When Franchises Hog Talent Andrew Garfield

Red Riding

Originally posted at Jeff Goldblum’s Laugh

With the seemingly infinite number of franchises bubbling about at the moment more and more actors are being snapped up to appear in an adaptation of a comic book or YA novel. The actors we have grown to love for their intimate roles in independent films are suddenly committing years of their lives by signing up in appear in numerous big budget action movies. In some cases these actors manage to maintain their career outside of the franchise but for a few the pull proves too strong and they disappear inside never to be seen in a different role ever again… or at least until the film series comes to a close.

What sparked this worry off in my mind was my love for the work of Andrew Garfield, the thick haired transatlantic actor who is mostly seen swinging around in a tight red and blue suit under the guise of Spider-Man. It wasn’t always this way, oh no, Garfield used to wear jumpers and have low-budget emotions. Ah… those were the days.

Never Let Me Go

In 2007 Garfield starred in the low-budget British drama Boy A about a young man recently released from prison having served time for committing murder as a child. His performance was subtle and flawless, a feat he repeated in 2009 when appearing as a young journalist investigating a murder in the Red Riding trilogy on Channel 4. There was no denying his acting chops and his choice of roles seemed to favour quality over box office potential or fame.

The end of 2010 and start of 2011 saw Garfield hit a career high with his roles in both the highly successful The Social Network and the Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction staple Never Let Me Go. Garfield was suddenly my favourite actor in the world ever, no take-backs. What would he do next, what indie gem would he grace with his presence?

Since February 2011 Andrew Garfield has not been seen outside of his spandex suit and much as I enjoy him in the role this simply is not good enough. As a consumer I have a right to have my opinion heard!

I can’t help but feel like the Amazing Spider-Man franchise has stolen Andrew Garfield from our screens and stopped his diverse career from progressing. He may be a household name now but with great fame has come great… uniformity. His special lady friend and co-star Emma Stone has somehow escaped this fate and has made five films during the Amazing Spider-Man process. The series’ director Marc Webb suffers a similar fate to Garfield having only made the brilliant (and brilliantly misunderstood) (500) Days of Summer prior to getting sucked into Spider-Man vortex.

The Amazing Spider-Man

It is at this point that my argument collapses around my feet. This is the point in the article where I list the dozens of other actors who have entered franchises and failed to make other work but as you’ll soon see they vehemently refuse to fit my hypothesis which is rude and highly inconvenient.

Jennifer Lawrence has taken on both Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class franchises and still managed to put in Oscar nominated performances in more traditional films. Samuel L. Jackson is in every film that comes out that even tangentially relates to the Avengers behemoth and still is making more non-franchise films than I can keep track of. As for directors Joss Whedon has his finger in as many Avengers pies as Jackson and still managed to make the Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing apparently when we weren’t keeping a close enough eye on him.

Contrary to my original fears it can be done; you can have it all and getting involved in a franchise doesn’t have to ruin your career. And by “ruin” I am naively assuming that a career is ruined the minute you become fabulously rich and famous but have a slightly less diverse roster of films. That said I can’t help but think that the big budgets franchises do limit the choices the actors can make.

Perhaps this all stems from a selfish desire to see my personal favourites appear in a larger number of films that don’t involve a single explosion (OK, I’ll allow a small one) or any mutant superpowers. When I look back at the career of Robert Downey Jr. I see Chaplin, Wonder Boys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, and Zodiac whereas now all we see is Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. The films are fun, don’t get me wrong, but do they give the actors involved as much scope to test their acting mettle? I don’t think so.

Am I just being selfish, do I hate my beloved actors appearing in more mainstream films that give me less enjoyment but allow them more exposure? Am I just being a snob in assuming that acting in a franchise is less worthy than acting in an indie drama? Obviously the answer here is yes but that doesn’t change how I feel.

I for one will be glad when Andrew Garfield hangs up the spidey senses in favour for screaming on beaches and watch with trepidation as newer actors like Tom Hiddleston, Shailene Woodley, and Elizabeth Olsen take their first steps from the indie world and into the kingdom of franchises. I hope they come back out the other side and still make smaller films. If Emma Watson can manage it then so can they.

