The Little Mermaid (not that one)

    THE best thing I can say about the Netflix offering of The Little Mermaid is it makes one want to revisit the magical Disney animated version. In no way connected to, or even remotely similar to – except for the fact that it features a mermaid – the Disney classic, Netflix’s The Little Mermaid disappoints on almost every level.

    It opens with a grandmother – grandma Elle – played by Shirley MacLaine, reading the Hans Christian Andersen tale to her two cute granddaughter’s. This is used, in pictorial fashion, as the opening credit sequence to the film. As she finishes telling them the story, she teases them by hinting that the story was not how it was depicted in the book and that mermaids are possibly real. The children are eager for her to tell her tale. 

   Oh, how I wish they had not been. MacLaine, a veteran of many a classic film – Terms Of Endearment, The Apartment, Steel Magnolias to name a few – appears at the begin of the film and at the end. Even though she is telling the story and the film utilises voiceovers in parts, she is not used. One can only reason that she read the script and thought ‘sod it! The cheque will top up my pension!’ Because there is no other reason to be in this film.

   William Moseley plays Cam, a young, cynical, reporter who, by some mishap that is explained far too late in the film for me to have been caring anymore, ends up as the sole guardian of his niece, the sickly Elle, played ably by Loreto Peralta.

She suffers from an unknown ailment that causes her to cough and be generally poorly when she exerts herself too much. Like asthma then or any number of respiratory conditions. 

   Set in the thirties or forties, Cam is sent to investigate the claims of a circus vendor who is allegedly curing many ailments with sea water ointment. The circus, for some inexplicable reason, is in Mississippi. Cam takes himself and his sickly charge off to the deep south of America. Elle, being a child, believes in magic and helpfully, the existence of mermaids. 

    On arriving in Mississippi Cam and Elle head to the circus where the star attraction is Elizabeth – Poppy Drayton – a mermaid. Elle feels an instant connection to Elizabeth, even has her uncle tells her that it must be a trick. After the show, Cam and Elle go in search of the all-healing sea water ointment but are told in no uncertain terms that it is out of stock. 

    Until this point, the film had been quite engaging. Some of the script had been a little clunky, but the actors had managed to make it work. The colours also are magnificent, making the film look beautiful when working strictly with the in-camera image. Unfortunately, the post-production, with the exception of colour, and special effects, especially in the second half of the film, detract from the picture quality. 

   Once the central premise of the film had been introduced – free the mermaid – the film begins to fall apart. Not because of a bad, lazy premise, but because of the under written characters. The antagonist of the piece, Locke – yes, really – played by Armando Gutierrez, is the circus master and the person who holds Elizabeth captive. 

    Locke is portrayed as menacing, but Gutierrez is given so little to work with – a poor man’s ringmaster costume and cheap make-up – and so little screen time, that it is impossible for his character to be seen as the big bad, or to even appreciate how he creates such fear amongst his peers. We are just expected to take it as so.

    As the film progresses – in time, not quality – it only gets worse. Characters are introduced for convenience but not at all fleshed out. Our sceptical journalist, earlier captivated by Elizabeth, meets her on a boat and is not even slightly perturbed when he finds out she is actually a mermaid. Not to mention the frankly ludicrous scene of him chasing after her, diving into the sea and easily catching up to her. She’s a mermaid. A MERMAID!

    He is just as nonplussed when Thora – Shana Collins – one of the circus folk and one of the aforementioned characters introduced for convenience, freezes time! She stops time! She stops time so as they can escape the circus and he acts as if he has seen that sort of thing every day of his life. Just another time freeze.

    The final half hour of the film is almost farcical, becoming a race against time to get Elizabeth back to the ocean after Thora – she is SUPER powerful you know – temporarily turns her mermaid tail into legs so as she can escape the circus. Meanwhile, Locke – remember him? I barely did – pursues them with all the urgency of an actor who knows he’s getting paid regardless of the performance. 

     As the film peters out to an obvious and underwhelming conclusion, one is subjected to special effects so abject they look as though they were created on an Amstrad computer. 

    Grandma Elle finishes the story and her cherubic granddaughters ask what happened to Elle. Grandma Elle gives a knowing smile, turns away from the girls and we, the suffering viewers, get to watch the girls react as she does ‘something’ magical off-screen. Barf.

This film is so god awful it as though Netflix is trying to out do itself for bad films. Just to reiterate, this is not the Disney version. Far from it. Elizabeth – Poppy Drayton – does sing one song, so gets to show off her vocal prowess. That is as close as it gets to the Disney classic. It is really not close enough. Do not watch this film. 

