Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Dad's Army
Dir: Oliver Parker
2016
***
From a British viewpoint, remaking Dad's Army into a feature film was a huge risk. For the rest of the world it's no big deal. Dad's Army was, and still is, a much loved sitcom, one of Britain's favourite, at least in the top five anyway. It ran from 1968 to 1977 and its repeats still gain huge numbers today.  The premise is simple, Dad's Army is set during world war two and features a platoon of quirky characters who make up the home guard in the fictional coastal town of Walmington-on-Sea, and their biggest challenge of the war is simply organizing themselves. All but two of the original cast had passed on by 2016 and all of them are considered national treasures, including Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Arnold Ridley, John Laurie, Ian Lavender, Clive Dunn, Frank Williams, James Beck and Bill Pertwee. Replacing, or recasting these legends seemed like an impossible task, it was often mooted but the idea never saw the light of day, until now. For my money, they got the cast spot on. Toby Jones was perfect as Arthur Lowe's Captain Mainwaring and I'm not sure anyone else could have played John Le Mesurier's Wilson as good as Bill Nighy. I'm not sure you could ever match the great Clive Dunn but Tom Courtenay gave it a good go and although they weren't quite like the originals, Michael Gambon and Bill Paterson were both good as Private Godfrey and Private Frazer respectively. Blake Harrison as Private Pike was quite a surprising bit of casting that paid off with Ian Lavender (who makes a special appearance) giving him his blessing, but for me it was Daniel Mays as Private Walker who really stood out and stole every scene he was in. I believe director and crew did the impossible and found the perfect cast, unfortunately, the story isn't as accomplished. New characters were added, including the never before seen Mrs Mainwaring, and relationships between the characters get a little complicated. It drifts far from the source material fairly rapidly. It's a shame really as the original Dad's Army did indeed have its own feature-length outing back in 1971 and it was pretty good. I'm not sure the magic was entirely captured, the cast were great but the characters and story were a little too different for my liking. Catherine Zeta-Jones' character brought nothing to the story, the rivalry between the characters was out of place and it descended into stupid when it should have just been silly. However, it is beautifully directed, the set is amazing and the casting and performances make it a worth-while watch, although I have no idea what you'd make of it if you are unfamiliar with the original and I'm sure some hard-core fans will strongly disagree with me.
Factotum
Dir: Bent Hamer
2005
****
Factotum is definitely one for the fans of Charles Bukowski, which might sound a little obvious but it's a tricky one to get right, although that said, this isn't really how I pictured Henry Chinaski and I started to worry towards the beginning of the film that this was going to be a poor representation/adaptation, but by the end I was more than satisfied. A full on adaptation of Post Office would have been great, although even harder most likely, but I think the essence of the character/novels was well represented. The fantastically named Bent Hamer does a great job as director, giving the film a suitably sluggish pace and Matt Dillon clearly relishes the opportunity to go full Chinaski, both obviously love and understand Bukowski's work. Much like the books, there is a melancholic beauty in wallowing in self-pity, giving up because nothing matters anyway and lighting up a cigarette under a no smoking sign. It's the visual representation of the blue collar blues and it certainly made me feel the same way as the books do. As always though, read the books and then watch the film, otherwise I'm not sure you'll really understand or appreciate it as much.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Sausage Party
Dir: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
2016
**
Conceived by childhood friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and frequent collaborator Jonah Hill, 2016's Sausage Party may well represent the start of the team's regression. I loved 2013's This Is The End, I'd read an interview with Rogen about how he was devastated when he first saw Shaun of the Dead because he hadn't thought of it first but I thought he and his comedy entourage had made something brilliant, completely original that only they could do, which kind of made up for that. I was quite excited for their next venture, a raucous send up of the Pixar movies featuring food that doesn't know it's going to be eaten, Pixar could do with being brought down a peg or two and the clever premise was full of potential. However, what they have produced is totally uncreative, rather messy and nowhere near as good as the films it spoofs. The film's main characters are Seth Rogan's sausage called Frank and Kristen Wiig's Brenda Bunson, a hot dog bun and Frank's would be love interest. The message is loud and clear, Frank the sausage and Brenda the hot dog bun are made for each other, Frank is the phallus and Brenda is the....whatever the opposite of phallus is, their union is a euphemism for sex, crude but funny if done right, except it isn't. Now there is a place for crude humour, I don't dislike it but it really only works well when you don't expect it and it is limited. Crude should be used when euphemisms and the art of double entendre is exhausted. Here, we expect crude, we get crude and it's really nothing special and it gets tired quite quickly. Sausage Party is far too obvious. It explores some very clever ideas, particularly on belief, faith and religion, how society works (and doesn't work) and how opinion, ideology and sociology work. Unfortunately it does this while using stereotype and is pretty racist, homophobic and prejudiced. When the comedy is this low however, I'm pretty sure no one will be too insulted but it does beg the question why? Again? I noticed quite a few of the jokes had been seen before, there is a hummus joke in the film that involves a Jewish Bagal and a middle eastern Lavash that is straight out of an Ali G sketch I remember seeing - fair enough, both Rogan and Goldberg wrote for the Ali G show, it could have been their joke, but come on guys, how about writing something new? Pixar is fair game but towards the middle and end of the film Sausage Party adopts the same structure they are going some way to ridicule. One wonders if directors Vernon and Tiernan are burning a few bridges here, although both men are responsible for some of the worst modern animations in recent years. I dislike Sausage Party more than perhaps I should because it is the sort of film I've been wanting for a very long time and they wasted pretty much every idea the concept threw up. It doesn't help that I'm still not sure what a douche is either. I'm no prude, I'm not offended by any of it, I just think these guys are funnier than this, more creative than this and more intelligent. I like the idea that the film was conceived under the influence, many masterpieces were, but I don't think you should have to be high as a kite in order to enjoy it. When I went to see it a large group of young people were turned away by the ticket seller for being too young to see it, which is ironic as they were probably the only people who are likely to enjoy it, the 15+ year olds who were in the same cinema as me certainly didn't and strangely they all knew what to expect. The joke is well past it's sell by date.
    Treacle Jr.
    Dir: Jamie Thraves
    2010
    **
    In 1998, Jamie Thraves made a brilliant short film called I Just Want To Kiss You. It starred Martin Freeman and created quite a buzz for both men. I absolutely loved it and enjoy watching it now and again when I'm in need of a bit of 90s nostalgia. Freeman's career has gone from strength to strength since but Thraves has made very little, which has surprised me but I'm afraid Treacle Jr. is far from the feature film I had hoped from him. After the huge success he has gained from his music video work, I found it strange no one would produce him and give him a budget but this maybe why. Treacle Jr. actually won awards and was praised by critics but I'm perplexed by the fact it was made in the first place. I like a quirky drama/comedy that has very little story as much as the next man, especially if it is well constructed and contains impressive performances but I'm afraid Treacle Jr. was and had none of those things. Tom Fisher's character wasn't in the least bit intriguing and his performance was wooden. I'm not Aidan Gillen's biggest fan, he stole every scene he was in here and was celebrated by the critics but I personally think his performance was somewhat of a cheap trick, a very easy part and compared to everything else about the film, easy to shine above. The story never grabbed me, the terrible accents annoyed me and questions were left unanswered. It all seemed a little slap-dash, without substance and a little bit pointless. Riann Steele made it look like a collage project and I still can't believe this is the same Jamie Thraves who made the video for Radiohead's 'Just'.

