REC Reviews: Project 365 #50 – The Guard

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Rating (UK): 15

Year of Release (UK): 2011

Notable Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong

After watching the highly rated Calvary back on the very first day of February, it only made sense to revisit the first collaborative effort between John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson. I figured that The Guard couldn’t be nearly as sombre and sobering as Calvary.

Once again my powers of prediction astound me, for I was correct. Boiled down to its basics, The Guard is a buddy cop comedy centred around two very different characters – one being Gleeson’s small Irish town cop Gerry Boyle and the other Don Cheadle’s FBI Agent Wendell Everett – who must put their differences aside and band together to solve crimes. Well, specifically the one crime here in the form of a drug smuggling operation.

Whilst formulaic, The Guard still manages to work its magic. It may have the makings of a Hollywood big hitter, especially with the presence of Gleeson, Don Cheadle and Mark Strong, but like John Michael McDonagh’s other works, what sets it apart from being just ‘another’ kind of any genre film is its quintessential Irish heart. The specific brand of humour, both dark and lighthearted is so lighting quick and never feels ill-willed is so inherent in

Gleeson is always at his best when on home soil, playing a disgruntled, well, anything. Here, he just so happens to be a disgruntled Irish policeman, in Calvary it was a disgruntled priest. Gerry Boyle is a character that in lesser hands could’ve come across as one dimensional and fallen into a pit of clichés, not to mention becoming outright unpalatable due to the string of racist remarks thrust at Cheadle’s Everett.

Gleeson however manages to inject enough depth and layering to his character that I was intrigued to see his motives unfold and genuinely wrong-footed by his decisions on more than one occasion. By painting a picture of a lonely man that has turned bitter and resentful towards the world (often to comedic effect), it becomes easier to feel sympathy for a man who could understandably be described as unpleasant.

By no means the most original film, but one I enjoyed immensely. The writing is sharp enough to slice your finger off if you aren’t careful and the growing fondness – or at least understanding – that grows between Gleeson and Cheadle’s characters was plenty engaging for me. Not as good as the later Calvary which handled the darker themes with more resonance than here, but The Guard still gets a RECrecs 7/10.


REC Reviews: Project 365 #49 – The Room

Director: Tommy Wiseau

Rating (UK): 15

Year of Release (UK): 2003

Notable Cast: Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero

In preparation of watching The Disaster Artist, I thought I better check out the source material for a fuller and more rounded understanding. What a wise decision and what an excellent life choice!

Don’t worry, I’m not skipping straight to rating The Room (definitely not to be confused with Room, the 2015 Brie Larson film about a woman and her son held captive) but I’m already wondering how to rate this film.

On the one hand, it’s absolutely hilarious. I mean it had me proper belly laughing at its absurdity and nonsensical plot and characters. I laughed more at this film than I’ve laughed at some genuine comedy films before.

The flip side to this however, is the small fact that this isn’t and wasn’t – despite what Tommy Wiseau may now claim – a comedy film. It was supposed to be an honest and searing drama following the demise of a relationship, centring around themes of love and betrayal.

On this count it’s appalling. The editing is so shoddy and jarring, each scene looks like it’s been slapped just one after the other with no thought to cohesion or clarity. The uncomfortably long sex scene very near the beginning of the film was nearly enough to make me turn it off altogether – I compromised by skipping this part, assuming that I wasn’t missing anything integral to the plot, or lack thereof – and to top it off Tommy Wiseau’s character is fundamentally unlikeable. Who would’ve guess that the more you point at a character and pretty much say to the audience ‘like him! Like him! He’s the main character so you must like him!’ the less the audience will like the character. How odd.

There lies the dilemma for me. As a comedy, this film takes itself so seriously and is trying so hard to be a ‘serious’ film that the comedy is all the better for it. I mean, would the line “I did not hit her, it’s not true, it’s bullshit, I did not hit her, I did not, oh hi Mark!” said with the oddest intonation have ever come about otherwise? Would we have a scene where our main characters go outside to play football (of the American sort) in tuxedos? Or would the scene where Tommy Wiseau’s character Johnny buys a bouquet of flowers from a shop where the clerk refers to him as her ‘favourite customer’ after the most painful and stilted interaction between two human beings to ever be seen on screen have been the same? The answer is I honestly don’t think so. The film wouldn’t be as funny if it had tried to be funny.

As cult films go, this one did have me in stitches, but as dramatically serious films go The Room was terrible. I’m therefore arriving at a true neutral, the Switzerland of scores and giving it a RECrecs 5/10. The level of enjoyment I got from watching it trumps the level of ick I felt watching Tommy Wiseau fake hump for what felt like an eternity. Also shoutout to Lisa’s mum, hope she recovers from the breast cancer that is mentioned for no particular reason literally once and then is never referred to again.

