August: Osage County (2014)

August: Osage County (2014)

I’m pretty partial to the month of August; it’s sunny, the days are long and I just generally feel that all is well with the world. Way better than the gloomy dark depths of winter where the only comfort you get outside is from an idling bus that’s parked beside you on the pavement. Good times. Woeful times. But then again, the winter is a good time to get inside to your local cinema or theatre and take in a film or play. In fact, these events are way more fun in winter… and not just for the warmth. So, this brings us to a play that’s now become a film! See… see what we did there? All a cunning link! Welcome to August: Osage County.

August: Osage County (2014)

August: Osage County tells the take of the somewhat dysfunctional Weston family as they deal with the death of their patriarch. At the core, we have Violet (Meryl Streep) a wife and mother that’s simultaneously dealing with advanced mouth cancer, a pill addiction and the death of her husband. Violet’s an astute woman, but also one that’s prone to outbursts and putting the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. These pigeons? That’d be Violet’s daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) and sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), plus their associated spouses that include Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbach and Chris Cooper amongst their ranks. As you might have assumed, this is a very character driven movie: one that tells the tale of life, death and all the arguments that fall in between.

August: Osage County (2014)

As I alluded to in the introduction, August: Osage County once begun its life in theatreland, which is highly evident throughout the run time of the film. Some of the sets are nigh-on replicas of what you would envisage to be seen up on stage. All of this lends itself perfectly to letting the characters and acting truly shine, as this is where the strengths of the film truly lie. I mean, look at that cast! With Meryl Streep you know what you’re going to get – a solid performance. But her portrayal of Violet is captivating; she veers wildly from caring and understanding mother to outrageous, totally non-PC hellraiser. Obviously, embodying someone that’s addicted to medication and suffering from terminal cancer calls for someone with some good acting chops, and obviously, Streep is more than capable of this!

Saying that, her supporting cast is nothing to be sniffed at, particularly Julia Roberts. Now, I’ve never come to associate Roberts with spell-binding roles. This is probably my fault, as I never actively sought her out in films. Hell, she’s no Bradley Cooper (no, this isn’t me proclaiming Cooper to be the King of Acting 2014… just that The Phage has a soft spot for the guy, and we actively seek him out in EVERY role… even Long Hot American Summer (which sucked)). But here she truly shines. This doesn’t come across as “acting” but “living”. I was totally sold on her role and couldn’t help but emote with her as the film progressed.

August: Osage County (2014)

This brings me to the plotting of August: Osage County. At first, I won’t lie, I was a little confused about where the film was going to head. The first third, whilst enjoyable, wasn’t wholly engrossing. Thankfully, this was just a “scene setting” exercise. By the midway point I was sold and was captivated by proceedings. There are plot twists and then twists on the twists. I like this. No, I love this. As long time readers will know: I’m not a fan of linear film telling. I like to second guess and then second guess my second guesses. I’m not sure if that means I’m fourth, sixth, or eighth guessing myself. Regardless, the plot was excellent. This is coupled with some truly heart-warmingly funny moments peppered throughout. This isn’t a comedy film per-se, but the elements of humour are scattered throughout and work beautifully.

All in all, August: Osage County is a powerful piece of film making that’s truly driven by a superb ensemble cast. Whilst the film is slow to build and may lose some in this time period, it rewards those that are with it for the long haul. Obviously, the film is here to compete for golden statues, but as I’ve said before this year: it’s another very tough year… who knows who’ll win! But head out to see August… in winter… What lies inside is a touching film that makes you smile, makes you sad and makes you recoil in shock.

A shock that’s more commonly associated with those horrible winter days. After you’ve been hunkering near that idling bus, it pulls off and sprays you with drizzle and envelops you in a cloud of diesel fumes. I’m kind of glad they didn’t make the film November: London County… although you’d certainly get a lot of indoor scenes as it’s too gloomy to head outside. Bit more stabby too.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

