Tuesday’s Reviews – Christmas Inheritance (2017)

boring, bullshit, Christmas, films, fucking awful, Netflix, review, rom-com, romance, terrible, uninspired

There’s a thing with Christmas movies that mean the expectations regarding quality shift. I mean there’s got to be a reason so many people love the film Love Actually when it is, clearly, the worst thing ever made. I mean it’s a horrible mix of plots that are offensive and irritating and really not very romantic. I have a complicated enough relationship with Richard Curtis without this affront being played a million times every December. But there is a genre of Christmas films that really scrape the bottom of the barrel. The kind of unoriginal TV movies that are churned out in amazing quantities by the likes of Hallmark. And, apparently, Netflix have been trying to get in on the act. Last week I reviewed the film that the Christmas film of 2017: Netflix’s original A Christmas Prince. I watched it and, to my surprise, didn’t totally hate it. I mean I mostly did but I still found some festive pleasure watching it. Still, I was happily done with the “genre” until I was shown the trailer for Netflix’s second big holiday production: Christmas Inheritance. I’m starting to worry about the inevitable increase in the number of recommendations I’ll get from the age 12-14 film category because of these films. Ah, what the heck, my recommendations are already pretty fucked up thanks to all of the 90s gross-out comedies that I’ve watched.
Whilst it might seem that A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance have a lot in common that simply isn’t true. Both feature a female as their protagonist but these protagonists are very different. One is a terrible journalist whilst the other is a terrible CEO. Oh my god, so different! In the latest film, Ellie (Eliza Taylor) is the daughter to the CEO of a fairly twee and family orientated gift company. She expects to take over from her father, Jim, some day but she is more preoccupied with partying to care about the traditions that her father and his business partner started so many years ago. In order to push Ellie into learning more about the company’s values, Jim sends her to the small town where everything all started. She has to go undercover and with only $100 to her name. Yeah, it doesn’t really make sense but it is the only thing that drives this film forward so I’ll go with it. Unluckily for Ellie, Snow Falls is in the middle of nowhere with no amenities and very few ways to contact the outside world. Can she get over her New York ways and prove she deserves to run the company?

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Christmas film without the added touch of romance. Whilst Ellie is engaged to an obvious wrong-un from New York, she finds herself drawn to literally the first (and seemingly only) young man she meets in town. He runs the inn owned by her father business partner and has no time for her big city bullshit. Until he finally starts to see the kind heart that she hides underneath, of course. This is standard rom-com fair: high maintenance girl sent out to hicksville and getting her hands dirty before falling in love with the local dishy Samaritan. But this is different because… it’s Christmas? Obviously, he eventually finds out she’s been lying about who she is and, suffering from his own inner demons, our flannel wearing hero turns his back on the rich young thing.

I’ll be honest with you, I thought after my reaction to A Christmas Prince that I would react more favourably to this film. I didn’t. Just like their previous offering, Netflix’s new film is a mash-up of so many romantic-comedies that have come before it. This time it manages to be as unfunny, inexplicable and unoriginal as A Christmas Prince whilst also giving us a heavy dose of its patronising attitude towards simple rural folk. There is always going to be problem with the conceit of a young rich girl going back to her roots: it always has to imply that there is something so twee and magical about small town living. It forces us to believe that these folks are so backwards that their good nature and kind hearts are an unusual thing. It’s fucking annoying. Snow Falls is the manic pixie dream girl of small towns. An unrealistic place that manages to show the main character who she is and who she needs to be thanks to its endless parade of outdated stereotype characters.

I also found Christmas Inheritance’s inevitability much more annoying. I kind of accepted that A Christmas Prince was going to be exactly the kind of film I thought it was going to be and found it funny to second-guess the plot. Here it seems much less acceptable. Maybe it’s because this film tries to ground itself closer to reality or because it takes itself more seriously? I don’t know. What I do know is that I was much angrier when I was shouting the future plot strands at the screen this time around. In reality, Christmas Inheritance is no worse a film than A Christmas Prince but, if you were to really push me, I’d definitely pick the latter to watch. But it’s entirely possible I never got over my childhood dream to become a princess one day and it’s affecting my life’s choices.

TBT – Angel of Christmas (2015)

bad, Christmas, films, fucking awful, meh, Netflix, review, TBT, terrible

After I watched A Christmas Prince the other day I went on a bit of a Christmassy binge and watched a few films. Not all of them good. As anyone who has read my lists of the best and the worst Christmas films ever made will know, there is a huge variety when it comes to the quality of Christmas films. Now, I’ve watched a lot of shit ones in my time but usually only indulge in my favourites. It never really feels like Christmas until I’ve seen A Muppet Christmas Carol and, obviously, I really fucking love Die Hard. I tend to stick to a select group of tried and tested classics throughout December so newer Christmas films aren’t really on my radar. Still, the terrible A Christmas Prince hadn’t made me want to vomit quite as much as I thought so I went back to Netflix for today’s TBT post. I picked the first film that sounded remotely similar but, let’s face it, all of these TV Christmas movies are basically the same premise. Young girl, media job, carefree young man, festive magic, romance, the end. How bad could this really be? Spoiler alert: really fucking bad!

This is one of those stupid TV Christmas movies that isn’t meant to do anything but offer a bland viewing option for people in the festive season. It isn’t challenging and follows such an obvious narrative structure so its audience literally don’t have to do anything other than passively watch it. It doesn’t need to be original, well written, well acted, or, really, any good at all. The rule is: the schmaltzier the better. Logic and reality don’t play a part because it’s Christmas. Why should anything make sense. Now I realise that I criticised A Christmas Prince for being written using all the best Christmas teen movie staples but Angel of Christmas makes that film look like Citizen Kane in comparison.

