Fantastic Four  (2015)    0/100

Rating :   0/100             COMPLETE INCINERATION           100 Min        12A

Easily the worst superhero film in memory and in fact a very strong contender for one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s as if they asked a nine-year-old fanboy to scribble the entire story on the back of a milk carton and then accidentally put the entire thing into production. It’s so bad it almost parodies itself – but not in an amusing way, rather the movie sends you through a Dante-esque descent through seven hells of depression before you finally manage to climb out in a torrent of rage just in time to kick the chair in front of you during the one-dimensional finale. You could probably make a better Fantastic Four film with your mates, a Handycam and twenty quid for special effects (try if you like – call it the ‘FakeFour Challenge’).

This is 20th Century Fox’s latest attempt to the milk their Fantastic Four intellectual property which they bought from Marvel years ago and then proceeded to do nothing much of value with thereafter: 2005’s ‘Fantastic Four’ and the 2007 sequel ‘Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer’ far from doing the source material justice. Here, they’ve foolishly eschewed any input from Marvel legend Stan Lee and instead relied on a screenplay from the film’s director Josh Trank (‘Chronicle’ 2012) but rumour is Trank not only behaved erratically onset, he also published a critical tweet slating the final version of the film the day before its international release before quickly deleting it – his treatment ultimately having been rewritten by the producers themselves.

Whatever the truth of the matter the existence of behind-the-scenes issues really, really shows and indeed it would hardly be the first time meddling producers had helped torpedo their final product – although it’s interesting that you rarely hear of producers stepping in and making large-scale positive changes, and directors saying ‘hmm, actually I like what you did there’ … In any event the story concerns itself with the four youngsters: Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), as they gain their superpowers by travelling to another mysterious world all before having to combine their talents to defeat their arch-enemy and old friend Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), and they will of course learn the value of working together in the process in order to avoid the aforementioned certain Doom.

The film opens with primary school age Reed actually developing the prototype inter-dimensional doohickey that he’ll eventually be paid to develop, so it doesn’t exactly get off to a believable start, but as the film progresses there are really only two locations used throughout – the lab (which then gets moved to a military base, but for all intents and purposes is the same place) and the other world they visit, but they explore no more than, say, one hundred metres of the place and it contains nothing other than volcanic primordial superhero-making goo. They leave Doom behind because nobody likes him, and so he tries to exact brutal revenge by destroying the entire Earth and everything living there, which makes no sense whatsoever but there you are (he says he’d prefer to live with the goo).

Arguably pointlessly controversial, asides from the innate terrible nature of the movie, is the casting of a black actor, Michael B. Jordan, to play a white character (they changed that aspect obviously, it wasn’t a reversal of ‘blackface’ although they could have had a lot of fun with that – ‘what’s your superpower?’, ‘I ignite myself, Oh and I’m black now – and yep, it’s completely true what they say about black men. Now, where’s that white chick? Oh, I guess she’s still my sister. Hmm..’). This is hardly the first instance of this happening – Marvel famously did the same thing with Nick Fury in its cinematic universe of course, but there he was played by Samuel L. Jackson and nary a peep of complaint was heard due to the respect carried by the performer, which is ultimately the point – if they have the right actor for the part the colour of the skin is essentially irrelevant unless it pertains to the story somehow.

It’s interesting, however, that the argument used for the character change is that it’s more reflective of modern day American society in terms of ethnic diversity. I mean, that is a valid point in general terms, but for the Fantastic Four, really? Is there a person alive from any background at all that gives a damn that Richard Reed and co are/were white? Seems unlikely…. but when we consider that Trank also directed Jordan in their biggest success at that time, Chronicle, and that Jordan and Teller starred together as buddies in the equally loathsome ‘That Awkward Moment‘, it seems rather likely that they simply wanted to cast their buddy and used this somewhat flimsy racial argument to justify it when really ‘That Awkward Moment’ ought to have been the justification for not casting the two of them together in anything again (they are equally poor in tandem here, in fact Kate Mara is the only one who doesn’t suck tremendously in this).

