Despite attempts at carving himself a niche as Britain’s answer to Eminem, Professor Green has never once seemed dangerous or fiery. His neck tattoo belies of just how sanitised and palatable his music has been, never exemplified as much as on this latest album, Growing Up In Public. There’s far too much in common here with fellow quasi—rap star Example (who pops up like an unwanted zit on the dreary schmaltz of “Fast Life”) for Green to continue to be taken seriously as a musical prospect.
Despite having an eventful few years since his last album At You Convenicence in 2011 - being banned from driving, being mugged outside his home, getting married - very little of that potential interesting subject matter makes its way into Green’s lyrics. Instead the tracks seem divided into three flavours; painfully-eager-to-be-funny banter, self-obsessed bemoaning of the fame game, and stony-faced string-laden “realness”, all of which are neutered by Green’s nasal whine and basic flows. Even the production seems to give up most of the time, falling back on glossy but uninspiring commercially-viable dance, with nods to dub step and classic house.
As a basic, established pop-rapper, we can’t really expect Pro Green to be as innovative or creative as the likes of Kanye or Kendrick or spin harsh gritty narratives like Freddie Gibbs, but even so, this is an extremely poor, pallid effort. No wonder its released was delayed and pushed back so often.
Hollywood is probably one of the most alternately self-aggrandising and self-loathing institutions in the world. It absolutely loves to jerk itself off with one hand, whilst ripping its own hair out and punching itself with the other, resulting in the likes of, amongst others, Sunset Boulevard, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Entourage, The Player, Adaptation, Tropic Thunder, the interminable Canyons, All About Eve, and David Lynch’s two most recent films Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. But where this films are content with taking most pot-shots and throwing quick jabs, David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars comes out swinging at Tinseltown like The Bear Jew at so many Nazi soldiers.
But for the viciousness and bile Cronenberg and script writer Bruce Wagner serve at the LA city’s fame culture, it still feels a little like shooting dead fish in a barrel with a BB gun. Sure, the outrageous lines spouted by the small clutch of characters are likely ripped from real life encounters that Wagner has been a part of, but the character archetypes employed feel ancient - the wild child teen star, the desperate aging has-been, the wide-eyed ingenue, the constantly-auditioning wannabe - to the point where there’s little milage left in them. A 13 year old child actor with a drug habit calling his agent a ”Jew faggot” almost feels passé, like an aching-to-be-relevant transparent Justin Bieber analogue (despite the script being around long before Biebz’ late-teen meltdown), whilst an actress clinging to middle-age and deathly afraid of losing out on roles is pretty outmoded in an age when roughly 50% of the nominees for the female acting Oscars have been middle-aged and over.
It certainly doesn’t help that the narrative is equally as thin as the characters in it. Maps pieces itself together from a few intriguing strands which look like they might possibly build towards something, but instead just float in mid-air without anything particularly satisfactory happening. Curious elements like ghosts, incest and murder are mostly pulled from the conversation as soon as they’re thrown in, and if they happen to remain, they’re not built on. As a whole, the film rather odd and entertaining sure, but that’s not because of the writing or the directing, which are just simply flat. David Cronenberg is one of the most unique and strange filmmakers of the last 40-odd years, but lately he seems stuck on autopilot; this would be fine if he were still a body horror-obsessed auteur, but 2011’s A Dangerous Method, 2012’s Cosmopolis, and now Maps are nowhere near as visceral or interesting as even a standard piece of genre cinema like Eastern Promises. Overly sterile and filmed like an ugly network drama, we’re kept as too much of a distance from these characters - even as we get a front row seat to Julianne Moore shitting in a toilet, noises and all - and never really get a feel of what they’re truly like beyond some shallow characterisation.
As an aside, I have to make brief mention of a short scene which comes late in the film, a scene which includes some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in some time. Maps is a film that had a budget of $13 million, yet it seems that only $50 of that not-insignificant amount of money was allocated of visual effects. How anyone could’ve seen this scene and allowed it to be in the finished version is baffling.
