Sunday 15 December 2013

Man of Steel Blu-ray review

Man of Steel (12, 143 mins)
Director: Zack Snyder
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Man of Steel, the summer season’s most anticipated movie arrives on home video after a mixed reception in cinemas; loved as an action blast by some, despised as a betrayal of the Superman character by fans.

Henry Cavill dons the cape as Kal-El, the only survivor of the doomed planet Krypton, sent to earth as a baby by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe). Part origin story and part continuation of the mythology, it’s a smartly structured blend of Superman and Superman II that flashes to Kal’s childhood, filling us in on adoptive parents, the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who bring him up as Clark.

It’s this that gives the film a real emotional depth, as Clark struggles with who he is, coming to terms with his powers in a film about choices and decisions on a massive scale.

Steeped in the classic Superman iconography, though slightly overplaying Kal-El’s status as a god among men, Man of Steel is respectful to its cinematic predecessors without the need for the suffocating reverence that blighted Superman Returns.

The serious threat that forms the comic-book conflict of the second half comes from General Zod (Michael Shannon), who was banished from Krypton and has made it to earth with plans of resurrecting his planet at the expense of ours. A properly menacing Shannon facing off against the perfectly cast Cavill is the backbone of a rousing adventure, while Amy Adams adds layers of strength and intelligence as Lois Lane.

The action is truly cataclysmic, fully recognising the fact that these are near indestructible super-beings fighting, so when they hit each other, they stay hit, and entire cities crumble in their wake. It’s stunning stuff, with director Zack Snyder gleefully taking advantage of the $200m worth of resources available to him, even if the third act does go on forever and threatens to become repetitive before too long.

On second viewing the narrative flimflam at play is more obvious, and Snyder’s aesthetic can grate, but memories of the disappointing Superman Returns are wiped clean, and there are more than enough great moments to make the upcoming Supes/Batman crossover one to look forward to.

Blu-ray: On every level this is a stunning presentation, with pin-sharp visuals allied to rattling audio. It’s a shame the extras are a little on the thin side, with a couple of behind the scenes featurettes not really digging deep enough to add lasting value to the package.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (12A/PG-13, 161 mins)
Director: Peter Jackson
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

A decade ago, Peter Jackson made our Christmases with his astonishing realisations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This time last year he came to us more like Scrooge or Alan Rickman in Robin Hood with his cry of “call off Christmas”, with the plodding, ruinously boring The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part of his new prequel trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved (but quite thin) book.

With so much extraneous gubbins crammed in, fears grew that Jackson was milking a dead cow, but miraculously he’s managed to get the series back on track with this second episode, one that both cleanses the palette after the first film, and frustrates that it turned out to be so disappointing.

It begins with a flashback, which could be viewed as just another piece of stuffing designed to justify what is yet again a hefty running time. But it’s a fairly brief tidbit that shows us how the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) met dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) to persuade him to try to unite the kingdoms and reclaim the throne that was taken from him.

Also give thanks that this serves as a very potted recap of all the setup done in Unexpected Journey, so that we can then get straight back in to the action and not have to worry about Jackson’s indulgences on the level of what we witnessed first time, when Elijah Wood’s Frodo and old Bilbo were wheeled out for no justifiable reason whatsoever.

So we find Gandalf, hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his newly acquired dwarf pals being chased across Middle Earth by murderous orcs as they continue deep into their quest to reach the dwarf kingdom, Erebor.

This is an immediately pleasant reminder of what many have come to love about these movies: brilliantly costumed and made-up actors running across breathtaking New Zealand landscapes being filmed by swirling helicopters.

And it’s as a visual spectacle that The Desolation of Smaug really triumphs. It’s clear from the first frame that this is a richly textured world, brim-filled with exceptional production design, albeit much of it of the computer generated variety. That’s particularly true if you avoid the heinous High Frame Rate presentation that so hamstrung last year’s movie, making it look not so much like Middle Earth as a home-videoed pantomime.

