Monday, 30 June 2014

Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie - D'review

Having never seen an episode of the TV series Mrs Brown's Boys, I was never going to be the target audience for the big screen debut.

However I must hold my hands up and admit that I was rather surprised by the end result.

Yes, it was even worse than I could have possibly imagined!

Following the year's most halfhearted musical number (and I should know as I have watched Walking On Sunshine), the plot is quickly established where Mrs Brown's market stall and livelihood is threatened by local politicians, Russian mobsters and a evil company looking to build a shopping centre on the site.

The film revolves solely around Mrs Brown so her aforementioned "boys" barely get so much as a look in. I honestly can't even tell you any of their names as there was no real introduction or characterisation within the film.

The most developed relationship with one of her children turns out to be with her daughter... So it begs the question "why is it not called Mrs Brown's Girl?".

The lack of clarity over characters to the uninitiated is the least of the movie's problems as it is one of the most poorly produced pictures I've ever seen.

The production is so bad that it features "intakes". Comedies often feature outtakes over the end credits where you see the cast fluffing lines, corpsing, etc but Mrs Brown's Boys actually keeps several of these moments in the finished film!.

I would find this shocking but it is in a film which on one hand features an impassioned speech about how racially diverse immigrants have benefitted the city of Dublin yet also features the single-handedly most racist "yellow-face" portrayal of an Asian character since Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany's as Brendan O'Carroll does a Mike Myers and doubles up on characters as a Ninja Instructor.

This film stunk up the cinema so bad that if it was a fragrance it would be Eau D'Humanity!

1 star

Sunday, 29 June 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2 - review

Director Dean DeBlois certainly has his animators well trained now because in terms of spectacle, HTTYD2 is second to none in terms of animated movies with thrilling flying and battle sequences including one shot (glimpsed in the trailer) where a dragon flies over a cliff and soars over the battlefield and rivals anything seen in the Lord Of The Rings.

Described as "The Empire Strikes Back" of the franchise, there is no shortage of spectacle and heart in this story as it widens the landscape of the universe beyond Berk, introducing new characters and threats and with this comes the usually "darker" tone with an evil force threatening the alliance between dragons and humans.

The accent issues continue to be unexplained with the young (presumably) Scandinavian Vikings having American accents and the older guard being Scottish.

Newcomer to the franchise Cate Blanchett continues the 2014 trend for dodgy Scots accents on film (see Sharlto Copley in Maleficent) as it flits between Scottish and Irish.

I'm not a cat person or a dog person and probably not even a dragon person as I didn't have the same kind of love and attachment to the franchise that some other do or Hiccup and Toothless have.

Many will have a roaring old time but whilst it is enjoyable it did dragon a bit in the middle act.

3 stars

Monday, 23 June 2014

Snowpiercer - French Blu Ray review

It feels odd to be reviewing a film from a French blu ray when it hasn't even been released in cinemas in the UK yet but the journey that Snowpiercer is taking to the big screen over here has been filled with more problems and delays that the trams in Edinburgh city centre. Ironically that is where the film has just had its UK premiere at the Film Festival.

Last year word started to surface that Harvey Scissorhands wanted to edit the film, cutting twenty minutes out of it and adding in a voiceover at the beginning to help audiences understand what was going on. Anyone reminded of Blade Runner here?

This would have been the cut for UK and US audiences but thankfully Bong Joon-Ho's original "director's cut" had already been released and proven very successful in France.

Earlier this year film critic Anne Bilson mentioned on Twitter that the film would be available on region free blu ray in April with the only minor niggle being that, although it was in English, it only had French subtitles therefore it made one scene where the dialogue is in Korean difficult to follow.

Undaunted by this and desperate to see the director's original version, I ordered it from Amazon.Fr in January and proceeded to forget about it until the beautiful box set arrived at work randomly one afternoon in April.

Finally it was time to board the Snowpiercer.

Set in a dystopian future where a failed attempt to reverse global warming has left the Earth in a state of perpetual winter, the only human life that remains circumnavigates the globe in a special train called the Snowpiercer.

