The Wolfpack  (2015)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                       90 Min        15

A documentary that provides a snapshot of the lives of a somewhat ‘different’ American family – the Angulo’s, six brothers and one sister living with their U.S. Mother in a less than adequate apartment in New York City, and forbidden to leave said apartment by a domineering Peruvian father who has chosen to brood on his own personal nightmarish interpretation of Hindu scriptures and take on over-protecting his children to an extreme rather than any form of occupation. The titular ‘Wolfpack’ keep themselves sane by watching thousands of movies (kudos) and by then re-enacting their favourites and filming the results, often with quite impressive homemade props.

You can’t help but be endeared toward them, and indeed it is probably exactly what I’d do if housebound by some cruel autocrat (asides from dismembering him of course; I remember excitedly printing multiple scripts for the Lord of the Rings to act out with my mortal pals – alas they elected to watch TV all summer instead. Useless cunts). The movie is distinctly focused on one of the brothers, Mukunda, via his narrative of life in the flat (it was filmed over a period of several years) and we see an evolution occur as the eldest become teenagers and things begin to inevitably change, and as an insight into a completely unorthodox way of life happening slap bang in the middle of one of the most populous areas on Earth it is fascinating – but there’s no escaping the fact it is equally depressing. Indeed, the most memorable moment in the film is a brief scene featuring a blonde actress posing for the camera near the end – purely because her lightness and beauty stand in such contrast to the darkness, in terms of both lighting and theme, of the rest of the film.

There’s definitely something in the fairytale that the siblings suffered so much with film as their only outlet, only to eventually cross paths with a like-minded soul, director Crystal Moselle, who would inaugurate a documentary that would then become famous around the world. Indeed, some of the brothers have talked about starting their own production company, and with the success of the film they may be able to fund their own ventures on a significantly broader canvass than the previous confines of their apartment, although there do remain unanswered moral questions about the way it was all conducted – it’s unlikely, for example, the father would have consented to the filming if he knew what a monster he was going to be portrayed as, and there are always two sides to every story …

Man Up  (2015)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                       88 Min        15

British romantic comedy that sees lonely thirty four year old Nancy (Lake Bell) mistaken for the blind date of lonely, and in the process of getting divorced, forty year old Jack (Simon Pegg) and who decides to run with it for a bit before being discovered but, wouldn’t you know it, they were having a good time up until then – is it possible they were meant to be together? Puke. Moments of merit do appear every now and then but initially their date plays out more like a tedious horror film with sycophantic, fake conversation and you think to yourself ‘surely no one in the world would actually want to be on this date’. There’s no chemistry between the pair whatsoever, but then after the truth is inevitably dragged out things get much better, and in reality this kind of event with the ensuing arguments is exactly the sort of thing that can bond two people together as it’s unique and more like a random adventure.

As is the par for romantic comedies the laughs don’t exactly come thick and fast, although there are a few decent ones stuck in there, and unfortunately there are multiple cringe worthy moments and areas where the story breaks down completely, such as Jack walking into the ladies toilets because Nancy had ‘been there for a while and he was concerned’. Really? It’d been like, three minutes max, and of course this is the fudge to uncover what’s going on but it’s pretty lame, and the film never completely overhauls its terrible and torturous first third, but at least there is more heart in the remainder and although the trailer suggests it’s the female here that will have to ‘man up’, it’s a little misleading as it remains the male that has to do the lion’s share of the work. Some grit to also be found with regard to moving on from old relationships and bizarrely there’s even an homage to ‘Rocky’ (76) at one point. Not bad, but could so easily have been better.

Inherent Vice  (2014)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     148 Min        15

Paul Thomas Anderson (‘The Master’ 12, ‘There Will Be Blood’ 07, ‘Boogie Nights’ 97) directs and adapts for the big-screen Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name, about dope addled private investigator Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello in 1970’s Los Angeles who is sent on an abduction case, against the backdrop of a cultural kickback taking aim at the ‘free love’ of the hippy generation. The novel is comedic as well as serious and Anderson’s writing sometimes hits the mark with the comedy but it fails on every other point, neither giving us a realistic or engaging sense of the issues of the day nor making the noir style detective story comprehensible or engaging. Even the actors, Benicio Del Toro especially at one point, look irked by the lack of structure around them and if you are looking for an involving story then you can absolutely forget this.

The director’s skill behind the camera, however, has allowed to him to create a very unique quasi-surrealism, in fact just watching it makes you feel as if you are on drugs which is a singularly impressive feat, if at times an uneasy one. Similarly, sex appeal is littered around the movie but when, at one moment in particular, there is a deliberate attempt to be erotic it falls pretty short of it. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Sportello and he is accompanied by Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Hong Chau, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon and Joanna Newsom who narrates the story but unfortunately the style of narration adds to the underlying soporific nature of the film and is a major hindrance. Anderson has successfully recreated the same feeling that must have inspired him to adapt the novel in the first place, but failure to properly fire the comedy more often and the complete absence of a decipherable plot leaves the film’s appeal unnecessarily limited.