You know, I can just about see how a young, under-qualified wannabe writer might be sent to report on some European royalty story because, when you think about it, it won’t be such a huge story. I can believe that the aforementioned writer would be able to pass herself off as a tutor to a royal child without having to show anyone any identification. I can even bring myself to imagine that the journalist is the first person since the King’s death to go snooping around his desk in order to discover the secret adoption papers. I can do that. What I can’t do is believe any of the narrative of Angel of Christmas. Something even weirder when you consider how fucking similar the plots are.

Here we have a wannabe writer who gets given the chance to write a huge Christmas story for her publication (sounds familiar). She, however, is given the super generic task of writing about Christmas. I mean what kind of assignment is that? Her choice? Writing about the story of her great grandfather’s doomed love for a random actress. I know, weird. But it’s fine because it’s actually really fucking magical. You see, the great grandfather in question carved a wooden angel for the woman he originally wanted to marry but, after she rejected him for her craft, the angel went on to introduce him to his true love. This angel was passed down to his children who found their true loves. It’s a magical, matchmaking Christmas ornament, y’all.

I don’t even really want to write about this film because of how much it offends me. The final, supposedly magical, reveal is so fucking obvious from the start that it’s just annoying. The plot is dragged out way longer than it needs to be and there are far too many twee Christmas montages and establishing shots of snowy vistas. There’s even the world’s least believable love triangle because, well, how do you know the couple are really meant to be together if he’s her only choice, right? This film offers no warm and fuzzy Christmas feelings. It’s presented as some magical and heart-warming tale but it’s just dull and predictable. There are plenty of bad Christmas movies out there but they at least offer some kind of festive cheer to distract you. A Christmas Angel is one of the total disasters that leaves you feeling less Christmassy despite the fact it says the world Christmas about a million times.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Geostorm (2017)

bad, bullshit, films, fucking awful, fucking ridiculous, Gerard Butler, reviews, terrible, uninspired, unintentionally funny

There was a time, back in about 2012, when I genuinely believed that Gerard Butler was going to be a great actor. I admit, this was mostly to do with the film Coriolanus where he blew everyone’s minds by being fucking awesome in Shakespeare. Since then, Hollywood has continued to cast him in underwhelming action movies or shitty romantic-comedies. How many of you out there can name a Gerard Butler movie that they enjoyed? Okay, I’m sure a few of you will have said 300 but then we have to get into the whole Zack Snyder debate. I mean the guy fucking sucks! Look at what he’s doing to DC. I mean I’ll give him Watchmen because I was one of the few people who liked it. Anyway, I can’t get into this again. So, ignoring 300 (because we’ll never agree) name a Gerard Butler film that you actually like? It fucking tricky, right? Can you even name 5 Gerard Butler movies? They all pretty much meld into one so it’s really difficult to tell them apart. Kind of like Vin Diesel, if you’ve seen one Gerard Butler film then you’ve seen them all. Or at least that’s what I thought before Geostorm came out. I genuinely believe that this film marks the very moment that Gerard Butler became the new Nicolas Cage. It was a film that looked so preposterous that I never planned on seeing it. The kind of film based around such dodgy scientific fact that you walk out of it feeling like fucking Stephen Hawking compared to the writers. Still, I wasn’t counting on being full of cold this week. I wanted to watch and review the new Netflix film Mudbound because it looks bloody amazing. My brain wasn’t quite prepared for that though. So yesterday, overcome by the various fluids that are slowly filling the hole where my face normally resides, I decided it was a good idea to actually watch the film that made Gerard Butler one of the most unconvincing American scientists ever seen on-screen. I mean, it is only about 109 minutes long. Even in as close to a snotty death as I was, that was a length I could manage.

Godzilla (1998)

CGI, fucking awful, Godzilla, Matthew Broderick, news, origin story, review, Roland Emmerich, terrible

The same colleague who continues to push his misguided, positive Man of Steel feelings on me is currently trying to pique my interest for Gareth Edward’s upcoming Godzilla film. As much as I want to believe Edwards can pull off a film that adequately honours the 1954 Japanese original, I just can’t trust it. Now I can tell what some of you are thinking and I get it: none of the many films starring this reptilian nightmare can really be classed as “good”. There are issues with continuity, the portrayal of the monster, and the basic filming techniques to be found in pretty much all of them. However, there is something about Ishirō Honda’s original that just works so well. Yeah, it might not even be on a par with the 1933 King Kong in terms of quality but fuck it: he’s a goddamn giant lizard monster. Of course, I’ve been burned by heightened anticipation in the past so I’m trying to calm myself down a little. What better way to do this than by rewatching the Matthew Broderick centred travesty from 1998?

Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film Godzilla is dark. Now, by dark I don’t mean like a Christopher Nolan film: I mean it’s fucking hard to see anything. Before New York is cursed with a rampaging monster, it is haunted by torrential rain and gloomy skies. The awful weather should tell you everything you need to know about Emmerich’s visual offerings. I mean it doesn’t scream of a director being confident in his title character when he purposefully creates a situation in which it is almost impossible to see the fucker. Compare it, for example, with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park released five years earlier: Spielberg takes his audience and slaps them repeatedly in the face with his well-lit and well designed dinosaurs. Now there’s a director who trusts his end product.
I could almost forgive Emmerich’s shadowy setting if he were doing something groundbreaking with the rest of the film. However, his script, co-written with producer Dean Devlin, is an insipid reworking of a concept that is more familiar to us than the faces of our family. I guess I can understand him not trying to reinvent the wheels in terms of the structure: it’s a tried and tested formula and Godzilla has a lot of loyal fans out there. Imagine how much more pissed off they’d have been if Emmerich had ignored the vital moments of the ritual: mysterious blips on radar; wrecked ships; traumatised survivor: and hapless fisherman celebrating a “monster bite”.  In between the awful scientist and news station exposition, the director creates a fairly decent sense of foreboding and, once the monster arrives in New York, there are some pretty good special effects on display. There is just the right amount of tension and more than enough destruction for anyone’s inner 12 year old to enjoy.
And there it is: the place where I run out of polite things to say about this film. As for the rest, it’s a fucking sham. There are times when the filmmakers seem unsure about whether they are making a film or a video game and it ends up looking trashy and cheap. Take the scene where a military plane is pursuing the creature: Emmerich is clearly attempting to emulate a classic videogame style but, rather than immersing the audience in the chase (which I imagine was his justification) it just looks shit. There is no real sense that this film knows what it’s trying to do. Is it a comedy, an action film, a romance? Who fucking knows.
The plot (don’t worry I understand the ridiculousness of criticising plot in a mutant lizard film) is just a confused, bloated and self-indulgent mess that I can only imagine Emmerich and Devlin knocked up the night before filming was due to start. We have the basic ‘Godzilla comes to New York and destroys some shit’ plot but the producers clearly saw that this wouldn’t create a very substantial film. The action is dragged out thanks to the ever changing size of the title creature who can magically fit into subway tunnels one minute and can’t enter the Park Avenue tunnel the next. This ability to shrink to whatever fucking size he needs means that Godzilla is constantly able to hide from his pursuers. (Handy considering he is the first incarnation of the creature that can be harmed by human weaponry.) Here’s a quick piece of advice to any bloodthirsty Kaiju out there: go to New York because apparently it’s such a huge place that the army will never be able to fucking find you.
Wishing to drag the action out further, our heroes discover that Godzilla is a proud father. This new plot twist has the overall feel of the writers sensing the lack of a follow-up and hastily gluing the script for the potential sequel onto the first one. It’s totally unnecessary and only damages the potential for success. It’s over two hours long for fuck’s sake. I very nearly fell asleep throughout the final parts of the film and I can’t help thinking that, had I only allowed myself to succumb to exhaustion, it probably would have improved my final opinion of the piece. If you’ve got a shitty story adding an even shitter second story on top it is never going to end well.
Guiding us through these bloated plot-twists is a cast of utterly uninspiring, stock characters. I mean, aside from the French guy (Jean Reno) who I was ambivalent towards, there wasn’t a single fucking character in this entire film that I hoped would survive. The oddball cast is headed by 80s darling Matthew Broderick as a scientist who had been working with radioactive, mutant worms in Chernobyl. Unfortunately, Dr Niko Tatopoulos has no real personality and, despite several women salivating at the very sight of him, looks so much like a 12 year old that it’s difficult to take anything he says seriously. There are moments when Tatopoulos attempts to hold down the necessary pro-Godzilla argument but, once he finds himself in danger, is more than happy to ignore his inner thoughts and watch the fucker get blown to pieces. He’s hardly the inspiring and charismatic hero that a good Kaiju film needs.
But wait, who needs the weird worm guy when you have a mysterious Frenchman bemoaning the state of American coffee? To say that Jean Reno is the shining star amongst the rest of the cast really isn’t much of a compliment but he certainly doesn’t seem as constrained by the same bout of self-delusion that infected the rest of the cast. He embraces the farce and makes it work to his advantage. However, intelligence agent Roché is as underdeveloped as the rest of the cast and only serves to offer up the necessary one-liners and gun-fire.  Really there is never a moment when you have a sense that any of the characters are there except to provide witty or shrewd observations about the action that is unfolding before their eyes: adding nothing to the drama or emotion but the obligatory action movie dialogue.
Emmerich and Devlin famously named two of the characters after legendary film writing duo Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in response to negative reviews of their previous films: the useless but opportunistic mayor Ebert and his advisor Gene. In terms of sticking it to their critics it’s hardly a cutting assault. The characters make it through the film without a scratch for fuck’s sake. If you’re going to make a big deal about getting back at someone then the least you can do is have a giant reptile eat them. I mean if Emmerich can’t get a quest for personal vengeance to work for him how the hell was he ever going to deal with Godzilla himself?
Over the years a few different techniques have been utilised to bring Godzilla to the big screen. He was traditionally portrayed by an actor wearing a latex costume (aka suitmation) but has also been depicted using animatronics, stop-motion animation and CGI. Whilst it may not seem that way looking back now in 2014, the period that Godzilla was released was a pretty exciting time for computer-generated effects. The film was released only 3 years before Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring was released and 4 years before the, it was impressive at the time, Spider-Man was released. It was a good time for special effects is what I’m getting at here.
This nugget of film history serves to remind us all just how spectacular this film could have been. Unfortunately, by the time eventually Emmerich and Devlin became involved with the project they were just too keen to put their own stamp onto everything that had already been planned. They scrapped the original idea to develop a version of Godzilla that remained faithful to the original design and instead okayed a completely new and, if I may be so bold, disgraceful design. The Godzilla on screen wasn’t the upright reptilian sea monster that we were so used to attacking well-known landmarks but the creepy, giant result of a sexy t-rex and iguana union. Let’s be honest, it was fucking awful. So awful that Toho, the Japanese film company that owns him, has officially renamed the monster to Zilla in an attempt to cut any ties with the classic.
I say, if it’s good enough for the Japanese then I’m more than happy to forget that this joke was ever compared to the unstoppable legend.

