Movie 43 (2013)

Movie 43 (2013)

Forgive me Phagelings for I have sinned. I come here humbly seeking your forgiveness for breaking my own commandments. I read other people’s opinions before coming to form my own. I know, it’s a sin tantamount to spitting the wine back after Communion. Heinous behaviour. What’s more, all of the reviews were overwhelmingly negative. And by negative, I mean brandishing the film an abomination not suited for the realm of men. And after seeing Movie 43, I am in need of forgiveness… as is everyone else involved in bringing this bloated mess of a film to our screens.

Just look at this list for a second... Look at it.

Just look at this list for a second… Look at it.

Well, I think that sets the tone well for the rest of this review right? You’re in no way confused about where I’m taking this. Movie 43 is quite simply one of the worst films committed to celluloid. But I ignored the prophecising from other reviewers and Rotten Tomatoes. How could a film that featured such an overwhelmingly fantastic cast be doomed to fail? It was like the Lehman Brothers of the film world. You’re factoring in A-listers such as Richard Gere, Kate Winslet, Gerard Butler, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts… and the list goes on. And on. And on. So how can a comedy film like this turn out to be a dud? By having absolutely no laughs and nothing to get excited about.

This is my pose for the whole of the film. Yes Richard, you should be hiding away.

This is my pose for the whole of the film. Yes Richard, you should be hiding away.

Movie 43‘s very loose plot toys around with a group of kids looking for a fabricated film called Movie 43 to prank a younger brother. But as they delve into the depths of the internet they discover some very weird and odd movies that are already out there. These weird movies feature a date between Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman where Jackman has a scrotum grafted to his neck, but no-one can see it but here, and a skit about Johnny Knoxville capturing a leprechaun (Gerard Butler) for Sean William Scott to make up for sleeping with his girlfriend. I know right? Pure comedy gold. Not really.

The problem with the film is two-fold: 1) it’s not funny, and 2) it’s pure nonsense. Let’s deal with point 1 first shall we? As regular readers will know, The Phage is British. Over here in the UK we have a very dark sense of humour that most Americans can’t comprehend. Our humour is awkward, situational and sometimes grossly offensive. All of this is fine in my books – it just works and makes me laugh. However, Movie 43 takes the last part of that tripos and ratchets it up to 12. It’s so puerile and offensive that even I sat there thinking “wow… that’s crossed the line”. My line is a dot in the distance, but it still raced over there, spat on it, and jumped over. Probably making some weak fart joke as it went. The jokes were hokey and were probably best suited to a 5 second gag on some other terrible TV sketch show. The phrase that came to mind for a lot of these “pieces” was flogging a dead horse. It make its weak attempt at a joke and then drove it into the ground so much that it was nothing but dust. Horribly unfunny dust.

I felt like crying too Emma. It's OK, don't fret...

I felt like crying too Emma. It’s OK, don’t fret…

And let’s jump to number 2. I can also tolerate a nonsensical plot. I’m not averse to it. Sometimes comedies just have a ludicrously dumb plot: Dude! Where’s My Car? is self-explanatory, Freddy Got Fingered is just dumb and Dumb and Dumber is about taking a suitcase to a girl in Aspen. They don’t have to be rocket science. But the overarching “plot” was as bad as the faux-films they were watching. It just had no redemptive qualities whatsoever. OK, I tell a lie – the one time I laughed was during the credits’ outtakes. So credit to you Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott for breaking my icy veneer.

Then, to add insult to injury… the film just keeps going. You reach the outtakes and reflect on how you’ve just squandered 90 minutes of your life in a cinema when you could have been staring at a curbstone in the car park instead, but then it just… keeps… going. Another sketch is thrust into your retinas about some bizarre animated cat and how much it hates Elizabeth Banks. Why? What have I done to deserve this?

Yeah, I think you can keep that Oscar speech in your pocket for the foreseeable future.

Yeah, I think you can keep that Oscar speech in your pocket for the foreseeable future.

And let’s get one thing straight here: I’m not an uptight Brit. If I am, then so too is everyone else in the audience that was duped into spending their cash watching this train wreck of a film. If you think back to last year, you’ll remember our worst film of the year: Keith Lemon The Film – we even gave it our 2012 Phagee Award for being so awful. Well, Movie 43 is its American big brother. Sure, its cameos are from international film stars and it looks a hell of a lot slicker, but underneath the veneer its the same horrible, bent-out-of-shape mess of a movie…

As you can probably tell, Movie 43 isn’t our hottest pick of the year. In fact, I’d already mark it up for being the worst movie of 2013 and we’re only in February. The film will solely appeal to 12 year old boys who think jokes about periods, crap and scrotums are literally the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. No doubt it’ll become like Playboy or Penthouse and will be passed around under desks on a burnt DVD so everyone can be in on the joke. But at least Playboy or Penthouse would teach them sometime about life.

