Friday, 28 February 2014

Non-Stop - review

On paper, Non-Stop could easily have been the plot for Taken 3.

Estranged from his family and an alcoholic, Air Marshall Bill Marks (similar in name to Taken's Bryan Mills) must use his particular set of skills to find someone on board his New York to London flight who is threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes until they are paid $150 million.

Marks' set of skills include:

  • Excellent smartphone touch typing without ever requiring autocorrect

  • Disabling the smoke alarm in the toilet to allow for a cheeky fag

  • Proficiency in hand-to-hand combat inside tiny airplane toilets

  • Knowledge of a bizarre airline protocol that states there is a place on the plane you can allow a bomb to explode and it is still flyable at a certain height

  • However the most valuable skill that Marks requires in this film is the ability to play Guess Who? onboard a crowded plane of 150 passengers.

    Who is the hijacker? Do they have a mobile phone? Do they have a moustache? Have they had at least 30 seconds of character development? Are they played by an actor you kind of recognise from that thing? Is it "Angry Cop", "Racial Profiling Islamic Doctor" or "Oscar-nominated Air Stewardess"?

    The fun is in the guessing and the script does a good job of keeping the whodunit mystery going for the majority of its flight-time and the finger of suspicion keeps jumping from passenger to passenger, from business class to coach with even Julianne Moore and Neeson seeming guilty at times.

    The ending does jump the ridiculousness factor up a couple of notches once a ticking time bomb enters the mix but certainly nowhere near Snakes On A Plane levels.

    Neeson's character retains his Northern Irish roots but thankfully the overall experience of Non-Stop has received an entertainment upgrade from its B-Movie roots to Business Class rather than being stuck for 105 minutes on his native Ryanair.

    3 stars

    Wednesday, 26 February 2014

    The Book Thief - review

    Despite being set in Germany during the Second World War, The Book Thief is based on a book by an Australian author which was extremely popular in the UK and US and it has clearly been made with this built-in audience in mind.

    This has produced several linguistic inconsistencies throughout the film that include:

    The characters speak English with German accents yet at times others speak in German with English subtitles.

    Posters, shop signs and book covers are written in German text but the words written inside the books are in English.

    Coupled with a narrative voiceover from Death (no, really. Apparently it is a big deal in the book) that is far too posh and infrequent to really have any effect other than perhaps signpost the ending, these elements serve to keep pulling you out of the film.

    Everything about the film: based on a book, great cast (particularly young Sophie Nelisse), tough subject matter, inspiring message (reading is good), John Williams score, etc made it look like this would be a terrific final product but instead it is simply OK and the softest depiction of World War II I can remember in a long time which just proves that you can't judge The Book Thief by its cover.

    3 stars

    A New York Winter's Tale - review

    There was me thinking that there wouldn't be a worse film in 2014 than I, Frankenstein, and just a few weeks later along comes A New York Winter's Tale.

    The writing was on the wall following the trailer which starts as a rather soppy tale between loveable rogue and petty thief Colin Farrell and a young red-haired girl with TB from Downton Abbey in turn of the century America. THEN he is pushed off a bridge by the incredibly Oirishly-accented Russell Crowe and we find Farrell in modern day New York and it has become a supernatural tale involving angels, demons and Jennifer Connelly.

    It was difficult to know the exact moment that you have to put your hands up, admit defeat and just embrace the awfulness of a film which has been played completely straight yet comes across as utterly ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious.

    It could have been when the Irish-accented Farrell's German-sounding parents are refused entry to the US as they have Consumption and think that the best chance their son has for survival as they are being shipped back to where they came from is to blindly put him off in a little wooden model boat and dump him in the water near the Statue of Liberty.

    Perhaps it is when the audience is meant to believe that a 110 year old would still be allowed to be the acting editor-in-chief of a major New York newspaper in 2014.

    Maybe it is when Russell Crowe's demonic thug boss talks to Lucifer (played Will Smith) who wears a Jimi Hendrix t shirt in 1914.

    Is it when it is discovered that sex with Colin Farrell is fatal as the girl with TB passes away instantly afterwards?

    The point when we suddenly jump forward 100 years and to show this passage of time, Colin Farrell has grown long hair and a beard and spends his time doing chalk drawings in Central Park?

    No, the moment of sheer lunacy is around 20 minutes into the film when Farrell's thief escapes from a gang of thugs when he is saved by a passing white horse that then grows wings and flys them off into the distance.

    It is difficult to know what could have attracted the cast to the project considering that the novel it is based on was deemed unfilmable by Martin Scorsese before first-time director Akiva Goldsman got his hands on it. The same hands that typed the screenplay for Batman and Robin.

    One can only presume that Goldsman had got some serious dirt on Crowe and Smith during the filming of A Beautiful Mind and I Am Legend and blackmailed them at gunpoint onto the set. It might explain why their performances are so bad.

