CUBAN FURY REVIEW

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Get on your dancing shoes and get on it. Funny, feelgood, does what is says on the tin. Bosh.

It was never going to win plaudits for groundbreaking comedy or originality, we’ve seen it all before but at its core is an easygoing (and most importantly) funny comedy about an overweight unloved man who revives his long lost passion for salsa dancing and fights, well . . . dances for the love of his life. Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz/Spaced) always brings a likeable presence and applies his infamous comedy schtick to the role. He plays Bruce Garrett, a talented teenage salsa dancer who toured the world (Gloucester, Colchester . . . ) but gives it all up after a nasty encounter. Flashforward 25 years to the present and we see our hero plodding through life through his usual routine, with the constant ribbing and jibing of his so called friend, Drew (Chris O’Dowd – The IT Crowd/Bridesmaids). However that all changes when their new boss; the beautiful Rashida Jones (The Office USA/I Love You Man) enters the scene, cue the laughs and the rest of the film.

The journey may be the same with our hero stumbling and tumbling as he dusts off the cobwebs and reunites with his scorned mentor, Ron Parfait, the on form Ian McShane (Deadwood/Lovejoy) as he battles whether to dance or not to dance. However, it’s the supporting characters around Frost that make this film entertaining and memorable. The hilarious Olivia Colman who has excelled this year, most notably in Broadchurch, hasn’t forgotten her comedy roots (Peep Show/Hot Fuzz) as his zany sister. Not enough of her in my opinion but when she gets the time, she nails it. Rory Kinnear (Black Mirror/Lucan) and Tim Plester (you may remember him from Game of the Thrones. At the wedding. Yessss, him) play his “supportive” mates who report their “Weekly Round Up” of gaining girls numbers and making contact with one as they release their frustration at the golf course. In all fairness, they are all brilliant and all fight for the screen. However, there are two major players that stand out for me and that is O’Dowd (Come oonnnn!) and Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker/Four Lions).

Originally from the trailer I thought O’Dowd and Frost were going to be pals who unintentionally fall for the same girl and have a bit of banter. Nope. Dowd is a cocky, obnoxious, condescending . . . dick, really, who wedges in between the couple with his fat jokes and jibes. Some of the lines are brilliant. The friction between Frost and O’Dowd makes for quality viewing. The dance off car park fight sequence between the duo is worth the ticket price alone. Considering the crazy stuff the pair have done, I still couldn’t believe they did this. Hilarious OTT dance moves that makes for top viewing with an unexpected blink and you’ll miss it cameo that made it even better.

Novak is ultimately the scene stealer with the flamboyant salsa enthusiast Bejan. From his ball waxing to his still Fanta regime, the laughs come in thick and fast every time he’s on the screen. Fantastic comic relief. The dancing itself isn’t that bad and considering Frost’s build, he ain’t a bad little mover. Obviously the more complexed moves and OTT ones, you can’t help but notice that Frost has suddenly dropped a few pounds if you know what I mean. And I couldn’t help also noticing there might have been a bit of fast forwarding? However,  it might take the attention away and to be honest, the characters are that entertaining and the tone that easygoing that it’s not really needed nor does it really affect anything. There’s also great chemistry between Rashida Jones and Frost. Jones plays it quite straight faced but still stands out in a lively bunch of characters performed by a great cast. McShane as the grouchy alcoholic mentor was fantastic (I said, “Arms like an eagle”. Not a f@#king heron!). Alexandra Roach (who stood out in One Chance) was the only one I felt didn’t get a look in and got pushed into the background.

I could go on and quote some great lines and great to know that not all the best bits were in the trailers. But this film has a lot more to offer, may be a little corny and predictable but it’s fun, light and hilarious. It’s SALSA! 3.5/5

Currently ranks #50 out of 147!

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ENDLESS LOVE REVIEW

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A story we’ve seen done endless times before but surprisingly enough with a light touch and a good cast, quite watchable. Not the worst love story going, but not the best. If you love all that predictable guff, give it a go. The spiel is nothing new. Privileged, if isolated, high school loner  Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) falls in love with the charismatic rogue mechanic/car valet David Elliott (Alex Pettyfer), against her controlling father’s (Bruce Greenwood) wishes. SHOCK!  What follows is a predictable luvvy duvvy affair that occurs over the summer as the pair fight against their parents and the paths that lay before them.

