Legend  (2015)    55/100

Rating :   55/100                                                                     131 Min        18

Tom Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the infamous London gangsters who terrorised the city throughout the fifties and sixties, in a film that is about as unreal a historical depiction as you can imagine. The whole movie has a strong comic vibe to it, feeling primarily like an excuse for Hardy to show off artistically, and indeed it works better in this sense than in any other – partly because laughs were written into it but unfortunately also because there are numerous moments when it just feels a bit silly watching Hardy beat-up on himself. ‘The Double‘ was much more successful in putting the same actor onscreen as multiple characters – here Ronnie is depicted as a schizophrenic lunatic with a love for anarchy and violence, with Reggie as the more respectable and intelligent but an equal in terms of his propensity for bloodied destruction.

Emily Browning is a highlight as Frances Shea, Reggie’s lover, and Hardy skilfully creates numerous indelible moments but writer and director Brian Helgeland (here adapting the works of the man the Krays’ hired to immortalise them in print – John Pearson) takes the conspicuous easy road too frequently – often the face of one Kray is in shot whilst the back of the other is in the foreground etc., and indeed, despite several gory, brutal and menacing scenes, he has managed to more or less write out the entirety of the Krays’ criminal misdeeds, they’ve become ‘Ronnie and Reggie’ from down the pub and the only people we see suffering are those personally involved with them rather than the innumerable innocents concerned – all leaving the whole thing feeling about as realistic as an episode of ‘Eastenders’.

Love and Mercy  (2014)    74/100

Rating :   74/100                                                                     121 Min        12A

Biopic of the life of Beach Boys member and key song writer Brian Wilson, told as a dramatic interpretation in two different time frames – the first with Paul Dano as a youthful Wilson in the sixties just beginning to establish himself creatively and struggling to convince the others of the need to outgrow their initial pop hits, and the second with John Cusack portraying him as a deeply troubled adult who’s life is dominated by the attentions of his almost live-in psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) whilst he tries to embark on a romantic relationship with serendipitous car sales rep Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks).

Both performers have done a really great job of identifying with that period of Wilson’s life – especially true for Cusack who throws in a number of clever nuances here and there, with Banks and Giamatti predictably good in their supporting roles too. As you might imagine, Beach Boys tracks feature heavily throughout (though composer Atticus Ross has often rearranged the wealth of original material they had access to, using their music to subtly create something unique for the film), including their enduring ‘God Only Knows’ and it’s fascinating seeing the negative and damaging reaction that Wilson gets from his father, and one time manager, regarding the song which would go on to become significant to so many people. Indeed, I used to have a young lass tied up in my dungeon for whom the song was the most important in her life. She likely has a different interpretation of it now, but nevertheless the film manages to take a lot of these music industry clichés: familial opposition, drugs, not appreciated in own time etc., and put them into a narrative that not only neatly absorbs them but also makes you appreciate them anew with a compelling story and a sympathetic main character.

The balance between each timeline is perfect and it really tells that director Bill Pohlad (more usually known as a producer on such films as ‘12 Years a Slave‘ and ‘Into the Wild’ 07) was determined to tell a real, accurate story with precious little in the way of embellishment. Indeed, the film has been heralded by all as remarkably true to events and if anything it seems to make the villainous characters seem nicer than they were in real life. All of which makes ‘Love and Mercy’ (the title coming from the opening track of Wilson’s debut solo album) not only a great film, but a sterling example of what biographies and historical films should be trying to achieve.

Life After Beth  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                       89 Min        15

Really disappointing. Trying to be the world’s third major zombie romcom after ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (04) and ‘Warm Bodies‘ and failing quite miserably to generate anything more than brief titters occasionally and far more enduring ennui. It really is a case of ‘the concept is the gag and that’s about it’ as Zach (Dane DeHaan) watches his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) turn slowly into a zombie but he still loves her hopelessly despite the fact that relations become increasingly difficult. That core premise never really takes off – it’s neither well written nor executed and so the film is largely a waste of time. It has some success with the parental situation generated by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon as Beth’s father and mother, and some play as to how far reaching the zombification effects will be, and indeed what their origin is in the first place, but all of this just peters out into uninteresting nonsense – and if you’ve seen the trailer the conclusion is more or less spoiled anyway.