    In William Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale there is the stage direction "Exit pursued by a bear" which becomes a running joke in The World's End. If anyone asks you if you want to watch A New York Winter's Tale, unless you are a glutton for so-bad-it's-hilarious movie punishment, simply reply "Drink up, let's Boo Boo!" *exit pursued by a flying horse*

    1 star

    Tuesday, 25 February 2014

    Prince Avalanche - review

    Prince Avalanche is at heart a road movie. Albeit one which involves the main characters working on the road rather than travelling it.

    Alvin (Paul Rudd) and his girlfriend's loser brother Lance (Emile Hirsch) are painting yellow lines along a road through the middle of an area of Texas devastated by bushfires in 1988.

    There are many song titles that could be used to describe the film: "The Long And Winding Road", "Road To Nowhere", "Highway to Hell" for example.

    There is no real plot to speak of, instead we find a character driven piece where both men are forced to confront issues within themselves brought on by the isolation and solitude of the surrounding area plus the seemingly endless, monotonous task ahead.

    Rudd is excellent in a rare dramatic role that still allows for the odd comedic moment as the idyllic world he has built slowly comes crumbling down as fast as an oncoming wildfire.

    There might have been a point to the film but unfortunately I couldn't find it as it seemed as far off in the distance as the end of the road that the guys were painting.

    2 stars

    Saturday, 22 February 2014

    Nymphomaniac Vol I & Vol II - review

    After Lars Von Trier's last cinematic outing into the world of sex ended with Charlotte Gainsbourg smashing Willem Dafoe's penis with a tree stump and cutting off her clitoris, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I sat down for four hours of Nymphomaniac at the special One Night Stand event.

    Found beaten and unconscious in an alleyway, a woman called Joe (Gainsbourg) recounts her life's sexual exploits to the sympathetic and curious ear of the kind-hearted Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard).

    This framing device reminded me of The Usual Suspects and Slumdog Millionnaire, as Joe used objects from around the room to inspire her stories and Seligman would find bizarrely coincidental elements from the tales to link behavioural aspects of nymphomania to such topics as fly fishing, vocal harmonising, etc.

    However Von Trier's script is self-aware enough to allow both characters to call each other on the more unbelievable aspects of their stories or observations.

    The film was always going to be controversial and hardcore in terms of sex (there was an amusing silence in the audience as they watched Gainsbourg's bemused face framed between two erect penises) but it was never pornographic. As Skarsgard said during the post-film Q&A, it is not a film you can jerk off to.

    What was surprising was how much of Nymphomaniac was a film you could laugh at. There was a wickedly dark sense of humour running through the story with the highlight of the film being the chapter called "Mrs. H" and featured Uma Thurman as a woman who brings her sons to young Joe's flat to show them the "whoring bed" their father had left them for.

    The best chapters are "The Compleat Angler", "Mrs. H" and "The Eastern and Western Church (The Silent Duck)" and features the film's strongest performances from newcomer (pardon the pun) Stacy Martin, Thurman and Jamie Bell.

    By telling her story chronologically, Volume II focuses on the grown up Joe's experiences it suffers from a lack of Stacy Martin and the continuation of Shia Labouef's woeful attempt at an English accent (I believe that was what he was going for even though for Volume I I thought he was meant to be Australian).

    Plus it features the film's worst chapter "The Gun" which has little to do with sexual desire and instead becomes a generic crime story before the whole story comes to a close with a horribly misjudged ending that is not in keeping with the characters up to that point.

    Ultimately Nymphomaniac is similar to many sexual encounters.
    It starts off rather promisingly, there is a spark, chemistry, everyone is having a good time but soon you find yourself in uncomfortable positions before the whole affair limps to an unsatisfying climax.

    Volume I - 4 stars
    Volume II - 2 stars

    Friday, 21 February 2014

    Stalingrad... In 3D! - review

    War, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Making movies that's what.

    There have been some truly great films made about war. Downfall, The Thin Red Line, Apocalypse Now, Star Wars...

    But until now, none of them had attempted to capture the horror of war in gut-wrenching 3D, which is exactly what Russia's first 3D and IMAX production Stalingrad has done.

    Initially bemused by having the film start with a framing device of a man helping out in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami telling the story of his mother during WWII, we are thrown into battle scenes of an attack on the German forces by Russian soldiers which are filmed in a slo-mo, hyper-stylised way that was used in 300.

    While it does offer some striking images such as soldiers on fire from destroyed oil tanks, coming over a hill to attack the Germans, it doesn't have the weight and gravity that other war films have when it comes to their battle scenes. There isn't the same harsh reality of war, with the blood and guts, pain and loss being lost amongst the CHI and green screen effects used to make the film look as good as possible (including it must be admitted very impressive 3D work).

    The story focuses on one small band of soldiers who attempt to hold a pivotal location against the Germans, whilst protecting a young girl who has been living there amongst the rubble.

