A New York Winter’s Tale / Winter’s Tale  (2014)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                     118 Min        12A

What a strange film. I don’t think I’ve found myself rolling my eyes in pained disbelief quite so many times in all the movies I’ve reviewed thus far, and yet the schmaltzy over indulgence did kind of get me interested toward the end, despite the protestations of my brain. I went into this with no prior knowledge of what it was about, but if you watch it, you must be prepared for a fairytale story defined by mystical notions, such as the biblical tussle of angels and demons for the souls of mankind and the concepts of miracles, fate and those worthy enough becoming stars in the heavens once they die. What happens once these stars go supernova, is not discussed.

The central character is Irish-American Peter Lake, played by Colin Farrell, whose parents set him adrift in a toy boat in New York harbour whilst they leave for presumably a better life elsewhere (the parents are displayed as caring ones, so this is not exactly a deed that will see many audience members warm to the start of the film). As luck would have it, the young child is picked up by Russell Crowe who seems to be playing an Irish Fagan, except that he’s also a demon, and his initial over acting and accent borders on the derogatory (he gets a little more palatable toward the end). In adulthood Lake rebels against his thieving foster father and this is where most of the story takes place, as he soon encounters a guardian spirit in the form of a flying white stallion (not in any way inspired by Pegasus you understand) and then breaks into a house for his last robbery in town, but then decides to steal the heart of the young lass he finds there instead using his Irish brogue and his horse (yes, it is that cheesy, though one suspects she had been fantasising about a burly Irishman breaking into to her private chambers for quite some time) although, tragically, she is dying of the consumption (that’s tuberculosis to you and I, although this particular victim appears to be in every visible way the picture of health) and thus destiny and fate become intertwined, together with their loins.

I won’t ruin the surprise of who turns up playing Lucifer. It’s Will Smith. Oops, well, it wasn’t really all that exciting, just like the movie. Truly, the first entire two thirds of this film should be eviscerated from existence, but even the black heart of I, The Red Dragon, was slightly moved by parts of the ending (I still wanted to gag at some bits here too though), due in part to me having already written it off and then finding the film had a few surprises in store. It’s the directorial debut of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who wrote the screenplay for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (01), ‘A Time to Kill’ (96) and … ‘Batman & Robin’ (97), and it’s based on the novel ‘Winter’s Tale’ (1983) by Mark Helprin (the film title outside of the UK and Ireland is the same as the book, it seems possible confusion with Shakespeare is confined to the British Isles). Downtown Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay plays the object of Lake’s affections, Jennifer Connoly and William Hurt make brief appearances, and happily so does Eva Marie Saint – best supporting actress Oscar winner for 1954’s ‘On the Waterfront’.

Knights of the Round Table  (1953)    50/100

Rating :   50/100                                                                     115 Min        PG

Richard Thorpe’s Cinemascope (MGM’s first),Technicolor and somewhat over the top and fanciful take on the myriad legends of King Arthur takes the story in his own direction, as is tradition, and does likewise with history in the process. Despite Arthur Pendragon sporting various images of yours truly throughout, the entire first half of the movie is entirely woeful, with horrid set design even for the era, lacklustre action and swordplay sequences, corny pious dialogue and strikingly bright costumes that begin as eye catching but eventually become lurid, as the somewhat irritating music plays throughout with barely a pause for breath. The action picks up in places, only to be swiftly let down again – such as when some of the knights casually push over one of the stones at Stonehenge and a fairly convincing cavalry charge sees their efforts rewarded by an accompanying volley of arrows from their own troops. Groan.

Only when the saucy gaze of Ava Gardner, playing Guinevere, finally appears and espies the gallant Lancelot, Robert Taylor, do things get more interesting, but even then the pace continues to rise and fall. Lancelot is essentially the main character here as he befriends Mel Ferrer’s King Arthur, and then uses his strong commanding American accent to woo every maiden in his path. Uninventive and probably best left for fans of the principal leads or the genre.

