Tuesday’s Reviews – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Let’s be honest, even leaving the possible domestic abuse to one side, Johnny Depp has well and truly gone rogue in recent years. No offence to the man but he’s kind of a walking parody of himself these days. I mean I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that the actor genuinely believes he is Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s the only thing that explains the fact that he won’t stop making Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Watching the 4th film was painful enough; those fucking mermaids man. Then we have to suffer the indignity of a 5th. It just stinks of desperation. This has been a dying franchise since the 2nd film because, let’s face it, there was only so far you could go making films based on a fucking theme park ride. Yet, Disney keep flogging that dead horse and are back with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. A film that, for some unknown reason, was renamed Salazar’s Revenge in the UK. Now, it was bad enough that I actually watched this film but to have to watch it with this god awful title? That’s too much. So I’m defying my geography and referring only to the superior title. Salazar’s Revenge? For fuck’s sake, that sounds like a really terrible soap opera or something. This is the POTC movie that, basically, nobody asked for so to give it such an underwhelming name for its European distribution just seems like a super bad idea. Although, with the news that a 6th film is dependent on DVD sales it may actually pay off for us in the long term.

It seems to me that there are two types of people in the world. There are those who have slowly but surely grown sick of the same Captain Jack Sparrow shtick that has become so tired and predictable over the last 4 POTC movies. Then there are those with brains so tiny that they’d be endlessly amused just from looking at their own hands. Since the first Pirates of the Caribbean film wowed audiences in 2003 very little has changed about the character. There has been little, if any, development over the span of 4 films and he feels less like a character than a series of mannerisms at this point. We saw, from the disappointing On Stranger Tides, that Jack cannot hold a movie on his own so, to try and reinvent the wheel, the franchises 5th outing is going back to its roots. We see the return of original stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush as well a carbon copy of the plot. All wrapped up in a package that is nowhere near as polished as any of the Gore Verbinski’s three films. So, it was never going to go well.

The powers that be have clearly decided that too much of Captain Sparrow can be bad thing and have, once again, placed him as second fiddle to a couple of bright young things. In this case it is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), offspring of William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer and horologist on a quest to complete her father’s work. Just like the first film, Will and Elizabeth 2.0 are both searching for some sort of mystical McGuffin (in this case it’s Poseidon’s trident) that will, supposedly, solve everyone’s problems. To do this they must ask for the help of everyone’s favourite rock star pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). At the same time, Jack is trying to outrun an old enemy (Javier Bardem) who is seeking both bloody vengeance and an end to his death curse. There’s also the inevitable appearance of the British navy who decide to get mixed up in everything. Dead Men Tell No Tales is clearly trying to recapture the excitement of the first but the ride isn’t as much fun this time round.

The main problem lies in the fact that, the more you examine the plot the less it makes sense. I mean how does Salazar know that Jack’s compass holds the key to his escape? Why, when they do escape, are they unable to step on land? What exactly is Barbossa’s motivation for anything? Why the fuck do British sailors go after the trident? There is so much included in the plot that, when you think about it, doesn’t add anything to the narrative. David Wenham turns up as the face of the British Empire but he has absolutely no impact on anything that happens. This film isn’t a well-crafted masterpiece but is just a series of events that come together to make the ending possible in the most dramatic way. Things need to happen so we can have the cycle of double-crossing that has become a requirement in this franchise. It’s just the most convenient and laziest way of making the story work.

Which, I guess, really isn’t a problem in itself. It’s just that there isn’t enough to distract us. Johnny Depps’ Captain Jack has become super irritating in the past few years so no amount of his weirdness is enough to keep you on board. Even Javier Bardem, who is the greatest Bond villain of recent years, doesn’t feel as invested in the character of Salazar as he should be. The character may be a triumph of CGI but he never feels like the most terrifying of foes. Of course, there are some fine action sequences at the start of the film but as time moves on these become more absurd and confusing. An early sequence that sees Henry save Jack and Carina from being executed is a fabulous sequence in the same vain as the Gore Verbinski era but it quickly just descends into madness. The final showdown is just a mess of CGI with no elegance or coherence.

I was genuinely shocked to discover that this film is actually the shortest in the franchise. It definitely felt longer than any of the previous films. Watching it from start to finish seemed like a fucking marathon. There simply isn’t any life in this franchise anymore. Or at least in the franchise as it once was. I think the days of Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impression are well and truly over. If this is going to continue, and really I don’t think it should, there should be a change of direction. People will try to defend Dead Men Tell No Tales as being mindless entertainment. I defy that statement. This film isn’t mindless entertainment: it’s just mindless.