Having Jordan play Johnny Storm is also curious – seems somewhat daft when the character is not only originally white but also has a sister, who is oddly enough also white, thus forcing them to break two original character traits (they make Sue Storm adopted here) instead of the one that would be broken with either Ben or Reed, ah but would casting him as Ben leave them open to attack given what happens to the character and would casting a black man as the lead who gets the white girl, as Reed would represent, be too big a risk for their predominantly white main market? Does this suggest that this is effectively still a ‘token black guy’ character?

Ultimately, the film isn’t good enough to care a jot about, but for an interesting take on this concept watch ‘Suture’ (93) where two brothers are played by a black and a white actor but they are described onscreen as looking identical by all the other characters – it’s quite a nice little exploration of the theme.

Far From the Madding Crowd  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                                  119 Min        12A

A very solid period drama with great performances from central players Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts and equally well balanced direction from renowned auteur Thomas Vinterberg (whose last feature film was ‘The Hunt‘). Based on Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel (although he did revisit the text significantly in 1895 and again in 1901) of the same name, I had fully intended on reading the book before watching the film so as to get a proper historical context but alas my plans were thwarted on this occasion, which is a shame as the feminist aspect of the story for the time period (the Dorset countryside is the setting, incidentally, and the film was largely shot on location) in itself suggests it may be a worthy read. Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene is the central character (Hardy appears to have relished coming up with character names – the other significant ones here being Gabriel Oak, Sergeant Francis Troy, Fanny Robin and William Boldwood {could Bathsheba have been the inspiration behind Katniss Everdeen?}), and we essentially watch as the local men in the area vie for her attention with a mixture of gentile sensibilities as to how to go about doing this, and then the, erm, not quite so gentile, as the fortunes of Bathsheba herself wax and wane, going from educated but poor into the inheritance of a sizeable farm with a score of staff and potential profits to be made admixt with mishaps delivered by the whims of nature.

So, in this sense there is an overt feminist aspect in that Bathsheba is a strong willed, intelligent and capable young woman surrounded by men whom she must on the one hand with their amorous advances reject, whilst on the other she must lead and command the respect of and also be able to barter with and hold her own against the competition. Mulligan is nigh on perfect in the role as she brings to the fore through subtlety the difficulties this incurs – we can see the adrenaline pumping as she faces off against one of the larger men bearing down on her, and yet her steely nerves carry her through, just as the imperfections and naivety of the character are also there to see as she makes mistakes and allows her ego, bolstered by position, to occasionally overstep the mark.

Yet, the absolute central crux of the story remains rooted in the fact that she is considered physically desirable by the majority, if not all, the males around her – would the novel have been commercially viable if she was perceived as a munter and no one wanted her? Now that would be interesting – men wanting to her marry her for financial gain only, she desiring someone but unable to woo him and at a loss what to do about it given the special constraints of the time, ravaged by the vagaries of her lust and jealousy. Male writers engage with the notion of extreme feminine beauty primarily because it’s what they themselves ultimately desire and thus it provides them and their characters with the most efficient fuel, and yet if literature is to endorse the idea of a universal enchantress then the opposite must also be true, feminine ugliness, generic repugnance, therein you would find a much more hard hitting and relevant expose of humanity. Art in general has always been more than happy to sidestep this concept and indeed you almost never see this kind of story told, although Vinterberg would have been the perfect person to tell it really – Far From the Madding Crowd: Redux.

As it is, the director gives us a distinct duality – the moments of expected beauty where we are spoiled by lovely scenic shots of the countryside with its rolling drumlins, valleys and sunlit lustre, coupled with much more down to earth scenes which look exactly as they would if one were standing there while they were being filmed, lacking much in the way of any filmic sheen but working really well because of it. Make no mistake though, this is much closer to a traditional romance than an exploration of the human condition, as there are several resolutions in the plot that will leave you thinking ‘hmm, that’s convenient’, or deus ex machina if you prefer, and Vinterberg himself buys into this, cue kissy moments with rotating camera and rays of sunlight flitting between mouths and bodies. Support from the likes of Tom Sturridge, Michael Sheen and Juno Temple proves continually apt and fitting and certainly if you are a fan of period dramas and classical romance then you should enjoy this one, and indeed it’s been done well enough to please the casual dabbler in the genre as well.

