Monday 30 April 2012

Safe review

Safe (15/R, 94 mins)
Director: Boaz Yakin
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

In China, a young girl named Mei is discovered to be something of a maths expert. When the Triads cotton on to this, they take her to the States to use her brain to store the valuable information they’d rather not trust to a computer.

But they're in the middle of a turf war with their Russian counterparts in New York, and they'll stop at nothing to get their hands on Mei who is in possession of a code for a safe containing millions.

Meanwhile we meet Luke Wright (Jason Statham), a hard-as nails ex-cop getting by as a cage fighter. But he didn’t go down in the round he was supposed to and so the Russians killed his wife and he’s down on his luck and contemplating suicide when he saves Mei from the Russians.

Though it’s quite an extended setup before we get to the action, it puts Luke in a situation where the only way is up for him, as well as adding a much needed element of humanity to his classical protector role, with Statham at his least monolithic and most sympathetic.

But the reason anyone buys a ticket to something like this is to see Statham taking names, and though what follows is done with little grace, it’s muscular and pounding and unapologetic in its scale.

You know where you stand with a Jason Statham movie, and throwing him into a mix of gangsters and corrupt cops offers plenty of opportunity for ferocious action and fluidly orchestrated car chases. At times it seems it’s one man against the entire city, and the body count is enormous.

It does tail off a bit in the final stretch when it starts trying to provide too much plot, and a lot of stuff is either wrapped up too neatly or left hanging. But until then, as Luke dispatches unholy retribution by fist and gun, the wrath of the righteous is immensely satisfying.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Avengers Assemble review

Avengers Assemble (12A/PG-13, 142 mins)
Director: Joss Whedon
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

And so the most extended trailer in film history finally delivers on its years of build-up. We’ve been teased by The Avengers since Iron Man four years ago, since the first appearance of Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson), who skulked about telling the likes of Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark that they were part of something bigger.

Through The Incredible Hulk and Thor, the seeds of the Avengers Initiative were sown, which would aim to bring together such disparate Marvel heroes as Robert Downey Jr.’s  Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and new addition Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner to fight evil on a grand scale.

Last year’s Captain America (which starred Chris Evans as the First Avenger) was the most blatant piece of the jigsaw yet, a workmanlike effort that seemed little more than the first part of this. But never mind that, and never mind that its UK title has been changed to the IKEA-friendly Avengers Assemble, and instead revel in the indecent levels of entertainment provided by the first blockbuster of the summer season.

Once plans for The Avengers were announced, hope quickly grew that the unprecedented project would be in safe hands with Joss Whedon who, just like Star Trek’s J.J. Abrams, doesn’t have a whole lot of movie experience – Serenity is his only other feature - but has created some of the most innovative and definitive television of the last two decades.

So you’ve got a promising director, a marquee cast and a few hundred million to spend, but there ought to be a substantial threat to justify getting these guys together. You don’t need to be steeped in the Marvel universe to follow events here, but it really helps to have seen Thor, primarily because Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is once again the bad guy.

There’s also a strong connection to Captain America, since the shiny blue cube that was that film’s MacGuffin resurfaces here. Loki steals it from S.H.I.E.L.D. with the intention of using its unlimited power to open a portal to space to allow his alien hordes to come to earth and aid his quest for world domination.

It was also during Thor that we caught a fleeting glimpse of archery ace Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Loki wastes no time turning him and Stellan Skarsgård’s Dr Selvig (also introduced in Thor) bad in order to help him with his scheme.

That this massive collection of actors, characters and story threads comes together as something that is not only not unwieldy but truly cohesive is thanks to Whedon’s miraculous screenplay that manages to be simultaneously exciting, funny and spectacular while rooting everything in the characters.

Their interaction and initial mistrust is at its core, giving a chance for all the major players to square up against each other before they can team up. This provides almost as many joys as the main event, when they finally get to form The Avengers and take on Loki and his minions.

Everyone shines, unlike the X-Men where perhaps some characters get sidelined. Even the relatively dull (based on his first outing) Captain America comes to the fore, while mere puny humans Hawkeye and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson – cast your mind back to Iron Man 2) are also allowed to give their all in the action stakes.

The midpoint peak would be enough for most movies, but that’s only a taster for a final third that takes the breath away at every turn, providing a city-based assault that on the surface doesn’t look a lot unlike last year’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Yet it terms of quality, this is simply in a different league, a fitting culmination to the years of setup that’s more enjoyable than any superhero movie to date.

