Tag Archives: drama

Let Go

YQGLYTdZdDmTPM73C51SXP4t2vRTZCnoM62iG3_rb0AThe sun beams through the trees on a new morning. It promises a day full of love, connection and life.

Isabel Dréan’s 14minute long short movie begins with an optimistic view of the world. Two small children, Claire (Milan Coté Dréan) and Mathis (Jaz Coté Dréan), are frolicking about in bed with their mother (Claudia Ferri) before they have to get up for school. Gentle piano keys tinker in the background whilst a warm shade of light shines across the screen as they children’s imagination leads to stories about magic and dinosaurs.

A brief glance again to the heavens outside with sunlight piercing the clouds comes shortly before the family take the car journey to school where once again there’s more singing, more playing and joviality.

But as quickly as this dreamlike sequence begins, it’s suddenly over. We’re back in the bedroom again, but this time, there’s no Claire.

And so the real story of Dréan’s multiple award winning short starts to take shape. There’s a complete tonal shift from what starts out so hopeful and inspiring, moving to a bleak descent into loss and depression. Piece by piece, it fall into place and the true story of a mother having a child ripped from her life takes hold.

It’s a clever way to begin the film because it only makes the latter half even more traumatic an experience. I don’t personally have kids, and even I could feel that sick sensation in the pit of my stomach at what a horrible thing losing a child would be for someone to go through.

I’m not the only person to feel that way too, it seems, as the prestigious Los Angeles New Wave International Film Festival recently awarded Let Go with a Best Picture award. Isabel Dréan also picked up a Best Director award for her achievement.

“This film is very personal to me as I made it with my own children. As a mother, nothing is scarier than the thought of losing a child. It was a very challenging artistic process.  Every one involved was passionate about the project, I’m happy that our team is getting recognized for their effort.”

Whilst it somehow seems a shame that Jérôme Boisvert didn’t pick up an award for his score on Let Go, there is some justice in the world that Philippe Toupin was awarded Best Cinematography for his part in the film. Some of the shots in what is essentially an indie, crowd-sourced project are very impressive indeed. Particularly the final shot – which I’ll refrain from spoiling! But wow. What a way to end it.

From The Babadook, to Secret Sunshine, to even Marley & Me, films about loss, separation, grief and the anxiety that goes with it are almost always guaranteed to make you a bit weepy eyed. It seems like it would be a failure of the filmmakers if you are not to emotionally connected to a story like that.

For Let Go to not only attempt to tackle a subject like that, but to also do it effectively with such a short amount of time, is pretty remarkable. It’s not an easy watch by any means. The foreboding early on and crushing inevitability leaves you squirming a little in your seat, but it’s all the same a neat, affecting short psychological drama.

For more information about Let Go and Isabel Dréan’s work, visit her official website or view the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/141205507.

Steve Jobs

stevejobs

“If a fire causes a stampede to the unmarked exits, it’ll have been well worth it for those who survive.”

How do you tell the story of one of the most famous tech minds in living memory without making it a complete bore? This was pretty much the question that pushed me to watch Steve Jobs. I mean, he was an interesting guy, with an interesting story, if you’re into that kind of thing; but to spend two hours watching a film about the man that made Apple the brand so many of us rely on today doesn’t sound like an interesting prospect to me.

As it turns out, there are a few ways that you make the film interesting. First and most importantly, you give Aaron Sorkin a copy of Jobs’ biography and let one of the greatest screenwriters working today have a go at bringing one of the greatest salesmen to ever live to the big screen. Secondly, and this one both surprised and impressed me, make the conscious decision to not make a biopic and instead focus on making a drama that just happens to be about the Apple co-founder. Finally, do something original, something a little different to make people stop and take notice and think “OK, that could be… worth a look”, and I admit I fell for this one hook, line and sinker as the film takes the thing we all knew Jobs from, his marketing presentations, and makes them the focus of our time with the man.

Made into three very distinct acts, Steve Jobs is set in the moments before three of these presentations. While not necessarily the most famous of his endeavours, we spend time with Jobs before the announcements of some of Apple’s most important, and the tech genius’ most significant, product launches. Beginning in 1984 with the introduction of the first Macintosh computer, the machine that was to usher in a new era for the company and refresh the look of the already dated Apple 2. We meet Michael Fassbender’s titular Jobs as he is fighting to make his demonstration model do what he promised it would do mere minutes before he is due to show it off. The pressure mounts as Steve is forced to deal with confrontations with his friend and company co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his boss John Sculley (Sorkin veteran Jeff Daniels) and former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterstone).

The confrontations are still going strong into 1988’s NeXT education focussed computer announcement and continue on for more than a decade to the groundbreaking iMac announcement in 1998 as the visionary’s personal and private lives both reach critical mass at the end of the 90’s. Between the daughter he refuses to acknowledge as his own to the friend he refuses to cut loose, Steve’s personal life can’t help but get in the way and force his focus elsewhere whilst he’s trying to prepare for these life changing events. Knowing an appearance from management can only spell bad things, the arrival of Sculley to play the part of Jobs’ boss can only make matters worse. With each presentation the personal stakes are increased and the business pressure is ramped up for the salesman who can’t seem to get five minutes to catch his breath and take stock of what’s going on around him.

The thing about Steve Jobs: The Movie is that even after several attempts, I can’t write a synopsis that sounds interesting. It’s next to impossible to make a film about a guy who sold computers sound like it’s going to be worth your time. But, as it would turn out, it’s very, very good. It’s a great tag-team of spectacular direction from Danny Boyle – those that know me know how much it hurts me to say that – and first rate writing from Aaron Sorkin.

Honestly, I think the boldest move that Trainspotting director Boyle made was to cast a film full of real life people, most of them still alive, with a cast of actors that look nothing like the people they are portraying and then NOT put a few inches of makeup on to make them look like the famous people they are acting like. Boyle took top notch actors, for the most part, and instead of making the film about how much someone looks like someone else, he let the script do the talking and let the stories be told to the audience by the world class group of guys on the screen.

And “world class” is right. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the much loved tech salesman is pure genius, making the role his own as he angrily storms around in the back halls of his audience filled battlegrounds. So convincing is his depiction of the Apple innovator that by the time we get to see him in his now iconic jeans and black turtleneck, we no longer care that he looks nothing like his inspiration; he is Steve Jobs. His now legendary presentations are marred by his inability to cultivate a friendly personal relationship; opting instead for jumping straight to hostility and while that may not have been the ideal way to go about conversations with co-workers, managers and a young girl whom you refuse to admit is yours, it certainly makes for compelling viewing. At Jobs’ side through this entire endeavour is Joanna Hoffman, Steve’s confidant and closest friend and she is the only person that Steve trusts when everything else seem to be falling apart around him. With Kate Winslet in the role that is so important to the subject and the film, an awful lot rests on her shoulders with the fine line between very close friend and something more than that being danced along gracefully by a woman that deserves a supporting actress nod for her efforts here.

With Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen rounding off the cast, with both seamlessly falling into their respective roles, I honestly couldn’t think of a negative thing to say about the choices made in casting if I tried. Daniels’ portrayal of John Sculley, the CEO of Apple and the man responsible for most of the second half of the film, is flawless, seemingly having been in training for Sorkin’s script for three years with his work in the writer’s most recent TV escapade, Newsroom. Similarly, Rogen’s role of Apple co-founder and less famous version of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, was an interesting choice for both director and actor but it definitely paid off. Having taken a few ideas, and maybe some tips, from buddy Jonah Hill – a guy who cut his teeth with serious films recently with an Oscar nominated real life person role in Moneyball – Rogan’s “Woz” is a splendid one. A man whose bond with Jobs let him get away with so much, but having been scorned one too many times by the marketer that he simply loses his cool is played effortlessly and convincingly by a man most famous for making silly stoner type comedies.

Getting to take a look at how Steve Jobs was in the earlier years of Apple is a real treat and Danny Boyle has done a splendid job of giving us a glimpse of the man’s life through the eyes of those that simultaneously loved and despised him and while the performances are all amazing and each of those representing the real life people responsible for some of the greatest technological advances in recent memory are putting in an amazing amount of work.

The real standout of this show is, as I expected it to be, the writing. I’ve been a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s work for as long as I can remember and I don’t think he’s ever written a dud paragraph in his life. In his second movie where he gets to spend some time with the tech sector, Sorkin proves that he is still best-in-breed with his Steve Jobs script. And whilst the film may be a two hour lesson in Sorkin’s walk-and-talk theatre, it’s a damn good one, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Black Mass

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“And just fucking like that, I was one of them. And I was a big fucking deal.”

So yeah, I’ve been falling out of love with Johnny Depp pretty hard this last few years. Outside of a couple of… let’s say interesting turns in films like Rango and The Rum Diaries, his appearances on the big screen have been lacklustre at best and just plain awful at worst. I mean, what in the name of Jesus beaten left testicle was going on in Tusk? It’s all good that you’ve got more money than God and you can take your pick of projects, but why the hell would you pick The Lone Ranger?

But… But, but, but! I do love me a good crime drama, the closer to true life the better and with 2009’s Public Enemies and 1997’s Donnie Brasco, Depp stars in two of my favourites. Stupid recent roles aside, I had high expectations for Mr Depp’s turn as James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass.

Directed by Scott Cooper – of Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace fame – and based on the biographical book of the same name, Black Mass is the true story of James Bulger, a small time crook that became the most powerful gangster in South Boston with the help of his gang, his politician brother and – to coin the subtitle of the book and the tagline on the film poster – his unholy alliance with the FBI.

