Sunday, 31 March 2013

All Things to All Men review

All Things to All Men (15, 84 mins)
Director: George Isaac
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

So similar is this overegged cops and robbers thriller to the recent Welcome to the Punch that it wouldn’t have come as a huge shock to see that film’s crew setting up in the corner of the frame. Rufus Sewell is the detective on the trail of Toby Stephens’ jewel thief who enlists the help of Gabriel Byrne’s kingpin, who sees Stephens as a rival for his turf. It’s reasonably admirable in the way we’re chucked straight in to the middle of this situation without any fuss or preamble, and for a little while it looks like something interesting could be developing. It also does that thing Punch did so well of making London look sensational, but it comes unstuck when trying to live up to its title in a second half that becomes increasingly desperate for attention. A sprawling cast gets sucked in to a labyrinthine narrative driven by an overbearing score, and alarm bells go off when a plot point seems to reference LA Confidential. When it actually has the gall to follow through on it, it becomes glaringly obvious that this is a movie with nothing more to offer.

Monday, 25 March 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation review

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (12A/PG-13, 110 mins)
Director: Jon M. Chu
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

With more coherent action, a lot less dullness and the addition of a couple of star names to the cast, this dumb but passably entertaining sequel to 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is certainly miles better than a woeful first instalment that was largely gibberish. That’s not to say the plot here isn’t nonsensical, because it is, some foolishness about Cobra, the baddies, having created a doppelganger of the president (Jonathan Pryce), then threatening the world with a new super-weapon while a betrayal leads the Joes, the goodies, on a revenge mission. The arrival of Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson to the elite military team that is the Joes is a welcome one, and they punch and blow stuff up real good. There’s also more Channing Tatum to be had than was originally planned, with reshoots delaying this sequel’s release by nine months to cash in on him being one of the most popular stars of the past year, and he and Johnson share a nice dynamic. Some nifty gizmos and action sequences that are cool in ways that the core target audience of 12 year old boys will find pleasing are the movie’s bread and butter, but it’s whenever anyone has to open their mouths that it all starts to go wrong, with some truly honking dialogue. But the central sequence, a sensational ninja-tastic chase and swordfight on the side of a mountain, is good enough almost to make this a recommended watch.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Stolen review

Stolen (12A, 96 mins)
Director: Simon West
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Nicolas Cage’s latest cash-in is a howlingly silly crime thriller that sees the once bankable star playing a master thief who ends up in jail after a job gone wrong. Eight years later he’s out and looking to reconnect with his teenage daughter, when his wronged former partner (Josh Lucas) kidnaps her, demanding a share of the missing $10m from their botched heist. Cue multiple scenes of Cage bumbling around New Orleans on Mardi Gras, while a feeble script chucks in body parts from all sorts of sources, from his and director Simon West’s own Con Air to The Fugitive. It’s pretty tired stuff, even though Cage is reasonably watchable and Danny Huston has fun as the Fed on his trail, but Stolen is the kind of film where the audience is always two steps ahead of the writer, and where a man who has been in prison for eight years can work an FBI computer but doesn’t know what sat-nav is.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Blu-ray prizes to be won

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Friday, 15 March 2013

Red Dawn review

Red Dawn (12A, 93 mins)
Director: Dan Bradley
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

by Steven Neish

Arriving home to Spokane, Washington on leave, U.S. Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) meets his father, Police Sergeant Tom Eckert (Brett Cullen), at a football game being played by younger brother Matt (Josh Peck). Following a blackout at the after-party, Jed and Matt wake to find the sky full of invading soldiers paratrooping from overhead transport aircraft. Forced to flee without their father, the brothers pick up a number of Matt’s peers on the way out of town, moving into the family retreat as they try to decide what to do next. Opting to fight rather than flee, the young rebels name themselves after their school football team and wage guerrilla warfare on the enemy forces.

A remake of John Milius’ 1984 film of the same name, Red Dawn finally arrives in cinemas after years spent on a shelf at MGM due to the studio’s financial troubles. Due to the emergence of a lucrative Chinese market in the interim, director Dan Bradley used this prolonged post-production to manipulate the film’s antagonists, changing their ethnicity from Chinese to North Korean. As a result of this delay, any momentum that the project might have built has long since dissipated.

Luckily, this has done the finished result something of a favour, as Red Dawn is best viewed on a whim with little in the way of preconceptions or expectation. Just as the original Red Dawn was far from a revelation, so too is this Red Dawn a nuts and bolts actioner that will entertain you across its running time only to unceremoniously vanish from memory shortly after the credits have rolled. Good thing really, as any further thought would only serve to reveal how ridiculous the film actually is. And my word is it ridiculous.

Opening with a football game so loud it may well register on the Richter Scale, Bradley does his best to bludgeon audiences into a sort of drooling submission to presumably stop them from questioning the plot as it unfolds. Why is the music louder outside of the car than inside, he doesn’t want you to ask. What sort of Mickey Mouse military would ever attempt to colonise America? How do The Wolverines enter and exit the captured zone with such ease, and why does nobody else exploit this obvious enemy oversight? Also, wasn’t this remade already as Tomorrow, When The War Began?

