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.

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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 Visit

Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M Night Shyamalan explaining his 'craft'

M Night Shyamalan explaining his ‘craft’

No Escape

Escape from [insert name of fictional Asian city here]

Considering the plot, characterisation and cinematography this film contains, it is not difficult to imagine it being made in the 1980’s (with Harrison Ford replacing Owen Wilson as the lead hero) or even the 1950’s (starring Jimmy Stewart). This is not a way of complimenting the film and suggesting it is timeless, anything but. This film is dreary, predictable and exceptionally dated. It’s portrayal of foreign conflict and politics is extremely problematic, a one-sided view of global issues that is almost xenophobic in presentation. The only thing that separates No Escape from a B-movie shown on the dark and misty unknown entities of Sky Movies channels after channel 315 is it’s talented cast, who are severely let down by the dross of a screenplay. Having not stayed for the end credits (in my desperation to leave the cinema)  I can only presume my hunch that the ‘research’ for this film was the greatest hits of The Daily Mail is in fact true…
Jack (Owen Wilson), an American engineer, leaves behind a failed business to drag his family to 
Southeast Asia to head his water manufacturing company’s new plant there. When they get there; they seem to be having problems, the electronics don’t work and rarely any cars are seen in the streets. When he goes to the market the next morning, he finds himself caught in the middle of a violent rebellion headed by armed rebels executing foreigners. Unbeknownst to Jack, just days before these armed rebels assassinated their prime minster. Jack must get back to the hotel and with the help of a mysterious British “tourist” (Pierce Brosnan), must get his family to the American Embassy in the midst of the chaos. But is there any escape? 
Firstly, the family. Jack is the archaic kind of hero of cinema long ago. He’s the Everyman. A husband. A father. By agreeing to this new job he has uprooted his family and doesn’t appreciate how they might feel, so he must learn his lesson through enduring this hero’s journey. He has a jarringly good range of survival skills; he knows instantaneously how to survive the most incredible and most ridiculous situations without having to think about it. Most depressingly of all, he is intentionally presented as all charmness and niceties whereas his wife Annie (Lake Bell) spends most of the film crying or with her face contorted into fear/outrage.  And, as bad as it will sound, their children are unbearably annoying. The majority of hurdles the family face are either caused by the children or severely complicated by the children. Pierce Brosnan enters, exits and reenters the film to little effect. His presence here echos something Micheal Caine declared when once asked about his role in Jaws: The Revenge,’ I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.’ That must be the only reason that Brosnan is here giving a throwaway performance as a mysterious lothario Cockney.
The film’s biggest error is its portrayal of the ‘enemy’, The way the armed rebels are presented could have been an intelligent examination of ISIS or other militant groups. Instead they reflect the sentiments of those who use the term ‘swarm’ to label those currently seeking European asylum. They are characiatures: nameless, faceless and brainless. They are zombies, an epidemic the hero must save his family from.
No Escape mistakes creating tension by instead creating frustration. It’s one-part popcorn movie to two-parts shameless exploitation.

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’.