Each year, I do two things: I attempt to watch as many of the Oscar nominated films as possible, to be as informed as I can in my disgruntlement that the best films and performances haven’t won, and then – having usually seen all of the Best Picture nominations – I rank them all into order of greatness, because several thousand people who work in the film industry clearly don’t know as much as a humble film blogger living in Britain with no formal film studies qualification, writing training or experience in film of any kind.
Well, despite not having time this year to write words – yet, I may come back to this and add them after the awards, especially if my eighth choice ends up winning the award, as is a distinct possibility – I still wanted to at least publish the ranking, so that you, dear reader, and Hollywood and the rest of filmdom could disagree and scoff accordingly. So almost without further ado, here are the eight Best Picture nominations, ranked from worst to best.
(For the record, the first film on the list here is a 7/10 for me, then two 8s, two 9s and three 10/10 films to round out the list. This means I’ve awarded exactly three of the Best Picture nominations the highest possible mark for the third successive year, after The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood and Whiplash got top marks last year and 12 Years A Slave, Gravity and The Wolf Of Wall Street did it for me two years ago. Right, that’s the ado out of the way, here’s the ranking.)
The Least Best Picture Is The Revenant
Which Is Not As Good As Bridge Of Spies
Which Is Not As Good As Brooklyn
Which Is Not As Good As The Martian
Which Is Not As Good As The Big Short
Which Is Not As Good As Room
Which Is Not As Good As Mad Max: Fury Road
The Best Picture Of 2015 Is Spotlight
By now you’ve probably had your fill of end of year lists. If you’re anything like me then you’ll have digested, pored over and tutted at list upon list of people’s personal film choices of the year. Most of these lists will be people’s top film choices of the year, and occasionally they will – as I did – also pick out their least favourites. But I always like to go the extra mile here at The Movie Evangelist, so I once again bring you my ten Most Resolutely Meh Films Of 2015.
That’s exactly what you’d expect: the ten films I felt most apathetic towards once I’d left the cinema. They’d occasionally excited me, sometimes appalled me but more often than not left me checking my watch and wondering if a toilet break may be more interesting. They’re the ones neither good enough to grace my Blu-ray collection, nor terrible enough to be appearing in a bargain bin near you within a week of release. While I spend an average of five hours a week in a cinema, these are the films that made me wish I’d found some paint to watch drying or perhaps had paid significantly more attention in cutting my toenails.
Here then are the ten films most likely to induce a cinematic coma from the past twelve months.
Ooh look, it’s all clever and it farts around inside and outside a theatre and looks like it’s a single shot even though it’s a conceit that neither really stands up not adds anything to the story. It’s also a very actorly film, with actors ACTING and being INTENSE and it hoovered up a bag of awards because most of them are voted for by actors. But it’s actually tiresome and trying and made me want to punch other people in the cinema in sheer frustration, and I’m not a violent man. Michael Keaton saved it from being truly terrible, and it has a couple of nice moments, but for a film that was supposedly the best thing since a sliced Steadicam it’s deeply unfulfilling.
9. The Night Before
Dante famously described in the first part of the Divine Comedy, Inferno, nine circles of Hell. Having passed through the gate marked “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”, he then described a room covered in endless TV monitors. On each, there is another Seth Rogen / Evan Goldberg comedy, all now totally indistinguishable from each other, where occasionally a joke can be glimpsed from the corner of your eye, but where that joke remains tantalisingly, tortuously out of reach. Then the poet Virgil appears and reminds you that Superbad was actually quite funny but it was eight years ago.
8. Black Mass
For Christmas, I received a game which featured on the TV show Dragon’s Den. It consists of two piles of cards, one containing phrases and one containing accents. There is a game which you are supposed to play, but we found it much more entertaining to pick up a phrase card and an accent card and to just say the phrase in the accent, and hilarity generally ensues. This film is like that game, except all of the accent cards have been replaced with “Unconvincing Bostonian”. My girlfriend’s sister spent twenty minutes attempting to convey South African, but I reckon she could have had a better stab at a Boston drawl than Benedict Cumberbatch. Not only that, but Johnny Depp’s film career seems to have turned into a bizarre fetish dressing up party that we’re all invited to, and someone’s locked the doors so we can’t get out.
The world’s highest mountain, standing just short of nine kilometres above sea level where the wind chill can reduce the temperature to -60ºC, where the air is only one quarter oxygen and which the Tibetans call “Mother Goddess Of The Universe” and the Nepalese call “Forehead Of The Sky”. Sounds majestic and imposing, doesn’t it? But if I tell you that the first tweet was sent from the summit in 2005, somehow that dulls the magic, doesn’t it? Everest is the film version of that tweet, a dramatic retelling of a massive mountaineering tragedy that consists of people dying slowly in the cold and has no idea how to make any of it dramatically compelling.
