Friday, August 28, 2015

Quick Critique: A Doctor's Sword (2014)

There’s always the worry about making what is essentially a ‘pub story’ into a film. A fascinating tidbit you tell your friends over a pint that seems like it’d be made into a great watch until you sit down to actually watch it. Due to the historical context, the incredible struggle behind it, and the deft human spirit running throughout, ‘A Doctor’s Sword’ transcends the pub story into a fantastic documentary.

The main focus of the story concerns a samurai sword owned by Aiden MacCarthy, a Cork-born doctor. In his youth, he served as a medical officer for the RAF during World War 2. This led him to Singapore where he was captured by the Japanese and kept as a prisoner of war. He managed to survive this for four years, as well as the bombing of Nagasaki, the only Irish person to do so. 70 years on, his daughter Nicola found a photo of a Japanese officer with the sword and a note presenting the weapon to her father. Armed only with the photo, Nicola headed to Japan to try to track this man down.

The sword has served as a source of wonder for many a Cork person, as it can be seen at the family-owned MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbhere. Doctor MacCarthy himself has written an autobiography and did an interview about his ordeal, the latter of which was aired just before he passed away. This is the first attempt to make a documentary on this incredible story, which has been a source of fascination for producer Bob Jackson who spent 13 years trying to get it made.

The narrative is split between Nicola’s travelling to Japan and Doctor MacCarthy’s time in war, told through animation. Beautifully illustrated in sepia colours, it gives the proceedings a very quaint and atmospheric tone, while never underscoring the horrors the good doctor faced. Equally as impressive is the editing, which makes this film move smoothly and allows the transitions between animation and real life footage incredibly seamless.

On top of everything, the story really shows a sense of humanity and connection in a brutal and cold situation. The way it reveals why Doctor MacCarthy received the sword is humbling and extremely touching, also that he remained a rather grounded and empathetic person. More than being a very well made documentary, it’s a tale of an extraordinary man, one that should be celebrated proudly as a pure blooded Corkonian. 

‘A Doctor’s Sword’ may not give you huge insights or reveal hidden truths about the war, but it does show you a sense of humanity and historical connection between two families that had never met each other. Nicola, her sister Adrienne and her late mother Kathleen all contribute to the doc. to bring their husband and father’s spirit and memory to life, and show just what a remarkable story this sword symbolises. Definitely worth the watch.


(more information on this documentary, including showtimes, can be found at

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)

So, does it suck? Yes. Absolutely. I have no idea who this movie was made for, but regardless of what you are expecting out of this, you will not get it.

Is this an unfathomably terrible piece of shit so revolting and poor that it’s deserving the critical mauling it’s receiving? No.

Don’t get me wrong: Fantastic Four (or Fant-four-stic) is a bad movie. It’s a really bad movie. But to call it the worst superhero film ever is a stretch too far and seems to be built on this weird hype of hatred this movie accumulated long before its release.

Would I ever see it again? Probably not. But, at the same time, I’d much rather watch it over something like Batman and Robin, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, or Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Hell, I don’t even think it’s one of the worst film that came out this year. I’d so pick this over Self/Less, Mortdecai, 50 Shades of Grey, The Gambler, The Boy Next Door, Chappie or Unfriended, to name a few.

I don’t really need to state what makes Fant-four-stic not work. Most people know that by now, either through scathing reviews or shit-slinging think pieces. But here’s where I think it actually works in places, because I do think this film was highly ambitious in places...

The Good:

-The premise is really clever. The original Fantastic Four origin was set very heavily in the space race going on at the time, but-spoilers-that was over by the late 60s, so any future adaptation would have to deal with that. Having it be scientific progress is a nice modern day spin, and while they could have picked something more relevant than teleportation, it resonates a lot harder than if it did not.

-While most of the effects look terrible, the stuff they use to incorporate the Four’s powers are actually really well done. I particularly love how the Human Torch looks.

-Pretty much the body horror stuff is excellent. It’s well-paced, has great tension and looks appropriately horrific and brutal. This stuff completely tonally meshes with the rest of the narrative, and it doesn’t last very long, but I get the feeling that this is what director Josh Trank wanted to make free of studio interference and fan pressure. Everything from after the guys come back to earth until the time skip is the only stuff in the film that’s fully solid. I also love how a lot of the debris and energy that attacks them helps form their powers, that was a really nice touch

-It never drags. It’s only 100 minutes long and it flies through everything (I’ll get back to that), so while I was bored by the thing, it’s not because it dragged.

