Film

Suicide Squad/ Mike and Dave Need Dates/ David Brent: Life on the Road

Kicking off the cinematic shenanigans this month is Suicide Squad (August 5). Given that this is a hot contender for ‘Most Hyped Movie Of The Year’, I’ll dispense with the laundry list of A-listers appearing (Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie etc) and get down to the plot.

Super secret government agency A.R.G.U.S, led by Amanda Waller (The Help’s Viola Davis), compiles a all-star squad comprised of incarcerated super villains. Their mission? To undertake various shady black-ops missions in an effort to chisel time off their respective sentences. Sounds legit.

But will Suicide Squad be fitting apology for the disappointment of Batman VS Superman: Dawn of Justice? And will Jared Leto ever be able to scrub off those henna tatts? There’s only one way to find out!

Released mid-month is Mike and Dave Need Dates (August 10) starring Zac Effron.

I already know what you’re thinking; this is obviously going to be some sort of crude, semen-scented dude comedy, but please observe the casting of the females leads. Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick are not super sexy vixens (though they are attractive, of course) but are well regarded for their comedy chops, more so then their sex appeal.

The story is simple: hard-partying brothers Mike (Modern Family’s Adam DeVine) and Dave (Efron) are instructed by their sister to find appropriate dates for her upcoming Hawaiian wedding, in order to prevent them from ruining the big day with their excessive joie de vivre.

So, they appear on a TV show appealing for dates, which puts them into contact with slovenly hucksters Tatiana (Plaza) and Alice (Kendrick) who set out to trick the guys into believe they are respectable, Charlotte from SATC types, perfect for a family wedding. And they succeed, but the guys soon learn the truth about the girls after spotting them smoking weed from a hollowed out apple on the beach. Comedy ensues.

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It’s called an apple bong, if you’re wondering

After Bad Neighbours, I began to come around to Zac Effron. He’s not terrible at comedy you guys, even if his attempts at dramatic pathos are so terrible they make Joey from Friend’s ‘Smell the Fart’ acting style look like Laurence Olivier.

Nonetheless, this has got something for everyone: brainless laughs, Audrey Plaza and Zac Effron for the (sorta) sex appeal, and a capable, familiar cast.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 15 years since the world’s cringiest mockumentary boss awkwardly danced his way onto our TV screens and into our hearts. It has been, though, and somehow the world has managed to continue spinning after the end of The Office in 2003 (and the end of the show’s surprisingly good American remake in 2013).

With such international turmoil and global instability, the world needs the return of David Brent now more than ever. And luckily, there’s beaucoup Brent in the form of David Brent: Life of the Road (August 15).

The finale of the show’s brief run (which lasted only two seasons and a two-part Christmas special) saw Brent fired from the titular office before capitalising on the z-list fame generated by the mockumentary by engaging in a series of humiliating public appearances at Slough’s nightclubs.

David Brent: Life on the Road picks up the action 15 years after the events of The Office. Brent, now a nomadic office supplies sales rep selling paperclips and tampons, embarks on a tour with his band Foregone Conclusion. Deluded as ever, Brent believes the filming of the tour (which he is funding out of his pension) will be a Scorcese-esque portrait of a genius on the road, when in fact it is a ‘where are they now’ follow-up on the ludicrous (deludicrous?) Brent.

There’s clearly a bit of wish fulfilment going on here; although it’s all very tongue-in-cheek Gervais, whose ’80s new-wave band Seona Dancing scored a hit single in the Philippines, is clearly enjoying the chance to play a (albeit clueless) strutting rock star, singing songs co-written by Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

But will it be any good? Too early to say: for every ‘The Office’ Gervais creates there’s a ‘Life’s Too Short’, but the chance to hear him wheel out cringy classics like ‘Free Love Freeway’ and Paris Nights is almost too much to resist.

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5 Funniest Moments from Orange is the New Black Season 4

The latest season of Orange is the New Black is the best one so far, hands down.

Nuanced, intelligent and utterly captivating, this season focuses less on Piper and her coterie of ladies and focuses more on the grown racial discord among the prisoners.

It also contains a particularly upsetting death rendered all the more tragic by its societal relevance beyond the walls of Litchfield…

But it’s not all heartbreak! So, here are some of the funniest moments from Season 4.

Piper inadvertently becomes the head of a White Power prison gang
The end of Season 3 saw perennial sour-puss Piper heartlessly sacrifice her tattooed Aussie sheila in the name of cementing her rep as number one knicker-sewing king pin (or in prison parlance, the HBIC). But, Bea from Prisoner Cell Block H she ain’t, and no amount of surly Hawaiian muscle can disguise it.

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When she attempts to rally the white ladies in the face of the new Latino prison majority, she inadvertently kick-starts a White Power movement (“White Lives Matter!”) The lack of overt gang affiliations up to this point (Litchfield’s inmates group themselves among racial lines broadly, but no ‘name brand’ gangs are evident) has always seemed kind of a strange omission for a prison drama.

Piper quickly learns that race-hate isn’t an easily-wielded weapon and before long she’s smoking crack and getting branded with a swastika. (Bonus points go Ruiz for pointing out that direction of the swastika is important.)

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“Uhh….”

The look on Piper’s face – imminently punchable in its smugness at the best of times – as the meeting careens away from her is priceless.

Judy King gets King-ky with Yoga Jones and Luschek
I suppose I should’ve seen where it was going when the polyamorous Martha Stewart-ish cookery guru stockpiled a few pills (of Molly, which is what American’s call MDMA, for some reason) ahead of a prison-wide lock-down in episode 11.

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King, who has already made apathetic slacker guard Luschek her unwilling portly paramour, really embraces the lawless vibe. When some serotin-induced reassurance (“For your ages you’re both beautiful women!”) turns to sloppy smooching things get, well, weird. It’s a big ol’ slacker-hippy-polyamorist sandwich.

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“okaaayyy…”

“Two Beards, Actually….”
This season’s hard-assed captain of the prison guards is man-mountain and Zangief from Street Fighter look-alike, Piscatella. And he’s as gay as he is a harsh disciplinarian, outing himself to Piper in the most hilarious way possible after she flirtily compliments his beard. “I’ve had a beard since tenth grade. Two beards, actually. The one on my face, and the one I took to junior prom,” he tells a sort-of shocked Piper.

