Tag Archives: Anna Kendrick

The Accountant

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“You have to choose. Are you going to be a victim?”

So it seems my hopeful search for a great thriller in 2016 is over. The last of the high profile cinematic rollercoasters has hit the screens and now we must prepare ourselves of the onslaught of Christmas ensemble movies that are incoming.

Luckily, whilst most of this year’s thrillers have barely been able to hit average in my books – only really thrilling in the same way that paying £15 for a ticket to the latest churned out Halloween nonsense can be called horrifying – The Accountant at least has a decent stab at dragging us to the edges of our seats. And while it isn’t always successful in its endeavours, it’s a damn sight better than a lot of its recent competition.

Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, a man who has grown up with a few factors that decided his fate early on. First, he suffers from what appears to be Asperger’s Syndrome; an inability to communicate with the majority of the world, as well as a few other telling issues that we get to see as the film goes on. Christian has a difficult life ahead of him. A life made worse by point number two: Left with his tough-as-nails military father after his mother decides she can’t cope and leaves, Wolff’s traumatic childhood is made harder when his old man tries to teach him about the world his own way.

Fast forward a few decades and Wolff has made the very best of his situation. He’s become an accountant with the uncanny ability to unravel even the most complicated books around. This makes him an invaluable asset to everyone from the locals doing their returns, to crime bosses looking for skimmed cash. When a run-of-the-mill job for a corporation uncovers more than it should have, Wolff and the company accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick) find themselves on the receiving end of an awful lot of guns-for-hire looking to take them out. All the while, he’s being investigated by a treasury agent (the always splendid JK Simmons) with a bit of a thing against our main character.

The Accountant is another one of these films that no one seems to know how to market. Delayed to let the market react to Batfleck earlier this year, it’s advertised as this strange action thriller hybrid and doesn’t really fully check either of those boxes. But whilst most of what I want to say about the film is complimentary, it doesn’t feel like it when I say that it’s played out better than most of its ilk this year.

But I do want to be positive and complimentary. There’s plenty of good stuff to say about The Accountant. For starters, Affleck’s portrayal of Wolff and his issues is nothing short of brilliant. The film goes to some considerable length to not name our main character’s affliction, yet Affleck does a wonderful job of convincing us that, even as an adult, he has issues leaving work unfinished or maintaining eye contact; all tell tale signs of his lifelong struggle with his condition.

Likewise, the way the film makes you feel hatred for Wolff’s father for the way he treats his son is beautifully offset when you realise that the accountant has essentially used his upbringing to turn what would possibly cripple some into something close to a superpower. When you see that Christian is really an accountant/lethal killing machine, you are almost impressed by what his old man did, whether or not it was cruel at the time.

With a superb cast supporting him, Affleck really does shine in his role, as do Simmons and Kendrick, with John Lithgow and John Bernthal doing a decent job bringing up the rear. Although, with such a cast, you may end up (as I did) wanting just a little more from the guys we got on screen.

And that’s something that can be said about a lot of the film. You’re left wanting just a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more. Director Gavin O’Connor – the man behind films like Pride and Glory and Warrior, (favourites of mine) – seems to lose his way in the middle of his two hour math-a-thon. Our introduction to Christian Wolff goes very well, and the flashbacks to his childhood are interesting. I’m enthralled once the final act begins and we get to see Wolff the super killing machine, but the middle, say, thirty minutes, seem to sag. Not knowing how to push the story forward and get us to the reveal we all knew was coming, it just seems to stutter a bit trying to get to its last section. A real shame for a film with so much going for it.

But don’t be disheartened. I thoroughly enjoyed The Accountant. I just wanted it to be ever so slightly tighter than it turned out to be.

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Pitch Perfect 2

Funnier, more heart-felt, and just plain better, Pitch Perfect 2 gets to join that exclusive club of comedy sequels that are markedly better than the original.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Full Disclosure: The reviewer saw this film at an early press screening provided by the distributor, Universal Pictures, that also included a 20 minute roundtable interview with Elizabeth Banks afterwards.

pitch perfect 2Who was actually surprised by the fact that Pitch Perfect became a sleeper hit in cinemas and a massive success on home media?  No, seriously, who actually didn’t see this coming?  The narrative that surrounds the first Pitch Perfect is very much that of a film that, despite being shunted out in mid-October and made for pittance ($17 million), succeeded against all odds and expectations, becoming a beloved and surprising cult hit.  Yet, and trying not to diverge into ‘I told you so’ territory here, I saw this coming from a mile and a half away.  It’s a basically a girl friendship movie, aimed at young women – a market Hollywood still doesn’t tap into near-enough – with a great sense of humour and good songs.  You know, it’s like everybody forgets that Mean Girls, Bring It On, Clueless, et al exist.

