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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Super 8: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Mr Popper's Penguins: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Horrible Bosses: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 15 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 1 July 2011

Larry Crowne: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bridesmaids: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Green Lantern: Review

DC Comics have always been behind Marvel when it comes to making movies of their characters. With only two really big money-makers, Batman and Superman, they need to come up with a new hero from their back catalogue to bring in the bucks and so they bring us The Green Lantern. Trouble is, someone forgot to tell them that to bring in the money you've got to make a really good superhero movie.

I will try my best to explain the plot: Somewhere in the universe are a group of alien creatures who form the Green Lantern Corps. Out to protect the whole universe from evil and to be fearless. One of their kind battles against a giant blob like creature that finds fear and sucks the life out of the fearful. Injured, the hero goes off to find a replacement. He lands on Earth and the ring that all Green Lanterns have, selects Hal Jordan, a maverick, reckless fighter pilot. Now with the powers of The Green Lantern, being able to fly and to conjure up objects from his imagination, he must help in stopping the blob-like creature from killing all the fellow lanterns as well as the Earth.

This is the massive problem with this film. We don't know enough about the Green Lantern (unless you are a real comic-book fan-boy). We know about Superman and Batman so we don't need long explanations as to where they come from or how they became heroes. The Green Lantern, has such a complex background that we have to spend the first 45/50 minutes of the film being told about the Corp and who Hal is and what the Green Lantern can do, then we are given several sub-plots to play around with, as if we don't have enough on our plate.

To be perfectly honest, he is not the most exciting of superheroes either. So he can fly; so can Superman. So he can create objects using his mind; so can Professor X (sort of) from the X-Men. So he's green: so is The Hulk! Try as he might, Ryan Reynolds, who was so good in the excellent Buried, is a likeable enough actor but here he has to balance being a cocky show-off with being mister nice-guy and he cannot pull it off.

Then there's the over plotted sub-plots involving brand new fighter planes, the brainy son of a senator who gets alien blood inside him to turn him bad, the relationship between Hal and Blake Lively as the daughter of the creator of the new at a time please!

Director Martin Campbell, who we know can deliver excellent action movies (see Goldeneye and The Mask of Zorro for examples) seems to have decided to slowly develop the characters so we can help understand the complicated storyline but instead of helping, it makes the whole thing drag. At under two hours, this felt like it was never going to end. And of course to make matters's in 3D!

With so many superhero movies coming out, the film makers needed to just go and see Thor, or X Men: First Class, or rent Iron Man to see how to make a really good adaptation. Instead, someone must have made them watch Daredevil, Ghost Rider and The Punisher (the Dolph Lungdren version). Very poor indeed.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Bad Teacher: Review

Cameron Diaz hasn't exactly ignited the box office of late. Shrek Forever After aside, her two previous films, the so-so The Green Hornet and the undervalued Knight and Day both bombed at the box office, so she needs a hit. Bad Teacher could be the film that does it for her.

Elizabeth isn't very good at her job as a teacher, in fact she hates it and is just close enough to leave and marry a wealthy man until he dumps her and she is back in the profession she despises. Making her class watch movies about teaching while she nurses a hangover, she feels there is no escape, until a new supply teacher arrives, the son of a rich watch making family. Dumped by his previous girlfriend, Elizabeth knows exactly how to win him getting larger breasts. However, with lack of funds, she is willing to cheat and steal to get the cash, although fellow teacher and goody-two-shoes Amy Squirrel has other ideas.

This is a role that Ms Diaz absolutely relishes and really gets to prove what a comic talent she is. Her foul-mouthed, debauched approach to life is perfectly pitched and she looks like she is back to winning ways again. Ably supported by a terrific cast, including a surprisingly good turn from Cameron Diaz's ex, Justin Timberlake, playing against type as the geeky new teacher; British actress Lucy Punch going for the award of most over-the-top comedic performance by any actress as Miss Squirrel and the star turn from American Office support Phyllis Smith, who is hilarious as a mousy teacher who is willing to follow whatever Elizabeth says but only to a point. More screen time from her would have been a bonus.

Only Jason Segel, as the gym teacher who is besotted by Elizabeth, lacks a from any real punch, mainly because it seem very underwritten.

While the film has some very funny moments, it is all a little bit too bitty, as if a series of sketches had been written for the same characters and then stitched together as one film. It also has some of the most bizarre editing. One stand-out moment is when Ms Diaz and Mr Timberlake suddenly are enjoying each others company in a hotel room but without no build-up and explanation, and it seems solely there for a gross-out gag and slight plot development.

The other problem is that it doesn't seem bad enough. Cameron's character is foul-mouthed and she is a drug taker and drinker but it doesn't seem to go far enough. You really want her to be as vile as humanly possible, like Billy Bob Thornton was in Bad Santa (no relation) and yet it seems to go so far and then pulls back.

What it does have, however, is a strange charm about it and quite old-fashioned in its values. Just when you think Elizabeth is going to be very bad, she redeems herself with an act of kindness and charity, which does make

So not the greatest comedy ever but it has its moments and the performances are good enough for you to stay for the whole length and maybe, on the strength of this performance, Cameron Diaz might get better roles to put her back on top again.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2: Review

Before I start, I wasn't a huge fan of the first film. I saw it on a plane to America and while it engaged for a couple of hours but was very quickly forgotten. It was one of the biggest animated movies around and so a sequel was inevitable. This time in 3D (Oh brother!) But kind of works.

Po, the big clumsy panda has now been accepted as part of the Furious Five but cannot find inner peace, especially when he longs to discover where he actually came for. While tackling with his past, he and the gang must take on a deadly peacock that has created a weapon to stop kung fu and wants to rule China.

This is a much better effort than the first film. More action, more depth of characters and more gags that the adults can enjoy and the kids can look puzzled over. The overall animation is much better too, mixing the original style with Chinese and even cell animation (for Po's identity crisis scenes).

Dreamworks have also employed some of the biggest names to supply their voices. Jack Black has found his niche voicing the panda. He is goofy enough but also a touch of childish innocence that makes Po so likeable as a character. Angelina Jolie also returns as the fighting tiger and Dustin Hoffman's role is reduced but just as significant as Po's mentor. Added to the mix is Gary Oldman as the bad peacock and if you listen very carefully you might even hear Jean Claude Van Damme as well.

