True story

Pride (2014)

There’s nothing quite as lazy as reviewing a Brit-flick to be the new Billy Elliot or the new Full Monty, but here I go doing it anyway, because like its much heralded predecessors, Pride is a perfect slice of that thing we Brits do best. Set in 1984 and based on the remarkable true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign and its effect on one small Welsh mining town, Pride is equal parts uproarious and touching, with a true respect paid by the filmmakers to a very bleak part of Britain’s history.

Seen through the eyes of yet-to-come-out Joe (George MacKay), the film charts the movement from its early formation as the brain child of activist Mark (Ben Schnetzer), who is quick to correlate the treatment of gays with the treatment of miners in Thatcher’s Britain. What follows is an uneasy journey (many of Mark’s friends are quick to dismiss the movement due to their own experiences with miners) from the Gay’s The Word book shop in London to the Dulais valley in Wales, where Uncle Bryn-like Dai (Paddy Considine) is paramount in welcoming his new friends to the community.

Boasting an excellent cast list (I no longer trust a British film if it doesn’t contain Bill Nighy), Pride excellently weaves in and out of the lives of its whole ensemble, so it’s hard not to care about each and every one of them, whether it’s “gobby northern lesbian” Steph (Faye Marsey) whose opening line of “She broke my heart at a Smiths concert” sounds like a Smiths song in itself, Gwen (Menna Trussler) with her rallying cry of “where are my lesbians?” or shy Welsh Gethin (Andrew Scott) who struggles with the journey back to his homeland in the wake of his life as an openly gay man in London.

Pride is that remarkable kind of film that manages to acknowledge the injustices of its characters without cheapening the film with sentimentality, preachiness or forced scenarios, a feat for any film based on a true story. Alright, there is a scene where Dominic West’s theatre luvvy Jonathan wins over the miners’ social club with his sweet dance moves, but the history books will never be able to convince me that didn’t happen. And with a soundtrack as perfect as Pride‘s it’s hard to resist displays of such blatant showboating.

As I write this review of this stunningly crafted film, the news has broken that Pride has received an unwarranted R rating in the States. It really is a shame. Pride not only contains no sex or violence, it teaches the strength of friendship and the damage of prejudice. It’s also down right entertaining, and there’s not a single part of that that should be restricted to audiences.

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Pain and Gain (2013)

Based on the Miami New Times articles by Pete Collins (who acted as script supervisor for the film), Pain and Gain is the true story of three bodybuilders: America Loving Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), God loving Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and BBW loving Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). Inspired by a self-help guru (Ken Jeong), Lugo devises a plan to kidnap one of the affluent clients at his gym and, with the help of Doyle and Doorbal, extort all the money he possibly can do. What already starts off as a hare-brained scheme, kicks off a chain of events that leads to murder.

Before its release, Pain and Gain had already gained notoriety from the families of the victims portrayed. The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Life and Death of Peter Sellers and Captain America), treats the three antagonists as absolute knuckleheads. Wahlberg’s tall poppy syndrome is undercut by his constant malapropisms. Johnson walks around like Mongo from Blazing Saddles in a Jesus Saves t-shirt, whilst Mackie shares a fruity flirtation with Rebel Wilson. It’s akin to watching The Three Stooges with chainsaws. Which is shaky ground to be hanging their crimes on in the first place. The fact the humour flips between making us laugh AT them and then WITH them highlights the schizophrenic nature of this film as it is. It’s definitely a weak script.

A script that isn’t helped by the cast’s delivery. Whilst Johnson is quite fun as the teetotal ex-con heading on a downward spiral, Wahlberg sleepwalks throughout and even Ed Harris seems to be phoning it in. What did we also discover? Allowing Rebel Wilson to adlib in a movie, funny. Allowing Rebel Wilson to adlib in a film that’s based on a true story, tacky.

Then, when all hope is lost, everyone’s favourite franchise destroyer steps up to the plate…

Criticising Michael Bay has become something of a sport now. And with each new entry in his canon, the sport has gone from a long distance triathlon to shooting fish in a barrel with a bazooka. Sometimes, in the quieter moments, it can seem that we’re all just being a bit too hard on the Bayster. He’s just a man. A mortal man, trying to entertain us right!? What’s wrong with that? And then he goes and releases a film like Pain and Gain.

My Bay, My Bay, what have ye done?

For a film about bodybuilding, it’s amazing how podgy this film is. Despite all Bay’s favourite tricks – breasts, homophobia, explosions, loud music – he can’t disguise how much he needs someone to say, ‘Mikey! Enough!’ There’s almost something commendable about making an hour and 20 minutes – which covers character introductions and their first kidnapping – drag like the 100 year war. The same way you might begrudgingly acknowledge someone’s feat in killing over 50 people in an hour. ‘Wow! It’s a terrible tragedy, but they must have been good at cardio.’ But then to have to acknowledge that there’s still another 50 minutes to go just feels inhuman. Any good will the film tried to create has been well and truly crushed underfoot by Bay. When he cherry picks a directorial choice from Bad Boys II, we know that the film has lost us forever.

Pain and Gain could, potentially, with the right director have been a black satire of the brutal pursuit of the American dream. Admittedly, with the script issues, it still wouldn’t have been very good. However, with Bay, the whole thing is offensive from beginning to end. It’s like listening to Scooter whilst Bay himself gives you a lap dance dressed as the Hulk. His green body paint testicles slapping you in the face. In fact, that’s the best summary we can give it.

Pain and Gain; a neon painted bollock of a movie.