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Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Christmas Carol: Review

Robert Zemeckis has found the style of movie making that he likes. Combining animation created by using the actors providing the voices. The Polar Express and Beuwolf were his first two and now he's back with the same formula, this time having Charles Dickens' timeless tale as his source material.

You know the story. Miser and penny-pincher Scrooge gets visited by the ghost of his former partner, Marley, and told he will be visited by three more spirits who ill show him his life in the past, present and things to come, obviously shaking him up.

Positives first: Zemeckis has done the clever thing of keeping faithful to the book. He hasn't strayed too far or added anything unnecessary, and so you feel comfortable with the tale. The animation is extraordinary, and given the bonus of 3D, it has extra depth. Does it need the third dimension? I don't think so, I think you can still enjoy this in 2D, it just makes the details clearer and more defined.

Jim Carrey gets the opportunity to play Scrooge, and he does a very fine job, restraining himself and in some places, underplaying it, leaving the hysterics behind. The character of Scrooge did look like Albert Steptoe from Steptoe And Son. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins also appear and give their talents to the film.

If there is any criticism, it is the accents from some of the other characters. Carrey provides the voice of The Ghost of Christmas Present, a giant, jolly, red-headed gentlemen, but alas, we have absolutely no idea where he was suppose to be coming from. Is he Scottish? Northern? Cockney? Australian??? I am sure that with so much acing talent from this country at Zemeckis' fingertip that he could have found an actor to take on that role and do one accent, and do it well.

The film has also been criticised about losing its heart, but I don't think so. Scrooge has to be an unlikeable character to make the ending work, and Carrey has done this, and while many may think it is over sentimental, then they don't fully understand the story properly. Dickens wanted a tale of greed and gluttony turned into redemption and the only way you can do this is by having something that touches, and Tiny Tim is that catalyst.

It zips through at a steady pace, and it never has any dull patches. I do question who this film is actually aimed at, as the very young may find some of the images quite scary, and I also question Disney's decision to release it so far away from Christmas. Is this because they wanted to get their 3D movie out of the way before James Cameron's much hyped Avatar comes out next month?

No matter. If you want to get into the Christmas feeling early, then head off for this enjoyable re-telling. It doesn't come close to Alastair Sim's 40s version, but it's not too bad.

The Men Who Stare At Goats: Review

When The Men Who Stare At Goats opened at this year's London Film Festival, it caused incredible excitement and positive buzz from the critics, but I get the feeling that it was the critics trying to follow the crowd and look like they are 'with it' with their peers, because, to be totally honest, this is actually a very lacklustre affair.

Ewen McGregor plays a small town reporter who interviews a man about his psychic powers. He is informed that there was a secret military outfit who enlisted soldiers with such powers, and there was one man in particular, who could kill goats just by staring at them. Well, McGregor's marriage breaks down and so he heads off to Iraq, where he happens to meet this powerful man, and a journey to Baghdad begins, with the full story being conveyed.

The premise is fascinating, and it is supposedly based on a true story, and it is the flashback moments, where we get to see how this platoon are formed by Vietnam vet and hippie Jeff Bridges. The trouble is, this is far too quirky for its own liking, and by being quirky, it has the most heavy-handed screenplay this year, leading to the dullest last half hour ever.

George Clooney, looking like he is ready to play Blakey in On The Buses, is fine, while nobody does hippie as well as Jeff Bridges, but they are let down with this laden dialogue and direction that lacks any pace. The trip to Bagdad, in which Clooney crashes into rocks on roads or landmines are funny yet the bits in between drag it down.

I also couldn't help but think that director Grant Heslov has spent far too much time watching Coen Brothers movies to get his inspiration, but he doesn't have the wit, style or surreal sense to make this close to one of their movies.

The narration by McGregor becomes increasingly annoying, and Kevin Spacey, as the rival psychic to Clooney, is wasted. So what we have here is a film that promises so much and delivers very little.

Oh, and please ignore the posters claiming that this is 'fast and funny'. it is, quite frankly, neither.

Michael Jackson's This Is it: Review

Never has a movie been so difficult to review, mainly because my mind is in so many places about it.

Michael Jackson was just weeks away from performing at London's O2 for a 50 date sell-out concert, then he was taken from this earth. This is the rehearsal footage for that very concert, showing the backstage build-up and performances of some of his biggest hits, and allowing us a insight into some of the spectacular film work that would be screened around the show.

That is it. No complicated storyline, no subtexts, just a straight forward record of what could have been. This is where the problem lies. The film is dedicated "For the fans", and I am absolutely sure that the fans will lap up every single inch of this movie. However, as a man who liked Jackson but was never obsessed about his music or dance moves, this is actually quite a dull experience. We are given a two hour movie with all of his biggest songs, Bad, Beat It, Thriller, Wanna be Startin' Something, they are all lined up and on parade, and each song has a short lead up to the actual performance. This is, though, a rehearsal,so we never actually are given the full potential of the performance itself.

Single numbers are cut from obviously several different rehearsal days, and Jackson is giving about 75% of the performance that he would have given. Occasionally he throws himself into the numbers and we can see the sparkle, but this is on rare moments. We aren't given a clue to the costumes of the effects that will enhance the songs, and so one by one each number is played with Jackson, sometimes doing odd dance moves (one brought unexpected giggles from various audience members I saw the film with) but it's as if we are left longing for what would obviously be a show to remember.

And that's the problem. We are given a half show, and so we crave for some insight into the man but there is very little of that either. There are times when we get a glimpse of Jackson as a human being. The scene on the cherry picker is a prime example of a man who did enjoy what he did, but more often than not, he comes across like a spoilt child. Complaining to the musical director about not getting the feel of the song, or, in a very bizarre instance, going into great detail about having a fist in the ear during one of his numbers, and director Kenny Ortega almost grovelling to Jackson.

For me the most interesting part of this documentary is the behind-the-scenes stuff, yet there is far too little of it, and so, as we bounce from one musical number to the next, it all becomes a tad too alike, and while watching, you can't help but wonder if this really is for the fans, or a cynical way of making more money out of a legend.

Monsters Vs Aliens: Review

Dreamworks have always been in the shadows of Pixar when it comes to CGI animation. In fact, most studios cannot really compete with the genius of the studio who are innovators of the art form. So instead of trying to compete, Dreamworks take a different route and try to produce entertaining pieces that are high on laughs. They succeeded with Shrek and Shrek 2 (not so much with Shrek The Third) and they have succeeded with this.

A young girl on the day of her wedding, is hit by a meteor, making her grow into a giant. She is whisked away by the government where she discovers that they have hidden a group of other aliens. When the earth comes under attack, it is up to this mix of bizarre creatures to save day.

There is plenty to enjoy here, with the talented voices helping create some nicely rounded characters. Reece Witherspoon is perfect as the girl, while Seth Rogan gets the biggest laughs as a jelly-like creature called Bob. TV comedian Stephen Colbert (he of The Colbert Report) has fun as the President, while Hugh Laurie, Keifer Sutherland and Rainn Wilson all give enough persoanlity to make this bag of misfits plenty of colour.

This is an affectionate parody of the 50s B-movie sci-fi films, and you can see the love for this kind of movie making in the colourful animations. So the storyline is very thin and the inclusion of 3-D doesn't really enhance it but it's fun and should keep the more undemanding audience happy. Compared to other CGI animation of late, there is a lot more care and attention to detail, but this is like the second feature, while we await the arrival of Pixar's new film Up.

Up: Review

There was a question asked a few weeks ago. Can you name a bad Pixar movie? Let's see if you can? Challenge your friends. I bet you can't name a one. There maybe ones you don't like as much as other, but since Toy Story, Pixar have been the most consistent film studio around. And their latest, Up, is right there with their best.

Carl Fredicksen is an old man with a dream: to travel to a far away land that he and his wife have talked about, and to follow in the footsteps of their hero, an explorer from their childhood who was sent away for inventing a creature. With his home in the middle of a modernisation site, and he accidentally injuring a man, Carl is forced to give up his beloved home, but he has always been a fighter, and by attaching thousands of balloons, he releases his home and his new adventure begins, along with an unexpected traveller, a young scout who happens to be at his door when the journey began.

Pixar love movies. You can see this within the first few minutes of this delightfully funny and surprisingly moving tale. A montage scene showing Carl's life, which last no longer than three minutes, managed to reduce me to tears. Film directors take note. That's how you show the path of time.

Once the explorers get to their destination, there are plenty of laughs for both young and old. The cute bird and the Labrador with a voice collar will keep the kids happy, while the gags will have the adults laughing like loons. I cannot look at a squirrel now without bursting into hysterics.

This is beautiful film making too. Every single scene is so rich in detail, helped massively by the 3-D, that it's like a pure work of art. I was always captivated by the old Disney animations, in the way they made the background every bit as important as the foreground, and the same can be said of this. So even if the storyline doesn't grab you (although it will), the background will keep your attention.

Edward Asner is perfect as the voice of Carl, giving him enough grumpy attitude to make him endearing, while Christopher Plummer as the voice of the villain (who looks uncannily like Kirk Douglas) captures the baddie without going too over-the-top.

If there is a more sweeter, touching, funny and life-affirming film this year, I will be very, very surprised. Miss this gem, and you will be missing one of the best films this year...by a country mile!