There is great chemistry between the two leads; the beautiful (if a little skinny) Wilde (who featured in the shambolic Carrie remake and St Trinians franchise) and (I’m sure the ladies will say beautiful) Pettyfer (I Am Number Four/Beastly/Magic Mike). They make two likeable characters, even if you worry they’re going to choke on all the cheese they’re guzzling. I was surprised to see that the two leads were British. Their accents were spot on. It was also interesting to see the number of British actors popping up in this film; Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck) and Emma Rigby?! The girl has gone far from her Hollyoaks days, featuring in all sorts now (The less we say the better Ridley Scott disaster The Counsellor and the US TV series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland). Was it just me or did she have her lips pumped? I digress.

It’s all very easygoing and at times hammy with the OTT speeches of (truth, freedom and above all things . . . ) love but the cast make something that should make you cringe watchable and at times engaging. The awkward glances and exchanges blossom into a summery romance with the usual check list; riding on bicycles together, lying in the field blowing daisies, check, check. Ice cold bitchy girl jealous of loved up couple and intent on tearing them apart in the form of the alluring, if lipped up Rigby. Check. Well, kind of. She doesn’t really kick off until late on. More could have been made of her character. Dayo Okeniyi plays David’s best friend/comic relief Mace (not the spray) very well which splits them the luvvy duvvyness. Richardson and Robert “T-1000” Patrick play their parts well, even if they’re a little too soft and supportive for my liking.

The real star for me is the underrated Bruce Greenwood (the Star Trek reboot franchise/I, Robot) as Mr. Hugh Butterfield. The friction and tension between him and David makes up for all the cheesy romance stuff. He works well with Pettyfer and shows why he should be in more films. His presence, his expressions makes his encounters very watchable and makes for a fiery finale as he fears his influence over his family is fading. There was one unexpected moment and it gets a little more interesting when David’s checkered past is revealed but because of the tone of the film, it’s not as bad or as sinister as you think or could have been. It gets OTT, cheesy, but it’s easygoing, watchable and if you like romance and dramas with cheesy predictable guff, then give it a go. Not as bad as I prepared myself for nor as good but it missed out on a treat releasing this during the summer. More a summery film if anything with the well-shot sun lit locations and bright soundtrack. Could have gone a little darker and been stronger for it 2.5/5

Currently ranks #88 out of 145.

PLEASE NOTE: You might have gathered I’m not a romancey movie guy. Apologies for my terminology. I did my best 😉

JACK STRONG REVIEW

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Hit and miss. Suspenseful in parts. This US/Polish collaborated thriller just wasn’t strong enough.

I was impressed to see a foreign film at my local Cineworld. However, this film might not be the best case to persuade them to do so. An intriguing opening certainly got things going. The sinister looking Dimitri Bilov showing how the Soviets deal with spies. BUT that was soon bogged down with heavy exposition which people (who are unfamiliar or a little bit rusty with their Cold War history on the Soviet Empire) would find quite hard to follow.

It seemed to skim across the years without really establishing a date. The characters age at an alarming rate. It’s only when a brief encounter with an army officer confirmed that three years had passed, five years, etc that you even had a clue.

It was a good half hour before anything happened. I don’t mind a slow burning film if there’s enough suspense or story to keep it going. This was just lulling me into a coma. It was established early on that this account is a flashback which killed a good bit of the tension.

It was only when Ryszard Kulinski (Marcin Dorocinski) decides to provide important information to America that we start to get an engaging and suspenseful thriller. It was nostalgic of the early Bond films. The markings on the bricks, secret meetings, as well as the odd piece of gadgetry in the form of a nifty cigarette lighter that my interest was piqued.

However, this all gets too repetitive. The tone stutters along. With one brilliantly tense scene, there is one OTT and unintentionally hilarious one. Without spoiling too much, whether it was the acting or the execution; two scenes came off like something out of a parody! In one tense scene, Kulinski steals an important document, shoves it in his bag and attempts to walk out of the fortress. Only to walk into a wall.