Sorry, Jake Gyllenhaal. I thought you were exceptional in Nightcrawler. You were fascinating in Prisoners. You were charismatic in Source Code. You were compelling in Donnie Darko , and powerful in Brokeback Mountain. You grounded Zodiac, and even made End Of Watch watchable in places. But even you couldn’t save this turgid mess from its narrative cul-de-sacs and tedious riches to rags plotting. Even the fight scenes were about as satisfying as trying to eat a blancmange by falling asleep in it face first and hoping for osmosis to kick in. Southpaw isn’t terrible, but if it was on TV late at night you’d be channel flicking in half an hour.
5. American Sniper
Clint Eastwood is 85. That’s a fantastic achievement, but his films give the impression that he’s at least twenty years older. His direction has become fundamentally flawed, squeezing the interest out of almost every scene, to the point where he couldn’t even be bothered to disguise an obviously fake baby. But I wish that was the worst crime that the film had committed: for a Republican, Eastwood has made some surprisingly liberal films over the years but rather than making deep and meaningful points about the nature of war and the politics of the conflicts concerned, American Sniper is content to simply muddle through to its tacked on ending and to hope no-on cares.
4. Mr Holmes
I’m a sucker for a hot dog; if I wasn’t currently dieting to shed the Christmas pounds then I’d probably be feasting on one instead of dinner every time I visited the cinema. But imagine a hot dog with no dog: no matter how good the artisanal brioche bun might be, how good the finest ketchup or mustard slathered across the bun are, without the sausage all you’re doing is eating through a whole lot of uninteresting bread. In the latest of my series entitled “Obvious Food Analogies”, Mr Holmes is that hot dog bun and mystery solving is the sausage, because this is a film about the world’s greatest literary detective where he does barely five minutes of detecting. About as dramatic as watching Gary Neville go shopping for slippers.
3. Suite Française
Nope, this was so dull I really can’t remember much about it at all. I can remember Kristin Scott Thomas, but I’ve slightly cheated because I looked at the picture above. It doesn’t help that Michelle Williams and Mathias Schoenaerts both have faces that default to a setting so expressionless that you can feel your own emotions being slowly drained out through your eyeballs, your soul clinging desperately to their coat-tails so as not to have to sit through any more of this bland dollop of a film. It’s the kind of restrained, stiff upper lip film that feels allergic to emotion and would like very much to see if you can catch that allergy too. Good heavens, Kristin looks miserable, doesn’t she? I know how she feels.
2. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Do they make Hollywood stars from pouring botox into moulds these days and then stuffing in a monotone voice box, like a Build-A-Bear Factory for actors where you then get a choice of more expensive outfits? That surely is how they came up with Henry Cavill, but he’s so teeth-clenchingly dull that if he was ever cast as James Bond I’d spend the rest of my life trying to invent time travel so could go back and force Ian Fleming to write “Henry Cavill must never play Bond, he’s duller than toothpaste” in the front of every one of his novels. I’m not sure that anyone knows what the point of Armie Hammer is any more, either. I very much enjoyed a lot of Guy Ritchie’s earlier work, but this is a steaming pile of nobody cares that’s been rounded into an amorphous blob and polished until you can see your own tragic, despairing face and the hand holding a ticket for this film reflected in it.
The paragraph below the picture contains moderate spoilers for Spectre. If you’ve not seen it, you’ll probably go and watch it now, but don’t blame me, I tried to warn you.
What happened? Like waking up on Christmas morning to discover that all of your presents are just large boxes filled with sticks, Spectre promised a lot – not least from the excellent trailer, the high calibre cast and a returning director who did remarkably well on his debut – but delivered a film so lacking in genuine incident and spectacle after the opening titles that it almost beggars belief.
From a car chase where none of the gadgets were installed and the hero spends most of it on the phone to his boss’s secretary, to a sidekick who sets a world record for the shortest ever time being chased by bad guys, to a hunt for the villain that gets so lost it has to sit and wait to be collected, to a lair in which the villain that attempts to look menacing by employing a small room of people who could all be auditioning for a sequel to Steve Jobs and a finale whose action scenes are a man running around a building to zero effect before he briefly fires a small pistol at a helicopter before he doesn’t do anything else at all, Spectre is a catalogue of underachievement and failure from (ten minutes after the) start to finish.
Spectre became so hung up on nostalgia that it coasts by on past glories, rather than giving us anything to set our pulses racing anew. Even worse, it spurns golden opportunities to liven up otherwise dull, unimpressive sequences such as the plane chase with a dash of Bond theme. For achieving unheralded and unwanted levels in the fields of boredom and frustration, Spectre is my most resolutely “meh” film of the year. Double oh no.
Other specialist charts:
This is the fifth time I’ve written an end of year Worst Of-type list, and more than one of those previous four years I’ve given thanks that I’m not an actual film critic, just an enthusiastic blogger who can pick and choose what he watches. 2015 saw a shift in that, as I appeared during the course of the year on four different radio shows to talk about film or film-related subjects (two on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and two on Cambridge 105). So for the first time, I’ve found myself watching films “for review purposes”; previously an arty-farty way of trying to justify watching terrible films at the cinema that I fancied seeing and could do so under cover of the blog, but now a situation where I am increasingly offering opinions on the dregs of blockbuster cinema in a vain attempt to stop other people wasting their money.
