I can just imagine the masses watching this film. Wah! Wah! Why doesn’t he talk? Why isn’t there any dialogue? Why isn’t he shouting and screaming every five seconds? And who the hell is this old gentleman? I’ve never seen him in anything else before. All is Lost is kind of like Life of Pi if you removed the tiger, the hyena, the zebra and the orangutan and replaced them with an old gentleman who doesn’t say much. Okay, so it’s nothing like Life of Pi, except for the fact that both main characters are stuck in a boat. I’m kind of a sucker for these films. Films where the characters are pitted against the elements. Touching the Void, 127 Hours, Gravity etc. All films where stoic individuals are thrust into impossible circumstances and have to perform incredible feats in order to survive. I don’t know why, but I find all of these stories fascinating. The strength of the human will is truly a marvel. For a while I didn’t think that All is Lost would live up to those aforementioned films. It seemed a little straightforward, perhaps moribund - it lacked a magical moment to spark it off. But then there’s a scene where our hero, having abandoned his boat and now surviving in a rubber raft, is thrust into a second storm. He survived the first one, at the expense of his boat, but now he’s just in an inflatable piece of plastic. From under the water we see the raft approaching the storm like a lily in the sea. How can something so fragile survive something so brutal as this? Juxtaposed with this marvellous visual is an amazing piece of music. It elevates the scene into something transcendent. This is man finally facing his mortality. It might just be one man and one little life raft, but this is an epic battle. At first the man hangs gamely on, grimacing at every wave, but then the raft capsizes and he has to unzip the top of the dinghy in order to escape drowning. Outside he then manages to pull the raft back over. He then cowers in his raft, hands over his ears as he tries to block everything out. Whatever the folly of sailing alone in the ocean, you can’t help but feel tremendously for the man. What more does he have to do? What more does he have to go through? If he’s paying for his sins, this is some hell of a test. This is perhaps the first time, though, that we see cracks in the man’s armour. Previous to this, he faces every test with an impassive face. Oh, there’s a hole in the side of my boat? Let me whip something up and fill the hole. Oh, there’s a problem with the radio? Let me climb up the mast and try and fix it. Oh, there’s a storm coming? Let me have a shave and freshen up. But would you want anything else? Do you want someone continually talking to themselves and explaining everything to the audience and crying in frustration when something bad happens? No, I wouldn’t. This is Robert Redford. The character he’s playing is obviously a highly experienced sailor. Nothing much is going to faze him. Plus he’s not a young kid. He’s not going to be a hot head. So I’m completely at ease with the fact that the man here doesn’t talk. It also helps the story. The fact that he doesn’t talk helps you figure things out yourself. What’s he doing here, you find yourself asking. And then a few minutes a later you figure it out. There’s one moment where, in the middle of a heavy storm, he gets out of the boat and begins steering and then fucking around with the sail. Is it because he has the biggest balls in the world and wants to feel the wind in his hair? Well, yes, he does have bigger balls than you, but he’s setting the sail so that he doesn’t have to steer the boat. The idea is that he can hide below deck and the boat will steer itself. This is a great plan in theory, but the man gets swept over the side of the boat and he struggles to clamber back on board. I swear, each time the man ends up in the water, the film suddenly becomes one of the most stressful viewing experiences out there. I can think of fewer things scarier than being thrown into the open sea during a storm. Even being in the open ocean on a calm day is thoroughly appalling. As the film progresses, the imagery becomes more and more threatening. We see several shots from below the life raft. At the beginning, there’s only water. But then fish begin to gather and pretty quickly they’re joined by sharks. Death is getting closer and closer. The man manages to navigate into some shipping lanes by teaching himself how to use a sextant. He spots a couple of ships and manages to fire flares, but nobody sees him. Later on, when he spots another ship, he starts a small fire in his raft. The fire quickly gets out of control and he jumps over the side. With all hope gone, the man decides to drown himself. But then as he sinks down into the water, he sees a boat on the surface and flashlights searching for him. It’s a miracle and he floats back to the surface. An outstretched hand is waiting for him and the film cuts to white. The relief, after such a stressful film, is palpable. But then you begin to wonder whether this actually happens. Is this the fantasy of a dying man? Is this him, having given his earthly life, ascending to heaven? The whiteout at the end leaves the film with a lot of ambiguity. Which, for me, is a perfect way to end this movie. As the film progresses, it kind of feels like the man is paying for his sins. He goes through so much. At the end does he achieve salvation or was this all for nothing? Your guess is as good as mine. But what I can say for certain is that this is a wonderful movie. It builds and it builds and it builds. It’s a powerhouse of a film.
