Legend

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.

We Are Your Friends

You’ll Never Be Alone Again!

If you did not find yourself singing along when you read the above sentence, or are not aware of how that sentence links to the film’s title, this may not be the film for you. (Answer – it’s the central lyric to Justice Vs Simian’s 2008 hit ‘We Are Your Friends) The film is aimed squarely at Generation Y, bringing remnants of a traditional coming-of-age narrative together with modernity and scoring it with electronica. And it really works. Surprisingly so. It’s released at the perfect time, at the tail end of the summer, as the film reflects the comedown and bittersweetness this time of year brings. It’s the last party of the summer, are you in?

Cole (Zac Efron) is a 23-year old struggling DJ who lives in the San Fernando valley, the urbanised area on the other side of the Hollywood Hills, and dreams of becoming a world-renowned record producer. Cole’s three closest friends also dream of something big, something more than the lot they have been handed. Thursday night socials are the highlight of their week. The foursome spend the day hustling a crowd for nightclub, then reap the small rewards in the night with free drinks, the attention of women and the possibility of a small sum. During these night’s Cole gets to perform a set to warm-up the crowd for the headline act. It’s the only time he really feels alive. One night that headline act is James (Wes Bentley), a celebrity DJ who is losing the battles against his demons. He fears that he has lost his talent and relies on alcohol to push such thoughts away. His assistant and girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) loves him but is hurt to see him struggle in this way. James quickly becomes Cole’s mentor, becoming a big part of his life. So does Sophie, who Cole forms a connection with, which will force him into making difficult decisions about his future. 

Based on the trailers for We Are Your Friends it would have been easy to rule it out as an Entourage for the millennials. Cole’s crew is made up of similar archetypes as Entourage– the ‘hot head’, the ‘hustler’, the ‘brains’ and with Cole as the ‘talent’. Yet several aspects of the film prevent it from deserving this status, and in fact elevate it above it. Specifically the direction and cinematography. Directed and co-written by Max Joseph (one of the co-hosts of MTV’s Catfish) the film’s tone echoes the world it is set in: the humidity of LA, the tense uncertainty of their environment and the sheer unadulterated escapist joy that music can bring. Joseph makes some unique choices along the way with some stand-out sequences including the blend of live action and animation at the art gallery after-party and Cole’s scientific explanation of how to truly get the party started.  It’s the twist 2/3 into the film, along with a sleazy sub-plot, that brings the film back to Earth and makes this a far more realistic tale than the overindulgence and consumerist pornography of Entourage. We Are Your Friends is the Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ to the ‘Holiday’ of Entourage; this is a life in which the party isn’t always worth the resulting hangover.

Zac Efron excels in his role as lead. He brings an engaging mix of ambition and drive, retaining our sympathies throughout each difficult decision.  This film marks Emily Ratajkowski’s leading role (after rising to prominence in the music video for ‘Blurred Lines’) and she’s reasonably good with the material she has been given, stuck in a relationship in which she must watch her partner indulging in excess whilst having feelings for Cole. However in this film she does have an annoying habit of pouting after each utterance, and spends most of the film frowning. This could be an attempt at characterisation, but there could have been more done with the role of the enchanting muse.

The film, like it’s soundtrack, is pulsive and hypnotic. Watch this if you want to prolong your Summer for that little bit longer, or if you want to see a genuine feel-good movie.

Gemma Bovery

As charming and bittersweet as it’s kindred text

This is not a modern-retelling of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovery,or at least not a conventional update. With similar events and characters the film is instead a winsome, endearing if slightly flawed echo of the 19th Century novel.

Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) moved from Paris to a small village in Normandy seven years previously to takeover his father’s bakery. Martin mostly enjoys village-life; the simple routines of making and selling bread, being a husband and a father. However his ‘years of sexual tranquility’ end upon the arrival of Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton) and her husband Charlie Jason Flemyng. Martin cannot believe the coincidence of this British couple with THAT surname taking up residence in his village which has links to Flaubert and his novel. Not only do their names link to the book, but their lives appear to be following the text also. Martin quickly engrains himself into their lives, taking it upon himself to mentor Gemma and guide her away from the tragic end of the eponymous Madame Bovery.

