One Hour Photo Review

The job of the critic is often a thankless one. What with many people regarding us as the bottom-feeders of the cinema world, whose very existence is pretentious, we’d have every right to feel a bit put out.

But, the reason a critic criticises in the first place is almost universally because of their love of cinema, we must love something to write incessantly about it and take all the hate the world throws at us. I’d like to say we sometimes make a positive difference by exposing bad films, but history has taught us that the average cinema-going crowd couldn’t give a toss what we think and just want to see big things exploding.

For me, one of the great thrills of being a film critic is casting a light on lesser known films while the big releases are eating up everyone’s pay-checks, which brings me nicely to One Hour Photo.

Robin Williams is unquestionably one of my favourite people of all time. Not only a phenomenally gifted comedic performer, he showed himself to be one of the best actors of his generation at frequent intervals, and while his performances in such films as Good Will Hunting and Good Morning, Vietnam are rightfully praised, there are also a lot of hidden gems in his back catalogue, and this one is a particular stand out for me.

Story

Sy Parrish (Williams) works at the photo development department of a big supermarket. An incredibly lonely man, he starts to fantasise about an ideal life with a family whose pictures he develops, but things soon take a dark turn as he discovers that they may not be as perfect as they seem.

Verdict

One of William’s greatest attributes was his ability to dis-arm an audience with a performance. To an entire generation, he was Mork, the quirky alien from the Happy Days spin-off, then he went to Hollywood and re- invented himself as somewhat of an under appreciated ‘chameleon’.

I’ve used the term chameleon before in my reviews, and it refers to a performer able to transform the self into a specific role, think of Christian Bale, and all the times he’s gained and lost weight in preparation for a role. Williams was not on that level, but his ability to blend into different cinematic backgrounds was uncanny.

There’s a kind of vulnerability to his character, Sy Parrish, that manages to make him sinister, yet sympathetic. You are creeped out by his obsessive stalking of the Yorkin family, but then you get a glimpse of his solitary home life and that momentarily melts away into pity. You come to realise that he may have problems, but his biggest problem is his loneliness.

For me, this performance ranks among Williams’ best turns, the ability for such an innately loveable performer to transform himself into a character who actively makes the audience uncomfortable is a rare talent. It shows a deeper range in his acting ability that maybe he was ever given credit for, and it takes you by surprise on first viewing.

It’s not just Robin Williams who steals the show however, but the writing and directing too, building Sy as a character was not solely on Williams but in the writing as well, the way that his life is a delusion built purely around photographs is built and paced spectacularly, building a mystery to him that we never fully unravel.

It’s also a film that never outstays it’s welcome, building a thick level of tension over just the right time period, and paying it off in a way that exposes Sy’s paranoia and obsession. It hits the sweet spot for tension in films in that it never feels over-long, or that too much time is spent on any one thing, and it peaks with an appropriate explosion of madness that serves both character and story.

I won’t say it’s a perfect film, there are perhaps a few moments of over-indulgence throughout the run time, and not as much time is given to exploring the Yorkin family to make us invest in their troubles, so their conflict kind of comes out of nowhere. But it does juxtapose nicely with Sy’s perfect vision of their life, so maybe that is in service of the story as a whole.

Unfortunately, this film is largely forgotten today, it wasn’t a massive hit at the time either, and rarely gets a mention in the conversation about Williams’ best performances, which I think is a real shame, given the layers and complexity that make Sy Parrish the intriguing character that he is. It represents a change of pace for him, and shows us that more than anything, he had the ability to surprise, as well as the ability to make us laugh.

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Good Boys Review

A terrible comedy is many measures worse than a bad drama. There is simply nothing worse than comedy that falls flat, it is the simple measurement of raw despair, hence why the worst films I’ve reviewed in all the time I’ve been a critic have been comedies, and now we have a new contender.

Coming from producers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, whose signature brand of comedy can be hit-and-miss, and basically consists of people or things doing crass things that they shouldn’t be. It was food produce last time round, now it’s children.