Were it not for a tremendous anchoring performance from Moore (who appears to have transformed into Lindsay Lohan’s elder sister) as haunted and abused older actress Havanna Segrand, Maps would probably be an out-and-out failure. Moore is backed up great support from Mia Wasikowska (who’s building up quite a sterling highlight reel with her choice of roles recently) and Evan Bird as the infinitely punchable teen star terror Benji Weiss, who help provide a little spark and verve but not quite enough to move the film to punch above its weight. Of the actors in the tertiary roles, Robert Pattinson is hamstrung by a virtually tiny-if-important role, Olivia Williams phones it in as Benji’s typical monstrous Hollywood mother/manager, and John Cusack (face rendered rubbery and still presumably by plastic surgery) doesn’t have the outward, radiant charisma to pull off his role as a bullshitting celebrity self-help guru.
Perhaps, it was the sheer lure of the name of Cronenberg which drew such a stellar ensemble to the film, in spite of his recent output and such a messy script. Even as two hours of awful people being awful and saying awful things to one another, it pales in comparison to the likes of American Horror Story or Game Of Thrones. However it this a trip to the slightly darker side of a fictional Hollywood is a trip worth taking, if only for Moore’s performance (which won her the Best Actress award at Cannes) and for one of the odder cinematic experiences of the year.
At some point within the last decade, Halloween became a month-long celebration. It’s not even October and I’ve already been asked by several people what my costume will be and, worse yet, I already know. But whether or not you too have succumbed to the Halloween Industrial Complex, there is no better way to celebrate the spookiest time of the year than with King Tuff’s shtick-y new album, Black Moon Spell.
King Tuff has resurrected the bloated corpse of glam rock along with all of the flamboyance and none of the machismo of its first wave. The mastermind behind it all is Vermont-to-L.A. transplant Kyle Thomas, who has a knack for keeping a tight balance between goofy and grounded. His third and latest album is rife with visions of black cats and hexes backed by cartoonishly loud guitar riffs. It toes the line of kitsch with imagery straight out of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown but is held together by Thomas’s ability to be self-aware without being bitter and insincere.
He employs impressive technical skill while reviving classically simple lyricism. Standouts include the lead single, “Eyes Of The Muse”, which recalls hazy ‘70s summer jams with an added mystic twist, and “I Love You Ugly”, a twangy retro-pop track that sounds like a Schoolhouse Rock song with no educational value. While not necessarily the most memorable track, “Black Holes In Stereo” neatly distills the vibe of the entire album into a measly two minutes—like a Bowie song for children, Thomas sings about boys and girls from outer space and 45s falling from a UFO. Considering Thomas’s obvious vintage influences and his played up devil-may-care attitude, the song’s line “I learned more working at the record store than I ever did in high school” could be the album’s thesis statement.
Thomas’s talent for being intelligently cheesy has never been more apparent than it is on this album. There isn’t much range stylistically, so the album can get a little tiring by a certain point. But luckily Thomas is very skilled with the specific sound that he has crafted and because of that Black Moon Spell is still a good time all around.
It’s no surprise that Quentin Tarantino, a man who’s films often gleefully serve up more blood, guts, and gristle than a stack of horror DVDs, declared Big Bad Wolves to be his favourite film of the last year. Then again, those discovering QT’s fandom after the fact won’t be surprised, as the Israeli horror/thriller/black comedy meld is essentially the infamous ear-slicing scene from Reservoir Dogs beefed up to nearly two hours.
Despite some initial allusions to fairytales - especially in a slow-mo prologue which sees a game of hide-and-seek go horribly wrong - Big Bad Wolves quickly turns grim. A young girl is discovered (in more than one piece) in the woods in the latest case of a spate of grisly child murders, and for reasons which are never made clear, the prime suspect is Dror (Rotem Keinan), a scrawny, timid, bespectacled religious studies teacher; a man who barely looks able to hurt a fly, or lift the bike he rides to work, and who helps old ladies cross the road. Despite his seeming innocence, Dror is taken in by police and tortured by loose cannon cop Micki (Lio Ashkenazi), an act which is secretly filmed, resulting in Dror’s release and Micki’s firing. Incensed by this suspect’s release and the incompetence of the police, the girl’s father Gidi (Tzahi Grad), himself a retired military man, takes matters into his own hand and kidnaps both men to his cabin in the woods in order to, well, let’s say work through some stuff.
