Angry Birds Review

It’s been a while getting here. I’ve missed every other time to see Angry Birds but after much deliberation I would endeavor to see it. I can’t be a proponent of video games to films and not see what is ultimately one of the most well-known franchises and multimedia enterprises make it’s first steps into Hollywood.

Angry Birds stars Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Sean Penn and Peter Dinklage and is directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly. The film follows Red (Sudeikis), Chuck (Gad) and Bomb (McBride) as they try to save the eggs on their home-world, Bird Island, from an invasion of Pigs.

Back in February I went to see the remake of Point Break. I came out of that screening with a desire to stop reviewing films. How does this link to Angry Birds? I came out of that screening shaking with rage at what I had made myself endure for the good part of ninety minutes.

The story is as hackneyed and generic as it can possibly be. It’s your usual redemption narrative, which is completely out-of-place. It takes so long to get going, never has an hour and a half film felt SO BLOODY LONG. I didn’t think Angry Birds had a story, but that goes to show that you can make a movie out of anything. That doesn’t mean you should make the movie though.

The voice cast is fine, but half of them sound like their phoning it in. Sean Penn’s entire role is grunting, which is a waste of his talent. Peter Dinklage sounds like his going through the motions, I think he was just brought on to add his name to the poster to boost ticket sales. Granted, they don’t have much to work with; jokes about excrement and other slapstick humour is abound, none of it is of merit or memorable. “But it’s a kids film” I hear you say. Okay, the film does have a U certificate, but what child will understand references to The Shining? Or constant sexual innuendos? Or bad language, usually replaced with the word “clucking”?

That’s not even the worst part. The final straw that broke me was the blatant advertising in the middle of the film. As soon as the Birds find Piggy Island, they start using the catapult to fling themselves into the Pig Castle. Before our trio of heroes can be shot by the catapult, around five to six birds are shot first, each displaying their special abilities. These are the birds that you need to spend real-life money to acquire in the game. It’s pandering to the child audience who are in the theatre, “Hey, buy our game, but if you want the rest of these cool birds, getting mum and dad to buy them for you”. Product placement is nothing new in films, just look at any number of James Bond films. But James Bond has an age certificate. And the things he peddles (mainly watches, alcohol and cars) are not being sold to children or being advertised to children. What Angry Birds is doing is shady and exploitative.

And do you know what the worst part is? This is only the start. Did you know Fruit Ninja just got greenlit? Tetris is also in development. The film industry is getting hold of widely known properties and trying to put a narrative to them when they have no backbone to support a narrative. Battleship, Ratchet And Clank even Warcraft, all films that tried to put a narrative on things that have no narrative to begin with. You might call me a hypocrite; I promote video games as being the next great medium that cinema can link with. But the thing is, there are great game stories (I’m not going to go into here). These are just brands that are being stretched into hour and a half adverts.

Bringing it back to Angry Birds, it is honestly one of the worst things I’ve seen this year. Point Break may have made a hobby that I love doing waver, but Angry Birds needs to be called out for the abomination that’s it’s pushing into cinemas.

Score: 1/10 The apotheosis of terrible filmmaking.

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Silent Hill Double Review

Preface

As you might have gathered from my other forays of video games turned into movies (Hitman: Agent 47 and the Tomb Raider films) I love video games. And with one of my university courses this year focussing on horror, I recently got back into one of the most interesting game franchises ever, Silent Hill. And since it’s one of the many franchises that has been adapted, I thought I would take a break from actual work and bring you another double review, Silent Hill and Silent Hill: Revelation.

Review

Silent Hill

Silent Hill stars Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Jodelle Ferland and is directed by Christophe Gans. The film follows Rose (Mitchell) as she tries to find her daughter Sharon (Ferland), after she loses her in the town of Silent Hill.