R.I.P.D (2013)

buddy comedy, CGI, comedy, cops, cowboy, fucking awful, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, review, Ryan Reynolds, terrible

It’s really difficult to like Ryan Reynolds these days. I’m sure that there’s a good actor in there somewhere but he just keeps agreeing to star in shitty films. Just take a look at some of his past credentials (The Green Lantern, The Change-Up, The Proposal, Just Friends, The Amityville Horror remake) and it’s a sorry list of bland blockbusters and insipid romantic-comedies. Certainly, it’s a huge change from his early days when his presence would be a welcome addition to any cast-list. These days it’s starting to look as though his two major talents seem to be his rock-hard abs and his ability to get blonde women to marry him. Surely there’s got to be something fantastic hidden away and he’s just waiting for the right film to come along? Unfortunately, that film was never going to be R.I.P.D. Yes, number 3 in this week’s surprise buddy-cop season. Upon release in the US it was universally panned by critics and even given the title of worst film of the year… even with a full 4 months worth of terrible films still to come. So of course I had to check this out for myself. It surely can’t be that bad… can it?

I can imagine just how the first pitch for the R.I.P.D script must have gone: “Well it’s like the type of film you’d get when you mix Men in Blackwith Ghostbusters starring that cowboy from the remake of True Grit, and the Green Lantern… oh and it’s based on a comic book.” You can see why it was snapped up. The world was crying out for a film focusing on the Rest in Peace Department: a supernatural law enforcement agency that hunts down those pesky deceased souls who just aren’t ready to call it quits yet.

It is the unfortunate Boston detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) who finds himself as the newest member of the secret group when he is killed on duty. I say on duty but he is actually killed by his despicable partner, Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon), after Nick gets cold-feet about the pair helping themselves to stolen gold. Rather than finding himself in whatever afterlife awaits him, Nick is recruited by Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), given a special Deado killing gun and introduced to his new partner, Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges). Roy is straight out of the Wild West and a bit of a lone wolf. He reluctantly accepts his new partner and delights at throwing the rookie in at the deep-end. Which is where find themselves in possession of evidence pointing to a plot to bring utter chaos to the living world.
Instead of being a refreshing new take on the Men in Black format, R.I.P.Dis haphazard and certainly not breaking new ground. It’s the same old story that has been churned out in Hollywood time and time again: grizzled veteran cop meets cocky rookie in an utterly bewildering computer-generated world. The flimsy plot serves as a means to move the story forward but few of the characters or narrative components are given any time to develop beyond their basic function. It serves as nothing more than a means to hold together the various CGI sequences that are constantly being thrust in our faces.
A fact that would be less of a problem if the CGI was actually well-crafted. CGI has come a long way in recent years but R.I.P.D sets the entire area back at least 20 years. If it weren’t for the lead actors you could easily believe that this was an example of the plasticky creatures seen in films throughout the late 90s. Despite having a reportedly large budget, the effects just lack the polish of modern CGI and the longer sequences move at great speed in order to cover up these inadequacies. The downside is of course that everything just becomes so confusing and frantic that an audience will be unlikely to follow, let alone appreciate, any of the unfolding mischief.
Everything about this film just screams laziness. The script is littered with bland humour, awkward character interactions and general weirdness. When it comes down to it, R.I.P.D has only two real things going for it: Bridges and Parker are both fun to watch and do the best that they can with the material they are offered. She gives an interesting spin to the prim and proper manger figure and is the perfect foil to Bridges’ over-the-top Roy, who is pretty much an undead version of Rooster Cogburn. Bridges once again does his best cocky cowboy impression but whilst constantly being under threat of getting upstaged by his eyebrows and facial hair. He’s generally the most interesting character on screen (although that isn’t exactly a compliment in this crowd) and puts considerably more energy into the script than it really deserves. Constantly punctuating the lacklustre action with his physical comedy and comic timing, Bridges ensures that this film doesn’t fall on its face in the first 10 minutes.
Certainly it wouldn’t be able to hold itself up on the strength of Reynolds’ performance. He never really finds his place on screen and finds himself being consistently overshadowed, whether that’s by the much-more talented Bridges and Parker or the shocking CGI. Despite being the necessary plot-point that introduces the audience to the R.I.P.D, this film would have been much better off without Nick moaning about his death and mooning over his widow.  He has almost no personality and none of the stand-out material that Roy gets to play with. Kevin Bacon’s dismal villain aside, Nick is the most forgettable character in the entire movie… a huge triumph for both Reynolds and the writers considering just how long he is on screen for.
Overall, R.I.P.D. is a weak example of the action/comedy genre and will never stand-up against previous releases. It never finds high ground and offers a limp and rarely funny script, underdeveloped characters and awful visuals. Not even the energetic attempts of Jeff Bridges can breathe life into this film but, with the help of Mary-Louise Parker, he does offer some glimmers of joys to help you keep going. Whilst this may not be the “worst film of 2013”, it certainly isn’t making up for Hollywood’s recent filmic misfortunes. 

The Lone Ranger (2013)

cowboy, fucking awful, fucking magic horse, Johnny Depp, reboot, review, television, terrible, Wild West

Just a few months ago, Quentin Tarantino was showing us exactly how you can update the old Western for a modern audience. However, it would show questionable parenting skills if you happily took your 10 year old with you to enjoy the bloody revenge saga. So this can only mean there is a gap in the market for a good, old fashioned family friendly narrative set in the Wild West, right? Well maybe but even if audiences were crying out for a new cowboy hero it certainly can’t have been the Lone Ranger. The original radio series started in 1933 and the television show was popular in the 50s. Not exactly the typical Disney demographic. Nobody has been patiently waiting for this character to get a new outing and, quite frankly, it was always going to be difficult to translate it for a modern world. This isn’t like getting the same freedom you would making a film out of a pirate theme park ride. With something like the Lone Ranger you are forced to stick to certain traditions… even the questionably racist ones. You have to ask who exactly were Disney creating this film for.

