Saturday, 26 December 2015

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

I used to love - and in fact still do - Snoopy and Charlie Brown.

I grew up with the newspaper strips, I got the books for Christmas and birthdays, I watched the cartoons on TV.

I wanted to be Joe Cool, I wanted to pay my nickel and talk to Lucy in her booth, I wanted to watch Schroeder play the piano, I wanted to hang with Peppermint Patty.



So it was with no small delight that the news of the first Peanuts film in 35 years was greeted by this jaded former youth.

I've missed Charlie Brown and his eternal optimism. I've missed Woodstock. I've missed Snoopy and his myriad personalities.

And I'd kind of forgotten just how big an impact Mr Schulz had with his little world of children trying to deal with grown-up problems.

Without him, you wouldn't have Calvin and Hobbes. And I don't want to live in a world without those two.

So, I was a bit giddy about this.

It's just a shame the film didn't live up to expectations.

In a way, that's almost poetic - if anyone embodies life not being what we want and hope, it's Charlie Brown.

But it's taken me a while to actually wrap my head around what the problem is.

The fact they've used Bill Melendez's original Snoopy and Woodstock voice recordings is a nice touch, and you have all the characters you love doing all the things you loved them doing.

And Charlie Brown faces every dilemma and foe we remember, so that's all good.

It's the drawings.

Modern and up-to-date animation adds a gloss and sheen and - dare I say it - a positivity that is at odds with the more down-beat source material.

It also causes some unnecessary conflict - the animation is very child-friendly, but the story itself isn't.

But this isn't laugh-out-loud funny. The comic strips never where. It's understated, raising wry smiles.  Kids aren't big on wry smiles as a rule.

You could probably live with the animation if there wasn't a quick flashback bit in the original black and white. In that moment, you remember what you loved and what isn't sitting so well now.

You could also, probably, live with it if they hadn't a) given Snoopy more cartoonish expressions and 2) given him actual fur. I'm not used to seeing Snoopy's fur...

And if ever you didn't want a film in 3D...

Overall, this isn't a bad film. It has everything you want, it has everyone you want.

It just isn't the film you want.



You want more downbeat failings, you want Charlie Brown to trudge more, you want more Joe Cool.

Instead, you get every character Schulz ever created thrown at the screen (do they all have agents?) and then polished.

And it's very hard to have empathy for a polished Charlie Brown.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Bridge Of Spies (12A)

I'm seriously beginning to wonder why they bother with trailers.

Take Bridge Of Spies for example, a film I was expecting to be a tense Cold War thriller. The poster kind of adds to this.

What you get is quite different, which isn't a bad thing but I could have done without spending the opening 20 minutes frantically readjusting my expectations as the real story revealed itself.



Because, once you get past the initial tense 'spy' stuff, what you've actually got is Tom Hanks playing a man trying to do the right thing in a world where such things don't matter.

Which doesn't make it a bad film, but it does make it a very different one.

For those who've missed the build-up, Bridge Of Spies tells the real-life tale of James B Donovan, an insurance lawyer who gets persuaded to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) against spying charges.

This being the Cold War era, it's a thankless task as his guilt is presumed.

So what unfolds is the story of a man trying to do what's been asked of him in a system that doesn't want to help or work for him.

And, in this, there's a really good film.

It's just not a spy film.

Instead, it's a story of the relationship between Hanks and Rylance, the struggles Hanks' character has with his decision to take the case, the impact on his family...

It's a story of friendship and relationships.

And it's told really, really well.

It helps that Rylance is able to go toe-to-toe with Hanks, thus stopping him from taking over the whole film (something you only notice when Rylance is not on screen and you realise no one else can match the Hankster).

The two central performances are really good, with Rylance's subtle, underplayed character a perfect foil for Hanks' more passionate approach.

To be honest, everyone else is entirely secondary - including Alan Alder, who seems to have just popped in on his afternoon off and is simply enjoying hanging out with Tom.

And, this being Spielberg, the story is captured well.

It's got the right feel for the era, the time in Berlin (just as the wall is going up) feels as cold and frozen as the weather, while the more action-y scenes do grip you.

Where the film falls down, however, is the story itself.

Intertwining the Russian spy with the American pilot the Yanks want back works OK - which is just as well, given it's what actually happened.

But there's a third strand which, while again being entwined and a case of historical record, actually feels bolted on as an afterthought.

There are four main characters at play, but the fourth is given precious little screen time, very little back story and the outcome is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things.

In fact you could have ignored it all together and not lost anything from the film.

Which may seem harsh when the bloke's still alive (I'm not naming him, 'cos that might be a little spoilery) but when his part in the story is kind of key to Donovan's later roles either give him the depth his character needs or just ignore him.

The half measure helps no one.

The film is also too long. To the point that the second half feels like you've started watching a second film. And once you've cleared two hours, you're just willing it to be over.

Not because it's not good, but because you feel like you've walked to Berlin while Hanks flew there.

Which is a shame, because in feeling like you've been dragged over and through the Berlin Wall twice, you can overlook some of the great things this film has to offer.

For a start, it's funny.

In dealing with a dark and potentially terrifying subject (America was living in genuine fear of nuclear war at this point), writers Ethan and Joel Coen (yup, they) and Matt Charman have injected some nice touches of humour.

Key to these is Rylance, who delivers simple lines so perfectly that you find yourself almost laughing before he delivers the phrase "would it help?" as the film progresses.

And for once Hanks isn't trying to fill every scene.

At times it can be easy to forget that he can actually be a subtle actor, and here he allows the story to breathe and flow around him rather than dominating proceedings.

It's just a shame it's so damn long and convoluted.



For a story of the past, Bridge Of Spies has something to say about the world we live in now - with paranoia over strangers and Governments using people for the "greater good" at it's heart.

And it's held together by the brilliant central performances of Ryland and Hanks.

It's just not the spy thriller you're expecting.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (12A)

First there was fear - fear that the distant, loving memory of a trilogy many of us grew up with would be further tarnished.

Then there was hope - hope that, having done a good job with Star Trek, JJ Abrams would restore the Star Wars universe to where it should be.

Not where George Lucas left it when he gave the world Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen.



So it's not without some trepidation that you take your seat.

Then the screen goes dark.

Then the music starts.

Then the oh-so-familiar text appears on the screen.

And you start to relax.

This could actually be OK.

But it's not OK.

It's better than that.

So, so much better.

From the opening scenes, you know JJ has got it right. This is a film made with love and reverence for the source material.

We already know some old characters are going to be appearing (thankfully episodes one, two and three happened so long ago in Star Wars years everyone is now dead), but what of the new characters?

Will they be up to snuff?

Yup, they got that bang on too. Even with BB-8, the little orange and white droid fella, who manages to portray more emotion in this one film than Christensen managed in three.

And so it goes on with every passing scene.

Some places are new, some references are old, but across every frame you feel the warmth and comfort of home.

This is where we were meant to go next. Not backwards, but forwards.

The effects are superb, with everything feeling real and solid - not the dodgy CGI of recent outings. This, again, bolts Force onto the original trilogy firmly and solidly.

Each shot and scene is framed perfectly, in places harking back to the landscapes of the original film while in others giving you another bar you'd kill to drink in.

And there's not a duff performance to be seen.

Sure, Harrison Ford shouldn't be asked to run about, but to be fair running wasn't his forte 40-odd years ago, so that kind of works.

The stand-out, though, is Daisy Ridley.

Thrust front and centre from the get-go as Rey, the young actress with just a handful of TV credits to her name takes to the big screen like a duck to water.

She owns every scene, she more than holds her own against the likes of Carrie Fisher, and she balances humour and drama with consummate ease.

Alongside her, John Boyega (Finn) and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) deliver fine performances, again delivering both quick one-liners and hard-paced action like they've been up in space their whole lives.

Ultimately, of course, it's the action that makes or breaks a Star Wars film.

Fans just want to see space ships flying about shooting stuff. It's what they grew up with.

And boy, do they get it.

From the moment the Falcon takes off, you're grinning from ear to ear. When you see an X-Wing, you want to cheer. When a Tie-Fighter blows up, you want to shout and applaud.

