Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie

Directed by: Ben Kellett

Produced by: Stephen McCrum
Brendan O'Carroll

Screenplay by: Brendan O'Carroll

Based on: Mrs. Brown's Boys by Brendan O'Carroll

Starring: Brendan O'Carroll
Eilish O'Carroll
Nick Nevern
Paddy Houlihan
Fiona O'Carroll
Jennifer Gibney
Sorcha Cusack
Keith Duffy
Danny O'Carroll
Amanda Woods
Chris Patrick-Simpson
Robert Bathurst
Dermot Crowley
Gary Hollywood

Music by: Andy O'Callaghan

Cinematography by: Martin Hawkins

Editing by: Mark Lawrence

Studio(s): That's Nice Films
Penalty Kick Films
BBC Films

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): June 27, 2014 (United Kingdom & Ireland)

Running time: 94 minutes

Country(s): Ireland
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: £3.6 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): £13, 263, 304

Rightio, so, for a change I've actually been able to keep to my promises and see all of the big movies at the box-office that I said I would, so be expecting reviews coming in for both the new Transformers and Planet Of The Apes movies. Seeing the latter was a nice piece of happenstance, as the Northern Ireland release date for Richard Linklater's Boyhood was pushed back a week, so I got to see that yesterday at the Odyssey. Also, seeing as how I haven't got to see to much recently, I'm going to try and get at least one more in (probably Maleficent) to fill out the month. So, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Up for review here is Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie. For those of you who don't know (and there's a chance you mightn't, seeing as Mrs. Brown is very much a regional comedic act), the television sitcom Mrs. Brown's Boys, despite negative response from critics, is a big success in the ratings, drawing huge numbers in both Ireland (where it is based and produced) and throughout the United Kingdom. My own personal experiences of the Mrs. Brown phenomenon is having worked a run of live performances by Brendan O'Carroll's troupe of actors largely consisting of relatives and friends at the Odyssey Arena, and yes, while I was working, I'll admit to finding it slightly humorous. So, Agnes Brown's adventure to the big screen is the natural progression to be expected, right? The critical response was overwhelmingly negative, even more so than the TV show, and yet it topped the UK box-office for two weeks, grossed over £20 million off of it's £3.6 million budget. It took Transformers: Age Of Extinction to knock this off the number one spot, that's how popular this foul-mouthed old woman from Dublin, played by a man in drag no less, is over here! Originally, I was meant to see it with my work colleagues, but my end of it didn't materialise unfortunately (working the next festival with them, I was told "all the funny bits are in the trailer," which ain't no glowing recommendation), and then I tried to arrange something with my good friend at Danland Movies, who made a steadfast refusal to go on account of the TV show, saying "I have a high threshold for bullshit," but ninety minutes of Mrs. Brown would be too much. So, on my lonesome I went to see Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie, plot synopsis please!: Agnes Brown (Brendan O'Carroll) runs a fruit and vegetable stall down in Dublin's Moore Street market, and when she is sent an unpaid tax bill for ninety-six Irish pounds (the 'punt' as it used to be known in Irish down South) left by her grandmother, which, she is reliably informed has inflated to the sum of €3.8 million. With this tax bill hanging over her, and threat coming in the form of P.R. Irwin (Dermot Crowley), an MP, his Russian business associate and his hired goons, will Mrs. Brown and the whole gang from the TV series be able to raise the money or find some way to eradicate her tax bill and ensure that she can keep her stall? Let's see!

I just want to make it clear right from the bat that this is abominably stupid humour that is shades of a non-satirical When The Whistle Blows from Extras. However, while I don't think this is by any means a great movie, or even a half-ways decent movie, there are things that I enjoyed about it. Maybe it's because my own personal threshold for stupidity includes ultra-violent borderline homo-erotic 80s action movies and a penchant for finding humour in old woman. After all, the misadventures of Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances ranks among my favourite television series, and I always seem to latch onto these characters like Edith Evans' Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest, so the fact that I find a semblance of humour in Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie isn't too much of a stretch. Bernice Harrison of The Irish Times said regarding the series that "the whole thing is entirely predicated on viewers finding a man dressed as a foul-mouthed elderly woman intrinsically funny:" well, call me an idiot, for while I don't count myself among the show's viewership, I do find that funny. Brendan O'Carroll's Agnes Brown is an amusing character, and thankfully they manage to retain that and ensure that the character itself at least is done justice. O'Carroll seems be at his strongest, both from an acting and writing standpoint, when surrounded by his fictional and real-life family and friends. I must admit to finding myself slightly amused at certain parts in the movie, most of them involving Mrs. Brown and her antics, which probably says as much about me as it does the movie. At risk of making myself sound like I'm clutching for straws, I've thought about recently what makes a really bad movie, what makes it go from being a bad movie to a hideous, a repugnant movie, and at least where my barometer is concerned, I believe that I have to feel an active hostility, the work in question bringing to mind emotions of venom. For instance, I saw Tammy there, and while it sucks, I couldn't get actively angry, and even though I know Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie is terrible, the same could be said, but more so, that I found it vaguely amusing is a plus in it's favour.