From here on in, the Tarantino flavour of the film escalates. Dror is has inflicted on him the very same tortures he’s said to have put the victims through; Gidi playing the Mr Blonde of the situation, taking restrained pleasure in using an array of devices on his captive, whilst Micki is the skeptic and sympathiser, eventually believing Dror’s repeated claims of innocence. It’s the dialogue and interplay between the three which really makes these scenes worthwhile and not just exercises in torture porn and sphincter-tightening cringes. Brisk and natural, but at the same time, stylised for comedic purposes when necessary, its screenplay could most certainly be adapted into a three-person stage play with some minor remoulding.
But for the deadpan, ink-black laughs to be had - a poisoned cake being baked to the sounds of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”, ‘bring you child to work’ day at a police station, a crazed torturer with the an outward appearance that’s downright grandfatherly, from oversized glasses to a shawl collar - it’s not long after them that you feel a large cloud of guilt hover over you for finding humour in such terrible micro and macro situations, situations which happen all too often in real life. Sure, it helps keep tension in the proceedings, but it’d be hard to describe such gags as appealing.
Not only does the comedic element of the film fast become potentially off-putting (depending on disposition), but if writer-director team Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado had a particular message they wanted to impart, it’s not entirely evident. Like its stony-faced US counterpart Prisoners, Big Bad Wolves doesn’t really come down on either side of the ethics of torture argument. The political subtext of the film is clear to anyone remotely familiar with The War On Terror and contemporary middle-east conflicts (a lone Arab man is literally seen on a high horse on a few occasions just to make things a little more obvious), but it feels like Keshales & Papushado are just throwing it out there in a “#madeuthink” kind of way, without ever building or commenting on such acts. That, and that the camera tends to linger a few frames too long and with a little too much glee on the barbaric acts committed in that cabin basement. For what it’s worth, the film’s final seconds left me a little cold as well; they could have been left out and if anything improved the film, retaining the ambiguity of the preceding 110 minutes, instead of being a rather flat reveal.
All in all, even if Big Bad Wolves. doesn’t reach the heady praise of his “best film of 2013”, fans of Tarantino will be pleased to see he’s endorsing films of higher quality (although similar themes) than Eli Roth’s oeuvre, and Keshales & Papushado have marked themselves out as names to watch within the genre world, with a bleak, murky but thought-provoking film.
It’s 2014 and at this point we’ve endured roughly thirteen years of Zach Braff in the public eye. But for a career nearing a decade and a half, Braff’s resume is pretty thin; dominated by Scrubs and Garden State, with a handful of voice roles, romcom leads and winky fanservice cameos (looking at you, Cougar Town). Perhaps this scarcity of involvement in, well, anything at all really, is the reason behind Braff’s Kickstarter pleas to help fund Wish I Was Here, his second feature film and maintain the final cut; apparently he doesn’t have £2 million of his own to throw at what is at best an ill-advised passion project and at worst, cinematic auto-fellatio forming some sort of un-aesthetically-pleasing twee ouroboros.
Wish I Was Here functions very much as a rejigged version of Braff’s first film. Instead of a down-on-his-luck struggling single actor, Braff now plays down-on-his-luck struggling married actor with kids Adian Bloom. Instead of stumbling across romance with a remarkably patient woman, he’s married to one (Kate Hudson). Instead of his mother dying, this time it’s the father stricken with terminal cancer (Mandy Patinkin). What we have here is Garden State 2: Garden Harder. Now far be it for me to criticise a writer/director revisiting the same themes in their work, but in Braff’s case it’s so blatant and feels so phoney, especially when the thing that kicks off the plot here is money troubles. When Aidan’s father reveals his battle with cancer is a losing one, and is choosing to stop paying for the expensive private yeshiva school Aidan and wife Sarah’s kids (Joey King of White House Down and Pierce Gagnon of Looper) attend in order to pursue experimental treatment, the family is forced to reconsider their options. Considering Sarah is the only breadwinner in a job she despises, whilst Aidan goes from failed audition to failed audition, the situation looks bleak. But for a multi-millionaire Hollywood resident like Braff, none of these things have really been a problem since the early ‘00s, making the film’s plot feel as hollow as one of those songs rock bands write about the trials of working-class life long after they’ve all moved to the city and formed drug habits.
Even worse is the fact these apparently insurmountable obstacles all kind of fade into the background and resolve themselves as Wish I Was Here trundles on. The money worries slip from focus, Aidan’s father shuffles off his mortal coil in remarkably peaceful fashion, his apparently eccentric and troublesome brother (played by Josh Gad, and who happens to be a blogger - who seemingly just makes lewd Twitter replies to Miley Cyrus - in the most unsubtle sly dig a creator has taken at their critics in recent memory) takes the news well and works through his other problems on his own, whilst Aidan’s supposedly unruly kids are only so when the script requires them to be and are easily fixed with disingenuous life lessons from pop.
