Sunday, 17 May 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 (12A)

I still remember watching Pitch Perfect for the first time.

A Glee episode with a better cast was not my idea of fun, but it had so much heart and humour you couldn't help but fall in love with the damn thing.

And they had the decency to leave it as a stand-alone film...

Or not.


Oh well, what else you gonna do on a sunny Sunday afternoon?

Picking up three years after they left us, PP2 has the girls still together and still hugely successful on the acapella scene.

Until Fat Amy has a slight accident in front of the President.

Still, from such unlikely scenarios comedy sequels are born, and so the girls set about regaining their reputation while having personal growth moments en route to the World Championships in Denmark.

Where else?

If you saw and loved PP1, PP2 has everything you want. It's not quite as good as the original (but hey, what is?), but that really doesn't matter.

Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson again lead the way, re-energising their characters with huge amounts of warmth and humour, while (as before) the rest of the cast help add to the chaos and the fun.

Holding the whole thing together once more are John Michael Higgins and writer/director Elizabeth Banks as the bitchy commentators who are now running their own podcast and seemingly somehow not getting sued in the process.

Granted, this is not as flawless as the first film - a lot of scenes end up feeling like sketches that have been loosely linked and the German group feel more than a smidge cliched - but it makes you laugh.

There are cheap gags, clever gags, slapstick gags, moments that make you squirm... It's got the lot.

And more cheesy pop and rock songs than you can shake an oar at.

Plus a list of cameo stars that no self-respecting dog could sniff at.

And that's why you can forgive the flaws - up to, and including, the fact no one actually sings acapella as there's always a sodding drum machine kicking about somewhere.

And everyone's been auto-tuned beyond repair.

But hey, that's the modern music industry folks. Quibbles over...

One of the clever tricks PP2 pulls is to sneak in some really dark bits of humour to puncture the more sweet moments, meaning you're never quite sure where it's heading next - while at the same time knowing exactly where it's heading.

It's not dark, or edgy, but that doesn't matter - it's a comedy, it's job is to make you laugh, and it manages that in fine style.

And yes the ending is about as saccharine as you'd expect, but by then you won't care about the fact your eyes seem to be leaking.

Just make sure you stay for the post-credit Voice sequence.

Mad Max: Fury Road (15)

I've driven home from cinemas on more occasions than I care to count.

As someone who passed his test back when it was actually a difficult thing to do, the simple act of hopping behind the wheel and heading home is one I am quite at ease with.

Except for today.

Today, I had to really make sure I didn't just hit the gas and race like hell. I did, however, keep a constant vigilance for other vehicles coming after me.

Because, you know, I'm not an idiot.

And why, I hear you ask, were you behaving like this?

Simple. Mad Max. It's what this film does to you.

Now, I'll be honest, having had a quick refresh of the first three films (the last of which came out 30 years ago) I approached Fury Road with some trepidation.

I know the original trilogy has it's fans, but I can't stand alongside them. The original films were terrible.

And not in a good way.

Terrible acting, abysmal dialogue, plots that made less sense than an unsubtitled Welsh soap opera - they really had nothing going for them.

So why, then, when such a winning formula has been loyally stuck to, was this one so much more fun?

Let's be clear about this from the off - this is not a good film. Not in the traditional sense at least.

The plot (Max is captured, escapes, gets captured again, gets thrown into a chase for others who have escaped, helps them with said escape) is as dumb as you'd expect. Especially when you factor in all the made-up words for stuff, plus the dumb names people are given.

(Before you start, yeah, I know, it's sci-fi, dumb names come as standard - it's just they seem dumber here.)

As for the dialogue, that's a heady mix of half-garbled words crossed with brief moments of weighty prose lacking any real weight.

Then there's Max himself.

As a noted Tom Hardy fan, this is not his finest hour (that's still Locke) - especially given he's channelling his inner Bane, mask and odd accent included.


Despite all this.

Despite everything.

This film is one hell of a lot of fun.

Charlize Theron (as Imperator Furiosa - see, told ya) and Nicholas Hoult both put in fine performances, and while Hardy may not be asked to do much he makes you feel every punch and swing as the endless action set-pieces fly past.

And it's relentless.

Coming in at just under two hours, there really is no let-up from the car chases, fights, shoot-outs, bike chases, scraps, pursuits and melees.