And that's the great thing about The Force Awakens.

The passion with which it was clearly made just flows off the screen, washing over you and taking you on another great thrill ride. One you haven't been on since, arguably, The Empire Strikes Back.

Your blood will pound, you will find yourself holding your breath, at times you won't believe what just happened, but through it all you'll just want more and more.

There are quibbles, sure (just how does BB-8 get UP the stairs?), but when the whole thing is just this much damn fun who cares?

It's not hugely original, the story will be very familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the history, but again - that doesn't matter.



You'll be too busy grinning and laughing to care.

Any film that's been this hyped stands every chance of falling short of expectations, but JJ and the gang have pulled it off.

With nods, winks and glimpses of what has gone before, we have been ushered into a whole new Star Wars era.

Buckle up, it promises to be a hell of a ride.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Black Mass (15)

These days, Johnny Depp is the acting equivalent of U2 - people either love him or hate him, and his latest work (when it's not a Pirates film) is always his best yet.

Which is neither true nor totally fair.

The thing you have to remember is that Depp pretty much does what he wants.



Which is why films like Dead Man exist, even though no one saw it, and the Pirates franchise is there - even though most right-thinking people wish it wasn't.

And it's almost certainly why Black Mass exists.

Playing the role of Boston gangster Jimmy 'Whitey' Bulger was never going to be easy - his victims' families are still rightly grieving, and it's so recent there hasn't been time for a Krays-esque aura to develop.

So someone who doesn't give a toss what the critics are going to say was always going to be the best choice to play a man who seemed to kill half of Boston from the mid-70s to the early 90s.

Getting any sympathy for this man was always going to be a hard sell.

So it's to Depp's - and the film's - credit that they don't bother, portraying the man as the heartless killer (and drug dealer, gun runner, racketeer etc etc) he was.

The other problem is, of course, that in doing a gangster film you are automatically putting yourself up against The Godfather and Goodfellas.

Every genre has it's cornerstone films, the ones that define the styles and themes by simply being the films you automatically think of when you hear the word.

And up there Black Mass isn't.

To be fair, it's not trying to be. But that doesn't stop the comparisons being made.

It's not glitzy, it's not glamourous. It's fairly brutal, the violence is not shied away from, and the portrayal of Boston (always known for it's gangsters) is as unflattering as you would hope.

In fact, it probably has more in common with the excellent A Most Violent Year - but even then, it seems to fall short.

The problem, I think, is that the whole film feels muted. Like everyone's underplaying it.

And I think this stems from Depp.

From the off, this is a very considered performance. Recent outings have all seemed to borrow from Captain Jack Sparrow, and it's clear he's doing something totally different here.

The problem is, as the lead character, as he underplays things so everyone else has to tone things down.

So we get less Kevin Bacon, less Benedict Cumberbatch, less Dakota Johnson (although to be honest she could just still be in post-50 Shades shock).

This slightly removed, distant, muted feel is hard to grasp or understand until Corey Stoll turns up as the new DA in town.

Suddenly we have someone giving it energy, presence, owning the scenes that he's in - there's a very clear step-up when he's around.

Tellingly, he doesn't share any screen time with Depp.

All of this only serves to add a level of disappointment to what could - and indeed should - have been a gritty, nasty telling of the life of a loathsome human being.

What you want is to come out of it feeling almost violated, like you need a shower and a change of clothes.

Instead you just feel flat, like you've just missed out on something that could have been great.

The performances are all perfectly good, if a little restrained, it's shot well, Boston looks like the slightly forgotten city it was back then... It's getting close to the mark all over the place.

But then little things let it down.

I'm pretty sure Jimmy gets called John at one stage, which you notice because it doesn't happen at any other point, and the attempts to make the pop-music references iconic definitely falls short.

Then there's the disappearance of one of the characters.

You don't notice straight away, but about halfway through you suddenly realise you haven't seen someone for a while. They've just vanished. Poof. Gone.

AND NO ONE MENTIONS IT.

And what the hell was Peter Sarsgaard's character doing talking to Boston's finest when he seemed to live in Florida?

And why does no one's hair change in 20 sodding years?

The structure of the film, however, is a plus.

Using a faux-documentary style, you leap between the now and the then effortlessly, fleshing out the story without giving too much away.

But it's not enough to save the day.



As I said earlier, this should - and could - have been a much nastier film. Make it an 18 (R in America I'm guessing) and you'll get a more visceral experience.

But as it is, you get everything dialled down slightly, leaving you feeling a bit 'meh', a bit unmoved.

Still, Depp's in heavy make-up and it's award season, so it might not have been a total waste of time.

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

We all know why this film exists. It's not for the fans, it's not because there was so much book to pack in it needed two films - it's to squeeze as much cash out of the cow as humanly possible.

We saw it happen with Harry Potter, with dire consequences - the first part of The Deathly Hallows effectively becoming Harry On Camping.

And we saw how, in doing this, Mockingjay Part One was made slow and leaden. And quite, quite dull.



But at least part two would be full of the bombastic action we so enjoyed in the first two films, right?

Well, erm...

They tried.

Bless 'em, they tried.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough action to spread out over two hours. So instead we get lots of attempts at drama and plot.

Attempts that feel like padding.

Across the two films, you get the action you're after, but in between you have to have all the star-crossed lovers guff which is better placed running alongside the action rather than being made the central theme.

At times you actually find your mind wandering as you wait for the next bit of fighting.

And that's not good.

Then there's slight problem of Part 2 picking up exactly where Part One left off with Peter back in the hands of the rebels and wanting to kill Katniss.

And if you can't remember Part One (and why would you?), you're playing catch-up from the get-go because it's just been blindly assumed that you know what's going on.

The plan here is a simple one. Storm the Capital, take out President Snow, save the day.

Snow, meanwhile, has turned the streets of the Capital into another Hunger Games arena, so there's lots of things to blow you up, shoot you or attack and try and eat you.

And those are the bits you're waiting for.

Sadly, the filming of the main battles are so poorly shot that you can't make head nor tail of what's going on until someone's name is yelled in pain-stricken grief.

But it's different to the first films, oh yes.

Because they're running about in the streets and sewers, not in the trees and lakes. So that's OK.

Only it leaves the main bulk of the film feeling like a computer game.

But let's be fair.

Maybe the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman caused them a bigger problem this time round. Maybe it's in replacing the bits he should have been in that we hit the problem.

Or maybe, just maybe, in trying to stretch an average-sized book across four hours of screen time there just isn't enough quality.

And you can't blame the cast.

Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), Liam Hemsworth (Gale) and Donald Sutherland (who steals every scene as President Snow) all put in fine performances, even if Liam and Josh look slightly puzzled and/or bored at times.



This was a much-loved franchise, and I'm sure there will be fans who think this a fitting end to the sage.

But it's not.

With so few highlights, a semi-sombre trudge to the end, wrapped up with more final scenes than Lord Of The Rings, was no way to finish what had been a great saga.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Spectre (12A)

It's been a funny old time for James Bond - he of the gadgets and the cars and the girls and the product placements.

First, he came back blond in Casino Royale, and the world went mad. Only the film was actually quite good.

Then he came back in Quantum Of Solace, and we all wished he hadn't.



Then he came back with Skyfall and the world was a happy place again as we got a heady mix of mad villains and emotional heft.

So what was to happen next?

Would it be Skyfall good or Quantum bad?

Well, as it turns out, it's kind of neither.

First off, the good stuff.

For the most part, this film is fun.

It has nods to the past (the opening sequence definitely harking back to the Bond heyday), it has the cars, it's upped the gadget count a smidge and there's a delightful amount of running about blowing stuff up.

And that, in essence, is what you want from a Bond film.

The action sequences are perfectly paced and shot, without going over-the-top (if you ignore the bad CGI of the building collapsing, and I am), and the car chase is just the right side of bonkers.

And the cars are bloody ace - especially James'.

And it has a fanboy moment that will make you squeal with delight.

Craig has pretty much nailed his Bond, and if you seen any of the others you know what you're getting - only this time there's the odd smile and show of emotion.