The film is let down slightly but the frantic fight sequences, which do get a little confusing and the overall plotting is very simplistic but we are not going into a territory of Shakespearean plotting for a family film (whoops, forgot about Gnomeo and Juliet).

Overall this is a fun and frantic romp with plenty of flashes and colour to keep the very young happy and plenty of nudge nudge and pop reference gags for the tagging along adults. The bonus is that the 3D here actually works. We get to see depth for a change and some of the objects do come out at you (still not enough but it's a start).

If you are looking for something undemanding but will keep the kids happy over the next few weeks, this does the job just perfectly.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Senna: Review

May 1st 1994 and it was a usual Sunday afternoon ritual in my household to sit down for dinner and watch the Formula 1 race. It was coming from Imola and it was a race that already had seen the death of one driver during the practice runs and a serious accident for another driver. Little did we know that we were going to witness the death of a legend, as Ayrton Senna, the triple time World Champion, hit the wall and was killed.

Now, film maker Asif Kapadia has put together a fascinating examination of a man who lived, breathed and, ultimately died for the sport he loved. Using archive footage and unseen family films, this follows from his humble days go-karting, which he loved being involved in (an admission he makes) to his first impressive début into the sport of motor racing, driving a car that shouldn't have done anything against the might of the big companies, to forming the super team alongside the then World Champion Alain Prost, which would turn into a very bitter rivalry.

What does become apparent is how much he was respected in Brazil, his home country. In a time of great depression and poverty, they took Senna to their heart and he paid them back, becoming a hero in some of their eyes.

The film doesn't paint Senna in a bad light (this probably because of his family's heavy involvement) but he was a legend and it was kind of refreshing not to have too much information about his private life, just on what made him a star. And a star he was. Completely fearless, both on the track and off, he battled with Prost as well as the politics of the sport, never really mincing his words when he needed to.

The other thing that works is we don't have loads of talking heads, but voice-overs while we watch selected and important moments during his racing career as well as news footage chronicling his rise to becoming World Champion and the most influential driver of his time.

As you can imaging, I am a huge Formula 1 fan and so this film is right up my alley but it is far more than just a film for petrol heads. It's about a man who followed his dream and made them come true. It's about passion, belief (he was hugely religious) and a longing to succeed.

This is the second documentary I have seen in a week (the other being Life In A Day...more next week) and so far both films have made it into my top ten of the year. Interesting, inspirational and surprisingly moving. If you like Grand Prix, you will love it. If you don't, you will still love it.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

X-Men: First Class: Review

The X-Men, Marvel's masterpiece in most comic book fans eyes, have had a very bumpy journey on the big screen. Bryan Singer almost got it right with the first film and then managed to make an even better sequel with X2 but handled the reins over to Brett Ratner for X-Men: The Last Stand, which was flashy but lacking in substance. The final nail in the coffin was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which, quite frankly was the worst comic book adaptation yet. So can Matthew Vaughn, then man responsible for Kiss Ass, bring the series back to life? The answer is undoubtedly yes!

Set in the 60s, the film follows the beginnings of the X-Men. Charles Xavier has just become a Professor of mutants when he is asked to help the CIA, who have stumbled on a plot to start World War III. led by evil Sebastian Shaw, who has surrounded himself with mutants. In an operation to stop Shaw, Xavier saves the life of Erik Lehnsherr, a man after Shaw for revenge of his treatment during the World War II, where his mother was killed in front of him by Shaw, who at the time was a doctor in a concentration camp. The men team up and bring together a group of mutants in order to stop the forced war and the Cuban Missile crisis.

The first smart move is to not follow on from X-Men: The Last Stand but to start all over with a prequel as such. So no Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen. Instead we have James McAvoy as Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik. This is the first master stroke. The two actors take their roles very seriously. McAvoy the more lighter of the two, finds the perfect blend of serious and comic while Fassbender could quite easily be the new James Bond, an ultra cool presence with a violent undercurrent.

Master stroke two is the casting of Kevin Bacon as the baddie. Bacon, in my books, is one of Hollywood's most underrated actors and here he is allowed to shine but is almost out-shadowed by the gorgeous January jones as his side-kick, Emma Frost, who not only looks good in almost every scene but has a presence on screen that is almost bewitching. She is most definitely one to watch (in more ways than one).

The film takes its time to develop characters and relationships which also works. We don't get long, unnecessary action sequences but we get to learn about each of the characters. Erik's past and his search for Shaw is played out nicely with a couple of globe-trotting scenes where he speaks German, Spanish and English. Xavier's relationship with Mystique (nicely played by another one to watch, Jennifer Lawrence, last seen in the brilliant Winter's Bone).

The costumes and period feel of the 60s makes it look and feel like a lost Bond film from Connery's time. In fact the whole Cold War storyline could quite easily be an assignment for 007. This builds to a superb finale with involves the reason why Xavier ends up in a wheelchair and how Magneto came into being.

So often Summer blockbusters tend to be flashy, empty and somewhat disappointing. So far only Thor has come close to being satisfying. Now we have a new ruler. This is smart, intelligent, sometimes very funny (with a brilliant surprise cameo that gets the biggest laugh) and very cool movie. I'd be very hard pushed to find a better film this summer and if you are a fan of the X-Men, you will not be disappointed. Vaughn has finally got the mutants right.  This is is rightly titled. It is certainly First Class.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Life In A Day: Review

Last July, Oscar winning film makers Ridley Scott and Kevin McDonald put out an advert across the world, wanting people to film their lives on one day (July 24th). They received 80,000 submissions and had to go through 4,500 hours of footage to put together this remarkable film.

Essentially it is the world in one day, proving that even if you don't think your life is that interesting, somewhere something incredible is happening, whether it be a birth, a death, a love affair, a job, a mission. Something is happening, and this film allows you to celebrate life, no matter how insignificant it can be.

I don't really want to give to much away as it will spoil possibly one of the most fascinating experiences I have had in the cinema. We start in the middle of the night and we go through a whole day, getting up, breakfast, washing and preparing ourselves, lunch, dinner until back to bed. These are shown in little clips, vignette and sometimes extended scenes.

There's the man trying to get his son ready for the day, which starts off as a simple daily ritual but becomes something else; the woman who is ill and conveying that to her little boy; the women of Africa beating out corn while we see others and their lunch time activities.