Although the answer to that is painfully obvious: Johnny Depp. After director Gore Verbinski put the idea into his head that he could play the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick there was no stopping him. We sat on the sidelines of a production full of drama with its apparently limitless budget, expanding schedule and almost free reign for one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. It’s a horrible example of everything that’s wrong with the industry: throwing money, CGI and big names together with the aim to make nothing more than a bucket load of cash. I’ll admit there was always a part of me that hoped this film would fail as it might start a chain of events to change all that. It is with only a slight amount of joy that it seems my wish was granted. The Lone Ranger was torn apart by critics and opened to disappointing numbers in America. So have audiences simply fallen out of love with Johnny Depp or was it that the Lone Ranger, unlike other recent rebooted franchises, simply has no place in the heart of a modern audience?

The Lone Ranger, in the current cinematic tradition of origin stories, sets out to provide an insight into the histories of John Reid (played by Armie Hammer), the Texas lawyer who is about to become better known as the heroic Lone Ranger, and his devoted sidekick, Tonto. This back-story is clumsily placed within a framing narrative that takes place years later in 1933 as a young Lone Ranger fan is touring a museum in San Francisco. He wanders through the various Wild West exhibits before stopping to look at a dummy portraying ‘The Noble Savage in His Natural Habitat’. This dummy comes to life before his very eyes and, after orchestrating a swap to get his hands on the boy’s bag of nuts, reveals himself to be none other than Tonto (Johnny Depp in really terrible old man make-up). The elderly Tonto goes on to explain how he came to meet the Lone Ranger and, in doing so, reveal the story of the man behind the mask. This narrative, whilst not terrible, is probably fairly unnecessary. It adds little to film aside from the reference to 1933 and the year the radio series was first broadcast. If anything it just raises more questions. I mean what is Tonto doing there anyway? Am I meant to believe that a museum in San Francisco would hire the ex-sidekick of a legendary defender of justice to simply stand still for hours? Or is the director suggesting that they actually have possession of a magic Tonto mannequin? In reality the framing narrative is a way of giving Tonto more of a pivotal role and ensuring that the proceeding 36 hours of film (oh sorry was it actually only 149 minutes?) is as much (if not more) about the second fiddle as it is about the masked horseman himself.
As unnecessary as it may be, I don’t wish to suggest that this framing device is to blame for the painfully long running time. Really it adds as little to the length of the film as it does to anything else. No, the main problem is the same thing that was to blame for the messy production: self indulgence. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a big budget blockbuster that has such an inflated sense of self importance before. Verbinski can discuss as many of his cinematic influences as he wishes but, the fact is, this film takes far too long to get to where it’s going. It is always nice in an action packed blockbuster to have quieter moments to regroup and calm everything down but Verbinski is so keen to give his audiences time to breath that you could easily believe he’s found a way to make every second last for at least 2 minutes.
Then again this sedate storytelling would be less of a chore to sit through if we were dealing with a leading pair that had any kind of on screen chemistry. At times it feels as though Hammer and Depp were making two different films and, in an effort to create a final product, the two were simply stuck together during post-production. On the one hand, you have Hammer getting very little to do except talk about how much he loves the law, wear a mask, ride a horse, and do stupid things so Tonto can admonish him all the time. For a film that steals his name for its title, the Lone Ranger is quite clearly an after thought. Even the vaguely interesting moments, like his brother’s death and his love for his sister-in-law, are not given as much focus as they deserve. I’ve seen a fair amount of criticism for Hammer but I think he does the best he can with the material he was given. No longer the brilliant hero but instead something functional and horribly predictable.
There was never any point in pretending that this film was ever going to be primarily concerned with the man it should have been about. This was Depp’s show and he was the only one that mattered. Perhaps if Verbinski had gone down the Eddie Murphy route Depp could have played every character and the Lone Ranger would have ended up with more to do? To give him his dues, Depp is pretty strong in the role and provides a great deal of the films humour. Although, no matter how many comparisons you make to Tonto and Buster Keaton to distract people it will always be slightly uncomfortable to think that Depp is playing a Native American. He can bring up any number of Native American ancestors to justify it and discuss wanting his performance to bring about some form of justice as much as he wants. The fact remains that watching Johnny Depp parading around doing his best Captain Jack style performance whilst wearing a dead bird on his head and speaking in broken pidgin English doesn’t feel quite right. I understand that Depp has worked (I was initially going to write hard here but thought that statement was a bit too bold) to make Tonto a well-rounded character and give him a back-story of his own, which is a fantastic idea in theory. Making Tonto the driving force and brains behind the double act is a interesting idea but to suggest that Depp’s performance will erase years of misrepresentation is insanity. Coincidentally ‘insanity’ is also the answer to the question ‘how exactly does Depp flesh out the character?’ I can already feel the old wounds healing nicely.
This is a film that, like its co-stars, just doesn’t gel. It’s pretty schizophrenic to be honest. At times it tries to be the typical Disney children’s film full of immature humour and horses appearing in trees (seriously what were they thinking when it came to that fucking horse?). The next moment focuses on a man ripping out and eating the heart of his nemesis. So what is this film? Is it a big budget family film, a dark and gruesome tale of life in the Wild West, a romance or is it a campaign to fight the wrongs done to Native Americans? Well why bother deciding on just one theme when you can cram it all in together. This film changes tone quicker than the guy Katy Perry was singing about in Hot n Cold changes his mind for fucks sake. It tries to master everything yet barely succeeds in establishing a single idea. Forever fighting against itself and never quite reaching anything it strives to be for fear of pushing it too far away from everything else.
With a shorter running time and a much clearer focus I’m almost certain that this film would have been given a warmer welcome by both critics and audiences alike. For there are some things to actually get excited about here. The rest of the cast come across fairly well during the rare moments when Depp ceases to be the main focus on screen. Helen Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, and William Fichtner are all given a small amount of space to show their considerable talents but they, like the criminally underused Ruth Wilson, deserved to get more material to really get to grips with their characters.
On top of this, the film is as beautiful to watch as you would expect a film that has had so much money thrown at it to be. The backdrop is the most pure and traditional Western setting and becomes a key character in its own right. It’s amazing and the design is just exquisite. Added to that are some rather exciting action sequences including not one but two train showdowns. If you ignore some of the more questionable computer generated moments (for example the rooftop ride of the masked avenger on horseback which stood out as some of the worst CGI around at the moment) the final chase, set to Hans Zimmer’s reworking of The William Tell Overture, is pretty darn good. If Verbinski had focused on more moments like this instead of padding out the story with excess detail and history this film would have been the ideal Summer blockbuster.
So all in all not quite the horrible mess that I was hoping for but there is no doubt that this film is really far from perfection. An overly long, confused and egotistical film whose impressive backdrop and allusions to the past are not enough to push a mediocre narrative out of the shadows. If a film’s basic function is to entertain then The Lone Ranger, despite a selection of impressive set pieces and performances, doesn’t always manage to deliver let alone surpass this primary aim. Whilst I’m still unconvinced that The Lone Ranger needed to be made, this film has suggested that in the hands of better film-makers the source material could have been crafted into a Western feast for all the family to enjoy.

