Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

As we know, all good things must come to an end - and so, too, must The Hobbit trilogy.

After wowing us and taking over the world with his Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson is finally closing the book on Bilbo And The Trilogy That Should Not Have Been.

We're way past arguing the toss about whether Tolkien's shortest book was up to three films, but if Five Armies shows us anything it's that we were right. It wasn't.

Picking up where Hobbit 2 should have finished, Five Armies' pre-credit sequence is a showpiece of typical Jackson proportions as the town we left last December is laid to fire and waste.

And this bit is quite fun.

After that, there's a battle.

And that's pretty much the whole film.

Sure, there are lengthy conversations on friendship, loyalty, gold that makes you go mad and inter-species love, but these are all really just pauses for breath between all the fighting.

And given that Jackson has proved himself so adept at the epic battle set-pieces, it's a bit odd that this time round the whole thing feels a bit, well, detached.

Maybe it's the ongoing failure to really give us characters we love and care about, maybe it's the effect of trying to just simply do too much, but there are moments here when I was having flashbacks to my Warhammer days.

(For the internet generation amongst you, Warhammer is what we did before they invented World Of War Craft - it was hands-on dice-rolling model fighting-friends fun, rather than staring at a screen and yelling at strangers.)

If you've played the game, you'll know what I mean - but for the rest of you, the huge squares of soldiers are basically how we used to set up our armies back in the day.

Lord Of The Rings never made me think of that.

There are some good points, obviously.

For a start, the whole thing is shot beautifully. And while the odd effect might look just like an effect, the scenery is again so real you could almost smell the snow.

And Martin Freeman is, again, great as Bilbo Baggins.

Throughout these three films, he - along with Ian McKellan as Gandalf - has been the one consistent feature.

He perfectly encapsulates the reluctant adventurer, and through him any emotional pull the film may have is channelled.

Sadly this detracts from the love story Jackson felt the need to create - but this highlights the problem all three films have had.

It doesn't matter what Jackson, Fran Walsh and the other writers created to pad out the story to almost eight hours, they couldn't create anything that had the power and majesty of Tolkien's scribblings.

As a result, the characters don't mesh well.

While Bilbo, Gandalf et al are well formed and rounded, others like Tauriel have seemed flat.

Which is no reflection on Evangeline Lilly's performance, she's more than up to the task - it's just she's not been given much to work with.

Overall, though, the film is just one long battle scene.

And if that's your thing, you're in for a great time - but for the rest of us, the lack of coherent story is a massive failing.

I don't like being negative about the Hobbit trilogy, being a huge fan of the book and Jackson's ast trilogy, but over the three films it's become increasingly clear that this was a bad idea.

One film? Great. Two? Maybe.

But no more.

And I'd forgive Jackson the film's shortcomings if it wasn't for his attempt, right at the end, to tie the whole thing into the Lords Of The Ring trilogy.

You've filmed them in the wrong order, Peter, that's fine. Don't then try and make them "work" if you watch them in the proper order.

And it's that one line (you'll know it when you see it) that ruins the whole film. It makes you realise that, in essence, this trilogy has been created just to set up a trilogy we've already watched.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

St. Vincent (12A)

Bill Murray has, in the years since Ghostbusters, gone from great comic actor to the stuff of internet legend.

He famously can never be contacted (and yet has never been busier), he apparently steals people's chips (or fries, depending on where you live), and he buggered off for years to create a whole new acting persona.

What he also did was continue to be brilliant.

After shambling back to us with Lost In Translation - in itself another myth as he'd never actually stopped working - he has cemented his position as one of cinemas finest talents.

A position that will be further cemented (can that even be done?) after St. Vincent.

Playing a miserable old git (of course), Murray's Vincent is a loner who drinks, smokes, pays a pregnant lap dancer for home visits and generally ignores the world.

That is until Melissa McCarthy's Maggie and her son Oliver (played by the stunning Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door.

Then his life changes.

Albeit only as much as he wants it to.

Taking the old faithful 'odd couple' riff and mixing it in with staple 'old and young learn from each other' motif, on the face of it St. Vincent isn't doing anything a thousand films haven't tried to do before.

But the gift here isn't what they're doing, it's how they're doing it.

For a start, Murray is having the time of his life.

Understated as ever, he gets the laughs in early and keeps 'em coming, and when the time comes to bring out the pathos and emotion he delivers in every scene.

What could have been a two-dimensional caricature is fleshed out and made whole by Murray.

He is living and breathing the role of Vincent - and clearly having the time of his life doing it.

It's a measure of how well McCarthy does - and just how damn good Lieberher is on his full-length debut - that neither are overshadowed by Murray's presence.

In fact, in the same way this is probably Murray's finest role, McCarthy has stepped up several notches and shown just how good an actress she is.

We already knew she could make us laugh (you can't blame her for the Mike And Molly scripts), but here she shows she can do so much more, making you really empathise with the daily struggles of a single mum going through a messy divorce.

Lieberher, meanwhile, is one seriously talented kid.

Sharing most of his screen time with Murray, his transformation from shy and gawky Oliver to a more rounded, street-wise and bookie savvy Oliver is as sweet and endearing as it is funny.

He's so natural in front of the camera, he makes Naomi Watts looks like she's acting.

That's not to say her role as the Russian lap dancer cum Lady Of The Night isn't well done, but at times it feels like she's concentrating so much on the accent she's forgotten how to walk and talk at the same time.

Mind you, in her defence her's is probably the least well-rounded of the lead characters. And it doesn't help when a young boy is effortlessly upstaging you.

Of the supporting cast, Chris O'Dowd continues to do his good name no harm as the priest teacher - again understated, getting the laughs without feeling the need to go all Father Ted on us.

Terence Howard, meanwhile, continues to look and act like a man still struggling to understand how he managed to screw up being in the Iron Man franchise.

Howard, Watts and the schmaltzy ending, though, are no reasons to not see this film - their shortcomings are far outweighed by the heart and warmth that flood off the screen.

Yes, you know what's coming.

Yes, there are precious few surprises.

Yes, all loose ends get tied up in exactly the way you'd expect.

In fact, it is what it is.

But none of that is important.

What's important is how this film makes you feel.

You love Vincent from the off, despite all his flaws, and you are friends with Maggie the moment you see her.

And your heart will be stolen by Oliver the moment he mutters "This is going to be a long life".

As I said, the final 20 minutes or so a schmaltzy, but given that it still reduced me to tears I think we can call it good schmaltz.

A film doesn't have to be edgy, daring or ground-breakingly original to be wonderful and brilliant.

It can be, but first and foremost it needs to connect with the audience on an emotional level, so you care about what happens to each character.

And this film will make you care.

In fact it will grab you by the heart and refuse to let go (which is a lot nicer than it sounds, trust me).

Friday, 28 November 2014

Paddington (PG)

In the build up to the release of Paddington's big screen debut, you'd be forgiven for thinking there were scenes of massacres and a bacchanalian orgy.

For reasons which baffled the producers, the BBFC gave the bear from Darkest Peru a PG certificate (meaning youngsters need to go with grown ups) rather than a U (anyone can go).

The reasons where the scary scenes involving Nicole Kidman - and fears children would try walking up banisters a la Paddington - but neither really warrant the 'harsher' certificate'

For one, children are more resilient than they get credit for. For two, most people don't live in a four-storey town house with the type of banister a bear can walk up.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter - because the PG certificate gives adults the excuse many would have been looking for to go and see this children's classic being brought to life.