    I Just Want to Kiss You
    Dir: Jamie Thraves
    1998
    ****
    I Just Want to Kiss You is a great little gem of a film that came out at a time when British cinema had hit a bit of a rock. Jamie Thraves is a phenomenal music video director and it is clear here that he has what it takes to make great feature films given a budget. His talent is huge, the guy is brilliant. I Just Want to Kiss You is also, in my personal opinion, Martin Freeman's finest performance. Freeman's career has gone from strength to strength and I think he gained a lot of interest after his performance here. It is full of energy and charisma and is quite infectious. It's a great little slice of a decade I'm very fond of.
    Carry On Spying
    Dir: Gerald Thomas
    1964
    ***
    Carry On Spying, the ninth Carry On of the series, was a spoof on the spy film. Albert R. Broccoli, the James Bond producer, famously threatened legal action against Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas for trying to use the name James Bind 006½ for their lead character. The film's poster also had to be changed due to similarities to From Russia With Love's poster, which was released the year before. I think there was a certain absence of humour on Albert R. Broccoli part but then the Bond franchise was still quite young and they did have Goldfinger coming out just months later. Carry On Spying may be remembered for being a Bond spoof but in truth, the similarities aren't there, with only two films released, the 007 series wasn't really a big thing at that point. Carry On Spying concentrated on the spy noirs of the 40s and 50s, The Third Man and Casablanca being the most obvious. It was to be the last of the black and white Carry Ons, the franchise had made it, was highly popular and even with a tiny budget, they could stretch to technicolor. The cast was a bit thin as Carry On regulars go with Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and Jim Dale returning once more and Bernard Cribbins making his second and last Carry On appearance (in the classic series anyway, he did return 28 years later for Carry On Columbus). However, Carry On Spying marked the introduction of Barbara Windsor to the series, a fan favourite and a lead player for the rest of the franchise. It's quite funny too, with most of the spoof jokes working. Highlights include the evil society of STENCH (Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans), Agent Honeybutt, the idea of Charles Hawtrey as a dashing young spy and Kenneth Williams in a fez. The noir effects are actually rather good too, but unsurprising given Gerald Thomas' body of work. A rather good but overlooked addition to the series.