Kicking off in 1975, we are told Whitey’s story from a police interview room as they question henchman Kevin Weeks, a doorman who impressed Bulger by standing his ground and taking a beating doing his job. Quickly becoming Bulger’s driver and playing the part of his muscle makes him the perfect guy to tell the story of the next twenty years to us, and the police. As Weeks spills the beans on Whitey’s past endeavours, we meet the man while he’s just a small time hoodlum working he way up to full blown gangster status; not far removed from a prison stint that included three years in Alcatraz, Bulger spends his days working his way through South Boston making sure everyone knows that he is the guys to be scared of. At the same time, James’ politician brother William is keeping himself busy protecting his sibling, keeping him safe from prying eyes and organising meetings with John Connelly, an FBI agent that really wants to be a dirty cop and sees the Bulger brothers as the best way to do that.

The twisting stories between gangster Whitey, politician brother Jimmy and terrible bad cop Connelly span nearly two decades. From the rise of his Winter Hill mob into organised crime and his rivalry with the Angiulo brothers of North Boston that eventually led to his conspiring with the FBI; to Bulger’s eventual fleeing Boston, the law, and his rivalries to stay alive and out of prison.

Black Mass is all about the performances. While the tale it’s weaving is great and Cooper’s direction and story telling style are amazing, it’s the stellar cast and superb acting from almost all of them that make this film stand out. First and foremost is Johnny Depp’s portrayal of local gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, his time on screen is almost flawless. Sure, his makeup is a little dodgy and he looks a bit like a 50 year old Draco Malfoy, but Depp is suitably evil in every scene he is in and has mastered the craft of the psycho eyes that make him just terrifying – one scene where he threatens a copper with “the last thing I’d do if I was planning to harm you, is fucking warn you about it” may be the scariest thing I see in a weekend that includes a Crimson Peak screening. It’s the role that has restored a little love and faith in Johnny Depp and may he pull performances like this one from here on in.

Depp’s support is almost perfect too. Joel Edgerton’s FBI agent John Connelly, the agent that comes dangerously close to being a bungling fool in the grand scheme of things but is just dying to be hot shit is great. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch for Edgerton, but he does the simple role very, very well. Jesse Plemons – a guy I only know from the excellent Friday Night Lights – essentially plays two parts; Kevin Weeks the big time gangster’s muscle and Kevin Weeks the informant driving the narration forward for us and in both roles he shines. Quickly erasing the teenage football player image I had for him and making him a bit of a bad ass. Maybe the biggest mis-step in casting comes in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch. Now I have a lot of time for the Sherlock actor, but his casting as Whitey’s politician brother Billy seems like stunt casting at its worst. Not because he’s bad or because he’s used to sell the film, but just to say “we got Cumberbatch in our flick” and it really wasn’t necessary; he just doesn’t seem to fit the role that he’s been given. With appearances from Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Dakota Johnson and Rory Cochrane all running in support, Black Mass has more than enough acting chops on screen to keep almost anyone entertained.

Overall, Black Mass is excellent. It’s an interesting slice of time from the crime stories of Boston and while it comes across a little like a true story version of The Departed mixed with a slightly unhealthy dose of wanting to be Goodfellas, it is an amazing way to spend a couple of hours. It pains me to say it, in a year that had Tom Hardy starring in a Kray twins film, but Black Mass may be the best crime film you can see this year.

Suffragette

image“We don’t want to be law breakers. We want to be law makers.”

Back when I was in school and trying to figure out my “options” for my GCSE years, the one subject I wanted to do without a moments doubt, was history. We’d spent the few years previous learning about the world wars, ancient Egypt and all kind of interesting guff in between so I was instantly sold. Day one of year 10 (more or less 9th grade for those in the States) I regretted my decision instantly. No more wars and politics, no more Egyptians or Tudors. Women was where I would be spending the next two years. Women at work, women’s votes, the whole nine yards. I was livid. I’m not, and wasn’t, anti-woman or anti-feminism or any of that primitive, Neanderthal bollocks. What I was, and still am, is anti-bored off my ass reading about shit that I don’t find interesting.

Luckily, and happily, a few weeks in and it turns out that women in history, and women’s fight for equality and the vote in particular, may be some of the most interesting parts of history that I’ve ever spent time reading about. An impossible struggle that women would certainly never win, made possible by sheer force of will and determination.  It is maybe one of the most impressive feats in history and now, finally, we get a film that promises to tell the story of England’s “Suffragettes” with respect and dignity and what better name for it? Suffragette.

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette takes place in 1912 London, just as the movement was hitting its peak and the working class women fighting for the vote are beginning to escalate from the peaceful protests that have failed miserably for so long, to the strong-arm tactics that made the movement famous and eventually got them the vote. It’s at this turning point that we meet Maud, a woman who has worked in an industrial laundry since she was a little girl and is sitting on the sidelines, watching the movement from outside of it and keeping her head down and out of trouble. When the government offer to hear arguments from the women who work in London, Maud is the only person to step up in support of her friend and fellow laundry worker Violet, a proud suffragette who will be speaking at the Houses of Parliament and hoping to garner support from David Lloyd George – the then Chancellor of the Exchequer who would go on to be Prime Minister a few years later – and maybe give the movement some well needed and well deserved traction in government.

On the day of the visit to London’s centre of government, Violet arrives quite badly beaten up and unable to stand in front of the men of the government. Taking her place at the Palace of Westminster, Maud tells her story to a room full of MPs who don’t necessarily agree with her stance or that of the suffragette movement and unwittingly finds herself hip deep in the movement she tried so hard to stay away from. Things get progressively worse for Maud when her usually supportive husband takes a dislike to the path she’s found herself on and begins to resent her for what she is becoming and the ideologies that she has begun to fight for.

As the campaign of not-so-peaceful protesting heats up, so does Maud’s struggle both with her conscience and her family. With odds, and the law, always against her and the suffragettes and the struggle seeming almost impossible at every turn, it’s only a matter of time before something has to give and this long-fought endeavour for women’s equality will come to a head.

I went into Suffragette with very high expectations. The story of these women that put everything on the line to get the most basic of rights that we take for granted nowadays is one that’s always needed telling and it ended telling well. With today’s climate being the way it is, and women’s rights being almost as fragile now as they were back then, there was a lot riding on this film being something of a beacon for women’s rights and equality. Thankfully, the film does a splendid job in almost everything it does and tells its story with a level of class and decency that most films would only dream of getting to, stumbling into clichés all the way through.

Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Maud, the long-suffering laundry worker whose priority is her family over her wanting the vote, is stunning. This woman who fell into becoming the film’s unwitting poster child for the movement led by world famous names like Emmeline Pankhurst and whose biggest challenges come after she starts to fight for her rights. Anyone that doesn’t feel for this woman as her family falls apart and her life is torn to pieces after being pushed to become part of a movement she doesn’t necessarily believe in is completely heartless. Pushing her into the movement are the two most prominent people in Maud’s life outside of her family. Firstly, her friend Violet, a great turn by Anne-Marie Duff; a woman who, along with Maud, is the epitome of the working class woman who were woefully under-represented at the beginning of the last century. Second is local pharmacist Edith Ellin, a woman quite literally scorned by her lack of rights not only to a vote, but to an education as well and has become the de facto leader of the East End’s suffragettes who is willing to put everything on the line for what she believes in. Helena Bonham-Carter (an actress who continues to impress me after all these years, so long as she isn’t in Tim Burton films) takes the part of Edith and owns every scene she is in with a presence that most of the cast can only dream to have one day. You feel the pain and anger with her as she leads her charge into unwinnable battles time after time, unrelenting in her convictions and unrepentant in her actions. She’s simply outstanding.

Supporting these great, great actresses is a stellar cast bringing up the rear. Brendan Gleeson’s detective Steed, a copper clearly conflicted and struggling himself between his commitment to the law and his dislike of the way that these women are being treated is a great fit for this brilliant actor. It’s tough enough to keep the sympathies with the women who deserve it, but his flashes of conscience and compassion make you think twice about out-and-out hating him for what he’s doing. Turning the world famous Emmeline Pankhurst into a cameo role was an interesting decision, skipping past the risk of turning it into a full-blown biopic, Meryl Streep’s Pankhurst is spoken of more than she is seen in this film about a movement for which she was the champion; used as motivation for both the law and the suffragettes, Pankhurst’s walk-on part of Suffragette is as powerful a statement about the fight for women’s rights as any made during the film. Much more time is spent on Natalie Press’ Emily Davidson; the suffragette who – if you don’t know who she is, I won’t spoil anything, but safe to say that a history book or two never hurt anyone – brought worldwide attention to the suffragette movement and the time we spend with her in the film portrays her as a desperate woman who’s running short on patience and time and wants the voices of these women to be heard as loud and as far out as possible.

In certain dark and nasty parts of the internet, places that I sadly find myself passing near far too often, the idea of women’s equality is still a dirty thought and as these horrible notions find their way into more mainstream areas of life, Suffragette may be the most important film made this year. Nearly a hundred years since the first positive legal steps were taken towards equal rights for women, there is no better time than now for us all to step back and take the 105-minute journey with East London’s suffragettes and realise that while plenty has changed for the better, far too much has stayed the same.

Some historical inaccuracies aside, Suffragette is a masterpiece. Powerful, poignant and, from here on out, should be required viewing for everyone.