Games like Hitman or Tomb Raider, while they have some semblance of story are not the most cinematic of games. Silent Hill however, is very focussed on narrative and that’s one of the films strongest points. It’s a straight adaptation of the first game’s story, with minor points from the rest of the series thrown in as little Easter eggs for the fans. The major change in the story is changing the main character from male to female. Gans says that he made this change as when he was writing the film, the main character’s emotions and dialogue had more in line with a woman than a man. To be fair, the main character from the game, Harry Mason, hardly had a personality to begin with, so Gans would have had to create a background for whoever the main character was and Radha Mitchell does great as terrified mother Rose.

Gans does a good job of capturing the iconography of the series; the radio static, the misshapen Freudian monsters and the beautiful detail as the haunted town peels away into the “Otherworld”. This is another one of the films strong points, with CGI blending seamlessly with the built sets, creating a flaking snowfall effect to both bring in and take away the dark world.

The film does have several problems however. A lot of the cast seem to be hamming up the script (despite the original Silent Hill already having a lot of camp in it), with Sean Bean’s atrocious American accent being the cherry on top. Along with this, the film is very American in its horror, meaning the horror is mostly all gore and blood with no deeper meaning. Silent Hill was created in Japan, and a lot of their horror stems from psychology, but here a lot of that has been stripped backed for a more in-your-face approach. And just as a fan, why is Pyramid Head here? He’s a (spoiler alert) Freudian/Jungian manifestation of the main character from Silent Hill 2, him being in the film is a total undermining of his symbolism. But in fairness it is pretty good visualisation of the infamous monster.

In conclusion, Silent Hill has a few slip ups, but overall, it manages to capture the atmosphere of the game very well.

Score: 7/10 A good enough example of a video game film done right.

 

Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation stars Adelaide Clemens, Sean Bean, Kit Harrington and Malcolm McDowell with directing duties being moved over to Michael J. Bassett. The plot follows Heather (Clemens) who on her eighteenth birthday is called back to Silent Hill, with the town holding dark secrets about her past.

You won’t find a good Silent Hill film here. You won’t find a scary horror film here. You won’t even find a good film here. What you will find, if you ever decide to watch Silent Hill: Revelation, is something that flips from being incredibly tedious to unintentionally hilarious.

Where to start? Well, at the beginning. The film just starts in the middle of a conversation, with no build up to introducing the main characters or back-story to get us up to speed from what happened since the last film. I rewound the film several times because I was sure I had missed a few minutes of the film before realising that the film just begins abruptly.

Sean Bean’s American accent appears again and is terrible, but Bean is only the start of a selection of bad performances. Adelaide Clemens as Heather does nothing but scream and pout and Kit Harrington once again shows that the only good performance he can give is in Game of Thrones. Malcolm McDowell shows up for a couple of minutes in a dress and overacts his heart out. Sure, the script doesn’t help, with endless exposition and dialogue so wooden is basically a tree.

Quite a few of the monsters are done practically, but the effects are so poor you can tell it’s a guy in a mask. The rest of the monsters are created with cartoon levels of CGI which just adds to the “so-bad-it’s-good” quality of the film. Pyramid Head shows up again for no reason, becoming a good guy and helping the protagonists out at the end, which makes no sense.

The film was made for 3D viewing, so there are lots of moments when stuff is meant to be jumping at the camera. Since all I’ve seen is the normal version of the film, the spectacle of a blade being jabbed at the screen or blood flying at me doesn’t work and just makes the viewing experience worse.

It’s not like the film doesn’t try. There are a few moments when the snow is falling in the streets and enough of the plot and characters from Silent Hill 3 that it feels like a film that everyone involved thought it could be a good film. The fact that it tried and failed is fascinating to watch.

The ending is what really got me though. The film has the gall, the sheer temerity to not have one, but three sequel baits, with several characters from the series turning up. A sequel will never be made, which is good but also sad. This is one of the best series to adapt, but the people making it don’t know anything about Silent Hill.

In conclusion, Silent Hill: Revelation is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. That sounds like praise, but then you remember that it was meant to be a horror film.

Score: 1/10 A slow-motion trainwreck of a movie.

