The Pitch: What? The Dickens?
The Review: Modern society is desperate to work out what kind of person you are. But beware, it has only a few descriptions with which to allow you to be labelled. Complexity be damned, on any issue of the day you’ll be lucky if more than two opinions are permissible. The United Kingdom is being inexorably drawn into a time when you must be in favour or opposed to everything. Never mind leaving the European Union, it doesn’t feel as if you can be ambivalent to Marmite these days. Love it or hate it? Them’s your choices, don’t darken this door again with mild admiration or moderate disgust.
Armando Iannucci arrives at his latest film bearing the label of ‘political satirist’, and while it’s a fair description to a point, it comes riding in on an unspoken implication that he’s incapable of anything else. Let’s dispel that label for a start; while it’s true he’s responsible for some of the most scathing, hilarious and unfortunately accurate commentary of the last couple of decades, at the heart of it teems a desire to understand people, to sympathise with the unfortunate and to stare disbelievingly at the grotesque characters that reflect the wider world.
On that basis, it should come as no surprise that Iannucci finds the works of Charles Dickens appealing. Dickens was to the social classes of his era what Iannucci is to the chattering politicians of ours, and their worlds are similarly populated by absurd, outlandish characters that repulse and delight in equal measure. Iannucci and his regular co-collaborator Simon Blackwell have plunged headfirst into Dickens’ world and come up with an adaptation of the writer’s most personal work that feels fresh and vibrant.
Let’s talk about another label that’s cropped up in coverage of this film: “colour-blind”. It’s an odd, almost derogatory term that suggests there is some issue in casting the best people, even if they don’t all conform to the standard casting call for a period picture. How about “meritocracy” instead? The film’s casting is generally applaudable and even the smaller roles are often filled out with faces such as Gwendoline Christie and Paul Whitehouse whose talents brighten even the slender amount of screen time they’re granted.
In being fairly faithful to Dickens’ plot structure and character roster, it also allows for a number of larger roles to make their mark. Chief among these are donkey-obsessed aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton) and her Charles I-obsessed living companion Mr Dick (Hugh Laurie). Swinton gets to mix her initial brusqueness with a pleasing warmth as time passes, and Laurie’s initial fragility gives way to a mannered, boyish charm, both of whom prove ideal foils for Copperfield and the menagerie of other characters. Peter Capaldi’s Micawber also brightens every scene he appears in, and the comic timing of not only these three, but most of the cast, is so exemplary you could set your watch by it.
There are but two minor disappointments: Ben Whishaw’s obsequious Uriah Heep sneers from under his bowl haircut but never quite provides the foil to add great drama, which the film needs to balance the whimsy and otherwise excellent character work. The other is Copperfield himself, and that’s nothing to do with Dev Patel’s strong, evolving portrayal, more that Copperfield feels absent from the centre of his own story, despite being almost constantly on screen.
It’s structure where this adaptation struggles, with the social observation and coterie of contemptuous figures that flit in and out of David’s life present and correct, but never quite the sure footing of narrative to keep the audience fully invested. Iannucci and Blackwell have softened a few of Dickens’ sharper decisions, partly to allow Copperfield to comment on his own story as he develops as a writer. But devices like this don’t feel as if they carry a full commitment, and the visual trickery of hands reaching into drawings or the story projected on walls is forgotten about for a long stretch in the first half. The gimmicks don’t elevate or elucidate the story in any way, and a stage bound framing device might offer a further connection to Dickens but also feels oddly out of place.
The Personal History Of David Copperfield is very keen to work out what kind of person its hero is, but it’s slightly less sure as to how it’s going to go about it. If I were to offer a few labels to apply, they’d include “delightful”, “heart-warming” and “refreshing”. If the whole isn’t quite the sum of its parts, the parts are still worth parting with two hours to enjoy.
Why see it at the cinema: Glorious scenery, with Iannucci making the most of a variety of parts of the British countryside, and a film that does offer a lot of laughs, so is best enjoyed with as much company as possible.
What about the rating? Rated PG for mild violence, threat and brief bloody images. Absolutely fair and nothing to concern most ages.
My cinema experience: The first gala press screening of the 2019 London Film Festival, so I joined several hundred other critics and industry types for an early morning screening. After a year off while it was refurbished, the Odeon Leicester Square once again plays host to such screenings, and I took a reasonably comfortable reclining seat on the front row of the balcony. Also nice to see that the cinema had opened the coffee bar early so I took advantage of a latte and a decent chocolate muffin for breakfast.
The refurbishment has reduced the capacity from around 2,000 to just 800 but both the environment and the seating are significantly improved. The same cannot be said for the audio-visual experience: angles from wide seats are a little improved but the audio is still sometimes muffled by the cavernous space, with quiet dialogue being a particular issue. I passed an engineer on the way out with a Dolby laptop, so I’m hoping the later public screening may have been tweaked slightly.
The film itself represented a slightly odd experience: the stalls were full, and while the film got a number of big laughs from down below, there was an eerie silence from the assembled masses in the balcony. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I guess.
The Score: 7/10
The Pitch: “One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite – that particular peach is but a detail.” — Pablo Picasso
The Review: I’ve been writing this blog for seven years now. I say writing, I used to churn out a thousand words of incisive wit every other day and now I spend most of my time talking about films on radio rather than writing on them here. Foolishly, because I’m clearly so good at committing to writing, I’d love to start a food blog at some point, having developed a love of cooking that finally matches my love of eating over the past twenty years. When I went to university twenty-five years ago my entire repertoire consisted of cottage pie with tinned mince, roast potatoes and a passable apple crumble. Now my love of cookery is almost as well travelled as my love of cinema: these days I’ll attempt food from almost as many cultures as those from which I sample films.
One particular fondness I’ve developed is for Italian cuisine. Forget sloppy spag bols with sauce out of a jar or last night’s reheated pizza, the best Italian food uses a handful of ingredients but makes sure they are of the highest quality. Clearly you can guess where I’m going with this food-based metaphor, but it’s a perfect fit for Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, an adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel. Originally due to be co-directed by James Ivory, famous for his British period dramas produced by Ismail Merchant, Ivory instead sold the script to Guadagnino to keep the financiers happy, and it’s allowed CALL ME BY YOUR NAME to retain a simple, pure focus.
The film is built around two central performances, both of which are revelatory in their own ways. Timothée Chalamet has so far had a career of small parts, including MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN and INTERSTELLAR, while Armie Hammer is best known for his literally two-faced role in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and for being the unfortunate sidekick in the lead role in the underrated THE LONE RANGER. Here, Chalamet is teenager Elio, spending the summer with his family at their Lombardy villa but displaced from his bedroom by Hammer’s visiting student Oliver. Elio is immediately in awe of the standoffish Oliver, but doesn’t know how to process his initial feelings and finds different outlets for his frustrations – including a stunted flirtation with local girl Marzia (Esther Garrel) – before his and Oliver’s facades gradually lower.
