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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Super 8: Review



There was a time, it now seems such a long time ago, when you were amazed, emotionally drawn into and elated by a blockbuster. Usually it was made by Steven Spielberg. Well now comes Super 8, a new blockbuster that brings back those feelings and, surprise, surprise, it's executive producer is none other than, Steven Spielberg, although this is more than just a cracking blockbuster, this is a love poem to Spielberg.

It's 1979 in a small town in Ohio. Joe Lamb is a young boy who recently lost his mother in a factory accident and he now lives with his father, a deputy in the town's police force. Not getting the love from his father that he needs, Joe makes models and helps his friend Charlie with making a zombie movie, using a super 8 camera, along with Joe's other friends and a young girl called Alice, who Joe has a thing for. While filming one night, they witness a train crash that turns out not to be an accident and from that moment on, strange things start to happen in town; people and objects disappearing while the army arrive and then the mystery thickens. What Joe doesn't realise that they filmed the whole thing, including the strange object lurking in the train.

If you can think of every big Spielberg movie from the 70s and 80s, they are all here. Writer/director J.J. Abrams obviously loved his films growing up and so has decided not only to work with the great man but to show how much his films have influenced him. There the mysterious tension of Jaws; shades of Close Encounters; ET is definitely present and correct and The Goonies (which Spielberg only produced) is a huge part of this film, right down to Chunk's yellow coat. There's even the chaos of 1941!

As a film, it's obviously not the most original thing around and yet it still has plenty to surprise and amaze. The special effects are very good and you do find yourself jumping all over the place. What really grabbed my was for the 2 hour running time I felt that I was transported from the 21st Century back to how I felt the first time I saw ET. A sense of wonderment building in me. The nail-biting suspense that Jaws brought to the screen was here (especially in the brilliantly stage gas station scene) and as for the train crash (which is again a nod to Spielberg, as one of his favourite scenes was the train crash in The Greatest Show on Earth).

The performances from the young cast are also very good. Joel Courtney (making his screen début) is never annoying as Joe, and manages to keep it real throughout. Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota and a screen veteran...she made her début aged two in I Am Sam) is the star of the film, a mature, commanding performance for one so young. The rest of teh cast work well and having no big names also helps make it more believable.

This is a film that, if you love cinema, you will get loads out of trying to pick up the references. If you are hoping to catch a decent blockbuster this summer, this delivers in heaps. It deals with so many subject matters: friendship, grief, young love, loneliness...it's all here. It also is the most fun I have had in a cinema for a film like this since...well the 80s. If you remember those happy days, then go and relive them with glee. If you can't, then go to the best blockbuster this summer  and see how they really should be made.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Mr Popper's Penguins: Review



What is it with screen comics that they can't maintain their careers? For example, Steve Martin; Robin Williams; Eddie Murphy (a man who has heavily fallen from grace) and now Jim Carrey. In the past, Carrey made comedies that were actually funny, like Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar (although the ending was awful) and Bruce Almighty. He also made some superb serious films like Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine. Now he is reduced to playing second fiddle to a bunch of CGI penguins. It can't get any lower, can it?

Thomas Popper is an egotistical property buyer who is separated from his wife and has communication problems with his children, particularly his teenage daughter. His father, an adventurer who was never at home, sends him a parcel before he dies. Inside this parcel is a penguin, who causes all kinds of problems for Popper. Then the problem is made worst when another parcel arrives containing five more penguins, all with their own personalities. Can Popper look after them in his rich apartment? With a New York zoo keeper after the creatures, Popper fighting for his job if he can persuade an old owner of a cafe to sell up and desperately trying to win back his family, the animals could be a help, more of a hindrance.

Firstly, the title. Mr Popper's Penguins sounds like a codename for a new kind of drug. Maybe it's the only way to get the kids into the cinema to see it because, quite frankly, you'd need heavy medication to get through it. It suffers from one big thing...it is not funny.

This is a family film, granted. However, family films are usually funnier than out and out comedies (see Pixar/Dreamworks animations for examples). This is like a carbon copy of every-cute-animal-enters-a-human's-life movie that there have ever been. The penguins destroy the nice apartment. They win the heart of the grumpy owner. Everything is lovely and wonderful and isn't life great with animals involved. The answer here is, no!