    With it being a Russian production, it was odd to see that the main group of soldiers didn't really have much character development beyond The Leader, The Sniper, The Old Guy, The Young Guy and The Opera Singer.

    The most interesting and complex character was in fact a German solider (played by the terrific Thomas Kretschmann) who had fallen in love with a Russian girl who reminded him of his wife, even though they didn't speak each others languages and she might not have felt the same way instead seeing him as an opportunity to survive the war.

    As the initial OTT battle scenes give way to the quieter character-focused moments and Angelo Badalamenti's score began to soar, the film improves and becomes more than just a 3D exercise in explosions.

    It's not Stalin-bad but won't join the ranks of the classic war films either.

    3 stars

    Wednesday, 19 February 2014

    The Monuments Men - review

    In the 2013 film Trance, art auctioneer Simon says "No piece of art is worth a human life".

    The Monuments Men spends its 118 minute running time arguing that it is, several of them in fact.

    The plot sounds like Ocean's WWII with George Clooney assembling a team of art experts to go into the war zone and protect and retrieve some of the most important historical and cultural artefacts.

    The team includes people like Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville but one of the film's biggest problems is that as soon as they get together, they split off into pairs or solo missions and you spend so little time with each person it is difficult for them to make any real impression, which makes it difficult when some of the cast meet their maker.

    It feels like a waste of a cast that clearly has genuine chemistry together (as evidenced by Damon, Bonneville and Murray on the Graham Norton show) but there is never the chance for them to display it here.

    With the cast spread out over Europe, tonally the film is similarly all over the place. Is it meant to be a light-hearted WWII romp a la The Great Escape, hard-hitting war movie or art history lesson on this forgotten tale? The film never seems sure in itself and suffers as a result.

    The Monuments Men is unlikely to be a film that anyone will give their life to try and save in order to protect it over other classics in cinema history.

    2 stars

    Endless Love - review

    After emerging from Endless Drivel, I was amazed to discover two things.

    1) That this was actually a remake of a 1981 Brooke Shields film that someone actually thought needed remaking in 2014.

    2) It was not based on a book by Nicholas Sparks.

    I say this because everything that happens and everything that is said is done so by people who appear to have done nothing but read the kind of soppy, romantic fiction that is epitomised by Nicholas Sparks.

    At no point did I find any of the characters or what they were saying remotely believable.

    We have the standard daddy's little rich girl falls in love with blue-collar guy from the wrong side of the tracks just before she's meant to go to college. Daddy doesn't approve and attempts to split them up but it only brings them closer together.

    How will they possibly be able to resolve their issues? Cue a house fire (and metaphors about lives going up in smoke, flames of passion, burning bridges, etc) where the characters must decide what and who really matters.

    The script features some of the most cringeworthy, eye-rolling, groan-inducing and stomach-turning dialogue I've ever had the displeasure to allow into my earholes.

    "You don't fight for love. You're terrified of it" for example.

    Or the scene where Alex Pettyfer delivers a speech about how he is waiting for true love which sounds like he is reading off the inside of a really bad Hallmark card.

    One of the characters is played by Rhys Wakefield who was the lead antagonist in The Purge and it is easy to see that appearing in this terrible movie would lead to the desire to commit extreme acts of violence.

    Thankfully the film did not live up to the title and this insipid tosh with all the romance of a first date at McDonalds was over after 105 agonisingly long minutes.

    1 star

    Cuban Fury - review

    An extreme incident of bullying causes child salsa champion Bruce Garrett to pack it all in. 25 years later, a grown up, slovenly Bruce (Nick Frost) finds himself dusting off his Cuban heels in try and win the heart of his Salsa-loving boss Julia (Rashida Jones) but faces competition from office lothario Chris O'Dowd.

    You can imagine this a sequel to Billy Elliot on the "what if..." he had listened to his dad and given up dancing and ended up working in a lathe manufacturing plant.

    In his first real leading man role, Nick Frost goes Hot Fuzz to Hotstepper and to his credit does the majority of his fancy footwork himself and would do rather well on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing.

    With many hours spent in the dance studio learning the steps, it would have been nice if as much time and effort had gone into the script as the character of Julia isn't really fleshed out beyond she's his boss, American and likes salsa. Plus there is sadly also a lack of real laughs which is surprising given Frost's involvement with most of them coming from O'Dowd doing his best 80's sleazeball douchebag impression.

    There is no "Ten from Len" or even a "SEVEN!" for this comedy which has a good heart but sadly takes the odd misstep when it comes to laughs thus finding itself rather flat footed leaving us with a salsa that is sweet rather than spicy.

    3 stars

    Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy - review

    Tinkerbell And The Pirate Fairy is a film that a couple of years ago would have wound up being released straight to DVD but has flown past the second star on the right and straight on till morning and ended up in cinemas.

