Thursday, 18 December 2014

Review Of The Year

As 2014 comes to a end, I wanted to look back over a great year of cinema with a few personal highlights beyond my own Top Ten Films Of The Year (which you can read here).

Actor Of The Year - Chris Pratt

2014 was the year that Chris Pratt became a man... a leading man to be exact.
Alongside scene-stealing turns in the likes of Delivery Man and Her, he proved he could carry a movie with a great vocal performance as Emmett in The LEGO Movie and dancing onto the big screen as a fully formed action hero as Peter Quill aka "Star Lord" in the best superhero movie of the year Guardians Of The Galaxy.
It's no wonder he is in such high demand, with his name being attached to every franchise going and 2015 should be just as big with a role in Jurassic World.

Actress Of The Year - Scarlett Johansson

It has been a very good year for Scarlett Johansson, who at one point could have been in half of my top ten films of 2014, with career best performances in Her, and Under The Skin, a cameo in Chef alongside leading the push for a solo female superhero movie with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and beating The Rock to the top of the box office with Lucy.

Best Male Performance - Tom Hardy in Locke & Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

Ultimately I couldn't pick between these two as they are both terrific and for different reasons.
Tom Hardy does an incredible job of carrying an entire movie which consists of him talking on a phone while driving a car. He provides just enough backstory throughout his conversations to create a fully realised character and earns bonus points for his spot on Welsh accent and concrete has never sounded so interesting.
Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom is a cross between Patrick Bateman and Travis Bickle who does whatever it takes to achieve his warped perception of the American Dream. Many critics focused on his weight loss and gaunt appearance but it is much more than that as he disappears into the character to create a wolf in sheep's clothing that can flash that killer smile.

Best Female Performance - Essie Davis (The Babadook)

Scarlett Johansson might have received the MVP Award for 2014 but the single best female performance of 2014 was Essie Davis's incredible turn in Australian horror film The Babadook.
Playing a woman trying to cope with the grief and sense of loss following her husband's death whilst trying to take care of her son who begins to act out when he discovers a mysterious pop-up book, which may or may not have summoned an evil spirit, Davis superbly executes a fine balancing act between fragile mother and deranged lunatic that evokes memories of Belen Rueda in The Orphanage and Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Poster Of The Year - Under The Skin

Best Fight Scene - The kitchen fight in The Raid 2

Quite frankly if I had done a top ten fight scenes of 2014, the majority of the entries would have been from The Raid 2, but the cream of the crop was the kitchen fight between Rama and The Assassin which was six minutes and thirty seven seconds of the most amazing and brutal choreography that caused me to break out into a round of applause in the cinema screen and cemented Gareth Evans as the greatest action director of his generation.

Best Horror Film - The Babadook

It wasn't a great year for horror with a lot of duds like Devil's Due, Annabelle, etc however there were two welcome exceptions.
Oculus was very good but taking the top spot was The Babadook.
What really makes the film stand out from other horrors this year is the story and characters are as three dimensional as the pop up book which proves the catalyst for this terrifying tale.
So take my advice. Just take one look. You'll be thrilled and wowed by The Babadook

Best Song - Everything Is Awesome

Honourable Mention - Please Mr. Kennedy

The catchiest ear worm of a song in 2014 could be nothing other than Everything Is Awesome from The LEGO Movie because it is simply... awesome.

Please Mr. Kennedy from Inside Llewyn Davis must get a mention as not only a great song but for now having the ironical standpoint that two of the three people who were singing about not getting sent into outer space are now starring in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens!

Best Score - Under The Skin by Mica Levi

Unsettling, otherworldly, haunting, creepy, beautiful and utterly unique.
An integral part of the film that elevates it to one of the most interesting cinematic experiences of the year.

Soundtrack Of The Year - Guardians Of The Galaxy

The best soundtrack of the year is one made up entirely of songs from the seventies and eighties.
From Redbone's Come And Get Your Love to Hooked On A Feeling, it is full of classics that are given a new twist and spin thanks to their use in the film.
Also it gave us one of the year's best moments with baby Groot dancing to the Jackson 5.

The Best Film You Didn't See - Snowpiercer & The Guest

People are probably sick of me banging on about how great Snowpiercer is and you only could have seen it if you happened to be at the Edinburgh Film Festival or imported the DVD from America or France.