Carrey is a great physical. Whether you like him or not, he has to be admired for his ability to be funny throughout his whole body. That body is looking very old and tired and so the energy we saw in The Mask has well and truly left the building. Every so often we see flashes of his trademark zany humour but is missing from most of the film and this is the type of thing Eddie Murphy would turn up in. If you have Carrey in a movie, use him to his full ability. Don't let him just stand there while something cute takes all the glory.

The penguins do have personality and the kids will adore them but the plot is so contrived and some times over-complicated, you find yourself wondering if the kids are really listening.

Then we have the family members. The two children in Popper's life are not as annoying as some but you just know where this is all heading and so you set the sick bucket on your lap ready for the inevitable. (And yes, it does come).

If you are looking for a comedy where the highlight is a penguin pooing, then this is definitely for you. If you want to see an otherwise comic talent being reduced to a shadow of his former self, then this is for you. If you want a film to laugh all the way through, then go look for it somewhere else because quite frankly, this is even worst than The Hangover Part II and I never thought I would hear myself say those words. Awful. Awful. Awful.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Horrible Bosses: Review



If ever there was an award for the worst title to a film, Horrible Bosses would win it hands down. On the other hand, if you are not sure what the film is about, then this should be easy for you to work out. It is about, guess, yes...horrible bosses. Would you be put off for the title? If you like your comedy broad and very low-brow, then you should love it and that's thanks more to the expert cast than script itself.

Nick works for a company for years and works hard to try and get a promotion. His boss, an egomaniac, has other plans and when he forces Nick to drink scotch early in the morning, uses that as a drinking problem and gives the promotion to himself. Kurt has a happy life working for a nice boss until he dies and the company is handed over to his drug taking son who wants Kurt to fire people for being fat and in a wheelchair. Finally Dale is a dental nurse who is happily engaged but works for a female dentist who loves sexually harassing him. Having enough of being treated bad, the three friends decide the only way to deal with their bosses is to kill them.

This is a cross between Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and the excellent Office Space and for the most part the plot works. The ending is a little less satisfactory but as you follow the planning through, it does deliver some good laughs. This, however, is due to the strength of a cast mixing unknown comic talent with big name stars.

As the three friends, Jason Bateman, who has made a career out of being the frustrated Everyman ever since Arrested Development, should know how to make his character of Nick work and he works well with his fellow comic partners, Jason Sudeikis, last seen in the lacklustre Hall Pass, and Charlie Day, one of the stars of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, who gets the more physical comedy role. As a team, they work really well.

The three bosses make for the more interesting casting. Kevin Spacey is an expert in the role of Nick's boss, playing a similar character in the underrated Swimming With Sharks. Colin Farrell, almost unrecognisable, is underused as Kurt's drug-fuelled boss, with a pot-belly and comb-over but doesn't quite have enough screen time to make a huge impact but when he is, it works. As Dale's boss, this is as far removed as could possibly be for Jennifer Aniston. If you thought Rachel was sweetness and light in Friends, then think the complete opposite her. She is sex-crazed and takes sexual harassment to the limits and even if it taken to the extreme, I think it's the best thing that Aniston has done (and she has never looked hotter...is that wrong for me to say?) The final star is Jamie Foxx, as a man the guys find in a bar to get advice for how to kill. Again, Foxx is given little screen time but it makes an impression.

The gags aren't wonderfully strong, especially when you compare it to the big comedy hit this year, Bridesmaids but it has plenty to enjoy and it's worth while just to see how to produce a good comedy just by strong performances.

Not brilliant but plenty of entertainment in a world where comedies have been rather lame of late. And don't be put off by the horrible title.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2: Review



It's been ten years that the screen has been alight with the adventures of Harry Potter, the by wizard, J.K.Rowling's phenomenon. Now we come to the end of the journey and have they saved the best till last? They certainly have.

Continuing from where we left off in Part One, Harry is still searching for a way to weaken his nemesis, Voldermort but seems to be a step closer, his mission is to destroy three things that will eventually leave him powerless. The only trouble is, as with everything in Harry's life, it's not going to be straight forward, especially with the ever increasing army that the dark Lord has behind him slowly approaching Hogwarts.

I don't think it will be right for me to give too much of the plot away (although most of the fans would already know what happens from the book). All I need to tell you is that if you haven't seen the first part (which is still the weakest of the series) then don't even bother going to see this yet as you get no recaps, it literally heads straight into the action.

The shortest of all the film, it throws everything at the screen. The problem with the last film was the special effects weren't particularly special. This time they certainly are. The battle of Hogwarts is way up there with anything from Lord Of The Rings, from the amazing dragon guarding the vaults of the bank, to the ogres and status that fight it out to the death on the bridge into the school, to the spectacular, and possible iconic sequence when Harry and Voldermont finally face. This is a treat not only to the eye but to the ear too, as the sound  plays such an important part.