That said, it isn't enough of a plus in the movie's favour, because, as the old saying goes, "you can put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig." While I could perhaps watch Mrs. Brown's Boys in digestible (relatively speaking) twenty-thirty minute chunks, at ninety minutes this at times does get thoroughly nauseating. It's not because of issues with Mrs. Brown's Boys by default, but because frankly Brendan O'Carroll does not have enough or appropriate material to make a half-ways decent feature-length film. The central premise, which ends up involving the gang trying to smuggle Mrs. Brown's grandmother's tax payment receipt out of a public records office because of various mis-happenings (including an even older woman getting hit by a bus, a receptionist who won't get off her telephone headset thingimijig and Buster and Dermy making arses of themselves), is so wafer thin that even if it was edible it'd hard to imagine that anything of substance went down your throat. Also, although O'Carroll is obviously trying to make it bigger (after all, "this is D'Movie," as Mrs. Brown is wont to say), the inclusion of these new characters and trying to make them fit the story is horrible. I'm not even going to get stuck into the racial implications behind Mr. Wang, a character so stupid that it'd be too great a service to even get offended by it (same can be said for the Indian man who everyone thinks is Jamaican), but the primary heavy villains, a group of Russian mobsters, are completely without any semblance of tension and bring absolutely nothing to the table. I'm sorry, but when you can't hit a target as inconspicuous as Mrs. Brown and then stand there continuing to shoot your empty gun about five or six times with your hair slicked back and a mug like a podgy Kurt Russell, you ain't going to convince me that you're a figure worthy of any level of intimidation. Furthermore, Cathy, the character of Jennifer Gibney (O'Carroll's real-life wife) has one of the most wince-inducing 'inspirational speeches' I've seen in a good bit. I would say it was worse than God Is Dead, but the fact is is that God Is Dead consisted largely of speeches being spewed out at me, and in this case, however banal, there was at least only one. It'll be on YouTube at some point no doubt, but look up the title of this movie with 'Cathy's Speech' or 'This Is Dubin' and try not to grimace. G'wan, I dare you! Also, while there a number of other things wrong with this, the other major problem is that it sounds like shite, to be frank. I don't know if that's down to the same crew on the TV show not being used to location shooting as opposed to a sound stage before a live audience, but some of the stuff with mic's is like Lina Lamont in Singin' In The Rain. There's an outdoor scene with a discussion between the two main antagonists in what seems to be a landfill, and you can't hear most of the conversation behind them because there's a lorry driving slowly past behind them. Also, the editing done indoors has the sound either floating off into the space of the room, becoming inaudible through gradually descending volume or bouncing off the walls like they're an echo chamber. NEWS FLASH, to the live sound crew, there's a thing called directional microphones and appropriating figuring out acoustics, to the sound/editing suite, it's called equalisation. 

What save Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie from being an absolute stinker in my eyes is because I think it is one of those movies that does have be taken with a pinch of salt. Don't get me wrong, it is utter stupidity in the highest order, but I'd be a liar if I didn't laugh a bit throughout the thing at the happenings of the central character. If that makes me one of those idiots who finds "a foul-mouthed elderly woman intrinsically funny," then so be it. However, don't let it be forgotten that this is still for all intents and purposes a pile of cack. Twenty-thirty minutes at a time of Agnes Brown is enough, because unlike the stage show O'Carroll has not written enough plot to string together a half-ways decent movie, along with new characters that are just filler and bring nothing to the table either from the side of dramatic tension or that of humour. Also, the movie sounds horrendous, with conversations outdoors being obscured by activity going on in the background and indoors jostling between sounding like echo chambers and limitless voids into the abyss. I would personally pay to see (or sacrifice an arm and a leg in some alchemical experiment gone wrong?) what the late Alan Splet could have done with this sound-wise, an experiment which would have been more interesting than the movie in itself. I can't get actively hostile here, but it's still a pile of poop.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Busy (tight schedule next day or two)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Begin Again

Directed by: John Carney

Produced by: Anthony Bregman
Tobin Armbrust
Judd Apatow

Screenplay by: John Carney

Starring: Keira Knightley
Mark Ruffalo
Adam Levine
Hailee Steinfeld
James Corden
CeeLo Green
Mos Def
Catherine Keener

Music by: Gregg Alexander

Cinematography by: Yaron Orbach

Editing by: Andrew Marcus

Studio(s): Exclusive Media
Likely Story

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

Release date(s): September 7, 2013 (TIFF, Premiere)
July 11, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 104 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $14, 124, 922

Well, it seems that thus far I have managed to keep up with at least one of the three movies that I said I would see in the coming week: on Friday I went to my local The Strand to see Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie, a review for which will follow this one. Apart from that, I haven't been up to a whole lot, and frankly that's okay considering the glut of work I had before my week off. It's been nice to actually spend a weekend at home for the first time since the start of the summer. I watched Looper there and I have to say it was a shame I didn't see it when it came, because it was an absolutely cracking genre flick right up my alley. Anywho, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Begin Again, which was formerly known under the title Can A Song Save Your Life? The film is directed by John Carney, who is best known for helming 2007's spellbinding Once, a true example if ever there was one of an independent film and frankly one of the finest films in it's decade of release. Not to try and suggest too much of a similarity between Begin Again and his previous film, Carney's latest is a spiritual successor of sorts, at least where topic matter and thematic content is concerned: Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is a troubled man, recently fired from his long-time job as an executive at a record label he helped found, and while on the lash at a bar, becomes entranced with the talents of Gretta (Keira Knightley) a young independent songwriter at an open-mic night. Dan, despite his being fired, offers to sign her to his label, but she refuses to compromise her artistry, and instead the two hatch a plan, in cooperation with various musical contacts that both have, to produce and record their own album in various different locations throughout New York City. Comprende? Good!