Another example; the gruesome Putek (brilliantly played by Miroslaw Baka) suspects that someone in the room is the spy. What do you do? Keep calm. Act dumb. Or do you sweat profusely, ring your handkerchief out like a sponge and then grab the nearest piece of paper and rub ink across your forehead? Hmmm. Yeah didn’t think so.

Obviously, the main character is under a lot of stress and risk which would test you psychologically more than physically but it came off hammy and if I was in that room, I would have pointed him out in a heart beat. I mean he was a highly ranked military figure. Surely he had experience in hostile situations?

The family element seems to be forced in to break up the floundering tension and was only really necessary in the final act. I mean the heated tension between Kulinksi and his son Bogdan (Piotr Nerlewski) had its moments but more could have been made out of their fractured relationship. Shame. Kulinski’s encounters with his wife Hanna (Maja Ostaszewska) lacked real chemistry and came off sloppy.

It was a surprise to see Patrick Wilson (Insidious/The Conjuring) in this and speaking Polish. He played the part well but in all fairness, anyone could have done it. You would have thought having a big name (ish), you would have given him a meatier role? Nope. Wilson is wasted as a deadpan handler who reels off the usual cliched rubbish and then isn’t even around for the big finale.

The finale, on the other hand, does pay off. As the pressure mounts, escape is the only option. There is a brilliantly shot car chase across an icy Polish town that was tense and pacey. Remembering it was a flashback, there were a few cheeky red herrings that made you stick with the finale.

However as the film catches up with the present. You’re left somewhat confused. Although pacey and suspenseful, you notice plot holes. The intentions of the police become increasingly unclear. A reveal in the closing minutes was surprisingly laughable.

What was also infuriating was the unexpected demises of several characters I had followed throughout the film. They were rushed and unexplained. BUT as the credits rolled, it was revealed that some of the deaths are still not. This did add a somewhat sombre touch to the aftermath.

Not a complete dud, but it’s stuttering style and execution took the wind out of what could have been one heck of a thriller. Not strong enough for me.

2.5/5

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB REVIEW

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Alright, alright, alright.

In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease.

An engrossing (and gritty) tale of one’s man fight for survival. I can’t believe this was a true story. McConaughey provided a stellar performance. Worthy of that Oscar gold.

What made this story more interesting was the fact that Woodroof was a homophobic redneck who had unprotected sex with drug users. The moment he revealed his diagnosis, he was soon ostracized by his friends and evicted from the trailer park. A somewhat darker Southern take on Philadelphia.

Woodroof was very much a man on the path to destruction. At first, it was quite difficult to empathise with him. His drug and alcohol abuse merely making his condition worse. He even stole the only FDA approved drug AZT.

“Screw the FDA, I’m gonna be DOA”.

BUT as his condition deteriorates, Woodroof has to deal with the bureaucracy of the US healthcare system and the FDA as he buys and sells unapproved FDA pills. Unapproved pills that are proving more successful in their trails than AZT.

Woodroof strikes up a business opportunity. Establishing a drugs membership, The Dallas Buyers Club, for struggling AIDS sufferers who aren’t getting the proper treatment. With his partner in crime, the transsexual Rayon (the Oscar wining Jared Leto), the pair work together to fight against the system and their expiry dates.

It was incredible watching the lengths that Woodroof went to. An unbelievable story. Yves Belanger’s cinematography created a gritty look that fitted the tone and mood of the piece. Great direction by Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild), a well written script adapted from an in-depth interview with Woodroof himself by Craig Borten and a superb cast consisting of Jennifer Garner (Alias) as the conflicted Dr Eve Saks, Dennis O’Hare (True Blood) and Steve Zahn (in a surprisingly straight faced role) made this one to watch.

The pace was slow burning BUT allowed everything to bubble along perfectly. Leto and McConaughey were a fantastic duo. I couldn’t believe Leto was in this. He was on scene stealing form. The pair really put their bodies on the line for the roles. They looked ill. It did ponder the question on how far actors should go for a role. McConaughey lost over 3 stone. Crazy.