For a genre that’s renowned for being cool and free-spirited, these jazz bastards aren’t half uptight. The best way to describe Whiplash would be Full Metal Jacket with drums. The film is basically a loud, rude, abusive teacher (JK Simmons, in the R Lee Ermey mould) bullying a wee little lamb who turns into something of a wolf (Miles Teller, mirroring a young Matthew Modine). This is a gross simplification of the film but it’s still an appropriate comparison. Now for those of you who want a more contemporary parallel, think of it as a kind of Hell’s Kitchen deal. The Gordon Ramsay figure hurls a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse and the petrified student has to either sink or swim. Meanwhile, we sit there grinning with glee, because it’s not us getting abused. I’m not quite sure why we, as a society, get such a kick out of these relationships. If this kind of stuff happened between spouses, we’d be horrified. But because it’s between a student and teacher, we’re more likely to allow it. There’s a part of us that feels that this kind of stuff is character building. That to be upset by it is to be weak or wet. The sick and brilliantly perceptive part of the film is that Neiman (Teller) thoroughly rejects his own father over this bully of a teacher. His dad is a little insipid and isn’t fully understanding of his son’s desire to be a great drummer, but he’s essentially a good man. He certainly provides him with plenty of emotional support. But he doesn’t push his son. Perhaps because of this, Neiman feels like his father is leading him to a life of mediocrity. And mediocrity is one thing that Neiman doesn’t want. Like many ambitious young men, he has an insane drive to make his mark on the world - to be remembered. He becomes thoroughly obsessed with his drumming and dedicates all of his energy towards it. In one scene, he breaks off with his girlfriend because he knows that he can’t give her the time that she needs and that if he does give her time, he’ll only resent her. It’s a cruel scene, because he’s admitting to her that she’s less important to him than his drum kit, but it rings completely true. Especially the way that he thinks he’s being nice about it. He speaks completely rationally, explaining everything honestly and thoroughly, but the lack of passion for her is slightly chilling. She means nothing to him. He’s also young enough to have the delusion that he’s going to change the world. Only when you’re in your early 20s are you arrogant enough to think that you’re bringing something fresh to your art and that you’re going to change things. And then a few years later you realise what an insufferable twat you are. But maybe, in the end, after his final performance, his arrogance is justified... But it might not just be the arrogance of youth that’s at work with Neiman. There’s a hint or two that he might have Asperger’s or some other behavioral disorder. His girlfriend, at one point, notes that he doesn’t look the actors in the face when he goes to the movies. He’s also incredibly compulsive and trains so much that he rips his hands apart. And then in another scene, where he forgets his drumsticks, he gets into a car crash but still drags himself to his band’s competition. This is obviously not normal behaviour. But still, it might be a little lazy to say that Neiman has some kind of disorder. This behaviour might just be indicative of him being an obsessive young man. The meat of the film revolves around Neiman and his relationship with Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). Fletcher is firmly in the Sergeant Hartman mould. He intimidates his students, he curses at them and sometimes he even physically assaults them. He’s a horrible, wretched human being, but I can still understand the relationship Neiman has with him. He basically becomes a surrogate father. Neiman constantly wants approval from him. That approval is almost impossible to obtain. Fletcher’s standards are scarily high and nothing short of being the next Charlie Parker will please him. But for an obsessive young man, this makes his approval far more meaningful. He’s like a kid with an abusive parent. The abused kid might get yelled at for any little thing, but any show of affection is more meaningful for it. It’s a completely wrong way of thinking, but I understand where it comes from. If approval is harder to come by, it somehow has a higher value. If you finally do get a ‘well done’ or a pat on the head or a nod of approval, you feel like a million bucks - you had to work really hard for it. For example, for Neiman, the love he gets from his father is easy and therefore, to him, cheap and meaningless. But Fletcher is giving nothing away. He even admits that there is nothing more harmful than saying ‘good job’. To a certain degree, he might have a point. Praise should be hard earned but it shouldn’t be this hard earned. Fletcher is borderline psychopathic. In Neiman’s first class he bullies and bamboozles a kid into quitting his band just because he’s fat. A nice guy Fletcher is not. It’s no wonder that there aren’t any women in Fletcher’s band. They wouldn’t put up with this kind of shabby treatment. But the guys eat it up and ask for more. One of the most amazing aspects of the film is the musical chairs that Fletcher plays for the seat on the drums. At one point Fletcher has three different guys vying for the place and spends hours torturing them in order to find his number one. How anyone can put up with that kind of abuse, I don’t know, but young guys can be stupid and easily manipulated. What endpoint Fletcher has in mind, I’m not sure, but at one point he admits that he’s looking for the next Charlie Parker. So that suggests that he’s going to keep pushing and pushing and pushing until he eventually finds someone worthy. The power struggle that drives the film culminates, like a sports movie, with a final performance. Neiman has been responsible for getting Fletcher fired from his teaching position, but still, like a moth to the flame, Neiman is drawn back to his old mentor. Fletcher recruits him for his new band. When Neiman gets there he has to perform a piece he’s never played before - he’s been set-up and flounders horribly before exiting the stage with his tail between his legs, much to Fletcher’s amusement. Backstage, he gets hugs from his father, but this embrace doesn’t console him. He charges back onto stage and begins playing. With Fletcher fuming, he begins a new song and shows what he can do. But this is just an appetizer. After this he begins a frantic drum solo which eventually leads into the next song. Fletcher’s anger turns to interest. Neiman is finally ascending into that far off realm - Fletcher is impressed by his playing and the film ends with the two of them in harmony. I’m not quite sure what to think of the ending. On the one hand, Neiman’s hard work and dedication is finally paying off. But at the same time, is this an endorsement of these teaching methods? The only way to become great is to be treated like absolute crap? I don’t think it’s quite that simple, but it’s certainly open for debate. I personally think that you don’t have to frighten and intimidate to get the best out of people, but at the same time, sometimes it works. Look at someone like Alex Ferguson (former manager of Manchester United). He would bully and intimidate his players. He would famously give them the ‘hair dryer’ treatment - shouting in their faces with such ferocity that it was like turning on a hair dryer. And he got amazing results from his players. He dragged some sub-standard squads to glory - teams that would flounder under different management. So there’s something to be said for this kind of teaching, but it’s certainly not the only way. Regardless, the film is a powerhouse. The performances are amazing, the writing and direction are excellent and the music is superb. Well, superb for jazz. We all know that jazz is the lowest form of art. But here it’s actually tolerable. But I have to point this out again. Fuck me, these jazz bastards are uptight. Like, really, really, really uptight.
