“Come on! Do I look brainwashed to you?”
May Eddie the Eagle fly at the box office
One thing that really grinds my gears is when people my age say to justify a gap in their knowledge is, ‘Huh! Well that’s from before my time I guess.’ That is then proceeded with a slightly awkward shoulder shrug. For someone who often reckons that music peaked around 1985 I think it’s often used as a silly filler line. However, in a rather hypocritical move, I am going to say that the rise and soar then laughing stock of British skier Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards is ‘from before my time I guess.’ Occasionally he would pop up on various panel shows and people would poke fun, and I’d be vaguely confused and envious that a man with such an awesome nickname was being used for laughs (what can I say, I was a thoughtful child…) Anyway, I’ll save the rest of that for my therapist.
My slightly convoluted point here is that I had no idea what the man had done to achieve such levels of infamy and mockery. Then, when I heard of the film, I thought ‘Yeah…good luck with that one!’ Time passed by and the trailer was released which made me realise that the film was my kind of film. Then I got invited by Den of Geek to attend a preview screening and Q&A with the director, Dexter Fletcher, at The Courthouse Hotel (a 5* hotel with unbelievably fancy toilets) and that takes us right up to now. Three days on from seeing the film and it still makes me smile. It’s a truly wonderful movie and I beg you to go and see it. Now (and if you’re still with me after that preamble I declare) to you my utter love and gratitude for sticking with me) let me tell you why it’s so damn good.
Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has wanted to be an Olympian for as long as he can remember. He was always the last to get picked for teams, spent a year in hospital due to the poor state of his knees and never quite seemed good enough for anything. He almost gave in and followed in his dad’s (Keith Allen) footsteps of becoming a plasterer until he found skiing, a hobby for which he had his mother’s (Jo Hartley) total support. He even made it to try-outs for the Olympic team before being told by the panel (lead by Mark Benton and Tim McInnerny) that he wasn’t Olympic material. That’s when Eddie decided that not only would he try on his own to make Team GB for the 1988 Winter Olympics, he’d teach himself how to Ski Jump by decamping to a training camp in Germany. Either being ignorant or in denial about the fact that most Ski Jumpers start aged 5/6 (Eddie being 22) he proceeds to train solo with great resilience both from injury and belittlement from the experienced jumpers. That’s when alcoholic ex-ski jumper Bronson Perry (Hugh Jackman) steps in to help Eddie from death by training. A friendship/brotherhood quickly forms between the pair, under the shadow of Perry’s ex-mentor Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken). Will Eddie become skilled enough to join Team GB or will his dreams die again once more?
This film is totally and utterly brilliant; an utter joy to watch. Though it’s not a state I often occupy, I felt so patriotic after seeing this movie. Partly because it’s a British movie, and it’s the kind of movie we do so, but mainly because Eddie’s journey and how it’s told is so unique to British cinema. Yes, other countries do underdog movies, but so few do them in this way. Eddie’s journey is so lacking in glory, so real (grey-area term as some of the movie is fictionalised) that he reflects each and every one of us. It’s an important reminder not to give up on your dreams, and the power of self-belief. It’s also bloody hilarious, that blend of slapstick and deadpan and sarcasm that makes British cinema so comparatively unique. I giggled, I laughed and I even snort-laughed. It was glorious.
Taron Egerton is already on the up-and-coming, cusp-of-greatness list of actors and this film cements it. Firstly, a post-viewing google showed how similar Egerton looks to 1988-era Eddie along with how scarily accurate the expressions and mannerisms are. He’s also such a great actor to watch, his handling of the pathos and comedy of the character is extraordinary. You do well and truly root for Eddie. Hugh Jackman is great in his mentor role, forming a great rapport with Edgerton. Allen and Hartley are little seen but add much to the impact of the film. Then, with a brief cameo, Christopher Walken sasses the hell out of two lines of dialogue.
There’s also a wonderful 80s soundtrack, as uplifting and smile-inducing as the film itself, brilliant use of sets on such a small budget and some hilarious character actors in supporting roles. Eddie the Eagle is being released into the wild on March 28th, the same weekend as Batman Vs Superman. So why not give some home-grown talent some love and go see it. I promise you it’s worth the money.
We may only be a quarter of the way into the year, but this may just be THE feel-good movie of the year. Go see it.
An unsentimental yet sincere depiction of illness and friendship
It may not have a particularly original plot and may be presented in a way that is ultimately wildly manipulative (read as: you will cry) the film itself is admirable in what it, mostly, achieves. It presents a relatively honest depiction of breast cancer; the impact it places upon relationships both platonic and romantic along with the physical toll it takes. Whilst that alone is immensely refreshing, this is furthered by the presentation of a friendship that will resonate with audiences’.