Sadly, though, there are a few moments that are something of a fly in the martini.

For a start, Christoph Waltz is only saved from being the worst modern Bond villain by Mathieu Amalric's pathetically weak accountant in Quantum.

I like Waltz, he's a bloody good actor, and he can do borderline nuts with the best of them - so why was he reigned in? Why wasn't he allowed to just act like a man trying to take over the planet?

Instead we get a sullen, downbeat performance that carries all the threat and menace of a guinea pig with a cold. He comes across like a man who's just found out someone broke his favourite Coldplay CD, and that's not what you want from a Bond villain.

And yes, there are a few moments that raise a question or two (how the hell DID he get to Italy so quickly? How did she manage to get undressed after passing out pissed?), but there's enough other fun stuff going on that you can forgive them.

Then there's the car bit, which makes you forgive everything.

But sadly, there's the ending.

Now, I know the rules - we all know the rules.

Bond saves the day but destroys everything in a 20-mile radius.

That's how this works.

Now, under our own rules I can't say any more - but if you don't walk out wanting to shoot the writers I'll be amazed.

To do that having already dragged it out for half an hour more than needed is unforgivable.



And it's because the rest of the film is such fun that it hurts even more.

For the most part, this is as close as Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes have dared to get to the Bond legacy while maintaining the modern vibe.

And for that, it's great.

Just pretend you didn't see the last twenty minutes.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Suffragette (12A)

Remember us? Yeah, we used to write film reviews. Then we decided moving would be a good idea and it all went to hell.

So, finally, we've found where the cinema is (The Electric Palace in Harwich on this occasion), we've unpacked some stuff and most of the furniture is no longer flat-packed.

It's been a stressful time, we can't deny, so what better way to unwind than hit the big screen and relax with a few chuckles and a laugh or five?



Well, that was the plan...

First, The Electric Palace.

Now, I have a soft-spot for this place. It's where my love of film was born. Yes, I may have seen Krull and Ewoks: Caravan Of Courage there, but that didn't put me off.

Having been refurbished and resurrected by a committee of local stalwarts, the Palace is now an important local landmark and it's getting some good films and cinematic events.

It's also got Clive Owen as patron, so that helps.

And OK, the seats aren't comfortable, and the screen is a tad small when you're used to the World Of Cine, but where else can you pop to get an ice cream or have a pee after the trailers and ads without missing any of the film?

And they put the house lights up so you can see where you're going.

It's a great place to fall in love with film again.

Or it would be if you hadn't decided to go and see Suffragette.

Now, yes, I know, it's an important subject and the story needs telling now more than ever as we try and get people to re-engage with the whole voting process - but it needed to be told well.

Instead, what you get are a series of loosely-linked vignettes which serve more as a highlights package than serving up a story of depth and substance.

For those of you still unsure what the film's about, it's not a documentary on the making of a fine Wings song (that would have been more fun), but a look at how women fought to get the right to vote.

Like I said, an important story.

And the performances are up to the task at hand.

Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Whishaw all turn in fine performances, capturing the drudgery and conflict of the day.

Which is no mean feat when the story is so thin and the characters lack any depth.

At no point do you feel you are getting to grips with the events. It's like you're being told by a disinterested observer rather than being compelled to engage with the narrative.

You should be coming out of the cinema infused with a desire to fight the system, bring about change, stand up for what they stood for...

Instead, you find yourself thinking 'well, that happened - ooh, look, there's still time to grab a pint across the road'.

And that shouldn't be happening.

I get that there is probably a lot to pack in, a lot happened in the build-up to the event that was to force through the changes albeit eventually, but rather than trying to tell the whole story maybe it would have been better to focus on just a few key events.

What also doesn't help is the part of Emmeline Pankhurst is played by Meryl Streep - both fleetingly and without any sense of drama or who she actually she is.

One could actually walk out of the cinema thinking Maggie Thatcher started the movement, which is wrong on many, many levels.

And then there's the whole shaky-cam thing.

Using a hand-held camera certainly puts you right in the action, but here it only serves to confuse and muddy the scenes it's used for. It certainly doesn't make the struggle any more real.



This should be a worthy film - and, as mentioned, many of the performances are great.

But somehow, a film about one of the seminal movements of the 20th Century fails to hammer home just how momentous the events were.

Instead, it's left to the closing pre-credit sequence to make the point about how much work still needs to be done in the name of equality.

Still, nice to be back at the Palace...

Friday, 4 September 2015

Fantastic Four (12A)

I know I'm getting old, but we all remember the last Fantastic 4 film right? I know the Silver Surfer one was duff, but the first one was OK.

And it had Stan Lee in, so that made it cool.

Who the hell decided we needed another frickin' reboot?



What's that? Darker and grittier you say? Well, that makes everything OK...

And if it had have been, it might have done.

Instead we spend more than half the film explaining how the 4 got together, leaving barely any time left for the big battle at the end.

Who's big idea was that?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's start at the start, where Reed Richards is at school at meets Ben Grimm and they do experiments in the garage.

Then let's leap ahead to the pair of them getting picked up by the mysterious Baxter Institute at the school's science fair - and let's try to overlook the fact that, even though both of them worked on it, only Reed gets the golden ticket.

And don't ask why Pa Storm was taking his daughter Sue on a work jolly. He just was, OK?

So now we're at the institute, only the genius Victor Von Doom is sulking in a lock-up somewhere.

Not to worry, Pa Storm has a word and we're all good.

We have our four (once Johnny has stopped playing with cars). Hurrah.

Only that's not the four, so we have to stretch the plot even thinner to shoe-horn in Ben at the back end.

And I could live with the huge backstory if the dialogue was snappy and the actors (star of Whiplash Miles Teller as Reed, Kate Mara as Sue, Michael B Jordan as Johnny and Jamie Bell as Ben) looked like they believed in what was happening.

But even they are clearly struggling.

And there are so many questions that go unanswered.

Like where did Doom get his cloak from? And how did they get that stretcher out, along with the 12-strong team?

Let's be clear about this. This is a superhero movie.

Which means we want a quick 'how they all got there' followed by lots of flying about, big fights, massive explosions, and oodles of zip and pizzazz.

And humour.

Not just the bit early on when Reed blows the whole town's lights. More.

Check the books. There's banter. It's fun, dammit!

I'm sure somebody somewhere has a very good reason as to why this film exists, but as someone who walked out into the daylight wondering what else I could have done with the time I'm at a lost.

It's not a new take.

It's not even a fun take.

It's a tedious re-telling of a story we all know that lacks energy and enthusiasm.

And Doom's really crap. A reject from AI doesn't make for a bad baddy, OK?

Thankfully it hasn't set the box office alight, so we should be spared a sequel.



Pardon?

Oh nuts.

Well, let's just pray it's better than Rise Of The Silver Surfer.

Trainwreck (15)

I have two problems, approaching the reviewing of this film.

I'm not allowed to disclose the ending, I have a real problem with Judd Apatow, and I'm old fashioned in that I think comedies should be funny.

OK, three problems.



And it's too sodding long.

Right, four problems. I'll stop now before the list becomes the whole review.

So which one to start with?

Let's start with Apatow.

Now, I hated This Is 40. Billed as his 'all grown up' film, it painted a loathsome picture of a bunch of loathsome people. And as I was hitting 40 the year it came out, I took real exception to the way my age bracket was being portrayed.

Trainwreck is actually worse.

The premise is essentially sound - Amy Schumer plays a woman who is quite happy to be dicking around, getting wrecked and shagging anything that sits still long enough.

And at this point, I have no problem with the film.

That the central character is perfectly happy with her lifestyle is actually a very positive message to send out.

Not that she SHOULD be living that way, but that she CAN if she so CHOOSES.

She's also a journalist. And this is the first hurdle at which the film falls.

While trying to satirise the junk and crap that passes for popular magazine fodder these days, it's clear Schumer (who wrote this thing) has never spent any time around the real people who create them.

What you get is a bunch of cliches and bullshit, and an editor played by Tilda Swinton doing an impression of Gillian Taylforth playing latter stages Kathy Beale.