This is a film that is not only interesting to watch but will hit every emotion you can imagine. It is sometimes very funny, sometimes very sad (a few times I was fighting back the tears) sometimes shocking (be prepared if you are an animal lover for a couple of shocking moments) but time and time again you are drawn into the stories of these ordinary people.

It works because of this fact. These are not actors and they aren't working from a script. This is their lives, warts and all, and it's to the credit of McDonald and Scott that they are left unedited. Massive kudos must go to editor Joe Walker, who edited it all together and gets it absolutely right. The pace, the links, everything is near perfect film making.

I cannot rave about this film more. if you think that you are having it tough, then go and see this remarkable film. You will think about your own life in a very different way. Incredible stuff.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Hangover: Part II: Review

So you have one of the biggest sleepers of the summer of 2009, you make a huge profit at the box office with a comedy that is original, clever, witty and very funny. You make the studio who produce your film so happy, they slap a handful of more money to make a sequel. So you change the setting and put the same loveable characters into the exact same situation again, only this time you remove the originality, cleverness, wittiness and any redeemable laughs. Thus you have The Hangover Part II, an example of how not to make a sequel.

Stu, the dentist, is getting married to a beautiful woman in Thailand. He and his buddies, super smooth Phil, previous groom Doug and unwanted party crasher Alan head down to the beach with the bride's younger brother, Teddy, for a beer. They wake up in a strange hotel room. Doug is at the hotel having breakfast wondering where his friends went to. They don't have a clue. They also don't have Teddy. They once again have to put the pieces together of the night before in order to find the missing young man.

Yes, it is the same plot and this is the film's downfall. The first film took an interesting concept of a drunken stag night and threw in a whole host of clues that the gang had to put together. They do exactly the same thing here so all the surprises you got in movie one have gone completely. So have all the characters likeability.

Bradley Cooper, who seems to have nothing much to do but look cool, does that fine but that's all he does. Ed Helms as the dentist Stu screeches and screams while Zach Galifanakis has turned Alan into just a complete idiot and while he is the saving grace, he is nothing more than an annoyance. Ken Jeong is given a bigger piece of the pie this time as the drug dealing Mr Chow and he almost steals the film with one hilarious rendition of a 70s soft rock song in a lift that is ruined by the interruption of Alan.

This is another problem. None of the jokes actually work. They all seem desperate and in most cases, the time is completely out. Considering that it is the same team and cast as the original, you would have thought they'd know how to deliver a joke but they think screaming and slapstick are the heart of hilarity. They are not.

One or two scenes work. A tattooist (who was suppose to be Mel Gibson until the cast disagreed) has the funniest line, while the scene where the guys interview an exotic dancer is also a highpoint. Two out a film that last 101 minutes just isn't good enough. It makes it all the more depressing when you know there could be such great comedy in this instead of a lame remake.

This is almost certain to make tons of money at the box office which is a shame because it will then mean we will get a third outing. Really, if you want my advice, get the original and stick with it. You will have far more fun and you'd save some money and hopefully stop the team from making another massive turkey.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Pirates Of The Caribbean - On Stranger Tides: Review

Was it really 2003 when the world first experienced the antics of Captain Jack Sparrow? Possibly one of the most enjoyable times I have had in the cinema, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was a swash-buckling treat. The came the two, over-plotted, over-complicated sequels and the love affair for the Pirate series seem to wane. So when news that a fourth film was heading to our shores, we all got excited, hoping that it would return to form of the first film. What we are given is possibly going to be the biggest disappointments of the year.

The plot involves Jack being hoodwinked by notorious pirate Blackbeard and his second-in-command Angelica (who also happens to be an old flame of Sparrow's) into finding two challises and the tear-drop of a mermaid in order for the legendary Fountain of Youth to work. Also after the same thing is former rival Barbossa, now working for the King of England, and the Spanish but who will get there first?

The plot is literally that paper thin, a chase movie in which to get the goal, they have to get the items. Not too much of a problem. Then  why does it take over two hours to do it?

With such a thin storyline you have to ask yourself what is actually included in the film. There are some very good set pieces. Sparrow's escape from capture by the King and the consequent chase through the streets of London has plenty of charm and invention; a sword fight in a cellar is very reminiscent to the one that Sparrow has in the first film. The best of the set pieces is the terrific mermaid attack (which also is the only scene in which the otherwise pointless 3D actually works). The rest of the film is filled with long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue in which the characters repeat over and over what they are having to achieve, or who is double-crossing who, to the point where the watches are being looked at and hope upon hope that some humour will be injected in an otherwise humourless film.

Adding fresh blood to the proceedings, you would have thought could bring some well needed new dimensions. Alas they don't. Sam Clafin actually makes you yearn for Orlando Bloom and love interest Astrid Berges-Frisbey, pretty as she is, doesn't even come close to Keira Knightley, and I never thought I'd hear myself say that. Ian McShane, as the new villain, isn't bad enough and Penelope Cruz is left with a badly underwritten part, even if she is given some fight sequences.

So it is up to the three left from the previous movies to inject some life. Kevin McNally returns as Jack's confidant Gibbs and is perfectly fine while Geoffrey Rush doesn't seem to even try to bring something new to Barbossa and why should he? Don't fix what ain't broke. The saving grace, once again, is Johnny Depp's Jack, although here it seems, even he is struggling to keep the drunken sailor afloat. He only really comes to life in the final scene, where he is finally given some funny lines to say, the rest of the time it's a pretty straight-laced Jack Sparrow.

New director Rob Marshall, eh man who brought musicals back with Chicago and Dreamgirls, does a good job with the action scenes but just doesn't know how to liven things up in between. With half-hearted special effects not helping, you can now see what a truly wonderful film the first Pirates was. Where did it all go wrong?

It's been a pretty disappointing year in the cinema for box office takings and the studios were looking to this for some added revenue but I think it will do well in it's opening weekend and then plummet once word of mouth starts saying that this is, by far, the worst of the series. A very poor show indeed.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Attack The Block: Review

If we are led to believe, the places that are most dangerous are the inner city council areas of London, so it would seem an almost appropriate place to set Attack The Block, an alien invasion movie where the creatures from another world aren't up against the might of military power but a gang of teenage hoodies.