Story

Three best friends, Max, Thor, and Lucas (Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Kieth L. Williams, respectively) embark on a trip to purchase a new drone after Max destroys his fathers original. On the way they get sidetracked by drugs, alcohol and bad language.

Verdict

It is very rare that I swear on this site, there is no reason for this, besides the fact that I don’t need to most of the time, but I feel it appropriate here: Good Boys is fucking awful.

Not just awful; but embarrassing, tone deaf, and monumentally stupid. It really is the worst film I’ve seen in some time.

About half an hour in, I considered walking out of the cinema, which isn’t the best of starts, but my critical integrity made me stay. It just goes to show that I should probably listen to my instincts more often, as it didn’t get better, in fact, it got worse.

The plot is completely non-existent, a scrambled mish-mash of every high school comedy you’ve ever seen, complete with every possible cliché. It’s almost like the ‘writers’ (as much as they can be called writers) had a comprehensive checklist of every banality from school comedies, and seeing if they can squeeze every one of them in.

I have nothing against stupid comedy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of my favourite films of all time after all, but there’s a certain nuance to making it work, having talented writers for a start, and the scribes of this are to writing what a parrot is to weightlifting.

In a few ways, it was everything I was expecting which is what makes it so much worse. Rogan and Goldberg haven’t changed their formula in the slightest to accommodate the changing tones and times of film. We’ve seen every joke they can make about booze and drugs, we don’t want to hear the same thing over and over again but in different settings.

If I were Seth Rogan, I would be embarrassed to see my name attached to this, someone with a career, and a certain degree of talent shouldn’t have entertained this pile of monkey droppings, hell, anyone with two working eyes should have seen how repulsive, and utterly ridiculous (and not in a good way) this film is.

I feel most sorry for the child actors here; put in front of a camera to swear and burn, while we laugh at them and not at them. They expected it simply to be funny because: ‘haha, look at the kids wearing and talking about drugs, kids aren’t supposed to do that, aren’t we wacky’. No, you’re not wacky, you’re idiots.

It’s very rare that a film is so bad that it actually makes me angry, but with each passing minute the more insulted I became. They expect people to pay for this drivel, what more they’re making it many times worse by having children say the stupid shit they come up with. People doing things they shouldn’t be doing is not funny on its own, it needs a reason, and there is no reason for these kids to be like they are.

So, in case you need a reminder, Good Boys is bad. No, not bad, abysmal, shocking, depressing, and mostly, and I’m using this word again because it’s the most apt, embarrassing. It’s embarrassing that anyone thought this script was funny, it’s embarrassing that anyone thought it looked good, and the creators should not just be embarrassed, they should be ashamed, yes, ashamed that they asked anyone to be in this garbage and even worse, to watch it.

If this isn’t the worst film of the year, then it’s a depressing four months ahead.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Review

Quentin Tarantino is one of my favourite filmmakers. I’ve loved his work ever since I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time when I was 15, and nowadays, a QT film is an event in and of itself, as the world celebrates the outspoken auteur of Hollywood.

Now on his ninth (and supposedly penultimate) film, QT has tackled many areas of life and characters, now he’s made a film very close to his heart, about a time period and place he knows and adores, he even went as far as calling this his ‘Magnum Opus’.

While it’s great that he still has that amount of passion for his films 25+ years into his career, I can’t help but being a little bit cautious when I hear a director speak this way. It rings too many bells that remind me of films like Waterworld, or Heaven’s Gate, films made with love and great affection by their creators, but which cost a lot and lost a lot more.

However, my faith is well placed in QT’s capable hands, as I prepared to be immersed in his latest offering.

Story

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a washed-up former TV star, fallen on hard times following a few poor career choices. Still, he’s in the middle of the Golden Age of Hollwood, and together with his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) attempts to revive his career.

Verdict

QT’s films have a habit of sprawling out in a way that makes story synopses highly difficult. Have you ever tried summing up Pulp Fiction in a few sentences? It’s not easy, and OUATIH is no different.

Telling three separate stories parallel with each other must be a daunting task to set out on, but in experienced hands like QT’s it looks like child’s play. The three stories meld together effortlessly into a beautiful collage of Hollywood life.