The Monuments Men  (2014)    31/100

Rating :   31/100                                                                     118 Min        12A

George Clooney not only directed this, but also co-write the screenplay with Grant Heslov not long after the pair of them co-produced ‘Argo’, and frankly listening to Clooney’s character here talking about the importance of history after he and his buddy completely raped a well documented event in their last collaborative effort, is a sick joke. No doubt they were hoping to replicate their charm offensive that somehow seen Argo take home the best film Oscar, but happily this film, even without the various cries of historical inaccuracy and complaints that the lives of people who actually died as part of the team (the monuments, fine arts and archives {MFAA} unit) have been ignored, is complete rubbish in almost every respect.

The unit’s task was to enter war torn mainland Europe just after D-Day and try to ensure wherever possible the safety or repossession of the most valued works of art and monuments that may otherwise be in harms way from bombing campaigns and the retreating German army as well as Hitler’s known fondness for nicking national and private treasures. It should be a fascinating and exciting tale, and indeed its only success is the relation of some events which were not really common knowledge and highlight the importance of these men’s work, and yet – can we believe these events? Sadly, because Clooney is involved no we can’t, not without embarking on a truth finding exercise of our own.

From a screenwriting point of view there is no real film here – it’s just a series of disjointed scenes stuck together with absolutely no characterisation, horrible, horrible jokes and no real concept of what they were trying to achieve. It amounts to little more than ‘let’s get lots of big name actors (Clooney, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett) and send them off on a jaunt through the Second World War, and then we’ll stick in some bits of drama and emotion and then people will love it and we’ll get another Oscar like last time’, and it is simply terrible. Rather than wasting any time on this, better to get hold of a copy of ‘The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History’ by Robert Edsel, the book upon which the film is loosely based.

Dallas Buyers Club  (2013)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                     117 Min        15

Despite the very, very worthy story being told here, I found it difficult to properly engage with the gritty way in which it is delivered to the audience. The mostly true story of AIDS victim Ron Woodroof who finds he cannot afford the drugs which is believed would keep him alive (he is given approximately four weeks to live) and who ends up in Mexico trying desperately to get a hold of this life extending elixir. Whilst there, fate introduces him to a doctor who explains what he has been told about this miracle drug simply isn’t true, and instead he prescribes him several much simpler and much healthier substances, all of which were legal in the United States although not FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved. Seeing not only a way to help his own health and that of others, but also a nice way to make a lot of money, he heads back up north to set up the eponymous Dallas Buyers Club.

We bear witness to the legal ramifications of his club and those like it, whilst the pharmaceutical companies still ram their product down the throats of the medical professionals and the lives of many thousands of patients are put into the balance. Some liberties have been taken with the personal story of Woodroof and his personality, there is no mention of his daughter in the film, for example, and two central characters, fellow AIDS sufferer and transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto – pictured above on the left) and romantic interest/doc with a conscience Eve (Jennifer Garner), are entirely fictional. Matthew McConaughey gives a very committed performance as Woodroof, initially a homophobic, drug abusing electrician/rodeo cowboy and general scallywag and both he and Leto are not only up for Academy Awards this season but also lost an unhealthy amount of weight for their roles.

In a way this highlights both the eerie quality of the film and yet some of its strength – when we see these two actors who do very much appear that they are not far from death’s door, there is a part of you that is shocked and forced to consider that reality for people with the disease not just then but now too, despite the improvement in our medical understanding, and yet we are simultaneously aware in the back of our minds that these two people do not have AIDS and have in fact done this to themselves. There is a sickening quality to the deed, and we have to ask – was it necessary? When Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier starred together in ‘Marathon Man’ (76) they were preparing for a scene when Hoffman declared that he was off for a run – responding to the quizzical look from his co-worker he explained that his character had been on a run just before the scene and so he had better go for one too, to which Olivier’s response was ‘There’s a reason they call it acting’. In the scenario of this film he certainly has a point, especially in the age of computers when some weight for the naked torso scenes could probably be digitally removed. Tom Hanks last year attributed his current Diabetes condition to gaining and losing weight for some of his roles in the past and one wonders if that’s true and if so just how much he regrets doing it. McConaughey has gone from strength to strength over recent years and so it’s great to see him nominated at the Oscars and it is deserved (as is Leto’s nod) but, should the industry really be encouraging this kind of thing? How long before someone goes too far and ends up seriously ill or worse, all for the sake of a film role?

