Alright, I know. I missed a week. Life has a nasty habit of blindsiding you when you’re not paying attention and last week was once such case in point. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I had some news that rocked me enough to stop me doing anything productive or wanting to write for a few days. Not like me, I know, but it wasn’t the normal week.
So there you go. Anyway, onward to week eight of the year and it’s filthy fumbling in ladies unmentionables, wartime hauntings, Brazilian tip-scouring, a late late viewing of young adult favourite, The Hunger Games Part 3 of 4 (twice in three days, believe it or not), and I creep tentatively into my Letterboxd watchlist to catch up on some movies that I somehow missed first time around, including (I am honestly ashamed to admit) the movie that really made Nicole Kidman a star, To Die For.
Fifty Shades of Grey (Dir, Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2015) 1/5*
I’m really sorry, but every time I heard Jamie Dornan speak (Christian Grey), I physically got the feeling that someone was walking over my grave. You know, that flesh-creeping feeling you sometimes get when you remember something horrible that you did that you would rather never, ever remember again? Well, that. I really wanted to give this as honest and open a viewing as I could, but really? REALLY? I flatly refused to read the books, I’ll be honest, because if I wanted to find out about the inner most feelings of a pretty masochist and her opinions on bondage, I could quite easily find someone alot closer to home to pick the brains of. This may have been risque when Adrian Lyne was doing it in 1985, but these days, well, not so much. There’s alot of lip-biting, pouting and generally cliched attempts to raise the temperature of the audience by watching the characters fail to do the same in the first act. Not helped by a frankly laughable script, it’s a good job that this franchise has already got a huge following of salacious and desperate middle-aged women on its side, as from the movie alone, this is unlikely to garner many followers. Was this the Christian Grey you imagined? As I said, I never even the read the books, but still had a rough outline of him from all of the nonsense I couldn’t avoid in the media, and this definitely isn’t him. Whether the lonely, silent, sexually unfulfilled masses will take to him, I don’t know, but I’m kind of hoping not, so we can avoid another film. Honestly, however, I expect to be roundly disappointed, knowing just how low we have already sunk as a race. One for fans of the books, but only just. Those like me, that avoided the literal pitfall, would be well advised to do the same with this all too honest adaptation.
Trash (Dir, Stephen Daldry, 2014) 3/5*
If you’re familiar with the writing of Richard Curtis and the directorial career of Stephen Daldry, then you can be rightfully surprised to find them at the helm of the this engaging drama set in Brazil about three young entrepreneurial street boys who work tirelessly on a rubbish tip until one day, one of them accidentally stumbles upon something very valuable and just as dangerous. Hinting maybe a little too much of an ode to Slumdog Millionaire, this is endearing, admirable stuff. A often gripping drama whose lead actors are so real because they have been cast directly from the streets the story is played out. With supports from Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen, who are both barely there, if we’re honest, you might wonder if these three urchins can carry the film. Thankfully, this never becomes an issue as whilst the acting may not be what you might expect from your average Curtis piece, it is much better than alot of what you’ll see elsewhere with actors with much higher pedigrees. What’s more, Daldry’s inarguable skill behind the camera more than makes up for any shortcomings the cast may be guilty of. Altogether, a very watchable, heartfelt and admirable project. Whilst it may get a little too close to schmaltz by the conclusion, the majority of the viewing time will have you both surprised and satisfied.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One (Dir, Francis Lawrence, 2014) 2.5/5*
First time for me. Honestly, after not watching the second one, I really didn’t expect this to make much sense, but surprisingly it did. Nothing much has changed cinematically, the franchise is still just impressive enough to do itself and its budget justice. The script, again, is a little too young adult for my liking and subsequently treads a little close to patronising the audience. The bangs and whistles are in evidence, but just not too many of them. The performance from Lawrence is sometimes great and at other times a bit embarrassing. Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson are still clearly punching well below their weight here and it really shows. In all, a nice setup for the final film coming this year. To its credit, I won’t be waiting as long next time around to watch the last one, which must say something about Part One.
