Gemma Bovery  (2014)    10/100

Rating :   10/100                                                                       99 Min        15

Pretentious, snobbish, perverted and dull – the latest modern French attempt to dramatise mediocrity and indeed not even the first, second or third time Gemma Arterton’s figure has been exalted to centre stage as the entire story revolves around it and the desire it evokes in the men she encounters: young, old, married and single. She is presented as a sensualised femme fatale with little to no character to speak of, seemingly motivated by lust only – but specifically other people’s lust, operating as little more than a vent for male desire.

Adapted from the 1999 graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, Arterton plays the titular Gemma Bovery, who moves to France from London with her husband Charlie (Jason Flemyng) where they encounter their neighbours Martin (Fabrice Luchini) and Valérie Joubert (Isabelle Candelier). Lover of literature Martin can’t help but pair in his mind the beautiful Gemma with Madame Bovary, the eponymous character from Gustave Flaubert’s classic 1857 debut novel. The film does have spoilers with regard to the novel, although exactly how many parallels exist between the two I can’t say – I once began the novel when a certain lady remarked how fateful it was we were reading the same book, having served its purpose, I never finished it.

In any event, Martin’s curiosity becomes an obsession and he can’t help but keep tabs on her love life and indeed even interfere on occasion, all leading to the most ridiculous finale you can imagine – one where you find yourself internally screaming ‘that makes no sense!!!’ as various characters befuddle everything to the point of insanity. You were always kind of hoping for a point to the thing but in the end there isn’t one other than being able to ogle at a few memorable shots of the lead actress’s curves. It’s impossible to imagine anyone really liking this for any reason other than it’s set in France and references classic French literature (it also ruins the ending of Anna Karenina incidentally, which it can’t justify doing).

Gone Girl  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     149 Min        18

David Fincher teams up with screenwriter and author Gillian Flynn as she adapts her own smash hit novel of 2012 for the big-screen, with Ben Affleck in the main role of a husband who’s wife has disappeared, the titular gone girl, but we don’t know if she has been abducted, murdered by intruders, or if her husband cut her into bits with a potato peeler for turning off his Playstation and then fed her to the squirrels in the back garden. We do know there was a violent scene with some blood for the detectives to find in the couple’s home …

As we might expect from Fincher, this is a long and drawn out mystery which serves it well – and it is equally well suited to Affleck’s acting style as you genuinely can’t tell if he’s lying or not (make of that what you will) as we are pulled this way and that along with the other spectators in the escalating media frenzy surrounding the case. It holds attention from start to finish and develops at a rewarding pace, but Fincher has missed a bit of a golden opportunity – he is so used to the sort of narrative maze that he has been crafting in films for years that he over indulges in it to an extent, so when some very, very interesting human relations are brought to the fore they aren’t given the time and treatment they are deserving of. Shame it didn’t dare to tread a lot more heavily on the dark earth it treads, but well crafted and executed all the same.

Guardians of the Galaxy  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     121 Min        12A

An odd film, in that the entire first half is completely flat but the second is the polar opposite – ultimately transforming itself into a reasonably soulful and entertaining sci-fi adventure. Certainly, if you’re going to tell a tale of two halves then that is the right order to do it in. Guardians is the latest from Marvel Studios and the first outing on the big screen for some of their lesser known superheroes, namely ‘Star-Lord’ (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Root (Vin Diesel), lesser known, perhaps, because their escapades are set in our current time frame but in another galaxy, allowing access to previous story threads in the Marvel film universe involving Thanos and Benicio Del Toro’s ‘The Collector’, both seen in post credit sequences at the end of ‘Avengers Assemble’ (12) and ‘Thor : The Dark World‘ respectively.

Star-Lord (Peter Quill is his somewhat less egotistical name) was abducted from Earth when he was a kid in the eighties, and he still religiously listens to the mixed tape he had with him at the time whilst conducting his present occupation of scavenging rare goods and then flogging them. One day, he is sent to collect an orb which will see a bounty put on his head and Gamora, daughter of Thanos, sent to retrieve the item from him by force, just as bounty hunters Rocket (a raccoon genetically modified to be really sarcastic) and Root (a tree) also come across their prey, all resulting in them being lumped together by the authorities in prison where they can begin to bond with one another and meet the final cog in their increasingly unlikely ass kicking outfit – Drax, who interprets everything literally and is built like the proverbial brick shit house.