It actually took me a while to realise it was Swinton.

Then I spent the rest of the film wondering what the hell had caused her to agree to being in this car crash of a movie.

Elsewhere, we have celebrity cameos - including LeBron James.

We know it's LeBron James because LeBron James keeps mentioning that LeBron James is LeBron James.

LeBron James likes talking about himself in the third person.

We also have Bill Hader, playing a sports physio who seems to spend as much time in a hospital as he does treating LeBron James.

A man who is such a massive star you just know Miami Heat would not be worried about him getting treated by a guy in an office somewhere rather than their extensive team of health folks.

No no, that would be fine.

I mean, Schumer's researched this stuff, right?

Then there's the jokes.

The opening 10-15 minutes are faintly amusing, with lots of smut and sex jokes. But after that...

Let's just say subtle wasn't one of the words used by the test audiences.

We also have the small matter of her dad having MS.

Not for comedic purposes, as far as I can tell. Not for drama. It seems to be a condition that wouldn't cause too much offence as no one knows what it is.

You can almost hear the meeting where it was decided they couldn't use cancer (been done, Amy) or Parkinsons (too Michael J Fox sweetie).

MS? You mean Microsoft? Oh, it's a real thing? Let's go with that!

When it's first uttered (and, OK, I know I might be a smidge sensitive on this) it really leaps out. I mean slap-in-the-face leaps out.

The fact it doesn't go anywhere makes you wonder why him simply being 'ill' wasn't enough. It's not like attention to detail is a watch word here.

So, after 15 minutes of smut and an editorial meeting staffed by clowns, the love interest arrives and the plane finally takes off.

And splutters and stalls for another two pissing hours.

Christopher Nolan can keep me in my seat for half my life, that's fine. He's got big ideas and an ability to make a film look good even if it doesn't make any sense.

But Apatow?

He may be trying to be a serious film maker, he may have an ego the size of Florida, but look at his catalogue.

Ideally 90 minutes, and he's done. It makes some people laugh.

Two hours is stretching the sketch a bit far. The jokes get fewer and further between. And less funny.

It's the law of diminishing returns.

So you can imagine what two hours 20 mins does for a film.

Exactly.



Throw in an ending that has you spewing bile and expletives at the screen, and you have quite the rom-com date movie.

Just try and forget the fact you paid money to see it.

(Do I get a brownie point for avoiding the obvious title-related joke?)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ant-Man (12A)

So, every summer, Marvel kick-out a "new" film that hasn't been part of the main cannon.

Sure, it fits in, bolts on etc, but it's starting life as a stand-alone (depending on success, obviously).

Last summer's Guardians Of The Galaxy was an epic success, both artistically and commercially, but there's no way they can repeat that. Is there?



Well...

Guardians took £800m at the box office last year, and Ant-Man is already halfway there (at time of writing), so there's a chance the bums on seats figures could be at least matched.

So, it can't be as good a film then, surely.

Well...

I'll be honest - and I'm sure I'm not the only one who can admit this - Ant-Man hasn't played a major part in my Marvel experience so far.

I've read more than the odd book or two, and while I know the character and what he can do, he hasn't exactly played a big part in the main story arcs.

If you'll pardon the pun.

Then there's casting Paul Rudd in the lead role.

He's no Chris Pratt. In fact, upon hearing the news that he was to star in the film I was mildly underwhelmed.

I mean, sure, he was fine in Friends, but that - like most of his film roles - was part of a bigger cast. He was hardly the shining star.

How the hell was he going to lead the line here?

Well...

Pretty bloody well, it turns out.

With subtle humour, Rudd delivers an under-stated performance - moving seamlessly from shlubby criminal to reluctant hero.

And it turns out he had a hand in the screenplay too, the clever sod.

Rudd's performance is so note perfect, in fact, he more than matches Michael Douglas, who is in some kind of late-career renaissance.

In fact, the more you look back and think and reflect on Ant-Man, the more you realise there's precious little to complain about.

It's long, but doesn't feel so. It's action-packed. It's got strong characterisation. It's dramatic and gripping. It has geeky bits for the uber-fans.

And it's laugh-out-loud funny.

It's got subtle gags, slapstick, obvious jokes, and giant things and stuff.

It all works.

In fact, the only complaint i have is how long it's taken me to write the bloody review, but for that I blame Terminator - a film so bad it left me numbed.

Only ranting about it on the podcast has released the shackles.



At some point, Marvel's bubble is going to burst and one of their films will be terrible.

But for now, Ant-Man continues the high bar that's been set, and proves that even the smaller characters can play a big part in a a fantastically enjoyable, hugely fun movie.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Terminator Genisys (12A)

Now I know we normally write our reviews straight after watching a film, but honestly, this time, I couldn't bring myself.

It's not even so bad you can slag it off, it's just dull. Brain-numbingly dull.

So we talked about instead. Kind of. But even someone who liked the film didn't have much to say about it...

Chewing The Popcorn Episode 15

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (12A)

Since Bond went all Bourne and favoured realism over bonkersness, there's been a dearth of mad-as-nuts action spy capers.

Thank the weird space alien gods, then, that Tom Cruise has so much fun making Mission: Impossible films that a fifth has now arrived.

And unlike the fifth Terminator film (more of that in a bit...), it's bloody good fun.



The plot (not that it matters) has Ethan Hunt (Cruise) racing about off the grid and undercover trying to prove to anyone that'll listen that The Syndicate is real.

He's helped, as ever these days, by Simon Pegg (techie-geek Benjie), Jeremy Renner (the be-suited Brandt) and Ving Rhames (the ever-reliable, ever-quitted Luther) - all of whom are having as much fun as Cruise is.

And, to be honest, without them I'm not sure the franchise would still be viable (no matter how much Cruise wants to carry on).

You see, if you trawl back through the previous instalments, the first is great fun, but the second was terrible. After that, it was a slow crawl back to the previous high-watermark.

And that crawl became quite the sprightly jog once Pegg appeared on screen in Mission: Impossible III. Inadvertently, Pegg has become the main reason M:I is worth watching.

And Rogue Nation is no different.

From the opening sequence of a plane taking off and Pegg, camouflaged up to his eyeballs, trying to open a door, the star of Spaced, Star Trek and the Cornetto Trilogy is the star and emotional heart of this movie.

Sure, Cruise's name is on the door, and newcomer Rebecca Ferguson is both sexy and seriously kick-ass, but it's Pegg who has you laughing your socks off during the car chases and holding your breath at other times.

And there are serious 'hold your breath' moments.

But they really aren't the point of the movie.

Let's face it, there is no point.

It's ludicrous, ridiculous, dumb as nuts bonkers. You'll find yourself asking such questions as 'where did she get that de-fib kit from?' and 'how did they get the hatch open?'

Only none of that matters.

It's the joyous over-the-topness that makes Rogue Nation the best film of the franchise.

Yes, it's taken them five films to get back to where they started, but when it's this much fun you can forgive them the low-point of II.

Who else could come up with a car chase that has you laughing out loud?

Or a bike chase where a motorbike actually explodes?

Or paper that becomes a laptop?

These are exactly the sorts of things you WANT in an M:I film!

And it's well shot too, which helps. It's slick and shiny, as these things should be.

The car chases are swift and visceral, the underwater scenes gripping, the opera suitably over-blown - writer and director Christopher McQuarrie has done a bang-up job.



Sure, there are plot holes, yes, if you apply logic your brain hurts - but there's serious films for that stuff.

With Mission: Impossible, the whole point is the improbability of the whole thing.

And sometimes it's just nice to give the brain a rest and let the eyes enjoy the ride.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Emily (15)

Among the many, many things I go out of my way to avoid - shopping in supermarkets, travelling by bus, Adam Sandler movies - Facebook ads are pretty near the top of the list.

They're intrusive, invasive and seem to know what you're thinking.

Then there's the 'promoted' stuff, that suddenly pings up in your newsfeed because someone you met once at a party clicked 'like' by accident last Thursday.



But just occasionally it pays to take an interest.

Like when the picture has Felicity Jones and Christopher Eccleston in it.