Starting with the good regarding Begin Again, compliments are in due order for the film's two leads. Over the years, Keira Knightley has grown on me as an actor, and once again she proves herself a formidable talent and screen presence. Her performance here as Gretta is another part on the weave of her CV, showcasing a complex character capable of moments of both true strength and honest vulnerability. In what could have been a hugely idealistic part, Knightley never overdoes anything and plays it just right. The same can be said for Mark Ruffalo's Dan, who could have been the humorous klutz the marketing and trailers make him out to be, but with Ruffalo's ability to tap into the humanity of his characters, Dan too is revealed to be someone suffering from real emotional fragility. Ruffalo does a solid balancing act between playing that fine line between comedy and drama. Also, for a movie with music at the centre of it all, you'd like to think that the songs written for the picture were good, and thankfully they are indeed. There's a variety of songwriters involved here (including Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, Nick Southwood, Rick Nowels, Glen Hansard, director John Carney, and CeeLo Green and Adam Levine, both of whom have acting parts in the film), however, despite the numerous different artists, crucially it does feel as though it is part of one unified voice. From a performance standpoint, both Adam Levine and Keira Knightley do some fine work with these songs. With respect to Levine though, this is his bread and butter, while Knightley could have easily went the long-tried and tested route of miming with overdubs in a singing voice, but she's made it completely her own and succeeded in this regard. Also, though I won't be getting too much into this, it's a nice looking movie, but works at it's best when shot a la verite on the streets on location throughout different parts of New York City. Where Begin Again is at it's best is when gets down to the crux with these characters at the forefront. As a writer and director, that too is what John Carney does best. Carney just seems to bring with him this empathetic understanding of human emotions, particularly those associated with melancholic romanticism, such as heartache, trauma, turmoil and determined courage in the face of great trial(s). This, combined with his ear for believable dialogue, are what makes Begin Again, a film that on the surface could be dismissed as mush, an endearing charmer, even if it ain't perfect...

(I have to use "ain't perfect" instead of "ain't chopped liver" these days. Being a veggie now it sounds inappropriate to talk about meat that way!) ...which segues me in a way into what I find wrong with the movie. I like this movie a good bit, but it has to be done. The first thing I'd like to make reference to is the fact that the film does make use of these long sequences chopping back and forth between the film's timeline, and as such the first half of the film is largely non-linear. Now, I have no problem with non-linear, but the film reverts in the second half back to linear format and you can't help but thinking "what was the point there?" Also, there's an ensemble feel to the lineup of characters in the movie, and yet though Carney has an ear for dialogue and understanding of people, some of the characters don't strike me as particularly engaging or sympathetic. In particular, Adam Levine's character, who admittedly is a bit of a douche, is meant to be some kind of metaphor for the perils of fame and how damaging it can be on people's relationships. I never bought into that arc as something particularly plausible, not that it can't happen, but you don't see people just transform overnight like that. The same can be said for other characters, such as James Corden's Steve, who only gets over because Corden actually manages to make him slightly endearing, but in fact he's a relatively two-dimensional critter at heart.

As I said, I did have those issues with the film involving plot inconsistencies and some of the characters, which meant (I hate to keep flagging this up) I didn't connect to it in the same way as Once, but Begin Again is still as a whole a very good movie. We've got two fine lead performance from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, the songs and performances of them are terrific, it's a well-shot movie, especially when it's done a la verite on the streets of New York City. Finally, even with it's problems, Begin Again displays director John Carney's ear for dialogue and an empathetic understanding for human emotions. Begin Again could have been mush, but I found it an endearing and rather enjoyable film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Hot (this week has been roasting heat-wise!)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Tammy

Directed by: Ben Falcone

Produced by: Melissa McCarthy
Will Ferrell
Adam McKay

Screenplay by: Ben Falcone
Melissa McCarthy

Starring: Melissa McCarthy
Susan Sarandon
Kathy Bates
Allison Janney
Dan Aykroyd
Gary Cole
Sandra Oh
Mark Duplass
Toni Collette
Nat Faxon
Ben Falcone
Sarah Baker

Music by: Michael Andrews

Cinematography by: Russ T. Alsobrook

Editing by: Michael L. Sale

Studio(s): New Line Cinema
Gary Sanchez Productions

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): July 2, 2014 (United States)
July 4, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 96 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $20 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $72, 078, 000

And so, with June out of the way, I think nearly three weeks in it's about time I get the show on the road and get on with my reviews for July. This is going to be a busy wee period for the movies, so while I can only guarantee so far a review for this and Begin Again, I fully intend on getting round to seeing Mrs. Brown's Boys: D'Movie, Transformers: Age Of Extinction, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and more. Also, on an off-topic matter, I'm reading Franz Kafka's The Trial and despite starting yesterday already a hundred pages plus into it. Kafka is one of my literary masters, one of the very few writers with a style that is distinctly his own and more or less impossible to replicate. Idiosyncratic, full of complex and challenging thematic content, Kafka is always a pleasure to read. There are many that I admire in the arts, but there are less in that number who I count as genuine influences on my own craft: from the standpoint of literature, Kafka would be right up there, and as far as my plans for the future, I would love to adapt some of his work. Anywho, enough of my gushing about Franz!: for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

