#163 Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Dir: William Shatner

Star Trek fans at a convention recently voted Into Darkness as the worst film in the franchise… They had clearly forgotten this absolute lemon!

While they are meant to be on a break, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves caught up in a journey to the centre of the Universe in the search for a supreme being.

One of the shuttles is called Copernicus, named after the astronomer who made a model of the universe that put the sun at the center. However, I think director &  writer William Shatner was attempting to put himself at the center of it here, and by doing so completely lost touch with what he was doing.

Right from the opening the film is distinctly odd, with the opening scene intended as mysterious and intriguing, however directly followed by an incredibly silly rock climbing scene with the main leads having a go at camping. I’m sure these scenes of the men bonding are intended to be endearing, but they didn’t work for me at all.

What was even worse for me was what felt like a blatant rip-off of the Mos Eisley Cantina scene from Star Wars, featuring a terribly misjudged erotic dance from Uhura. It’s another instance of this film undermining the well-regarded characters by putting them in situations that cause them to act very much against their established characterization.

Essentially, the tone of the film is not right throughout. For a start Kirk never seems to hit the right mood, Shatner plays him always far too light throughout the film, there’s a distinct lack of gravitas, especially when you consider that the mission they embark on is meant to be the search for god. The attempts at humor come across closer to slapstick, and it doesn’t work at all.

It’s a mess of a film, a real dud in the franchise, and clearly worse than Into Darkness.



Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Dir: Eli Craig

As a general rule I don’t like horror films… but this is the kind of horror film that I really enjoy!

While on vacation in a secluded cabin, a couple of hillbillies are targeted by a group of college kids and things turn out messily… yup, really!

When it comes to Horror and Suspense, I usually avoid the blood and gore in favor of tension and shocks, but something like this, with buckets of humor and a twist of genius at its core will suit me just fine too! The film inventively plays with the conventions of the genre, in a similar way at times to ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ but with a lot more humor and a little less terror!

I absolutely love how it turns the main roles on their heads, making these two ‘redneck’ cabin dwellers, brilliantly portrayed by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, really warm-hearted and lovable while showing the unfortunate teens to be stupid, reckless and completely the cause of their own demise. Especially when you consider that this was released in 2010, at the saturation point of all the Eli Roth-style ‘Torture Porn’, it manages to take the essentially ubiquitous elements of the genre, and inject it with exactly the right tone of comedy to effectively satirize without descending into the depths of low-grade spoof.

Brilliant for watching with friends when a regular horror would be too much, I can see this having long-lasting appeal and will be regarded as a perfect example of how to mess with an overtired genre for generations to come.


About Time

About Time (2013)

Dir: Richard Curtis

What is it with Rachel McAdams playing women in love with time-travellers?

When a young man is informed that he has an hereditary ability to time-travel, he makes use of it in the best way he can see fit, to win over the woman of his dreams.

This is the 3rd film in which Rachel McAdams has played the other half of a time-traveller, the first and most obvious being ‘The Time Travellers Wife, and the other less-obviously is ‘Midnight in Paris’. Sadly this isn’t the best of the three, but it’s still rather good.

The thing that helps this film to work is the way in which the time travelling aspect is nicely used not as a sci-fi element, but more to add to the comedic effect of some scenes and add emotional depth and at time jeopardy to certain scenes.

Though McAdams is lovely, the lead character of Tim is the real heart of this film and played excellently by Domnhall Gleason. I’ve seen him in a couple of other smaller roles, but he clearly has the skills to support a whole film as he does here, which may be something that helped get his a lead role in the upcoming Star Wars film.

I’m now looking forward to seeing more from Gleason, with other roles coming soon in the strange-looking ‘Frank’ and of course Star Wars 7. I also look forward to seeing more from Miss McAdams in a role that sees her with someone firmly rooted in linear time!


#161 Horrid Henry: The Movie

Horrid Henry: The Movie (2011)

Dir: Nick Moore

It’s quite good when a film describes itself and ‘horrid’ isn’t far off in this case!

Based on the children’s books series by Francesca Simon, featuring mischievous schoolboy Henry. The film puts the main characters into an unlikely battle to save their school rather than go somewhere that doesn’t let  them get away with as much misbehavior.