And see it you must.

From the opening tale of how Paddington and his relatives were discovered, the magic and wonder of Michael Bond's tales are laid before you with all the splendour, warmth and humour you could wish for.

The other 'controversy' prior to release was the replacing Colin Firth with Bond star Ben Wishaw as the voice of the be-pawed one.

A brave move that seems justified from the moment Paddington opens his mouth.

Wishaw brings to the party a sense of wonder and naivety that totally befits a bear arriving in London for the first time - but he's not just a young voice, he is more than capable of being gruff and stern when gruff and stern are required.

Through Wishaw's characterisation we see a familiar city through new eyes, and get to experience the joy of new things along with slapstick mishaps, japes, carry-ons and high drama.

The immigrant from Darkest Peru is helped and supported by a stellar cast who are all clearly having the times of their lives.

Hugh Bonneville as Mr Brown, Sally Hawkins as Mrs Brown, Julie Walters as Mrs Bird, Peter Capaldi as Mr Curry, Jim Broadbent as Mr Gruber - all are the perfect depictions of these much-loved literary characters.

Almost stealing the show is Nicole Kidman as the evil manager of the Natural History Museum who has her own idea on where Paddington should live.

Channelling Cruella Deville, Kidman oozes both malevolence and evil sex appeal, while managing to balance all that with great comic timing - all on tiny heels.

There's also a supporting cast that will keep the grown-ups busy playing 'ooh that's...' throughout the film.

But the real star of the piece is the bear himself.

Creator Michael Bond's daughter, Karen Jankel, said in a recent interview that they had waited 'til now to make sure the animation technology was up to the job - a decision that has been proved to be inspired.

From the moment those brown eyes blink at you over an orange, you're in love - and with every passing scene you fall more in love.

His fur is so real you could almost reach out and stroke him (please don't, he's busy), while his facial expressions are so note perfect they will make your heart melt.

It is key in films such as this that you - and the rest of the cast - connect with the animated animals quickly to allow the film to career on without distraction, and that is totally the case here.

Thanks to the writing of Bond, Paddington is exactly the bear I remember growing up with, causing accidental chaos everywhere he stumbles.

There is a rule on Wittertainment (BBC radio's flagship film programme) that comedies must have more than six laughs - and that test is passed inside the first ten minutes.

And it's not just the slapstick gags that get you. Littered throughout this 90-minute romp are throw-away one-liners which the younger members of the audience will ignore but will have the adults laughing out loud.

The subtle underscoring of a pro-immigration message will also not be lost on many.

The story is also perfectly balanced. Rather than just a straight tale of Kidman's hunt for her bear, there are a series of individual vignettes that tie the whole thing together - all wrapped up in a bow of quintessentially British eccentricity and surrealism.

It became very clear towards the end of the film just how magical and perfect it was.

During a moment of high-tension, there was not a sound to be heard in the screening. Not one child spoke, rustled or shuffled. There was simply one, young, audible gasp.

Everyone, of all ages, was spellbound.

And that's exactly what I wanted from this film.

Having read Paddington's many adventures from the moment I could put sentences together, all I wanted was the magic and humour I remembered brought to life with love, care and attention to detail.

And that's exactly what director Paul King has managed.

From the sadness of a bear abandoned on a station platform and planning to sleep in a bin to the brilliantly tense and funny conclusion, it's clear Peru's hero has found a loving new home.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One (12A)

Look we all know why this is a two-parter - and it's not "to let the story breathe" as one of the stars claimed on a recent Film 2014.

It's a money spinner, pure and simple, and it's not like you can skip this one because given their habit of assuming everyone has seen the first two you'll have to watch this to know what the hell is going on when Part Two arrives this time next year.

And that's just one of my beef's with the film.

Don't get me wrong, I get the economics - but, like The Hobbit, when a story is stretched beyond breaking point just to make a bit of extra cash you've got to wonder where will it all end now the accountants are in charge.

But, as ever, I digress.

So, the film itself...

In short, as a way of passing time waiting for the action to arrive, it'll do. But it's possibly the longest two-hour film I've seen this year.

Only covering the first third of the book (and still missing out Katniss' military training), Mockingjay 1 picks up where Catching Fire left off, with Katniss being positioned as the figurehead of the rebellion.

And that really is all this film covers - preparing for the final showdown.

They make propaganda films. Katniss rehomes her sister's cat. People argue over Peeta.

It does get gripping late on, but by then you're starting to wonder if President Snow couldn't just crack on and carpet bomb District 13 again.

And I say all this as a fan of the books and the first two films.

The biggest problem is the amount of presumed knowledge this film works with.

Look at other trilogies - say Star Wars and Toy Story - and you can watch any one film and there will be enough time spent catching you up on what's happened that you won't feel like you're missing anything.

Even Harry Potter managed that, across eight films.

Because, for a film to work it has to be able to stand alone. You can't assume the only people watching are the ones who saw the previous instalments.

Any idea why Katniss is stuffing a cat in a bag? Tough, you'll find out later when you've stopped wondering.

Can't remember what the Quarter Quell Games were? No idea why Effie is important to Katniss? Only a vague recollection of the significance of the roses? Best read the books then, or watch the last film again.

All of which is a shame, because when you're not trying to remember what happened before there are some good performances on show here.

Jennifer Lawrence brings a darker feel to Katniss, while Liam Hemsworth moves further out of his brother's shadow by standing taller than in previous HG films as Gale Hawthorne.

Then there's the final performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Sure, Film 2014 didn't think it warranted a mention, and Cineworld's own app doesn't even mention he's in the damn film, but after a rocky opening few minutes he once again stands central to proceedings, providing an under-stated performance which allows others around him to make their presence felt.

In fact, he's so integral to HGM1 (as no one else is calling it), you've got to hope he wrapped up most of his scenes before sadly leaving this mortal coil.

If not, HGM2 is going to have a damn great hole in it.

Oh, and another moment of annoyance - having spent well over 90 minutes expecting the audience to know what's already happened, they then feel the need to explain what Tracker Jacker venom is.


And Katniss has to ask if Cinna (played by Lenny Kravitz in the first two films) had died despite having watched him being dragged away and beaten to a bloody pulp.

Of all the things we're expected to remember, and they have to remind you of something that has no bearing on this film? Sheesh...

That's not to say, even with all this griping and moaning, that HGM1 is a bad film, it's not - it's just nowhere near as good as the first two.

It's a place holder, a filler, the sorbet before desert arrives.

I expect next year's finale to be a humdinger - and after this, it really needs to be.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Mr Turner (12A)

I've always believed that it is the young people of today who are tricky to be around when watching a film - given their tendency to chatter, use phones and eat noisily and wot not.

But I take that back.

After my experience watching Mr Turner, it would seem that the older cinema goer needs to have a word with themselves.

It won't be a quiet word, sadly, but a word is needed nonetheless.

We had many a noisy sweet wrapper, whispered comments that could be heard by everyone and at one point someone dropped their lunch box.

Got to love an Orange Wednesday.

Still, on the upside, I'll wager it's patrons such as these that have kept Mr Turner in cinemas for the past two weeks and - at last glance - well into next week too.

Which given it's subject matter, is quite an achievement.

At a time when turtles and mockingjays rule the roost (and sewer), to have a lengthy biopic on one of the nation's foremost landscape painters still filling cinemas quite warms the cockles.

As for the film itself, while it may be long (almost two and a half hours) thanks to the brilliant portrayal by Timothy Spall the time - while not flying by - certainly doesn't drag.