Fifty Shades of Grey  (2015)    27/100

Rating :   27/100                                                                     125 Min        18

I was slightly looking forward to this, I had no idea what it was really about and rather assumed it would be lame pseudo erotica aimed at middle aged bored women who would never contemplate typing ‘porn’ into Google in case they went straight to hell, and wouldn’t work out out how to turn off the safe search even if they did, and for that reason I figured it might be quite amusing. Wrong. What this is, is a deeply disturbing and cynical attempt to make its creators rich and nothing more. Christian Grey seduces the young and virginal Anastasia Steele, except he wants to control her and requests she sign a contract that will allow him to keep her as his willing and obedient slave, all amidst the familiar romantic trope of ‘the pretty girl will melt the bitter male’s heart and he will not make her his slave, but will be saved by love and have a normal relationship’. As with a lot of such fare, like ‘Pretty Woman’ (90) or myriad concepts of Prince Charming, the male character is abundantly rich, meaning that not only will the girl have all the material pleasures and comforts her heart desires, but that he is also able to effectively spend every waking second making her the centre of his rather unreal universe.

Criminally, this is all pasted together with an over abundance of pop songs, trying as much as possible to make it appear like a traditional Hollywood romantic outing for the leads Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. In reality, there are extremely serious issues at play here and they are glossed over to the max – Grey has obviously been the victim of abuse in his early life, and it’s probable his domination of women has more to do with trying to deal with being physically unable to defend himself in the past, it has absolutely nothing to do with romance and not even all that much to do with sex, and for once all the people complaining about this before its release are actually bang on the money – it does endorse rape culture and it absolutely sends out a hideous and contorted message to women young enough to be receptive to its media pop culture sheen.

This is acutely summed up when Grey impatiently writes to Anastasia asking her if she’s made up her mind about the contract yet – to which she writes back ‘It was nice knowing you’. A pretty definite thumbs down. His response to this? To break into her flat and show her what he intends to bind her with, which has her eagerly nod her approval and she is promptly tied to the bed and fucked. She doesn’t even bat an eyelid when he appears, nor does she really give assent as her nod is referencing their last experience where her hands were bound together, but she wasn’t herself tied down. We are essentially witnessing a rape but it’s being sold to us as the correct response for a male who’s just been refused by a female.

Even before this, she calls him to leave a drunken message and he flips out at her for being inebriated (loss of control you see) and then he is mysteriously able to find her immediately (they are not together at this point), making it painfully obvious he has made sure he can track her at all times. It doesn’t click with her, of course, because she’s a moron, and in fact the only way author E. L. James could even attempt this story was to make Anastasia a virgin, and so during her abusive treatment she inevitably questions her own self belief and with no positive or normal experience to counterbalance Grey’s attentions her abuser is thus able to exert his full influence. Another hopeless moment is when she asks him to do the absolute worst to her that he can – queue six or so smacks on the ass with an implement, which is an absolutely farcical watering down for the audience of what the worst could really be (if you’ve ever seen Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ from 2013 the most memorable moment is when we see a chunk of flesh come off the behind of a woman being whipped, it’s pretty gross – here I’m not sure there’s even a red mark on Johnson’s unblemished alabaster rump). Anastasia is seen weeping afterward and tells Grey ‘You’ll never do that to me again’, her immediate next line, ‘I love you’. FUCK OFF.

It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to subvert the vulnerable in the audience themselves. If we look at the current IMDB ratings for the film as voted for by the public, we can see a massive polarisation between male and female voters, and what is really interesting is that the older the female voters get, the lower the rating they give. This feeds into the whole sick nature of the film trying to appeal to a demographic of young women in an effort to make money from them, they don’t seem to care if they are also teaching them to put up with abuse and even help create abusive environments (and although E. L. James began writing the story as Twilight fan fiction, I don’t think that’s the reason the IMDB currently recommends all the Twilight films for users who enjoyed this one).