Dallas Buyers Club marked a resurgent return for the man and he hasn’t looked back since with True Detective, Wolf of Wall Street and Interstellar filling his filmography, I think there will be more to come.

Endearing, intriguing, emotional, gritty. Not what I expected at all. BUT all the better for it. Definitely worth your time.

4/5

LUNCH TIME

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A short story I wrote a while back about one man’s downfall during the lunch time madness. Bon appetit!

LUNCH TIME

 It’s the lunch time dash at the Good Eats Restaurant. The place is full to the brim with impatient, hungry customers. Queues have formed all the way back to the entrance. People are trying to squeeze in, just to get out of the cold. The tuts and sighs are enough to mimic a halting train. The command centre, or the kitchen, is busy with employees scuttling everywhere, clumsily bumping into each other, yelling beautiful words of encouragement (Twat!). Teamwork at its finest. The restaurant manager, Bob, an incredible specimen of a man if ever your eyes could fall on. A man you would follow into battle; with his sweaty, overweight physique.

He wipes the sweat off his brow with the back of his chubby little hand and adjusts his comb over. Well, comb over. A sign of denial if ever there was one as Bob attempts to position the three remaining strands of hair, in the reflection of the microwave surface, to look like some sort of ensemble on his head. With this magic patch of hair, he could still pass for 50. His face, a beautiful maroon with eyes as bloodshot red as the tomato-based substitute they pass as sauce. Needless to say, Bob was not amused with the team’s performance. Especially one lad in particular. Wayne.

A tall, lanky geek of a specimen. To be honest, if you were to look at the pair of them, you would have thought it was a before and after sketch in a Weight Watchers campaign. Super-Size vs. Super Skinny. Wayne averts his gaze, choosing the floor rather than his master’s morose maroon face. Bob unleashes all but the bloody Kraken at him. A twenty something student who had the silly idealism (idealism? Well, drunken epitome) that working at a fast food restaurant would be the dream. Well, free food at least. No, not even that. I know, right?

Bob continues to wag his stubby little sausage finger at the scorned student. Spit flying out, leaving little dew dropped speckles on Wayne’s glasses. He doesn’t dare wipe them off at this present moment.

“Are you completely useless?!” screamed Bob.

Wayne desperately wants to answer. Well, I dressed myself. I’m here. So . . . no! But he doesn’t. He continues to look at the disturbingly yellow stained flooring. Is that a cockroach? No, it’s a bean. Wait, we don’t serve beans. Well, ones that move anyway.

“Hello?! I’m talking to you!” shrieked the ogre of a manager.

Then Wayne made that fatal mistake. He looked into his boss’ blood shot eyes and shrugged. The laidback, sarcastic, “fuck it” shoulder shrug. A perfect symbolism of the now generation. If something goes wrong, shrug, fuck it. Not so for the balding beast. It was an invitation. Like a matador waving a cape to a bull. A hairy, fat sweaty bull that seems to be breathing through gritted teeth. Bob clenches his fist.

“That’s all you’ve got, is it?” asks Bob. He shrugs, imitating Wayne.

Some of the employees and customers notice the impending disaster. Laughs could be heard. Phones obviously ready to record, post and share to the world. God bless social media. Wayne doesn’t like the attention. He can feel his face going red. He’s had enough. Shrug, fuck it.

“You told Jeff to clean the toilet. Not me!” retorted the trembling twenty-something. Bob shakes his head. He smiles, a sinister shark toothed grin as if to say, you’ve just walked into my trap. Cue the theatrics so every nosy parker could see. Bob throws his arms up in the air as if he was ready to perform Swan Lake, not give a bollocking.

“He speaks! Ah ha. Yeah, I can see how I can get Jeff and Wayne mixed up. Those names are so similar.  J-e-f-f. W-a-y-n-e.” Bob uses his hands to help in the spelling of the names, like he was ready to show the emergency exits on a plane. Wayne is hating every second of it. Alright, Alan Partridge. I can fucking spell. Bob bellows for the witness in the trial of the designated job debacle.