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 9 – September Refuelled

As yet another month passes in 2015, it’s time for the next entry to Owen’s year in review series, looking at a selection of the films that he’s been watching throughout September. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

everest-base-camp-movieNormally in this series I’d pick whichever movie that I happened to fancy writing about. Be it the one I found the most interesting, the one I loved most, one that I hated, etc. It typically changes with each new entry.

However, having taken a look back through the whole month, it appears that I’ve seen at least one new release in each week of September. Therefore, I’m going to do something slightly different for this month’s article, I think. After all, it’s been a month of new starts for me personally, beginning life as a full time University student.

I’ve learnt a lot over the past five weeks; how to be a better writer, the essence of what being a journalist actually means – and just how much I missed going to work. Seriously. I spent just over one solitary week unemployed, having left employment on Friday 11th September before enrolling at University on Thursday 24th. It was horrible. My expectations were that it would feel like a holiday. A nice, albeit short break before my life completely changed.

Wrong.

It was a tedious, slow, excruciating week of sitting around doing nothing, getting more and more anxious about whether or not I’d done the right thing. I do not envy anybody who has to spend longer than that out of work. But at least it did give me a chance to reflect a little. Some time to think about the decisions I’d made; about what I had let myself in for.

Contrary to the seemingly popular opinion that student life is all about causing queue congestion by paying for everything with a cheque, staying in bed until 2pm and eating Pot Noodles for breakfast, it’s been bloody hard work. Rewarding and exciting. But hard.

It’s certainly threatening to scupper my plans to resurrect my Horrorble Month sequel, the project I completed last October where I watched a horror movie every day in the lead up to Halloween. It’s actually where I conceived the idea of doing this as a more regular thing.

Although, back in September, I did still manage to actually get through a decent number of movies. Starting with…


Week 1 – Tuesday 1 – Sunday 6 September 2015

Tuesday – Star*Men (2015), Welcome to Leith (2015), No Tears For The Dead (2014); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared (2014); Saturday – Area 51 (2015), Blood Lake (2014); Sunday – THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (2015)

transporterI know it’s weird how I constantly feel the need to defend my preference for action movies; quite frankly, it shouldn’t be an issue. Taste is a subjective thing, of course. However, there is a stigma attached to the genre that suggests those who enjoy mindless action on camera are morons. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that opinion. People are entitled to enjoy whatever the hell they want and it’s not necessarily a reflection on your level of intelligence. Laugh at Adam Sandler if you want, cry whilst watching My Little Pony, ponder the nature of existence during the three hours of motorway footage you found on YouTube. It’s your choice. That said, what an absolutely enormous waste of everybody’s time the latest entry to the Transporter franchise is. From its tacky opening scenes trying (and failing) to revive the swagger that the original Luc Besson movie had in swathes, to its boring and overdue conclusion; I had no fun watching this whatsoever. The only thing more annoying than Ed Skrein’s Statham impersonation is the missing ‘L’ in the movie title. I love the original movie as much as anyone should, but the sequels have been subpar. Even The Stath agrees, given his comments in an interview with Sabotage Times about working with Ben Foster:

“…for me to be able to work opposite someone like that and not some hairdresser cast off the street – which is what happened with Transporter 3 – well, it was fantastic.”

At least The Transporter Refueled wasn’t quite that bad, I suppose. Also in its favour is that it did introduce the always watchable Ray Stevenson as the father of the notorious getaway driver Frank Martin. The plot too is acceptable (if badly structured) for this sort of film, with the delivery package this time being four women enacting their revenge. But it was in essence a dull, unexciting and incredibly stupid crapfest.


Week 2 – Monday 7 – Sunday 13 September 2015

Monday – Tabloid (2010)Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – SONS OF BEN (2015)Sunday – The Hunted (2003)

sons of benOrdinarily I wouldn’t cover a film in this series that I’d already written a review for on the website and talked about on the podcast. Nevertheless, it: a) fits the criteria I set out in the introduction; and b) is an indie documentary that deserves a bit of extra publicity. As such, here are a few snippets from my original review to give you an overview:

“What happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.

“Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion.

You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]

Week 3 – Monday 14 – Sunday 20 September 2015

Monday – L’eclisse (1962)Tuesday – Mortal Kombat (1995), Legend (2015)Wednesday – Starry Eyes (2014); Thursday – Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)Friday – Class of Nuke ’em High (1986), Pernicious (2015)Saturday – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)Sunday – EVEREST (2015)

60ea71a0-dcbf-4e43-92f6-415984fbdbd6-1020x612To borrow an often used football cliché, director Baltasar Kormákur‘s Everest is a film of two halves. The first hour of this adventure-turned-disaster movie is mind numbingly slow. It drags. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the characters involved in this 1990’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, led by Jason Clarke as real-life New Zealander Rob Hall. I understand why the film is purposefully designed to be this slow, as it builds up enough backstory to make you care about the characters involved, hoping that you’ll be bothered by them if something were to happen. Perhaps the reason that this drudges on so tamely is because there are too many characters, each with their own stories to tell. This may be a very slight spoiler, so apologies in advance, but once they finally got to the top of the treacherous mountain, it did occur to me that surely there wasn’t much of the 120 minute run time left. And yet! I was wrong. I glanced at my watch and there was still somehow an hour to go. But what an hour of cinema it was. I was surprised by just how invested I became in these people given the fact that I was certain that up to that point, I’d been bored. I’d have liked to have seen a little more about what Rob Hall’s wife (Keira Knightley) was going through back home but otherwise it was a very emotional 60 minutes. It’s probably the first movie for years that has caused me to well up in the cinema whilst watching. Apparently a lot of the footage was actually taken at camp one on the real mountain too. The film looks amazing for it and between the visuals and the latter half of the story, it’s definitely a film worth seeing and makes up for a tepid opening half.


Week 4 – Monday 21 – Sunday 27 September 2015

Monday – Bride of Re-animator (1989); Tuesday – Dawn of the Dead (1978)Wednesday – Day of the Dead (1985), Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), Sicario (2015); Thursday – Day of the Triffids (1962), From Beyond (1986)Friday – Invaders From Mars (1986), Return to Oz (1985); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – THE MARTIAN (2015)

maxresdefault-3I’m going to spare your eyes from going even more square whilst staring at your computer screen for any longer and suggest you click the link below and instead listen to my review of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi movie:

FAILED CRITICS PODCAST: THE INTERN, THE MARTIAN & SICARIO (29 Sep 2015)

Alternatively, read on below if you’d rather.

There appear to be two types of ‘Ridley Scott’ in this world. There’s the Ridley Scott who makes ambitious, misunderstood or sometimes simply just plain bad movies such as American Gangster, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical cut at least) and The Counsellor, to name but a few. Then there also appears to be a Ridley Scott who makes exciting, intelligent and often influential science fiction movies with an enticing premise and wondrous, imagination-capturing special effects and plots. Think Blade Runner, Alien and (yes, even) Prometheus. Where that leaves The Martian is definitely more towards that of a studio-led film than a recognisably Ridley Scott movie. There’s very little character in the picture; you certainly wouldn’t guess from looking that it was Ridley Scott rather than, say, Steven Speilberg, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard etc. Not that this is necessarily a problem. The lack of identity in respect to its director is moot considering just how enjoyable The Martian is. Adapted from the Andy Weir novel of the same name, the plot revolves around wise-cracking astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stranded on the planet Mars where his crew have abandoned him, assuming him dead. Although there’s a large support cast of talented actors (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benny Wong(!) etc) the majority of the run time is carried by Damon, whose antics and humour make his time on the red planet seem all too brief. Even though the final third descends into Gravity with pop tunes sound tracking it, the biggest compliment I can think to pay The Martian is that I wish it were a biopic simply so I could spend more time learning about this fascinating and epic adventure.


Week 5 – Monday 28 – Wednesday 30 September 2015

Monday – Vamp (1986); Tuesday – Wolf Cop (2014); Wednesday – SKIN TRADE (2015)

skintradeheaderAh, Netflix. From time to time, you throw up some real gems that I would otherwise have overlooked. Usually they’re films starring Scott Adkins or Donnie Yen. On this occasion, Skin Trade lured me in by plastering martial arts movie icon Tony Jaa’s name all over it. If that wasn’t tempting enough, they only went and got Dolph Lundgren involved too. What the double team that is, eh? But wait! Ron Pearlman, as well? Well, blow me down with a feather (or flaming flying kick – Onk Bak, anyone?). The truth is, Skin Trade is complete and utter tosh. Quelle surprise, right? Maybe that’s a bit unfair as for at least 10 minutes, it’s OK. It’s alright. It’s not horrendous. Dolph plays a NYC cop who teams up with a Thai detective (Tony Jaa) to stop the Serbian crime boss (Ron Pearlman) and his human trafficking gig. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I’d even stretch that a bit further and say Jaa’s first action scene in a small room was impressively well choreographed and set the bar too high too early. You can see he’s clearly still got it in him to pull out some fantastic moves on screen. Unfortunately, it just gets progressively worse from then on. Its great cast are left to scrape together something resembling a cohesive plot but without fully capitalising on the potential of its concept. I will keep my fingers crossed in the hope that Tony Jaa gets another crack at the lead role in an American movie, Skin Trade somewhat remarkably being his first. He definitely proved he’s capable enough during his cameo role in Furious 7.


And that’s it for another month. Join me again roughly this time in November for part two of my “horrorble month” lists, where once again I aim to watch at least one horror film every day through October. Until then, feel free to comment below on any of my reviews – or send me a tweet!

The Walk

maxresdefault“I whisper so the demons won’t hear me. It’s impossible. But I’ll do it.”