Several big laughs that are as good as anything most comedies can muster are just a bonus. Some of Tony Stark’s one-liners, especially when he’s making fun of his teammates, are priceless, and his rapport with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) erases most memories of the disappointing Iron Man 2. And who knew the Hulk was so funny? It’s the best Iron Man film to date, and the best Hulk film by a big green mile.

The Batman may still have the edge when it comes to depth and darkness, and when the Dark Knight rises in a couple of months he may well steal his crown back as the ultimate avenger. But rarely, whether comic book or not, have the movies been this much fun.

Friday 20 April 2012

Blu-ray prizes to be won

Win Grand Illusion on Blu-ray

Jean Renoir's anti-war masterpiece La Grande Illusion is back in cinemas now to celebrate its 75th anniversary this year.

It's also been restored for DVD and Blu-ray and will be released on April 23rd, and we have three copies to give away thanks to StudioCanal Home Entertainment.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply send an email with your name and postal address to by Friday April 27th.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Battleship review

Battleship (12A/PG-13, 131 mins)
Director: Peter Berg
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Believe it or not, this silly slice of sci-fi action is based on the classic board game in which players call out grid references to try to sink each other boats. From that slimmest of platforms, a two hundred million dollar blockbuster has been born, one that begins after mankind sends out signals to an earth-like planet and objects from space land in the Pacific, turning out to be aliens intent on taking over the planet. Luckily the world’s navy is gathered in Hawaii for exercises, and Taylor Kitsch’s naval loose cannon must rise to the occasion and save the day. A few diversions and a good half hour drift by before we really get down to it, but once it kicks off astonishing visual effects are piled on to wreak devastation on a massive scale, unleashing a grinding metallic orgy of destruction that’s fun for a while and yet surprisingly repetitive and lifeless in places. Kitsch shows much the same stolid charm he did as John Carter, but Liam Neeson is criminally underused as the admiral in charge, largely because much of the fleet is isolated, leaving Kitsch and his crew as the only ones carrying the fight. It’s as cheesy as Independence Day and as chaotic as Transformers but agreeably goofy, never asking to be taken too seriously, which is probably just as well.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Blu-ray prizes to be won

Win Life is Beautiful on Blu-ray

Winner of three Oscars including Best Actor (Roberto Benigni) and Best Foreign Film, the beloved Life is Beautiful is out on Blu-ray for the first time and available now.

We have three copies to give away thanks to StudioCanal Home Entertainment.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply send an email with your name and postal address to by Monday April 16th.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Saturday 7 April 2012

DVD Prizes to be Won

Win National Lampoon's Dirty Movie on DVD

Charlie LaRue is a cheap rate producer with a dream and that dream is a film, a film that will bring together all the most low-down, filthy, nasty, offensive jokes in one disgusting place. Welcome to National Lampoon’s Dirty Movie, a flick that doesn’t let up in its efforts to offend your sensibilities and make you lose your lunch laughing, from the people who brought you Christmas Vacation, Animal House and Class Reunion.

On DVD from 16th April 2012 courtesy of Transition Digital Media, Dirty Movie is an hilarious filth rollercoaster that doesn’t let up with the smut for second. Didn’t like that off colour joke? Well don’t worry, because another one is coming to upset your elderly relatives in a second. The twisted humour never quits in this sledgehammer sketch comedy that assaults you with jokes until you can’t take no more.

National Lampoon's Dirty Movie is now available to pre-order from Amazon at

To be in with a chance of winning a DVD and T-shirt, simply send an email with your name and postal address to by Monday April 16th.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Friday 6 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods review

The Cabin in the Woods (15/R, 95 mins)
Director: Drew Goddard
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

For many months now, the internet has been abuzz with tales of the originality and the genius of The Cabin in the Woods.

Partly that’s because it was first slated to open in 2010, so it’s certainly been doing the rounds for long enough. For once though, a film’s years on the shelf are nothing to do with its quality, rather an abandoned 3D conversion and a bankrupt studio that left its release in limbo.

The other talking point has been about how any reviews of it should be spoiler-free. That’s how all reviews should be, but it’s made tricky in this case because the thing that could be construed as the major giveaway happens in the first twenty minutes or so and could therefore legitimately be discussed as part of the basic plot, especially if you’ve seen the trailer.

But even that much would be unfair, and much of the joy of this insane comedy horror comes in its discoveries, and so knowing as little as possible is definitely a good thing. So in the interests of playing along, let’s just say that there’s more going on than meets the eye.