“JEFF!” bellowed Bob.

Jeff, a smaller, spottier lad around the same age as Wayne, pops up like a meerkat from the chips section.

“Yes, boss?” said Jeff, in his snivelly, whiney voice.

Bob turns around to face him. He places his hands on his hips, a pose resembling a teapot.

“Settle this. Who did I ask to clean the toilets?” barks the boss man.

Jeff shakes, nerves kicking in. The spotlight well and truly on him. Nothing worse for little old Jeff. He tries to get the words out, in a Morse code fashion.

“Www-aa-yyy-nnee-ssss-i-rrr, bbb-oo-sss”, croaked the coward.

Wayne mimics Bob’s teapot pose behind his back. Jeff tries not to smile. However, he made the mistake. He looked over Bob’s shoulder. Bob turns around. Wayne quickly puts his arms down and looks back down to the ground. Too late, the damage is done.

Before Bob can reprimand the reeling reprobate, he notices that he has gathered more of an audience than he anticipated with the restaurant rammed to the brim. And for some reason, huddling around a particular check out till. Go figure. Bob shakes his head and lets out a big sigh. His mouldy mank breath hitting Wayne’s face like a slap to the face.

“Finish your shift then come to my office. You’re promoted to tills. You can take orders, can’t you?” retorted Bob.

Still digging. Still waiting for a rise. Wayne nods rapidly. Not good enough for the big, bald boss.

“Yes, what?” commands Bob.

Wayne looks up confused.

“Eh?”

Bob makes a spinning motion with his hand.

“Wind your neck back in and answer me properly”, demands the dictator.

For the love of God, don’t shrug again. Bob moves closer, squaring up to Wayne, “I’m waiting”.

Jeff is trying to say something over Bob’s shoulder. He mimes the words, SAY SIR! Wayne makes a scoffing noise. That’s it!

“If you’re expecting me to say sir, you’ll be waiting a long time. This ain’t the fucking military!” shouts Wayne.

Oh no. More phones rise out of the ever-growing mass of hungry consumers. They’re getting fed one way or another. Through processed food or violence. Bob clenches his fists. He steps into Wayne’s personal space.

“Like I said, office later. Now get on the tills!” Bob barges past the weedy Wayne. The customers and employees tut and sigh, disappointed that their diligence did not at least earn a bitch slap. Videos were still being posted, of course.

Wayne turns his anger towards Jeff. He stomps over. Jeff picks up on his vibe and quickly starts putting chips into the fryer. Wayne stands behind him, breathing down his neck.

“Uh, what the hell, mate?” Wayne raises his arms like Jesus on the cross, like all was against him. Why me, Lord? “You know he asked you to!”

Jeff continues to fumble about. Chips going everywhere but their intended destination. He sighs.

“I couldn’t prove him wrong in front of everyone”, squeaks the mousy midget.

Wayne tuts. “Bullshit”

Jeff turns around to face him.

“I’m sorry, okay?”

Wayne shakes his head.

“No, not okay. It’s every day. You know, he’s got it in for me so don’t give him more fucking ammo. God, I hate this job”

Wayne grabs his hat and throws it into the fryer. He soon regrets it.

“Oh bloody hell! That was my hat”

Jeff tries to fish it out.

“Why don’t you quit?”

Wayne makes that scoffing noise again. Not even he knows where that came from.

“It’s alright for you, hang on, you got something on your nose”.

Jeff rubs his nose frantically. Wayne moves closer and wipes something. He shows his finger. There’s nothing there. Wayne smiles.

“Oh, look is that some of Bob’s shit”.

Jeff slaps Wayne’s hand away and continues fishing for the cap.

“I’ve had enough. If I’m called an idiot one more time, I’ll . . .” Wayne struggles to find the words.

“You’ll what?” asks Jeff, desperate for the drama queen to exit stage right. Wayne shrugs.

“I dunno. But I’ll do something.” Wayne brushes his hands through his hair.

Jeff tuts. Wayne looks at him, puzzled.

“What’s the tut for?” demands Wayne.

Jeff smiles.