I can picture it like it was yesterday. I’d gone round a friend’s house and they’d rented a video. It was an 18 certificate (R for you fucking Yanks - even NC-17 in some instances). I’d never seen an 18 before. I was worried that my parents would find out. I was worried that the film would traumatise me forever. If it’s an 18, it must be some heavy shit. I wasn’t quite sure I could handle it. Ten minutes in and numerous people had been killed. But it wasn’t so bad. I hadn’t been scarred forever. I hadn’t spontaneously shit myself and my parents hadn’t disowned me. All was right in the world. The film that day happened to be Commando. Looking back at the movie, I have to question the logic of those first few minutes. Firstly, the initial killing. So some guy is sleeping in bed and then hears the dustmen/garbage men approaching. He’s forgotten that it’s garbage day and staggers outside to take out the garbage in time. The dustmen then rip him open with Uzis. And then rather hilariously, while he’s dead on the floor, they shoot him some more. Really, is there any need for that? Look at him, he’s fucking dead! You’re just wasting ammo now. But this has to be the most presumptuous assassination ever. Okay, so you’re tricking him into thinking it’s garbage day and you’re luring him out of his house. How do you know that the sound of the approaching truck is going to wake him? How do you know that he’ll fall for your deception and come out? It seems like a bit of a long shot to me. And what are you going to do if he doesn’t come out? Just drive on by? ‘Oh well, I guess he didn’t fall for it. Time for Plan B.’ Or would you just kick his door in and shoot him in his house? In which case, why do you need the fucking garbage truck?!? Then in the next scene, Cooke, one of the guys who committed the garbage truck hit, walks into a car dealership. As we find out later, Cooke is working for a well funded South American military dictatorship, which makes his actions in this scene a little bizarre. He decides to steal a car and propel the salesman through the window to his possible death. Now I know that we all hate car salesmen, but isn’t this a little stupid? I’m sure the South Americans would buy you a car or at least allow you to expense one. They’re a corrupt military regime. I’m sure they’ll take care of you. But is Cooke a kleptomaniac or merely a psychopath who likes a good bargain? ‘You know what I like best?’ he asks, just before he drives the guy through the window. ‘The price.’
Cooke then goes on to blow up a boat with a remote control. I swear it has the longest antenna in the history of the world. The thing just keeps on coming. You’re the most conspicuous man performing an assassination I’ve ever seen. ‘Who blew up that boat?’ [Five seconds of searching] ‘That guy over there with the massive remote control and antenna! Get him!’ Can I reiterate that this is just the first couple of minutes!! Just when you thought that things couldn’t get any better, we cut to Arnie. Now how does he make his appearance? By carrying a chainsaw and huge fucking log. Yes, you’re right, he does have a giant dick, thank you very much.