The quest itself has also turned into a far more compelling one, as we bounce from chase to fight in a whiz-bang opening hour that introduces us to bear-men and giant spiders while backgrounding the threat of the Necromancer, a malevolent force hanging hanging over the world.

We also never lose sight of the dark power of the Ring, the trinket binding these movies together, and the effect this has on Bilbo. His encounter with the spiders reminds us that this isn’t just an action fantasy, but a work unafraid to tackle themes of greed and corruption, and we’re blessed to be in the hands of such splendid actors as McKellen and Freeman, though they do disappear for a stretch in a midsection that represents one of the few dips in pace as we arrive at a man-village.

But again, bigger themes are at hand, as we pause to blend in a real-world message of poverty and the gulf between the rich and the underprivileged, wrapped in the politics of a fantasy village. We even get an appearance from Stephen Fry.

Plenty has been added, as is Jackson’s way, but not too much that seems pointless or superfluous – silly dishwashing scenes and the like that slowed the first film to a crawl. But otherwise the movie rarely loses sight of its primary action goal. There’s loads of peril, even among the numerous pitstops, and the threat of a deadline helps too. And outwith that slight middle sag, this is rattling, exciting and executed with near-unparalleled technical bravado.

And Jackson has remembered how to do action again. A dwarf-orc-elf fight alongside and down a raging river is a masterclass in momentum, thrust and imagination, and stands as one of the highlights of all our time in Middle Earth.

Bilbo the character earns his corn too, after being a bit of a passenger in his own movie first time out. He displays increasing courage and fortitude, and actually does some burgling, fulfilling the role he was brought into the quest for in the first place. The titular Smaug, the dragon that laid waste to Erebor, is a fine creation too, and we get to see plenty of him in a second half where the raised stakes really come into play.

Mind you, more than half the dwarfs are still anonymous or interchangeable, perhaps inevitable with so many of them. Other new characters work fairly well though, particularly the snobby, dwarf-hating elves, each with their own motivations and desires. Old Fellowship member Legolas (Orlando Bloom) returns alongside newcomer Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) to knock countless orc heads together (this is a remarkably violent film, by the way, surely setting the record for decapitations in a family-friendly certificate), one of a few nice touches to tie us in with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

And we’re back to honouring those great films after the initial misstep. Though the decision to break a slim Hobbit story into three films is still an ethically shaky, financially driven one, at least audiences will be getting something for their money this time around. Christmas is saved, for now.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (12A/PG-13, 146 mins)
Director: Francis Lawrence
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

On its release last spring, The Hunger Games was undoubtedly expected to be some sort of success. In fact it turned out to be a bona fide blockbuster, to the extent that not two but three more films were immediately greenlit from the two remaining books in the young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins. That’s right procrastination fans, in a practice started by Harry Potter and for which Twilight then took up the baton, Mockingjay, will be two films; one released this time next year, and the final film the year after that.

That speaks of the massive cash cow the series has become, but any heightened expectations for a return to the world can also be attributed to the fact the first film was really rather good. If you skipped that first movie, there’s no hope for you here, as we’re thrust back into the life of our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, now an Oscar winner, and an iconic presence throughout).

Katniss won the 74th Hunger Games and is now back in her District alongside Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), with the pair of champions tasked with a promotional tour of the 12 Districts of Panem.

The president (Donald Sutherland) sees her as a threat and, smelling rebellion and uprising in the air, hits on the idea of making the next Hunger Games a battle between previous champions, to eliminate as many of them as possible. Newly on board is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Gamemaker, aiding the president in his schemes.

It’s a world of poverty and hunger, except for the rich and pampered in the Capitol, and is presented as even more of a sinister and dystopian future than before. This is not some bright and colourful fantasy land, but one cut through with a deep and abiding sorrow.

The story is told in ways that are intriguing, dangerous and smart, touching on the chasm between ordinary people and those in power, and the way in which our obsession with celebrity can be used to hide away from the real problems in the world.