You could very well be looking at the destruction of several careers here, and perhaps deservedly so. The actors have essentially done their job, they don’t have a great deal of chemistry but they are themselves by no means poor in the film. However, watching Johnson on the Oscars red carpet getting upset that her mother, Melanie Griffith, hasn’t seen the film yet suggests very strongly she has no idea what it is even about herself, the perfect victim to sell the film to others – indeed, the previously largely unknown Johnson was even invited to present at the ceremony, which in itself speaks volumes. Dornan has no excuse, and he and most of the others involved with the film were only in it FOR THE MONEY, so, frankly, they deserve to suffer afterward for it. The film has been received so poorly that one can only hope they do not adapt parts two and three of the series as well.

Foxcatcher  (2014)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     129 Min        15

A finely acted and yet supremely depressing true story about Olympic wrestlers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and their coach Jean du Pont (Steve Carell), who describes himself as one of the richest men in America at the time and who takes on Mark as a way to engage with the sport that he loves but which he has never competed in himself, we are led to conclude that this is largely because his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) very much looks down on the activity as a ‘lowly’ sport. He’s not much of a coach, his body and mannerisms are more like Monty Burns from the Simpsons than anything resembling an athlete or a figure of authority and respect, and the story focuses on the psychological effects of a lifetime spent futilely trying to please an aloof parent, a situation complicated by wealth and indulgent privilege, as well as Mark’s situation growing up and competing in the shadow of his, loving, brother David.

The first thing you notice about the film is the altered physical aspect that all three central performers have sewn into their portrayals – in fact, the three all hunch to some extent, two of them from muscular strengthening and combat, the other via atrophy, but their look and style are all very well nuanced and delivered. Indeed, for Carell this is not only a rare non-comedic role but an extremely transformative one with prosthetics and a deserved Oscar nod for his lonely and fractious study of du Pont – with Ruffalo getting an equally merited supporting nomination although Tatum is every bit their equal. Set in the eighties and directed by Bennett Miller (‘Capote’ 05, ‘Moneyball’ 11), a slightly grainy texture has been applied to the film, which I think is to the movie’s detraction – it is already somewhat dark and miserable without a further visible layer being applied, but it remains a taught and very believable exploration of the themes and characters, and the real story both intrigues and saddens throughout.

Fury  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                     134 Min        15

When a film purports itself to be ‘The most realistic war film ever’ it had better be able to put its money where its mouth is, and alas this could quite easily qualify as the one of the most UNREALISTIC war films of all time. Screenwriter and director David Ayer is one of the most childish writers working in Hollywood today, and his obsession with nonsensical violence evinced by his previous films ‘Sabotage‘ and ‘End of Watch‘ continues – in a normal film a character might open a box and find a new clue, or something that sparks an emotional trigger for them and a moment of reflection, in a David Ayer film that box is guaranteed to contain not only pictures of a family member skull fucking genetically modified babies but also pieces of remaining flesh tanned for personal use. He can get away with this to an extent with a war film and the associated potential for real and visceral horror, but when we see the inside of a tank at the beginning of the film and the remains of someone’s face on the metal, looking like a fried egg, we realise he just can’t help himself.

