocked Cannes is now set for British screens” and “Has cinema ever been so depraved and the censors so amoral? CLARE FOGES on the extreme violence, cannibalism and lesbian necrophilia in new film The Neon Demon” These headlines are ridiculous for two reason. 1) I’m sure anyone who has seen a solid amount of film could name you films more graphic than this one. 2) Such headlines would give its pretentious twonk of a director an egotistical thrill and further fuel his perception of himself as some sort of revolutionary.  He’s not worth it.

The film favours an approach of Message over an actual storyline, choosing to drift between scenes as opposed to following a narrative and having loose outlines as opposed to actual characters. The more extreme moments are so needless they undercut everything that has occurred prior and throw any perception of The Message out of the window. If Refn wanted to criticise the modelling industry these scenes confuse The Message completely. Initially the film relies on the perverse pleasure of being voyeur of the voyeurs (we watch the watchers watching the watched) whilst pointing out the dark side of the industry. Yet once the aforementioned silliness occurs it is is almost like we see the film for what it really is – a mastabororty experiment where Refn gets to sadomasochistically annihilate his inner 16-year-old girl.

There are images and messages galore on offer within The Neon Demon, but the majority of these are like gaudy baubles. Beautiful to look at but totally empty.

2.5

X-Men: Apocalypse

“At Least We Can All Agree The Third One Is Always The Worst”

The above line is uttered by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) about halfway through the movie, when she and a few other character leave a cinema screening of Return of the Jedi. It’s one of numerous strange self-aware moments within the film. If this had come out a year after Deadpool it could easily be assumed to be a rip-off of the superior film’s meta sense of humour. Instead it comes across as strangely self-satisfied and almost arrogant. Considering her character is telepathic it almost feels like she was reading this viewer’s mind…

10 years after the stand-off with the Sentinel prototypes at White House the X-men have never been so far apart from each other yet have never been so strong individually. Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is full of mutants, with Professor Xavier himself (James McAvoy) and second is command Hank Mccoy (Nicholas Hoult)  keeping a close watch on telepathic protegee  Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and new recruit  Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) as both re struggling to control their powers. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a loner/nomad/mercenary helping other mutants.  Erik Lehnseer(Michael Fassbender) is now a married man with a young daughter. But when immortal physic mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rises from a millennia -long sleep  his awakening will have consequences for the world’s population of humans and mutants alike. 

How do you like your squash? I personally like it strong and full of flavour. I don’t like it weak – diluted and lacking in flavour.  That’s my problem with this film. To use this clunky analogy for all it’s worth the cordial (the good stuff) is diluted by too much water (i.e characters, plot and action). Although the ‘too-many-characters-may-spoil-the-broth’ did cause Civil War a bit of a stumble, in the case of this film it forces the film to fall flat on its face. Repeatedly.

Fatal Flaw Time: Characterization is almost completely abandoned in favour of action and set pieces. For fans of the franchise, or any of its other incarnations, we witness one dimensional versions of the characters we know and love. Lawrence as Raven/Mystique spends the majority of the film either wearing a pinched expression of exasperated  discontentment. McAvoy’s dialogue is reduced to  platitudes and mawkish ponderings. Sheridan does little to win favour for Cyclops in the versus Wolverine debate. Turner is okay as Jean Grey but her American accent quickly steals audience focus for all the wrong reasons. And, alhough it was great to see a cool AF version of Jubilee (Lana Condor) hanging around I’d rather her not even have been there as she is bitterly unused. Talk about how to (metaphorically) prick-tease a Fan-Girl!

Then there’s the villains. Fassbender has some incredibly emotionally and engaging sequences but is then too frequently forced to fade into the background. Isaac is criminally wasted, hidden under rubbery prosthetics with a character whose character and abilities are far from defined. The three new characters who join Magneto as the Four Horsemen are completely overwhelmed – Ben Hardy as Angel is ill-served, Olivia Munn as Psylocke weirdly reminded me of this sketch by Mitchell and Webb in terms of OTT villain-face and Alexandra Shipp as Storm seems more than interesting enough but underused. The villainous plot they hatch is of such a scale that is almost becomes bland (think the final 30 minutes of Man Of Steel) and completes overwhelms its characters.

Though, in fairness it’s so overstuffed with characters  it’s almost unsurprising, although not forgivable. The motivation of the characters is devoid of reason and the plan itself lacking real purpose. The plot is also so full of holes (talking Swiss cheese territory here) that it becomes incoherent. There’s nothing new or interesting with the plot, it takes some irritatingly familiar paths, that this film feels tired and bloated in comparison to its counterparts. It’s also so unbearably serious, akin to SvS:DoJ in terms of getting ‘dark’ confused with ‘murky’. 