Once the Games begin, it moves into a gripping and exciting jungle adventure that offers more than just a re-run of the first, only occasionally dipping in pace while keeping one eye on the bigger picture. Slightly letting down the side are combat scenes that can be a bit shaky and poorly edited, toning down what should really be brutal violence to nab the audience-friendly 12A certificate.

But it’s the themes and characters that count more than the action, and this is a stirring instalment that leaves it all to play for in the final two films.

Monday 28 October 2013

Thor: The Dark World review

Thor: The Dark World (12A/PG-13, 112 mins)
Director: Alan Taylor
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Now that we’re firmly into Phase Two of Marvel’s plan for total cinema domination, the titles are coming thick and fast.

The next Captain America will be along in the spring, and in a year that’s already brought the terrific Iron Man 3 we now have this sequel to Thor, a movie that was bright, funny and carried along with a real zip by director Kenneth Branagh. This first return to that world doesn’t quite measure up, thanks to some uninspired storytelling, but it’s still a breezy and fun couple of hours.

After the events of Avengers Assemble, Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is busy keeping peace across the realms. Since almost all the necessary introductions were made first time round, we can get straight to it, something that also allows characters slightly down the cast list to get their moment to shine.

The main bit of setup required is a prologue that goes all Lord of the Rings on us, as we learn about the Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). He’s after some cosmic goo called the Aether, which will allow him to get up to no good when the nine realms align for the first time in 5000 years, something called the Convergence.

Back in Asgard, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has had to answer for his crimes in Thor and Avengers Assemble, and left to rot in prison until the plot requires him. Meanwhile, on earth, Natalie Portman’s scientist, Jane, is trying to adjust to life after Thor. But she gets dragged back into events when she’s alerted by her colleagues about some sort of portal they’ve found. Through a vague and confused bit of plotting, she comes into contact with the Aether via the portal, and gets somehow infected by it.

Thor brings her to Asgard in an attempt to cure her, but don’t look for much sense during this stretch that also brings an attack from Malekith that makes a mockery of the supposed Asgardian defences.

It’s one of two or three key sequences that, while never exactly botched, just point to a lack of directorial craft and poor editing choices. For all its story, and backstory, the writing isn’t the strong suit here. The big picture is often little more than gibberish, but individual scenes please and are still capable of moments of wonder.

Much of what draws audiences in comes from its technical brilliance. Glorious production design is used to realise Asgard and the other worlds we visit. Then of course there’s the action, generally rousing if a little repetitive at times. Thor swinging his hammer at a monstrous foe is enjoyable, but there’s only so many times we can watch that before it becomes monotonous. But come the Convergence, a grand finale awaits that makes the more sluggish passages worthwhile.

But the real selling point is the humour. Where the first film largely was largely comprised of Thor’s fish out of water antics, this time everyone gets the opportunity for a one-liner or two, and most comedies wish they were as funny as this.

It’s on a modest scale compared to the Avengers, but then so is almost every movie, but Thor: The Dark World will do very nicely until the next one of those comes along.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Ender’s Game review

Ender’s Game (12A/PG-13, 114 mins)
Director: Gavin Hood
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Though it begins with the usual guff about aliens attacking earth years before, this sci-fi adventure continues with a sturdy and serious tone and actually ends being rather thoughtful. In anticipation of the aliens attacking again, the military is training up youngsters, and the fleet commander (Harrison Ford) has his hopes pinned on Ender (Asa Butterfield), whom he thinks can one day destroy their enemies. It’s Star Trek with kids, except not in any way juvenile, with the first half or more taking up by training, and though there’s a lot of stuff we’ve seen before in Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, it does provide moments of brilliance. But when it finally gets down to it, Ender’s Game proves itself to be surprisingly weighty in its tackling of military foreign policies, as well as providing a commanding character in Ender and some cracking action to boot.