So, today's movie up for review is Tammy, the latest in the recent line of star vehicles for Melissa McCarthy. I don't care what anyone else says, but after her turn in Bridesmaids (which garnered her a deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod) and the box-office successes of Identity Thief and The Heat, McCarthy has made the transition to that of a bona-fide star with marketable name value. There aren't many comics with that ability to draw the numbers, but clearly McCarthy's brand of comedy (loud and gregarious foul-mouthed everywoman dialled up to twenty) sells. Tammy is very much a family affair, given that she and husband Ben Falcone (who makes his feature directorial debut) share screenwriting credit, she is the star and he has a small supporting role and she is also one of the producers (alongside Will Ferrell and Adam McKay). So, story goes that Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) is fired for consistently showing up to work late, and after her car dies on the way home, she returns to find her husband Greg (Nat Faxon) having a romantic dinner with their next-door neighbour (Toni Collette). She leaves him, telling her mother (Allison Janney) about her plans to hit the road and, taking her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon), plus her car, savings and beer, the two go on a bit of a strange road trip. Got it? Good!

Starting with the good regarding Tammy, I do have to say that I like Melissa McCarthy as a comedic talent. There's a reason people are lapping up this stuff and paying their hard-earned money to see this stuff, and that's because McCarthy does have a charm. Also, it's obvious that this extends to above and beyond her ability to draw an audience, because judging from the ensemble cast here, there's a whole line of people just waiting to work with her. You've got Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Dan Aykroyd, Sandra Oh, Mark Duplass, Toni Collette, a whole bevy of talented actors who signed up to this movie, and even if their parts aren't anything particularly special, it's nice to see them there. In fairness, Susan Sarandon, although the character's a second-rate version of Alan Arkin's Grandpa Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine, is clearly giving it stacks to try and get the film over, using her wealth of experience to try to sell us on the chemistry and relationship between Tammy and Pearl. Finally, I do have to say that although they are few and far between, there are a number of good gags in Tammy. Little things such as the title character leaving her husband, declaring her independence (cute play on the tagline, eh?), only to walk two doors down the street to her mother's house. If the movie had more moments like this it certainly would have elevated it above the standard of work we are presented.

If it looked like I was perhaps trying to make space for what I thought was good about Tammy, it probably was because I did. However, much as I do think highly of Melissa McCarthy, after Tammy, I'm going to be taking her work with a pinch of salt, because this was a rubbish comedy. As I said, you've got all these talented people clamouring to work with McCarthy, and while I don't like to presume, I find it hard to believe that they all read that script and said "this is a great bit of work, let's do this," because it's a horrible script. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare, Chekhov or Ibsen, but it isn't even a half-decent script, it's just rotten. For all intents and purposes, genre-wise it appears to be a road movie in the vein of something like Rain Man (though nowhere near as dramatic or entertaining), but the problem is is that there doesn't seem to be any consistency in what these characters do. All it is a mish-mish of bits without any real link to it all, and this is all supposed to be under the guise of some sort of female empowerment and declaring independence from society's male-imposed shackles: I'm sorry, but what the hell does robbing a fast food restaurant have to do with all this? Also, there comes a point in the film at a Fourth of July party celebration and aftermath in which there is supposed to be a sort-of underlying point to all this, a message to be delivered by way of the protagonist finally waking up to the fact that she has been running away her whole life and she needs to take responsibility for herself. However, the plot device (which I won't say, because it involves spoilers) used to get this across is completely botched with that whole "we'll tease you with some real dramatic tension, but then we'll go 'hey, it's all okay!' just to mess around with you" schtick, and it just destroys any chance the film has at legitimate resonance. Also, as I said, the characters are by no means anything special on paper, so even these seasoned veterans are exposed as quite clearly phoning it in and not really doing much to contribute to the film apart from simply being there as part of the wallpaper. I went to see this with my good friend over at Danland Movies (who has published a less belated and rather eloquent review for this film) and we were both near aghast in horror when I made the mistake of referring to my watch, discovering we were only about fifty minutes in. When I went and took my obligatory trip to the toilet, I asked a member of staff what the running time was, and nearly could have kissed him when he said it was just over ninety minutes, because I don't think I could have stood two whole hours of this. Don't get me wrong, Tammy's not an outrageously bad film by any stretch, but when you're not enjoying a movie you feel every minute, so the short running time here was a saving grace alright.

Saying that Tammy isn't an absolutely terrible comedy ain't exactly a glowing recommendation, but I'd be dishonest if I said otherwise. Perhaps there are people out there who will eat this up (and judging by the box-office receipts, though less than most of her other movies, it seems there is), but I didn't find much to go on here. I don't know if you could call this a passion project or what, but it's obvious that while McCarthy has talent, she does need to reigned in and have someone there who can objectively say to her and husband Ben Falcone that their script is utter tripe. I have no doubt that there could be good collaborative work here in the future. However, with episodes of mish-mash and balderdash, dulled underlying messages and a whole lot of other things I'm sure I'm missing because the movie is too stupid to get it across appropriately, Tammy is not McCarthy's vehicle to set the world on fire.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pondering (the finale of The Shield. Finished one of my all-time favourite television series last night. I was spellbound by the haunting ending.)