But what about the rest of us with a mental age of at least 14? Well, my simple advice would be to wait until the film’s released on DVD. Find it. Don’t buy it. And possibly slash the case so it gets returned to the warehouse to prevent someone from seeing it. Imagine it’s the tape from The Ring. You wouldn’t want anyone to suffer would you? Because then you too would be seeking forgiveness. Not for breaking commandments or for starring in one of the worst films of the decade, but for dooming someone to 90 minutes of sonic and visual abuse. In fact, give them the tape from The Ring instead. You’ll have less to feel guilty about.

Phage Factor:

0.5 Stars

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Gangster Squad (2013)

Gangster Squad (2013)

Have you ever seen a movie poster than thought “oh hell yes, this has X in it… I love X… I bet this film will be great”? Sometimes the gamble pays off as the star in question is someone like Daniel Day-Lewis or Will Smith. Sure, they’ll have the occasional off-film, but overall their hit rate is exceedingly high. On the other hand you have people like Samuel L. Jackson – a self-confessed workaholic, but is as likely to be in a fantastic genre-defining film, as he is a complete dud. It happens. You just hope that you don’t pick the “dud” film in someone’s career – or at least not the one that everyone bemoans as “not his / her best”. So that brings Gangster Squad into the limelight. Its cast has lots of really hot names, but do they meet our expectations?

Gangster Squad is roughly based on the book by Paul Lieberman, which retells the true story of post-World War II Los Angeles. It’s a time of gangsters, where Chicago ruled the United States of America and corruption was rife at every level as the country came to come to terms with post-war life. LA was ruled by Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) – your archetypal gangster: a corrupter and a thoroughly deplorable individual. On the other side of the thin blue line you’ve got the newly established “Gangster Squad” – a secret group of police officers tasked with bringing down Cohen’s Empire. But can they succeed? Therein lies Gangster Squad.

The Gangster Squad

But who is the Gangster Squad I hear you ask? Well, that’d be a team led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), which consists of half dozen of LA’s best, including Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick). Clearly some big names in that list – even Terminator 2‘s T-1000 is in there. How can they lose!? Throw Emma Stone into the mix as Cohen’s girlfriend / piece of arm candy, which Gosling‘s Wooters wants a piece of, then you have an explosive cocktail that should explode with all the sleaze and excitement of post-war USA… but the machine isn’t as good as the sum of its parts.

That’s not to say that all of its “parts” aren’t well oiled an firing away nicely. The two biggest assets of the film lie with the two leads: Josh Brolin and Sean Penn. Brolin portrays the 1940’s-50’s stoic police officer with remarkable conviction. In fact, if you were to throw Brolin back in time, you’d probably be convinced he belongs there anyway. He’s just cut from the right material to suit the time period – Men in Black 3‘s comparison to Tommy Lee Jones is still very apt. You can’t help but imagine this would be the part Jones would play should this have been shot 20 years ago. However, the real kudos needs to go to Sean Penn who is simply fantastic as Mickey Cohen. He’s vile. He’s offensive. He’s a dislikeable human being. A perfect mob boss. There’s a real conviction behind his acting, but then again, we’d expect no less from Penn considering his back catalogue. The only distracting thing? Those prosthetics. They’re almost as distracting at first as Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s in Looper. I just couldn’t help but think “what’s Mickey Rourke‘s Marv from Sin City doing in this flick?”. The fact that the film styles itself as a noir, much like Sin City did, only solidified these ideas in my head. It was effective makeup, but a little distracting at times.

Prosthetic twins!

However, the film falls down in many other areas to render it “enjoyable” rather than “great”. The plot, for a start, isn’t anything mind-blowing. As you can see from that description, it’s pretty much a case of good guys v bad guys. But then again, it’s a gangster movie; you were going to get that one way or another. The real let downs for me were Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Individually, I think these guys are fantastic actors, but here they just didn’t shine. When I think of Gosling I either think of his powerful performance in Gangster Squad (2013)Drive or his suave showing in Crazy Stupid Love, but this is neither. His part tries to be cool and calm, with an undercurrent of love and malice, but it just doesn’t come across as it should. I’m pretty sure this year’s Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) written and directed Only God Forgives will set him back on track as the super hot property we know he is. Similarly, I feel that Stone was cast just as a name. Her role as Grace Faraday is quite disposable – any mid-20’s actress could have played the part equally as well. Whether she was cast owing to her past dealings with director Rubin Fleischer in Zombieland, or because her chemistry with Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love was so great, we’ll never know. Regardless, I just wasn’t that impressed with her performance here, which is a shame considering how much talent and charisma she has.

