The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Programme 40: The Boxtrolls, Let's Be Cops!, Sex Tape, A Most Wanted Man, and 1980s Movies


The Watchers Film Show: Ep 40 from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

Programme 40 (40!) is here!

It's another packed show as Rhys gives his opinions of comedies Sex Tape and Let's Be Cops!, Tez and Matt discuss thriller A Most Wanted Man, whilst Matt holds forth on animated adventure The Boxtrolls

Our decades discussion rolls around to the 1980s and Lethal Weapon, An American Werewolf In London and The Princess Bride all get a mention, but who mentions what?

Hope you enjoy it! 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Review: Pride (UK Cert: 15)


The Miner’s Strike of 1984. Members of London’s gay community realise that they have much in common with the miners: they’re both vilified by Thatcher’s government, the police and the front pages of the tabloids. The miner’s unions refuse to accept the money that the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) have collected, so instead they travel to the mining village of Onllwyn to help the families first-hand. Reluctant to accept money from the colourfully dressed gays, the people of Onllwyn are eventually won over by LGSM’s members. At a time when Britain had never been so turbulent or divisive, two poles apart communities end up forming firm friendships and fighting each other’s battles.

Films “based on a true story” have been drowning in money over the last few years. They’re a safe bet, audiences happily paying to see real-life David and Goliath exploits. Pride is another film based on real events, but what makes it an arguably modern-day classic is how assured it is, the mix of comedy, drama and heart-breaking moments all perfectly handled.

There are some big names amongst the cast of Pride, actors immediately recognised both here and over in the US; Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Paddy Considine, all putting on spookily convincing Welsh accents. Nighy is a one-note actor, the quirky English gent, but he has always played that note amazingly well. Here, Nighy gets a bit more to do as quiet, weary committee member Cliff, who is feeling the struggle of the long fight against Thatcher. It’s not until he befriends the gays that Cliff gets his gusto back, fighting not just for his village, but his new-found comrades. Staunton is given the routine role of feisty Welsh pensioner, but she gets more than her fair share of culture clash one-liners. Considine, famous for playing morose, psychologically complex characters (Dead Man’s Shoes, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher) plays Dai, a friendly, gentle soul and one of the key players on Onllwyn’s committee. Dai is an uncomplicated man when it comes to right and wrong, Considine relishing the stirring speeches he is given, dialogue that is down-to-earth and genuine; you don’t feel like you’re being cynically forced to cheer for the underdogs.

The younger cast is equally as good as the established British actors, even if not all of them get the screen time they deserve. Ben Schnetzer, as Pride’s main character, gay activist Mark, firmly holds your attention. There’s a touch of arrogance to him, but he’s unwavering about fighting the good fight, refusing to give up. Mark’s passion and enthusiasm keeps up the pace virtually throughout Pride; it can’t fail to rub off on everyone who watches it. George MacKay is the hard-not-to-feel-for Joe, a twenty-year-old struggling with the realisation he is gay. Joining the LGSM (Joe’s parents think he’s on a college cookery course), they help him to be proud of who he is rather than keep his sexuality hidden (any remotely suspect reading material is hidden in Joe’s room), and his transformation is gradual and convincingly fleshed out. Stars of British television Dominic West (The Hour, Appropriate Adult) and Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Blackout) play a couple who run the book shop that acts as LGSM’s headquarters. West and Scott are polar opposites, yet that’s what makes the strong bond they have so believable. West is flamboyant, speaking his mind, and has no issues in letting everyone know he’s gay. Scott plays Gethin, a Welshman from North Wales who left for London after his family turned their backs on him when he came out. Gethin is introverted, he doesn’t dress like the rest of LGSM, and he has a temper that gets him into trouble. West and Scott couldn’t be more different, yet it’s the glances and smiles they give each other, holding hands, chatting in bed, the things that all couples do, that make them charming to watch.

Sadly, some of the young characters are thinly written. The only reason Freddie Fox’s Jeff is in the film is so the Welsh children can braid his hair. Also, the lesbians – with the exception of Faye Marsay’s Steph – feel like they’re light relief rather than fully developed characters; they’re the butt of several jokes when they decide to form their own separatist group to help the miners.