Instead I've picked the best film that most people missed at the cinema this year and it is The Guest.
Featuring a terrific performance from Dan Stevens, it is so much more than the trailer suggested, taking some deliciously dark and twisted turns along the way and delivering a house guest that won't outstay its welcome on DVD.

Worst Film Of The Year

Tough decision as I have seen over 200 films this year and 37 of them received 1 star ratings.

Non-Film Event Of The Year - Hans Zimmer Revealed & Empire Magazine Podcast Live In Edinburgh

Easily the best love concert I have ever attended, one of my all-time favourite composers Hans Zimmer played over two hours of his greatest tracks with a live orchestra and choir.
Every song and theme was fantastic but highlights included Man Of Steel, a Pirates Of The Caribbean medley, The Dark Knight and The Thin Red Line which produced the odd tear down my face.
Hans down one of the best night's of my life.

In June as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival, Empire magazine hosted a live podcast recording and I made sure to attend (despite being hospitalised mere days earlier with kidney stones).
It was a very entertaining couple of hours as Chris, Helen, Phil and Ali provided the usual levels of film criticism, gags and spot prizes along with a great interview with Elijah Wood who got incredibly excited when he spotted a bottle of Irn Bru I had given the team as a welcome to Scotland present.

Favourite Cinema Marketing Campaign - The Grand Budapest Hotel

My personal favourite campaign that we did at the cinema this year was turning the foyer into The Grand Budapest Hotel for the film's opening weekend, complete with our own concierge Dallas K. and a Grand Budapest Hotel version of Guess Who.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Leviathan - review

A powerful film that examines a family in a remote fishing village's struggle to fight the system when their home is threatened by a development.

This is a very thinly veiled critique of the power and corruption rife in the Russian government and political system.

As strong and powerful as the vodka continuously drunk throughout the film. You'll leave feeling intoxicated by proxy with booze and anger.

4 stars

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Thing - review

I can't believe that this film was a failure on its release as it is one of the true classics of the genre. Critics and the public found the body horror of the film too nauseating but Rob Bottin's truly 'out of this world' creations remain a highlight in the world of special effects, and like American Werewolf, all the more effective for being real, practical SFX rather than CGI (which is what would be used in the much-mooted prequel I'm sure). So Palmer's response to seeing a head sprout legs and scuttle away is exactly the same as the audiences "you've gotta be fucking kidding".
I have done film courses on the horror genre before and in them I have talked about the differences between tension and suspense. Suspense is where the audience knows more than the characters. For example, when the audience knows the killer is in the house and is waiting for them to jump out on their victims. Tension however is where the audience know as much as the characters, and this is what makes The Thing so effective.
You have a large group of people in an isolated location who are infiltrated by a shape shifting alien. They know that (at least) one of them is The Thing, and so do we, but nobody knows who it is.
This leads up to one of the best scenes in the movie and in cinema as an example of tension, the blood test.
Also contains one of cinema's best tag lines (Man is the warmest place to hide) and last lines, when two characters (no spoilers) sit down in the frozen camp and suspicious of each other, share a drink "Maybe we'll sit here a while, see what happens".

5 stars

Die Hard - review

Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

It's set on Christmas Eve and it is the touching story of one man doing everything in his power to be reunited with his family.

It is also one of the best action films ever made with a wisecracking cop with a death wish, a vest and no shoes going up against the greatest ever "British actor playing the villain" performance from Alan Rickman.

So is Die Hard the best Christmas movie ever made? Yippee-Kay-Aye Motherf*cker!

5 stars

Friday, 12 December 2014

Top Ten Films of 2014

The Best Film I've Seen This Year - Snowpiercer

Quick disclaimer to say that the best film I have seen all year is Snowpiercer however due to the fact it has still not had a theatrical release in the UK in 2014 and so therefore it is ineligible for inclusion in my "official" top ten of 2014.

Read my full review here to find out what you are missing out on.

The LEGO Movie

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

Read my full review here.

2. Nightcrawler

If you want to win the lottery, you need to make the money to buy a ticket. And writer-director Dan Gilroy, Gyllenhaal and audiences have all won the jackpot with Nightcrawler.
Watching Lou Bloom ascend his crooked ladder and achieve his own twisted version of the American Dream, or is that the American Nightmare?
It is a film that will make you feel like you need a shower after seeing it but it feels really good while you are watching it, especially due to the fantastic cinematography by Robert Elswit who makes this L.A. feel like the same world that is home to Ryan Gosling's mysterious Driver in Drive or Elijah Wood's Frank in Maniac.