The train is split up into classes with the rich and powerful living in comfort at the front with all the poor people crammed into the rear of the train.

Unhappy with existing in squalid conditions, surviving on nothing but gelatinous food bars that might be from the makers of Soylent Green, and spurned on by cryptic messages, Chris Evans's Curtis wants to find out if life really is greener on the other side.

So Evans, like Gene Hackman's Reverend Scott in The Poseidon Adventure, sets out to lead a rag tag bunch (including Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer) on a Titanic struggle up through the vessel following the icy track road to see Wilford, the wonderful Wilford of Oz.

Everyone is seeking something different (redemption, power, drugs, their children) and the hope is that Wilford can provide that for them, even if they have to use force to get it.

If Wilford is the mysterious man behind the curtain, then Tilda Swinton's Mason is undoubtably The Wicked Witch of the West (Coast Line).

With her protruding teeth, hideous wardrobe and glasses as thick as her Yorkshire accent she is a comically grotesque character who, when berating the dirty, grim soaked masses to remember their place, feels like Thatcher and the miners during the 80s.

At one point she makes a speech about how life must be kept in a delicate balance and this ties into the situation on the train which is on an eternal loop of the earth, a continuous cycle, with the natural order of the classes and the circle of life.

Elysium tackled a similar subject last year but this has much more in common in terms of aesthetics and feel with the work of Terry Gilliam such as Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, and one of the characters is even called Gilliam.

Not only is this graphic novel adaptation at heart fantastical science fiction and social commentary but thanks to Joon-Ho's consistently imaginative and creative direction it plays out like a video game with each new compartment they make it to representing a higher level and a different challenge, sometimes physical, mental or emotional. Different characters are required to progress and once complete the next compartment is actually "unlocked" by the train's security designer who controls the doors.

The struggle to reach the front takes it toll on the group but it is Curtis who is constantly Under Siege to try and gain control of the train and with it comes one of Chris Evans's finest performances, in particular delivering a haunting monologue about what life of the train is really like.

Hopefully Snowpiercer won't face too many more delays before it gains a proper cinema release as this is first class entertainment that remains on track to be one of my favourite films of the year.

5 stars

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Green Inferno - EIFF review

It's a good thing that I had an early morning Aberdeen to Edinburgh Megabus to digest my breakfast before the early morning press screening of The Green Inferno because there was a chance that my sausage and egg mcmuffin could have made an reappearance halfway through when the Inferno really ignites.

This film is Eli Roth's love letter to the cannibal horror films of the Eighties, particularly the infamous Cannibal Holocaust.

This movie has a similar plot which involves a group of American student activists attempting to safeguard an area of the Amazon jungle only to be eaten by the very people they are trying to protect. THAT Alanis Morrisette is the true meaning of irony!

The first half of the film which follows the activists in visiting Peru and staging their protest feels like it goes on forever and the slow burn approach was not that effective. I know that it is designed to help develop the characters but given the nature of this film, we all know what they are here for and I for one would rather have just skipped the appetisers and moved straight to the main course. After all, do you spend this much time getting to know the turkey you are having for Christmas dinner?

Beyond Lorenza Izzo's Lead character Justine, the rest of the crew are the kind of whiny, self-serving tree huggers you would gladly see served up in a running all-you-can-eat buffet.

When dinner is finally served, this is where the film comes alive (ironically).

Roth's cinematographer Antonio Quercia captures a range of greens, yellows and reds so bold and vivid that it gives the film a unique colour palette which only serves to increase the intensity of the images when the group reach the cannibalistic tribe's camp.

The first human sacrifice is genuinely one of the most horrific things I have seen on a cinema screen in years. I consider myself a big horror fan these days but even I had to turn away at a couple of moments.

Kudos for that must go to the sterling work of horror makeup and effects gurus Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger.

The shocks continue to be served as rapidly as a nine course tasting menu of depravity with a side order of humour as dark as peruvian cocoa powder as the group slowly reduces in number before the inevitable escape plan is formulated.

Whether or not anyone escapes being dessert is not for me to reveal here but I can guarantee that you will need a strong stomach in order to find out.

