In an ugly, grey and corrupted world, Wonder Woman impresses Owen Hughes to be one of the best comic book movies we’re likely to get this year. Read his full review below.
“God I love West Texas.”
If I said to you that I’d just seen an awesome cowboy movie filled with bad guys you love, good guys you kind of hope aren’t successful in their pursuits, gunfights, bank robberies and beautiful scenic shots across the rolling hills of Texas, you’d think I was describing an old Eastwood or Wayne movie wouldn’t you?
But friends, I’m not. I’m talking about modern crime drama Hell or High Water, the latest film from Starred Up director David MacKenzie and Sicario (and large amount of Sons of Anarchy) writer Taylor Sheridan.
Not long after the death of their mother, broke divorcee Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) hatch a desperate plan to rob a string of banks to make enough money to save the ranch they are about to lose to said banks. Hoping to launder their proceeds through local casinos, pay off their debts and vanish off into the sunset, the brothers plan finds itself in serious danger of falling apart when Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) gets handed their case.
Desperate for some action before he retires, the grizzled Ranger and his partner Alberto Parker (native American-for-hire Gil Birmingham) trek across the state to chase the would-be cowboys. A cat-and-mouse chase ensues that will test the resolve of both the lawmen and the brothers.
No fannying about here today guys. No messing around with my words. Hell of High Water is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. I can honestly say I’ve not seen a crime drama as thoughtfully put together as this film since Michael Mann remade his own film into the epic Heat way back in 1995.
Now obviously that’s a big statement to make with no explanation, to compare this film to one of the most beloved crime dramas ever made, so allow me just a few lines won’t you? While it doesn’t have the star power – not quite – or the run time (clocking in at more than an hour less than the LA crime saga) Hell or High Water does have a pedigree behind the camera that could easily rival that of the 1995 thriller. Perfectly written and amazingly slow burning, this modern cowboy film balances itself brilliantly between time spent with our outlaw anti-heroes and our long-in-the-tooth cop. It implores the audience to ponder who we’d really like to see come out victorious come the credits, forcing us to truly wonder if there could ever be a winner here at all.
Continuing my comparison though, our leads bring career performances worthy of award recognition (OK, maybe not Oscars, although I’d love that. But maybe an MTV award or something). I don’t think I’ve ever praised a Chris Pine performance before, but here we get to see him do something completely different – and man is he great. His terrifically understated performance as the smarter of the brothers, trying to keep out of prison and rescue his family from a mountain of debt caused by the banks they are robbing, is mesmerising. More like this please, Mr Pine.
Similarly, Ben Foster’s ex-con is the brawn of the pair. The hot-headed bank robber keeps them on the edge of getting caught the entire time and while he thinks he’s doing the best for his brother, he just can’t see how dangerous his moves are. A brilliant performance from a man not entirely new to the Western genre. With the excellent Jeff Bridges wrapping up this trio of great performances, the Hollywood veteran brings a little bit of that lifelong experience to his role and gives a memorable performance as the old ranger, desperate for one last reason to unholster his pistol.
Which brings me to my final point really. Hell or High Water is a western, plain and simple. I know that the utterance of that word conjures up images of grizzled old men rustling cows, riding horses into town draped in long beaten up trench coats for a bit of a shoot out. But this film is proof, if you needed it, that the genre has evolved to something wholly modern. The times may have changed, but the story is without a doubt the same. Men struggling to make ends meet when their only viable skill isn’t in great demand anymore and turning to the outlaw life to keep food on the table. Lawmen chasing these men to hell and back to bring them to justice, hoping they see another day in this most dangerous of professions. All the tropes of the Western are here; and all brought up to date with modern ideologies.
The director makes no bones about sharing his thoughts on the state of the country. His issues with the dying industries of the Texas countryside or the second amendment are all out there and plain to see. But while his politics are brazen, it doesn’t detract from the film for one second.
Backing all this up with some splendid cinematography that captures the country and the mood perfectly, and a soundtrack that mixes a few old country songs with some dirty southern rock, this film really is the whole package.
Hell or High Water is, simply put, the purest Western movie I’ve seen in more than a decade and one of the best crime dramas I’ve seen in even longer. Tense, exhilarating and a real joy to watch; I fully expect this on a few top 10 lists at the end of the year.