The story of Philippe Petit is as amazing as it is insane. A man who fell in love with the idea of doing a tightrope walk between the towers of New York’s World Trade Centre years before they were even built and spent every waking minute in the pursuit of this dream. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that a few recommendations and the announcement of this film pushed me to watch Man on Wire, the documentary inspired by the same autobiographical book as the film, I’m not sure I would have ever believed anything I saw on screen this weekend.

Determined to become a tightrope walker from a young age, Philippe Petit (an amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but I’ll come to that in a bit) devoted his entire life to performing after watching a circus tightrope act and finding himself to have a bit of a talent for it. Spending all his free time and money learning the secrets of his chosen craft from circus veteran and high wire family patriarch, Ben Kingsley’s Papa Rudy, Philippe soaks in everything he can from his mentor and sets about making his name.

Following Philippe from his days as a street performer, to his discovery of a news article talking about the World Trade Centre plans and how tall the towers will be. We see him go from his first public failings to the moment he is inspired by the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral and wire walks between them. Explaining his process in getting his wire across and how this will be infinitely more difficult at over a hundred floors up and god knows how far away the other tower is, this small-scale trial run for Philippe’s “coup” is a heart stopping look at how the man pushed himself to not fail.

On to New York and Petit and his accomplices, an Ocean’s Eleven style collection of misfits that he and his street artist girlfriend have assembled on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, set about pulling off the most elaborate and illegal street performance in history. As the daredevil wire walker edges closer to his big day, he has to battle through countless obstacles; from the security around the unfinished buildings to the fears and doubts building up inside him as the day he tries to conquer the world’s tallest buildings gets nearer.

The Walk is, without a doubt, a spectacle piece. Designed for the 3D IMAX experience that this week’s previews have been offering and it delivers, completely. Robert Zemeckis’ biopic is as beautifully directed as any in his filmography, with the added factor of being able to give us all a stomach churning look over the edge of the Trade Centre towers, staring at the abyss of the 415 meter drop to the streets of Manhattan. Every gust of wind and every shake of Philippe’s wire are quickly followed up with stomach churning imagery of the impending fall that, for those that don’t like heights, would be vomit inducing. The further up the film’s lovingly recreated Twin Towers we are taken, the more we are treated to sweeping New York vistas and plunging views of the streets below the performer. The direction and cinematography is so striking, that every time Philippe Petit arrogantly flutters around on the edge of the building or screws around on his rope, it instantly puts your heart in your throat and has you clinging on to your seat for dear life.

And speaking of Philippe Petit, we really need to spend some time on Joseph Gordon Levitt’s performance as the crazy daredevil. Because if you ever had doubts about JGL’s acting abilities, and you really shouldn’t have by now, then this should clear things up for you. Anyone that has seen Man on Wire, a film that is almost required viewing before watching this film so you can get a feel for the guy, will know that Petit is a wacky, wacky dude. I mean, most performers like this have their quirks, but this guy absolutely lives in his own little world; unicycling around the streets of his home town and mucking around on ropes at stupid heights are evidence to this. He’s such a great, interesting character and I was really interested to see how he would be brought to the screen. I wasn’t disappointed. From his opening lines to his final words, Levitt’s incarnation of Philippe is spot on. As he narrates the entire film from the torch of the Statue of Liberty with the The World Trade Centre towers standing behind him the entire time, Levitt IS Petit. The way he moves his body, his eccentric way of describing everything and his generally weird and wacky overall persona is right there for all to see. JGL does a wonderful job of bringing those of us that might not necessarily watch documentaries an amazing insight into this kooky little dude. With excellent support from Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge-Dale and Ben Kingsley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has brought a legend to the screen with superb results.

The Walk‘s two hours don’t fly by, but you won’t be bored either. It’s split pretty much evenly between getting to 1974 New York and making the titular walk. Its moments of story telling are deep and interesting, whilst its time on Philippe’s wire, the streets below and all the space in-between are brilliantly intense. Robert Zemeckis has made the true story of a genuinely interesting guy into a genuinely interesting film and the only people that should be avoiding this flick, are those with a crippling fear of heights.

L’eclisse (AKA The Eclipse)

Out today (28 Sep 2015) on DVD and Blu-ray is Studiocanal’s new digital restoration of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 Special Jury Prize winning classic, L’eclisse.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

leclisseTo term a film ‘narrative cinema’ suggests that a movie is constructed in a very formulaic manner. A structure fitting a pretty basic beginning, a middle and an end pattern, telling a story; it gives the audience a feeling of familiarity and if told well, then a reason to care about characters and events that take place therein. It’s simple, reliable and oh so difficult to do right, as the dozens of multi-million-dollar Hollywood pictures released one after the other on a conveyor belt of boring, repetitive, derivative tosh will no doubt tell you.

That rule book is virtually torn to shreds in Michelangelo Antonioni’s third entry to his trilogy, preceded by L’Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961). In both writing and directing this poetic drama about modernity, life and love in the 20th century, Anonioni’s narrative is one of an anguished portrayal of human emotion and of the flippancy that defines our species. It follows Monica Vitti leaving her unhappy relationship to start another with an arrogant Roman stockbroker, played by Alain Delon. They argue, they romance, they love each other too much (or not enough as the case may be) and L’eclisse characteristically breaks away from conventional narrative to mill about a bit, contemplate stuff and generally be European.

Whilst it’s commendable for its audaciousness in playing around with a customary structure in order to develop something unique and capture an awareness and atmosphere identifiably of its time – particularly when you consider Godard was in the midst of revolutionising cinema with his nouvelle vague movement – it is perhaps what one might label a “film makers film”. Not one to savour for regular Joe movie fans (myself included!) It’s stylish with some fantastic architectural photography captured by cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo, but most definitely not a film to watch with any distractions around. I struggled to enjoy it as an experience on the same level to which I was appreciating how superb the restoration was on this DVD by Studiocanal. The atmosphere is dry, cold and distanced mimicking Antonioni’s view of the world at the time, not in keeping with my own viewpoint. His disdain for the modern world and its hindrance on forming relationships is at its peak during a confusing (albeit well edited) last five minutes.

Indeed, it has been championed by auteurs such as Martin Scorsese, praising its ‘liberating’ final sequence; discarding its characters entirely to shoot a despairing vision of the world. Or, at least, that is just my humble opinion. I’m sure there are countless other opinions on this iconic conclusion as the vast majority of the conversations are open to interpretation in their true meaning. Although the theme of hope and faith (of a non-religious variety) are brought up throughout the film, if any of those interpretations of the ending are optimistic, I will be very surprised!

If your film palette is more sophisticated than the average punter’s, or if you are interested in the history of narrative cinema, then I would recommend those of you to give L’eclisse two hours of your life. You may find something inspirational in this highly regarded classic. And, if you are going to give it a go, then saying the always reliable Studiocanal DVD / Blu-ray restoration (specs below) will be the next best thing to seeing it on the big screen is an understatement.


Blu-ray – tech details

Running time: 126 Mins / Cert PG / Aspect ratio – 1.85:1 /Region B

Mono 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio / HD Standard 1080p

Black and White / Italian with English subs /

Extra: Interview with José Moure, an Antonioni biographer /RRP – £22.99


DVD – tech details

Running time: 122 Mins / Cert PG / Aspect ratio 1.85:1 /Region 2

2.0 Mono / Black and White PAL / Italian with English subs /

Extra: Interview with José Moure, an Antonioni biographer /RRP – £17.99

A Walk in the Woods

a walk in the woods“I spent half my life chasing pussy and drinking. And I wasted the other half.”

On paper, a film about two pensioners going on a hike is, without a shadow of a doubt, a film that would never hit my radar. Not that I would actively avoid watching a movie like A Walk in the Woods, but I would much prefer to only use the edge of my cinema seat for a good thriller or come out with my ears bleeding from that insane volume and a ton of explosions. That being said, with not an awful lot to do on a Friday after work and a screening at my local with just enough time to grab a Starbucks beforehand, this evening I watched a film about two guys chatting and walking.

Robert Redford is Bill Bryson, an author whose time has been spent writing books on his travels around the world, but for the last few years, he’s been spending, or wasting, his time at home watching his books gather dust and feeling old. After an annoying, abrasive TV interview and yet another funeral, Bryson goes for a walk and finds himself inspired to walk the 1,100 mile Appalachian trail that stretches between Georgia and Maine. After his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) reads up on the risks of the walk and the things that can go wrong, she insists he finds a partner to do the walk with; a real issue for a man whose friends are all the same pension drawing age that he is, or dead, and don’t want to die in the forest! Enter Nick Nolte’s Stephen Katz, a friend from Bill’s past who volunteers to walk the trail with the author.

Katz is one of those friends everyone’s dad has; he’s got seedy stories about your old man’s past and a few tales that no-one wants to hear. And we all had that friend didn’t we? For me, it’s the guy whose name causes my wife’s eyes to roll because she knows I won’t come home in one piece! Stephen Katz is the perfect bodiless of all those friends and now he’s following Bill Bryson around in the woods. The pair make their way to the start of the walk in Georgia and after a night in a nice hotel, they head off uphill and begin the adventure that will see them spending a few months together in the woods. The old friends go up against Mother Nature as they try their hardest to walk the thousand mile trail through wind, rain and snow; coming up against bears and weirdos as the bonding experience takes them to their limits.