REC Reviews: Project 365 #48 – The Company You Keep

Director: Robert Redford

Rating (UK): 15

Year of Release (UK): 2012

Notable Cast: Robert Redford, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci, Shia LaBeouf

Did I watch this film purely because it has Brit Marling in it? Absolutely not.

It also has a cameo from Anna Kendrick I’ll have you know, and that’s what sealed the deal.

My obsession with talented, intelligent and beautiful actresses aside, this turned out to be a gripping watch.

Based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gordon, which in turn was inspired by the very real 60’s activist group the Weather Underground, it’s thought provoking and reflective in a way that I wasn’t expecting.

Based well after the events of the 60’s in which the group committed several crimes in the name of their radical left wing views, the group have formally disbanded and live peaceful lives under aliases unbeknownst to the FBI. When the case surfaces again, it puts the future of all those involved at risk. Robert Redford’s character Jim Grant (also known as Nick Sloan depending on which alias he is using) must attempt to clear his name by tracking down an old girlfriend who can provide him with an alibi.

The underlying subject matter resonated well beyond the 60’s. In choosing to place itself temporally, well past the aftermath of the events of the group, it felt contemporaneous to the current political climate particularly in the west. This highlighted the cyclical nature of politics in general and our inability as a society at times to move forward but instead become destined to repeat the same mistakes as our predecessors. It examined issues of political activism and did so in a fairly unbiased and non-judgemental way, never outright admonishing or justifying the actions of the political activists who committed some heinous crimes in the name of their views.

The film definitely takes some artistic liberties it must be added. Neither book nor film claim to be an accurate depiction of the actual actions of the Weather Underground and I think that’s the downfall. A documentary would’ve allowed perhaps more depth and scrutiny instead of throwing lots of ideas around and leaving them floating about for the audience to scramble to fit together.

A star studded cast and some memorable cameos from the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard and Sam Elliott, The Company You Keep provided a balanced and well thought out political thriller a cut above the rest. Sections had a tendency to become baggy and pacing in parts felt very stop start, but as an entire beast I felt myself being won over by the thread of political idealism and nostalgia that ran through.

Better than any of Redford’s directorial offerings for the past decade, I’ll give this one a RECrecs 7/10. Some sleek execution and some thoughtful ideas that needed maybe just one more fine comb over to neaten up some scrappy edges.

REC Reviews: Project 365 #47 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Rating (UK): 18

Year of Release (UK): 1992

Notable Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keane Reeves

Francis For Coppola directed, starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder AND Anthony Hopkins? A Dracula adaptation? What could go wrong?

Apparently so so much. I wish I could describe to you all the utter boredom that I experienced watching this film. The very concept of time ceased to mean anything to me, I refuse to believe that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was only two hours long, I’ve worked hellish eleven hour shifts that felt like they were over quick as a flash compared to slogging it through the two hours of this film. Not to keep bashing this over the head, but I had to watch the film in three sittings over the course of an evening because engaging in it was simply impossible.

For a film about a vampire it had remarkably little bite. Gary Oldman was, well, old. And not in a sexy or even remotely alluring way, which for an adaptation that seemed to be going for some sex appeal just felt entirely icky. Not the captivating or oddly appealing Dracula that I was expecting.

On the subject of unexpectedly terrible characterisation, we have Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker. Now let it be known that I love Keanu Reeves but my god his performance was dry. Ultimately I think that comes down to the writing, but when even Keanu can’t patch a film up for me then it’s pretty much game over.

My only nice words are kept aside for the set/costume design and the hair and make up team who did a fabulous job. Want to know how I can say that so assuredly? Because I spent literally… I don’t know… let’s hazard a guess and say one hour fifty six minutes of the film focussing on anything but the mind numbingly dull ongoings of the ‘plot’. Had some lovely use of candles, the placement made the whole thing very ambient. There was a level of decadence and ennui reflective of the superstitious period that I enjoyed, but that’s about it.

A fine example of a film that shouldn’t have been allowed to be made. Just because Francis Ford Coppola is a big name does not mean he should be allowed to have free reign over a literary great. Lacking in blood and bite, a sour RECrecs 4/10. Wouldn’t recommend unless you’re really into candles and ambient lighting in which case go to Asda, pick yourself up a mega pack of plain white candles and spread them around your house. I guarantee that the sights you see in Asda will be more engaging than anything the film has to offer.

REC Reviews: Project 365 #46 – Altered States

Director: Ken Russell

Rating (UK): 18

Year of Release (UK): 1980

Notable Cast: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban

In true Ken Russell style, Altered States unfurls like a bizarre and chaotic fantastical nightmare.