Attempting to span most of Turner's life as an established painter is no small ask, and the way the majority of the supporting cast are passed through like visitors to a museum does mean the film lacks a certain depth.

But that shouldn't detract from the main players.

As I said, Spall is playing the role of his life, while Dorothy Atkinson provides a wonderfully comic turn as Turner's maid/lover.

What we learn about Turner from the film is probably nothing more than is already available in books and online, but Spall gives a somewhat unlikeable man a warmth and humility that balances nicely against his harsher moments.

(He was never in the running for dad of the year, for example.)

The film itself looks - as you'd hope given the subject - amazing, with vast landscapes sweeping before you before the focus closes in on the subject of the scene.

And I do think this is a film that benefits from being seen further back in the cinema.

The one area the film falls down is in the actual story.

Rather than giving us one event in great detail, we are treated to a selection of scenes - with the passing of the years being marked with the changing of the cats.

Now while there's a case to be made for this mirroring looking at the work of Turner (you spend five minutes with one painting then move on), it tends to have the feeling of a tapestry rather than a single great piece.

But that, amazingly, doesn't detract from what was a great film.

Those who know about such things have taken issue with the portrayal of some of the famous people Turner knew (apparently Ruskin was far from a buffoon), but for the rest of us mere mortals he's funny.

And the time really didn't drag.

Given that I was checking my watch inside the first hour of Interstellar, at no point did I find myself wondering how long I had been sitting in my seat.

As Turner's life switches between Margate and London, you go with him happily, enjoying the journey of inspiration giving birth to art.

And that is probably this film's finest triumph.

A man sketching then going home and painting is not the thing of high drama and action, yet Spall and director Mike Leigh provide a masterclass in the detail being the key.

If anyone had told me yesterday I'd be caught up and mesmerised by a man mixing paint and spitting on a canvas I would have laughed.

And I'm laughing now, but that's down to Atkinson's fine timing and facial expressions.

Sure, Spall will get the plaudits and award nominations, but if Atkinson is overlooked then we'll know the critics weren't looking at the whole picture.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Get On Up (12A)

Today was one of those rarest of days - an empty cinema. Right up to the point where a second person shambled in.

Which wouldn't have ruined the experience, but for them taking the time to check their ticket to make sure they sat in exactly the right seat.

Which, of course, was the one behind mine. Typical.

Fortunately the shuffling, sniffing and rustling of a carrier bag stopped just as the opening scenes of Get On Up came grooving onto the screen.

Now, as you might have guessed from the title, Get On Up focuses on the life of one Mr James Brown, a little-known musician who had an obscure hit in the 1970s...

Taking the lead role is the great Chadwick Boseman - last seen in 42 - and, this being a biopic n all, the success of the film mostly hangs on his performance.

Panic not.

From a young James stuck in "pokey" for stealing a suit from a car to an older man reclaiming his former glories, Boseman brings the troubled Godfather Of Soul to life in such a way that you can't help but warm to him.

Which is no mean feat, given how unlikeable Mr Brown became as his success grew.

Alongside him is Nelson Ellis, off of True Blood, who more than holds his own as Mr Brown's longtime No2 and old friend Bobby Byrd.

The film starts with the events that were to lead to Mr Brown's infamous arrest following a car chase with the police, before taking us back and forth through the years, leaping from one point to the next with no linear structure.

Once you get used to this, you can settle into and informative, well-told biopic that puts it's focus on the music far more than the man.

That's not to say his drug use, treatment of women and issues with fellow musicians aren't touched on, but they really do play second fiddle to the hits and building of a legend.

Which is fine as far as it goes, but the songs are so well known it would have been good to focus more on the stories behind them.

Sure, we find out (over several inter-cut scenes) about Mr Brown's formative years, but simply telling Bobby to hire Bootsie (Collins - ask yer dad) when his band walks out on him (and then not dwelling on how he came back from financial ruin) feels like a beat missed.

And those aren't the only problems here.

A well-worn cinematic device to denote the passing of time is used on several occasions for seemingly no reason other then the look of the thing, while the breaking of the fourth wall is slightly out of kilter with the tone of the movie as a whole.

And switching to the original recordings instead of letting Boseman handle vocal duties was also a mis-step, as the clearly audible switch detracted from his fine on-stage performances.

But there are more positives than negatives.

The music is obviously stand-out, but it's the rest of the cast that catch the eye and the heart.

Dan Ackroyd, as Mr Brown's long-time agent Ben Bart, is spot-on, while Viola Davis' portrayal of Mr Brown's mother is simply stunning.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth play fast and loose with the actual time-line, but speaking as someone who didn't know that while watching the film it's only going to be an issue for the real aficionados.

Director Tate Taylor may like doing some things for the sake of it, but in terms of the tone and look of the film, he captures the different periods well.

Could have done without inter-cutting scenes of Boseman's Mr Brown with the original TV show audience, but hey, I guess he had access to the footage and figured he ought to use it.

A good biopic should, all being well, introduce you to something you didn't know about the subject - something which is tricky when Mr Brown lived out his life willingly in the public glare.

He was ahead of his time in terms of the cult of celebrity as well as his music.

But thanks to fine performances from the leading cast, you are introduced to something new - sympathy for a man who almost seemed to make being disliked his life's ambition.

Yes, he had a casual approach to guns, yes he followed in his father's footsteps when it came to women, yes he thought smoking drugs while wearing curlers was a sensible way to spend and afternoon...

...but, thanks to the power of Boseman's performance, you accept such things as the effects of a flawed genius, who took black music to the masses and gave us all his groove.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Drop (15)

There is a point some 20 minutes into The Drop when Noomi Rapace turns to Tom Hardy and says "be patient" - and already you're not sure if she's talking to him or issuing a plea to the audience.

Because while this film may be being billed as a thriller, it also wants to be a black comedy - and it takes forever to get anywhere close to either.

Which is frankly criminal when you've got a cast this good (Hardy and Rapace are joined by the late James Gandolfini in what turned out to be his final film role).

The story is a simple one - it's about a man and his dog, rescued from a bin (trash can if you speak American).

It's also about robbery and crime, communities and their secrets, people looking out for themselves, family, relationships a weirdo in a hat and a religious cop who may or may not be good at his job.

Like I said, simple.

Oh, and the title comes from gang bosses picking a different bar each night for everyone to drop off their dirty money so it can go get laundered. Don't worry, it's all explained in a handy voice-over at the start.

On the face of it, it should work - but somewhere along the way director Michael R Roskam (making only his second full-length feature following the critical success of Bullhead) lost sight of what he was trying to achieve.

The characters are - with the possible exception of Hardy's Bob - all cliche's you've seen in so many other films they blur into one, while the dialogue comes straight from The Big Book Of Mafia-Type Movies.

The result is top class actors delivering lines they can't quite believe and playing out scenes they're not quite sure they understand.

And then there's the pace of the damn thing.

To be a thriller, it needs to move much quicker, and have different speeds, not just cruise along in second gear.

And yes, I understand that the dog is more than a dog, but do we really need to spend so much time using it to set up Bob's relationship with Rapace's Nadia?

No, thought not.

Hell, I've spend less time in pet shops and I've got three (or four, I lose count) of the bloody things. And cats.

And why did we suddenly go all Oceans 11 during the Super Bowl night drop? It was like we suddenly stepped into a totally different film for 10 minutes.

I wouldn't have minded, but it was actually worse than the one we left.