Well, Pitch Perfect did extremely well, so now here comes Pitch Perfect 2, as is the Hollywood way.  Now, regular followers of my work, my Twitter, my radio show, or who just happened to be in the general vicinity of me these past few months, will more than likely know that this, out of everything else, was my most anticipated film of the year going in.  What keeps getting lost in this whole thing is that I think the original Pitch Perfect is barely great.  I do really like it, think it’s really funny, know that its heart is in the right place, and it pulls off the girl friendship thread with aplomb, but I don’t love it.  It relies too much on gross-out vomit-based comedy for my liking, the actual one-liners and such are way more hit or miss than I expect from Kay Cannon – the film’s writer and an ex-30 Rock alumni – and the Beca (Anna Kendrick)/Jesse (Skylar Astin) romance at best distracts from the true core of the film, The Bellas, and at worst is kinda gross.

So, that’s the base that Pitch Perfect 2 has to work from, although it also has to deal with the handicap of losing original director Jason Moore and being a comedy sequel which, barring very rare exceptions, are at best decent time-wasters and little more.  At best.  So, with all those factors working against it – along with pre-release plot info and casting announcements, pretty much everybody is back and there are a bunch of new cast members too, suggesting that this would be every bit the pointless comedy sequel – the fact that Pitch Perfect 2 is damn good is a legitimate surprise.  The fact that Pitch Perfect 2 is great is a miracle.  The fact that Pitch Perfect 2 is, in many respects, better than the first film is nothing short of witchcraft.

See, Pitch Perfect 2 is the kind of sequel that doubles down on what works but doesn’t simply repeat the first film.  Although the set-up of the film involves busting The Barden Bellas back down to underdog status – Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally ends up flashing the President during a benefit concert, which leads to the Bellas being suspended from the National A Capella Association unless they can win the World Championships, something that no American team has ever done – the film is actually only interested in that aspect as a means to filter its main focus through.  Instead of being another underdog movie, this is primarily a film about friendship and the fear of moving on, as the film doubles down on the relationship between the girls and minimises the romance elements in service of that.

To wit, the Bellas just aren’t in sync like they used to be because the fast-approaching milestone of graduation is affecting them in different ways.  Beca is secretly interning for a hot-shot music producer (Keegan-Michael Key) and very worried that she might not be able to make it in the industry, Chloe (Brittany Snow) is preparing to fail her chosen major for the seventh year in a row to make sure she doesn’t have to leave the Bellas, Barden freshman Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is the daughter of a Bella legacy and whose sole life goal is to join the group but doesn’t fit in as well as she thought she would, and the rest of the team are thrown off of their game by the European champions, Das Sound Machine.  There’s also the return of Benji (Ben Platt) who falls for Emily at first sight, Bumper (Adam DeVine) is in a no strings attached relationship with Fat Amy but may be developing actual feelings for her, and the world of the original Pitch Perfect is blown wide open and expanded with even more characters and little incidental details.

In simple terms: there is a lot going on in this nearly 2 hour comedy, but credit to Elizabeth Banks, who takes over the reins on the director’s chair, and returning screenwriter Kay Cannon, they never lose sight of the central themes of friendship and moving on.  That heart, that loving relationship that its cast share, never gets completely lost beneath all of the moving parts, and when it finally bursts through totally in the final third the film is on pure unstoppable fire – there’s a specific moment during a campfire scene late in the movie where I am not in the slightest bit ashamed to admit that I teared up like a complete sap.  There’s a believability to everyone’s relationships, the closeness and intimacy that they all share that is subtly and carefully built up so that the last third, which deals with every single plot thread and arc one after the other, is sustained catharsis that leaves those central relationships standing tall throughout.

This is also, despite being nearly 2 hours long and having all of that content to cover, a very tightly paced film that never noticeably dragged.  Despite this being her first feature directing gig, Banks shows a confidence in editing and scene pacing that is rarer than usual in the American comedy feature genre – I didn’t find any scenes that just devolved into leaving the camera running whilst excess improv took place.  She also seems to enjoy indulging her inner-Step Up 2, expanding the scale of the world to comical proportions whilst still keeping a tenuous grip on reality.  Gail (Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins), the commentators, are back and are revealed to be the hosts of an A Capella podcast and the representatives of the National A Capella Association, David Cross turns up as an A Capella enthusiast who hosts underground high stakes Riff-Offs, and musical performances are generally more flamboyant and busy than last time without losing the charm of the lower-key original – which is a good summary of the film overall, quite honestly.

Pitch Perfect 2 is also just plain funnier than the first film, the jokes coming thick and fast and not really letting up until the credits roll.  Hailee Steinfeld’s Emily is especially well-served by the script here with her character’s excessively awkward and geeky enthusiasm being a great source of humour, whilst Keegan-Michael Key nearly runs away with the entire film from everyone else as a hysterically overbearing and egotistical record producer who treats his interns like a schoolteacher who has stopped giving a damn about parental blowback.  There are also frequent jokes that allude to both the sexually voracious nature and strongly hinted bi-sexuality of most of the Bellas in ways that feel genuine and sincere – in comparison to, say, Seth Rogan/James Franco comedies that hit the “these two are totally gay for each other, but they’re not really gay, see, they have sex with women!” button so hard and so frequently that it’s permanently stuck in the machine by this point – and that’s refreshing as hell to see.