​​American Assassin – a review/rant

I didn’t walk out, so there is that. I really wanted to. Sixty minutes in and the cliches and lazy plot twist just kept coming. It is films like this – films that get major distribution and promotion – then turn out to be so poorly executed, that anger me

. American Assassin, a made for television film if ever there was one, has been foisted on an unsuspecting public as a high-concept action thriller. It really is not.

The film begins in Ibiza where a loved-up Mitch Rapp (an underfed Dylan O’Brien) proposes to his girlfriend, Katrina – though I thought her name was Serena – (Charlotte Vega). She accepts and he goes off to get a couple of cocktails to celebrate.

As he waits at the bar all hell breaks loose as terrorist open fire, spraying automatic gunfire at fleeing holidaymakers. Rapp takes a shot in the hip and shoulder as he tries to find his recently acquired fiancée. As Katrina looks for him, she gets shot and then one of the terrorists decides to shoot her again in front of Rapp, because, why not?

Fast forward eighteen months and a hirsute Rapp is making contact with the Taliban, hoping to infiltrate the cell that killed his fiancée. Unbeknownst to him, he is being observed by the CIA who move in when his plan proves successful, getting them close to a target they had previously been unable to even locate.

Impressed by his tenacity and apparent high level of combat and firearms competency – “he scores off the charts” says deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Latham). Bullshit. – he is recruited to join a covert, hardcore, elite division run by grizzled veteran hard arse, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). And the cliches keep on coming.

The angry young buck that is Rapp, proves to be a bit of a maverick, failing to follow orders and going off mission. Meanwhile – cliche pile-ups aplenty – Hurley recognizes one of his old charges, referred to enigmatically (not really) as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch).

Turns out Ghost was a former operative, whom they thought dead, who was the previous young charge who ‘scored off of the charts’!

Having revealed the laziest twist in cinema, the film proceeds with some convoluted crap about uranium and building a nuke and how it must not get into Iranian hands, but wait, the Ghost is double-crossing everybody! He wants to blow up ‘Mericans!
The fact that this same story has been done so much better – 2012’s Skyfall most recently – on every level is what is irritating.

One does not expect a masterpiece – not with the imaginative title of American Assassin – but lazy, tired, two-dimensional characters, a less than two-hour runtime that feels like four and lacklustre directing do not point to a film that warrants the kind of promotion that this tripe had.

It always pains me when I see actors having to commit and try and convince an audience that a story is worth sticking with, whilst working with such poor material. Four – FOUR! – screenwriters worked on this! It is doubtful that they worked together, as the script reeks of studio interference, hence the many writing credits. There is only one director though, Michael Cuesta.

Cuesta is mostly credited with television work. The best I can say about the directing in this film is everyone is in focus. Fights scenes – in an action thriller remember – are pedestrian.

For some reason, they decided to set a chase scene in one of the world’s busiest cities, when it comes to traffic, Rome and the chase is on par with the awful ‘let people see the cars’ sequence/chase in Spectre in its blandness.

Locations, no doubt trying to give the film an international flavour, seemed picked at random, as though the director thought they might be nice places to visit. Another thing; the title of the film gives the impression of some lone wolf, a one-man army, tasked with taking out bad people; a male Nikita if you will.

In the film he is anything but that, stealing cars and having shootouts whilst compromising his team and mission, no finesse or evidence of his ‘off the charts’ ability in anything except reckless endangerment.

If you have one hundred plus minutes to kill and find yourself watching the trailers as you wait for American Assassin to begin, do yourself a favour and leave after the trailers.