Accompanied by the most awesome steel drum instrumental in the history of the world (makes total sense for a film about a Commando who has to go to South America), we get to see John Matrix (best name for a hero...ever!) live his idyllic life with his daughter. They tickle, they chop wood, they rub ice cream in each others faces, they practice martial arts and they feed baby deer by hand. Yeah, that’s right, they feed baby deer by hand! Check your jealousy at the door you fucking pissant. Geez, look at them. They’re just so perfect! Maybe a little bit too Aryan for my taste, but then again, I’m just a humble muggle, so I shouldn’t hate on them. However, there’s definitely something a little weird here. The way that they express their love for each other is way too intense. This kid is going to have some serious daddy issues in the future. But even though John does all this touchy-feely sensitive shit with his daughter, he quickly dispels any notions that he might be a fucking homo. As he reads a magazine with his daughter, he’s quick to pour scorn on Boy George. ‘Why don’t they just call him Girl George?’ Feel the fucking burn, George O’Dowd, you wee, poofy bastard. This is a real man here! A log-carrying, deer-feeding, badass motherfucker who reads Tiger Beat. Now where is the mother you might be wondering? Yeah, she’s dead. How or why we don’t know. It’s not important. She was just a vessel anyway. Once she birthed the kid she was surplus to requirements. She probably had a fatal laundry accident or succumbed to the sheer power of John Matrix’s sex. And the daughter isn’t even important either. She’s just a damsel in distress - a conduit for Matrix’s pent up fury. Fucking women, man. Or course, this idyllic life lasts for about ten seconds before the daughter is kidnapped. One guy tries to reason with Matrix, saying that now that they have his kid, he has to cooperate, right? ‘Wrong’ is Matrix’s response and he shoots the man in the head. Negotiations are for pussies, you foreign twat. The child is kidnapped by a team of mercenaries, led by Bennett, a Freddie Mercury lookalike and a raging homosexualist. He says that Matrix ran him out of his unit. I think by unit, he means ass, but the message is plain as day regardless. With his Village People moustache and string vest, he’s clearly queer for Matrix and wants revenge. But even though Bennett is one of the most hilarious villains in movie history, he’s still not as good as Sully. Played by David Patrick Kelly (‘Warriors, come out to plaayayy!’), he’s possibly the sleaziest man in movie history...and definitely the most awesome. Sully, along with some other heavies, is trying to deliver John Matrix to a dethroned South American dictator (played by Dan Hedaya, who seems to be brown facing in his attempt to look Latin). But Sully is more interested in perving out on random women than the task in hand. There’s one hilarious moment where the heroine of the film is talking on a public phone and Sully is just standing there, cigarette in mouth, grinning like a lunatic as she’s having a personal conversation. It’s incredibly inappropriate but Sully just doesn’t give a shit. He’s the Michael Jordan, Roger Federer and Luis Suarez of sleazeballs. Sully then follows the woman to a car park. Part of Sully’s charm is that he doesn’t do this in a secretive fashion. He’s quite brazen about his stalking. He swaggers like Vincent Kennedy McMahon. And his attire is beyond reproach. He’s got a black suit with what looks like chalk marks all over it, a grey-blue shirt with horizontal stripes and a skinny grey tie with widely spaced thin black stripes. In short, he looks like a million bucks. Any woman would be lucky to hop on his eager little penis. Unfortunately, the object of his affection, Cindy (played by Rae Dawn Chong), has no fucking taste and rebuffs him. To be fair, though, his chat up technique is a little...blunt. As she’s trying to unlock her car, he walks up to her and says, ‘You know, there’s something I’d really like to give you.’ Oooh! Oooh! Let me guess! It’s your knob you’re talking about, right? I think he’s talking about his knob. Am I right, you’re talking about your knob? Cindy then calls him a nightmare, to which Sully has the ultimate retort. And this is possibly the best line in the history of cinema. ‘You fucking whore.’ Whoah, that’s a bit harsh, Sully! But still, total genius. What better way to piss on someone’s day than just to call them a fucking whore? It’s going to make anyone feel like crap for ages. And here I was thinking that Sully was just going to rape her. I didn’t know he could be this brutal. But I beg you to try this in your everyday lives. If someone gives you bad service or does something that isn’t to your liking, just call them a fucking whore. You’ll make them feel like crap for days while you strut off like a champion. (The man-logic of this scene is actually scarily perceptive. How many times do pestering men get rebuffed by women and then dismiss them as whores or sluts because they wouldn’t fuck them?)
Now that I have a wee little sprog of my own, bouncing around my apartment like a hyperactive midget that talks faster than Quentin Tarantino, I’ve been revisiting characters from my childhood. One of which is Paddington Bear. Now before he became a whore for Marmite, I remember him from the cute little stop motion animation in the 70s and 80s. Fucking adorable he was, with little hint that he was going to betray his love of all things marmalade and sell his soul to the salty yeast god for some easy cash.
