Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension review

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (15/R, 88 mins)
Director: Gregory Plotkin
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The advertising for the latest found footage spook-snooze in the Paranormal Activity series boasts that for the first time you will see the activity. Basically if anything at all were to happen on screen it would be an exponential increase in excitement from the thoroughly dull and lifeless affairs that the franchise has devolved into. The first was a nice surprise and for a while they were being knocked out at one a year, at the cost of about £6.50, and therefore to healthy box office returns even as audience interest started to wane. They’re less frequent now, but this one follows the same template of a family in a house being bothered by poltergeisty antics. When they find a bunch of old VHS tapes featuring two young girls who seem able to see what they're doing, they set up cameras at night to record the mysterious goings on in their daughter’s bedroom. We then get to watch that footage in all its glory, and in fairness we do get to see the activity, consisting mostly of fuzzy shapes and sudden loud noises. It’s all relentlessly, criminally boring and riddled with more plot holes than there’s room for here - do they never actually look at what they’ve filmed afterwards? And worst of all because it’s supposedly being filmed on an old 80s camera, we’re forced to watch it through a headache-inducing blur. Almost as bad is an exhausting gimmick where the 3D only kicks in when the ghost does its thing, but at least constantly putting on and taking off the glasses is a nice distraction from watching the movie.

The Last Witch Hunter review

The Last Witch Hunter (12A/PG-13, 106 mins)
Director: Breck Eisner
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

When you’re the star of what is currently the most lucrative franchise in cinema and can pretty much take your pick of projects, it looks like an odd choice for Vin Diesel to pitch himself front and centre in a hokey-looking fantasy horror.

There have been no shortage of duds involving witches and their ilk of late, and anything with a whiff of Dungeons and Dragons has been roundly rejected by audiences. And yet The Last Witch Hunter, while by no means particularly good, sets its sights on a low bar and clears it with some style. By maintaining a sense of fun and of its own silliness it stays on just the right side of ripe, and Diesel more or less manages to sell it, even through the nonsense he's forced to speak.

A meaty prologue gives us medieval Vin, where he and his beardy, leather-clad pals tackle a witch queen who has been terrorising the lands and is responsible for spreading the plague. The only way to deal with her is, of course, by sticking her through the heart. Diesel’s character, named Kaulder, manages this, but in the process the witch curses him with immortality.

There can be only one, and 800 years later we're in modern day New York where Kaulder functions as a guardian, keeping an eye on witches and making sure they stick to their code of not bothering the humans. Given that the title conjures notions of him spending most of the running time, well, hunting witches, it’s not the all out action fest that might have been expected.

Instead there’s a lot time devoted to details and backstory. There’s an old priest and a young priest, played by Michael Caine and Elijah Wood, who are known as Dolans, an order of aides who have been by Kaulder’s side through the centuries. With Caine’s Dolan 36 about to hand over the reins to Wood’s 37, he comes under attack, leading Kaulder to investigate what some bad witches may be up to in the city.

When it comes to plotting The Last Witch Hunter is largely gibberish, particularly in a final third that grows increasingly undisciplined. But there are still some worthwhile developments along the way and in terms of the mythology created, it actually contains one or two original ideas.

It's not been put together on the usual mega budget but the special effects and production design are of an accordingly decent standard, and it really does look very nice. It has a sense of humour, Diesel is a competent star, and for daft undemanding fun you could do a lot worse.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Zurich Film Festival - Miss You Already

Miss You Already (112 mins)
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Lifelong friends Jess and Milly (Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette) live in London in those ludicrous houses you only ever get in movies; Milly and her husband (Dominic Cooper) live in an East End conversion, Jess and her husband (Paddy Considine) live on a boat. It’s a friendship that’s somewhat foisted on us, told in montage and never feeling organic, but tested early on in this tawdry weepy when Milly is diagnosed with cancer and faces bouts of chemotherapy. To its credit it doesn’t desperately overplay the cancer card, but the problem is that’s the only card it has, though when it keeps attempts at humour it doesn’t fare too badly. Beyond the illness stuff it’s just a bland, soap-standard domestic drama, filmed with handheld cameras to make it appear edgy when it so clearly isn’t. Most of the conflict comes from Milly treating everyone around her badly, and that’s an acceptable angle which comes off thanks to the excellent Collette, far more convincing than the limited Barrymore. Obviously things need to come to an emotional head, and while it attempts to be this generation’s Beaches, there’s no danger of that.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Zurich Film Festival - The Walk