It’s difficult to know which of the two performances is better, but that’s a nice dilemma to have for any film. Chalamet is wiry and slippery, a buzz of teenage energy driven by a keen mind but with his musical talents the only outlet for his passion until Oliver’s arrival. Oliver, direct and abrupt almost to the point of insolence in Elio’s eyes, still has a magnetism that won’t let Elio’s gaze alone. It’s the beauty of the way that their relationship is developed, the occasional brush of human contact here, a knowing gaze there, every moment believable and compelling. The two unite over their common interests and their heritage, closeted Jews in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and first their minds and then their bodies are drawn together. Oliver’s cautiousness is understandable; Elio is only seventeen, and while mature in many ways childish in others, but as his adolescence flowers it’s nurtured comfortingly by Oliver’s gradually revealed warmth.
The warmth isn’t just in the performances of the two leads, but in everything that Guadagnino’s brought together. While his previous films such as I AM LOVE and A BIGGER SPLASH have certainly had moments of warmth and tenderness, they’ve often been mixed slightly more with brusqueness and cynicism. Here, Ivory’s script is a masterclass in human emotion, slowly peeling away the layers of the two leads and drawing you into their intimacy. It’s backed up by Guadagnino’s direction, but also by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography, capturing the lushness of the Italian countryside and giving the film the feel of a faded memory of summers past, and by songs from Sufjan Stevens on the soundtrack. Even the Eighties setting of the film is layered on gracefully, with a Talking Heads T-shirt and a Walkman feeling redolent of the time but unobtrusive in the northern Italian landscape.
In a way, the film saves one of its greatest assets for last. Chekov’s Gun is a dramatic principle that you shouldn’t put a gun on the wall if you’re not going to fire it later, and it’s the parents (Amira Cassar and Michael Stuhlbarg) who observe for the majority of the film from the sidelines, occasionally giving dramatic impetus but mainly making us envious of summers in the countryside. But a climactic scene between Stuhlbarg and Chalamet raises the emotional intensity of the film to almost achingly beautiful levels, possibly giving us the first instance of Chekhov’s Stuhlbarg committed to film and hopefully not the last when he’s as good as he is here.
Even from our more enlightened 21st century position it feels strange that so few films still deal in non-heterosexual relationships without characters or the film ever sitting in judgement. For that alone CALL ME BY YOUR NAME should be applauded, but for the fact that it presents itself as one of the most realistic, tender and honest films about relationships and maturity ever made it should be cherished.
Why see it at the cinema: The best way to immerse yourself in the experience and to fully embrace the pleasures of Guadagnino’s stunning film are to sit in the largest, darkest room you can find, ideally one where the film is being projected onto the walls.
What about the rating: Rated 15 for strong sex, although there’s been much stronger on screen. Blue Is The Warmest Colour or 9 Songs this is not.
My cinema experience: The one particularly odd artistic choice made by Guadagnino was the sound of heavy drilling which he chose to add as a constant to the soundtrack. How did anyone ever relax in 1980’s Italy with all of that drilling going on? Took me a good ten minutes to realise that the drab, depressing surroundings of the Odeon Leicester Square had been supplemented by construction work elsewhere in Leicester Square. It didn’t seem to affect the general enjoyment of the assembled press and industry throng at the BFI press screening, as the film got a solid ovation at the end.
The Score: 10/10
The Pitch: Fifteen-love. (In other words, I’ll get fifteen grand, you get us a drink, love.)
The Review: Despite loving to watch all kinds of it – I’ve taken two weeks off work to watch the Olympics before now – I was terrible at sport at school. In seven years of grammar school I played rugby matches for my house’s C-team, one match for my house’s D-team at cricket before I was substituted at half time and never played again, and was so bad at athletics I once finished a race to discover the teacher had given up and gone in. We did have tennis courts but I never came close to picking up a racket, knowing that I would have comfortably been the worst in my year, or possibly any year. Serve and volley? I’d be happy to accomplish 50% of that. Once. Of course, I went to an all boy’s school, so maybe I’d have had a match at a mixed school.
Don’t worry, I’m not a raging chauvinist, clearly all of the girls would have beaten me as well. (A one-armed monkey with one arm tied behind its back could have given me a decent game, but let’s not go there.) But these were the attitudes prevalent in tennis back when I was born in the Seventies. It’s been an ongoing struggle for women since then to get to parity with their male equivalents. Take, for example, the view that “… our men’s tennis world, the ATP world, should fight for more, because the stats are showing we have more spectators” and that “…[Ladies’] bodies are much different than men’s bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don’t have to go through… You know, hormones and different stuff.” That would be depressing enough coming from the mouth of a misogynist Seventies tennis pro, but it was actually said by former world number one Novak Djokovic in 2016.
The new film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, RUBY SPARKS) takes us back to the dawn of a revolution in tennis. Billie Jean King was at the top of her game, five-time Grand Slam winner and world number one, but when her frustration at the gap in tournament pay became too great, she and eight other tennis professionals broke away to form their own tournament. When hearing of this, retired champion Bobby Riggs, now in his fifties and addicted to gambling, challenged King to a winner-takes-all match to prove even an older man could comfortably beat a top woman. When King refused, fellow professional Margaret Court stepped in but after being handed a thrashing by Riggs, King had no choice but to step up to defend the honour of all women on the court.
Whether you’re male or female, BATTLE OF THE SEXES represents excellent value for money as it’s three films rolled into one. The first of those is the gender inequality battle, pitching Emma Stone’s King against Steve Carell’s Riggs. This film is broadly comedic, playing to Carell’s strengths as hustler Riggs becomes emboldened by his seemingly effortless superiority. Stone has to butt heads with chauvinist-in-chief of the tennis tour Jack Kramer (a typically smarmy Bill Pullman) while supported by Gladys Heldman, who gets sponsorship for their new ladies’ tour and backs King’s activist impulses. The only real quibble is that Stone’s King feels oddly passive at times, undoubtedly committed to her cause but the fervour never really rising to the surface.
It’s the second of the three films mixed in here that’s the most compelling, where King explores feelings for her hairdresser Marilyn, despite being on the surface happily married. It’s a time when taboos of gender can easily be confronted, if not so easily broken down, but those of sexuality have to remain firmly in the closet in service of the greater cause. Andrea Riseborough plays Marilyn and hers and Stone’s relationship is tender and their moral dilemmas sketched out believably. The film makes the most of the Seventies setting, from costumes to cinematography, and the warm visual glow afforded to their more private moments justifies pushing the aesthetic as far as possible. Again, if there’s one quibble it’s that King’s husband Larry feels little more than a plot cipher.