It is, in many ways, a love letter to all Hollywood was. From the beautifully realised period settings, to the actors who were around, it’s a classic cinema nerds dream, and cinema nerds don’t come much bigger than Quentin Tarantino. He manages to squeeze in aspects of things beloved about the era, even touching on the Westerns being produced at that time, hell, even the title is in reference to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time films (Leone is one of Tarantino’s favourite filmmakers, so this reference is no surprise.)

You come to expect certain things of a Tarantino flick, you expect firecracker dialogue, graphic violence and language, memorable performances, and most of all you expect a good time, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood duly delivers on all fronts.

The bar couldn’t be set much higher for QT, his films are at best all-time classics, and at worst still great. He set a high bar in 1994 with Pulp Fiction, and although he hasn’t surpassed it since, he’s come damn close on a number of occasions, and he does so again here.

The sense of love that has gone into the depiction of Hollywood in 1969 really helps you become immersed in that world. If a film is made with love and devotion, an audience can feel that, and are more likely to react, and as I’ve said previously, this is a love letter. From the portrayal of the actors, the soundtrack, even the deep undercurrent of imminent dread, all of these create a landscape of an ever-changing world.

From an acting standpoint, it’s staggering too. Corralling that many actors into one place ad then getting the absolute best out of all of them is no mean feat, admittedly however, the talent is of the highest quality.

My personal favourite Leo DiCaprio performance was directed by Tarantino in the excellent Django Unchained, where he portrays the sadistic Calvin Candy, so the prospect of the two of them teaming up was a tantalising one, to say the least. QT gave Leo a fantastic character in Django, and so so again here. Rick Dalton is a complex beast, he’s all of the stereotypes of a 60’s Hollywood actor rolled into one, combined with a vulnerability rarely seen in such people. He’s anxious, he’s lost his confidence, and his character is at his best in the more emotional moments, as opposed to the more braggadocios.

Brad Pitt almost steals the film right from under Leo’s nose with a surprisingly dark and mysterious turn as Cliff, seemingly the quiet man, there are hints of a more violent nature, but his real success is in his relationship with Rick, and both actors have incredible chemistry straight out of the gate.

Fittingly for a film whose director is as famous as the actors, the film is impeccably directed. Shot on 35mm as is Tarantino’s standard, it adds to the already retro feel of the film by feeling like it could have been shot in the late 60’s and his use of camera shots to aid the story is as on-point as always. He’s always had a flair for the visual, which is what makes him so great as a filmmaker, it feels like he’s using the art-form in itself to aid the story, rather than just filming a story, he uses the camera in interesting ways to help him, along with his non-linear and off-the-cuff scripting, it’s all a factor in what makes him so great.

It would be remiss of me to talk at length about this film without acknowledging the controversy around it. Tarantino is no stranger to controversy, ever since his first film, people have blamed him in aiming violence that is endemic in society, as ludicrous and nonsensical as that criticism is, it wasn’t the prevailing one this time out.

The inclusion of the Manson murders in his story was a bold move, to say the least, and I won’t dwell on it for too long as I risk giving too much away, but I will say that the subject matter is handled delicately when it comes to the inclusion of Sharon Tate, and in no way glorifies, or justifies their crimes. People will always be fascinated by the darkest reaches of society, and it would be churlish to deny that.

In conclusion then, Quentin Tarantino continues his near-flawless run of great films, this isn’t his best effort, it may even be a bit over-long, and his fascination with feet continues to disturb me, but it is a beautifully realised gem of a film, celebrating the past by showing us how good film can be in the present. It’s a Tarantino film for sure, although, not as full-tilt as you’ve come to expect, he may have even matured a bit, but it’s still undeniably QT, and undeniably a wonderful film.

Pain and Glory Review

I do not see many foreign language films, in fact, this is the first time I’ve reviewed a foreign language film. The main reason why I do not see many is because of the complex nature of language in itself, I don’t think a lot of the foibles of language can be conveyed through subtitles, and between translation, certain hidden meanings lose their impact.