Not to say that’s necessarily unrealistic, rather unlikely granted, but it is the following which render the film silly – 1) The soldiers do not fire weapons, they fire lasers. I kid you not, green laser fire (red for the Allies) issues forth from the German troops looking for all the world like a scene from Star Wars (ironically, this is to show the use of tracer fire which helped gunners and infantry adjust their aim and was certainly used extensively by both sides in the war, it’s just been taken to a daft extreme here). 2) The tactics are at best dubious. We see three tanks versus one and the three of them just bunch together instead of trying to use both flanks. 3) Reason number 2 is taken to the point of lunacy as (this is a spoiler so you might want to jump to the next paragraph, but it was also used as the main selling point in the trailer if you’ve seen it – another thing they shouldn’t have done) we watch Brad Pitt opt for a stand-off between his immobilised single tank versus several hundred SS troops. During this event daytime becomes night in less than about forty seconds and Pitt and his four strong crew have ample time to leave and fight another day, or indeed come up with a better plan, but they all decide to stay largely because it is Brad Pitt saying they should and they are all afraid of him. It’s not heroic, or exciting – IT’S JUST FUCKING STUPID. I also have a large doubt over whether or not that tank has a 360 degree firing arc with its machine guns when the hatch is down, I rather suspect it doesn’t making the decision even worse.

The fictional story takes place in Germany toward the end of the Second World War with the very beleaguered and war weary crew of the tank ‘Fury’ receiving a new greenhorn gunner (Logan Lerman) who has never even been inside a tank before which enrages them all, and they proceed to slap him around the head at every opportunity. Lerman actually does the best out of everyone in this film for managing to react/act to the treatment he gets appropriately for his character – as a performer it can’t have been easy to temper his responses to the right level, and he consistently delivers on what is the core character arc of the story as he bonds with Pitt’s veteran whose soul has been ravaged by violence, death and stress to the dangerous brink of perhaps losing sight of himself completely. Pitt does a reasonable job of anchoring the piece but his performance is hampered by ridiculous hero worship from Ayer as well as having more than a few ropey lines of dialogue to try and do something meaningful with.

It is within the work of the wardrobe and art direction departments that a very high level of authenticity has been achieved – it looks fantastic (laser shows aside) and the tanks used were real ones from museums and collectors which are more or less the correct models for the time. The rest of the crew are played by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal and they had to live in the tank for a week together before shooting began (LaBeouf reportedly refused to wash himself to help achieve a new level of ‘realism’. I’m surprised nobody fired real bullets at him too). Despite the egregious setbacks there is still a definite satisfaction to be gained from some of the action scenes, and here Ayer the director definitely outstrips Ayer the writer – it’s really the ludicrous and utterly forced central decision by the characters and the ensuing battle that destroys the credibility of the entire film.

Frank  (2014)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                       95 Min        15

This, to me, looked like a garish nightmare – some guy in a creepy head mask who used to be on TV sometimes (he was then Frank Sidebottom, comic persona of Chris Sievey, who sadly passed away a few years ago) – I never knew what the show was about, but I absolutely knew I didn’t want to watch it. However, the fact that Michael Fassbender was playing said guy in mask made me wonder … and actually it’s pretty good. The titular masked Frank is a mysterious, reclusive musician who never takes off the head – even when he’s in the shower. Him and his band, which includes Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy, are in need of a new keyboardist, which central character Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) sees as his big break, when he happens upon the event of their previous keyboardist trying to drown himself in the sea.

Gleeson was the perfect person for the role as his character begins as the sort of maudlin standard slightly posh ‘nice guy’, with a penchant for social media, that often populates British London centric films (this is a British-Irish film incidentally, directed by Irishman Lenny Abrahamson and largely set in Ireland), much as his character was in ‘About Time‘, but then it turns out he’s a total creep, which is not only a satisfying arc to follow, but it puts into wonderful perspective the other much more diverse and interesting characters, none more so than the delicate and passionate Frank.

An original film exploring the value of individualism and the old adage of not to judge a book by its cover, or in this case a person by their head. Some of the music they make is actually pretty good too.

Frozen  (2013)    85/100

Rating :   85/100                       Treasure Chest                     108 Min        PG

A dazzling, emotional and thoroughly entertaining Disney animated musical that takes the studio back to the work of Hans Christian Andersen with a tale loosely based on his ‘The Snow Queen’, and this is every bit as good as their previous reworking of his ‘The Little Mermaid’ back in 1989. Two new princesses get added to the canon of Disney hotties as we are introduced to Anna (Kristen Bell), a playful redhead full of energy, and Elsa (Idina Menzel), the elder of the two but who, as she ages, sees her mysterious powers to shape ice grow, effectively becoming a Nordic version of Doctor Manhattan and a danger to everyone she loves. But will she turn to the Disney dark side and kill everyone whilst laughing maniacally? That is, indeed, the question.