TBT – The Parole Officer (2001)

TBT – The Parole Officer (2001)


When you’re the creator of an iconic character it can be super difficult to get yourself out from under its shadow. Steve Coogan has tried to move away from just being the guy who plays Alan Partridge but nothing else has ever really stuck. Let’s be honest, he’s appeared in some utter shite over the years and it’s not been pretty. In more recent years he has made the move that most comedy performers over a certain age try and picked more serious roles. Gone straight if you will. It was a different story back in 2001 when he co-wrote and starred in his own British comedy crime caper. For some reason, when The Parole Officer came out it was constantly being compared to the Ealing crime comedies from the 1950s and 1960s. I guess there were just no real expectations for British comedies in the early 2000s so anything that got made was deemed kind of successful. It was the same year that the Vinnie Jones comedy vehicle Mean Machine and a film about a hairdresser from Keighley starring Alan Rickman were released, after all. When the greatest British comedy to be released that year was Bridget Jones’ Diary then maybe I can see why people got so excited. Nowadays, Coogan seems pretty embarrassed to have ever made the film and, in 2015, stated that he doesn’t understand why anyone likes it. I’ve known a load of people who loved this film but, really, they aren’t the kind of people who I would ever seek advice from. On any subject matter. However, it’s been a really long time since I saw this film so, after I so harshly critiqued it during my Tuesday review this week, I decided it was time to see if it really was as bad as I remembered.

Alan Partridge claimed The Parole Officer was “unarguably the greatest film ever made”. We have to assume that he’s at least a little biased, of course, on account of it being his creator, Steve Coogan’s film, and, you know, cause he’s a fucking fictional character. Rewatching the film in 2017 I was struck by 2 things: number 1, Stannis Baratheon and Cersei Lannister are both pretending to be British police officers and, number 2, this is a fucking awful film. It’s weird to think of a time when Steve Coogan was having to try so fucking hard to make it in Hollywood but this film is proof of the murky depths he was once willing to sink to. It’s sad and more cringe inducing than anything Alan Partridge has done in his illustrious career. The major positive I have for it is, because it was made during a time when British comedies tended not to wander too far beyond the 90 minute mark, it’s short. I mean it still felt like I was watching it for a good few days but, in reality, I didn’t actually have to waste too much time on it.

The Parole Officer is not a fresh British comedy and, instead, uses a really tired situation but with additionally gross-out gags. It’s trying to do the same thing that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg did so successfully just 3 years later with Shaun of the Dead but failing. With their Cornetto Trilogy, Wright and Pegg managed to repurpose the narratives of classic Hollywood genres for use in a UK landscape without it seeming too gimmicky. Here, Coogan and co-writer, Henry Normal, just lazily implant the premise of films like The Italian Job in the North of England. It just ends up being overly twee and nonsensical. It needed a more careful hand instead of just putting Coogan on a rollercoaster in Blackpool and calling it a day. It’s just infuriating to watch this film and know how much better it could have been. Instead, the narrative is just a mess that is full of holes, dropped storylines and so many awful attempts to push comedy where there shouldn’t be any.

Coogan, obviously, has the starring role as the titular Parole Officer, Simon Garden, who accidentally witnesses a murder carried out by a corrupt cop (Stephen Dillane). He is threatened with going to prison for the crime unless he shuts his mouth and leaves Manchester forever. In order to clear his name, Simon puts together a plan to rob a banks and retrieve a VHS tape showing the truth. He creates a crew using the only 3 criminals that he has successfully convinced to go straight and a teenage joy rider he was trying to help. At the same time, Simon is attempting to romance the way out of his league WPC Emmap (Lena Headey) who, for reasons not shown during the film, has fallen for the charms that nobody else seems to realise Simon has.

Despite boasting a great cast, everything about The Parole Officer feels kind of flat. The actors all do as great a job as they can but it never comes together. It always feels like we’re watching a terrible film instead of being engrossed in a fantastically woven tale. Although, Dillane is memorable as the bent copper who threatens Simon and the trio of ex-criminals fair much better than Coogan himself. It helps that they are played by the likes of Om Puri and Ben Miller, of course, but they all get some fairly decent moments. What is majorly disappointing is that none of the characters have any real depth. Coogan clearly has a talent for creating well-rounded characters but nobody, not even Simon, feels fleshed out. You don’t really know anything about anybody or why we should give a shit about them. This film is so desperate to get to the action and the gags that it skips the important stuff.

There is certainly an issue with pacing and editing in this film. The first 30 minutes are a confusing mess which feels as though major parts of the story have been cut. People suddenly talk to each other like old friends and seem to know things they really shouldn’t. And that’s exactly the point where you realise that you still have an hour of this shit to sit through. The script has a decent stab at creating some comedy to move things along but most of it falls flat in the end. There are a couple of really funny moments but, for the most part, it relies too heavily on physical comedy or gross-out gags. I can see why Steve Coogan regrets making this film. I regretted watching it again before I was even half-way through. There is very little to really celebrate here. It deserves props for getting such an amazing cast together but it ruins it by not giving them anything to do. Considering how great we know Coogan can be, The Parole Officer it’s even more insane that this film is as bad as it is.