I’ve posted the clip below a few times before but it’s worth repeating here due to its relevance and also to show just how much corruptive power drugs companies still wield in today’s world, with not only the medical profession but also large parts of the sports/recreation/therapy industries being driven by chants of ‘Sell, Sell, Sell’.

RoboCop  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     117 Min        12A

This is actually better than the 1987 original, although it is not without its problems, chief among them massive overuse of shaky cam in some of the action sequences. The story is similar but not identical – here America and her giant corporations seem to be steamrollering the whole world (or Iran at any rate) due in no small measure to their manufacture and deployment of robotic military equipment, but the home market has remained a no-go for the technology due to public concerns over its safety, much to the chagrin of Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), CEO of OmniCorp the cybernetics juggernaut responsible for the mass production of robots and the prompting of the moral homeland debate (this is set slightly in the future, in case that wasn’t obvious).

The logical solution to this pesky setback is to plonk a man inside a robot who has a moral conscience, only the same conscience is a little too slow at deciding when to pull the trigger and when not to, so a little amount of cerebral ‘tinkering’ goes on behind closed doors with their first unwitting participant in the scheme (he gets blown to bits by the bad guys, fortunately one of the intact bits is his head) Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). This tinkering and the core concept itself forms the central discussion of the film, in between RoboCop annihilating the criminals in his home town of Detroit, and it’s handled at a reasonable pace with solid performances and slick special effects, and although there are a few problems with some of the action, and it’s not especially noteworthy, it does hold its own for the most part.

Support work from Gary Oldman as ‘tinkering’ scientist Dr Dennett Norton (inspired by Norton anti-virus?), Abbie Cornish as Mrs Murphy and Samuel L. Jackson is good, and the film successfully makes the OmniCorp board seem more like morally questionable people rather than the cardboard bad guys that so often frequented eighties action movies, RoboCop amongst them. In a scene where oodles of data and perp profiles are downloaded into Murphy’s noggin so he can immediately identify people wanted for arrest, I couldn’t help but think – don’t we already have the technology to do this? There are plenty of programmes that can identify faces, just pair it with a database and strap it to an officer’s squad car/ass kicking visor and bob’s your uncle, you could even apply it to a network of surveillance cameras and call it ‘The RoboCop Protocol’ …

Mr. Peabody & Sherman  (2014)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                       92 Min        U

The latest animation from Dreamworks is based on characters from the 1960’s The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’, and focuses on the father and adopted son relationship of Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell), who happens to be a preternaturally intelligent canine that can talk, is a fully functional member of society and has invented, secretly, time travel, and his young human son Sherman (Max Charles) that he finds abandoned in an alleyway one day and who bizarrely has an IQ much closer to that of the average dog than any well adjusted member of mankind. This is the fundamental problem with the film – although the animation is fine, the protagonist is just too stupid, and his idiocy continues to set up most of the drama in the story as we see him bullied by a girl at school, who then bullies him into taking her on a jaunt through time and space.

It’s not without moral backbone, however, as Peabody attempts to rectify his son’s trouble at school by inviting the young demon and her parents over for dinner, delivering two surprisingly deep philosophical quotes to try and sell the idea to Sherman about the strongest relationships evolving through conflict and issues of self-reflection in hatred. As the narrative continues the father will have to learn to have more faith in his son and give him a bit more freedom, just as Sherman will come to see that the rules he has handed down to him have his own welfare at their heart, and the girl, Penny (Ariel Winter), will need to be rescued several times over and eventually stop being such a pain. A couple of nice jokes for adults, and perhaps a fun spattering of history for youngsters, including ancient Egypt, da Vinci and the Renaissance, the French Revolution and the siege of Troy, almost like ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (89) for a younger demographic (although the time machine here is remarkably similar to the one in ‘Free Birds’ for some reason), it will probably be entertaining enough for kids but I do question whether Sherman is simply so dim and irresponsible that he sets a bad example rather than functioning as the intended parabolic vehicle.