The Walk (123 mins)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

If you’re wondering why the plot of The Walk sounds familiar it’s because documentary feature Man On Wire covered the same ground in Oscar-winning fashion in 2008. It was told with such style and vigour that it worked as a thriller in its own right, further raising the question of the need for this dramatisation of how Philippe Petit attempted to tightrope walk between the World Trade Centre buildings in 1974. The only real way to justify it is to show us things that the doc couldn’t, and this is where The Walk triumphs, albeit only once we hit the final third or so. Director Robert Zemeckis has always been something of a visual effects pioneer in his films and he takes us on an astounding ride here as Petit balances on his wire and the camera glides all around him, with stomach-lurching drops to the streets of New York below, and if doesn’t exactly look realistic, it certainly looks amazing. Up until that point scenes are mostly variations on someone telling Philippe he’s crazy and him agreeing with them and saying he has to do it anyway. As such there’s not exactly a surfeit of great drama, although once Petit and his accomplices reach the States it takes on the mantle of a heist movie and offers some tense moments. Joseph Gordon-Levitt adopts a convincing French accent to play Petit and is an agreeable lead, while the film makes the most sensible use since Inglourious Basterds of characters not speaking their own language.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Zurich Film Festival - A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods (104 mins)
Director: Ken Kwapis
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

When American writer Bill Bryson set out to walk the Appalachian Trail in the mid 1990s and then wrote the subsequent book of his adventures, he was somewhere in his mid 40s.

Robert Redford, pushing 80, may seem an unusual casting choice to play Bryson, but he’s been in possession of the rights to A Walk in the Woods since the 90s and has finally realised his long-cherished ambition of getting it to the screen.

With the film being set in the present day, Redford is essentially playing Bryson now, a man in his mid 60s. As such the casting isn’t too much of a stretch and actually rather works, with Redford instantly capturing the facetiousness of Bryson’s one-liners.

It can’t be an easy job to fictionalise a travelogue, and this film will never take the place of the book in terms of the detail and depth that can be covered. So the only way to make it work is as a light comedy, and it more or less succeeds in nailing the tone and Bryson’s way with language.

Dramatic impetus needs to be created, so an associate’s death is the spur for Bryson to plan to walk the AT, over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. His wife (Emma Thompson) tries to talk him out of it of course, but he needs someone to go with him. Everyone says no expect his old buddy Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), who turns up wildly out of shape and with a craving for doughnuts.

So off they set from Georgia, Bryson ahead, Katz behind struggling to keep up, puffing and moaning, and the grizzly and grumpy Nolte is also a nice bit of casting. Their prickly relationship is at the centre of most scenes, and their age does add a certain poignancy the film wouldn’t necessarily have had with younger men.

Lines are lifted directly from the book, and some of Bryson’s exchanges read like great comedy dialogue anyway, so it translates nicely to the screen. Unfortunately it’s a crying shame the whole thing just wasn’t in the hands of more talented filmmakers. Episodes feel rushed and side characters barely get a look in, while the addition of knockabout pratfalls isn’t really a successful one and half the time the joke is botched through poor execution.

Nor does it really give a sense of the mile after mile trudging that’s captured in the book, or the hardship. It all seems a bit quick and easy, with too many hotels and not enough squalor, but then you can’t just watch them walk for minutes on end.

But it’s perfectly pleasant and gets most of the important stuff right, like the majesty of nature. Bryson fans should find stuff to enjoy, newcomers should get a few easy laughs, and everyone can dwell on the notion that it could all have been so much better.

Zurich Film Festival - Life

Life (111 mins)
Director: Anton Corbijn
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

In 1955 Los Angeles, photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) is trying to make a name for himself, working mostly on movie sets and at premieres when he’s introduced to a young actor named Jimmy Dean (Dane DeHaan).

This initially intriguing but largely dull drama takes place just before Dean hits the big time. He’s already shot East of Eden though it hasn’t been released yet, while Warner Bros are in the process of deciding whether to offer him the lead in Rebel Without a Cause.

A few months later he’d be dead, his persona immortalised forever by just three movies. But in the meantime he’s more or less unknown and Stock thinks he can help them both out. He sees the potential star in James Dean and, realising he won’t be unknown for long, wants the big photo-shoot break that will get an assignment with Life magazine.

They strike up a friendship but Dennis has a hard time getting him to commit, and they circle around each other for what must be a good half of the film. Will Dean let him take the pictures? Won’t he? It’s a long time to wait covering much of the same ground, yet they come across as reasonably compelling presences all the same.

Early moments look like we might be getting a real insight into a legendary figure. Dean wants to be a great actor, and comes across as cool upfront but insecure in private, and unsure how to play the showbiz game. The movie is correct to focus on a specific period of his life rather than go the full biopic route, but there needs to be more going on than this, and it becomes apparent after a while that this is a one scene film, with that scene played out over and over.

DeHaan doesn’t look especially like Dean, particularly once the film cuts to Stock’s actual photos of him, but he captures his laconic, mumbling manner in reasonably convincing style. Pattinson is unfortunately lumbered with trying to dredge up audience interest in a guy where there may not be any to be found. With Dean you can at least see the hook.

A lot of scenes pass without us getting any further forward, or offer any clear notion of why we’re watching it. And the longer it goes on, the less interesting it becomes. It does that thing you get in Hollywood biopics as characters offer awkward introductions to real people, but scores a few points in displaying the power of movie moguls back then. Ben Kingsley as Jack Warner wanting to control every aspect of Dean’s life, and the inanity of the publicity machine is revealed.

But while the film manages to avoid the clumsy early need of having to spoon-feed us who Dean is, it later negates that by filling in his details with on-screen text, the laziest device available to movie biographers.