If Roth had trimmed the fat from the opening act, this might have been worth going back for seconds over but it is nice to see someone whip up an 18 rated horror delight rather than the tame 12A and 15 certificated dishes so often cooked up by Hollywood.

3 stars

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Devil's Knot - review

It is difficult to know what a film like Devil's Knot, a dramatised look at the 1993 West Memphis Three trial, can bring to the table when there are already four documentaries on the subject including like award-winning West of Memphis.

It plays out like a simple retelling of the courtroom trial based on the transcripts which do little to delve into the supposed Satanic reasons behind the murders and instead just show how narrow-minded and incompetent the police were.

While the main character focus should have Reese Witherspoon's distraught mother, instead the majority of film is spent following Colin Firth's private investigator who is against the death penalty.

With its hot and sweaty camerawork from the Deep South and obsessional quest for the truth in the tangled web behind this true crime, it feels like a cross between A Time To Kill and Zodiac but i'm a-frayed this particular film is sadly not equal to the sum of its parts.

2 stars

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Fault In Our Stars - review

Screenings of The Fault In Our Stars should come with a flood warning as I was nearly drowned by the sea of tears that were shed by the audience during the Cineworld Unlimited Preview that I watched.

I honestly haven't heard that much audible weeping in a cinema screen since the opening day of The Phantom Menace.

Based on the very popular book by John Green, I know because it came out during by sabbatical from the cinema spent at Waterstones, it tells the love story between Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) who meet at a cancer support group.

It was once said "for never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo" but this pair of star-crossed lovers would give them a damn good run for their money. Not since Marley and Me has a movie set an audience up for a guaranteed teary ending to a story.

Scripted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the duo behind (500) Days Of Summer, this is Love Story written for the John Hughes generation.

Both lead characters say incredibly cool, witty things all the time, have an inherent sense of humour even in the face of death, have a buddy sidekick who dresses and acts like a young John Cusack/Anthony Michael Hall-type, talk about Peter Gabriel songs and bond over a book (an actual physical novel!), which prompts a "Make A Wish" adventure resulting in the number one example of the old adage "never meet your heroes".

With elements like that it quite easily could have become oh-so-achingly-hipster and twee but the performances and chemistry between Woodley and Elgort really helps to sell the dialogue and their relationship... once you get over the fact that only two months ago you were watching them as brother and sister in Divergent.

It is not all sweetness and light though as while it is ok for these characters to make (breaking) bad jokes about cancer there was one particular moment which stood out as completely unrealistic and in poor taste and that was the moment that Hazel kisses Gus for the first time... in the attic of Anne Frank's house! Followed by awkward crowd clapping and cheering?!

Or the what I think the unintentionally funny moment when the couple are about to have sex and Gus, who lost part of his leg to cancer, tells Hazel as she undresses him that "it ends just above the knee" *cue sniggering at the back*

However they are rare missteps in an otherwise smart, funny film that is full of life and knows that the Big L is more important than the Big C.

4 stars

Belle - review

Belle, for me, is the epitome of a 3 star film.

It looks good, interesting story, well acted, etc. Does nothing that would provoke deep criticism beyond the third act being overscored to within an inch of its life constantly telling you exactly what you are supposed to be feeling yet ultimately it is nothing more than "a good film".

It delivers exactly what one would expect from a period drama, and I'm not talking about the Pride And Prejudice sequel where Elizabeth discovers she is late.

There is sumptuous costume design with an abundance of bodices and bosoms on display. Beautiful scenery and locations. Good performances from people who can do this sort of thing in their sleep (Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, etc). People talking about love, wealth and status in clipped posh English tones through stiff upper lips.

And that is where the problem might lie. The film never breaks free from the shackles of its origins to really get into the dark heart of the story.

The trailers present it as a Jane Austen-esque piece yet there is a much more interesting story underneath Dido's quest for love and acceptance and that is an Amistad-style court case ruled over by her uncle and guardian.

There was potentially a much more interesting film here if it focused on their relationship and how much she influenced him in his decision rather than the love affair between her and a young wannabe lawyer and activist although Gugu Mbatha-Raw has great chemistry with both in a potential star-making turn.