“Just another day in Starfleet.”
A few years have passed since Paramount and JJ Abrams tried to convince us that Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t really Khan. Even non-Trek fans like myself walked out after trekking Into Darkness to a resounding “meh” and a muscle-pulling shrug of the shoulders. So, I guess that makes it time for yet more Star Trek… Goodness?
Out is Abrams – off making star films of the Wars variety – and in is Justin Lin, the man behind four of the Fast and Furious films. Hoping to inject a little something different into this franchise and hopefully make fans forget about the travesty that that was the bastardisation of The Wrath of Khan back in 2013.
Sent into uncharted space on a routine rescue mission, Captain Kirk and his crew cross paths with a mysterious ship that chooses to respond to their calls with hostility and sets about attacking the Enterprise. Making light work of the Federation ship, the hostile race forces the captain and the crew that haven’t been taken prisoner by the unknown foe to abandon the Enterprise to crash land on a nearby planet.
Spread across the rocky landscape of the planet, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Dr. “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) must brave the odds and rescue their crew from their maniacal hostage taker, the leader of an old race that live underground, known as Krall (Idris Elba in some very heavy makeup). With a little help from mysterious warrior Jaylah (Kingsman‘s Sofia Boutella), the last of her race, stranded on the planet by Krall and his murderous race, the survivors have little time to release the prisoners, escape the planet and find a way to stop Krall and his plans to destroy the galaxy.
Here’s the thing with Beyond – or in fact any of the Star Trek films whether they be originals or from the rebooted now trilogy – they are safe films. For fear of pissing off a massive fan base, they’ll never do anything groundbreaking to the franchise. I mean, they couldn’t even kill Kirk properly in the last bloody film could they? In an effort to keep the rabid fanbase appeased, there will never be something done that they can’t come back from and while I did quite enjoy my time with the latest in the sci-fi series to clearly be missing a colon in its title, it meant that even the opening salvo of destruction had very little in the way of peril in it.
It did look good though. The annihilation of the Enterprise by Krall’s “Bees” like a hot knife through butter looked amazing and was a solid fifteen minutes of beautiful destruction. But the franchise has gotten to a stage where it feels a lot like the episodes everyone used to watch and rave about. Once the world famous ship has crashed landed, it’s very run-of-the-mill and definitely more about the characters than the set pieces. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that at all – my favourite films his year have had almost no action and been all exposition – but the third film in this rebooted franchise should feel comfortable enough to keep bringing the action and maybe hold back a little with the fanboy callbacks. When there are set pieces, though, it’s generally pretty good. Action is competent, combat is thrilling and the camaraderie between long-standing characters during these moments is always fun to watch.
The characters are definitely what makes this film – and the previous entries in this reimagined franchise – worth sticking with. I’ve enjoyed watching the relationship build between Chris Pine’s James Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock as the pair are put in these impossible situations that does nothing but strengthen their friendship.
The same can be said for Spock and Karl Urban’s Leonard McCoy; who I honestly think steals the show in each of the films with his neurotic insanity and paranoia. Urban brings such a wealth of character and comedy to the doctor that you can’t help but love him.
As you can imagine, Idris Elba is very cool as the bad guy and fits the maniacal monster perfectly. Like a great bad guy in an episode of the show though, you always wish for a little more screen time that just doesn’t happen, and it’s a real shame.
Some bizarre choices made by the creative team all the way through do hinder the film a little though. Ok, it hinders the film a lot. The script may be the poorest of the trilogy with some achingly bad dialogue and a real lack of effort in parts. One glaringly obvious and just awful moment hits you towards the end when Elba’s Krall spots Kirk in the heat of a massive dogfight and utters “Kirk, my old friend.” Even though the characters have never met before the film and they spent around eleven seconds in each others company up to that point. By those standards, everyone I spoke to getting my Starbucks on the way in to see this film should be getting an invite to my wedding! It’s moments like that, that take this film down a notch or two to just another average flick.
Briefly, because I haven’t really mentioned these thing in reviews, podcasts, or even in my usual rants on social media. A couple of things I want to touch upon:
First, I love the way the death of legend Leonard Nimoy is handled; with grace and respect. He’s given a send off worthy of a man who played such a classic role. Bravo.