Tuesday’s Reviews – One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Tuesday’s Reviews – One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus


If you lookup ‘YA’ on my blog then you’ll come upon a recurring theme: I’m basically always disappointed. I don’t intentionally hate YA fiction but I think it happens to be too simplistic. I don’t remember reading much YA as a child. The only book I vividly remember, which means the only one I really liked, was Postcards From No Man’s Land. I can only have been about 12 when I read it but I loved it. Mostly because I found the stuff about World War 2 so interesting but also because it felt like a grown-up book. I don’t think my love affair with YA fiction really got too far beyond Postcard’s From No Man’s Land. Unfortunately, I grew up and realised that adult books got even more grown-up and even more interesting. I’ve never really been your typical teen reader so the paint-by-numbers style of these books just never really did anything for me. When I read YA now I tend to find it too obvious and full of the same tired cliched. I have always been a lover of bad teen cinema but that doesn’t mean I need the same nonsense to filter into literature. There’s a massive difference between seeing Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray being hyperbolic teen lovers on screen and reading another Romeo and Juliet wannabe YA novel. Anyway, despite all of this, I always get sucked in by the latest breakaway hit in YA fiction. I’ll read about something on Instagram or hear a synopsis and think “maybe this is the one”. Karen M. McManus is one of those YA writers who knows exactly how to lure in potential readers: by ripping off one of the greatest 80s teen movies of all time. How could I ignore it?

Technically, I was born in the 80s. Yes, I was only alive for the last 2 years so my memories of that era are nonexistent but that shouldn’t matter. My love of 80s culture is just about passable. It does, though, make my hatred of younger people’s love of all things 80s kind of hypocritical. I don’t know why but seeing hearing teenagers talking about how “random” it is that they love electro really gets my blood boiling. There’s a 20 year old guy I work with who keeps saying “I was born in the wrong era” because he enjoys listening to Depeche Mode. I mean, seriously? Who doesn’t like a bit of Depeche Mode. It doesn’t make you special. Anyway, the 80s has a weird hold over young people today and writers of YA fiction know it. That’s why Karen M. McManus has taken the premise of The Breakfast Club and turned it into an Agatha Christie novel for One of Us is Lying.

A Geek, A Jock, A Criminal, A Princess
A Murder
Who would you believe?”

So we have a direct link to John Hughes movie right there in the tagline to force people in. It’s blatant pandering that made me super angry; mostly because it fucking worked.

So, the basic premise of One of Us is Lying is that five kids enter detention one day but one of them ends up dead. The four remaining students are all suspects in his murder because, as we find out, the dead guy knew a whole bunch of secrets about them all. The rest of the book is divided into the perspectives of the four students as they make their way through the investigation and try to find out who is guilty. The problem is, it’s super fucking obvious from the very beginning who did it. Even before the murder happened I’d called it and then had to spend the rest of the book waiting for the inevitable. I have no time for any crime book that signposts the ending so brightly but still acts as though its a huge mystery when the big ‘reveal’ happens.

The title of this book is One of Us is Lying but, when it comes down to it, everyone’s lying. Most notably Karen M. McManus herself. Instead of weaving an intricate plot that fools her readers, McManus purposefully keeps information from her readers until the right time. I mean one of the narrators literally says “And then I remember. Mikhail Powers is gay.”. It’s a revelation that, considering the information we receive afterwards, this character shouldn’t have forgotten but did until McManus needed her to remember. It’s just shoddy and lazy writing: just reveal vital bits of the plot when it’s relevant instead of creating red herrings to keep up guessing. It’s not how to write a decent crime novel and, if I’m honest, I really regret associating this tripe with anything Agatha Christie ever wrote.

One of Us if Lying isn’t just bad YA fiction; it’s straight up bad writing. McManus starts with the final act and then finds a really convoluted way to get back to the beginning. It’s just stupid and, when you really think about it, the final reveal just wipes out everything we’ve just read. It makes everything the characters just went through null and void. It made me so fucking angry to get to the end. And that’s before we’ve even considered all of the major cliches that she’s included. For one thing, the so called “geek” is a super attractive, fairly popular girl who has boys fall madly in love with her at first sight. The “criminal” comes from a broken home and has endless terrible things lead him down a terrible path. The “jock” is hiding the most cliched secret of them all and is written in a truly unrealistic way. And the “princess” is the worst of the bunch. She goes through a supposedly inspiring transformation but it’s just superficial. These characters don’t have depth. They’re just stereotypes who fit into McManus’ plan.

This book is the epitome of everything that I hate about YA fiction but amped up to 11. It assumes that the people reading it are stupid or have no real care for good story telling. It’s written as if it’s for children but all of the teenage characters seem far too mature. A lot of YA fiction wants the best of both worlds. It wants readers whose tastes are immature enough to appreciate the writing but who also identify with teenagers who act like adults. The only good thing I can say about this book is that it was a super easy read. Mainly because there is no depth involved. You don’t even have to pay attention to what’s going on and, really, there’s not much going on. If you like The Breakfast Club, I suggest you do yourself a favour and just rewatch it. This rubbish isn’t worth your time.