Read my full review here.

3. Her

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.
A must-see romance for anyone looking for a Siri-ous relationship.

Read my full review here.

4. Interstellar

With 2010's Inception Christopher Nolan explored the inner mind. With Interstellar, Nolan has decided to "dream a little bigger darling" and has set his sights on outer space to deliver a grand, awe-inspiring, wondrous 2014 A Space Odyssey.
It is said that Man's reach exceeds his grasp but when that man is Christopher Nolan and he is reaching for the stars, the result is still an extremely powerful, moving, exhilarating cinematic experience.

Read my full review here.

5. The Guest

It might not have found its ideal audience at the cinema but this is a Grindhouse-classic in the making that will become a very welcome house Guest on DVD and VOD in the years to come.

6. Under The Skin

Ultimately Under The Skin is undefinable, utterly unique (as far as i'm aware no other film this years features a discussion on the locations of Asda and Tesco) and completely unforgettable. Like the title says, this film will get under the skin and stay with you forever.

Read my full review here.

7. The Grand Budapest Hotel

"My girlfriend and I booked ourselves in for a 100 minute stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel on Sunday 2nd March and were among the first to visit the hotel now it was open to the public following its grand opening in Berlin and Glasgow.

While the initial areas felt slightly drab and reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel, they soon gave way to the beautiful and memorably bright pink decor that will become synonymous with this location which was made all the more stunning by the Academy ratio it was presented in.

If I were to single out a particular member of staff, I would like to praise the efforts of the concierge Gustave H. who was simply charming, hilarious and smelt divine and made our stay an absolute delight.

If you are staying here I highly recommend a trip down to the local town of Zubrowka to sample some of its many delights including skiing, a local monastery and Mendl's bakery which has some heavenly cakes.

Sadly our visit was over before we knew it so we are already planning our next trip and would highly recommend The Grand Budapest Hotel looking for a fun cinematic vacation this year.

Read my full review here.

8. Only Lovers Left Alive

The script's wit is as razor sharp as their teeth and dripping with deadpan delivery by Hiddleston and Swinton who are both able to hint at the old souls behind the young eyes of these eternal creatures of the night.
Shot with an ethereal beauty and a killer soundtrack, it can easily stake a claim as the best vampire film since Let The Right One In.

Read my full review here.

9. Boyhood

"Life moves pretty fast. if you don't stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it" and Richard Linklater has perfectly captured this in 146 mins but they also say "life's too short" and I could have happily watch a few more hours of this incredible and unique piece of cinema.

Read my full review here.

10. The Babadook

Every now and again a horror film creeps up on you out of nowhere and scares you senseless. The Babadook is one such film and features the scariest figure to wear a top hat since Papa Lazarou.
So heed my advice. Just take one look. You'll be thrilled and wowed by The Babadook.

Read my full review here.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies - review

The Battle Of The Five Armies is a rather confusing title for the film because even though the eponymous battle takes up the majority of the film's runtime, at the end of it I am unable to tell you who the five armies were!

There were some dwarves, elves, orcs, mention of another Orc army that never show up, a small group of humans that would be difficult to classify as "an army" and then possibly even the Eagles.

Ah the bloody eagles! The Deus Eagle Machina that turns up whenever everything seems bleak in order to help out but ended up reminding us all of that question "why didn't they just drop the ring in Mount Doom?".

The biggest problem with The Hobbit films is that by expanding the story over three films and trying to work in more material to tie it in to the LOTR movies, it feels like a cheap cardboard cutout version with several moments trying to recreate that magic but falling rather short, even provoking unintentional laughter amongst the audience.

There is nothing that has the sense of scale and wonder as the Battle of Helm's Deep or the Ride of the Rohirrim or Gollum's conversation with himself. Indeed the CGI is rather poor in this film and is used much more extensively than the practical effects and fight scenes of the original trilogy.

Is it too harsh to say that The Hobbit films do for the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy what The Phantom Menace and the prequels did for the original Star Wars Trilogy?

The Hobbit is an overlong, bloated mess that was unnecessarily split over three films so I'll save everyone some time and keep it brief.

The original subtitle of this film was There And Back Again. Peter Jackson went there to Middle Earth with huge success with Lord Of The Rings but it might have been best for everyone involved if he hadn't gone back again.