    Friday, 12 August 2016

    A War (Krigen)
    Dir: Tobias Lindholm
    2015
    ****
    Krigen's (A War) intentions were quite difficult to decipher at the beginning as it looked and felt like just another modern day war film with no particular redeeming feature. It was very similar to Tobias Lindholm's previous film A Hijacking, in that the film has two halves. In A Hijacking we saw the events of the actual hijacking of a merchant ship through the eyes of the victims and the process of negotiation from the CEO back home. In A War, we see a solder on routine patrols and dealing with various dangerous incidents while his wife is at home looking after their kids and dealing with their unruly behaviour that is a result of their Dad being away. An interesting look at modern war and how it effects families but nothing new, I expected more from a great director like Lindholm, but then it became clear. A War shows the typical so that it can explore the complicated. I'm a firm believer in the idea that a great war film is an anti-war film, and I believe A War is exactly that but instead of stating the obvious horror of war, it is attacking the system, or at least, showing up its failures. This isn't about whether you agree with any particular war or not though, this is about how soldiers and civilians are pretty much damned if they do, damned if they don't. We see the Danish solders in Afghanistan, there to protect the local civilians but the truth is they are in more danger with their presence. After the main character has to make a difficult split second decision under fire, he finds himself under investigation for war crimes. Lindholm raises two very important arguments through two key scenes, both concern the death of civilians and the legality of conflict and how some rules totally contradict everything a solder is taught. It explores an unpleasant grey area that has no right or wrong, dissecting the structure of war and focusing on the impossible position of the solder. Its surprisingly non-biased and shows the fault with many solder's way of thinking - taught or not taught, I say surprising as the solders are played by real solder who have all served in Afghanistan. The story has no blame, there is no preaching and nothing is justified or condemned, it purely tells it like it is and leaves the viewer to decide what is right and what is wrong, for me it shows just how manipulated people are, quite needlessly and just how ridiculous and pointless war really is.

    Thursday, 11 August 2016

    Point Break
    Dir: Ericson Core
    2015
    **
    I'll be honest, I never loved the original 1991 Point Break. I found it to be enjoyable enough but extremely overrated. I like pretty much everything Patrick Swayze ever did and even though he isn't always the greatest performer, I have a soft spot for Keanu Reeves too. The bank-robbing scenes were pretty cool and the last scene is irresistibly cheesy but overall it is pretty generic. I certainly didn't think it warranted a remake and I’m sure the many hard-core fans, of which there are many, felt the same way. Still, if you're going to remake a film that is seen as a modern classic then you have to do the following; a) Make it similar but not exactly the same b) Best not repeat classic scenes but if you do, make it your own c) Add a twist. 2015's Point Break does all three to be fair but unfortunately, it does them badly. This film is basically The Fast and the Furious without the cars. It is a charmless, contrived and terribly written excuse for an action film. The film includes sky-diving, sky-diving on motorcycles, extreme surfing, extreme snowboarding, bare-knuckle fighting and lots and lots of expensive parties, all taking place in some of the world’s most beautiful locations, and yet, it all looks incredibly boring. These are amazing stunts, performed by the most talented and daring people on the planet but the film is just one long yawn-fest. It takes a horrible script, stupid story, naff editing and awful special effects to make such stunning feats so unimpressive. The problem is the audience is never really made to care about any of the characters. In this version the extreme bad-guys are hell-bent on completing the Ozaki 8, eight different extreme stunts that one has to complete in order to experience total enlightenment, or something stupid like that, it is never really explained fully. While performing these tasks, the small team of over-privileged and badly tattooed smug warriors go Robin Hood on the world by burying the worlds gold supply and throwing money out of a plane over poor Brazilian villages. In one scene they are seen to thrown billions of dollars’ worth of uncut diamond into the poor streets of Mumbai, ignoring the fact that this act would cause such a sharp peak of crime in the area that it would cause more grief to the people who caught the stones then if they had simply left them alone. The smug levels are pretty high. The extreme baddies repeat that they don't do it for the parties, money or women but when they're not throwing themselves off green-screen cliffs they are going to parties, spending money and/or dancing with women. The explanation of why they are doing all these things? You wouldn't understand. Correct, I don't but then neither do I care. It's a headache inducing mess. Luke Bracey is far more cardboard than Keanu has ever been, I like Edgar Ramirez but not in this role, Ray Winstone is an odd choice for Gary Busey replacement, his character is pointless and he shouldn't have wasted his time. Delroy Lindo too makes too few films these days to be wasting time on this nonsense, as good as he was here. Remakes are generally pointless but this seems more so as it completely misses the point about what made the original as well loved as it is. Bigger isn't always better, in this case, it is decidedly much worse.