If all war movies were summarily dismissed for being silly, however, there wouldn’t be much of a genre left. You’re not meant to take it seriously, and it is hard to imagine how anyone could possibly be offended by a film so readily ridiculous, yet a number of reviews have accused the film of being jingoistic and hateful, citing the same rhetorical speeches and racial stereotypes that litter most of these films. Strange, really, as you don’t exactly have to read between the lines to hear Chris Hemsworth compare his Wolverines to the freedom fighters battling against U.S. forces in Iraq or calling out a local girl for her geographical ignorance. And then there’s the absolute gem of a one-liner: “Marines don’t die, they go to hell and regroup”.

Red Dawn is not a good movie, but neither is it anything to get worked up about. A capable cast (bolstered in the third act by a late appearance from Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and a laughable script will likely keep its target audience entertained, but even the most undemanding viewers will be as hard-pressed to distinguish 2012′s Red Dawn from the original, or any other action film from the 1980s. Or, for that matter, their subsequent remakes.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Croods review

The Croods (PG, 99 mins)
Directors: Kirk DeMicco,Chris Sanders
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Far from skulking in Pixar’s shadow like they did for most of the Noughties, Dreamworks Animation has upped their game considerably in recent years thanks to the likes of Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.

But while Pixar have had to face one or two recent blips, Dreamworks have also taken a backwards step with their latest, The Croods, as flat and unengaging an animated comedy as a major production company has made in years.

The Croods of the title are a cave-dwelling prehistoric family in a harsh and unforgiving world, where every day is a struggle to eat and not be eaten. Dad Grug (Nicolas Cage) hammers home the message of danger and how no good can come of anything new, and is obsessed with keeping them all safe in their cave.

Daughter Eep (Emma Stone) is going through a teen rebel stage and longs for some fun, which happens along when she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who claims the world is ending and that they need to get to high ground.

Outwith the setup of a story that’s both strained and lacking in any real hook, many elements seem added at random. When their cave is destroyed the Croods end up in a strange and colourful new world that owes a lot to Avatar, but makes little sense in most other regards.

The voices are lively, which is something, but most decent animations should have the voices as icing rather than the best thing about it. And the animation is stunning, no two ways about it. But there’s never any sense of wonder, despite all the colour and scale and pyrotechnics.

And the largely charmless story is a road to nowhere. Thematically it’s thin, its main concern about parents letting go and kids growing up anything but new. Chaotic, and lacking any immediate appeal from either characters or plot, The Croods is little more than an awful lot of running and bouncing and falling for no real reward.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone review

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (15/PG-13, 100 mins)
Director: Don Scardino
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Burt Wonderstone of the title, played by Steve Carell, and his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have been friends since childhood and are now hugely successful magicians in Las Vegas. They’ve been doing the same show for years, but the arrival of a daring new street magician (Jim Carrey) along with dwindling crowds threatens to make them a thing of the past. Even if it does sometimes lapse into silliness, this rather flat comedy isn’t really the out and out spoof that you might expect. At least that means it doesn’t have to mug for laughs, which is a mercy, but the problem is the scarcity of decent chuckles, and it’s about a decade too late to bemoan the rise of the street illusionist when it seeks to lampoon their pomposity and ridiculous stunts. The rest is predictable as Burt has to learn to not be a buffoon, with Carell not ideally cast in a role that screams for a Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller. While it never comes close to busting a gut, it’s generally fairly amiable, which is something, but it’s still pretty weak brew.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Maniac review

Maniac (18/R, 89 mins)
Director: Franck Khalfoun
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

1980 slasher Maniac gets the remake treatment with the added hook of a first person point of view, with the slaughter seen through the eyes of Elijah Wood’s killer. We only ever see him in reflection, and it’s a clever bit of casting to present an actor known for his cuddliness as a psychopath whose thing is to scalp his victims for wigs, Vincent Price style, for his mannequins. Maniac is certainly grotesque, and sometimes that’s all horror fans ask, but getting involved in this savage and scuzzy little film is harder. The arrival of a photographer whom Wood wants badly not to kill shakes things up a little, but it’s not enough to dispel the need for a point to his journey, and repetition sets in quickly. Ed Gein, Hannibal Lecter and more are the touchstones, but simply referencing them is not enough, and no real comment on audience voyeurism is offered in the way that Michael Haneke might. Where it does succeed is in making modern day Los Angeles look like hell on earth or, at the very least, New York in the 1970s, but that’s really not enough to hang an entire movie on.