However, after seeing the reception this film got, and a screening of it being available at my local cinema, I decided to make an exception to my usual rule.

Story

Ageing film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is struggling through life with multiple ailments, forcing him into a deep depression, when he rekindles a friendship with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) an actor with whom he fell out decades ago, his life begins to spiral out of control.

Verdict

As a whole, this film is a character study. Revolving around the life and hardships of its main character, exploring his life from childhood to old age, it puts his experiences and later hardships under a microscope while comparing it with his career as a filmmaker.

According to my research, this film is almost semi-autobiographical. Its director, Pedro Almodovar, is projecting himself onto Banderas, from what I understand. Although to what degree, I can’t be sure.

As a vehicle for Banderas’ performance, the film is outstanding, as is the performance itself. Measured, subtle, and at times heartbreaking, his character is desperate and at his lowest ebb, despite his apparent wealth, his life is directionless thanks to his various aches and illnesses, it’s a wonderful portrayal of loneliness and depression.

It’s also very well put together, sequences of modern-day Salvador are broken up by flashbacks to his childhood, in the hope of shedding some light on his current state, spotlighting his relationship with his at times over-bearing mother, and the early awakenings of his desires.

It also has an interesting angle on the topic of drug dependency, rather than portraying addicts at rock-bottom, it uses it skilfully and as an aid to the accompanying story beats, it is used not because of addiction, but as a counter-balance to the pain the character is in. It’s very rare drug use is covered well in films, but this is one of those rare occasions.

It’s also visually stunning, covering the sun-kissed Spanish villages and vibrant cities with artistic flair and arresting nuance. The settings are used to aid the character and narrative, they are not there simply for artistic choice, but to show the juxtaposition between Salvador’s early and later years, there’s an almost equal split between time spent in each time period, not dwelling too much on unnecessary exposition, but rather enhancing its narrative with expanding its horizons.

It’s not a perfect film, it’s over-long for a start, certain things could have done with cutting for expedience, and there are perhaps too many characters stuffed into the narrative maybe for its own good, that aren’t in service of the story. But all of these things are niggles on the face of it. Its ending may also lose a few viewers, but seen from the right angle, it’s incredibly rewarding.

In conclusion, Pain and Glory is a damn fine film. With an extraordinarily layered and complex lead performance and visually arresting direction, it makes it stand out among the most recent releases, despite it being in a different language, I could still grasp most of its subtext, a show of its skilfully written script. A worthy watch for any film fan.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Dogs are an easy sell for a film. Put a dog in any middle-of-the-road film and it instantly adds a few zeroes to your box-office gross. That’s why there seems to be so many films about dog’s recently (A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Way Home etc.) it’s because the majority of the world love their canine friends and often feel more attached to them than human characters.

This can lead to mixed results with under-developed human characters and a sugary, sentimental story in most cases, but it isn’t an exclusive trap, by balancing both aspects skilfully you can make it worthwhile. Look at Marley & Me; sure, it isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but the dog was there to enhance the human characters and vice versa.

Enter this film, advertised as being ‘from the studio that brought you Marley & Me’ which isn’t really an indication of anything, as the same studio also produced the Alien franchise, but that movie isn’t mentioned. Anyway, I digress, Racing in the Rain is one part sentimental film about a dog to one part advertisement for the Racing lifestyle, and in particular, Formula One, a strange mix to be sure, but will it be effective?

Story

Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) picks out a puppy, Enzo (voice of Kevin Costner) and takes him in the road as he chases his career as a racecar driver. Eventually, Denny meets Eve (Amanda Seyfried) and their family starts to grow, as Enzo starts to realise his inner humanity.

Verdict

Firstly, I have to say that a good portion of this film is plainly ridiculous. The voice of Enzo tells how he understands how racing works, how cars work, even how television works, and that was a hard thing to get over. When you establish that your canine character can understand such things, it blurs reality so much that it barely resembles reality. It sits uncomfortably in a world so resembling our own, had it been in a more outlandish and ridiculous world, it wouldn’t have seemed so abrasive, but when next to other reality-based story beats, it stands out like a goth at a flower show.