This protracted and other worldly backstory is the film’s major setback, and a lot of it fails initially. It’s not really until they form a group and meet The Collector, also linking everything to what fans of the previous films will be familiar with, that it starts to cohere together and become more interesting. Thankfully, this still leaves a lot of time for things to pick up, as the action becomes more lively, the jokes funnier, and the characters more, ahem, root worthy, with a suitably dramatic finale and wonderfully villainous performances from Lee Pace and the demoniacally sultry Karen Gillan (who committed to having all of her hair shaved off for the role).

It’s directed by James Gunn (see the wonderful ‘Super’ 2010), who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Nicole Perlman and, all in all, it is a worthy addition to the Marvel canon, but for a while it looked like it was heading for disaster. As usual, there are two new post credit scenes, but unusually the last one has a reference that most of the audience didn’t appreciate – it relates to a certain old superhero film that was so badly received it ended the careers of many of the people involved with it, Tim Robbins being one of the few to rise from its ashes (The Red Dragon, incidentally, passed him on the street in Edinburgh a few months ago – he didn’t recognise me), although I kind of remember it as funny, maybe for the wrong reasons, but I would love it if Gunn were to integrate it into the sequel to this, which has already been greenlit by the studios with him to take on the reins once more …

Grace of Monaco  (2014)    57/100

Rating :   57/100                                                                     103 Min        PG

Universally panned by critics and booed by the Cannes audience that were, ahem, graced with its world premier. Despite ostensibly being about the life of Grace Kelly, one of the biggest movie stars of all time – who married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 to become Grace, Princess of Monaco, this is really just a short, albeit eventful, chapter of her life and centers around the politically charged cauldron of intrigue that the principality found itself in with Charles de Gaulle of France, who threatened to extinguish the nation’s sovereignty if he did not get his way (according to the film at any rate). Likely, this political context strongly influenced the negative reaction in Cannes, a mere 42km or so down the French Riviera from Monaco.

It is interesting – detailing an event in history that was certainly new to me, and indeed presenting one of those moments when you think to yourself, ‘how come I’ve never heard about this before?’. Well, part of the reason for this is that huge swathes of its ‘history’ are fabrications. The personal goings on are of course speculation and invention, with a few events which did occur but a decade earlier than shown, in fact the Royal Family of Monaco have suggested people simply obliterate the lot of it in a press release about the movie, but whilst artistic license with unknown material is to be expected the liberties taken with the facts are simply too egregious to be ignored – like showing de Gaulle being politically outmanoeuvred by Grace by her contriving to have him show up for an event that he never in reality actually attended, and portraying the French as almost pantomime bad guys in order to have the audience sympathise with the protagonists without properly explaining the debate at hand. It’s a shame, Tim Roth as Rainier and Nicole Kidman as Kelly are good to watch, the story flows fairly naturally with the idolisation of the central heroine feeling appropriate rather than gratuitous, although director Olivier Dahan certainly stumbles and falls on more than one occasion.

An effort has been made to mimic to a degree the cinematography of the films Kelly herself starred in – even using obvious studio screens for the backgrounds as Kidman drives around the winding precipitous upland roads of Monaco. Indeed, there is a nod in the direction of what oddly stands out as one of the most memorable scenes in ‘To Catch a Thief’ (55) as we watch Hitchcock (played by Roger Ashton-Griffiths) being driven up to a cliff edge overlooking the whole of the city and, by extension, the entire nation – in the movie Cary Grant and Grace Kelly drive up to the same spot and it’s memorable for both the view and the moment, but it’s also very obvious this scene takes place within a studio and then suddenly, when Grant gets out of the car and walks to the boot, it cuts to location footage with, presumably, body doubles, before once again cutting back to the studio when he gets back into the car. It’s good to know even one of the world’s most famous and revered filmmakers wasn’t afraid to fudge it when he had to …