Zurich Film Festival - Sicario

Sicario (121 mins)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent whom we first meet discovering a house full of dead bodies as she leads a kidnap response team working in Arizona.

Catching the eye of her superiors, she volunteers for a cross-agency task force taking on Mexican drug cartels. This brings her into contact with another pair of agents (Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro), who may be DEA or CIA or something else entirely, such is their reluctance to share information with Kate.

They take her into Mexico where she’s thrown into the midst of a big operation with no clue what she’s getting into or with whom. It’s as an expose of the grim reality of the effect the drug trade has had on Mexico where Sicario really scores, sparing no punches in showing the violence and vengeance tearing apart a country overrun with criminality.

Of slightly less interest is Macer’s concern that they have no jurisdiction over the border and that her two associates seem to have agendas of their own, and the question of motives and trust hangs over Sicario. The title comes from the Mexican word for hitman and it’s a solid and grown up drama, muscular and hard hitting.

Other than one very well staged shootout, much of the first hour is Kate shadowing and learning and events are seen through her eyes as she observes and questions. The tension comes from her and us not knowing anything though it starts to labour that point a bit in the middle, but there’s always a feeling that everything is under control and it’s heading in the right direction.

The problem is we’re led in to it in the belief that it’s Macer’s movie when in fact many of the best scenes feature Brolin and Del Toro, with the latter in particular growing to dominate the story. And a question begins to surface of whether Macer is actually much of a character and not simply something of a sideshow in a bigger picture, a passenger in her own movie. In many ways that’s fine, because fortunately the men played by Brolin and Del Toro are highly compelling, and this trio of excellent performances carries it through.

As an exercise in finely tuned craftsmanship, Sicario is certainly very impressive, and Denis Villeneuve continues to be a director to keep an eye on. There’s no real template for what it is as a movie, being very much its own beast which is definitely a good thing.

If it’s a standard cops and drugs thriller you’re after then Sicario is not that kind of movie. But if you go in prepared for something other than what you might be expecting then there’s a lot to take away.

Zurich Film Festival - Mississippi Grind

Mississippi Grind (109 mins)
Directors: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
For the first few minutes there’s some promise in this gambling drama that displays a confident directorial style as sad-sack Ben Mendelsohn and fast-talking Ryan Reynolds meet at a poker table. Impressed with his new pal, Mendelsohn takes a shine to his style and they team up, travelling along the Mississippi to New Orleans, picking up whatever action they can along the way because, as is always the way with these things, Mendelsohn owes some money to some people. Reynolds talks and talks, telling stories like he’s Verbal from The Usual Suspects, and it seems like there are bound to be some intriguing developments down the line. But it starts to emerge that this is a story with nowhere to go, and no one particularly interesting to get us there. It never really makes it clear what the stakes are, so it’s not much more than a meander from one casino to the next. An air of desperation hangs over it, and that much glumness is fine if there’s a spark or a purpose, but Mississippi Grind largely drifts despite the best efforts of its leads.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Zurich Film Festival - The Program

The Program (103 mins)
Director: Stephen Frears
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

The rise and fall of Lance Armstrong was fairly well covered a couple of years ago in Alex Gibney’s probing doc, The Armstrong Lie. But, just as The Walk from last week re-trod the ground of Man On Wire, here now is a dramatisation of those events that works reasonably as a companion piece.

Beginning in the mid 90s, Armstrong (Ben Foster) is the new kid on the cycling block, taking part in his first Tour De France and presenting us with an ambitious and determined individual. Everyone knows the winners dope so Armstrong approaches an Italian doctor asking to become part of his programme, where he’s administered a performance-enhancing drug called EPO.

Though fairly simplistic, the film does well to focus on the cycling and the attendant controversies, with Chris O’Dowd as the journalist who digs into the scandal of the endemic doping and the code of silence that protects a rancid sport and its riches.

The cycling footage gets right in amongst it, throwing in some archive stuff too to really get a sense of the crowds. It rattles through Armstrong’s cancer treatment and recovery while sensibly leaving out plenty of personal life material that could only have made this an even more functional biopic than it already is.

It also works by presenting several sides of Armstrong - the public adore him, and undoubtedly his charity work that raised millions for cancer research was a good thing. As a character he’s able to overcome the limitations of the film and Foster is very good, capturing well this persona of manipulation and self-belief. It’s those very flaws and contradictions in Armstrong that keep The Program interesting even if in many regards it’s A to B stuff. It’s by no means a great movie, but it’s about such a compelling man that by having this guy at its centre it more or less succeeds despite the uninspired filmmaking.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Zurich Film Festival - Regression

Regression (106 mins)
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Supposedly inspired by real events involving satanic rituals that took place in the States in the 90s, this decent thriller stars Ethan Hawke as a cop investigating the case a young woman (Emma Watson) who is suspected of being abused by her father. The father believes he’s guilty but doesn’t actually remember anything about it, leading the authorities to try regression hypnotherapy to unlock his mind. What follows is not a possession horror, thank goodness, because we’ve certainly had enough of those recently. All the same, some of the regression stuff is quite creepy when it comes to visions of black masses and the like, though the investigation doesn’t exactly rattle along and a few too many scenes are just people being interviewed. But Hawke is on good form, going for a forceful earnestness that recalls Tom Cruise, and the effect the case has on him is well handled. So while Regression is by no means great, the film’s ability to develop in unexpected directions is probably its strongest card and its cumulative power is eventually more than the sum of its parts.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials review

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (12A/PG-13, 131 mins)
Director: Wes Ball
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Released this time last year, The Maze Runner was one of the more successful examples of young adult fiction properties looking for a slice of the action in the wake of the triumph of The Hunger Games.