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“Yeah, I like dudes.” And just so she gets the message: “I will never find you adorable. Keep that in mind.”

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(Also: his put-down game is on point, like when he asks Luschek how he ended up working in a prison when he “so clearly belongs in a Game Stop”. Classic!)

Sister Ingalls punches Mendoza
Sister Ingalls (star of one of my favourite sight gags of last season when the viewers are shown a copy of her autobiography titled: Nun Shall Pass) is desperate to check in on poor, forgotten Sophia in the SHU. When a distraught Ingalls tells Mendoza that, as a peaceful activist, she has no idea how to get thrown into lock-up, Mendoza urges her to think of the greater good.

So, she punches a stunned, but impressed, Mendoza in the face before uttering a hilarious, though less-than convincing, parting shot: “And I’d do it again…Latino!”

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Palestine VS Israel
Recent convert to Judaism Black Cindy is less than thrilled to be paired with Muslim Alison Abdullah (whom she calls ‘Scarfy’) in episode 2. Soon, a squabble over whether Abdullah can leave her prison issue Crocs on the floor of the dorm prompts Litchfield’s very own odd-couple to engage in one of the funniest exchanges of the series.

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“…Unless the ‘V’ is like a five or something.”

When Cindy (who took the name Tova after converting to Judaism at the end of the last season) tells Alison “Oh, you and Tova got beef now,” Alison responds: “First of all your name ain’t Tova…black people been naming their kids some crazy shit, but Tova ain’t on the list.

“Unless the ‘V’ is like a five or something.”

Happily, all’s well that ends well between Abdullah and Tova and the pair eventually bond over their shared dislike of Scientology. Go figure.

Seasons 1-4 of Orange is the New Black are available on NetflixThis piece first appeared on The Outmost

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Legend of Tarzan/ Maggie’s Plan/ Summertime

Opening the month in muscular style is Legend of Tarzan (July 8) starring the delightful Alexander Skarsgård and a menagerie of CGI creatures.

For those unfamiliar with the story (perhaps you were raised by tree-dwelling mammals?), it centres on the titular Tarzan, (played by True Blood’s viking vampire, Skarsgård) who is raised by gorillas and other a number of other wild beasts after his mother and father perish.

In an new twist on the much-filmed tale, the film begins with Tarzan, now going by John Clayton III/ Lord Greystoke living the gentile life of an English aristocrat. Instead of showing the hackneyed ‘taming of the beast’ story arc, the opening focuses on a very tame Lord Greystoke strutting around London with his spiffing wife Jane (played by Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie), ten years after leaving the jungle.

After being appointed trade emissary to the Congo by the British Parliament, Lord Tarzan is pitched back into the jungly life he left behind, without realising that he is a pawn in the evil schemes of dastardly villain Captain Rom (played by the always-excellent Christoph Waltz). Can the very ripped Tarzan save Jane, foil Rom’s evil machinations and still have time for Leg Day? Hop the nearest vine down to your local cinema to find out.

Out on the same day is Maggie’s Plan (July 8), which begins as a generic rom-com but turns into a comedic caper.

The story is thus: meticulous teacher Maggie (Greta Gerwig), ever the practical soul, decides that she cannot depend on Mr Right showing up and impregnating her, so she turns to artisanal pickle entrepreneur Guy to help her. Then, as is wont to happen, life throws her a curve ball in the form of hunky, but married John (Ethan Hawke, who only gets cast in rom-coms these days).

Soon enough John leaves his crazy, but brilliant, wife Georgette (Julianne Moore, with a comical Danish accent) for a life with Maggie, and the live happily ever after. Just kidding! After a few years of marriage to John she discovers that he is in fact, a bit of a dick. In a quirky, if not unexpected turn of events, Maggie decides that the best way to unburden herself of John is by foisting him back on his ex-Georgette. Luckily, Georgette is on-board and so, comedic capers ensue. Will she succeed? And will Ethan Hawke ever get cast in a non-rom-com again? Only time will tell!

At the tail end of the month is French indie flick Summertime (La Belle Saison) (July 15). After doing the festival rounds for a while now this quirky coming of age tale is final being granted a cinematic release (though probably not beyond the IFI).

Set in the 1970s, Summertime follows country girl Delphine who leaves her rural home for the bright lights of gay Paris. Once there, she promptly replaces her farmer’s dungarees and piece of chewing straw with a leather jacket and a Gauloises, before joining a radical feminist group.

Before long, Delphine finds herself irresistibly drawn to the group’s charismatic leader Carole, and when it becomes clear that the attraction is mutual, the two connect.

However, when Delphine’s father falls ill (quelle Domage!), a difficult choice presents itself: should she stay in Paris or follow her family’s wishes to remain on the farm and marry the boy next door?

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The Movie Hollywood Doesn’t Want You To See

Several months ago while scanning through Youtube I encountered an interesting, if not upsetting, interview with ’80s child star Corey Feldman in which he claimed that the “number one problem in Hollywood was, and is, and always will be, paedophilia”.

“The casting couch even applies to children?” asks the interviewer. “Oh, yeah,” replies Feldman. “Not in the same way – it’s all done under the radar.”

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“The number one problem in Hollywood was, and always will be, paedophilia.” [ABC]

I was reminded of the subject of child sexual exploitation in Hollywood this week after comments by Elijah Wood caused an international shitstorm.

Wood, who had evidently just watched ‘An Open Secret’, told a journalist that the sexual abuse conducted by Jimmy Saville in the UK had parallels in Hollywood.

“Clearly something major was going on in Hollywood. It was all organised. There are a lot of vipers in this industry – people who only have their own interests in mind.”

“There is darkness in the underbelly,” he added. “If you can imagine it, it’s probably happened.”

Woods later clarified that he had not experienced abuse first hand – citing his mother’s constant presence on set and her refusal to let him attend Hollywood parties – but said many of his peers had been victimised.