Last year, I tried to be nice; I tried to give feedback in the most professional style I could. I told the films what they did well, and what they could do better. But, Hollywood and the art house, you didn’t listen. You carried on inflicting terrible films on us all and also expecting us to pay for them. So if you can’t be nice to us, why should I hold back? Here, then, are the ten films most lacking in quality that I dutifully sat through in the hope that you wouldn’t in 2015.
10. Crimson Peak – 4/10
Crimson Peak, rather regrettably giving the acting and directing talent involved, is the film equivalent of one of those glamour models that parade themselves in various states of undress in low quality tabloid newspapers and magazines. Sure, it’s very easy on the eye, but there’s absolutely nothing going on between the ears; it’s difficult to believe a film this brainless emerged from someone who’s delivered the likes of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth in the past. A dashing cast and ravishing sets deliver on Gothic splendour, but they don’t make up for the fact that the script is condescending beyond belief (telling viewers not once, but twice, in the early stages that the main character’s novel is a METAPHOR. DID YOU HEAR ME? A ME-TA-PHOR) and throwing out unsurprising plot developments, clanging dialogue and generally acting stupid for long enough that it hopes you’ll stop caring. A depressing waste of the effort of all concerned.
9. Kill Your Friends – 4/10
It must be difficult for the likes of Nicholas Hoult, cast as the supporting tier in major blockbuster series such as X-Men and Mad Max and only able to become a leading man in smaller fare of the likes of Warm Bodies. But that’s no excuse for signing up to a role in such warmed over, turgid Brit nonsense as this limp adaptation of John Niven’s novel. Coming across as an attempt to mesh early Danny Boyle grittiness and style with the ins and outs of the music industry, it does make the endless parade of music professionals seem shallow and detestable but it never comes close to making them watchable. Oh, and in poorly mimicking Shallow Grave and Trainspotting it does make the film feel like it’s not only twenty years old, but that you’ve been watching it for about that long. Awkward, unfunny and soulless, and hopefully a blip in the careers of all involved.
8. Hotel Transylvania 2 – 4/10
This wasn’t the only animation aimed at younger children to do well at the box office this year aimed at young children which forgot to include any jokes – Minions, I’m looking at you – but it was the most consistent offender in the world of product placement. Sony, when you make a children’s film and you have two animated characters holding photorealistic versions of your phones and discussing how to send texts and to use social media like you’ve made an animated user manual instead of a story, that’s a repugnant level of corporate shilling that you should be ashamed of, but you should be even more ashamed for keeping Adam Sandler in work and lining his pockets with your corporate dollar.
7. Fantastic Four – 4/10
It’s difficult to truly hate Fantastic Four, not least because the terrible earlier films and generally poor word of mouth emanating from the project set expectations so low only limbo dancers could see them, but because it’s such a desperately dull film that it’s incredibly difficult to work up any kind of strong emotions about it. It’s terribly miscast – again – and it’s shot like the lense has been covered in some form of thick industrial grease and the action scenes seem to have ended up on the cutting room floor. Even the touch of producers Simon Kinberg and Matthew Vaughn couldn’t muster up any magic around this one, which will now be quietly buried and forgotten until Fox needs to remake it again to hang on to the rights.
6. Ted 2 – 3/10
I like Seth MacFarlane – he’s got a magnificent singing voice and makes enjoyable cameo appearances in US TV shows from time to time. I also enjoyed the first couple of seasons of Family Guy and some of American Dad wasn’t terrible. But boy, this is. To its credit, it doesn’t try to just rehash the same jokes as the first one, although Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones continues to be employed in a perplexingly unfunny cameo, and that seems symptomatic of many of the problems. The film throws out cultural references and drug jokes in the hope that just making them is funny – it’s really not, especially when some of them are drawn out to the point of having no relevance to the scene in question – and with an overlong plot and a host of wasted acting talent, this becomes a painful watch long before the end. The courtroom scenes don’t convince, even by the low standards of a comedy and please, somebody tell the writers that the ridiculously overlong, ludicrously violent fight sequence became worn out the tenth time Family Guy did it. Seth, stick to the singing, please.
5. Burnt – 3/10
Talking of miscasting, who’s the last person in Hollywood to think of to play a Gordon Ramsey-eseque chef, swearing and bullying his way through the kitchens of Europe? I would suggest that charisma magnet Bradley Cooper would be in the top three. Never as convincing when he’s not turning on the charm, here he’s the soggy bottom to a half-baked attempt to bring Michelin star gastronomy to the big screen. The acting is disinterested, the script is an abomination of clunky exposition – all the more befuddling when it comes from Steven Knight, the writer of Locke, a masterclass in drip-feeding plot – and the food is an afterthought in a film where it should be centre stage. Rather than leaving you salivating about its cuisine, Burnt just leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
4. The Bad Education Movie – 3/10
Do you miss the days of the Seventies and Eighties when British TV series would haplessly go on a foreign jaunt to justify a TV movie or cinema release, in the process losing what modicum of charm they had and wandering aimlessly around in the hope of finding their misplaced jokes? Then congratulations, you must be the audience for The Bad Education Movie, a laughter vacuum that takes Jack Whitehall and his class of teenage tearaways, ignores the set-up of the TV series, doesn’t even bother to take them abroad (Cornwall) and then spends ninety minutes plodding through one depressing set-piece after another. I’ve always thought Jack Whitehall was one of this country’s better young comedians, but this has me hastily rethinking that opinion.