It would make sense to briefly talk about the main, and only, real flaw of this film before really getting into the good stuff. The film doesn’t really have a main focus, instead drifting from scenario to scenario through irregular pacing or, occasionally, irregular links. In fact between a promising first act and a surprising (and rather entertaining) third act, the middle does meander therefore reducing the tautness of the narrative.

But this is compensated by the film itself being utterly endearing. The village and it’s surrounding areas is beautifully shot, with the camera finding beauty in every shot. The main beauty is Gemma herself, who is adored by many men and the clearly the cinematographer. Happily the script and Arterton’s performance combined make this adoration understandable to be audience, creating a bewitching character who is both beguiling yet frustrating in behaviour.

With this film you are forced into a fantasy world, which you are immersed in quickly and readily. The film is fun and engaging but with a melancholic heart at the centre.  Gemma Bovery is pleasant and ambling depiction of how love can be fraught and frantic, full of yearning and seduction, adultery and scandal.

Mistress America

A witty and endearing sister comedy

A ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ was a term coined (and since abandoned) by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2007. It refers to a stock character type; a female character who is bubbly and quirky, who enters the life of a brooding, serious male to help him embrace the joys and wonderment of life. (See Kristen Dunst in Elizabethtown, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Zooey Deschanel in practically every movie.) Typically, though not in every case, the MPDG  is shown through the eyes of the male character (known as the Male Gaze) who idealises her, lusting after her and placing her on a pedestal. What’s interesting, and truly refreshing about Mistress America is that some of the MPDG and her narrative ways are on display whilst also being subverted and questioned. This film is the story of a hipster-sect but told with old-fashioned sophistication; an honest look at the complexities between worship and reality. But instead of a traditional romance the focus is on friendship.

Tracy Fishcoe (Lola Kirke) is an 18-year-old college freshman undertaking her first semester in New York. She’s not enjoying it. It’s not what she had expected, feeling like she doesn’t fit in. In fact her life feels like she’s at a party where she ‘doesn’t no anyone.’ She gets rejected by a  boy, then rejected for an elite writing society and every attempt she makes to try and fit in becomes just another knock-back. Her soon-to-be-remarried mother suggests Tracy call her Brooke (Greta Gerwig) as this marriage will make the pair step-sisters. Brooke also lives in New York, but Tracy is too intimated to make the phonecall, believing this woman 14-year her senior would not want anything to do with her. However one lonely dinner -time she takes the chance to call Brooke, who instantly agrees to meet her. They enjoy a crazy night-out together, and continue to meet-up. When Brooke’s restaurant dreams start to fall through, Tracy endeavours to help the woman she now views as a sister.

In many ways Brooke meets a lot of the criteria of a MPDG, she’s the life and soul of every party. She knows everyone, appears able to do anything, and is keen to immerse Tracy in her world. Brooke even has a ‘quirky’ habit, appearing to not listen to other people so conservations with her sound disjointed.Even after meeting Brooke just the once Tracy is inspired to writer new short story, about thinly veiled version of Brooke. If this film wanted to be conventional or typical, it could have stayed this way. Brooke could have just stayed as Tracy’s muse, whose pure function is to inspire and guide her (an aspect that is mentioned within the latter half of the film). What’s so clever and makes the film so heart-warming is it isn’t just about that. It’s about friendship and sisterhood. It’s about how life doesn’t always meet up to it’s expectations and isn’t always as easy as it appears to other people. It’s the act of putting on a smile whilst inside you’re terrified.

When you’re 18 you’re certain that by the time you’re 30 everything will be sorted. That you’ll know everything, have everything and life will be sorted. Mistress America shows that really doesn’t happen, but that’s not a bad thing.

Trainwreck

It’s not quite a Trainwreck, but it’s not a home-run either.

Amy Schumer is America’s latest ‘alternative’ golden girl. With a hit sketch comedy series on comedy central, her renowned stand-up skills and now Trainwreck (which she both wrote and stars in) she’s being placed in the ranks alongside Lena Dunham (creator, writer and star of Girls) and Mindy Kaling (creator and star of The Mindy Project) in terms of ‘funny women who have something to say.’ It’s a lazy way of grouping (that’s Hollywood for you) but it doesn’t make a degree of sense; with all three women writing and portraying characters who are more life ‘real-life’ with ‘real’ issues and ‘real’ coping mechanisms. It’s also applicable for the film in question, with Schumer consequently being lauded for greatness with the comedy schtick she displays here.