2 stars

Penguins of Madagascar - review

Giving the breakout supporting character of a movie their own spin off can be a bad move... Elektra, U.S. Marshals and Get Him To The Greek for example.

The jury is still out when it comes to animated features as there has been hit and miss success with the like of Planes and Puss In Boots and next year will see the Minions from Despicable Me hit the big screen.

Will a full-length feature based on the Penguins of Madagascar take flight or become a march to the bargain bin?

It turns out that there is enough action and mileage in the story of examining the group dynamic with Private desperate to become more than just the cute one whilst taking on a villainous octopus to provide for an amusing afternoon at the picture, helped by s steady stream of gags including the most random running joke of the year which involves celebrity names being worked into the dialogue e.g. "Nicolas... Cage them".

P-p-p-pick up a ticket for Penguins... Or Pengwings as Benedict Cumberbatch repeatedly calls them in the film. Oh Benedict... You had ONE job to do in this movie called Penguins!

3 stars

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

St. Vincent - review

Ain't them Bill Murray's Saints?

Bill Murray certainly qualifies, as he delivers one of his best performances since Lost In Translation outside of a Wes Anderson movie.

Vincent is a proper grumpy old man. Miserable, grouchy and unlikeable and Murray does of a great job of channeling the darker side of his humour to make audiences a bit standoffish with him to begin with before the cracks in his armour start to appear and we begin to understand why he is the way he is.

The trailer suggests a buddy comedy of sorts between Vincent and the young kid next door (especially due to the casting of McCarthy and O'Dowd in supporting roles) but it is a much more than that, at times sad and moving but perhaps more could have been done to embrace the darker elements of the script as it feels like some of this was watered down in the final edit.

There is laughter and tears and a Murray mint performance that was good but perhaps not good enough to qualify for sainthood.

3 stars

Monday, 8 December 2014

Black Sea - review

Fired from his job, submarine captain Jude Law gathers together a crew to head to the Black Sea to find a German U-Boat filled with Nazi gold.

The premise is rather old school, "men on a mission" stuff but director Kevin McDonald does a good job of increasing the pressure and sense of cabin fever and claustrophobia.

It's just a shame that none of the characters are really given room to breathe beyond Law's divorced skipper and (an always good value) Ben Mendelsohn's crazy diver.

However the biggest question is whether Jude Law struck gold with his "Aberdonian" accent or did he deliver a sub-par performance?

Being born and bred in Aberdeen, I can categorically state that while at times it may approach sounding like Doric, it gave me that sinking feeling as it went for a tour of the seven seas and never once settling on a final destination.

3 stars

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Life Itself - review

Life Itself, the documentary of the life of Roger Ebert, does everything that a good movie should. It makes you laugh, cry, feel, emote and build a greater appreciation for cinema as a whole.

Steve James's powerful and moving doc involves interviews with Ebert in his final months as he is in and out of hospital relating to his cancer treatment. Seeing Ebert communicating through a computer after the cancer had taken his lower jaw and voice is upsetting to see and difficult to watch but what amazes is the high spirits that Roger seemed to be able to keep up.

Alongside the interviews, the film uses his memoir as the starting point for a look through the life of one of the world's all-time greatest film critics. It doesn't shy away from the darker side of history with Ebert's alcoholism, a frank look at his illness and his longtime friendship/rivalry with fellow Chicago critic Gene Siskel.

If there was one minor complaint, it would be that it didn't feature enough of his work and reviews (they did win him a Pulitzer Prize after all) but thankfully this can all be read and enjoyed on his website which catalogued his entire life's work because he was adamant that even though cancer had taken his vocal chords it wouldn't take his voice.

Just hearing a few excerpts from his reviews during the film makes you feel bad that you might never write anything as good but just the simple act of writing about film would put a smile on his face and I think Roger himself would have also given the film two thumbs up.

4 stars

Monday, 1 December 2014

Horrible Bosses 2 - review

It seems that <I>Horrible Bosses</I> was enough of a success that producers did what they do with any comedy vehicle that does well in America: commission more of it and keep running with it until it runs out of jokes and outstays its welcome.

It remains unclear who (if anyone) demanded or needed a sequel but we have one and it immediately bucks the trend of going louder, crazier, bigger and more extreme by immediately downgrading the central premise of having three employees plot to murder their bosses to plotting to kidnap a double crossing employer.

For the next 90 minutes they not only rehash a lot of the jokes and gags from the first film, along with probably improvising 90% of the dialogue, but also bring back all the characters from the first film including Jennifer Aniston's nymphomaniac dentist who they steal nitrous oxide from.

To be honest, it would have been great to have some laughing gas in the screen as this only raised the mildest of chuckles in a film that should be handed its P45 for not performing to the best of its abilities.

<b>2 stars</b>

Paddington - review

Let's be honest. At the start of 2014, who would have honestly said that the two best family films of the year would have been one based on a building block toy and one that inspired the meme #creepypaddington?

Well of course The LEGO Movie turned out to be "Awesome" and Harry Potter and Gravity producer David Heyman has worked his magic yet again to produce a film which is as charming, warm and fuzzy as the titular bear.

Not only has it remained faithful to Michael Bond's original character thanks to Ben Whishaw's marmalade-smooth vocal performance but Paul King (director of The Mighty Boosh and Bunny And The Bull) gives it a delightfully quirky and whimsical spin with some great gags and touches like the taxi ride that highlights all the cliched sights in London before having Mr Brown (Bonneville) ask the taxi driver "what kind of route was that?" And the lights on the lost and found sign at the station flickering dependent on how the conversation is going with the Brown family.

It is also surprising that Paddington overtakes The Hunger Games: Mockingjay as the most overtly political movie aimed at young people this year.

It positively promotes the benefits that immigrants can bring to London and the UK and how they should be welcomed with open arms despite what the naysayers might say, as epitomised by Peter Capaldi's Mr. Currie who is clearly a Daily Mail reader and has the conversation with Nicole Kidman's villain about how it starts with one and soon they'll be over here stealing all our marmalade.

Paddington has found a welcome home this festive season and is the bear necessity for a family trip to the cinema.

4 stars

2001 A Space Odyssey - review

It is a true landmark moment in cinematic sci-fi and it is easy to see where the inspiration for several elements of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar came from, particularly the trippy final act.

And that is what the experience of 2001 A Space Odyssey is. Whereas other sci-Fi films can take you on an adventure or a journey into outer space, Kubrick takes you on the ultimate trip.

Whilst stunning to look at and immerse yourself in on as big a screen as possible, I can't help but feel as emotionally distant and detached to the story as HAL 9000 is to his crewmates aboard the Jupiter mission.

4 stars

Sunday, 23 November 2014

What We Do In The Shadows - review

Following the sparkly tween blandness of the Twilight films, it is nice to see that the vampire genre is coming back from the dead with movies like Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do In The Shadows.

Both released this year, they both take a different look at the everyday life and normalcy of a vampire's existence.

What We Do In The Shadows does it through the style of a Mockumentary, nicely played with "New Zealand Documentary Foundation" credits, that documents the undead lives of four vampires who share a house in Wellington, New Zealand.

There is a nice mix of characters in the house with Dandy Vamp Viago, Vlad The Impaler Vamp Vladislav, Rock Vamp Deacon and Nosferatu Vamp Peter.

While there is humour in taking jabs at modern vampire references (newly turned vampire Nick goes around claiming he's the guy from Twilight and Viago is told he can't go to a costume party dressed as Blade as it would be offensive to other vampires) ultimately the best gags come from the mundane (Nick's human friend Stu showing them sunrise videos on YouTube, the group's inability to get into nightclubs as they can't get the bouncers to invite them in).

The gags come as thick as fast as a spurting artery but the final product could do with a bit more bite.

3 stars

P.S. would quite happily watch a spin off documentary that follows Rhys Darby's Wolfpack of "werewolves not swearwolves".

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 - review

It seems that playtime is over with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 as it abandons the well-worked three act structure of the first two films as the events of the second part of the trilogy have put an end to the Games but the wheels of revolution have been set in motion.

It might pick up right where Catching Fire left off but I for one could have done with a quick catching up and a "Previously on The Hunger Games" in order to remember certain characters, relationships and events.

The gang's all here and it still has Hunger Games in the title but this is as different a movie to the others as District 12 is to the Capitol.

This is dark, bleak stuff as Lawrence's Katniss, in a twist on the established formula, is moulded, schooled and trained to become, not a fighter, but the face of the revolution and a propaganda weapon.

She is needed in order to galvanise the support of the surrounding districts to take down the villainous President Snow and the Capitol. Funny though, if this was the follow up to The Running Man Arnie would just take down the city single-handed.