A short film? With Jones and Eccleston? Tell me more...

A few clicks and £1.99 later and I'm watching a beautifully measured and imagined story about a woman who wants to just feel anything other than what she is going through.

So she approaches a man alone in a cafe, and starts a conversation with one sole aim.

And for the 11 minutes Emily runs for, you are captivated and mesmerised as - with subtle comic touches offsetting the tension - the drama unfolds.

Now, those of you conditioned to the ways of the multiplex blockbuster may be shocked to hear that you can establish characters and storyline in a matter of moments.

It doesn't take half an hour and 17 explosions.

Jones' darkly-twisted character is portrayed with subtlety (and a clear sense of delight and enjoyment) while Eccleston does brilliantly in capturing a man and the lies he tells himself to justify his actions.

First-time writer-director Caroline Harvey uses close-ups to great effect, while the sound almost becomes a third character as it punctuates the tension and accentuates the drama.

In 11 minutes, Harvey delivers a film with fully-drawn characters, great performances and emotional punch and heart.

And all for £1.99 to boot.

And you don't just get the film for £2. You get biogs, deleted scenes, the script - I've not purchased and downloaded aa film before, but if this is the quality of the package then I'm converted.

It also means you can watch the film whenever you want, on any mobile device.

Huzzah!

(All of this is an added bonus, it's the film that's the star here).



* You can download Emily at www.wearecolony.com/Emily

And yes, I know, I still haven't written the Ant Man and Terminator reviews. There's a reason for that...

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Amy (15)

It's a funny feeling, going in to a film when you already know the ending.

Yet, just like with Senna, director Asif Kapadia constructs an enthralling narrative, building the tension as the inevitable conclusion looms.

It helps, of course, if you can't remember the actual all-important date. And if you can't, don't go looking it up before you go.



Compiled through home-filmed footage, YouTube clips, news bulletins and other documentaries, Amy delivers a raw and brutally honest portrayal of a woman never built to be the huge star she became.

Starting in 2001, we are guided through her early career, the highs, lows and creative inspiration as Amy builds towards her debut album.

What becomes immediately apparent is that this is someone with good friends, who care for her as much as she cares for them.

What also shines through is her talent.

Sure, we've all got the albums, we've all heard the singles, we all know she could sing - but when, in the opening minutes, you see her sing Happy Birthday to her friend, you are mesmerised.

This isn't a Britney wannabe. This is someone with a gift.

As the story unfolds, Kapadia does an excellent job in apportioning blame.

Father Mitch - never a stranger to the media spotlight - has already spoken out about how he is portrayed in this film, and he's right.

He doesn't come out of it well.

But it's not anything to do with the editing or a pre-determined narrative.

It's from the horses mouth.

Well, actually several horses.

By using interviews with everyone involved at the various stages of Amy's life and career, points when people should have intervened are flagged up and allowed to just sit with the audience.

You are left to make your own mind up.

But it's fair to say sympathy for a man who had the power to send her to rehab and didn't is hard to find.

But, much as I'm sure he'd like it to be, this isn't a film about Mitch.

No, it's a touching, engaging and emotive story of a woman who just wanted to sing, but became too famous for her own good.

Insights from doctors and rehab practitioners allow you to judge what went wrong, with whom and when, but again Kapadia is not directing the audience.

Although how anyone could walk away thinking well of her manager is beyond me.

No, Kapadia is just telling the story in a warm, sensitive way.

And the thing he captures perfectly is the vulnerability and beauty the tabloid tales chose to ignore.

As the collage of clips is assembled, you fall for the future jazz star. You're enthralled by her.

Actually putting her lyrics on screen as she sings goes a long way to enforcing this as well.

And when it all starts to crumble, you just want to reach out and help, or shout at someone else to do something.

In fact, you're so wrapped up in the tale, that the final chapter has huge emotional weight.

You are almost shocked, but you are also left feeling angry that those best placed to save her let her down.



This is not a conventional documentary by any stretch, but then Amy Winehouse was never a conventional artist.

But by combining such different footage - and adding a certain pop video sensibility to some of the proceedings - Kapadia has proven himself to be a master of the genre.

There will be those who don't think they need to see Amy because the tabloids told them everything, but that misses both the point of this film and the chance to see a true star in action.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Mr. Holmes (PG)

Sometimes the universe is a kind and generous place.

For weeks I have been hoping to find the time to get to see Mr Holmes. After all, it wasn't going to be a big box office hit so I had to be quick.

Fate conspired against me again and again, and yet Mr. Holmes kept being around. Clearly this was proving to be a bigger hit than first seemed possible.



And finally, the sun shone down.

Literally and figuratively.

And as an added bonus, it was every bit as good as I hoped.

Based on the book A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin (which seems to have been repackaged as Mr. Holmes), the story centres on the world famous Sherlock thirty years after he retired from active duty.

Through flashbacks and "current day" musings, we see Sherlock piece together his final case while fighting the ageing process and the onslaught of Alzheimer's.

Taking centre stage with what should become one of his defining roles is Sir Ian McKellen, who captures the old man perfectly while also bringing the classic character to life in his prime.

And it's this balance that helps make the film what it is.

It would be easy to use make-up and prosthetics to show the aged Holmes, but McKellen uses something known as acting instead.

His physical changes and the mannerisms he employs capture perfectly a man no longer at home in his body and mind.

It's the subtlety of his performance that makes the role of Holmes - and the film as a whole - the modern classic it will surely become.

But he doesn't carry this film on his own.

Oh no.

By his side is one Milo Parker.

Now, if you haven't heard of this kid don't be surprised, as this is only his second film project, but for a young boy he delivers a performance of depth and control that should be way beyond his years.

Credit must go to director Bill Condon, a man who's CV (The Fifth Estate and the last two Twilight films among others) far from suggested he could produce a film so gentle and delicate.

Yet, somehow, he pulls stellar performances from the entire cast, while making a film that evokes memories of a bygone age (think 80s Marple mixed with a smidge of Downton).

But this isn't just a nostalgia piece.

Amidst the mystery - which adheres to the traditional tropes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - is a story about grief and loss, age and friendship, with emotional punch and weight.

And it's this that makes the film what it is.

It could have been fluffy, it could have been a simple homage to a literary legend, but instead you get a serious drama - with laughs - made with warmth and humanity that is attracting audiences of all ages (at least going by my screening).



In an age where the fifth Terminator movie is with us, a fourth Jurassic Park is still there and a fifth Mission:Impossible is looming large (not to mention the ever-rolling Marvel juggernaut), to see a simple story prove such a success is heart warming.

There's no gimmicks here, no tricks. Sure it pulls at the heart strings, but that's down to the characters and the actors portraying them.

Without any flash or bang, Mr. Holmes lives long in the memory, reminding you of a time when the story was what really mattered.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Longest Ride (12A)

I have never knowingly watched a film based on a Nicholas Sparks book, and this is something I've been quietly very proud of.

And it seems I've accidentally proved myself right, because despite seeing the trailer and thinking it looked pants I found myself sat in front of his latest offering today.

I'd quite forgotten what the trailer had featured, such was its impact, and I'd either missed or forgotten that Sparks (he of The Notebook, Dear John etc) was ultimately to blame.



The story, such as it is, follows the path of true love with student and future art-loving intern Sophia (Britt Robertson) and bull-riding bare-buttocked man hunk Luke (Scott Eastwood), who throw themselves together after pulling Ira (Alan Alder) from a burning car.

And rescuing his box of letters. These are vital to everything.

From here, and having previously agreed that they couldn't be together what with her moving to Manhattan n all, our loving couple set about being a couple while Sophia spends the hours she's not studying or smooching visiting her new hospitalised friend.

Contrived would be an understatement.

Through these hospital chats, however, Ira (I'm pretty sure Alder only took this part because he wouldn't have to stand or try to actually act) tells the story of how love conquered all for him and his beloved way back in '41.

There are subtle parallels being drawn between the two relationships, which could pass you by if you're not paying full attention.

By that I mean not fall asleep.

Because if there's one thing this film doesn't do, it's subtle.

