Friday, 1 August 2014

The Nut Job - review

The Nut Job is an animated heist movie where a squirrel is constantly trying to stuff its cheek with enough nuts to last until winter whereas the audience is forced to endure 85 minutes of a screenplay which tries to stuff as many jokes and puns based on the various meanings of the word nut down our throats.

The end credits reveal that it was financed and produced in part by South Korea which sort of explains why the film features two uses of Gangnam Style and a CGI Psy which really capitalises on the song at the height of its popularity. Wait it isn't 2012 any more!

This is one nut that isn't worth shelling out money for.

2 stars

Step Up: All In - review

Five movies in and you really do start to wonder about the art of street dance and whether or not there is some sort of unwritten code within that world that if you are defeated in a public "battle" that you automatically have to disband and live with the humiliation. For one, it never really clear what the rules are and who decides who has won.

But this is exactly what happens to The Mob from Step Up 4: Miami Heat when they are beaten by a group called The Dirt Knights in a nightclub following a string of unsuccessful auditions in Hollywood.

Stubborn group leader Sean throws a strop and decides to stay in LA while his troupe head back to Miami. He creates a new crew in order to enter an America's Got Talent style competition to win a 3 year dance show contract at Caesar's Palace in Vegas Baby, Vegas!

His new crew is comprised of a super group of dancers from the previous films (with the notable exception of Channing Tatum) and they make the finals but, surprise surprise, in order to win the contract they will have to face off against...

Can you guess? Of course you can because these films are more formulaic than... But you don't come to a Step Up to see War and Peace or Romeo And Juliet. You come for the dance sequences and that is ultimately what the film will be judged, just like the groups in Vegas.

Although their use of 3D is still some of the very best in the business, similar to the judges of Britain's Got Talent, there is a feeling of indifference and over saturation setting in over dance groups and for the majority of the film it fails to deliver anything new and exciting that greatly differs or builds upon what has gone before. There are so many times that people can "pop and lock", "robot" and revisit the breakdancing of the Eighties.

It is only the final performance that really "brings it" and delivers a show-stopping Vegas-worthy dance show that features fire and ice and other elemental forces.

So while the final dance-off doesn't put a foot wrong, the series has taken a misstep and perhaps its time to hang up the boots, or tights, or leotard.

2 stars

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Exclusive Interview with Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy star

I was very lucky this week to get the chance to interview one of the stars of the latest Marvel film Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Who would it be? Man of the moment Chris Pratt? Wrestler turned Comic Book Hero Dave Bautista?

Nope. I got to spend time chatting with the larger-than-life character who steals the show and becomes the heart of the movie... Groot.

Dallas: So Groot, first of all, congratulations on the film, really enjoyed it.

Groot: I Am Groot

D: You're welcome. Now is it true that it was your appearance in The Evil Dead films that brought you to the attention of James Gunn?

G: I Am Groot

D: I imagine after the darkness of those movies it was nice to do something more family-friendly.

G: I Am Groot

D: So how familiar were you with the Guardians comics? Had you read them?

G: I Am Groot

D: Oh I am so sorry, I had no idea. Your cousin? How many copies did he end up becoming? Wait, none of my business, let's move on. One of the highlights of the film was the relationship between Rocket and yourself. How was it working with him on set?

G: I Am Groot

D: Really, you would have thought he'd be housebroken by now. How did you feel when you were told that they were going to dub you over in the final cut with a more well-known "Hollywood" star?

G: "I Am Groot"

D: Disappointed sure...

G: I Am Groot

D: Wait, you thought it was going to be The Rock doing your voice?

G: I Am Groot

D: Ah right, I guess "The big, tough bald guy from the Fast & Furious films" can be confusing. At least it wasn't The Stath though?

G: I Am Groot

D: Speaking of Statham, what do you make of the critics claiming that your performance in this film was a little wooden at times?

G: I AM GROOT!

D: Woah, sorry. For the record, that's not my opinion. I had a look at your imdb page before the interview, and is it correct that you auditioned for Lord Of The Rings?

G: I Am Groot

D: I guess it would have been difficult uprooting yourself to New Zealand for all that time, especially with saplings to look after.

G: I Am Groot

D: So do you and Treebeard have a friendly rivalry when it comes to the business?

G: I Am Groot

D: I suppose there isn't a lot of demand for your specific set of skills in Hollywood.

G: I Am Groot

D: I wouldn't take it personally. Malick is always cutting people out of his movies. The Tree Of Life have been a much better film with you in it. Would have made a lot more sense than having Sean Penn walking around barefoot on the beach like some Calvin Klien advert.

G: I Am Groot

D: So do you see your future in acting or do you think you'll branch out into other areas?

G: I Am Groot

D: I know, sorry but I couldn't resist. Okay one final question before I make a like a tree and get out of here...

G: I Am Groot

D: Alright Biff! I see you are as down with your 80's pop culture as Starlord is. So final will we see mini dancing Groots in the toy stores this Christmas?

G: I AM Groot

D: Glad to hear it. I'll put it on my letter to Santa. Groot it has been a pleasure, thanks very much.

G: I Am Groot

The Purge: Anarchy - review

Last year saw the birth of a potential new franchise with The Purge, which had at its core a fantastic concept:

In 2022, across America crime and unemployment is at an all-time low. This is due to the New Founding Fathers of America introducing the annual Purge, where for once a year for twelve hours all crime (including theft, rape and murder) is completely legal. The idea being that people can unburden themselves of negative feelings and repressed urges.

The first Purge was a tiny, insular fare, with one family under siege in their home trying to survive those twelve hours.