All this being said, Pitch Perfect 2 is not perfect.  For one, although that last third is an incredibly satisfying 40 minutes to experience, the messy “throw everything out there at the beginning and we’ll deal with it in turn later” nature of the first third means that it takes the film a little while to get going and feels more than a little awkward.  It also bends over backwards to ensure that everyone is able to return for this movie in ways that are definitely forced, all but lampshaded when Bumper’s introduction to this film occurs when a random cut during a party scene reveals him to be back as a security guard, shouting this fact to no-one in particular.  Whilst I do find Bumper’s story with Fat Amy here to be oddly sweet, and whilst the return of Aubrey is amazing and works totally, it still makes their inclusion here feel somewhat mandatory, like a Pitch Perfect Sequel check-list was being ticked off somewhere (better handled is Jesse who just appears sporadically as Beca’s supportive boyfriend and little more).

More problematic is the film’s frequent detours into lazy racial stereotyping humour.  Although Worlds is barely a factor in the film, their eventual appearance does lead to an extended sequence in which Gail and John make lengthy stereotype-based jokes like the Taiwanese team being made up of “Ladyboys” or how the Korean team’s barbeque is something to avoid.  It’s kind of OK, because Gail and John have already been made out to be terrible, terrible people (John especially and he gets even more hilariously casually awful this time), but it does still skirt that line nonetheless.  A bigger problem is new Bella Flo (Chrissie Fit) whose joke and characteristic is that she is an immigrant who has just had the absolute worst life up to now.  It feels too mean-spirited, especially since most of the jokes play on that immigrant backstory, and, coupled with the commentators and the excessively stereotypically German nature of DSM, leaves this strand of humour feeling lazy in a way that the film otherwise avoids.  It’s disappointing.

Those, however, are still relatively minor flaws and fail to take away from what Pitch Perfect 2 manages to get right.  Prior to seeing the film, the thing I wanted from it was for it to be a girl friendship movie, to commit fully to its premise and promise and centrally be a film about the bonds shared between a collective group of coolly weird women.  Though there is a tonne going on in Pitch Perfect 2, Banks and Cannon never lose sight of that very thing whilst still expanding the world of the film and not simply re-treading ground covered in the original.  This is a funny, heart-felt, heart-warming film that is brilliantly paced, excellently acted – surprising no-one, hence why I didn’t really mention it – fiercely feminist, damn near everything I wanted, and better in almost every single department than the first film.

I now count two comedy sequels in consecutive years that are as good as or better than the films that spawned them.  Can this become a full-on trend, please?

Pitch Perfect 2 is due out on May 15th.

Callum Petch saw the sign.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch), and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

The Voices

The Voices is tonally messy, sporadically funny, and more than a little uncomfortable… these are all very good things.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

the voices 1Stop.  If I had my way, this review would consist solely of one sentence that reads “You should go and see The Voices immediately” and then you would go and do exactly that.  See, The Voices is a film that is most definitely not for everybody’s tastes but one of the main reasons why it was very much to my taste sort of constitutes a spoiler.  Further than that, I feel that the full impact of The Voices is best appreciated if you go in, not only with no plot knowledge, with no expectations or pre-conceptions.  Basically, you should really see The Voices.  I won’t tell you why, but you really, really should.

Unfortunately, this site requires a bit more critical reasoning in their film reviews than that.  So, this is your out.  After this paragraph, I will start talking about The Voices and why it is brilliant.  This will also involve spoiling a key plot point that occurs a little over half an hour into the movie but has been plastered all over the trailers anyway.  If you want to heed my advice, then stop reading and go and see The Voices.  Otherwise, we shall commence the act of reviewing in 3… 2…

I have made peace with the fact that Marjane Satrapi is never going to surpass Persepolis.  I mean, how can she?  Persepolis is practically an autobiography, and that kind of personal investment and candid openness in a project is something that one can’t really replicate after that first instance, especially when that instance is as emotionally draining as Persepolis is.  Therefore, at no point in this review will I be comparing The Voices to Persepolis.  They’re from the same director – well, co-director in Persepolis’ case – but they’re not in any way comparable to each other.  Well, also except for the fact that they’re both brilliant.

Yes, in stepping way out of her comfort zone – this is her first English-language feature and it’s a black as all hell horror dramedy hybrid – Marjane Satrapi has only gone and made quite possibly the best film that I have seen so far this year.  Folks, I adore The Voices.  From its opening sequence showcasing just how much of a rural dead-end nowhere that the film’s location, Milton, is, backed by an excessively jaunty theme tune for said town, to its self-consciously pathos-destroying and out-of-place final scene, this film had me in its vice-like grip and refused to let me go.  It’s about as consistent as its protagonist, but, dammit all, I was enthralled and left the cinema in high peppy spirits.

Who is the film’s protagonist?  That would be Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds), a man in his late-20s/early-30s who works at a bathtub factory and who just wants to fit in, be loved, and be kind to others.  Jerry, however, suffers from really bad schizophrenia that causes him to be very socially awkward and self-conscious, alienating most of his co-workers and especially his crush Fiona (Gemma Arterton), and, more importantly, to hold lengthy conversations with his pets.  The dog, Bosco, is basically a kindly and supportive cheerleader who tells Jerry everything he wants to hear; the cat, Mr. Whiskers, is the one that constantly re-enforces Jerry’s worst fears and anxieties, as well as filling his head with violent fantasies.  Jerry’s therapist (Jacki Weaver) would like for him to start taking his pills, but the pills reveal to Jerry just how lonely and miserable his life is which for him is even worse.