Second, the gay Sulu thing. I love it. I think it’s about time a franchise of this magnitude embraced the times and making Sulu the focus of these attentions is great. In my humble opinion, of course. I don’t buy the “Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t have wanted it” shit. The man famously gave us a black woman front and centre in a time that it wasn’t done. I believe he would have done the exact same thing for the gay community. Bravo, again.
And finally, while he doesn’t have much screen time, it’s achingly sad to see Anton Yelchin up on that screen. His dedication at the end of the film, along with Nimoy’s, was lovely.
Anyways, to wrap up. Dodgy scripting, some ghastly CGI, especially around a certain motorbike scene that made me cringe and massive sections of plot and continuity ignored, made for frustrating viewing at times. That’s not to say it’s unwatchable, but overall Star Trek Beyond is on a par with the previous entries in the series. You already know what you’re getting yourself into. Don’t expect the world to change with this flick.
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)
It’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.
Welcome to this week’s podcast, one in which we celebrate the work of one of this generations finest actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman. You’ll get no ghoulish speculation of judgmental nonsense here, just heartfelt appreciation of a master of his craft.
If you need cheering up after that, we also have reviews of I Frankenstein, August: Osage County, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, as well as a much needed review of Nic Cage’s Knowing.
Join us next week as we review the remake of RoboCop, as well as the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club.
It’s that time of year where the big blockbusters come thick and fast, and this week the Failed Critics are putting on our red shirts, setting our phasers to stun, and splitting any and all infinitives we can find as we embrace Star Trek Into Darkness.
As well as reviewing JJ Abrams’ latest installment of the epic sci-fi franchise (including a suitable lengthy Spoiler Alert), we also have time for reviews of Pedro Almodovar’s latest release ‘I’m So Excited’, giallo homage ‘Berbarian Sound Studio’, and impossibly hot couple Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in ‘Love & Other Drugs’.
Next week we’re reviewing our second Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson release this summer, with the latest in the seemingly unsinkable Fast and the Furious franchise.
The Lost Reviews are reviews that our Editor produced for another publication but, for one reason or another, never got published.
It’s not because they’re shit. Honest.
One word. No vowels.
This Means War (out recently on DVD) pitches two top CIA operatives, Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine), against each other as they use every weapon in their armoury to win the heart of Lauren (Witherspoon).
The film opens with a massive gunfight in which director McG tries to be John Woo. But this isn’t Hard Bolied, and it’s not even Hard Target. Hell, This Means War isn’t even Hard Rain. After the op goes wrong, Tuck and FDR are “grounded” by their stereotypical ‘angry black captain’ (the talented Angela Bassett wasted in such a small role).
While out of action Tuck and FDR fall for the same woman, Lauren. Lauren is an executive working for a Which?-like company; fastidiously comparing products and their features. I wonder if that skill will come into play when she has to decide between the two ‘secret’ agents who fall for her.
Yes, it will. Like everything else in the film, this aspect is telegraphed by the writers like someone who nudges and winks at you at all the ‘important’ or ‘ironic’ parts in a story their mate is telling in the pub. It leaves literally nothing for the audience to figure out themselves.
I’m also pretty sure CIA agents don’t have to keep their profession a secret from the families. I learnt that from Homeland. The fact Tuck’s estranged family think he’s a travel agent is straight out of the Hollywood big book of things that only happen in films. Like stopping an elevator to have sex with someone. Or a woman responding to pretty severe sexual harassment by saying “if I say yes, will you go away?”
Oh wait, that also happens in This Means War.
The biggest insult to the audience’s intelligence, though, comes in the form of a conversation about film between FDR and Lauren. Trying to pick up Lauren in a video store, FDR recommends Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Lauren responds by calling it “second-tier film”, and appears to dismiss all of his work pre-1960. Including Notorious, an infinitely superior film also about two spies who fall in love with the same woman.
This from the director who gave us Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Bar one or two scenes in which Tom Hardy takes the film by the scruff of the neck and almost wills it into being something better, This Means War is cynical and clichéd with no heart whatsoever. Why not take FDR’s advice and watch The Lady Vanishes instead?