Sunday, 12 June 2016


Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts
Writers: Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker, Tom Hines
Director: Garry Marshall


Sandy (Aniston) is a divorced mum of two who suddenly has to cope with the fact that her ex (Timothy Olyphant) has married a much younger woman. Jesse (Hudson) is trying to hide from her mum the fact that she's married a guy who isn't white. Home shopping channel superstar Miranda (Roberts in an alarming wig - oh God, Julia, I hope it was a wig) is focused on her career and doesn't have kids - or does she? Seems weird that she's in a movie called Mother's Day. Anyway, the lives of all of these characters and more will intersect in a star-filled gala to show all of us exactly what it's like to be a complete Mother...

After Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, Garry Marshall is back to defile yet another time of celebration, turning in easily the worst film I've seen so far in 2016. I was pretty sure that Dirty Grandpa would be holding on to that title for maybe the whole year but Mother's Day is so astonishingly awful, so lacking in laughs, so devoid of drama that it makes that grubby De Niro/Efron flick seem like Citizen Kane in comparison.

I suppose it's some sort of achievement to amass such an impressive cast and then have them deliver the sort of lines which no actual human being would ever say. The dialogue is so teeth-grindingly terrible it isn't even amusingly bad, it's so jaw-droppingly vapid you have to give the performers credit for trying to sell the frankly ludicrous stuff coming out of their mouths.

Another problem is that the film is so chock full of plot lines that nothing is given particular focus or detail. Oh, there's a problem for Sandy. Oh, now we've switched to a problem for Jesse. Oh, now Miranda is on TV selling something. Oh, now it's Jack Whitehall and his fledgling career in stand-up. Oh yes, I didn't mention Jack Whitehall in this. Jack Whitehall is a British stand-up comedian and here he's playing a British stand-up comedian. And he's not at all bad as far as it goes, but as for the stand-up itself...

Look, I know this movie isn't going for edgy but the stand-ups on display here tell jokes so feeble that you'd be disappointed if you found them in a Christmas cracker. And yet the audience shrieks hysterically and cheers as if they'd discovered the next Richard Pryor. Still, in keeping with the rest of the movie it's just another unrealistic night of stand-up comedy in an unrealistic bar setting in an unrealistic world.

It's the same unrealistic world where "designer" Sandy assembles a scale-model display that looks like something a ten-year-old might produce as a school project and then presents it to Miranda in order to get what sounds like quite a high level job. Of course, in the real world Miranda would think Sandy was taking the piss and chuck her out but no, Miranda gives her the job. I don't care if you think that's a spoiler, it isn't even really mentioned again and if you're still thinking of watching this then there is no hope for you. I watched this so you don't have to.

Oh yeah, Sandy lost her temper before the interview so she destroyed her scale model and threw it in a bin, then had to retrieve it and reassemble it. Anyway, Miranda likes the fact that Sandy was ranting about her ex so she's more interested in a bit of gossip than asking about design experience so hey, let's just give Sandy the job, she'll be fine. What, you're a butcher by trade? This job is for a brain surgeon. Ah, you seem like a nice guy, you obviously know your way around sharp knives, you'll pick it up as you go along.

Anyway, Sandy's got enough problems with her ex and his stunningly pretty new wife so we want her to get that job, don't we, especially as she's living in poverty since Olyphant's character moved out. Oh, hold on, Sandy has a lovely house. Jesse has a lovely house. Miranda probably has an amazing house but we don't get to see it. Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) has a lovely house. Lovely houses are the order of the day here. Oh, I didn't mention that Jason Sudeikis is in this. He's an ex-Marine that was married to fellow soldier Jennifer Garner who passed away tragically - cue queasily bad taste visits to her grave using The Last Post as a motif in the accompanying soundtrack. There is nowhere, however tawdry, this film won't go in its quest to manipulate your emotions.

So Bradley runs into Sandy at the supermarket, they swap unconvicing dialogue and then don't really run into each other again until much, much later in the film when the romantic sparks really don't fly and there's less chemistry going on then when the science class I was in was banned from carrying out experiments when someone thought it would be a good idea to use a Bunsen burner as a flame-thrower. You know who you are so I will not be naming you in this review. So, considering the only reasons that Bradley and Sandy are compatible seems to be that they're single and that they both have kids - oh, and lovely houses - do you think they'll start seeing each other? Let's be honest, who cares?

