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.

 

Fantastic Four

An open letter to 20th Century Fox,

[HERE BE SPOILERS!]

Dear 20th Century Fox,

I write this letter/review to you immediately after seeing ‘Fantastic Four’. I’d like to ask to ask you one simple question. How did that happen? How did you manage to make such a mind-blowingly boring superhero movie? The film only lasts 100 minutes, but it felt like so much more. I do not write this to you as a comic book puritan, or as a ‘Fantastic Four’ puritan. I’ve only ever read one or two ‘Fantastic Four’ graphic novels, and I have a rather big soft spot for the 2005 film starring Chris Evans and Jessica Alba (yes, I know it’s pretty awful and dated but it is rather funny and, unlike this movie, rather entertaining.) I’d read the damning reviews of this, but still held out hope that there were some redeeming features within the movie. There really weren’t. The characters were tedious, unlikeable and one dimensional. The Frustratingly-dull Four, sorry ‘Fantastic’ Four (Reed Richards/ Mr Fantastic – Miles Teller, Ben Grimm/The Thing – Jamie Bell, Sue Storm/ Invisible Woman – Kate Mara and Johnny Storm/ Human Torch – Michael B. Jordan) were ill-served. They were given such rubbish material in terms of script that it’s unsurprising there was barely an ounce of charisma between them. But not only was the characterisation within the movie immensely poor – so was the pacing and story-telling. Whilst all films could be divided into acts, as an audience member you shouldn’t be able to see it. With this film there were three clear acts: the bad, the meh and the god-awful. Let’s look at them together…

The origin story’
Well first of all you stumbled at the first hurdle. Origin stories are problematic and require a careful balance. Whilst you want to introduce a mainstream audience who may not have any prior knowledge of the characters or their humble beginnings, you also want to placate the fans who are already well-versed in the mythology. I doubt you appeased either of those audiences. For one thing, the ‘Fantastic Four’ have a rather simple origin story – an experiment goes wrong and four scientists end up with superpowers. Done. It doesn’t require 30 minutes of screen-time to set this up, dating from childhood to the present day. It’s a bold decision, which requires a degree of audience sympathy to establish deep sympathy. Instead Reed Richards is established as a character of utter pity, presented in an unsympathetic portrayal of nerdom. He feels alone and an outcast (no points for originality here!) with his only supporter being his loyal best friend Ben Grimm. It’s at this point, 20th Century Fox, that you lost the majority of any fan-boy/girl loyalty. ‘It’s clobberin time’, The Thing’s battle-cry, his trademark for the past 54 years is established as the phrase Ben’s abusive brother uses as code that he is about to be beaten up. WHAT?!?! No. You took such a beloved catchphrase and tainted it, needlessly, utilising it as a symbol of darkness and pain. It many ways it’s the film’s Grimm-est (apologies, just trying to lighten the tone…) and one which would have alienated any of the ‘Fantastic Four’ fans who risked trailing this remake.
Conclusion: I care about Batman’s origins. I somewhat care about the Avenger’s origins (to varying degrees). I don’t care about Fantastic Four origins.
Finally the film gets to the should-be-good stuff with Reed, Ben and Johnny joined by Victor Doom (the only marginally interesting character, played by Toby Kebbell) use the machine they have created to enter another dimension, later named Zero. As made clear by the trailer (and known to anyone who knows even a small amount about comic books) it all goes wrong. The sequence itself is presented reasonably well and adequately (if not particularly subtlety) explains why each of the group got their particular power. Things seemed to be picking up…
 ‘Aftermath’
It’s at this point in the film that should I be forced, against my will, to retrospectively chose my ‘favourite’ five minutes, I would chose the first sequence of act two. The sequence where the three survivors, and the infected Sue Storm, are revealed to be being held at ‘Area 57’. They way their new powers are revealed to the audience, and their father figure Franklin Storm, hints at the film this could have been. The camera acts like a voyeur, examining these wounded figures and revelling in the grotesqueness of their new abilities. It’s almost like a David Cronenberg movie, with Reed’s stretched limbs, Sue intermittently fading out of existence, Johnny’s constant rage of fire and Ben’s hulking mass of boulders. They are treated and presented like the aftermath of a failed science experiment – which they are.
 ‘Showdown’
This sequence is cut bitterly short with Reed running away, promising to solve everything. Cut to black, ‘one year later’, then we have five minutes of exposition where we can see what the others three characters have spent the past year doing and how they can now harness their abilities. Then we have five minutes of a chase movie, where it’s proven to the viewer that Sue Storm is ‘smart’ as she can type furiously into a computer. Reed is located, returned to Area 57 and swiftly fixes the technology to revisit Zero. The human guinea pigs (some may call them idiots) who arrive at Zero are greeted by a seemingly injured Victor Doom. They bring him back to Earth and a dull-but-important man in a suit tells him that he plans to use Victor and the resources from Zero to create more human weapons. Victor does not react well to this and decides to wreak havoc on the facility and Earth itself. His proceeding actions, his Walk Of Pain if you will, are incredibly violent and rather shocking.
 In fact it makes the film’s 12A rating seem pretty, erm, mind – blowing (sorry…)
We then have 15 minutes of a battle sequence. This fails for two reasons. It’s plotted in a way that induces battle fatigue, ‘wow, looks explosions and things being destroyed!’ and is scripted in a toe-curlingly clumsy manner. Highlights include,
‘It’s Victor! He’s the power source!’ and  ‘He’s stronger than any of us!/Yes. But he’s not stronger than all of us!’ Victor is defeated and the four return home. They are given a new base of operations and discuss having a team name (yep, this film really favours subtlety…) Ben then reflects on his BF’s journey and says, ‘It’s just fantastic’ (spoken after he has literally been turned into a walking talking rock pile and just been used by the US military as a weapon for the past year. Reed pauses and says, ‘Wait. Say that again…’ And thus, in this ham-fisted manner, the team no-one really cares about is born and the film ends. No after-credit sequences, which this film could have really used.
All in all, 20th Century Foc, this film was bad. It was dull, boring, clunky and a poor attempt at a comic book adaption. One of the worst there has been for a long time. The fact that you made this film as a cynical way of holding onto the rights to the franchise, instead of letting them slip into the grasp of your mortal enemy (the immensely more successful Marvel Studios) make this an even more bitter cinematic experience. It’s sad to think of what might have been. You, perhaps over-eagerly, pencilled in a sequel before this film even came out. Good luck with that. It’s going to require more restructuring of both crew and cast than I think you have the balls for.
Best of luck,
Charlotte Sometimes