“No longer will their wretched flags stain the seas.”
Andrew Brooker grades Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge in the high C’s as one of the most unfairly written off adventure movies around. Read his full review below.
“No longer will their wretched flags stain the seas.”
Andrew Brooker grades Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge in the high C’s as one of the most unfairly written off adventure movies around. Read his full review below.
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)
Normally 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.
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)
I 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)
Ordinarily 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.”
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)
To 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)
I’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:
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)
Ah, 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!
Benedict Cumberbatch plays an eccentric, lonely, possibly autistic genius who uses his gifts to help people who he looks down upon, save only for a companion who serves as his foil and link to the outside world. Remarkably though, it’s not Sherlock, but a real-life hero, whose contribution to the Allies winning World War II and his subsequent life are a rich enough vein of drama without the need for embellishment.
As I’m sure you all know, Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who succeeds in academia but is severely lacking in social skills. His Manchester dwelling has been ransacked, and he’s sitting in a police station talking to an officer (Rory Kinnear) who is wondering why nothing was taken during the burglary. Turing starts to talk – he was recruited by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) to help break Enigma, the machine which encoded all German messages sent over the air during the second World War. It’s seemingly unbreakable, Turing says during their first meeting. “Let me try, and we’ll know for sure”, he proffers. The film jumps back and forth between wartime and 1952, as the police gradually become more interested in this eccentric figure, and the secrets he holds.
Although there is obviously a heavy focus on the actual codebreaking, it’s done in such a way that even the most techno-illiterate will be able to keep up. Even more impressively, it is always rooted in what’s at stake – the human cost of the Bletchley Park team’s failure to crack Enigma is constantly driven home, even to the seemingly unfeeling Turing, who develops a human side once a recruitment drive sees Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) arrive. She is of a similar intellect, but with added social skills, and she helps him falteringly take his first steps into becoming part of a team that she is excluded from by default because of her gender. Even though he has made progress, Turing is excluded from society as a whole; he was later, of course, one of the most famous gay men to be prosecuted for gross indecency at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. This secret threatens his livelihood, and Cumberbatch plays the part well as a man living inside a disguise which is barely passable.
The supporting cast is also excellent – Charles Dance is a suitably venerable war commander, while Mark Strong shows a rare lightness of touch as MI6 contact Stewart Menzies. The Bletchley Park team are excellent – the scene where they crack Enigma, only to realise they can’t do anything with the information they now possess, is engrossing and well-acted.
This is a funny, sad, smart, gripping film which will leave you thinking well after you exit the cinema, if only about how far back we as a civilisation were set back by our own prejudices and ignorance. In a season full of stand-out films so far, The Imitation Game definitely deserves to be in the mix come awards time.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Begin Again is the movie you accidentally catch on some ITV channel or whatever on a Tuesday night and you sit through because there’s nothing else on. You know the one; it’s all pleasant, its cast is all fine and have decent chemistry, it ambles along sufficiently for its hour and forty run-time engaging you just enough to keep you from flipping the channel but not enough to keep your mind from wandering to other more important matters. Matters such as “I wonder if Sharon really will be able to make it work with Chris” or “God, I really don’t want to go to Dave’s party this weekend” or “I should be doing something with my life.” It’s not a film for cinemas, one you rush out to opening day and honestly not even one you go to at reduced prices time because there’s nothing else on (both at the cinema and in your life) and you have a burning need to get rid of the cash in your pocket. It’s the film you catch on TV for free with ads by accident one random night of the week when you’re half-drunk/totally-bladdered and need something to take your mind off stuff.
That sounds harsher than I intended. The film is fine. Begin Again is fine. It’s fine. There’s just nothing going on and nothing of substance worth talking about anywhere. Mark Ruffalo plays a once-hot-now-not A&R guy who gets fired from the label he co-founded and, in another one of his drunken stupors, stumbles across songwriter Keira Knightley when she’s forced by her friend (James Corden) at an Open Mic night to perform one of her songs. He thinks she’s got what it takes to make it on her own, she’s coming off a bad break-up with her songwriter boyfriend of five years who’s just broken through as a performer (Adam Levine). Together, after Mark’s old label rejects her because the head of the label (the artist formerly known as Mos Def) doesn’t get what’s so special about her, they cook up a plan to record an album in various places around New York City. Feel free to question the soundness of that idea, considering the noises provided by any city space let alone New York, cos I certainly did. Frequently, even.
But, eh, the film’s fine. It moves along at a good enough pace, only really stopping every so often to demonstrate one of its numerous songs. Things pretty much go how you’d expect, example: Hailee Steinfeld (oh, hey! Nice to see her again) is in this as Mark’s estranged daughter who lives with her divorced mother (Catherine Keener) and plays guitar, Keira suggests getting her involved with a track on the record but Mark quietly isn’t sure if she’s good enough and you can guess how everything with everyone turns out. The most engaged I was with proceedings came very late on when I was terrified that they were going to turn Keira and Mark’s platonic friendship into a romantic relationship; you may laugh, but I have been burnt too many times before on this kind of thing. It has one relatively original idea of its own, looping back to the Open Mic night and focussing on a different character and their feelings towards the performance each time (Mark’s version has him visualising how Keira’s song could sound with swelling studio backing and it’s the one genuinely interesting part of the film), but it ditches the idea at about the halfway part and moves onto a series of song recording episodes with perfunctory drama/relationship interludes.