Director David Yates gets everything right here. The pacing is breath-taking, he grabs your attention from the very first frame and never lets you go and he adds enough humour not to get too in the way of the dark tone and plenty of emotions to make the harden fans shed a tear or six.

As for the performances, Daniel Radcliffe has grown from being a pretty terrible child actor to a fully grown action hero. He is full of screen presence and it will be interesting to see how his career goes on. Rupert Grint has become an accomplished comedic actor and is so likeable you don't care if he sometimes looks slightly awkward. Finally, Emma Watson has, in my books, had the greatest journey. From being the annoying, over the top drama school brat, she has mature better than all and she is now a proper actress.

There's fun to be had seeing the ensemble cast of the cream of British acting back together again and it will probably be a long time until they get a company of players like this together.
If there is one criticism, it is, once again, the unnecessary 3D that really doesn't enhance or improve the film. So my advice is no matter what format, just see it.

I very rarely rave over a blockbuster film as most fail to deliver but this is going to be the biggest film of the year, nay, the biggest film of the all time I should imagine and deservedly so. It is a cracking entertainment that is exciting, emotional and, quite simply superb. Farewell, Harry Potter, it's been fun.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Larry Crowne: Review


They say that Tom Hanks is the most likeable person in Hollywood, so it seems apt that he should make the most likeable film of the year, playing possibly the most likeable man in the world.

Larry Crowne was in the Navy for 20 years and has worked hard as a team leader for a superstore until one day he is told he didn't get a college education and so is no longer workable within the company. With debts from trying to keep his marital home after his divorce, Larry has to make some life changes and so decides to enrol into Community college. Taking one class in Economic and another in communicating, Larry meets a young girl who opens his world up by helping him with his fashion sense and home life, while at the same time being influenced by the grouchy communications teacher Mercedes Tainot, a woman in a loveless marriage with a man who she thought would be a successful writer but lives all day on his computer looking at porn and claiming he is a guy's guy. Maybe Larry could teach her something about real men.

The plot is nothing complicated or confusion, just a simple tale of an everyday man dealing with the problems that life throws up at you and changing your path to make it easier. Hanks is really the only man who can make it believable and while the script (co-written by Hanks with My Big Fat Greek Wedding writer Nia Vardalos) this is done in a gentle, simplistic way with the occasional laugh but with oodles and oodles of heart.

Hanks makes everything seem so natural and you cannot help but find him endearing. In Larry Crowne, he has created a gentle man who doesn't seem to have a bad bone in his body and you don't mind spending time with. Julia Roberts plays the teacher and she has loads of fun getting to be miserable (and drunk) and yet she still has charm enough to make you want her and Hanks to be together.

Sure the ending is a little sentimental and predictable but unlike most modern romantic comedies, this has characters you care about. They are rounded, well-written and you sit for the whole 99 mins with a big goofy grin on your face.

If you are looking for a date movie but don't want the gross-out humour of the excellent Bridesmaids, then may I point you in the direction of Larry Crowne. It might not be the fastest moving film of the year but you will chuckle and you will feel a slight spring in your step. Tom Hanks should direct more often if he can make such a happy film and this is a very happy film.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Review


Michael Bay came out to complain about the treatment of his second Transformers film Revenge of the Fallen, claiming that critics were unfair because the film had to be rushed through due to the writer's strike. I wonder what his excuse is going to be this time for his third in the series, which is just as loud, just as messy and just as dumb.

In the 60s a craft crashes on the moon, triggering the NASA moon landings to investigate. The space agency have kept the whole thing secret. Fast forward to Earth when the Autobots are helping protect the planet from the Deceptacons and they find out what about the craft, which has a senior Autobot on board, thought to be lost forever and his cargo that could change the face of the war between the Transformers forever.

As with the previous films, plot comes second to spectacle and you cannot deny that Bay knows how to deliver loud explosions, impressive special effects and flashy camera trickery. The problem this time is that this only occurs in the final act of the film. For the first hour of this extremely long movie, we get the problems of Sam, the human who helped the Autobots in the past movies.