Due its box office success, a sequel was greenlit along with a bigger budget, thus allowing writer-director James DeMarco to move out of one house in the suburbs and into the big bad city to see the full extent of The Purge at large.

It sees three separate groups out in the city (some willingly, some not) who begrudgingly team up to try and survive the night.

The socio-political context behind the idea gets explored more this time round, with it not only the annual event allowing for a purging of one's soul but also a purging of society with the majority of those killed being the poor and homeless as they can't afford to defend themselves.

There is a commentary on the whole 1% culture with it taking on a Running Man vibe towards the end as the lines between violence as sport or entertainment become blurred, along with a rebel group opposed to the Purge.

Frank Grillo is the one who gains the most from The Purge, not only getting revenge and redemption but cementing his place as a real action star. Not only can he do anger and rage but there is a real pathos and sadness behind him too which makes for a conflicted anti-hero.

The Internet is right and if he wasn't already playing Crossbones in the Marvel Universe he would be absolutely perfect for The Punisher if they redo it as a Netflix TV series.

It might not have the desired release you are looking for but if you have the urge to Purge, you will have quite a night's entertainment.

3 stars

Guardians Of The Galaxy - review

Ten films in and approaching the end of Phase 2, Marvel Studios are showing no signs of fatigue or the inevitable bursting of the comic book bubble because Guardians Of The Galaxy might be one of their very best films, perhaps for the very reason that it doesn't feel like a Marvel film.

In fact beyond the appearances of previously established characters Thanos and The Collector, and the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, there is nothing to link it to the Marvel Universe and refreshingly director James Gunn is left to create his own universe, albeit one that will eventually tie into the bigger picture come Phase 3 once Thanos gets his hand into that pesky Infinity Gauntlet.

It is strange not to see any involvement from Joss Whedon in this particular slice of Marvel as it is the one that is most similar to his previous work.

This feels like Marvel's very own Serenity/Firefly with a rag-tag group of misfits flying round the galaxy occasionally saving the world but mostly arguing with each other and getting into trouble.

With Whedon busy on Avenger detail, he probably hand a hand in bringing in James Gunn who has similar traits (writer-director, comfortable working with ensembles, has strong relationships with actors and uses them regularly e.g. Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry and Whedon's lucky charm Nathan Fillion all make appearances here).

Gunn very quickly and effectively sets up Peter Quill's backstory in a moving segment where he loses his mother to cancer before being transported off Earth in a spaceship a la Flight Of The Navigator, before bringing together this thief, two thugs, an assassin and a maniac through the MacGuffin of a mysterious Orb which Quill himself calls "An Ark Of The Covenant, Maltese Falcon kind of deal".

Yes, this movie features more 80's pop culture references than Marvel Universe references which leads to some inspired gags and hilarious moments including one that I will not spoil beyond the fact it revolves around the plot to a particular film from 1984.

It is certainly the funniest Marvel film with Chris Pratt channeling the perfect amount of Noughties funny man and Eighties Harrison Ford action star, Cooper and Diesel providing terrific vocal performances that generate a lot of laughs and Bautista showing some great comic timing to steal some scenes.
If Guardians falters slightly it is in the Marvel trend of CGI-heavy, world threatening third act battle led by an underdeveloped main bad guy.

Really, apart from Loki in Thor and Avengers and to a certain extent The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, the villains have not really generated the level of evil and danger that say The Joker provided in The Dark Knight.

Having said that the climax is a vast improvement on the space battles that featured in the Star Wars prequels and being our introduction to the Guardians simply our first step into a larger world and there is no doubt that now this particular Marvel universe is established that the recently announced Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 will follow in the footsteps of X2, Spider-Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a superior sequel.

How good is Guardians Of The Galaxy? It can be expressed in just three words. I Am Groot... Rocket knows what it means!

4 stars

P.S. Still amazed at the number of people who leave before the end of the credits. Come on guys, this is Marvel movie. There have been nine others so far, all with a scene at the end! So stay in your seats for a VERY unexpected cameo!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The House Of Magic - review

In one of the coldest film openings of recent years, a car pulls up by a house, a ball is tossed outside and a young cat chases after it only for the owners to quickly slam the door shut and drive off.

He wanders the streets, nervous and frightened and alone, nearly getting hit by cars and attacked by dogs but before you can say Abra-cat-dabra, he winds up in the house of an old illusionist who welcomes him with open arms.

His arrival doesn't sit to well with the two main stars of his act, a mouse and rabbit who are hopping mad.

But they must get past their differences if they are to save their home from the magician's evil real estate agent nephew as the film turns into an animated version of Home Alone, albeit one where Macaulay Culkin is played by a ginger tomcat and aided by a group of mechanical toys, which may or may not be magically powered (its never really gone into how they move and seem to have sentient life).

Although rated a U, it has some rather creepy moments which might unsettle the very young particularly through the 3D which is used to full effect.

There is nothing new or original here, like a tired old magic trick and if it had only been dressed up a little more it could have fooled audiences into appreciating its wonder.

2 stars

Monday, 28 July 2014

Joe - review

Much of the buzz around Joe was about this being a return to form for Nicolas Cage following years of dirge like other one word films Stolen, Next, Trepass and Justice.

With similarities to Mud extending beyond the casting of Tye Sheridan, Cage plays the mysterious stranger who can offer a young boy a possible escape from his current situation.

Joe is a man with a dark past, with hints of violence and anger bubbling under the surface, and this is where Cage should really excel however it feels like Nic has Caged the beast within and his performance is almost too restrained.

Where there should be the constant threat of danger of his temper boiling over, of a man fearful of losing control, it never really happens. There is only one real Cage moment when he goes off on one and calls a dog an asshole.

Sadly the result is just an Average Joe.

2 stars