Amy (Amy Schumer, who has admitted the role is a more intense version of herself) and her younger sister Kim (Brie Larson) are told by their father, from a young age that ‘monogamy doesn’t work. This why he and their mother are divorcing; explaining this to the girls using an analogy about dolls and would they really want to ‘only ever play with one doll their whole lives.’ It’s a clever and believable st-up, explaining adult Amy’s ‘promiscuous’ behaviour (let’s just ignore the loaded idea that such behaviour requires an explanation.) 23 year’s on from her dad’s announcement we are reintroduced to Amy who almost has sex with a guy she doesn’t really know, which goes less than smoothly before she ends feigning sleep. In a voice-over narration she pointedly informs us they we are not to feel sorry for her as she has a great job, a great apartment, great family and great friends. This is an aspect really emphasised within the trailers and promo, that Amy has a great life and doesn’t need a man.

However this is contradicted within 15 minutes when we enter her work place, a men’s magazine called S’Nuff. Her boss ( a near unrecognisable Tilda Swindon) is bold, brassy, frequently insulting and demanding. Yet it’s uncertain if we are actually meant to admire her, understanding that these traits are a unfortunate necessity to survive and succeed in the male-dominated industry that is journalism. What is most unsettling about Swindon’s presence her (she is fantastic nevertheless) is how media outlets have reacted to her appearance. She’s tanned, with blown out blonde hair, eyeliner and power suits. Many have been quick to say how ‘glamorous’ she looks, and with an unclear intention of whether she’s a caricature or a statement it’s unsettling as it’s almost saying that her over-the-top stylistics are an ideal whilst ignoring how immensely unlikeable her vulgar character is.

The film is also quick to point out that whilst Amy is having sex with multiple different partners, none of this sex is particularly enjoyable or fulfilling. In fact the sex scenes that the film shows (until she meets Bill Hader’s character) seem more endurance than anything else. Why have a film which makes such a big deal about how the main character is a free and single woman enjoying life, then reveal that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be? That’s the most difficult aspect of the film, and one which is confusing when considering the advertising and how this film is reflecting modern women. Is the film saying that any women who have a lifestyle like Amy’s and who believe they are enjoying it, are actually in denial and in desperate need of monogamy to ‘fix’ their lives and impose a traditional lifestyle? In fact this film could, depressingly, easily be read as an attack of post-feminism and an assertion of conservattist attitudes on ‘deviant’ women.  Because, aside from some of the over-the-top set pieces (director Judd Apatow’s specialty),  this film really is nothing more than a conventional romantic comedy. (Possible spoiler alert if you have never seen a romantic comedy.) Single girl thinks she has a good life, meets a ‘nice’ guy and learns the error of their ways. Then things go wrong, they break up and then she wins him back with a romantic gesture. There is nothing unconventional about that narrative (which at 2 hours running time really drags!) Nor is their anything unconventional about the jokes or humour, with a hit’n’miss joke rate of 3 misses to every one hit.

So why exactly is this film being heralded for being so ‘refreshing’? Because the reviews writing about it have never actually heard a typical conversation had by a group of women? Because a female character in a film got to say things that Seth Rogen has been saying on screen for decades? Or because cinematic gems from last year*, with slightly more original narratives and a refreshing look at female characters. went mostly unseen last year due to limited releases? Whilst Trainwreck is reasonably funny and entertaining, and would be an adequate movie to watch with friends and accompanied with alcohol, it’s merely a frequently used story with fancy accessories to repackage it.

  • *The Obvious Child
  • * In A World…
  • *Appropriate Behaviour 

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

Pixels

This is not a film; it’s an endurance test.

The best simile to describe this film? It’s as if the writers of the film were like children on Halloween, though instead of pick’n mixing sweets they pick’n mixed pieces of a generation’s childhood nostalgia. Then, just like a child having a sugar rush before the inevitable crash and throwing up. The resulting technicolour vomit in this case is ‘Pixels’, which will leave you with the same feelings of regret and shame of a sweet-tooth binge. Throughout watching you’ll be left wondering who thought this mash-up of beloved video-games and crappy cinema was a good idea and why they spent $88 million making it. Before you carry on reading I will warn at this point that here be SPOILERS as this will not be a film review but will mostly become an essay on why this film is so bad and has had such negative reviews. Whenever one goes to see a film that has been as poorly received as this film, there is always a degree of hope that ‘Maybe it’s not as bad as the reviews say?’ or ‘Surely it has a couple of good moments!’ Prepare to be disappointed…