Then, one night, after a series of unfortunate events, Jerry accidentally stabs and then mercy kills Fiona.

From that scene on, The Voices reveals itself to be a serial killer – although whether Jerry will agree with Mr. Whiskers’ assessment that he likes killing and kill again forms the brunt of the movie’s conflict, the police waste no time in pegging their suspect as a “serial killer” – horror movie from the perspective of the serial killer.  Satrapi stages scenes like the accidental killing of Fiona near-indistinguishably from the real thing, but they gain a different tone and different lease of life thanks to re-focusing our point of view on the guy committing the killings and his inner struggle with reconciling whether he’s really a good or bad person.  Instead of having the tension be one-sided or even non-existent, every instance of Jerry digging himself deeper into his hole has sympathetic tension both for those caught up in it and Jerry himself, a sincerely likeable man who I just wanted to reach out and hug and tell him that everything will be fine.

Naturally, this all runs the risk of going very, very wrong.  For some viewers, it undoubtedly will have.  The tone lurches wildly and often without warning from horror, to comedy, to drama, to romance, to some combination of the lot and, although the inconsistency is sort of the point, this is not going to be to everyone’s tastes.  The actually funny moments are relatively rare and major laughs are near-non-existent, the film can be legitimately creepy and disturbing but it’s not exactly ‘scary’ in the traditional sense, the constant unease and fear over Jerry’s sanity undercuts any legitimately romantic sequences, and the constant whiplash between genres may dilute the drama for viewers who can’t keep up with or wrap their heads around the chaotic tonal shifts.

For me, this never happened, and for three specific reasons.  The first is that the script, from Michael R. Perry who also co-wrote Paranormal Activity 2, is rock solid.  The film has to pivot around Jerry and Perry never loses sight of Jerry and his inner conflict.  He never makes Jerry a monster simply for dramas-sake, there is always a deep-rooted character reason for anything that Jerry does, and he keeps Jerry somewhat sympathetic right up until the very end.  But he also doesn’t skimp out on the other cast members either, especially in the case of Jerry’s co-worker Lisa (an unreally adorable Anna Kendrick) whose relationship with Jerry forms another backbone throughout the film and gets a surprisingly emotional payoff thanks to Perry developing her just as much as he does Jerry.

The second is in Ryan Reynolds’ utterly outstanding performance as Jerry.  From the outset, Jerry is clearly… off, but not in the offensive or parodic way that such an idea runs the risk of being, and that’s because Reynolds gets the character.  Jerry is clearly different and a bit disturbed, but Reynolds never loses sight of the humanity and kind-hearted nature at the root of him, pitching his performance in such a way that that side of him is amplified or de-emphasised depending on whose point of view the scene is taking but never completely lost.  He’s clearly relishing the part, and especially having the time of his life providing the voices of Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, which is what helps sell it.  There is not one trace of smugness or cockiness in his work here; he is Jerry and he is phenomenal.

And third is Marjane Satrapi’s direction.  Separate from her work here, those prior pluses could very quickly be turned into negatives.  The script’s tonal hot potato could have under or over-cooked certain aspects in a lesser director’s hands and caused the film to go completely off-the-rails, whilst Reynolds’ performance could have been totally squandered by a director who isn’t working in-sync with him and tried to force him into something he’s not.  Satrapi, however, wrangles the film’s various tonal shifts into something approaching some semblance of coherent, and seems to actively encourage Reynolds’ performance, building the core of the film around it.

She is also one hell of a visual stylist.  Such an observation shouldn’t be surprising for those that managed to watch or read Persepolis, but she throws herself, and her Production Designer, Udo Kramer, into the task of getting us into the head of Jerry through visual and stylistic cues.  Scenes are over-and-under-lit accordingly, alternately resembling a shiny sitcom set that is at least somewhat close to ‘normal’ and a dingy disrepaired hell-hole depending on Jerry’s state of mind.  A crime scene is set up like a fairy tale landscape, butterflies seem to follow Fiona wherever she goes, Milton itself is drowned in a sea of depressing greys.  There’s also a legitimately horrifying sequence when Jerry actually takes his meds that gains its uncomfortable nature through exceptional set design.  Satrapi’s dedication to telling the story just as much visually as she does everything else turns out to be the extra ingredient needed to make this film soar.

Again, make no mistake, this could have gone so, so wrong.  In fact, for many people, it probably will still have anyway.  The Voices really won’t be for everyone, its utterly schizophrenic and dark as hell nature will make sure of that.  For the people who do or can get with it, though?  Those people are in for a fantastic character study that’s visually dynamic, smartly written, impeccably acted, sometimes rather funny, and utterly weird.  It worked for me, I’ll tell you that, and right now it might be my favourite film of the year so far.  There’s plenty of time left in the year for other films to knock it from that perch, but I’ve got a very good feeling that I will still be thinking about this one long into 2015’s twilight days.