Samantha is walking home late one night in South London when she is mugged by five teenagers, and is saved from a fate worst by an object falling from the sky. When the gang leader, Moses, investigates, he is attacked by some strange, hairless creature and not wanting to be outdone, follows it to kill it, which he does and drags its dead carcass into the tower block like some trophy, not realising that there are loads more creatures coming down to earth and are descending on the same block, leading the thugs to become reluctant heroes and defend their territory.

Comedy presenter Joe Cornish (he of The Adam and Joe Show) makes his directorial début with this inventive horror comedy that follows in the same footsteps as Shaun of the Dead, taking a well-worn horror genre and giving it a modern spin. Does it work? Like hell it does!

In the beginning you are not quite sure if you should like this nasty thugs who attack an innocent young woman in the street, but Cornish does a very clever thing and turns this around so by the end you kind of feel sympathy for them, especially Moses. While it's not as funny as Shaun, it has some very impressive moments and plenty of shocks to keep horror fans happy.

The performances from the kids are spot-on. For a change, heavy street slang doesn't feel forced or unnatural and even if you sometimes cannot understand an word they are saying (how the American audiences are going to cope will be very interesting), you can still follow the humour in the conversation and you never once feel like these are actors trying to be street thugs. John Boyega is especially good as Moses, a 15-year-old who has a sense of pure menace about him while at the same time you feel kind of feel sorry for him. Jodie Whittaker is good as Samantha and Nick Frost is amusing as the local dope head.

There are some dubious moments and some times when you feel a little uncomfortable but this is a full-on assault which never outstays its welcome and Cornish has the good sense to keep it short and direct. The decision to make the creatures all black apart from the fluorescent razor sharp teeth works well too, so they come at you from the shadows.

This is a fun, roller-coaster ride of a movie and one that uses the parable of the dangers of modern life in the inner cities with alien attacks brilliantly. I would say, Independence day, this is how you do an invasion film. Cracking entertainment, and a superb début from a man who could be a film maker to watch.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hanna: Review

It's not often that I go into a movie and I am surprised. Hanna is one of them films. You go in expecting one thing and you get something much, much more.

Deep in an isolated snowy forest lives Hanna, a young girl who has been brought up by Erik, her father, an ex-CIA agent, who has taught her everything she knows about the world but never experienced it. That is all she really wants, to be allowed out into a world that, to her, is just a fantasy, something that is read from a book. The other thing that Erik has taught her is how to be a killing machine, defending herself with gun, arrow, knife and unarmed. Allowing her wish, Erik lets Hanna go into the world but they are to meet in Berlin. He disappears into the night and she is captured and taken to a hidden bunker by ruthless Intelligence agent Marissa. While in captivity, Hanna discovers a family secret and as she escapes from the compound, she gets to see the world she has missed while running for her life.

A word of warning, If you are going in expecting an all-action thriller, you are going to be bitterly disappointed. this is far better. It is a multi-layed chase film that is reminiscent of the old 70s espionage thrillers like The Eiger Sanction with The Fugitive thrown in.

It's a surprise, first off that the director, Joe Wright, is more known for intelligent dramas like Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and The Soloist. Like Kenneth Braghan last week with Thor, you don't expect a director of Wright's calibre to be handed this but he does an excellent job. He keeps the pace moving swiftly along while still keeping you on the edge of your seat wondering what's going to happen next.

The sound is incredibly loud which works well. you jump at almost everything and so if you do decide to see this gem, and you should, go and see it in a decent cinema with decent sound. It also has the coolest soundtrack around, with The Chemical Brothers delivering a thumping score that helps push along the cracking set pieces.

Then there are the performances. Eric Bana, donning a sometimes dodgy accent, is still very good as Erik while Cate Blanchett is as good as always as Marissa. Some solid support too from Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng as a couple of earth people who Hanna hitches a ride with, and Tom Hollander is amusing as a camp psychotic hired to track Hanna down. The film, however, is held together by a brilliant performance from Saoirse Ronan in the title role. Innocence seeing a world she never knew while at the same time the most dangerous thing to hit the screen, Ronan is just magnificent and she manages to act everyone off the screen.

A beautifully shot film that looks more arthouse than mainstream, it also has some very funny moments too that will have you laughing out loud. Hanna has so much to offer, far more than most other movies and even if you don't like action thrillers, you will come out surprised at what it has to offer. A cracking, first-rate film that deserves huge amounts of attention.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Water For Elephants: Review

Being a film critic means having to see films you think aren't going to be very good. Water For Elephants was one such film. I had a dread in my stomach of having to sit through a 2 hour movie with Robert Pattinson in it. However, this isn't all about him and it came as a big surprised that I kind of liked Water For Elephants.

An old man arrives as a circus is about to leave town and refuses to move from their path. He is eventually persuaded to come inside and is asked to tell the story of his life. It is the Depression in America and Jacob is a veterinary student who is about to take his final exam when tragedy strikes and he is left homeless. Wandering aimlessly, he boards a train that just happens to belong to a circus. After convincing the owner, egomaniac August, he is allowed to stay as their own personal vet. He meets Marlena, the star attraction and wife of August but Jacob is immediately attracted to her. When August buys an elephant to pull in the audiences, he puts Jacob in charge of her and his wife to ride the creature, bringing them closer together.

This is a decent, old-fashioned love story that has a feel of old world Hollywood to it. It is beautifully shot and the use of the circus background helps with the framing of the film. Director Francis Lawrence seems a strange choice to direct a depression set romance, considering his previous films, I Am Legend and Constantine, and yet he handles the whole affair well, never making it too slushy to make you sick.

Reese Witherspoon is very easy on the eye but the character doesn't really demand too much from her. She is perfectly adequate as Marlena but she is good enough just to turn up and read the lines and it's made believable. Robert Pattinson is fine, he just doesn't come across as a proper Hollywood leading man. He tries to smoulder but it's all too bland and any emotional depth just isn't there. Occasionally he smiles but it's like he believes that it will make him look more human.

The star turn, however, is Christoph Waltz. Oscar winner from the brilliant Inglorious Basterds, his turn as August is the film's crowning glory. A man who one moment is as nice as pie and in the blink of an eye is the evillest creature around, he captures your attention in every scene and without him, this would certainly have been a duller movie. The other star turn is, of course, Rosie the Elephant, who you can't help but fall in love with and in one scene, you sympathise with the giant animal than any of the humans (and once again, thanks to Waltz's incredible performance, it is a scene that will stick with you long after it has happened).