TBT – Very Bad Things (1998)

TBT – Very Bad Things (1998)


As I mentioned on Tuesday, I have seen quite a few comments recently bemoaning the fact that Rough Night is basically a female remake of the 90s film Very Bad Things. I don’t know how, why or when I saw Very Bad Things but I was probably far too young and channel hopping late at night. I can’t say that I remember it all that fondly and didn’t see that there would be a problem with a film taking a similar premise using female actors instead.Apparently, I didn’t count on a load of random people out there who believe this to be the best film of all time. According to the fan reviews on IMDB this is best dark comedy that has ever been created. I just didn’t buy it.  I mean, we all know that standards for films were lower in the 90s. Joel Schumacher’s Batman films are all the evidence you need for that. So I decided it was time to revisit the film and see if I’d forgotten the brilliance somewhere over the years. I doubted very much that I had but what is life if you aren’t willing to take risks, right?

Very Bad Things introduces us to groom-to-be Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) who is in the final stages of planning his wedding to fiancé Laura (Cameron Diaz). Whilst Laura is obsessively planning her dream wedding, Kyle and his four friends are eagerly awaiting their trip to Vegas for the bachelor party. Their night in Vegas quickly becomes intense as the group partake in a lethal cocktail of drugs and alcohol. After best man, Robert Boyd (Christian Slater), arranges for a stripper/prostitute to visit the guys’ hotel room, a wasted Michael Berkow (Jeremy Piven) agrees to pay her for sex. Unfortunately, the encounter leads to the hooker’s death and the men clueless on how to deal with it. Michael’s brother, Adam (Daniel Stern) wants to phone the police but, after also killing a hotel security guard, Boyd manages to convince the group that their only choice is to bury the bodies in the desert. Unable to forget what has happened in the run up to the wedding, each of the men become more and more unhinged and Boyd becomes more willing to make deadly sacrifices to cover everything up.

Very Bad Things starts off as a pretty interesting premise. A group of men let off too much steam and end up with a body on their hands. Things quickly get out of hand and the narrative just ramps up the pressure to a ridiculous rate. What could have been a funny, dark comedy just becomes more and more absurd as it moves forward. It just reeks of desperation and ends up feeling a little sad. It’s certainly not funny as most of the situations it tries to create humour from are just uncomfortable. There’s a whole sequence revolving around Jewish beliefs as the group prepare to bury the bodies that is played out as if it’s funny but it feels anything but. There is so much questionable humour on show here: potentially racist, sexist, and just plain offensive material is frequently introduced as grounds for comedy. I’m all for humour that raises questions but these aren’t the kind of questions I need to be raised. 
The question I need answered is this: who thought this film was a good idea. Very Bad Things has so much confidence in its abilities to be funny that there were times when I thought there must be something wrong with me. Aside from a handful of funny moments early on, which were all thrown away without a second thought, there was nothing here that made me laugh. It’s main aim seems to be shock value, which is why things get so unnecessarily dramatic and bloody as the story moves on. The narrative doesn’t make sense as it stands and the tone really doesn’t make it effective enough. It is a film that struggles to be one thing or another. It wants to be a tense and violent thriller but also a side-splitting dark comedy that pushed the boundaries. It fails to be either and just ends up being a bland affair with a huge fake-blood budget. And the less said about the ending the better frankly. 
Tuesday’s Reviews – Rough Night (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Rough Night (2017)

There’s a lot to be said for my love of Kate McKinnon. I was almost 100% sure that I didn’t want to ever watch Rough Night but every time I saw the trailer I couldn’t help but think “Kate McKinnon though…”. So I decided to just go with it. Best case scenario: it’d be the new Bridesmaids. Worst case scenario: well, I’ve seen both of the Sex and the City movie and it’s got to be better than that, right? Don’t even ask me how that happened but it did. When you’ve seen those films and Mama Mia it becomes really difficult to imagine a film that I can hate quite as much. With every second of SATC2, each cell in my body started to shrink into itself out of anger and embarrassment; embarrassment for the people who made it, the people who liked it and for me, for making the decision to watch it. The good thing about writing this blog over the years is that I have a different range for what is good and bad. It’s like studying novels of sensibility during my Masters degree. I suddenly found a new appreciation for all of the books I thought were rubbish because they all had something more than just countless stupid young women fainting at the slightest sound. Once again, provided nobody in Rough Night fainted in the arms of their creepy uncle/step father then this definitely wouldn’t be the worst story I’ve ever experienced. So that’s something.


For one moment back in 2011 it seemed as though the world was finally ready to accept that women deserved to be given the chance to be a outrageously funny as men. As though everyone else was as sick of seeing the guys from films like The Hangover get into drunken capers and were as desperate to let the ladies have a go. Unfortunately, the change never really happened and the path towards gender equality in terms of comedy films has been a slow and painful one. It’s not as if people haven’t tried. Hell, Paul Feig is and Melissa McCarthy are trying desperately to make the raunchy female lead comedy land. It hasn’t quite worked in the way we wanted. Look at the internet’s reaction to a female only Ghostbusters for fuck’s sake. Clearly, that glass ceiling is still as thick as ever.

