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A Squircular Blog from The Squiss

Film reviews, essays, journalism, insights and general ramblings

from Edward Field, the Squircled Stegophilist.

 

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A Million Ways to Die in the West *

8 August 2014

The trailer for A Million Ways to Die in the West looked fun. Good cast, black comedy, and a team with a track record.

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I did smile once. I checked my watch and it came on 33 minutes with the start of the bar fight. Up until then I’d stifled groans and sighs of exasperation at horribly obvious and clumsily set up lines like, “Dude, you really shouldn't drink & horse.”

Ho hum.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West sets out to be a clever parody of the perils of the Wild West but winds up a painfully obvious, drawn out, 21st century looser flick with sledgehammer dialogue and fancy dress.

Alas, it isn’t very clever and wasn’t at all funny for a full hour. Beyond that I have no idea and little interest as the boredom threatened to rot my brain and I departed before grey matter leaked out of my ears.

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I’m sure there’s a joke somewhere in A Million Ways to Die in the West but it's difficult to hear it amongst all the dull thudding. 

It warrants one star purely for the presence of Charlize Theron. She may make poor choices occasionally, but she remains a fine actress and the cause of more than a few heart flutters.

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It wasn’t an entirely wasted evening; I made it home in time to watch a couple of episodes of The Inbetweeners.

Another film review from The Squiss.

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What If **

4 August 2014

Billed as this years 500 Days of Summer, What If is an ‘almost’ film. It is almost good, it is almost quirky, it is almost very funny, it is almost both romantic and a comedy and it is almost worth mentioning in the same breath as the 2009 Zooey Deschanel/Joseph Gordon-Levitt hit.

Almost.

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What it is, however, is overworked, obvious and eventually tiresome.

What If is the story of dropout medical student Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) who, after a string of failed relationships, meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) an animator who lives with her long-term boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall), and forms a close friendship with her. A platonic friendship. This is, after all, another rom-com that asks whether men and women can be just friends. Forget the outcome of this film, surely the answer given by every other rom-com is a resounding ‘NO!’

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There are a couple of funny moments, the window scene, unfortunately presented in the trailer, being the absolute highlight. A vaguely running gag of people tumbling is amusing the first couple of times but is over-egged and even the animation, which at first delights, quickly becomes part of the scenery without adding anything to the value or experience of sitting through What If.

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There is very little original in What If and less that isn’t obvious. While certain scenes feels as though they should have been improvised, it would have required stronger, funnier actors to do so effectively and what we are actually given are various scenes of scripted dialogue in which the stars pretend to improvise.

But whilst some of the dialogue is lumpy, Elan Mastai’s screenplay, adapted from T.J. Dawe’s play, contains some absolute zingers that forced laughter from my belly like an over zealous Heimlich maneuver, chief amongst them Wallace’s proclamation of self defence, “It’s not as if I bathed in the blood of an orphan or masturbated over a kitten.”

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Essential to a rom-com, beyond romance and comedy, is chemistry between the stars. Supporting actors Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis, as Allan and Nichole, have it in spades. Radcliffe and Kazan? Not so much. Kazan is no Zooey Deschanel and Radcliffe looks uncomfortable to say the least. He has become a much-maligned actor (upon the screen) of late but the trailer for his forthcoming Horns looks as though he may have found a dark and thrilling performance within himself at last. Bring it on!

And as for Radcliffe and Kazan’s big moment, if that doesn’t win an honorary Razzie for Worst Screen Kiss, something is rotten in the state of Hollywood! Eurgh!

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There are occasional sparkles in What If but for the most part it is dull and it commits the cardinal sin for a romantic comedy: I neither cared about them nor wanted them to finally hook up.

What If? So what?

Another film review from The Squiss.

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Guardians of the Galaxy ****

1 August 2014

I’m bored of superhero films. There are so many of them and so little that is original within them. I loved what Nolan did with his near-perfect Dark Knight reboot, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Iron Man series thus far, the third installment being a particular high, and Andrew Garfield succeeded in making The Amazing Spider-Man his own. Beyond that? I’ve almost stopped bothering. Ho hum.

And then came Guardians of the Galaxy.

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I knew nothing about this series of comic books. I hadn’t read them. I hadn’t even heard of them. The trailer amused me, the concept intrigued me and last night James Gunn’s third full feature as director added the sweetest cherry to a very fine cake of a day. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 can’t come soon enough for me!