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Little House on the Prairie’s Alison Arngrim once told a reporter that “everyone knew that the two Coreys were just being passed around.”

Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter in the wake of Wood’s comments this week, Feldman revealed that best friend and fellow ’80s child star Corey Haim was subjected to “more direct abuse” than he was.

“With me, there were some molestations, and it did come from several hands, so to speak, but with Corey, his was direct rape, whereas mine was not actual rape. And his also occurred when he was 11.”

He cited this abuse as the primary cause of Haim’s drug-fuelled death last year. “There is one person to blame in the death of Corey Haim, and that person happens to be a Hollywood mogul — and that person needs to be exposed but unfortunately I can’t be the one to do it.”

Despite the claims, Feldman refuses name his abuser(s) or the “mogul” he claimed abused Haim, telling HR that the statute of limitations on the crime has expired and if he named those responsible, he would be subject to litigation, not the alleged perpetrators.

California law allows litigation for accusers aged 26 and younger, or three years from the date they discover their trauma.

Feldman did, however, say that at least one of his alleged abusers is still “prominently in the business” to this day.

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All of this leads us to the catalyst for the recent interest in the topic Hollywood paedophilia: 2015 documentary An Open Secret, which has recently appeared on Vimeo.

Directed by Deliver Us From Evil‘s Amy Berg, An Open Secret tells the story of 4 young men who say they were abused by men connect to a powerful network of influential Hollywood predators. Successful talent agents, directors, investors and casting agents are all named as being part of the paedophile ring.

Much of the alleged abuse catalogued in An Open Secret centres on an early web TV company called Digital Entertainment Network (DEN) and its owners Marc Collins-Rector, Chad Shackley and Brock Pierce.

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DEN co-founder and convicted sex-offender, Mark Collins-Rector

Entertainment moguls David Geffen, Michael Huffington and others invested $150 million into the company which aimed to create content target at the “global youth audience”. Collins-Rector had made millions with early internet ventures in the ’90s.

Collins-Rector lived with DEN co-founder and boyfriend Shackley, whom he met as a 15 year-old, together with former child star Pierce, in a sprawling mansion – called the M&C Ranch (Marc and Chad) in Encino, California. This is where the paedophile parties, where DEN’s teenage stars were passed between older men, are alleged to have take place.

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Brock Pierce, DEN co-founder and housemate of Collins-Rector and Shackley

DEN, it appears, was little more than a front for the procurement and abuse of boys.

Described in the documentary as a proto-Netflix, DEN intended to generate unique programming for dispersal on its site. However, it was doomed to fail since the early internet did not have the capability to fulfil streaming requirements for such an admittedly forward-thinking project.

One such programme mentioned in the documentary was 1998’s ‘Chad’s World’. Co-written by Collins-Rector, produced by Pierce, and loosely based on Shackley’s life, the show followed a sexually confused boy who goes to live with his wealthy older brother and his rich boyfriend.

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Chad’s World (which features American Pie’s Seann Williams Scott as the character apparently based on Collins-Rector) which was also filmed at the M&C mansion, is described as “art imitating life”.

Three men speak out about their abuse on camera, while the story of another who was allegedly abused is discussed by his parents.

In heartbreaking archival footage shot during the time of the abuse, the misery is plain on the face of one victim (‘Nick S’) who nonetheless tells the camera how “wonderful” an experience working with DEN is. His expression is that of a child in conflict.

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Nick S, in archival footage from DEN

“It was as though they were from the industrial home for the blind…”

Lending credence to claims of a powerfully connected paedophile network is the fact that attempts to enact safeguards which would protect child actors have been met with resistance.

When a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Young Performers committee responsible proposed circulating a memo asking if any of their members had been abused by acting coach Bob Villard (convinced of child sex offences in 2005), one member, Michael Harrah, “vehemently” opposed the move.

Harrah, a ‘child talent manager’ explains his opposition to Berg – and unwittingly articulates a singularly significant factor in the silence surround abuse – by claiming: “I don’t know that we’ve “hidden” them [abuse claims]. I would think you would want to…not hide it, but you would want to protect the child whose identity is going to come out. A situation like this never helps anybody and, yes, the sooner we can get it under control the better, but the less the child has to live with the stigma of it having happened I think it’s better for them not only career-wise, but personally.”

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In the documentary, victim Joey C confronts former Child Talent agent Harrah about his attempt to molest him as a child

In this at least, Harrah is correct: at the very least a child who speaks out about abuse can kiss their career goodbye. In prison “snitches get stitches”, in Hollywood “snitches” who speak out against their abusers get blacklisted.

Until as recently as 2012, managers, photographers, acting coaches and other professionals in the entertainment industry that represent minors were not required to prove that they were not sex offenders.

Even when victims do come forward, studios work hard to quash stories. The story of Brian Peck, an acting coach and friend of Bryan Singer, is held up as an example.

Peck, who coached on many Nickelodeon’s shows, was accused of abuse by one of the network’s major child stars. The anonymous child filed charges against Peck, to which he almost immediately pled guilty.

Clearly he, or the studio, did not want an investigation to continue. The victim remained anonymous in order to protect their career.

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Berg and Evan H, one of the few victims to have successfully prosecuted his abuser, Marty Weiss

Citing the fact that not a single child star has spoken out about their abuse and continued to work afterwards, Ann Henry, co-founder of BizParentz, a non-profit corporation providing education, advocacy, and charitable support to parents and children engaged in the entertainment industry, tells Berg: “A kid that wants to speak out and say what happened to them beyond their family, would truly have to give up their career.

“It’s very sad that that’s the case but it’s the reality.” Peck, according to the documentary, continues to work on children’s TV shows, despite having been convicted of a child sex-offence.

But Peck is just the tip of the iceberg, says Henry, the bulk of which remains hidden as so many overwhelmingly powerful forces prevail upon it.

With the exception of Collins-Rector, Shackley, who now runs a computer shop and Pierce, who is a Bit Coin investor, many of the other alleged abusers: Brian Peck, Marty Weiss, Bryan Singer continue to work in the entertainment industry.

Their victims, whose lives are littered with alcohol, mental health and substance abuse issues, do not.