Callum Petch strikes up the band for one last stand.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Into The Woods

Watered down for family viewing, this Brothers Grimm musical mashup sails a sea of mediocrity for two hours leaving you feeling that something is most definitely missing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

into the woodsIt’s a strange feeling to go into a Disney film with lowered expectations. It’s a weird mind-set to have knowing that the last few musicals you sat through knocked out any hope that you might ever enjoy one again. But hey, I grew up on old school Disney animation and can still to this day reel off the lyrics to all the songs in The Jungle Book and Aladdin. So if any film was going to restore my faith in family films I can sing along to with the kids like we used to back in the day, it’s got to be Disney, right? Sadly, I don’t think this is the movie my childhood needed it to be.

I confess, until very recently, I had no idea what Into the Woods was. I hadn’t heard of the stage production and I had absolutely no idea that it was almost 30 years old. When I did get through a detailed synopsis and understood the concept, my initial reaction was surprise. Not that it was being adapted to film, but that it hadn’t been done twenty years ago. Upon continued reading, I thought I discovered the reason for the film’s existence. The story has some quite dark themes. Themes that have been touched upon in a lot of the Grimm fairy tales, but that have never really come to life in the countless animated movies Disney have given us. With the recent success of Maleficent, a film with some very dark undertones, I thought I could see what was coming and I got quite excited about seeing more of the same from Disney’s latest.

Adapted for the screen by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the creators of the stage show and its music, Into The Woods is the story of a baker and his wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt) who are desperately trying for a family. Forced to take on a quest to search out items that an evil witch (Meryl Streep) needs for a spell. In exchange for these seemingly benign objects, the witch will remove the curse she herself placed on them to prevent them having kids. A spell she cooked up in revenge of the baker’s father stealing her magic beans.

Seems reasonable to me. You steal my rubbish beans, I curse all your children to an eternity of Brewer’s droop. A good, proportionate response, right?

Anyways. These items are the start of the recipe for a melting pot of fairy tales that plays out almost exactly as you would expect them to. The very good Emily Blunt and the pretty pants James Corden set off into the woods in search of a cow, a red cape, a slipper and a lock of blonde hair, inserting themselves into all your favourite kids’ stories to steal stuff and get in the way. Judging from its genre descriptions on IMDb, I’m almost positive that it’s here that hilarity is supposed to ensue.

What follows is a couple of hours of story with no real direction. Rob Marshall (the guy that made the very good Chicago, the boring Nine and the bland Pirates of the Caribbean 4) doesn’t seem to know where to go with each scene. Having not seen the stage production, I can only assume that this is how it plays out on Broadway, but it just seems aimless. Jack gets his beanstalk in lightning quick time but it takes Cinderella three days to lose her shoe. Red Riding Hood takes seconds to play out her story with the Wolf and we either have a massive decade long gap between scenes or Rapunzel is soaking her head in Miracle-Gro at night. It’s just all over the shop. Each scene comes with a new song and a new reason to roll your eyes. Aside from a couple of the musical numbers, none are delivered with any heart or passion. It’s difficult to describe what feels so wrong with the delivery considering the very point of a musical is to sing the script, but it just feels like the music has been shoehorned in and none of the cast are happy about it.

For the most part, the acting seems just as erratic. But a few, for better or worse, deserve special mention. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt are excellent in their roles. Streep’s wicked witch routine is sublime. Her hag filmography is starting to fill out nicely with this and Maggie Thatcher vying for the top spot. The usually very good Anna Kendrick’s performance as Cinderella is, maybe ironically, best described as wishy-washy. She doesn’t seem like she’s having any fun in maybe the most recognisable role in the film. The film’s two princes are just embarrassing! Played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, they both seem to be channelling Errol Flynn, trying to swash and buckle their way through their respective tales and joining up for a very, VERY camp musical number at the top of a waterfall. Pine’s prince seems the more “Disney” of the two, if you can look past the fact that for his first five or so scenes, I thought it was James Van Der Beek with a bad accent. Nope, it turns out it was Captain Kirk, with a bad accent. But the relatively unknown (at least, to me) Billy Magnussen’s prince is completely out of place. Several of his key scenes have a slapstick element to it which while I expected a comedy, felt like I would find them as deleted scenes on the Robin Hood: Men in Tights DVD.

Finally, Disney have carried on their tradition of trying to sell you everything by having an appearance from Johnny Depp in a silly hat! You’d be forgiven for going in expecting more than the five minutes screen time he gets, but in those few minutes he does a spectacular job of proving that he’s become a real one trick pony. Looking like he’s just tripped and stumbled onto the set while he was on a smoke break from the latest Tim Burton film he’s in, Depp overacts his role as the Wolf clearly in the hope that one day there will be an Oscar for cameos!