So, a thriller that doesn't thrill, or a black comedy lacking laughs?

Well, it's both - in the final 20 minutes.

The explosive conclusion will make you jump, have you at least mildly gripped, and certainly produce some chuckles.

It's just criminal that it took so long to get there.

Danny Wossisface on Film 2014 said this was a fitting end to Gandolfini's career. It's not. He was better in Enough Said and In The Loop for a start, and they're both far better films.

Others have called it gripping. It's not.

What it is is some interesting scenes thrown together in a slipshod manner, building quite by accident to an enjoyable conclusion that would have been equally as enjoyable without the preceding 90 minutes of ho-humery.

Good looking dog though.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Imitation Game (12A)

When the first trailers for The Imitation Game surfaced, I - along with just about everyone I know - got very excited.

What was promised was a gripping tale about the man who invented the machine that would break the German codes and turn the tide of the Second World War in the Allies' favour.

It also promised to tell the story of the man himself, and not just his achievements. A tale that needed telling.

So walking into the cinema I found myself in buoyant mood, high on anticipation and expectation.

I wasn't expecting to walk out two hours later fuming and angry - and the fact I did is testament to just how good a job Benedict Cumberbatch (as Turing) and director Morten Tyldum did in bringing this odd-ball maths genius to the screen.

But I'll get to the anger later. Let's start with the good stuff.

Told in flashback during police interview (being gay wasn't just frowned upon in the 1950s, it was a crime), Turing takes us from the events that undid him to the events that made him.

Bullied at school ("mother always says I'm an odd duck"), Cumberbatch perfectly captures a man who understands numbers and puzzles but is left baffled by the real world.

From his opening exchanges with Charles Dance's Commander Denniston, we can see that Turing's bluntness and superior intellect are not traits that will endear him to many.

The fact you not only warm to him but almost fall in love with him shows just how stunning Cumberbatch's performance is.

Bouncing between his school days, events at the Manchester police station and the work being undertaken at Bletchley Park, we see our hero through all the highs and lows of his secretive life - culminating in how he solves the biggest puzzle of his life.

That's not a spoiler, by the way. If it is, you need to go and read a bit more war history and play less Warcraft.

Along the way we meet MI6's Stewart Menzies (the wonderful Mark Strong), Turing's team at Bletchley (Matthew Goode, Allen Leech and Matthew Beard) and the woman without whom none of it would have happened (Keira Knightley in probably the finest performance of career).

I say that because while the film is about Turing, and Turing had the ideas that won the war, the real hero is Knightley's Joan Clarke.

Without her, Turing can't learn how to actually interact with human beings. And without her the final piece of the puzzle doesn't turn up.

And, combined with Cumberbatch's performance, it is through Joan's eyes that we see that Turing can be liked and loved - adding a huge emotional weight to an already thrilling story.

Because it really is thrilling.

Sometimes, when you already know the outcome of an historical event, you can find yourself sitting back and just watching the story unfold - more interested in the how than the what, if you will.

But here Tyldum has measured things perfectly, and you find yourself holding your breath as Turing's machine whirs and cranks for what could be the final time.

And you share in the joy and elation of the team when they make the breakthrough - and then fall with them as they realise they have actually created an even bigger problem.

The Imitation Game is a near-perfect marriage of direction, acting and storytelling - right down to the subtle colour and tonal shifts to depict the three different eras being recounted.

So how, I hear you wonder, can a film that's this damn good (and funny - oh yes, there are laughs to add to the drama, tension and tears) leave one be-hatted critic so angry.


There is a point at the end of The Imitation Game where a fact appears on the screen - Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954, at the age of 41 (again, not a spoiler, it's been known for a while).

This is followed by the fact he was given a Royal Pardon in 2013, following a conviction for indecency that led to his early death.

Now, issues with the fact I'm 41 at the time of writing this aside, look at those dates again.

Died in 1954, pardoned in 2013.

That's how long it took the British establishment to get round to recognising not only Turing's hero status, but to correct a wrong that should have been averted in 1954.

The fact the powers-that-be didn't step in and prevent Turing from being prosecuted just adds further shame on the whole affair.

He'd done his job, so they washed their hands of him.

And he paid the ultimate price.

Now, chances are, these facts alone would have left me pretty angry anyway, but combined with Cumberbatch's stunningly powerful portrayal of a socially maladjusted maths genius, they added to the feeling that these things happened to someone I had come to really care about.

And I can't remember the last time a film made me feel that way.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Interstellar (12A)

You've got to hand it to Mr 'Batman Begins' Nolan - he doesn't do things by halves.

From Memento to Inception, he never seems to be happier than when he's both challenging his audience and himself.

Not for him the Michael Bay approach of louder is better. Although they do both like a long film.

And sweet Jesus, Interstellar is a long film.

It's not just the near-three hour running time, it's how time - ironically - passes so slowly in this particular universe.

Fourty minutes in and I was already checking my watch, as the opening scenes played out nice and slowly.

And that's to say they were dull, it's just a bit more oomph would have been very much appreciated.

And it doesn't need to be three hours long. You could shave an hour off and you'd have a gripping movie.

Instead, you have long periods of 'tum ti tum' moments in between the edge-of-the-seat nail-bitey bits.

Granted, he is trying to pack a lot in as we ruminate on life, love, time, space, family, humanity, purpose, black holes and relativity.

And I may have missed something.

For the uninitiated, Interstellar is the simple tale of one man's bid to save humanity from imminent starvation by sending a ship into space to find another planet to live on.

That's the short version.

And as ever with a Nolan epic (and by buggery it feels epic), Interstellar looks amazing.

Desperate to avoid a Pete Bradshaw and give away spoilers, it's hard to talk in detail about just how stunning the scenes are as they unfold before your disbelieving eyes.

Suffice to say that from the opening drive through the cornfield, you know you're in for something special.

And the scenes in space (we know they go out there, that's fine) take Gravity up a notch or three.

You also really feel like you're walking on the.... nope, I've said too much.

The other huge plus point is the cast.

Matthew McConaughey continues his recent fine body of work by leading from the front with another captivating performance, while alongside him Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow and the stunning Mackenzie Foy all bring their A game.

Hell, even Michael Caine is on good form, providing an unusually under-stated turn as the head of... Nope, better not say.

The only issue with the film - other than the running time - is the actual story.

For the first half, all is good - and while you may have questions, everything is strong enough to carry you along.

It's the second half where things start to unravel.

The first half of the second half (keep up) is all well and good, but is trying to be too thought-provoking when the action is more than enough.

It's the final quarter (the second half of the second half if you will), where your brain starts falling out of your ears if you think about it too much.

Which is a huge shame, because there are moments here that really do have you holding your breath or jumping out of your skin.

Or both.

The escape from a ginormous tidal wave in particular will have you clinging to the arms of your seat.

It just doesn't - and I can't stress this enough - need to be that long.

By dragging everything out for so long, Nolan is pushing the patience of his audience to the limit.

And I know there are people who don't agree. There are people who think this is an instant classic, is Oscar-worthy, is probably his best film ever.

It's none of those things (if for no other reason Inception is better), although I wouldn't rule out a Best Film nod - if only because the Academy won't want to admit they didn't understand it.

What it is is a brave attempt at an intelligent sci-fi blockbuster, which raises some interesting questions, provides some great action, is wonderfully shot and brilliantly performed.

It just needed to be shorter. And have better robots.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Say When (15) (AKA Laggies)

Indie comedies are a funny old beast - they're subtle, understated and often thought-provoking.