Bustin' Down The Door: Review

I have never been a surfer. I don't know much about surfing, apart from movies like Big Wednesday and Point Break. I haven't been that interested in surfing. So sitting through a documentary about surfers didn't grab me. Yet, this turned out to be quite interesting.

In 1974, surfers were considered as drop-outs who didn't do anything but hang out at the beach, and hit the waves. This is, until a group of Australians and South Africans came to Hawaii and changed all that, wanting more than just the thrill of the ride, but wanting a career, and to have surfing recognised as a sport, and not just a waste of time.

This is simplistic documentary film making. Director Jeremy Gosch has got the men involved, now a lot older but maybe not wiser, to talk about that time in the 70s, and how the events affected not only the ideals of surfing, but their own personal growth.

The tales of how they dealt with their passions are well documented, sometimes funny, sometimes quite poignant, as they took on the fellow surfers, and how the Australians upset the locals in Hawaii and they basically had a death warrant on their heads.

As far as documentaries go, this isn't too bad. It's short and it does fly by, but these are just men telling their stories and with home movies to prove their points, it does keep the attention. Edward Norton gives a fairly minimal commentary, and it is left the the 'heroes' of the waves to be the stars.

If you are a fan of surfing, then this is one for you. You will lap up the excitements of the waves, the emotions of the information but for the general film going public, the subject matter may not be inviting enough.

The Hurt Locker: Review

War films can be very difficult creatures to handle. They can be either too political or too cliched. Kathryn Bigelow, the director of such classics as Point Break and Near Dark, has gone for the approach of telling a simple tale of the men who risk their lives in possibly one of the best movies this year.

Concentrating on an elite Army bomb squad during the Iraq War, we follow the everyday lives of three men, as they face untold dangers from snipers, the locals and, of course, explosives. Nearly arrived Sergeant James has been on tour in Afghanistan, and now joins the team, but his methods are both too macho and too dangerous for his two fellow officers, and yet he gets the job done, from discovering explosives in the street, in cars and on human beings. Yet James seems to relish in the danger, but could this affect his relationship with the other men?

Bigalow has done a very clever thing. She doesn't once mention anything about the political views of the war, and as to why the soldiers are there, she simply has set her film smack in the middle of a land torn, and doesn't once question the reasoning. These are men who have a job to do. She gives the film a more realistic viewpoint, as if you are in the heart of the action along with the characters, and she piles on the tension so much so it almost becomes unbearable.

The other clever thing she has done is not used well known names to play the leads. Jeremy Renner has done stuff in the past but you wouldn't know his name if you saw him. Looking like a rougher Daniel Craig, he gives an impressively smoldering performance, as does Anthony Mackie as his fellow Sergeant Sanborn. Brian Geraghty, as the nervous, slightly psychotic Spc Eldridge make up as very strong trio. Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse all make appearances, but never too long of distracting from the three leads.

If I was to make a criticism, its more of a personal one, as we are in the middle of the action constantly, the camera swings about all over the place, causing a reaction that made me move seats in order not to be sick, but this is a minor problem.

This is an impressive piece of cinema, and one that will stick in the mind long after it has finished. I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't mentioned in the same breath as Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket or Platoon as being one of the best war films. It certainly is an amazing piece and puts Kathryn Bigalow right back among the best action directors around. If you like your movies to be incredibly tense and nail-biting, then I would highly recommend this stunner. It also has one of the most moving yet perfectly pitched endings I have seen in a film for a very long time.

Funny People: Review

A word of warning to those who wish to see Funny People because it has great comic talent, from Judd Apatow, the writer/director of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and it has the word Funny in the title. This ISN'T a comedy. What it is though is a sweet natured tale of how tragedy can be turned into something positive.

George Simmons is living the Hollywood life: a huge comedy star, he lives in a mansion, can have any woman he wants and is loved by everyone. Except his life is far from perfect. He is dying. Shocked by the news, George returns to his start in life, as a stand-up, which is where he meets Ira, a comedian just starting out, who shares a flat with a TV star and a fellow, funnier comic. George offers him a job of being his assistant and writer, and the two begin a strange and stranded relationship. Convinced that George should share his bad news with his loved ones and friends. This leads George to rekindle his relationship with his one love that he lost.

This film has loads to offer. There are some very funny moments, but the stand-up routines are in fact the weakest part of the film. The story, while touching in places, is stretched out to the limits, and this is another thing the film falls down on. At almost 2 and a half hours, it is way too long. The first half works nicely but it loses its way by the third act.

The performances are good too. Seth Rogen is fine as Ira, and Leslie Mann is perfectly sweet as the love interest. We finally get to see Eric Bana in a role that suits his persona, and Jonah Hill is given the best lines. The film, however, does belong to Adam Sandler, who gives a very restrained performance and its nice to see him playing straight. He makes much better viewing than the dumb comedies of the past (even if he does self mock with the films in this movie).

Apatow has made a very ambitious film here. He has taken a story of grief and tried to be as uplifting as possible, but he needs to have someone tell him to edit more. It does drag its feet by the end, even if it is quite uplifting.

A good film that just slightly outstays its welcome. Yes, it is funny, but you won't be holding your sides with laughter.

(500) Days Of Summer: Review

Those who know me will know that I have a dislike for the modern romantic comedy. Following too many cliches and a formula that was old before its time, there are only a handful that I would consider any good (Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, The Truth About Cats And Dogs). Well add another one to the list. Although this is more an anti-romantic comedy.

The plot is as old as time. Tom writes greeting cards and yet dreams of being an architech. He meets Summer, who has become his boss' new assistant. He falls in love and they start a relationship. This, however, is not a conventional romance.

Told through jumping backwards and forwards in time, this is a cleverly written comedy that actually makes you laugh. A rare thing in this day and age. We follow the beginning, the break-up and the after mass as Tom, likeably performed by Joseph-Gordon Levitt, goes through every emotion that the male feels when falling in love and when being dumped. I guess this is another nice thing about this quirky tale. It isn't aimed solely at females, like most other rom-coms. As a male, you can fully understand what he is going through. Zooey Deschanel, who is always outstanding in everything she does, gives another delightful character with a hint of cruelty. The two leads light up the screen and you could be with them throughout the whole of their relationship and not be bored.

There is so much to like here. The surreal touches when looking back to the problems arising, to the hilarious panache of the musical number in Enchanted, when Tom dances to Hall & Oates 'You Make My Dreams Come True' through a park full of regular people who join in the dance.

Having gone through a Summer of utter dross, it is so nice to finally find a film that made me leave the cinema with a huge smile on my face, and with its very satisfying ending, this is the best male orientated rom-com since High Fidelity, and one of the freshest, coolest comedy you are going to see all year.

If you are looking for a delightful night out, then look no further.

Adventureland: Review

Adventureland is director Greg Mottola's follow-up to Superbad, but even though there are very similar themes, there are two very different movies, and if you are expecting the same level of humour that Superbad had, you maybe a little disappointed.

Jesse Eisenberg plays James, a young man just graduating from high school and has his summer all mapped out until his parents announce that they cannot help him financially and so is forced to get a summer job at a small town amusement park called Adventureland. There he meets Em, a cool girl who he slowly builds a relationship with. Does she feel the same? Or is there something she isn't saying? Will he ever find true happiness and love.

This is a really nice film. What I mean by that is that it is a sweet, well played love story, but be warned, those who are looking for the vulgar craziness of Superbad, it's not here. This is a more human story, a coming-of-age tale that, while very good natured, is a little slow.

The characters are well drawn out and some interesting supporting roles. Bill Hader, who played one of the cops in Superbad, gets to steal the movie with some of the more comic moments, while Ryan Reynolds pops up as the park's hunk and electrician. This leaves Jess Eisenberg and Twilight's Kristen Stewart to take control of the main story.

Eisenberg, almost unknown over in the UK, does his best to be Michael Cena, and he is a very likeable guy, but he comes across as too straight, too dull, while Stewart, who has become an overnight success after the teen vampire movie, is perfectly cool as Em, and you do genuinely care what happens to them. It's just a shame that it takes forever to get to the ending. Mottola obviously loves his characters and wants his audience to love them too, but he has forgotten about plot and pace, which is a pity, and i feel guilty for saying it, as it is a nice movie.

It does, however, make a change to see a love story that isn't too mushy and doesn't expect you to cry every three minutes, or follow the rules of the rom-com. Just don't go in expecting the laugh-a-minute comedy fest that the advertising promises.

Inglorious Basterds: Review

Quentin Tarantio has been batting about this movie idea for years. Was it worth the wait? You bet it was. Many may not agree with me, and I don't care, but this is definitely one of the best movies this year.

It's World War II, but not as we know it. As the subtitle suggests, this is a fairy tale. After escaping from the Nazi officer Landa, nicknamed 'The Jew Hunter', Shosanna has been living in Paris where she runs a cinema. For four years she has been building hatred in her heart and waiting for the right time to inflict revenge for the death of her family. After meeting another German officer, who begins to pester her, it turns out he is a national hero, and a film about his exploits is about to be premiered. The officer convinces the German high command to move the event to Shosanna's cinema.

News of this spreads and the chance to kill many of the top dogs of the German forces arises, so a British officer is sent to France to join forces with a renegade bunch called The Basterds, led by Southern Lt Aldo Raines and his band of Jewish soldiers, who enjoy nothing more than killing Nazis and scalping them.