Rob Marshall clearly set out with good intentions, and I have to believe that if the creators behind the original show were involved in its adaptation then at least a token show of intent was made to bring all the story’s themes across from the stage. The problem is, in an attempt to sell us a family friendly fantasy, Disney have diluted the second half of the film. Maleficent this ain’t. It’s not even that they appear to have changed things, I just got the feeling that large chunks of story have simply been removed. A whole lot of build-up sadly gives way to a rushed second half and an unsatisfying ending with none of the cautionary tale that I knew should have been there.

Overall, as far as films go, as far as musicals go, even as far as Disney adaptations go, it’s just there. Not as good as Chicago, not as pretentious as Les Miserables and not as crap as Sweeney Todd. It’s just forgettable, inoffensive, uninspired guff.

Into The Woods is in cinemas this weekend. Tune in to our next podcast to here Andrew make his debut and chat about Disney’s latest musical with the rest of the gang.

Life After Beth

Life After Beth is weird and confused and, despite a game Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza, sadly not very good.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

life after beth 2Life After Beth’s first mistake is showing us pretty much nothing prior to Beth’s death.  There is a short little pair of shots of Beth (Aubrey Plaza) on the hike where she dies, but that’s it.  So, straight off the bat, the film faces an uphill battle, as we are dropped into Zach’s (Dane DeHaan) grief with little context besides the fact that they were boyfriend and girlfriend.  Emphasis on “were” as the two had broken up with each other in the week leading up to her death.  It’s unclear as to whether this was Zach or Beth’s doing, as well, and at no point do we get an indication of their relationship prior to the events of the film outside of said break-up, and you can probably already tell the issue here.

In any case, about a week after her death, Beth rises from her grave and returns home to her alternately terrified and overjoyed parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), who keep her sheltered from the world and her condition sheltered from her for obvious reasons.  Zach, however, still grieving majorly about the whole thing, manages to force his way in and is similarly alternately terrified and overjoyed about his girlfriend being resurrected, especially since the week between the two of them breaking up and her death is conveniently hazy for her.  From there…

Well, here’s the film’s second mistake.  The premise is thin, but you can stretch it out to a 90 minute film if you work hard enough on that one bit.  Life After Beth, however, is like a magpie; it keeps getting distracted by different shiny objects and only really returns to that original idea, what should be the emotional centre of this whole crazy mess, when it looks back over at it and remembers how shiny it is.  The film also wants you to invest in Zach’s cartoonishly uncaring and one-note family, to find Beth’s dad, Maury, overly sheltering and a threat to the couple’s happiness, to also root for Zach to drop Beth and get with a just-returned childhood friend, Erica (Anna Kendrick), and to be sufficiently intrigued and worried by the fact that Beth doesn’t seem to be the only one returning from the dead to not care when that subplot hijacks the majority of the film’s last half-hour.

It’s a very confused film, and writer/director Jeff Baena’s script and direction do little to paper up those cracks.  There seems to be no real thematic through line, because the film keeps shifting focus and ideas every few minutes, so it has a slightly hypocritical bent to some parts of it – you gain no prizes for figuring out that Maury is both kinda right in sheltering Beth and that the film painting him as a villain for doing so, when the rather obsessive Zach wants her all for himself but is a hero for that, feels more than a bit selective in the morality sense.  The film seems like it’s painting Beth’s return as a second chance for Zach, as some kind of chance to right some kind of wrong he committed the first time, but that feels weird seeing as we have no idea what he may or may not have done wrong the first time, and it all gets lost in the shuffle as the film goes on and becomes more and more overcrowded.

The theme problem then gets exacerbated by the poorly developed characters.  Nobody here feels like a real believable person for various reasons.  Either they awkwardly flip-flop based on what the current scene is telling them to be (Zach), or they’re still a draft or two away from doing or being what they keep being teased to be (Maury), or they’re so cartoonishly one-dimensional and try-too-hard-to-be-quirky as to be annoying instead of entertaining (Zach’s older brother Kyle, who is a paranoid, abusive, gun-nut security officer), or they’re pointless (Erica) or wasted (Beth’s mum, Geenie), or they’re Beth herself.

Beth isn’t really a character so much as just the thing whose existence the film revolves around.  She doesn’t have any real consistency, flitting wildly between scenes, she doesn’t have much in the way of a personality, and that lack of pre-death time means there’s no baseline to measure the dead-alive Beth against.  She’s a weird blank slate that gets re-arranged into whatever the film needs her to be at whatever time, and any impression she makes is down to the always likeable Aubrey Plaza instead of herself.  And, yes, there is the weird uncomfortableness that stems from her becoming more zombie-like the angrier and, for lack of a better term, bitchier she gets.

Then there’s the issue that this comedy is lacking in laughs.  It’s not completely without them, especially when it lets Aubrey Plaza go full-zombie near its end game, but it is weirdly lacking in actual jokes.  The scenes where laughs are supposed to come kind of just ramble with no real construction until you eventually laugh at something, although I’ll be damned if I figured out what said laugh was supposed to be about 80% of the time.  Otherwise, a lot of the film is played weirdly straight but also kinda isn’t?  There are a lot of scenes that are supposed to be played for some kind of emotional resonance, but the film keeps undercutting them with its desire to be off-beat, and I found that rather distracting.  It’s especially bad during what is supposed to be the film’s big emotional climax, where whatever power a scene lacking in pre-film context could have had is immediately set on fire by having a ridiculous piece of physical comedy occur seconds after its crescendo.  It’s jarring, and not in a good way, the definite mark of a first-time director who hasn’t figured out how to juggle disparate tones yet.