The third and final film is the one where we have the biggest problems. For as much as BATTLE OF THE SEXES seems embarrassed by it, it’s a film about tennis, and it’s the sports elements that are by far the weakest. Don’t get me wrong, sports films can sometimes feel desperately predetermined in their dramatic arc, especially when many viewers will already know the result, but the best of them can still give you a thrill and the sporting elements have the feel of someone who’s only ever watched sport on TV and most likely under duress. There’s never any sense of the tactical nous King employed or seemingly any interest in making the tennis more than a distraction; at some points it’s not even readily apparent who’s winning, sucking any excitement from the spectacle served up.
So Dayton and Faris’ film ticks plenty of boxes, satisfying as a human drama, entertaining as a comedy but serving up a double fault when it comes to the actual sport. That said, it should still drive the point home about the continuing disparity in the pay in professional sport; despite the Grand Slam tournaments now paying women and men equally, the top women will still earn about half of their male equivalents, which means that this battle is one that still needs to be fought, and it can just about consider BATTLE OF THE SEXES a worthy ally in that struggle.
Why see it at the cinema: The comedic elements of the film undoubtedly work better with an audience for company, and seeing it on a large screen helps to follow the tennis because it’s all shot statically from above as if on TV.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for infrequent moderate sex. (Don’t worry, the only balls you see are on court.)
My cinema experience: The joys of press screenings at the London Film Festival mean that this film started at 8:15 a.m., for me, when it’s a two-hour journey into London, that’s an early start. Always nice to know that you have the leopard print seats and awkwardly angled screen of the Odeon Leicester Square to look forward to at the end of your epic trek. In particular, the sound can get very muffled at points; it’s a shame that London’s largest showcase for film (with over 1,600 seats) isn’t also its best.
The Score: 7/10
The Pitch: Choose life.
The Review: If you’re looking for a film to open Britain’s leading film festival then as soon as someone offers you more British acting talent than a bonnet full of Jane Austen adaptations, most of them with finely honed RP accents and with an opening scene culminating in a cricket ball smashing a tea cup, then you’d probably bite their hand off. You’d probably also expect that a hard-working British film would be stiff upper lips, struggles against adversity and as grim as Ken Loach’s kitchen sink. Breathe serves up two out of three in a reasonable debut for Andy Serkis, but suffers from never quite being sure what it wants to be.
With a list of British talent longer than your arm, some in blink-and-miss roles (Diana Rigg’s screen credit may get more time than she does), Serkis has certainly assembled a talented acting roster, but the only two who really have the opportunity to do more than reading their lines are Andrew Garfield as polio patient Robin Cavendish and Claire Foy as his supportive wife Diana. When stricken with the illness at a young age, Robin can’t face living a life staring at the hospital ceiling, but Diana takes on the medical profession and enlists the help of a creative friend or two to give Robin a new lease of life.
There’s plenty that works here, with Garfield and Foy putting in strong performances. The script also brings out British qualities you wouldn’t necessarily expect from such a film, with stoicism and determination supplemented by inventiveness and eccentricity. For large parts this is less a grim slogfest, more a vibrant celebration of life and its possibilities, with a handful of satisfyingly off-kilter moments thrown in. While Robin gradually escapes the confines of his hospital bed, the depictions of those less fortunate give the opportunity for some bizarre, discomfiting images, particularly at a clinical hospital that thinks it’s cutting edge.
Serkis has worked on this in down time of his Jungle Book adaptation, and his direction style could be damned with faint praise as fine. He does get chance for a little special effects wizardry with Tom Hollander portraying both of Diana’s twin brothers, but other than that he’s content never to stray from the confines of a chocolate box lid picture, and the film is sometimes as sweet when it desperately needs more courage in its convictions. Society still hasn’t found equality for disabled people in many areas and films highlighting this struggle are as important as those exploring divides of gender, race and orientation but Breathe calls attention to human frailty and meaningful questions of existence without ever suggesting it truly wants to engage with them.
This is particularly noticeable in the final stretch, when questions of Robin’s right to life become flipped on their heads. The last act aims to engage the heart and squeeze the tear ducts when a more confident director would have tapped at your mind and soul as well. It’s a shame, for while Breathe should play well to anyone in the the middle-aged art house crowd who prefers their films with the rough edges sanded off, the material had the potential for a truly great British film and the aftertaste here is one of squandered opportunity. Hopefully as Serkis hones his craft, he’ll be willing to encourage a degree more boldness in his screenwriting collaborators.
Why see it in the cinema: Enjoy the view, from sweeping Kenyan vistas to the rolling English countryside, and see if you can hold back the tears at the end when your neighbour is struggling.
What about the rating? This one’s a 12A for infrequent bloody images, mainly when Robin is struggling in later life (although the old age make up Garfield’s sporting is perhaps more horrific).
My cinema experience: After two weeks of pre-festival screenings at the well-appointed BFI Southbank, this was the first trip the Odeon Leicester Square (and my first visit there since seeing Armageddon over twenty years ago). The uncomfortable leopard print seats and terrible viewing angle from the stalls didn’t convince me I’d missed much. That was all forgiven when director Serkis appeared to give the film a five minute intro.
The Score: 7/10
The Pitch: Fears Of A Clown.
The Review: What is it about clowns? Thankfully I’ve never been a sufferer of coulrophobia, or a fear of clowns – I suffer from the much more rational mottephobia, the fear of moths, with their freakish, armless brown bodies and insanely quick, oversized flapping wings that bring you the tortuous death of a thousand butterfly kisses – but there are a few theories as to what causes people to be freaked out by them. (Clowns, that is, not moths.) The uncanny valley is one idea mentioned, that the faces of clowns are just far enough outside the realms of realism to disturb us. It’s also suggested that they push logic to breaking point, thus becoming associated with danger and fear, that their unpredictability or unusual physical characteristics give us the willies, or that the mask they wear hides their true emotions.
There could be a much more specific reason, particularly for people of my generation, given that coulrophobia seems to have first become a thing around the time of the mid-Eighties. It was, funnily enough, when professional clown / serial killer John Wayne Gacy had gained notoriety and when Stephen King dropped a thousand-page beast about a killer clown preying on the children of a town in Maine. So the latest adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most loved novels – and I use that term loosely, given its power to reduce grown adults to whimpering wrecks – has a lot to live up to in the scare stakes.