The Lego Movie  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     100 Min        U

Lego, one of the most enduring and popular toys of the last century (the name comes from the Danish ‘leg godt’ meaning ‘play well’) took a surprisingly long time to bring itself onto the big-screen given the success of the Transformers franchise and the completely unmerited monetary haul of the G.I. Joe films. Here everything, not surprisingly, is made from Lego and all digitally mastered together into a traditional tale of the underdog, Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) – an unexceptional everyday Lego worker with no friends to speak of but who never has a bad word to say about anybody, who must realise his own potential and learn how to help others do the same (with the help of the Master Builders, who can creatively construct things from Lego without using a rulebook, don’t you know) all to undermine the dastardly plans of PRESIDENT BUSINESS (Will Ferrell) who can’t stand all those pesky Master Builders ruining his otherwise regimented and ordered Lego universe. But does Emmet have what it takes?

Initially the story and comedy value are a little flat, and a little predictable, and songs like ‘Everything is Awesome’ (the only song in this incidentally, it’s not a musical) are a little grating, but then … it becomes catchy! And the bland component parts eventually become endearing, partly due to an array of likeable characters, such as Batman (Will Arnett), Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson) and Unikitty (Alison Brie), the leader of Cloud Cuckoo Land, domain of rainbows and puppies, who variously becomes Biznesskitty and Iwillripyourfuckingfaceoffifyoudothatagainkitty. Along with everything, she too, is awesome. Overall, it’s a fun trip guaranteed to spike sales of Lego and with a good message at it’s heart of creative self expression and the importance of appreciating this as a universal concept.

Lone Survivor  (2013)    30/100

Rating :   30/100                                                                     121 Min        15

A huge opportunity missed here as what could have been a tight, thrilling and quite moving war piece based on a true incident taking place in Afghanistan in 2005, descends into complete farce and jingoism with the main American soldiers each being shot about five hundred times, exclaiming ‘damn it’ with each hit as if they’d merely been stung by some nettles as blood spurts everywhere all leading up to dramatic Boromir style death scenes in slow motion with the sun setting on the picturesque landscape surrounding them. The title itself completely blows much of the story as for anyone who wasn’t aware of the details (the vast majority of viewers one imagines) we know only one of the four man team survives, and the very beginning compacts this gross error by showing it is very clearly going to be Mark Wahlberg’s character Marcus Luttrell, and indeed the film is based on Luttrell’s novel recounting events as they happened on the ground (reputedly his original report put enemy troop numbers at circa 20 -30, then in his book they became more like 200, whilst an alternative novel published about the operation puts them at more like 9 or 10).

The other three combatants are played by Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster, and, frankly, if I died fighting for my country I’d be pretty pissed off with some of these casting choices, and the film opens, after some decent real army footage, with what seems to be some sort of homosexual soft porno with the focus on the bodies of the men instead of the camaraderie or characters. Without knowing the exact details of the events that actually occurred, their assignment according to the film was to covertly approach an Afghan village and take out a Taliban leader, or ‘the bad guys’ as they put it, thought to be there, but it many ways it seems doomed from the beginning. They quickly find the mountains are making radio communication impossible – how is it they didn’t factor that in? It surely cannot have come as a surprise. Then they encounter their first major obstacle and make a complete dog’s breakfast of it, before failing to properly conceal themselves in what seems pretty good terrain to disappear in, especially if there are only four of you. Not only this, but instead of both hiding themselves and also preparing cover where they would have the advantage, they elect to run at the superior numbers taking very little precaution with cover (but when you can take multiple bullets without even noticing I guess that’s not so much of an issue), and then, when they should once again be trying to disappear, they loudly call out to each other creating a very, very easy duck hunt for the people trying to kill them.