And so we have the set up for quite possibly Tarantino's best film since Jackie Brown.

I have recently complained about the length of movies, particularly the blockbusters, but at two and a half hours, this flies. Tarantino has pushed aside some of the more flashier elements of his film making (as found in the Kill Bill movies) and gone for long, dialogue-led scenes in which we really get to understand the characters. Most of the film is in subtitles, which also surprises, as the characters switch from German, to French, to, hilariously, Italian. We know that Tarantino can write pretty decent dialogue, well here we get to appreciate his wordmanship.

It is violent, as you would expect, but the violence isn't as frequent as you would thought, even if it is quite graphic and squirmish when it does happen. This is a film that relies on performances and they all shine, particularly two stand-outs. Melanie Laurent, as Shosanna, is stunning. A woman who shows so much pain in her eyes, and hatred in her heart. The scene in which she is ordered to dinner, and she doesn't say much is beautifully handled. The star, however, is Christoph Waltz as Landa. A multi-layered performance that takes the part of a villain to a new level. He shows every nuance of the character, moving effortlessly from acting like a man just doing his job to being understanding to pure evil in a blink of an eye. He is also very funny, and if he doesn't get more work from this, then the world is missing out on a superb talent.

The film belongs to Tarantino. His obvious love of spaghetti westerns is given a proper springboard here. From the stunning opening scene, which comes right from the pages of A Fistful Of Dollars, to the use of music and the characters he has created, you feel like you are in Sergio Leone country. This is a far more mature, more restrained film maker than he was with Kill Bill, where every visual trick going was thrown at the screen. With most films being full of fast cuts and flashy editing, this is quite a leisurely affair, and it works in its favour. Better to take its time than rush the point, and you are given time to relish every single frame.

It is lyrical, it is brutal, it is violent and it is very, very funny. It may not be for everyone. For me, it is a triumph and as Pitt says at the end, a masterpiece.

Orphan: Review

Those who know me, know I have a slight disdain for modern horrors. They are usually clumsy and lack any real imagination, just as long as limbs and brains are thrown at the screen, the people will come. Which is why Orphan is such a refreshing change.

Young couple Kate and John long for a third child, but due to a still birth, they have to turn to adopting, and head off to an orphanage where John bonds with a quiet, reclusive little girl called Esther. Immediately she becomes the new member of the family, but there is something very strange. Only Kate starts to realise, but is it paranoia or something else.

I really don't want to give too much away because this is the strong point with this film. It starts with a flash of gore, which led me to believe that this was going to be another modern horror that played into the blood hungry fans. I was, however, pleasantly surprised, if you can be at horror, that this was much more than just buckets of guts.

A film, if it is made well, should move you emotionally. You should feel for the characters. You should be drawn into their worlds. That is exactly what happens here, thanks to a clever script, some terrific performances, especially from Vera Farmiga as the tormented mother, and excellent direction from Jaume Collet-Serra, who allows the characters to develop for the first hour, making the shocks and the twist work.

So it might not be the most original movie of the year, but it is far superior to some of the rubbish that is pulling in the punters at the moment, and if you want an adult, intelligent chiller, then you should rush to this little gem. If you thought Damien from The Omen was bad, you haven't met Esther yet. Damien was an angel compared to her.

G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra: Review

Hooray! Another over-the-top, loud (very loud) CGI filled pile of dross for the summer. As if we haven't had enough already. This time, the popular boy's toys GI Joe comes crashing to the big screen like some uninvited party guest, and with Stephen Sommers (he of The Mummy fame) at the helm, it's throw everything you have at the screen and see if it sticks. Most slides off and lands in a pile on the floor.

US Army officers Channing (I look like every other movie star wannabe) Tatum and Marlon (I'm the comic relief, and I use the word comic very loosely) Wayans have been assigned to deliver a new deadly weapon when it is almost stolen by a surprise ambush, led by dark haired Sienna Miller. But wait! The cavalry arrive in the form of an elite special ops platoon called the GI Joes. Naturally, Tatum and Wayans want to join, as they battle against the evil that is led by weapons genius Christopher Eccleson and his nasty but disposable men.

Thus, we have two hours of explosions, shooting, fighting and mass destruction on a level that even the Transformers would be proud of. So not to make it look like its another 'American forces, aren't we great' movie, they have enlisted a computer and surveillance expert with a dodgy Spanish accent and a tough Brit with the kind of Cockerny accent you would expect Americans to dream up if they wanted a football thug to appear in a movie. Admittedly, unlike Transformers 2, Sommers does realise that this is all too ridiculous for words and adds some humour into the proceedings, and yes, it's so over the top that you can't help but laugh at it. Yet he lets himself down by adding unnecessary flashbacks explaining how the characters got to where they are today, usually through violence, and the violence is, for a film aimed at kids, incredibly high and quite graphic.

The performances are on a level of phoned in to non existent. Dennis Quaid, as the leader of the GIs does his patriotic thing of looking mean and moody and 'we're doing this for the President', while Canning Tatum fits perfectly into the role of brain dead grunt with too much testosterone. Marlon Wayans comes across as a randy soldier who hasn't had a woman in years, and for all those teenage boys who need to up their totty count, instead of Megan Fox, we have Sienna Miller (with the strangest accent known to man) and Rachel Nichols dressed in an array of leather.

The two most curious performances, however, come from indie regular Joseph Gordon Levitt and Mr Eccleson. Levitt has been in some of the finest indie hits of recent years (Brick, anyone?) so why is he here doing this? The same question could be asked of former Doctor Who Eccleson. Did he leave that show for this?

In summing up, if you like your films loud with loads of explosions and fighting, then you will lap this tripe up. To me, it was like watching a video game but not having any control over what happens. In a summer full of poor movies, was I expecting too much that this could be good? Maybe I was. That's wishful thinking for you.

The Taking Of Pelham 123: Review

Take a classic 1975 thriller in which hi-jackers hold New York City to ransom by taking a subway train with passengers as hostages; give it a modern update; throw in two bankable stars and a director who has made a career of making hi-tech action thrillers, and what do you get? A dud.

Maybe that's unfair. It does have a few high points but Tony Scott's remake lacks any tension or suspense, because he thinks that to keep the attention of the audience, you have to hand the camera over to an over-excitable mouse who darts around the place and then get an MTV music video editor to cut the thing together. What you end up, is a flashy, somewhat nauseating film that gives you a migraine.

Denzel Washington, taking over from Walter Matthau, plays the everyman with a dark secret who becomes baddie John Travolta's pawn, as he is in the middle of the negotiations for the hostages and the 10 million dollars that Travolta wants for them. If there is anyone who can play nice guys, it's Washington, and he delivers his usual solid performance. Travolta, however, should have taken notes from original Pelham baddie Robert Shaw in how to play nasty. Shaw was cool, calm and quietly menacing. Travolta gives us another pantomime villain who screams, shouts and mugs at the camera, and it slightly upsets the balance of the film. John Turturro is the star of the film, underplaying everything and stealing the film right from under every one's noses. His is the most believable performance of the lot.

The other problem with the film is the gaping holes in the plot and some quite obviously stupid errors. For example, surely you would notice a laptop broadcasting on the floor of a train...especially when they are in darkness. Or are these the dumbest criminals in the world. Plus you should never lose your audience with a subplot about stocks and shares. Only a small percentage of the audience will have a clue what the techno babble about gold shares is about, so you lose the rest. Remember, that director Scott is aiming this film at an audience who only have very short attention spans, and then tries to be all clever. Make up your mind!

Scott last good movie, surprisingly, was a remake. Man Of Fire (with Washington as well) was a remake of a small Scott Glen thriller from the 80s. Proof that he can make decent remakes. This doesn't even get close to the original, and even makes the Matthau/Shaw film a far greater film.

Moon: Review

A crime has been committed right under our noses. The distributors of Moon are the criminals. They have released this fine, intelligent sci-fi thriller the same week as Harry Potter, and even the girl at the box office in the cinema I went to see it didn't know it was on. A real crime, because this is a film that deserves to be seen by a larger audience.

Sam Bell is alone on the moon, working for a corporation mining energy for earth. he has been there for three years and in two weeks time, he will be allowed to return home to his wife and baby. However, in a series of unexplained events, Sam soon discovers that he is not alone.

I'm not going to give away too much of the plot because this is all part of the fun of this small scaled movie, directed with aplomb by David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones. Sam Rockwell, who in my books has always been an interesting actor, gives his best performance as Sam, and as he is on screen almost all the way through, he manages the feat of keeping our attention throughout.

Kevin Spacey supplies the voice of company robot Gerty, and you can see the similarities to such movies as 2001 and Solaris, for this is a sci-fi film that doesn't deal with lasers and fights and big special effects, but of isolation and the madness that it brings.

So it may not be Transformers or Terminator Salvation, but that is a good, nay, great thing. It is a mature tale, an adult story that doesn't come across as being childish or lacking in ideas. It is brimming with them and it keeps the attention throughout. Jones has created a gentle, sometimes moving tale with plenty of grace and elegance, and it looks tremendous, very reminiscent of the sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s. As for Sam Rockwell? This is his masterpiece, with a performance that will stick in my memory for a long time.