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: June 2014 - Edge Of Tomorrow

Edge Of Tomorrow might not be a masterpiece, but it ain't too far off it! Alongside The Dark Knight Rises and Pacific Rim, it's one the most consistently entertaining and engaging summer blockbusters of the past few years. It does so many things right, with terrific lead performances from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, an extraordinarily well-established mise en scene (from a design standpoint, the film is leaps and bounds ahead of the pack), stunts and visual effects getting across the outright chaos of war, strong cinematography and editing, ingenious use of the central concept, a solid score and tactful direction by Doug Liman, that what it does wrong can oftentimes be excused.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

Runner-Up: X-Men: Days Of Future Past - James McAvoy's delivers another great performances, Singer's return to the helm is more than welcome; overall, a very enjoyable action-packed experience.

Second-Most Deadly Disease: A Million Ways To Die In The West - A misfire on the part of Seth MacFarlane, who despite a few good ideas, fails to ignite with a second-rate Woody Allen by way of Jimmy Stewart routine.

Avoid Like The Plague: God's Not Dead - "Characterisation by caricature," nothing this dull and poxy deserves to capture anyone's time and attention. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Edge Of Tomorrow

Directed by: Doug Liman

Produced by: Erwin Stoff
Tom Lassally
Jeffrey Silver
Gregory Jacobs
Jason Hoffs

Screenplay by: Christopher McQuarrie
Jez Butterworth
John-Henry Butterworth

Based on: All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Starring: Tom Cruise
Emily Blunt
Bill Paxton
Brendan Gleeson

Music by: Christophe Beck

Cinematography by: Dion Beebe

Editing by: James Herbert
Laura Jennings

Studios(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
RatPac-Dune Entertainment
3 Arts Entertainment
Viz Productions

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): May 30, 2014 (United Kingdom)
June 6, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 113 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $178 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $351, 054, 547

Alright then, five long, hard weeks of the first leg of EventSec's festival circuit have paid off, and now I have (I think anyway) some well deserved time off to relax and put my feet up. It has been exhaustive, sure, and the Magical Mystery Tour well resume in August, but it'll be nice to say that I can actually spend the weekend in my own bed (that sounds like a euphemism, but trust me it ain't. I listen and embrace the feelings of way too many songs from the 1980's about isolation and loneliness to have been sleeping around!). Anywho, in that context, I shall be getting some reviewing done, with this being my last review for the month of June, which will be followed by a belated review of the month, and then I shall commence my reviews for July with one for Tammy, the new Melissa McCarthy vehicle. So, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Edge Of Tomorrow, released back at the start of June, a big-budget science-fiction film starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Based on the Japanese light novel (young-adult) All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, published in 2004, the film adaptation has been in development by Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow since 2009, with a lot of hirings and firings, fights and rewrites before principle photography began in June 2012. It has since been released to critical acclaim, has widely been cited as an exciting, thought-provoking and thematically dense action film (it's Cruise's highest-rated original work on Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer since 2002's Minority Report), but it could be argued that the film has under-performed at the box-office, having made $350 million off of it's huge $178 million budget. Set in the midst of a near-future war between humanity and an invading alien race known as Mimics, who have taken over continental Europe, Cruise stars as Major William Cage, a Public Affairs officer in the United States army, who gets cold feet when United Defense Forces General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to cover combat in an offensive known as Operation Downfall landing on the beaches of France. After threatening portray the General unfavourably, he wakes up in handcuffs at a base at Heathrow Airport, where he is confronted by Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), who has received a letter from Brigham stating that Cage is a Private and deserter who will attempt to impersonate an officer. Cage is assigned J Squad, a squad of rejects, and in the landing in France, as part of the first wave, Cage uses a Claymore to destroy a large 'Alpha' Mimic, and when he destroys it, it's blood douses him, and he wakes up in Heathrow again, gradually realising that every time he dies, he must repeat the same day over and over again. In one of these time loops he saves legendary soldier Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), known as the 'Full Metal Bitch' and 'Angel Of Verdun,' who tells him to come find her when he "wakes up" again, so he can train under her, for she recognises that what's happening to him is the key to ending the war with the Mimics. That sounds long-winded, but hey, this is words, not moving pictures, so I have to make due with what I've got in this medium. Shall we dance?