In case you’ve not seen the trailers, here is a plot summary. The film opens in the Summer of 1982, with 13-year olds Sam Brenner (later played by Adam Sandler) and Will Cooper (later played by Kevin James) excited by the opening of a video game arcade opening in their town. Both are naturals at the games, with Sam able to win most (but not all, hint hint!) games due to his innate ability to identify and memorise the formulas.  Will is good at crane machines (a skill momentarily useful later in the film, unsurprisingly). Will persuades Sam to enter the ‘Arcade Game Championships’ which their hometown is conventionally hosting, with Dan Aykroyd (WHY?!?) playing MC. He announces that a time capsule featuring aspects of the game championships is being launched into space (an example of the neon flashing exposition light I mentioned in my review yesterday!) They meet Ludlow Lamonsoff (later played by Josh Gad) who is opposed with a game character called Lady Lisa (more on this later) and befriend him as he is a kindred spirit. Sam breezes through the competition, but stumbles at the final hurdle when he loses playing Donkey Kong to Eddie Plant (later played by Peter Dinklage, another WHY?!?!).

The film then comes to the present day. Will is now president of the United States (no reason is given as to why this happened, how or what skills the man actually has to befit him of this title. He is a buffoon for the majority of the film, so maybe this is an attempt at satire?) It’s alluded that Sam never recovered from the loss, his second place status at a game championship scuppered his dreams of MIT and probable resulting success (because that is totally believable and not at all odd or regressive). Sam instead works for ‘Nerd’ a company who install electronics and software (because clearly a company supplying these skills had to be given that name). Whenever he arrives at a house for a job he must state, ‘Hello. I am a Nerd from Nerd Squad.’ (Yes, presumably someone got paid for this literary masterpiece.) At his latest job he meets a divorcee called Violet (Michelle Monaghan)  who lives with her son Matty. Sam bonds with Matty over video games (they are of seemingly similar maturity) and has a ‘moment’ with Violet where they almost kiss. Or, more accurately, he goes to kiss her and she refuses (of course, how dare she!) He berates her for being a snob as to why she din’;t kiss him (ignoring the fact he is a self-entitled man-child who is not the catch he seems to believe he is). He then throws back the killer line, ‘I’m a good kisser. All us nerd are. It’s because we’re so grateful.'( I, on the other hand, am grateful not to have meet such an arrogant arsehat.)

Sam gets a call from Will, telling him to get to the White House asap. He gets there and finds out that Violet wasn’t in fact following him in her care (because obviously he is such a catch that she will be so filled with regret for letting him go that she must follow and ensnare him) but is instead a Lieutenant Corporal. It turns out Earth has started been invaded by aliens using old video games to attack Earth (wonder who saw that coming from the opening? Maybe everyone?!?) They are told that first to three wins is the ultimate winner. If Sam and his arcade buddies loss, then it’s Game Over for Earth. After winning a level they are awarded a trophy, a ‘warrior’ from the opposition. After completing ‘Centipede’ in Hyde Park (overseen by Sean Bean. WHY?!?) then ‘Pac-Man’ in New York City they are awarded Q*bert (last seen in the far superior ‘Wreck It Ralph!) They then have a ball to celebrate (even though they still must complete one more challenge…) Sam and Violet bond (over her attractiveness and his infantility) when the aliens announce that Eddie, who had been released from prison (imprisoned for fraud. Surprising, as I thought a Lannister always paid their debts…sorry…not sorry.) to help the cause, had in fact cheated when playing ‘Pac-Man’. In fact Eddie even cheated during the championships, so Sam was the worthy winner that he always believed he was and spent the past 30 years brooding over (because that’s normal…) The aliens do not react will to that cheating, taking Matty as a trophy and sending their entire fleet to destroy Earth. However, they are given a reprieve within the invitation to enter the battleship and ‘meet the boss’ . The team split up. Violet, Sam and Will enter leaving behind Ludlow to ‘defend Earth’ (I wouldn’t hold out much for that.) He’s soon joined by Eddie, then Lady Lisa (the collection of pixels Ludlow had spent his life lusting over).