It’s always interesting when animals are shown to be humans. Not in the bizarre way that people dress up dogs to make them look like they’re going diving or for a round of golf, more in a “The Wind in the Willows” way. I mean, who could forget Mr. Toad? No-one! There are so many other stories of animals taking on some cooky role. Danger Mouse is another example that instantly springs to mind, as does anything featuring Donald Duck or the fabulous Scrooge McDuck. Ok, I’ve lost some of you here haven’t I? You’re sitting there thinking “what have you been blasting into your Phagey nostrils?” and you’re questioning my integrity as a (self-appointed) film critic. Well… there’s a link… and there’s even a link to blasting stuff into my nostrils. Yes, we’ve finally ventured out to see a film about a wolf. Sadly, it featured no wolves, just a very coked up broker. Welcome to The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Yes, weird intros aside, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the tale of the “wolf” Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he schemes and manipulates his way up the ranks of the stockbroker world, just as the real guy did back in the 1990’s to amass millions from playing the system. We see the rise of Belfort and how he leads his gang of fellow brokers, notably including Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and how he battles to elude the long arm of the FBI, headed up by Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). I’ve probably made the story sound very staid and dull, but I can assure you it most certainly isn’t… This is a Martin Scorsese movie afterall…

First, let’s deal with the impression the trailer gives you about the film: high octane comedy featuring midgets, hookers, drugs and Matthew McConaughey. All of these elements are indeed in there (more of the drugs and hookers than the others), but the trailers do The Wolf of Wall Street a slight disservice, as this isn’t a laugh-a-second film. It certainly has some laugh out loud moments and some truly bizarre scenes with a paralytic DiCaprio sprawling around the floor with Jonah Hill. These parts actually reminded more of Pineapple Express than any other film! But as I say, this is a Scorsese film, so you’re getting a lot more depth here. I’d go as far to say that this is one of his best works, just because it flows so seamlessly and tells a truly interesting story over its 3 hour run time.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Yes: 3 hours. This will be enough to deter some folks; especially those that were expecting a comedy. Although the run time is long, and some might say “indulgent”, I thought it worked well. I found myself wanting to know how the plot was going to progress and was glad of the extra minutes to really detail more about Belfort’s life and extravagances. What really drew me in here was DiCaprio, as he really owned the screen every moment he was on it. Belfort, as a character, should be a vile and despicable beast, but DiCaprio gives him heart and soul. Although you probably won’t empathise with him, especially so in the latter scenes of the movie, DiCaprio shines in making him at least relatable, even if you wouldn’t call him “loveable”. Then there’s a turn from Jonah Hill sporting some of the most bizarre teeth I’ve seen. I’ve had a lot of time for Hill since his great turn in Moneyball opposite Brad Pitt, and this does more to cement him in my mind as a solid actor. Hell, the fact that he was reported paid only $70,000 for this role (he just wanted to be in a Scorsese film and didn’t care about the fee) is testament to his dedication.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Bringing these types of gritty crime-inspired stories to life has always been the forte of Martin Scorsese and The Wolf of Wall Street is no different. Whilst it veers into comedy at times, it still retains the man’s signature “feel”. I also think that the pairing of Scorsese and DiCaprio benefited the film immensely, leading to one of the most enjoyable Scorsese films in recent memory… and indeed one of the most enjoyable films period. As for how this will do in the upcoming Awards… well, time will tell, but after the stellar year we’ve had, I think it’s going to be a tough sell…

The Wolf of Wall Street is a vividly boisterous film that will enthral film lovers and deter those looking for quick, easy laughs. Although it’s certainly a lengthy tome, it’s entirely needed to really bring the story to life. It also helps having a fantastic cast to boot. What would be the point of a great story if it was acted out by chimps? Actually…

The Chimps of Chelsea… The Bears of Broadway… The Dolphins of Detroit. Yes, I can see many exciting extensions to this film, and I can see those hoighty toity chimps with their monocles, those bears blasting out show tunes and those dolphins… erm… talking at length about the once great automotive hub that was Detroit? Ok, maybe that last film isn’t a winner. Unless you gave them some hookers. Dolphin hookers… they make it hard to look at blow holes the same…

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

Filth (2013)

Filth (2013)

I don’t often get self-conscious when going to see a film. One of the joys and burdens of being a self-appointed critic is seeing as many films as you can.. although the major cost of this is that sometimes you have to head out to see a film by yourself. That’s a taboo over here in the UK – just what kind of weirdo are you going by yourself? However, the only time I’ve truly felt such a weirdo has been when going to see films that are primarily aimed at a younger demographic (for obvious reasons), or when I was sitting and watching the ample bosoms of several topless girls at the beginning of Spring Breakers. Well, this has now been added to by heading out to catch the latest Scottish opus derived from the mind of novelist Irvine Welsh… “Can I have a ticket for Filth please?”… Quite…

Filth (2013)

Yes, Filth is an evocative word. To some it makes them think of dirt and grime, whilst to others it’s all about the carnal pleasures of the flesh. The Phage won’t divulge which side we come down on! But Filth aims to capitalise on its name sake by running through sex, drugs, violence… and a bit more sex; just for good measure. All of this is wrapped up in the somewhat odd and off-the-wall stylings you’d come to expect from a film that’s closest cousin is Trainspotting, owing to the fact that both of the novels behind the films were written by Irvine Welsh.