To start with the good, I'll bring up the performances of the principals involved in the film. Tom Cruise has in the 2000s made some interesting choices for films that could do with a lend of his star power. As such, we've seen films as diverse as Minority Report, Collateral, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher and Oblivion, movies which are all the better for his having been in it. The case is the same here, as we see Cruise display the fullness of his range. He begins the film as, for all intents and purposes, a real scoundrel, using his natural charisma to dial up his comedic side, delivering an awkward comedic touch that is not dissimilar to the brand of humour that Ricky Gervais might bring to the table. As such, it makes Cage's transition into a battle-hardened 'veteran' all the more emphatic. We know Cruise can do characters with true grit, but here it helps to even to lend his Cage a certain poignancy in later scenes in the film. Emily Blunt, not the natural choice perhaps given her previous roles, is also in fine form as Rita Vrataski. A consummate badass who provides a good foil to Cage's initial douchebaggery, Blunt, who has also got into great physical shape for the part, is never less than credible in the part. Also, I know a lot has been made in the press about this (better articles have been written on it than I could manage!), but Blunt's Vrataski gives Edge Of Tomorrow a fresh feminist slant which, I would argue, makes the film more accessible from an audience's standpoint, especially in the male-driven militarism and science-fiction and action genres. Strong in supporting performances also are Brendan Gleeson and especially Bill Paxton. I haven't seen him in a big movie in a while, but Paxton is always a welcome presence onscreen in my books, and his Master Sergeant Farell provides often humorous interludes in the midst of all the wanton chaos going on throughout the film. Right down to quizzical expressions of confusion, Paxton has this schtick nailed down. Also, there's a lot more to Edge Of Tomorrow than just the performances, so get ready, because you're about to hear a good spiel here. As I mentioned in my preemptory paragraph, the film has a huge $178 million budget, but in fairness to the filmmakers, not only is it up there onscreen, but there is also a huge display of innovation and creativity involved. Last year, we saw Matt Damon don an exoskeleton in Elysium, and if anything the work from a design standpoint in Edge Of Tomorrow has exceeded that of the previous film. Throughout the history of cinema, stories are abound of how troublesome puppets and props have been. Just take a look at anything anyone has to say about 'Bruce' the Shark in Jaws, which Steven Spielberg himself labelled a "Great White Turd" regarding it's difficulty to work with. However, in Edge Of Tomorrow, the production designer Oliver Scholl, lead builder Pierre Bohanna, costume designer Kate Hawley and all their various teams have truly reached a standard of excellence. The physical fluidity of movement in these suits is a marvel to behold in and of itself, but that we're getting to see big battles in numbers en masse is another thing altogether. For this also the stunt team and visual effects deserve to be credited. In the 1980s, one of the things you took away from a great action movie were the great stunts that came with them, whereas today most action movies have stunts so similar to each other that they cease to be anything but anonymous. In my memory, despite having been hammered with an insane amount of work hours lately, I can take whole parts of the movie and replay them in my head. Aesthetically, the thing's hard, heavy and clunky, but also very violent in it's own way, the beach landing playing out like a 12A Saving Private Ryan at times. This is also due in part down to the cinematography and the editing at play here. Dion Beebe's digital photography is really something. When the movie gets really hard and heavy, Beebe's adept hand throws us into the proverbial deep end, and as such ranks this up there as among the most intense of summer blockbuster/action movies I've seen in a while. Beebe's made his name with digital work on films such as Collateral, but this was so nerve-wracking at times it reminded me of the late Tim Hetherington's documentary work in the likes of Restrepo. Also, the film's tagline is 'Live. Die. Repeat.' As such, you'd like to think it would be able to keep up to the task without getting boring. Earlier on I mentioned the fluidity of movement in the battle suits, believe me, the fluidity of movement in the film's montage is another of it's many marvels. Ingenuity is at play here, with James Herbert and Laura Jennings constantly playing around with our expectations, keeping the film fresh while also adhering to the central concept. The closest thing that reminds this reminds of tonally is Contra, the classic side-scrolling arcade video-game series, all of which are notoriously hard to beat, and I can say that this is the closest I've had to watching a film that was able to replicate what it feels like to play a video game. Herbert and Jennings' work is splendid from a technical standpoint, but also aesthetically it helps to serve up a dish with a particularly unique flavour and feeling. Working in unison with the editing is the intelligence with which the screenwriters have implemented the use of the film's central premise. Going in, you might think, as I did, that this could get very repetitive very quickly, but the screenwriters, smart enough to realise this, did their best to keep us on our toes. Conversations and dialogues are replayed, with Cruise getting ever more tired, repeating bits and pieces to the other characters before they have ever said it themselves, surprising lapses in concentration that lead to a blackly humorous death for the main characters, I didn't find myself ever getting overly bored with it. Also, in a score that was originally meant to be composed by Ramin Djawadi, Christophe Beck exceeds himself and delivers what might well be his strongest score to date. Perhaps it's the comedy genre work that he has to do that is holding him down, after all, his work on last year's Frozen was good too, because he is put to the test here and puts up a grand, glorious score that ranks up there with the best of them. Combining tribal beats, strings and industrial pulses heavily distorted by synthesisers, it's a score that's highly appropriate for the chaotic war-torn atmosphere of the film. There's nothing nice and pretty about it, and that's the way it's meant to be. Finally, although he has never been cited previously as an auteur by any stretch, this is a terrific bit of directorial work from Doug Liman. Beginning his film career with comedies such as Swingers and Go, he directed the first film in the Bourne franchise, though if anything Paul Greengrass, Matt Damon and Tony Gilroy have always got more credit for establishing that series more than Liman. After 2005's Mr. And Mrs. Smith (most famously for kickstarting the now well-established Bradgelina), Liman hasn't had any major gigs (2008's Jumper was critically derided, while 2010's Fair Game failed to make a dent in the box-office). However, much as this is a team effort, let it not be disputed that Liman has done a superb job at keeping just about everything in control here. With all the fragile elements involved in Edge Of Tomorrow, the results could have been as chaotic in the worst way possible as the war-torn atmosphere portrayed in the film. This is an exercise in real tact and I hope that Liman gets the acknowledgement he deserves for getting this film to be as good as it is.