Meanwhile Sam, Eddie and Violet find out that the ‘boss’ is Donkey Kong. We are then given the unnecessary reminder that this is the only game Sam ‘sucks at.’ Yet, with the realisation that his 13-year-old self rightfully worn the world championships he is filled with enough confidence (as if he wasn’t inflated with enough of it) to beat Donkey Kong, rescue Matty and save Earth from annihilation. The aliens on Earth are destroyed, including Lady Lisa which devastates Ludlow. Yet somehow, during the awards ceremony for their ‘heroic’ efforts Q’bert transforms into Lady Lisa (no reason or explanation is given as to how or why). Fast forward to a year later, Ludlow and Lady Lisa are married and have five Q’bert children. THE END.

There are two main issues (of many) about this film that I really need to discuss. One, Lady Lisa. From the age of ten Ludlow worships her. Then she appears as a warrior for the opposition, but does not retain the pixel format of every other single alien and instead becomes human. She is incredibly attractive and Ludlow is overcome with emotion. Lady Lisa proceeds to fight Ludlow until he declares love for her. Obviously, as this is the kind of wish-fulfillment world this film is set in, his unrequited love and obsession with her is enough to persuade her to stop fighting him. Then when Ludlow announces to Eddie she is actually his fiancee she just smiles. When Q*bert then regenerates into her she is thrilled to see Ludlow. All of this is done without a single line from Lady Lisa herself, she does not utter a single word or do anything beyond looking gorgeous or briefly flailing a sword around. It’s the one of the more distressing negative stereotypes of ‘nerdom’, of obsessive and controlling lust and views of women as objects, brought to life.

Two, the film’s message is condescending garbage. The entire story-arch is to redeem Adam Sandler’s character, to give him the adulation and recognition he felt he always deserved. It’s as if they want him to represent every ‘nerd’ in the audience and try to clumsily reassure them that they aren’t actually wasting their lives playing videogames, you are actually heroes. It is this kind of ‘the geeks shall inherit the Earth’ bullshit narrative that is the waste of time, space and energy. It implies that anyone who thinks of themselves or is labelled as being anything considered ‘nerdy’ has this consuming desire to be appreciated for their niche skills asset or affirmation of self worth, which is total bollocks. f I want to spend hours playing zelda, Sims or song pop! Then that is my choice. I don’t need you patronising cockends telling me that’ll it’s fine and may even all for a greater cause. I know my ability of being able to guess an 80s song from 6 seconds of intro will never be called upon to help save the Earth, and I’ve no idea who these writers believe actually think in that way. Maybe themselves?

‘Pixels’ is a cynical and empty attempt to jump on the ‘nerdom’ bandwagon. A total misfire. A synthetic attempt which instead undermines and humiliates anyone who considers themselves ‘nerdy’.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

‘I had sex last night. Holy shit!’

From those opening lines, uttered by 15-year-old Minnie Goetze, the tone and content of the film is clear. It might not be to everyone’s taste but this film is a crucial and poignant portrayal of adolescence. It’s also one of the very few films which not only presents an honest deception of female sexulaity and desire, but makes it the primary focus of the film. It does not shy away from showing Minnie’s inner turmoil, and the lust which is consuming and controlling her. It’s isn’t scared to show how tumultuous sex, lust and love can for anyone, especially a fifteen-year old. Most importantly, this is done so in a truthful way told by a distinctive and unconventional voice.

As you may have gathered from the opening line, Minnie has just lost her virginity. Upon arriving home, after a rather self-satisfied strut around the park, she digs out her old voice recorder. Recent events have become so overwhelming for her she requires an outlet, one which will not judge her as friends and family might. For Minnie knows that her first sexual encounter, however good it felt, would not be considered ‘right’. This is because she slept with Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), a man who is twenty years older than her. He is also dating her mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig). The film follows Minnie, in a non-linear fashion, as she rides out an affair with Monroe, lying to her mother and experimenting with her sexuliaty. This is all presented in a manner which is so frank and honest it’s almost wince-inducing at times, with a degree of candor that is refreshing but depressingly rare.