Hating On Reality

As an aspiring film and television writer, reality television is an abomination to me. Lazy television, accommodating talentless, fame hungry people and selling it as entertainment. Here in the United Kingdom the latest reality show – it might be in its second or third season, I’ve really no idea and refuse to research it. – is Love Island, a show where a collection of beautiful, single, young people are thrown together on an island and given various task to complete.
The show has garnered a lot of press for a lot of the antics, mostly of an overtly sexual nature, that have transpired. I do not consider myself a prude and an adult is entitled to do as they please, as long as their actions harm no other, but Love Island, a show that is deliberately salacious and is so abhorrent I cannot bring myself to watch even an episode, I have been watching snippets on YouTube and it is as awful as I feared.
Musclebound jocks and dolly birds with too much face paint show off and cavort on a specially created island. At the end of each episode, the watching public gets to vote off one of the participants. The group learn of this by one of them receiving a text and reading it out loud to the rest. The programme is just painful.
Suffering three minutes of this tripe is almost too much for me, with one of the least popular bawling their eyes out, because the other least popular character decided to leave. Utter shite. There are inane conversations and way too much makeup on just about everybody. Looking beautiful – depending on one’s perspective – seems to be the only requirement for getting into the shop window that this show is.
With the modern penchant for social media being seen as viable a career option, with popularity allowing celebrities to earn substantial amounts of money, there is a never ending supply of nubile, attractive women and hunky, gym-loving, vainglorious men prepared to embarrass and exhibit themselves for a voyeuristic and haughty public.
That reality television is so popular, especially in its present, obviously scripted, format is a mystery to me. There was a time when it was the contrast in the characters involved that was what made this type of show interesting and watchable. Now everyone in these shows looks the same. All of the participants fall into the eighteen to twenty-four demographic, all are slim and conventionally attractive or buffed up and pseudo-cool.
The public, however, laps up the show, happy to adopt it as a sort of guilty pleasure that makes them feel better about themselves, not being silly enough to allow themselves to be filmed for cheap entertainment. The feeling of superiority is reinforced by the type of people they tend to choose, who even for all their good looks and fine tans are obviously from working class backgrounds.
That this show is so popular says as much about the viewership as it does the participants, the class system and perceptions of the watchers that they are somehow better than those they are watching because, like spectators at an old Roman arena, they are being entertained. Of course, I see the irony in my rant, how by deriding Love Island, I too am viewing myself as above such fair. As I began, I have never been a fan of reality television. I want to be told stories. If I want to observe real life I can go sit on a bench in my local park. If I want to hear about other people’s mundane love life’s, I can get on a bus and hear any number of less than guarded conversations, people on mobile phones never aware of the fact they are out in public.
Unfortunately, reality television shows are not only initially cheap to make – the cost goes up once any of the participants gets really popular – but they also appeal to the ever important eighteen to twenty-four demographic, the mass consumers of media. As lazy and uninspiring as reality television is, it is not going away.

Trailer Trash For Cash

I went to see Baby Driver today. A good film I really enjoyed it. I won’t be reviewing it as I am sure there are ample reviews of it already and I don’t feel I have anything different to add. If you want a review you can go here.
The cinema was pretty busy for a Monday afternoon, a time usually reserved for film geeks and the retired. As the film has been out for at least a week and is directed by the not at all a household name Edgar Wright, it was definitely odd to see a semi-full theatre. After ejecting somebody from my seat – again not a Monday afternoon thing – I sat down to the trailers.
For awhile now I have felt that movie trailers are all a bit rubbish. They are especially bad for event, tentpole films that have a ready, eager audience, barely bothering to do much more than string together a few ‘exciting’ set pieces that sometimes, like in the last Fantastic Four offering, do not even end up in the film.
Even worse is when the trailer editor – it is usually a different company, unrelated to the film production that does the trailer – decides to basically show the entire plot in the trailer. It is not the worse offence of trailer making though no, the worse offence perpetrated by a trailer is when the trailer’s promise is better than the film it is promoting. There is nothing worse than getting pumped up for a film, watching all the promotional material, not just the trailers but the interviews with cast members, the director, b-roll clips and all the hullabaloo that can surround a big film, especially in the case of a franchise, for the film to then turn out to be a turd.
Generally, I have a sort of loose rules surrounding big movies, if the stars of the film are doing too much press, appearing on multiple chat shows, doing radio interviews, going crazy on social media. If Jai Courtney is in it, if the poster is lazy and kind of rubbish – Baby Driver actually bucks the trend, terrible poster, great film. I ignored my rules when it came to Terminator Genisys and ended up walking out of the film forty minutes in.
I believed James Cameron – even though he came up with one of the worse fake mineral names in movie history in the over hyped Avatar, with the evil humans looking to steal ‘Unobtainium’! – he did, however, make the masterpiece that is The Terminator and follow it with one of the best sequels I have ever seen in T2. When he endorsed Genisys, I thought; okay, it’s probably worth a look. It didn’t matter that every sequel, after the second one, had been pretty rubbish or that Jai Courtney was in it – he was also in the worse Die Hard film, didn’t catch me out with Suicide Squad though! DC and Jai Courtney? No chance! – All the previews looked good, the beautiful Emilia Clarke was one of the stars. Admittedly she has never been any good in anything outside of Game Of Thrones and I’ve only watched two episodes of that (gasp!). So I ignored the overly busy poster – a sure sign that they are not confident – the extravagant press junket, Arnie going full politician level, charm offensive. I got bamboozled and sucked in. Never again.
The trailer for the Tom Cruise starrer, The Mummy, was seven minutes – seven! – long. That is longer than my last two short films! If you have to release a seven minute trailer in an effort to persuade people to see your film, it is probably time to get back in the editing suite.
I have gone off on somewhat of a tangent with this blog, ranting as oppose to contrasting, which is what I had planned to do, the trailer topic having been prompted by a trailer I saw for a film called 6 Days, based on the Iranian hostage siege in London in the eighties. I watched it initially thinking, this looks boring, even with the ever excellent Mark Strong as one of the leads. Then the trailer just builds, the hostage negotiator (Strong) trying to resolve an impossible situation, the SAS, lead by Jamie Bell, planning to breach the embassy and the British government wanting to be seen as strong and resourceful in dealing with a terrorist threat. All of this is conveyed in a less than three minute trailer. This is a film I want to see and, as it is based on a true story, I already know how it ends. That is the power of a good trailer, promising a good and engaging story, not endless explosions and shaky camera movements.