    Wednesday, 10 August 2016

    Tale of Tales
    Dir: Matteo Garrone
    2015
    *****
    Matteo Garrone's 2015 fairy tale fantasy Tale of Tales is almost certainly the most beautiful film of 2015. It is based on the work of Giambattista Basile (1566-1632), who collected a series of Neapolitan fairy tales known as Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille, which is Neapolitan for The Tale of Tales or entertainment for Little Ones. It is also known as II Pentamerone and was published under the pseudonym Gian Alesio Abbatutis after his death by his sister who lived in Naples. It was overlooked an forgotten about for well over a hundred years until The Brothers' Grimm celebrated it as being the first collection of tales of its kind to have been written. It included the earliest recorded versions of stories such as Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and they are quite different from the Disney-type versions we used to today. It is incredible that such dark and terrifying tales would be intended for children but then these were as much a collection of warnings than they were for entertainment but that said, the adults do suffer for their bad parenting which I'm sure is a timeless enjoyment for kids. Matteo Garrone's vision goes right back to the source material in all its dark and beautiful glory. This isn't a futuristic interpretation or modern adaptation either, it is said at the time that these tales would have been told. It's not all dark though, I found the whimsical humour to be quite appealing too and how the film leaps from comedy to horror so quickly makes it quite refreshing in a quirky sort of way. It looks utterly gorgeous throughout, each shot looking like an oil painting. The entire film was shot on location in some of the most beautiful parts of Italy, including the Royal Palace and the Palace of Capodimonte in Naples, the stunning Castel del Monte in Apulia and the Castello di Roccascalegna in the province of Chieti which would have been around at the time the tales were written and may well have been an influence on the stories. There are three main stories in the film; The Queen, The Flea and The Two Old Women. The characters from all three stories meet in the first chapter at the funeral of the King, they then meet again at the ending of the film for the Princesses wedding. This frames the stories perfectly, everything in between is almost chaotic in its bizarre and surreal turn of events. Salma Hayek is brilliant as the dark Queen of Longtrellis who eats the heart of an aquatic dragon (cooked by a virgin) in order to bear a child. Toby Jones is hilarious as the King of Highhills who neglects his daughter (the scene stealing Bebe Cave), keeps a pet flea who grows to an enormous size and marries his only child to an ogre by mistake and Vincent Cassel is superb as the hedonistic King of Strongcliff who marries an old women based on her voice alone (and throws her out the window when he realizes his mistake). Each actor is brilliant in their role, indeed, everyone seems to relish the rare opportunity to star in such a production. Matteo Garrone is generally known for his naturalistic approach in film but he has argued that there is plenty of fantasy in his past work too and Tale of Tales does have an element of realism about, which I believe is why it works so well. There is something very different to this fantasy then we're used to within the genre, it does make you wonder why it is that no one has thought to take the same approach before. One of the best films of 2015 and certainly the most beautiful.

