There’s something awfully familiar about Joe, David Gordon Green’s latest. The dead-end town. The multiracial workforce. The troubled boy and troubled father figures. The subplot revolving around a pet dog. But that’s not a bad thing. All of these elements can be found in Green’s incredible 2000 debut George Washington, a film that, for many of the filmmaker’s fans, was beginning to look like a distant memory. 

George Washington earned praise for its understated drama, mesmerising visuals and powerful performances from its young, multiracial cast. The young filmmaker even earned comparisons to lyrical auteur and fellow Texan Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven). Malick must have taken notice of these plaudits, serving as a producer on Green’s third effort, Undertow. Unlike his debut and sophomore films, however, Undertow received a lukewarm reception from critics. 

It was at this point that Green’s career took a remarkable U-turn. I don’t think I’ve seen one quite like it since. Green followed up the southern gothic tale Undertow with a move towards the mainstream, directing the entertaining stoner comedy Pineapple Express. A far cry from his earlier pictures, Pineapple Express was welcomed as an interesting change in pace, a successful display of the director’s versatility. Green always did have a goofy streak. It’s probably why he’s so good at directing young actors. However, the novelty of this new direction didn’t last.  

Until recently, Green has stuck with comedy, first making fantasy film parody Your Highness and then following that with childcare comedy The Sitter. Audiences and critics were left underwhelmed. But with Joe, it appears that Green has come full-circle and returned to the themes and ideas that preoccupied him in the first place. 

Joe tells the story of Gary (Tye Sheridan), a fifteen-year-old who has moved into town with his dirt-poor family, including his alcoholic father (Gary Poulter). Looking for work Gary stumbles upon a group of men poisoning trees. It’s here that he meets Joe (Nicolas Cage), the leader of the workforce, who offers him a job and an escape from his father. Their lives soon become intertwined. 

There’s a lot to recognise from Green’s earlier films, but Joe doesn’t feel like a lazy rehash of old material. It feels like a return to form. Older and wiser, Green takes one of the central themes of his debut, the difficult relationship between adolescent boys and their unstable father figures, and reconsiders it from a different perspective. Twelve-year-old Nasia’s cryptic narration that held together George Washington’s narrative is gone (it feels a little derivative of Linda Manz’s in Days Of Heaven, anyway). This time around Green sees things from a paternal point of view, mainly taking the form of Joe. 

Known for his manic performances, Cage plays this one with a little more restraint though the darker impulses that inflect his best work are always bubbling below the surface, erupting in sudden moments of brutal violence. The role balances Cage’s craziness with a subtlety that he is often guilty of lacking. The film’s finest turn, however, comes from first-timer Poulter who plays Wade, Gary’s abusive father. In a disturbing breakdown of the boundary between character and performer, Poulter, too, suffered from alcoholism and bouts of homelessness. Green’s casting crew found him sleeping rough on the streets of Austin, Texas. I’m undecided as to whether I think Poulter’s casting was inspired or exploitative. What is true is that he quite literally gives the role his all, lending the film a disturbing sense of unpredictability. 

Poulter’s face is a story in itself. The lines and crevices seem to tell of a lifetime of bad decisions, run-ins with the law, relationships damaged beyond repair. His wild white hair and unkempt beard make him the perverse double of Cage’s Joe, one long past redemption. Now more monster than man. It’s a chilling performance. 

Tragically, Poulter’s first role is also his last. In February of 2013, not long after the production of Joe was wrapped, he was found drowned in Lady Bird Lake, Austin, fallen victim to the demons that made his performance so harrowing. 

Joe stands, then, not only as a reminder of the talent of its director and lead actor, but also as a glimpse of a talent that sadly never had the opportunity to flourish.

The first How To Train Your Dragon is an animation classic. No one can dispute that. Adapted from a relatively obscure series of children’s novels, it was released in 2010 to near universal acclaim from audiences, garnering two Oscar nominations and becoming Dreamworks’ highest regarded film in a decade (stripping Chicken Run of the title), as well as the great honour of being one of the few films to ever make me cry (joining the illustrious company of My Dog Skip, The Road and The Elephant Man). Basically it’s bloody great and has a permanent place in my cinematic heart… but alas this fervent fandom probably set How To Train Your Dragon 2 up to fail.

That’s not to say it doesn’t retain some of the magic and wonder of its predecessor. The Viking/Dragon world is still as breathtakingly realised as last time, the score is once again excellent, the character design of the dragon hordes is some of the most imaginative you’re likely to see in a major studio picture, Toothless remains the most adorable creature ever committed to film, and the friendship between him and Hiccup is the most potent and reliable heartstring-puller around (there’s some extra emotional beats thrown in which prove incredibly effective - that blind dragon had me feeling things). But away from these already established elements, it feels quite a bit undercooked, with the plot jumping from point to point as if it’s not quite sure which one to commit to. You get all the important character beats built up from the first film as the sponge of this cake, but the story the script and the new characters are a pallid, unappetising icing on top, which barely covers the whole thing.