Where Divergent started out mediocre and then just got worse, and the likes of The Host and The Giver exploded on the launch pad, The Maze Runner offered a well-realised world while sowing seeds for further exploration. Unfortunately that early promise has been somewhat squandered in this lumpen sequel that does nothing to separate it from the herd.

It doesn’t provide much in the way of re-cap, so the pertinent facts are that a group of youngsters found themselves trapped in a walled area called the Glade, which was separated from whatever lay beyond by a monster-filled maze.

As we join it here, a small band led by Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) have escaped the Glade to learn that they're part of a program run by Patricia Clarkson’s Dr Paige intent on finding a cure for the Flare, a virus which has ravaged the planet.

Where the first movie was keen to promote a mystery, with characters not even knowing their own names at first, this starts us out with a hint of backstory and flashback, as Thomas as a young boy is put into the care of Dr Paige by his mother.

Now he and his friends are at a facility run by Aidan Gillen, which seems as much a prison as anything, immediately raising questions of who can be trusted. It transpires they weren’t the only maze, but just one group among a handful of young people who appear to be immune to the virus. True to futuristic sci-fi tropes, Thomas discovers a conspiracy in which they're being harvested in order to find a cure, leading them to bust out and into the Scorch, a desert world that’s all that remains of our planet.

Where the first film seemed fresh and had a number of distinctive characters to get behind, this feels like Young Adult by numbers, full of crumbling cities and grubby resistance groups. It’s dark and grim and hope is thin on the ground, though that isn’t a bad thing, and it’s probably one of the least youngster-oriented of YA adaptations. With victims of the Flare exhibiting zombie-like behaviour, for a while the movie turns into World War Z, which does it absolutely no favours either.

So not only is it dry during the setup phase, the midsection is just a lot of running and hiding and fighting monsters. Where the first film had a clear selling point, this rambles vaguely between locations and antagonists, presenting scenarios that are much too familiar from other dystopian fantasies.

In fairness the visual effects are first rate, but dialogue is mostly exposition. It’s a big sprawling mess with a couple of good sequences, but lacking the characters groundwork essential to true success. Thomas does prove himself to be a worthy hero on several occasions, but that’s not quite enough and there’s no clear view of what if any end game is in sight.

With one more of James Dashner’s books still to be filmed, let’s hope they wrap the trilogy up in a stronger manner than has been teased with this middle chapter.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. review

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (12A/PG-13, 116 mins)
Director: Guy Ritchie
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

There can be little doubt that turning old TV programmes into movies can be a lucrative business, with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation currently lighting up box offices and flying the flag for a two-decade old franchise.

Unfortunately that magic has evaporated with the big screen adaptation of another 60s spy show in the shape of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. which deals in Cold War spy shenanigans, albeit coming up woefully short in the actual shenanigans department.

A dull opening sequence introduces us to CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), who is in East Berlin trying to bust out Gaby (Alicia Vikander) over the wall. Trying to stop him is KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), by means of a pedestrian car chase and laboured banter.

It fails to pick up after this, as the pair are told by their superiors that they must work together to prevent a nuclear bomb being built, which has something or other to do with Gaby’s uncle. She poses as Kuryakin’s wife as the - for want of a better word - action moves to Rome and a lot of talking ensues.

It’s all punishingly dull, paced like treacle and the exact opposite of what you might reasonably have expected from a Guy Ritchie spy movie, given what he did with Sherlock Holmes. It’s also the exact opposite of a summer movie, entirely lacking life or energy, and absolutely nothing happens for the first hour or more. It’s supposed to be a sprightly caper and the music seems to think the film is jaunty, but that’s not backed up by what’s on screen.

It’s not even as though while nothing is happening we’re getting to know those involved or being entertained by them. Solo and Kuryakin are dull as individuals and chemistry-deficient when they get together.

Taking place mostly in Italy, it’s remarkably glamour-free, while the need to make it look like the 60s adds a horrible CG sheen to some of the locations. Elsewhere honking innuendo passes for humour and it treats the audience like idiots through painful exposition.

So the humour is lame, the action is non-existent and the espionage is thrill-less. It should be Bond, but it’s barely Johnny English, aiming for laid back but overdoing it to the extent that it becomes an immensely boring failure.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation review

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (12A/PG-13, 131 mins)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

It’s a sad state of affairs that Tom Cruise is the biggest star on the planet in every measure other than box office returns. For charisma, charm and sheer star wattage, on and off the camera, he’s still at the top of a tree he’s occupied for over 30 years now.

And yet for some reason cinemagoers, or perhaps more correctly, American cinemagoers, don’t want to look at his films anymore outside the Mission: Impossible franchise. In the face of this apathy he seems to have made it his mission to astonish audiences into submission by attempting things on screen that no human, never mind a pampered A-lister, should be doing.

That included dangling from the world’s tallest building in Ghost Protocol, the previous M:I movie, and now this fifth entry in the series showcases Cruise as superspy Ethan Hunt hanging on seemingly unharnessed from the side of a plane in take-off.

It’s pretty much what the entire film is being sold on, and looks like part of an elaborate climactic sequence, but in actual fact it happens in the first two minutes as Hunt and his team target a group of terrorists. He’s trying to get on the plane to rescue its dangerous cargo and, as prologues go, it’s magnificent stuff, brief but jaw-dropping and clearly completely real. See it in IMAX with the sound making the floor beneath you shake and you’ll feel like you’re taking off with him.

Such heights are hard to sustain, and for some of the next hour or so as plot elements are clicked into position, it can sometimes feel like you’re back down to earth and sitting in a traffic jam instead of flying high.

First off there’s the emergence of a shadowy organisation known as the Syndicate, rogue operatives responsible for worldwide atrocities. Then the Impossible Mission Force gets dissolved at the behest of Alec Baldwin’s CIA boss who doesn’t believe the Syndicate exists and thinks Hunt is himself rogue, leaving him on the CIA’s wanted list and on the run with only Simon Pegg’s analyst Benji to help him.

Ethan has already encountered Ilsa Faust (the excellent Rebecca Ferguson), a potential double agent who looks to be working for the Syndicate, led by a chilling bad guy in Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, who seems as though his many years of playing quietly dangerous nutters have been leading to this).

None of this is dull, but there’s a lot of it, interspersed with a bunch of fights and some country hopping. A polished sequence at the Vienna opera sets the film back on track while also setting up the mystery of just what exactly Ilsa is up to. And central to the Mission movies is having to steal a bit of tech from an impregnable stronghold, leading to a top notch underwater escapade that owes a lot to Gravity.

There’s a high-speed motorbike pursuit in Morocco that will leave you breathless, assuming you’ve got it back after the underwater stuff, but not all of these action moments feel like they're advancing the story, the bike chase in particular. So for all that these sequences look cool and offer fleeting excitement, there’s a bit of padding here, and a few too many computer generated cars despite protestations that it’s all for reals.

Critically though, as much of what makes these movies good is built on tension as it is on action. But even more importantly than that, it’s built on characters, and makes a virtue of Hunt’s doggedness and willingness to do what it takes for the mission. The result is a delicately balanced and extremely suspenseful chess game (not literally!) between Ethan and Lane that ratchets up as we head towards one of the best finales of the series.

Cruise is reliably excellent throughout and Jeremy Renner gets some funny lines but absolutely nothing to do in the action stakes (for some reason Benji has been promoted to second fiddle), which seems like a shame considering how able he was in Ghost Protocol. Overshadowing all of them is Ferguson, with the little-known Swede demonstrating serious combat chops as well as convincing us as an agent with a lot of secrets.

With 15 minutes shaved off and a little more clarity of focus, Rogue Nation might have claimed Best Mission: Impossible Movie. We’ll just have to settle for it being a first rate action movie and a terrific spy movie.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Win Tickets to Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation in IMAX

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation in IMAX tickets to be won

Win tickets to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Exclusive Event Screening with Tom Cruise at the IMAX screen at Odeon Braehead.

The Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Exclusive Event Screening with Tom Cruise will be screened live from the BFI IMAX at IMAX cinemas across the country including Odeon Braehead on the evening of Saturday 25th July. 

The exclusive event screening will include live coverage of the red carpet and a Q&A with the film’s star Tom Cruise. On the night winners will then be able to experience Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation in IMAX’s immersive format, ahead of the film going on general release on July 30th 2015.

We've got our hands on five pairs of tickets to give away to this exclusive event!

To be in with a chance of winning a pair for the Odeon Braehead this Saturday, simply send an email with your name and contact number to by 2pm on Thursday July 23rd.

See Terms and Conditions below for timings and other important information.

The IMAX release of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation will be digitally re-mastered into the image and sound quality of An IMAX Experience® with proprietary IMAX DMR® (Digital Re-mastering) technology. The crystal-clear images coupled with IMAX's customized theatre geometry and powerful digital audio create a unique environment that will make audiences feel as if they are in the movie.

Watch the trailer here

Terms and Conditions
•    Winners will need to arrange their own transport to the cinema
•    Doors open at 6.30pm on Saturday 25th July
•    Tickets are non-refundable and cannot be exchanged
•    Film is 12A certificate

© 2015 Paramount Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Ant-Man review

Ant-Man (12A, 117 mins)
Director: Peyton Reed
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Every successive movie triumph for Marvel becomes a building block for their next enterprise. So the fortunes accrued by Iron Man and the Avengers movies allows them to dip into the vaults for the lesser know Ant-Man, a character who may not be a household name, but who audiences will doubtless come to love in this and future movies.