Andy Muschietti’s film adaptation certainly doesn’t hide its true emotions, wearing its pulsating heart on its ruffled sleeve right from the outset. It starts almost identically to the book that spawned it, with six-year-old George chasing a boat into a storm drain and coming face-to-terrifying-face with Pennywise The Dancing Clown. From there we move into scene setting and establishing, as we meet the seven children who make up The Losers Club, all destined to have run-ins with the local bully, to be tormented by manifestations of their worst fears and to come face to face with Pennywise.
Pennywise has a lot to live up to, with the previous embodiment (Tim Curry) having become something of a horror icon since his appearance in the 1990 TV miniseries. Bill Skarsgård is tasked with filling the oversized, floppy red shoes and does an admirable job, his appearance helped by a forehead the size of Devon and two red swishes of make-up that run past his eyes and draw your attention to it inexorably. Couple that with ruby red lips and buck teeth that make him look like the offspring of Jessica Rabbit and Bugs Bunny from the nose down, and it’s undoubtedly a disturbing appearance; thankfully Skarsgård has the mannerisms and delivery to back it up, too.
What helps him are the performances of the child actors, which are so grounded as to make Pennywise’s mere presence that much more skin-crawling. They are such perfect depictions of Eighties film children that you’d happily believe the film has been dredged up in film canisters from a storm drain where they’ve lain untouched for three decades. The film’s original writer and planned director, Cary Fukunaga, said he was aiming for a Goonies meets horror film vibe, and by stripping away the adult sections of King’s colossal opus the script achieves this brilliantly; you may be unprepared for quite how funny it is.
For it doesn’t just wear its heart on its sleeve, but on its bedroom walls, with posters for Gremlins, Beetlejuice and New Kids On The Block adorning the children’s rooms. They’re good reference points, for while IT succeeds in delivering a few effective jump scares and some nightmarish imagery, it’s the laughs which would be most likely to pull you back for a second viewing. As with Joe Dante and Tim Burton’s classics, it’s the laughs that bind you to the characters and make you care about their plight. (Even if, thanks to the setting pre-dating post-modern horrors such as Scream, the kids don’t have the common sense to avoided the dilapidated house that looks more haunted than the dreams of a dozen Ghostbusters.)
There are changes to the source material; the setting has been transplanted to the late Eighties, rather than the late Fifties, meaning the necessary sequel will bring us almost to the present day. But other changes have been necessitated by a lack of budget, and possibly a lack of confidence. Gary Dauberman, writer of the Annabelle movies, rewrote the Fukunaga script and by all accounts has steered it much closer to both the novel and conventionality. That will certainly give it a better shot at lasting mainstream success, but the lack of the novel’s more outré elements, for better and for worse, ground this adaptation in logic and predictability.
It’s a thrill ride that doesn’t skimp on the blood, reminiscent of bloody Eighties slashers such as A Nightmare On Elm Street in more ways than one, and it certainly ticks a number of horror movie boxes, but the real test will come when these kids grow up and humour can’t be the default fall-back position. For now, Muschietti has crafted an adventure, maybe lacking a true cutting edge or something radical or innovative but with just enough jump scares and buckets of humour, which does the first half of King’s work proud. At least there aren’t any moths in it.
Why see it at the cinema: Muschietti does conjure up some memorable imagery, and the laughs and the occasional scares will work better with a large audience.
What about the rating? Rated 15 for strong horror, violence, language. The Insight mentions that “scenes of horror include sustained threat from monsters, including a killer clown.” Well, duh.
My cinema experience: Watched it with a packed, younger, audience on opening night, and there were at least two satisfying occasions of half the audience leaping out of their skins, followed by the thirty seconds of nervous laughter as audience tries to recompose itself. It’s fairground ride scary, but it sure is effective.
The Score: 8/10
And one last thing…
Next in my review of the year that was 2016 we come to the bottom of my own cinematic barrel, scraper in hand. A lot of people had the feeling that, in hindsight, 2016 was about as pleasant as being run over by a steamroller shortly after being mauled by a lion, but in film terms it was a pretty reasonable year. That doesn’t mean, though, that there weren’t a few absolute stinkers steaming up the place, and I had the privilege of seeing more of them than usual.
Normally I would pick ten films and call them the “least best”, rather than worst, but two things are different this year:
- Now that I’m doing more radio reviewing I’ve been trying to see anything which made the box office top 10. This inevitably leads to me watching more terrible films than when I make selections purely on what I want to watch.
- I’m calling them worst this year because they were all pretty terrible, I’m past the point of trying to be nice.
In some previous years, including last year, I haven’t even given a single 1/10 mark, my lowest possible mark. In 2016 I awarded two of them, as well as a record five 2/10s. We’re not even a week into 2017 and I’ve already seen a 2/10 film this year (well done, Assassin’s Creed, see you back here, same time, same place, next year).
So it seems only fair that, given I sat through proportionally more poor cinematic experiences this year, that I give you the benefit of my reviewing doubts and grumbles so that you can avoid these films in cinemas / on DVD / streaming / when they come on telly late at night in about six months.
So, these are the 20 films that provided me with the greatest desire to bash my head against the cinema armrest until I blacked out in the hopes of some blessed relief, from films I saw which had a cinema release between January 1st and December 31st, 2016. And some dishonourable mentions to some other 4/10 films which didn’t quite make the grade (in this case, a D+ grade rather than anything lower), which were: Robinson Crusoe, The Boss, Ben-Hur (2016), Keeping Up With The Joneses, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Inferno, Alice Through The Looking Glass, Criminal, Warcraft: The Beginning and Allied. All had some redeeming feature or other which kept them out of this cesspool of movie drudgery and despair.
20. Passengers – 4/10
I make an odd feminist, given that I’ve been a man these past forty or so years, but I have to say that Passengers made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. While in real life, Jennifer Lawrence is likely to have taken home a pay cheque at least twice that of Chris Pratt, the film sets up a moral quandary which it pays the barest lip service to resolving and diminishes Lawrence’s character in the process. The script is on rails and is desperately predictable with precious little sense of actual drama, but it takes turns you don’t want it to and still plays out in obvious ways anyway. Jennifer Lawrence rightly felt violated by people looking at private pictures of her that were uploaded to the internet, but thanks to the treatment of her both as an actor and character, reduced to an objectified object of lust with weak principles, watching this film made me feel about as creepy.