    Tuesday, 9 August 2016

    The Finest Hours
    Dir: Craig Gillespie
    2016
    ***
    The Finest Hours tells the true story of an amazing coast-guard rescue that took place during a cold wet February in 1952. Bernard C. Webber, a United States Coast Guardsman was just a petty officer on Feb 18, 1952 when he was asked to brave a particularly savage storm and look for survivors of the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker that had being ripped in half in the high-seas of the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts. Most of the senior coast-guards were already out on call to look for survivors of another ship that had been ripped in half in a bizarre and tragic coincidence. Webber was asked to go out even though he was considered inexperienced by his colleagues, he was accompanied by volunteers; Engineman Third class Andrew Fitzgerald, and Seaman Richard Livesey and Ervin Maske. Their heroic actions are still remembered today as being one of the most gallant and brave in the history of Sea rescue. The film itself is based on the book The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. The writers used history journals and interviews they recorded with survivors in order to tell the story as clearly as possible and the adaptation sticks to the truth with only slight deviation. There is plenty of schmaltz to be had, not everything in the film happened on that said day, certain characters didn't exist and Webber didn't look like Chris Pine but for a big Disney production it's fairly reliable. It's an amazing story without the need for sweetener or exaggeration and the performances are stronger than the extremely impressive special effects. This is the first film in which I've really liked Chris Pine's performance, Casey Affleck is the next big name on the roster - he is good as always but the supporting cast are also very strong and make the film. I really like Craig Gillespie, he's been attached to some rather odd films in the last few years and The Finest Hours really didn't strike me as the sort of film that would suit his abilities but I was wrong to doubt him. He proves that he is a multi-skilled director and rather great one at that and it's no surprise he seems to be on high on the studio's want list. It's exciting, full of suspense and gives credit it where it is due without interference. The inclusion of photos of those involved during the final credits was a nice touch and it is clear to see that they took great effort to give a true portrayal of everyone involved which is always appreciated.

    Monday, 8 August 2016

    Suicide Squad
    Dir: David Ayer
    2016
    **
    There is a hell of a lot wrong with Suicide Squad. Frustrated DC fans who were underwhelmed with 2013's Man of Steal and more than a little disappointed with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had hoped that David Ayer's Suicide Squad would be the alternative addition to the franchise that would make amends for past faults and shake things up a bit, and while there is a lot to enjoy about it, it does loose steam quite quickly when formula kicks in. It starts really well, we get to know a little about the origins of Task Force X, why they exist, who is behind them and the backgrounds of each member. For me, this is the best part of the movie and should have been milked for all it was worth. The action could have waited, the anticipation would have made it all the more enjoyable. The characters deserved far more analysis than they got, Will Smith and Margot Robbie pretty much had all the development to themselves - Will Smith being the big name star and Robbie's Harley Quinn being the character that really sold the idea in the first place. I didn't like Deadshots origin story at all, the character has gone through several incarnations over the years and I believe they settled on the least interesting. Deadshot originally had a death-wish, he was rather outrageous too, wearing a top hat and tails and he even once tried to kill the Pope. Here, he kills for money that he doesn't need and has a daughter. He and Batman are huge enemies, this never seems the case in Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn is fun, colourful and full of life but not really the same as she is in the comics. I'm a regular at comic conventions and can see this version of her being the next big cosplay costume but I'm not sure the character was ever really there for simple titillation, she was fun but also a bit of mystery and in later comics her story became rather dark and her journey of recovery is one of the greatest things to come out of the comics in years. In Suicide Squad she is tough and intelligent but let's be honest, she is there to gawp at, and I had really hoped for more for the character although I can't fault Robbie's take on her. Many of the characters have been understandably tweaked for the film, El Diablo is far more interesting in this version than he was in the comics, Joel Kinnaman does a great job with Suicide Squad original Rick Flag and Viola Davis is perfect as Amanda Waller. Jai Courtney is good as Digger Harkness (AKA Captain Boomerang) but the character is given very little development which is ridiculous, seeing as he is one of the original members and one of the most popular among fans. Similarly, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc had very little of his background explored, who is he, what has he done and why the hell does he look like a crocodile? I was disappointed that they didn't go with SS regular King Shark but given his size and the fact he has a giant shark head I can understand why they didn't. Katana and Slipknot are both criminally underused and unexplored. The Enchantress is probably the most interesting and well adapted character of the film and was a pleasant surprise given her relative absence from the trailers. Her scenes were largely overlooked by all of Harley Quinn's but in my opinion she is the film's strongest element. Those who aren't as familiar with the origins of Task Force X will know of the Joker, the big villain of Gotham and rather and early appearance in the scheme of things. Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Mark Hamill have all done the Joker justice over the years, each representation different to the other but all classic. Jared Leto had to deliver and he did sort of. Much has been written of him staying in character throughout filming, staying away from the rest of the cast and going full on method. I'm not sure why he bothered though, as he's in very few scenes and unimpressive in all of them. There is no sense of doom, he doesn't have the madness the humor or the unpredictability. I like the way he was portrayed as a 1930's mobster but this portrayal is very much style over substance. That's where DC are going wrong. It looks good, all of it but there is no heart and there is no brain. Suicide Squad looks great and had a very interesting beginning but it soon descended into a predictable and rather tiresome action film. It should have been the alternative superhero film but it wasn't. It looks as if it was assumed that by Will Smith repeating 'We're the bad guys' over and over throughout the film, the audience would be convinced that they were and that would be enough. I'm not a huge fan of David Ayer and his obsession with Mexican drug gangs once more leaked into the film and it just didn't look right. I don't like the way they have tried to make the fantasy elements of the comics look realistic, they have dampened the magic somewhat. 
    I can see why it was decided to unleash the super-villains this early in the franchise, what with Superman's absence from the universe in this current time and all but I can't help but think it would have been fun to have established the characters and then brought them together at a later date. Instead of concentrating on adapting their own universe, DC is desperately trying to compete with Marvel and it just isn't working. The possibilities are endless and yet each film so far has been predictable, formulaic, too damn dark and uninteresting. The casting has also been more than a little questionable. I wanted to like Suicide Squad so much, I really want to give it three stars but I just can't. The crux of the matter is that in the comics the villains have always been more interesting than the heroes. This was something Marvel haven't done, they missed their opportunity when Sinister Six got cancelled. However, Deadpool raised the bar somewhat in early 2016 and showed the world how to make an anti-superhero movie. Suicide Squad should have showed the darker side of DC, instead it gave us unfinished villains full of redemption, regret and little purpose. Maybe it is because of high expectations, maybe it's because I grew up loving these comics but for all the good in the film, and there is a lot of good in this film, there is a lot of bad, lazy and boring. So far the DC films have been full of 'teasers' but very little story. It is hard to get excited about these hints of what is to come when what has been and gone has so far been fairly uninspiring.