Dolphin Tale 2  (2014)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     107 Min        U

The sequel to 2011’s original and once again set in Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium – the real world rescue centre where director Charles Martin Smith continues the story of Winter, the bottlenose dolphin rescued in the first film and given a prosthetic tail after losing her own in a crab trap. Like its predecessor this is a dramatisation of real events and features a return of all of the main cast members as well as Winter herself – this time with a number of new dolphins that will drive the story forward as Winter’s condition sadly deteriorates after the loss at the beginning of the film of the elderly dolphin Panama, who seems to have been her sole aquatic friend. The narrative follows Winter’s state closely and pairs it with the effect on the park and primarily on the two youngsters working there who have bonded the most closely with her (played by Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Nathan Gamble), and who face choices about their own future and the associated new responsibilities that come with them.

It’s a good companion piece to the original and both the story and the acting are engaging enough to merit the currently mooted possibility of a third outing for cast and crew – all except for one moment, when the camera shifts to Winter’s vantage point and when she eyes Dr Clay (Harry Connick Jr.), who is in charge of the centre, the dolphin literally flips out, falsely suggesting some untoward connection between Clay and Winter’s depression. You keep waiting for some horrible revelation that’s probably going to result in police custody and therapy sessions for the kids – I guess it is supposed to intimate blame via proxy for the death of Panama, but it’s very misleading and it’s never really brought up again after the incident.

Before I Go to Sleep  (2014)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                       92 Min        15

This is the second feature film directed by Rowan Joffé, son of legendary director Roland Joffé (‘The Killing Fields’ 84, ‘The Mission’ 86), after his 2011 adaptation of ‘Brighton Rock’ and once again he has returned to the realm of literary fiction for inspiration, ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ being S. J. Watson’s 2011 debut novel of the same name, written in his spare time whilst working as an audiologist for the NHS. The story centers on Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman), who suffered serious head trauma many years ago and has since been left with the living nightmare of anterograde amnesia, which means her mind can’t record new memories and the events of any given day are effectively wiped whilst she sleeps, very much the opposite of the more traditionally portrayed retrograde amnesia that erases all memories recorded before trauma. She lives with her husband Ben (Colin Firth – whom Kidman requested to work with again after a successful collaboration on ‘The Railway Man‘) and we enter the story as a mysterious new man, Dr Nash (Mark Strong), who claims to be trying to help her, requests that she keep a video diary that she can watch and add to each day, only she should keep this secret from Ben …

It’s a mystery thriller that leads us to question what the circumstances surrounding the primer for her illness could have been (no one around her seems to know), and it’s well acted by the experienced cast, but it is immediately limited by the lack of depth for the setup and somewhat by the lack of experience of the director, who never really manages to create any sense of real tension or excitement. It’s an interesting concept but one also a little forced, and there are only so many different permutations to consider. Managing nonetheless to at least tread water throughout, there must surely be more to the novel than has been transferred to the big screen here as the book became an international bestseller and you would never guess it from this adaptation. We are also treated to a candid view of Kidman’s derrière in the opening scene as she looks at the bathroom wall covered with pictures of her life put up as memory aids, and one can’t help but wonder why this particular angle was selected, or indeed why it was necessary to have her naked at all – it kind of feels like a desperate lack of anything original to grasp the audience with, and the film never quite escapes from a continued similar sense of weak structural integrity.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared  (2013)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     114 Min        15

An adaptation of Jonas Jonasson’s 2009 debut novel of the same name that flits between English and Swedish, and has garnered a lot of praise from its domestic run and on the festival circuit, but my goodness does it take a long time to get going. The first forty to fifty minutes are so brain deadeningly dull that there are a couple jokes that might normally elicit a laugh or two, but your focus feels like it’s been hit by a sledgehammer so they don’t register at all.

The story follows the adventures of Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), who is indeed one hundred years old and does climb out the bedroom window of his retirement home and effectively disappear as far as his carers are concerned, but we the audience witness him accidentally acquire a suitcase full of money from a gang of hardened criminals, who chase after him and his growing entourage of unlikely friends that accumulate throughout the movie as chapters of his eventful life are relived for us whilst they are on the run – a life which just so happens to have played an important role in several historically pivotal moments over the last century.

It has many, many similarities with lots of other films, most notably ‘Forrest Gump’ (94) and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (08) and the works of Tarantino, but it also suffers from Allan in the current time frame looking rather like Johnny Knoxville under prosthetics in ‘Bad Grandpa‘. It constantly has the feeling of something derivative and a little in love with itself, but it eventually gets going and becomes more endearing and even funny on occasion, although not as often as director/writer Felix Herngren would like. It’s also quite frequently gory, for anyone put off by that kind of thing.