They can also, on occasion, misfire spectacularly.

And while Say When definitely leans towards the former, something about it is just well...

Let's start at the start.

We have Keira Knightley playing a 20-something someone (Megan). A someone who knows not who she is or what she wants.

She's managed to drift through life quite brilliantly, to the extent she's late to her friend's hen party because she was busy waving a "tax office" sign outside her father's business.


I mean come on, who the hell drives along, sees that sign, and suddenly thinks "shit, of course, I don't understand my tax returns!"?

But I digress.

Megan is still friends with her old schoolfriends - with whom she has little in common - and is still with her High School boyfriend Anthony (played by Mark Webber).

While drifting along, events conspire to make Megan wonder where the hell her life is going.

Her solution is to lie to everyone and run away. So far, the most sensible thing she's done with her life.

Running away leads her to the house of Annika (played brilliantly by Chloe Grace Moretz), a shoolgirl she befriended while running away from her best friend's wedding.

So naturally, she ends up staying with the schoolgirl - and her dad - while pretending to everyone else that's she's at some personal growth seminar.

At this point you, as the viewer, have a decision to make.

Either get on board with the conceit that a 20-something would enjoy hanging out with a 15/16 year old, or get off the bus.

I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but it raises more questions than it answers.

And this is a film that raises a lot of questions, right from the off. When you find yourself asking, two minutes in, who the hell took the swimming pool picture then, you know you're in for an interesting time.

But anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, lying to all and bunking with her new friend.



From here, we're into the realms of personal journey shrama, as only an American indie comedy can do.

Megan makes mistakes and learns stuff. Annika makes mistakes and learns about other people's mistakes right on cue (well not quite, I was banking on counting to three before she appeared in one scene, and it was on 2 and a half).

Children learn from adults and vice versa and all is good.

I know I'm sounding dismissive at this point, and I don't mean to be. The film is what it is, and does it perfectly well.

Although you can only call it a comedy during the scenes with Sam Rockwell.

Playing the divorced divorce lawyer and dad to Annika, the film comes alive when he's on screen.

It's not obvious, the pace doesn't change, but there's a noticeable shift from the film staring at its shoes to looking up and smiling.

And that's the main problem with this film.

While well made and fairly well written, it kind of feels like a bolognese with a key ingredient missing.

Yes, it's still recognisable as what it's meant to be, but something's not quite right.

It's not the editing, which is a bit overly harsh at times, it's not Lynn Shelton's direction (even if the odd shot raises eyebrows), it just feels a little flat.

And it's not even the fact that the final scene made me almost shout at the screen (a personal thing I know, but I was really hoping for a different ending).

I suspect part of the problem can be laid at the doors of focus groups (which would also explain why it's called Laggies in America, and we get Say When - a title which actually makes less sense).

It feels too safe, too sanitised. A film that could have had more on an edge but lost the courage of it's convictions.

To be fair to Knightley, she does well. OK, the American accent jars slightly to these ears, but overall she convinces as a shallow woman who hasn't bothered to actually mature and grow up.

She's outshone by Rockwell, sure, and CGM (as her friends probably call her) too for that matter, but I can't think of a film Rockwell hasn't stolen.

And CGM is custom-made for this stuff.

No, the actors are not at fault. Far from it. It's just this is a potentially filling dish crying out for some spice.

See, Laggies. Nope, no idea.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Annabelle (15)

Readers of a certain age will remember a time when horror films scared the crap out of you by being subtle and intelligent.

Take Night Of The Living Dead, for example, or - particularly relevant here - Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Plot, characters, drama, well-built tension and a score that added depth.

Or in the case of Chainsaw, no score at all. Which is what made it so damn scary.

These days, in a post-Paranormal Activity world, all that has gone to hell.

Without trying to sound too much like an old curmudgeon, the modern trend of just shouting BOO after a quiet moment lacks a certain panache.

Especially when the BOO is telegraphed to the extent you've got time to pop out and get a drink before sitting back down and preparing to jump.

Not all modern horrors are like this, of course. Some still manage to have a brain.

Take The Others or The Woman In Black - both went about their business in a quiet, measured way and hit the creepy nail square on the noggin.

Assuming nails have noggins.

Sadly, Annabelle - a prequel AND spin-off to/from The Conjuring  (can you be both?) - is happily ensconced in the unsubtle school of horror.

Telling the tale of a couple and their newborn terrorised by a doll, it falls down at the first hurdle by having lead characters so badly drawn you fail to give a toss about the events that befall them.

Clearly the writers figured it didn't matter as there was a doll at play.

Where that falls down is not only has scary dolls been done before - and better - but the minute the doll finds its way out of the bin and no one bats an eyelid you really do just feel like walking out, going home and watching Ringu again.

And don't get me started on the whole 'get the priest in' thing. Or trying to use Charlie Manson as some kind of reference point.

Then there's the score.

Now, I've nothing against subtle musical points to tell me what could be happening, but when shrill Psycho-esque tones are used every time you just know poor old Joseph Bishara has only watched one film or was given terrible directions.

I know the modern horror genre is proving popular, and Annabelle is packing them in as we head to Halloween, but frankly I'm at a loss as to why when there are so many better alternatives (granted not on the big screen right now, but still...).

And I get why this film was made.

Hollywood is a business. The Conjuring did good business. Thus Annabelle has to exist.

It's basic film maths.

But something popular doesn't mean it's actually any good. Look at McDonalds.

Even if you can forgive it all the shortcomings (yes, all of them), there's still one massive problem - and that's just how unoriginal it is.

What we basically have is a patchwork quilt of films that have gone before. The Exorcist, Ringu, Chucky - they're all in here, and they've brought friends.

In a genre known and loved for borrowing from the past, Annabelle seems to be setting a new standard in borrowing from better films.

And I think it's this bit that has angered me the most.

I get the bad score, I can let the doll being put back on the shelf to one side, I'll pretend there weren't two bits that made me laugh...

...but the fact film executives and producers didn't give enough of a crap to at least water down the obvious references is just simply lazy.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12A)

The word was out before the film had crawled out of the sewers - and the word was not good.

Not only was Michael Bay involved, but one Megan Fox - having apparently been forgiven for likening Bay to Hitler - was the big star name at the top of the bill.

Well, Transformers 2 was so good, all the whispers and rumours just had to be wrong didn't they...



That's not to say it's a classic. It's no Guardians Of The Galaxy or Lego Movie.

But it's far from the disaster we were all promised.

For a start, it's visually quite dark - in keeping with the source material - while keeping the tropes that made it so popular on the small and big screen (yes the 'first' TMNT film may have been rat poop, but it made a bucketload of cash) such as the different coloured eye masks.

It's also, in places, quite funny. And there's at least one bit that'll make you jump. So that's good.

The titular turtles - Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Leonardo - are also well done, the animation being detailed enough that you can almost smell the sewer they live in.

Granted Splinter (for the uninitiated he's the rat who brought up the turtles and trained them as Ninjas - yes, it does make sense) looks a little too cartoony, for want of a better word, which let's the side down a tad, but the younger members of the audience are unlikely to notice.

And - and this is the big shock - Megan Fox isn't terrible as April O'Neill (the journalist what first discovers turtle vigilantes are at large in New York - seriously, this does all make sense).

Granted you have to get over the huge barrier of being able to imagine Megan Fox is a) a journalist, and 2) would, in an era of eye candy trumping actual ability, be left covering trampolining down on the dock-side, but once you've done that...