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Guardians of the Galaxy opens with the young Peter Quill watching his mother die of cancer before escaping the morbid hospital scene only to be whisked into space by aliens. Fast-forward a few years and the adult Quill (Chris Pratt) aka Star Lord steals a mysterious orb much to the chagrin of Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Quill finds himself the subject of a manhunt and is thrown together with a tree (Groot - Vin Diesel), a green girl (Gamora – Zoe Saldana), an oaf who takes everything literally (Drax – Dave Bautista) and a Racoon (Rocket – Bradley Cooper). Together they form the Guardians of the Galaxy as they bid to evade Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), stay alive and, oh, save the universe.

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Guardians of the Galaxy is silly, funny, rapidly paced and an absolute ball. Gunn’s writing and direction are filled with energy so that, whilst there is a formula to the proceedings, it is thoroughly enjoyable and demands a second trip to see it in the next week or so. I’ll even forgive him for his segment in the execrable Movie 43.

There is little need for thought and no effort required for emotional attachment to the characters; they are so beautifully written that one engages with them from the off and delights in every second spent in their company. Guardians of the Galaxy is an exciting, enticing and very funny. The standing jokes are not over-egged and on the occasions where one can guess the outcome of a particular mishap, the result is entirely satisfying.

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The costumes, production design and CGI meld seamlessly to make Guardians of the Galaxy as visually pleasing as it is exciting. Everywhere there is colour, shape and sparkle and when we reach the domain of The Collector (Benicio del Toro) it is such a visual feast of quirks, curios and filmic references that the lack of a pause button in the cinema is a frustration. As for Glenn Close’s Nova Prime, she might easily have stepped out of The Hunger Games’ District 1. Fabulous!

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Fun, funny and fantastic. It’s rare that I say this, but bring on the sequel!

Another film review from The Squiss.

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The Fault in Our Stars ***

22 July 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, adapted from John Green’s novel of the same name, is the story of Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort), two teenage cancer patients who meet at a support group, form a friendship and fall in love. It is a fairly typical teen romantic drama of two souls reaching out to one another, each with their own emotional and physical baggage; Gus a prosthetic leg, Hazel the constant companion of an oxygen tank.

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For two thirds of the 126 minute running time, Josh Boone’s follow up to Stuck in Love is an uncomfortable experience. Not because of the subject matter of cancer and inevitable death, but because The Fault in Our Stars tries so damn hard.

Constantly we are pushed and cajoled into empathizing with the sick teenagers and to feeling the depth of their friendship. It all feels far too forced. Hazel’s mother, Frannie (Laura Dern) gushes and sighs sycophantically, everything is amazing, fantastic, absolutely beautiful… The dress she gives her daughter is just one example of painful gushing that is promptly undone in the very next scene when a waitress shows them to a table wearing a genuinely stunning dress.

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It is irksome, annoying, cringeworthy and the worst kind of labored, insulting, schmaltzy teen pap that ostracizes anyone with at least two years distance from the completion of puberty. I just wanted Hazel to get on and die so I could go home and whinge at my wife for dragging me along.

Then, in the final act, Boone turns The Fault in Our Stars around. In a scene I shall, in the interest of avoiding plot spoilers, refer to simply as the ‘poultry’ scene, the dynamic changes. From there on The Fault in Our Stars finds a grip on reality, it stops propelling us into emotional traps and just flows, carrying us along with it.

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From there on it feels real. The contrivances evaporate, the bludgeoning ends and it just gets on with the job of showing us a heartbreaking story of life that sometimes isn’t fair and death that is inevitable, the only mystery being the timing and cause of it.

Elgot is barely watchable without inciting feelings of mild, petulant violence. He is smug, the ultimate jock without an American football team at his back. While I’m guessing Gus should be suave, confident and just ballsy enough to be admirable and loveable, Elgot plays him as cocky and in need of a jolly good slap. Again, regard that as for the first two thirds; in the final act he, too, manages to rein it in a little and pulls us on side. His Gus isn’t bad, just annoying and the kind of kid you’d make you wonder why your daughter wasn’t aiming higher.

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Woodley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager, The Descendants), however, gives a stunning, tempered performance that pulls us onside from the outset. Hazel is a good kid, a sweet girl but not apple pie perfect – close, but Woodley just avoids it. The emotion that pours from Woodley, racks her and shocks us. It is impossible not to imagine ourselves in that situation even if we have limited experience of it. There is no suggestion of onions rubbed into the eyes prior to rolling the camera, just an outpouring of pent up anger and an unfair amount of heartbreak. Stunning!

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Though The Fault in Our Stars belongs to Woodley, director Boone and his screenwriters deserve the final compliment. It would have been far too easy, and from the first hour or so I imagined it no other way, to extend the film to its final mulchy conclusions. Boone exercises restraint, turns around a two-star trudge into a journey that ends with possibility within the inevitability. It is a perfect end that leaves a heaviness in the heart rather than the earlier tightening n the stomach.

Another film review from The Squiss.

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