    Why? Is it because it is like Toy Story 2 in that the quality was so good that Disney had to release it? No, it is simply because there is more money to be made by screening it in 3D to families during the half term break.

    I went into this rather naive about the fact that there was a whole series of these films already out on DVD.

    This film immediately kicks off in a pre-established world where there are all sorts of different types of fairies with different powers which all come from a special pixie dust, yada yada yada, desperately trying to keep up, where is Peter Pan, something about special blue dust stolen by outcast fairy Zarina who has teamed up with a ship full of pirates including a smooth young cabin boy with the voice of Tom Hiddleston... Wait, what?

    Yes, the multi-talented and always busy Mr Hiddleston provides a vocal turn that quickly becomes the highlight of the film.

    Even though he doesn't appear on screen, you can tell by his voice that he is enjoying himself (particularly as the story and his character develops) and he has fun smashing many buckles and it would be great to see him in this type of role in a live action film as there is something rather Errol Flynn-esque about him with a classic Hollywood charm.

    Plus he manages to squeeze in a terrific Jean-Luc Picard Star Trek The Next Generation reference that I won't spoil here but will fly over the target audience's heads higher than a fairy jumped up on pixie dust.

    At 78 minutes, it zips along at a fair pace and you won't be checking the tick-tock of the crocodile's clock due to a third act battle that will have kids deciding whether they would rather be a pirate or a fairy... I'll resist the temptation to make a joke here.

    Nothing to lose your shadow over but there would need to be the promise of the continued development in Hiddleston's character to never say never to another trip to Neverland for this big kid.

    2 stars

    Tuesday, 18 February 2014

    Love Is In The Air - Discover Tuesdays review

    Different to most of my posts, this particular review was written for the Picturehouses Discover Tuesdays notes to be distributed at the screenings.

    "We would like to welcome you aboard today's Discover Tuesdays film and ask that you take a few moments to read the following review as the features on this romantic comedy may differ from those you have previously watched."

    Julie is returning home to her fiance and Antoine has a final job interview to get to but when they sit down next to each other in business class, it is quickly apparent that both of them have brought more than just carry-ons with them in terms of baggage on this flight from New York to Paris.

    For the two of them are former lovers and the contents of their tightly packed hearts might shift during the six hour flight as old feelings are rekindled, accusations made, secrets revealed and passions ignited.

    But the course of true love never runs smooth and Julie & Antoine are advised to keep their seatbelts fastened as there may be unexpected turbulence ahead.

    Airing their dirty laundry in public attracts the attention of other passengers and flight crew and soon it descends into flashbacks as the two exes tell the story of how they met and ultimately parted ways.

    Both characters have their flaws and are given equal opportunity to tell their side of the story which will leaves audiences torn between who is right and who is wrong in the relationship.

    Antoine is a womaniser, player, bounder and a cad. He has a string of women yet no relationships until he meets Julie and is attracted to her precisely because she doesn't give in to his cliched advances (including a cheesy trip up the Eiffel Tower). Perhaps he has found the woman to tame him.

    Julie is shy and retiring, prone to playing it safe in work and love but enjoys the danger and excitement of Antoine but this opens up a jealous and obsessive side to her.

    The chemistry between Ludivine Sagnier (SWIMMING POOL, MESRINE) and Nicolas Bedos (POPULAIRE) is first class and the script (co-written by Bedos) really gives them a screwball comedy wit that has plenty of bite and more sparkle than the complimentary bubbly.

    Director Alexandre Castagnetti has a steady hand in the pilot’s seat, ensuring a fast smooth ride throughout the film before the third act starts its final descent towards Hollywood rom-com formula with echoes of AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER and in a nice reversal, features a mad dash from an airport for a declaration of love.

    Arguably, no one does romance better than the French, and should the mood for love overcome you and make you feel giddy and lightheaded, oxygen masks are located above you. Just pull the mask towards you to start the supply. Please attach your own mask before helping others and note that the bag does not inflate.

    So please ensure all electronic devices have been switched off, your chair is upright and in a fixed position, relax, enjoy the next 96 minutes with LOVE IS IN THE AIR and we hope to see you on board Discover Tuesdays again soon.

    Saturday, 15 February 2014

    Her - review

    In a world where we are spending an ever-increasing amount of our lives online and communicating to other through our computers and smartphones, Her is probably the most important and timely romantic film of the last decade.

    Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is going through the final stages of a divorce, living a quiet lonely existence trying to "prioritise between video games and Internet porn" and works for a company called, writing letters for people who have trouble communicating (but clearly pay well for the service given Theodore's apartment).

    It reminded me of a line in (500) Days Of Summer where Tom bemoans his job at a greeting card company, saying "why do people buy these things? It's not because they wanna say how they feel, people buy cards because they can't say how they feel or are afraid to. We provide the service that lets them off the hook."