Identity Thief (2013)

comedy, fucking awful, Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, review, terrible
Jason Bateman is another one those frustrating actors who will agree to appear in any old piece of shit despite being incredibly good. It’s finally getting to the point where the high points don’t mean as much and might as well be flukes. Watching him in films like Horrible Bosses (2011), The Change-Up (2011) and The Switch (2010) it is hard to believe it is the same man who excelled in the likes of Juno (2007) and Arrested Development. The major problem with his latest film, Identity Theft is that it appears good on paper thanks to Bateman’s presence and that of his co-star Melissa McCarthy. After her scene stealing role in Bridesmaids (2012) McCarthy is pretty hot Hollywood property and any film starring this much comic potential sounds as though it can’t fail.

As those shrewd few out there may be able to tell, Identity Thief concerns itself with the slightly au fait topic of identity theft. McCarthy plays a trashy con artist who lives the life of luxury in Florida thanks to the naive victims she manages to dupe. The opening scene sees her easily gain access to the personal information of Bateman’s accountant Sandy Bigelow who enjoys a simple existence in Denver with his wife (Amanda Peet) and his two daughters. A happy life that is troubled by his selfish boss (Jon Favreau).

After finally having enough of their awful situation, Sandy’s colleagues take matters into their own hands and start their own company. Being drawn in by the promise of a better salary and a better title, Sandy’s life finally seems perfect. Until, that is, he begins to find himself in financial trouble and fighting criminal charges for skipping a court date. Of course, it takes the police no time at all to discover that they have the wrong man but apparently that is all the help they can offer.

For that is the major flaw of Identity Thief. Whilst normal people would turn to the proper authorities to help them solve this type of problem, Sandy instead takes the vigilante route and chases the woman who is ruining his life to Florida. Buoyed on by his new boss’ unwillingness to sympathise with his situation, his plan is to track her down and somehow convince her to come back with him to unwittingly give the police a taped confession of her crime. Now you mention it, that does sound much easier than waiting for the police to do what they’re supposed to.

Written by Craig Mazin, who has two Scary Movie sequels, two sequels to the infuriatingly popular The Hangover, and Superhero Movie as evidence of his credentials, Identity Thief‘s script is one of the stupidest, laziest and most confused film plots to come out of Hollywood recently. Playing out as a weird mash-up of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Midnight Run, we must follow the predictable plot of an odd couple trying to make their way across America whilst dealing with all of the obstacles that get in their way.

Mazin was clearly a little out of control during his writing process as he never really knows when enough is enough. He keeps breaking off from the already dull and totally flawed main plot to add unnecessary and unfinished subplots to bring up his running time. It wasn’t enough that he shoves two polar opposites in a car to see what mayhem ensues but we have to introduce grieving yet kinky cowboys, sadistic bounty hunters and dangerous gangsters out for revenge at the behest of their incarcerated mob boss. This slows down the narrative and adds nothing in terms of drama, action or laughs.

In fact, laughs is one of the majors things that this comedy is missing. Any attempts to find the humour in this awful scenario are painful and clumsy. There’s nothing clever here and everything just falls back to childish name-calling and digs about weight and appearance. I don’t know if Mazin thought hearing people mock Sandy for having a ‘girl’s name’ repeatedly would somehow make it funny but it just made me feel as though comedy had stepped back a few decades. I’m pretty easy to please on the old comedy front and can never resist a chuckle when someone falls over in front of me. However, I spent most of this film stoney faced and incredibly bored. Had it not been for the energetic and committed performances of the two leads Identity Thief would have nothing going for it.

McCarthy and Bateman do the best that they can but the characters they are given leave much to be desired. Bateman plays his typical dry, straight man but with the added bonus of being a pretty awful guy on top. It’s hard to put yourself on Sandy’s side when he’s just a fairly arrogant and mean accountant that’s just bent out of shape that his own stupidity lead to this situation.