3. The Voices – 2/10
I really wanted to like this film. No, scratch that, I wanted to love this film. I hope that Deadpool next year gives Ryan Reynolds the career renaissance he deserves and I have a soft spot for Gemma Arterton as well, but this didn’t do it for me at all. What should have been a delicious black comedy did just too much to elucidate the mental illness aspects and tipped over into something disturbing in an unpleasant way, rather than the entertaining way that it should have been. It pains me to give this such a low mark, and I’m glad it connected with others, but I’m actually even more glad I saw two worse films so this didn’t occupy top spot.
2. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension – 2/10
When a studio announces “this will be the last film in this series”, this should be an alarm bell to any potential audience members that “this will be a shameless excuse in cash grabbing to squeeze the last few grubby dollars out of a decaying franchise before we kick it to the kerb and let vultures swoop in and pick at its rotting corpse while we try desperately to happen upon the latest surprise hit that we’ll strip mine for sequels for years until audiences finally wise up to what we’re doing”. The worst crime committed here was the knots that the script tied itself up in by attempting to link the previous films of the franchise together. As scary as opening a tin of rice pudding and finding out it’s actually rice pudding, and about a fifth as entertaining.
1. Pixels – 2/10
You should go into an Adam Sandler film in hope rather than expectation, for not every Adam Sandler film has been a stomach-churning pox on the face of humanity. Sadly Pixels extinguishes hope, expectation and almost every other positive emotion as it takes a simple concept from a short film and overlays it with terrible jokes, leaden action sequences and misogyny so casual it’s almost difficult to believe it’s happening. Pixels worships at the cult of Adam Sandler and virtually prostrates itself at his feet, and the lack of self control that permits allows the film to descend into a grubby morass of wasted cameos, half-baked ideas and poisonous humour that insults the intelligence of every viewer. At the cinema screening I saw this at, with a reasonably-sized audience, not a single person laughed. Ever. I would suspect many of them haven’t laughed since, traumatised by the memory of this festering scab of a film. File this one under tragedy.
The 10 Least Best Films I Saw In 2014 “WINNER” – Nymph
The 10 Worst Films I Saw In 2013 “WINNER” – A Good Day To Die Hard
The 10 Worst Films I Saw In 2012 “WINNER” – Seven Psychopaths
The 10 Worst Films I Saw In 2011 “WINNER” – Battle: Los Angeles
It’s that time of year again: it’s next year. Sorry, been a bit busy to say the least, but I will at least attempt to get my review of 2015 completed for your reading pleasure. Normally this takes a couple of weeks to lovingly craft and compile; this year I’m going to attempt to do it in a day and a bit. Wish me luck.
To start with, when I used to have time to write this blog regularly – something I’m aiming to do again in 2016 – I used to pick out the six trailers each month I was most interested in. Then at this time of year I’d then reflect on the dozen that had left the most lasting impression. Having resolutely failed to do this most months this year, it’s given me a slightly different perspective on the year this year, but I’ve still managed to find the usual handful which intrigued and excited in equal measure.
Best Trailer For A Mediocre Film: SPECTRE
After the triumph of Skyfall, the Bond producers did the only sensible thing they could and brought back Sam Mendes and many of the same team responsible for that triumph. This trailer strongly suggested that they were on course to replicate the success of the earlier film; evidence, if any were needed, that trailers can be somewhat misleading.
Best Action Trailer Of The Year: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
The trailer for Spectre promised high octane stunts, intense drama, attractive, empowered women and a good hit of nostalgia and failed on at least two of those counts. The trailer for this fifth incredibly-tricky-but-actually-achievable mission promised high octane stunts, the same brand of spying nonsense the other films have delivered, an attractive, empowered woman and – crucially – fun. It’s fair to say that this trailer did a much better job of delivering commitments that the film could fulfill.
Best Summing Up Of The Film In A Single Scene: Inside Out
The trailer was actually released in December 2014, but my house, my rules. A trailer for 2015’s best animation that perfectly sells the concept of the film without a word of exposition.
Best Documentary Trailer: Amy
This teaser for the slightly uneven but still compelling documentary sells you on the concept in a little over a minute. Efficient.
Best Trailer That Doesn’t Undersell The Weirdness: The Lobster
And a good Colin Farrell movie, reminding us all that they do happen from time to time.
Best Trailer That Completely Missells The Film (And Kind Of Spoils The Ending): Eden
As good as this trailer is, it suggests that a large proportion of the film is in English (it’s not), suggests that it’s generally a lively music movie (when it’s a more reflective, soul-searching film that knows its garage from its trance) and also has a decent clip of the dramatic ending of the movie thrown in for good measure. Way to go, trailer peeps.
Best Aaron Sorkin Movie Trailer: Steve Jobs
Following in the footsteps of my 2010 trailer of the year for The Social Network comes a trailer so finely honed it could have been produced by Apple themselves. Film’s not bad either (spoiler: it’s just missed out on m top 40 of the year by a whisker).