The author stated in 2011 that she wasn’t involved in the production, and hadn’t seen it. I hope she still hasn’t, she would weep! There’s already an animated series that’s far better than this pile of trash!

Despite featuring some big name actors and actresses such as Richard E. Grant and Anjelica Huston, the whole film is pathetic. I also can’t understand why these actors and actresses would sign up for this, unless they wanted something suitable for their kids / grandchildren to see. The acting is terrible, especially the children whose level of acting would be poor for TV but here its completely sub-par for something that had a cinema release.

There are a number of British comedians and comic actors with small roles in this, but they obviously had no real input in their roles or dialogue as its completely unfunny, I don’t think I laughed once, or chuckled, or even smiled.

Director Nick Moore is now making a film featuring Pudsey, the dog who (with his owner) won Britain’s Got Talent in 2012. The adorable and clever dog will be voiced by BGT judge David Walliams… Honestly, I can’t quite see how this lends itself to much of a quality film, and if ‘Horrid Henry’ is anything to go by, then the direction will be poor and the film will be terrible!


#158 Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher (2012)

Dir: Christopher McQuarrie

According to the novels, Reacher is 1.96 m tall with a 50-inch chest, weighing between 100–115 kg and he has dirty blond hair. Tom Cruise is 1.7m tall with a 50 inch chest, weighs 77kg and has dark brown hair… Perfect casting then!

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is former military police, but has been living off the grid for many years, and with his skills he’s impossible to find. However, when an expert sniper is arrested for a seemingly random shooting spree, his only words are to ‘get Jack Reacher’, who promptly turns up to investigate, uncovering a far more complex situation.

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who is best known for writing ‘The Usual Suspects’, but who hadn’t directed for 12 years. He’s more a writer than anything else, and his small portfolio has varied wildly between the extremely well-regarded ‘The Usual Suspects’ (currently #23 on the IMDb top 250 list) and the terribly regarded ‘The Tourist’ (with a 20% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Now teaming up with Tom Cruise, he seems to be developing a few projects.

Cruise took this on apparently wanting an action franchise, but he’s already got the far superior and successful ‘Mission Impossible’ films. It seemed for a while that developing ‘Reacher’ into a full franchise might be in doubt as the initial response in America was ‘lackluster’, but a strong worldwide box-office return sadly prompted production to go ahead on a sequel.

Some of the casting in this was good, as a villain we have director Werner Herzog, whose accent lends itself brilliantly to a sinister character, but his role in this is so small and undeveloped it seems like a huge waste. I also like Rosamund Pike here as a defense attorney and slight interest for Reacher. There’s a hilarious height issue for them as a couple, in certain scenes he looks taller than her, even in one where they’re stood directly next to each other. So, I paused the film, Googled their heights, and sure enough he is shorter by 4cm, plus she’s in a couple of inches worth of heels! He was definitely standing on something, possibly the casting director who was determined to make it work!

I saw a really interesting television show on the writer Lee Child, in which he was interviewed and showed that his pen name was chosen for very clever marketing reasons and his writing is for financial reasons. I am guessing his approval of Cruse in the lead role was for the same reasoning, he’s interested in paying bills and so this makes great financial sense but it’s not a great film, even as an example of this area of the action genre it’s not anywhere close to being among the best. Things like ‘MI: Ghost Protocol’ really are head and shoulders above this.

It didn’t make much impact on me, and I doubt it will have much lasting success, I would even cast a little doubt on the sequel making it through production, certainly I’m not in any rush to see it and I expect I’m not alone in that.


#157 Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots (2005)

Dir: Julian Jarrold

Charlie and Lola! Well… not quite!

“Is there a niche market for built to last boots, for women… who are men?” This is the thing that reluctant and struggling shoe manufacturer Charlie (Joel Edgerton) finds himself wondering after an encounter with drag queen Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The two then join up to draw on each other’s experience and expertise in creating a line of women’s boots for drag artists, meeting with quite some reluctance and opposition along the way.

This film was adapted into a musical with songs by Cindi Lauper that hit Broadway in 2012, and instantly won 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical! The film seems to have been largely forgotten, it received mixed reviews on release, though it did get a Golden Globe nomination for Chiwetel.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (‘12 Years a Slave‘) is a very skilled and versatile actor who can apply himself to a wide variety of roles, this is just one of the examples of that. He’s now very much more well-known for his depiction of Solomon Northup, but personally I remember him best as the Operative in ‘Serenity’. Here he’s excellent, it can’t be an easy task to play a drag queen, Ejiofor doesn’t really seem naturally predisposed , yet he does to incredible effect and unsurprisingly takes focus for much of the film.