As a director, Braff is solid but unremarkable, but the guy is clearly still stuck in the world of sitcoms as a writer - everything is played so broadly, whether it’s soul-searching in the wilderness or unnecessary quirkiness (cosplayers having sex in costume, sub-Scrubs fantasy cutaways, Rabbis on Segways) or tiresomely easy jokes. Wish I Was Here just straining so hard to be enlightening and feel-good; breathy recitals of Eliot and Frost poems, montages backed by indie-rock, fantastically terrible lines like “God can be whoever you want Him to be”, ironic slow-motion walks towards the camera… It’s no wonder Braff couldn’t get this thing funded through the regular channels without losing the final cut. I mean, props to him for having a vision and wanting to realise that fully without interference, but when two hours of film produce exactly two worthwhile moments - the major one being an early scene which finds Aidan at an audition for a minor TV part which has been recast for an African-American actor, with a waiting room of familiar faces like the late James Avery and Leslie David Baker (better known as Stanley from The Office), muttering banal dialogue to themselves; one complains that he once played Othello, another responds “We all did” - and one of which is the writer/director/star being punched in the face, the vision did not need to be realised.
Pop-punk is an odd phenomenon. When bands like Green Day and The Offspring broke big in the mid ’90s, there were legions of sneering punk purists waiting for the fad to fizzle out. Of course, it did, but once these giants of the genre started to fade away, a new crop of bands, led by Blink-182 and backed by major record labels, began to take their place on the cover of Kerrang! and on the walls of teenagers everywhere. When these bands started to lose face, Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco took the ball and ran with it, adding eyeliner and melodramatic lyrics to pop-punk’s four-chord repertoire.
This cycle is likely to repeat forever, because, let’s face it; there is something intangible about pop-punk that appeals to every suburban outcast teenager. The latest pretenders to pop-punk’s paper crown are Gnarwolves, three skaters from Cornwall who have made a name for themselves through the good old fashioned method of touring their collective arse off. It seems to have paid off, as playing at every possible opportunity has caused their audience grow to the point where they are signed to Pure Noise Records and a spot at Reading festival. Could this, the band’s full length debut, be their Dookie or Enema Of The State?
Well, unfortunately for their bank balances, no. This is more of their Kerplunk! or their Buddah. Gnarwolves have not comprised the harder elements of their sound. Don’t get it twisted: Gnarwolves have evolved as songwriters, bringing some of their songs to an almost proggy three minutes, rather than their furious blasts of punk from before. But that big, chartbusting rock album sound is not where Gnarwolves are at now.
That is, of course, a good thing for fans of the bands previous material. Gnarwolves don’t stray far from the path that has brought them the smiling adulation of the UK’s small venue dwelling adolescents and 20-somethings that refuse to grow up. Gnarwolves prove that they have no intentions of shying away from the hardcore influences that made them such a thrilling live act, as the album opener “Prove It”, erm, proves, with its jolting blasts of distorted chords that kick into an appropriately speedy number about getting up off your arse and not complaining. This hardcore influence is perhaps most evident on the hidden track, which is colloquially known amongst the band as “The Hardcore Song”, and is essentially one long breakdown, but the influence is apparent throughout the rest of the album too. The whole of their debut is played at a ferocious pace, which very rarely pauses for thought, and breakdowns are plentiful.
Of course, Gnarwolves have never been a band that is likely to tell you that they “WANNNA SEE SOME PEOPLE MOVING!” in a stupid fake macho American accent. These Cornish punkers still wear their poppier influence like a badge of honour. Gnarwolves love to write a good hook, and they are abundant throughout this album. Perhaps this is most apparent on songs such as the pre-album single “Smoking Kills”, which contains not one, not two, but THREE refrains that rudely kick the doors of that part of your brain that remembers songs in and moves in for a good few days. Meanwhile, “Hate Me (Don’t Stand Still)” packs more memorable vocal melodies into three and a half minutes than some of most of the critically acclaimed albums of 2014 combined.
Perhaps the music is secondary in a lot of fans mind to the bands lyrics, which tackle every single problem involved with growing up and getting old. Yes, yes, there’s a prevailing sense of overcoming strife in the face of hopelessness, blah blah blah, but what is really amazing is that Gnarwolves have reduced these sentiments into easily shoutable slogans. This is not to discredit Thom Weeks as a lyricist: personally, I think good editing is a great skill to have, especially considering creative people’s predisposition to disappear up their own arse and get lost in metaphors that would make a GCSE poetry student cringe. For example, despite reams and reams having being previously written about using alcohol to escape your problems, nothing is more fitting with Gnarwolves “play it as fast and simply as you can” philosophy than “if we start drinking heavily, the walls might stop shrinking”. Meanwhile, the aforementioned single “Smoking Kills” gets to the root of the bands problems, when Thom declares “we are the product of a broken class but/we weren’t raised to be fucking morons”, which could perfectly sum up the thoughts of a generation trying to find a place for themselves in the midst of a recession.
Despite their lyrics pissed off and often despondent nature, Gnarwolves aren’t exactly advocating Sid Viscious style nihilism: in fact, they put people who give up firmly in their place on “Prove It”, with lines such as “By all means be a slob, lie around and quit your job/life goes on regardless of your protesting that it does”. It is completely unsentimental, but it exactly what tonnes of kids who have had their dreams shafted in the wake of mistakes made by people old enough to know better need to hear.
In all honesty, there isn’t a lot to say about this music (frankly, you’re a sucker for reading a thousand words about it). It’s simple, to the point, and doesn’t stray too far from the beaten path that was laid out in the 1980s. The thing is, Gnarwolves do what they do very, very well, and are far more deserving pretenders to the pop-punk throne than a whole shedload of other bands that lack the grit to warrant the “-punk” suffix. Gnarwolves have captured the angst of growing up in a raw way that relates more to early Blink and the Descendents than most of the tired old ’90s bands who continue to sing about teenage angst well into their 40s. Ultimately, if you don’t like pop-punk for what it is, this won’t change your mind – but if you do, to use an old cliché, this band could be your life.
It was during San Diego Comic-Con 2012 that Guardians Of The Galaxy was announced. Alongside Marvel Studios’ reveals of the then-upcoming sequels Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World, this third announcement came as a total surprise. The logo and concept art of the titular Marvel C-listers was baffling to many, who had expected a safer bet in the comic book giants’ expansion of their cinematic universe; the various iterations of the Guardians have by no means been a big name in comic books at large. Their inclusion in Marvel’s ever-expanding plans delighted fans of the colourful worlds of cosmic comics, but it seemed a risky play nonetheless. How on earth could a talking tree and a bipedal raccoon win over the movie audience, the majority of which had never picked up a comic book?
Yet here we are, two years later and the James Gunn-directed movie is a smash hit critically and commercially, beyond even the most positive of expectations. Groot and Rocket Raccoon are household names. The soundtrack went to Number 1 in the Billboard 200. The characters and stories that were previously locked away in the oft-esoteric world of comic books are everywhere, and more popular than ever. I’m a comic book reader through-and-through, yet prior to the 2012 announcement I had never read any of the Guardians titles, excluding the occasional crossover issue during a larger event. I began to read the comics, the eventual trailers got me excited, yet I went into the cinema still feeling unconvinced. I have to admit I hated Iron Man 3 with a passion, and I feared the same brand of unrelenting, hollow one-liners would weigh this movie down. However, my uncertainty quickly evaporated, and by about halfway through the film I was in love.
A short, emotionally charged opening scene of childhood trauma and alien abduction is the only real “origin story” we’re offered - and that’s the story of our primary protagonist, earthling Peter Quill, or “Star-Lord”, as he calls himself. That’s a huge breath of fresh air in this film - the Guardians aren’t grounded by the same untouchable lore as characters like Batman or Spider-Man. This lets the film move at breakneck pace, introducing each new character with the zany abandon. World-building is established in the background, quickly revealed in a sentence. We’re there, we’re on an adventure, we’re not spoon-fed exposition. Here’s a talking raccoon with a gun, his buddy is a tree. Enjoy.
The entire roster is likeable, fascinating and dynamic. Chris Pratt excels as the charismatic, cocky and hilarious Star-Lord, channelling Indiana Jones and Marty McFly in equal measure. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is badass, a character filled with conflict between the cold ways of her “father” Thanos (a cameo from Josh Brolin) and the warmth of new friendship. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are fantastic as the weirdest members of the group, the mo-capped Rocket Raccoon (just called ‘Rocket’ in the film) and Groot, respectively; Cooper hits some brilliant emotional notes as the bitter escapee biological experiment, and Vin Diesel brings us the most loveable and kind-hearted tree of 2014 with just three words. Finally, we have the character I was the least optimistic about, but enjoyed the most. Former WWE champion Dave Bautista is hilarious as Drax the Destroyer, a muscle-bound behemoth with some of the best laughs in the film and a touching moment of compassion in the finale.
However, in terms of villains, the film could do better. Lee Pace is a great physical threat as Kree zealot Ronan The Accusor, but both he and Karen Gillan’s Nebula are rather generic villains, luckily balanced out by an utterly brilliant antihero - space-redneck (technically blueneck) pirate Yondu, played wonderfully by previous Gunn collaborator and former Walking Dead star Michael Rooker.
To be honest, it’s difficult to be critical of a film where I spent 90% of the running time grinning like an idiot. It’s colourful, it’s imaginative, and it’s good-hearted. It really felt like a film that will be remembered as a classic among bombastic space operas, rather than a dreary, needless, entirely commercial expansion of a Disney property (Thor: The Dark World, I’m looking at you). This is how you make a comic book movie full of weird characters - you play it straight. This is the secret of Guardians Of The Galaxy’s resounding, unlikely success. It doesn’t downplay anything, it doesn’t aim for “grittiness” or “realism”; it instead embraces the “comic book” part of “comic book movie”. I can only hope that the sequel knocks it out of the park again, and we get another soundtrack this great. Now I need to listen to “The Piña Colada Song” again.
Hector And The Search For Happiness is a non-Cornetto Trilogy, non-franchise Simon Pegg film, so conventional wisdom would say it’s likely not good. Conventional wisdom is entirely correct. Pegg’s career choices away from the sweet embrace of Edgar Wright and JJ Abrams have not exactly set the world alight. Tending towards unchallenging light comedy roles and voice acting, he’s cemented his place as a go-to everyman in spite of being an actor of fine talent and wide range. Perhaps the sheer awfulness of Hector And The Search For Happiness might be a wake-up call to branch out a little more.
Hector is yet another “wealthy white person travels to find themselves” film, joining the interminable likes of Eat, Pray, Love and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, using countries and cultures and people around the world as “exotic” window-dressing for a mid-life crisis of a milquetoast psychiatrist. As Hector decides his affluent Thames-side life and successful relationship aren’t enough for him to feel fulfilled, he jets across the globe in search of self-discovery. First to China to party with a loaded business man (Stellan Skarsgård) and a suspiciously affectionate local woman (Ming Zhao), then a non-specific African nation to help out in a village hospital and befriend a drug lord (Jean Reno), and on and on. As he goes, he notes down realisations about life and everything in it in a journal (dotted with frequently-animating cutesy drawings and doodles) which border on fortune cookie level of bland. “Avoiding unhappiness is not happiness”, “Listening is loving”, “People who are afraid of death are afraid of life”, “Sometimes happiness is not knowing the full story”; not even the worst Disney output descends to this level of cod-philosophical aphorism. That last bon mot is particularly awful as it comes when Hector discovers that his Chinese crush is in actuality a high-end call girl with a decidedly shitty life. So the only lesson this 40-something manchild takes away from the situation is that it sucks someone was paid to like him for a night…
Quite what persuaded a roster of acting talent like Pegg, Pike, Toni Collette, Skarsgård, Reno, and Christopher Plummer to partake in this empty soul-searching wank is beyond me. It’s poverty tourism writ large, insultingly insinuating that people who struggle and survive in non-white, non-western places somehow hold the big secret to happiness. African villages and Tibetan monasteries don’t exist to inspire bring meaning to the life of some guy who makes more in a year than they will in a lifetime, but apparently when presented in a bargain-bin cinematic parable, that’s okay. If there’s one saving grace, it’s the women of the film who’re actually given characters; namely Hector’s partner (Pike) and his ex (Collette). Both tear Hector a new one for being so idiotic in his “quest” and adequately sum up every problem an audience could have with this feckless manchild. However Pike’s ridiculously tolerant girlfriend is basically what misogynists think is a male fantasy brought to life (webcam conversations in lingerie, orgasming punctually during sex, no interest in marriage or children - which is apt as she basically serves as Hector’s mother figure too, packed lunch and all) which unfortunately negates any positives of her character.
After reaching some remarkably affecting emotional depths in The World’s End, it’s genuinely baffling that Pegg could pull such a 180° turn and make something so shallow and reductionary.
A mighty fine rule of thumb is that nothing with the word “origins” in the title will ever be much cop. Another good rule is that releases from WWE Studios are uniformly shite. Of course, there are exceptions to both - the first Dragon Age game for the former, Oculus and The Call for the latter - but in general, they’re to be avoided.
The two rules absolutely prove true with Leprechaun: Origins, the seventh film in the series and the first in eleven years. Quite why WWE thought it a good idea to revive a long dormant, cult-concern-only franchise is something known only to them. That said, Origins deserves some praise for at least trying to be a proper horror film. Taking a sharp swerve away from its comedic Warwick Davis-starring forbears, Origins reshapes the titular tiny terror (now played by WWE’s Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl) as a feral beast, an inhuman creature that feasts solely on attractive 20-something American backpackers with more in common with the cave-dwellers of The Descent than a cheery cereal mascot. Despite this rebooting of the franchise, there’s little to differentiate this from any other bog-standard “protagonists get picked off” horror, other than the faux-Irish flavouring. Apparently, everyone in Ireland is middle-aged, greying, wears a flat cap and braces, and sits in a remote pub in the middle of the day; the film didn’t even bother going to Ireland to film, instead deciding Vancouver is a good substitute.
You don’t even need to watch the film to call its spots; a pre-credits death of unnamed monster fodder, hapless protagonists stumble across locals who turn out to be malicious and are told of some evil and/or mysterious thing, a literal cabin in the woods (a trope which really should be banned after Cabin In The Woods), a jump-scare, an initial confrontation with the creature, someone goes down into a basement, the group separates, they get picked off, blah, blah, etc, etc. To be fair to the filmmakers, they do a decent job of keeping the leprechaun off-screen and in the shadows to maximise its scare potential, a la the xenomorph in Alien, although one suspects this may be down to the shoddiness of the practical effects - I’ve seen Nikki Bella dropkicks that were more convincing - and the extreme suspension of disbelief that something no more than three feet tall and all skin & bone could be such an effective killing machine. As such, there are very few real scares to be had and only one or two notable moments of gore (involving gold piercings). Such scrimping on the necessary elements for a successful horror could be excused if the rest of the film wasn’t so poorly made in every regard, from effects to cinematography to screenplay to direction, sound and acting. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that even the catering on set was below par.
For every masterstroke in Rick Rubin’s back catalogue - Run DMC’s cover of “Walk This Way”, Johnny Hurt’s output in his twilight years, Yeezus, Adele’s 21, every System Of A Down album - there are more than a few stinkers in there too. The man Dr Dre called “hands down, the dopest producer ever that anyone would ever want to be, ever” has been behind the production desk for some truly risible records from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Mick Jagger, Linkin Park, Jake Bugg and Lady Gaga in recent years, and unfortunately his request that Australian brother/sister folk duo-gone-solo Angus & Julia Stone reunite for another album will have to go down as red in Rubin’s ledger.
What the super-producer saw in the siblings’ music is beyond me. Maybe he felt he needed to the sonic equivalent of a bog-standard Instagram post to his resume. It’s pretty and bewitching in the way a lot of folksy indie-pop is, but it’s more sanitised and safe than a mysophobe’s bathroom. The languorous, soft-focus nature of much of the record is just too saccharine for my tastes; there’s no edge to anything here, and no hints of darkness or heartbreak or any real emotion past ennui. It’s a smooth, clean sound which would likely sell millions of units with the right exposure, but that exposure would have to be to middle-aged people who’re fed palatable new music through the soundtracks of adverts and commercials, or those very strange people who say they don’t like music (seriously, that genuinely doesn’t compute with my tiny reviewer’s brain).
It comes as no surprise that the siblings have previously worked with Fran Healy of Travis and supported the ultimate white dude with dreads Newton Faulkner, as this album falls squarely into both those acts’ wheelhouse of being pleasant and melodic, but little more. I guess we can thank Rubin for bringing the pair back together so we don’t have to suffer through two separate albums of such beige guff.