“Did Bob give you your balls back?”

Wayne tries to find an answer. He looks up to the ceiling, hoping to pick a smart quip out of thin air.

“Uh . . . shut up, Jeff!”

Wayne activates one of the counter terminals. He brushes bits of god knows what off his uniform. He takes a deep breath and adjusts his name tag. Right, let’s do this. Bring it. He pulls the falsest smile he has ever done and shouts those beautiful words.

“NEXT, PLEASE!”

Two businessmen in Versace suits, carrying briefcases, approach the counter. Quite dapper, if Wayne was in the mood to compliment. However, the two businessmen are different in size, more Mr Big and Mr Small. Mr Small starts ordering. He is middle aged, with a little goatee. If anything with his physique and appearance you could have mistaken him for Ricky Gervais. He doesn’t bother to look at Wayne, just faces the other businessman. He speaks.

“He looks like an idiot”.

Wayne looks at Mr Small, confused. “Excuse me?”

“Yeah I said, idiot. Couldn’t you hear me?” retorts Mr Small.

Wayne can’t believe his luck. Replace one knobhead with another. Must have been a bad person in a former life. Keep calm, keep calm, Wayne. He flashes that fake smile, again.

“I’m sorry, can I take your order, sir?

Mr Small pulls a face, “What?”

Keep calm and carry on.

“Can I-

Mr Small cuts Wayne short by raising his index finger

“I heard you the first time. I’ll have a cheeseburger. No fries and whatever other shit you’re going to offer”

Mr Big looks to be the same age as Wayne. Better looking than his shitty counterpart. Tall, dark hair, more like someone out of the Hollyoaks ensemble. He smiles but remains silent. Mr Small taps his watch.

“I’d like this done today”.

Oh, no he didn’t!

Wayne is fuming. He turns around and grabs the first burger he can find. He can still hear Mr Small rabbiting on to Mr Big.

“How hard is it to follow instructions?”

Wayne goes to slam the burger on the counter but before he can, he suddenly has a Eureka moment. He puts on his false smile, mimicking the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. He puts the burger in his pocket. The heat burning through the cheap nylon trousers. Mr Small looks up. Wayne raises two fingers, no, the normal way.

“Two seconds. Just got to be made”. Mr Small sighs. Mr Big again, remains silent. Wayne quickly dashes through the hustle and bustle of the kitchen area. He hovers outside the staff toilet door. Well, Bob did say I was supposed to clean the toilets. Wayne knocks on the door to make sure no one is in there. Knock, knock. Nothing. He creeps into the condensed area with its claustrophobic walls. He bangs his elbow against the sink. Flies are buzzing around the only toilet. Well, the only designated staff toilet. Wayne looks inside the toilet. Damn, clean! The one time. Sod’s law! Wayne unwraps the burger and looks around.

He crawls on his knees and smiles. Bingo! He wipes the burger round the toilet fittings and the rim of the porcelain, for good measure. He looks back to make sure no one has, well not walked in, but popped their nosy head in. He quickly wraps the burger back up.

Wayne flashes that Cheshire grin and rushes back to Mr Small who is looking at his watch, impatiently. He slaps the burger on the counter, “Here you go, sir. Sorry for the delay”.

Mr Small snatches it off the side. Wayne looks to Mr Big. Oh shit, I left before he could order.

“I’m sorry. Did you want anything? I dashed off to sort your colleague’s. I completely forgot to ask.”

Nice and cool. Courteous. Completely oblivious. Go on, eat it here. Actually, no don’t. Mr Small looks at Mr Big. He shakes his head.

“Oh no, he isn’t with me”

Wayne looks puzzled. Mr Big flashes that Hollyoaks smile.

“I’m being served, thank you.”

What? Then why was he talking –

“’Scuse me”.  Jeff pushes past Wayne and passes a bag to Mr Big. Mr Big thanks Jeff and leaves. Mr Small’s shout brings Wayne back to the growing chaos.

“I asked you a question!”

Did he open the burger? Shit, I zoned out. Wayne can feel the blood leaving his face, “Sorry, sir?”