Joel Edgerton (‘The Great Gatsby’) is Charlie who is struggling to keep the family business afloat, and he’s very good, both as the struggling manager in the early part of  the film, and later on as he develops this unusual partnership with Lola, and also has to try to keep his personal life in order while the business difficulties steal all his attention.

There’s a small role for Nick Frost (‘The World’s End’) here too as one of the factory workers who doesn’t like Lola being there at all, but who may or may not experience a change of heart.

I don’t know what it’s like as a stage musical, but here as a British dramedy it’s surprisingly enjoyable, and great to see early roles for a three actors who have gone on to have great success in much higher-profile roles.


#156 The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

Dir: Don Scardino

Sadly not as ‘incredible’ as title suggests, but in places it is heartwarming and surprisingly good.

Steve Carrell (‘Seeking a Friend For the End of The World‘, ‘Despicable Me 2‘, The Way Way Back, Anchorman 2) stars as the eponymous magician, who struggles to adapt and retain his popularity when his act becomes outdated, suffering competition from Blainesque illusionist Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), and damaging his professional and personal relationship with lifelong friend Anton (Steve Buscemi). However a fortuitous encounter with an aging legendary magician (Alan Arkin) could be just what Burt needs to put the magic back in his life!

The film received some lukewarm at best reviews on release, but sadly I think that although it’s nothing brilliant, there’s a really great story and film in there, just the focus ended up elsewhere. It starts as story of friendship between Burt and Anton who became friends as children and have somehow continued together for decades. However when Anton leaves and Burt tries to continue alone he’s hopeless, especially when up against Steve Gray. This is where the film focuses, on the rivalry between them and Burt’s bad attitude, with a little love story thrown in there too with Olivia Wilde (‘Her‘, ‘Rush’).

The best bit of the story however is around half way through. When Burt meets the man who inspired him to learn magic, Rance Holloway, the two form an unlikely friendship, and work to regain the sense of joy that they both once had with magic. This section of the film is really excellent. Alan Arkin is perfect, he gets the elderly grumpy man act just right and there’s real chemistry between the actors. When the two characters hit it off and become friends, the film suddenly starts working on a completely different level, and from there on it’s far better, almost a completely different tone and vastly improved film.

What the film needed was more of these two and a lot less of the stupid and at times crude stuff. If the writers and producers had shifted the focus onto this part of the story, getting to it sooner, it would’ve put more emphasis on the real emotional heart of things, and then a title featuring the word ‘Incredible’ might have seemed a lot more fitting.


#155 Spanglish

Spanglish (2004)

Dir: James L. Brooks

My brother insisted that I take a look at the work of this director, and I’m very glad I did!

Flor (Paz Vega), a Mexican woman is hired by a wealthy family to work as a housekeeper, so she and her daughter move with the family into their summer home, where they find themselves in the center of a complex situation with many pressures and influences affecting both their little family and the family they are living with.

The story is cleverly framed as it’s being narrated by the daughter Christina in the form of her university admission essay, and sets itself up early as a transformative ‘culture clash’. James L. Brooks, seems to like making films that feature a clash of sorts between people from different worlds, something I’ll maybe consider a bit more when I get round to reviewing ‘As Good as it Gets’. 

It seems that often comic actors do their best work when put into roles that aren’t purely comedic. Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Steve Carrell and Will Ferrell have all shown this, as does Adam Sandler, who I’m never much a fan of in most of his ‘comedies’ but here I really warmed to his character and thought he was excellently cast in the role of father of the family John, who is clearly ruled by his strong-willed wife.

The star of this film though is Paz Vega who is really striking, and I can see her doing a lot more English-language work and high-profile roles, Penelope Cruz doesn’t have to be the only Spanish lead actress in Hollywood. She seems to be a very busy and sought after actress, according to IMDb she’s starring in 5 films that are currently in post-production, 1 that’s filming, and 1 that’s in pre-production. She’s brilliant here and manages to avoid just being a stereotype, with the character taking on so many different aspects in the film, mother, employee, love-interest, and also asserting herself as her own woman too. Vega gets all these roles into fine balance in her character which is the key to it working, and therefore key to the film’s story being successful too.