Bad Grandpa review

Bad Grandpa (15/R, 92 mins)
Director: Jeff Tremaine
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Part the bone-worrying stunts of Jackass, part the hidden camera windups of Sacha Baron Cohen, this crude comedy caper never finds a happy middle ground. After his wife dies, 86-year-old Irving (Jackass frontman Johnny Knoxville in old-man makeup) must transport his young grandson across the country to live with his father. But along the way they stage stunts and pranks to shock or embarrass the unwitting public, such as Irving knocking over the coffin at his wife’s funeral. The main sticking point with the lack of laughs is that, unlike with Baron Cohen, it’s not the ignorant or the bigoted being targeted here, but members of the public who are generally being kind and helpful to an old man a little boy, so there’s little to be gained from seeing them duped.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Escape Plan review

Escape Plan (15/R, 115 mins)
Director: Mikael Håfström
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sylvester Stallone stars in this slice of action daftness as a breakout expert who finds the weak points in prison security.  Asked to test out a new top secret facility, he finds himself banged up in a glass box, under constant surveillance and with no escape seeming possible, realising someone has set him up. Luckily his, and the film’s, secret weapon comes in the shape of fellow inmate Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the pair cook up an escape plan. Aside from brief moments in two Expendables movies, we’ve been waiting 30 years for a proper Stallone-Schwarzenegger match-up, though for all the nostalgia this provides, it’s sometimes just a wee bit tired. Don’t come for the banter, which is largely dire, or even the action, which is uninspired, but the mechanics of the escape plan are fairly diverting. It’s incredibly silly, no doubt, and that’s a good thing, but it’s the sort of malarkey that should rattle along in rip-roaring style, not lumber for almost two hours towards a generic action finale.  Mostly though it’s about the pleasures to be had in watching two of the most iconic stars of our time share the screen, and that’s just about good enough.

Friday 4 October 2013

The Kings of Summer Blu-ray review

The Kings of Summer (15, 93 mins)
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Unsatisfied with their home lives, teenagers Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) venture out into the local woods to build their own house. They're joined, for reasons never quite explained to either them or us, by the distinctly odd Biaggio (Moises Arias), and the boys spend their days hunting and enjoying their freedom, while the search for them continues at home. Treated rather shabbily on its UK cinema release, The Kings of Summer cries out to be discovered on the home market. At first glance it’s a very well constructed coming-of-age tale, but what separates it from many of its ilk is a surprisingly zany tone, which often sends it spinning off into surreal moments of comedy, and the results can be very funny indeed. The three young leads are great, but with all the adults played by comedians, it’s here that many of the biggest laughs are to be found, with Nick Offerman especially memorable as Joe’s uncompromisingly foul-mouthed father. But the comedy doesn’t come at the expense of the emotional investment, and these are characters we really come to care about over the course of what is a first rate indie drama.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Blu-ray prizes to be won

Win No One Lives on Blu-ray

No One Lives comes to DVD and Blu-ray on 23rd September and to celebrate, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment, we have a Blu-ray copy to give away to one lucky winner!

The acclaimed director of “Versus” and “The Midnight Meat Train” concocts a bloody cocktail of the horror, thriller and action genres, and introduces audiences to a brand new horror icon in this smart and totally unpredictable shocker.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply send an email with your name and postal address to by Monday September 30th.

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.

Monday 9 September 2013

Insidious Chapter 2 review

Insidious Chapter 2 (15/PG-13, 105 mins)
Director: James Wan
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