Mr Small shakes his head. “Not you, son”

Mr Small places his index finger next to his ear. He turns his head around to reveal a bluetooth device.

“Signals crap in here. I’ll fire the idiot when I’m back.”

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Mr Small chucks some money at the counter. He smiles.

“Sorry about that, mate. Work. Who’d do it, eh? Bad manners, I know. Keep the change, son. Cheers”

NO, NO, NO, NO!

Mr Small disappears into the ocean of hungry monsters. Wayne can’t see him.

“No, wait!”

Oh sh-

“Found your hat”

Jeff passes Wayne’s deep fried cap. Wayne looks sick.

“Are you okay?”

Wayne places the hat on Jeff’s head. He takes off his name tag.

Jeff is confused.

“What are you doing?”

Wayne can’t find the words. He turns to his companions and shrugs.

Fuck it.

THE END

The Monuments Men Review

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Not a monument that will stand the lengths of time in the huge backlog of war classics we’ve had before. It checked all the boxes but failed to deliver anything new or interesting. Hardly a bomb site, but it lacked the right execution for this operation.

George Clooney takes the helm yet again in an ambitious war effort that just fails to hit the mark. The Monuments Men is based on a real operation that was approved by President Roosevelt himself to help retrieve stolen art and relics from the Nazis and return them to their rightful owners. However, as World War Two is coming to a close, Hitler issues an order to destroy all the art, making it a race against the clock. Now, an intriguing premise that suggested a treasure hunt with a dash of Indiana Jones and a hint of Dad’s Army for good measure. Not at all, old sport. What came was a well acted, if meandering drawn out crusade that if not for a couple of twists, would have been dead in the water. It is difficult to criticize when this is based on a true story, but it still can’t be excused as it raised too many questions.

It reeked of the war movies of old. The sort of maritime viewing you get on a Sunday afternoon. A nice melancholic feel but the problem was that it felt dated before it had even begun. It does start off quite easy going and watchable. The cheeky winking and lighthearted pace as Clooney assembles a talented ensemble of retired veterans and soldiers consisting of Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and the underrated Bob Balaban (who has always stood out for me after his turn in The Lady in the Lake with his speech on characters. One for the writers, that). And of course, not forgetting the regular Clooney collaborators, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett.

It’s always going to be hard to make a war film after so many classics but looking at this as a sole text, the tone is all over the place. It has the cheeky twinkle that suggests a Dad’s Army and Allo Allo vibe, especially with Damon’s badly spoken French. A reverse twist that had the odd chuckle, with the French begging him to speak English. There is the occasional titter but the material fails to bring a lot of humour and the partnership between Balaban and Murray could have been so much more. We know Murray is funny, so why not let him apply a little bit of his spiel? He seemed restricted. Well, if we’re honest, they all seem restricted. There was potential with Dujardin and Bonneville, especially in an exchange as to why Hitler only bombs places with no art or culture. Bonneville retorts, “Well they bombed London”. Dujardin smiles, “Yes, I know”. A little bit harsh but there could have been a little rivalry or banter exchange between them, but the two get paired up with the wrong actors, to be honest.

That is also the main problem, the gang inevitably have to split up to cover more ground, which is more miss than hit. Damon aimlessly wonders around the beautiful French countryside before he finally meets his contact, Cate Blanchett. Clooney just drives around, barking orders and taking inventory with young recruit Dmitri Leonidas (you may remember him from the fantasy dud of a TV reboot, Sinbad).  Goodman and Dujardin do have the more interesting adventures with snipers and concluding battle scenes as the Germans were being pushed out. Murray and Balaban bring the odd chuckle and are a good pairing but their adventures are a little nothingy. When Damon meets Blanchett, it does pick up and there is some great chemistry between them but it all gets quite corny and hints at a needless and unnecessary romance. 

There are sobering moments that do bring it back home with some unexpected twists that did surprise, without spoiling, and once the group reunite, the film picks up after a drawn out hour. The land mine scene may have been corny, but was funny and suspenseful. There is a harrowing little touch when the group come across more than they bargained for, when they discover barrels of gold wedding rings and teeth. Clooney’s cigarette speech with the head German officer in charge of disposing the art was brilliant. We finally got to see Clooney come back to the fore and act well, after being quite absent. The pace quickens as the gang have to race against the clock to retrieve all the art before the Russians arrive. There is also a nice aside at the end with a fitting tribute. 