Years and years ago it felt like I was a lone voice of dissent. Spaced is utter dogshit I would tell people. It’s just a series of film references. Yes, you’ve watched Star Wars a million times and now you’re referencing Jedi mind tricks. Oh, what a fucking genius you are. Colour me pleasantly surprised when Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz turned out to be rather good. Maybe Spaced was just a painful learning exercise. From now on, everything’s going to be great. Yeah, bollocks to that. The World’s End is a painfully disappointing film. It feels like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. It’s Shaun of the Dead’s pasty, unfunny, twin brother. So much of the film falls flat. Right from the off you know you’re in trouble. The film begins with a painfully unfunny introduction to the main characters. The writing is plodding, heavy-handed and stale, and all the visual pyrotechnics in the world aren’t going to save it. Yes, here are some kids who were friends at school and then they went out drinking. It feels like the film takes ten minutes to convey this information. It’s a completely unnecessary sequence. For what it’s worth, the story focuses on a fucking loser played by a rather emaciated and unhealthy looking Simon Pegg. He’s an alcoholic who has never moved on from his teenage years. He wants to complete a pub crawl comprising of twelve pubs in his childhood town. But he wants to do this with all of his old friends. Needless to say, they’ve all moved on with their lives. We’ve got a car salesmen, an estate agent, a business executive etc. Will they join Gary’s (Pegg) quest to reach The World’s End and down a twelfth pint? What the fuck do you think? But they’re not going to do it before some desperate padding and unfunny attempts at comedy. One-by-one Gary has to convince his old friends to join him, leading to some horribly repetitive shit. With each successive scene, Gary comes over as increasingly sad and pathetic. And not in an amusing way. He’s no Withnail. He doesn’t have any funny lines. He doesn’t have any amusing behaviour. There’s no wit, there’s no edge and no bite. It’s just Simon Pegg horribly overacting as he tries to wring some juice out of his hapless script. Once they finally start the pub crawl, we again have to put up with annoying repetition. Ask for drinks, same shot of pints being pulled, cut to characters chugging it down, cue a little bit of squabbling about the past. By the time you get to the third pub, it begins to dawn on you that you’re going to have to put up with this another nine times. Hand me a bottle of vodka and pour it into my eyeballs, this is going to be a long ride. Of course, The World’s End has a twist, but again it feels recycled. Shaun of the Dead had zombies so The World’s End has...alien androids. Sounds like it could be amusing, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. It just feels like warmed up leftovers. Oh, so before we were killing zombies? Now we get to kill androids that have blue blood! See what we did there? See how we made it totally different and unique? The first attack on Gary, by a pack of chavs, is ridiculously choreographed. Gary gets into a scuffle with a kid and then does a Rock Bottom into a urinal and decapitates the teenager. Okay, so drunk Gary can execute a perfect wrestling move? And of course he has no idea that this kid is a robot. So he legitimately thinks it would be a good idea to do this move through a urinal which, if the kid were human, would probably kill him? Look, I know logic isn’t high on the agenda of this film, but the characters in this movie are so stupid that it beggars belief. And after this, Gary’s friends and a whole bunch of alien robots join together for a huge fight with more ridiculous choreography. Apparently everyone here should be wrestling in WWE. Everyone’s flying around like Rey Mysterio. There are gorilla presses and back breakers and flying elbows. And it also seems like the alien robot kids are made of glass, because they shatter with just the slightest impact. One kid gets broken in half when he gets thrown against a sink and another shatters when he gets elbow dropped in the head. High technology but terrible construction. Are they are a bunch of iPhones? You’d think that after this attack, Gary would maybe decide to go home and forget the pub crawl. But seeing as he’s insanely single-minded, we have to carry on with the arduous endeavor. On and on it goes as the group debates whether so-and-so is a robot or not. Eventually all hell breaks lose and the androids are chasing Gary through the streets. When he reaches the final pub, The World’s End, he’s interrupted and lead to a secret chamber where it’s revealed that alien androids have already infiltrated the world and that they’re responsible for all the advancements in technology. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Everything then goes kaboom and the film ends with an apocalyptic hellscape. What makes the ending thoroughly amazing is that it kind of ends as an action movie. Most of the characters are doing their best to make the most of the end of the world, but Gary, ever the child, is transformed almost into an action hero. He walks into a bar with some android friends, who are not trusted by anyone, seeing as they kind of helped to destroy everything, and then draws a sword when a bartender refuses to serve the androids. It’s thoroughly bizarre and quite depressing when you think about it. So the world has ended and yet you’re still some ridiculous cartoon. You’re still a child. You’re now living some post-apocalyptic, comic book fantasy. Please take this movie away. Please eject it violently from the rectum of the film landscape.