    Although set in the near future where East and West cultures are beginning to merge (also touched upon in Sci-Fi films such as Looper and Serenity), Minority Report-style advertising is everywhere and Simon Cowell-esque high waisted trousers are all the rage, is it any wonder things have gotten so bad that people are unable to express their true feelings face to face and need an online service to help them write letters (instead of just that annoying paper clip that pops up when you type in an address) when much of our social interaction is taking place in a digital domain.

    A number of websites such as, EHarmony, Tinder, etc tell us that we can find love or even just sex "on the line" and one of the questions posed by the film is do we even need the physical bond any more?

    Having a computer create the perfect woman is not a new idea, after all Gary and Wyatt managed to create Kelly Le Brock in Weird Science, but Samantha is different. She is not a person or even a robot or android, just a voice of an artificially intelligent operating system... even if she did go through a software update in post production with Samantha Morton's vocal chords being replaced by the sultry, dulcet tones of Scarlett Johansson.

    Initially designed to help Theodore organise his work, schedule, emails, etc as Samantha's AI evolves so does her relationship with him, moving from tool to friend to lover and finally girlfriend.

    The film does touch upon the humour and ridiculousness of the scenario yet there is a sincerity and genuine intimacy to their relationship. Just compare the cybersex scenes with Samantha and the earlier tryst with "SexyKitten".

    She encourages him to become more outgoing, helps to advance his career, etc and through their interactions and conversations, she develops more and more as a system towards an ever-increasing desire for humanity.

    When Theodore expresses doubts over the validity of their relationship to the one real woman he is comfortable around, unhappily-married friend Amy (Amy Adams), she asks him "Is it not a real relationship?".

    After all, the definition of relationship is "the way in which two or more people are connected, or the state of being connected.", and Theodore and Samantha are connected. Quite literally, through an earpiece.

    Theodore's ex-wife tells him "you always wanted a wife without the challenges of actually dealing with anything real. I'm glad that you've found someone". Plus seeing him on an actual date with a person (Olivia Wilde), it is clear that this real-life social interaction is uncomfortable and even alien to him following the breakdown of his marriage.

    In the first wave of euphoria, Samantha seems like the perfect girlfriend. She is interested in him, supportive, encouraging, laughs at his jokes, etc. Plus you can switch her off if you are tired or don't want to talk.

    However as she grows and evolves, the honeymoon period ends and her behaviour becomes increasingly similar to that of a real person. There is distance, jealousy and phone calls late at night because "we need to talk".

    As things take a darker and unpredictable turn, an argument can be made that Samantha is a crueller artificial intelligence than even HAL 9000.

    Even as cracks emerge the audience believes in their relationship and will find themselves willing it to work due to the excellent performances.

    Joaquin Phoenix delivers his warmest and most accessible performance to date, giving Theodore an endearing sweetness and shyness that gradually opens up as Samantha breaks down the barriers to his heart.

    Even though she is not on screen, Scarlett Johansson not only captures Theodore's affections but also the audiences. Many people will leave the cinema wishing their phone was voiced by her. She is smart, funny, seductive, confident and hypnotic.

    The whole affair is beautifully shot with a warm glow and a perfect soundtrack by Arcade Fire that generates a feeling that love can conquer all.

    Haddaway kept asking "What is love?" but there is no real definitive answer. No one can tell you what love is, you either know it and feel it or you don't. Theodore felt it. Just because the object of his affections is not real doesn't make it any less true.

    The same goes for the film. Some will fall in love with it, others won't but those that do will find a film that starts life as science fiction but very soon could become science fact and a must-see romance for anyone looking for a Siri-ous relationship.

    5 stars

    Sunday, 9 February 2014

    Robocop - review

    There are two things I didn't want to do when reviewing Jose Padilha's reboot/remake of Robocop:

    1) Spend too much time comparing it to the original as every film deserves to be reviewed on its own merits.

    2) Launch into a rant about the ridiculousness of the 12A rating that means families are taking 5-6 year olds to screenings of a film that features a rather high level of gun violence. Really?! Don't they know there is an amazing LEGO movie they could have taken them to see this weekend instead?

    So here goes...

    Detroit cop Alex Murphy is critically injured in a car bomb explosion when he gets too close to a case. Omnicorp, who specialise in overseas robotic defence contracts, step in and turn Murphy into Robocop in order to try and turn US opinion to their campaign to have their robots patrolling the streets instead of human cops.

    There are several interesting themes that could be developed throughout the film; Samuel L. Jackson's political pundit Novak's critique of US policies, the replacement of human labour by machines, Detroit as a city of decay (even Omnicorp have outsourced to Asia), what does it mean to be human, etc, etc.

    Yet most of this is not given the time to compute as the film's programming is quickly overridden to become a run-of-the-mill action film as Robocop hunts down the men responsible for turning him into a head and pair of lungs in a machine (really) and then turns on his creators.