Millie (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been best friends since childhood. They have experienced every first together, everything from first kiss to first child, with their polar opposite personalities allowing them to bring out the best in each other. Whilst Jess is more conservative and stable, Millie is the overconfident and glamourous wild-child yet they are totally and completely inseparable. Both are happily married, yet rather than this separating them their respective husbands (Millie is married to Dominic Cooper’s Kit with Jess married to Paddy Considine’s Jago) and Millie’s two children instead make up one big family. But the family is rocked by Millie’s life-altering diagnosis of breast cancer, just as Jess finds out that she is pregnant with her much-longed for first child, which will put their friendship and their makeshift family to the ultimate test.
Collette does any amazing job (as is to be expected) playing Millie. Her acting, along with the screenplay and the film’s direction avoid what many similar films have done in the past, of making the person suffering from cancer into some sort of saint or martyr. Instead Millie stays the same as it is implied she always was – a mostly well-meaning but often not very nice person. This feature is really the film’s only comparatively unique feature. This, along with the portrayal of her treatment, make the film feel more honest and in a sense more brutal than others of this kind. Millie starts the film loud and vulgar, and although she spends the majority of the film in an oncology unit, she still stays the same person. Cancer doesn’t ‘fix’ her personalities ‘faults’, at times it only exacerbates them, consequently making her more relatable than many other presentations of the disease. It’s a reminder that cancer can, and with the current odds will, affect all of us whether we are good, bad or, like Millie, the grey area in-between.
However, it would be wrong to say this film is truly great or fully lives up to its potential. As we only see Jess and Millie’s friendship through flashback or montage, we are unable to fully latch onto their story. Aside from their respective health concerns, and a few references to a shared love of Wuthering Heights and R.E.M’s Losing My Religion, we aren’t really given enough about what makes them such good friends. The film constantly tells us this, but never shows us quite enough to engage us fully with their bond and ultimately does not earn the empathy it had the potential to do so.
Nevertheless, the ensemble cast, with Collette at the forefront, are all reliable and supply solid performances. Jacqueline Bisset is fantastic as Millie’s actress mother, Frances de la Tour momentarily steals the show in her short appearance as a wig-maker and Tyson Ritter (lead singer of All American Rejects) pops up as a swaggering barman.
From the opening of the film the inevitable outcome is presented, yet it will withhold interest and induce multiple bursts of tears throughout.
William Shakespeare: The Lost Years
Suffice to say, this is not another Bad Education Movie-style television to big screen disappointment of an adaptation. The team behind Horrible Histories have succeeded in translating their unique combination of historical-informed humour and slapstick. In fact Bill, along with Horrible Histories and their fantastical series Yonderland, has secured their place as natural successors to Monty Python and Blackadder.
Bill Shakespeare (Matthew Baynton) is a family man. He lives with his wife, Anne Hathaway (Martha Howe-Douglas), and their three children. Bill plays lute in a band called ‘Mortal Coil’, but after one concert where he tries to steal the spotlight he is told to ‘shuffle on’. It’s not us it’s you, they tell him. So Bill moves onto his next dream, being a playwright. As Stratford-Upon-Avon doesn’t actually have any theatres, he leaves his family to go and achieve his dream. In the process he befriends Christopher Marlowe and becomes embroiled in King Phillip II of Spain’s devious plot to murder Queen Elizabeth at a theatre production she is hosting.
The results are properly hilarious. The gag rate is so high, with most of it landing, that whilst laughing at one joke you may end up missing the next. Of all the genres it is arguably comedy that is the hardest to do well. Aim too broad and you please no-one, aim too niche and you end up pleasing a minimal market. This irreverent biopic carefully, and to great effect, utilises modern references and a panto-esque tone to keep the audience tittering from start to finish. There are a few that are groan-worthy gags, a couple which are smirk-creating, many that are chuckle-inducing and a good handful of proper belly laughs. The team are not limited by their obligation to educate, as they were with the excellent Horrible Histories, and use that freedom to great effect. Considering we do not know what actually happened to Bill during the years between his abandoning his family in Stratford and emerging as royal playwright William Shakespeare, the events of this film are entirely plausible… well unlikely but possible.