As President Snow, Donald Sutherland chews through all the scenery available to him, hence why all the Districts are so barren and destroyed, but in order for the fight to really mean something he needs more screen time, perhaps something that will be rectified in the final part.

Hopefully it will also provide moments for all the non-Katniss characters like Peeta, Haymitch, Plutarch, Effie, Finnick, etc who all feature but don't have a huge amount to do although Liam Hemsworth must be thankful of finally getting a big speech instead of just sitting around and brooding.

Once again, another Hunger Games movie, another one that feels like just another part of an incomplete story. Looking forward to seeing how it all ends as the franchise is starved of a satisfying conclusion at the moment.

3 stars

The Homesman - review

It is tempting to argue with Tommy Lee Jones about The Homesman when he says "don't call it a Western" as the opening shot of the film is of a dusty plain .

While the plot sees Swank's Mary Bee Cuddy and Jones's transporting three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa, for the longest time the film doesn't seem to go anywhere.

It takes forever to get going and then when the odd couple finally set off on their mission it goes nowhere fast until a interesting narrative turn at the end of act two.

Swank and Jones make for an intriguing onscreen pairing. Swank has a tough role of a woman who is "plain as an old tin pail and bossy" and also described as much of a man as any man in the town, transporting these insane women who also have lost their sense of femininity. Partnered with Jones's gruff and irritable outsider, the journey sees them bring out different sides to their personalities.

Anchored by two strong central performances, it is a shame that the three women being transported aren't given more to do other than occasionally at out and stare silently out the windows of their wagon.

The Homesman might be set in the Mid-West but it would be very comfortable in the Western genre... just don't tell Tommy Lee Grumpy Cat!

3 stars

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Imitation Game - review

According to The Imitation Game, Alan Turing was a genius but a tortured one. Socially awkward, unlikeable, irritable. The perfect character for Benedict Cumberbatch to do his best stiff upper lip imitation of House M.D..

He's even given a classic House moment as something unrelated to the problem suddenly unlocks the key and you see him working out the solution in his head before that "Eureka" moment.

There have been previous films that have looked at the Bletchley Park team that cracked Enigma but this is the first that focuses on the man behind the machine that beat the machine.

The action is kept within the confines of Bletchley Park, rarely venturing out to examine the horrors of war, but the team are aware of the power and responsibility they have in determining the fates of many and the outcome of the war.

Cumberbatch delivers a commendable performance in a film which sets out to crack the code of what made Turing the man he was.

Very much like The King's Speech, it is a watchable take on a true story but isn't that cinematic and feels more like a real Sunday night BBC drama and an imitation of an Oscar contender.

3 stars

Nativity 3: Dude Where's My Donkey? - review

It is important when attending the movies to be able to suspend your disbelief.

For example, and very topical, let's look at science fiction epic Interstellar. The key is in the description. Science "fiction" not science fact. Therefore it is relatively silly and petty to get hung up on various aspects of the "science" of the movie.

However it probably helps if the movie you are watching is engaging and entertaining.

Unfortunately, the film being watched was Nativity 3: Dude Where's My Donkey? which centred around the third visit to St. Bernadette's School, home classroom helper Mr. Poppy and some unnamed children.

This school features a teaching position even more of a poisoned chalice than the Defence Of The Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts. In three films they have from Dr. Watson to Doctor Who to, er, Doc Martin.

This time round the "plot" centres around the kids competing in a flashmob competition to win a trip to New York to reunite Clunes's Mr. Shepherd with his fiancée (Catherine Tate) after he loses his memory after being kicked in the head by a donkey.

Beyond thoughts such as "does anyone actually do flashmobs anymore?" or is this still 2012, the answer to the question of "why is there a teenage girl with braces in a class of primary school children?" (answer - it's the director's daughter), "why is there no resolution to the issue of the school inspection which is mentioned every ten minutes?" and the endless pondering about where the hotel interiors were filmed and it was certainly no hotel that exists in New York City, the end result was full of terrible song and dance numbers that it was impossible not to spend the majority of it making a mental list of all the many, many things which would not have happened due to logistical and bureaucratic red tape:

  • A local doctor's advice for memory loss is not a trip to hospital for a scan but for the kids to recreate Christmas for him

  • Taking a group of children on a day trip to London to compete in a competition would require permission letters going out to parents several weeks in advance

  • Celia Imrie is the worst headmaster ever as she has no idea that several of her teaching staff and children are missing from school for several days

  • The school would undoubtably be shut down and Mr. Poppy arrested once parents found out there children are missing and in another country without their permission

  • Given the incredibly thorough and strict security screening procedures at airports it is completely unbelievable that they would be able to steal someone else's passports and tickets and get on the plane. They certainly would not get through customs and Immigration at JFK

  • Despite checking in to the interior of an English country hotel, of course it is check out the size of the bedrooms, there is no way that a NYC hotel would have space for 10-15 children with only two accompanying adults and even if they did, who is paying for them?