The rest of the cast is grand too,Tea Leoni gets it right as the mother who struggles to keep things together and Cloris Leachman is excellent as the grandmother who gets to act as some of the best comedic relief in scenes.

Much of the story highlights both differing parenting styles and cultures, with much of the humor coming from watching these clash, and the framing of Christina submitting this as her college application highlights how much the character learnt from seeing this.

For me, the highlight of the film was a brilliant bi-lingual argument that’s so excellent and wonderfully funny too, with Flor and John needing to express themselves in their native tongue and putting Christina in the middle as interpreter, it’s a brilliantly written scene in a very well written film that’s well worth a look.

#154 Unknown

Unknown (2011)

Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra

Why can’t Liam Neeson just do more of this sort of thing instead of pointless sequels like ‘Taken 2‘?

A professor (Liam Neeson) on a conference trip to Berlin with his wife (January Jones) is involved in a car accident and ends up in a coma. Waking up to find another man has completely taken his life and not even his wife remembers him, he desperately attempts to uncover the truth, finding the cab driver (Diane Kruger) who was with him in the accident to see if she can shed any light on the baffling situation.

This is far better than ‘Taken 2’, if Liam Neeson wants to maintain credibility in his place as an action movie star he will do better to make more like this and ‘The Grey‘ rather than spoil the brilliant ‘Taken’ by making a far inferior sequel! They are much better career choices, and at least they do something at least slightly different with the storylines rather than Taken 2 which was nothing more than a slight shift in roles of who was getting taken.

Diane Kruger (‘The Host‘) is interesting in her role, especially in that she IS actually German, yet even in a Berlin-set film she plays a Bosnian! I don’t see quite why, but oh well! She’s perfectly fine, as is the other female lead, January Jones.

Though some people may have seen it all coming, I must say it kept me guessing, as potential explanations kept being put forward and then changed, which I quite enjoyed, it wasn’t overly obvious quite why things had gone so wrong for him, and so maintained my interest throughout.

Now Liam, you don’t need to make a sequel to this, if they offer it to you just turn it down, some films are better standing alone.


#153 Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Dir: Joss Whedon

How do you unwind after making the 3rd biggest-grossing film of all time?… Well if you’re Joss Whedon you invite your friends round to your house for a week and modernize a classic Shakespeare play!

The plot somewhat holds to Shakespeare’s play, updating the location and adding a little uncertainty to any military roles as they originally were. It essentially involves a delegation (which was originally men returning from war) led by Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and including his officers Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), as they stay at the home of Leonato, whose daughter Hero and niece Beatrice (Amy Acker) develop relationships with the officers, while Don Pedro’s scheming brother Don John works to ruin matters. 

I studied this at school over 10 years ago, and at the time we watched the 1993 film adaptation with Kenneth Branagh, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, and many notable others. It was great and held to the original setting well, but this adaptation is even greater in my opinion.

Shot in crisp monochrome helps make it a little extra special, adds a classic cinematic and nostalgic look to it, and reminds the audience of older films and times despite the modern setting. The original dialogue all makes sense, when it is accompanied by the great acting and some visual queues and gestures there is no mystery to what they’re talking about, it feels incredibly contemporary.

Whedon showed with the avengers that he can balance a film to give fair amounts of time and weight to a number of characters, and he does it again here with a large ensemble cast taken assembled largely from old friends who have previously worked with him. There’s a lot of lead and supporting characters, and in typically Shakespearean style things get complicated, but nobody who needs developing feels underdeveloped. Even the smallest of roles in the form of Dogberry, here is turned into a scene-stealing performance by Nathan Fillion.

I loved watching the end credits and noticing how many of the extras listed were his friends and family that I knew of, for example Joss Whedon’s brothers and sister-in-law, as well as Drew Goddard the director of ‘Cabin in the Woods’ and his wife. The family also worked with Joss on the music, a skill they had previously showcased in ‘Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’, and here the music is by them, but nicely the lyrics are attributed to Shakespeare.

I loved the 1990’s version, but I think this has just blown it out the water in terms of coolness, and will almost undoubtedly take its place alongside that one as the version shown in schools, possibly even replacing it.

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