‘I love your wall.’ No, I love your wall. And I love your big, freaky head and your crazy songs. You’re awesome Frank. When I was a kid, there was a television character called Frank Sidebottom. He had a broad Northern accent and he would play the banjo and he would conduct interviews in his shed. He also had a huge papier mache mask. It was incredibly weird and cartoonish. The eyes kind of looked like something out of an anime and the hair looked like it was coloured in with felt pen. It was incredibly bizarre and I didn’t quite understand it. I hadn’t thought about Frank for several years and then he turned up in the movie Filth. James McAvoy’s character imitates Frank Sidebottom when making dirty phone calls to the wife of a friend. And then, weirdly enough, Frank got his own film. It was amazing to me that Michael Fassbender got cast as Frank. Fassbender is a massive sex symbol and Frank is, well, a freak. A kindly, well intentioned freak, but a freak nonetheless. The Frank in this movie deviates from the previous incarnation, in that he’s an American and he’s the leader of an experimental synth band. Gone is the broad Northern accent and the banjo, but it doesn’t matter. This movie is lots and lots of fun. The story centers around Jon (Domhall Gleeson), a young, aspiring songwriter. The movie begins with the protagonist desperately trying to write a song. His lyrics describe the things that he sees as he walks around, and the song is pretty terrible. We then see him struggling in his room to write melodies. Just as he thinks he’s stumbled upon something great, he realises that he’s playing a Madness song. This is a kid that hasn’t found his creative voice yet and who is desperately lacking inspiration. One day, as Jon is hanging out near the beach, he sees a man trying to drown himself. It turns out that the man is a keyboard player for a band that’s in town. Jon ends up talking to one of the band members and before he knows it, he’s invited to play keyboards for a gig that night. The gig is suitably weird. Jon turns up with the show already beginning and with an empty keyboard waiting. Frank then walks out, slapping a cymbal as he strides in (a little detail that cracked me up) and then proceeds to sing a song about soup. Jon kind of stares in disbelief but then begins to get into it, the allure of the bright lights too much for him to resist. Finally he belongs to something. Well, kind of. Even though Jon loves being part of the band, he faces hostility from most of the members. There are two French players who basically ignore him and then there’s Clara (Maggie Gylenhaal), the theremin player, who’s openly hostile. They know that this guy has no place in the band, that’s he’s just some sad guy desperate to belong to something, desperate for fame, but innocent Frank only sees goodness in him. Have I mentioned yet that Frank never takes his mask off, no matter what? Yep, no matter what he does, he keeps it on. There’s one hilarious moment when Jon, who’s desperate to see Frank without his mask, goes into Frank’s room and sees the mask on the floor. Finally, I’m going to see what he really looks like, you can imagine him saying to himself. He then goes into the bathroom and is confronted with the sight of Frank showering with a plastic bag on his head. He’s wearing another mask. He has multiples. At first you think that the band are being unnecessarily mean to Jon, but as the film progresses, you begin to realise that he’s the poisonous element of the group. He posts videos of the band on YouTube, he blogs and he tweets. This social media presence is meant to promote the band, but it ends up turning them into a joke. And Jon is all too willing to capitalise on this. After completing an album, the band travels to America for a music festival. Frank can’t handle his newfound fame and the group disintegrates. Eventually only Frank and Jon remain. Frank is a nervous wreck but Jon drags him onto the stage and they end up performing a song that Jon wrote. At the beginning of the performance, Jon states that it’s the greatest day of his life but it quickly turns into a nightmare, as Frank collapses on the stage, mumbling that the music is shit. Some people have criticised the final act of the film but I think it’s excellent. Jon is a hack and fame hungry. He isn’t a bad guy per se, but he doesn’t fully understand the consequences of his actions. Frank’s band isn’t so much about the music. It’s a way for this damaged individual to retain some measure of sanity (or at least to release his insanity). All of the other band members are there helping him. They realise that Frank is the center and they don’t try and disturb their orbit around him. But then Jon comes along, thinking that he can share the limelight and propel them to some measure of fame. This lunatic asylum is never meant to become famous. And so Clara, who for so long seems like the meanest bitch in the universe, comes out really as the hero. All along she’s trying to protect Frank. She can see through Jon. She knows that he has stars in his eyes and that he has the potential to destroy them all. One of the funniest scenes is when Frank decides to preview a new song he’s written. Under the influence of Jon, he decides to write his most ‘likeable song ever’. With a crazy dance beat and an ear-piercing falsetto he proceeds to sing a song about Coca-Cola, lipstick and kissing. Clara, in complete deadpan, tells Frank that yes indeed, it is his most likeable song ever. In other words, he’s completely sold out and has produced a bag of shite. After the failed festival performance, Jon and Frank hole up in a motel. They get into an argument and Jon tries to rip his mask off. It’s further evidence of what a reprehensible person Jon is. The rest of the band are content to let Frank just be Frank. But Jon wants to see the ‘real’ Frank and selfishly tries to expose him in order to satisfy his own curiosity. Frank then runs out of the motel and gets run over, his mask shattering in the process. We do eventually get to see Frank without his mask. He’s a completely broken person, his hair patchy and bald in places because of the mask rubbing against his head. He looks completely lost. But he comes to life at the end when Jon reunites him with his band. Jon’s final shot at redemption is to take Frank to a hick bar where his old band is performing. Clara is warbling some terribly depressing tune but then Frank turns up. At first she doesn’t recognise him but then it dawns on her who he is. He begins to improvise a tune and Clara returns to her familiar place on the theremin. The band quickly get into the song and begin rocking out. And the final song is actually really good. Frank sings about everything he loves and you can’t help but feel that this is a love song to his band. They’re his therapy, his meaning, his life. They’re all back together, the familiar pieces back in place. This is the way it should have been all along and it’s completely appropriate that Jon returns back to obscurity. But who knows what lies in store for Frank’s band. They’re not built for success but this last song is actually really good and completely heartfelt. The ending is actually really moving. Maybe they’ll have some success despite themselves.