Back in the day (which was the 1960s when Ant-Man was created, and which is the 80s when we join it here), Ant-Man was the alter ego of Dr Hank Pym. Pym (Michael Douglas) worked for SHIELD on a shrinking formula that he refused to hand over to them, and this gives us a nice chance to imagine what an 80s superhero movie starring Michael Douglas might have looked like.

In the present day we meet Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), just released from prison and doing his best to go straight. He’s a cat burglar and safecracker, although more of a Robin Hood figure than a proper criminal, which is why Pym targets him to be his helper.

Following a series of rather funny tricks and tests which are basically Hank auditioning the unwitting Scott to be the new Ant-Man, Scott ends up in the original shrinking suit. Zapped down to the size of an insect inside the suit, he has super strength and speed, and can communicate with ants to help him on his missions. This ant-eye action is very well realised, creating an entirely believable sense of scale as the tiny Scott interacts with the suddenly terrifyingly huge world around him.

The worst that could be said of Ant-Man is that it’s lightweight and occasionally routine, playing to a formula we’ve seen in many a movie, where a tech is developed which then becomes an application for the military and the chance for some unscrupulous businessman to get rich. In this case Pym’s one-time protégé and now great rival Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has been working on his own version of the shrinking suit, which is why Scott is being recruited to try to steal it off him.

It doesn’t feel throwaway and, like the similarly glib yet ultimately worthwhile Guardians of the Galaxy, certainly earns its place as a piece in the bigger picture. Specific references to Avengers: Age of Ultron tie us in in lots of ways, old and new, including a great moment when Scott realises the extent of the danger and quips “Why don’t we just call the Avengers?”

The need then is to give it a bit more substance, and Ant-Man is bolstered by a fathers and daughters motif running through it. Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) still blames him for the death of her mother, with the added complication that she works for Cross. Scott meanwhile is estranged from his own young daughter due to his time in prison, with the promise that he can see her again if he helps Hank.

As always, well cast actors feel at home in their new roles, judging the tone just right and providing slick entertainment. The jocular Rudd is a great fit, and having someone of the heft of Douglas to back him up doesn’t hurt, though the veteran star is more than capable of making with the funnies himself.

Perhaps it’s a little sparing with the action, heavy on training montages but taking a long time to get to any set pieces of real scale. But that’s more than made up for with the sense of fun, and when the big sequences do come they're bursting with wit and imagination, the miniature scenario allowing it to go places others simply can’t.

As superhero origin stories go, Ant-Man is a rock solid if hardly perfect effort, and the Marvel machine ensures that these guys will be back, and they’ll be bringing their friends.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

San Andreas review

San Andreas (12A/PG-13, 114 mins)
Director: Brad Peyton
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

A disaster movie of the old school, albeit one with lavish amounts of modern technology at its disposal, San Andreas is an enjoyably silly action ride that benefits from lowered expectations and no pretensions of being anything other than fun.

Dwayne Johnson, fresh from revitalising the Fast and Furious franchise, now has to save the whole of California when the San Andreas fault-line decides now is its time to fall into the Pacific, causing an enormous earthquake that wrecks most of the state. Or more specifically he has to save his daughter (Alexandra Daddario) who is trapped in San Francisco while he and his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) are in Los Angeles. Johnson is a helicopter rescue pilot who, for reasons not explored, isn’t required to actually rescue anyone during the earthquake but instead makes the trip up the coast for his family, delivering well-timed quips along the way.

The blueprint is a familiar one, opening with a rescue scene, followed by some sciencey stuff (Paul Giamatti is the seismologist who sees the quake coming), followed by character intros and family stuff and dealings in personal problems that don’t really belong. It’s all filled with honking dialogue that no one would ever say, but really all you're looking for from this kind of thing is pleasing spectacle and some people to care about.

So the Hoover Dam disintegrates, the whole of downtown Los Angeles ripples like a rug and the Golden Gate Bridge gets washed away in scenes that are often properly harrowing. It’s one of those movies where thousands of people are dying off screen, but we deal with only a handful, which is pretty much how it needs to be for focus.

The well spaced out tremors and sequences of peril build in intensity to some quite astonishing levels of devastation once the city starts collapsing, and the CGI is at times miraculous. We’re not here for anything else, and in terms of terror and chaos, this cheesy adventure really hits the spot and is every bit as good and as bad as it needs to be.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road review

Mad Max: Fury Road (15/R, 120 mins)
Director: George Miller
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

There have been reasons to be cheerful and reasons to be fearful regarding the release of Mad Max: Fury Road. On the one hand George Miller, director of the original trilogy of Mel Gibson movies, returns at the helm, and we know he knows how to shoot action.

But cameras started rolling on this reboot over three years ago, and that’s rarely a good sign, with potential release dates coming and going. Yet hopes were raised when the footage started to surface, until earlier this when we were granted quite simply the greatest movie trailer ever unleashed on the public, a fast and furious tease that promised us an action assault like no other.