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Michael Egan

Strangely, director Berg refused almost all requests for interviews promoting the movie, which led to her being sued last year by producers. (One rare interview Berg gave about the movie can be found here.) She was accused of not only refusing to help market the film, but also of delivering the movie late and “in poor shape.”

One reason for Berg’s refusal to participate in post-release publicity could centre around alleged changes made to the movie by producers – without Berg’s consent – after the veracity of one of the abuse victims, Michael Egan, was called into question.

Scenes in which Egan had named Bryan Singer as one of his abusers were removed after Egan’s case against Singer collapsed.

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Director Amy Berg

Berg had earlier stated that she found it difficult to secure a distributer for the movie and that even small independent movie festivals weren’t willing to screen ‘An Open Secret’.

Whatever the truth, it is a sad fact that wherever there are children there will be those willing to prey on them and unfortunately Hollywood – much like the Catholic Church in Berg’s excellent Deliver Us From Evil – offers fertile ground for such abuse.

The reluctance towards acknowledging the extent of the problem, coupled with an apathy around naming and punishing perpetrators is worrying.

It is for these reasons that ‘An Open Secret’ is a worthwhile, if not troubling, piece of work.

*Update October 2017: In light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal the makers of An Open Secret have posted the movie on Vimeo for free for a limited time. Catch it while you can.

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Preacher: Top 5 Moments

Preacher debuted in fine style on AMC this Sunday night and since by now the whole world’s had a chance to stream it, here’s 5 of my favourite (and one least favourite) aspects.

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When our titular Preacher, Jesse Custer, tells a needy, mother-obsessed parishioner to ‘Be brave, tell her the truth and open your heart’ to his overbearing mother, anyone familiar with the comic series knew immediately what the outcome of this command was going to be.

The Word (as Jesse’s mysterious power is referred to in the comic series) causes those who hear it to follow its commands in a literal sense. Tell someone to go fuck themselves and the next thing they’re performing a phallectomy and inserting in like a suppository (spoiler alert. Maybe. If it follows the source material!) So when Mr Needy performs manual open heart surgery it’s especially satisfying.

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Perennially optimist Eugene Root, aka Arseface (or in his words, ‘Uhfuh)’, was always going to be a tough one. In the comics, Eugene is a bullied, Nirvana-loving loser, who attempts to copycat Kurt Cobain’s suicide by shooting himself in the face with a shotgun. He survives but is left hideously disfigured by the event.

This origin story will obviously have to be update for this modern retelling, but so far suh gud. Actor Ian Colletti accurately conveys Arseface’s vulnerability and endearing optimism. He is given his unfortunate, though fitting, moniker by Cassidy.

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I prefer TV Tulip to comic Tulip. There I said it. I never felt that Tulip’s alleged ass-kickery ever really came across in the comic; she was only ass-kicking until she hooks up with Jesse and then becomes a shambolic wreck.

TV Tulip channels her dismay and bitterness at her failed relationship with Jesse into becoming a one-woman, moonshine-powered, bazooka-rigging A Team. Also, Ruth Negga’s performance was great. Her Tulip is self contained and a more than a little crazy. Ass kickery incarnate!

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Jesse is very black and white, both literally and figuratively. Thus, a wife-beater who threatens his own child while dressed as Confederate general must be pummelled unmercifully before having his arm snapped. No Hail Marys required.

The beating itself was all thick, quick punches and jagged camera angles. The scene was cartoonish in its simplicity but Jesse is NOT one for nuance. There’s a reason John Wayne is his idol, after all.

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Lots of it here: The booze bottles all carry a logo which bears an uncanny similarity to the Saint of Killers; a reoccurring flashback appears to include Jesse’s dad as a preacher – this is quite a divergence from the source material; we catch a glimpse of Quincannon Meat and Power, run by Odin Quincannon (to be played by Jackie Earle Haley!), reportedly season one’s ‘big bad’. When will we get to see Ms Oatlash, and more importantly, the meat locker?

However, there was one thing that was notably not awesome…

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Accents
Let’s talk about accents for a moment, shall we? Dominic Cooper is no Andrew Lincoln in the ‘convincing accent’ department. No amount of quiet talking can disguise his inconsistencies. Let’s hope he gets better with practice, but he probably won’t and since Americans never seem to notice these things, it’s unlikely to matter.

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And while we’re on the subject, Cassidy’s accent is downright bizarre. Whereabouts in Ireland is he supposed to be from exactly? I’ve never heard an accent like his outside of ‘Travellers and Tiaras’ and I’ve lived here FOREVER. Still, Joe Gilgun is a fantastic actor capable of perfectly balancing pathos and psychosis so perhaps that will help take the edge of that awful Oirish accent, boyo.

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Film, History

Elvis & Nixon/ Gods of Egypt/ The Boss

At the top of the month, Melissa McCarthy struts her sassy stuff in The Boss (June 10) in which she plays a women who looks like disgraced TV chef/racist Paula Dean (disgracist?) but acts like disgraced TV chef/ white collar criminal Martha Stewart.

The story opens on successful business tycoon Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) who’s running her empire all FTSE-loose and fancy-free until she gets busted for insider trading.

After six months in the pen’ with Crazy Eyes and the gals she’s released and as she’s newly penniless, she’s forced to move in with her long-suffering PA, Claire (Kristen Bell). While living with Claire and her adorbz daughter, Michelle hits upon her best money-making venture yet: a baking company to rival the evil Girl Scouts who surely have a merit-badge for ‘greatest market stranglehold’ with their dry-ass cookies.

What sounds like part- Troop Beverly Hills, part-Down and Out in Beverly Hills is sadly, like neither of those movies. Despite McCarthy’s comic prowess, critics have given this one a thorough mauling (“There’s nothing going on in “The Boss” except Melissa McCarthy groveling for affection from the same viewers who already bought tickets to see her,” says the RogerEbert.com review.)

We’re still hopeful for Ghostbusters though, right?

Did you know that the most requested photo of all time from the American National Photo Archives is one of a bloated Elvis shaking hands with a toothy Nixon? Tired of all the requests the ANPA have no doubt decided to release a movie about the event, Elvis & Nixon (June 17) in a bid to get people to shut the hell up about it.