The Paperboy review

The Paperboy (15/R, 107 mins)
Director: Lee Daniels
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Lee Daniels’ first film since his Oscar-winning Precious certainly serves up a combustible hodgepodge of flavourful ingredients, even if the finished dish lacks a certain something. We’re in sweltering 1960s Florida, where a murdered sheriff leads to John Cusack’s convicted killer on death row, and Nicole Kidman’s white trash Charlotte who claims to be in love with him. Enter Zac Efron as a young writer assisting his journalist brother (Matthew McConaughey) on an investigation into Cusack’s possible innocence, with his relationship with Charlotte getting him into bother he never dreamed of. Though unapologetically lurid, The Paperboy is never quite fun or demented enough to overcome the thinness of a story that has to be garnished with sleaze to disguise it shortcomings and the complete lack of a third act. One particular scene, which we’ll call the “jellyfish” scene in the interests of good taste, will live on in infamy far beyond the film itself, which should tell you everything you need to know. Filthy and sweaty it certainly is, and fans of Efron in his pants will be over the moon. But engaging, or dramatically satisfying? Not even close.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Oz The Great And The Powerful review

Oz The Great And The Powerful (PG, 130 mins)
Director: Sam Raimi
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

by Steven Neish

Having returned to Kansas with his travelling circus, magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is shown to be a fraud when he cannot heal a young girl who is unable to walk. Forced to flee on a colleague’s hot air balloon, Oscar is pulled into an approaching tornado and transported to the land of Oz.

Discovered in the wreckage by a witch named Theadora (Mila Kunis), he is informed of a prophecy that predicts the arrival of a saviour, one which she believes concerns him personally. Theadora is not the only witch in town with the prophesy in mind, however, and both Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) have their own plans for the so-called Wizard Of Oz.

In one sense a prequel to the 1939 original, Oz The Great In The Powerful also preludes the book series that it was based on, and strives to be a stand-alone success - complete with its own franchise potential - in the process. Sam Raimi certainly has his work cut out for him, not only in terms of appeasing fans of MGM’s The Wizard Of Oz but its lawyers too. For this reason we have a brick road that charts a few hues along on the Dulux chart, a Wicked Witch without a mole on her chin, and, unfortunately, a film that never quite emulates the charm and wonder of its predecessor - whether by design or not.

With past form in the prequel department courtesy of 2011′s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, James Franco certainly seemed like a wise choice to front Oz The Great And The Powerful. While his decision to mug and gurn at the camera befits the atmosphere of nostalgia - working particularly well during the black and white, 4:3 opening salvo - it begins to wear a little thin once he enters Oz and his character arc finally begins. It’s less his performance than the part itself that is problematic; his persistent insistence that he isn’t the wizard Oz is looking for is just a little too reminiscent of Alice’s recent trip to Underland.

The film affords precious few opportunities for its cast to actually impress. If Franco isn’t sure of his heroic destiny, then the script is equally uncertain as to the identity of its true antagonist. At one point or another, each of Oz’s three resident witches are fingered as the true Wicked Witch of Oz, leaving Kunis, Weisz and Williams to play for ambiguity when they really need to be making the roles their own. They’re not given much to work with, the key female roles reduced to uninspiring stereotypes that have no place in the land of Oz.

It isn’t just the human characters that disappoint; the token sidekicks are hardly memorable either, with Finley the flying monkey and China Girl quickly proving to be no substitute for the Scarecrow or Tin Man, and they are never really fleshed out or developed beyond their vocal ties to the real world Oscar inhabited prior to the tornado.

It isn’t until the final act that Oz The Great And The Powerful actually starts to redeem itself, with the filmmakers’ efforts to honour the original paying due dividends. There are admittedly flashes of greatness throughout - a witch’s tears are shown to burn her cheeks, foreshadowing the Wicked Witch’s ultimate fate - but it is in these final throes that the film finds an identity of its own. Whereas Disney’s Alice In Wonderland concluded in an incongruous battle that suddenly recasts Lewis Carroll’s heroine as some sort of dragon-slayer, Disney’s Oz The Great And The Powerful actually follows through and delivers a finale that feels completely faithful to the characters and world.  The result is as bizarre as it is brilliant.

While Oz The Great And The Powerful may have one or two tricks up its sleeve, however, it is for the most part just unnecessary smoke and mirrors. Though its heart may be in the right place, the script is smart enough to homage the original and Raimi’s determination to make the flying monkeys as scary as possible shows real guts, this particular trip to Oz has very little else to offer.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Fire with Fire review

Fire with Fire (15/R, 97 mins)
Director: David Barrett
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Josh Duhamel’s fireman enters the witness protection programme after seeing an Aryan crime boss (Vincent D’Onofrio) murder a shopkeeper in a gang related slaying. While waiting to testify, Duhamel is relocated to New Orleans where, eight months later, he’s involved with Rosario Dawson’s FBI agent, part of the team assigned to look after him, with the baddies on his tail all the while. Pedestrian in the extreme and dressed up with flashy gunplay, Fire with Fire is a sloppy excuse for a thriller, dimly plotted and thoroughly uninvolving, lacking any sense of momentum or excitement. It’s a miracle such a low-rent and borderline inept movie hasn’t crashed straight to DVD, but perhaps that can be attributed to Bruce Willis who, as the officer in charge of the case, has a minimal, rather pointless role at the head of an over-caffeinated cast doing shouty, unconvincing work.