To her credit, McCarthy throws herself into the role and brings life to an underdeveloped character. She is the only potential source of comedy and on no less than three occasions brought a slight smirk to my face. However, it is hard to understand what we are supposed to think about Diana, as she wishes to be known for most of the film. She flits between obscene, unrepentant criminal and emotionally scarred orphan who we are supposed to care about because she’s lonely. You don’t care for either of the two and there is never an opportunity where you know who to cheer for. Although, the two are both experts at their particular brand of comedy (and more often than is necessary drama) and work pretty well together. Had they been offered a better script and a tighter concept this could have been an altogether better film.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012)

animation, fucking awful, review, Simon Pegg, terrible
Simon Pegg has an annoying habit of making truly terrible films and, because he’s Simon Pegg and so fucking likeable, we’re all expected to ignore the fact that he’s making utter shit. I’m not one of these crazy Spaced fans who thinks the fact that he’s making big Hollywood films like Mission Impossible 3 and 4 shows that he’s sold out. However, I’m a fan who thinks he has more talent than he’s actually using. I thought we’d reached a low with the likes of Big Nothing (2006), Run, Fat Boy, Run (2007) and Burke and Hare (2010) but then along comes A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012).

Fantastic Fear is the ridiculous debut of writer and director Crispian Mills. Pegg plays a former children’s writer who moves into a much darker world once he begins researching Victorian serial killers for an upcoming project. Spending months alone working on his new direction, Jack becomes obsessed with death and imagines assassins waiting round every corner. When a once in a lifetime opportunity arises the writer must venture out into the world and come face-to-face with his inner demons at a launderette.

The plot itself lacks imagination and, from the outset, it’s pretty clear how things are going to play out. Although, the opening act showed some potential with a hugely paranoid Jack sneaking through his flat brandishing a knife and wearing little more than some grotty underpants. Whilst you could never say Pegg is on top form here, he does embrace the bewildered and desperate writer. He throws himself into the role with a manic energy that drives the first half hour. Although it does end up playing out like the sort of sitcom being broadcast for the morons who only watch BBC3. The premise had potential but, in the end, the comedy is extinct.

It is once we leave the confines of Jack’s flat that things turn really sour and you get the idea Mills lost control of his idea. The quirky idea of one man’s struggle with himself to maintain his sanity becomes a hodgepodge of ideas desperate to cling to the surreal atmosphere the director was clearly trying to maintain. The plot loses any kind of momentum and moves off in a wildly different direction that has only the flimsiest link to the first half.

One of Fantastic Fear‘s redeeming features is an Oliver Postgate-esque stop motion animation featuring some creepy looking hedgehogs. Don’t expect brilliance but it certainly adds some colour to the dwindling later segments.

Watching this film, it is hard to get rid of the idea that Mills utterly lost control and set out to make a film that neither he nor his script was ready to make. There is no real imagination at work and the second half of the film is, at best, forgettable. On paper this had almost limitless potential: a director with a credible film pedigree, a loveable British actor and a quirky narrative based on a Bruce Robinson short story. The end result is an altogether listless affair. It is a film that takes itself incredibly seriously whilst being simultaneously ludicrous. Pegg and Mills are clearly playing things for their comic potential but I defy you to show me anything remotely amusing. It was a painful and dull watch. One that, had I not paid all of 99p for the pleasure, I could have given up on after the opening sequence.

The Three Musketeers (2011)

Christoph Waltz, fucking awful, Matthew MacFadyen, Ray Stevenson, review, swords, terrible
I must admit I didn’t have very high hopes for this latest adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel as any attempt since the 1973 version, directed by Richard Lester, has never quite felt right. Even the one starring Kiefer Sutherland and my love for him has allowed me to put up with a lot of shit over the years. Although, it does star Rome star Ray Stevenson who I appreciate almost as much.

The latest version from Resident Evil’s Paul W.S. Anderson is perhaps the closest you can get to a modernised version of a narrative set during the reign of Louis XIII. For the most part, the film stays close to Dumas’ original: the young D’Artagnan leaves for Paris and is introduced to musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis. The four then find themselves mixed up in a political plot in which they must stop the villainous Cardinal Richelieu overthrowing the young King.

Although the writers obviously felt that a modern audience would not be able to accept this simple tale of four men fighting for King and country so we find ourselves in a steam punk version of seventeenth century France complete with airships armed with machine guns and flame-throwers. The three main characters become more than the traditional sword wielding defenders of the French Monarchy and find themselves becoming examples of a more modern action hero.

Anderson has certainly attempted to bring some fun into this well known story but it ends up being a ridiculous and mind boggling experience. The film tries not to take itself too seriously and the opening sequence is a perfect example of this. With images lifted straight from Batman, The Matrix and video games, such as Assassins Creed, the three musketeers are introduced in an blur of romance, violence and booby traps. This part of the film is actually well played out, if you ignore the awful slow-motion fight sequences (something that has not only become one of the most annoying of Hollywood clichés but also something that is pulled off much more successfully elsewhere) and the odd faces Matthew MacFadyen pulls as he wields his rapier. Anderson certainly embraces the swashbuckling side of the narrative.

However, there is something about the film that prevents this attempted light-hearted attitude ever fully taking over. Unfortunately for Anderson, there is a lot more to Dumas’ tale than non-stop action. It relies on political treachery, heart ache and double-crossing spies. It is these elements that gives Anderson most of his problems. For the most part he attempts to push them into the background but when it is necessary his attempts are fairly pathetic.

The main offender is the failed romance between MacFayden’s, Athos, and Milla Jovovich’s, Milady. It is something that we are supposed to believe continually haunts Athos but it is barely given any prominence. After the opening scene it is only briefly referred to again in a few conversations. The romance was never believable meaning its destruction is utterly pointless.