I must confess that at first I misread the title as ‘Elvis Vs Nixon’ and thought it was perhaps an addition to the Predator Vs Alien, Freddy Vs Jason ‘versus’ series of movies, but alas, it is not.

Allegedly based on true events, the movie chronicles the bizarre meeting in 1970 of Elvis (Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Shannon) and US President Richard Milhaus (haw, haw!) Nixon (Kevin Spacey). Legend has it that Elvis showed up on the White House lawn insisting on an audience with the POTUS, and being Elvis, received one. Never one to miss a photo op Nixon agreed to the meeting. Why, you may ask, did Elvis, by then in the twilight of his career and very fond of cheeseburgers and pills, request a meeting with America’s squarest president?

It was all a elaborate plan to get a Federal Agent’s badge, which Elvis secretly believe would make it easier for him to cross international boundaires with all his guns and myriad narcotics. That scamp! Anyway, Elvis & Nixon sees both Shannon and Spacey do their best impressions: though Shannon’s face is a little too Herman Munster-ish to really portray the King, while Spacey’s performance pales in comparison to that of Frost/Nixon‘s excellent Frank Langella.

Released on the same day is already much-maligned historical white face-fest, Gods of Egypt (June 17). Gerard Butler and Game of Thrones‘ golden handed sister shagger, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

The plot is thus: vicious, but broodingly sexy Egyptian god of darkness, Set (Gerard ‘I’ll Do Whatever Accent I Want’ Butler) bests goodie-goddie god Horus (Coster-Waldau), plucking out his eyes and seizing control of the empire. Eww.

Enter brave mortal Bek, with two turn tables and a microphone, and a plan to stop Set by enlisting Horus’ help. Cue lots of OTT CGI, lots of ancient Egyptians with bizarrely Anglacised accents and, like, zero actual Egyptians, even though there’s a couple of good ones floating around the acting-sphere (looking at you, Mr Robot‘s Rami Malek).

Given the ferocious pummeling the movie’s producers received for firstly having an all white (almost– there’s one black guy) cast and later, for having released a terrible movie, perhaps they should’ve spent more time on basics like actors and scripts instead of CGI shennanigans.

However, no plot contrived by a Hollywood script writer could ever compare to the most popular legend about Set, Horus and bit of lettuce.

The story goes that Set, eternally locked in a battle for supremecy with his precoccious nephew Horus, one night decides to Bill Cosby his relative rival, plying him full of booze and attempting to rape him. However, a sober Horus manages to place his hand between his legs and catch Set’s, er, essence.

The next morning he runs to his ma, Isis (sidenote: it’s super ironic that a group so dedicated to the destruction of antiquity share a name with an Egyptian goddess, non?) who does what any good mother would do and chops off his hand off. Then she rubs some special ‘lotion’ on Horus’ phallus, causing him to ejaculate, whereupon she snatches that shit up in a pot.

Still with me? Then she goes to Set’s garden and to find out what his favourite food is. Lettuce, the gardener tells her (possibily the maddest aspect of this whole saga: who the fuck loves lettuce? Though it was considered an aphrodisiac during this period, so maybe not surprising that sex-pest Set loved it). So, Isis prompts smears Horus’ semen all over the lettuce, ’90s gross-out comedy style, and waits for Set to get munching.

So, Horus and Set appear in front of Thoth, mediator of godly disputes, and tell their respective stories. “Horus can’t be ruler of Egypt, I jizzed all over him!” says Set. “Nuh-uh! I jizzed on you!” says Horus. “Fuck this,” says Thoth before casting a nifty incantation to ‘bring forth’ the aforemention semen. And so he does and it bursts forth, appearing as a solid golden disc floatinf above Set’s head. “Well, that’s me fucked, I suppose,” says Set, who concedes defeat and accepts Horus as Egypt’s ruler. THE END. They don’t make make stories like that any more, I think you’ll agree.

Probably for the best.

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Film

Florence Foster Jenkins/ I Saw the Light/ A Hologram for the King

Florence Foster Jenkins (May 6) tells the true story, largely forgotten now, of the titular FFJ, an American socialite and enthusiatic amateur soprano, who became known for her singularly terrible performances.

It wasn’t all her fault though; doctors later blamed at least some of her atonality to her ongoing battle with syphilis, and the effects of the arsenic used to treat it. If only she had caught singphilis maybe things would’ve worked out differently for her?

Meryl Streep plays Florence, an enthusiatic but talentless New York heiress with a love for opera and a tin ear, which selectively filters out the caccophonous laughter stemming from her terrible off-key warbling. By Flo’s side is her supportive-to-a-fault spouse St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) a failed actor who supports his wife’s musical aspirations despite her notable lack of talent.

And he’s not the only one. Due to her fabulous wealth and lucrative connections, many of the musical scene’s leading lights played along with Florence’s delusions in order to further their own careers. This false flattery has the unintended consquence of helping cement Florence’s view that she is preturnatural talented and wasted in private performances. So, she packs up her tuning fork and syphilis medication and books the most renowned public musical venue of the day: Carnegie Hall.

Can the softed hearted, but tin-eared, Florrie handle the humiliating laughter of an audience amused by her Messiaen around? Or will her pluck and resolute refusal to acknowledge reality make it a performace too hot to Handel?

In a similarly musical vein: I Saw The Light (May 6), biopic of country singer Hank Williams starring that suave skeleton Tom ‘Keepin’ it Loki’ Hiddleston.

The story follows the brief life (he died at 29) and stratospheric career of a country icon who influenced everyone from Johnny Cash to the Dixie Chicks. Intersting trivia: Hiddleston sings pitch-perfect renditions of Hank’s hits through-out, much like Joaquin Phoenix in 2005’s Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line.

However, unlike Walk the Line, I Saw The Light is being savaged by US critics for focusing heavily on the off-stage Hank who was a thrice-married, pill-popping, booze-swilling carrouser. Johnny Cash was also these things but WtL fleshed out his tormented genius and placed in the context of his hard-partying ways. By all accounts, Williams’ biopic paints him as a dislikeable, self-pitying drunkard and, unless this is an episode of Black Books, that’s no fun.