Actually, a number of tropes are wisely turned on their head here, and the company have made sure to fill the movie with their trademark wit and intelligence to allow all members of the family to enjoy it. The contrasting voices of the two sisters, with both lead actresses doing all their own singing, works really well, and a number of the songs are delivered with memorable gusto and power. The animation is simply terrific, making the snowy landscape look wonderfully crystalline and at the same time inviting with their choices of rich, decorative and intrinsically beautiful colour schemes. One of the main scenes doesn’t work quite as well as intended, but this slight hiccup doesn’t prevent the film from being great from start to finish. It’s simply the perfect Christmas film.

There is a small post credits scene – the wait is a long one, but if you stay, look out for the brief note regarding one of the characters right at the end.


“I want you to take me up the North Mountain…. I’ll rephrase that. Take me up the North Mountain!.” Kristen Bell/Anna

Free Birds  (2013)    20/100

Rating :   20/100                                                                       91 Min        U

Slapstick animated comedy about turkeys = listening to Owen Wilson squawk pointlessly for ninety one minutes as his stupid blue Turkey is smacked in the face by every person and object he encounters. Don’t watch this.

Filth  (2013)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                       97 Min        18

Great film. James McAvoy gives a commanding turn, arguably his finest performance to date, as Bruce Robertson the Edinburgh copper with ‘issues’ in Jon S. Baird’s interpretation of Irvine Welsh’s novel. Filmed in Scotland’s capital this is replete with all the drugs, violence, corruption and black humour/foul language one expects from Welsh’s writing, as we become engaged in Bruce’s struggle to obtain, by any means possible, the promotion at work against his rival colleagues, amongst them Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots, whilst also wondering exactly what is going on regarding his relationship with his wife (Shauna Macdonald). Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent, Kate Dickie and Martin Compston round out the more familiar faces in the cast, and everyone is good in this throughout as the story keeps us guessing, and often laughing, from start to finish. Oscar nod for McAvoy? For The Red Dragon, he and Michael Douglas, in ‘Behind the Candelabra‘, have given the two most memorable male performances of the year so far …

Frances Ha  (2012)    66/100

Rating : 66/100                                                                         86 Min        15

Starring and co-written by Greta Gerwig (‘Greenberg’ 2010, ‘To Rome with Love‘ 2012) this is a sweet little black and white film following twenty seven year old Frances, as she suddenly realises her career and relationships are perhaps not really heading in the directions she had thought they were. Set in New York City, it’s a drama acted out via situational comedy, primarily revolving and depending upon the lovability and appreciation of the slightly ditsy, but fun loving, Frances, and her deep but soon to be strained connection with her soul mate and best friend Sophie (played by Sting’s daughter, Mickey Sumner). It is largely successful in its premise, but it is a little pretentious in places, with lots of stylised images of ‘artists’ smoking, which is not only a cliché but an outdated one, with smoking’s social acceptability on the steady decline (something which some of the dialogue seems self conscious of). It feels like the characters are living in the cinema of the sixties rather than now, a feeling deepened by a random trip to Paris at one point for Frances – although this also mirrors modern successful films, with the likes of ‘2 days in Paris’ (07), sequel ‘2 days in New York’ (12), ‘Paris, je t’aime’ (06) / ‘New York, I Love You’ (09) and Woody Allen’s migration from his love affair with The Big Apple to European cultural hotspots, most recently with his much lauded ‘Midnight in Paris’ (11) and the aforementioned ‘To Rome with Love’.

It’s directed by Noah Baumbach (‘Margot at the Wedding’ 2007, ‘Greenberg’) who teamed up with Gerwig for the script. Overall it meanders a little too much, and is a little vain, but nevertheless it successfully crafts a delicate and artful expression of friendship.