God awful

Sometimes, this job… I tell ya…

***

Title: The Shack
Cert: 12A

WHEN confronted by angry Christian rednecks after a blasphemous stand-up set, the great Bill Hicks famously shrugged: “Then forgive me.”

What a shame Hicks isn’t around to lambaste this cringefully self-righteous spiritual drama whose only achievement may ultimately be to put the noses of some US evangelical types out of joint.

Based on William P Young’s 2008 self-publishing hit, it finds Sam Worthington (a sort of nice-price Hugh Jackman) playing Mack. Mack is in a depressive, god-hating stupor after the murder of his youngest daughter during a camping holiday. A mysterious note beckons him to revisit the woodland shack where her body was found. There, he finds an oven-mitted God (Octavia Spencer) baking, a hipster Jesus (Aviv Alush) doing woodwork and the Holy Ghost of winsome gardening know-how (Japanese star Sumire).

How long will Mack resist the three-way charm offensive and trite platitudes of the cheery Trinity? When will the next plot hole open? Will Worthington’s shaky US accent collapse entirely? Which way is the exit?

Unforgivable.

1/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

 

Waiting for Gadot

A Good Superhero Film (rather than “a good superhero film compared it to the other tosh DC/Warners have put out”). Here’s the Sunday Indo review…

***

Wonder Woman
Cert: 12A

THE critical mauling of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice somehow penetrated the din of its huge box-office take, as if many went along to witness how bad DC Comics’ attempts to build its own Marvel-style cinematic universe could actually be.

A scant mercy however was Israeli actress/model Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Ever since, the promise of the whip-wielding icon getting her own outing seemed far more interesting than muscle-bound mummy’s boys wearing bat ears or hair pomade. Wonder Woman, the archetypal superheroine, had the guts, power and beauty of a demigoddess, precisely what creator and feminist psychologist William Moulton Marston intended back in the early 1940s. Lynda Carter fitted the bill for the 1970s TV show. Ever since, those knee-high boots have been waiting for Gadot.

It’s a relief to find her so at home as Amazonia princess Diana, being trained in battle by auntie Robin Wright. Although their matriarchal  paradise is cloaked from the world, a plane carrying a US spy (Chris Pine) crashes one day. After hauling him ashore, Diana beholds the handsome Pine visage adorning the first man she’s ever laid eyes on. He, in turn, must contend with coming to on a sandy cove to find Gal Gadot smiling back at him. Talk of WWI and his mission to foil a chemical weapon attack by Danny Huston’s German general twig Diana’s thirst for justice, and off they go.

Why this succeeds: Top action choreography, a fine cast (bolstered by David Thewlis, Ewen Bremner and a hilarious Lucy Davis) and a side order of fish-out-of-water camp that director Patty Jenkins serves next to wartime derring-do and Diana’s gritty grace.

Batman and Superman need to shape up.

4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Film review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

YOU’RE ONLY SUPPOSED TO PULL THE BLAHDY SWORD OUT! Here’s my fackin’ Sunday Indo review, innit…

***

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Cert: 12A

THE Sherlock Holmes films saved Guy Ritchie by stabilising his stock in Hollywood once again. If he could reinvent a brand as ubiquitous as the Victorian super-sleuth, studio bosses probably reasoned, Ritchie could probably give the Camelot legends a millennial boot up the behind too. Right?

Ritchie’s cheeky-cockney-chappy shtick still manages to find a way into this kitchen-sink makeover of the Arthurian legends. The emergent Knights of the Round Table in this origins story have less to do with codes of chivalry and more to do with metropolitan hipster cool, as if a bunch of Camden baristas have been let loose at a battle re-enactment. Centre-stage, we get a very Conor McGregor-esque Charlie Hunnam (as Arthur himself) and Jude Law’s baddie, both far too groomed and modern to be at all convincing.

So intent is Ritchie on scrawling all over the mythology that he even has to crowbar ancient “Londinium” into the yarn despite it having little to do with the lore. Throw in an F-word and a David Beckham cameo and King Arthur… feels neither one thing nor the other.

Arthur, a wily orphan, leads his own crew in the mean streets of London. That is until he surprises everyone, including himself, by pulling the sword from the stone. He now has to join in the fight against the uncle who orphaned him (Law) by embracing his lineage and harnessing his powers.

Enjoy the CGI, but don’t expect to give it another thought.

2/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Review – Alien: Covenant

Not an outright disaster for a franchise that has been much maligned since Alien 3, but still frustrating. Here’s the Sunday Indo review…

***

Alien: Covenant
Cert: 16

THE mechanical shark in Jaws was so shoddy that Spielberg left it out wherever he could. Less very much proved to be more, with the unseen, implied threat freezing viewers’ blood that summer in 1975. Alien, Ridley Scott’s space-slasher classic, did a similar trick three years later by minimising the screentime of the man in the monster suit.

These days, it’s cheaper to just CGI in the horror rather than pay costume designers and make-up artists, so the imagination takes a back seat. This return to the spirit of Scott’s original thus can’t compare to the abject terror that audiences – and uninformed fellow cast members – felt in 1979 when the late John Hurt suffered one of science-fiction’s nastiest stomach cramps.

With Alien: Covenant, Scott looks to make amends for the bloated, muddled anti-climax that was Prometheus and get these much-discussed prequels back on track. In this, he largely succeeds. Elsewhere – character development, suspense, the element of surprise – less so.