    Michael Keaton's Omnicorp CEO is asked at one point what a robot would feel if it killed someone. "Nothing" he replies. And that is pretty much what I felt after watching it. Nothing. As Jackie Earle Haley's Maddox remarks, "I wouldn't buy that for a dollar".

    2 stars

    The Invisible Woman - review

    What the Dickens? Ralph Fiennes follows up his directorial debut of Coriolanus by taking on another one of Britain's greatest writers but this time it is a biographical tale of Charles Dickens and his secret affair with Nellie Turnham, played by rising star Felicity Jones.

    Given the success of his first film and the talent on show, it is fair to say there were Great Expectations for this one.

    Felicity Jones gives a commendable performance as the young woman who becomes involved with Dickens but can never wrestle the man away from his public persona.

    Fiennes' has expertly recreated Dickensian London, Manchester et all yet his Dickens; a man torn between his family life, his attraction to Nellie and the life of "Charles Dickens", ultimately remains as blank as an empty page waiting for it to come to life with his words.

    The Invisible Woman in Dickens life may have become a fully fleshed out character but those looking for more on Dickens himself will find him as hollow as the Invisible Man.

    3 stars

    Saturday, 8 February 2014

    LEGO Movie - review

    "Everything is awesome" booms the only song played in Bricksburg 24 hours hours a day and you know what? It is absolutely true.

    Everything about The LEGO Movie is awesome and it is easily the most inventive and consistently funny and entertaining film of the year.

    With a plot that is very similar to The Matrix, Emmet is a construction worker who lives in Bricksburg and does everything according to the instructions in order to conform and fit in as best he can. One day at work he follows a girl dressed in black, tumbles down a hole and finds a strange object called The Piece of Resistance. Introduced to a sage-like black man called Vetruvius who shows him the true world of Legoland beyond the city limits, he is hailed as "The One"... I mean "The Special" who can fulfil the prophecy and stop Lord Business from unleashing The Kragle from ending the universe as they know it.

    Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are now three for three as directors of movies which sound like a potential disaster but turn out to be unexpected delights:

    Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs - an animation about a device that turns weather into food.

    21 Jump Street - an action comedy based on an 80's teen cop series.

    And The LEGO Movie, a feature-length movie based on a kids toy. As Transformers has proved, it doesn't always work.

    There are so many amazing and hilarious cameos and surprises in store that it would do a disservice to reveal them in the review but it is safe to say that Superman vs Batman and Ben Affleck have some way to go to beat this for a Justice League movie and best Batman since Nolan's.

    An exciting blend of stop motion animation mixed with CGI, the level of detail is simply astonishing with thrilling action sequences and a multitude of background sight gags that will keep revealing more and more with multiple viewings.

    This film is one of the greatest films ever assembled and suitable for ages 8-99 (that's just a suggestion) and anyone who has ever played with the sophisticated interlocking brick system, whether you went exactly by the instructions or let your imagination run wild just as Lord and Miller have here.

    The only thing missing is a joke where a construction worker gets mad when another guy puts the final piece on a building he has constructed.

    5 stars

    Mr. Peabody and Sherman - review

    Mr. Peabody and Shermanare a family consisting of a talking dog who is also one of the world's greatest scientists and his adopted son Sherman. Just imagine a U rated version of Brian and Stewie Griffin and you are on the right track.

    Peabody has created a time machine called the WABAC which he uses to teach Sherman about history.

    When Sherman uses the machine to impress a fellow classmate and Penny gets engaged to King Tut, Peabody must step in and try and get them back to the present without creating a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe! Granted, that's a worse case scenario.

    Essentially this is a family-friendly animated version of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure with Sherman and Penny as the Wyld Stallyns and Mr. Peabody as Rufus.

    An enjoyable and witty adventure with highlights including Leonardo da Vinci's wooden child, Patrick Warbuton (Joe from Family Guy) as an enthusiastic Agammenon and an unexpected Oedipus gag in a sweet movie you'll happily spend some time with.

    3 stars

    Thursday, 6 February 2014

    I, Frankenstein - review

    Victor Frankenstein created a being out of the parts of several humans and the result was a monster, an abomination, which he then tried to destroy.

    How ironic that 200 years later, I, Frankenstein is a movie cobbled together with parts from other movies such as Van Helsing, Blade, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Underworld, with the end result being a complete monstrosity that the filmmakers should have tried to bury.

    The only two commendable things about the film are that Eckhart's character is correctly named Adam or The Monster (the title suggested they would be calling him Frankenstein when he was not) and that the actors don't crack up with fits of laughter when explaining a plot where The Monster is caught up in an eternal war between the High Order of Gargoyles and the 666 Legions of Demons from Hell lead by Prince Naberius.

    Perhaps it could have helped improve the film as it is too serious for its own good, with Eckhart delivering lines like "The Gargoyle Order must be protected" and "Descend. In Pain." like they were a sacred text.