As love stories go, it is perfectly fine and will keep those looking for something lovely happy. At 2 hours, it is a tad too long but with a terrific sense of period, some well handled set pieces and Waltz, this is a far better experience than anyone would have guessed.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Thor: Review

When it was first announced that Kenneth Branagh, the king of Shakespearean movies, was to direct a film based on a Marvel character, I thought, has the world gone mad? How wrong was I. This is a cracking adventure film helped by top notch performances.

Thor, the son of Odin, is in line to rule the land of Asgard, until an act of arrogance and the threat of war makes his father banish him from his world and sends him, powerless to Earth, along with his weapon, a mighty hammer that is stuck in the ground like Excalibur's sword. While Thor tries to adapt to life as a moral on Earth, his father is dying and Thor's brother Loki, sees this as an opportunity to become King and to stop Thor from ever returning.

This is a magical fantasy film and the first of this year's blockbusters and what a way to start. At over two hours, it zips through quickly, thanks to some very impressive visuals and strong performances from all.

Chris Hemsworth, more famous for his time on Australian soap Home and Away, makes for an impressive leading male as the blonde haired superhero, bringing a sense of charm to a role that could quite easily be one-dimensional. Natalie Portman (who seems to be in every movie this year) is fine as the human love interest Jane. Her role is the most underwritten of them all, as she doesn't get to play anything else but the pretty, brainy girl. Tom Hiddleston gets to play slimy bad as Loki and Anthony Hopkins throws his Shakespearan weight around as Odin, stealing every scene he is in. (Even unconscious he commands the screen).

While those who like their Marvel heroes all action and nothing else might be a little disappointed as there are time for plot development and character building, but this is a very satisfying adaptation and one of Marvel's better films, helped by Branagh making his actors believe everything they say and do, while there are moments of light humour to help things along.

If I do have one complaint, it is a regular one. Why, oh why is this film in 3D? There is absolutely nothing 3D about it and could be compared to Clash of the Titans as the most pointless use for the process. The only time you really notice it is during the credits. So as a word of advice, go and see the 2D version. It is cheaper and probably more entertaining.

With Captain America coming soon, the hopes for The Avengers next year being a cracker is looking good if it can match this super fun movie.

Word of warning: If you do go and see this terrific blockbuster, do not, under any circumstance, leave the cinema till the end credits finish. There is a short scene at the end that is important for the future of Thor (and I'm not giving away anything).

Friday, 22 April 2011

Fast Five: Review

Rev up those engines, the boys of The Fast and The Furious movies are back and this time they brought along Dwayne "The Rock" with them.

Dom Toretto has been sentenced to life imprisonment but ex cop and now partner Brian O'Conner helps break him out and the head off to Rio, where they get involved in a job of stealing three cars from a moving train. They soon find out that they are being set up and they steal one of the cars which has a hidden item that local drug kingpin wants back. With revenge in their sights, Toretto and O'Conner pull together a tema in order to steal 100 million dollars from the boss but top cop Hobbs is on their case.

Full of subtle nuances and character examinations...hang on, it's a Fast and the Furious film. There's no time for subtlety. This is loud and in-your-face from the off and is relentless in its dumbness. Vin Diesel returns and still lacks any real acting skills as does plank of wood Paul Walker. Thank goodness then for Dwayne Johnson, who, sporting a goaty and beefed up to the max, at least brings a freshness to the series, squaring up to Diesel in a testosterone-fuelled fight scene.

There's plenty of action sequences to keep those who like their films visual. The train sequence is both exciting and well executed while the final chase scene has more crushed metal than a scrapyard. What is missing from the fifth instalment is the street racing and with one in which Diesel and Walker race police cars, that's about your lot. (There is the mention of another but it's never shown).

This isn't for those looking for some sense of depth. It is for those who love their fast cars and half-naked women and who can sit through lines like "Nice legs. When are they open?" and think they are Shakespearian. At 2 hours and 10 mins it is the longest of the series and does suffer for it with plenty of filling as we wait for the heist that the film has been building to. It could have been edited down by 30 mins and it would have been a quicker, crisper movie but if you put your brain into neutral, see it on a big screen with big sound, you will probably enjoy it and I can say that this is the best of the series.

Not a masterpiece but then it was never going to be anything else but stupid fun and it delivers that, and then some.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec: Review

French cinema is a strange bird. It delivers some outstanding dramas and first-rate thrillers that Hollywood cannot wait to get their hands on to remake and ruin. Every so often, they also produce a film that is so left-field, so out there, that you wonder if this is the same country that produces work like The Class or Tell No One. The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec is just one of those movies.

Adele Blanc-Sac (Dry white, like the wine) is a reporter on a personal mission; to bring back the mummified doctor of a Pharaoh in order to save her twin sister, a paralysed woman with a hat pin through her head  (long story). With the help of a scientist with special powers, the doctor can be brought to life. What she doesn't know is that a Pterodactyl has hatched from the local museum and the scientist has mental powers over it. Got it so far?

To say that the plot is this side of bonkers is a massive understatement and as the film progresses it gets even more bizarre. Most of the time, if you had to sit through a film this crazy, you would think it was the worse thing on earth. Not the case. Instead, this is a gloriously loopy yet delightfully charming romp that will make you smile no matter what frame of mind you are in.

Luc Besson, who hasn't been on direct duty for a while (if you forget the animated Arthur and the Invisibles movies). Busy with writing and producing The Transporter films and reinventing Liam Neeson, Besson has decided to take the famous French graphic novels and introduced to the world the feistiest female that has very graced the screen.

The beautiful Louise Bourgoin is sparkling as Adele, a woman who looks like she is a true lady in the turn of the 20th Century but has a more determined attitude than Ripley! She commands the screen with every scene she appears and is a star in the making. Mathieu Amalric (from Quantum of Solace) is completely unrecognisable as Adele's nemesis. The only problem being he is given very little screen time.

The set pieces are brilliantly handled. A trip in an Egyptian tomb is brimming with ideas and threats while scenes in which Adele tries to get the scientist out of prison are both very funny and clever. The only real let-down is the effects used with the Pterodactyl but that can be forgiven as the rest of the film is so much fun.