So if you are looking for the perfect antidote to the big budget crapola that the major studios are throwing up at us week in week out at the moment, you can no do wrong than see this little gem of a film. In fact I urge you to see it.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince: Review

No matter what anyone says, like James Bond, Harry Potter has become almost critic proof. Even if it was the worse film in the world, it would still make a bucket load of money and we would still get the final part (in two parts to milk that money cow even more), but while this has been the most eagerly awaited Potter film of them all (as it was promised for Christmas but was held back due to the writer's strike from a while back) I actually felt this was the weakest film of the lot.

Not saying it wasn't entertaining, it just lacked the magic what we have come to expect from the young wizard's films. Literally lacking in magic.

The young wizards of Hogwarts are now fully grown teenagers all suffering from teenage pangs (although they haven't decided that hanging outside kebab shops yet). Love, however is in the air, and the three are all having to cope with the 'relationship' problems, while Harry still has to cope with the threat of the dark lord's arrival.

Let's get the good out of the way first. It is very funny. in fact, probably the funniest one of the series yet, as they jostle with their emotions. The acting is first class. The young leads have grown up in front of our very eyes, and have grown in their acting abilities, particularly Emma Watson. Remember her from the first film? Annoying little brat was she. Well now she has learnt subtle and plays everything just right. The other acting giants also get more screen time as well: Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith are no longer part of the scenery. The addition of Jim Broadbent also works well.

Having said that, the girl who plays Ron's love interest is so awful she looks completely out of place among the now experienced cast.

Now the downside. It is far too long. At 2 and a half hours, it is one of the longest and it really feels it. The reason? This is a more talky Potter. There are very little major set pieces, like in previous films, and this is what draws it back. you go to see a Harry Potter film to see magic and wizardry and spell and special effects. This just doesn't have enough, and the young audience in the cinema I was in weren't given enough to keep their attention. When the special effects do arrive, it looks like a reject from The Lord of The Rings, including loads of Gollum like creatures.

Some of the scenes seemed to feel unfinished, and end too abruptly. This could be because of bad editing, which is something that these usually smooth movies haven't had before.

The other let-down is the climax. Everyone and their mother knows what happens at the end (thanks critics and readers of the books) so it becomes more like an anti-climax.

This was always going to be a hard book to film, and I am sure that it will end over the next two years with a massive bang. I know that the fans will love it no matter what. I am a fan, and yes it was good but it could have been a whole lot better.

The Proposal: Review

Wes Craven, during his vastly overrated 'Scream', gave us a list of cliches that you would find in an horror movie. Someone now needs to make a Scream-type film in which they list the cliches of the romantic comedy. If that is not possible, then just go and see this pile of tripe and you will get them all. Every single one of them.

Sandra Bullock plays a cold-hearted publishing editor who is threatened with deportation back to Canada, that she comes up with a plan: to have a business deal with her assistant, Ryan Reynolds, in which they are to marry and he would get a promotion, in order to keep her in her job and in new York. Of course Immigration is suspicious of the forth-coming wedding but allows the couple to fly off to Alaska, where Reynolds family live, for his Gran's 90th birthday. The pair, of course, hate each other, but I don't have to tell you what happens, you probably already know.

If ever there was a film that ticked every box when he comes to formulas, this does, except one...it's not that funny. Sure there are the 'embarrassing' set pieces (the pair fall on each other naked blah blah blah) but this just isn't good enough, especially when there are plenty of romantic comedies that have done this sort of thing so much better.

Before I go on, I do like some rom-coms. When Harry Met Sally is a classic, and The Truth About Cats And Dogs is an underrated masterpiece, but this just smacks of cynical film making, with so many questions that are left unanswered. For example, if the Immigration people were so concerned that fraud was being committed, would they honestly allow them to go off for three days to 'learn' about each other? I mean, really.

Bullock and Reynolds are appealing leads, but that is far from enough to keep the film alive. We also have that other stable of rom-coms, the slightly embarrassing elderly, played by Betty White.

This is shallow, unimaginative stuff, and we will keep getting crap like this delivered to our screens time and time again until someone stands up and says 'This has been done before. We should stop going to these films.' Unfortunately, I can't see this ever happening.

Bruno: Review

Sacha Baron Cohen is back, and be prepared to be shocked, offended, surprised and to cry with laughter, but maybe not as much as Borat.

Borat was a huge hit a few years ago and what made that film work, was that Cohen's creation was an innocent. A man who didn't understand the cultures or values of a country so far removed from his own. Bruno, however, is very knowing, and this is where the film slightly falls down.

Borat could get away with some of the comments by his look, the crumpled suit made him look fairly normal. Bruno comes on as a flamboyant, over-the-top lover of latex and you wonder if the people he meets and talks to really can't see that it's a joke.

Don't let that get in the way of the joke. Bruno is very, very funny, to the point of painful. There are moments when you will be fighting for breath, and these moments come at the expense of others. At its best, the scenes where Bruno is interviewing parents to use their children for a photo shoot, for example, will leave you shocked at the levels in which some people will push their children for fame; at its worse, like the scene in which Bruno tries to seduce an elderly senator, will leave you tutting at the screen, as the joke maybe went too far.

This is the difference between Borat and Bruno. Borat knew when to stop. Bruno doesn't, and works in fits and starts. The level of vulgarity is pushed through the roof, and sometimes this just disgusts, where the best parts come later in the film, when Bruno decides the only way to become famous is to be straight. The scenes with the hunters are hilarious, as the breakdown in communications under the stars speaks volumes more about the machoness of men.

The film is definitely more adult than Borat, and doesn't leave much to the imagination. The scene where Bruno imagines a graphic sexual act with a dead friend in front of a spiritualist is uncomfortable to the max, and where the relationship between Borat and his manager worked to move the film along, the relationship between Bruno and his assistant's assistant slows it down.

Cohen has managed to do it again, but it's not a consistent as Borat, and you do begin to wonder if Cohen should now stop and let this style of mockumentary alone.

Public Enemies: Review

Someone once said to me recently that I don't seem to like any movie that I see. This is not true, and I don't go to see these films with the intention of hating them (although hate can be a very strong word...let's say dislike). For example, I went in to see Public Enemies really wanting to like it. The press have been raving over it (particularly Empire magazine) and it has enough prestige for it not to fail. Alas, it does...and quite badly.

This is the last days of America's most wanted criminal of the 30s, John Dillinger. A bank robber who had managed to avoid the law because of the police having no powers from state to state. J. Edgar Hoover wants more power and he enlists top cop Christian Bale to track him down.

There is so much wrong with this movie that it is hard to know where to start, and the thing is, all the intentions are great. Johnny Depp is, without a doubt, one of the most watchable actors around, and we get to spend a lot of time with him. He looks cool. Very cool. With his shades and nice suits, he wouldn't look out of place in Mann's other creation, Miami Vice. That, however, is all Depp is allowed to do...be cool. Hardly pushing his acting ability. Christian Bale, who grunted and frowned through Terminator Salvation, gives possibly the least inspiring performance of his career, and seems bored with the whole thing. The two biggest crimes are the woeful wasting of Marion Cotillard, the Oscar winner from La Vie En Rose, who is given nothing at all to do until the final scene; and the supporting cast of incredibly fine actors and actresses who pass us by so quickly that I was surprised to see their names in the credits. Stephen Dorff, for example, is given nothing to make him stand out from the extras.

The real trouble is the script. There is no character development, no relationships formed and many questionable acts which makes you wonder if these people were really for real (and they were). Scenes which could have been really interesting are passed over for more gun-play (and the gun-play is really loud). the look of the film, like all Mann movies, is impressive and the set-pieces are well executed, but that's all they are; one set-piece after another, and no actual substance.

At 2 hours 20 minutes, it feels far longer. The second act drags on without anything actually happening and I spent my time looking at my watch and struggling to stay awake.

If there was to be an award for the most disappointing movie of the year, then i am afraid this would win. I say that, with a very heavy heart indeed.

Ice Age 3: Rise Of The Dinosaurs: Review

The boys are back for a third outing of the CGI animation adventures of a mammoth, a saber tooth tiger and a sloth that started all those years ago with them finding a baby and trying to return it to its family. The family connection comes around once again as Manny and Ellie are expecting their first child, and Sid wants to be a mother too, but his discovery of three eggs in a frozen cavern starts a brand new adventure, in which dinosaurs live under their frozen wilderness.

The trouble with this third outing is that it neither improves or hinders the previous films. Shrek The Third was a disappointment, because it tried to be different from the other films. This doesn't, and gives you what you've already experienced before. This slightly drags the film down, as there doesn't seem to be any character development.

We do get two new characters: Buck, a weasel who is the guide for the underground world, who tells of the perils ahead and of a white dinosaur. Voiced by Simon Pegg, he gets some of the best lines. Also introduced is a female equivalent to Scratch, the acorn obsessed squirrel, and like the other films, his scenes are the most inventive and most enjoyable, with definite nods to Ted Avery and Loony Tunes.

The rest of the film is littered with lines that adults will snigger at, while the kids will enjoy the slapstick, but given the added 3D, it isn't used to the best effect, and you might as well save your extra money and see the flat version, as the 3D does nothing to enhance your experience.

On the whole, an entertaining, funny film but is instantly forgettable once you leave the cinema.

Sunshine Cleaning: Review

In the heat of the Summer blockbusters comes a small-scale movie that doesn't rely on explosions, brain-numbing scripts or Megan Fox running in slow motion, but one with quality stamped all over it, and this is such a film.