Essentially it's Scrapheap Challenge crossed with Robot Wars held on a Top Gear road trip.

It's simply breathtaking.

You feel every nudge and shove, every shot and stab, every ram, every flame throw. Everything is thrown at you, and it all hits home.

And it just looks amazing, to the extent you can almost taste the dust clouds.

The only thing missing is the kitchen sink, but, you, know, they all disappeared post-nuclear meltdown.

I suspect this film is just as much of an onslaught in a normal 2D screening, but it actually deserves the full IMAX (Mad IMAX if you will) treatment as the 3D seems to just make everything come to life.

And the image of a steering wheel flying straight at my head made my inner-child grin from ear to ear.

As I said, if complicated plots and well-drawn characters with something to say is your thing then Mad Max will be wasted on you.

But if a white-knuckle roller coaster ride that leaves you literally breathless, with genuine peril and threat at every turn (all bets are off on who might survive from very early on) is how you want to spend a couple of hours this not only hits the spot it sets fire to it, drags it through the desert, stabs it, shoots it, stabs it again then runs over it.

And then gets really nasty.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Spooks: The Greater Good (15)

For those of you who missed it, or live in a different country, Spooks was great - and by that I mean the original TV series.

Of course, our American cousins won't know it by that name. They got to watch a series called MI-5.

Nope, me neither.

Anyhoo, where were we?

Right, yes, Spooks. TV show. Now film. Now showing.

And if my screening today is anything to go by, attracting an audience fond of rustling their snack bags and very keen to sit in the seat they booked (which is fair enough, but maybe Odeon cinemas would like to pay someone to actually show people where that is, eh?).

Sorry, wandered off at a slight tangent there.

Spooks. Film. Yes. Quite.

Having lost track of the TV show (which ran for a mighty 10 seasons) quite early on, I was interested to see if you needed prior knowledge or if it stood alone.

Well, thanks to a large amount of expositional dialogue, it stands alone. Although I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Featuring the "legendary" Harry Pearce (played by Peter Firth, whose face looks more and more like a perplexed ham with every passing year), who featured in the whole TV run, the film has Harry legging it while trying to bring down a terrorist and prove there's a traitor in The Service.

Quite a lot to do for one man, but this is Harry Pearce.

He's joined by Kit Harrington (he of Game Of Thrones fame) - who has never been in the TV show - along with a further mix of new and old characters.

And all of this works well and is perfectly fine.

People run around, people get shot or punched, people turn on other people, other people turn out not to have turned on people - it's all as you'd expect and want from a lengthy special episode of a much-loved TV show.

And there-in lies the problem.

To make the transition from small to big screen, you want the whole thing to be bigger as well - bigger set pieces, bigger explosions, bigger runny jumpy bits.

And while they are bigger - in as much as the screen they're now on his huge - they feel like they've come straight from the TV show.

That's not a problem if that's what you're hoping for, but in hitting the big screen this spy drama is automatically now up against Bond, Bourne et al and so the shortcomings become apparent.

Along with the expositional waffle, the key plot points are signposted with all the subtlety of car crash.

At one point (the water bottle bit) the only thing that was missing was a giant arrow reminding you which bit director Bharar Nalluri wants you to pay attention to.

And then there's the writing.

Along with back-story being filled in during serious conversations, you're expected to believe experienced agents would [redacted] or find [redacted] in a sodding bin without thinking 'hey up, that's not right'.

That's not to say, strangely, that Spooks is a bad film. The fight scenes are gritty, there are a couple of good one-liners chucked in for a giggle and Harry Pearce is busy being Harry Pearce.

It just doesn't feel big, grand, epic - like a movie should.

It's an extended TV special shown on a screen bigger than you've got at home and played through a better sound system.

And, in the case of the Odeon, with the lights on.

It's not fast-paced enough, it's not slick enough, it's not subtle enough to hold it's own with the big spy films.

It feels, well, rather British.

And not the films we make now. The films we used to make, ironically, before Spooks was first broadcast.

The acting's great, the directing is functional without being exciting, the script feels a tad thrown together...

You get the idea.

This could have made a great TV episode. Maybe even a decent two-parter.

But as a film, sadly, it falls short of what we've now come to expect from big screen spy sorts.