Out Now – 28th March 2014

Afternoon Delight

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I’ll be honest with you, there are so many Avengers related films going about that I find it hard to consider any of them appointment viewing. In particular Captain American who is a boring sod at the best of times. Maybe I’ll watch Chris Evans in Scott Pilgrim instead. Much more fun.

Muppets Most Wanted
Ah, The Muppets. Last time there was a new Muppets film out I went a little crazy and joined in with blogalongamuppets. This time I don’t even have any firm plans to see the latest outing. There’s something about the involvement of Ricky Gervais and the rumour that he will be doing THAT dance AGAIN, in capital letters and everything, that has left me less than excited.

The Legend of Hercules
Live action retelling of the legend of Hercules. Not likely to be even remotely as good as the Disney film and with none of the songs. Stars someone from Twilight with their shirt off so there’s that.

20 Feet From Stardom
Documentary about the women (and a few men) who take on the thankless role of backup singers. It features, the highs, the lows, and made Vanessa Feltz do a little seat dance. I enjoyed it but am dithering over how worthy it is.

Afternoon Delight
Surprisingly good dark comedy, think pitch black, about a bored housewife who befriends a stripper/prostitute in an attempt to spice up her life. Stars the wonderful Kathryn Hahn, above par Josh Radnor, and the always impressive Juno Temple. I was greatly surprised by how good it was.

The Past
The Artist‘s Bérénice Bejo stars as the woman in the middle of a fraught love triangle in this Frenchy romantic drama.

The Fold
“Struggling with her grief, Anglican priest Rebecca Ashton tries to replace her deceased daughter with another girl.” This will not turn out well.

Leave The World Behind
Tour documentary following Swedish House Mafia in 2012/2013. I am not aware of this band or any other band ever. What is music?

Dangerous Acts
“Creating provocative theater carries great personal risks: emotional, financial and artistic. For the members of the Belarus Free Theatre, there are additional risks: censorship, imprisonment, and worse. Director Madeleine Sackler goes behind the scenes with the acclaimed troupe of imaginative and subversive performers who, in a desolate country choked by censorship and repression, defy Europe’s last remaining dictatorship.”

My Stuff
Documentary in which comedian Petri Luukkainen puts everything he owns (including clothing) into storage and allows himself to reclaim one item each day. Item #1: My laptop.

The Borderlands
“Follows a team of Vatican investigators sent to the British West Country to investigate reports of paranormal activity at a remote church.” Well reviewed British horror.

Almost Married
“When Kyle returns from his stag-do with a sexually transmitted disease, he’s left unable to have sex with his fiancée Lydia in the run-up to their wedding.” Poorly reviewed British comedy.

20 Feet From Stardom – Film Review

20 Feet From Stardom

Left to its own devices then 20 Feet From Stardom would come across as a solid documentary about an interesting subject. Focussing on the life and career of the backup singer 20 Feet From Stardom explores how these underrated performers have over the years been both celebrated and exploited and tries to explain what stops these singers from breaking out as artists in their own right, or why they might not want to.

The film is fun and occasionally quite touching but more importantly features and epic soundtrack filled with dozens of tunes that will have you dancing in your seat and joggling the legs of the person sitting behind you. Vanessa Feltz took the role of dancer and I was the joggled when I saw the film but I don’t bear a grudge. If you want a fun hour and a half spend in the company of women with big personalities and even bigger voices then 20 Feet From Stardom is the documentary for you. Heck, it even won the Oscar for Best Documentary as predicted by me!

Sadly it is that very Oscar win that lets the film down. Without an Oscar win I would have enjoyed the film in isolation without over thinking it and could have moved on with my day. But no, it went and beat The Act of Killing to the top award and as such has become firmly lodged in my head as a film that must be superior to Killing and justify its win. Unfair as this maybe that is how my brain works.

Unfortunately The Act of Killing was an inventive and important feature in which Indonesian death-squad leaders were asked to dramatise their mass killings for a non-existent film project in the hope that they would finally be able to understand the horror of what they had done. Killing plays with the genre and as a result in a peerless examination of human nature and all the flaws and cruelty that come with it. By comparison 20 Feet From Stardom is much more traditional, staid, and ultimately trivial.