It’s the directing debut of the writer of Cloverfield, Drew Goddard, who co-writes with Joss Whedon. With Whedon’s Avengers movie opening in a couple of weeks and one of that film’s stars, Chris Hemsworth (Thor), now a recognisable face appearing here, the timing seems ideal.

Outwith the ‘thing that sets it apart’, it’s a very typical setup. A bunch of students, among them Hemsworth and Kristen Connolly, head off for a weekend of partying at a cabin in the woods. We’ve seen it a thousand times before in horrors good and bad. There’s the remote location, dodgy looking locals, and stock figures within the group, like the jock and the geek.

But this isn’t cliché, it’s Goddard and Whedon putting us exactly where they want us to be, before the members of the group start to get picked off by oh, let’s say, monsters. But meanwhile we’ve also been introduced to a pair of scientists (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in what looks like a Bond villain’s underground lair. They're clearly up to something, and there’s a good chance it’s going to involve the cabin. And the woods.

What follows is as much a deconstruction of the genre as a horror film in its own right. Like Scream was a decade and a half ago, it’s incredibly knowing yet not clever-clever for the sake of it, and plays with the tropes to remind the audience why they love horror, whether as something formulaic and jaded, or as comfortingly familiar.

But though it may seem a strange criticism for a praiseworthy horror, it’s just not very scary, certainly not providing the ferocity of something like Drag Me to Hell. But then Drag Me to Hell is nowhere near as funny as this, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

The premise, execution and laughs see it through. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Evil Dead are the most obvious touchstones, though the closest comparison is probably Evil Dead II, which so deftly manages to blend laughs and frights. But then, when this gets to a certain point, you’ll be hard pushed to find a horror that isn’t referenced in some way.

It becomes something truly demented by the final stretch, and luckily we have a very likeable cast capable of getting us there. All the actors playing the students are rock solid, but Jenkins and Whitford take it to another level. They make a brilliant double act, and their increasing exasperation as things get out of their control provides many of the film’s funniest moments.

If only it could have somehow been a more effective scare-machine, The Cabin in the Woods could have emerged as a masterpiece of the genre. Instead it’s just ridiculously entertaining, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Blu-ray Prizes to be Won

This competition is now closed.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Mirror Mirror review

Mirror Mirror (PG, 106 mins)
Director: Tarsem Singh
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Mirror Mirror is the first of two Snow White films hitting cinemas this year. Arriving in June is Snow White and the Huntsman, which will put an epic fantasy action adventure spin on the Grimm fairytale.

In the meantime, this more comedic effort targets family audiences during the holidays and should offer moderate entertainment as long as you’re not demanding anything too memorable.

A handsomely animated prologue tells us Snow White is the king’s daughter. The queen died in childbirth and the king re-marries to Julia Roberts then disappears. Snow grows up and we join the story as she turns 18 and, played by Lily Collins, is intent on leaving the castle for the first time.

Meanwhile a prince looking for adventure (Armie Hammer) has made his way into the kingdom, but falls foul of a group of bandits who turn out to be the Seven Dwarfs. He and Snow meet in the forest and fall for each other, but the queen has other ideas.

A snarky Roberts has some fun, presiding over her unhappy snow-covered kingdom with acidic one-liners. She’s broke, taxing the people to the hilt to pay for her luxuries, and reckons a marriage to the prince is what she needs to revive her ailing fortunes.

She’s also concerned about her aging, and is using magic to keep herself looking young. The “mirror, mirror on the wall” stuff is limited to a couple of scenes but in these moments we get to see the full extent of the visual splendour that defines the work of director Tarsem Singh.

His eye for gimp opulence provides most of what is interesting in a shaky first third, when his imagination is allowed to run riot, like the accordion stilts the dwarfs use to  attack their prey. Lavish sets and very impressive computer-enhanced locations are a feast for the eyes, but it’s strangely rather lifeless and staid for all its sumptuous trappings.

It aims for a light and airy tone akin to something like The Princess Bride, but with nothing close to the wit or charm. Categorised by silliness instead of genuinely clever writing, it’s more zany than funny, with exaggerated sound effects often used as a substitute for a decent line.

But a far stronger second half goes some way towards saving the day. The dwarfs are great value as Snow teams up with them against the queen, and it’s largely thanks to them and the surprisingly good Hammer that Mirror Mirror ends up being a perfectly presentable slice of family fun.