Black There, Not Here

There are terms and phrases that immediately conjure up certain images; period drama, western, sitcom, road trip movie, rom-com, these are all terms and genres that are easily identifiable and which one can think of fare that falls into each category.
Here in the United Kingdom, there is a rich history in film, television, theatre and music. In comedy, drama and serials, there has been a vast output of memorable films and television programmes. The likes of Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and even the comedy, Keeping Up Appearances, are worldwide successes. For such a small island and one that is somewhat set in its way, – more on that later – the United Kingdom manages to hold its own in the highly competitive visual media arena.
The English language being the dominant language of film is a big factor in that, with the top ten highest grossing films of all time all English language films. In the British media landscape, the same country that vocally defends its animal rights record, its lax border approach to immigration, its law enforcement without guns (a good thing) and the general fairness for which the British are famed for throughout the world, things are not as fair as one would like.
For a nation that prides itself on fairness, the image of the British around the world still is of an overwhelmingly white nation. Whereas in the States, a country that is routinely targeted for its lack of diversity and racial inequality, the programming reflects not only the country’s racial complexity but also the many stories and struggles that have faced the various communities, here in the U. K. one would never know that there was a diverse population by watching its television output.
As a British born, black person the scarcity of programmes with black people in them was always noticeable but never an issue as, like anybody, one gets use to what is normal, in this case, very few non-white television shows. The fact that most of the black programmes that were shown were American – The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Different Strokes – one could not help but notice they were all comedies, perpetuating the long-held image of black people as grinning, jigging, entertainment. Alex Haley’s slave drama, Roots, was a big deal in the eighties amongst black people, a programme that showed a history, albeit an unsavoury one, and black people as more than caricatures. Of course, it was an American show.
Here, the paucity of black shows remains. There was a brief spate in the nineties – Desmond’s the standout amongst them – still, all were comedies. With the explosion of social media and every person able to venture an opinion and speak their mind – welcome to my blog! – issues of every ism – sex, race, gender – can be aired and debated. Any social issue can quickly become a cause, careers blighted by foolish utterances or proclamations in the social media world.
Such is the dearth of black shows in the U. K. many a black actor, much to the consternation of Samuel L. Jackson, moved to the States for work. With its rich history in television, featuring black ensemble shows since the seventies, as well as having black actors in a lot of their other shows. As well as television shows, there are also many black films of every genre, going back as far as the early nineteen hundreds, a truly rich history of black filmmaking.
Here in the U. K. even though black people have lived here since the seventeen hundreds, there has been very little television reflecting that with black British films so rare one could be forgiven for believing none were ever made. The few that have been made have not only been poorly marketed, a problem for a lot of British films but are so little known they even struggle to find a cult audience.
It was disappointing that Steve McQueen, the black British director, that when deciding to make a black film, starring the black British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, he elected to make an American story instead of a British one. The production money for 12 Years A Slave was predominantly American, so that may have been a factor, but if a respected director such as McQueen cannot get a British black story made, what Hope is there? The like of Amma Asante’s Belle got so little traction even as a historical, costumed drama, that one despairs of trying to get authentic black, British stories out. Still, I will keep writing until I find the right story to put out there. That’s what a writer does.

X-men? No.