The dialogue is weighty and meaningful to the point of making you laugh out loud, scenes of longing stares and love-filled smiles smack you between the eyes on a regular basis, while the product placement around the bull riding sequences would give the Bond team food for thought.

Basically, if this was on the Hallmark channel on a Sunday afternoon you'd think it a bit OTT. It's so sweet and sugary it should come with a health warning for diabetics.

And you'd really better love Country. And not just the music. Everything that's Country.

You get line dancing, the bull thing, more Nashville ballads than Dolly's managed in her entire career, boots and hats for all, and a massive ranch.

Obviously.

In fact, this film is so full of people looking longingly at each other in a Country way that bits of the plot seem to have dropped out.

It's the only explanation I can find for the number of times things are mentioned - and accepted as fact - despite never having been mentioned before.

It's like whole other conversations have gone on behind closed doors.

Or maybe while Ira's banging on about life and love in a bygone age.

And the damn thing is so polished you almost need shades to watch it. Even the nostalgia scenes have the same sheen.

Even the bit of war action is bloody polished! It's the best looking muddy field you'll ever see.

And it's long. So so long.

It's actually only two hours, but it feels like twice that. At least.

Which is hugely ironic given you only have to hang on to that bull for eight seconds. It takes skill to make eight seconds feel like a lifetime, but somehow director George Tillman Jr has mastered it.

His other half must be delighted.



All of this pales into insignificance, though, because what has annoyed me most about this film - more than the smouldering looks, the clear use of beefcake to appeal to a certain graphic, the slow-motion horse riding and the appalling dialogue - is that it made me laugh.

Just once, right at the end, and with a "twist" so cliched and obvious I'm ashamed by my own reaction, but sadly laugh I did.

That doesn't make up for the previous 115 minutes, though, even if it was a good laugh.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Jurassic World (12A)

Seriously, what do you want from me? It's not like you're going to pay attention to what I say when there's a dinosaur on the loose-about.

It's not even like you don't know what's going to happen this time round - the whole damn thing is in the trailer.

Even if you've never seen any of the other three, all shocks and surprises are served up in the three-minute taster.



Just in case you haven't picked up on the subtlety and nuance of the back story, however, here's a refresher.

Man with money makes big amusement nirvana with monsters. It all goes to poop. People are surprised that this could happen.

They even reference the first park (although politely ignore Lost World and III) without learning from their own history.

Mind you, neither have we - which is why we're watching this balloon juice.

Of course, this is not a mere repeat of earlier films, no no. That would be too easy.

Yes, there are moments of racing dinosaurs through the fields. Yes, people get chased through jungles. Yes, the aviary is still an issue.

But this time (and you'll like this new twist) they've made a new dinosaur.

A whole new one. Who can, it seems, hide it's body temperature, camouflage itself, hatch a complex escape plan...

All of which will be explained using expositional dialogue so leaden it could have been hewn from the rock the original fossils were found in.

And even if the obvious stuff doesn't bother you (and it should), there are subtler issues that annoy.

Things like it having seemingly rained just before the helicopter takes off, a man who has seen live action with the army yet doesn't remember what safety harnesses are for, oh and would you look at my Apple Watch it's time to mention the product placement.

How the dinosaurs manage to get away with running about without any branding is beyond me, because this film couldn't exist without the non-too-subtle advertising that's going on.

Frankly, it makes a Bond film look measured and principled.

If you can, try and keep count, and see how far you get before the final big fight scenes. I was well into double figures.

Once they start trashing the gift shop and mall, you'll lose count.

And yet none of this would matter if the plot was worth a damn.

Points are made all through the film that Aunt Claire doesn't stay in touch with her nephews and doesn't even know how old they are (NEWSFLASH: She doesn't have to, that's a parent's job).

And yet, knowing full well where she works and how little interest she takes in children, Aunt Claire is seen as the perfect person to send the children to for a weekend.

No pre-amble, no back story, just a swift "hey, kids, you're too young to remember all the times a dinosaur theme park went tits up - have a great trip!"

And again, if the plot was anything more than gossamer thin, this wouldn't bother you.

But this film has been stitched together after a meeting in a pub with people who only half remember the original, been wrapped in carrier bag from the stores of the world and just thrown at the screen.

To be fair to him, Chris Pratt does his best to carry the whole thing - and he clearly isn't taking it too seriously - but the rest of the cast are either out of their depth (in this puddle, I know) or clearly bored.

Bryce Dallas Howard has the look of a woman who remembers being in The Help and can't believe she let her agent talk her into this, while Judy Greer carries the air of a woman who remembers what it was like to be given a back story.

Lauren Lapkus, meanwhile, is the woman with two masters degrees and a PHD who can't believe she's being employed to answer a phone.

The only other person who comes out of this with any credit is Jake Johnson, whose years on New Girl have finally paid off as his comic timing and knowing subtle air almost makes the more ridiculous scenes bearable.



I should be more annoyed by this film than I am. I should be livid that I spent precious hours of my life watching a multi-million pound blockbuster that still - at times - managed to look shonky and cheap.

I should be annoyed that a film I approached with low expectations failed to meet them.

I should be annoyed that this film was a screaming pile of pterodactyl poop.

But I can't be.

Because when it has the word Jurassic in the title, we know what to expect. And even when it's this bad, it's still better than any other film about dinosaurs running wild YET AGAIN in a dinosaur theme park.

Can't wait for the next one...

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Survivor (12A)

I was wrong about Survivor.

Last week, when I reviewed Spy, I lumped it in with other films that had Bond pretencions.

Now, in my defence, this is what the trailer would have us believe - Pierce Brosnan may have changed sides, but he was still the running, jumping, shooting guy he so loved being before being retired in favour of Daniel Craig.



But the trailer was misleading.

Instead, Survivor is a simple action movie with ambitions of being a thriller. And to be fair, at times it almost gets there.

The story focuses on Kate Abbot (played very well by Milla Jovovic), a government agent who thinks she's on to something.

Then things go boom, Brosnan's The Watchmaker (no, really) comes after her and she has to go on the run and try to stop a thing.

And that's pretty much it.

And it could have been brilliant.

Sadly, however, someone forgot to suggest a more subtle approach, and as a result this is a thriller where you don't have to do any thinking as the plot points are explained along the way.

Which is criminal, because with some better writing and more judicious editing, there could have been twists and turns instead of a laboured dash in a straight line.

Then there's the dialogue.

Clunky would be a kind word to use. Ridiculous and at times just down-right daft could also be brought in to play.

But it does look nice.

Cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann has done a fine job in making it look slick and atmospheric, with a lot of shadows helping to add atmosphere to cover up the lack of depth.

And, as I said earlier, Jovovich is in great form.

She is thoroughly credible as the American agent battling against the odds. She can handle the action scenes with ease, while being thoroughly believable when it comes to showing actual emotion.

Which is just as well, because Brosnan left his acting chops in his trailer.

Now, granted, playing the world's most wanted assassin (again, really) was never going to require a Shakespearian performance, but at times it feels like even he can't quite believe what he's being asked to say and do.

Brosnan that is, not Shakespeare.

And then there's his action scenes.

Not wishing to be unkind, but Pierce isn't getting any younger. Not a problem when playing a divorced dad in, say, The Love Punch or A Long Way Down (in both of which he is excellent), but when he has to slide down a light fitting?

Yes, it looks great, and has some lovely lighting techniques along with it, but he doesn't look comfortable doing it.

And running after Jovovich is no walk in the park either.

This, on the back of The November Man, would suggest it really is time he accepted he's not 007 any more and got on with making films with substance. Or intended laughs.

Mind you, he's not the only one who fails to have any sparkle.

Dylan McDermott, Frances De La Tour and Roger Rees are just three of the assembled cast who don't seem quite sure why they're there.

But even among all these negatives, there are some positives.

As well as looking nice, the action and explosions are good, and there is a brief spell where - even though you know who is doing what when - you do find yourself edging forward in your seat.

Which actually came as a bit of a shock, because not five minutes earlier I'd been picking apart another scene for it's basic daftness.

And not just because I enjoy doing that sort of thing, no. With Survivor, they kind of leap out at you.