    Friday, 5 August 2016

    Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
    Dir: Burr Steers
    2016
    ***
    Burr Steers' Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is actually a lot better than I had expected it to be but I'm being very generous with my three star rating. It is a tricky concept to get right. I have to say I always saw Seth Grahame-Smith's as more of a coffee-table book that would raise a titter among visiting friends who would agree it was a cool idea but not something anyone would actually read. I'm sure the process of adding elements of horror and gore into Jane Austen's classic was quite painstaking, credit to him for his literary surgery but the idea always had limited appeal for me, indeed, I liked the cover of the book - a 'zombification' of William Beechey's 1813 painting of Marcia Fox but that was about it. The film adaptation went through quite a few problems before its release in early 2016, with David O. Russell and Craig Gillespie dropping out of directional duties, Mike White, Neil Marshall and Jeffrey Blitz passing the job when offered, leading lady and Producer Natalie Portman walking and ongoing budget concerns that had many wondering whether the film was ever going to be made. I was never going to read the book, so a film version did appeal somewhat. Each person had their own take on how the film should play, when Burr Steers (an odd choice if you ask me) took over as director he is said to have brought it back to the style of the book and reintroduced all the Jane Austen bits, which makes one wonder where on earth the previous scripts would have gone with it? Credit to Burr then, a period zombie film would have been only half an idea and a bit of a con to the expectant audience. The problem is, the Jane Austen element is particularly well handled. It is clear that it was the Pride and Prejudice element that they were most concerned about getting right, but this meant that it is also a below-average zombie film, the zombie element being slightly overlooked. It's also not that funny for such a unique and quirky idea. Much like the book, the initial idea sounds like great fun but the reality is that the concept wears thin very quickly. However, I've given it three stars because it does have a lot I liked about it. It is beautifully directed for a start, with a consistently stunning background and amazing hair and costumes. Sally Phillips steals every scene she's in and is a better Mrs. Bennet than is seen in most of the serious versions. Sam Riley plays Mr Darcy straight throughout the entire film, he could easily have been in a serious version or in the theatre, and it really works. Lily James and Bella Heathcote are both impressive as the two older Bennet sisters and I love everything Lana Headly does, particularly her character here. It does pretty much everything well, it just lacks the required charm it needs to be considered a great movie.