...well, she's OK.

And to be fair she interacts with imaginary turtles and rats like a seasoned pro. In fact, it could be argued she's more at home with her CGI co-stars than she is with Will Arnett (the token love interest).

But she's still, sadly, got the screen presence of a small prop.

Granted you're there to see the turtles, but if you're the human focal point you kinda need to stand out a bit.

I'm beginning to think she peaked in Two And A Half Men.

Not that the other humans are much better.

Arnett himself is weak, but then he's better at dry and ironic comedy, while William Fichtner is doing "baddy by numbers" rather than actually mustering any real sense of menace.

And what Whoopi Goldberg is doing in this thing is anybody's guess.

Then there's the actual story.

If you know the history of how the turtles and Splinter came to be, you know what's coming.

If you know who the big fight was with in the original big screen adaptation, then you'll know what else is coming.

If, however, you're young enough to have missed out on all that, you're in for a treat.

And - a couple of inappropriate jokes aside - it's the younger filmgoer this is aimed at.

The turtles are larger than life, the fight scenes have punch, the 3D is unobtrusive (although the sunglasses will make a lot of scenes even darker), and it rattles along at a fair old pace.

For the older filmgoer, however, once we're past the hour mark the whole thing loses the run of itself - and if you haven't already, you'll happily start picking at the holes in the story.

But to be fair, this isn't aimed at those of us who enjoy thinking and following complex plots.

It's a big, brash, loud (Michael Bay's involved you say?) school holiday blockbuster that will give the kids - and young at heart - an entertaining 90 minutes.

Parents might be advised to take their Kindle along though.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Gone Girl (18)

The problem with adapting a "much loved" book is that, while it comes with a ready-made fan base, those fans will hit the roof if the film isn't exactly what they think it should be.

It helps, then, to have the author - Gillian Flynn - write the screenplay, because any changes can't be argued with as they're her (in this case) characters and it's her story.

Which is just one of the ways the makers of Gone Girl dodged a potential bullet.

The other was to hire David Fincher as the director.

Yes, he may have dropped the ball with the remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (not really his fault, it was up against a classic in the original), but this is the man who gave us The Social Network, Se7en, Zodiac, Fight Club (not that we can talk about that) and Aerosmith's Janie's Got A Gun video.

And in Gone Girl, he has again crafted a brilliant thriller that - if you don't know the plot twists - keeps you guessing all the way to the end.

Of course, one of the other problems with a "much loved" book is the fact nearly everyone knows what happens - which makes the fact Fincher manages to actually create twists and shocks more of an achievement.

For the two of you who haven't read the book, it's about a woman (Amy, played by Rosamund Pike) who goes missing and everyone thinks the husband (Ben Affleck's Nick) did a bad thing.

And that's all I can tell you.

With a steady pace and two stand-out performances by the lead pair (Pike is perfect as Amy), Gone Girl takes you on a twisted, dark, sinister ride, with several moments that genuinely shock.

It's long - almost too long - but it's hard to see what could be cut. We've already lost one supporting characters, and two others have been busted down to very minor roles.

Thankfully that cat isn't one of them.

It's a dark film, too. Not just in tone, but in actual shade. A lot of things happen in half-light and shadow, which - for me - added tension and annoyed in equal measure (I'm not ruling out a projection issue).

But don't go in thinking this is an entirely sombre piece - it's not.

Gruesome stabbings and wrongly-used wine bottles aside, there are some fine comic moments here - and even in moments of great tension, sarcastic asides are used to great effect (another plus to having the original writer on board).

And the running gag during the second half of the film is great.

All that said, it's not as flawless as many are claiming.

For a start, how did the cat get in the bedroom, eh? And that other phone is a bit of a giveaway. There's another question as well, which I won't mention here but is raised by Nick towards the end and is not answered.

But these are niggles.

I've seen some say it's better than Se7en - it's not; but if you're after a quality thriller that has all the bits in the right place, then you won't go far wrong.

And if, like me, you hated the ending of the book, you might come away pleasantly surprised.

I mean, who doesn't like aliens?

Bugger, I've said too much...

PS: Seriously, Fincher did an Aerosmith video...

Friday, 3 October 2014

Life After Beth (15)

Sometimes, it's great to amble into a film knowing bog-all about it. It's not easy to do these days, sure, but if you can manage it it's ace.

So it was with Life After Beth.

A half-watched trailer had been enough to spark my interest, and a free evening happily coincided with a screening, so off one toddled.

The story, as the title suggests, deals with people coming to terms with the death of Beth (Aubrey Plaza of Parks & Recreation fame).

In particular her ex-boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan, doing all he can to make us forget that Metallica film ever existed), who is grief stricken and clinging to her family.

Then he discovers that Beth has come back, and death is never the same again.

Similar to Midnight Son in it's slow-paced, almost pedestrian, approach (and that's not a criticism), Life After Beth is a very different beast.

Not least because it's laugh-out-loud funny.

Favouring the deadpan style-de-jour of American TV comedyland, LAB (you know I'm lazy, stop complaining) never changes gear - and is all the better for it.

Gags pop up unexpectedly and without the fanfare favoured by the dumber end of the comedy spectrum, with all the performers totally believing in events and so not mugging to the camera.

Plaza in particular is brilliant - showing a flare for slapstick and comedy walks.

The two sets of parents (John C Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser) are also on fine form, with Reiser managing to almost make us forget he was ever in Mad About You.

Everything in LAB is under-played and slightly muted, but this allows the action (as and when it ambles along) to stand out that little bit more.

You will, as you watch this (and the trailer gives it away), think of similar films, and while LAB isn't on a par with Shaun Of The Dead, that doesn't stop it being a fine, fine film.

It's got real heart, it's surprisingly sweet, and it knows how to switch over from poignant to laughs in the blink of an eye.

I fear Life After Beth may pass a lot of people, but that's their loss.

Dig it out as soon as possible - it's going to become a cult classic.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Lucy (15)

Luc Besson is a funny old sod - on the one hand he gave us Nikita, The Fifth Element and Leon.

On the other he inflicted The Family and the Arthur animated trilogy on us.

So really, while the trajectory is on the downward, it's still anybody's guess as to which way he'll swing next.

And this is a film that - if the trailer is to be believed - is about a woman given super powers by a new drug made by a posh Englishman working for the Taiwanese mob.

But - and I know you'll be shocked by this - the trailer and the film have precious little in common. It becomes clear very quickly that the marketing department had no more an idea than Besson as to what Lucy is actually about.

What they think it's about is Scarlett Johansson's character becoming a kick-ass action heroine and exacting revenge on those who wronged her.

What he thinks it's about is an essay on life, evolution and the human brain.

And in a way, they're both right. Which makes Lucy every bit as confusing as that sounds.

But let's start at the start.

Lucy is a good-time party girl who for reasons no one cares to explain is studying in Taiwan. What's she studying? Frack knows. Can't be important.

People must leave the States to go to college in Taiwan all the time.

However, a drawn-out attempt to not do a favour for a bloke she met in a nightclub ends with her being handcuffed to a briefcase and being forced to go into a hotel and deliver it to a Mr Jang.

I say forced. She could just bugger off with the case, seeing as blokie has already stuffed $500 (her share of the delivery 'fee') down her top.

But she doesn't.

As a result, he gets shot, she gets taken up to Mr Jang's room by more burly men than should reasonably fit in a lift, and is operated on - along with three unknown men - so she can smuggle a new drug into America.