However, get past this hurdle, and stick with the human element, and you’ll be rewarded with a well-acted and competently delivered piece of drama. The use of drama is most effective in the film’s second act when it takes a turn for the devastating, and really pulls on the heartstrings, it does start to go off the rails again soon after though, with an unnecessary legal-drama subplot that threatens to derail the film completely, luckily it is swiftly resolved and we get back to the dog-human dynamic which is the best thing about the film.

‘Dog films’ really work best when they explore the relationships between humans and their pets, that unique connection they share despite the lack of communication, you learn their body language, start to imagine what they might be thinking, and this film almost achieves that, the connection between Denny and Enzo is strong, as is the connections with his later wife and daughter, this is where the film excels, when it is exploring those relationships.

The racing aspect of the film is hit-and-miss, really. It gives Denny’s character focus on something other than his family, but distracts from it when it starts to implicate that the dog can understand it, and at one point, even voices an ambition to drive himself, and these outrageous asides are what ultimately harms the film from being anything other than just okay.

As a whole, the story occasionally threatens to stray into melodrama territory, but I’d say it handles its heavier emotional beats admirably, knowing when less is more, the narration from a husky Kevin Costner is occasionally exposition-heavy, but is overall, very accomplished and well-balanced.

Acting-wise, Milo Ventimiglia gives a very strong performance as Denny, going through the multiple trails he does, while exhibiting a layered performance, Amanda Seyfried is always very similar I find, never being outstanding while also never being truly terrible, and the dog actually playing Enzo is a joy, possessing a very emotive face and incredible timing for a non-human performer.

In conclusion then, The Art of Racing in the Rain is very middle-of-the-road (ironically) occasionally brushing up against something greater, but dragged down by the more ridiculous. The acting and direction is more-than-satisfactory, but it never feels like it finds the higher gears (that’s the last car pun, I swear). I feel like it could have been better, but there was enough to enjoy about the film, and with a few emotionally touching moments thrown in, it may just be worth a watch for fellow dog-lovers.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw Review

The Fast & Furious franchise is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Only in this series can a group of street racers go from stealing from the back of vans to hijacking a nuclear submarine over the course of eight movies. Basically what I’m saying is, the Fast series is all about the spectacle, no matter how absurd.

Throw into the mix two leading men who are box office gold dust, despite the fact neither man has ever played any character besides themselves, and you’ve got a clear-cut hit before the film ever opens.

So whatever I or any other critic may say, Hobbs and Shaw will be taking their money home in an exploding freight train either way, but let’s have a look regardless.

Story

Facing an apocalypse-level virus threat, and a near indestructible super soldier, Hobbs & Shaw (Dwayne Johnson & Jason Statham, respectively) must put aside their differences to save the world, and more specifically, Shaw’s sister.

Verdict

As much as I’ve said some mean things about the F&F series in the past, I do see its appeal, it lies in appealing to as broad a market as possible, but by doing that you lose a certain amount of subtlety, a concept that is completely non-existent in this film.

I also see the appeal in stars like Dwayne Johnson, he’s charismatic, good-looking and naturally funny, he also has the acting range of a teaspoon, and has never met a problem his muscles can’t solve. All of his characters meld together into an amorphous mass of mediocrity.

Let’s be honest though, no-one came into Hobbs & Shaw expecting a piece of high art, they know what to expect from any film with the Fast & Furious billing; ludicrous action, testosterone and lots of things exploding.

I will say that this film might be my favourite Fast & Furious film, but the reason for that is it doesn’t seem like a film in the series, it’s a spin-off telling a different story, and I’ll be honest, had it been a completely detached film from the franchise with new characters (as much as the actors involved can play ‘new’ characters) then I might have enjoyed it even more.

It’s very far detached from the original film about street racing, but that’s fairly par-for-the-course now, as the series hasn’t been about street racers for some time, in all the ways that make it different, make it better than the usual fare.