None of this is to say that Life After Beth is without merit.  After all, I laughed occasionally, I was never bored, and its cast is game.  John C. Reilly is madly trying to fill in the blanks in his character, Molly Shannon is asked to Molly Shannon for 90-odd minutes and she’s more than happy to do that, Anna Kendrick literally walks into the film for about two or three scenes and is adorably charmingly amazing as per usual (yes, I have my biases, at least I admit them), whilst Aubrey Plaza is strangely withheld from large sections of the runtime but she attempts to make the most of them when she gets the chance, and I will cop to finding her full-zombie really funny.  Dane DeHaan, meanwhile, continues his post-Chronicle career path of wasting his considerable talents on films that don’t deserve them, managing to keep Zach a consistent and interesting character whilst the film is running and visibly straining to make the more dramatic scenes work.

Life After Beth, then, is a failure, but it is an interesting failure.  It’s the kind of failure where one can see where the potential for a very good and maybe even great film is located, but can also see it, in real time no less, squander said potential due to a bunch of mistakes that could have easily been sorted out.  It all comes back to that script, which is at least five-or-so drafts away from tapping that potential but, as is, is an unfocussed and rather unfinished mess.  There’s a really talented cast desperately trying to raise the material on display, but they just end up being wasted.  I was never bored, I was even fitfully entertained, but I was severely disappointed and ultimately unfulfilled.

Callum Petch’s style is wild, and you know that it still is.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

For an alternative view on Life After Beth from the Failed Critics team, you can also check out Mike’s FrightFest round-up and Carole’s views on the podcast.

US Box Office Report: 19/9/14 – 21/9/14

The Maze Runner out-runs the competition, audiences leave This Is Where I Leave You, refuse to invite in The Guest, and ask Tusk to go away, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

In what should come as a surprise to pretty much no-one, giving audiences the opportunity to watch brand new movies at the cinema stimulates box office income.  Therefore, this past weekend was the most alive the American box office has been in a good month or so.  Leading the charge was The Maze Runner, working title “Attempt To Capture That Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games Lightning Again #749”, and its status as the first new Event Film to come along since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles paid dividends as it cruised easily to first place with $32 million in ticket sales.  That’s a pretty good opening, although it’s nowhere close to Divergent levels ($50 mil) and I imagine that 20th Century Fox will have wanted it a bit higher in general.  That sequel is still going ahead, though, so I guess this is another bunch of interchangeable pretty faces and stupid character names that I’m going to have to learn.  Swell.

Fairing a lot worse, we have the Liam Neeson-fronted A Walk Among The Tombstones and perhaps Neeson-fatigue is setting in, as this one could only manage $13 million for second place.  Now, yes, that is a second place opening but, more importantly, that’s only $13 million.  Maybe people are just sick of seeing Liam Neeson vehicles every 12-or-so months, or maybe everybody saw the trailer and correctly said to themselves, “Great!  Thanks for that!  Now I don’t need to see the movie!”  Below that we have the Shawn Levy-directed dramedy This Is Where I Leave You, starring pretty much any well-liked American comedic actor primarily found on television that you can think of, which could only muster a little under $12 million in tickets and which continues Mr. Levy’s failed attempts to be seen as anything other than “The Director Of The Night At The Museum Movies”.

Meanwhile, artier cinemas practically groaned under the weight of new debuts filling their boots this past weekend.  Audiences of said cinemas proceeded to groan in exasperated derision in the general direction of Tusk, the first of what currently amounts to 4 films that Kevin Smith postponed his retirement to make (although, this being Kevin Smith, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number jump up to 11 by the time I finish this sentence).  Advertising was supposedly only focussed on Kevin Smith fans, and I get the feeling that an opening weekend total of $886,000 from 602 screens (for a per-screen average of $1,472) accurately displays the amount of patience that Kevin Smith fans have left for Kevin Smith nowadays.  Still, could be worse.  Could be an action film about 15 year-old yoga aficionados starring Johnny Depp, Johnny Depp’s daughter and Kevin Smith’s dau… that’s exactly what his next film is?  For fu…

In sadder limited release news; audiences, for some utterly bizarre reason, decided to collectively stay away from writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard’s latest, despite it being one of the best films of the year so far.  The Guest only managed to bank $82,100 from 19 screens for a per-screen average of $4,321, which is decidedly average.  Of course, if you add on Wednesday and Thursday, that total goes up to $111,700, but that’s still not enough for me, goddammit!  Everybody should watch The Guest al-frickin-ready!  Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, meanwhile, finally got its US debut this week and, fittingly for a Terry Gilliam movie where nothing seemed to go catastrophically wrong during the production process, it crashed and burned at cinemas with only $82,000 from 63 screens and a $1,302 per screen average because the man is CURSED!

Beating both of them in terms of audience demand was Hector & The Search For Happiness which took $46,000 from 4 screens for a per-screen average of $11,500.  Goddammit, America.