Shia LaBeouf's geeky boy has now become a man without a job who has a medal from the President and a new girlfriend (gone has brunette, blue-eyed Megan Fox, replaced by blonde, blue-eyed Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) which he has jealousy problems with and feels threatened by her ultra-rich boss (Patrick Dempsey). He has also been shut out of the Autobots operations by the government. Bay, as a director, can handle the action but has always struggled with human drama and here it is most obvious. You have no sympathy for any of the characters as they are so paper thin. Having Sam dated stunningly beautiful women also just seems so unbelievable. Maybe they think being incredibly jealous is cute, so why not flirt like mad to make things worst.

Bay is very fortunate to have on board Frances McDormand and John Malkovich, two the screen's finest and yet Malkovich is given very little to do apart from play a slightly nutty boss and McDormand tries her hardest to bring credibility to the events as a government boss. John Turturro also returns but even he cannot save the dullness of the first hour or so. It drags on...and on...and on.

Until we get to the big battle. Yes, for almost an hour we get mass destruction as Transformer takes on Transformer. This has buildings being crushed, robots being ripped apart and humans being killed and turning to dust. So all of what has happened before with the human drama is replaced by an overlong effects-fest and once again it seems to go on forever. With all the flashy cinematography you get lost with who is fighting who or what is happening. You know that the previous events make you feel nothing as the heroes are trapped in a building slowly collapsing, which should be nail-biting stuff but is very humdrum and lacking in any tension.

One of the good things about the film, and I didn't think I'd say this, is the 3D, especially when the soldiers are jumping out the under attack helicopters.

It will be a massive hit (the queues for the opening day were huge) but this is the kind of summer blockbuster that gives blockbusters a bad name. It maybe big and brash but it will make you feel like you've lost several IQ points after experiencing it. Still it is better than the second film, but not by much.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bridesmaids: Review


For years, Saturday Night Live regular Kristen Wiig has been appearing in comedy movies as a supporting character and usually walking away with the movie (see Paul, Whip It, MacGruber for examples). Now she gets to lead a film (as well as co-write) and I can honestly say that a new comedy star has definitely arrived.

Annie is a troubled woman: a failed baker whose business foiled, she gives unhelpful advice to those coming into the jewellery shop she works, making them leave; her love life is with a man so full of himself that he doesn't like her sleeping over and she lives with a British man and his sister, who she pays the rent for. The only constant in her life is her best friend from childhood, Lillian. When Lillian announces she is engaged, she wants Annie to be the maid-of-honour. If Annie's life isn't in a mess now, it starts heading for a downward spiral given the responsibilities of arranging everything for her friend's wedding. Added to that, she has a jealousy problem with Lillian's new best friend, the wealthy Helen, that could see her making a mess of everything.

There have been a handful of comedies out recently that, frankly, just haven't even been close to the mark (Your Highness and the truly lazy The Hangover Part II being two of them). Well now we, at last, get a genuinely funny movie that will have you giggling throughout with some very big laughs scattered here and there, as well as having the biggest heart i have seen in a film in a very long time.

From the moment it starts to the hilarious mid-end-credits sequence (Don't leave immediately...you will miss a treat!) this is a joyous journey into the destruction of a woman on the edge. That might sound bad but trust me, Kristen Wiig has created such a likeable character in Annie that you feel for her, every step of the way. With her often understated asides, she is a diamond in the rough. In fact every character in this film is so brilliantly drawn-out that it makes the 2 hours fly by.

Rose Byrne is deliciously cute as the friend who takes over everything, while Maya Rudolph is perfect as Lillian. The star of the group of ladies friends is Melissa McCarthy, who almost steals every scene she is in as the gross-out, Fight Club obsessed Megan. She manages to make Zack Galifiankis's Alan from The Hangover, look like a a paper-thin caricature.

The IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd is great as the cop that has  more than a crush on Annie, and you want them to get together so much you feel like getting Annie's head and slapping her then going for John Hamm's egotistic lover (a terrific cameo from him). Matt Lucas also pops up as the flatmate. It also has the last performance from the late Jill Clayburgh as Annie's mother, a nice tribute for a really great actress.

To say I really loved this film is an understatement. I haven't laughed so loud at a movie in what seems such a long time (the dress fitting scene is both incredibly gross and painfully funny to watch). It might seem and feel like a "chick flick" but this has so much to offer it, you forget and just laugh along with the antics. The perfect date movie? Absolutely. It's sweet. It's funny. It's sickly (but in a very good way) and any film that has Wilson Phillips singing Hold On at the end is going to send you out with a big fat grin from ear to ear. Miss this and you are missing the sleeper comedy of the year. Superb.