    The overall gloominess of the production is only exacerbated by the dark and dour (and completely unnecessary) 3D.

    Only the ever-dependable Bill Nighy, having worked on the Underworld films, manages to strike the right tone and know just what type of film this is.

    One that is a complete and total mess.

    Where do you start?

  • After finding The Monster after it has been attacked by Demons, a Gargoyle manages to shoehorn in the famous line "It's Alive.. It's Alive!"

  • This is a film where the idea that the Frankenstein tale is based on truth is seen as crazy by a scientist who works for a Demon.

  • Gargoyles are essentially angels who have human form but prefer to sit perched on old buildings as stone statues.

  • Gargoyles chastise The Monster for allowing a human to become involved in the war but then spend 15 minutes having a giant battle outside a cathedral where beams of fire descend into the ground and beams of light ascend to heaven. Surely THAT would be noticed by humans!

  • The ancient warring hordes have set up their secret bases around 10 blocks away from each other in the same city.

  • Despite the facial scars, The Monster has blended in to modern society by apparently shopping for his outfit of jeans, hoodie and jacket at the GAP.

  • In a huge plot inconsistency, one moment is able to kill a vengeful gargoyle as he doesn't have a soul but then is unable to be possessed by a demon because suddenly he does.

  • Based on the critical and commercial failure of the film, it's unlikely that we'll get to see a sequel that would probably be called something like I, Frankenstein. You, Bride of Frankenstein.

    All the filmmakers did was take the body of Frankenstein's Creature, put in the brain of Blade and the result is the worst film of 2014 and one that would have Mary Shelley spinning in her grave.

    1 star

    Out Of The Furnace - review

    Similar to 2012's equally testosterone-filled Killing Me Softly, there is a socio-political/economic subtextual comment on America at the heart of Out Of The Furnace with bare knuckle fights and the film's final showdown taking place in old abandoned furnaces and factories. Plus it is set in 2008 around the time of Obama's election (but I'm not sure which administration the writer-director is attacking here).

    Is it a thinly-veiled look at the erosion of the US-based manufacturing industry? Is it a story about unchecked male aggression? Is it a story about family loyalty?

    Difficult to say as the plot never really chooses one particular focus as the plot takes some dubious detours along the way.

    For example, Bale's character kills someone in a car accident, goes to prison and is then released all in the space of ten minutes. Why? What real effect does this have on him and others. It's not really explored as it gives way to a revenge-fuelled plot involving his war veteran brother and a dangerous hick played by Woody Harrelson in his usual Southern way even though the character is from New Jersey.

    An impressive cast of actors, including another top performance from Christian Bale, give it their all but Out Of The Furnace sadly left this reviewer cold with a film that felt as empty as the abandoned furnaces they fight in.

    3 stars

    That Awkward Moment - review

    That awkward moment when you watch a film that is likely to alienate a large amount of its female audience and wishing anyone who appreciates the lead character's behaviour to be alienated from society.

    This film that would like to fall somewhere in between a lads comedy like The Hangover or The Inbetweeners and a standard romantic comedy but the end result is more akin to a regretful one night stand you want to sneak away from without waking it up.

    The three main characters are best friends Mikey, Daniel and Jason. Mikey's wide has just left him and his womanising friends try to get him back in the game, making a vow to stay single while partying hard and playing the field.

    In any other movie the character of Mikey (played by Michael B. Jordan) would be the lead but in this film, the lead is Jason who is a thoroughly contemptible person played by teen heartthrob Zac Efron.

    Jason has lots of casual sex with a large number of girls and is always on the look out for new girls to add to his "roster" as he frees up space by cutting them loose when they want a relationship.

    A spanner is thrown in the works when he falls for a Ellie, has sex with her, mistakes her for a hooker, tells her this, then somehow charms her into another date, doesn't get any sex, has sex with someone else, continues to date Ellie, meets her parents then doesn't attend her day's funeral because "she'll think we're in a relationship".

    What will all those High School Musical fans think of Zac now?!

    Meanwhile Daniel uses his female friend Chelsea to help him hook up with girls and then sleeps with her, despite her knowing what he is like. They both want a casual thing to begin with but... oh, you've seen rom-coms, you know where that storyline is headed.

    The only one who is remotely likeable is Mikey who tries to reconnect with his wife and do the decent thing and the only one you would actually want to end up being happy.

    Imogen Poots, both you and your character deserve better than Zac Efron and this movie.

    This is not a film that will wine and dine you, romance you with flowers and poetry before dashing to the airport for a huge declaration of love. This is a film that would rather booty call you at 1:00am. Trust me when I say, put your phone on silent and resist the urge. You'll only wake up regretting it afterwards.