If you do go and see this surprisingly delightful tale, stick around for an extra scene during the end credits. This is the most fun I have had in a French film since Amelie (it has plenty of its surreal qualities) and i cannot wait for another of Adele's extraordinary adventures.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Arthur: Review

One of my favourite films growing up was the comedy Arthur with Dudley Moore, the story of a playboy with a drinking problem. It won an Oscar for John Gielgud as a foul mouthed butler. 30 years on and the remake is here and while it's almost a shot-for-shot blueprint of the 1981 hit, it's not half as bad as it could have been.

Arthur Bach is a child-like billionaire who enjoys a drink or three, wild parties with complete strangers and acting like a kid. He's an embarrassment for his businesswoman mother, who threatens to cut him off from his fortunes if he doesn't marry Susan Johnson, the daughter to a wealthy builder. Arthur, however doesn't love her and what makes things worse is that he meets Naomi, an illegal tour guide who he falls for. Could Arthur survive without a penny? Or can he even survive the world around him when he has relied on his nanny, Hobson?

Russell Brand takes on Dudley Moore's small shoes and doesn't do a bad job. He works better with his foppish comedy than he does in the serious stuff but he makes Arthur a likeable rogue. Jennifer Garner is fine as Susan and Greta Gerwig, so impressive in Greenberg, is fair as Naomi, a role that Liza Minnelli took on in the original. She has the perfect look for a plain Jane from a poorer background but the scenes between Brand and her just don't gel as well as they could have.

The saving grace is Helen Mirren, taking Gielgud's Hobson and turning in a pitch-perfect comic turn, delivering the sarcastic banter with aplomb and she seems completely effortless and yet steals the film from everyone. Even the scenes between her and Brand are the best and proof that the two are great friends not only on screen but off, (they met making the ill-fated The Tempest).

The direction is a little lacklustre and needs someone who can handle comedy much better as well as handling actors. Jason Winer has worked mainly in TV (including some episodes of Modern Family) but here he lets his actors take control and that doesn't always work, while the film could have been 20 minutes shorter.

It's not perfect in any means but it has some quite funny lines and its worth seeing Mirren on fire. Still would recommend you watch the original though.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Scream 4: Review

It's been 10 years since Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson brought the final Scream movie to the screen. In that time a lot of water has passed under the bridge in the world of horror, with torture porn and films getting more sick and twisted by the moment, they obviously felt it was the right time to reintroduce the classic slasher movie with it's tongue rammed in its cheek.  What they forgot to do is inject some originality.

Sidney Prescott, the victim of the previous Woodsboro murders, returns to her hometown with a new life and a new best-seller. She doesn't have a moment to reconnect with Sheriff Dewey Riley and his now wife Gale Weathers-Riley when a whole new batch of killings from the notorious Ghostface occur. Everyone thinks that her being back is the reason for the new murders, even her cousin Jill. Of course as the murders mount up, so to the suspects and someone definitely has it in for Sidney.

It is almost impossible not to compare a sequel to the original and i can tell you that number 4 is almost the same as number 3, number 2 and number 1. It has moments of pure shocks, the opening sequence is very clever and the references to other horror films is a nice homage to the genre but we've been here before. Many times before.

The cast look a little older, Neve Campbell returning as Sidney, with exs David Arquette and Courtney Cox get to play married people. New to the series are Emma Roberts as Jill, and Hayden Panettiere from Heroes, donning a haircut that makes her look twice the age she actually is.

The murders are almost doubled and we get some inventive places to put a knife but even in this film we get the same thing over and over again. The fun is had trying to work out who the killer is and while you think you know, you probably will be wrong.

On the whole this actually is a lazy rehash of what has been before. If you are a fan of the series then you won't take a blind bit of notice what the critics say but if you are going expecting something new and fresh, best look elsewhere for that because you won't find it here.

On another note, the BBFC , in their infinite wisdom has given this film a 15 certificate. In a time where knife crime is rife, it seems pretty irresponsible for a film that involves graphic murders (and some of them are very graphic) being given such a low classification. The contents is incredibly gory and screams out to be an 18 like its predecessors.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Your Highness: Review

Take the elements to classic fairy tale adventures, a handsome prince going on a quest to defeat an evil wizard in order to save the one he loves, battling monsters along the way. Then add Danny McBride and his foul-mouth into the mix and lots and lots of penis jokes and you can pretty much sum up Your Highness.

Prince Fabious, returning from defeating a Cyclops, has brought home a beautiful princess to marry but she is kidnapped by the evil Leezar, who wants her for himself in order to mate during the colliding of the two moons, and give birth to a dragon. Determined to get her back, he heads off with his band of soldiers and his inept, cowardly brother, Thadeous. The journey is filled with peril, especially when they are double-crossed and they meet a female warrior bent of revenge against the same wizard.

If you can imagine The Princess Bride as written by two teenage boys, you will have a pretty good idea what the level of the humour is like. It become obvious during the credit sequence, when illustrations of Thadeous escaping his pre-credit captors, are defaced with red pen of various body parts. This is all well and good but for a full length comedy, it becomes tiresome very quickly.

McBride, along with fellow Pineapple Express star James Franco, give the British accents a go and are not altogether successful, although their partnership isn't too bad. Zooey Deschanel is completely wasted as the princess and Justin Theroux gets to play pantomime as Leezar. Only Natalie Portman comes across the best, taking her role of the tough, fighting warrior with a pinch of salt and still delivering the good. There's support from a host of British talent too; Charles Dance, Toby Young (as a servant called kind of know where the joke in that one is) and Damien Lewis.

While it all looks great fun and some of the set pieces are fine, it suffers from just not being funny enough. Sure, there are a couple of decent laughs but in a film that looks like it could be hilarious, there are far too many missed opportunities and instead we get another f-word or another sexual gag that are even more childish than the last one.

McBride, who co-wrote the script, has given us much better material with the TV comedy Eastbound and Down and the underrated The Fist Foot Way, this is a major disappointment and one that if you are a teenage boy and still think that seeing a penis around a man's neck on a chain is funny, then you will be in for the treat of your life. For the rest of us, it's just not good enough.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Rio: Review

Rio is another in the long line of CGI 3D animations that seem to be hitting our screens on a regular basis now. This one has been hyped up to be the next big thing but alas like all things hyped, this is more a dead duck than a beautiful swan.

Blu is a rare Blue Macaw that has been domesticated to the point that it cannot fly and is fearful of almost anything. It turns out that his breed is almost extinct and so must go to Rio in order to breed with a feisty female called Jewel. When the pair are bird-napped by a group of bumbling smugglers, they escape and Blu is desperate to get back to his owner. Only problem is, they are chained together and while she can fly, he keeps dragging her down.