THE MAZE RUNNER

Take a walk among the Full List.

Box Office Results: Friday 19th September 2014 – Sunday 21st September 2014

1] The Maze Runner

$32,500,000 / NEW

OK, I was rather overly mean when I referred to The Maze Runner’s cast as “interchangeable pretty faces” earlier.  There are actually a fair few I recognise from other places.  Like, look, it’s Will Poulter from Son Of Rambow and Wild Bill (and also Plastic, which we don’t talk about)!  And there’s Thomas Sangster, otherwise known as Jojen from Game Of Thrones and Ferb from Phineas & Ferb!  Kaya Scodelario from Skins has found the vehicle to bring her worldwide mainstream attention!  So you know what?  Even if this film sucks uncontrollably (which it may not, it’s not out here in the UK for another three weeks), I’ll be glad it exists, letting me know that talented people are getting steady paycheques for the next few years!

2] A Walk Among The Tombstones

$13,126,000 / NEW

My review, for those of you who have seen the trailer but are still undecided.  Will point out that if you have seen the trailer, you have basically seen the movie.  The only things it doesn’t show, not kidding here, are the identities of the killers (which the film promptly gives up on hiding about 45 minutes in, anyway) and the fact that Brian “Astro” Bradley from Earth To Echo is also in this.  It’s not a bad film (it’s pretty good but totally forgettable), but there’s no reason to turn up if you only see films for the plot and have been exposed to the trailer.

3] This Is Where I Leave You

$11,860,000 / NEW

Disappointed to hear that this one is bad.  I realise that stacked casts mean absolutely nothing if the material isn’t fantastic or engaging (I learnt that one the hard way when Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy did absolutely nothing for me), but that still won’t stop me from being bummed out when I hear that a film with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver and Jane Fonda is exactly as disappointing as the underwhelming trailer threatened it to be.

4] No Good Deed

$10,200,000 / $40,100,000

A pretty precipitous 58% drop between weekends, perhaps as word got around that the “GIANT SHOCKING TWIST” the marketing company pivoted the film on at the last minute could have been figured out by anyone within two minutes of hearing about the film’s premise.  I mean, take away the “GIANT SHOCKING TWIST” hook and all you’ve got to sell the film with is that it looks offensively awful which, as marketing hooks go, is not exactly a strong base to sucker punters in with.

5] Dolphin Tale 2

$9,005,000 / $27,070,000

Dolphin Tale 1 used its second weekend to leapfrog to the top of the chart.  Just saying: don’t expect a Dolphin Tale Part III.

6] Guardians Of The Galaxy

$5,180,000 / $313,669,000

So… what’s Chris Pratt’s flaw?  You know what I’m talking about.  The man’s pretty much perfect.  He’s a talented actor, he’s very funny, a total beefcake and a half, he’s charitable, he steals his costume from film sets so he can visit kid’s cancer wards dressed as said characters, and he can spit Eminem’s verse from Dr. Dre’s “Forgot About Dre” at double speed at the drop of a hat.  So, what’s his flaw?  What’s wrong with him?  Does he have a pile of dead bodies buried in his wine cellar?  If I have learnt anything these past few years, it’s that anybody who seems amazing or cool or perfect is actually a complete sh*tbag in some department!

Except Anna Kendrick.  For, as we all know, Anna Kendrick is a goddess who can do no wrong, sent down from heaven to remind us all that the world is not completely without merit.

7] Let’s Be Cops

$2,675,000 / $77,196,000

Well, this has been a pretty poor year for comedy, hasn’t it?  I count 22 Jump Street, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Bad Neighbours (and, if you really want to stretch the comedy definition, The Double) as the only ones that have been great, and everything else (with the exception of The Inbetweeners 2, which was just good) has been meh to awful.  I know that this is usually the ratio for comedy every year anyway, but it hurts extra bad this year because there have been so many of them.  You’d figure that at least a few more would hit it out of the park to some degree.

8] Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

$2,650,000 / $185,018,000

This list is based off of the Weekend Estimates and I expect that these two may actually swap positions when the Actuals come in, it being that close between the pair and all.  Do not expect me to update this list if they do, though.  My time is far too occupied with watching and writing about the crappy period in DreamWorks Animation’s lifespan to take 10 minutes out of my life to writing a new pithy addition should such a thing occur.  Accept it and move on.

9] The Drop

$2,050,000 / $7,690,000

Don’t make the obvious joke.  Don’t make the obvious joke.  Don’t make the obvious joke.

10] If I Stay

$1,835,000 / $47,672,000

Hey!  It actually outlasted The Fault In Our Stars after all!  Way to… go… bad movie… ah, crap.  At least Chloë Grace Moretz has a decently-performing box office success to add to her resume!  Now she can go back to starring in great movies that I li…  “She’s appearing in that dull-looking Denzel Washington-starring film reboot of The Equalizer next week?”  (*flips table in frustration and storms off*)

Dropped Out: The November Man, The Giver, The Hundred-Foot Journey

Callum Petch is trying to cuss and see, trying to figure it out.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!