A different take on the story could have seen Belle end up a great film rather than just a good one.

3 stars

Friday, 13 June 2014

Oculus - review

The idea of a mirror being a possible conduit for evil is nothing new. How many of us have looked into a mirror first thing in the morning and seen something horrific staring back at them?

Oculus not only offers a refreshingly clear and new look at the old horror plot line of someone returning home to face a past trauma but becomes the first film in the history of the genre to not resort to the old "no one in the mirror, look away, look back, jump!" cliche.

All the more impressive given that the mirror plays such a central role in the tragic events that saw Kaylie and Tim Russell lose their parents.

10 years later, Kaylie and Tim return to their family home in order to put the past to rest.

However there is an interesting dynamic at play in that the adult Kaylie (Karen Gillan) is using cameras and sensors to document and prove that the mirror contains a supernatural spirit while Tim has undergone years of psychotherapy and is convinced that they created this story as a way of explaining and coping with their parent's psychotic breakdown.

The opening prologue only hints at what exactly happened and as the siblings attempt to discover the truth behind the mirror, they are forced to reflect on the past.

It cleverly switches between the past and present timelines but can they (and the audience) believe everything that they see as the two timelines begin to twist and bleed together thanks to the mirror's effects on the inhabitants of the house.

One of the biggest shocks early on is just how good Karen Gillan's American accent is. It is absolutely flawless and it actually took me 10 minutes or so to get used to hearing it. It is as good a switch as Hugh Laurie in House and Andrew Lincoln in Walking Dead and the finest American accent I've ever heard a Scottish actor deliver on screen.

She delivers a feisty determined performance and ably supported by Brenton Thwaites as Tim and the child actors who play their younger counterparts, with strong turns by Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff as their increasingly unstable parents.

The actors sell the premise well under the capable hands of writer-director Mike Flanagan who slowly ramps up the creepiness factor to unsettling levels without ever having to resort to the cheap scares signposted by loud music cues.

Plus there is one genuinely wince-inducing scene that is guaranteed to make people think twice before making an apple part of their five a day.

Mirror Mirror on the wall, is Oculus the fairest horror movie of the year?

So much so that I can't wait for the sequel Oculus 2: Oculus Rift

4 stars

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Chef - review

It has been 17 years since I first sampled the delights of Jon Favreau when he wrote and starred in Swingers, a comedy about the male side of the dating game that was so fresh and funny that the only compliment I can give it was that it was "so money".

That was followed by Elf which is a dish that has become a true Christmas classic and for many families has become as much a part of Xmas dinner as the turkey.

Then, against all the odds, he took a bunch of ingredients that seemingly didn't go together (B List superhero, a leading man previously written off by the industry, the first foundation in an extended universe gambled on by a new studio) and delivered a truly game-changing meal that set the standard for everyone over the next decade.

What followed was a period of creative frustration in the restaurant called Hollywood as Iron Man 2 was a case of too-many-cooks and the attempted fusion of Cowboys and Aliens proved rather unpalatable.

With Chef, Favreau serves up a brand new dish which sees the writer-director go back to basics. Gone are the fancy gadgets and techniques and it is clear that this is his most personal offering and he is once again cooking from the heart.

The story of a man who has out his career before his family, suffers a major setback before finding happiness in a new job and reconnecting with his family is certainly nothing new but it doesn't matter when working with ingredients as good as Downey Jr, Platt, Hoffman, Johansson and Leguizamo.

By casting himself as the titular Chef, Favreau allows the film to become a semi-autobiographical metaphor for his career and it is not only shows off his skills as a filmmaker but also now as a cook as he learned a lot of the skills in order to portray the role on camera.

Not only is it a look at his own career but this film will very much be a dish of its time with its analysis of the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook as a form of marketing and criticism.

It puts a face on the faceless critique that social media allows us and shows the effects and consequences that it can have on the people who are being reviewed.

There might be a slightly over-generous helping of social media but Favreau keeps the pot stirring to allow for a delicious blend of authentic Americana flavours, a father-son relationship that isn't too cloying or sickly sweet, a sizzling soundtrack and just a pinch of Downey Jr to deliver one of the feel-good films of the year.