Love, Rosie  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     102 Min        15

No one could have been more surprised than me to discover this is actually a very solid film, detailing the travails of two friends who grow up together and fall in love – neither willing to bridge the dangerous chasm of potential romance and risk all by admitting it. Instead, they both hook up with randoms before making plans to go and study together overseas. Unfortunately, male random dastardly sticks a bun in Rosie’s oven, throwing something more substantial than a spanner in the works for the star-crossed lovers.

Chronicling events for the pair over the next decade or so, this in many respects tells the same story as ‘One Day’ (11) but not only is it miles better, it’s also based on Cecelia Ahern’s second novel ‘Where Rainbows End’ (renamed ‘Love, Rosie’ for the States – Ahern’s debut novel was the already immortalised on film ‘PS, I Love You’) which was published in 2004 and thus predates David Nicholls’ 2009 novel One Day. There are a few forgiveable silly moments here, but what really sells the film is the strength of the two leads – namely Lily Collins as Rosie Dunne and Sam Claflin as Alex Stewart, both giving very sympathetic and engaging performances that had a number of people shedding tears in the audience, and for once I didn’t feel like laughing at them.

Let’s Be Cops  (2014)    37/100

Rating :   37/100                                                                     104 Min        15

Or …. let’s not, as it’s been done a million times before and there’s nothing remotely original or funny here at all. This is of course another buddy cop film, starring Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson as the central crime fighting duo, with the twist that the characters aren’t actually cops, they’re just pretending to be. Initially, it’s all for a fancy dress party, but when people mistake them for the real thing it goes to their heads and they find it difficult to give up, instead buying a real squad car on eBay and going out on the beat, which unfortunately lands them in deep water with organised crime but of course this somehow manages to sort out all of the things wrong with their lives in the process. The overwhelming problem is that Wayans’ character relentlessly complains about what his partner is getting him into, and in a number of cringe worthy moments tries to dissuade or prevent him from going further before inevitably joining in anyway, and his mumping and moaning literally lasts the length of the entire film, even inclusive of the closing moments. That, combined with consistent mediocrity, predictability and tame humour cement this as yet another instantly forgettable instalment in the genre.

Lucy  (2014)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                       89 Min        15

The latest movie written and directed by Luc Besson is a polished and accomplished action film with a number of surprisingly dynamic and inspiring visuals, although it does almost inevitably stumble on occasion with its over the top storyline. Scarlett Johansson plays the titular Lucy, initially a normal young woman living in Taipei until she’s inadvertently kidnapped one day and forced to smuggle a new synthetic party drug into Europe for the local mafia, only an enormous dose of it accidentally spills into her bloodstream allowing her brain to access more and more of its potential – facilitating her escape, revenge and subsequent attempts to thwart their plans for the other mules, all converging in a number of shootouts in Paris.

Her powers are extreme (they manifest much like they do for Bradley Cooper in ‘Limitless’ (11), but quickly escalate into being able to control and contort matter and thought), and initially this does jar a lot with the narrative, but Besson keeps things flowing apace and with enough skill and artistry that it soon becomes easy to look past its exponential structure. More than this, however, lots of shots of nature interspersed with the drama not entirely unlike a Terrence Malick film, and a fascinating if very tenuous grounding in science, running the gamut from a dolphin’s advanced sonar ability to the fact this ‘CPH4’ drug has had its name changed but is a chemical naturally produced by pregnant mothers, albeit in much reduced quantities – all ask questions about our own potential and its place within the fabric of nature generally, fascinating when we consider just how much energy can be released by but a few atoms undergoing nuclear reactions, and although its central premise that we only use ten percent of our brains has been largely debunked as urban legend, many of the other scientific titbits thrown in seem much more plausible and it is certainly very true to say science as yet does not truly understand all the workings of the human mind. It’s cut to a nice length and is directed in a suitably cinematic way resulting in an enjoyable and interesting sci-fi action flick, all with solid acting from the likes of Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked and Choi Min-sik (the protagonist in ‘Oldboy’ 03).

Locke  (2013)    72/100

Rating :   72/100                                                                       85 Min        15

An extremely focused and potent film about consequences and responsibility. The entirety of this film takes place within the car of Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) as he drives away from work and not to home as usual, but to deal with the long shadow cast by some of his previous actions. Although it does not explicitly say so for a little while, it’s fairly obvious from the beginning that this event is the birth of an unplanned for child, one that Locke’s loving wife and current two sons do not know about. We learn the central character has issues of abandonment with regards to his own father, and so he makes several potentially life changing decisions as events pile on top of one another – he was due to pour the largest amount of concrete in Europe ever the following morning and has to prep someone else to do it via phone, for example, and he is partly forced and partly decides for himself that the time has come to confront everything.