Amy Adams plays a single mother down on her luck. She is having an affair with a cop, doesn't like her life and her son needs to go to private school, but she has no money. She is given the idea of starting up a cleaning service with her lacklustre sister (Emily Blunt), but with a difference: cleaning up after bloody deaths.

If I was to be critical, the script is the weakest thing about this independent drama. It doesn't always stay on track and some of the ideas are forced upon its audience, but that's only a small criticism, because, to be honest, you won't worry too much about it when you have two of the screens most exciting actresses together.

Amy Adams has proved time and time again that she is a force to be reckoned with, and she does it again, with a heart-felt, completely believable performance. Every inch of pain comes across on the screen. She doesn't just command the film, she rules it with grace and emotional depth.

Emily Blunt, playing her sister, gives as good as she gets, and when the pair are together, it is just a masterclass of acting. She gets some of the better scenes and yet never takes the character over the top, delivering a pitch perfect character.

Throw into the mix Alan Arkin as their father and you are witnessing acting gold.

So it might not be perfect in all departments, and it has independent film making written all over it, but it's a better hour and a half than any Transforming robots.

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen: Review

Could someone give Michael Bay a dictionary and show him what the word 'subtle' means? I'm not sure he knows, as this 'in-your-face' sequel to the 2007 sequel proves.

Those pesky Deceptacons are back and they still want to rule the Earth, this time by using a device that blocks out the sun, but the Autobots aren't going to let that happen, and neither is Sam (Shia LaBeouf) who has symbols flashing in his mind after touching a sliver of the box from the original film.

Really, does it matter what the story is? This is a long (very long) explosion where anything and everything blows up. We do get moments of silence but they are very few and far between. Instead we get houses, bridges, even pyramids being destroyed by the giant robots or the army. The final 45 minutes are the worse, as it is one long battle scene that goes on and on and on.

The humans seem to be there because they have to be. LaBeouf returns as geek Sam, with a constant worried look on his face (apart from the scene in college where he goes nuts). Megan Fox, voted one of the most beautiful women in the world, also returns and only seems to be there for the teenage boys to dribble over. There she is in shorts straddling a motorbike. Now she is leather all-in-one, and here she is running away from explosions wearing a top with very little support. In the 30s this would have been considered soft porn. Only John Turturro comes out with any real dignity but even then it is little.

The trouble is that Michael Bay throws everything at the screen and just hopes it will stick. The dialogue is written and spoken like a sound bit for the trailer, and I mean every single line, and yes the CGIs are amazing but its all directed with such franticness that you can't really work out what is actually happening. This is accompanied by the soundtrack being full blast, so you shudder in your seat at every explosion.

The film will be a hit because teenage boys, fan boys and those who are clinging onto their childhood will rush out to see it, but like Terminator: Salvation a few weeks ago, this is truly empty-headed stuff and without any heart, it is completely soulless. Plus it has given me one hell of a headache.

Spartacus: Review

Good old Universal. For this summer they are re-screening five of their classic movies in digital on the big screen, where they truly belong. The first one being Stanley Kubrick's classic gladiator movie starring Kirk Douglas as the title character, a slave who is taken to gladiator school, where he leads a revolt and forms his own army, crossing through Italy and fighting against the Roman Army.

At over 3 hours, it is a long haul, but the epic scenes of thousands of extras, the carefully staged battle scenes and the enormous sets just make the mouth water, as every detail is no longer squashed onto a tiny screen in a living, and where the thunderous roar of the sound echo around the darken movie house.

I have seen this countless times, with almost regular screenings on Bank Holidays and, of course, as part of my DVD collection, but you never really get to see a film unless it is up there on the huge white screen. I got to see things that I never saw before, and even managed to see things that were unintentionally amusing. Particularly the restored scene between Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis. It's incredible how you see a film truly for the first time when it is on the screen. the whole conversation about liking oysters and snails had pass me by when on DVD, but here it is amplified ten fold.

The performances also show their weaknesses. Laurence Olivier, the greatest actor of our time, looks like he is hamming it up to the hills, and Jean Simmons just comes across as annoyingly wet, leaving veterans Charles Laughton to be more subtle and Peter Ustinov to supply a more comic approach. Tony Curtis' Brooklyn accent seems very out of place but he is fine, but it is Kirk Douglas who really shines. His performance is electric, particularly the infamous 'I'm Spartacus!' scene, where you can almost feel the powerful warmth and love and respect that this man feels. Touching is an understatement.

Kubrick's film is a masterpiece. It hasn't lost any of its charm, wonderment or visual power. It's also a joy to experience such greatness where it belongs.

Over the next few months, there are more Universal classics being re-issued for one day screenings (The Blues Brothers, The Thing, Animal house and Scarface). I for one, will be there.

Looking For Eric: Review

The nice thing about the Summer season of cinema is that every so often it throws up a little gem that no one is expecting. Looking For Eric has to be this year's gem, and what is more surprising is that it comes from one of this countries bleakest directors, Ken Loach.

The plot follows a depressed postman who lives with his step sons from his second marriage, in a house full of stolen goods, and who pines for his first love. After a bizarre self help session with his friends, and a joint or two, he starts getting advice from his idol, former Manchester United football star Eric Cantona, on the ways to get his life back on track, and to rekindle his love with the woman he let slip away.

Not the most original of plot lines, but that doesn't matter, when the film is so life-affirming and uplifting as this. Steve Evets, as the down-trodden Eric, is magnificent. You feel his every pain, his every emotion. I don't think you will find such an impressive performance from anyone this year. You are with him every step of the way, and that is all due to his incredible acting abilities. Eric Cantona is terrific too. Even if the accent is so heavy you miss the occasional word, he is both funny and likeable in equal measures, and is totally self-mocking.

The film, however, belongs to its director, Ken Loach, who manages to take you on the biggest roller coaster ride around. One moment, you are laughing (out loud), then you are biting your nails, then you are close to tears, then you are cheering and clapping. He manages to keep the bleak side of life that he is most famous for portraying in his films, and giving it the feeling of sunshine and joy. Even the tacked on sub-plot involving Eric's step-son and a local gangster doesn't feel tacked on, but enhances the rest of the movie.

Like Slumdog Millionaire, this is a feel-good film that does have a dark side, but behind the foul language (and there is a lot of it) and the doom and glum, is a film full of hope and wonderment, and a more delightful experience you will not have in the cinema this year. I am sure that when the year ends, this will definitely be in my top ten of the best films this years. I absolutely loved it.

(Oh, and don't worry...it's got very little to do with football).

Terminator Salvation: Review

The war between humans and machine have been raging now since 1984, when the first Terminator film, a low budget sci-fi from unknown James Cameron became a cult classic. Nearly 25 years later the fourth installment of the series has arrived and while it has plenty of great special effects, it lacks something. In fact a lot of things.

The date 2018, and the resistance is fighting against SkyNet and their almost unstoppable machines. John Connor is predicting what is happening and he has one sole mission: to save his father, Kyle Reece. Meanwhile, ex-con Marcus has found Reece and is out to protect him, but he has a secret even he doesn't know about.

Let's get the positives out of the way. This is a surprisingly assured piece from the pretentiously named director McG. More famous for giving us the truly awful Charlie's Angels movies, the visuals are stunning and the texture of the film works, a grainy look to the sun-drenched, sandy, post Nuclear backdrop. The effects are very competent too, especially the introduction of the new Terminators, a giant man-munching one that spawns motorbike miniatures. The action sequences are also well executed and well handled, but a movie cannot live on action scenes alone.

The film lacks heart, humour and above all, characters that you care for. Christian Bale, who famously lost his rag during the making of the movie, does nothing more than snarl and shout, but we never see anything else. Even the scenes with his pregnant girlfriend, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, lacks any real emotion. You don't feel anything is actually between them. Sam Worthington as Marcus, at least seems to have some form of soul, but only in one or two scenes. The rest of the time he wanders around looking mean and moody. You genuinely feel nothing for the characters and so when bad things happen to them, you shrug your shoulders, thinking 'So What?'.

The one thing that The Terminator and Terminator 2 had was its tongue slightly in its cheek. This, however, has the tongue ripped out of the mouth and left lying on the floor, being trampled on by vast robotic creatures. I am sure that fan boys of the series, sci-fi geeks and teenage boys will love the loud explosions or working out the exact timeline in comparison to the previous films, but unfortunately, I was left slightly cold, and a little bored.

Drag Me To Hell: Review

I am not a great lover of modern horror films. Lacking in imagination, using tired old formulas, and trying to out-gross the previous film. I like more campy, tongue-in-cheek fare. Thank goodness, then for Sam Raimi. After years of toying with the Spider-Man franchise, Raimi returns to the genre that made him famous, and has come up with a real treat.

Mild-mannered banker Alison Lohman desperately wants a promotion to assistant manager, but just isn't tough enough. So to prove herself, she turns down an extension to the mortgage of a house belonging to an old gypsy woman. Big mistake. The woman puts a curse on Ms Lohman and she has three days to get rid of it, otherwise she will be dragged down to hell.

Cue loads of loud noises, mysterious shadows and Ms Lohman screaming to things that others cannot see. Raimi has gone back to basics, and has delivered a jump-fest that doesn't rely on limbs being lobbed off (in fact only one scene of blood, coming from an out-of-control nose bleed). What he has done is given us an old-fashioned, sometimes funny piece of entertainment that never takes itself seriously. There are even elements of Raimi's Evil Dead, and it includes the best fight between a pretty blonde and a pensioner ever put to screen.