Still, one thing this film doesn't attempt to do is shoehorn some kind of lesbian relationship into the proceedings just to look like it's being inclusive. No, hold on, it's coming back to me, there is a lesbian relationship shoehorned into the proceedings involving Jesse's sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) and her wife Max (Cameron Esposito). Actually, Gabi and Max seem to be by far the most interesting characters in this so obviously this flick spends almost no time with them at all except to have Gabi's mother (Margo Martindale in a thankless role) freak out when she discovers that Gabi is married to a woman. Mind you, she also freaks out when she discovers that Jesse has married a guy from India so Martindale gets landed with a character who's both homophobic and racist. Oh, how we laughed.

It's not just poor old Margo Martindale who gets short shrift. Hector Elizondo's trip to the shrift counter is equally unsuccessful, landed with a part so thin that if you held it up to the light you'd easily be able to see straight through. Elizondo is Miranda's agent but you wouldn't especially be aware of this if another character hadn't mentioned it. As mentioned earlier, Sarah Chalke is also the recipient of dubious-length shrift, as is the normally brilliant Jon Lovitz. It's like a fire sale on sub-standard shrift.

Mother's Day failed not only to raise one single solitary laugh, it didn't even make me smile during its 118-minute running time. Yes, it's nearly two hours long and you will feel every grating, mirthless second of it. After just forty minutes I felt like standing up and shouting "PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!" but I clung on for the rest of the film, hoping against hope that it would turn things around with a tremendous second half. What the hell was I thinking? Come to think of it, I may not have laughed but I did cry. Mind you, that was afterwards in the cinema foyer when I thought of the numerous other ways I could have spent those two hours.

My suggestion is that if there is a next "day" to be tackled in this fashion, Garry Marshall should film an enormous pile of dogshit for two hours and release that because it will have the same effect as Mother's Day and there'll be no need to pay out all of that money for those big-name actors. A failure on every conceivable level, it's insulting that someone out there thinks this passes for entertainment. It doesn't. I feel sorry for Jennifer Aniston, I feel sorry for Julia Roberts, I feel sorry for all of the genuinely talented performers cast adrift on this giant floating turd of a movie.

Take your mother out for a nice meal, please don't take her to see this.

Sunday, 5 June 2016


Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter
Writer: Linda Woolverton
Director: James Bobin

After a pre-title card spot of japery on the high seas which is akin to a low-speed, historical version of Fast and Furious with sailing ships, Alice Kingsleigh (Wasikowska) returns home to find financial problems on dry land and problems in Underland concerning the health of The Hatter (Depp). The poor guy's fading fast and the only solution appears to be for Alice to travel back in time to change the grim fate of the Hatter's family. For this to be possible, she has to convince Time (SBC) to let her borrow a device called the Chronosphere...

James Bobin's film is a visual treat and every scene is sumptuous save for the odd sliver of shaky CGI in which characters appear to be floating over the landscape rather than walking upon it. This is a minor gripe when 99.99% of the action looks so gorgeous and even I was taken in by the 3D version of this despite being no particular fan of the process or the specs I have to wear for a couple of hours. The locations are superbly detailed, the colours vivid, the fantastical setting made very real.

So why didn't I enjoy it more? Well, if only the considerable attention to detail lavished on creating a living, breathing fantasy world had been similarly lavished on giving the story more emotional heft. Despite the fact that the very life of The Hatter is in Alice's hands there's rarely a sense of genuine jeopardy and the tugs at the heart strings feel more manipulative rather than a natural product of the story. It builds to a climactic sequence in which all the protagonists gather to slug it out - in a PG-rated, fisticuff-avoiding way - but even that's resolved in a way that left me thinking "Was that it?".

Before you think I spent most of the movie wanting to go all Red Queen and demanding the heads of all involved, there are many things that I liked about ATTLG. Depp doesn't overdo it with the wackiness as the Hatter and Mia Wasikowska makes for a fine heroine but it's Sacha Baron Cohen as the comically menacing Time who stole the film for me, playing it broadly enough to ensure plenty of laughs but not so much that his antics become tiresome. When he's on screen the proceedings are lively and entertaining and the running gag about how he blames everyone but himself is very well done.

Similarly, Helena Bonham Carter is excellent as the spoiled, unhinged Iracebeth, here given a rather tragic backstory as well which doesn't necessarily excuse all of the frankly psychotic things she does but gives the audience a clear point of reference as to where all of her vengeful plans stem from. Again, the resolution of the conflict between Iracebeth and Mirana (Anne Hathaway) is throwaway and somewhat unconvincing considering what's gone before but HBC gives it her best shot and it's neither her nor Hathaway's fault that the dramatic beats don't resonate as they should.

It's another big-budget blockbuster season movie which falls frustratingly short of its ambitions. It's by no means terrible - in fact, there are flashes of brilliance across the entire running time - but I left the cinema feeling that the movie needed a much stronger emotional core to complement its beautiful look. Curiouser and curioser...