Still Alice (Dir, Wash Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer, 2014) 4/5*
At time of writing, we were only two short days away from Julianne Moore winning the best actress Oscar for her performance in Still Alice. I was so confident about her success, even before seeing the film, that I decided to leave the above sentence in regardless of the actual result (fingers crossed I don’t look like a total idiot now, thanks Academy). The story of a woman’s’ familial early-onset Alzheimer’s is touching, unflinching and powerful throughout and Julianne Moore’s portrayal of the tragically unfortunate Alice is indeed something to witness, absolutely valid in its Oscar nomination.
Moore’s performance is truly captivating and will be a warming, yet probably tearful reminder to those that recognise it in someone they love themselves. The score is subtle and simple throughout, highlighting the delicate touch the directors have for the subject matter and the careful approach they have taken into the very real problem faced by millions of people, both sufferers and their families, every day. Nuanced support most notably from Alec Baldwin and Kristin Stewart add to the authenticity, but this is really all about Moore and it seems that although this may well not be the performance of the year, or even her best, it is completely acceptable that if Moore did win a few days before this gets published, few will argue about the validity of the decision or the honesty behind its worth.
Intermission – Cinema Sins! – Gladiator
To Die For (Dir, Gus Van Sant, 1995) 3.5/5*
As I mentioned in the introduction, I am ashamed to admit that this was something I had actually never seen before (I really, really wished I had at the time, with hindsight). It was just one of those things that had slipped past my radar, but I was having a gander at my Letterboxd watchlist and this popped up as something I really needed to do (with a few others, I might add, which I should be equally chastised for missing, I expect). Looking through the opening credits, I was immediately cheered. Gus Van Sant, tick, Nicole Kidman, tick, Joaquin Phoenix, Matt Dillon, Casey Affleck, Danny Elfman, all ticks. What could go wrong? Even before the credits had finished, we already had an idea about our star in the making, Suzanne Stone Moretto, and this is backed up by narration from the woman herself. Driven, focused and determined to be a star, she will do anything to get where she feels she deserves to be. To Die For ends up being a timeline piece without the spoiler of an ending until its conclusion, with the audience playing the part of the only person that doesn’t know the whole story already, but addressed after the facts of her husbands’ death. As a mystery, it completely fails of course, but as a character study, it is very intriguing, painting Suzanne as manipulative and conniving, in the course of her march to stardom which will not be undone by anybody or anything, god help them.Kidman’s portrayal is eerily on point and reminded me of Rosamund Pike’s Gone Girl from earlier this year. Suzanne may not be as smart as that, even if she believed she was, although she is just as focused and single-minded in her quest. In all, a very well delivered and darkly comic tale, with excellent performances from the likes of Kidman and Phoenix especially.
The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (Dir, Tom Harper, 2014) 2/5*
My son watched this with his girlfriend when it was first released and like all good critics, I had to ask him what he thought of it. His response was that he ‘jumped once’. Aside from this, he was less than impressed. When I told him I was going to watch it, he questioned why I would bother, because of his already damning opinion on the film. I told him (as I am sure most of you already know) that it’s precisely because he said it was dreadful that I then had to watch it. No such thing as bad press, right? Nobody listens to critics anyway. You’ll do whatever you want. That’s the way we like it. We can only hold your hand when you make your choice and play devils’ advocate. That’s what real opinion is about. We’re not here to convince you, but to be there should you need a little help. And honestly, it’s not all that bad. Lambasted by some for maybe not living up to the standard tropes we are familiar with today, this is Hammer we’re talking about and if you’re over a certain age, you will appreciate the kind of ‘horror’ story we are presented with here. Like the first film starring Daniel Radcliffe, this is as much about what you don’t see as what you do, with the makers opting for the policy of understanding that your own imagination is probably far better at unnerving you than they are themselves. During the blitz in London in 1941, a group of schoolchildren and one particularly emotionally scarred and recently orphaned boy, are shipped out to the country. They are sent to the very same house that Harry Potter had such a problem with four decades before. As such then, you might expect all kinds of otherworldly shenanigans to commence, which they do, but in their own good time. This sequel is painfully slow, often garbled in plot and whilst performed adequately, it really does fail to raise enough hairs on the back of your neck throughout its running time. It is relying on this rather than out and out gore or continual jump-scares (they are there, just not in abundance) so should really do better in this regard. Overall, this requires patience and goodwill to get through without rolling your eyes or looking for the exit/stop button. Hammer may well want undetsated, slow-burn horror with a Tales of the Unexpected ending, much like their television shows of the 70’s, then fair enough, but if they must do it, then they must do it better.