Creepiest Trailer Of The Year: The Witch
That kid going “ba-ba-baaa” is proper freaking me out.
Best (NSFW) Marketing Campaign Of The Year: Deadpool
And so much more.
Most Promising Trailer For Next Year If They Don’t Screw It Up: Suicide Squad
While I am distinctly underwhelmed by the Batman vs Superman trailers and have almost no personal desire to see the film after enduring the gratingly stupid Man Of Steel, this actually looks like it might succeed in being dark but not gloomy. Anyway, the internet melted when it came out so it’ll probably make dump-trucks full of money.
Best Trailer With No Dialogue And Lots Of Star Ratings: Carol
All of the plaudits are correct as seen in this trailer, and you’ll be hearing more about this film before my end of year review is done. A delightful way to summarise the film’s style and tone without needing to use half of the plot and dialogue too.
Best Trailer Of 2015: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
To get audiences back onside, after a decade of CGI meddling and indifferent prequels and a further decade where we all thought “oh well, that’s that then”, Disney needed a marketing campaign to get the hardcore fans back onside and to convince the casual viewer that there was something worth checking out here. For me, the core of the trailer will have sold the casual viewer but it’s the two bookends that sold me on this relaunch: the opening tracking shot which gradually reveals the crashed Star Destroyer, and the final, punch-the-air reveal of Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew, together again after all these years. These two moments have made this particular trailer my favourite of 2015. And yes, I am a little biased, as I type this while wearing odd Star Wars socks. (An R2-D2 and a Yoda, thanks for asking.)
The 12 Best Trailers Of 2014 WINNER – The Babadook
The 12 Best Trailers Of 2013 WINNER – Gravity
The 12 Best Trailers Of 2012 WINNER – The Imposter
The Dozen Best Trailers Of 2011 WINNER – Submarine
The Half Dozen Best Trailers Of 2010 WINNER – The Social Network
The Pitch: We absolutely saw you coming. While you’re here, can we interest you in some magic beans?
The Review: Hallowe’en. Season of ghouls, ghosts and spectres (although this year it was dominated by a SPECTRE of a different kind). What, then, could be more appropriate to the season than exhuming the corpse of a once popular franchise and attempting to wring as much cash out of its rotting corpse as possible? When the Saw franchise had become fatally worn out through familiarity, Paranormal Activity appeared at just the right time to fill the vacancy left behind. Oren Peil’s attempt at heightening the reality of the found footage genre as much as possible served up a winning combination of scares and mood that had many cinemagoers questioning whether or not this was real. (These people do exist, and many of them thought The Martian was a true story.) Sadly the studios have long since run out of enough ideas to be able to churn out one of these films a year, so after a gap of nearly two years the final film of the franchise (or so we’re promised) limps into view.
There is a plot, but not one that feels the need to concern itself with too much in the way of character development. After an opening scene that harks back to the ongoing mythology of the series (before being largely forgotten about), we see a family settling into their new house. The man of the house Ryan (Chris J. Murray) and his brother (Dan Gill) find a box of video tapes and a weird old video camera that appears to have had some unusual upgrades. When trying it out, it appears to pick up more than the eye can see, but that just happens to be around the same time that Ryan’s daughter Leila (Ivy George) starts acting rather oddly. In keeping with the rest of the series, at this point they decide to put video cameras up at night to capture the spooky goings on.
I say spooky: it’s absolutely the same premise as the rest of the series rolled out again with so little variation as to verge on insulting. Forgetting what made the original so compelling (the slow burn of mood and the effective offsetting of night and day; in the original, the onscreen captions for each new night meant it was time to pay close attention and served to heighten the mood), this is simply a random collection of moments designed to try to make you jump. For less money, you could sit at home in the dark while a friend occasionally yells at you at random intervals, and I’d be willing to bet it would be scarier too. The film’s also hamstrung by the continued attempts at mythologising, but all of the storytellng is handled so clumsily you’ll be hard pressed to notice that none of it really makes any sense any more, even in the context of the series.
Katie Featherston, the anchor of the series since the first film and ever present up to now, has had the sense to finally jump ship, so while her character is referenced it’s only young Katie you see at the start. The rest of the acting is so wooden you expect to find woodpeckers living in it, the characters variously demonstrate new highs (or lows, depending on your viewpoint) of stupidity for the series and the presence of a young blond girl going through inter-dimensional troubles makes this feel more like a sequel to Poltergeist than the culmination of the Paranormal Activity series. It’s a sign of how little the producers care about whether or not you even like this film is that the director’s chair is occupied by a man whose CV consists mainly of roles as an assistant editor – not even a full editor – and he fumbles badly with a script that seven people couldn’t manage to shape into something with any redeeming features. The time has come to turn the cameras off on this insipid franchise, which struggled to justify more than one sequel and eventually fell victim to the laws of diminishing returns, rather than anything more supernatural.
Why see it at the cinema: If you’re the most absurd kind of completist that needs to see the franchise through to the end. I hope for your sake that when they say this is the last one, they mean it.