So far, to be honest, so good.

As long as you ignore the inter cut scenes of a neanderthal woman from a billion years ago, and various wildlife clips that serve to do nothing more than re-explain the action for the hard of understanding.

Meanwhile, at a lecture in Paris, Morgan Freeman's Professor Norman is explaining his theory of how man is only using ten per cent of his/her brain and what could be achieved if said usage could be expanded.

Only not to 100 per cent. He has no idea what will happen if a human were to start using the entire brain.

But what of Lucy I hear you ask.

Good question.

While the men who have been impregnated with the new synthetic CPH4 are put somewhere else, Lucy - for reasons that I'm sure were in no way contrived to provide an weak excuse to burst said bag of drugs - is chained up in a room on her own.

One botched sex assault later, she's having seven bells kicked out of her by a man who took the 'no' rather personally.

Actually it's nearer 10 bells, so severe and brutal is the beating we are "treated" to.

And so, her journey begins. The bag bursts and, after literally bouncing off the walls, Lucy finds she is able to operate guns, fight anybody who comes near her, and walk about without being challenged while carrying fire arms, drive, communicate to others via TVs, radios and phones, see the roots of trees, the physical embodiment of radio signals and diagnose health problems with just a hug.

She can also learn at record speeds, but you've seen Limitless so you knew that.

And all from having a man-made version of a pregnancy hormone pummelled into her system.

Still making sense?

Because from here, it gets super nuts.

That's not to say this film is not without merit.

Johansson's performance is everything you expect it to be - spot on, note perfect and totally believable. And it's only 90 minutes.

Freeman, though, just looks confused by the whole thing.

But then you would too if you start trying to work out how an entire, fully-armed, Taiwanese mob army not only manages to get to Paris (not actually knowing that's where Lucy was heading) but does so with enough artillery to keep the Russian army going for the next 20 years.

And don't start doing the maths about how quickly people get from Rome and Berlin to Paris. Even running at only ten per cent your brain will hurt.

Sure, the action scenes are handled well and the film looks great - but there is just too much being thrown at the screen.

It feels like Besson was going for a mash-up between 2001 and Limitless, but decided to make Taken 4 halfway through.

By the time the ending plays out you'll be digging out your eyeballs and stuffing them in your ears to spare you further pain.

Somewhere in here are several good ideas for films.

What we end up with, though, isn't one of them.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Expendables 3 (12A)

Right, cards on the table - honest confession time. I quite liked The Expendables. There, I've said it.

It wasn't what you'd call high-brow, sure. It barely made it to the dizzy heights of low-brow - but it did what it set out to do.

Old action heroes (and Jason Statham) chewed cigars, talked in cliches, blew stuff up and shot people. If you wanted anything else, you wanted a different film.

What I didn't want from The Expendables, certainly, was a failed attempt at a proper plot, cod psychology and an attempt to 'say something'.

No. Keep mouths shut and blow something else up. Then we can all go home happy.

Which is where the problems with The Expendables 3 start.

First, we have a twist. The old gang (Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture) are being retired, and Sylvester Stallone is going to use a new, young, hip, street bunch of hired guns/fists/knives/computer skills to finish the job.


To be honest, he should have done that before filming began, because what is now abundantly clear is just how bad certain people's acting has become.

That's not to say the young gang (Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey and Kellan Lutz) are Oscar-worthy, but they can at least all walk and talk at the same time (a skill that has clearly abandoned ol' Arnie Schwarzenegger), smile without splitting the skin and burble on without the need for subtitles.

Then there's the "plot".

In essence it's about hunting down Mel Gibson again, seeing as he's not dead n that, but there's the sub-plot of putting the new gang together. Oh, and the other sub-plot (freeing Snipes) that leads them to discover the main plot.

Still with me?

Putting the new gang together requires many a scene with Kelsey Grammer - the man is making some odd film choices - but his presence serves to throw a spotlight on just how bad Arnie and Harrison Ford have become.

Frankly, Ford, when you're being acted off the screen by Stallone, I'd say it's time to go home and let Calista Flockhart earn the money.

That's not to say this film is totally without merit.

It starts off as you'd hope - minimal talkage, shooting and explosions abound - and overall the fight scenes and gun battles are well choreographed.

There are even some light moments of humour and Stallone's line "I am The Hague" is simply wonderful in it's weighty crassness.

But how the hell did director Patrick Hughes make this so steamingly dull?

The whole thing clocks in at over two hours, but it feels like four. I have a rule of never leaving a screening while the film was on, but happily went to the loo twice.

I didn't need to, I was just bored. And the second time I wanted to see if I'd miss anything. I didn't.

It frankly scares me that this man is being tasked with the Hollywood remake of The Raid - something that was already a bad idea.

OK, granted, you can argue that he was hampered by a cast so weighted down with egos it was never going to be easy to make a balanced film, but that was the gig.

He failed.

Sometimes, a big dumb film full of explosions can be fun - like, say Die Hard 5.

And sometimes you can find yourself wondering if it's possible to will on a heart attack just to alleviate the boredom.

The Expendables 3 is the closest I've come to wanting to find out.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy (12A)

Yeah, I know, it's been out a week already - sometimes life has a habit of getting in the way of what we want to actually do, you know?

And anyway, the best things are worth waiting for apparently.

Well, that's certainly true in this case...

Marvel aficionados will already be aware of the universe of the Guardians - a man who's half human, a racoon with attitude, a talking tree, a brick outhouse with body art and the adopted daughter of big baddie Thanos.

But the movie fans are getting something new. None of the established characters are present (despite Iron Man flying around the first book), and so we are thrown into a whole new world.

And boy are we thrown.

Fight scenes come flying at you at lightning speed, the quips and gags whizz past with glee and the new characters become old friends within the opening thirty minutes.

Much like the Avengers, Guardians is a BIG film. There's a lot going on and a huge cast of characters, and it all gels quickly and easily - serving up one of the best films Marvel have put their name to.

Where Winter Soldier fused action with classic thriller tropes, Guardians just goes for all out fun - and not only hits the target, but leaves it shattered in a million pieces while you sit there with a huge grin on your face.

A lot of this is down to James Gunn's direction and Nicole Perlman's script (co-written by Gunn), but the real stars of the show are, well, the stars.

Chris Pratt was clearly born to play Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, bringing out a perfect balance of naivety and arrogance, and he's balanced perfectly by Zoe Saldana's Gamora - her ice cool aloofness and kick-ass fight scenes being nothing short of delightful.

Then there's the 'voice' artists - Bradley Cooper's Rocket (all racoons should now come with mahoosive guns) is comic genius, while Vin Diesel isn't exactly stretched playing Groot (I AM GROOT is all this walking mass of twigs can muster), his gravel tones fit the bill.

It's a real credit that to Dave Bautista that Drax The Destroyer doesn't get lost in the mix.

But the huge surprise is Lee Pace.

Anyone who watched Pushing Daisies (and you should have done) would not have imagined that he could not only own the big screen way, but he infuses Ronin with such evil and menace he could easily become Darth Vader for a new generation.

And the Star Wars references don't end there.

It's hard not to watch Guardians Of The Galaxy without having a bit of your brain thinking 'JJ really needs to bring his A game to Episode VII', because the dialogue is so sharp and the space battles so slick it makes you realise just how far Lucas dropped his ball on the last three efforts.