19. Suicide Squad – 4/10
I actually had this film in my top trailer picks last year, under the title “Most Promising Trailer For Next Year If They Don’t Screw It Up.” The main issue seemed to be that, based on everyone loving the trailer when it was released and desperate to capture some good feedback after Batman Vs. Superman opened to scathing reviews, Warner Bros. decided to re-cut the entire film until it looked like one long trailer. It also managed to make most of its characters uninteresting, has logic gaps the size of the Grand Canyon, it fundamentally never explains why you’d assemble any of these people to take on any threat, never mind this one and it’s got a soundtrack that sounds like a bad compilation album from the Nineties. Jared Leto’s Joker was memorable, but for mainly the wrong reasons, and you have to feel sorry for Will Smith that he had to choose between this and Independence Day: Resurgence. Hobson’s choice might have been a better option.
18. London Has Fallen – 4/10
Sometimes you watch a film and you start to question how what you’re seeing unfold on screen ended up even being made. There were a few occasions when this happened to me during London has fallen: for example, during any of the thudduingly dull action sequences or when half of the Metropolitan Police and the Queen’s guards suddenly turn out to have been replaced by the bad guys. Gerard Butler had one funny line in the original, Olympus Has Fallen, and it seems this film felt that was a bar that shouldn’t be cleared under any circumstances.
17. Point Break – 4/10
I don’t really have much to say about this utterly witless, pointless, charisma-less, excitement less, brainless remake of the Keanu Reeves / Patrick Swayze classic, other than that I had to go for a poo about 45 minutes in, and I wish I’d stayed longer, rather than hurrying back to the film, duty bound as I felt to see as much of the film as possible. Sorry if that’s too much detail, and I apologise if I’ve made you think about excrement, but hopefully it’s an association you’ll retain whenever this film comes to mind again.
16. Dad’s Army – 4/10
I’ll be honest, Dad’s Army is one of those old TV series that I appreciate, rather than enjoy, although I retain a soft spot for it as John Le Mesurier lived out his final years just around the corner from me. This film did its absolute best to wash away any such goodwill: it’s like a tribute band that are fantastic look- and soundalikes but terrible musicians. The casting is impeccable, but it’s as if the creative talent involved felt that was enough, with comedy in shorter supply than butter and cheese during rationing. There’s no rhythm or humour to any of the comedy and attempts to introduce some gender balance to proceedings just end up widening the amount of cast members left with little of value to do.
15. Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates – 3/10
If there were awards for miscasting, then whoever thought Anna Kendrick would make an ideal person to play one of two girls with an absence of morals should get at least a nomination. This desperate comedy stumbles around in the hope of running into some jokes, but this could have been tied to a bull at the front door of a china shop and never have come close to a piece of dinnerware. And if you think my analogies are tortuous, then I’ve given you some sense of what sitting through this was like for me.
14. Friend Request – 3/10
It’s haunted Facebook. At the point when they look at haunted source code, I stopped caring. The film I feel sorry for in this is 2014’s Unfriended, which was at least twice as enjoyable, but has been confused with this film to the extent that the Wikipedia page has a disambiguation at the top.
13. Allegiant – 3/10
When a studio starts a young adult franchise in the wake of The Hunger Games that’s due to run for four films, but after the third film decides it won’t even bother to release the last one in cinemas, there’s nothing we really need to say, is there? My only regret is watching the first two on Amazon Prime before seeing this at the cinema, and watching the train wreck unfold in what felt like real time.
12. The Forest – 3/10
It’s difficult to know exactly what The Forest it trying to be, although it should be to the regret of cast, crew and audience that one of those things isn’t “at least vaguely scary”. If you’re going to set a film in a real-life Japanese suicide forest (and annoy quite a few people into the bargain), you should be aiming for at least some level of creepiness. If you’re going to cast the wonderful Natalie Dormer to play two roles in your film, at least give her something good to do with one of them.
11. The Angry Birds Movie – 3/10
I try to go into every film I see with an open mind, so when I went to see the Angry Birds movie, I was prepared to give it a chance, especially when the credited writer (Jon Vitti) wrote some of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons, as well as shows from King Of The Hill to The Larry Sanders Show. I’ve played the game occasionally on my phone, and if you have you’ll know it’s a simple, disposable idea: birds try and demolish structures with pigs on them. Somehow this has been stretched out to over an hour and a half, following that simple structure so slavishly that any attempts at humour – and they are few and far between – are suffocated by disinterested voice acting and the film’s clumsy structure. Actually less fun than watching someone else play Angry Birds while sat opposite you on a train.
10. Blair Witch – 3/10
If ever a horror movie unleashed an actual monster, then it’s the flood of poor imitation found footage movies that have been unleashed over the decade and a half since The Blair Witch Project first popularised the genre. This wasn’t even announced as a Blair Witch movie at first, and it had a great pedigree (Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who gave us You’re Next and The Guest), but it seems to fatally misunderstand what made the original so effective. It’s a photocopy of an iconic horror, with added annoying characters but with the actual horror sucked out aside from one preposterous twist, and the end of the film’s attempt to differentiate from the crackly VHS of the original becomes nigh-on unwatchable.
9. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie – 3/10
I was not a fan of the original series, having sat stony faced through episodes while both my sister and the ex-Mrs Evangelist watched it during its various runs on the BBC. So chances are it was never going to set my wheels on fire. But, more fool me, I actually paid to go and watch this in more comfy seats rather than a standard cinema in an attempt to cushion the blow. Simply having has-been and would-be celebrities pop up in gratuitous cameos and pushing Kate Moss off a wall were never likely to be enough, but the attempts at plot – including Patsy’s bizarre gender-swapping, cash-grabbing marriage – are thin as a supermodel and three times as bizarre.
8. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice – 3/10
Dear Hollywood, you’ve been making superhero movies in large quantities for most of this century. There have been some great successes, some iconic new characters, but there were only three that mattered to me as a child, and there are still only three that I truly care about their representation on film. It looks like Marvel are getting Spider-Man right now, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed so tightly it cuts the blood supply off that when Justice League arrives in November, it manages to sort out the other two.
It gives me no pleasure at all to see Batman Vs Superman sink this low, but the film is a mess in ways almost too numerous to list. But I feel the need to try, in the critical hope that the DC Extended Universe can stop making these films so wretched.
- The plot is a complete nonsense, a paradox of muddied complexity and childish simplicity that feels like cut-outs from a dozen fan-fictions stapled together
- The characters are totally wrong: Batman is arrogant and stupid, while Superman is self-absorbed and careless. If you’re going to keep repeating their cinematic portrayals, you need to vary them up, but not to the point where they’re both unrecognisable as those characters and also verging on repellent to watch
- Decent, compelling villains are required, as the pitching together of Earth’s mightiest heroes never convinces and Jesse Eisenberg’s performance is horrible
- I wasn’t as won over as some by Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman, but I think he’s got more chance of being interesting in future films than Henry Cavill.