One can only hope that situations such as Shakespeare educating Christopher Marlowe in ‘your mum’ jokes did in fact occur. If only because it leads to an immensely funny recurring gag within the film, that is seconded only by a henchman’s inability to understand the concept of a Trojan Horse. Other highlights include Helen McCory’s toothy and worn portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, some lovely throwaways about funding of the arts and a hilarious reference to ‘clunky exposition’. Baynton is excellent and rather endearing as an idealist and optimistic Shakespeare, as is Howe-Douglas as his under-appreciated wife.
Bill has a relatively taunt and witty script that has a joke for everyone. As expected the chemistry between the cast is electric, the gags reliably brilliant and the timing of them is spot-on. Well worth a watch.
Two Tom Hardy’s don’t make for a Legend-ary film
On paper, this film seems like a great idea. The Kray twins were London’s most notorious gangsters – two men who both enjoyed being gangsters and what it entailed. Having Tom Hardy, one of cinema’s men of the moment, felt like a logical next step. After Armie Hammer successfully played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, having Hardy playing the central dual role didn’t seem outlandish. In practice, his performances do work. It’s the rest of the film that really doesn’t. With a wealth of material out there on the Krays, with so much of the truth being better than fiction, it’s frustrating how much Legend misses the mark. Although the film is marked as charting ‘the true story of the rise and fall’ it does no such thing. The ‘true’ bit is questionable after some post-screening research, and ‘the rise and fall’ is false-advertising. The film opens when the Krays are comfortably on the rise (so much so they are under constant police surveillance) and ends just before the start of the fall. The decision to pick these two periods as plot-points seems questionable, as a narrative they are not the most engaging, nor do they provide the audience with enough information to get them engaged. Audience members will be left with countless unanswered questions, no information about how the pair actually achieved this ‘rise’ nor the events or the aftermath of the ‘fall’. It seems ridiculous for a film with a 130 minute running time to have such serious gaps, even more so when it is filled with such needless fluff that make the film feel boring and far longer than the actual running time.
Our entry character into the world of the Krays is Frances Shea (Emily Browning). Frances meets Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) as her brother (Colin Morgan) works for Reggie as a driver. It’s heavy-handedly alluded that Frances has a history of mental illness, she’s ‘fragile’ and just returned home after ‘being away’. Little more information or film time is given to this, which is unfortunate as it could have increased the impact of France’s characterisation. It’s also doubly unfortunate as it could have created a nice parallel with the character plotting of Ronnie Kray (also, Tom Hardy). In the film’s single funniest sequence we witness Reggie visiting his twin, whose prison sentence resulted in being institutionalised and being declared certifiably insane. During this sequence we are informed that whenever Ronnie was uncertain or confused by what people said he would respond ‘interesting’. It’s a quirky touch that could have been utilised for greater effect. Their reunion is intercut with a conversation with a Kray heavy negotiating with a physiatrist for an all-clear for Ronnie. Ronnie is released from the mental hospital, leaving Reggie to start balancing loyalties to the two most important people in his life – Frances and his brother. These relationships are the main focus of the film, not the brother underworld careers. If you were looking for a ‘proper gangster’ (a phrase of Ronnie’s) movie, you’ve come to the wrong movie.
Frances and Reggie date for an unspecified amount of time, then become engaged for an unspecified amount of time and then marry for an unspecified amount of time. Not having a timeline for this period is frustrating, and furthers the sense of the film drifting from one sequence to another. This is a fatal flaw for two reasons. Firstly, the film appears to have strived to place character development over story arc yet there is no stand-out antagonist, rarely a clear motivation for character’s actions, and often no clear link between sequential scenes.. The film tries to restrict itself to how these events impacted the relationship between Frances and Reggie. This leads to the film’s second major fault, which makes Legend such a muddled and convoluted mess. If Frances was our entry point, and the focus is on her viewpoint on events, why are we shown events that she was not at and would never have known about? Reggie and Ronnie attend events and confrontations that would have been concealed from France’s knowledge as, in their eyes, she would not have needed to know what was going on. This flawed decision is empathised with the use of voiceover narration, with Frances narrating the majority of events. The use of voiceover narration in Legend is not used to great effect, it’s cloying and sentimental. The fact she narrates over events that would have been unknown to her confuses whether her viewpoint is truly restricted, as it would have been during the time of the actual events, or has been promoted to omniscient which then undercuts the themes and tone of the film.
Watching Legend makes for an exasperating cinematic experience. The cast do a truly fantastic job with the material they have been provided with – Hardy is suitably magnetic as Reggie though a bit of a caricature as Ronnie, Browning gives her best performance to date and Taron Egerton steals every scene as Teddy Smith – but that material is banal and structurally incoherent. Disappointing.
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.