Alison Lohman is perfectly cast as the girl next door having a very bad day...or three days, while Justin Long, as the boyfriend, has some good lines. The star of this piece is the film itself. If you go expecting the kind of nonsense you would get from, say, Saw or Hostel, then go elsewhere. If you want a film that you just sit back and let it ride over you, then rush to this delicious piece.

And if this is the return to form for Raimi, Spider-Man 4 should be great, and Evil Dead 4 should be fantastic.

Night At The Museum 2: Review

Sequels are very difficult things to handle. You are either grossly disappointed by them, never actually living up to the originals, or you enter them with trepidations and with expectations already at hand, so you think you know what you are going to get. The latter was how I was feeling as I sat down to watch the return of night security guard Ben Stiller and his historical friends. I have to say, that I left a happier man, as this is a far better affair than I even thought it would be.

The basic plot has Larry (Stiller) now a top businessman, going to the aid of the exhibits after they are moved to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, where an evil Egyptian king wants the tablet that brings everyone to life for his own means of returning his own army and ruling the world. Que lots of running around, meeting up with new characters while trying to save his old friends.

One of the big improvements is that this one actually has a plot, and not a series of events. The budget is bigger and so the effects are, with some quite breath-taking scenes. The gags are also improved, with plenty of knock-about humour for the younger members, and some truly surreal mature humour for the adults (Rodin's The Thinker not exactly living up to his name, for example).

The cast are fine, with Stiller, Owen Wilson, Steven Coogan, Robin Williams and Ricky Gervais all returning, but this is where the film really kicks into gear...the new arrivals. Bill Heder as General Custer is a hoot, although Christopher Guest is badly underused as Ivan The Terrible. The two aces in the pack are Hank Azaria and Amy Adams. Azaria is hilarious as the baddie, and is given the best lines, delivering them with great aplomb and expert comic timing. The scene in which he and Stiller are arguing about crossing a line is one of the many highlights, and had me laughing like a loon. The real star, however, is Ms Adams, who is slowly proving to be a master of screwball, and you can't help but compare her to the stars of yester-year. As Amelia Earhart, she exudes class, energy and an amazing sense of comic timing. You tend to forget that Stiller is on screen with her, she is that good. You thought you saw the best of her as the Princess in Enchanted? Think again. This should put her right up there with the big players, and deservedly so.

So it may not be high art. It may not be that intelligent. It is, however, loads of fun and sometimes that's all you can really ask for in a movie.

Coraline: Review

Coraline is another of director Henry Selick's nightmarish fairy tales that he enjoys producing (The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride also belonging to him), but this one has the added bonus of 3D. However, what this film lacks is pace.

Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a young girl who moves into a strange old house with her parents, who don't give her the love and attention she craves for, and, after discovering a small doorway in one of the walls, she finds this leads to a parallel universe, where there is another mother willing to show her love and kindness, but who has eyes made from buttons. What Coraline doesn't realise, is that there is a much darker side to this near perfect world.

The animation is exactly up to Selick's standard. Brilliantly realised, and executed with care, you are transported to an imaginative world where anything is possible. Adding to the depth is the 3D, which does rely on you ducking and diving every five seconds, but is used to give the creation distance. The story itself comes across like a modern variation of Alice In Wonderland, but with a darker sting to its tail, and the finale is very impressive indeed.

The trouble is the film suffers from pacing problems. I felt it was far too long for a family film and could have done with twenty minutes being cut from it. It builds very slowly too before we get to the true point of the story, and in a time when youngsters suffer from concentration problems, this could push them to the limit. While the detail is extraordinary, it comes across as if the imagination has taken over far too much, and we are given lengthy scenes where it looks amazing but doesn't help with the plot (a trip around a colourful garden seem to go on forever).

It also could be regarded as far too dark and disturbing for younger viewers, especially the button eyes, which had me wondering how many kids would be suffering from nightmares after viewing this.

It is, by no means, a terrible movie, and has much more going for it than most children's films nowadays. It's good, just not great.

Angels And Demons: Review

Robert Langdon is back! I thought you'd be all excited about that. Yes, Tom hanks returns as the Professor from The Da Vinci Code in another action-packed, thrill-a-minute roller coaster adventure (I am being sarcastic, of course). This time round, he is bought in by the Vatican to help stop the death of four cardinals and the destruction of the Papal city after a threat is made by an ancient religious sect. Sounds thrilling enough? Well it isn't.

Ron Howard's sequel(?) based on Dan Brown's first book is brimming with religious and artistic techno-babble, as clues are marked out in order for the Professor to find the cardinals before they are killed. the trouble is, everything is so conveniently laid out. For example, a scene in which Hanks and scientist Ayelet Zurer look for a statue about air, and they just so happen to be standing on something similar, so it must be on the floor.

There are so many pit-falls, it's hard to actually know where to start. The direction is workmanlike and moves along at a leisurely pace, with long scenes of explanatory dialogue thrown in for good measure, usually in a pretty setting. The thrills aren't there, where we should be on the edge of our seats, and as for the ending...well, after sitting through one of the stupidest sequences known to man, we are then given another 25 minutes where the true ending lies.

Hanks, looking intelligent but frowning a lot, is fine but the material he is working with is laughable. once again, like the previous movie, the dialogue left me sniggering, and you sometimes wondered how this ever got green lighted with lines like: It's an explosive device called...Antimatter!

Drab, dull, uninvolved and just plain silly, this must rank as one of the worse movies of the year, and even though it is better than The Da Vinci Code, (only just), it surely couldn't have got worse.

Star Trek: Review

I am always slightly worried when a previous past success gets a 're-invention', as they like to call it in Hollywoodland. Some work, like Batman and others don't, like Wolverine (although that is more a prequel). So entering into a 'how it all began' with Star Trek was both exciting and yet nerve-wrecking. Years of watching the TV show as a child (although not obsessively) and having followed all the movies, could this possibly match the days of Shatner, Nimoy and co? A hefty chance for producer/director J.J. Abrams, especially with something that has the most loyal fans of all. Well I am happy to say that it works, and works very well indeed.

The film throws us into the action almost immediately and doesn't stop for the full 2 hours of its run. We find out about how James T. Kirk came into being, and how the rebel rose through the ranks at Starfleet command. We see the difficulties Spock had being part human, part Vulcan. We see the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on their very first mission, and even though they are not the familiar faces that many were bought up with, these are the characters that we know and love.

Chris Pine makes for a decent Kirk, with his boyish good looks, while Zachary Quinto could have been Lenoard Nimoy's son, he looks and acts so much like him. The rest of the cast fit into the crew very nicely, and if there was a weak spot, then Simon Pegg would be it, even though he is fine, he is given the comic buffoon role as Scotty and it doesn't quite sit right. Having said that, there are elements of nicely placed comedy within a complex yet intriguing plot that is both exciting and suspense-filled, and you genuinely feel that Arbams has got it all right, even when the original films didn't. This is like watching an expended, more expensive episode of the show.

The special effects are incredible, the pace is unstoppable and it's all nicely coated with a huge dollop of fun, and if I may be so bold, this is the best Star Trek movie since The Wrath Of Khan. So grab yourself a huge bag of popcorn and a drink and spend two hours being taken on the best space adventure since Serenity. And I cannot wait for the next film.

Now this is what I call a summer blockbuster!

X Men Origins: Wolverine: Review

So the first of the Summer blockbusters is upon us and usually you can take the first as a benchmark to what the rest of the summer is to offer, and, unfortunately, it looks like a disappointing summer ahead (let's hope not).

X Men Origins: Wolverine follows the same path as Casino Royale and Batman Begins by taking us back to how Wolverine became the mutant he is. Hugh Jackman dons the shiny claws once more as he and brother Liev Schriber battle together through history and wars until teaming up with a platoon of other mutants with their commander Danny Huston. A decision to leave the group after a possible act he doesn't agree with, and Wolverine moves to the mountains with his school teacher partner, until his fellow team are being killed and Wolverine wants to find out who is behind it.

The problem with the film is that it's not very exciting. It's is very repetitive, as we see brother against brother in different locations, knowing that neither can be destroyed due to their indestructibility. The set pieces, apart from the helicopter/motorcycle chase, aren't very impressive either.

Hugh Jackman, growling and flexing his muscles, is fine but he isn't given anything to really get his teeth into, and everyone else seems to be going through the motions. Only Ryan Reynolds, in a cameo role, gets to have the most interesting character, and there is far too little of him. There are plenty of plot holes and actions that don't make sense (like, for example, how can they make Wolverine indestructible when he is already indestructible?) The whole thing is too downbeat and there is very little humour to lighten the load

This will probably keep fan boys happy but the general public or fans of Bryan Singer's original two X-Men movies will be wanting more, and those who enjoyed Watchmen, craving for something similar, will shake their heads at such a lacklustre affair.

In The Loop: Review

Political satire is one of the hardest things to get the balance right. It's either too intellectually challenging or just downright stupid. Amando Iannucci, the king of British political satire, knows exactly how to handle it, and with this big screen version of The Thick Of It, he hits the nail on the head square on.