Normally, I’m all down for this. There’s elements of the plain silly in here, which in films like David Cronenberg’s The Fly, it world.

Here however, it just didn’t do it for me at all. Sure, the body horror was interesting and even the moments depicting the inner workings of change on a molecular level was inventive, but it just felt… camp.

I never thought that would be the downfall of a film, I can’t get enough of camp films but this just wasn’t what the film was aiming for. If it was self aware and referential I think I’d have been happier to go along with it but I just never had the feeling that the film took me under its wing or even attempted to do so. Instead of helping me to embrace the absurdities, the film seemed to be actively shutting me out. On occasion this works in science fiction – the later reviewed Primer being a, well, prime example of this – but it’s fair to say that for Altered States I needed my hand holding just a little bit more.

I feel like I’m being too mean, so I’ll highlight the two likeable things about this film; young William Hurt’s face (his eyes are so crystal clear watery blue, perfect for playing the overachieving slightly manic scientist) and Blair Brown’s concerned wife character who had some spectacularly screamy and shouty reactions. Understandably so, as aforementioned, the body horror is very kitschy and very 80’s, something that I secretly adore.

A mixed bag, one that failed to capture my imagination and for a large part, my attention. For that, Altered States gets a disappointing RECrecs 5/10 for its mediocrity.

REC Reviews: Project 365 #45 – Suntan

Director: Argyris Papadimitropoulos

Rating (UK): 18

Year of Release (UK): 2016

Notable Cast: Makis Papadimitrou, Elli Tringou, Hara Kotsali

This one came as pretty much a lucky dip. Cue boring story time that no one asked for: I’d just signed up to SBS On Demand which is an AMAZING Australian streaming service (yes, it’s basically All4 or BBCiPlayer, but better because of its vast library) so decided to use the full breadth and depth of it by literally scrolling down the movie options and just picking one at random. Reasoning that the film poster and synopsis appeared vaguely interesting, I thought I’d give it a go.

Suntan blew me away. Whether this comes down to the all too familiar low expectations – or complete lack of expectation either way – or I was just in a more open minded and relaxed mood than usual as shown by my lackadaisical selecting method, but it impressed me. Impressed upon me would be more accurate actually, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after.

It follows Dr. Kostis Makridis (Makis Papadimitriou), a fairly sad middle aged doctor who resides on a beautiful Greek island that remains barren for the winter months. Come summer though and the island is flocked to by thousands of party hungry young adults. In this particular summer, Kostis crosses paths with Anna (Elli Gringou) a 19 year old party girl and his growing infatuation with her becomes dangerous.

Speaking purely in terms of aesthetics it’s gorgeous. The sweeping Greek island is the right mixture of vast and confined, it speaks as a metaphor for Kostis’s solitude and isolation and manic sense of claustrophobia and obsession as his life spirals down a dark path. Contrasting the sparse and desolate landscape and venues during the winter months with the bustling and somewhat grotty summer months creates a dichotomy that separates Kostis from the younger visitors of the island; the ‘us’ and ‘them’, the othering and eventual shining of Kostis reflected in the landscape itself.

In terms of tone it’s an interesting endeavour. It both unsettles and embraces which makes it hard to decide where our sympathies lie as a viewer. That seems to be a large part of the charm of this film and Argyris Papadimitropoulos’s vision, it’s an open challenge to the viewer to see the main characters laid bare (literally) and decide for ourselves who we see as the true antagonist in the tale.

I’m actually going to go ahead and give Suntan a RECrecs 8.5/10 which may be more than it truly deserves from an objective perspective, but I believe it’s absolutely worth a watch. It left me craving sun filled days and hedonistic evenings and sailed way way over my expectations.

REC Reviews: Project 365 #44 – Boy

Director: Taika Waititi

Rating (UK): 15

Year of Release (UK): 2010

Notable Cast: James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi

The second Taika Waititi film that I sat down to watch in 2018 had an uphill climb. Following on from my viewing of What We Do in The Shadows, it was going to be hard to beat.

Boy gives it a good go. More meaningful than What We Do in the Shadows, Boy has a big heart. James Rolleston is utterly charming and loveable as the titular ‘Boy’, struggling to find his own identity particularly in relation to his absentee criminal father.

In its finest moments it’s heartwarming and tender as well as being genuinely funny. There’s that wonderful stilted sense of humour that always seems present in Waititi’s work, which when placed just so works absolute wonders.

It stumbles forgivably on a few occasions, leaning too heavily on pop culture references (Michael Jackson didn’t need to feature so heavily, we get it, Boy likes Michael Jackson) and shifting the focus away from the real driving force of the film which is Boy and Alamein’s (Taika Waititi) relationship as father and son.