Having been disappointed by 2014’s most critically acclaimed film, Boyhood, I decided to give 2014’s highest grossing movie a chance. Surely I can’t go wrong here. Everyone loves Guardians of the Galaxy. This is going to be loads of fun, isn’t it? Sadly, I was wrong. This is a painfully ordinary movie. Pedestrian action scenes, plodding screenplay and mediocre direction. Starved as we are for fresh, inventive summer blockbusters, I can understand the willingness to pounce on anything that rises above the mediocre standards set by this rather moribund industry, but Guardians of the Galaxy is not a film to get excited about. It offers nothing that we haven’t seen before and nothing that hasn’t been done better countless times. Want a sci-fi soap opera western? Watch Star Wars. Want a wisecracking hero? Watch Indiana Jones. Want a gang of colourful heroes? Watch The Great Escape or The Magnificent Seven. What makes this extra disappointing is that the film starts so strongly. The film begins with Peter Quill as a child. His mother is on her deathbed and he’s listening to some 10cc on his Walkman. It’s incredibly sad and moving, and they manage to film it in such a way that it resembles a Spielberg film from the 70s. But then Peter gets kidnapped by aliens and we’re thrust into mediocrity. The film is just incredibly disjointed and random. Like so many action and adventure films these days, they’re impatient. Everything has to move at a hundred miles an hour. They never take the time to set up situations and characters correctly. I watched Guardians and it was just like *random shit, random shit, wisecrack, random shit, random shit, action scene*. How about, you know, a story? And really, the MacGuffin in this film is some round thing? And the bad guys are armour-plated aliens with blue faces? In The Avengers the MacGuffin was a square thing and the bad guys were amour-plated aliens with skeleton-like faces. Nice to see that Marvel is awash with fresh ideas. What’s next? Are we going to have a triangle MacGuffin and are the bad guys going to be amour-plated aliens with red skeleton faces? Yeah, that’s stupid, Captain America already has the red skeleton thing covered. Maybe I’m just a joyless, miserable bastard. Everyone else also loved The Avengers, while I thought it was terrible. But no, I refuse to believe that I’m the problem here. Just because other people have lowered their standards beyond all recognition, doesn’t mean that I have to. How can you aspire to create a compelling adventure film when you have some of the dullest villains ever seen in a movie? A film like this lives and breathes with its villains. A hero is only as good as his/her adversary. The villain here is a roided, blue alien dude. He doesn’t say anything interesting. He doesn’t say anything cool or scary. He doesn’t kill people in frightening/amusing ways. He doesn’t have any witty banter or one liners. He’s just like a guy from The Blue Man Group who’s gone seriously rogue and has taken far too much whey supplement. He probably has teeny, weeny testicles and is doomed to overcompensate on a cosmic scale. The best character, by a country mile, is Groot. Who would have thought that Vin Diesel as an intergalactic Hodor would be the best thing about this blockbuster? But weirdly enough, Groot, the alien Hodor tree, is the most rounded, most human, most selfless character in the movie. He even gives his life for his friends. In one of the best scenes in the film, he wraps his friends in a cocoon to protect them, taking his own life in the process. It’s a great scene. There’s also another great moment when Groot saves his friends by taking out a bunch of guys with his branches/arms. Groot drives his limbs through his adversaries and then batters them against the wall like rag dolls. Once they’re defeated, he turns around and gives his friends a big, goofy grin. It’s another excellent moment. However, even with Groot the film has a touch of randomness about it. His powers are never truly explained and it’s only when he’s saving his friends with his cocoon that you’re told that this will kill him. Again it leaves you with the impression that things are being made up as they go along. But there’s actually some pretty genuine pathos when Groot is killed and Rocket is sobbing into a handful of branches. For that, for having a character you genuinely care about, the film deserves some credit. It gets nothing from me, though, for the fearsomely dull action sequences towards the end. We’re not quite in Avengers territory where you have a forty minute action scene with flying space turtles and millions of people dying bloodless deaths offscreen in a citywide rampage, but it’s almost as dreary. Really, these big space battles and citywide assaults haven’t excited me for a long, long time. Pixels get destroyed, stuff goes kaboom and everyone gets on with their lives. None of these big Marvel action sequences have any flavor. They all feel incredibly bland. I’d rather watch the crazy father versus son fight in Hulk than this. And that film is still a lot better than anything Marvel has produced since.
