Daredevil Series 2: Review

Daredevil Series 2

(Spoilers. BIG FAT SPOILERS!)

 

(Spoilers – seriously)

With me now having a job that gets me home before half past five on weekdays, the opportunities to binge-watch television series have never been so ripe, and the stars were clearly aligned when Netflix released Daredevil in its entirety on Friday. Pyjamas were on, takeaway was ordered and I was settled down in a duvet mountain all before half past six.

I’m not going to bore you by reviewing each individual episode in turn, mainly because spoiling each individual episode in turn is a bit rude and you probably don’t really care that much about this review enough to read 13 separate breakdowns. Alas this will be a review of the series as a whole and feel free to yell or argue in the comments below because who doesn’t love internet keysmashing.

We start where we left off in the first series. Fisk is off the streets and in jail, Nelson and Murdock are still a struggling, though now infamous, law firm, but as predicted Fisk’s incarceration has created a power vacuum in Hell’s Kitchen. A vacuum in which Kitchen Irish, the Cartel and the Dogs of Hell are battling to fill through various methods of intimidation and violence.

Series 2 wastes no time in introducing the Punisher into the mix. The Irish are brutally gunned down by an unseen assailant assumed to be an army of men but turns out to just be one man. Frank Castle. It’s all neatly done with Frank’s face unseen until the very end of the first episode but it is a bit bloody obvious who it is in the first place. This kicks off the first major arc of the series, and the first major philosophical questioning of Matt’s/Daredevil’s methods of justice in comparison to the Punisher’s more bold and aggressive methods of termination. Kudos must be given to Jon Bernthal because holy moly mother of God. As a big Punisher fan I was mildly reticent when Bernthal was cast. Having only really known him from The Walking Dead where he played that piece of shit Shane, I didn’t know if he could carry off the Frank Castle I was hoping for and expecting. But, fuck me, I was so wrong. He absolutely owns the part. While he doesn’t match the comic version of Frank in terms of stature, his physicality is still impressive; he looks like a man who was has fought all his life, he has the swagger of a man with a purpose, and in the moments of calm introspection he brings a gravitas and emotional resonance (see episode 3 for the rooftop scenes and episode 4 graveyard scene). He and Ray Stevenson will now have to arm wrestle to decide who the best Punisher is.

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The fight sequences are as vicious as usual, both men bleed and groan (LIKE NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS), both get hurt, and the scenes are surprisingly (in a good way) economical. We don’t get unrealistic 10 minute fight scenes for the sake of it, to show off some fancy camera trickery or to show how good the stuntmen are. We get short, sharp shocks of cruel violence and it’s all the more potent for it (Episode 9 in particular has a particularly astounding fight scene in a prison). The writers wisely keep this philosophy throughout the series and, while this is undoubtedly a violent piece of television, the scenes themselves never feel like they overstay their welcome (compare that to the end fight sequence from Man Of Steel where I left the cinema with blunt force trauma after been visually assaulted for about 25 minutes).

The main Punisher arc finishes as quickly as it seemed to come and for me this is where series 2 lost a little bit of its focus. Elektra (Elodie Yung) is swiftly introduced and a rash of links of events in series 1 begin to reveal themselves. Fisk, Nobu (!) and Stick all emerge from the sidelines to muddy the waters of some sort of conspiracy. Then we have another murky unknown baddie called The Blacksmith who seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s all a little bit too much. While in series 1 we had our conspiracies and dirty dealings, they all lead to one major source in Wilson Fisk. He was the main antagonist, the main focus for our love/hate/whatever floats your boat, the spider in the middle of the web as it were. However, in series 2 there is just so much hovering in the background (post episode 5 / 6 especially) it is hard to know where to look or focus. We have Elektra, we still have the Punisher (who makes a welcome return to the fold further on), we have Fisk, we have Stick (who may or may not be a good egg), we have Nobu, we have The Blacksmith, we have The Hand, we have something called Black Sky that is randomly referenced about 3 episodes from the end, we have a massive hole in the ground that is seen but never referred to again. And i understand we need to have a puzzle, a loose thread in the weave, but we also need a locus and we get no indication by the end of the series what exactly that is.

Elektra’s arc is nicely played if a tad underwhelming on the whole. I don’t think this is a fault of the actress (Yung nails it) but the writing is rather clunky and a lot of her scenes feel extraneous. I did enjoy the flashbacks with her and Matt in college, showing us Matt’s less than perfect moral compass as a student and his weakness when it comes to women.

 

The series hits its stride again once Fisk joins the proceedings. D’Onofrio is, as per usual, as absolute juggernaut and it was nice to see in a spoilerific world of the internet that I can still be completely caught off guard. The scenes between Fisk and Frank fizzle with tension and the distrust between the two men is palpable. Bernthal holds his own however, and while he doesn’t say much during their exchanges, you know exactly what he is thinking.

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We also learn more about Frank’s backstory through Karen’s own investigative poking about after she is hired by Ellison to take Ulrich’s (oh Ben) role as researcher for the newspaper. Frank and Karen’s relationship one of the most interesting ones to develop in this series, as she fights for Frank’s humanity, desperate to believe that there is more to him than just violence and hatred, while he simultaneously thwarts her attempts to do so. Whether it be out of respect for her or loneliness he lets her occasionally with some deftly played discussions about love and redemption, but soon shuts it down before she gets too close (see the diner scene).

Like a drunk man on stilts, the series wobbles at the end. So much is stuffed into the last two episodes it feels like you’ve gorged on a box of Ferrero Rocher then nicked a box of Quality Street. You feel like sick, probably got diabetes and you are no further forward with your life. We are left with very little closure, the bad guys Matt has been fighting throughout the series are still there when the credits roll, Frank has one vaguely cheesy moment and then stalks off into the night; yeah, The Blacksmith was disposed of but he was probably the tip of a very large iceberg. The only thing I really got from the last two episodes is Matt’s decision to give in a little bit more to his Daredevil persona and less to his Matt Murdock lawyer persona, and while that does set up things juicily for series 3, it feels like a bit thin for 2 hours of television.

Overall, the second series of Daredevil is a success on the most part. The pacing problems inherited from series one are still present and the finale was a little on the rushed and underwhelming side, but the pros outweigh the cons. The Punisher was fantastically done, Matt’s struggle with his own identity and persona added an interesting sharp edge to his friendship with Foggy and relationship with Karen and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the third series, Foggy was a delight as always and it was nice to see him strike out on his own instead of being at Matt’s beck and call, the inclusion of Fisk was a masterstroke, and the fight sequences were bone-crunchingly good as always.

★★★★☆
Best episodes 3, 4, 8, 9.

Five Films That Should Have Ruined A Franchise But Didn’t

5. Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift

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It’s hard to believe we are now on the cusp of being eight films into this behemoth of a franchise and, with films nine and ten reportedly already being outlined, it shows absolutely no signs of stopping. But it all could have been so different after the release of an utter skidmark of a third film. Somehow they managed to suck all of the stupid joy of meatheads barreling along in souped up cars and shoehorn some pathetic piss-baby story about a young man finding love and acceptance through streetcar racing. Some of the race scenes are undoubtedly thrilling, but the pace is jarring, the acting is so wooden you could probably chisel a good chest of drawers out of it, and by bringing back none of the actors from the previous films (expect Vin Diesel, who pops up in a rubbish cameo) it makes this film feel completely out of sync with the rest of the series. The team behind F&F have upped their game since, shrewdly nudging the films to be more action/heist based propositions and dropping in some heavyweight names (Kurt Russell, Jason Statham), meaning that the latest instalment has punched through that blessed $1 billion dollar mark.

 
4. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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Oh Hugh, Hugh, Hugh, Hugh. Everyone loves Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine. Everyone. Even people who hate superhero/comic book films think he is a good Wolverine, and if they don’t then they are beyond help, but dearest Hugh tested all our goodwill with this horrendous instalment in the X-Men franchise. All the hallmarks of a dud were there from the start, an incomplete script at the start of filming (which only works for Ridley Scott and, for him, only about 35% of the time), bad scheduling and general production troubles; then butting of heads between director and the production company, piracy of a non-theatrical release version. All in all, it was an utter state.  Fox, however, did learn their lesson from this steaming mess, shelving plans for any further ‘Origin’ stories (Magneto was mooted but then cancelled) and started a sneaky rejigging of the franchise by using First Class and Days of Future Past to make Origins an unessential and grubby footmark. Wolverine finally did eventually get a half decent stand alone film, but Origins stands alone as a brilliant example of how not to do a comic book film.

 

3. Saw III

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*raises hand* I admit now that I am a big fan of the first Saw film and the second film was an entertaining, gory attempt to further the myth of Jigsaw. Saw III is where I draw the line; where I felt the novelty wear off and I was dulled to the tricksy traps and gratuitous gore. The introduction of Amanda (Shawnee Smith) showed us the thought process of the film’s producers. By introducing a disciple-esque character with an unwavering dedication to Jigsaw’s vision and someone who was quite happy to continue it on the producers set up the Jigsaw universe to survive without Jigsaw himself. It was all very cynical and all very rubbish, to be honest. Saw III itself was a muddled half job, exceedingly dull and convoluted beyond belief, and the franchise never recovered. Yeah, it made a huge chunk of cash over the course of its 7 (and possibly 8) films, but it never reached those dizzy heights of actually being good ever again.

 
2. Live Free or Die Hard (Die Hard 4)

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More like Live Farce and Die Hard, amirite? Die Hard 4 (I can’t be arsed with its longer moniker) was something that should have been just talked about and not acted upon. It has left a smelly little stain on a once great trilogy and spawned another furiously bad fifth film which was somehow worse. And now someone has decided it would a great move to make a prequel to the entire franchise. What irks me the most about Die Hard 4 is that it diluted all the great elements of the previous three films (the snark, the writing, John McClane’s humanity) and created something so infuriatingly generic in its execution. Die Hard 4 has nothing to set it apart from any other crappy post 2000 action film, the writing is flat, the action sequences themselves are riddled and soiled by shitty CGI, and Willis looks bored (and that’s in the decent scenes). Die Hard with Vengeance is the last Die Hard film for me, and will stay that way for a long time yet.

1. Highlander 2: The Quickening

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Highlander is my catnip. Highlander 2: The Quickening is my Kryptonite. I become so weak with despair whenever it is mentioned that I crumple to floor before crawling away to the nearest darkened room to collect my thoughts. Every terrible thing you have heard about The Quickening is true. It is an utter shambles. It dismantles the good stuff from the first film and grinds it into a dust. The Quickening goes as far as to re-write and ruin the origins of the Immortals, turning it into nonsense that even James Joyce would be proud of. Sean Connery inexplicably reappears (for the money probably) even though that should be theoretically impossible. But this film basically says fuck to everything. The creators clearly felt guilty about releasing this lung spore of the devil onto the general public that they made a third film, and a fourth, and a fifth, and then a naff tv series. There’s also been a couple of animated series, a Japanese anime film (!), and various games and merchandise thrown in there for good measure. Do yourself a favour. Start with the first. End with the first.

 

There can be only one.

The Naff Nic Season: The Wicker Man (2006)

(112 Minutes, Rated 12A)

What can I say about 2006 version of The Wicker Man that hasn’t already been said? It’s already been mauled by critics and skewered like a shish kebab by various other articles; the general public even agree that it is an absolute stinker of a film hence its appearance at number 2 on the Naff Nic Bottom Five. I, myself, have seen this film on a couple of occasions since its release and, if my memory serves me correctly, I was a slightly inebriated in both instances. You should all thank me then that for the purposes of this challenge I have watched The Wicker Man stone cold sober. I even managed not to drink after the conclusion of the film, not just because I didn’t have any in the house, but mainly because I was concerned I would have drunken nightmares about BEES (oh god, not the bees!).

 

The basic premise of The Wicker Man is very similar to the original with a few subtle changes. While Edward Woodward’s Sgt Howie was a devoutly religious copper sent to Summerisle to investigate a missing child, Nicolas Cage’s Edward Malus is a copper on the trail of a child after his ex wife has informed him and said child turns out to be his daughter (oh I  love a shitty pointless modern twist). Now here is where I feel the remake made its first major misstep. The importance of Sgt Howie’s religious beliefs in the original Wicker Man is absolutely paramount to the horror that unfolds as we watch the residents of Summerisle challenge and strip away everything that he holds dear to him; his beliefs, his then previously unquestioned dedication to the Christian God, his life, until he is nothing but a pawn in their game of sacrifice. The remake, for some reason, completely misses the point of this and goes down some strange Salem witch shit route and Sister Summersisle (they somehow got Ellen Burstyn involved in this) spouts some spiel about their little Pagan commune being mainly female due to their own version of twisted Darwinism. It’s not frightening, nor does it really make an sense.

And we continue down this nonsensical route for the next hour and forty minutes or a bit less if you got really bored of watching this shoddy, apparent ‘horror’ film and turned the television off.

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However, if we rewind a little bit, take a deep breath, and start again, watching this time through a comedic lens, we will actually find slivers of enjoyment in this massive overcooked cake of dump.

Some of the dialogue is utterly astonishing in its absurdity and I’m pretty sure some of it could be used as a backing loop in a Lemon Jelly song. We all know the howling bees line, the ‘HOW DID IT GET BURNED!’ scene has made it into countless memes and cut into various youtube videos (Nic Cage’s very own screaming goat moment), and ‘KILLING ME WON’T BRING BACK YOUR GODDAMN HONEY!’ deserves an award for its bizarreness. However, the line that got me the most was in the scene in which Malus spots two men carrying a bag dripping blood, his detective radar beeps and he floors them with his aggressive interrogation which amounts to him saying ‘What’s in the bag? A shark or something?’ The delivery is Derek Zoolander-esque, deadly serious with no hint of how ludicrous his sounds, and it makes you wonder if Nicolas Cage was off his tits when he read this script.

There is also some beautiful physical comedy on show. The scene where Cage punches a grown woman in the face while he is dressed as a bear will definitely go down in the top 5 funny things someone has done in a animal costume (Ace Ventura still takes the top spot with his emergence from a rhino anus).

My complaint about Cage’s acting in Left Behind can go out the window where The Wicker Man is concerned. A lot of the joy in watching The Wicker Man comes from watching the man himself. He spends most of the film borderline hysterical, screaming at women and bees, while he is being mugged off and undermined by the inhabitants of the island. Nuance does not exist here. This is the googly eyed realm of yelling shit lines, and I cannot deny that it is bloody entertaining to watch Cage stomp around, pointing his gun and screeching at people to get off bikes. The bee scene is particularly iconic and Cage gives it his all, probably popping some blood vessels in the process. Yes, this film is pure garbage but Cage brings the fireworks and stops this film from being truly unmemorable.

The other characters are so underdrawn that they were probably sketched out on rice paper and then threw in the bin yet somehow they got some pretty decent acting talent involved (LeeLee Sobieski, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker). But they are little more than tiny moons orbiting around planet Cage.

What galls me the most is the fact that director/screenwriter Neil LaBute can direct and write a decent black comedy. Nurse Betty was a fantastic, sharp piece of work, and Fat Pig was a biting takedown of our obsession with weight. If he had gone the same way with The Wicker Man then we could have had a half decent film on our hands but instead he went down the pure ‘horror’ route, using dull and basic ‘twists’ (the missing child being the daughter) without imbuing them with any sense of meaning as to how this affects proceedings, and hysterical set pieces which are meant to scare us but do little but make us roll our eyes or just make us laugh.

The Wicker Man is a film that should be watched drunk. It is the only way to get a vague sense of enjoyment without the fury of what could have been if someone had just been wise enough to say ‘no, wait, this is actually shit’, or ‘hey Neil, shall we just make this a comedy instead?’ Watching it sober has not improved my life in any way so i’ll be sure to have a bottle of Bailey’s nearby the next time I’m so bored that I’m tempted to watch this again for the fourth time.
IMDB rating: 3.6

My rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (as a horror)

My rating: ★★☆☆☆ (as a comedy)

In Defence of Jason Statham

Before you aggressively stab the ‘back’ button on your browser please hear me out. I’m not going to try and convince you that Jason Statham is the Laurence Olivier of our time or that he should have won an Oscar for his work in Furious 7 (or Fast and Furious 7 or whatever it wants to call itself on any given day). However, I am going to attempt to make you understand why he is one of my favourite actors working today.

There is a strange sense of snobbery when it comes to Statham and his films. Much of his work is dismissed as vacuous noise, blurs of movement and scowling and sparse, grumbled dialogue of little to no consequence. But how is this any different to Steven Seagal’s bobbins output; Under Siege aside, Seagal has never done anything half decent, the bloke is essentially a leather jacketed, oaken wardrobe who became sentient after a sorcerer lost a bet. And don’t even get me started on Chuck Norris. There is just something eternally wonderful about watching Statham. His beautiful bald head, with his stern, furrowed expression, bobbing and weaving through a myriad of flailing arms and legs as he beats the living daylights out of a bunch of snarling heavies. It’s almost balletic.

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The most important thing when watching an early Statham film (i.e. The Transporter, Crank) is that there is no point in looking for layers or subtilty. These films are pure in their attempts to assault you with as much noise, zippy scene cuts, and high concept nonsense as possible. Crank is the epitome of these values. Statham is Chev Chelios (a delightfully stupid name if there ever was one), a hitman who is betrayed and injected with some synthetic drug (Vimto perhaps?) which means he must keep his adrenaline up otherwise his heart will stop. Cue 80 minutes or so of car chases, shootouts, iffy puns, and the inevitable HELICOPTER FIGHT! It’s breathless stuff and Statham carries the entire film on his wonderfully muscular and broad shoulders. It’s no Die Hard (what is) but it is about as camp and silly as action films can get before it falls into true parody and it is all the better for it. Yes, the sequel failed to keep on the right side of that line (he charges himself up with a car battery, there’s a living floating head in a fish tank), but for sheer gleeful joy Crank is hard to beat.

If you trace your finger down his filmography you can see his attempts to widen his range. He keeps well within the action genre for the most part, however, his later roles (Hummingbird, Wild Card, Home Front) start to show Statham’s ability to bring some vestiges of emotional intensity when required. With Hummingbird in particular we see him as a emotionally unstable, homeless alcoholic, and follow him through his attempt to improve his life only to be thwarted by events around him. It’s probably Statham’s most devastating performance to date, powerful, compelling and committed, and I dare you not to be moved/saddened by the ending.

He also begins to stretch into films with a little more bite and nifty scripting (Blitz, Safe) instead of those with just a linear journey. Blitz in particularly fascinating ensemble piece, featuring some heavy acting talent such as Paddy Considine, David Morrissey and Aidan Gillen, and while it does stumble and stutter in parts, it’s still a pretty decent little cop/killer thriller.

Statham’s geezery vibe and self awareness of his own typecasting has also gave us opportunities to see his most potent weapon, his comedy timing. We see flashes of it in Lock Stock, Snatch and the Expendables series. His wonderful look of disdain, his withering gawps of incredulousness often steal the scenes they are in, and he can deliver a cheesy zinger with the best of them. However, his magnum opus is Spy. Playing an arrogant, incompetent spy suits Statham down to the ground. His unshowy style of acting means that when delivers a line such as, “I’ve swallowed enough microchips and shit them back out again to make a computer,”  completely straight faced, it’s nigh on impossible to not to burst out laughing. He riffs on all he has done before, rips away the facade of a perfect hitman that he built in The Transporter and makes us all howl as he makes a dramatic exit on a boat only to realise he’s stuck on a lake.

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All in all, Statham is the perfect modern action hero. He’s got enough acting chops to hold 90 minutes of our attention, he does a huge percentage of his own stunts, he’s not afraid to make himself look like an idiot, and he understands what is required for a no nonsense slab of entertainment. (Also helps that he’s a rather good looking bloke).

His next film will be Mechanic: Resurrection as he slips back into that stylish Arthur Bishop jacket and I can guarantee I will be keeping a tenner back to see it.

The Naff Nic Season: Left Behind

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When i set myself this challenge I expected it to be bad.. but nothing could prepare me for Left Behind

*I’m just sobbing looking at this promotional pic above… i’ll give you a hint… the film isn’t much better*

(110 Mins, Rated PG) (spoilers ahead)

I’m going to start this review by saying this is definitely in my top ten worst films of all time. I’ve stared at pigeons in the street pecking at a half eaten McChicken sandwich and been more entertained. I’ve accidently rubbed my eye after handling a jalepeno and learned more about my life than i did watching this film. You must understand this is a bad film, and not even The Room bad.

We start with a daughter coming home to see her parents, Irene (Jesus loving mom (Lea Thompson who should know better) and philandering father Rayford (!?!) (Nicolas Cage, who should also know better but is a rogue operator at the best of times)) for her father’s birthday but finds her dad has buggered off to work instead. So she skulks around the airport and meets ‘handsome’ reporter (Chad Michael Murray doing what he does best, standing there trying to act), shoots the shit a bit, and then he gets on the plane her father is piloting.

Then there is a flash of light, people and children disappear and everyone starts to scream, school buses fall dramatically but not dramatically off bridges, evil bearded men loot shops and bags, a random light aircraft plummets into our heroine’s car for no apparent reason apart from to set up further random and mildly pointless encounters as she walks about, and some British woman in sunglasses takes some toot in the airplane toilet because that makes everything better. Our intelligence is also insulted with some unsubtle foreshadowing where Chloe passes a ‘ROAD CLOSED AHEAD’ sign and the camera lingers, showing us that this is where the film is going to end and being really bloody obvious about it.

We are aggressively battered over the head early with character’s motives in some ridiculous  scenes like mother and daughter having an argument over God over some homemade lemonade, argument in the airport between Chloe and the crazy God lady with an intense Elton John eyebrow. Basically the first half an hour of this film is a series of arguments punctuated with walking and driving, and unfortunately, because this film was seemingly written by a malfunctioning computer programme, none of these ‘set-up’ scenes actually work in any way, shape or form.

Let’s also just acknowledge the utter shit that is the dialogue. It’s all clunky as a pair of cardboard box bollocks. There’s lots of meaningful breathy delivery, quivering tears in their eyes, some ludicrous scenes that defy belief like the Defence department guy who just tells some random bloke about his work at the Defence department in the middle of the plane where pretty much everyone can hear them. None of it feels fresh, everything feels staid, like the screenwriter has thumbed through a book of a 1000 film filler lines and thought they’d all do.

According to this film children are all so pure as they all get taken up by our Lord. So apparently we should be like children, innocent and non-judgemental. Maybe the Lord can overlook the other things like shitting our pants, eating worms and insects, stealing homework and screaming wildly in restaurants because our chicken nuggets had a little too much of a kick to them.

A particular note must be made about the music/soundtrack because it is spectacularly bad. Plinky plonk piano, MOR guitar strumming, punctuated by pointless chirpy saxophone which adds nothing but an irritating whine in your ears to compliment the utter faeces on screen. Luckily someone seems to turn the volume down after about 45 minutes so we can all just concentrate on being visually assaulted.

Performance wise there is very little to get excited about. Cage is flat, uninspired, and this is definitely a tax job. He spends most of the running time looking like a constipated shrew trying to keep a check on his loose sphincter. There might as well have been a Nicolas Cage cut out moved amongst scenes. His hair should really get its own credit however. It’s a delicately mussed bouffant and clearly doused in some Grecian 2000, maybe a couple of hair plugs for good measure, and steals most scenes that it’s viewable in. Chad Michael Murray spends his time mildly squinting like he has some sort of eye infection, like a camel wandering through the desert without eyelashes. He’s the cynical reporter who is caught up in the midst of the action on the plane and seems to be the only one able to keep his shit together but on the whole his character is actually pretty useless. His one helpful piece of dialogue being ‘I need you to open the Compass app,’ and even then, what the fuck.

Cassi Thomson as Chloe probably gets the most to do. She’s alright, she’s definitely not as terrible as Cage and adds a bit more nuance than Michael Murray but her character is taken straight from the ‘college girl hero’ trope book, rebellious against her mother’s current jesus lovey-dovey-ness, good looking and spunky, can seemingly do everything (drive car, ride and motorbike, drive a steam roller ?!??), and there is never any chance of her dying or failing at any point and so all sense of suspense is lost.

Everything in this film is unconvincing, from the acting to the script to the visual effects. In most of Cage’s garbage films there are glimpses of something remotely decent, but he doesn’t even have the decency to yell a bit and go all googly eyed. There was scope here for a bit of humour or something a little more self aware, but Left Behind is done with such sincerity and is so po-faced in its execution that it becomes unbearable. There are more redeeming features in the Asda ‘Whoops!’ section than there are on display in this film so it is no surprise in the slightest that this is the worst rated Nicolas Cage of all time so far.

IMDB rating – 3.1

My rating – ☆☆☆☆☆ (it doesn’t even deserve a half. I felt my last vestiges of joy leave my body around 35 minutes in)

The Naff Nic Season

There have been those who have climbed Everest, those who have powered their way across the poles of this great planet hampered by appalling weather and grumpy huskies, those who have won Nobel prizes and Pulitzer prizes, those who have travelled into space and farted in zero gravity, there is Tom Hanks.

These people are the heroes of our current time, pushing the boundaries and daring to do things that wouldn’t even cross a normal person’s mind (i would never have thought about starring in The ‘Burbs, mainly because i was one at the time of its release, but that crazy old Tom Hanks did).

However, I feel now it is my turn to throw my unworn, fez-esque hat into the ring.

I am not going to sit here and say that I am not a fan of Nicolas Cage, that would be a lie as I’m a rather big fan of the man. Con Air is a film I regularly re-visit, Face/Off is wonderful in its gleeful abandon of sanity, Adaptation is just bloody amazing, THE ROCK (THE ROCK!), but Mr Cage has a habit, whether it be for tax purposes or just to embarrass his uncle Francis at every realistic opportunity, to star in some absolute toilet.

These strange swerves to the shit end of the spectrum are never mild but always spectacular. Whether it is the distracting abomination of a blonde mullet he is wearing (see Drive Angry) or the fact his character spends a chunk of the film with a flaming skull as a head (see Ghost Rider), we can, most of the time, give Mr Cage a pass. There are times though when this is not possible.

So I have taken it upon myself to watch the Top 5 worst rated Nicolas Cage films, as per their ratings on IMDB, and give my time and energy to review each and every one.

I hope you will all join me in my quest to not die inside.

Film: The Revenant

(156 Minutes, Rated 15)

If you’re looking for a light, breezy slice of escapism then The Revenant is definitely not the film for you. If you’re looking for a brutal and unforgiving piece of hypnotic cinema then roll up, slap your ten quid down, then maybe grasp for another fiver for a drink (clocking in at 156 minutes long you are probably going to need it).

The Revenant starts how it means to go on, with a bloody sequence in which Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his expedition, including his son (Forrest Goodchild), are attacked by the Arikara Indians who in turn are in search of one of their own. Goods and lives are scrambled for, arrows fly into limbs and jugulars, tomahawks are launched freely into spines, and Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and his men are lucky to get away. It’s a brilliant opening, setting the tone and characters in one fell swoop. It also showcases Iñárritu’s dazzling work behind the cinema and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki’s stunning cinematography, made all  the more impressive by the fact it was all done using natural light. The exquisite tracking through the carnage makes you feel in the moment, right in there with Glass and his men and things get even more immersive as the film progresses.

After the now infamous bear scene, which in itself is an absolute trial to sit through and not squirm and grimace at every rip and growl, Glass is left in the care of Bridger (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, a bug eyed villain of delightful proportions), who have offered to stay behind to make sure Glass is giving a proper burial in exchange for extra coin.

And then….. Fitzgerald royally fucks him over. And Glass does not stand for this royal fuck whatsoever.

What follows is one man harrowing trek across an unforgiving landscape all in the name of retribution. We feel every scar, every wound, and every aching step as Glass tracks his way through the cold wilderness. In a really nifty bit of direction, we even see his breath cloud up the screen. It’s beautiful grimness at its very best.

Yes, there are some missteps; the hallucinations of his dead wife and some pretty weak attempts at deep philosophical meaning jar with the sparseness and brutality of the rest of the film, and the pacing, particularly in the middle third, can be a little slow and glacial at times. But honestly, the performances go to some way in making up for these indiscretions.

DiCaprio does so much with so little dialogue. His pain, fear and rage all come through in a series of grunts and grimaces. It’s a commanding physical performance, requiring just as much work and graft as if he had 150 pages of dialogue to learn. The whole film leans on his dirty shoulders and relies on his grubby, bearded face. If you don’t give a shit about Hugh you lose the film. And DiCaprio makes you give a shit. Hardy is wonderful as always, putting in a strong turn as the money grabbing, itchy footed Fitzgerald, and Poulter puts in an emotive performance as the naive Bridger.

We’ve all heard the stories of the grueling conditions, the ludicrous over-runs of schedule and budget, and the daft game of Chinese whispers claiming Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets raped by a bear (I can categorically say he does not). And of the firings, people walking off set unable to cope with director’s perfectionism and obsession with only using natural light, but the end product shows us that it was never in vain.

The result of all this madness is a raw and visceral work, and surely DiCaprio will pick up that much deserved Oscar statue (I mean the bloke got buried alive for it).

★★★★☆