There’s not much to say about A Walk in the Woods if I’m honest. It’s a comedy adventure films that is perfectly suited to a good Sunday matinee. There’s little drama, a slight hint of peril and a whole lot of walking. I mean, if it wasn’t for Nick Nolte’s constant swearing, it’d be a family film about two mates going for a walk. Like Homeward Bound, but with real people. The pair have great chemistry and there’s a real sense that they like each other throughout the whole film, these two guys that have grown apart and gone on to lead completely different lives have come back together after so many years and can still spend that much time in each other’s company without killing themselves. Even when the inevitable arguments happen, it’s over in a flash and they are back to laughing and joking.

And man! The laughing! Robert Redford is great as the sensible and determined Bill Bryson, but Nick Nolte is absolutely the star of the show. Every single thing that comes out of his mouth is pure gold; from the smut to the insults, his character is a comedy genius and I genuinely laughed myself stupid throughout the whole thing. Every story Stephen Katz has, and every time he shuts down Bryson’s know-it-all attitude is a beautiful moment and you can’t not love Nolte for the performance he puts on. Once you add the brilliantly funny cameos from people like Nick Offerman and Kristin Schaal, the film really shines as a comedy and I happily sat and giggled my way through the whole thing.

A Walk in the Woods is a buddy cop comedy, but the cops are retired and bored and looking for something to do. It’s got no explosions, no guns, no kidnappings, no murders and no nudity; but what it does have is charm, wit and a brisk feeling 100 minute run time. It’s a breath of fresh air with all the loud explody films we get to experience. You can chill out for a couple of hours, watch old men make awkward sex jokes and come out good and relaxed. And while I know I haven’t helped my image of being an old man in a thirty-something year old’s body at all, the film did inspire me. No, I don’t want to walk the damn Appalachian trail, it’s not that life affirming a film, I just want to grow up to be Nick Nolte.

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 8 – August, You Slice

Another month on in his year in review series, Owen takes a look at some of the films that he’s seen this past August. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

these final hours 2015Anyone who has been following the website and podcast over the past few months might have noticed that for a little while now, we’ve been going a bit Danny Dyer crazy. Not, like, mugging off slaaaags as per his persona. I mean, we’ve been covering a lot of Danny Dyer stuff.

In last month’s article, for example, I talked about how his tweet at the Failed Critics meet up in July played a part in cheering me up after some rather gutting news. We then had our most popular individual episode since 2012 when we inducted Dyer into our Corridor of Praise. Basically, we haven’t shut up about him. Throughout August, particularly in the couple of weeks leading up to that particular podcast, I watched a boat load of his movies. I’ll try not to talk about them all here [if you really want you can read my short reviews of them all over on Letterboxd] to spare you from being subjected to the same material over and over again.

Instead, I’m going to kick off this month’s article by talking about something completely original for this series: a b-movie sci-fi horror…

…What?


Week 1 – Saturday 1 – Sunday 2 August 2015

Saturday – HARDWARE (1990); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

hardware 1990In my July In Review article, the very last film I talked about was a documentary called Lost Soul. It follows director Richard Stanley’s doomed attempt to bring HG Wells’s novella The Island of Doctor Moreau to the silver screen back in 1996. It led to me immediately afterwards searching frantically online for a copy of said film to stream with no luck whatsoever. However, I did find Stanley’s two previous feature length movies available on Netflix, starting with his futuristic, dystopian, science fiction thriller Hardware. As you may have already ascertained from the title, the plot can essentially be boiled down to “cyborg gone bad”. It has the claustrophobic paranoia of Alien crossed with the relentlessness of The Terminator, made for a fraction of the cost of either film. Anyone who has been following these articles will know that during the past eight months, despite already having some degree of fondness for b-movies, one particular director, Albert Pyun, has really grabbed my attention of late. Richard Stanley’s Hardware is very reminiscent of Pyun’s style, with a nuclear ravaged world and killer-robot running rampage in an apartment, although it is somewhat smaller in scale. Where Pyun’s ambition is to always tell as epic an adventure as is possible, it maybe stretches him further than his budgets would sometimes allow. When he pulls it off, I love it. When he’s been a bit too ambitious, obviously it leaves his films rather painful to watch. Stanley seems as aware of his restrictions and tries to utilise them as much as possible. Hardware isn’t a perfect movie; indeed the last 20 minutes seem very repetitive and ends rather tamely. There are so many different ideas all crammed into an hour and a half that it convolutes things slightly too. But there’s a lot to admire here. Visually, I absolutely adored it. From the design of the robot to the red and orange tint across the picture, it is beautiful to look at all the way through. The world building is great to start with but kind of gets thrown out of the window at the mid-way point to turn it into a more close-knit horror, but is interesting all the same. All in all, despite knowing what happened to Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau, Hardware just made me all the more keen to find it and question the reputation of it being one of the worst films ever made!


Week 2 – Monday 3 – Sunday 9 August 2015

Monday – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)SOUTHPAW (2015)Tuesday – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), Fantastic Four (2015); Wednesday – Dust Devil (1992); Thursday – Top Gun (1986); Friday – Ginger Snaps (2000); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

southpawI could continue this Richard Stanley theme and talk about Dust Devil, his next feature after Hardware, but I won’t say any more than simply: I didn’t enjoy it as much. I could also discuss the two Mission: Impossible films that I enjoyed – alas, I found them largely forgettable and, as such, have… er… forgotten most of what they’re about beyond Cruise-gon’-Cruise. Instead, I want to explain why Southpaw was the film I was most looking forward to seeing this August and why it didn’t actually live up to my expectations. I actually picked Southpaw on our Summer Preview Podcast back in May, mostly because I was excited to see if Jake Gyllenhaal could improve on his performance in Nightcrawler last year. (Spoiler: it doesn’t.) The fact is, his performance is good enough to warrant a film like this; the way he transforms himself so he’s hardly recognisable in each role is thoroughly impressive. But Southpaw as a whole simply turned out to be a film that is just good enough. It keeps coming back to me. It’s just good enough. Good enough for me to have not felt like I’d wasted two hours in the cinema. Good enough for me to say it wasn’t disappointing. Good enough for me to have liked a lot about it. But it’s not great and I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. Perhaps the story is little more than OK, with a Rocky-meets-Raging-Bull quality to it? Boxing films do seem to follow a pretty standard pattern, whatever culture they’re from. It doesn’t matter if it’s South Korea’s Crying Fist or a very Clint Eastwood Million Dollar Baby; they are typically about a character falling on hard times, facing adversity and then redeeming themselves. Maybe the lack of anything new or original is why I’m struggling to think of any reason that this would be anywhere near my top 10 of the year so far list, despite not actually disliking it? It’s just good enough. Nothing more and that’s a real shame.


Week 3 – Monday 10 – Sunday 16 August 2015

Monday – Apocalypse Now (1979); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – The All Together (2007); Friday – Devil’s Playground (2010); Saturday – The Other Half (2006); Sunday – Next Goal Wins (2014), WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001)

wet hot american summerLike a lot of other people, I have since found out, I too was tricked by the pretty terrible TV advert for the new Netflix prequel series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. It didn’t appeal to me at all, despite Callum raving about it on our podcast not too long back. The cast looked impressive, but it had something off-puttingly Scary Movie / Epic MovieMeet The Spartans / other-shit-parody-movie about it. However, I knew it had cult status and I fancied watching a comedy film – something that The All Together and The Other Half had failed to deliver earlier in the week! So, despite going into Wet Hot American Summer with some degree of trepidation, it actually delivered a very smart, mostly laugh out loud comedy full of self-parody, fantastic comic-performances and made me re-think how I’d interpreted that TV ad for the Netflix series. I’m certainly glad that I watched the film first as even though the show is a prequel (made 15 years after the first film – something hilarious in itself) it does have a heck of a lot of call backs and set ups for the movie that have great pay-offs that I otherwise would have missed out on. Also, I’m aware that they very rarely all appear on screen together, but to get some of this cast back on board is simply amazing. Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper etc are all so much more well known now compared to back in 2001, yet still fit together like they’ve been planning a prequel show all this time. I highly recommend it for some quick consistent giggles and advise against letting that fucking advert put you off.


Week 4 – Monday 17 – Sunday 23 August 2015

Monday – The Island of Dr Moreau (1996); Tuesday – The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015); Wednesday – The Wraith (1986); Thursday – VENDETTA (2013)Friday – Dead Man Running (2009); Saturday – Soldier (1998), Piranha 3DD (2012); Sunday – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

VendettaIf I’m going to pick any Danny Dyer film to talk about in this month’s article, it’s got to be the revenge thriller Vendetta, featuring an appearance from James Mullinger and produced by Jonathan Sothcott, both of whom appeared on that Corridor of Praise podcast I mentioned at the top of the page. The plot is very straight forward as British soldier (Danny Dyer) goes AWOL, returning to the UK to catch the scumbags who have burned his parents alive. It’s very nicely shot, there’s a lot of violent revenge enacted on people who “deserve their comeuppance” (described by The Guardian as revenge-porn) and it’s entirely unapologetic about it. If that’s your thing, then you are quite likely to love Vendetta. It’s probably the most grown-up performance from Dyer who, although having the reputation as a geezer and/or gangster, is usually playing the likeable, fallible, boy-ish good looking fellow in a group, not the rampaging murderer. In this, he properly is the hardened cold-killer and nails the role. Paul Field basically pressured me into buying this on blu-ray and it turned out to be a good decision as it’s an entertaining low-budget British thriller. It’s actually a shame that there’s no sign of a sequel just yet as they can’t “get Danny out of Walford” for the foreseeable future.