The plot is simple. A chase through the carnival streets of Rio, picking up some bright characters along the way. These films are never complex and you don't expect them to be. There is a sense of laziness here though. The plot is so simple, it must have been written on a card. There has to be something more interesting than chasing around a brightly coloured city to keep the young audiences attention.

It is very bright and colourful and that's a plus side and the film has attracted some interesting voices, Anne Hathaway as Jewel, Jeese Eisenberg as Blu and with and Jamie Foxx as a pair of samba singing birds who help them out on their journey. The music is also good, with Sergio Mendes in charge, you'd only expect the best. They are all let down by a pretty worthless script with not enough verbal gags to make the adults laugh and not enough visual gags to keep the kids smiling.

It's a shame because in the hands of Pixar or even Dreamworks, this could have been an inspired little comedy. Instead it's far too bland to be more than just pretty and while the quirky characters come and go they are not in the least bit interesting.

This is from the same team that brought us Ice Age, a film that was brimming with ideas and fun characters that could quite easily be sent off into their own adventures (like Scratch, the acorn loving rodent). These characters lack that magic and even though this will be a huge hit, I don't think it will stand the test of time like it's big brother does. In fact, I don't think it will be memorable enough to stand the test of time an hour after seeing it.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Sucker Punch: Review

I'd like to think of myself as being a little bit intelligent. I have sat through some strange, often baffling films and managed to work out what was going on. Zack Synder's hugely anticipated Sucker Punch I still don't have a clue.

A young girl is thrown into an institute after accidentally killing her younger sister while trying to save her from her lecherous stepfather. While there, she creates a vivid world in which she and four other 'inmates' are trapped in a dance-club and that the five have to find objects in order to escape. The girl, now called Baby Doll, has a dance routine that is enough of a distraction for the others to get the items but in doing so, Baby Doll is transported into another world where she and the girls are mighty warriors battling all kinds of enemies.

At least, I think that is right. This is the problem with the film. Synder has an excellent premise of five tough women fighting through CGI settings and if he had left it at that, we could have had the action film of the year. Instead, he bombards us with pseudo-psychology that doesn't make any sense at all, leaving the audience amazed by the action but confused by the story.

The girls obviously had loads of fun brandishing guns and swords. Emily Browning, as Baby Doll, is innocent-looking enough while it's good to see Abbie Cornish given more to do than she was in Limitless. Jena Malone, who starred in that other head-scratcher Donnie Darko, is fine and Vanessa Hudgens gets to play grown-up after those dire High School Musical films and she kicks some serious butt. They are all perfectly fine and proof that girls are just as good at action as the boys.

The set pieces and production values are extraordinary. One moment we are in a samurai style battle with giant warriors, the next the trenches of a war, then a fight with a dragon and on it goes. If Synder had just concentrated on these scenes and placed together a proper cartoon style story around that, I think the fan-boys, that audience of teens to 30s who love nothing more than comic books, video games and naming all the characters out of Star Wars, would lap this stuff up. Instead it's enough to turn you cold with the ideas that have been thrown onto the screen to see which ones stick.

There is a lesson to be learnt here: keep it simple. If you are intending to be clever, then go really clever, don't baffle the viewer with an inconsistent, in-coherent story of a fantasy within a fantasy. Next up for Synder is the reboot of Superman. I just hope he doesn't try to be clever with that.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Source Code: Review

Duncan Jones debut, Moon, was one of the best was one of the best movie debuts from a director in a long time.  So would his second film, Source Code, be able to match his first.  It not only matches it, it surpassed it.

Captain Colter Stevens finds himself on board a train and in the body of a history teacher.  Not knowing why he’s there or who the pretty woman opposite him he has, Stevens is involved in an explosion.  He then finds himself in a capsule talking to a military officer who wants to know if he’s found out about who set off the explosion.  He is part of the military experiment in which he gets to live the last 8 minutes of the man’s life in order to find out who is responsible for blowing up the train and hopefully this will stop an even bigger disaster happening.  So he keeps going back into the final 8 minutes but there was more to this mission than meets the eye.

This is a tense, exciting, nail biting thriller is more twists and turns than a train track.  Not a single inch of its 93 minute running time is wasted.  Jones keeps the pace and suspense racked up throughout.  Just when you think you know what’s going happen something else occurs that throws the movie into a completely different direction.

Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast as Stevens.  Part every man, part action hero, he’s believable throughout and you go through his journey with the same level of confusion.  He is well supported by the beautiful Michelle Monaghan, as the mysterious woman who he slowly starts to fall in love with; Vera Farmiga as the military officer guiding him through the mission and Jeffrey Wright as a scientist who created the source code.

With the recent spate of Inception rip offs, this film manages to raise above any comparisons, and is more like Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap.  It is probably the best action film I have had the pleasure of watching since Die Hard.  My cinema seat arm still has my fingers imprinted in it.  The explosion on the train is spectacular to watch and even though we keep going back to the same 8 minutes it is never boring and you slowly start piecing the entire puzzle together.  Like myself you might guess who the bomber is quite near the beginning of the movie, but there are more twists and turns that you would expect, and this is the power that makes this film so watchable.  Plus this is more romantic than any of the recent spate of love stories and rom coms.

If you have to make a movie decision this week and you’re not sure what to go and see, then rush and see this fantastic movie.  You will not be disappointed.  Congratulations Duncan Jones, this will be a definite cult classic and I can’t wait for your third movie.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger: Review

There were two filmmakers that I’ve seen all of their works: Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen.  So when either of these giants of the cinema release a brand new film I am there.  Excitedly I rushed to see the new Woody Allen, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.  Unfortunately this wasn’t one of Woody Allen’s better films.

The film revolves around one family: Helena, newly divorced from her husband Alfie, who has been finding solace from a fraudulent clairvoyant claiming to be able to tell her future.  Then there is Sally, Helena’s daughter.  She works for an art dealer and is married to Roy, a man who studied as a Doctor but gave it all up to be a writer.  She has become infatuated with the art dealer and dreams of open her own art gallery as well as having a child.  Roy, on the other hand, has fallen in love with his neighbour from across the way as he watches her from his bedroom window.  Finally there is Alfie, who is suffering from a midlife crisis in his later years and is planning to marry a gold digging “actress” called Charmaine.