The way we hear all of this play out via hands free phone conversations as he’s driving works really well, and it’s quite heart breaking listening to some of the reactions. Hardy is wonderful in the role, sporting a Welsh accent here, one with echoes of Bane in the background which kind of fits with his first name of Ivan, and both he and the script hold and carry interest from beginning to end, resulting in a captivating and meaningful drama.

I shan’t list the names of the actors in voice support as it’s actually better not to match faces to them as you watch the film. Movies that concentrate on only one or two characters in restricted settings are usually always worth watching – see the original ‘Sleuth’ (72), ‘Closet Land’ (91) and ‘Buried’ (10).

Labor Day  (2013)    0/100

Rating :   0/100            COMPLETE INCINERATION            111 Min        12A

Why, why, why oh why did Kate Winslet agree to do this film? This is beyond abysmal. It begins by suggesting it might be going down into ‘Straw Dogs’ (71 & 2011) territory, but then it quickly does a U-turn into the realm of Nicholas Sparks (although Joyce Maynard actually wrote the book this is based on). This essentially tells the story of an escaped prisoner (Josh Brolin) who abducts Winslet and her young son in order to hide out at their house for the evening, where he ‘has’ to tie her up, even though he’s a nice guy you understand, so that it looks like he gave them no choice should someone come in. Within a few days she has been banged so many times by him that she is quite willing to give up everything and take her son out of school, take all their money out of the bank, and flee with him across the border to Canada.

It’s ridiculous, I’m surprised he didn’t try to have it off with the boy at the same time and manage to sell it to the pair of them as normal. To make the clichéd point that perhaps someone who has been sent to jail may still be a nice person, and someone walking around free may not be, we see a mentally handicapped child left over at the house by his mother to be looked after by Winselt and co for the day. Not fearing the mentally handicapped child’s ability to recognise him as a CONVICTED FELON ON THE LAM Brolin teaches the kid baseball and gives him, presumably, the best day of his live with a ‘real man’ father figure, much as he presents to Winslet’s son. On the return of the mother, the child achieves the impossible and recognises who Brolin is and dutifully tries to inform his loving mother, who, in order to shut him up whilst she is talking, turns around and SOCKS HIM IN THE FACE, before cheerfully saying goodbye and carting the dazed and befuddled child out of the door.

This child abuse doesn’t end with the loving parents of the town though, a local police officer (played by none other than Dawson, James Van Der Beek) after seeing Winslet’s child casually walking down the street actually threatens to arrest him unless he gets in the car so that he can give him ‘a ride home’. Hmm. After Brolin begins his attempted rape/seduction of Winslet by tying her up slowly in front of her kid, he follows this up with the old one-two of baking absurdly rich and perfect peach pie, an age old seduction technique guaranteed to charm the pants off any sex starved middle aged house wife, especially if they can’t cook themselves. In the years to come we see Tobey Maguire appear as Winslet’s boy in the future and guess what he does for a living? He bakes THE SAME FUCKING PIE on an industrial scale. GET. TO. FUCK.

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.

Last Vegas  (2013)    66/100

Rating :   66/100                                                                     105 Min        12A

The story is achingly lame, and yet the acting makes it not only palatable but also reasonably enjoyable. Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam (Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline respectively) have been friends since they were kids, now Billy is finally tying the knot with a young hottie half his age and he wants his friends with him for his bachelor party in Vegas, only a seemingly impassable rift between he and Paddy will have to be crossed first – and so the other two simply trick Paddy into turning up.

Enter the very fine and sultry looking Diana (Mary Steenburgen) into the equation and old rivalries are renewed, and past secrets ousted, with Douglas and De Niro primarily signed up for the drama, and Kline and Freeman the comedy. One of the most striking things about the movie is just how tall Freeman is compared to Douglas and De Niro – he towers at least half a head over the pair of them. The fact that this is one of the most memorable things about the movie probably gives you some indication of the level of comedy involved, but it is nevertheless a likeable, decent film.

Look out for the involuntary leg shake from De Niro when the four of them get to rate a series of bikini clad nubile young girls. It’s good to see the ‘Method’ is still going strong …