On its own 20 Feet From Stardom is a lot of fun but in context lacks enough punch to compete with the best.

On its own:
In context:
20 Feet From Stardom is in UK cinemas from today.

The Machine – Film Review

The Machine

After last week’s thoroughly mediocre releases of Starred Up and Labor Day I decided to have a look at new British sci-fi The Machine. A lot of the reviews I’ve seen on the smaller sites are very positive, I was supposed to review it weeks ago, and I have a hankering to give something above three stars. Three stars are not fun. Three star films are not bad enough to rant about nor good enough to gush about. Three star films are only of mild concern; nothing to write home about and tricky to blog about.

Sadly (spoiler alert) The Machine is very much a three star film.

Set in a near future version of Britain The Machine focusses on artificial intelligence developed by the Ministry of Defence as a scientist played by an angsty Toby Stephens builds humanoid robot killing machines for the good of mankind. Initially working on human-robot hybrids the troubled doctor eventually builds a robot with the digital personality, and shapely form, of his fellow scientist played by Caity Lotz.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that creating robotic killing machines to protect mankind ends up not quite going to plan.

The Machine Still

In many ways that is the film’s major flaw; the sheer lack of surprise from start to finish. With the burgeoning success of HeKniSciFi we have collectively moved on from the days when robotics were looked at as a fearful development and everyone stopped worrying so much about the machines rising against us. This isn’t the era of RoboCop and Terminator any more… Except it is as both of these once nostalgic franchises rumble on into the 21st century. Regardless, the idea of mankind playing God and finding themselves in trouble is not new and The Machine has little new to offer to the familiar storyline.

Weirdly The Machine actually felt like a film made back in the heyday of its thematic predecessors. The soundtrack has a definite feel of 80s sci-fi to it and the general visual style is impressive but somehow fails to hide the low budget nature of the film. The overall effect was not that of a film released in 2014 but of a classic piece of sci-fi made a few decades ago. Maybe this is to the film’s credit, maybe I should actually embrace the traditional feel of the film and enjoy it for what it is; a solid example of a sci-fi thriller made on a tiny budget.

Sadly the film failed to connect and left me with nothing to gush about and no real rant either beyond my own personal bugbears. Three stars it is then.

The Machine – in Cinemas / VoD 21 March and DVD/Blu-ray 31 March www.themachinemovie.com

Out Now – 21st March 2014

Labor Day

Labor Day
Jason Reitman has directed five great films… and he’s directed Labor Day. Silly romantic drama about Stockholm Syndrome setting in over a long weekend when Josh Brolin’s brooding escapee takes refuge in Kate Winslet’s sad widow’s house. There are pies and sexual tension in a film I described as “a good film if a little too laboured (HA!) to be believable.” That joke never gets old.

Starred Up
Jack O’Connell plays the character he usually plays; a terrifying angry young man that fails to get my sympathy because I can imagine looking at him in the wrong way and getting a black eye. This is gritty British prison drama at its best but this isn’t a genre that I particularly enjoy. My second three star film out this week.

A Long Way Down
A saccharin-seeming Nick Hornby adaptation about four people who form an unlikely friendship (take a shot) when they meet on a rooftop while attempting to commit suicide. Reviews are mixed at best but for some reason I wouldn’t mind giving the film a try.

About Last Night
“Follow two couples as they journey from the bar to the bedroom and are eventually put to the test in the real world.” I advise you follow these couples only through watching this film rather than in real life. Following a couple from the bar to the bedroom could lead you to dangerous sexual situations.

Italian film about a bodyguard and hitman called Salvo. Upon meeting the blind sister of one of his targets Salvo is made “to question himself and his existence”. Expect lots of violence followed by quiet contemplation.

The Machine
UK sci-fi thriller in which robots are used for evil! I will be reviewing this film next week when I return from my accidental blog strike. A strike I am apparently holding against myself. What an idiot.

The Robber
I should probably focus on the fact that this German film focusses on the true story of a marathon runner turned bank robber but I am too distracted by how childish sounding the word “robber” suddenly feels.