The first Insidious a couple of years ago wasn’t the most sophisticated piece of horror cinema ever made, but it was a relentless scare machine. This sequel deepens the mythology with an awful lot of backstory, but dilutes the scares, beginning with the teenage version of Patrick Wilson’s Josh back in 1986 when his family first encountered the evil forces that still haunt them. We then pick up immediately after the events of the first film, with Lin Shaye’s medium murdered and Rose Byrne wondering whether she can trust her husband or if he’s possessed. Slow and creepy is the order of the day, and director James Wan’s skill with the frame and woozy angles still generates a handful of chilling moments, though not as many as you might think amidst a surfeit of spooky toys. This second chapter is clumsily structured, which would be less bothersome if the scares were more forthcoming, and there’s a stretch in the middle spent wandering round an old hospital that’s really sort of dull. But it’s rescued by a clever final third in which past events are neatly integrated, and there’s every indication it’s a series with the potential to run and run.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Sir Billi review

Sir Billi (U, 76 mins)
Director: Sascha Hartmann 
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

What have audiences done to deserve animated movies of the standard of this and Justin and the Knights of Valour in the same week? The first full length computer animation made entirely in Scotland, and with a voice cast lead by Sean Connery, Sir Billi has been in production for several years and finally makes it to a tiny handful of cinemas. What’s surprising is that it will be seeing the inside of a cinema at all, because this is stunningly misguided and woefully executed in every conceivable way. Even leaving aside the ugly, actually rather freaky animation that wouldn’t pass muster on CBeebies, there’s not a moment of storytelling competence, with what plot there is involving Connery’s highland hero Sir Billi trying to rescue Scotland’s last beaver. Characters appear at random to take part in jaw-droppingly daft and arbitrary events, and an embarrassing script consists largely of Bond references and inappropriate innuendo. It would be great if Scotland could produce decent animated movies, but Sir Billi is an insult to animation, and it’s an insult to Scottish film.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Riddick review

Riddick (15/R, 119 mins)
Director: David Twohy
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

An under the radar near-classic was born when Vin Diesel’s hard-hitting convict antihero Riddick first appeared over a decade ago in the lean and effective Pitch Black, before an attempt to turn it into a big budget franchise saga stalled with the bloated and incomprehensible Chronicles of Riddick. This third in the series attempts to take him back to basics to an extent, and begins with Riddick left for dead on a baking and near uninhabitable planet, where no end of computer generated beasties are out to kill him. This unexpectedly extended sequence showcases some imaginative creature design and Riddick’s survival instincts before we get to the meat of the plot in which a bunch of the universe’s most ineffectual mercenaries arrive on the planet intent on collecting his head. This is more hunt and bait than straight action, and proves to be rather interesting, at least giving some relief from Diesel’s rather portentous noir voiceover. Disappointingly this can’t be sustained into a final third that runs out of ideas and relapses into uninspired evade-the-monsters shenanigans that try to recall Aliens but come up short. But Riddick remains a hulking and iconic presence throughout, and further adventures in his company wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

One Direction: This Is Us review

One Direction: This Is Us (PG, 92 mins)
Director: Morgan Spurlock
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

As long as you disregard the concert footage and accept the notion that this is music that couldn’t really get any worse, then this profile of overnight-sensation boyband One Direction is really quite engaging. The main thing to note is how well they come across, a bunch of cheeky, decent lads having some fun ever since Simon Cowell moulded them from five X Factor rejects into the biggest band in the world, a phenomenon perhaps not seen since The Beatles. We follow them on their worldwide tour, focussing on the heartfelt devotion of the fans, and their sincere gratitude for it, noting that they're constantly on the road and working incredibly hard, at the same time as they're little more than wee boys whose mammies miss them. Sure it’s a whitewash, with Cowell no doubt supervising every frame to ensure there’s no suggestion that they drink or swear or stay up past 10.30. But it’s got a sense of humour, wheeling out a neuroscientist to explain about the dopamine and the affect this has on the hyperventilating throngs of teenage girls who follow them. What’s of even more interest is the unprecedented amounts of money that facilitates - this may be music that makes Take That look like Led Zeppelin, but that’s very far indeed from the point.

Thursday 22 August 2013

DVD Prizes to be won

Win Phantom on DVD

To celebrate the release of the suspenseful submarine thriller ‘Phantom’ - out on DVD and Blu-ray 19th August 2013 - we have a copy to give away to one lucky winner!