The film also fits in nicely to this era in the life of Hitchcock and the stories told in both ‘Hitchcock‘ and ‘The Girl‘, in fact chronologically this should be watched in between the two if you intend to see all three. The ending continues to cause problems – the very end bizarrely feels more like that of ‘The Return of the King’ (03), but during a climatic speech from Princess Grace the camera zooms in way, way too much on her face. We can see globules of mascara collecting, the scar from Nicole Kidman’s nose job and the insides of her nostrils in high definition, her bloodshot eyes focused by collecting tears – it’s about as far removed from a classical edit as you can get and it does detract from the moment but, having said that, it does make even the very glamorous and beautiful Nicole Kidman herself look, well, the very opposite of that – perhaps it was an attempt at vulnerability, and to humanise the glamour? Perhaps …

With Frank Langella, Parker Posey and Derek Jacobi in support.

Godzilla  (2014)    4/100

Rating :   4/100                                                                       123 Min        12A

The picture above shows Aaron Taylor-Johnson in his central role here as Ford Brody, who must brave all to face the monstrous threat that ancient large beasties pose to the whole of mankind, although really his character, like almost all the others in the film, actually serve no real purpose and the script constantly bends itself over backwards to fit them into the plot, in this instance he looks rather like he was casually walking down the street when the director and film crew sprang upon him and shouted ‘Ok, now look over here and I want to see a look that says big dinosaur comes to life smashes everything and puts family member into mortal danger which also shows he wasn’t mental all these years and you were completely wrong about him, action!’, and alas the direction and acting do not improve on this throughout the film – asides from Bryan Cranston who, along with the effects, are the only good things about the movie (he plays the said family member in peril).

The story despite ostensibly focusing on Godzilla, actually doesn’t – we spend most of the time watching inept military personnel chasing a couple of giant bat thingys before they can mate, but their mating call attracts Godzilla who acts as a gigantic balancing force of nature and attempts to tackle them head on. Handily the bat things eat radiation and emit electro magnetic pulses, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever but does make it more difficult for us to kill them, although a neutron bomb would surely be difficult to absorb and feed off after it’s atomised everything in the region, one would think. Or chemicals I’m sure would work, or trying to shoot them in their eyes maybe, or …. well basically they are granted carte blanche to do what they like until hero time, and the arrival of Godzilla.

It has a boredom intensity that hasn’t perhaps been seen since the last terrible American Godzilla film back in 98. This sort of tragic action film kind of had its heyday in the nineties, and thankfully studios and directors and writers learned that audiences were not into stupid contrived plots, predictable starts, middles and ends all delivered by turgid hopeless characters. It seems director Gareth Edwards is very much in love with the nineties, whose last film ‘Monsters’ (10) was much better than this but still featured nothing very interesting happening for the majority of the film. Traditionally Godzilla arrived in Japanese cinema as a cultural expression of the horror of having two atomic bombs dropped on their soil – this film seems to be saying yes but that was necessary and we, the Americans, are still the good guys. This is a horrible, horrible film and one that is extremely difficult to make it through to the end of.

Grudge Match  (2013)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                     113 Min        12A

This starts off really badly, as we are introduced to Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (Robert De Niro), two men who once competed professionally against each other in the boxing ring and each won one match apiece, with Razor denying any chance of a deciding bout over personal reasons – leaving unresolved issues that neither man has ever managed to put behind them, until fate intervenes to spark up their old rivalry once more. Initially it’s all a little humdrum with flat jokes and predictable character development, and scenes generally lacking any pizazz. More or less half way through it does pick up though, the story gains a little momentum, the use of music gets better, the characters come to life a bit more, the training montages go up a gear – all leading to quite a satisfying finale.