It ends with what is actually a very moving tribute to the real men that lost their lives there, but this is cheating – an emotional punch at the end that people are naturally going to feel and empathise with and yet it cannot make up for the majority of the film being terrible. I say the majority – the last quarter of the story has more of a heart to it, which took me by surprise, and some of the scenes at least successfully begin to set up tension, with at least one of them slightly uncomfortable viewing, as was intended by the clever way it was shot. However, when you are watching the main characters effectively play Cowboys and Indians and pretending to be riddled with lead and hit every bone of their bodies off rocks, still calmly delivering cheesy lines to one another, then the thing is sunk without any real hope of redemption. This is entirely the fault of director Peter Berg as he not only helmed the project but also wrote the screenplay, in fact, and I may be misremembering this, but I think he tells us he is the director twice during the opening credits. His last film was ‘Battleship’ (12) and this is in the same league as that, notwithstanding the real world relevance.

I, Frankenstein  (2014)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                       92 Min        12A

This is a pretty awesome, bad film. Given the concept is that Frankenstein’s monster has not only robbed his creator of his name, but has also managed to survive until the present day and get himself involved in an eternal battle between demons and gargoyles (yes, that’s right, gargoyles – but ones that can transform into attractive humans and which serve the powers of good) that, naturally, humans are blissfully unaware of, the discovery that this is a bit rough around the edges with bad dialogue and a fair amount of ropey acting, isn’t really an astonishing surprise.

In the beginning we see Mr F dealing with a few family issues, and his voiceover comes to us ‘I though it was the end ..(long pause).. But ..(long pause).. It was just the beginning’ and we very quickly assume this is going to be a nightmare to sit through. Responsible for the somewhat lacking screenplay is Stuart Beattie, but credit where credit’s due – in his dual role as the director he has also created some pretty cool action sequences and somehow gelled everything into a very flawed, and yet very likeable film. Aaron Eckhart can take a lot of credit for anchoring the piece as Frankenstein, getting the tone spot on in what can’t have been an easy role to play, and Yvonne Strahovski as the hot blonde scientist in tight jeans adds the right touch of schlock sex appeal and the two of them, as well as the rest of the cast (Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney and Bill Nighy are in support – with the latter of those gleefully delivering his cheesy lines), with the direction, weave the right threads of ridiculousness and entertainment unashamedly together.

Not sure if this would work as well on the small screen, but I went into this in a foul and vituperative state of mind, and I left in a good mood. I’d recommend it if you’re feeling the same way.

That Awkward Moment  (2014)    0/100

Rating :   0/100           COMPLETE INCINERATION           94 Min        15

If you want to see a film where none of the characters feel like real people then watch this, which is essentially the epitome of woeful modern day romcoms. It’s a very, very familiar set up of three guys who, for the most part, praise the virtues of singledom and sleeping around, but whom we just know will be convinced of the error of their ways by the female characters we are about to be introduced to. The three guys (played by Miles Teller, Zac Efron and Michael B. Jordan) couldn’t be any less charismatic and nothing they do or say makes any sense. One of them is annoying to the point where I cannot seriously believe any person would want to be near him without striking him in the face, never mind be friends or otherwise with him. Another thinks the girl he’s just hooked up with might actually be a hooker and so he bolts first thing the morning after, except of course it’s painfully obvious she isn’t, then despite falling for her and dating/sleeping with her he elects not to turn up for her father’s funeral, her father that he met and got along with, as he figures if he goes that means they are officially an ‘item’. This forms the ‘moment guy will fuck up and realise he really was in love as now he is lonely and everyone else hates him’, but seriously, not going to her father’s funeral? That’s a new improbable romcom low, but not apparently so low that she can’t forgive him after he eats a mediocre amount of public humble pie. Imogen Poots plays the not prostitute, but even her natural beauty and charm are not enough to redeem this at all, it’s so far removed from the sphere of likeability and reality as to be just vile.