By now, everyone knows the big reveal, and if you don’t, you’re best looking away… Hiccup finds his long-lost mother Volka, presumed dead for his entire life, to be living on an isolated utopia as a Viking hippie, a Jane Goodall for dragons in the mist. The scene that serves as the introduction of Volka in her masked splendour is superb, and had it not been ruined by its constant use in trailers and TV spots, it would perhaps be one of my favourite scenes of the year. But her big reveal being spoiled is not the only disservice done to Volka. She unfortunately follows the increasing trend of strong female characters being used to further the male hero’s journey before being cast to the wayside. It’s happened so often recently, from The Lego Movie, to The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, to Star Trek Into Darkness, Oblivion and Edge Of Tomorrow; fascinating female characters are built up, given agency and their own arcs, only to become love interests, sex objects or existing solely to serve the male hero’s development and motivation; in this case, Volka exists to give Hiccup a few rote motivational speeches at key points, and that’s it. She even steps aside from a fight with the villain to let her estranged husband take him on, despite the film informing us she’s more than adequately handled various assaults over two decades on her own. It feels like a betrayal of what we’d expect and a complete waste of Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning talents on a disappointing character. You’d like to think if the filmmakers had followed their original plan of using Volka as a conflicted antagonist, she may have gotten a better shrift, but then you see how underdeveloped Drago Bludvist (a nominee for worst villain name of the year) turned out to be and you wonder if the grass would really be greener. 

Speaking of Drago, it’s a little off-putting that the first and only major character of colour seen in the franchise happens to be an unreasonable, maniacal, murderous, dragon-abusing warlord. Full credit to Djimon Honsou giving a good showing in the recording booth, but it’s just uncomfortable seeing an ambiguously brown antagonist (with a potentially interesting backstory unfortunately ignored) being fought off by a whiter-than-white-bread cast of good guys. Good guys like the now seemingly typecast Kit Harrington, who proves himself to be as dull and wooden an animated character as he does a flesh & blood one, although at least his Eret, Son Of Eret provides some laughs via his bulging biceps.

I’ll be honest, despite being the main character and central to the whole franchise, Jay Baruchel really detracts from How 2. His nasally voice works in live-action, when he’s playing a slimy corporate PR as in Robocop, or a amiable stoned slacker, as in most other things; hell, even in the first film, this helped reinforce Hiccup’s youth, naiveté and inexperience. But now, the character is a “dragon master”, a swashbuckling adventurer and future chief of his clan, as well as being Neville Longbottom’d into a handsome young man, yet he still sounds like he’s on the receiving end of a dozen wedgies a day, and one scare away from wetting his riding britches. It’s frustrating that Baruchel’s range doesn’t extend to the more mature plot elements that the film broaches, albeit very clumsily in passing.

However, for these disappointing misses, there’s still a wave of hits and some of that original charm left over to keep the franchise afloat for the third instalment in two years time. And no doubt, that one will keep up the tradition and make me cry too.

With the Cornetto Trilogy over and done with, it remains to be seen what will become of Nick Frost. Simon Pegg is firmly entrenched as an alternative leading man, Hollywood blockbuster support, and voice of various animated critters, whilst Edgar Wright is always going to be able to direct what he wants, as long as he steers clear of Marvel Studios, but Frost is in a less surefooted position. Sure, he’ll be able to coast along thanks to goodwill, but when picking projects as weak and limp as Cuban Fury, that goodwill could find itself fading fast.

Cuban Fury centres around Bruce, a former child salsa champion, who quit due to bullying and grew up to be an underconfident, overweight office drone. When his company hires a new American supervisor (Rashida Jones, clearly grabbing the first script that came through after leaving Parks & Rec), it’s love at first day of work for Bruce, despite the fact he considering Julia to be out of his league. The situation is only made worse by the presence of the office asshole and alpha male Drew (Chris O’Dowd, essentially pulling a “Jon Hamm in Bridesmaids”) having Julia in his sights too. Fortunately for Bruce, Julia is an amateur dancer, and in order to win her affections, he has to get his groove back.

Despite a good cast - Frost, Jones, O’Dowd, along with Ian McShane, Olivia Colman, Alexandra Roach, Kayvan Novak and Rory Kinnear - such a premise coupled with a lame duck script leaves the film as welcome as a turd on the dancefloor. There’s no originality or innovation, and no attempt at improving on the millions and millions of films to come before it. Everything about this is such a rote set-up for a romcom; just substitute salsa dancing for any other hobby, and boom, you’ve got a good 50% of the genre covered at least. It’s telling that the best scene relies on the physical comedy gifts of Frost and O’Dowd without so much as a word between them, and even then, the show is stolen by a cameo from a certain someone.

So many characters are underwritten - Jones’ Julia might as well not even have a name, McShane’s grizzled mentor is dead behind the eyes and Novak is on camp autopilot - and very few gags land anywhere near their target that it’s amazing Cuban Fury manages to drag itself to a third act, let alone across the finish line. Frost is a sound enough screen presence and fantastic cog to have in comedic machines, but after this, he seems unlikely to match the success of his Cornetto compatriots.