The plot to this hilarious comedy is so complex that I won't bore you with it here, just to say a dim-witted MP gets into a whole host of trouble when he announces he is favour of war, and it is up to spin doctor supremo Malcolm Tayler to get him and the government out of it.

The reason you should see it, is because this is the funniest, sharpest, most intelligent comedy to hit the screen in years. Biting enough to make it scarily real and funny enough for you to forget about the problems of the outside world.

The performances are pitch-perfect. Gina McKee is both funny and smart, while new kid Chris Addison is great as the over-excitable new boy who makes some fatal mistakes. Nice to see Anna Chlumsky back on the screen (she of My Girl fame) all grown up, and James Gandolfini plays away from stereotype as a US General who doesn't want a war.

The film, however, belongs to three men. Amando Innaccui, who directs with the documentary style that doesn't distract from the cracking script; Tom Hollander as the woefully inept MP, who bumbles through the film with great aplomb; and Peter Calpaldi, who as spin doctor Malcolm Taylor, has created one of the most memorable characters to hit our screens. His foul-mouthed attacks are both brutal and hilarious, just every form of bad language in the book and some that haven't even been invented yet. A tour-de-force in both energy and attack, he raises the bar every time he is on screen.

If you want a great laugh, then you could no wrong than go and see this fantastic film that will have you aching. And remember kids, swearing isn't big and it isn't clever, but in the hands of Peter Capaldi, it is hysterical.

Watchmen: Review

Before I start, I am not a fan boy of the book and I only read it once, many, many years ago, so entering into the Watchmen world is like enterting into a complete new world. Critics have stated that it may confuse those who haven't experienced them before. I tend to disagree.

The film is 160 mins long, but it didn't bore me once. the plot is so intricate and loaded that you aren't given the opportunity, as you follow the whodunit along with the layered character studies of each of the heroes.

A Wise decision too to cast the film with character actors and not big name stars, each bringing something very different to the film, making it all the more fascinating. If I may be so bold to say this, but if Heath Ledger can win bundles of awards for his portrayal of The Joker, then Jackie Earle Haley should get the chance too, with a striking performance as the slightly psychotic Rorshach.

While everyone raved about The Dark Knight last year, I am going to rave about this, a far tighter and darker movie than the Batman film. TDK had a flabby middle section that slowed the pacing down to almost stop, this, however, doesn't and while I looked at my watch several times during TDK, I didn't once take a sneaky peak during this.

A piece of advice: if you don't like your violence graphic, and get screamish at blood and guts, then be warned. Director Zack Snyder shows it all. If you want an action film that looks great and has more than just a flat storyline, then my advice is run to see this. (And Malin Akerman gets my vote for the sexy superhero of all time).

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Review

Woody Allen's career recently has been up and down. Moving his attentions from New York to London has only been half successful. Match Point was great, Scoop didn't even get released in the UK (even though it was part financed by the BBC) and Cassandra's Dream was an out-and-out disaster. So Allen has now moved to Spain and has got back to what he does best...dealing the the neurosis of relationships.

Vicky and Cristina, two American friends, go to Barcelona and immediately find themselves involved in an artist who wants to take them away for the weekend and sleep with both of them. There starts a bumping relationship which includes guilt, acceptance and throw in the mix an insane ex wife, and the pot almost boils over.

If you believe the British press, you will be told this is hilarious. it is not. Instead, Allen has created an interesting examination of love and how you never do find what you are looking for. As always, his script is both intelligent and genuinely witty without too many belly laughs. The performances are also faultless.

Scarlett Johannson is given the safe role and it doesn't exactly stretch her; Javier Bardem is perfectly smoldering as the artist, but it is Rebecca Hall as the emotionally confused Vicky who comes off best, with a performance of great depth, while Penelope Cruz gets the chance to scream and shout and is the film's most bizarre character.

If you are not a fan of Allen, then you might find this all a little heavy, but it is ten times better than any of the usual rom-coms that Hollywood produces, because it is believable and has none of that fairy-tale clap-trap.Oh, and let's not forget the kiss between Johannson and Cruz...worth any one's money.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button: Review

 am always dubious when a film has everyone lavishing award nominations on it and critics are gushing over it. I always feel that it is never going to reach the expectations that you think. I am happy to report, however, that this isn't the case.

Benjamin Button is a beautifully shot, completely understated movie that for all of its running time, which is close to three hours, will captivate you and take you along. Similar to Forrest Gump in the fact that this is a man's journey through his life, it does have a touching, sweet and ultimately, doomed love story to take it along.

Brad Pitt, who over the years has taken on some quite interesting characters, once again proves he is more than a pretty face and media darling, with a nicely pitch performance that you can't help but be swept along with. Adding to it is the always wonderful Cate Blanchett, who once again proves that she is one of the finest screen actresses around, and with a part that is not as showy as Pitt's, still grabs you and the pair make for a lovely screen couple that you can't help but fall in love with, just like they do.

The real star of the film, however, isn't even on the screen. It is director David Fincher. None of his previous works could ever ready you for this. The man that gave us Fight Club and Zodiac has produced one of the finest love stories in recent time. It is shot with care and attention, and handled gently, letting this truly delightful story play out without once ever going over the top. A triumph.


A note to the film distributors: I know it's awards season and you want everyone to see the films that are up against each other, but couldn't you not stagger them more? So many are being missed (three big, quality movies out this week!) that audiences looking for great movie entertainment cannot afford to see all of them. I am sure they must be losing money on them too.

Milk: Review

Sean Penn has always been an acquired taste for some. There is no denying he is a great actor, but he can come across as being far too intense for some. Well at last he is given a role that not only shows his acting skills, but is without doubt his most rounded and his most human.

Harvey Milk has always had to deal with prejudice, and at the beginning of the 70s, he heads off with his boyfriend, to San Francisco to start afresh. Opening a camera store on Castro Street, it becomes clear that Milk is a figure that the homosexual community looks to for answers as to why they are being beaten by the police and treated with disrespect by the heterosexuals. Milk decides to run for office, and after several failed attempts, finally became the first openly gay officer in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, where his work really begins.

Based on the real life story of Harvey Milk, Gus Van Sant's passionate film mixes archive footage of the time with a strong cast acting their socks off, but none get close to Penn's stellar performance. The film is not only a fine work of art but an important examination of a man determined to change the way people saw what was regarded almost as an alien race.

The film is slightly overlong, but that shouldn't put you off. What you get is an amazingly positive film and one of Van Sant's most upbeat films in year, and if you only go to see Penn, it is well worth it.

The Wrestler: Review

Wrestling has always made me feeling slightly cold. Is it a sport? Is it a show? Is it both? Darren Aronofsky's film, his most accessible, goes one step closer to explaining the phenomenon, but at the same time has brought back to the screen an actor who has been away far too long, and he is the reason this film works so well.

Mickey Rourke plays a fading, aging star of the 80s who is hanging on past dreams and triumphs, but when he is struck down with a heart attack, he has to re-evaluate his life and he has to redeem himself, particularly to his daughter who hates him, while at the same time wanting more than just a lap dance from stripper Marisa Tomei.

Rourke is a towering presence in this film, having to deal with the emotions of a man who cannot find a way out of his failing life. What makes him so believable is the quietness. he never goes into shouting and screaming, like most wrestlers would, he underplays every scene and that makes it even more heartbreaking. Marisa Tomei has, in my mind, been wasted in small cameos but here she is allowed to shine once more and is perfectly suited opposite Rourke.

Aronofsky handles the material in a documentary style, and this works well, and including some quite surprisingly funny moments. While there isn't the beauty of The Fountain, he manages to convey the downbeat mood well, but leaves most of the work to Rourke.

If you want to see acting at its finest, then this is for you.

Slumdog Millionaire: Review

Every once in a while a film comes along that picks you up, shakes every emotion out of your body and drops you only to do it all over again. Slumdog Millionaire is one such film. Released among the Oscar contenders and acting giants of Streep, Winslet and Mickey Rourke, this is a feast for all the senses, and quite possibly the most romantic movie I have ever seen.

Not wanting to give too much away, the film is told in flashback, as we follow a teenage Indian boy who has become a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and has got further than anyone before him, to the horror or host Anil Kapoor, and we see him being brutally interrogated by the police, explaining how he managed to get the answers right, all the while thinking about his one true love, the stunning Freida Pinto.

Danny Boyle's film is a masterpiece of capturing the essence of a city. He is excited by it, from the colour and vibrancy to the darker side, the violence and brutality, and it is this city that is just as important as the other main characters. Dev Patel, who was last seen in Channel 4's Skins, is a revelation, giving a performance of such maturity that you forget he is acting.

This isn't an easy journey, the film is littered with some quite shocking scenes, but by the end you are so full of joy and happiness. But it is a journey that is well worth taking and one that will stay for a very long time after. Sublime!

Yes Man: Review

Maybe its me, but has Jim Carrey given up? It came across that he was looking particularly bored with doing comedy. And if it wasn't for the saving grace of Zooey Deschanel, who is both lovely to look at and slightly quirky, I think I would have been bored too.

The premise, based on Danny Wallace's far superior book (and trust me...read that, and don't bother with the film) is a man whose life is going nowhere decides, after visiting guru Terence Stamp, to start saying yes to everything, thinking it will change his life. Of course it has its ups and downs, until he meets Deschanel, and loves starts getting in the way of his Yes plans.