British comedy about a postman who enters the music industry. Interestingly enough the Postman Pat film has a similar plot but Svengali is infinitely less likely to tarnish the memory of a childhood favourite. Damn you Pat!

“What happens after Tanner is outed by his classmates and becomes the title “gay best friend” for three high school queen bees?” A teen comedy centred around a gay character has the potential to be progressive or horribly exploitative. People I respect have given differing reviews; the good and the bad/ugly.

Yves Saint Laurent
Biopic looking at the life of Yves Saint Laurent. The poster uses the same logo as the brand which caused me more confusion than you’d expect.

The Unknown Known
“Former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses his career in Washington D.C. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003.”

Out Now – 14th March 2014

Veronica Mars

Need for Speed
Aaron Paul leaves the epic small screen hit Breaking Bad to star in a film adapted from a computer game that, when I used to play at least, had no real plot beyond driving cars. Still, they promise to have not used any CGI so the stunts should be pretty.

The Zero Theorem
A mediocre offering from Terry Gilliam in which Christoph Waltz is suitably eccentric but not a lot actually happens. Read my attempt at a review here. “A great big shrug from me.”

Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars has crawled her way onto the big screen thanks to her fans shelling out to get a film made. We all know that I am excited, and enjoyed the cinematic outing, but will the film have an impact? With a UK cinema release numbering just 10 venues lets hope for a breakout success and expanded release. (Also out on Video on Demand today should you not be near one of the ten cinemas.)

Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson is an extraterrestrial prowling Glasgow in a transit van searching for male prey that mostly consist of unsuspecting members of the public. This is art house science fiction that I have been known to claim “prioritises atmosphere and visuals (not just visual effects)”. The film is dead good and if you don’t like it then I reserve the right to peer down my nose at you over the top of my glasses.

The Stag
Irish bachelor party based comedy set in the great outdoors and starring loveable Jim Moriarty from Sherlock. I’m taking bets as to whether an actual stag (you know, one with antlers) shows up at some point.

The Rocket
A boy seeks to prove that he is not a bad luck charm by entering an ominous sounding Rocket Festival. I hope someone is there to advise him not to approach the rocket after it is lit and to put sparklers in a bucket of water like we all do… right guys?

Ironclad: Battle for Blood
Turns out that Ironclad was not only a film that existed but also a film that enough people saw for it to warrant a sequel. You learn so much writing these things.

“The story of a family and a love affair told through the journey of a young woman called Suzanne.”

Back to the Garden
“It is a year since the death of an inspirational theatre director and teacher, and his widow is struggling to come to terms with her loss. The film is both a meditation on love and loss and an evocation of the joys and sadnesses of later life.”

Plot for Peace
“A documentary that reveals the untold story of apartheid’s fall, and the mysterious French businessman who was instrumental in Nelson Mandela’s release from jail.”

The Zero Theorem – LFF Film Review

The Zero Theorem

Yes, a London Film Festival review. That should give you sense of just how behind schedule this review is. I saw the film back in October but it is finally out in UK cinemas this week so I had best get to reviewing it…

Typical for a Terry Gilliam film The Zero Theorem is anything but typical. The plot revolves around Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) a man living in what Gilliam has described as a Utopian future (but one that comes across as quite dystopian) working on complex computer nonsense while waiting for a phone call that he hopes will explain the meaning of life. When Waltz isn’t sitting anxiously at his computer terminal working on a bizarre computer hacking programme, sometimes naked, he is being distracted by Bob (a teenage prodigy sent by Management and played by Lucas Hedges), Bainsley (a sort of internet porn star cum prostitute played by Mélanie Thierry), and Joby (his manager played by David Thewlis).

As for what actually takes place in what little plot the film actually has… I’ll be damned if I know. As usual with Gilliam (my new catchphrase for this review) the whole film is vibrant, energetic, and filled with ideas. Whether the resulting film works for you or not will, I feel, entirely depend upon how much patience or sympathy you have for Gilliam’s aesthetic.