    1 star

    Wednesday, 5 February 2014

    Lone Survivor - review

    There might not be a more spoilerific film title this year than Lone Survivor and given that this is based on the true story of the failed Operation Red Wings, you might imagine exactly how this one plays out however a thrilling central shoot-out and strong performances will keep audiences engaged.

    Director Peter Berg has clearly wanted to give the film as high a sense of realism as possible. For example, the film starts with a montage of US Navy Seal training and a lot of the cast members and extras are real military.

    However the film begins like any other military ops movie like Black Hawk Down, complete with Eric Bana as a commanding officer, and tends to fall into cliches at times it sets up the mission and shows the camaraderie between the main players e.g. one of the guys is about to get married. Never a good sign in a war movie.

    This is true US Band of Brothers stuff with bearded, buffed-up Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster even looking like they could pass for brothers.

    This "never leave a man behind", "brothers in arms" stuff might no be a concept that us Brits or non-military can ever truly understand but you really do feel and believe the bond these guys have as the mission goes south and they have to make the tough decision to "terminate the compromise" when an Afghan goat-herding family stumble upon their hiding place, or let them loose an risk alerting the Taliban.

    The back-and-forth argument over the rules of engagement, with Foster pro finishing the mission and Wahlberg against killing them and ending up on CNN is a refreshing insight rarely seen in the current wave of films about the conflict and is the turning point in the film, leading to the exhilarating second act.

    The subsequent firefight with the Taliban is very well shot and the audience can feel every bullet hit its target, the crack of every broken bone and will visibly wince as they experience the most realistic falling down a hill/cliff sequence ever filmed. Yes, unlike other movies, this would really hurt and leave you writhing in pain.

    The ending strays a little too far into Three Kings territory and you may start to wonder how the Taliban go down like computer game characters with a straight headshot while the Navy Seals survive with multiple wounds but this could have been forgiven if not for the misjudged ending which features a terrible cover version of David Bowie's Heroes playing over images of the real soldiers.

    A film which doesn't quite achieve its ultimate objective but goes down fighting.

    3 stars

    Monday, 3 February 2014

    Dallas Buyers Club - review

    "Alright, alright, alright..." Despite becoming Dazed & Confused in a slump of romantic comedies that saw his promising career suffer a Failure To Launch, it is so satisfying and gratifying to be able to announce that The McConaissance is finally complete.

    Matthew McConaughey has been the most consistently in-form actor of the last three years ever since he cured himself of the severe balance issues that affected him during his rom-com phase.

    He used his smooth Southern charm to deadly effect in Killer Joe, sent up his movie and public persona in Magic Mike, became a stick in the Mud and of course took his shirt off in every single one of them.

    And in a nice touch of serendipity, he could now win an Oscar for a movie in which co-star Jennifer Garner also appeared in his last rom-com Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past

    Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof.

    To paraphrase Ric Flair for a second, Ron Woodroof could be described as "The Stylin', profilin', hell raising, trail blazing, bull riding, high flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' n' dealin' son of a gun!"

    He is a ladies man and a "man's man" and doesn't take too kindly to being told he has been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, launching into a homophobic rant given that at the time it was considered a gay disease.

    After going through the several stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) including an amusing scene where a prayer to God is revealed to be at a strip club rather than a church, Ron heads south of the border to get the medicine he needs to survive but has not been approved by the FDA.

    Smuggling the drugs back to the US, Ron sets up the Dallas Buyers Club, selling memberships to AIDS sufferers in exchange for the meds and reluctantly teams up (initially at first) with trans-gender Rayon (Leto) as the business expands.

    The trailer hints at the film being similar to Erin Brockovich where Woodroof goes on a legal crusade to fight the FDA and get better drugs for himself and fellow sufferers but this is pushed to the background, leaving the film to focus on Ron and how he copes and changes living with the disease.

    And to quote McConaughey, his motto is to "Keep Livin', L-I-V-I-N" and although he does take Jennifer Garner's compassionate doctor out on a date, "where he can feel human again", the central relationship is that between himself and Rayon.

    Starting off from a position of disgust, the relationship moves to acceptance then protector and finally friendship.

    Jared Leto has been busy the last ten years becoming a rock star with 30 Seconds To Mars but he hasn't lost a step, delivering an incredibly moving performance that will bring many to tears as his mask of sass and make up slowly slip to reveal the fear and hurt underneath.

    McConaughey has never been better. Effectively using the entire spectrum of human emotions as he goes on this journey and finding humour where there might not have been any as he makes the most out of a bad situation. It is high praise indeed for an actor when you can't imagine any else having played the part and this is true of McConaughey and Woodroof.

    It is not a perfect film. The film's tiny budget and shooting time mean that certain sequences don't have the same quality, power or pacing as others (the poor greenscreen/CGI used as Woodroof travels the world searching for a new supply sticks out like a sore thumb) but it seems silly to complain about small things like that when a movie shows this much heart and passion to tell a story.

    Long may the McConaissance continue.

    4 stars