The two leads of course are famous for playing boxing roles previously; real life boxing legend Jake La Motta in ‘Raging Bull’ (1980) in the case of De Niro (best actor and editing at the Oscars), and Rocky Balboa for Stallone in his Rocky franchise (The first of which won best film at the Oscars for 1976, as well as best director and best editing) and the expected allusions are there. Alan Arkin takes on the role of the sarcastic trainer for Razor, whilst Jon Bernthal has a strong turn as The Kid’s estranged son B.J. and Kim Basinger appears as Razor’s ex-girlfriend, who is more than familiar with their thirty year grudge …

Gravity  (2013)    0/100

Rating :   0/100              COMPLETE INCINERATION            91 Min        12A

Goodness. This is one of those films with big name stars and a huge amount of advertising behind it – all but ensuring its success despite the fact it is beyond abysmal, as the sending of Sandra Bullock into space seems to augur the destruction of pretty much every man made object orbiting the planet and we spend most of the film watching her flailing her arms around helplessly screaming ‘What do I do?! What do I do?!’. In fact, I’m surprised the moon managed to survive and wasn’t somehow thrown out of its orbit by her endless mewling.

The film opens with Bullock busying herself attaching something to the Hubble Space Telescope (which, naturally, she will represent the harbinger of doom for very quickly). We learn that NASA have sent her up there after a mere six months training (the ill fated monkeys they sent into space probably had more prep time) – the reason being she has developed some kind of new instrument for scanning deep space, despite the fact she tells us before this she worked in a hospital and it was developed for use there. Clearly, NASA did not have another astronaut capable of plugging the thing in – certainly not if her pilot George Clooney is anything to go by, whom we see whizzing by playing with his jetpack and listening to country music while she’s attaching her array. As if. One malfunction and that’s you off into deep space pal, no more “Whee Whee! Look at me I’m George Clooney!”

Having thus scuppered any pretence at realism, moments into the film we learn that Russia have missiled one of their defunct satellites which sets off a ‘chain reaction’ of debris (with the high energies involved, and the amount of things in orbit, space debris is a real danger for astronauts and the idea of a chain reaction creating more and more of the stuff has been theorised by the Kessler syndrome since the late seventies). Unfortunately for our intrepid space walkers, and their token Indian comrade, this creates a large amount of orbiting missile objects – which, despite these satellites being spread around in different orbits (and despite the lack of any coherency from what mission control are saying {which sees Ed Harris reprise his previous role from ‘Apollo 13’ before the comms go down} or indeed the lack of any visible missile going off or for that matter the feasibility of one being fired in the first place), has somehow resulted in all the debris arriving together to form one gigantic MONSTER which also just so happens to be in the exact correct path to annihilate everything else that we the human race have put into space, albeit with a little help from Sandra Bullock. Queue lots of arms flapping hopelessly around for the next hour and a half, occasionally interjected with a smug anecdote from Clooney.

The visuals of the Earth are very nice, but they are ruined by the camera spinning around constantly to the point of excess, nauseating the audience if they happen to find the Earth more interesting to look at than the principal leads. The physics never rings true, the dialogue is tragically bad, it never really feels like they’re in space and there’s even a disgustingly grotesque attempt to have Bullock float around and mimic a sort of embryo with various cords floating around her, as if director Alfonso Cuarón (‘Y Tu Mamá También’ 01, ‘Children of Men’ 06) thinks he’s Stanley Kubric. A film chock-full of stupidity from beginning to end with cringe worthy tension at best – even has Bullock running out of oxygen and Clooney decide to engage her in conversation, burning even more oxygen, plus they actually had a very obvious source of more oxygen that they completely ignored. One of the worst films for both actors – both ‘Batman & Robin’ (97) for Clooney and ‘All About Steve’ (09) for Bullock are more entertaining. Look out for the same floating pen that follows Bullock around no matter where she goes – also, the current televised ad for this film has some of John Murphy’s music playing in it: this music has nothing to do with the movie, but is in fact from Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ (07) which is ironically a much, much better science fiction film.

Grown Ups 2  (2013)    34/100

Rating :   34/100                                                                     101 Min        12A

Adam Sandler’s sequel to his commercially successful 2010 film ‘Grown Ups’ sees the return of the entire cast, not to make their audience laugh, unless their audience is comprised entirely of emotionally underdeveloped twelve year old boys, but to make a lot of money whilst expending no creative effort, nor indeed any effort of any kind whatsoever. I can’t remember a single thing about the original, that’s how good it was, unfortunately I wish I could say the same for this cringe worthy attempt at comedy which has genuine moments of ‘this was actually allowed to be made and deemed suitable for human consumption?’. Sandler’s own production company, Happy Madison Productions, (which has long since been blind to the quality of the products it ships out), being the film’s driving force, answers this question.