Poster: Ant-Man: Edgar Wright may be gone, and so is his initial replacement Adam McKay, but Marvel’s Ant-Man continues to trundle on with this first one-sheet. We have to wait twelve months to see if it’ll be another feather in the studio’s cap, or their first true failure.

Poster: Ant-Man: Edgar Wright may be gone, and so is his initial replacement Adam McKay, but Marvel’s Ant-Man continues to trundle on with this first one-sheet. We have to wait twelve months to see if it’ll be another feather in the studio’s cap, or their first true failure.

Posters: Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days On Earth: As one of the most enigmatic rockstars and songwriters of the last 35 years, it’s about time Nick Cave got himself a deifying biopic of sorts. 20,000 Days On Earth is a peculiar film, a single-location drama-documentary depicting a fictional day in the life of the Bad Seeds, Birthday Party and Grinderman frontman, featuring past collaborators such as Blixa Bargeld, Ray Winstone, Warren Ellis and Kylie Minogue. It’s already won two awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled for release in the UK on September 19th.

So I go on Reddit and invariably end up clicking on ‘GoneWild’ posts. It’s always girls taking naked pictures in the mirror, and their room behind them is a disaster. If I were a guy, I would not be turned on. I would be like, ‘Make your bed!’
Whilst decoding her tweets in an interview with Glamour Magazine, everyone’s favourite young non-Jennifer Lawrence actress Anna Kendrick let slip that she’s a covert Redditor, and a regular visitor to the nudity-happy r/GoneWild subreddit. So now you know if you’ve ever submitted phots on there, it’s possible Anna Kendrick has seen your boobs/butt/genitals/untidy room. Knowing the internet as we do, that’s more of an encouragement than a deterrent…

With Monty Python currently wrapping up their career with a month of live shows at London’s O2 Arena, it might just be time to put the group’s sole American member Terry Gilliam out to pasture as a film director too. His latest film and his first since 2009’s ill-fated The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, The Zero Theorem is a sad grumpy shambles, a parody of the ideas and themes which built Gilliam’s reputation as a true auteur.

Set in the brightest digital dystopia you could think of, The Zero Theorem centres on agoraphobic office drone number-cruncher Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) tasked by his shadowy corporate overlords with coming up with the mathematical equation of “zero equals 100%”, whilst waiting on a mysterious phone call to explain the meaning of life. He’s surrounded by a cavalcade of obfuscating technology and consciously zany characters, from Melanie Thierry’s manic pixie cam-girl to David Thewlis’ jittery toupee-wearing supervisor and Tilda Swinton’s app-based shrink. But for an excellent-on-paper cast and potentially fertile ideas at play, The Zero Theorem ends up as a weak pastiche of a genre Gilliam helped to codify; a film created by old men worried about people’s use of technology and how they don’t understand it - Gilliam has even explained in an interview that the film acts as “a warning against the perils of a digitised existence” - the kind of worldview that Monty Python likely would’ve satirised were they in their youthful prime today.

There’s just so much weak symbolism and so many rote metaphors floating around in the film; “The Church of Batman The Redeemer”, haha yeah coz people “worship” pop culture and celebrity and stuff. A crucified Jesus statue, but with Jesus’ head replaced with a security camera. A all-powerful corporation called Mancom, which is repeated until it sounds suspiciously like “mankind” by the end of the film, and Qohen’s insistence on using “we” instead of “I” and correcting a colleague how persistently gets his name wrong. This is a film which is transparently about the meaninglessness of life and the lack of any higher power and how religion and belief is silly and atheism is clearly the only way to go and how big business is bad and… really the only way to convey the major thematic ideas of The Zero Theorem is with mouth farts. It’s just that lumpen and undercooked.

I was genuinely shocked to find its writer Pat Rushin is a creative writing professor because his script is a) duller that an Ikea instruction manual and b) crammed with ideas that should barely make it past a sixth-former’s rough story notes. It was, however, less of a shock to discover this was Rushin’s first ever screenplay, written in ten days with  ”no idea what [he] was doing” and using “several screenwriting books and screenplays out from the UCF library, including Terry Gilliam’s Brazil”. There you go, kids; if you pen a sub-par script directly inspired by a director’s masterpiece, he’ll eventually direct the adaptation of what you’ve written. It boggles the mind how the likes of Waltz, Swinton and Thewlis - actors who’ve all been in classic films with top-tier screenplays - read this and didn’t immediately reject it. To their credit, they all do the best they can with what they’re given and are still immensely watchable.

To be fair, it’s hard to lay much blame at Gilliam’s door. His world-building is second to none, and whilst the future dystopia he creates isn’t entirely original, it does feel like a fully fleshed-out place from the cumulative fifteen minutes or so we see of what’s outside Qohen’s dilapidated church dwellings. A meld of the smokey industrial gloom of 1984 and the bright saccharine hedonism of The Hunger Games’ Capitol, with a dash of omnipresent advertising, news, and tech, this future doesn’t feel so outlandish as to be a clear departure from the world we live in now. It’s actually worryingly prescient. But the fact that a filmmaker of Gilliam’s talents couldn’t at least polish a turd of a script into something interesting, if not, thrilling, is a real disappointment.

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