Week 5 – Monday 24 – Monday 31 August 2015

Monday – The Business (2005), The Football Factory (2004); Tuesday – Outlaw (2007); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – White Chicks (2004); Friday – THESE FINAL HOURS (2015)Saturday – The Guvnors (2014); Sunday – American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987), Sinister 2 (2015); Monday – [absolutely nothing]

these final hoursWe’ve talked about this Australian pre-post-apocalyptic (a genre term I’m pretty sure I coined) on the podcast in recent weeks, particularly as it was shown at FrightFest this year – although I actually found it on US Netflix. Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, starring Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek), Sarah Snook (Predestination) and Jessica De Gouw (Arrow, Dracula), as mentioned on the pdocast it does start off a bit like a music video. You’re not really invited to connect to the story nor the characters as a series of expositional dialogue sets things up alongside a show of bright, shallow visuals. It’s safe to say that it didn’t grab me straight away and I immediately thought it’d be a tediously dull wasted concept. However, once I got past the opening credits and the first five minutes, things suddenly get very dark. Whilst on the surface it appears to be as bleak as hell about humanity when facing a crisis – hey, let’s all get pissed, do a load of drugs and party until our skin is burnt from our bodies in 12 hours time – it does showcase some brightness in how we interact with each other. That there’s good in some of us. As the protagonist James stumbles across a young girl who has been separated from her family (played brilliantly by Angourie Rice), he decides to help her find her dad; at first reluctantly, but eventually it takes him on a course to see visit his mother, make peace with some friends and discover something about himself (albeit a little bit too late!) As far as these stories go, it never quite gets as distressing as something like The Road, but if you’re into an apocalyptic story that doesn’t feature either vampires or zombies, this might just be for you.


And that’s it! I’ll be back next month to recap what I’ve been watching throughout September. Until then, leave a comment if you’d like or just ignore the entire article completely. Your call.

Legend

legend 2015“Eastenders. They won’t talk to a copper. But they’ll kiss a gangster.”

“London in the 1960’s. Everyone had a story about the Krays”. Funny that, where I grew up in the 1980’s, everybody still had stories, but they were almost always complete bollocks. “My dad knew the Krays” or “my mum’s cousin knows them”. No, they don’t, shut up you twat. Dumb stories like that made me a little interested in the infamous twins and their lives though; and now, 25 years after the last good Kray brothers film, we get Legend.

Tom Hardy takes on the role of both Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Twin gangsters that were treated like rock stars back in the 1960’s when they were rising to power and still are by a country that dotes on them and idolises them as men that took what they wanted and didn’t let anything stand in their way. Jumping straight in as Ronnie is released from the psychiatric institution that is looking after him, having been certified insane towards the end of his first stint in prison. Skipping past the boys’ younger years, their time growing up and their boxing, we meet Ronnie and Reggie as they are reaching the height of their power. Casting watchful eyes across the crime in East London and looking to expand West where the clubs are more than ripe enough for a few very hostile takeovers.

With aspirations of being a big time club owner, Reggie is the classic East London gangster; a man whose words, clothes and hair are all equally slick and has a terrifyingly quiet way about him that sets him apart from the rest of the criminal element in his part of the woods. Softly spoken with a wry smile, he can sweep anyone off their feet with a look and a word. Enter Frances Shea, the young sister of Reggie’s driver, Frankie. The naive and impressionable teenager quickly falls for Reggie and his lifestyle, enjoying all the benefits that come with them and the pair are quickly married. Now Ronnie, on the other hand, isn’t slick, or suave, or softly spoken. The polar opposite of his brother, at least on the outside, Ronnie Kray was famous for his lightning quick temper and his inability to make smart, rational decisions once someone had angered him. Arguably the more dangerous of the twins, Ronnie was never too far from trouble during the brothers’ reign.

Legend takes a very small slice of the Krays’ story and puts it to screen for us to absorb. Making Reggie’s marriage to Frances the centre point of the film, we watch the gangster make very quick work of bowling the young lady over and making her his wife. All the while, with Ronnie never too far away, the suave criminal is seeing off competition from south of the Thames and expanding their empire. On the other side of the story, Scotland Yard detective Leonard “Nipper” Read is busy trying to make his career on the twins’ name. Read is relentless in his efforts to bring the Krays and their associates to justice; crossing paths with the infamous duo on more than one occasion and frustrated by their brazenness, the detective pushes back hard against the Krays.

I really don’t know where to begin with Legend; my whole experience was a bit up and down and while I had high hopes for it, the film rarely hit them. In real life, there are parts of the Krays’ story that lasted close to ten years that are given ten minutes screen time, the same amount as an event that lasted probably all of half an hour when it actually happened. No care has been taken to show the progression of time and instead audiences are left to wonder what the hell is going on. The lives of these gangsters was so hectic that just to know that six months, or six years, or whatever, had passed would have been handy.

The script doesn’t seem finished either. While there are some really great lines in it and Brian Helgeland’s brilliance shines through in a few places, it just seemed like a glossary of words Cockneys sometimes say was lobbed at a few pieces of paper and the guys thought that it would be enough. Helgeland’s direction, however, is superb and every scene just oozes class. The twins are regularly on screen together and try as you might, and I tried pretty hard, it’s almost impossible to see the seams with little or no sacrifice to the quality of the shot or the film overall.

Tom Hardy is amazing… for half of the film. His portrayal of Reggie Kray is nothing short of brilliant; suave, slick, with a hint of malice every time he casts his eye across a room. Reggie is cold, calculating and fearless when it comes to his business and his brother. And while his Reggie is great, Ronnie seems to get the short end of the stick. The problem is, while some of his scenes as Ronnie are spectacular, all too often it falls close to being a caricature performance, making it a complete exaggeration of the role to make sure you know who is who and it really isn’t necessary. Ronnie’s character is enough to separate him from his brother and the overplaying of the crazy psychopath role was just a little jarring. With his homosexuality and his temperament played more for laughs than is really right or required, it felt like they were taking the more nasty, brutal character and turning him into a bit of a punch line. The film still portrays him as cold and vicious, but something has been taken away from the man’s edge and it just didn’t sit right.

Hardy is surrounded by a great supporting cast. Christopher Eccleston brings a sterling performance as Nipper Read, the only man that had the guts and the physical size to stand up to the Krays; Chazz Palminteri, making a welcoming return to the big screen as the Firm’s American connection, and Paul Bettany filling to role of Charlie Richardson, the sadistic leader of the Richardson Gang. But standing right next to Hardy, is Emily Browning, playing dual roles herself not only as the slight and shy wife of Reggie Kray; she also acts as the film’s narrator, keeping the viewer informed when the rest of the film fails to and covering up the sub-par script with a nice voice over to soften the blow of the daft writing.

At the end of the day, Legend is a decent film, I very much enjoyed its attempt to be British Goodfellas. But a biopic can be good without it being a decent representation of real life and that is where we’ve landed here; essentially playing itself out like an East End rendition of A Bronx Tale and not really hitting the notes a film about our country’s only real “celebrity” criminals should be. There is no doubt that Tom Hardy is one of the greatest actors working today and he does a splendid job, but a poor script and haphazard story telling mar the performance. Legend is a superb flick, if a little goofy, but it feels like a gangster movie that they added the Krays to for marketing purposes. Considering the subjects of the film, this may be a poor choice of words, but the Krays deserved better than this.

The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: Cruel

cambridge film festival logoThe Cambridge Film Festival, the UK’s third longest-running film festival returns 3rd – 13th September 2015 for its 35th edition, at the Arts Picturehouse, the Light Cinema and other venues across Cambridge. One of the UK’s most prestigious and well-respected film festivals, 2015 also celebrates Festival Director Tony Jones’s 30th anniversary with the festival, which has been shaped by Tony’s passion and exceptional knowledge of cinema.

This year’s festival features specially selected screenings for everyone, from parents with babies to retirees, the programme offers a diverse mix of films of short and feature length spanning different genres including 7 World Premieres, 55 UK Premieres, with films from more than 30 countries, plus special guests and complementary events and workshops, all scheduled at convenient times and locations. The Cambridge Film Festival is operated by the charitable Cambridge Film Trust and funded by BFI Film Forever. You can find out more about the festival at their website: http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/

In today’s article, Andrew Brooker takes a look at the French dark crime drama, Cruel.


by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

“There’s no one left in his head. He’s gone”

Imagine being so bored in your life, so depressed with your situation or just so annoyed at the world that the only way to vent your frustrations is murder. Now imagine being so evil that you don’t simply kill your victims, but you toy with them for days beforehand. To spend your time meticulously planning a kidnapping so no one would know it was you keeping these people in your basement for your own twisted pleasures. Now imagine realising after years of no one knowing you were doing this, that you want to be noticed for what your doing! You nasty, attention seeking psychopath!

Unfortunately for Pierre, this is exactly the life he’s living. Spending his days in meaningless, menial jobs that make little or no difference to the world; coming home to look after his father who is suffering from sever Alzheimer’s disease and needs constant round-the-clock care that is ruining his finances and not having any way to vent his frustrations on the world that’s been so cruel to him. His solution? To be cruel right back. Pierre spends his free time either in the company of people he has kidnapped and locked in his basement, or out stalking and meticulously planning the abduction of his next victim.