For once the trailer wasn’t lying; in fact, it doesn’t begin to do justice to the finished film, a kinetic cinema experience probably unseen since Gravity. Taking place in a properly and completely demented world, it’s essentially a two hour chase, and there has quite simply never been anything like it.

Fury Road is not remotely a Mad Max remake, more a continuation of the universe, with backstory swiftly dealt with in an opening voiceover. We’re filled in on the apocalypse and on Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), the one-time cop whose family was murdered, sending him into a spiral of madness and barely surviving in the wasteland that is now Australia.

Chased through the desert by goons, Max is taken prisoner to a cliff-side community run by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played villain Toecutter in the original Mad Max). Fuel was the driving force of the original movies, but the writers seem to have finally realised that water is more precious than oil, and the Immortan rations out the water as a way of keeping the people in check.

Charlize Theron is Imperator Furiosa (look at these character names!), a lieutenant of the Immortan who defies him and goes on the run with his wives in hope of finding the Green Place. With Max in tow, first as a prisoner and then a helper, what follows is not a series of action set pieces held together by a threadbare plot, it’s one action set piece that spans almost the entire course of the movie.

This is filmmaking to melt the eyeballs, packed to bursting with breathtaking stunt work and imagery and rapid, bruising fights. With Max, Furiosa and others driving a tanker, and the Immortan and his hordes chasing in heavily armoured cars, the carnage unleashed as people and vehicles leap and tumble every which way is enough to make you marvel at how they could have achieved it. And it’s CGI-augmented rather than CGI-driven, so even though once in a while you can see the join, it’s there to enhance the spectacle.

The pounding score propels the chase along, some of it provided by the Immortan’s own band, with one of his trucks loaded up with drums and a flame-spitting guitar. It’s exhilarating and insane and in constant motion, with maybe two points where they stop long enough to have a conversation and for the audience to remember to breathe.

If there's a sticking point, it's that Max is barely a character; he's a figurehead, a recognised name to hang the film on. This isn’t a world of heroes though, it’s survival that’s the only imperative, and with his growls and grunts and handful of words, Hardy makes him as enigmatic and dangerous as he needs to be. Theron is immense too, with Furiosa every bit as capable as Max and in many ways the real hero.

Also it could be argued that the best action is used up before the climactic melee, where the level drops slightly from astonishing to just very good. But that’s a small complaint, and if the world belongs to the mad as the film’s marketing suggests, then prepare to go crazy for this world of blood and sand.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Spooks: The Greater Good review

Spooks: The Greater Good (15, 104 mins)
Director: Bharat Nalluri
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Spooks finished its television run on the BBC four years ago after nearly a decade of spy action. It’s a curious thing to bring to the big screen, a show which no doubt has a loyal following, but also one that needs to work to satisfy long-term fans but also stand alone and be accessible to newcomers.

Whether it manages the first can only be answered by those in the know, but that it undoubtedly manages the second is to its great credit. It begins with a prisoner transport, with a terrorist named Qasim being moved in an armed convoy, with his bad guy cohorts in pursuit.

MI5 boss Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) makes the call to allow the prisoner to be rescued by his associates rather than risk a gunfight in an area busy with people. It might be realistic that they don’t put up much of a fight around civilians, but it doesn’t necessarily make for exciting cinema. What it does do is kick off the plot, which quickly reveals that it wasn’t so much feeble police work as it was about signs that point to a conspiracy.

The CIA are miffed that Qasim is on the loose, and Harry is forced to carry the can, leaving him out of a job and faking his own death in order to do his own digging. This in turn forces Harry’s former bosses to bring in Will Holloway (Kit Harington), an ex agent currently in Moscow who is brought back to London to track down Harry. Harry has disappeared, intent on finding the mole himself while also trying to stop Qasim from orchestrating a major attack on London.

It’s once Harry and Will get together that the film starts piling on backstory and histories which may or may not be part of the show’s mythology. It doesn’t really matter, since it works just fine either way, and it’s soon clear that this is serious, tough stuff, full of life and death decisions that give the title its resonance.

Harington may be the marquee guest star, but Firth is the beating heart of Spooks and Harry is a tremendous character, and pretty much the only main player to have made the transition from the TV show. Honourable, but also dangerous, uncompromising and full of tricks, his insistence that agents can either do well, which is to follow orders, or do good, which is to do the right thing, gives the film an edge of questionable morality over others of its ilk.

There’s not much glamour going on here though; this is British spying, where the reality is London traffic and pouring rain. Harington gets to do a small amount of Bourne-style clambering and acrobatics, but it’s playing wannabe in these scenes and close-up fights, something for the trailer rather than a true representation of what the film is.

Wisely it doesn’t try to overplay the action though, with the focus on intrigue making it gripping as a result. Mostly it’s very good at detailing actual spy-work, something that’s often missing from modern day espionage movies. It’s Bond without the superhero, mired in politics and really quite absorbing, with secrets and hidden codes all part of the shenanigans of this particular spy game.