Filth (2013)

So, like Trainspotting, FIlth is based in Scotland; replete with Scottish actors. At the head of the film we have Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) a detective that’s intent on landing that promotion. All he has to do is get ahead of his competition within his department. This leads to him systematically trying to destroy each one of them and turn them against one another so that he can secure his spot. But Bruce has many more problems than just his colleagues… he’s also got some internal demons that are determined to destroy him too.

Filth, as the name would imply, is not a merry little ride through Scotland. The film is dark, twisted and more than occasionally funny. What truly gripped me here was James McAvoy‘s performance. For me, it came closest to when I saw him onstage in London as Macbeth – he was ferocious and damn near unhinged in his acting. I like this. Some have said this is a reinvigoration for McAvoy, but I think he’s been doing rather well for himself as of late. He’s not been type-cast and hasn’t hit a rut, so I fail to see what other critics are levying this comment against if I’m honest! That being said, this is definitely one of his most compelling performances in recent years.

What I quite enjoyed about Filth was the style in which the film was put together. Like Trainspotting, this film isn’t afraid to cut away into illusions and delusions, or travel inside the twisted minds of its protagonists. This style won’t be for everyone, as it certainly breaks the flow of the film and removes some of that “slickness” we’re all used to with glossy films nowadays… but this is Scotland. This works. It works well.

Filth (2013)

To top it off, Filth has a great story, albeit with an admittedly bonkers concluding act. I’ve not read the book of the same name, so I can’t comment on how well it adheres to Welsh‘s vision. However, I have read several other of his books and it definitely adheres to the “Welsh-ness” of it all (that’s Welsh the author, not the country… I am well aware of the difference between Wales and Scotland). What remains to be seen though is how well this translates to the wider world. It’s telling that Filth‘s premiere was in Scotland (yes, it was a week earlier in Scotland than the rest of the UK), as it IS very Scottish. If you “got” Trainspotting and its glum look at Glasgow, you’ll “get” Filth too. But if not? Well, you’ll be missing out on much of the dark charm that is Filth. Like McAvoy‘s role in Trance, FIlth won’t be for everyone anyway. But you’ll probably be hindering yourself somewhat if ya dinne get tha Scottish tongue…

Filth is a deliciously dark film that’s as twisted as the name would imply. I wouldn’t go as far as calling the film “shocking” or “depraved”, because it could have done far more to earn those adjectives. What it is is another fantastic tale from the deepest recesses of Scotland. Although I’ve solely paid attention to McAvoy here, the whole primary cast is without fault and truly hold the film together to keep you entertained from beginning to end. Sure, the ending will leave you slightly puzzled… but just try not to think about it too hard.

I don’t know if Filth ranks up as the most embarassing trip to the cinema though. I tend to bumble into people, sit on their laps (by accident) and trip up a lot. But asking for “a ticket for Filth” did feel a bit weird. I’m not in Amsterdam, and I’m not staring through a peephole at some lady girating away; her dead eyes staring out into the middle distance. But then again, maybe they’ll finally adapt Irvine Welsh‘s Porno, which’d definitely give me more cause for an awkward moment with the cashier girl…

Phage Factor:

4 Star

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

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Have you ever read the title to a film and had a thought that has nothing to do with the film itself? Maybe it’s an inappropriate one? Oh come on – you’re saying you haven’t read the title Debbie Does Dallas and wondered how she managed that feat, or who the hell Dallas is? How about Blow, Snatch or Free Willy? Let’s get one thing clear – the title of Killing Them Softly doesn’t make me think of an innuendo. I’m not some weird deviant. Maybe Ted Bundy would find it appropriately inappropriate. No, Killing Them Softly just makes me think of that damn Fugees song from years ago with a very similar name. I was disappointed when the film didn’t open with this tune… but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the film itself.