Next we’re off to Saudi Arabia, home of public executions and beaucoup oil, for A Hologram for the King (May 20) starring the eminently likeable Tom Hanks.

Hanks plays Alan Clay, a down-on-his-luck businessman who takes a trip to Saudi Arabia in the hopes of selling some of his holographic telecommunications systems to King Abdullah.

Being massively in debt and with his estranged daughter’s college tuition to pay, the pressure is really on Clay. This pressure is compounded by the fact that once he arrives at the not-yet-built Economic City, the king keeps him waiting for three weeks. In this time he makes friends with a goofy cab driver who explains the vagaries of Saudi life to him (yes, sand gets everywhere, no, harem pants are not popular here). He also meets a sexily veiled doctor called Zahra who treats his unsexy neck lump while forming a sort-of romantic relationship with him. But, this isn’t Sex in the City (even the second one where they’re in Saudi); unmarried women can’t be cavorting with virile specimens of masculinity like fifty-something Tom Hanks.

Will Alan sell his holographic software to the king or be stuck using it to make Tupac appear on-stage with Justin Bieber at next year’s Coachella? Pop along and find out.

This piece appears in GCN, May 2016. Read it here.

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History

Queer Women of the 1916 Rising

The contribution of women in the 1916 Rising is a sadly underreported one. The historical narrative familiar to most details the struggle of a small but doomed band of brave men battling the insurmountable might of the British empire. But there were women who took part in the Rising, many women, and among them were more than a few women who loved women. That their contributions have been not just overlooked, but in some cases, literally airbrushed out of the 1916 story is a tragic disservice to Ireland’s heroic women.

Although ‘lesbian’ isn’t necessarily how they would’ve identified themselves – it is important to approach any discussion in the context of the time – the fact is that some of the women of the Rising were in same-sex relationships, and unapologetically so.

Kathleen Lynn was one such woman. Born in Mayo in 1874, Lynn was a doctor (her portrait, the only female face among a sea of masculine oil paintings, still hangs in the Royal College of Surgeons), a suffragette, an active member of the labour movement and was chief medical officer during the Rising. Madeleine ffrench-Mullen born in Malta, was the daughter of British Naval Officer with Irish connections and an ardent suffragist.

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Lynn’s portrait, which still graces the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin

The pair met during the 1913 Lock Out, where Lynn was giving first aid lectures and administering free medical treatment to the striking workers and their families, and the two remained together until Madeleine’s death in 1944. Both women joined the Irish Citizen Army together providing medical support and on Easter Monday, Lynn found herself based at the unenviable position of City Hall (which backs onto Dublin Castle, HQ of the British Army), while ffrench Mullen was at College Green.

When Lynn arrived at City Hall with medical supplies she discovered that Sean Connolly, an actor in charge of that garrison, had been mortally wounded by an errant gunshot. When it became clear the he wouldn’t survive, she found herself as the ranking officer of the group of 16 men and nine women stationed there and so, assumed command of the outpost. Its proximity to the headquarters of the British Army meant that it came under heavy fire and after a single day the rebels were arrested.

The legend goes that when the commanding British officer demanded to see the ranking rebel officer for his surrender, he was aghast to learn that it was a woman. Eventually the shock faded enough for him and his troops to escort Lynn to Ship Street barracks, before transferring them to Kilmainham. Sharing a squalid cell with Lynn, Ffrench-Mullen wrote in her diary at the time that “as long as we are left together, prison was somewhat bearable”. Later Lynn was transferred to Mountjoy, which she noted was a cleaner jail with better conditions for prisoners, but wrote in her diary “but I would give £10,000 to be back in Kilmainham with Madeleine.”

After the Rising in 1919, Lynn and ffrench Mullen, together with many of their female comrades founded St Ultans hospital, the first all-female staffed hospital for infants in the country. The couple lived together in Rathmines until ffrench-Mullen’s death in 1944.

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Lynn (3rd from left) and ffrench-Mullen (far left) with Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne and other dignitaries outside St Ultans (circa 1930)

Despite what appears to be overwhelming evidence to suggest that Lynn and ffrench-Mullen were in a longstanding same-sex relationship with each other, this was until recently a matter of contention among some historians. The lesbians of the Rising were in essence hiding in plain sight. Since they didn’t identify as lesbians (such popular determinations were still years away), and since they were living unconventional lives away from the kitchen sink and the trappings of domesticity anyway, scrutiny about their sexuality was non-existent.

“They were able to have those relationships in plain sight because of course they were two women living together, two unmarried or ‘spinster’ women as we could call it, and that was not unusual in that society,” says Dr Mary McAuliffe, lecturer in Women’s Histories at UCD. “So they didn’t have to come out, they didn’t have to do that identification because it was quite normal for two women who had not married to live together as companions, as friends.

“The fact that we know they had more than that in their lives comes through in diaries and memoirs and private correspondence about them – it isn’t in the public record, but their hidden history is part of the hidden history of women anyway, and if women were hidden, lesbian women were twice as hidden.

“So a lot of the women who participated in 1916, gay or straight, their histories got airbrushed out of history and it’s only in the last 20/30/40 years we’re beginning to write those histories back in and we begin with those who are more obvious and then we look at the hidden aspects of those histories.

“For example, some of the heterosexual women were having affairs before they got married which was a hidden history as well. If they had been found out they would have been condemned by society, would they have ended up in a Magdalene laundry? You have to think about it like that. At that time sexuality for women was constructed as reproductive, marital and passive – you didn’t make choices around sexuality if you were a woman, straight or gay. So, the histories of sexuality for all women are pretty hidden but if you’re anything other than straight, it’s really difficult to find those histories. “

Another notable and often overlooked couple were Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan. Friends since childhood, both women were nurses stationed at the GPO.

It was O’Farrell who brought out the white flag of surrender and whose feet were literally airbrushed out of a photograph so it showed Padraig Pearse surrendering alone.