-Reg E. Cathey is the only actor that seems to be trying, and he does a pretty good job, even if his character may as well be called Moralise O’Speechify. I also like that his son is played by a fellow Wire alumni, even if their characters never interacted or were even on the show at the same time.
That’s it. That’s all that worked. Now, while everybody had already talked about the bad, let’s talk about…

The Bad (spoiler warning):

-One of the biggest faults is that it’s just a massive drag. The incompetent script drags the origin to 100 minutes, but it doesn’t do anything interesting with them. While it is well paced, everything is so rushed an unfocused that it’s impossible to care about anything that happens, so not only does its pacing work for it because it’s thankfully over pretty quickly, it’s also a problem as I do not have any idea about these people or their relationships. This is mostly due to:

-Good lord, the acting from the younger leads is *awful*. It’s a shame, as they are a solid cast, but they’re not given anything to do, and are just lost. Miles Teller seems to not know who his character is (neither does the script), Jamie Bell looks lost, Kate Mara is not given anything to do. Even Michael B. Jordan, who has been wonderful in previous work (including the director’s first film Chronicle) seems to phone it in. There’s only one performance that beats them all, but I’ll get to that.

-The set-up is ridiculously stupid. Reed Richards is discovered by this prestigious and well-funded inventor looking around what looks like a school science competition, none of the scientist are actually really defined with what they bring to the team, outside of ‘scientist’ and ‘sciencer scientist’ and ‘scientist lacking a chromosome’, I have no idea why Johnny is there, Ben gets called to be part of the team in the middle of the night for no reason, and the main impetus for the journey that gives them their powers is caused because people wanted space explorers to be take the journey and the team got 
drunk. If this all sounds dumb as hell, then I’m not emphasising just how stupid this is.

-Yes, there is a scene where Ben’s brother smacks him and says ‘It’s clobberin’ time’. It’s about as stupid as you think. I have nothing against them making this darker from the source material, but not when it’s this contrived.

-The Thing’s resentment of Reed is a great element from the source material they emphasise at one point and it’s just dropped. Seriously, Reed says he’s sticking around and that’s it. Conflict over. They could have seriously played this up, and it could be a great way to add drama and weight to the proceedings that was faithful to its comic book source. This really goes to show you how haphazard and confused everything in this movie is, no element they add is developed or thought out properly.

-Speaking of, we have that tired and overused anti-government spiel once they become agents of this military base for…reasons, and the movie NEVER shows how or why these guys cannot be trusted outside of the main guy being a little overbearing. Like, if you’re going to have characters say they’re manipulating other characters to do their evil nasty military bidding, don’t have the characters ‘manipulated’ completely and enthusiastically do said bidding without much convincing.

-Characters appear and disappear at random. Considering it’s a team-up flick with very little action, this is a problem.

-What the fuck happened to Doom? I mean seriously. Toby Kebbell has proven to be a competent actor in other movies, but he is just awful here. Completely without depth or displaying the smarts they need the character to have. The less said about how DINO (Doom In Name Only) comes across at the end the better. Why in all living hell do you take on this nihilist ‘destroy the world’ attitude when the character is only slightly miserable and isolationist in the first third of the film?! Also his powers make no sense. He has telekinesis for…reasons.

So that’s the bad, now because I’m a dork...

The Ugly:

-Considering Josh Trank managed to do more with the use of camera movement and shots in his found footage movie, this should go to show you how lifeless a lot of the direction is. None of the film has any energy or momentum, and the conversations are shot as spirited as a reality show that has one guy holding the camera.

-While some of the scenic shots of the not-Negative Zone are nice, and the effects on the team can be good, most of the effects are awful. Particularly on Doom and the alternative universe they travel to. I’ve seen more convincing worlds in N64 games.

So there you have it, this movie is bad. I just don’t get why the hatred is piled onto it. Why this movie? Is it just due to the pre-release hype (or hatred), the fact that they wanted to do something different from the source material, that people want Marvel to get the rights back, or is it all of the above? I don’t know, but I guess I can add to the crowd who says this movie sucks. I just don’t think it’s the trainwreck that people are making it sound like.

Fant-four-stic is weak, but it is ambitious. A movie that tries and fails will always have my respect more than a film that clearly didn’t try at all.

But yeah, no. It’s not exactly clobberin’ time with this, unless you’re directing it to the idiots who produced it.