The Loft (Dir, Erik Van Looy, 2014) 2.5/5*
Finally coming to the UK on DVD in May this year, after an already long delay (this was filmed in 2011) due to changes in distribution is an under-the-radar whodunnit starring Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Matthias Schoenaerts (played the same role in the original) and Eric Stonestreet. A remake from the Belgian original Loft (2008), (also directed, incidentally, by Looy) this mystery thriller concerns five male friends who buy a loft apartment together, in secret from their wives, in order to have somewhere to take girlfriends, lovers etc, without having the need to deal with hotels, credit card receipts etc. One day, when a naked blonde woman is found dead in the loft, questions are raised about each of them. When no-one accepts responsibility, the audience gets the chance to turn detective as the slowly unfolding answers make themselves known. Each new snippet of information is careful and timely delivered and this will have the audience not knowing until the end just who is responsible for the poor woman’s demise, and just as importantly for the viewer, exactly why. The acting is fine, although never out and out great, the script leaves a little to be desired and the casting is, well, a bit odd all told. Eric Stonestreet, for example, seems like a fish out of water here. Maybe his Modern Family stint has made me view him more harshly as I rate him very highly in that television series. Urban, Marsden and Schoenaerts come off better as they seem good-looking enough to need a den of passion away from home should it be required. In all, this is interesting enough and keep the temperature at just above lukewarm throughout, despite never being compelling. You will want to sit until the end, just to find out the bloody point of her death, which if anything, can only be described as a (maybe limited) success.
Tusk (Dir, Kevin Smith, 2014) 2.5/5*
Part Human Centipede, part The Skin I Live In, Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Jay & Silent Bob) writes and directs this supposed darkly comic story about an American podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) that travels to Canada for an interview that never happens, but ends up with a bigger, more intriguing story on his hands, at the house of Howard Howe (the frankly excellent Michael Parks), who regales him with tales of his earlier life. When Wallace fails to return back to Los Angeles, his fellow podcaster and girlfriend, after leaving a mysterious voicemail on their phones, go and try to track him down. Smith’s script is not the least bit funny, though it is quite dark, so those going in for laughs may have to think again. This is occasionally grisly but not as gratuitous as you might expect. Michael Parks’ performance is brilliant and you hang on his every superbly written word. As an unexpected bonus, Johnny Depp is also a delight, playing Canadian detective Guy Lapointe, who has spent years of his life trying to catch the man that Wallace’s friends believe have abducted him. Struggling to really find its niche, not being funny enough to call itself a comedy nor quite horrifyiing and cold enough to really classify as truly grim, the film hovers uncomfortably between the two, engaging the viewer almost with the power of the scripts delivery on its own. The script is fantastic but maybe not for the reason you would want, which might leaving you feeling unfulfilled, but the performances from Parks and Depp are just about strong enough to make it worth a watch, if for no other reason.
Song of the Week – A real personal favourite this week. The film may have been a big bucket of tripe, but the music has been excellent.
Earned It/Weeknd from Fifty Shades of Grey (wink, she knows who this is for)
That’s it for another week, folks. See you all for more nonsense next week.
Love and slop, as always