There are some moments that made me laugh out loud, but when you compare it to, say, Liar Liar or Bruce Almighty, this is woefully thin. It takes a long time to get going and when it does, the yeses aren't half as interesting as they should be.

The main problem is the script isn't strong enough, and Carrey is starting to look a little old for the clowning around, and unless someone can come up with something as good as some of Carrey's earlier stuff, maybe it's time for him to hang up his goofiness and go for more curious films like The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine.

Changeling: Review

I know that this review maybe the most bias thing you will read, but I have to say that Clint Eastwood should be hailed as the greatest living director, for he has produced a film of such power and emotion in the most subtle way going.

Angelina Jolie plays a woman in the 20s, whose son disappears. Five months later, and the LA Police department claim to have found him, but the boy is definitely not hers, and so not to look ridiculous in the sight of the public, the police turn of Jolie, to the extent of locking her away in an institute for the insane.

I won't give too much else away as this has layer after layer of subplots, only to say that 2 hours and 20 minutes fly by, as you are caught by the masterful storytelling. John Malkovich gets to throw his weight around as an avenging preacher who takes up the woman's case, but the film belongs to two people: Jolie and Eastwood.

Jolie is astounding, giving the performance of her career, and showing such emotional depth, and even when she is called upon to lose the plot, she does it with such conviction it grabs every heart string and pulls with all its might. if she doesn't walk away with the Oscar this year, there is no justice in the world.

Eastwood, at the young age of 78, has delivered another storming movie. His direction is crisp yet underplayed and he never allows flashy camerawork to interfere with the story, letting his actors do the work, and they are all magnificent. With beautiful music, composed by himself, nothing in the film is out of place the pace moving along brilliantly without rushing a single scene.

Truly, and without argument, the film of the year.

Quantum Of Solace: Review

Within seconds of the studio idents dissolving into black, we are thrown head-first in a violent car chase down the narrow mountain roads of Italy. And from that moment on, the film is relentless in its high-octane action set pieces, leaving very little breath in between.

Daniel Craig has setting in nicely as the more serious Bond, although you can help but think that he needs a sense of humour to make him 100% human, instead of constantly being battered and bloodied all the time. It's nice to see Dame Judi Dench getting a larger slice of the pie this time, as she adds some class to the proceedings.

Plot wise, it's very hard to follow, and while Casino Royale took its time to set the storyline up and get us use to this new Bond, here it doesn't give us a second to take in the information, then Bond is back beating someone up or hopping around like a demented flea.

If you like your action non-stop then this is definitely for you, and not saying this is a bad thing, but do we want Bond to follow the same pattern as Bourne? He is unique and has always been there as a form of escapism. This is too raw for that. Still, it's good to have him back, and I hope that next time, he will return on tip-top form with a smile occasionally.

Righteous Kill: Review

How could you honestly go wrong? The biggest acting names in modern cinema sharing screen time is enough to send any movie fan into film heaven, and especially when they shared one scene in Heat. I couldn't wait. Wish, now that I hadn't had been so excited.

To me, this was like getting the two biggest singing stars in the world, and joining them to perform Agadoo. A total waste of time. Sorry, a slight exaggeration. There are moments when De Niro and Pacino banter that makes you smile, makes you think, yes, there they are, up there together, where they should be. But they are let down by the most predictable plot ever, with a twist you can see within the first few minutes, and the most uninspiring direction ever. I felt cheated. Even the supporting cast, and a strong cast they are too, are only really there for scenery to the giants. And yet where were the big scenes, the parts in which De Niro and Pacino try to out act each other? I wanted performances, not just going through the motions, and that's what it felt like.

I hope that if another director decides to get Robert and Al together again, that they have the respect of giving them a stronger script, with meatier characters and the opportunity for them to show the world what they have been doing for years, apart.

The House Bunny: Review

Don't you love going into a movie with very low expectations, and coming out thinking that it wasn't as painful as you first thought? Well that's what happened with The House Bunny, a typical, by-the-book comedy with the added bonus of a very funny performance from Anna Faris.

Faris plays a playboy bunny who believes she has been told to leave the Manson because she is too old. Homeless, she ends up at a college sorority filled with girls who are regarded as losers. She becomes their house mother and is determined to turn things around for her new friends.

The script is predictable, and the direction is routine, and yet I found myself laughing out several times, mainly at Faris' surprisingly likeable Shelley. Emma Stone (from Superbad) shows plenty of promise, but this is Faris' chance to shine, and with a far better script, she could be the new Queen of Comedy, as her timing is excellent.

Is it the best comedy of the year? No. But it certainly will bring a smile, if you can get over the join-the-dot script.

Tropic Thunder: Review

Ah, remember the days when political correctness wasn't an in word, and you could say almost anything without fear of being slapped down by some do-gooder? Well, we get a chance to relive those days with a film that could easily offend almost everyone. And what great fun it is too.

A group of ego-driven actors are messing up a big budget war flick, so the director (Steve Coogan) is driven to take his five leads into the jungle and put them into an almost real situation, not realising that a group of opium makers are in there, and they believe the actors to be Drug Law Enforcers, making the mission even more real.

Bill Stiller (who co-wrote and directed this) has come up with his best film since Zoolander, and outrageous pop at Hollywood and actors as well as a poke to the side of Rambo and a host of other Vietnam war flicks. And while his part is fine, Jack Black as a comic actor with a drug problem, seems wildly underwritten, and he isn't given the opportunity to shine. On the other hand, Robert Downey Jr is the saving grace. Playing an Australian multi-Oscar winner who immerses himself so much in his roles, that he has surgery to make him a black man, is hilarious. Believing himself to be black, he is ridiculed by the real black actor in the film.

Add into the pot a funny cameo from Tom Cruise, and you have one of the funniest comedies this year. And unless you really understand Hollywood, you may miss the joke, but it's worth seeing just for Downey Jr alone, who at last has his career back on track. Good for you, Robert.

Death Race: Review

When I first heard about a remake of the cult classic 1975 Death Race 2000, I thought #Here we go again...another movie to be destroyed by a modern update. When I heard that Paul W.S. Anderson was involved, my heart sank. See, Mr Anderson, the man responsible for Resident Evil and Alien Vs Predator hasn't had the most perfect track record. Well I have to say, I am eating my words now, because he hasn't done a bad job with this.

Jason Statham (using his own accent for a change) is jailed for murdering his wife...only he didn't. He's an ex-racing car driver, and the warden (the always excellent Joan Allen) persuades him to take part in her little creation, Death Race, in which inmates race in souped-up cars in the attempt to win and hopefully be released. Of course things are never that simple, with Statham having to take on the persona of Frankenstein, the greatest driver around, and his main rival, Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) wants him dead.

This film doesn't rely to heavily on the complex plotting. in fact, you tend to forget about storyline as soon as they step into the cars and all hell breaks loose, which it does. Explosions, smoking wheels, and the occasional bloody death all mount up and you realise that this, even though totally rubbishy flick, is going to be a smash with the boys. loud rock music, slow motion shots of half dressed women, and some of the nuttiest stunts around, and yet you get caught up in the carnage.

It won't win any Oscars, but it's one of the best popcorn flicks in a long time.

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth: Review

I am lucky enough to have be brought up in the 70s when a series of British movies were made starring Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot; The People That Time Forgot and At The Earth's Core). They were filled with cheap special effects and some of the worse acting ever, and yet are remembered fondly. This follows the same lines as those now classic movies, but lacks the tongue-in-cheek sense of fun that Doug and the cast had.

Brendan Fraser stars as a scientist who finds a copy of Jules Verne's novel that belonged to his dead brother. With his nephew in tow, they head to Iceland to find out what happened to him, pick up a very nice looking guide and find themselves in the centre of the earth where a new world is discovered, along with giant man-eating plants and a T-Rex on the rampage, as well as a series of other dangers.

That is the plot. They enter the new world, and have to find their way out, and all done in 3D, so you sit in the cinema with those glasses on and a variety of items are flung at you. And that's the only reason I have given it three stars. Without the added third dimension, this would have been a pretty dull affair without any campness or knowing winks to the audience that this is nonsense, and everyone knows it, like Mr McClure use to do.

Good that they are trying to go back to that silly, hidden world movies and some of the 3D works really well, but if you are watching this in 2D, you may not have half the fun.

Mamma Mia: Review

After last summer's musical success Hairspray, comes another stage show to hit the screen.

Based around the songs of Swedish super group ABBA, the story centres on a young girl living on a Greek island, about to be married and wanting her father there. Unfortunately, she doesn't know who her father is, and could be three very different men, so she invites them all, hoping to get answers.

Firstly, the minus points. The plot is a little thin and does get lost among the tunes, as do character. The men (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Dominic Cooper) are badly underwritten and sometimes are left with nothing much to do but stand around. Some of the songs struggle to fit with the action, and I won't even go into the slightly embarrassing break between the two finale songs.

On the plus sides, there's Meryl Streep, who once again proves that no matter what is thrown at her, she cope admirably, and her singing in extremely good. And it's nice to see her having fun. The teaming of her with Julie Walters and Christine Baranski is inspired and they light up the screen whenever they are on together. The bigger numbers (Dancing Queen, Super Trooper) are brilliantly staged and just lifts the proceedings along.

It's not a perfect movie by any means, but its certainly is an entertaining one, and you will leave with a spring in your step and smile on your face.