The disillusionment Boy experiences when spending more time with his Dad is one of the most heartbreaking parts and it’s a credit to Taika Waititi that it didn’t feel out of place in a film that allows for whimsy and childish charm. These dark moments feel raw and naturalistic in the same way that the moments of lightheartedness do.

An honest and moving look at childhood as well as the relationship of a boy and his father in true Kiwi style. Not as good as Waititi’s other work, but it still gets a RECrecs 7/10 for making me laugh in all the right places and being a downright pleasant way to spend an hour and a half.

REC Reviews: Project 365 #43 – Lola Versus

Director: Daryl Wein

Rating (UK): 15

Year of Release (UK): 2012

Notable Cast: Greta Gerwig, Zoe Lister-Jones, Hamish Linklater

A recurring theme for me seems to be ‘late to the party’ and I absolutely was late for the Greta Gerwig Party. The first film I saw her in was Frances Ha which I only got around to in 2017. Obviously since seeing Lady Bird, I made it my mission to seek out more Greta Gerwig goodness.

As far as places to start, I think I made a mistake by choosing this particular one. The story is entirely bland and beige, morphing into literally any rom com to ever exist. I hate using the phrase ‘so and so carried a film’ because that’s a massive discredit to several people behind the scenes who doubtlessly contributed blood sweat and tears to make the film. Having said that, Greta Gerwig literally carries this film. Her on screen presence and brand of comedic timing and awkward charm made this film marginally above average.

It’s not that it’s a bad film, it’s just very safe and unsurprising. There’s nothing challenging or thought provoking to the viewer or seemingly to the cast. Zoe Lister-Jones puts in a half arsed run delivering tired and frankly barely chuckle worthy lines to the best of her ability, but it’s just not enough.

A disappointing watch that never quite hit the mark which upset me more than if it had missed it entirely. At least then I could’ve had a ‘so bad it’s good’ moment, but here I was just left feeling sympathetic for Gerwig who made the best of a role that seemed beneath her.

I applaud the gusto that Gerwig approached this film with, turning a run of the mill rom com where her fiancé leaves her and she thus has to reconfigure her future into something ‘okay’ but it never reached more than that.

A mumbled RECrecs 6/10 here. If it weren’t for Gerwig in the titular role I think I would’ve struggled to be so kind about the film. A credit to Gerwig’s acting and a disservice to Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones for their sub par Writing here. I know you can do better than this. Not angry, just disappointed.

REC Reviews: Project 365 #42 – Fifty Shades Freed

Director: James Foley

Rating (UK): 18

Year of Release (UK): 2018

Notable Cast: Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson

I swear I didn’t purposefully seek this film out. Having watched the first in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy – I’ll admit, I actively did seek the first film out – and swiftly deciding that yes, it was as bad as everyone was making it out to be, I avoided the second instalment like the plague.

My luck ran out this time. The saving grace here is that I saw the Fifty Shades Freed in the most pleasant conditions possible. I didn’t pay for my ticket, rather it was gifted to me by someone who clearly couldn’t find anyone to go with her. Gold Class tickets at that, which entitle the viewer to reclining seats comfy enough to sleep on and what looked like an a la carte menu that could be ordered from during the film.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t manage to sleep in the reclining chair and the arrival of the food came far too swiftly and was delivered with a professionalism that clearly had the aim of distracting from the film for as little time as possible. How selfish of them to not allow me to be distracted for 2 hours, they have no mercy.

Cinema experience aside and onto the film. It was vapid, shallow, vacuous and just generally awful. But it had Dakota Johnson in it so who can say whether it’s a bad film or not?

No seriously though, joking about Dakota Johnson who I adore aside, it was really really terrible. It looked more like a car advert that had dialogue and some semblance of ‘plot’ overlaid to try and pass it off as a film.

I had so many questions, most of them just boiling down to ‘why?’. Why did Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson after to do all three films? Why does everyone seem to care specifically about these two people and their lives? Why was there a car chase? Why is Rita Ora in this film?

Having had some distance from the film (a year, to be exact) I’ve put these questions to bed. It’s just one of those things where the universe will never provide me with the answers and I’m okay with that. I’ve exhausted any feelings of care for this film, not that my disdain for it did anything to the box office figures or the avid fans of the franchise.

A film that’s all style and literally zero substance, it gets a RECrecs 2/10, one point for Dakota Johnson and one for Jamie Dornan. Hey, at least the cinema seats were comfortable though and it was free. Also, at least it matched The Cloverfield Paradox in terms of how terrible it was, what a prestigious list to be on.

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