Killing Them Softly tells the story of the aftermath of a gambling den robbery carried out by two money-hungry guys: Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). The robbery goes well… but you can’t let bad guys get away with a robbery like that now can you? Cue the hiring of Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to dispose of the problem. And by dispose, I truly mean it.

If the plot sounds fairly generic and simplistic, then that’s probably because it is, but don’t let this deter you from the movie. The whole vibe of the film reminded me a lot of a hybrid of Killer Joe, Death Proof and Drive. It had the malice of Killer Joe, the extended, witty, well written dialogue that Tarantino favours, and the occasional bouts of brutal violence that Drive employed.

All of this is held together by the main man: Brad Pitt. Now, he may be the biggest name on the poster, but he doesn’t appear for quite a while. This leaves the film to be driven primarily by McNairy and Mendelsohn. I thought their dialogue was fantastic. It was rough – maybe too rough for some, but grounded. It felt believable. Sure, it may not have contributed much to the plot but it coloured the characters perfectly. You quickly felt that Mendelsohn‘s Australian character was scummy – a real low life, but you noticed that McNairy’s was less obtusely offensive and more reserved. Real kudos has to go to writer / director Andrew Dominick (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James…) for adapting George V. Higgins’ book so well. The lines really pop off the screen. Similarly, James Gandolfini picks up where The Sopranos left off to deliver another delicious slice of mob mentality. His performance was particularly noteworthy just because he’s such an abrasive, unlikeable character.

I’m sure you’re yearning to know how Pitt performs and he’s his usual reliable self. Possibly giving his best performance of the past few years. His take on this role wasn’t as jaw-dropping as Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe; namely because you didn’t expect such a performance from McConaughey. But with Brad Pitt you’ve seen him play the good guy and the crazy guy before. That takes nothing away from his performance though, which was as mesmerising as ever.

What I liked less about the film was it’s idea of supplanting the story against the backdrop of the global recession and the 2008 US election. It was just a peculiar way of shoehorning in some political agenda. You’d have lengthy pieces of the film which consisted of nothing more than George W. Bush or Barack Obama talking about the recession. I appreciate the fact that the dialogue was semi-related to the plot point of the film, but it just seemed jarring and removed me somewhat from the movie.

This scene is pure Tarantino when not directed by Tarantino.

That being said, at 97 minutes in length, the film rips along at a fair pace. For some, the use of long dialogue scenes will be off-putting. If you’re not a fan of Tarantino‘s reliance on similar scenes then you may not be in for a thrill ride. This film is much more Reservoir Dogs and less of a bang-bang shoot ’em up of a film. If that appeals to you, as it does to me, then I heartily recommend you get yourself a ticket. It’s not one of Pitt‘s tent pole films, but nor is it one of his surreal indie flourishes. Yes, I’m looking at you Tree of Life

Killing Them Softly isn’t this year’s most cerebral film, nor does it ever seek to challenge you intellectually. That’s not to say it’s a mindless effort like Transformers, but it doesn’t require that much energy to compute what’s going on. However, it’s one hell of a ride to be on. All actors, both big and small names alike, are really firing on all cylinders here.

And you’ll be glad to know that the film no longer makes me think of Killing Me Softly. That song is way too mellow and peaceful to embody Killing Them Softly. If I had to pick a song to convey the film’s message it’d be Slayer’s Raining Blood, because oh yes… there will be blood. Ted Bundy would bloody love that too the basket case!

Savages (2012)

Sometimes you just expect directors to deliver a certain “type” of film – normally because they rightfully play to their strengths. Take Ridley Scott for instance. His movies have been from a wealth of genres, but have always had that “epic” nature to them. Scott doesn’t really do movies about introspection. Similarly, with Quentin Tarantino you’re not going to get a humourless, dull looking film – you’re getting full-on acting set in a very Tarantino-esque universe, regardless of whether it’s set in World War II or Japan. Along with this, you also expect a certain level of quality with the piece – more so if the director’s carrying several Oscars under his / her belt. So what happens when the director deviates from the path? Savages.