The Visit Review

Note to the reader: I always try and leave out spoilers in my review, but you may guess M. Night Shyamalan’s signature dumb twist from my review (I guessed it ten minutes into the film and it’s a staple of his films so I’m not spoiling the fact that it’s in there). Therefore, reader discretion is advised.

M. Night Shyamalan was once one of the most promising new directors in Hollywood. His debut film, The Sixth Sense is still regarded as one of the best suspense thrillers of modern times. His later works however include such awful films such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Happening and After Earth. With a reputation so tarnished by big budgets, when I heard that Shyamalan was going back to a low-budget thriller I was actually thinking, “This could be a return to form”. Does The Visit mark the often maligned director’s transition back into the forefront of Hollywood?

The Visit stars Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie and is directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film follows siblings Becca (DeJonge) and Tyler (Oxenbould) as they go visit their elderly grandparents for a week for the first time.

The short answer to the question I asked at the end of the introduction is no. No, The Visit does not show us that Shyamalan is a good horror director. It doesn’t even show us that he is a competent director. The Visit shows a writer/director that has moved from an outside auteur with a new approach to storytelling to a man so high on his own hubris he cannot tell when his own creations are cinematic abominations. Nobody wants to hear that their work is bad, but someone needs to tell Shyamalan straight to his face that he is not destined to become a filmmaker, slowly take the camera off him and move him away from whatever film set he is on.

The film, like many horror films recently uses found footage to tell its story. The eldest sibling, Becca, is an aspiring film director, so at least the film has a coherent reason for looking the way it does, rather than the usual reason of “we have no money, so this is the best we can do.” This sadly falls apart pretty soon, as there are some scenes when all characters are in frame, but the camera is still following them, showing that Shyamalan couldn’t even stick to a single style of filmmaking, instead just deciding to make the camera a floating deity in the middle of the scene.

As well as directing, M. Night Shyamalan also has a writing credit on the film. And just like his ability to direct a film, the writing falls flat at every turn. The Visit is filled with several “jokes” that would make even the most easily amused man in the world groan at the sheer idiocy on display. Along with the tired jokes are several pop culture references which even now are starting to feel a bit dated, such as a protracted dig by the younger brother Tyler at One Direction. Tyler is also a wannabe-rapper, who at several moments in the film turns to camera and starts to rap. It’s incredibly cringe-worthy to watch, and feels like Shyamalan thought “Rap music is what the children love these days, let’s put it in!” The young actor even raps over the end credits, in a bid to beat Mickey Rourke’s rap at the end of Rogue Warrior as the most out-of-place rap in the history of the world.

The worst writing in the film though is how the two elderly characters are written. Remember the film Ruth and Alex that came out a few months ago? (It’s alright if you didn’t, it wasn’t that good). That film’s central idea was “Screw young people”. The Visit has the opposite idea, and views elderly people as horrible. Small common quirks of senior citizens, as well as how they try and keep their dignity while trying to live without assistance is exploited in the film to no end, including a supposed big dramatic scene involving a used adult diaper. The beginning of the film, both the elderly characters are lovely and friendly, but the film changes tone so quickly that the final reveal of the secret about the house and its inhabitants has no build up.

The majority of the apparent scares in the film come from the odd behaviour of the grandparents, which makes the film seem a little bit ageist for the sake of scares. The rest of the scares are of the loud bang variety, which become tiresome and annoying after the first one since you can see them coming from a mile off. During these moments I would put a hand in front of my eyes and look at the floor, not through a sense of the film being scary, but because I didn’t want to be agitated by the film drawing out a sense of danger.

I hate being startled, it don’t seek it out for entertainment. Some readers might be thinking, “But that’s what you get from a horror film,” but that’s not true. Films like When A Stranger Calls, Psycho or The House At The End Of Time, they know how to create a sense of fear equal or greater to The Visit but they don’t signpost it, making the scares better. Even when these three films do jumps scares, they are complemented by another type of horror, be it a sense of isolation (When A Stranger Calls) or an upending of movie tropes (Psycho). These films know how to scare right, The Visit just tries to startle you when it can.