The plot itself is really neither here nor there - Ronin wants the thing everyone else wants to do bad stuff with, everyone else wants to stop him getting it while hoping to flog said thing to a variety of bidders.

There's no noble cause here, let's be clear.

It's a band of renegade pirates forced to do the right thing, almost reluctantly.

And in doing so, friendships are formed. Obviously.

And it's here that Guardians really comes into it's own.

Yes, things go boom, there are laughs a plenty, and people hit each other in a lot of different ways, but this film has a real emotional heart.

While you start caring for the characters pretty much from the off, it's how they end up caring for each other that carries the biggest punch.

Even the scenes that are clearly thrown in just for the 3D version don't stick out like sore thumbs (Spidey 2 take note), instead they blend seemlessly into the mayhem and bedlam that has been lovingly crafted on screen.

And if all this wasn't good enough for you, there's the soundtrack.

No need for an epic score here, no sir - instead we have classic hit after classic hit, all with a good reason for it being there.

Yup, even the soundtrack is a key part of the film.

The summer blockbuster has, over the years, got a bit of a bad rap - with Transformers leading the charge of films that put cash and products ahead of proper storytelling.

With Guardians, however, we have the start of a new franchise (Marvel has already said the sequel is coming) that has it all - heart, soul, action, drama, suspense and more laughs than most comedies seem to be capable of managing.

Go. Sit back. Immerse yourself in a whole new world you won't want to leave.

And remember to stay 'til the very, very end!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

Credit where credit is due, Cineworld's allocated seating plan may be a joke (front half of screening empty, sat where I wanted), but at least when you tell the poor under-paid lackey that the lights haven't been dimmed he's on it in a flash.

Fortunately, having to go and find someone to tell (have I talked to you about the dearth of ushers?) didn't get in the way of the start of DoTPoTA, which is just as well as I was already being forced to see it in 3D.

And there's nothing dafter than walking up to a cinema wearing sunglasses, knowing full well you'll be putting another pair on in five minutes...

Anyhoo, such is the lot of the modern multiplex attendee, moans almost making you forget you actually went there to watch a film.

Thankfully, thirty seconds into DoTPoTA (screw it, I'm switching to Dawn - it's easier to type) the outside world is but a distant memory.

Picking up, sort of, where Rise left off, Dawn has us ten years into the future - the man-made virus has wiped out all but the genetically-immune humans and the apes (last seen beating the crap out of everything) have set up home in the woods above San Francisco and are quite happy thank you.

Until an human wanders in. With friends.

From here, we not only learn where the humans are holed up, but what conflicts and factions exist within the Ape world.

It's safe to say, things won't be the same again for anyone - ape or human.

Like all good sci-fi films, Dawn is holding a mirror up to the world - in this case, war, conflict, racism... You know, pretty much the cause of everything going on in Ukraine/Palestine/Anywhere else you can think of.

And it's this parallel that helps to make Dawn such a powerful film.

What also makes it land with such a wallop is the performances.

Among the humans, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman are all perfectly good, interacting well with the Ape co-stars when needed and generally holding their own.

But it's the apes that are the stars.

Led by Andy Serkiss as Ceasar, the whole gang have weight and heft far beyond their pixels.

You are drawn into their world quickly and easily, you care when Mrs Ceasar is unwell (surely a future film title), and you really really care when Koba starts kicking off.

And that is really where this film comes into its own.

No other film in recent memory (and I'm purposefully excluding Pixar here) has managed to create such emotional depth from CGI characters.

Yes, Serkis and the other key players are in mo-cap suits (as you kidz call them), but they don't have thousands of apes tearing across the screen on horse back. But it feels like they do.

And as the film unfolds, and unions are fomed and quashed, sides switched and reason faces rage, you find yourself rooting for the right side, hoping they will rise above it all and triumph.

And I'm not talking about the humans.

It's a bugger talking about this film in such a way as to not give anything away, because the plot shifts about at a frantic pace - but not once do you get bored.

Coming in at around the two-hour mark, Dawn has you gripped throughout - and bar a sequence late-on the 3D is so unobtrusive as to be almost pointless.

There is very little wrong with it.

OK, if you want to be picky a couple of the back-story bits are a bit schmaltzy, you can question how apes travel as fast as cars and they grasp machine guns with alarming ease (not a spoiler, we've all seen that clip), but none of this - none - detracts from what is a stunningly powerful movie.

Even the setting up of an inevitable third film fits and feels like a natural progression of the story.

Basically, Dawn has the lot - fights, family tensions, talking apes with big-ass spears, politics, drama, tension, and a comic turn with a gun.

What else do you want?

Well, yes, an Oscar for Serkis, but other than that?

Nothing. Exactly.

Think I'll go and watch it and be blown away by it all over again.

Hail Ceasar.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Transformers: Age Of Exitinction (12A)

Many moons ago, someone realised that Transformers were popular, and lo did Michael Bay step forward and give us all the film we didn't know we were waiting for.

And it was fun.

Dumb as nuts, loud as hell and not a film you need to think about, sure, but it delivered what the fans wanted - robots hitting each other. A lot.

And then Bay decided what a Transformers film needed was plot.

He was wrong, and we all had to endure Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. A film so bad it has taken people years to have the courage to actually take the piss out of it.

In fact, Revenge was so bad I still haven't seen the follow-up, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.

I know I should, but after Revenge I really can't face it.

But after Transformers: Age Of Extinction I might just summon up the courage.

That's not to say Extinction is good - it's not. Far from it. But at least Bay's stopped trying make A Film and has just gone back to car chases, explosions and lots of robot-on-robot violence.

Because that's all we want.

And that's all we get. For nigh-on three bloody hours.

And that's where the problems begin.

There is a plot of sorts - father-daughter relationship set against the backdrop of government chicanery and scientists trying to make their own Transformers - but really it's not important.

Mark Wharlberg is strangely convincing as down-at-heel inventor Cade Yeager (it helps to not think about him as an inventor) while Nicola Peltzer manages to be daughter Tessa without being the complete object of lust Bay is known for.

Elsewhere, Kelsey Grammar (sinister branch of The Man) and Stanley Tucci (well meaning billionaire inventor sort) both steal every scene they're in without breaking sweat, while Brit comedic actor James Bachman livens things up, even if you are left wondering how he ended up in this mess.


Among the myriad of issues we have, in no particular order, bad accents, terrible dialogue, woeful continuity, the running time, the 3D elements, the running time, the script and the fact it's too long.

Oh, and geography.

And it's not that these things are small and I'm being picky - they leap out at you.

There's the moment Whalberg does his 'shocked' face, there's the fact they're supposed to be going to China yet it turns out they were in Hong Kong, the moment they all get in a truck to escape (seemingly forgetting the four Autobots nearby), Sophie Myle's moment in the sun as she tells Tucci she's proud of him (honestly, I laughed out loud at this one) - I could go on, but I can only remember the final 40mins (the rest having been wiped from my mind).

Oh yes, and there's the moment Peltzer is trying to escape along a high-wire cable thingie. She's supposed to be being chased buy Transformerdogs, only they vanish. Then come back...

There are positives here.

As I've already said, some fine performances and it's better than the Fallen. And the female characters actually get to wear almost-decent clothes.

But it really is just a big dumb mess.

As ever with Bay there are moments of attempted gravitas and weight, but it's all cobblers.

Underneath all the boom and bombast, there's sod all. It's a loud, shallow mess.

Which for some reason I'm still struggling to understand, I didn't hate...

Oh yes, that was the other thing - transformium.


No, really.