But that doesn’t mean Hollywood isn’t willing to give these types of films as chance when they arise. The latest is Rough Night from the writers of Broad City and boasts a great cast of female talent. It is also, in its basic form, like a female reworking of the 1998 Jon Favreau film Very Bad Things with a slight hint of The Hangover. A while ago I read a comment on the internet, probably YouTube, that was basically an outcry from some guy about remaking Very Bad Things with women. Now I can just about get that people were worried about Ghostbusters because it’s such a classic. But Very Bad Things? Nobody is worrying about that reputation being ruined. I mean it’s not exactly gone down in cinematic history. Who’s thinking “oh, I vividly remember watching Very Bad Things for the first time and don’t want my important memories to be destroyed”? Yeah, no one.

But, as it happens, Rough Night actually builds on the Very Bad Things legacy by being forgettably bad. The film is set around one night on the bachelorette party of wannabe Senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson). It is being planned by her college roommate Alice (Jillian Bell) who is feeling neglected by her old friend. Joining the pair are their fellow college friends, Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), who are battling with their messy romantic past as well as problems in their current lives. A random element turns up in the shape of a woman Jess befriended during a year studying in Australia. Pippa (Kate McKinnon) is a bit of a weirdo and instantly puts Alice’s nose out of joint by appearing to be much closer to the bride-to-be. After a night of cocaine, drinking and choreographed dance routines, the group return to the house they’ve rented to carry on the fun. Blair orders Jess a stripper but, a ridiculous accident, causes his untimely death. The ladies are then left with a body on their hands.

From the outset, Rough Night is desperate to prove that these women are ready to party and there is no underlying sense of judgement going on. The women are all allowed to enjoy their night out without the audience getting the feeling that it’s wrong. It also helps that the characters naturally fit together on screen. Their attempts at typical lad banter feels more natural than it does in a lot of these types of films. Rough Night isn’t a terrible film and there are plenty of funny moments. However, most of these moments are the smaller, throwaway gags that get lost in the mess. The rest of that mess is catered to specific criteria set about for commercial purposes. There is the generic slapstick silliness from the trailer and the cringey attempts to bring big laughs to all the idiots that are rushing out to see this film. It’s mostly just a big miss and the best moments are brushed aside for supposedly “guaranteed” laughs.

Rough Night isn’t the worst movie of this type around and, thanks mostly to the cast, manages to create some positive and memorable moments. However, it is a film that is clearly at odds with itself. It is written by clever writers who know how to bring the humour out of weirdness and stars actors willing to get a bit freaky. However, it ends up playing too close to the stereotypical humour of these R rated comedies. It’s a bit too big and brash to really work completely. Everyone is working overtime to make it come together but it’s a runaway train of outrageous comedy. As the narrative moves forward and more insane subplots keep popping up it just gets out of hand. Rough Night is trying so hard to be The Hangover that it’s forgotten the heart that made Bridesmaids so appealing. It’s so annoying in it’s desperation to appeal to everyone that is forgets to be funny or sweet. Although, there are some positives to take away. Most notably the relationship between Blair and Frankie, which is played out more naturally than most same-sex romances you see on screen anymore. This film could have been good had it focused a bit more on emotions and character than on trying to compete with the guys.

Tuesday’s Reviews – The House (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – The House (2017)


Will Ferrell is one of those comedians that you can trust to be funny whatever he’s doing. Through the years, I’ve happily watched and enjoyed every film starring him that I’ve ever seen. Even the shit ones, like Daddy’s Home for example, have something fairly entertaining in them. The guy always gives his all in a role and is so naturally hilarious that you’ll find yourself crying with laughter at the stupidest things. So I kind of feel like I’m on solid ground with him and that’s before you even consider that Amy Poehler is also in it. Combine the pair and you have a powerhouse of SNL alumni. Of course, things start to unravel when you look at how the film is being marketed. It’s very telling that neither Ferrell or Poehler seem very eager to talk about the film itself. Interviews aren’t treated as a place to talk about the film but simply about getting the pair in front of a camera. Will Ferrell has done some shit films in the past so when he’s keeping shtum about a film then you know it’s embarrassing. 1 hour and 28 minutes worth of embarrassing. Yep, The House can’t even hit the 90 minute mark and we’ve all heard the one about good films
coming in short run times. Well, even if this is going to be shit at least it’s not going to be shit for too long. Let’s be thankful for small mercies.

The House is one of the films that sounds really good on paper. Taking two fabulous comedians, a great supporting cast of funny people, and giving them an interesting premise to work with. It should have been simple. When their daughter gets accepted into the university of her dreams, Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are over the moon. Until they discover that the scholarship they were being offered by the town has been scraped in favour of an exciting new town pool. In order to drive the plot forward, neither Scott or Kate had prepared for any other eventuality and have failed to put aside any money to pay for their daughter’s tuition. You kind of have to question parents who are this lackadaisical with regards to their child’s future. And, also, how far in advance does the town pick a child to fund? Did they know she was getting the cash from birth or was it just super lucky that her name was drawn?