  • Given quarantine rules, there is no way that the donkey would make it to NYC in time for the finale, yet alone get up to the top of the Empire State Building

  • Finally, there is not enough room to perform a flashmob at the top of the Empire State

  • I might be accused of having no Christmas spirit and "Bah Humbug" but Nativity 3 is so bad that the least of its problems is a sub-title that refers to a stoner comedy that 99% of the target audience will never have seen.

    An awful film that features one donkey but an entire manger full of asses!

    1 star

    Saturday, 15 November 2014

    The Drop - review

    The Drop might be a tough, gritty crime thriller about the employees of a Brooklyn bar used as a "drop" by gangsters, but it features one of the most adorable onscreen couples this year.

    No, not James Gandolfini and a meatball sub... Talking about Tom Hardy and the baby pit bull Rocco!

    Tom Hardy's quiet and soft spoken barman Bob Saginowski might be the one who finds the puppy beaten and abandoned in Noomi Rapace's trash can but he might be the animal who needs saving in this story adapted and expanded from a short story from Dennis Lehane.

    Bob works for his Cousin Marv in his bar, which is now owned by Chechen gangsters, which is the target for a robbery which brings them unwanted attention from the owners and the police. He also catches the eye of unhinged local criminal Eric Deeds (Matthieu Schoenaerts) who claims to be Rapace's ex-boyfriend and the owner of the dog.

    This unwanted scrutiny threatens to provide the spark to a powder keg situation and unlock secrets that everyone is keeping close to their chests.

    The tension is slowly ratcheted up to a climax that will change the fates of all involved.

    This was Gandolfini's final screen role and showcases him at his Sopranos-best but this is Hardy's film. His performance is fantastic, although quiet and brooding, there is always the idea that his bite might be worse than his bite and he has nice chemistry with Gandolfini, Rapace and, of course, Rocco.

    In terms of story and performances, The Drop is the dog's bollocks.

    4 stars

    Monday, 10 November 2014

    The Skeleton Twins - review

    The Skeleton Twins Milo is very much Bill Hader's Little Miss Sunshine role, similar to Steve Carell (at that point best known for his comedic roles) playing against type as a gay man attempting suicide following a break up who reconnects with his family, in this case his sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig) after being apart for ten years. Proving blood is indeed thicker than water, particularly when it is spilt.

    As the two siblings reconnect, it is clear that it isn't just Milo who has problems, as Maggie inwardly struggles with her marriage to Luke Wilson (who is played as a sweet, lovable doofus but completely committed to her).

    The reason behind the distance between them is never really discussed and while both of them have their own secrets, the script does a fine job of building the characters with just a look or line of dialogue without the over reliance of expository dumping.

    Thanks to working together for years on Saturday Night Live, Hader and Wiig have terrific chemistry and really give the impression that their twins and have that real connection, demonstrated perfectly in the fantastic scene where Milo tries to cheer up Maggie by lipsyncing to Starship's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now, a moment that could have been incredibly cheesy but manages to come across as heartfelt and uplifting.

    Despite having two strong comedic performers, this is not the laugh-out-loud comedy many might expect and instead is a dark family drama with bittersweet comedic moments to cut through the pain. Comedy and tragedy working seamlessly together. Like Joss Whedon said "I like to hire comedic actors for dramatic parts because comedy is the hard one".

    The Skeleton Twins succeeds thanks to two strong central performances that flesh out these two characters, making them relatable and empathetic.

    3 stars

    Sunday, 9 November 2014

    Say When - review

    Directed by Mumblecore director Lynn Shelton, Say When has desires of achieving a Garden State-esque meditation on the struggles of someone in their mid-twenties finally leaving the past behind and figuring out who they are and what they want out of life.