Starring Academy Award-nominee Ed Harris (Apollo 13; The Rock; The Abyss) and David Duchovny (X-Files; Californication), ‘Phantom’ sees a Soviet submarine armed with nuclear missiles go missing in the Pacific during the height of the Cold War. On board, a battle-tested captain (Ed Harris) and a rogue KGB agent (David Duchovny) wage a life-and-death game of cat and mouse with a nuclear Armageddon hanging in the balance.

“The Hunt for Red October” meets “Crimson Tide” in this intense claustrophobic thriller about extraordinary men facing impossible choices!

To be in with a chance of winning, simply send an email with your name and postal address to by Friday August 30th.

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.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Kick-Ass 2 review

Kick-Ass 2 (15/R, 103 mins)
Director: Jeff Wadlow
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Based on the graphic novels of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass was one of the freshest and most entertaining films of 2010.

It took superheroes out of the realm of fantasy and into the real world, where ordinary New York teenager Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) dressed up as a masked vigilante, Kick-Ass, and took on crime. The problem was that, though Kick-Ass was trying to be a hero, he was never very super, something that made him the least compelling aspect of his own movie.

So it was left to Mindy Macready, aka Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) to provide both the fighting skills and be the star of the movie. The opening scene in this sequel mirrors one of the most iconic from the first film, in which Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) shot a gun at his bulletproof vest-wearing young daughter, Mindy. Only this time it’s Mindy who’s holding the gun, and she’s shooting Dave as part of his training.

Mindy, now 15, is still taking on criminals and kicking ass, but Kick-Ass himself has hung up his suit, even though he has inspired others to take to the streets in costumes and fight wrongdoers. But Mindy makes a promise to her guardian, Marcus (Morris Chestnut) who was once her father’s partner in the police force, that she won’t be Hit Girl anymore.

Touching on the insanity of what they're doing, that Mindy should be a girl with a normal childhood, is the first clue that this sequel intends to take a more thoughtful look at these characters’ actions, and not simply be a hyper-violent cartoon.

Yet Dave is keen to get back into Kick-Ass ways, and joins up with a team of masked amateur avengers led by Jim Carrey, who goes by the name Colonel Stars and Stripes. This is where Cage is missed, no doubt about it, with Carrey not really offering the same level of crazed wit as his would-be replacement.

Meanwhile Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is hungry for revenge since Kick-Ass killed his crime-boss father. He reinvents himself as a supervillain, the Motherfucker, and gathers together a team of baddies to hunt down Kick-Ass and his pals.

Also new to the scene is director Jeff Wadlow, taking over the reigns from Matthew Vaughn. Wadlow certainly delivers with a smart screenplay, but isn’t quite able to bring the same level of panache to the action scenes that the first movie offered.

Being modestly budgeted means it’s fairly low key action-wise, in the first two-thirds of the film at any rate, but the scale of the action matters less than the imagination, the originality and the impact that it has. Moreover it allows the focus to fall on the characters, and is what elevates Kick-Ass 2 beyond simple exploitation.

Though it still has its share of outrageous moments, and a truly inspired all-action finale, the element of surprise, particularly in regard to Hit Girl, has been lost. But that’s precisely why they spend so much time out of costume this time round, so we can get to the core of the people under the masks.

More of the same just wouldn’t cut it, and it’s entirely right and necessary to expand the world and move the characters forward. It’s a movie that’s aware of its comic book origins, but this isn’t the world of Spider-Man and his oft-repeated “with real power comes real responsibility” mantra. This is the real world, with real-world consequences and responsibilities.

It’s the growth of the characters through this realisation that makes Kick-Ass 2 a successful piece of storytelling, far more than it’s a successful bit of comic fun. For that it should be applauded.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

DVD 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.