Of course, I know the answers to these questions: because the narrative demands it. When the pair find themselves unable to send their precious daughter to her dream school they accept their weird friend, Frank’s (Jason Mantzoukas), suggestion that they open an underground casino in his empty home. Frank, as it turns out, is a gambling addict who is going through a divorce and in danger of losing his coincidentally casino-sized house. We all know that “the House always wins” so why not become the House? The mild-mannered parents take to their life of crime and wealth and embrace everything about it. Kate becomes addicted to weed whilst Scott unwittingly becomes a casino heavy who uses force to get patrons to pay their debts. Things quickly get out-of-hand as the narrative gets more and more extreme. Finally, ending with political cover-ups and a crazed mob boss played by  Jeremy Renner, in a completely underwhelming cameo.

The House isn’t the biggest disaster that you’ll ever watch at the cinema but you can’t get away from the fact that it’s just not good. You’ll probably watch it and think it’s okay but that will mostly be down to the three leads. All three actors at the film’s centre put everything into their characters but it can’t be ignored that there isn’t really much there. If I’m honest, I had to look up everyone’s names because by the time the credits rolled I had no fucking clue who anyone was. They’re just bland and underdeveloped characters who just take part in outrageous activities with no real justification. Their actions always seem unnecessary or unexplained outside of the “we thought it would be funny” argument. There’s an utterly pointless plot-strand that sees Scott being rubbish with maths that really goes nowhere and is, in actuality, not as funny as it may have seen whilst writing the script.

It’s just not very inspiring. There isn’t time for an aspect of the film to evolve into something interesting or even funny. The humour is mostly derived from awful stereotypes that directly tie to the actor’s involved. This film just feels like several short sketches haphazardly stitched together to create the kind of quilt that you’d definitely tell people was made by your young child. Handily, for a film concerning parents experiencing empty nest syndrome, this film is equal parts embarrassing and sad to watch. There are very few genuine laughs to be found but plenty of places where the writer/director attempts to force it with lame gags or physical comedy. It makes me both sad and angry that Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler were subjected to this and that they both allowed it to happen. This is the kind of disaster that should never have been made. Turns out, The House doesn’t actually always win.

TBT – Spider-Man (2002)

TBT – Spider-Man (2002)

Before the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming came out it seemed as though everybody in the world had decided without a shadow of a doubt that this was going to be the best Spider-Man film since 2004. Suddenly, Toby Maguire was being hailed as some sort of hero because of his role as Peter Parker. I get that there were many disappointing things about The Amazing Spider-Man but the mistakes weren’t down to Andrew Garfield. They were down to poor writing and Sony desperately trying to build a franchise to compete with Marvel Films. It was handled terribly but I’ve always been a fan of Garfield’s Peter… even though he is a tad too old to play a high school student. Plus, how was everyone forgetting that Toby Maguire is kind of a terrible actor in these films? Those tears when Uncle Ben dies? That’s been a pretty strong feature of the meme circuit for years now. I felt like I had fallen in an insane alternate reality where everybody else’s memories of those films were different from mine. So, I decided to rewatch them for this week… just to be sure.

Right, so first off, the opening credits of this film are so incredibly boring that I, genuinely, repeatedly played the Spider-Man: Homecoming arrangement of the Spider-Man theme song over them. It definitely improved my viewing from the off. No offence to Danny Elfman but that was a fucking weak opening number. Then, to add insult to injury, we are given that god-awful voiceover where Peter tries to get you pumped for his story. It’s the most over-the-top, melodramatic nonsense that I’ve ever heard. Take a look:

Who am I? You sure  you want to know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart. If somebody told you it was a happy tale, if somebody said I was just your average guy, not a care in the world… somebody lied. But let me assure you, this, like any other story worth telling, is all about a girl.

Toby Maguire delivers these lines in such a hilariously bad way that it just mars the opening scene. It’s supposed to be dangerous and enthralling but it just feels like a parody. Which is exactly what Maguire’s portrayal of Peter Parker feels like nowadays. I know classic Peter was a massive loser and was kicked around by everyone but these films don’t even seem to put us on Pete’s side. He’s a dummy but he’s also super annoying. People don’t like him but he never gives us a reason to think they should. This film came out 15 years ago but this portrayal feels so outdated it could easily have 30.

Then we have Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane: I don’t know what to say about her because she’s such a non-entity. I don’t see why people are so obsessed with her because she never does anything. She’s supposed to be the cool and nice girl next door that Peter has been obsessed with for years. However, she’s just the bland, popular girl with the shiny red hair and a really questionable dress sense. And, the less said about James Franco’s Harry Osborn the better frankly. It’s a ridiculous performance that is only marginally better than Franco’s turn hosting the Oscars. I’m not saying Andrew Garfield was everything we wanted in a Peter Parker but he was better than this shit. Plus, with supporting cast members like Emma Stone and Dane DeHaan I find it impossible to see how anyone can say, so confidently, that the Toby Maguire films are better.