    Thursday, 4 August 2016

    Jem and the Holograms
    Dir: Jon M. Chu
    2015
    *
    Of all the terrible adaptations made in the last few decades, Jem and the Holograms is probably the most tragic. The original cartoon is an iconic slice of 80's kids TV and like many classic 80's cartoons, it only ever really existed to sell a bunch of toys. Hasbro had enjoyed success with their collaboration with Sunbow Productions and Marvel with G.I. Joe and Transformers and in 1985 it was decided that the girl market desperately needed tapping into. Christy Marx was put in charge of making a story and characters from the various lumps of colourful plastic and a brilliant job of it she did. I often wondered why I and many other boys at school enjoyed what was essentially a girls cartoon but when you realize Marx was also responsible for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Conan the Adventurer, G.I. Joe, Hypernauts, Captain Power among many, it really isn't surprising. There were quite a few action sequences added to appeal to a wider audience (boys) but the animation wasn't just a case of colour and movement, it's not right that kids will watch anything as long as it is on TV, a whole generation who actually watched Jem loved it. The toy was clearly in competition with Barbie and Sindy but Jem was so much more. I was never sure whether Barbie and Sindy were socialites, normal people or had split-personality disorders but they never really had a story. Jem appealed to kids for many different reasons. Firstly, she incorporated that post-punk, neon style that was then at the height of fashion, Holograms were also very popular and if you didn't have a holographic sticker on your lunch-box you weren't cool enough to even acknowledge. Fantasy and sci-fi appealed to all kids in the 80s, Jem had both. There was also the idea of secret identity that appealed, it was a bit superhero-like but it also appealed to kids who dreamed of becoming something, not necessarily becoming famous but successful, independent and responsible. Jem fostered twelve kids. Her message was very anti-fame when you think about it, most episodes revolving around her keeping her real identity secret. This is what the 2015 adaptation latched onto and got completely wrong. Jem should have been camp and rather riotous retrospective piece that empowered young girls and their creativity. 2015's Jem is catered towards the YouTube generation, the instagrammers and the people who are generally interested in fame over being particularly good at anything. I can see where they were coming from and it feels a bit hypocritical defending a big toy manufacturer but you can't ignore what the original cartoon has become, why the legions of fans still love it and all that has come from it. Sure, the girls were into fashion and looked after kids etc. but they were also talented, were all very different, independent and in charge. Girls just weren't portrayed in this way back then, not in cartoons and barely in real life TV. Girls still aren't treated equally in film, the 2016 Ghostbusters film is being celebrated for how the women are portrayed, indeed, they don't have a lot of the usual traits and clich├ęs that women usually have in film but the remake isn't very good, it doesn't seem like real progress to me at all. Jem could have been that progress, aimed at a younger generation too but instead it is a mess of mixed messages, filmed over different social media methods and sending out the opposite message to what the original Jem stood for. It was just a cartoon and this is just a film I hear some of you cry, well no, it isn't, just as youtube, facebook, Instagram etc. aren't passing trends that no one takes seriously. Jem could have said you don't need any of those things to live your dreams, be successful or escape from reality. 80's Jem broke down stereotypes, 2015's Jem built them back up again. The songs were horrible, the acting worse and the direction nauseating. Even the kids hated it. Now leave our 80's classics alone!