- The action sequences are uniformly dull and unmemorable, and coming so soon after The Dark Knight trilogy this is unforgivable
- The ending tries to generate emotional stakes that the film hasn’t earned, from the appalling Martha nonsense to the fates of the lead characters
- There are any number of random dream sequences which seem to be an attempt at foreshadowing, but when only lifelong comic book readers will take anything from them the general audience is likely to feel totally lost
- The universe building is shambolic, having your main character sit down at the end of the second act of your film to effectively watch trailers for upcoming films in the franchise while the plot stops dead for ten minutes is an insult and cameos from characters we haven’t met yet becoming a deus ex machina is appallingly lazy
- It’s unbelievably po-faced and serious – The Dark Knight proved you can weave humour through darkness and grit, but this film is almost oppressively self-important and deadeningly humourless
- The dialogue. For the love of Kryptonite, the dialogue. Examples:
- “He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty… and we have to destroy him.” Er, no.
- “That is a three syllable word for any thought too big for little minds.”
- “Master Wayne, since age 7 you have been to deception as Mozart to the harpsichord. But you’ve never been too hot at deceiving me.”
Frankly, this film would be at the bottom of the list, but they managed to make Wonder Woman more cool than Bats and Supes put together for ten minutes. Next time it has to be better for longer. A lot longer.
7. Gods Of Egypt – 2/10
I’ll be honest, if you gave me a free cinema ticket in return for watching one of the films on this list again, it would almost certainly be this one. It’s mostly bonkers, rarely boring and looks spectacular in places. But in other places it looks unfinished, CGI not even looking close to properly rendered, it perpetuates unnecessary white casting in films, it tries to take itself seriously at all the wrong times and the script is a craggy mess. To try to pretend that it’s so bad it’s good would be a falsehood; it’s so bad that it’s train-wreck watchable, but it’s not good / bad enough to be future cult viewing.
6. Office Christmas Party – 2/10
You know what’s worse than a dreadful office Christmas party? Watching other people have to endure a dreadful office Christmas party. I love Christmas, but this almost made me renounce my religion and give up presents it’s so deeply, deeply unfunny. There are only so many more American “comedies” that I can sit through while not a single person in the audience can generate the energy to even chuckle. Kate McKinnon’s performance in Ghostbusters went a large part of the way to saving that film, but even she can’t rescue this one from the mire of mistletoed mediocrity.
5. Hardcore Henry – 2/10
Hardcore Henry wants to put you in the perspective of someone playing a video game. But it’s shot and acted in the most rushed, disinterested way possible, and the experience of watching it is as if someone has put a VR headset on you, then repeatedly kicked you down a flight of stairs. The movie’s general idea and concepts are fun, such as giving Sharlto Copley multiple roles, but the whole film – shot on GoPro cameras and then edited together in such a way as to automatically induce vomiting if you look at the screen for more than five seconds – is almost entirely unwatchable. The absence of interesting characters, dialogue or plot then take it the rest of the way.
4. David Brent: Life On The Road – 2/10
The third BBC sitcom in this list turned film, and the third one which I couldn’t stand. The film, that is, not the original series, which was a piece of genius. What made this the polar opposite of the series that spawned it? Was it the absence of Stephen Merchant from the writing which saw all of the offensiveness without any of the humour or pathos? Was it that most of the new characters are as interesting as reading a stationery catalogue (with the one exception of Tom Bennett’s brilliantly sympathetic Nigel)?
Was it, maybe, that the film’s third act redemption of sorts is unearned and the 180 degree turn of the other characters is unbelievable? Was it that the songs Brent writes aren’t inadvertently brilliant or laughably terrible, just predictably mediocre? Or was it that being an idiot with no self-awareness is something that is taken too far in this portrayal of David Brent? Many of the attitudes towards lesser characters – such as a mentally ill woman who presents Brent with a dead insect – are failings of the film, not Brent, and it’s too often just offensive without the smarts to make that funny.
3. Mother’s Day – 2/10
Let’s remember Garry Marshall, who directed Mother’s Day, and who sadly died last year aged 81. Let’s remember him for Happy Days and Mork & Mindy, which he created. Let’s remember him for Pretty Woman, for Beaches and for The Princess Diaries. Let’s try to to forget that this slightly racist, bullishly unfunny travesty ever happened. Let’s try not to dwell on how it costs $25 million these days to put together a film which is too inert and mawkish to be a drama and too mugging and obvious to be a comedy. Garry Marshall, rest in peace and thank you for the memories. Just not this one.
2. Nine Lives – 1/10
A film so terrible that it cheapens the memory of every other film you’ve seen starring the people in this one, from The Deer Hunter to American Beauty (and, frankly, even 13 Going On 30). A children’s film disturbingly obsessed with death and suicide, which plays out for large stretches as a faked YouTube cat video and which makes the laziest choice every time it has to make one. It tries to hand out life lessons, but the only lesson it’s taught me is “don’t watch any more Barry Sonnenfeld movies.” My cat will often sit on my bedside table and claw at my face to wake me up, and I’d rather sit through an hour and a half of that than ever watch this again.
1. Dirty Grandpa – 1/10
I’m still not sure I’d go as far as describing myself as a film critic, but I watch a broad enough variety of films to say that, if I’m expecting you to listen to my opinion, then there has to be a chance I’ll enjoy any genre of film that you put in front of me. So it’s not that I dislike crude, lewd humour: Jackass 3 made my top 40 of the year in 2011. Nor is it that I can’t find offensive films funny: Dan Mazer, the director of this one, has writing credits on some of Sasha Baron Cohen’s best work, including Borat and Bruno. I like humour to provoke me and push boundaries, and you’ll notice that one particular comedy from 2016, Grimsby, isn’t in this bottom 20 because as dreadful as it was in parts, its elephant sex scene actually had me in fits of appalled laughter.
It’s also not that Robert De Niro is a bad comedic actor, almost the opposite. From Midnight Run to Meet The Parents, The Intern to Analyse This and The King Of Comedy to Wag The Dog, De Niro is as versatile an actor as he is a dramatic heavyweight in more serious roles. It’s also not that he doesn’t commit to this role: it’s clear that he’s giving his all to this performance, when he has just occasionally sleepwalked through film roles. And it’s not that there’s any problems with the supporting cast: Zoey Deutch was a delight that balanced out the atmosphere of testosterone in this year’s Everybody Wants Some!!, Zak Efron has shown he can be great in the right roles in films from Hairspray to Liberal Arts and Aubrey Plaza is brilliant in the likes of Life After Beth and Safety Not Guaranteed.