Why see it in 3D: Don’t bother. With only the parts on the found video camera in 3D, you’ll either have to watch a poorly lit film mostly in 2D while wearing sunglasses or risk putting them on and off at the right times.
What about the rating? Rated 15 for strong supernatural threat, violence, strong language. Based on the current BBFC guidelines, I think it’s mainly the language that tips this one over to a 15.
My cinema experience: Did I jump at all? Yes, yes I did. Mainly because was falling asleep and the loud noises disturbed my blissful almost-slumber, blessed relief from this nonsense that it was. The biggest horror I faced was finding a car parking space in Bury St Edmunds on a Saturday afternoon for my trip to the Cineworld.
The Score: 2/10
The Pitch: Votes For Women! (For Oscars, Golden Globes, SAG Awards…)
The Review: I don’t think I’ve known what it is to be truly repressed. Sure, I was subject to the odd spell of bullying at school, for everything from my name to my nose, but I’m a white, middle class male who worked his way up from the working classes and, thanks to a diligent mother who put her families’ needs before her own, never really went without during that working class upbringing. So when it comes to a film like this, dealing with the subjugation of a part of society, I tend to judge the success of the film at least in part in how successfully it conveys what it’s like to be part of that minority. Here, then, is the first thing that strikes you about Suffragette: it’s dealing with the rights and issues of a suppressed majority. Here’s a quote from the 1911 census:
Sex Proportions. —Of the 36,070,492 persons enumerated in England and Wales in 1911, 17,445,608 were males and 18,624,884 were females. These numbers give an excess of 1,179,276 females over males, which would, however, be somewhat reduced if we could include in the reckoning the English and Welsh members of the Army, Navy and Merchant Service and mercantile community temporarily absent abroad and also the numbers of fishermen absent at sea on the night of the census.
When you’ve finished having a giggle over the phrase “sex proportions”, take a moment for that to sink in. The women fighting for equal rights were actually the larger proportion of society, yet it took a vocal minority for their cause to even become recognised and, as Sarah Gavron’s film lays out, it wasn’t even something that the majority of women saw as an issue at the time, so conditioned were they into accepting the status quo as being the right way of things.
Gavron and her screenwriter Abi Morgan (‘Shame’, ‘The Iron Lady’) create a fictional character to explore both sides of women in society in the shape of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a dutiful mother and housewife to husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw). They both work at an industrial laundry where Maud’s mother also worked before her, and where the first rumblings of discontent over gender inequality are already rearing their head. It’s when some of the workers take part in more physical acts of disruption such as throwing bricks through windows, all under the auspices of the Women’s Social And Political Union that Maud finds herself questioning the relative lack of rights and status for women and becomes drawn into the WPSU’s work. She and her co-worker Violet Miller (Ann-Marie Duff) attend a parliamentary hearing on the subject, but Maud finds herself speaking at the hearing and is instantly flagged under the police surveillance programme looking to weed out disruptive influences (led by Brendan Gleeson’s inspector) and she’s soon suffering the same indignities and abuse as the other leading members (including Helena Bonham Carter’s pharmacist and Meryl Streep in a cameo as Emmeline Pankhurst).
Morgan’s script is fairly straight and conventional, and what it does well is to get into the intimate details of the indignities, punishments and abuse that these women suffered, simply to be allowed to express themselves in the same manner as their male counterparts. As well as the lack of voting rights, the film also clearly spells out the abhorrent working conditions that many women faced at the time, treated little better than slave labour and with their husbands often watching on; an overbearing, sexually aggressive boss at the laundry might feel a bit much but it works well as a plot device to add tension to key moments and never feels forced. Where Suffragette is slightly less successful is in attempting to understand why the men of society were so keen on preserving the current order; while it does show the lengths the police and government were willing to go to, method isn’t fully underpinned by motive and the film may have resonated even more had it been able to get under the skin. Other than that, the plotting is very much join the dots and barrels along relentlessly towards its historical climax at Epsom racecourse in 1913. The film has a trump card in its location filming at the Houses Of Parliament, but Gavron seems too intent on drawing your attention to the set dressing and some of these scenes have a somewhat staged feel. This is in sharp contrast to the prison and domestic sequences, which capture the squalor and suffering very efficiently.
Where the film comes alive, truly building on the effectiveness of its setting, is through its key performances. Many of the male characters are slightly underwritten or stereotypical so Brendan Gleeson’s stoic policeman provides welcome balance, with a veil of empathy shrouding his requirement to fulfill his duty. But the film really belongs to Carey Mulligan: it’s Maud’s journey that illuminates both the suffering of those joining the fight and the apathy and disdain of the rest of society not willing to rock the boat when they didn’t see the end outcome as important. Mulligan succeeds in being both defiant and vulnerable as the situation demands without ever descending into melodrama and she’s complemented well by the likes of Duff and Bonham Carter. It’s these performances that give the film an emotional core and allow its anger to build before a thought-provoking climax. While I don’t know that I could truly put myself in the shoes of the suffragettes to understand how they felt and what they suffered after having seen this, what Sarah Gavron’s film did succeed in is making me ashamed of the past actions of my own gender, and for that and for the performances of Mulligan, Bonham Carter and Gleeson it deserves your vote when you’re deciding on your next cinema visit.