Still, there are still some good things about these films. The classic 60s Aunt May, played by Rosemary Harris, seems even more like a bit of a fuddy-duddy when compared to the likes of Sally Field and Marisa Tomei but she’s still perfect. Then there’s Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. It is, for the time being at least, the best version of that character we have ever seen. The fights between Goblin and Spidey are a better watch then the ones in Marc Webber’s version even when you consider how outdated the effects are now. It’s an exciting film to watch and it provides us with a great villain. I also think this film handles Peter’s introduction to his powers really well. There are some great scenes as he comes to terms with his new abilities and it allows for a better sense of how far he comes as a hero.

Spider-Man was an important film in terms of the history of comic book movies on screen. It has pride of place but it is important to remember that it is not the greatest film ever. It’s not even the greatest film in its own trilogy. It was lucky in the sense that it was one of the first comic book movies in the new era of comic book movies. It didn’t have much competition then. It also came out just after 9/11 when New York needed a hero to get behind. The scenes where New Yorkers come to Spidey’s aid will never not be poignant given the historical context of this film.

However, this film falls down because of some underwhelming key performances, a often awful script, and a badly written story. There is too much emphasis on unnecessary things and not enough of a development on important characters. The story collapses under the requirement to show Peter’s origin; both being bitten by the spider and though the death of his uncle. There is so much here that is just in for laughs or for show that you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if plot points hadn’t been glossed over. I would have preferred more time with Ben and May before his death because it just feels shallow here. I will always love this film but watching this now it is even more confusing that people are putting it on such a fucking high pedestal.

TBT – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

TBT – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

When Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter came out in cinemas I was super excited to see it because, you know, Abraham Lincoln and vampire hunting. Of course, I couldn’t find anyone who shared my interest in it so I never got to see it in the cinema. After all, it’s not the kind of film you should really see alone. I think it would have said a bit too much about me as a person. Then, as time went by, I forgot about this film and never saw it at all. And, to be quite honest, the dismal Pride and Prejudice and zombies hadn’t really convinced me that mixing fantasy with period drama was a very good idea. Normally, I love a bit of altered history but does it need vampires? Especially at a time when vampires had been ruined thanks to the god-awful Twilight films. Added to that, I’ve never been convinced that Dominic Cooper was a necessary addition to any cast list. No matter how many times my friend tries to convince me that he’s fantastic. He just seems a bit smug and gets a lot of freedom down to his looks. He’s like a male Keira Knightley… but nowhere near as good looking or posh. Still, In need of an Abraham Lincoln film to accompany Tuesday’s Lincoln in the Bardo review, I decided it was time to watch it. After all, I felt like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln from the same year would be a bit heavier than I was really ready for in the middle of my week off. Maybe it would have been appropriate coming after the announcement that the actor is set to retire from acting? Of course, I hadn’t thought of that until this moment… so, the crazy vampire story it is.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is exactly the kind of film that I hoped it would be. It does exactly what it says on the tin and shows us what history would have been like if Honest Abe had dedicated his pre-politics life to hunting vampires. In this version of events, a young Abraham saves his friend, William Johnson (Anthony Mackie), from being beaten by a vicious slaver. The incident winds up with Abraham’s father losing his job and being forced to repay a debt he couldn’t pay. To settle the debt, the slaver (Marton Csokas), who also happens to be a vampire, kills Abe’s mother, an incident which is witnessed by the boy himself. Years later, adult Abraham (Benjamin Walker) vows revenge against the murderer but, obviously, finds the task difficult when he finds out the man is already dead.

Thankfully, the young man is approached by the mysterious Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) who offers to train Abraham to fight vampires if he promises to give up his future and follow Struges’ instructions to the letter. Desperate for revenge, Abe says yes but finds the years of fighting random vampires, with his trusty silver plated axe, unfulfilling. Eventually he meets and falls in love with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and becomes a politician. Although, just because Lincoln hangs up his axe doesn’t mean the vampires are done with him. Apparently, vampires have a vested interest in slavery because slaves make the tastiest meals. With unkillable monsters fighting with the South, Lincoln must find a way to rid the world of these beasts whilst also freeing their dinner.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was more enjoyable than I’d given it credit for but it should not be mistaken for a decent film. If all you are after is a mindless, action heavy film that tries to teach you about history then it’s perfect. There are plenty of gruesome moments, slow-motion fighting, explosions, and really terrible CGI to keep you mildly entertained. It’s an incredibly silly film that manages to stay on track by pretending it’s more serious than it is. Anyone who sees this film and complains that it’s ludicrous is even more insane than the film. This is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and it’s not ashamed of that. There is a dichotomy within the title itself that is played up within the narrative. It attempts to mix vampires with history and politics and, if I’m honest, it barely manages to do any of them.