Brick Mansions  (2014)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                       90 Min        15

The last film starring Paul Walker to have been completed before he sadly passed away last year features him as an undercover cop buddying up with French legend David Belle, one of the founders of parkour (which gave rise to free running), as the local resident of Brick Mansions who has fallen foul of the drug running crime lord in charge of the downtrodden area of future Detroit, and who represents a way in for the law to diffuse a stolen nuclear bomb due to go off in a matter of hours. It’s a remake of the French film ‘District 13’ (04 – also starring David Belle) which helped bring parkour to international prominence in the first place, with now perhaps the most famous instance of it on film being the first chase sequence in ‘Casino Royale’ (06).

The story isn’t too bad, and the action has been well choreographed, but it’s just too silly to be believed and it manages to be very stale from start to finish. In Casino Royale it was used to good effect, but here it mainly seems to be for show – we see Belle’s character trying to make an escape early on, and his physical feats to do it are very impressive – quickly taking him far from his would be pursuers, and yet there they are again, no matter how many floors or buildings he leaps and bounds around/over, ubiquitous bad guys are waiting to start the chase all over again, which is just a bit daft. The acting is good overall, with support from RZA, Catalina Denis and Ayisha Issa, but despite a few moments of playfulness it’s no more interesting than watching other showpieces for the physical activity.

Interestingly, the big guy that can be seen behind the two leads in the picture above is Robert Maillet, who moved from WWF wrestling as Kurrgan (taking his name from the villain, The Kurgan, in 1986’s cult classic ‘Highlander’, a name itself derived from the theorised early Indo-European people) into film and who you might recognise as having played other fairly memorable ‘heavy roles’, chief among them his first big-screen appearance as the giant immortal Persian warrior in ‘300’ (06).

The Grand Budapest Hotel  (2014)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     100 Min        15

Wes Anderson’s (‘The Darjeeling Limited’ 07, ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ 09, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ 12) latest sees the return of the auteur’s signature style both behind the camera and within the screenplay, with another ensemble piece featuring Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori in the central roles and a raft of familiar faces in support – Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, to name but a few.

Fiennes plays Monsieur Gustave, the concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, which is a lavishly decorated and suitably grandiose primary set, looking like a camp version of the hotel in ‘The Shining’ (80), where he develops a close friendship with his young lobby boy, played by Revolori. The fictional region of Zubrowka they are in descends into civil unrest just as Gustave is set to inherit a priceless painting from one of the old birds he had been shagging in the hotel, who has just been murdered, which the rest of the lady in question’s extended family are violently unhappy about.

I’m a fan of Anderson’s work in general, but here the story tails away once the main characters are separated for an extended period of time, sucking the heart out of it. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ had at its centre a wonderful story of two youngsters falling in love with each other, with all of Anderson’s usual inanity frolicking around them courtesy of the adults – here the inanity is much more centre stage with a weaker core dynamic, the comedy aspect of Gustave’s posh vulgarity works initially but then becomes a little too obvious (Fiennes did something similar but to much greater effect in ‘In Bruges’ 08) and what begins as something quite interesting, soon ends up as incredibly boring to sit through.

The Twilight Saga : Breaking Dawn Part One  (2011)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     117 Min        12A

The penultimate member of the five film Twilight Saga and generally hailed as its worst instalment, although I actually enjoyed this to some degree – largely because SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS in this one. It remains cheesy, with bad dialogue and ropey effects, but this has been well established as one of the series’ trademarks so it doesn’t grate quite as much as before. The dire love triangle antics have been toned down somewhat with the advent of Bella and Edward Cullen’s wedding, which looks suitably impressive and matches the tone of the previous films. Bella decides to forgo her perverted hunger to become one of the undead until sometime after their honeymoon, thus allowing them plenty of time to engage in all sorts of inter-species sanguine shenanigans. Unfortunately, this releases unforeseen biological consequences (not particularly surprising ones) driving the rest of the story forward as everyone in their home town releases a collective groan at the latest predicament Bella’s wanton lust and stupidity have landed them all in. The scene with the audible ‘crack’ in it is particularly memorable, some of the music isn’t bad, and this actually had me looking forward to seeing what was to happen in the next one – which is more than can be said for its predecessors.

Through the Eyes of The Red Dragon

Machete Kills  (2013)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     107 Min        15

I reeeeally wanted to like this more than I did. It suffers from over familiarity with the gag before the audience even goes in, and there is a pretty significant drag factor in the middle, but it does satisfy enough to justify the proposed sequel – ‘Machete Kills Again … In Space!’.

This is of course a comedy exploitation film from director Robert Rodriguez, the third of a trilogy starring Danny Trejo as the titular Machete (so called for his skill with his favourite weapon), a franchise which began as a fake trailer shown during Rodriquez and Tarantino’s ‘Grindhouse’ (07), much like ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’. Here the president of the United States (Charlie Sheen) asks Machete to tackle a credible threat to the safety of the entire nation. You can expect an overindulgence of blood soaked tongue in cheek violence and black humour as well as a raft of familiar faces and dazzling dames – including Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Lady Gaga, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Demian Bichir and Jessica Alba.

Best watched with your mates and combined with a drinking game.


“Machete happens.”   Danny Trejo/Machete