And I’m not even sure it’s the script, which on the 2011 Black List, the annual list of the most highly regarded unproduced scripts in Hollywood. (Although, saying that, maybe the 2011 list wasn’t a vintage one, as despite having Django Unchained it also contained The Accountant, Grace Of Monaco, Jane Got A Gun and this. Compare that to 2010, which had Argo, Looper and Stoker, or 2012, which contained Arrival, Hell Or High Water, John Wick and Whiplash.)
So what is it that makes Dirty Grandpa such a toxic hellhole of anti-comedy? How can it be that we’ve ended up with 102 minutes of mirth-free, soul destroying unreconstructed racism, sexism and homophobia attempting to pass itself off as funny? Why do I get the feeling that watching my cat cough up hairballs onto a fat, sweaty bald man cutting his toenails while episodes of “It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum” play on a loop in the background would be preferable to, and less offensive than, sitting through this garbage? Is it possible that you can put too many great ingredients together and inadvertently create something awful?
No. Simply put, it’s got only one trick to try to be funny, and that’s to be as crass as possible, but when that fails time after time it’s just profoundly, resoundingly unfunny to almost unprecedented levels. Eventually the repetition of tedious, blundering doltishness – and sometimes, repeating the exact same jokes – reaches such levels that the sheer act of continuing to try to be funny becomes offensive in and of itself. Most of the characters are zero-dimensional, soulless shells that it’s impossible to root for, yet the film sets them on a course so predictable that your average invertebrate who’s lived on a remote island its entire life could probably see what’s coming.
So thank you, Dirty Grandpa, for at least ensuring that a film with Kevin Spacey and Christopher Walken in it wasn’t the worst thing I saw in 2016. It’s just a shame something with Robert De Niro and Aubrey Plaza in it had to be.
The 10 Least Best Films I Saw In 2015 “WINNER” – Pixels
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
Ah, the olden days. I remember when all this was fields, it wasn’t like this when I was a lad, you could get a racehorse and a speedboat for two shillings and sixpence, men were men, boys were small men and women were men with different dangly bits. But most importantly, in the olden days I used to write a film blog.
That, of course, was in the days before I became the regular reviewer on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s drive time show with the esteemed Chris Mann, started writing a column in the Cambridge News and found 1,000,001 other distractions, most of them watching films. In fact, I ended up watching films so much that I didn’t really have time to watch trailers, at least in the cinema.
I also feel that the trailer is becoming a lost art form. The gravelly voice man is now just the province of Honest Trailers, and trailers are now just a window for all of the best bits of the film, desperately trying to recruit you to the cinema where you’ll see them again with lots of boring, superficial context dragging them out to two hours or more.
The rise of internet advertising and the use of the Skip button has also seen another change to trailers when viewed online: the trailer trailer. Not to be confused with the teaser trailer, which is a shorter trailer released before the main trailer, or the trailer preview, where they release part of the trailer a few days before unveiling all of it in an attempt to induce a Pavlovian response from fanboys and girls worldwide, but where you get a trailer in five seconds with lots of rapid cuts in the even that your trailer is being used as an advert; this way, you get to see a trailer even if you click “Skip in…” when it counts down to zero. If you don’t, you get two trailers for the price of one. If you watch a trailer with a trailer trailer attached before watching the film it’s trailing, you can make yourself feel like you’re being sucked into a black hole where time is gradually dilating to the point of infinity. Or you can watch five minutes of a Transformers movie to achieve the same effect. But I digress. (Ah, how I’ve missed digressing in my blog again. But I digress from my digress. A digress digress, if you will. ANYway…)
Traditionally I would at this point pick out my six, or twelve favourite trailers of the year, but they’re all so much of a muchness I’ve struggled to find that many I’d even care about. I will pick out a favourite of the year before this is over, but as I’ve not blogged all year – apart from spewing out two brief flirtations at Oscar time – I think it would be useful to review what you’re actually getting from the big trailers these days.
Let’s take the six biggest trailers of 2016, coincidentally six of the seven biggest trailers ever, and see what we can learn from them about their films, and about the increasingly lost art of the trailer.
6. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (released December 3, 81 million views in 24 hours)
So this trailer is all about reassurance. You liked the first one, because it was very slightly different from all of those other Marvel movies, in that it was funnier and set off Earth and had a tree with a five word vocabulary and a weird throwback soundtrack. So the trailer is designed to reassure you that you’ll be getting all of this again this time round, by showing you a funny scene and some spaceships and the tree being cute and awesome and with a slightly different throwback soundtrack. It doesn’t actually show you any plot, but maybe that’s a good thing?
5. Transformers: The Last Knight (released December 5, 93.6 million views in 24 hours)
*types name of film into YouTube to find official trailer*
*wades through pages and pages of people reposting the trailer, trailer reactions and trailer breakdowns*
*notices that one of the trailer reaction videos has over half a million hits*
*wonders if I’m wasting my life*
*wonders why I even bothered asking that previous question when the answer is self-evident*
4. Captain America: Civil War (released March 10, 94.7 million views in 24 hours)
It’s another entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the thirteenth in fact, and the third with Captain America in the title. So this has to fight against the law of diminishing returns and convince you that you have to be sat in the cinema. But, rather than a plot driven trailer, this is all about the stakes. Stakes that bring back Bucky (who we’ve seen before), that show off six Avengers either sitting at tables looking serious or doing cool action sequences (who we’ve seen before), that show a new character that looks like some form of Panther in a black costume (that we don’t know about yet so it’s harder to care), that shows Captain America and Iron Man fighting (we’ve seen Avengers fighting lots of times before), that puts in a cool dialogue reference to the first Captain America movie (seen that before – check) and has an inordinate amount of things blowing up. I’m not even going to say it.
But wait – who’s that wall-crawling web-slinger? We haven’t seen him before, have we? Sigh.
3. Fifty Shades Darker (released September 13, 114 million views in 24 hours)
Fifty things I learned from the Fifty Shades Darker trailer:
- There are, apparently, more than fifty shades of grey. Forget your Turtledove Grey or Light French Grey, we’re in Monument Grey and Forest Grey territory here, people.
- Jamie Dornan’s back. So despite lots of stories about “disillusionment” and “creative friction”, looks like something called a “paycheck” won out.
- So’s Dakota Johnson. Yes, this is the same as point two, I’m trying to make fifty points here, cut me some slack.
- This is the official trailer, as opposed to the unofficial trailer. (Well, that trailer doesn’t make me want to watch the film any less, anyway.)
- It’s made by Universal, who made $570 million dollars from a $40 million budget on the first one. Bet there were a lot of executives agonising about whether to greenlight this sequel…
- It’s coming on Valentine’s Day. Because what could be better than a little bondage and misogyny for the most romantic holiday of them all?