If I had to pick one of his previous films to compare The Zero Theorem to then I would have to plumb for Brazil as it shares a similar theme of a man fighting against the system as he chases his dreams, literally. Both exist within a future that feels quite practical and manmade as opposed to slick and sleek and neither feels the need to pander to its audience. When rewatching Brazil in preparation for writing this review I found it a lot easier to accept on its own terms when I could watch it as a piece of cinema history rather than as a piece of contemporary cinema. The two films are far from identical but Brazil as a film of the 80s is a lot easier to swallow than The Zero Theorem as a film of thirty years later. The eccentric randomness seems much less enjoyable now in the same way you will excuse a baby for dribbling but not the same person for doing the same when in their thirties.

This sounds like I am putting down Brazil which I really am not… I am putting down The Zero Theorem. The film is enjoyable to a degree (hence the three stars) but beneath the surface of wacky characters and big, empty ideas there is nothing more going on that some nice set dressing and a group of actors trying their hardest to be wacky.

A great big shrug from me.

The Zero Theorem is in UK cinemas on 14th March 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

We Are What We Are – Film Review

We Are What We Are

Four months ago I sat down in a screening room in London and chewed on the free ribs that were given to us glamorous members of the film reviewing community. Not knowing much about the film I wasn’t 100% sure why the PR team looked so amused by the fact that we were given free meat but it wasn’t before long before I knew all too well…

We Are What We Are is an American remake of a Mexican horror in which a recluse family are thrown into turmoil when the matriarch drowns amid a torrential storm. The family practices a ritual that must be carried out by the female elder and with the mother dead this duty falls on the two young daughters (Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers). The family, I don’t think it is too spoilery to say, are cannibals and the task that falls to the girls is that of killing a victim held captive by their father (Bill Sage). Suddenly the meat chunks lodged in my teeth took on a grim new flavour.

We Are What We Are 2

With the rain continuing to pour the family also have to deal with evidence of their crimes slowly being revealed as soil is washed away and bones start drifting downstream. The sisters not only have to deal with their father’s pressure to become murderers but with the possibility of what he might do should their secret be made public.

The execution of this questionable plot is surprisingly well done as the film does not stoop to the level of relying on occasional loud noises to scare the audience. Instead we are treated to an endless sense of dread and impending doom. Here the evil villains seem almost human; you feel as much for them as for their victims and you fear for the safety of pretty much everyone on screen. The longer the film goes on the more tension builds and for once the final scene was not the obvious conclusion you might have predicted at the start. Admittedly the final scene was a little… silly? But at least I hadn’t seen it coming.

If you fancy a good solid horror film with more nerve-shredding tension than sharp jumps then We Are What We Are is well worth a look.

Veronica Mars – Film Review


I’ve talked to you a lot over the years about Veronica Mars, even more so over the past few weeks. Starting as a teen noir TV series in 2004 Veronica Mars followed High School detective Veronica (Kristen Bell) as she tried to solve her best friend’s murder, figure out who raped her, and help out at her dad’s private detective agency. It was a surprisingly dark teen drama with clever dialogue and believable characters. The show was beloved by too few people and finished in 2007. Rumours of a film continuing the story were rife as usual and I was not convinced. Cue 2013 and the film has a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign which spawned a dozen imitators and more importantly raised funds for the Veronica Mars film to be a reality.

In the opening two minutes of the film a quick montage is shown summarising the traumatic teenage years of Veronica and serves as a chance for any non-fans to catch up on what they have missed. From there we see Veronica in her new life in New York City, trying to put the past behind her as she embarks on a career as a lawyer and rekindles her romance with the ever reliable Piz (Chris Lowell). Back in her childhood town of Neptune, California the world has not changed so much and soon enough her ex-lover Logan (Jason Dohring), with whom she shares an epic love story, has been accused of murder and needs the assistance of the best former teen detective he knows. Not one to deny the call of the man who has smouldered at her so often Veronica drops everything and hot tails it back to Neptune.


Neptune brings with it seediness, drama, and pretty much every character from the TV series you could have hoped for. In the naive belief that the film still has a few surprises you haven’t read about yet I won’t go into too much detail but suffice it to say that Veronica is staying with her dad Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) and her old school friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino) are back by her side all grown up but still willing to get their hands dirty. When the film returns to Neptune, and in particular when Veronica finds herself at the school reunion, the film suddenly felt like a return home for the fan in me. All the characters are so familiar and throughout there are subtle nods to events that have taken place that cement the film firmly in the Veronica Mars canon.