    In this case, it is Megan (Keira Knightley) who is floating through life without a job or career, still with the same group of friends she has had since high school but feeling like an outsider as she hasn't really grown up. When her high school boyfriend proposes, she freaks out and runs off for a week, pretending to be at a career seminar, but actually hangs out with teenager Annika (Moretz) and bonds with her single dad played by Sam Rockwell.

    Rockwell adds some much needed spark to a tale that kind of shuffles and mopes along like a sulky, lethargic teenager and instead of becoming a thoughtful take on the "quarter-life crisis", it descends into standard rom-com cliches and formulas come the predictable finale.

    2 stars

    Interstellar - review

    With 2010's Inception Christopher Nolan explored the inner mind. With Interstellar, Nolan has decided to "dream a little bigger darling" and has set his sights on outer space to deliver a grand, awe-inspiring, wondrous 2014 A Space Odyssey.

    The McConaissance goes out of this world as Cooper, a former pilot/engineer who now makes his living as a farmer on an Earth that is dying. He is given the chance to lead a mission to search for inhabitable planets beyond our solar system using Interstellar travel.

    This leads to the central crux of Interstellar. Humanity versus the human race.

    Several times Cooper is reminded of the sacrifices he must make to complete the mission:

    "I've got kids, professor.
    Then get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species."

    "You might have to decide between seeing your children again and the future of the human race."

    On the one hand you have a mission to save the human race, on the other it is boiled down to our humanity and own individual survival instinct and Cooper's will to keep his promise to see his children again.

    The awful truth of what this will take is demonstrated following a message from home after a visit to one of the new planet's surface.

    To go into the plot and science in any more detail would do the movie a disservice and also possibly require a PHD as there is so much more to this film than the trailers have given away.

    This is the type of film where plot and dialogue can take a back seat in the space shuttle as you strap in for the audio visual experience that Nolan, Zimmer and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have dreamed up (sometimes literally as there are times when Hans Zimmer's booming score overpowers the dialogue).

    It also wears its influences on its sleeves like a host of NASA mission patches, with the biggest patch belonging to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    Not only are there certain themes and plot similarities between them but also the A.I. robot companions resemble the black monoliths plus both films reliance on practical effects in filming that ground them in reality whilst simultaneously taking us to galaxies and universes we could only dream of.

    It is said that Man's reach exceeds his grasp but when that man is Christopher Nolan and he is reaching for the stars, the result is still an extremely powerful, moving, exhilarating cinematic experience.

    4 stars

    Tuesday, 4 November 2014

    The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman - review

    The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman is another in a long line of fantasist stories of "An American Abroad" where, as the femme fatale herself puts it, "you have a fantasy of about helping a woman in a faraway land", as Shia Labeouf (who between this and Fury looks like he hasn't washed in two years) plays a young man visiting Europe and through a chance encounter meets a beautiful girl, gets involved with vicious criminals, partying all night with drugs, drinking, naked women, an Inbetweener and Ron Weasley, cultural stereotypes, yada, yada, yada.

    As an outsider's view of Europe it is perhaps only just more palatable and slightly less painful to watch than Hostel.

    2 stars

    Monday, 3 November 2014

    Ouija - review

    Imagine the disappointment when it turns out that this movie is not about a groups of teenagers who summon an angry, drunken Glaswegian when they play a board game on Halloween.

    Instead Ouija is a bland, tired, generic story about a group of friends who unleash a vengeful spirit in a house with a mysterious background who torments them with loud bursts of music when people and/or things look in mirrors or pop up out of nowhere.

    Ouija is advertised as being "based on the Hasbro board game" but the only word that is relevant out of that sentence is "board" which is what audiences will be by this insipid horror.

    1 star

    Mr. Turner - review

    Going in to Mr. Turner, expectations were high. Everyone was talking about this seeing this "masterpiece".

    Coming out, it felt like I had looked at the Mona Lisa and just seen a painting of a woman with a funny smile.

    Art is subjective and so is the criticism. Where some see amazing works of art, others see splodges of paint.

    Where some see a "masterclass" in Timothy Spall's portrayal of JMW Turner, I see a man lumbering around like Toad Of Toad Hall, issuing more grunts than the US Marine Corps.

    It is undeniable that the film, like Turner's paintings, is beautiful to look at (although perhaps not during the scene where Spall is seen rutting away with his housekeeper up against a bookcase), but may simply be a case that I just don't "get it".

    3 stars