These are tiny faults in an otherwise superb script from Stephen Beresford. There are one-liners a-plenty here and not just the obvious working class miners meet the gays jokes you would expect (“The only problem we’ve got that they haven’t is Mary Whitehouse”, Mark argues, “and that’s only a matter of time.”). The trailer for Pride was misleading in that it made the film look like it was portraying the Miner’s Strike as a jolly old knees-up. Instead, Beresford refuses to shy away from just how much the strikes and pit closures crippled mining communities like Onllwyn: two or three families living under one roof because they couldn’t afford to pay bills; police seeing the miners as “little people”; the miners being literally starved back into work. Beresford also writes several scenes that highlight the spread of AIDS and the misconceptions surrounding the virus in the early eighties. In one of Pride’s most heart-breaking scenes one of the characters meets up with an ex at a nightclub. Instead of a heavy-handed monologue accompanied by an emotional score, the ex tearfully says, “I’m doing the farewell tour.” You instantly know what this means and you cannot fail to start welling up. Beresford has written dozens of scripts for theatre, which explains why the melting pot of comedy, drama and punch-to-the-gut tragedy all neatly links in, scene after scene, and why most of the characters, despite such a large cast, feel like individuals, instead of being by-the-numbers.

You could pick apart Pride if you wanted to. While the hardships of the miners is far from toned down, I thought more could have been shown, such as the police’s behaviour towards the miners (which Arthur Skargill once likened to a “Latin American state”), and the number of ghost towns and villages that were dotted around Wales after the pit closures. It’s a tough balance as Pride’s agenda is to give audiences an uplifting and feel-good film. If the script was crammed full of political idealism and activism, only a small number of cinema-goers could stomach it. Pride finds a just-about happy medium.

Very few films can manage the feat of discussing heavy subjects such as politics, activism, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, bigotry, trade unionists, and so, so much more and have you cry cheerful, emotional tears by the time the credits come up.  This is one of the many reasons why Pride is the equal of British heavyweights such as Brassed Off, The Full Monty and Billy Elliott.

4 out of 5

Matt

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Rhys from The Watchers is running the Cardiff Half Marathon!!

HI all Rhys here, if you like reading our Blog or watching/listening to our webcasts - then please take a min and please consider sponsoring me?



Rhys' Shandy Ice Bucket Challenge in aid of Cancer Research Wales from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

At the Watchers were big supporters of Cancer Research Wales and about two years ago we raised over £600 for them with our Bondathon. So this year I'm trying to raise money by running the Cardiff Half Marathon - YES a GEEK RUNNING!!! Fat Boy Run is my inspiration, thank you Simon Pegg!!

So please sponsor me?
Thanks Rhys :)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: Before I Go To Sleep (UK Cert: 15)


Having sustained a head injury after a brutal attack, Christine (Nicole Kidman) is now an amnesiac. The minute she goes to sleep, she forgets everything, waking up and thinking she’s still in her twenties. Christine has two men in her life, her husband Ben (Colin Firth), who tries to care for her, and Dr Mike Nash (Mark Strong), who is helping her remember what happened on the night she was attacked. Soon Christine begins to suspect that both men have been lying.

Director Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of S.J. Watson’s bestselling novel, Before I Go To Sleep, is a tough film to review for anyone wanting to go and watch it. While not wanting to spoil anything, the film has one hell of a whole of Africa-sized flaw. Having watched the trailer, I had an inkling who the villain was here, the Who in the Whodunnit. Ten minutes into Before I Go To Sleep, and the only way it could be more obvious who the bad guy is if they had a neon sign flashing above their head, which reads, “I did it!”

As I’ve not read the book, I can’t comment on whether this is an issue with the source material, but because of a certain actor’s dubious behaviour, and the fact that – as far as mysteries go – they’re playing a by-the-numbers staple of the genre, it’s not long before you’ve already worked out most of what’s happening.

This is a real shame, as otherwise Before I Go To Sleep is a reasonably well made, occasionally even tense thriller. While none of the performances are career best, everybody does a solid enough job, especially Kidman who specialises in playing fractured women. Here she’s wide-eyed, her voice barely above a whisper, childlike in her curiosity and reaction to discovering the type of person she is. Even the cinematography makes you wonder whether Christine is going mad, if there’s any mystery here at all, Ben Davis shooting every scene with muted colours, external shots being bizarrely empty, with scarcely anyone around.