Ultimately, Gangster Squad just failed to ignite for me. It had its moments, and any time Penn was on-screen was fantastic, but it just felt a little too loose and meandering – perhaps 15 minutes longer than it should have been. It also lacked the punch that I expected from the cast. Maybe I should manage my expectations some more, but maybe not, because I know these actors are firing off at nearly the top of their game right now. We should always expect more.

So I guess the lesson here is to “never judge a book by its cover”, or “never judge a film based on a book by its poster credits”, which is nowhere near as catchy. Too much emphasis has been placed on Gosling in the marketing, when they should have really emphasised Penn‘s role, as he’s clearly the don here. A gnarled, prosthetic-ridden don… one that really needs to avenge the death of Goldie, who smelt like angels ought to smell. Oh wait, that’s Sin City‘s Marv again. Simple mistake.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Money Spider

You can’t help but approach this film with some trepidation. Most film-goers over the age of 11 will have at some point seen some of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy from the early 2000’s, and for that reason will be very familiar with the whole “geek gets bitten by a spider… gets super powers… gets told he should be responsible… saves the city… gets the girl” scenario. In fact, I’m not even sure that you need to have seen Spider-Man on the silver screen to be aware of how this hero gets his powers, but that’s what we get here in the Marc Webb-directed The Amazing Spider-Man.

“My Spidey-Sense is tingling… no wait, it’s just my silver-rimmed shoes being fabulous.”

Let me get one confession out the way early: “My name’s the Phage… and I’m a comic-aholic, and in recent years I’ve relapsed with waves of sweet, sweet comic ecstasy pouring straight into my eyes and ears like a junkie. I don’t repent.” For this reason, I can’t help but adopt an almost snobbish attitude to comic book movies, especially those stemming from the Marvel stable. And recent stellar output from Marvel Studios (Avengers Assemble, ThorCaptain America: The First AvengerThe Robert Downey Jr. Show Iron Man) really makes it an uphill battle for Sony Pictures’ ol’ webhead to shine on the screen, even for the non-comic loving viewer. Does he succeed? Well… almost.

First things first, Andrew Garfield is inspired casting as Peter Parker. He brings that nervous, awkward energy with him, which sits perfectly with the insular Parker, but also breaks out the wit when his alter-ego merits it. In my opinion, a far better choice than Tobey Maguire, who could never bring out the sarcasm of Spider-Man… add to this the fact that Garfield didn’t sweep his hair to one side and dance down a street in one of the most cringe-worthy moments of Spider-Man 3, and we’re golden. Probably not a routine that Maguire insisted on, so he may not be totally to blame; but it’s his face that’s burned into my retinas, so he’ll take the fall here. Go on… have another look and live it again.

So where does the film fall down for me? No, it’s not the fact that this is essentially just a (well crafted) love story between Garfield and Emma Stone, where one of them just happens to have superpowers. It’s more the fact that you can’t shake away the feeling of déja-vu. The film hits the same beats as its predecessor, even down to the villain. Sure, William DaFoe‘s Norman Osborn / Green Goblin is a different physical entity to Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors / Lizard, but they’re essentially the same with both gradually losing their respective grips on reality before inevitably being whooped by our hero. However, it is refreshing to see a Spider-Man film where the villain is not defeated with such… “finality”… as previous iterations. Wise move Sony… wise move indeed.

So all this begs the question as to why this was even rebooted. The cynic in me just screams “money you fool – money!“, hence the hokey 3D job to tag a few more dollars / pounds onto the ticket price. Also, with Sony making this movie they avoid the sticky issue of giving the rights to Spider-Man back to Marvel Studios. And let’s be honest, Sony marketing this as the “untold story” of Peter’s parents was unnecessary with the story barely licking the surface of that particular plot. However, the optimist in me is telling me that this reboot could rejuvenate the franchise and clear the sour taste that Spider-Man 3 left in every fan-boy’s mouth. At least the origin story is now done with, and we can progress to bigger and better things in the 2014 sequel…

Origin stories, when done right, leave the viewer feeling invigorated and filled with wonder. However, retelling the origin is like opening your Christmas presents, having a day of play and then wrapping them up again for next year. Yes, it’s fun to play with those familiar things again… it’s just not all that exciting or surprising. That being said, I’ve high hopes for the sequel, where hopefully we’ll see more of the cocky guy in the blue and red suit, as opposed to him learning about responsibility. Again.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star