However, The Monuments Men felt more like an extension of the Points episode in Band of Brothers and unfortunately that got the point across a lot better and a lot more riveting in a condensed hour. I couldn’t help feel that in a time of death, loss and destruction, who would care about some pieces of art? Understandably, it is true that by removing the history and culture, you are truly removing the people but it seems less important to the lives that were already lost. A watchable, if drawn out, corny and predictable affair that may get lost like the art in the plethora of war classics before it. 2.5/5

Currently ranks #86 out of 142!

*JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT REVIEWED AND REVISITED*

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New recruit. Same problems. Hardly the best Ryan outing but it wasn’t a complete misfire.

Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

Jack Ryan has been brought back numerous times and always (shamefully) fails to stick around as a continuing franchise, much like the Alex Cross series. There have been some great installments with Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck taking the helm. Clear and Present Danger being a personal favourite.

Pine (Star Trek) was an engaging and very likeable Ryan. His charisma carried the film when the pace slackened. Something that happened far too often.

We flashed through Ryan’s origins (A nice change) as he became a “shadow recruit”. Working for the CIA on an unofficial capacity (In a nutshell). Harrowing images of 9/11 spurring our protagonist to drop his economics degree and join the Marines.

You could argue that it wasn’t needed as Ryan’s commitment and patriotism were established early on BUT it did present a post 9/11 reboot of the travelled Clancy icon.

All the training montages zipped along nicely and breezed through the usual cliches. BUT that was soon thrown out of the window when Ryan fell for his doctor in training, the beautiful Keira Knightley (who delivered a convincing American accent).

Kevin Costner’s (The Untouchables) mysterious Colonel Harper was heavily underused. Not nearly in it enough. It took a good half hour before the film really picked up as we drudged through economic gobbledygook as Ryan gathered Intel at Wall Street.

I didn’t need a retread of The Big Short. All that complicated jargon to explain that a bunch of Russian terrorists were funding their next attack through their corporations. I had to laugh at the irony when said attack was on the US economy.

Thankfully as soon as Ryan reached Russia, I got a bit more of what I expected. A bizarre hotel ambush fight sequence was a much needed catalyst and my griping soon subsided.

Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie) was perfect as the maniacal Viktor Cherevin. Tattooed up and looking bad ass. Every time he shared the screen with Pine, there was suspense and tension. The pair worked brilliantly together.

A nail biting sequence in which Ryan infiltrated Cherevin’s office had me on tenterhooks. Tragically, it was bogged down with hammy dialogue and more of Knightley (Pirates of The Caribbean) and Pine’s cheesy romance.

As much as the couple had good chemistry; it was the same old guff. Juggling ‘the girl over the job nonsense’ with Knightley inevitably roped into the chaos.

It was a little disappointing as the plot suggested something darker with sleeper terrorists hiding in the US but that was soon cast aside with a predictable twist and endless punch ups and explosions.

Don’t get me wrong. It was fast and furious with an all out frenzy of a finale. All be it a rushed one BUT Branagh wasn’t even in it. Ryan ended up fighting a generic underling in a rapid city chase. Disappointed, to say the least.

A mixed bag. Watchable if flawed to bits. I mean these actioners are supposed to be good fun but this was adapted from a Tom Clancy novel. Novels that could deliver action as well as engaging suspense-filled political story lines.

This felt like a taster of things to come. It set out some good groundwork BUT why didn’t it hit the ground running? A little more effort, a meatier story line and a super villain that could actually be involved in the finale would certainly make for a decent sequel BUT, as things stand, I don’t think that will be happening any time soon.

Pine was a solid lead BUT the plot, tone and pace made this a missed opportunity to reboot a character that should be on the silver screen. Maybe a TV outing have been better?

Don’t get me wrong, it killed the time and was a fun enough ride. Just not one that you’ll remember long after.

3/5 (just)