Pierre torments his victims, spending his time getting to know them and their lives and always leaving them with a glimmer of hope that they may get out of their horrific situation alive; right up until he chooses his desired instrument and snuffs out the light in their eyes. Taking great delight in writing all his experiences down in his diary and confessing his crimes to the one and only person he can trust to forget everything he has said, his already suffering father. This method of coping seems to work for Pierre until, almost simultaneously, two very different things happen to him. First, he finds his need for attention suddenly growing. Wanting recognition for his work, the usually very careful serial killer finds himself taking risks in order to get the thrill of being noticed. At the same time, he meets Laure; a woman he takes an instant liking to in a way he’s never experienced before. As he finds his feeling for the young woman growing, he feels the need to kill may be disappearing, leaving him to these new feelings that are far more pleasant to deal with.

Probably the most interesting part of Cruel is how cruel it isn’t. The film takes the parts that, more often than not in these films, are gratuitous and over the top and hides them in shadow, or obscures them behind walls and leaves what we would usually have as the “gory bits” to our imagination. Instead, this debut feature from a celebrated French crime writer chooses subtlety and narration by giving us a peek behind the curtain and letting us watch Pierre unravel from the inside. We get to watch his conflicts play out and to watch the good and bad sides of this quiet killer fight it out out at the same time, vying for control of the man that desperately wants his demons to leave him be and let him spend his time in the company of a woman that is bringing out the best of him.

As serial killer films go, Cruel is far closer to the quieter, more low-key parts of films like American Psycho and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than it is the violent, sadistic sides of them and their ilk. It’s a thoroughly interesting look at the internal conflict of our main character and has been beautifully filmed and brought to the screen with care and attention, even if it does use a little too much of that French accordion in the score.

Cruel is showing tomorrow night (Monday 7th September) at 19:00 over at The Light. You can find out more about Cruel and book tickets at the Cambridge Film Festival website.

No Escape

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

no escape 2015“We need to put ten steps between them and us.”

You know those films that act as awesome tourist adverts for the countries they are set in? Like how Brave was one giant ad for visiting Scotland, or how Lord of the Rings had everyone flocking to New Zealand? Yeah, No Escape isn’t going to be adding anything to anyone’s “must visit” list anytime soon.

Mainly because the film makes a real point to NOT naming the country it’s set in, although it looks an awful lot like Thailand. I bet they don’t put that in their tourist brochures. But whether or not they told us the name of the country, I wouldn’t want to visit it.  Mainly because mere hours after the non-specific South East Asian country’s Prime Minister has been murdered in his house and the populace has risen up against its government, the morons at the airport are still letting planes filled with fresh new plump people to kill land and push out their cargo of not-yet-carcasses into a country that’s killing everyone that isn’t from their slums.  I wouldn’t want to visit a place that so willingly ferries people in to be killed!  And such is the terror of No Escape.

Owen Wilson is Jack Dwyer, a man as non-descript as the country he has moved his entire family to for work. Dragging his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters from hot Austin, Texas to hot and muggy South East Asia for his new job working for a company that will be supplying clean water to the entire country. Arriving in the country hours after the people have risen up and killed the Prime Minister, the nuclear family settle in for the night at the one “decent” hotel in the area none the wiser to the situation that’s slowly bubbling up in the streets. A restless night and an early morning has Jack out to prove just how ignorant tourists can be by heading out to hunt for a newspaper in English, in a country with no name; instead finding himself standing right in the middle of a skirmish between local law enforcement and an uprising militia. Scrabbling through back streets to get back to the hotel and his family, our fairly generic unlikely hero stumbles into the reality of the situation; the populous isn’t just fighting back against the country’s tyranny, they are hunting out and executing foreigners with no trial or process. So of course, the well armed angry mob is heading towards the same hotel that Mr and Mrs Whats-their-name are staying in.

The odds are constantly against the family as they attempt to escape the murderous drove of locals, who seem to be one step ahead of every one of the tourists that are trying to flee. As quick as the family get to the roof, the militia get their hands on a helicopter and start mowing down helpless tourists from the sky like fish in a barrel. In a daredevil move, Jack and his three damsels in distress make a leap to an adjacent building and take us to the end of what we knew was happening from the trailers we’ve been subjected to for a while now. What follows from here is a mad dash to escape the country in one piece; tense encounter followed by tense encounter as the family of four grow ever more desperate for freedom as the hours go on and more of the city they are trying to get out of falls to the control of the mob. Helped by Pierce Brosnan’s Hammond, a shady man who isn’t quite what he makes himself out to be and has “Dodgy Agency Type” written all over his face. Hammond, with his strangely jarring British accent knows far more than he lets on and drags the Americans out of the side streets and joins them in their attempts to vacate this hell hole of a country as quickly as possible. No Escape ramps up the tension and puts audiences everywhere on the edge of their seats. Well… kind of.

No Escape follows the same blueprint from almost every disaster movie you’ve ever seen. Dad has all the good ideas, ruined by either his other half or his kids who think they know better; there’s an army dude, or a secret agent, or a survivalist somewhere that knows exactly what to do and every time you think you’ve found a plan that’s going to work, the disaster, or in this case, the angry mob of non-specific South East Asian people, accidentally stumble into a way to screw up the plans. All those moments of tension quickly lose their effect once you’ve gotten over the “what would I do in this situation” feelings and you realise it’s not doing anything new or original, meaning you can predict what is going to happen at almost every turn, it almost instantly goes from being an interesting thriller with an underlying story of how foreign businesses are taking over the world, to a run-of-the-mill thriller that’s just preaching about how Western business is trying to take over the world.

Pierce Brosnan is definitely a highlight, his daft comic relief and his role that pretty much proves that he’s missing his James Bond days but he did get a couple of real chuckles from me. Not really in the “Best of a bad bunch” category, but considering his co-stars, it’s dangerously close. I’m not sure I can believe Owen Wilson in his role as the husband that steps up and saves everyone; he’s not the worst person to try and break the slump of crap jobs and do something outside of their comfort zone, I think that’s reserved for the usually great John Cusack’s role in he equally bland 2012. Literally rolling out every trope from movies like this has done the film, that could have been really interesting and tense, a proper disservice; from the angry bandana wearing paramilitary guys roaming the streets with machetes to attempted rape and even Brosnan’s obviously a bit dodgy character; the film seems to relish in its predictable mediocrity with only one real scene towards the end, that I shan’t spoil, that really managed to ramp up the desired tension but sadly, by that point, I’d all but given up on the film.

No Escape really needed to try harder to stand out from the crowd. While it’s not a complete failure as a thriller and its direction is passable, bad casting and a refusal to think outside of that well-filled box mean I can only really recommend it as a filler film when you’ve got nothing better to do on a Saturday night.

Straight Outta Compton

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

straight outta compton“Rap isn’t an art… These guys look like bangers.”

Yeah. There’s no way I review this film and avoid admitting that I was one of those pasty white kids that was a massive fan of NWA back in the day. I was around 15 years old when my mate’s uncle gave me a tape with NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” on one side and the debut album from Ice-T’s Bodycount on the other. Outside of a Lynyrd Skynyrd tape I inherited off my old man, it’s the first tape I ever listened to so much that I stretched it beyond use!  The first, and only NWA album with a full roster on it became one of my favourite all-time albums and it’s one of the few rap albums I still own and listen to today; a decent feat considering my propensity for very heavy metal.

I became a huge fan of most things “Gangster rap” and spent most of my teenage years listening to everything that guys like NWA and Ice Cube put out; catching up with their entire back catalogues and standing outside the local HMV for new releases, I was the biggest fan of rap music back in the day and I couldn’t have been happier the day I heard that there was an NWA biopic coming out.

Straight Outta Compton follows the lives of the teenagers that would one day become one of the most controversial groups in not just the history of rap music, but in the entire music industry. NWA was the brain child of a handful of teenagers that were clawing to make a few dollars, not always legally, and needed to find a way to get the lives they wanted and stand out from the crowd. The boys; known worldwide by their now legendary names of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella; get themselves a little studio time and press Eazy-E’s solo track “Boyz-n-the-hood”. A little recognition and a lot of work later, the teens release the one and only NWA album that’s worth owning, “Straight Outta Compton”.

Instantly pushed into superstardom, this is the story of how the rappers dealt with the money and the fame; it tells the story of friendships, splits, solo careers, bankruptcy and what happens when businessmen are allowed to take advantage of artists that, no matter which way you cut it, are just kids.  It’s a tale of how these five guys bucked the trend of safe and censored music and brought a straight-talking style to mainstream audiences just when the world needed them to. Love them or hate them, and plenty hated them, NWA shined a light on the plight of young African-American’s across the United States. With a focus on the awful way people like them were treated by the LAPD, the rappers took the police, and society as a whole, to task with their music and didn’t back down when they were threatened by law enforcement over the content of their music.  We get to see these boys grow up and make their way in the world, we get to share their highs and lows and we get to enjoy their music along the way.

Straight Outta Compton does a great job of telling its story.  Essentially a warts-and-all biopic that really does show what the teenagers went through. From Eazy-E’s drug dealing days to the riots that started on their behalf when they were arrested during one of their sold-out concerts.  However, while director F. Gary Gray and producers Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have told a lot of the story and tried not to hold back, there are a couple of very large parts of their story that are missing, conspicuous by their absence. Mainly, while we seem to have gotten a look at all the shady dealings of founding member Eazy-E, a man sadly no longer around to defend himself, I would have liked to have seen the film tackle Dre’s 1991 assault on Dee Barnes, a woman the producer believed to have badly reported on a feud between group members so he, allegedly, grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly smashed her into a wall, with fellow band mates later going on record saying that “The bitch deserved it”.  I’d also liked to have seen original group member, “Arabian Prince” brought up, seeing as he was in the picture long before MC Ren was.  None of this takes away from the film though, which is a scathing look at 80’s and 90’s culture and how groups like NWA were born from it.

