Only God Forgives (2013)

Only God Forgives (2013)

According to the Bible, our sins can be absolved by repenting and honestly regretting those actions you’ve made in your life. Only then will God forgive you and allow you passage into heaven. Now, I’m no theologian (hell, I’m a Phage), but that sounds a sweet deal. You can do literally ANYTHING you want in life and get access to the easy (after)life. I always question this logic when talking with genuine theologians, as surely there has to be limits on the depravity that you can commit in your life. Stole a packet of sweets from the local shop when you were 6 years old? OK, fair enough… that can be forgiven. What about stealing the packet of crisps and force-feeding them to someone with a sweet allergy, causing them to get horrendously ill… still forgiveable? Maybe… But what about committing genocide with those sweets? Can that be forgiven? They must be some pretty bad ass sweets… that’s for sure. But the logic is flawed, surely? Why this lofty pre-amble? Surely it’s obvious? Only God Forgives is out… does it make me worship at the altar, or should it repent for sinning against my eyes and ears?

Only God Forgives (2013)

Only God Forgives is the “follow-up” to Drive, insofar that it stars Ryan Gosling and is from the same writer / director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Let’s get one thing clear here: I loved Drive. I thought it was powerful, wonderfully shot and had a great display of acting from all in the cast. It was probably my highlight of 2011. It’s a polarising film though, no doubt about that. For every Phage that loved it, there are probably two that despised it, or at the very least failed to “get it”. How does Only God Forgives look in comparison? Chalk this up as another polarising slice of cinema…

With the US getting this film a few weeks ahead of the UK, I was already (accidentally) primed for what to expect. Reviews flooded at me, and they lurched between “cinematic gold” to “crushingly disappointing”… But I went in thinking “I know better than those guys, surely they missed the point of the film?” After all, the moody trailers looked fantastic and I know what to expect from Refn… but I was disappointed. Brutally so.

Before I start tearing into the flesh of this cadaver, let’s dance over the plot. Only God Forgives follows Julian (Ryan Gosling), who works / runs a Thai Boxing gym out in Bangkok. His life gets flipped when his brother is murdered… after raping and killing a 16 year old sex worker. Their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) immediately flies into Julian’s life and sets about trying to get revenge for her dead son. And the only revenge applicable here is “eye for an eye” – she wants the head of whoever was responsible for this. “Whoever” just happens to be a member of the local police force, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm)… and he’s quite nifty with a sword…

Only God Forgives (2013)

It sets up like a standard revenge flick, mixed in with the grubby Bangkok underworld. It should be a gripping ride. But it’s not. Only God Forgives is not the film I wanted, nor expected. It’s a highly self-indulgent piece of cinema masquerading as art. The classic elongated shots on Gosling are there… you know the ones I mean: he’s staring into the middle distance and the camera loiters on him for what seems like an eternity. There’s also the occasional eruption of gore, as was the case with Drive. Then there are innumerable karaoke pieces that are meant to illustrate the current “mood” of the picture and lots of jumping and jerking around in chronology. All in all, it made for one bewildering and slightly confusing movie.

Now, the thing that struck me about Drive was Ryan Gosling. He wasn’t really someone that meant much to me back then. Some will gush about The Notebook, but to me – he was a nobody. Then we had Drive and Crazy Stupid Love… OK… I quite like this guy. But since then? I’ve yet to be blown away again. A lacklustre Gangster Squad, a disappointing The Place Beyond The Pines… and now this. Whilst there’s nothing bad per-se about his acting here, there’s also nothing to blow you away. He walks around a lot, stares into the middle distance and gets his ass handed to him on occasion. Indeed, I think the best acting in this film came from Kristin Scott Thomas as the boys’ mother. She was deplorable, foul and thoroughly dislikeable, which Thomas delivered well. But that’s also the problem with the film itself… everyone’s pretty dislikeable.

Only God Forgives (2013)

Every character is flawed here. There is no hero. There is no antihero, really. Everyone has an axe to grind and carries their demons with them. Hell, the plot revolves around trying to avenge the death of a guy who was a murdering rapist. It’s not a noble quest, and indeed the guy got what he deserved in The Phage’s humble opinion. So if you couple the flawed, under-coloured characters with the meandering, loose plot and sense of style over substance, you’re left with quite a hollow shell of a film. It’s odd that I couldn’t help but think of Guy Ritchie‘s Revolver at points, as that too was a case of a film getting too big for its boots and jumping the shark. It also placed an emphasis on neon lights…

Only God Forgives isn’t the film I was expecting. In fact, it probably tallies as one of the biggest disappointments of 2013 for us here at Film Phage. Maybe we held our expectations too high, or wanted a continuation of Drive. Simply put: this isn’t a good film, not for us at least. I’m sure it will polarise audiences, but there just wasn’t enough glue to hold this film together. It felt awkward and forced at times. Although it’s a misstep for Refn, we’re still eager to see what he’ll pull out of the bag next… just don’t let us down…

I bet you can already see the line we’ve been aligning throughout this piece can’t you? The ironic line involving the title of the film? Yes… I don’t know if God can forgive this film (ba-dum-tsh!). Whilst it’s not up there with genocide-inducing sweet deaths, we struggle to forgive this. Not that I have a God-complex; for I do not believe that I am God… I am merely a Phage. But in the cinematic realm, we have a high opinion of ourselves. But we will forgive it this one time… as we say… just don’t let us down again. Please? There’s a sweetie in it for you…

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

The Hangover Part III (2013)

The Hangover Part 3 (2013)

The law of diminishing returns… it’s something I presume we’re all familiar with? Essentially, the more you do something, the less appealing it becomes. It’s a universally true rule. Ok, unless you’re a heroin addict, in which case it’s the law of increasingly fun returns. But then again, who gets the last laugh when you’re crashed out on some random, filth-filled bed with a faint heart beat? The law of diminishing returns. See, it’ll get you eventually. Like Dog the Bounty Hunter. Even films occasionally succumb to this law – the more sequels a franchise spawns, the less appealing they ultimately become. You get an immense amount of deja-vu, the enjoyment falls and the frustrations rise… Does the latest instalment in The Hangover franchise buck this trend and leave you blissed out like a junkie, or does it leave you feeling dirty and used… like a junkie?