- We have to “forget the past”, i.e. “the first one was terrible but this will be better.”
- It’s personally disappointing when someone doesn’t follow slipping on a black mask by saying “I’m Batman.”
- There’s no way Ana could be Batman, though. Her mask is see-through. What use is that for a crime-fighting superhero?
- Well, the characters are back together, so presumably something’s happened since the last film. Or will happen in this one. Guessing is fun.
- The way to really tell someone you throw extravagant parties is with someone who breathes fire. Nothing less will do.
- Apparently there is no limit to the number of slowed-down cover versions of “Crazy Right Now” you can cut a trailer to.
- This trailer is not in order. Or some of it’s from a previous film. Look, I’ve tried really hard to forget it, OK?
- If you’re really rich, you can install a shower big enough to host a whole rugby team, just in case you want the dramatic effect of taking your lover against the wall to have more theatre.
- There’s fireworks. That’s probably symbolic.
- Jamie Dornan can do more chin-ups than me, and by that I mean Jamie Dornan can do a chin-up.
- After being stalked repeatedly by Christian, Ana is only mildly surprised when a stranger turns up in her flat unannounced while she’s sleeping, rather than freaking out and throwing things and calling the police.
- Oh wait, it was her imagination, which is surely even more disturbing.
- There’s another man on the scene, and he seems as much of a depressing manwaste as Christian.
- Kim Basinger, if you walk into a room and then hold up your mask, it’s missing the point, we know who you are already.
- Either there’s not much footage in this trailer, or Ana is practically living in that silver dress.
- There’s a helicopter out of control, which is probably a metaphor as well.
- There’s that imaginary woman again. Is this actually a horror movie? (Might be more interesting if it is.)
- This version of Crazy In Love is performed by Miguel. That’s lovely. (I barely know who Beyoncé is, never mind Miguel. Getting old.)
- It’s coming out on Valentine’s Day 2017, in case you were wondering which year it would be released based on the ambiguous card earlier that said Valentine’s Day but not the year.
- James Foley is on directorial duties. He did Glengarry Glen Ross, and nothing else much good. This will go one of two ways.
- Which means that Sam Taylor-Johnson has had a lucky escape this time.
- Danny Elfman is once again composing. How I would love it if his score was closer to a Tim Burton score. Or just The Simpsons theme on a loop.
- The screenplay is by Niall Leonard, who’s also written for Spender, Ballykissangel, Monarch Of The Glen and Wild At Heart. (All of which would have been livened up by some light spanking and dubious sex contracts.)
- This also means that E.L. James didn’t get to write the screenplay, so we may be denied some of her usual zingers.
- Somewhat unsurprisingly, I didn’t manage to find 50 things to mock in a two minute trailer, so I will complete the list with some of those actual E.L. James zingers from the book. Here’s hoping they make it into the film.
- “His eyebrows widen in surprise.”
- “I wasn’t aware we were fighting. I thought we were communicating…”
- “Just smell that new car smell. This is even better than the Submissive Special … um, the A3.”
- “Ah, Mr. Grey, your perpetually twitching palm. What are we going to do with that?”
- “He’s like several different people in one body. Isn’t that a symptom of schizophrenia?” (No, it isn’t.)
- “Not today. I was late getting in, and my boss is like an angry bear with a sore head and poison ivy up his ass.”
- “Sooners rather than laters, baby.”
- “My mother had a mantra: musical instrument, foreign language, martial art.”
- “I’m talking about the heavy shit, Anastasia. You should see what I can do with a cane or a cat.”
- “He smirks and cranks his glorious smile up another notch so it’s in full HD IMAX.”
- “Yes, I’ll get wrong sometimes – I’ll make mistakes, but I have to learn.”
- “What! Sex in the car? Can’t we just do it on the cool marble of the lobby floor…please?”
- “What a time to have a brain-to-mouth filter malfunction.”
- “My subconscious has her arms crossed and is wearing Burberry check . . . jeez.”
- “You are going to unman me, Ana … You — take me. Ana, touch me … please.”
- After a while, he sighs, and in a soft voice he says, “I had a horrific childhood. One of the crack whore’s pimps . . .” His voice trails off, and his body tenses as he recalls some unimaginable horror. “I can remember that,” he whispers, shuddering.
- My inner goddess is doing a triple axel dismount off the uneven bars, and abruptly my mouth is dry.
- I take a deep breath and head back out into the club. I mean, it’s not as if I haven’t gone panty less before.
- Oh! Hesitantly I pull the drawer open, not taking my eyes off his beautiful but rather smug face. Inside there are an assortment of metal items and some clothespins. Clothespins! I pick up a large metal clip-like device. “Genital clamp,” Christian says.
2. Beauty And The Beast (released November 14, 127.6 million views in 24 hours)
So you know that live action Disney film based on Cinderella that made a lot of money that wasn’t all that much like the animated Cinderella? And that live action The Jungle Book film based on The Jungle book that was a lot more like the animated The Jungle Book that made a lot more money? Well here comes a live action Disney film based on Beauty And The Beast which is a tragedy starring Danny De Vito as Beauty and Jennifer Lawrence as the voice of The Beast, who will be portrayed by a sock puppet. Only kidding, its EXACTLY THE SAME as the animated Beauty And The Beast but with added Emma Watson, so it’s probably a bit more modern and feminist. Ker-CHING!
1. The Fate Of The Furious (released December 11, 139 million views in 24 hours)
I would have watched this trailer more closely, but after their amazing F-eight pun I was trying to thing up puns for the inevitable next film. Maybe one with dogs? (The Canine And The Furious, obvs.) One based on proverbs? (A Furious Stitch In Time Saves Nine?) One where the cars give up driving on roads completely and dispense with the laws of physics all together? (On Cloud Nine With The Furious?) Or maybe just The AssiNine And The Furious? Anyway, this has a chase on ice, so apparently we’ve learned nothing from Die Another Day. If this has bad CGI surfers, invisible cars and any kind of reference to Madonna then I’m officially bailing.
Well, that’s it, the best trailers of 2016, as judged by the number of times people with low standards have watched them forty times in the first hour and a half of their upload. Which only leaves me to pick out my favourite trailer of the year.
The Best Trailer Of 2016 – Dunkirk
Simplicity is the key here. Just enough to give you a flavour, and then the construction of the shot where the soldiers react closer to the camera, then further away, felt a world away from the trailers for the generic blockbusters I’ve just been dissecting. After the disappointment of Interstellar, this got me excited for Christopher Nolan’s next immediately, and for its instant power and effect, this gets my vote for the best trailer of 2016.
The 12 Best Trailers Of 2015 WINNER – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
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
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:
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