Now, as you can tell, I have really gushed over this movie, and I feel with good reason. Alongside Pacific Rim and The Dark Knight Rises, Edge Of Tomorrow is quite easily among the most engaging and entertaining summer blockbusters of the past few years. Does that mean it's perfect? Unfortunately no, and that does have to be addressed. The thing that I do find troublesome about Edge Of Tomorrow, and which does, I must say, deny it from being a masterpiece, are element of the screenplay. Although it is by no means a movie with an ensemble cast, the characters of J Squad are meant to be a sympathetic band of rejects, and yet I felt nothing anytime some nasty fate befell one of it's members. I felt a real, genuine sense of loss, even for the 'villains' anytime they met their demise in Oliver Stone's Platoon, a film where there exists a key human element, and their absence is truly felt, but here, you don't particularly care either way. Also, while it for the most remains consistently inventive, I feel that Chris McQuarrie and the Butterworth's bag of tricks starts to run empty at different parts in the third act, noticeably creating a bit of lag in an otherwise wholly engaging picture. 

These things being said, I will stand by what I have said in that despite some of these troublesome elements in the screenplay this is one of the most entertaining and engaging summer blockbusters of the past few years. Edge Of Tomorrow does so many things right, with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt giving terrific performances, Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson rounding out the pack, and from a design standpoint the mise-en-scene is extraordinary, with the costume, production design and builders all doing an amazing job on the exoskeleton. The stunt team and visual effects artists have reached a high standard, getting across appropriately the wanton destruction and chaos of war. Dion Beebe's superb digital cinematography, the expert montage with the editing, the inventive use of the film's central concept by the writers, Christophe Beck's score and Doug Liman's tactful, controlled direction, all this makes for a great movie. Edge Of Tomorrow might not be a masterpiece, but with filmmaking this good, it ain't too far off it!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Too sweet (You can thank Kevin Nash for that one!)

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - God's Not Dead

Directed by: Harold Cronk

Produced by: Michael Scott
Russell Wolfe
Anna Zielinski

Screenplay by: Cary Solomon
Chuck Konzelman

Based onGod's Not Dead by Rice Broocks

Starring: Kevin Sorbo
Shane Harper
David A.R. White
Dean Cain
Trisha LaFache
Hadeel Sittu
Cory Oliver

Music by: Will Musser

Cinematography by: Brian Shanley

Editing by: Vance Null

Studio(s): Pure Flix Entertainment
Red Entertainment Group

Distributed by: Pure Flix Entertainment

Release date(s): March 21, 2014 (United States)
April 18, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 113 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $2 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $61, 824, 793

Hoy hoy hoy, everybody, my head is still pickled from working Sea Sessions. I'm not used to getting short seven hour shifts, and as such with my whole being not steadying itself towards the twelve hour shifts, it has reverted into full on lazy shite mode. I was sleeping to 2-3pm and the shifts were a gift. Now, with a couple of days off (one of which includes a trip to the cinema to see Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie), I shall be keeping relatively busy vis a vis the blog, so, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies (and a bit of the usual gib gab from yours truly), keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is God's Not Dead, a Christian drama film. We kind of know that going in to the thing, but there a couple of things I'd like to make clear about this before I get into it, the first being that although I was brought up a Catholic, I have not for many years practised religion and while for a few years I was a strong atheist, I now consider myself to be an agnostic. That lets you know my perspective on 'the big question' posed by this film: is God dead? The last thing I'd like to let you know is that although that is my perspective, I will refuse to let that cloud my judgement of the film's moral values or message, and that when I judge the film it will be on the basis of merits as a constructed artistic piece, objectivity where personal beliefs and opinions being the nature of the beast when it comes to art. God's Not Dead isn't getting much of a play in Northern Ireland, but for some reason it has ended up in The Strand (perhaps it caters to the heart of dogma in the East Belfast audience), and I thought it'd be something different to review. So, story follows Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), a Christian college student who enrols in a philosophy class, which is fraught with the tension from the get go due to the demands of Professor Jeffrey Radison (Kevin Sorbo), who insists the students sign a declarative statement that "God is dead." When Josh refuses, Radison has him debate the issue with him over the course of a number of classes, with God effectively put on trial, and this is the basis for a bunch of tales involving different characters, all of whom are linked in some shape or form to the central debate of "Is God dead?" Shall we dance?

Starting off with the good, I have to flag up that some of the acting performances are decent, in as much as they can make good with the material that they have to work with. Kevin Sorbo, the erstwhile Hercules from The Legendary Journeys show of the nineties, does his best to inflect the Professor with an arrogance that masks a deeply-embedded trauma from his past, and Dean Cain, the erstwhile Clark Kent from Lois & Clark show of the nineties is surprisingly effective in his short time onscreen as an obnoxious and incredibly self-centered businessman. Also, for all the film does in trying to ram the Newsboys group down our throat throughout the film (protagonist wears Newsboys t-shirt, protagonist's dorm room features prominent Newboys poster, everyone seems to be going to their upcoming gig), they're actually not a bad group to listen to. I was dreading this climactic concert, even more so the closer we got to it, and it's a well-overused trope to bring characters together in one space. The best use of it lately was in Paolo Sorrentino's This Must Be The Place, a film which I get more fond of the more I think about it, with a Talking Heads concert the basis for emphasising the extent of lead character's Cheyenne's mid-life crisis. God's Not Dead will never be looked upon in the same light as said film, but at least it have two qualities going for it in some of the performances and the Newsboys' music.