Boyhood is a horribly depressing film; a film with an amazing concept that fails to deliver in every regard. Shot over the course of twelve years, we get to follow a boy as he becomes a man. The movie begins with him as a six-year-old and culminates when he begins college. But while there is all the potential in the world for an amazing statement on childhood and growing up, we end with a curiously cold and detached movie. A film that never gets into the head of its protagonist and which simply feels like it’s going through the motions. It’s kind of the polar opposite of Linklater’s Before movies. In those films, we really feel like we get to know the characters. We feel close to them. But I didn’t feel that here. Everything felt very facile. Maybe the Before movies benefit from having their characters locked down for each film. We get to spend a single day with them - you could call it ‘quality time’. But here a single year can pass in the course of one ten minute scene. It just isn’t particularly satisfying. Children change at an enormous pace, but because the film is basically a highlight reel, all we really notice is the growing body and the different haircuts. Forget about this being anything like Michael Apted’s Up series. You’re not going to have a fillet mignon to sink your teeth into. You’re not going to get into the child’s head and hear his hopes and dreams. Instead you’re going to get a pack of Doritos to nibble on. And it’s one of those massive packs that when you open it, it’s mostly filled with air. We’re told at the beginning, when Mason is a young child and just starting school, that he spends all his time staring out of the window, hinting that he’s something of dreamer. But we never see this. I don’t want to be told that Mason’s a dreamer. I want to see it. Children and teenagers, contrary to some of Hollywood’s precocious examples, aren’t really very good at expressing themselves verbally. The most interesting thing about them is their inner life. This is something that is usually best captured visually. But this is a meat and potatoes kind of film. It’s incredibly unlyrical. Not that the dialogue is anything to get excited about. Mason mumbles and grumbles but aside from the odd moment here and there everything is purely functional. There’s a fairly insightful scene when Mason bemoans our collective addiction to cell phones and how we view everything through a screen, but this kind of commentary is hardly the norm. Not that I really want the film to be three hours of social commentary. But I do want to feel close to the lead, which I didn’t at all. Even more disappointing than Mason’s role is that of his mother, played by Patricia Arquette. Her role must be one of the most thankless female roles in recent years. All she seems to do is sit at a table and pay bills. Plus Arquette’s acting is mediocre at best. She’s cold, detached, humourless and unemotive. In one scene she encourages a Mexican laborer to go back to school. When years later they encounter one another and he tells her that her words inspired him, you’d think that she was listening to the weather forecast. It kind of takes the piss that Ethan Hawke gets a much better role as the kids’ father. Separated from their mother, he just gets to sweep in every now and again and hang out with them. He can be the ‘cool’ one. He can have fun with them and take them bowling, to baseball games and go camping. Meanwhile I don’t recall one, single scene where the mother has any fun with her kids. Almost all of her scenes are completely joyless. I understand that she has the day-to-day hard work and drudgery to deal with, while the father can just saunter in, but the mother is a tiresome presence. She’s a grouch, a nag and, in the end, hysterical. When Mason finally goes to college, and Mason’s mother is confronted with an empty nest, she has a kind of meltdown. She complains about time going so fast and having nothing to show for herself. She also says that in another forty years she’ll be dead. It’s a hysterical reaction but it feels authentic enough. It’s a big thing when your kids move away. It’s normal to go through a crisis. But again I kind of feel like the film is doing mothers a disservice. The movie falls into the cliches of women being hysterical and unreasonable, and of them being victims. Seeing as Mason’s mother is cast as a victim here, she gets to marry not one but two alcoholics. The first one provides some of the only drama in the movie. At first he seems like a decent guy, but then he begins to indulge in some secret drinking and all of a sudden we have a monster on our hands. Again, because we’re in such a rush to get through the years, it seems like he turns into an alcoholic overnight. It also doesn’t help that the stepfather’s acting is ridiculously broad. He’s a leering, gurning, obnoxious buffoon. But at least, when he’s on the screen, something happens. There’s one scene where the stepfather forces Mason to have his long locks shorn off. It’s pretty brutal in its assholery. But how does Mason’s mother react to this hair rape of her young son? She just kind of says...sorry. Oh, and for a couple of years when Mason’s stepfather is being a gigantic dickhead, she’s sitting at the table, paying bills. She seems to spend years at a time in a coma. Mason’s mother eventually leaves this tosser when he begins beating her and we have the excitement of her rescuing her children from his clutches, but this story arc ends up leaving you with more questions than answers. The stepfather had kids of his own. What happened to Mason’s step brother and step sister? Does he keep in any sort of contact? Does he ever see them again? The second asshole alcoholic stepfather is far more rudimentary. Mason’s mother marries some soldier. In his very first scene I thought that something was wrong with him. He’s been in the Iraq war and he seems to be hiding some kind of deep trauma. But Mason’s mother marries him and before you know it, he’s questioning Mason’s sexuality and he’s supping from cans of beer. But then as quickly as he appears, he’s gone. Why exactly did Mason’s mother leave him? He was turning into a bit of a morose prick, but he hadn’t done anything like the first stepfather. But once again he’s neatly swept under the rug. Of course the talk now is of Boyhood vying for Oscars. If it did, it wouldn’t be a crime on the scale of Crash and Forrest Gump, but it’s most certainly not a worthy movie. Having the balls to film a movie over the span of twelve years is not enough to warrant critical acclaim. A great concept is nothing without great execution. The idea here is superb but the delivery is sorely lacking. No drama, no emotion, no insight, poor acting and ordinary writing are a recipe for a mediocre movie, which, sadly, this is.