In summary, you should not watch The Visit. I would maybe only recommend it if you’re an aspiring film director and you wanted a great example of an absolute mess of a film, but that is a very big MAYBE.

Score: 1/10 A very good contender for worst of the year.

Phantom Review

Subtitled films rarely get a wide UK release. Unless it’s something really big (such as The Raid 2) there is a notion that some audiences don’t want to read subtitles. However, subtitled films still get a limited release, so here’s the newest subtitled film for 2015, Phantom.

Phantom stars Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif and Sabyasachi Chakraborty and is directed by Kabir Khan. The story, based off the novel Mumbai Avengers by Hussain Zaidi, follows Daniyal (Ali Khan) as he is sent on an undercover mission for India to take revenge on the plotters of the 26/11 terrorists attacks in Mumbai.

While the film takes the event of the 26/11 attacks as a jumping off point, the story is largely fictional. The poster’s tagline is “A story you wish were true” and there is a long message at the beginning of the film saying how the film is not real and should not be taken to be true in any way in a way that almost seemed apologetic before it had even begun. I got the message; I’ve seen a lot of other films that have taken the premise of a real life event and woven a fake story around it. But at least some of those films were good, Phantom is not.

For an action film, the gun and fistfights are pretty dire. At least it doesn’t contain shaky cam, but the film does have a rapid editing style, meaning the cuts are happening quickly enough that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening. Some of the shots during the scenes however are of the lowest quality ever. Blocky, out-of-focus and sometimes not pointed at anything in particular, it boggles the mind that someone thought, “Yep, that looks good enough to put in our film.” The fistfights are laughable, with comedy punch sounds effects and choreographed within an inch of its life by people who don’t know how to fight realistically. Some of the gunfights are done well, but the major one feels like it should be in a parody of a Rambo film as Daniyal rips a machine gun from is turret like a video game character and begins to mow down hundreds of Syrian rebels and members of the Syrian army, giving no regard to whose side they’re on. Coupled with the sometimes hilarious reactions of terrorists screaming “NO!” in slow-motion, the film looks like it was trying to be Team America except still trying to play it straight-faced.

The film has a dual narrative, switching between Daniyal out in the field and his superiors back in India as they guide him to intercept and assassinate the high profile targets that they have located. With these switches you would think the film is setting up a “Situation Room” approach to spying such as the Bourne franchise or Zero Dark Thirty. But the film brings down these conversations to mere exposition dumps just to tell us who the next person to get assassinated is.

Whoever localised the subtitles needs to be fired. While there maybe some words in Hindi that don’t have an English equivalent, the films doesn’t really care and mixes up the words, making some sentences a puzzle to try and understand. Not to mention the many spelling mistakes that feature in the subtitles and the inclusion of subtitled songs (I know anime some times does this but it still seems really odd). The worst thing about the subtitles is that the background can wash out the words. Since the subtitles are white, if the background is white then you can’t see the subtitles. This happens frequently throughout the film, including the first ten seconds when the film is setting up the story. It just screams laziness, and if there is one thing I can’t stand in films it is laziness.

The worst part of the film though is during the first few minutes during the set up of the film. Pictures and photos of the 26/11 terrorist attacks are used to set up the story for the audience, which is fine. Zero Dark Thirty did the same with 9/11 and it worked perfectly to set up the story. But every time one is used a little watermark in the bottom corner saying “Courtesy of Mumbai News Group 2009 © All Rights Reserved.” If this was a documentary, such as Precinct Seven Five or Fahrenheit 9/11 then I would forgive the film, since it needs to reference where it got it’s material from. But in a fictional feature film, it’s just another part that shows how lazy the filmmakers are. When you can’t even be bothered to erase the watermark from your film, you shouldn’t put it in the film.

Last night when I got home from Phantom the film had pummeled me into boredom that I couldn’t get angry about it. But now, I can fully express how mad I am at the film. It’s a film that wastes your time and doesn’t even have the courtesy to be bad enough for a guilty pleasure or an ironic movie night fodder. Maybe Phantom plays better to a home crowd in India, but here it feels like the most slapdash approach to filmmaking.

Score: 1/10 Please don’t give them your money or your time. This film does not deserve it.

Spy Review

Spy marks director Paul Feig’s and actress’s Melissa McCarthy’s third partnership in filmmaking. Their first film together, Bridesmaids received positive reviews and various awards. Their second film The Heat had a more mixed response but was still fairly positive. Can they pull it off again in Spy?

Spy stars Melissa McCarthy as CIA analyst Susan Cooper, who is tasked with going undercover to find the location of a wayward nuclear bomb that is soon going to be sold to a terrorist group. The film also stars Jude Law, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz, Alison Janney, Rose Byrne and for some bizarre reason, 50 Cent.

Let’s start with the good. The pre-credit sequence, involving Jude Law and Melissa McCarthy on a mission to try and retrieve the nuclear bomb that sets up the entire film is fun, and adds a nice flavour of old-school James Bond to the film. Even though there is an overly long joke involving bats and Melissa McCarthy which doesn’t work, the first couple of minutes are good pulpy fun. The title sequence after said opening is also good, again bringing in a flair of James Bond to the film.

There are also several fight scenes peppered throughout the film and each one is film brilliantly. Taking some inspiration from earlier 2015 film John Wick, the hand to hand combat in the film is bone-crunching and satisfying. Director Paul Feig does have an odd habit of shooting most fight scenes from a bird’s eye view, but it doesn’t destroy the scenes too much. There is even a homage to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1 during a fight sequence, but at least Kill Bill as a good film. Spy is not.

Where to start? Okay, I like Melissa McCarthy, she seems like a very nice person in interviews and such, but here she fails dramatically. McCarthy sheds her usual typecasting of the loudmouth (e.g. Bridesmaids, The Heat and Tammy) for a more timid approach, but halfway through the film she changes back to her usual role. It’s really annoying to see a talented actress keep getting typecasted in the same character type, but writer/director Paul Feig seems to think otherwise. Most of the jokes are at McCarthy’s expense, but they all seem to be recycled from Feig’s earlier films, leaving Spy seemingly with no new jokes.

Most of the women in the film are portrayed rather poorly, ranging from ditzy and clumsy to evil, scantily clad murderers who behave like petulant children having a tantrum. Even though by the end of the film McCarthy is gun-toting badass, the film still makes jokes about her appearance and ability to perform her duty competently. The exception to this would be Alison Janney as the head of the CIA, but she hardly clocks in ten minutes in the two hour run time.

The men meanwhile are all obnoxious idiots who are all in love with themselves. Jude Law is your usual spy type, but during his time in the film he is always fixing his hair in reflective objects and smugly smiling. Jason Statham is a nutcase whose entire dialogue seems to be anecdotes about nearly dying and a remarkable number of swear words that would rival The Wolf of Wall Street. The character I had the most trouble coming to terms with however was Peter Serafinowicz’s Aldo, an Italian whose wandering hands are the subject of many jokes. Every time he opened his mouth, the words spoken were usually some sleazy come-on to McCarthy, which along with his wandering hands, became distasteful and unnerving pretty quickly.

The script meanwhile has flaws with how it brings in its villains and drops them again. We are introduced to several key players early on, who are all involved with the nuclear bomb that is at the centre of the film. The problem is Spy doesn’t focus on any of them apart from Rose Byrne, leaving us with some rather bland stereotypical villains. Some are no sooner produced from the ether before swiftly returning mere minutes later, leaving us wondering why they were even conjured up in the first place.

The film also has some pretty terrible continuity flaws. Clothing, markings on the actors and the geography of the sets all disappear and reappear during the film, leaving me wondering whether Paul Feig even cared about Spy while he was filming it.

In summary, Spy is just bad. While the fight scenes are surprisingly good and there are a few funny lines which raised the barest of smiles from me, Spy doesn’t deliver anything fresh. But who am I kidding; this film is going to make a boatload of money isn’t it?

Score: 1/10 The weakest film of 2015 so far.