Want to enter a cordoned off bomb scene? Just say "American embassy" to the Bobby on duty and he'll let you through. Need to meet someone at St Pancras around Christmas time? No bother, just drive there and park right outside. Want to stop a car getting in to a busy city centre? Don't speak to the driver, tell the passenger in the back...



Amazingly though, the positives do outweigh the negatives.

Sure, it's unsubtle (wait till you see what's on screen right at the end, just before the credits roll) and does all your thinking for you, but treat it as a 90-minute nuts-and-bolts action romp and you won't come away too disappointed.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Spy (15)

You may not have heard, but there's a new Bond film coming out later this year.

But don't worry if you can't wait that long, because there are two films out right now that will keep you ticking over.

Survivor clearly has aspirations to Bondhood, and even has a former Licensee To Kill at the helm in Pierce Brosnan. (There was also Spooks of course, but the less said about that the better).



Spy, meanwhile, has gone for a slightly different approach.

As you'd expect from Paul Fieg - the man who brought us Bridesmaids and The Heat - it's not a straightforward look at the spy genre.

Instead, it's got it's tongue firmly in it's cheek, it's heart (and there's a lot of love for Bond here) in the right place and - as you'd expect from Fieg and Melissa McCarthy - a bucketload of gags.

The story is not what you'd call complicated - after watching her spy partner Jude Law get shot, McCarthy steps up to go after Rose Byrne's Roya Boyanov, enlisting the help of Miranda Hart (yup, that one) and Peter Serafinowicz.

And the hindrance of Jason 'The Stathe' Statham.

And no stone is left unexploded in the team's bid to pay homage to a franchise everyone clearly loves.

There's a small amount of lampooning, as the women tend to come out on top, but this isn't a Spy Harder or a Hot Shots Part Deux.

Instead, it's Statham and Law's chance to play 007 with slapstick and puke gags thrown in for fun.

And fun it really is.

It's loud, brash, violent (all the blood never spilt in a Bond film is shed here), gross, ridiculous and - perhaps most surprisingly - subtle.

While the big laughs come with McCarthy throwing up after killing someone, or fainting over another corpse, the real gems are in the Bond geek moments.

Ever noticed how Bond films always feature a mildly patronising "local culture" scene every time Bond arrives somewhere knew (which is also handily spelt out on the screen)?

Fieg has.

And every new location is treated to this, and never in a way the local tourist board would appreciate.

Then there's the fight scenes.

Fieg gets right in close, so you can feel every bone break (as well as see and hear it). Every twatting with a frying pan rings around the cinema.

But it's not just a slapstick barf fight.

As well as the glamour and the action, Spy knows it has to have some sort of story with twists and turns (and a large amount of the ridiculous to hold it together) and Fieg delivers here too.

People pitch up out of nowhere to save the day, coincidences handily tie the story together, and there's a casino scene which will have Casino Royale fans grinning like idiots.

That's not to say Spy is perfect.

Miranda is asked to do nothing more than play Miranda - which may help shift her TV show stateside but adds nothing extra here - which is a shame when she can clearly act, and there's a very odd moment when Byrne has overdubbed herself. Obviously so.

There's also a point about an hour in when it feels like you've been in the cinema for days, but somehow Fieg manages to claw it back for his grand finale.

And the celebrity cameo is painful.

But.

All that said.

Spy is a whole bunch of swearing-stuffed fun.

Statham, Law and Serafinowicz are all clearly having the time of their lives, with Serafinowicz in particular almost stealing the show from McCarthy.

Not that that was ever really going to happen.

This is, after all, her show, and again she shows why she is one of the best comedy film actors around today (Mike & Molly never happened, OK? NEVER).

She gives her character depth, her delivery is faultless and she even takes on the action stuff head on and wins.

Spy isn't hard hitting, gritty or satirical. But it shouldn't be.



What it is is a massively fun way to while away a couple of hours.

It won't change your life, but it will make you laugh. A lot.

And that's almost the same thing.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 (12A)

I still remember watching Pitch Perfect for the first time.

A Glee episode with a better cast was not my idea of fun, but it had so much heart and humour you couldn't help but fall in love with the damn thing.

And they had the decency to leave it as a stand-alone film...



Or not.

Sigh.

Oh well, what else you gonna do on a sunny Sunday afternoon?

Picking up three years after they left us, PP2 has the girls still together and still hugely successful on the acapella scene.

Until Fat Amy has a slight accident in front of the President.

Still, from such unlikely scenarios comedy sequels are born, and so the girls set about regaining their reputation while having personal growth moments en route to the World Championships in Denmark.

Where else?

If you saw and loved PP1, PP2 has everything you want. It's not quite as good as the original (but hey, what is?), but that really doesn't matter.

Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson again lead the way, re-energising their characters with huge amounts of warmth and humour, while (as before) the rest of the cast help add to the chaos and the fun.

Holding the whole thing together once more are John Michael Higgins and writer/director Elizabeth Banks as the bitchy commentators who are now running their own podcast and seemingly somehow not getting sued in the process.

Granted, this is not as flawless as the first film - a lot of scenes end up feeling like sketches that have been loosely linked and the German group feel more than a smidge cliched - but it makes you laugh.

There are cheap gags, clever gags, slapstick gags, moments that make you squirm... It's got the lot.

And more cheesy pop and rock songs than you can shake an oar at.

Plus a list of cameo stars that no self-respecting dog could sniff at.

And that's why you can forgive the flaws - up to, and including, the fact no one actually sings acapella as there's always a sodding drum machine kicking about somewhere.

And everyone's been auto-tuned beyond repair.

But hey, that's the modern music industry folks. Quibbles over...

One of the clever tricks PP2 pulls is to sneak in some really dark bits of humour to puncture the more sweet moments, meaning you're never quite sure where it's heading next - while at the same time knowing exactly where it's heading.



It's not dark, or edgy, but that doesn't matter - it's a comedy, it's job is to make you laugh, and it manages that in fine style.

And yes the ending is about as saccharine as you'd expect, but by then you won't care about the fact your eyes seem to be leaking.

Just make sure you stay for the post-credit Voice sequence.

Mad Max: Fury Road (15)

I've driven home from cinemas on more occasions than I care to count.

As someone who passed his test back when it was actually a difficult thing to do, the simple act of hopping behind the wheel and heading home is one I am quite at ease with.

Except for today.



Today, I had to really make sure I didn't just hit the gas and race like hell. I did, however, keep a constant vigilance for other vehicles coming after me.

Because, you know, I'm not an idiot.

And why, I hear you ask, were you behaving like this?

Simple. Mad Max. It's what this film does to you.

Now, I'll be honest, having had a quick refresh of the first three films (the last of which came out 30 years ago) I approached Fury Road with some trepidation.

I know the original trilogy has it's fans, but I can't stand alongside them. The original films were terrible.

And not in a good way.

Terrible acting, abysmal dialogue, plots that made less sense than an unsubtitled Welsh soap opera - they really had nothing going for them.

So why, then, when such a winning formula has been loyally stuck to, was this one so much more fun?

Let's be clear about this from the off - this is not a good film. Not in the traditional sense at least.

The plot (Max is captured, escapes, gets captured again, gets thrown into a chase for others who have escaped, helps them with said escape) is as dumb as you'd expect. Especially when you factor in all the made-up words for stuff, plus the dumb names people are given.

(Before you start, yeah, I know, it's sci-fi, dumb names come as standard - it's just they seem dumber here.)

As for the dialogue, that's a heady mix of half-garbled words crossed with brief moments of weighty prose lacking any real weight.

Then there's Max himself.

As a noted Tom Hardy fan, this is not his finest hour (that's still Locke) - especially given he's channelling his inner Bane, mask and odd accent included.

But.

Despite all this.

Despite everything.

This film is one hell of a lot of fun.

Charlize Theron (as Imperator Furiosa - see, told ya) and Nicholas Hoult both put in fine performances, and while Hardy may not be asked to do much he makes you feel every punch and swing as the endless action set-pieces fly past.

And it's relentless.