Why see it at the cinema: Enveloping yourself in the darkness of the cinema will allow you to immerse yourself in the hardship these women endured, as well as allowing you to see every straining emotion in Carey Mulligan’s face and to truly feel her pain.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate violence, a scene of force feeding. Way to go again with the rather specific spoilers, BBFC. It wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t insist on putting them unavoidably
My cinema experience: Having spend the day with my niece for her birthday at Chessington World Of Adventures, I scoured the map for Cineworlds along my route home. In the end, I settled on Cineworld Rochester, a brief diversion off the M25 and where I had time to log a double bill with Crimson Peak.
It’s a fairly standard Cineworld, although they do insist on checking your Unlimited card before every screening. I always find this somewhat disappointing before the second film of a double bill, although I’ve done as many as five films in a day (at Cineworld Stevenage) and been checked every time.
Having then juggled phone (with QR ticket code) and wallet, I then ended up with even less hands as the timings hadn’t worked out for allowing time to have dinner: hence my Cineworld dinner – as in I’ve done this before, probably too often – of a large hot dog, a bag of Revels and a large soft drink. I’ve developed an odd predilection for putting tomato ketchup down the whole hot dog and mustard on the first half only.
I then took my seat on the front row of the main block, which in common with other Cineworlds I visit (Huntingdon springs to mind) has a railing at the front, allowing the long of limb such as myself to dangle their legs and sit in comfort. My only issue was when putting my feet on the railing, it wasn’t actually that far from the seat so I ended up curled up in a sort of ball with my bottom sliding off the seat and my knees under my chin. Good job I can get comfy anywhere. As it’s a fairly new Cineworld (or feels it, at any rate), the seats are still in good nick and there were no issues with sound or vision.
The Score: 8/10
The Pitch: You only live, er, six times. Possibly seven.
The Review: Here we are again, then. For the twenty-fourth time in fifty-three years, Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions unveil their latest film version of the escapades of the characters created by Ian Fleming in his series of novels. If you don’t know which characters those are, especially the one who has JB monograms on his towels, then this is probably the wrong review for you. It’s a difficult balancing act: hoping to attract in the ten people in the world who’ve never seen a James Bond film before while trying to satisfy the demands of three generations of Bond fans, each brought up on a different interpretation of the character and each longing for what they perceive to be Bond’s quintessential qualities. The pressure on Bond, and indeed on Eon and the production team, to deliver has never been higher and you only have to look at Skyfall’s box office in the context of the overall series to see why (worldwide, adjusted for inflation, in case you were wondering):
While first Pierce Brosnan and then Daniel Craig had begun to turn around Bond’s box office fortunes, Skyfall exceeded even the previous peak of the golden Sean Connery era. Now Bond is established in the modern era as a global brand, how do you go about replicating that incredible success with another satisfying adventure for the world’s least secret agent?
The first thing you do, if you’re the current heads of Eon (Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli), is that you do whatever you can to get Skyfall’s director Sam Mendes to come back again. You also ensure that the writing team of John Logan, Neal Purves and Robert Wade return to work out the next direction for the Bond franchise. The third and final significant step you take is to resolve all of the fuss and nonsense over rights to the most evil characters in the Bond universe – a rights battle that dates back to the fourth film, Thunderball and a wrangle that lasted nearly fifty years – and having reacquired the ability to use SPECTRE in your films you waste no time in making your next film the modern relaunch of Bond’s most nefarious nemeses. Thankfully you still have Bond’s MVP, Daniel Craig under contract, so it’s just a matter of filling out the cast, pitching Bond against SPECTRE and watching the fireworks fly. Or at least, it should be. But given the intensely personal nature of Skyfall, with Bond exploring his heritage and with the most prominent role for M of the entire series, the writers also feel the need to load Bond with further baggage, so we also get a return to the roots of the SPECTRE substitute organisation Quantum (set up in the first two Craig Bonds). We also get, somewhat unnecessarily and for the first time in the cinematic history of Bond, an exploration of Bond’s upbringing after his parents’ death with details lifted directly from the Fleming short story Octopussy.
All of this means that there’s a fair amount of exposition to get through and a large cast to navigate; as well as the returning characters of Bond, M, Q, Moneypenny and Tanner from MI6, we see Mr White (Jesper Christensen) and his daughter (Lea Seydoux), the standard verbally challenged henchman (Dave Bautista), a couple of other obligatory Bond women (Monica Bellucci and Stephanie Sigman), another oily British station chief C (Andrew Scott), and the mysterious link to Bond’s past in the form of Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man apparently doing rather well for himself at the evil organisation Bond finds himself investigating. For a secret agent, Bond’s spent surprisingly little of his time doing actual spying over the years, preferring instead to focus on causing women to fall swooning into his arms at the drop of a hat and getting steadily drunk to remind everyone he’s not perfect.