With big shoes to fill and massive reputations to uphold, every cast member did a stellar job of representing their characters on-screen. Clearly taking cues from their real counterparts, the actors have taken pride in their roles and learned the characteristics of the legends they are representing; with the always great to watch Paul Giamatti taking on the role of the sleazy Jerry Hellar, the man that made NWA famous but screwed them over at the same time, he slips easily into the role and makes you hate him in every scene he’s in.  Special mention has to go to O’Shea Jackson Jnr. The real life son of rapper Ice Cube has taken on the gargantuan task of bringing his old man’s massive persona to the big screen and has done an amazing job.  In my opinion, Jackson Jnr. is the star of the show, stealing every single scene from his cast mates as he lives and breathes his dad’s life for the almost two and a half hour run time.  Ice Cube’s sneering face, his attitude, his mannerisms are all oozing from the screen as Ice Cube Jnr. makes the role his own and if just one guy gets any kind of award based recognition for this movie, it needs to be O’Shea Jackson Jnr.

Straight Outta Compton is essential viewing for almost everyone. Long-time fans like me and a lot of our generation should get a kick out of watching the rise and fall of one of the most prominent musical talents to grace our tape decks back in the day. Younger fans will get a ton of fun hopefully learning what it was that we loved so much and everybody should sit and enjoy the story of how rap music became rap music.  The story of easily THE most influential rap group ever to grace vinyl was a long time coming and was definitely worth the wait. So sit, relax and enjoy an amazing film with one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear this year and get yourself a glimpse into the past, back when rap music was actually good, not paint-by-numbers awfulness.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

me & earl & the dying girl“I’m not hanging out with you because I pity you. My mom’s making me.”

For the most part, I tend to actively avoid films that are guaranteed to make me cry.  Not through some kind of masculine Neanderthal type thinking that guys shouldn’t cry, I’m just not much of a fan of streaming like a little girl in a room full of strangers. There are, of course, exceptions; with a soft spot for all things military and pretty much all animals, sitting in that dark room for Max was a no-brainier for me. But for the most part, films made to make you blub are saved for viewings at home where only the wife can laugh at the Neanderthal crying.

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl has a name that doesn’t need much decoding to realise it’ll try to have you balling at every turn, but having gone into the screening last night never having seen a trailer for this film, what I didn’t expect was to spend a large portion of my time truly laughing out loud. It’s a testament to not only how wrong an impression of a film can be just from the name, but also how genuinely great the film is.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a little more than a typical high school loner. He’s crafted his ability to simultaneously get along with everyone while remaining invisible into an art form. Only really having meaningful interactions with his friend, “coworker” and fellow filmmaker Earl (RJ Cyler) and his, admittedly pretty awesome, history teacher Mr. McCarthy, whose office doubles as a lunchtime hideaway for Greg and Earl while the über-cool educator uses the personal time as a forum to drop life lessons and advice. Spending almost all of his free time with Earl making parodies of classic films in various forms, Greg narrates us through his life as a ghost in his senior year at a Pittsburgh high school with no real ambitions outside of being away from the crowds once his year ends.

Catching wind of a classmate being diagnosed with leukaemia, Greg’s overbearing mother – played beautifully by the always amazing Connie Britton – forces the angsty teenager to go and spend time with her hoping that it’ll give him a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to do something nice for Rachel (Olivia Cooke), the film’s titular “Dying Girl“. Unwillingly dragging his sorry behind to her house and greeted by Rachel’s struggling-to-cope mother, the also always stellar Molly Shannon, she welcomes the opportunity at company for herself as well as her sick daughter and introduces Greg to Rachel.  With about as much interest in accepting pity and Greg has in offering it, Rachel seems to take an instant liking to the quiet, but surprisingly funny, film nerd and the pair instantly form a friendship that is not only completely non-sexual, but gives both of them so much to gain from one-another that in a very short space of time, the pair have become, for want of a better description, platonic soul-mates.

As the final months of high school play out, Greg and Rachel become so close that an outsider would guess that they have been life-long friends, with Rachel being the only person that Greg and Earl have shared their parody films; with pun-tastic titles like Senior Citizen Kane and Sockwork Orange, and with Greg being the only person Rachel is comfortable being herself with, especially as her cancer treatment starts to take its toll and leaves the teenage girl with almost no confidence in herself.  In a completely co-dependant relationship, the high schoolers have to come to terms with their need for each other and the possibility that they might not have each other for long.

Now, considering I’m very, very far from this film’s main target audience, I admit to coming out of it in a really good mood.  I imagined a film about a boy being forced to be friends with a girl with cancer to end up being overly weepy, with a real over the top feeling to the sentimental parts of the movie.  But I’m happy to say that Me and Earl and The Dying Girl almost perfectly balances the funny highs with the emotional lows of the story. Almost instantly caring for all the players in this game is a feat that I didn’t think a film about secondary school kids would be able to do for me any more and the tone is set just right so that those emotionally taxing parts that I would usually try to avoid, instead of taking the easy and manipulative route, they leave you with a lump in your throat but also leave you with an enormous grin on your face at the same time. Getting that weird limbo state somewhere between happy and sad is an amazing place to be put in by a film you weren’t expecting to enjoy.

The bottom line; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will easily sit with great high school flicks like The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls but will absolutely not be out of place being mentioned in the same breath as great dramas like The Descendants and The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a brilliant comedy drama with an affecting and long-lasting message for its entire audience and if, like me, it wasn’t on your radar; it absolutely should be now.  

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is released in UK cinemas on 4 September 2015.

Max

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

max 2015I guess I am not a hero like you and Kyle. That Is just how the world turns.

Dogs! Love ’em! I grew up with dogs around me all the time and I don’t think I’ve ever met a dog that didn’t wanna jump at me and roll around and play. I like dogs more than people most of the time, I’d rather be out walking my dog than anywhere with most other people. In fact, my long-suffering wife likes to say that I’m 50% dog; a theory I don’t work very hard to squash when I walk up to dogs and make stupid puppy noises at them as I fall about the floor with the furry fools.

Dog films, on the other hand, I tend to avoid like the plague. If there’s one thing guaranteed to make me cry like a little girl who can’t find her stuffed giraffe, it’s a film with a hero dog. Those movies absolutely slay me, I want to sit in the corner crying while I hug my gorgeous staffy and hope that it’s over quickly before someone sees me crying like I’m at a bloody family funeral! So what better film to watch in a public cinema than one with the tag line “Best Friend, Hero, Marine” that describes its star, a Belgian Shepherd called Max.

So… Max. A film about a hero dog!

A military trained sniffer dog; Max is fiercely loyal to his handler, United States Marine Kyle Wincott. While on patrol in Kandahar in Afghanistan, Max and the team he’s working with are ambushed and Kyle is killed by the insurgents. Suffering from the loss of his handler and unable to handle loud bangs and sudden noises, Max is shipped home with Kyle’s coffin and taken back to base where he attends Kyle’s funeral. Having only calmed down when he met Kyle’s brother, Justin; Max is unable to work with anyone else and as such, the Marines are going to retire him. Sadly, his traumatised demeanour means that to be retired will mean to be put down.

Wanting to save Max, Kyle’s family adopt him from the military and try to make him a part of the family. Much to the displeasure of Kyle’s younger brother Justin; a stereotypical video game playing teenager with a poor attitude, whose veteran dad has passed on the responsibility of looking after the dog to him. While Justin and Max get to grips with each other, with the help of Justin’s friend Chuy and his mini-Michelle Rodriguez cousin Carmen, the unlikely pair form a bond with each other that is as strong as any brotherly friendship can be.

While this is happening, Kyle’s squadmate Tyler, a guy who had a few fingers in a few dodgy pies in Afghanistan and is partly responsible for what has happened to Max, has returned from the desert and brought his dodgy dealings with him. Determined to involve Justin and the rest of his family, the teenager needs grow up quickly and think on his feet to keep his family together and safe.

Part family drama and part Homeward Bound style family adventure, Max suffers a little from not knowing what it wants to be. At times when it’s a soppy drama about a family adopting their dead son’s bomb sniffing dog, it’s lovely. It’s a heart warming film guaranteed to get all but the soulless smiling with a tear in their eye. But on the other hand, the second story of ex-marines having shady business dealings with just seems like an attempt to be a little edgy when it really isn’t necessary. I’m not denying the story’s use as a tool to show Max’s growth and his healing but to watch it felt like the dog (whose real name is Carlos) and his support cast may have tripped across another film being made in the woods that they were shooting in.

I do admit to coming out of Max a little disappointed. Combining two of my favourite subjects in dogs and the military seems like it should be a winning formula but it fell very flat in points. That’s not to say it isn’t good, I just expected a little more.

Max is a film about a beautiful dog with PTSD; to say it’s emotionally manipulative in places is to also tell you that the sky is blue and water can sometimes be rather wet. But those scenes are relatively few and far between and most of them you’ve seen if you’ve watched, and cried at, the trailer. They did save a few for those that watch the film, one particular scene absolutely killed me as Max sneaks in to get good and close to Tyler while he’s asleep; completely mirroring something my dog likes to do when she’s knows someone is feeling a bit down. That insanely cute scene crippled me as I tried to get through the film without blubbing. For the record, it’s impossible. Max is in no way a bad film. It loses its way a couple of times and seems to get a little disjointed in the middle. But it’s definitely worth your time if hero dogs are your thing.