Chef is food porn at its finest, with shots of cuisine that look so good Gregg Wallace would be licking the screen in envy.

Make your reservations now as this is one Michelin starred film that you won't want to miss. I'm already booked in for seconds and can't wait to see what Favreau cooks up next.

4 stars

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Grace of Monaco - review

Grace Of Monaco lacks exactly that... grace.

It fails to deliver what one of the most beautiful stars that ever graced the silver screen had in abundance: Grace, beauty and elegance.

This film is so heavy-handed in its execution, it feels like it was made with boxing gloves.

Whether it is the overly-dramatic score that ramps up emotion or a sense of danger that simply isn't there, a camera that seems fixated on Kidman's eyes with many scenes consisting solely of Wayne's World-style "extreme close ups" and an unintentionally hilarious training montage where Derek Jacobi holds up cards with feelings written on them that Kidman has to express.

We get cards that read "Anger", "Trust", "Regret" yet the resulting expressions only reminded me of Derek Zoolander's various "range" of looks like Blue Steel, Ferrari and Le Tigre.

The final nail in the coffin has to be Grace Kelly's big moment at the end of the film where she finally delivers on her promise and duties after transferring from High Society to high society by giving a speech about how living in Monaco is like a fairy tale and please don't destroy our fairy tale by making us have to pay tax.

Given the current economic climate and the news stories about Amazon, Starbucks and Gary Barlow, I'm sure this will have the exact opposite effect that the movie had planned.

Somebody had better Dial M for Murder because Olivier Dahan has just killed the Princess of Monaco in a biopic that is as big a car crash as Diana that proves once and for all that Australia actresses shouldn't play royalty.

1 star

22 Jump Street - review

When Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum's Schmidt and Jenko fail to capture a drug dealer during an explosive aid at Metro City Port because they, as Nick Offerman's Deputy Chief Hardy, "weren't doing the same undercover student thing as last time".

"Do the same thing. Everyone's happy."

And so begins what is arguably the most self-aware and meta film ever constructed.

With the number of knowing winks to the pitfalls and genre cliches of sequels, their increased budget, flashier gadgets and cars, etc its amazing Hill and Tatum kept both eyes open the entire movie.

Their unexpected (and at times unspoken) bromance remains the heart of the film and becomes the main focus as they repeat the same plot: go to school, wait no, college, infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier.

While the film starts to sag slightly in the middle with the repetition of beats from the original film and the constant rom-com comparisons with Jenko and Schmidt's partnership, it is easy to forgive when the jokes are this consistently funny.

Highlights include the funniest poetry slam since Mike Myers's "woman, woman, woman" poem in So I Married An Axe Murderer, Ice Cube's dinner table etiquette and the world's finest Cate Blanchett joke (which I freely admit to having used twice already in normal conversation).

Hill and Tatum once again deserve high praise for their comic delivery and on screen chemistry but the prize for the film's best double act goes to Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

"Everything is awesome" in 2014 for Lord Miller because along with The LEGO Movie they have delivered the two funniest films of the year and proved that they are the most visually inventive and creative action comedy directors since Edgar Wright.

Any worries that they might have blown their comedy load prematurely this year are put to rest with the funniest end credits sequence I can remember that shows they have LOTS of ideas for the rest of the Asian churches residing on Jump Street.

4 stars

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Jimmy's Hall - review

On paper and from the trailer, this story of a town hall where the locals come to dance that is threatened with closure by the church sounds a lot like the Irish version of Footloose.

But this is not just one town banning the youth of today from dancing to their thumping bass and banging tunes but a single flashpoint in the ongoing political restlessness in Ireland in the 1920's and 30's.

Despite authentic performances and production design that recreates the fashion and period setting, as one would expect from Loach, one might need more than a passing knowledge of their history of Irish politics to be sure to be sure of the wider story and characters motivations.

Jimmy's Hall is a fine piece of filmmaking but never is really to cut loose, footloose from the story of one man to represent a nation.

3 stars