I remember making Mission Impossible: Fallout one of my top films of last year, and it was similar in scale, but MI had characters we’ve grown to care about, and a natural escalation, this starts off with a potential world-ending virus, where could the pairing go next? Another virus? Aliens? Let’s not give the producers ideas.

There are things holding this back from me calling it a ‘good film’. The dialogue sometimes borders on the embarrassing (‘I’m what you might call an ice-cold can of whoop-ass’ no, you’re an ice-cold can of cringe, Dwayne) and the characters are, as previously stated, non-existent.

But there are times when the film is a lot of fun, its visit to Samoa later in the film is the peak, and is the closest Hobbs comes to being likeable is when he’s surrounded by his Samoan family, this is where Dwayne Johnson is interesting, his Samoan heritage is well-known but barely touched by his films, and using the Samoa-set scenes here and Moana, that’s a great shame.

As much as I’m not a huge fan of this series, I did have more fun with it than perhaps I was expecting, and there’s more than enough to keep your interest, even if the film does run a tad long, it feels like it doesn’t full capitalise on its good ideas, but when it’s on form it’s a barrel of fun. Very dumb fun, but fun nonetheless.

Crawl Review

Secret screenings are a bit of a crap shoot to be honest. I struck lucky earlier this month when I attended one that ended up being Blinded By the Light, which I really enjoyed, so I took the plunge and booked another one.

It started with disappointment, unfortunately, as I really wanted the screening to be of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, for which I am beyond excited for, but alas, it was not to be.

However, I was surprised by the last entry, so when the screen revealed that our cinematic treasure would be Crawl, a creature feature produced by Sam Raimi, I gritted my teeth and promised myself to give it a fair chance.

Story

A category 5 hurricane is tearing through the state of Florida, and Haley (Kaya Scodelario) heads to her father’s house, after he fails to answer telephone calls. There she finds her father injured in a crawl space infested with alligators…

Verdict

After the disappointment of the film not being QT’s latest offering had died down, and I began to sat back and assess the film in its own merits, and about halfway through I was surprised to find myself teetering on the edge of my seat.

The first thing I can say about the film is it really doesn’t waste a second getting to the crux of the issue, the film opens and bam! There’s a hurricane, your dad’s not answering his phone, better go to his house sharpish, and we establish the plot and threat within 20 minutes. Some films would have swanned about the place throwing subtext at your face, but Crawl doesn’t have time for that, it wants to get straight to the alligators.

Much like A Quiet Place (which this film reminded me of on a few occasions) the shorter runtime and brisk pace means that you’re afforded little time to dwell on some of the phenomenally stupid decisions the characters make so this films plot is possible.

As much as it drew me in eventually, it is a clear example of what has been termed an ‘idiot plot’ a plot that only happens because everyone in it is an idiot. However, as I said a few sentences ago, we are given very little time to dwell on this, as the plot moves quickly into the next thing it has lined up, which isn’t necessarily a point in the film’s favour, I admit, but the actions of the characters can be at least somewhat justified.

Speaking of the characters, that’s one area where Crawl falls short. The characters are fine, but nothing special. Haley has the usual suite of daddy issues which will no doubt crop up while she’s trying to rescue him, and dad’s a bit of a prat, because aren’t they all?

Even though I compared it earlier to A Quiet Place, this is one of the areas where it differs, as that film had characters with likeable personalities and sympathetic struggles, whereas this one has shallow characters, which is ironic given the amount of time they spend underwater.

Other than that though, it’s a very well put together little film, with an atmosphere dripping in suspense, while also being light on the jump-scares, which suits me, as I’ve said before; jump scares are the elevator music of horror, so them being kept largely to the background and replaced by a creeping terror is a nice positive.

I also like the visual palate the director has gone for, not that there’s much variety you can inject into a flooded basement, but the dim colours and low lighting really add to the sense of dread.

In conclusion then, an interesting premise well executed, but would have benefitted from better characters, when you make a film with very few characters, you have to make sure those characters are interesting enough to carry the quieter moments, and Haley and her dad really aren’t. But that doesn’t take away from the well-build atmosphere and creative direction that make Crawl a very enjoyable watch.