There are a few reasonably amusing gags, but they are steamrollered by the abundance of flatulence driven garbage that assaults the audience throughout, as if they couldn’t be bothered actually writing a real script but instead turned up onset and decided to begin throwing themselves into objects, farting at the same time. Hilarious. Between these high brow entertainments feature a Stifler pleasing amount of well endowed women showing off their assets, as if Sandler is determined to not only appeal to the lowest common denominator, but also wishes to mount a one man crusade against feminism at the same time.

The returning roster of shame includes Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph as the principal cast, with a few familiar faces in support, including Taylor Lautner, which, you may be surprised to learn, does not improve matters.

G.I. Joe : Retaliation  (2013)    25/100

Rating :   25/100                                                                     110 Min        12A

So tedious I wanted to cry. I think I even caught Bruce Willis grimacing at the hammy acting at one point. This is the sequel to 2009’s disaster that was the original ‘G.I.Joe : The Rise of Cobra’, and wisely Sienna Miller has decided not to return for the sequel – or did her character die in the first one? I really can’t remember, I don’t think it was important either way. The story feels so devoid of attention that it would be more at home as an eight page comic sold with one of the action figures that the wannabe film franchise is based on, and the director, Jon M. Chu (‘Step Up’ & ‘Step Up 3D’), thinks sticking a camera in front of actors and shaking it frantically adds to the visual experience – and that cutting to a fourth rate title sequence by interrupting the phrase “Mother-” in their aimed at younger kids film is perfectly ok.

One can easily imagine the writers researching the film by shooting at defenceless woodland creatures with bazookas. It even manages to put a narrative event which can normally save a dire film from the trash can into a blink and you’ll miss it non-event, not to mention (spoiler alert, but it is in the trailer + you shouldn’t see this film anyway) having the whole of London nuked, and then never mentioning the event again. It was as if it didn’t happen…

Hasbro make the toys, and also run the Transformers line, and here they have used some of the same sound effects from Michael Bay’s films, and seem to have even remixed some of the same music and made the main bad guy sound eerily reminiscent of Megatron. I sincerely hope this doesn’t mean they are planning to do a joint ‘Avengers Assemble’ style team-up. Presumably the Autobots will not be visiting the irradiated dead zone of the United Kingdom if they do.

To be fair, there is a reasonably good action sequence that takes place on a cliff face, with decent vertical shots that actually show where 3D can be effective, and the story does get slightly more interesting toward the end, with Jonathan Pryce gleefully playing with the nuclear launch buttons. Also with Channing Tatum, Dwayne ‘not The Rock anymore but still is’ Johnson, more swipes at politically sensitive Pakistan and North Korea (see ‘Red Dawn‘) and with Willis playing the eponymous G.I. Joe himself.

Gangster Squad  (2013)    66/100

Rating :   66/100                                                                      113 Min       15

A fairly OK gangster film, but one with nothing to really make it stand out and too little in the way of invention when it comes to shootouts and characters. Based very loosely on real life LAPD cop John O’Mara, the gangster squad themselves consist of an off-the-books undercover police operation to harass and attack the illegal shenanigans of one Mickey Cohen (who had a different fate in real life to that in the film) in late 1940’s Los Angeles. The squad are brought to life by Josh Brolin as O’Mara, Ryan Gosling playing Jerry Wooters (the other real character of the group) with a somewhat effeminate voice that takes a bit of getting used too, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, and Micheal Peña. Sean Penn plays Cohen, with Emma Stone as the bit of skirt who sleeps around and generally acts as a 2D plot device, albeit one in the occasional sexy dress. It starts off promisingly, but it’s just not very involving or particularly convincing. There is enough of the traditional gangster film in there to hold interest to the end though.