Coming in at just under two hours, there really is no let-up from the car chases, fights, shoot-outs, bike chases, scraps, pursuits and melees.

Essentially it's Scrapheap Challenge crossed with Robot Wars held on a Top Gear road trip.

It's simply breathtaking.

You feel every nudge and shove, every shot and stab, every ram, every flame throw. Everything is thrown at you, and it all hits home.

And it just looks amazing, to the extent you can almost taste the dust clouds.

The only thing missing is the kitchen sink, but, you, know, they all disappeared post-nuclear meltdown.

I suspect this film is just as much of an onslaught in a normal 2D screening, but it actually deserves the full IMAX (Mad IMAX if you will) treatment as the 3D seems to just make everything come to life.

And the image of a steering wheel flying straight at my head made my inner-child grin from ear to ear.



As I said, if complicated plots and well-drawn characters with something to say is your thing then Mad Max will be wasted on you.

But if a white-knuckle roller coaster ride that leaves you literally breathless, with genuine peril and threat at every turn (all bets are off on who might survive from very early on) is how you want to spend a couple of hours this not only hits the spot it sets fire to it, drags it through the desert, stabs it, shoots it, stabs it again then runs over it.

And then gets really nasty.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Spooks: The Greater Good (15)

For those of you who missed it, or live in a different country, Spooks was great - and by that I mean the original TV series.

Of course, our American cousins won't know it by that name. They got to watch a series called MI-5.

Nope, me neither.



Anyhoo, where were we?

Right, yes, Spooks. TV show. Now film. Now showing.

And if my screening today is anything to go by, attracting an audience fond of rustling their snack bags and very keen to sit in the seat they booked (which is fair enough, but maybe Odeon cinemas would like to pay someone to actually show people where that is, eh?).

Sorry, wandered off at a slight tangent there.

Spooks. Film. Yes. Quite.

Having lost track of the TV show (which ran for a mighty 10 seasons) quite early on, I was interested to see if you needed prior knowledge or if it stood alone.

Well, thanks to a large amount of expositional dialogue, it stands alone. Although I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Featuring the "legendary" Harry Pearce (played by Peter Firth, whose face looks more and more like a perplexed ham with every passing year), who featured in the whole TV run, the film has Harry legging it while trying to bring down a terrorist and prove there's a traitor in The Service.

Quite a lot to do for one man, but this is Harry Pearce.

He's joined by Kit Harrington (he of Game Of Thrones fame) - who has never been in the TV show - along with a further mix of new and old characters.

And all of this works well and is perfectly fine.

People run around, people get shot or punched, people turn on other people, other people turn out not to have turned on people - it's all as you'd expect and want from a lengthy special episode of a much-loved TV show.

And there-in lies the problem.

To make the transition from small to big screen, you want the whole thing to be bigger as well - bigger set pieces, bigger explosions, bigger runny jumpy bits.

And while they are bigger - in as much as the screen they're now on his huge - they feel like they've come straight from the TV show.

That's not a problem if that's what you're hoping for, but in hitting the big screen this spy drama is automatically now up against Bond, Bourne et al and so the shortcomings become apparent.

Along with the expositional waffle, the key plot points are signposted with all the subtlety of car crash.

At one point (the water bottle bit) the only thing that was missing was a giant arrow reminding you which bit director Bharar Nalluri wants you to pay attention to.

And then there's the writing.

Along with back-story being filled in during serious conversations, you're expected to believe experienced agents would [redacted] or find [redacted] in a sodding bin without thinking 'hey up, that's not right'.

That's not to say, strangely, that Spooks is a bad film. The fight scenes are gritty, there are a couple of good one-liners chucked in for a giggle and Harry Pearce is busy being Harry Pearce.

It just doesn't feel big, grand, epic - like a movie should.

It's an extended TV special shown on a screen bigger than you've got at home and played through a better sound system.

And, in the case of the Odeon, with the lights on.

It's not fast-paced enough, it's not slick enough, it's not subtle enough to hold it's own with the big spy films.

It feels, well, rather British.

And not the films we make now. The films we used to make, ironically, before Spooks was first broadcast.



The acting's great, the directing is functional without being exciting, the script feels a tad thrown together...

You get the idea.

This could have made a great TV episode. Maybe even a decent two-parter.

But as a film, sadly, it falls short of what we've now come to expect from big screen spy sorts.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (12A)

This is going to be quite the year for blockbuster movies - not only is James Bond quaffing another martini in the Christmas run-up, there's also the small matter of Episode VII of Star Wars.

In the meantime, we have another gargantuan beast roaming the land flattening all before it.

First time round, amid fears that it would collapse under the weight of the assembled cast, The Avengers broke box office records worldwide.



And rightly so. It was nothing short of awesome.

Following it up, then, was going to be no small feat.

For a start, it couldn't stand alone. Events from the first film have shaped the Marvel universe, while The Winter Soldier casually got shot of S.H.I.E.L.D.

(Non-Marvel fans - they were the god guys, infiltrated by the bad guys and made to look bad).

These events, of course, had a knock-on effect in TV land where the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D became Agents Without...

So, now, we find ourselves on the threshold of a new story arc.

Those of us familiar with the books know what's coming (the next Captain America film is also a massive clue), but for those of you who only know these characters through the silver screen that's all to come.

In the meantime, there's another two-hour explosion of quips and arrows to keep you entertained.

And entertain it does.

Dropping you straight in with a full-on battle, you are greeted by old friends while new faces are introduced slowly.

Quips fly as fast as Iron Man, with the new story being tied into past events seamlessly.

Then the real drama starts.

And it's a masterstroke.

Casting James Spader as Ultron was nothing short of genius. The menace and malevolence he exudes in every syllable puts shivers down your spine.

And the fact he's more than able to go toe-to-toe with the big hitters means there's a real sense of danger - something missing when minions are firing guns at The Hulk.

But this isn't just another collection of big fights.

Away from the action, the lives of Hawk Eye, Dr Banner and Natasha Romanov come into focus, allowing us to connect further with these much-loved characters.

Writer/director Joss Whedon also plays a blinder with the way he stitches in more of Romanov's back story. OK, it's probably setting up her own movie, but the fact it's done so well negates any cynical mutterings.

Then there's the new guys.

The always excellent Elizabeth Olsen and Kick-Ass star Aaron Taylor-Johnson could have been lost in an already full cast, but their portrayals of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are so nailed they more than hold their own.

In fact, the audience connects with them so quickly there was an audible tense silence when things start getting a bit edge-of-the-seat.

The one noticeable difference from the first Avengers film is the tone.

Where the first was big, brash and bright, full of adrenaline and swagger, Age Of Ultron is a darker, more slightly muted beast.

In keeping with the sombre tones of Winter Soldier, Ultron is building to a bigger problem and this is marked in both the colour pallet and tone.

And that's not a criticism.

The added grit and drama make this feel a more grown-up film (as it did with Winter Soldier).

Marvel and Joss Whedon know the audience is growing up watching these films, and so the storylines are being allowed to mature as the gathered masses do.

That's not to say this is a perfect movie.

The generally excellent and unobtrusive 3D does tend to lend a blur to the fast-paced action sequences, and this is no playground for the uninitiated.

Having introduced everyone across several films (with the exception of three characters, the third being Andy Serkis' South African arms dealer), there is now the assumption that everyone knows what is going on.

Granted, when half the Western world has seen Avengers, this could be seen as a reasonable thought, but it does mean anyone coming in to see what all the fuss is about is left playing catch-up.

Obviously, this is of little matter to the rest of us, but it was a niggling thought as I sat in the cinema that if you didn't know who Black Widow was before you sat down, you'd be no closer to knowing at the end.

Same with the under-used Agent Hill.

But these really are small points.

Overall, it's another fine triumph.



It's not necessarily up there with the first Avengers, and it's not as much full-on fun as Guardians Of The Galaxy, but they are high bars indeed.

By following in the footsteps of Winter Soldier and the events elsewhere in the film/TV Marvel universe, this is a more serious film. And that's fine.

It's still a fantastic ride that will have you laughing (and even crying) as the lengthy running time flashes by in the blink of an eye.