Now, getting down to it, while I have looked out objectively for all the possible things that this movie has done right, it does way more things wrong, and frankly God's Not Dead is an early strong contender for my bottom ten worst films of the year, because it is rubbish. As I've said right from the top, I am not a religious man, indeed I was almost militantly atheist at one point, however, over the years I have developed a respect for religion and other people's beliefs. That said, God's Not Dead is doing no one any favours in promoting the Christian faith and that is because it is quite simply a bad film. I would like to direct you to a quote from Michael Gerson, columnist for The Washington Post, perhaps best remembered for being George W. Bush's chief speechwriter: "The main problem with God's Not Dead is not its cosmology or ethics but its anthropology. It assumes that human beings are made out of cardboard... It is characterisation by caricature." I can't say it any better myself, and I think Gerson hits the nail right on the head as regards to central problem(s) with the picture. We have all these people, like the intrepid reporter whose life takes a turn once she is diagnosed with cancer, the Muslim student who removes the hijab covering her face when Father's not around and is a closet Christian, secretly listening to audiobooks of the Bible on her iPod, the quiet student from the People's Republic of China (COMMUNISTS!) whose father refuses to hear anything of his budding interest in Christianity. Not only does it indicate a sneaking suspicion regarding people of other creeds, but none of the characters in the film have no true convictions and are just lost sheep waiting to be led by their proverbial shepherd. Also, structurally the script is all over the place. There's way too many characters and the film seems undecided as to which story or stories are the true centre of the piece. The philosophy debate is the visible crux, after all it's the one on the poster, trailer, marketing and title, but it seems like all the other stories are devoted as much screen-time and they just come across as a mish-mash of scattershot bits and pieces thrown together. Furthermore, while I applaud some of the performances, the writing is so ghastly that it can't help but affect some of the other performances. Shane Harper is unbearably wooden in the lead part as Josh Wheaton. He could be a good young actor for all I know, but he is just portraying one of those two-dimensional protagonists who have unwavering conviction in their beliefs, even in the face of an admittedly stupid girlfriend breaking up with him. Nothing seems to move this kid, but maybe that's just because sandpaper has rounded off all the edges that his character could possibly have. Also, the reporter diagnosed with cancer, a liberal left-wing blogger with "Meat Is Murder" bumper stickers on her car, churns out the line "I have cancer" over and over again to everyone she encounters, as though that is the endgame to all arguments; "I have cancer," the sky is blue, the cow jumped over the moon, she even manages to bring it into multimodal terms, typing it on her laptop in emails to people, really, as someone who knows people who have had and have cancer, I find it disgusting that both an illness and those suffering from illness are distilled down into such narrow-minded, simple and patronising terms. Speaking of which vis a vis scattershot and what have you, God's Not Dead contains some of the worst editing I have seen in a film for some time. Editor Vance Null obviously lives in a different planet to the rest of us (with the greatest of respect to potential extra-terrestrial readers...), to me anyway, because I don't know anyone who speaks the way these characters do, because the way he has cut these conversations does not in any way resemble anything along the lines of general conversation. It's full of things like shots lasting up to five seconds longer after a pithy one-liner, just in case the audience deems it necessary to laugh or comprehend the weight of something 'important' being said, but then there are even sharp and unnecessary off-putting shots which last about a half-second showing a reaction from one person to another which are actually rather nauseating. It just made me consistently ask myself "who the hell talks like that?" All of this adds up to as to whose fault all of this is. I'm not in the habit of playing the blame game, but I that it's a double-header in this case: Harold Cronk, the director of the film, and behind all of this the production company responsible for this mess, Pure Flix Entertainment. Usually, the director is at fault for not controlling all of the potential issues that could arise in the process of making a film, and while I don't doubt that Cronk is complicit in this here, let's face it, this film was going to get made one way or another, whatever donkey Pure Flix could get to saddle up and carry this forward to it's eventual deliverance. In the end, the only thing this seems to add up to is a congratulatory shout-out from Willie Robertson (presumably because Phil is in too much trouble right now) and once the film fades to black, as the characters do at the Newsboys concert in the film, we are given a message to use the power of social media to text all our friends that "God's Not Dead" and "join the revolution." Yes, join the revolution, Christianity is under attack from the unbelievers, I think with 31.5% of the world's population (2.2 billion people, source courtesy of the demographic study The Global Religious Landscape) you're not doing too shabby. This encouragement to text reminds me of The Devil Inside entreating me to visit their website, and it just made me go, "really, it all comes down to this?"

Okay, I'll admit I went a slight bit out of the objectivity circle and started challenging the message of the film, but I think for the most part I did a good job of maintaining relative control of my senses. In the end, despite some decent performances and music, God's Not Dead is a messy mish-mash of bits and pieces thrown together, characterised by "characterisation by caricature," people who don't seem to know anything about people or make them resemble people at all. Not only that, it is also a badly made film, with scattershot editing that is full of the kind of things that would have made my university lecturers cringe as much as it did me (the essentials of basic editing are thrown out the window here), and a director who seems to have maximum plasticity to be bent in any shape or form, if not for the will of God, then at least Pure Flix. The film has made over $60 million off of it's $2 million budget, so it is by all means a surprise hit, but my hope would be that it just goes away from whence it came, because nothing this dull and poxy deserves to capture anyone's time and attention.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Getting ready (week four of the EventSec Magical Mystery Tour's first leg is about to commence tomorrow.)