The Hangover Part 3 (2013)

I don’t think The Hangover is new news on anyone’s radars is it? The original story followed three guys as they quested to hunt down their one lost friend following a night of debauchery in Las Vegas. Let’s not beat around the bush, the original was fantastic and raised the bar for “this” type of humour. Many copycats would emerge, but few could top it. Then, back in 2011, The Hangover Part II emerged… and it brought more of the same. Well, that’s not entirely true. It almost brought exactly the same film to you. The location changed to Bangkok, but the jokes and pacing were near enough identical to the original. This pleased some (typically the easily-amused populace), but vexed the rest of us, as we knew the cast was capable of so much more.

And so this brings us to The Hangover Part III – the final instalment in The Hangover franchise. Does it follow the same formula as its predecessors? Thankfully not. This, in itself, is a refreshing twist. There is no hangover in sight, the tone shifts somewhat and the laughs near enough evaporate from the entire film… Oh, wait, that’s not an altogether good thing is it?

Car crash?

Car crash?

Briefly, the film once again follows Phil (my boy, Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) on another set of hi-jinx. This time, they’re charged with tracking down the always annoying Chow (Ken Jeong), as it turns out he robbed big time crook Marshall (John Goodman) of a cool $21 million. Marshall has therefore taken Doug hostage (so some things are the same as the first two movies… never mind Justin Bartha), and tasks the other three with finding Chow. Oh, and there’s also a sub-plot involving the fact that Alan needs to grow up and act his age, but that soon proves pointless.

So, the film breaks with tradition and moves away from the “Why are we here? Where is Doug?” routine, but isn’t met with the greatest of success. The tonal shift of the film is quite stark; gone are the goofy send-ups and outrageous gross-out humour, which were the mainstays of the previous instalments. Well, mostly… you still have Galifianakis going full-tilt mental the whole way though, but that’s not an asset, which I’ll come to in a moment. But also gone is the air of mystery. In previous films I’ve genuinely cared about Doug and wanted to find out how the crazy chain of events led to him being where he was! Here? None of that. I found myself caring less and less about where they were going; primarily because they were chasing Ken Jeong. I didn’t want to see him on-screen again. His OTT Chow really destroys the film for me – I didn’t care for him much in The Hangover Part II, and the same is true here.

The Hangover Part 3 (2013)

But the humour is what really levels the film. I think the most apt comparison is with American Pie: The Wedding. Do you remember how it seemed like they’d taken Sean William Scott‘s Stifler and just turned the dial up too high? It seemed like a caricature of a character you used to like. The same is true with Zach Galifianakis‘ Alan. They really ramped his character up too high and it became a pastiche of itself. The jokes fell flat, or were just plain predictable. I am a fan of Galifianakis and think he’s a genuinely funny comedic actor, but I wasn’t feeling it here. There were a couple of lines that made me snigger, but nothing near the level of The Hangover or Due Date. Some malign Due Date, but I still say it had some great moments… But I digress…

Ever wanted to see Bridesmaids meets The Hangover? Here's your chance...

Ever wanted to see Bridesmaids meets The Hangover? Here’s your chance…

What of the others? Well, I of course have a lot of time for Bradley Cooper. I make no secret that The Phage is a huge fan of his. Cooper‘s back in his stereotypical “cool guy” role here – the one that got him his fame. Although he’s not going to win any recognition for this performance, it’s good to see him back playing to his strengths. Having said that, I can’t wait to see him in Serena, which should be up next. Ed Helms however does seem to be phoning it in a little bit here. His performance isn’t a stand out one and I think that’s in part due to poor writing, as opposed to acting. The script is very Jeong / Galifianakis centric, and it suffers for it… I’ve simply seen enough of Ken Jeong‘s Chow to last a life time. There’s also a whole host of cameos in here designed to nod back to the first two instalments, but that leads to the big takeaway message…

Ultimately, The Hangover Part III felt like a holiday album where you look back at the good times and remember everything that went before. Unfortunately, this is a photo album where you looked so much happier in the past. As you turn the pages you see the happiness fade and fade until you look up and into a mirror and realise how old and tired you’ve become over the years. You’re not the same edgy Phage you once were. You changed. So too has The Hangover become old and long in the tooth. I really hoped we’d see a return to form here, or at least a funny send off for the Wolf Pack, but they’re very much leaving with their tails between their legs…

So once again the law of diminishing returns proves infallible, with The Hangover Part III being unable to hit those same blissful highs that it once was able to. Instead we do indeed feel like a junkie that wanted that “one last hit” before they quit… but that hit was too much and was like one long, bad trip. A bit like a hangover you might say, but at least with a genuine hangover you’ll get over it, pick yourself up and get out there again; you’ll erase those memories and replace them with something better. With this film though, it’s the last of the trilogy… so that dirty feeling you have? Well, it’s going to last… no more bliss for you!

Phage Factor:

2 Stars