The trouble with Before I Go To Sleep is that unless you think Scooby Doo is the crowning glory of crime thrillers, you’re unlikely to be surprised at the film’s many twists and pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you moments, which just about kills most of the tension that Joffe has tried hard to craft here. Throughout the film I was hoping I was wrong, that there would be this bulldozer of a twist that turned things on its head and put a line through what I thought I knew; tragically, this never happens. Joffe tries to come up with a thriller worthy of Hitchcock, but too often the script for Before I Go To Sleep (penned by Joffe) feels like a TV movie on a never-heard-of digital channel.

2 out of 5

Matt

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review: Million Dollar Arm (UK Cert: PG)


With sports films “based on a true story”, you accept that you already know what’s about to happen: the main character will start from the bottom and work their way up, sometimes stumbling back to the beginning, but getting there in the end. The reason you watch a real-life sports film is for what makes it stand out; is it the performances, the script, the visuals? The trouble with Disney’s Million Dollar Arm is that, while it’s solidly made, there’s nothing that makes it tower over this over-crowded sub-genre.

The plot is a slight twist on an old formula. Agent to the sports stars JB (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm) is struggling to keep his business afloat. In a last ditch effort, he travels to India to launch a reality TV show to find an unknown baseball player and get them signed up with a major league team.

There’s nothing really wrong with Million Dollar Arm, but it falls miles short of classic status. The acting is all up-to-scratch. Hamm is a gifted actor; he turns on the charm as Don Draper, but can also play a convincing, clueless tool in Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids. Here he makes charisma look easy as JB, who initially sees his talent show winners as an investment, a commodity, but ends up forming a strong friendship with them. Alan Arkin may play tiny variations of the same role, but he’s done a fine job in all of his films. In Million Dollar Arm, Arkin is a grouchy as hell baseball scout who refuses to even look at potential players; he shuts his eyes and waits to hear that perfect strike. Pitobash raises a smile whenever he’s onscreen with his never failing enthusiasm as JB’s right-hand man, Amit. Lake Bell is given the love interest role, but at least her character, Brenda, has a personality; she’s quirky and feisty and given a reasonable amount of screen time. Last but definitely not least, Bill Paxton gives a rare understated performance as baseball coach Tom House. For most of the film, House clashes with JB over what makes a great baseball player. JB believes if you train a player for enough hours, eventually they’ll figure out what they’re doing. House, on the other hand, sees his players as family, adopted children who need to be nurtured, taken care of.

You can’t even fault the cinematography, Gyula Pados giving us different glimpses of India: Bollywood, show business India with its bright costumes, dancing, and blaring music; the diverse landscape of hills, rivers and frantic cities; the ramshackle villages and poverty in India, contrasting with the showy glamour of its film and TV industry.

What lets Million Dollar Arm down is Thomas McCarthy’s script. While the film is dotted with some smart one-liners (“That’s cricket? Looks like an insane asylum opened up and all the inmates were allowed to play.”), it is virtually scene-after-scene of seen-it-all-before clich├ęs. The broke hero who is up to his neck in debt; the underdogs from poor backgrounds get picked for the team; the rousing speech; the point where it looks like everyone is going home, hanging their heads; the players coming back, ready to prove everyone wrong – all of this features in Million Dollar Arm. While you can argue that the events you’re seeing happened in real life – and this is a Disney film – that doesn’t mean audiences should be sat knowing near enough what is about to happen in every scene. When you do that, you’re not engaged with what’s going on; you don’t care about the characters as much as you should. Films based on real-life tweak the facts all the time to make things more interesting and unpredictable; why couldn’t the same happen with Million Dollar Arm?

To sum up, Million Dollar Arm is enjoyable enough – you won’t be in the cinema, angrily kicking the chair in front of you – but it never reaches the giddy heights of Friday Night Lights, The Fighter, or Warrior. Too often while sitting through Million Dollar Arm, you’ll find yourself thinking, “This is about to happen” and it does, pretty much how you imagined it.

3 out of 5

Matt