In fact, upon reflection, the only franchise contribution I enjoyed and I am truly thankful for is that of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler. He is given some of the film’s funniest, sweetest and most moving moments. He’s a real joy to watch and probably the only reason I would risk the (inevitable) follow-up. What I can’t forgive the film for is a sequence that occurs just after the Jean Grey’s line about trilogies. After a rather wonderful and emotional sequence that has been delicately woven the tension is completely destroyed, totally sledgehammered, by a shift in tone that is so jarring it is unbearably stupid.  It’s a sequence involving Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters – who totally stole the show in Days of Future Past  in the space of 10 minutes of screentime) that I would have undoubtedly loved at any other point in the film. But, straight after such a well-executed and pathos-filled sequence, it is utterly wasted and even made me resent his character. By the end of the film my faith in him was somewhat restored though my love for him has been somewhat tainted. Such an inconsistent moment reflects the very nature of the entire film.

As a teacher I’ve found the true power of saying the following phrase and it’s the only phrase I can find that fully articulates my feelings towards this film. It’s not that I’m angry X-Men:Apocalypse – I’m just disappointed.

2 stars

 

Louder Than Bombs

What happens to a bomb that doesn’t explode?

My response to this film is surprisingly (well it would be to my past self) problematic. If I had reviewed it soon after watching yesterday I would have been rather damning of the film. Now, with roughly 28 hours worth of distance from seeing it, I feel slightly warmer towards it. (Only a few degrees mind – let’s not go crazy). With a level of retrospect I can admire the ideas and ambition of the film, something which I wouldn’t have been able to do initially after watching. However, whilst I may feel softer towards it I am still not a fan and think the film is largely unsuccessful it what it wants to achieve.

Three years ago famous war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) died in what most believed was a car accident. Now, as a museum retrospective of her life and works is fast approaching, her close friend is about to write an article about her in the New York Times and as he advises her widower Gene (Gabriel Byrne) he will mention in the article the fact that her death was most likely suicide. Gene must now find a way of telling his youngest son Conrad (Devin Druid) the truth before he finds out through other means. An opportunity to do so arrives when eldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg leaves his wife and newborn daughter to come home and help look through his mother’s work space to find photos for the retrospective. Whilst home Jonah must find a way of coming to terms with the past in the form of ex-girlfriend, his brother’s difficult present and how his future role as a father may be shaped by his relationship with his own. 

It’s interesting that through writing the above plot summary I found myself again warmly engaging with the key ideas of the film. All of us have been touched by some sense of loss and each of us will handle the grief in different ways – some may mentally stay in the past with that person whilst others may push such thoughts aside and stay primarily focused on the present and future.

All of the actors do a fine job in subtly portraying grief. Byrne’s father trying to do the right thing for his two boys whilst watching his relationships with both fade away truly pulls at the heartstrings and occasionally at the bone. Druid plays the difficult emotionally stunted teen finely and somewhat reflecting the universal horror of adolescence. As difficult as my audience-actor relationship is with Eisenberg (forgiveness for his version of Lex Luthor is still far far away) but at times I did appreciate his character Jonah. I can say quite honestly that in the film’s opening sequence I even enjoyed watching him.

But it’s Huppert’s grief that is perhaps the most visceral, even though it is she that is being grieved by the family she left behind. It is a roughly two minute sequence about halfway through the film that really demonstrates this. The camera just focuses on her face in close-up for two minutes. For those two minutes nothing else happens. But as we know her character and we know the emotional battles she suffered (between her art and being a mother/wife) we read the metaphorical scars on her face. We look into her eyes and see the utter despair. We look behind her mask in a way we either chose or are unable to do with each other in real life.

All of this being said I think these ideas are stunted by execution. Though the pontification and using on the nature of grief is extraordinary and truly applaudable, either through intention or accident we are unable to connect with any of the characters – all are pretty unlikeable on various levels and for various reasons. It’s this aspect of the film that will and has been truly dividing audiences. Perhaps it is intention – that grief cannot and should not be sugarcoated, sometimes it will bring out the worst in each of us. However I am in the camp that views this as a flaw and something that prevents me from truly connecting with the film.

Whilst I well and truly admire the film’s sentiments and ideas by borderline disdain for it’s characters stops me from truly appreciating its merits. The fact the film takes a rather poetic storytelling approach, of drifting between moments, of days being indefinable, of present day being interchangeable with memory, did was not cohesive enough for me. In some ways I write this paragraph with a degree of apology, as someone who lost a relative (my uncle) in June and will soon be facing the prospect of that first anniversary without him. Sometimes I reflect on whether I am grieving ‘properly’, if I am approaching my grief ‘healthily’ and if I am ‘normal’ in my response. The film carefully weaves these ideas into it’s narrative but somewhat abandons them in favour of artistic statement and style.

Whilst full of poignant moments the film is ultimately too cold and reserved to provide the cathartic intimacy it appears to wish to provide.

2 stars

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.