What is perhaps even more depressing is that this film has been given a ’18’ rating, 3 years older than its main protagonist, therefore cutting it off from the audience it deserves and the audience who most deserve it. It’s a frustrating decision, especially with the sex or sexual references that form the foundations of this film are more honest than glorified. The language Minnie uses, and the way her sex-life presented is no worse than what a few choice searches into google could unearth. In fact, the sex in this film is unfiltered in the way that the pornogrpahy that drowns the web isn’t. Our society complains openly, yet in hush-hush tones about the ‘epidemic’ that is sexualising our youth. But why not address the problem with a film like this, which presents these issues but also teaches the viewers how to learn from them. Hollywood is dominated with so many films with negative portrayals of women, who are presented simply as boobs/bums/faces (delete as appropriate) that it seems bitterly unfair that a film which ultimately has a valuable positive message, of self-worth, is restricted to those who may learn from and appreciate it the most.

Though at times the pacing of the film maybe uneven, with some of the plot threads either unexplored or abandoned, it is hugely worth seeing. Not only is it’s content insightful and important, but it’s cinematography is beautiful, mixing the real with the comic book art that dominates Minnie’s life. A totally convincing and refreshing take on a coming-of-age tale.

Inside Out

Pixar proving that it really does know us Inside Out…

This film is Pixar’s best outing yet. It’s so clever, moving and beautifully told – in the way only Pixar an master. An outstanding treat of a film for both kids and adults. Both silly yet serious, it manages to articulate the traumas of growing up in a way that both reflects them for the kids but prompts self-reflection from the adults. It cannot be emphasised enough how universal the film is, with a multitude of jokes that will appeal to all markets. It’s witty, yet warm and oh-so wise. Joy. Sadness. Fear. Disgust. Anger. These are all emotions that we feel, often simultaneously, yet this film makes us consider the true power of these emotions and how they are all equally important – in a manner that will make you giggle and possibly shed a tear or two.

11-year-old Riley lives in Minnesota with her mum and dad. For Riley, everyday is a great day. She loves her family, friends, hockey and goofing around. With Joy (Amy Poehler) at the helm in the Headquarters -Riley’s conscious mind- to influence Riley’s actions and memories. Joy, along with Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), use a control console to interact with Riley. Even after 11 years, they still cannot understand the purpose of Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Yet Riley’s life quickly changes, with her family moving to San Francisco for her dad’s work. Whilst Joy and the other three emotions are trying to negotiate Riley’s well-being upon moving, they most also deal with Sadness who has started to touch some of Riley’s happy memories, transforming them to be sad. When trying to fix one of these memories Joy and Sadness end up being transported away from Headquarters into the labyrinthian maze that is Riley’s mind.

It’s immensely hard to find the words to explain just how extraordinary this film is. In typical Pixar-style it has created a film with a premise that seems so obvious, the idea of our emotions having personalities, yet manages to create something so beautifully poignant, entertaining and moving. Riley’s turmoil is so well reflected, it will bring back evocative memories for all. For the parents of the audience it could only be doubly heartfelt – an opportunity to see inside your child’s mind!

How these aspects are converted onto the screen are what makes Pixar so innovative. We have the Train of Thought, Personality Islands and the dreaded Memory Dump. A stand-out sequence has to when Sadness, Joy and Bing-Bong (Riley’s long forgotten imaginary friend) stop by the production studio for Dreams. It’s just so meta, with the revelation that dreams are actually created in a movie studio style-operation, reflecting on the manufacturing and perception of moving image. All of this is incredibly astute, but told in a way that is accessible to all ages. But what really makes us care about the events of this film is the characterisation. All the characters are fully developed and three dimensional – Riley is portrayed as such a lovely kid going through a real crisis, her loving parents doing all they can to help and their bond is so endearing. The emotions do steal the show here – they each have nuances and quirks yet are all untied with their tender treatment of Riley.

If you decide to go to the cinema only once this Summer, this is the film to see. It’s conceptually daring in both emotion and intellect, so comforting and simple but also affecting and thoughtful. A masterpiece.

Mini-Review: Lava

lava

Like all Pixar movies this film starts with a short, a beautiful love story called ‘Lava’. Told through song, a lonely volcano expresses his need for a companion he can love. It’s a beautiful sequence, the colourings and textures of the island landscape with the camera panning over so elegantly create an almost mythical tone. It’s hard to believe how far, animation-wise Pixar and its technology has developed since ‘Knick-Knack’ (1989) one of its earliest and similarly themed shorts. A timeless and universal theme presented in a extraordinary setting and style – setting you up perfectly for the main picture.