The trouble with this film is that we’ve been here many, many times before and Allen has taken us on this journey in much funnier films.  Returning once again to set his film in London, the dialogue seems very forced and unnatural.  When Allen was making his comedies in New York he had a feel for the avant Garde, slightly pretentious New Yorker.  In his London movies, however, he cannot quite get that middle class English patter.  So it comes across as being clumsy.

Surrounding himself once again with a top notch cast, even some of them failed to shine.  Naomi Watts, usually a fine actress, struggles here not only with the stilted dialogue but actually finding any real emotional depth of the character.  Antonio Banderas is the art dealer seems to have just wandered onto the set, said his lines and gone.

Josh Brolin, playing Sally’s husband is fine but his motivations a little bit dubious.  In one scene he tells Dia, played by Freida Pinto, that he found her undressing in her window slightly arousing.  If somebody were to tell you that you would run a mile but not Ms Pinto.  She finds it flattering.  Not sure about that one.

So it is left to the underrated Gemma Jones as the naive Helena, who almost carries the film.  She comes across as a woman who could be told absolutely anything and she would believe every word.  The other joy about this film is the superb double act of Anthony Hopkins and Lucy Punch.  As the complete the odd couple they light up every scene they are in.  Hopkins, playing the role that was usually played by Woody Allen, is hilarious full of subtle nuances and gestures while Ms Punch is a comic revelation, obviously creating her character around a certain model/businesswoman/publicity hound.  When they appear on screen the film lifts.

Allen will probably keep on making movies dealing with the same subject matter, love, death, sex, family disharmony, infidelity, and other neurosis.  And I will probably keep going to see them, just wishing for another Annie Hall, which are still the garden is his greatest triumph to date.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Limitless: Review

Once upon a time there was a film called Inception.  This film is very popular lot of people went to see it.  The nice people in Hollywood decided that if they went to see Inception they would go and see their film too.  And so The Adjustment Bureau was born.  This was like Inception, but had a bit of romance of thrown in.  If now we have Limitless, which is like Inception meets Wall Street.

Bradley Cooper plays Eddie, a down on his luck writer, who has written a word in years even though he has an advance for book.  Unsure when he would ever get out of the rut, Eddie bumps into his ex brother in law, a drug dealer.  He persuades Eddie take a clear pill, telling him that the pill will unlock all kinds of potential in his head.  Eddie soon discovers that the pill has given him the power to not only finished writing his book that a whole host of other possibilities.  Craving for more, Eddie goes back to see his ex brother in law only to find him dead.  Discovering his stash of pills, Eddie soon finds he can control the stock market and gets the interest of businessmen Carl Van Loon while at the same time finds his world is being turned upside down.

Neil Burger’s thriller is visually very exciting.  He uses plenty of effects to capture the world in which Eddie has become accustomed to.  Plenty of zoom shots, use of light and colour and playing around with perspective for works really well.  The problem with the film is it’s far too complicated, with too much techno-babble involving the stock market.  The audience I saw the film with seemed to get a little restless.

The ending leaves a lot to be desired.  There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the movie but when it comes to the final denouement it doesn’t really go anywhere and so we’re left leaving the cinema feeling a little short changed.  It did deserved a far more demanding ending.

Bradley Cooper, given the opportunity to carry a film does have a good job.  He’s likeable enough even if on occasions he does come across as a little bit too smarmy.  But wouldn’t you be if you were the King of the world.  I can see great things for of Mr. Cooper and his ability to jump from comedy to drama proves he is more than capable to be a leading male.  Abbie Cornish, who plays Eddie’s girlfriend, isn’t really given enough to do while it is nice to see Robert De Niro back to underplaying his part.  This time he isn’t an embarrassment.

If we’re going to get a series of Inception rip offs, I hope that they’re going to have the good sense of having an intelligent, yet easy to understand script that doesn’t just end with nowhere else to go.  This could have been a four star movie if it hadn’t been for the ending. This film definitely had it's limits.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Battle: Los Angeles: Review

Halfway through Battle: Los Angeles, I thought to myself, who honestly thought this was a good idea? Then I thought...why am I still sitting here? Yes, this is already in contention for worse film of 2011.

Los Angeles, and a platoon of Marines are ordered to help evacuate people from the city after a possible meteor shower is heading their way. Oh, hang on, they are not meteors but an alien attack that means the Marines must now fight to save the city. The small group, who discover civilians hiding in a police station, must get them to a safe zone but find themselves face to face with aliens...and more aliens...and...

Oh hell, why am I wasting the space to give you a plot run-down. The film doesn't have a story. It doesn't have character development. It doesn't have humour, or pathos, or irony, or anything that almost all the other alien invasion movies have. It does have every clichés in the book and some that haven't even been invented yet.

It is also relentless. From the second the film starts you are in the battle and director Jonathan Liebesman must have studied Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down as it has the same style of film making. It looks like Black Hawk, and feels like Black Hawk. It even has a helicopter crashing. It doesn't have nay of Scott's cinematic touches, like tension. It is a two hour battle scene and trust me, after 30 minutes you are desperate for the battle to stop and so we can get to know the characters, or maybe have a little light relief.

Sorry, there is plenty of light relief. The script has some of the worse lines heard. My personal favourite is when top soldier Aaron Eckhart, who lost most of his last platoon and cannot live it down, is explaining to his new platoon how the memories of the dead soldiers are engraved in his head, and starts reciting their names and numbers, only to end this impassioned speech with 'But that's not important right now!'

Aaron Eckhart is a very good actor, who has been in some very good movies, but here he is far too serious, as are everyone else. I even, and this is how dull this movie is, craved for Independence Day, a film I really don't like that much. At least it was silly enough not to be taken seriously.

Sure the special effects are impressive but if you imagine sitting next to someone playing a shoot-'em-up video game and not letting you have a go, for two hours, then you will know what to experience here.

The aliens look like a cross between the Alien, Predator and a Transformer so nothing original at all. Their purpose for this invasion? To take the Earth's water. Wasn't that David Bowie's mission in The Man Who Fell To Earth? Yes, my friends, if you want to see this film, go watch a number of other alien invasion movies that have done it so much better.

One of the dullest films I have had to sit through and no matter how much they blow up another car or building, it just gets duller by the moment