The fact that Vampire Hunter takes itself so seriously means it elevates itself slightly. It doesn’t try and purposefully play everything for laughs, which would only have ended being hugely cringe-inducing. Instead it is a silly film that never overplays it’s silliness. It knows it’s a shit film but it won’t let that stop it trying to be a great film. All of the actors do tremendous jobs at keeping things straight and letting the natural comedy fly. It’s not the kind of thing that everyone will love and it does get tiresome as we get further into Lincoln’s politics. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It won’t tell you anything about Lincoln, the Civil War, or how to make a film about them but it delivers on the title. Lincoln was a grave man so it seems only fair that this film treated him with that same solemnity. It’s crazy but, if you have a weird love of bad films, you’ll find yourself getting hooked. If it had perhaps been a tad shorter then it would have been ideal.

Quick Review: The Circle (2017)

Quick Review: The Circle (2017)

6495a-img_9970As I said in my Sunday Rundown this week, I never finished The Circle by Dave Eggers. I bought it way back in 2014 and tried to read it a couple of years ago, I think. I never got very far with it. Yesterday I posted a picture on Instagram of Dave Egger’s novel The Circle after I’d watched the film adaptation on Netflix. It created a lot of discussions, which I absolutely loved, but one of the comments suggested I finish reading the book because it “has its finger on the pulse of our zeitgeist.” Maybe it’s just me but isn’t this the most disgusting statement you’ve ever heard? Finger on the pulse of our zeitgeist? It’s the kind of thing some awful contestant on The Apprentice would say in their audition tape. “Oh yes, Lord Sugar, I’ve got my finger on the pulse of our zeitgeist.” Bleurgh. It’s also, if you ask me, not actually true anymore. The Circle was released in 2013 when social media was still coming into its own. Everyone was on Facebook and Twitter but we hadn’t reached the pinnacle that we have now. Now anyone can “go live” whenever they want and talk about any old shit they want. That’s the problem with the internet age; we’re always surpassing our vision for the future before we even realise.

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Tuesday’s Reviews – Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (2017)

This week there was Cannes controversy when audiences booed the film Okja during its screening at the festival. It comes within a week where the French film festival has condemned the online streaming service despite 2 of its current titles being included in this year’s line-up. It all started when Cannes changed its rules to only allow entries from films that have been shown in French cinemas. This year’s jury president, director Pedro Almodóvar, made a statement proclaiming that nothing can stand in for the real experience of watching a film in the cinema and said that it would be a huge mistake to award the Palme D’Or to a film that audiences watched at home. Netflix has changed the way in which we are all digesting film and television but Hollywood is still trying to catch up. There are some bigger issues at play here, including French laws, but it should open a debate on what counts as a film. Netflix is loved by certain creatives because it gives them more freedom and room to create. However, it can sometimes come across as the company who make the films nobody else would bother to make. Especially with it’s comedies. There have been numerous times when trailers have caught my attention only for the final product to be really underwhelming. So when I first saw the trailer for Jeff Garlin’s Handsome I was in two minds about it. Surely it wouldn’t be as wonderful as the trailer was making it seem?

Handsome is the third feature film from comic Jeff Garlin, . The trailer set up Garlin’s classic deadpan delivery and the ability to keep his poker face in the midst of absolute absurdity. In the film, Garlin plays Detective Gene Handsome as he investigates the murder of his new neighbour babysitter. The day after Gene first meets the young woman in question he is faced with her chopped up remains on the front lawn of famous actor Talbert Bacom (Stephen Weber). Considering this films calls itself “a Netflix mystery movie” it isn’t so caught up on an investigation narrative. It’s more like a selection of sketched set in Los Angeles that are interspersed with talk of murder and lies. This is fine in itself but it doesn’t really push an audience into staying glued to the screen. The narrative plods along never quite committing itself to be anything specific.

Although, there are a handful of great moments within Handsome but it’s unfortunate that all of these moments are separate from the plot. This film is at it’s best when Detective Handsome is going about his daily business or having quiet interactions away from work. There is a lovely moment when he discusses hopes and dreams for the future with his neighbour. It’s a sincere and moving scene that could easily have been the basis for a much more entertaining film. Intersperse some deep and meaningful moments like this with a few scenes of Handsome giving too much attention to his dog and we’d be on the right track.

Instead, we have a film that paradoxically manages to be both too long and too short. The story develops too slowly to keep your attention but ends so quickly that you don’t really have time to realise what’s happened. There are plenty of absurd moments and outrageous comedy but the actual laughs are few and far between. There are plenty of running jokes that are just uncomfortable and never really land. Like the cheap jokes about Gene’s super horny partner, Fleur Scozzari (Natasha Lyonne), and the super awkward and unfunny moment when his superior officer (Amy Sedaris) sexually harasses him at the office.

I get what Garlin was trying to aim for with this film. There was potential for a murder mystery that was more laidback and sedate. A cop drama that was wholly uninterested in the cop or drama part . This could have been a super quirky, interesting and character driven affair. Instead it has neither enough characters, enough quirk or enough interest to keep you occupied. Every choice made about this film just seems off slightly. I don’t mind the lack of narrative in a film but Handsome needed something else to make up for it. If all of it’s attempted jokes had landed then it would have been fine but most of them are weak. It needed more identity and more confidence in itself. Instead it’s just another in an increasing line of forgettable Netflix original comedy films.