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A sequence of the original pre-doctored images: O’Farrell, whose feet are visible  beside Padraig Pearse in the first two images, was removed from the final one

The women lived together their whole lives and were buried in the same plot in Glasnevin cemetery. The inscription mentions Elizabeth O’Farrell then adds ‘And her faithful comrade and lifelong friend, Sheila Grenan’. The subtle language of the hidden homosexual. “That’s the type of language that was used for people who were committed to each other, both personally and politically – they said ‘lifelong companion’, ‘lifelong friend’, ‘my friend’ – they used terms like that because they don’t have other language in a way we have today,” says McAuliffe.

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O’Farrell and Grenan’s grave at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

Despite being imprisoned along with Kathleen Lynn rather early on Easter week, Helena Malony, an Abbey actress, was another unheralded but key member of the Rising. She was unquenchably radical, even trying to dig her way out of Kilmainham gaol with a spoon after her capture. Kathleen Lynn later attributed her politicism in part to the influence of Malony who stayed with her and ffrench Mullens in the basement flat of their Rathmines home.

 

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Helena Malony

Born in 1883 and orphaned early in her life, Malony was a radical committed to the intertwined causes of feminism, the labour movement and national sovereignty. In 1908 she established ‘Bean na hEireann’ a monthly magazine advocating ‘militancy, separatism and feminism’ – the only magazine promoting physically aggressive republicanism. In 1911 she earned the distinction of being the first Irish political prisoner of her generation after vandalising a portrait of George V during his visit to Ireland. She was bailed out, but was overjoyed when she was rearrested for calling the monarch a scoundrel. “That was marvellous; I felt myself in the same company as Wolfe Tone,” she later said of her brief arrest.

 

So enthusiastically did she believe in the cause of the Rising that she spent the weeks leading up to the event sleeping on a pile of coats at workers’ co-operative store adjoining Liberty Hall, with a revolver under her pillow. She was involved an a dramatic raid on Dublin Castle which resulted in the murder of an unarmed police officer, before being capture in City Hall and imprisoned in Ship Street barracks. She was then moved to Kilmainham Gaol where she was traumatised by the executions of the Rising’s leaders. After a failed but valiant attempt to dig her way out with a spoon, she became one of only 5 women to be transferred to a decrepit jail in Aylesbury, England together with 2,500 of the conflict’s male combatants.

After her release she continued to campaign for equality for women (and against the rescinding of the principle of equal citizenship enshrined in the Proclamation) against a pro-Treaty Labour Party and a male-dominated trade union. Despite opposition to her firebrand ways, she was elected president of the Irish Trade Union in 1937, becoming only the second women to hold the office. Despite a number of affairs with men (including Sean Connolly) she lived with psychiatrist Evelyn O’Brien, from the 1940s until her death 1967.

“I’m pretty sure that Helena was bisexual,” says Marie Mulholland, author of The Politics and Relationships of Kathleen Lynn. “Helena had a number of affairs with men but certainly the last 20 years of her life she spent with a woman, a psychiatrist called Evelyn O’ Brien, and when Dr O B died, her family insured that all over her personal papers were destroyed which is always an indication that something is being hidden by the family.”

Another possible addition to the queer pantheon of Rising heroes is Margaret Skinnider, a slacks-wearing sharpshooter who was the only woman to be injured during the Rising.

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Scottish sharpshooter Margaret Skinnider

Born in Scotland in 1892, the daughter of Irish parents, Skinnider became an active participant in the women’s suffrage movement and the fight for Irish independence as a young woman. After getting involved with Constance Markievicz, Skinnider began smuggling bomb making equipment and detonators into Dublin (hidden under her hat) ahead of the Rising.

She joined the Irish Citizen Army as a dispatch rider and was a scout and sniper for the St Stephen’s Green garrison. She was mentioned three times for bravery in dispatches sent to the GPO, before being shot 3 times – the only woman to have been shot – and hospitalised. She wore only men’s clothing during this time. “In pictures of Margaret she is always dressed in boys clothes and she insisted on being dressed as a boy for the Rising, because since she was a crack shot, she had to move very quickly around the city as a sniper and she wanted to be able to move efficiently and so she poo-pooed the idea of being in a skirt,” says Mulholland.

Skinnider didn’t brook any discussion about her right and capability to take place in such a violent uprising, telling a sexist commander that “we had the same right to risk our lives as the men; that in the constitution of the Irish Republic, women were on an equality with men. For the first time in history, indeed, a constitution had been written that incorporated the principle of equal suffrage.”

After her injuries, she was deemed too ill for imprisonment and managed to evade capture on her release from hospital. She fled to Glasgow before making her way to the US where she fundraised for the republican cause.

She was active during the War of Independence and Civil War (she opposed the Treaty)and in 1922 became paymaster General for the IRA. She was eventually imprisoned and held in the North Dublin Union where she became Director of Training for the prisoners.

After her release from prison she worked as a teacher in the Sisters of Charity primary school in Kings Inn Street, Dublin where she remained until her retirement in 1961. She became President of the INTO in 1956, where she continued to campaign for the rights of women. She never married and died 1971.

Finally, after 100 years, the contributions of these women and the stories of their lives – and loves – are beginning to surface, helping us to expand understanding of the events of 1916.

“It’s changing and we see that they did contribute, that they were vital to the fight for Irish freedom, and that their personal lives and their personal histories, whether they were straight or gay or whatever, their stories are absolutely central to our understanding of social, economic, political histories of the time,” says McAuliffe.

For some people though, there will never be enough proof of the definitive nature of women like Kathleen Lynn, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Helena Malony’s sexual orientations. “There is resistance. People are still homophobic, backwards sometimes. People say: ‘there is no proof’ and it is very difficult to find proof. How much proof do you actually want?”

This article originally appeared in GCN Issue 316, April 2016.

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Film

Eddie the Eagle/ Mammal/ Bastille Day

Fittingly released on April Fools Day is Eddie the Eagle (April 1) a Cool Runnings-y tale of well, not exactly, triumph over adversity, more like perseverance in the face of adversity.

The story is sure to raise a smirk from anyone who remembers The Eagle’s plucky Winter Olympic performances, as well as a little bafflement that someone, somewhere considered his story film-worthy, instead of just hilariously pathetic.