The old “a ship, a crew, a signal” recipe is used for the umpteenth time. En route to start a colony on a distant planet, Billy Crudup’s proxy captain diverts to investigate a signal from a much closer and seemingly ideal planet. His deputy (Katherine Waterston) thinks it’s too good to be true, and, lo and behold, she’s right. Obligatory ship’s android Walter (a show-stealing Michael Fassbender) and the others ignore her and naturally pay for it.

A strong first half that reaches an appropriate level of crawling menace and presents a couple of impressive scenarios eventually succumbs to what is ultimately a safe and by-numbers bow at the Alien alter that takes the more-is-more attitude to the monster.

Oh well. Still, beats Prometheus.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Everyone suffers

Space restrictions prevented this review of the pants War On Everyone running in the Sunday Indo last weekend. Ah the joys of the blogosphere. This gets a star just for casting Stephanie Sigman and another for Caleb Landry Jones.

***

War on Everyone
Cert: 16

IF YOU were a crook in Albuquerque, you wouldn’t want to be face-to-face with Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña). Without sounding glib, the pair are the archetypal “bad cop / worse cop” duo and have a nice little racket going on in blackmailing and shaking down local criminals with any level of brutality they see fit.

After hours, Michael has family time with wife Delores (the wonderful Stephanie Sigman) while Terry – the muscle to Michael’s mouth – drinks, snorts and dances to Glen Campbell. Their feathers are finally ruffled by Theo James’ posh Brit crime lord and his weirdo sidekick played by Caleb Landry Jones, who are setting up a bank heist. A taste of their own medicine might be coming for Michael and Terry after they look for a cut.

John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary) is more concerned with zany, adolescent, politically incorrect humour than plot and it is the undoing of this potentially fun caper. A talky, smug sub-Tarantino vibe comes across during the London-Irish director’s first foray Stateside that is too busy and self-satisfied.

2/5

 

About-face

That feeling when the injustices of history are addressed…

***

The Siege of Jadotville
Cert: 15A

THE fate of the Irish UN Battalion who resisted a six-day attack in Jadotville in the Congo is one of the more shameful passages of modern Irish life. The 150 men of that company and their equally heroic leader, Commander Patrick Quinlan, were shunned on their return after a month in a prison camp following their surrender. It was only through pressure from their families that a 2004 enquiry was held into what actually happened in that 1961 incident and the men could shed the “Jadotville Jack” slur and have their bravery recognised.

Jamie Dornan ably steps into the role of Quinlan in this functional retelling of the events. After a brief intro prepping at home and an expository reminder that Ireland is a neutral country not prone to military conflicts, the action turns to sun-baked Congo where a secessionist government in Katanga is using French and Belgian mercenaries to protect its uranium mines. When a militia loyal to that government attacks the small outpost where the Irishmen are stationed, Quinlan, right-hand man Sgt Jack Prendergast (Jason O’Mara) and the troops bed down and inflict heavy causalities despite being hugely outnumbered, short on ammo and supplies, and largely left for dead by pawn-moving overseers back at headquarters.

This Netflix Original production does a commendable job in bringing the truth to a wider audience. Newcomer Richie Smyth’s film is light on frills, as it should be, the only indulgence being some persistent mood music. Dornan puts in a sterling turn alongside a solid cast that includes Michael McElhatton and Rob Strong (as “The Cruiser” himself, Conor Cruise O’Brien).

4/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Blake’s bigger boat

In which I wept for the noble Great White Shark while Blake Lively and a giant smartphone screen strolled around somewhere much more beautiful than where I now sit etc etc… 

***

The Shallows
Cert: 12A

SPARE a thought for the poor Great White Shark. Ever since Jaws (1975), this proud creature has been treated in a manner akin to a fishy Nazi, always on hand when a mindless monster is required to do the murderous dirty work.

Take the gilled tormentor in this lush 85-minute ditty from Catalonian director Jaume Collet-Serra. Despite feeding off a dead whale, this crazed monster wants nothing more than to wash down its blubbery banquet with skinny Blake Lively.

In fact, the svelte form of Lively presents such a tantalisingly delicious prospect to the fish that a full feature film is gleaned from the flimsy “surfer v shark” premise. But look to Collet-Serra’s back catalogue – Liam Neeson vehicles Unknown, Non-stop and Run All Night) – as well as luxurious, glistening shots of Lively togging-out and slipping through crystalline waves and you get the sense this could all be an overly elaborate showreel to launch the former Gossip Girl star as an action lead.

She’s not quite there yet, but Lively does put her back into portraying Nancy, a US student on a surfing pilgrimage to a mysterious and idyllic Mexican cove. Beside cheesy shots of our heroine riding waves there are more major lapses in taste, like huge floating phone screens in the shot.

None of this matters because very soon Lovely Lively has become Lonely Lively, stapling a bite to her leg closed and trying to figure out a way off a rock 200 yards from shore with the huge psychotic CGI shark circling. She grits her teeth. Jaws grits back. Only a fool would fancy the shark’s chances.

It’s unintentionally hilarious in parts, and any courting of class and credibility is jettisoned by the time the ludicrous denouement is sold to us. And this is the problem with The Shallows – it’s not quite bad enough. Had it embraced its shlocky B-movie undertow more wholly, a cult classic could have been the result.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent