For those of us of a certain vintage, hurtling around the corner of life, slipping effortlessly – not to mention majestically – into our prime years, the name Eddie Edwards will instantly transport us back in time to the decade that style forgot, the 1980s.
Side-stepping the sticky issue of the decade’s defining politics if I may, it was a decade with a propensity for a head-in-the-sand kind of innocence and naivety, and a decade of film-making quite unlike any other.
Aaah, so many rose-tinted memories of films that absolutely defined our childhoods, yet barely warrant a repeat viewing today without inducing a considerable dose of ‘curled toe’ and certainly not films that have stood the test of time in any great way or in any significant numbers.
But I guess that’s why we love them.
At the tail end of this most ‘bubble-like’ of decades and this time of ‘good and plenty,’ was the culmination of the Eddie Edwards story – one of the great triumph in the face of adversity, quintessentially British, plucky loser stories.
First and foremost, let me just say that it’s about time somebody made this film.
It’s an amazing if clearly ridiculous tale, characterised by an unconventional character that really should have known better, yet, in that rather typically British, care-free, ‘bollocks to the consequences’ manner, he didn’t, and Gawd bless him for it.
No-one perfects the art – and it is an art – of losing, quite like the British – apart from maybe Equatorial Guinea. Eric the Eel certainly made a considerable splash at the Sydney Olympics – but I digress…
Dexter Fletcher has gone the whole hog here in his depiction of events directing a movie that isn’t just set in the 1980s but actually feels like a 1980s movie; Matthew Margeson’s Dave Grusin-esque soundtrack adding considerably to this over all aura.
How much of Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton’s screenplay is faithful to actual events, I’ve no idea, but the story unfolds with Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) as a young lad; a dreamer with a gammy leg, determined to represent his country at the Olympics by any means possible. Certainly not born an athlete by any description, his encouragement is virtually non-existent; a few resigned shrugs and a roll of the eyes from his father and a sort of genuine maternal concern from his mother.
Unperturbed by his nearest and dearest’s lack of enthusiasm for his lofty ambitions, he stumbles from one opportunity to another, eventually by some quirk of fate, finding himself representing Great Britain’s skiing hopefuls.
Ultimately discouraged from this by Great Britain’s powers that be – the excellent Tim McInnery reviving memories here, to some extent at least, of his marvellous Captain Darling role from Blackadder 4 – and on discovering that Britain has no representation in the ski jump whatsoever, Eddie sets forth to become Britain’s fresh new hope in this most glamorous, not to mention dangerous of winter sports, much to the chagrin of his father and continued concern of his mother.
Predictably, no-one takes him seriously although he does get some bewildered, reluctant help from alcoholic ex ski jumper, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman).
A lesser man would have sneaked out of the back door, made his apologies, and taken the first plane home.
But not our Eddie.
Just how he came to end up representing his country at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and charming the pants off the world in the process, if you don’t already know, you’ll have to find out for yourself.
It’s balls-out in your face bleedin’ obvious stuff, it’s cheesy, it’s contrived, it’s cliched and then some, but I’ve got to admit… I loved it, even to the point of welling up on the odd occasion.
Pathetic? Yes, probably, but for pure entertainment, in spite of all of the film’s considerable flaws, and believe me they are considerable, Eddie the Eagle is a film that makes you just want to punch the air! A genuinely heart-warming frolic through the life of a man whose joi de vivre and never-say-die spirit (bordering on the delusional), should give hope and courage to everyone and anyone that ever dared to believe in the improbable.
A big old uplifting slice of feel-good pie.
There’s something quite alluring about Dakota Johnson. She’s got that vulnerable, pretty, girl-next-door thing down to a tittle and Hollywood seems determined to exploit those cutesy charms for all they’re worth.
And, more power to them, I guess.
Here, she plays Alice in How To Be Single (HTBS), which – let’s not dress this up to be anything more than it actually is – is a sequence of fairly flacid set pieces following the antics of a bunch of twenty/thirty somethings, all of whom share one thing in common. For whatever their reasons, they are all currently single. Some are desperately trying not to be, some are revelling in their ‘mono’ status, whilst others are going out of their way to regain the solitary state of being that they’re convinced they’re being denied; ‘discovering themselves’ in the process.
Do we care?
Well, with the sort of plot predictability that you’d assume is surely a’comin’, you can take as read the bigger picture here without fear of missing anything of importance… Each character’s inevitable life lessons are indeed learned along their respective journeys of self discovery.
Instead, if we concentrate on the film’s micro picture – for that, if anywhere, is where HTBS at least partially works and where any nominal value can be found – with a handful of stand out scenes, some reasonable interplay between characters, and at least a small sprinkling of gags that don’t fall flat on their face, HTBS does have its moments.
In all seriousness, this kind of turgid, predictable nonsense can’t be easy to put together convincingly, so hats off to Director Christian Ditter who has somehow managed to bring enough buff and shine to affairs to at least keep it moderately engaging and distract sufficiently from the barrage of cliches and schmaltz that seem inescapable within this terrain.
With the likes of Rebel Wilson’s, larger-than-life (in more ways than one) wise-cracking character, Robin, the film at least tries to remain grounded, diffusing any tendencies towards over predictability through frequent crude humour, delivered in a no nonsense style.
The gags however are hit and miss to put it politely but that’s the least of the film’s problems if I tell you that HTBS has a worrying tendency at times to veer a little too close for comfort towards that whole slick and enormously insufferable, Sex In The City, thing. Now, that’s a particular barrel whose bottom needs no further scraping, thank you very much!
A contrived and unnecessary addition to the IMDB database it may well be, but to its credit, owing to a number of decent enough performances and probably on balance, just about sufficient laughter to carry it through, HTBS somehow lifts itself, bedraggled, out of the straight-to-DVD bargain bin at Woolworths (R.I.P), dusts itself down, and presents itself as an unremarkable yet fairly watchable, relatively inoffensive and always uninspiring couple of hours of your time on a wet and rainy Sunday afternoon.
Ryan Coogler’s Creed is a mixed bag to say the least, extending the Rocky franchise to a seventh outing.
Whether that is a lucky or unlucky seventh is very much open to debate.
Ever since the Rocky motion picture hit the big screens in 1976, each subsequent sequel has wrestled to varying extents with attempting to emulate the key ingredients that made the original such a hit. Any gritty story of an underdog coming good will always be heading along the right tracks if it wants to sway an audience, it’s true, but very few, if any, have managed to produce anything remotely as genuine and whole-hearted as the original with Rocky II and Rocky Balboa arguably being the exceptions.
Creed on the other hand suffers, like each of the other sequels that preceded it, from wanting its cake and eating it; attempting on the one hand to tell a low-key, grass roots tale of a guy trying to discover his identity and path in life in spite of his lineage, whilst on the other hand, being seduced like all of the others into the irresistible temptation of the big-hitting, glamorous boxing showpiece event, and Creed really ought not to have resorted to the latter, even if that would have meant sacrificing the shameless Everton Football Club plug towards the end; centre stage for the film’s finale.
Yes, the big fight takes place at Goodison Park; and who said Robert Earl – the entrepreneur behind the Planet Hollywood chain – was just a name on Everton Football Club’s board of directors?!
Michael B. Jordan plays the film’s lead, Donnie Johnson, whose biological father, through an act of infidelity, was Apollo Creed, the late heavyweight champion of the world. Donnie never knew his father, but is tracked down at the young offenders institute that he calls home by Creed’s widow, Mary Anne – nice to see Phylicia Rashad of Cosby Show fame back on the screen again, and still looking gorgeous for that matter. She adopts Donnie (though why remains the pertinent question?), raising him to be a respectable young man with a respectable job and career path ahead of him.
But you can’t fight genetics!
Donnie, already engaging in under-the-radar bouts in Mexico, wants to be a professional boxer and dispenses with the ‘respectable’ life style he’s carved out for himself in L.A, ups sticks and heads for the City of Brotherly Love to seek out Philadelphia’s finest, Rocky Balboa; now living the quiet life and understandably reluctant to accept Johnson’s request to train him.
Of course, as the narrative dictates, he’s talked around into doing so, and much like the circumstances behind Rocky’s own original shot at the title, Johnson (a.k.a Creed) is invited, as a PR exercise more than anything, to fight the reigning World Light Heavyweight Champion, ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, (actual professional boxer, Liverpool’s own, Anthony Bellew).
Sadly, Creed is all rather straight forward from there, and not in a good way. For all the thought provoking questions regarding identity, age and our place in the world that the film threatens to raise and explore, it can’t resist culminating in an inevitable, glitzy showdown that’s sadly, right up there with the worst aspects of Rocky film legacy.
It’s not without its positives though. There’s a tender performance from Tessa Thompson – Johnson’s girlfriend, Bianca – lots of tips of the hat and nods of the head to Rocky references of yesteryear and a genuinely uplifting training scene cleverly bringing Rocky’s famous running scene through his native Philadelphia up to date, with Johnson, flanked by a posse of Philadelphia biker boys, racing through the streets as though his life depended upon it. Heart pounding stuff.
There is of course little doubt that the Rocky franchise would have been a short-lived footnote in history without the presence of Sylvester Stallone. The original Rocky was his screenplay and he lived and breathed that part. The world fell in love with the big galoot with a slight speech impediment and an enormous heart. His ability to almost single handedly drag sequels kicking and screaming through some of the most excruciatingly cheesy and contrived content imaginable, is a great testament to the man and the esteem in which the public hold him. Pretty much the sole reason, I’d wager, why crowds continue to come back for more.
It’s genuinely good to see him back, reprising his most famous and endearing role, but once again, it’s Stallone’s input, this time in Creed, that provides the true saving grace for what is, if truth be told, a rather confused and patchy sequel.
Consider outer space…
If 2013 was the year that brought us the science -light, yet impressive Gravity and 2014 the hit and miss but highly commendable Interstellar, then 2015 is the year that will be remembered, in sci-fi circles at least, for Ridley Scott’s Martian (The), crash landing into cinema land.
A director like Ridley Scott can boast an impressive back catalogue of films too numerous to mention and can therefore be forgiven the occasional downturn in form (Prometheus) and rightly still generates a sense of expectancy and excitement, particularly when he’s back in his element, exploring outer space…
Why then has watching The Martian left me with such an overwhelming sense of disappointment?
Let’s get this straight, right from the off: The Martian is one great big missed opportunity.
Mark Watney (the always very watchable and here, very well cast, Matt Damon), is separated from his fellow crew members and left for dead on Mars when a major storm disorientates them whilst out exploring, putting their lives in great peril.
Unable to launch a rescue and left with no choice, the remaining crew members are forced to flee the planet, abandoning Watney in the process.
Mark Watney however, is not dead.
Alone, many millions of miles from home on a desolate planet, he’s now got one hell of a situation on his hands.
This is where the film has a massive, great big, gilt-edged opportunity to cement a status as one of the great solo performance films of all time; a one man show; the monologue to end all monologues.
I don’t know whether it’s a sense of distrust in the ability of the average cinema- going punter to appreciate a different direction or whether the director simply felt that the ‘lonely man in outer space, figuring things out with a considered approach’ angle only had so much mileage in it before the natives would get restless, so, despite a promising start, the film’s gradual descent into predictable mediocrity feels like a real kick in the teeth.
Yes, a fair amount of time is spent observing Damon in his quest to ‘science the shit out of it’ (just a snippet from the film’s unfortunate, sound bite-heavy dialogue), by cultivating a food source, attempting to contact NASA through ingenious means and generally putting in place a system of survival whilst so far from home, that any potential rescue possibility remains a mind numbing four years away, at best.
To a point, Scott does capture an element of the loneliness and futility of the predicament that Watney would surely have felt so resigned to, and it’s this core aspect of the film that makes the early scenes intriguing enough, but it takes a strong director to stick to his guns when steering the enormous financial beast and burden that The Martian must surely have been – It’s not 12A rated for nothing – and sure enough, any early signs of promise are soon vanquished as the film turns about face, transitioning quickly into predictable, mainstream, contrived fodder; each plot manoeuvre playing out with heart-aching predictability.
As Damon and NASA between them attempt to come up with a rescue plan, the action switches back and forth rapidly between Earth and Mars, and an array of poorly drawn characters, natter away with badly conceived, plot-explanatory, cringe-inducing dialogue, a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ as they go with self congratulatory glee.
Any positives the film had managed to muster to this point, are quickly expelled like the rush of pressured air escaping from a punctured spacesuit.
Why oh why Hollywood?!
The Martian is classic what if territory. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, that would be an overly harsh summation, but it’s hugely erratic and any positives that it threatens to deliver are simply overpowered in a sea of cliches, contrivances, play-it-safe direction and ropey dialogue bordering on the insulting at times, in a film that is way too long and ultimately tedious.
…And it’s a real shame because without doubt, The Martian is an excellent concept left in the hands of an innovative and above all brave director.
Those were not the hands of Ridley Scott on this occasion.
Mad Max hangs, chained, upside down in some bleak, cavernous dungeon, following his persual and subsequent capture by a gang of crazed lunatics.
Charleze Theron (playing Imperator Furiosa), drives a customised big rig as part of the lunatics’ convoy, but she’s just taken an unscheduled turn off course and is making a break for it, destined for her childhood ‘Green Place,’ both for her benefit and for that of the group of scantily clad girls she’s secreted away from the clutches of their one, tyrannous husband and self-acclaimed people’s redeemer, Immortan Joe.
Both Furiosa and Max soon become reluctant partners and fugitives in crime, fleeing for their lives in Mad Max Fury Road (MMFR), the re-booted fourth instalment of the bizarre, post apocalyptic Mad Max franchise.
The film is well cast throughout, with Max, a loner of few words played here by Tom Hardy and he makes a good fist of things.
Along with Theron and then latterly, Nux (played by Nicholas Hoult), a somewhat misguided kid intent upon a glorious entrance into Valhalla, there are a number of ‘heroes’ to familiarise ourselves with and they’re all vying for our attention and that really is my main criticism of MMFR; there are just simply too many wannabe heroes. The lines are subsequently blurred between each and as a result, the film lacks a true focal point.
Director George Miller’s intentions here it seems was to come up with a raw, gritty, break-neck speed road movie with a poignant sub-text, but above all an invitation to buckle up and enjoy the white knuckle ride.
To a large degree, MMFR achieves much of this, it’s true, but ultimately what Miller has delivered is one hyper-extended chase scene and a rather flimsy plot. Admittedly the chase scenes are full throttle and nerve jangling, to such an extent infact that when the engines are briefly switched off in the film’s middle section and there’s a serious attempt at reflection and soul searching, it just feels clumsy and contrived and completely out of kilter with the rest of the film, as though someone’s accidentally pulled the plug out at a rave.
The engines weren’t the only things that switched off at that point.
It’s not all negativity though, there are indeed some great touches. The heavy metal, shredding guitar gimp, for example, (think Yngwie Malmsteem’s post-apocalyptic, mutant love child), strapped to the front of the mother of all Marshall stacks, strapped to the mother of all big rigs is inspired and it’s this kind of far-out bizarreness that MMFR aspires to achieve yet somehow, on reflection, falls short of.
Don’t get me wrong, the whole concept is in many ways off its head, but for those of us of a certain age that remember the original trilogy and the truly bizarre blueprint that it laid out decades ago, it’s arguable that MMFR adds nothing new to the pot other than admittedly top-drawer and even more elaborate special effects.
MMFR is a sort of high-octane, mutant whacky races with thrills and spills aplenty and if you’re an adrenalin junky and that in itself is enough for you, then I imagine that MMFR is going to press all the right buttons.