The plot barrels along, twisting this way and that, stretching out several genuinely tense sequences, and always leaving the question hanging of who is on what side. Some previous investment in this world might offer even more value, but even for audiences discovering Spooks for the first time it’s still a lot of fun.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Midnight Run Blu-ray review

Midnight Run (18, 126 mins)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Once in a decade, or perhaps even less, a movie comes along where the chemistry of everyone involved just clicks and the results are far better than the constituent parts ever suggested they could be. On paper Midnight Run looks like a fairly standard crime caper, wherein a bounty hunter has only a couple of days to transport an embezzling accountant cross country, with both the police and the mob in chase.

But in practice it’s a work of rare brilliance, thanks first and foremost to its miraculous co-stars Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, a pairing that has rarely if ever been matched in the annals of buddy comedy. Antagonising each other from minute one, both play it absolutely straight and mine every scene for maximum laughs, while director Martin Brest marshals the action superbly.

The structure is airtight, the profanity-laden script remains endlessly quotable, and perfectly cast supporting play from the likes of Joe Pantoliano, John Ashton and Dennis Farina as the bail bondsman, a rival bounty hunter and the gangster with whom De Niro and Grodin both have a connection just adds to the laughs. Throw in Yaphet Kotto as an exasperated fed and what you get is deep fried gold in every scene. De Niro may have sullied his comedy account with junk in the years since but be in no doubt, over a quarter of a century on, Midnight Run is still one of the best action comedies ever made.

You'd struggle to call the upgrade to Blu-ray a revelation, with an image that's generally on the soft side. But scenes have decent depth and detail and it's certainly a step up from DVD.

Extras are interview heavy but they're bang up to date and they're terrific. Top of the tree is Grodin, who talks about winning the role and who else was in the running (including, believe it or not, Cher!) alongside his disdain for pandering to class systems. Joey Pants and John Ashton chip in similarly fun anecdotes about getting their roles and their acting careers in general, and alongside screenwriter George Gallo, each of these chats is well worth checking out. They run over an hour in total, and while it would have been great to hear from De Niro, he probably wouldn't have offered anything remotely as interesting as these guys.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Gunman review

The Gunman (15/R, 115 mins)
Director: Pierre Morel
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Sean Penn becomes the latest actor to take a shot at over-50 action stardom with this overwrought Euro-pudding that has ideas way above its station for a movie from the director of Taken. A prologue set a few years ago in war-torn Congo introduces us to Penn as part of a team of mercenaries protecting a humanitarian aid crew. While they're there they also happen to have a sideline in assassinations, and Penn’s shooting of a government official comes back to haunt him in the present day when he links an attempt to kill him to the plot. As an exercise in globe-trotting, The Gunman is slick, its fights are crunching and the body count is massive, and Penn does get to showcase some nice skills in a couple of decent action sequences. But it’s all rather dour and much too leisurely to convince, jazzed up with a classy cast (Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance and Idris Elba are in there too) yet hardly any more legitimate than The Expendables, with its attempt to call attention to humanitarian issues proving risible. It’s a Jason Statham movie that thinks it’s fancy, too silly to be taken seriously and too serious to be any fun.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Run All Night review

Run All Night (15/R, 114 mins)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

There’s something to be admired about the ambition of this thumping thriller that looks on paper like another delivery from the Liam Neeson action assembly line. Playing a much more interesting character than he often has recently, Neeson works as a hitman for neighbourhood mobster and long-time friend Ed Harris. When Harris’s wayward son botches a deal, Neeson is forced to kill him, in turn forcing him and his own estranged son to go on the run. It’s muscular stuff, featuring the standard punch-chase-shoot shenanigans, and every bit as daft as you could hope for. It may be called Run All Night, but it’s not quite as non-stop as the title suggests, with quite a few diversions along the way to slow the pace. Still, that offers some moments for reflection between Harris and Neeson, and a good deal more character depth than expected, even if it does borrow its plot points liberally from Road to Perdition. Neeson still has a particular set of skills, this time with some substance to back it up, topped off with a fun cameo from the only actor in the world even more grizzled than he is.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Jupiter Ascending review

Jupiter Ascending (12A/PG-13, 127 mins)
Directors: The Wachowskis
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

If you're after a full-on bonkers fantasy epic that's as beautifully designed as it is camp, then Jupiter Ascending should fulfil most of your requirements. Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is the ordinary earth girl who learns she's a reincarnated space princess, with Channing Tatum as her half-wolf, half-albino, pointy-eared, hover-booted protector in an immensely silly intergalactic power struggle. A first half on earth is mostly a series of stylish fights and rescues, and while the second half gets a bit more talky and plotty, the move to space allows The Wachowskis to go daft with their gadgets and set design. They already reinvented the action wheel with The Matrix so there's not really anything here to make jaws drop, but they can still put together an elaborate, FX-heavy sequence without having to resort to crazed editing. It’s might be missing that massive action centrepiece, but there’s always something worth looking at, Eddie Redmayne hams it up magnificently as the baddie, and in terms of fun it’s far more Flash Gordon than John Carter.