It is rant time again. Normally I reserve my rants for real life, keeping my written rants to a blessed minimum. No one wants to read daily whines, not when you can be entertained by them on YouTube. But as I don’t do vlogs and I would probably forget a lot of my grievances if I did do it as a vlog, it will have to be a normal, written, blog.
My topic for ranting today, in keeping with the overall theme of the blog, are the films of that – close to my heart – team of mutants, shunned by society at large, the Uncanny X-men.

Unlike some of the comic geeks online and forums, I do not claim to be a definitive expert on everything mutant related. I was a comic collector – X-men, Daredevil, New Mutants, The Dark Knight (not Batman, just the Frank Miller series) Alan Moore/Alan Davis run in Captain Britain – over a period of maybe five or six years, when Forbidden Planet was still a basement store, way before anyone cared about comic book movies.
Even though the X-men comic and characters debuted in nineteen sixty-three, it is the eighties Chris Claremont run that made the comics famous. His Jean Grey/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix story arc, encompassing the Hellfire club run – very important in the cannon in relation to Grey’s mind – the original Days Of Future Past comic (spoiler, Kitty Pryde was the lead in that comic. Logan dies.) plus other crucial character arcs.
Logan/Wolverine was always the most popular character and it is easy to see why. He, more than any other character, embodied the freedom, otherness, and injustice many of the readers of the comics identified with. It stood to reason that his popularity would translate to the big screen.
Bryan Singer’s X-men in 2000 kicked off their cinematic journey, followed three years later by the, unusually for a sequel, better X2, also directed by Singer.
As is the nature of film sometimes and it is not something I usually have an issue with, they like to change things so as to accommodate the story.

This is common especially for a book to film translation. Singer’s adjustments were….interesting. I did enjoy the first two films, but that does not mean they were right. The first thing to go, as has been common in most superhero films, was the costumes.

Obviously, brightly coloured spandex was never going to be taken seriously on the big screen. The costume changes were a necessary evil.
Anyone who read my review of Logan – loved it – knows I thought it was by far and away the best X-men film. It was gritty and raw, emotional and gripping. Hugh Jackman was astonishing as the broken Logan.

He is still nothing like the comic book character. Logan in the comics is five foot three, butt ugly and also gorilla hairy. Jackman, as one would expect, nails the manner and attitude, but he could not make himself ugly or nearly a foot shorter.
The other stand out characters in the films have been Magneto, played by Sir Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender and Professor Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy. In an ensemble film, based on the eighties best-selling comic, only three characters stand out.

Even in the sequel, that opened with the fantastic Nightcrawler attacking the White House scene, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is still the lead character.
In the comic, Cyclops is the group leader, with Storm taking over the leadership when Cyclops takes an indefinite leave of absence. The Scott Summers/Cyclops and Jean Grey/Marvel Girl/Phoenix relationship are also very important in the X-men story, not that you would get that from the films. The casting for all of the films, strangely casting two statuesque actresses as Jean Grey – Jean was never a physically imposing character – in Famke Janssen and Sophie Turner, whilst casting underwhelming Scott Summers’ in James Marsden and Tye Sheridan, neither screen couple ever convincing.
I’m not sure I can talk about Mystique. Singer got it so right initially, casting Rebecca Romijn who was perfect in the first two films. After the worst X-men film ever made by, when Brett Ratner stepped in for the risible Last Stand, Singer, who had left after the first sequel, returned to try and save the franchise.

He did a good job as well, even if he did completely change the story and make Wolverine the central character – surprise, surprise – side note: for an openly gay man, one would have thought that an opportunity to have a female-focused superhero film out first would have appealed to Singer. Apparently not.
In the sequel, Singer replaced all the main X-men characters with younger actors, with the exception of Jackman. The mangling of the cannon continued in Apocalypse with Jennifer Lawerence – an actress I like a lot – reprising the role she had taken over from Romijn in the previous film, as Mystique, becoming a….hero.

This is so far from the comic character! Romijn had nailed it, as had Lawerence in the first reboot, but the Apocalypse Mystique is terrible and unknown to this comic book geek. I will salute Singer for what he did with the Sentinels though. Genius.
Even as I am writing this I am realising that it could run on to two or three blogs. There are so many aberrations to the cannon and as I said before, it is expected that there will be differences.

What is so galling is, if they are going to follow or be influenced by stories that have already, for many a comic fan, been movies, in essence, having been paneled in comics, just make a new story. Stop rewriting perfectly good histories and characters and changing their ages and relationships and…argh! Too much. Just stop.