Songs are predominately written by (and credited to) late 90s/early 00s pop songwriter and ex-New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander and they’re fine. Nothing world-shattering but they’re all good slices of soft pop, more specifically the kind that people like David Gray and Damien Rice and the like peddled at the turn of the century. They’re a bit samey and the lyrics alternate between being really clunky and a game of “Guess What Thuddingly Predictable Line Is Coming Next,” but they have hooks, are all quite soothing and Keira Knightley’s voice fits in very well with that kind of genre. They’re all weirdly over-produced, though, which makes a late-film scene where she’s listening to Adam Levine’s album and claims that it’s over-produced rather hypocritically funny seeing as she’s just produced an album slathered in unnecessary strings, a one-off and tonally out-of-place guitar solo and a backing choir of street kids. “Lost Stars”, though, which appears in something like three different arrangements and is clearly supposed to be the film’s breakout hit, is a genuinely great ballad (in the stripped down Keira Knightley case) and a genuinely great pop song (in the Adam Levine case), even if the latter version leans a bit too close to “Drops Of Jupiter” by Train, for my liking.
Other than that, the film’s as Ann as the nose on plain’s face. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are enjoyable enough screen presences to keep the whole film feeling pleasant (even if Ruffalo seems forever half-engaged and half-rabbit-in-the-headlights), proceedings never drag and are never truly dull, the songs are fine, the cinematography and John Carney’s direction are competent if uninspired… it’s all fine. Nothing’s bad, nothing’s offensive, everything’s pretty much just OK. I mean, if you just have to see a brand new film this week and Boyhood isn’t being shown, I guess you could go with this one. It’s fine. The film is fine. Begin Again is fine. Nothing more, nothing less, it’s fine.
A couple of months back my twitter timeline exploded with people dismayed to find themselves watching Love Actually. From what I could tell, they weren’t being held against their will. They couldn’t bear to switch it off, but needed to justify their actions with derision.
For a start, they’re doing it wrong. Everyone knows the official date to watch Love Actually is 20th November – exactly five weeks before Christmas, and the day on which the film commences. While watching a movie that’s so laughably bad you have to provide a running commentary of its failures is fun, if you honestly hate the fact that you’re doing so, I’m willing to bet there are a couple of other films out there you haven’t seen yet, and could watch instead. Besides, where’s your festive spirit?!
Richard Curtis continues his expedition into the world of romantic comedy in this all star Christmas extravaganza. Before the opening song titles (a nod to Four Weddings and a Funeral, his first foray into the genre) are over we’ve met Bill Nighy the aging rockstar; Liam Neeson the widow; Emma Thompson the harassed mum, and Keira Knightley the sickeningly beautiful bride. This is exactly how the world looks inside Curtis’s head: a bunch of attractive middle class people who say ‘fuck’ a lot, and Hugh Grant as Prime Minister
The plot is full of holes. I won’t list them all; watch it and pick your favourite. Mine is the fact that they schedule a concert, starring children from a number of different primary schools (even St Basil’s) on Christmas Eve. That would never happen! Which leads directly onto the whole airport debacle. But I’m not going to mention that, as I generally disregard the entire kid storyline on the grounds that it’s a bit shit. Nonetheless, it’s worth it. It’s worth it for Colin Firth‘s swagger when he walks out of the room post jumping in the lake segment. For the thought of Colin Firth learning Spanish for you. For his adorably slow typing. Colin Firth, Colin Firth, Colin Firth.
I love the Wisconsin storyline. And that was surprising starring, as it does, the dude from My Family, who I was predisposed to hate on sight. But it’s just the right kind of silly, the geeky guy from Basildon getting to have all the sex with Betty Draper, Kim Bauer, and other screen hotties. Plus actor Kris Marshall landed the BT love advert series off the back of his stint at the Richard Curtis school of romance acting. We may have grown tired of Adam & Jane at the time, but they were vastly superior to a bunch of filthy students posturing about their Infinity package we have now.
And beautiful Laura Linney. Bringing a slice of realism to proceedings, offsetting the Mr Bean nonsense entirely. In standard chick flicks, you either get your desired outcome or your comeuppance. You never see a good guy get a non happy ending. This is real life in action. Well, real life if your boss was a pervy Alan Rickman hell bent on getting you laid, if you lived in a gorgeous mews house in central London, and if you had the stoic dignity of Laura Linney. She is never once shown cry-sniffing until she chokes a bit on her own snot backwash, which I admit is a teensy bit far fetched.
I could (and will, on request) write a whole other post on why the Ant & Dec cameo makes me proud, how I strive to parent like Emma Thompson, or why the end credit footage makes me want to move into Terminal 5.
Dear Love Actually. Ignore the haters. For now let me say, without hope or agenda. Just because it’s Christmas (And at Christmas you tell the truth). To me, you are perfect. And my wasted heart will love you until you look like this. [Insert picture of generic rom com flop, set in June and not starring Laura Linney]
Read the 12 Days of Christmas Films so far, or watch Love Actually when it’s next on TV. (Probably sometime in April.)
This week on the Failed Critics Review we look at the cop film that French Connection director William Friedken described as the “best movie about cops ever made”. Can James get over the found footage angle? Can Steve suggest a way he would have done it better? Can Gerry get around to seeing it? (No).
Also on this week’s podcast we look at James’ future wife Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, and discuss films as varied as Network, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and The Devil’s Backbone.
Next week’s episode is the launch of the Failed Critics Hall of Fame, where we award some poor Oscar-less schmuck with some award I’ll try and rustle up on Photoshop.