To argue that the film’s major positive is that is does not take itself too seriously is both a flimsy argument and, more importantly, a fallacy. A film that is at its heart a political drama cannot completely commit itself to this sense of fun. Anderson seems to be completely perplexed by the actual story he tries to introduce. The plot to overthrow the King is rushed and certainly secondary to the visual aspects.

The film falls down dramatically from it’s poor script and terrible narrative structure. The script is littered with the expected Hollywood clichés as well as more than enough plot holes and unanswered questions. At it’s best the script is laughable and at it’s worst is painful. Take for example any of Athos’ speeches about being a damaged individual driven to drink and despair or the excruciating scene played out between D’Artagnan and his father before he leaves for Paris.

Although, despite the excruciating language, the aspect of the film that annoyed me the most was the overuse of CGI. Mostly because it is an obvious attempt to distract the audience from the poor craftsmanship of the whole thing. The main objective seems to have been to make sure as much was happening on screen as possible in the hope that the audience stopped listening to the words or noticing the acting.

The whole film has an air of desperation after it’s acceptance that there is little substance behind the gaudy spectacle. Of course saying this, there will always be a part of me that finds immense joy from watching these familiar characters outwitting the evil Cardinal and totally annihilating armies of men. Since I first watched the 1973 version I have had a secret desire to one day become a musketeer and, despite his shortcomings, Anderson has reignited my desire to smite my enemies with my trusty blade.

Twilight (2008)

fucking awful, Kristen Stewart, review, Robert Pattinson, rom-com, teen movie, terrible, unintentionally funny

When Twilight came out about three years ago I was assured by a friend that I would “fall in love with one if not both” of the main characters. This same friend demanded that I watch the film as soon as I could as it would undoubtedly change my life. However, Twilight, like Dirty Dancing, was going to be one of those films I never lowered myself to watch. It clearly wasn’t aimed at someone like me and, I must admit, in terms of the series of novels I’m clueless. I do have it on good authority that the books are better than their big screen counterparts and, after finally watching the first film, I honestly can’t imagine how they can’t be even slightly better than the self-indulgent and pathetic drivel I’ve just witnessed. Twilight is everything I was ever led to believe it to be; essentially it’s vampire-centric, family-friendly porn. It is the stuff of every hyperbolic teenage girl’s fantasies. The handsome and mysterious stranger without the underlying issue of sexual desire. It is a safe but bland love story.

Whilst it is perhaps rather redundant to comment on the plot of any film based on a novel, the story of Twilight is beyond pointless. We see Bella move to a new town to live with her estranged father. She finds herself surrounded by a pleasant and accommodating community but only finds herself drawn to the mysterious Cullen clan, specifically the pale and, I’m told, handsome Edward. What takes place is a drawn-out process that sees them move together and attempt to overcome the small problem of Ed’s vampirism and desire to taste her blood. Twilight is neither a great romance or a terrifying Vampire film. Instead it is 122 minutes of self-centred teenagers moaning about their insignificant problems and idealising their ‘great love’.

Twilight is a film that places a great deal of pressure upon its two lead actors and, unfortunately, it is a challenge that neither of them are up to. Robert Pattinson, every Twi-hard fan’s pin-up, simply flounders on screen. Thankfully his input is small but the audience must still be forced to watch him pout his way through the story. Edward Cullen, the vampire with a conscience, is the mysterious figure of Bella’s, and many a fan girl’s, dreams. There is no real hint within Pattinson’s performance that any  potential threat exists. Lord Ruthven or Dracula he most certainly is not. Thanks to some dodgy special effects, Edward becomes a harmless superhero who removes Bella from some slightly unnerving situations. It is only towards the films end that the potential danger of their relationship comes to light but that is rushed over in a blurry mess of moaning and shaky-cam close up. Edward Cullen is not a Byronic hero; a complicated and dangerous figure who cuts himself off from society. He is a soppy teenager who enjoys his meat on the rare side.

Whilst she excels as an actor next to Pattinson, Kristen Stewart doesn’t fair much better. Bella is meant to carry the entire film but her relentless and completely redundant voice-over only adds to her self-absorption. After walking the audience through her discovery of Edward’s true identity, including a confession from the man himself, Bella feels the need to tell us she “was now convinced Edward was a vampire”. Well I’m glad that was finally cleared up. In Stewart’s defence, she is faced with the task of playing a deplorable and insipid teenager in dire need of a slap in the face. Bella never seems fully developed as a character. All of her relationships are turbulent apparently just because she’s a teenager. Rather than delving into her motivations, her cold attitude to the kind people around her is excused because she is a stereotypical teen. I can only speculate that trying to portray such a horrific person would be difficult.

For a story about love, admittedly a scary, obsessive, Disney-love, Twilight’s lead actors lack on-screen chemistry. Whilst I can’t admit to being terribly knowledgeable about acting techniques, I’m not sure the Twilight ‘mouth open, heavy breathing, stare’ approach is one to look out for. Whilst we are supposed to believe, as we are told on many occasions, that their love is the most spectacular love ever, we are never given evidence to back up the claim. Their romance suddenly just happens and is described by the pair rather than lived. It may just be an age thing but I could not understand why this coupling was something to fight for. Their romance is nothing to rival the great literary pairings even though they work hard to convince us otherwise. In all areas, Twilight tries incredibly hard to be something it isn’t. It comes across as something that looks distinctly like a film student’s end of year project, so desperate to show their knowledge they throw everything they can into the mix. All in all the film looks lacklustre and shoddily thrown together.

However, as I pointed out, this is not a film for someone like me. Twilight is harmless and adequate tale that would keep any teenage girl satisfied. It may wish to be a great example of cinema but at the very least it delivers for its target audience.