Series creator Rob Thomas has both written and directed the film and in doing so has had to adapt both his shooting style and the way in which he stretches out the central mystery across the script. In the TV series there would often be a mystery per episode alongside a series-long arc, often involving the death of at least one person. Here in the film a murder is again at the centre and the mystery struggles a little to fill the feature-length running time. As for the shooting style it is clear that a conscious effort has been made to ensure that this film will look impressive on the cinema screen and not just when streamed online. Thomas has pulled the camera back giving every shot a little more scope and letting Neptune fill the screen alongside its inhabitants. The film may only have had a small budget but this does not harm the aesthetic as it showcases production values of a much wealthier shoot and while dialogue heavy scenes do dominate there’s a stunt or two thrown in and nothing ever feels limited or compromised.


Dealing with themes including murder, betrayal, blackmail, and corruption Veronica Mars has lost none of the dark edge that made the series such a cult success. This alongside the carefully honed dialogue and characters with whom you share three years of history Veronica Mars is every bit the film that the fans deserve. I laughed, I gasped, I got the warm fuzzies, and I noted a dozen times when the film would subtly nod to its parent series and let the fans know that they were in safe hands and that nothing had been forgotten.

I don’t know what the film’s appeal will be to those new to Veronica and the town of Neptune. This film is such a labour of love and was funded by, and made for, those who obsessed over the original three series. There is an introduction to catch you up on the basic back story but with 64 episodes condensed to two minutes there’s no way you can care about the characters to the same degree. Perhaps take this as motivation to finally watch the TV series your friends have been harassing you about so you’re all set to properly enjoy the film. I’d love to hear how well the film plays to a non-fan; hopefully it will work on its own and drive viewers back to the series.

As a fan of the series and Kickstarter backer I am biased as anything but I really enjoyed the film and look forward to seeing it again this Friday on the big screen. It could have all gone horribly wrong but thankfully instead we have a solid film that will please rather than horrify the fans and hopefully act as a calling card for a series that needs a little more love.

Veronica Mars is on very limited release from 14th March 2014. Full list of cinemas below:

Empire Cinemas
Leicester Square (London)

Showcase Cinemas
Dartford (London)


Out Now – 7th March 2014


300: Rise of an Empire
I didn’t see 300! This is a sequel to 300! I am out of my depth! As usual! Strong bloody violence! Strong sex! Sexual violence!

The Grand Budapest Hotel
I have a huge, unapologetic, hipster love for Wes Anderson and his films. I love them all and don’t care if they aren’t varied enough for you. His films are there for me when you aren’t, you bastard. This is the story of a legendary concierge played by Voldemort Ralph Fiennes told through many decades and aspect ratios. My top pick for this weekend in case you were wondering.

Escape from Planet Earth
Aliens come to Earth following a distress signal and are captured by evil humans. Now they must escape… from planet Earth. A nice U certificate film for anyone who can’t cope with the strong sex in 300 or the strong twee in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

US thriller with a cast including Harrison Ford (grumbly), Gary Oldman (respected), Amber Heard (attractive AND talented), and Liam Hemsworth (attractive AND talented?) that must surely be getting a wide release. Surely! Oh… one London venue. Good luck finding it.

Danny Trejo plays Danny Trejo as a tough cop who takes the law into his own hands in order to rescue his kidnapped grandson. When you take the law into your own hands it often gets broken. Poor fragile law.

Rome, Open City
The BFI are re-releasing another classic (who do they think they are, some kind of national institution for celebrating cinema?) this time a 1945 Italian war drama. COnsidering the year it was made I imagine this is quite a hard-hitting film.

Wake in Fright
Another re-release. Australian 70s drama in which a man goes into the outback and gets drunk.

Total Chaos
London-centric Bollywood farce. I think. Apparently a lot of the humour comes from a potential suitor turning out to be Pakistani rather than Indian. I’m not sure I can laugh at this comedy without seeming racist. Or maybe if I don’t laugh that makes me racist… Uhoh.