    Wednesday, 3 August 2016

    A Bigger Splash
    Dir: Luca Guadagnino
    2015
    ****
    Luca Guadagnino has come a long way since his 1999 debut The Protagonists, a somewhat overambitious experiment that lacked a certain maturity, considering its clear new wave influences. A Bigger Splash is a remake of Jacques Deray's 1969 thriller Le Piscine (Swimming Pool), an intriguing tale of sex and jealousy. The structure and story are very similar but A Bigger Splash has none of the sexual bondage and is, in my opinion, a little more focused on love rather than sex. I grew up on Deray's films, I'd watch his, Claude Chabrol and Louis Malle's movies all day long at film school, the sexual thrillers being the ones that captured my curiosity the most. I never quite understood them and have become to see them simply as a bit of titillation and an exercise in forced controversy, a provocative reaction to the conservatism of the time. Indeed, this is where exploitation came from but I digress, there was always something more to Le Piscine than the rest. There was always an eerie undercurrent of something quite sinister about it, an idea that there are terrible things that everyone is capable of and an unspoken element of human nature that we often ignore and our abilities to ignore the shocking. A Bigger Splash ignores this element of the original which I think was wise. I don't generally like remakes but I think the changes make it justifiable. I like the original a lot, it is a fascinating look at the times and is quite reflective of the late 60s in many ways. A Bigger Splash could be seen as a reflection of its time too, the age of excess, entitlement and celebrity. No matter who, when or where you are, certain human traits remain the same and it is fascinating to see the same situation played out nearly 50 years later. The script is phenomenal and is performed quite impressively by the main cast. Guadagnino collaborates with Tilda Swinton for the third time and for the third time it is a complete success. Swinton remains silent for most of the film but speaks volumes with her subtle facial expressions and mannerisms, it is a brilliant performance that hasn't received the recognition it deserves. Matthias Schoenaert seems to get better with every film and is generally worth seeing a film for alone and Dakota Johnson certainly make amends for Fifty Shades of Grey with a perfect performance as the film's Lolita/femme fatale. However, thanks to a killer script and a performance so full of energy it's amazing the other actors were even noticeable, Ralph Fiennes steals the show by a country mile. This maybe my favourite Fiennes movie, I might even prefer his performance here than his performance in the brilliant The Grand Budapest Hotel. He does get all the great lines to be fair but he throws himself into the role headfirst from the start and never looks back. At first I worried whether the updated ending would work, it didn't look like it was going to but the final scene is suitably devastating and can be interpreted a number of different ways, each one forcing the audience to ask themselves what they would do in the situation which will more than likely unravel a darker side than you might expect. An emotional rollercoaster and a suspenseful thriller in one. I loved it.
    Mindscape (AKA Anna)
    Dir: Jorge Dorado
    2013
    **
    Mindscape is an impressive debut from Jorge Dorado who said upon the film's release that it was "a kind of cryptic puzzle for the audience to solve", siting Vertigo and Chinatown as his two main influences. However, the truth of it is that for the many wild goose chases thrown at the story (and audience), Mindscape, or Anna as it was known as in North America, is rather bland and utterly predictable. Mark Strong plays a mind detective, with the ability to enter people’s memories. He is given his first case after a long spell of bereavement leave, only to find himself caught in a curious web of secrets and mystery revolving around a gifted young girl called Anna. The idea is relatively sound, it isn't sci-fi heavy, over-complicated and for the most part it feels fairly believable. Everything that was best left unexplained was left unexplained but the big problem is that the film very quickly begins to break its own rules. Certain things are revealed that you would expect a detective to have looked into at the very beginning and came as a disappointing surprise later on in the film, Mark Strong's character also sees things in Anna's memory that she was unaware of as they happened outside of her vision, thus making it impossible for him to have witnessed, it could be argued that this could be part of the eventual twist but I don't buy it, I think it was a continuity error. The last twist was quite clever but also a little dull and I wonder if the ending would have actually made a better starting point. It looks good and Taissa Farmiga performance as Anna is impressive but for a thriller it is hardly thrilling and for a mystery it was pretty uninteresting. Shame really, as it only needs a few changes for it to be a great film but as it is it is a below average addition to its genre.

    Tuesday, 2 August 2016

    Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach
    Dir: Louise Osmond
    2016
    ****
    Louise Osmond's documentary is a brief but concise look at the life and career of Ken Loach which explores both sides of the political director and also throws up a few surprises that I, a huge fan of his, didn't even know. The documentary doesn't use any sort of trickery, it's not formulaic as it isn't linear but it is uncomplicated and has a good structure based on theme rather than chronological order. The 'versus' in the title is suggestive of the battle Loach has had against the establishment, government, Media, the BBC and distributors etc. but also the battle he has had with himself. Loach is softly spoken, polite and very approachable but he is always direct and doesn't mince his words. He can be brutally honest at times and says what he feels without sugar-coating a single word. To be fair, he is also very critical of his own work, indeed, one of the most humble moments in the film was where he admitted he sold out in order to feed his family by directing TV adverts, one of them being for McDonalds. He still isn't very happy about it. Gabriel Byrne, who stared in Loach's infamous play Perdition, describes the director rather well in comparing knights during lancing battles, saying that "he's the kind of knight who dislodges the other rider with his lance and then stands gently and respectfully on them a he pushes back a small opening in their armour and slits a vein and watches them bleed to death". Maybe a little harsh but he is known for ripping people to shreds with his words. The thing is, all Loach has ever done, in an articulate and lowered voice, is ask people to justify their words and their actions. It is only when their words and actions aren't justifiable do they suffer. So it really isn't any surprise that the establishment have never really liked him, although now in 2016 all those that made him suffer during his career champion him as one of the country’s greatest film makers, such is the fickle manner of our media. Loach however has a long memory and time doesn't always necessarily heal old wounds and there is something quite refreshing about how he talks about such things. When history is continually repeating itself, you really need someone like Loach to point out that this cycle of ignorance is really getting us no-where. In 2014 Loach announced his retirement, in 2015 the Tory government got back into power, somehow, and Loach quickly came out of retirement and set about making another film, realising that actually, he's the only British director working today that can and will stand up to the atrocities effecting life in the UK and who tells it how it is. It's tragic that there doesn't seem to be a successor. For Ken Loach I am thankful, he's a legend, unappreciated by many of the people he makes films for. My only criticism is that I wanted more.