The film opens on Eddie (Taron Egerton, Kingsman: Secret Service) as a clumsy kid in the ’70s, outfitted in comically oversized coke bottle glasses, dreaming of Olympic glory in his bedroom while the other children are on the streets bopping away to the funky tunes of the Bay City Rollers.

In a cannily strategic move, he decides to forgo the glamorous, but highly contested summer Olympic Games, and instead aim for the subzero and altogether more attainable, winter Olympics.

Although Eddie manages to become a somewhat competant skiier, he is a bit chavvy for the refined Olympic officials and is rejected for the British squad. However, Eddie is nothing if not a pragmatist and when he realises that he could actually qualify for the national squad as a ski jumper (since the UK hadn’t entered a competitor in it in 60 years), that’s what he decides to do, despite having no jump experience.

So, off he skies to the snowy peaks of Germany where he begins training in earnest (Eddie the earnest Eagle) despite having not a single clue about the correct technique for skiing off an 40ft ramp at high speed. Luckily, disgraced former jumper and now drunken snow ‘groomer’ Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) is on hand to turn Eddie’s earnest enthusiasm into ski-jumping supremcy. Throw in some sneering Scandanavians who grudgingly grow to admire Eddie , some rousing speeches about following your dreams etc, and you’ve got the general gist.

Tense and atmospheric, Mammal (April 1) is explores the unusual relationship between two deeply damaged people.

Forty-something divorcee Margaret (Muriel’s Wedding‘s Rachel Griffiths) is a solitary figure, only truly engaging with the world during her trips to the local swimming pool. Her solitude is shattered when ex-husband Matt (Michael McElhattan, Game of Thrones) calls to tell her that the teenage son she abandoned as an infant is missing. This coincides with the appearance of a homeless youth named Joe (Barry Keoghan, aka the Love/ Hate cat killer) in Margaret’s life.

As the pair being to bond, questions about the nature of the relationship comes to the fore: is it maternal? Sexual? Or symbiotic neediness? Writer/director Rebacca Daly does a great job of maintaining the tension and keeping these questions simmmering through.

Lastly, in a delightful little reversal of the ‘American actor playing English person and making a complete mess of the accent’ is Bastille Day (April 22) starring an English dude (Idris Elba) and a Scottish dude (Game of Throne‘s Richard Madden) as a couple of Americans. HA! Somewhere Donald Trump is composing a speech proposing to build a wall around Hollywood to stop the Limeys stealing American actors’ jobs.

Anyway, the plot of this by-the-numbers action-thriller kicks off when prodigious pickpocket Michael (Madden) picks the wrong pocket (well, bag) one day and finds himself embroiled in large-scale criminal conspiracy that goes to the heart of the very police force. Exciting! Field agent Sean Briar (Idris ‘Bond Shell’ Elba) suavely recruits Michael to help track down the source of the corruption and kick some crooked ass, while dodging bullets and jumping out of windows while buildings explode in the background.

And there is still a reluctance to making this man Bond? Get it together Hollywood!

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Film

The Choice/ London Has Fallen/ Secret in Their Eyes

In a bizarre bit of post-Valentines scheduling comes The Choice (March 4), the latest joint venture by movie producers and Nicholas Sparks to cull large swaths of heterosexual women by making them cry until they die from dehydration.

The story is thus: Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker) is a charming single vet busy enjoying his life of plentiful but meaningless romantic assignations, walks on the beach and non-stop animal neuterings. But a man cannot be happy with just a fulfilling career, picturesque home and active sex life, so when attractive medical student Gabby moves in next door Travis promptly falls in love with her. With his life now complete, Travis immediately falls down dead and ascends into heaven.

Just kidding! No-one dies until the second part of any Sparks-adaptaion, and before that there’s an unworthy boyfriend to be cast aside (a sadly bloated Tom Welling from Smallville).

The flirty fun comes to an abrupt end when Gabby is involved in a near-fatal car crash that leaves her on life-support and Travis with some serious decisions to make. Well, one serious decision. Is this some lame metaphor about how love is the greatest life-support machine of all? Or just another garden variety weepy? You decide.

Also released at the top of the month is London Has Fallen (March 4), an empty-headed action sequel starring 300‘s Gerard Butler.

Butler reprises his role as jocular Secret Service agent Mike Banning, employed by POTUS (played by Aaron Eckhart) to watch his back, guard the White House and run alongside his cavalcade while wearing sunglasses.

When the British Prime Minister dies in mysterious circumstances, all the world leaders inexplicably gather together in the one spot to mourn his passing. Unsurprisingly, terrorists take this opportunity to bomb the hell out of everything in an attempt to decimate the global leadership and to plunge the world into chaos.

Only Banning, Vice Pres Morgan Freeman and enigmatic MI6 agent Charlotte Riley can stop the terrorists, rescue the president and save the gosh-dang world. Go ‘Murica!

“I wonder what Julia Roberts is up to these days?” said probably no-one, ever, but nevertheless the answer is: starring in Secret in their Eyes (March 11), a remake of the brilliant 2009 Argentine El secreto de sus Ojos.

The story sees Roberts as Jess Cobb, a counter terrorism agent working for the FBI, alongside fellow agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and newly-appointed boss Nicole Kidman. When the agents receive a call about a dumped body, they arrive on the scene only to discover that the victim is Cobb’s teenage daughter, who has been raped and murdered. Ray promises Cobb he’ll uncover the killer’s identity and bring him to justice.

Before long a suspect, Marzin, surfaces and he’s a right rum ‘un, but instead of being charged, he is released when it’s discovered that he’s an informant feeding the counter-terrorism unit intel on a nearby mosque. Upon his release hr destroys all the evidence against himself and disappears, which causes Jess to fall apart and Ray to pledge to bring Marzin to justice, no matter how long it may take.

Fast forward 13 years and Ray, who has since left the FBI but continues to investigate the murder privately, contacts Jess after a new lead promises to resolve the case. But is this clue the one that will crack the case? Or is justice illusory? Pop along and ponder it for yourself.

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