Savages comes from Oliver Stone – a three-time Oscar winner and writer of such classics as Platoon and Natural Born Killers, as well as a slew of politically-bent films such as W, Nixon and JFK. Savages deviates from this political bent (if taken at face value) to deliver a story about drug trafficking across the Mexican-US border in California. In a nutshell, two friends: one ex-US army (Taylor Kitsch) and one academic / botanist / hippy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) find a way to make the best marijuana possible and make a fortune. However, the Mexican cartel headed by Salma Hayek and her lieutenant Benicio Del Toro want their share of this business. Oh, and John Travolta‘s involved as a corrupt Federal agent… Sounds like a great cast right? Sure, I can’t fault that, but the film just isn’t as good as the sum of its parts.

The happy couple…. or throuple.

The entire story is actually based on a book by Don Winslow, which I haven’t read, so I can’t comment on the film’s accuracy in this respect. The flaw for me was just caring about some of the characters, namely Blake Lively‘s “O”. “O” or Orphelia is the girlfriend of both Kitsch and Johnson – they both sleep with her and live with her in a very hippy-esque manner. Despite the fact that I imagine Kitsch‘s character John would never do this considering his general bad-mannered demeanour. He’d be more likely to kick your front teeth out if you accidentally glanced at his girl over a crowded bar. Now, it’s “O” that causes a hell of a lot of trouble for the boys in this film and I just found myself wondering why the hell they didn’t just cut and run. Her back story is muddled (mentions of an absentee mother who doesn’t care, yet she writes these loving e-mails to her is just one of these) and you just realise how vapid she is as a character.

However, this isn’t the major thing that drew me to despair. No no, that came about 10 minutes before the end of the movie. I obviously won’t ruin it, but Oliver Stone whips out one of the most hackneyed and amateur ways to end a movie. I’m not even talking about the sequel-bating that most films offer, but something else entirely worse. I’m unsure if the original book does this or not, but if it does, then Stone shouldn’t have followed it to the letter. It’s horrible and incredibly frustrating. I actually found myself getting angry as it unfurled. Movies don’t often make me angry, but this genuinely did.

It all goes along with the fact the movie seems to think it’s far cleverer and wittier than it actually is. For a start, it’s narrated by Blake Lively who gives the ol’ “don’t think I survive just because I’m narrating this…” – this isn’t witty. Hell, Kickass did this exact same thing two years ago. It also just came across like it was trying too hard to be something cool and pulpy like some of the modern day-set Tarantino movies. The sound effects, the editing, the cultural references. All just tried way too hard.

Benicio Del Toro: Reliably disturbing. Reliably brilliant.

Having been so negative on the movie, I must commend some of the actors, especially the always reliable Benicio Del Toro. This guy oozes malevolence in every role he takes and this is no exception. It reminded me of just how great he was in Sin City and he yet again turns in a strong performance. The same is true of Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass) and even Salma Hayek. I thought the tent-pole names really pulled their weight. It was also great to see John Travolta return to the cinema after a hiatus following tragedies in his personal life. It should however be noted that he’s only in 4-5 scenes, but he shines in them. I love the recent Travolta – anything non-campy past Pulp Fiction is grand with me. This performance reminded me most of Face/Off… just without the wild and whacky impressions of Nic Cage.

We’re hiding our identities until you change the ending…

For a two hour plus movie, I just felt the film was bloated. It had its great set pieces and some eye candy and I felt my interest rising throughout the second half of the film, but any enjoyment was completely obliterated by that hackneyed ending. After the credits roll you’ll be sat there wondering “so what… that’s it?”. It’s not frustrating for the right reasons, such as Killer Joe‘s cliffhanger, it’s frustrating because it’s just bad.

Savages is a disappointing film, especially considering the great ensemble cast and some quality performances. At the end of the day, it ended up coming off like a video game’s script than anything else. Nothing against game developers, but you expect far more from an Oscar-winning writer than you do a story writer for Nintendo. And that ending? Good God that ending stank.

So my advice remains that you should always play to your strengths. Sure, it’s fun to dabble in new ventures, but at least make sure those ventures might yield something worthwhile. Just as I don’t expect Michael Bay to helm the next Tree of Life, or Quentin Tarantino to tackle an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, I don’t expect Oliver Stone to turn in something like this. He knows better. Then again, even Ridley Scott has turned in some questionable output recently, so it seems like these ageing juggernauts don’t always hit the target. And to be honest, they probably don’t care either. Frankly, I’d rather they took the occasional chance than resort to what James Cameron has tasked himself with: abandoning all diversity and just dedicating himself to making Avatar sequels. Such a waste.

Phage Factor: