Absolutely Anything (2015), a Review

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Director – Terry Jones

Writer(s) – Terry Jones, Gavin Scott

Starring – Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Sanjheev Baskar, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Robin Williams

 

Absolutely Everything was a film that had absolutely everything it needed to be a sleeper hit. It had bankable names, such as Pegg, Beckinsale, Cleese and Gilliam, whilst also having the somewhat sad honour of being Robin Williams last on-screen role (A voice role, which, considering Aladdins Genie is arguably his finest hour, is more than a suitable way to bow out). Despite all these obvious positives and selling-points, as well as an absolutely bizarre narrative on paper, it slipped through the cracks of public consciousness somewhat. So it was with a great curiosity that I set down to work out for myself what exactly had gone wrong. I got my answer quickly, as a film with seemingly endless scenarios somehow manages to become tediously boring.

Decades after being launched into space, a space probe containing information about the human race and a map to earth is found by four aliens that make up the ‘Galactic council’. They debate on whether to destroy the earth or make humanity a member of the council, instead relying on ‘Standard galactic protocol’ to decide. They will give one Human (Chosen at random) the ability to do absolutely anything they want. After ten days, if the powers have been used for good, the Aliens will spare earth and make humanity a member of the council. If the powers are used for evil, the earth will be destroyed for the moral improvement for the galaxy.

The human is chosen and revealed to be Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg a secondary school teacher who is both struggling with his jobsworth headmaster, Mr Robinson (Eddie Izzard) and with his lack of a girlfriend, although he has a crush on author agency employee, Catherine West (Kate Beckinsale), who lives underneath him in the apartment block.

All one has to do is read that synopsis to see that this was a movie that had literally limitless potential for narrative exploration. They could have done whatever they pleased, under the rules of the scenario they had set themselves. For some inexplicable reason, they decided to do practically nothing with it, and instead merely rehash Bruce Almighty with a lot less of the charm and originality that made it  the sleeper hit this clearly aspired to be.

It follows every plot beat you expected as soon as it clicks with you where this film is heading, and the practically lifeless narrative limps along as predictably and safely as possible, without taking many risks or including any real surprises. Jealous ex-boyfriend for love interest? It’s there. Ethical issues of having endless power? Check. Moral dilemma when he’s unsure as to whether the love interest actually likes him, or whether he forced it himself via his powers? Also accounted for. It’s a crying shame, really, because you could get so much mileage out this idea, but Jones decides, for budget reasons, presumably, to do absolutely nothing out of the usual.

The Sci-Fi elements running concurrently also feel somewhat disjointed and out of place, as they merely seem to serve as avatars for us, the audience, discussing the ramifications of Clarke’s various actions. Again, it’s a hugely disappointing, as those elements were the most intriguing part of the entire set-up. Also, the voice acting talents are so tragically wasted it’s almost depressing. To get Cleese and Gilliam around a table seems like instant gold, and harder to get wrong than right for even the most mediocre writer. Sadly, it’s all very flat, and listless.

In fact, one could argue strongly that the screenplay is the worst part of this whole endeavour. It never fizzles, rather plods along, making obvious jokes that just don’t seem to work for whatever reason. Pegg, as a rule, can often make chicken salad out of chicken shit, and find a way to deliver even the worst screenplays in a humorous fashion. Here, he has almost nothing to work with, and his efforts fall sadly flat. Flat, actually, is the best description for this film. It’s not poor, it’s not terrible, it’s not offensively bad…it’s just flat.

Beckinsale does manage to sparkle somewhat, surprisingly, as she brings a mischievous twinkle that injects the movie with a slice of personality. Sadly, her dialogue isn’t much to work with, and her chemistry with Pegg is almost laughably bad. Rob Riggle also manages to actually be entertaining, as he puts in a deliciously hammy performance as the deluded Colonel, and Clarke’s rival for Catherine’s affections. Again though, the script lets him down a bit, as the character is tragically over-written.

The worst part, perhaps, is that there are moments and gags that feel like they should have worked, but for whatever reason don’t. The idea that he makes a woman ‘Worship’ his friend, and that in turn leads to her chasing him around and erecting a shrine, should have been good. It should have worked. It just doesn’t. Like a monkey with a calculator, the writer doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing with the few good ideas he gets. There are more moments like this, and hey, you might actually enjoy them. Sadly though, for this writer, it fell tragically short.

Also, the dog and his owner relationship dynamic is again played as simple as possible and takes the exact route you’d expect. The dog only wants biscuits and to shag, because he’s a dog, get it? Hilarious, right? Hell, maybe it is for you, I’m no connoisseur of comedy, but I am a connoisseur of cinematic storytelling, and I know lazy writing when I see it. The fact that this role is the last we’ll ever see, or hear, of the great Robin Williams, is almost infuriating. The worst part is Williams himself seems to know it, as his performance is the most lifeless you’re ever likely to hear him. I’m going to refrain from making an obvious joke here.

Luckily, the cinematography and soundtrack are unoffensive if also uninspiring. Nothing’s particularly bad, it’s all simply by-the-numbers. I wish I had more to say about this, so this paragraph wasn’t quite so pathetically empty, but alas, I do not.

Normally, when an actor passes away, I’d implore his/her fans to watch their final work, as a tribute to their careers. Here, I’d say if you enjoy the legendary career of Mr.Robin Williams, to simply check out Jumanji or Aladdin instead, and save yourself this pain. Absolutely Anything isn’t bad by any stretch, and the narrative is interesting enough at first. It just isn’t particularly great, either, and commits the biggest cinematic sin of them all; that being the sin of being terribly dull. Sadly, other than the alien element, you can get the same basic premise delivered better with Bruce Almighty, which itself was hardly spectacular. Like taking Ketamine,  it’s a mindless way to kill ninety minutes, but don’t expect to remember much about it afterwards.

 

Final Rating – 3.

Joshua Moulinie

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2015), a Review.

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Director – Yuen Woon-Ping

Writer – John Fusco

Starring – Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, Natashia Liu Bordizzo

The strange thing about this belated sequel that followed Ang Lee’s Academy-Award winning classic, the flm oft-credited with popularising the wire-stunt form of martial arts movie that would be perfected by Xang Yihou, is that, because of its release on Netflix, it had a solid opportunity to be something experimental. On this platform the demands of studios to maximise profit and the lack therefore of interference means that the artist should be free to experiment more and branch out. Sadly, this is largely a by-the-numbers sequel.

After many years of solitude, renowned warrior Yu Shu Lien emerges from retirement and travels to Peking, where the legendary sword of Li Mu Bai, known as the Green Destiny, is located. In the forest, Shu Lien’s carriage is attacked by several warriors from the West Lotus clan. As she fights them, a masked horseman comes to her aid, and together they defeat the attackers, in the process revealing his identity as a young man called Wei Fang.

At the tower of the West Lotus warlord Hades Dai, a young woman (Snow Vase) arrives asking to join his ranks. As Dai approaches, she draws a sword and attempts to kill him, although he easily fights her off, and she flees. As Wei Fang makes his way through the forest, he is approached by a blind enchantress, who orders him to take her to Dai. She tells Dai that his great sword is surpassed by the Green Destiny, and claims that if he is to rule the Martial World, he must obtain the sword. Dai is reluctant to storm the home of the emperor’s brother, but the enchantress tells him to send Wei Fang, as the boy and the sword are bound by fate.

The narrative is sadly nothing we haven’t seen before, particularly in regards to this format/genre of filmmaking. An aged warrior who shunned love due to a singular heartbreak? Check. A power-hungry warlord determined to locate a sacred artifact in order to dominate the world and shroud it in darkness? Check. The orphan who promises vengeance? Check. The film works almost as a tick-clist of various cliches.

It is engaging and intriguing, but that’s the primary reason we see these tropes deployed so often; they work. The idea of special artifacts and the orphan hero are as old as storytelling itself, and every factor of Todorov’s famous narrative theory can be seen here. It’s entertaining, but almost lazy in it’s simplicity. It also manages to horrifically rip off Seven Samurai, Kurosawa’s icon tour-de-force of filmmaking. That is, as always, inexcusable.

The acting is surprisingly very good in general, with very few signs of melodrama or over-acting. Yeoh and Yen, two iconic staples of the Hong-Kong cinematic landscape, showcase why exactly they are so revered and beloved. They never overdo anything, it’s all done with a subtle brilliance. We also never once doubt their on-screen relationship, as the chemistry is electric.

Lui Burdizzo gives a good, if slighty odd, performance. I say odd primarily because of her very clear and noticeable accent. It’s a very obvious Australian, and feels wholly out of place in this supposed depiction of ancient fucking China. In fact this leads me into a pretty big criticism of the film itself. The accents are ridiculous.

Some speak with a thick British accent, others with a Chinese twinge, some seem slightly American, and of course we have a solitary Australian. This proves distracting at best, and offensive at worst. Whilst I do praise the filmmakers for avoiding the trap of having everybody put on a horrific forced Chinese accent, I have to ask why they couldn’t at least stick to one and run with it. The fact that some characters do have a Chinese twang, and others clearly don’t, is unfortunately a pretty unforgivable directing fuck-up on Woon-Ping’s account.

Sadly, it leads to another pressing but obvious question; Why is nobody speaking any form of Chinese? Cantonese…Mandarin…anything would have been better than this. I understand this film most likely was designed to cater to a Western Audience, but House of Flying Daggers’ and Hero’s box-office success suggests people would view it even with subtitles. You may put off a small handful of the more ignorant among us, but that’s surely not a problem with the direct-to-video-on-demand format, as no profit margins are directly affected. It seems, frankly, a bizarre step in the wrong direction.

Let’s be honest with ourselves though, that’s not what this film is marketed towards. People do not tend to watch these films with a view to deep narratives or characterisation; rather, they want to see grand set-pieces and wonderful scenery. Fortunately, they get plenty of both.

The sweeping landscape shots are lovely, for the most part, but it does eventually become noticeable that a lot of it is green-screen work. It’s not hazardous to the film’s effect, and most mainstream viewers probably wouldn’t notice it, but to a trained eye, it’s unmissable. The landscapes do look lovely though, and this is capped off by some solid if never spectacular cinematography.

Now, for the key selling-point, the fight-scenes themselves. Your enjoyment of these will depend entirely on how much you enjoy elaborately choreographed, physics-defying fight sequences that resemble dance sequences more than an actual battle. These are far removed from the no-nonsense martial arts films of the 70’s, featuring wire-work, back flips and moments of clearly ridiculous precision. It’s all well constructed, and beautiful to behold, but there’s a strong chance the word silly will creep into your thoughts at least once. If not, you’re in for a hell of a time.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon:Sword of Destiny is about as good as you’d expect from the generic title. Falling far from the spectacle and quality of it’s predecessor, it’s particularly disappointing for a Netflix original, considering they’ve been putting out extremely high quality work. If you’re prepared to turn your brain off and enjoy some silly nonsense, you’ll probably have a good time. If you prefer a cerebral, thinking experience, then I doubt this will have much of an impact upon you.

 

Final Rating – 3.7

 

Joshua Moulinie