You might need a stiff drink if you think about the plot of this Bond for too long: it manages to achieve the double whammy of not only bloating the film out to a record two and a half hour running time, but it singularly fails to blend its disparate elements into anything resembling a coherent story in that time. Not only performing a little retconning on the last few Bond films but also on Bond’s previous history, what the plot actually does is see Bond globetrot around the world in his usual casual fashion, almost waiting for the plot to come to him. When it does, sometimes after interminable amounts of simply hanging around that didn’t need to be seen on screen, it fails to be either surprising or interesting. It’s pretty much the origin story again for SPECTRE and their leader, but in a story that could probably have been condensed into the first hour of a sharper film before we got on with the real business of SPECTRE’s plan. The attempts at making the threat personal fail to resonate in anything close to the same way as Skyfall, and the big third act reveals are thrown away so clumsily as to be almost risible. (You may also benefit from giving yourself a Daniel Craig Bond marathon before setting out for this one as all three of Craig’s previous outings are regularly referenced.)
Normally Bond films can get away with a half-baked plot if everything else is at the top of its game, but that’s where SPECTRE’s inadequacies truly become apparent. There’s no denying that the opening credits sequence is up there with the very best of Bond, a single tracking shot through thousands of extras capped off with toppling buildings and spinning helicopters. It’s a shame that no other sequence comes close to matching it, with a car chase which has Bond on the phone for most of it, ignoring the peril completely, being a particular example: set reports indicate that seven of the new Aston Martin DB10s designed and produced especially for the film were written off during filming, but the results of that carnage don’t seem to have ended up on screen. The finale is a particular damp squib, with an almost apologetic lack of action and a dilemma that feels overly familiar to anyone who’s seen any of the major comic book movies of the last twenty years (*cough Spider-Man *cough* The Dark Knight *cough*)
The performances are also a very mixed bag, and it wouldn’t be so much of an issue if SPECTRE’s continued attempts to trade on nostalgia weren’t constantly throwing the film’s failings into sharp relief. Take, for example, a train sequence which is reminiscent of both Eva Green’s first confrontation with Bond in Casino Royale and Sean Connery’s bust up with Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love; they’re both decent enough callbacks but all they do is remind you of how short they fall in comparison to the originals that they’re referencing. The writing for the female characters also borders on disastrous; Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci’s characters seem to be slipping back to being subjected to the sort of casual misogyny that Goldeneye was mocking eight films ago and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny is made to look even more stupid here than she was clumsy in Skyfall (example dialogue: “You’ve got a secret. Something you can’t tell anyone.”). Christoph Waltz does his best with an underwritten role, but of the support it’s only Ben Whishaw, building delightfully on his role as Q that comes away with any real credit.
It’s a curiously empty film; seemingly the extras budget was used up in Mexico City as Rome seems to be virtually uninhabited and SPECTRE’s lair has around 1% of the staff of your average volcano lair, staffed mainly by people in black sweaters who look like they’re queuing for interviews for jobs at the nearest Apple Store. (I mentioned the five main roles for the 00 division earlier, and the film also does a cracking job of convincing you that no-one else works there.) I can’t even say good words about the music, Thomas Newman’s score inexcusably missing at least two open goals to throw in the Bond theme which would have elevated the brief moments when the action scenes work; when Goldeneye was rescored to put the theme back into the tank chase, you have to wonder why Newman and Mendes’ handling is so sacrosanct. Sam Mendes’ direction only really comes to life in the pre-credits sequence and in a couple of well-framed hero shots later on, and Hoyt Van Hoytema’s cinematography is serviceable without ever hitting the heights of Roger Deakins’ impressive digital lensing of Skyfall, yet another high bar from a film which wasn’t perfect but outperforms this follow up in almost every regard.
The one thing that saves it from being totally abject is its star: Daniel Craig has looked comfortable in the role from day 1, but now he fully inhabits it and feels as comfortable with the quips as with the moments of genuine emotion. We can only hope that this isn’t his swansong, as there’s plenty that could be done to improve matters for his next outing. When Goldeneye and Casino Royale launched the Brosnan and Craig eras respectively, they gave the series fresh momentum while capturing what made the series great; SPECTRE is absolutely content to replicate what it thinks made Skyfall a box office champion and as a result makes a film that’s overlong, languid and often listless and crucially missing the energy that made all of the aforementioned films work so well. This is mid-table Bond at best and would be lower but for Craig’s rock solid performance that at least anchors the film, but it failed to leave me either shaken or even stirred.
Why see it at the cinema: Much of the later action will be a complete washout by the time it gets to DVD or TV, so do catch it on the big screen. The big screen and sound system will also allow you to appreciate Sam Smith’s not-actually-bad theme song all the more.
What about the rating: Rated 12A for moderate violence and threat. Moderate, sadly, is the operative word; no-one would have faulted the BBFC for calling it “undercooked” or “a bit limp” instead.
My cinema experience: VIP seats at the Vue in Cambridge had plenty of legroom and the sound and projection were very reasonable; just a shame that the film’s middle stretch was so unengaging that someone two rows behind me fell asleep, judging by their rather prominent snoring. The lethargy of the audience in getting up to leave at the end told its own story.
The Score: 6/10
Box office figures courtesy of www.007james.com