Monday 5 August 2013

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters review

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (PG, 106 mins)
Director: Thor Freudenthal
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The mash-up of Greek myth and Harry Potter (lots and lots of Harry Potter) that was Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief from a couple of years ago was always intended to kick off a series of movies, and so we return to the world for this rather tired sequel.

Modern day teenager Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) discovered in the opening entry that he was the son of Poseidon, but without the need for lengthy setups this time round, we jump straight into Percy at Hogwarts, sorry, Camp Half-Blood. After saving the day in the first movie, his worry is that he was a one-quest wonder, not as worthy a hero as believed, but an attack on their enchanted camp sends Percy and his pals on a quest to recover the Golden Fleece, which involves travelling to the Sea of Monsters where the bad guys are trying to resurrect the Titan, Cronos.

Though far from original, this is reasonably agreeable fantasy fare, especially when compared to the lumbering Clash and Wrath of the Titans from which it takes much inspiration. But it’s just all so forgettable, so where the first film still managed to be acceptably fun, despite its glaring similarity to Potter, this is dull as well as derivative. Grave import is given to very goofy events, with none of the heft of Potter, nor the breadth of characters to invest in, with only a cameo by Nathan Fillion briefly piercing the torpor. Drenched in CGI, the action set pieces are unmemorable, just stepping stones on the way to a dumb finale and the threat of yet more adventures to follow.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Smurfs 2 review

The Smurfs 2 (U, 105 mins)
Director: Raja Gosnell
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Having hauled in over half a billion dollars worldwide with their first adventure, the return of the tiny blue Smurfs was inevitable. This agreeable sequel finds Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) worrying about her place among the Smurfs, since she was a creation of evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) until Papa Smurf turned her blue and made her one of their own. Gargamel meanwhile, defeated in the first film, is now a famed magician in Paris and has a plan to harness the Smurfs’ essence and take over the world. There’s also Neil Patrick Harris and his family returning from the first film and pitching in to help the Smurfs, though this does mean the film can get rather too bogged down in human subplots that will make tots itchy. But if they liked the first Smurfs movie they’ll like this, and the computer graphics used to realise the Smurfs is tip-top, while Azaria doesn’t short change with a full-blown zany performance.

Sunday 21 July 2013

The Wolverine review

The Wolverine (12A/PG-13, 126 mins)
Director: James Mangold
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Though it seemed to have run its course by the conclusion of The Last Stand in 2006, the X-Men series continues to rumble on through sequels, prequels and spin-offs.

Chronologically The Wolverine is set after all of the films that have come so far, which at least dispenses with the problem of prequelitis, the main reason the previous standalone in the franchise, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, didn’t really work.

But though a more worthwhile endeavour, and for all that Wolverine, or Logan to give him his Sunday name, is arguably the most popular and compelling of all the X-Men figures, this is the sixth time we’ve seen this character on the big screen, so perhaps he’s starting to lose his lustre.

We’ve seen him so many times that fatigue is beginning to set in, even with the benefit of a pure, unadulterated movie star in the lead. Make no mistake, Hugh Jackman is sensational as the mutant with claws of the hardest metal and astonishing regenerative powers, but he’s yet to find the story to fully exploit his appeal.

As Origins demonstrated, this is a guy who has been around for a very long time. We first meet Logan here as a prisoner of war in Nagasaki just as the Bockscar flies into view, his healing powers and near indestructibility saving both himself and a Japanese soldier, Yashida (Ken Yamamura), from the atomic blast.

Then we head to the Yukon wilderness in the present day, where Logan is a wanderer and a tortured soul, a loner keen on justice. He’s also dreaming of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whose descent into dark and dangerous power forced him to kill her at the end of the third X-Men movie, The Last Stand.

That’s a gritty setup for a hero who has never exactly been defined by his sunny disposition. A no-nonsense title (certainly when compared to the clumsy X-Men Origins: Wolverine) promises much more than it delivers, but this is at least another successful attempt at portraying Logan as a prowling, rage-filled beast.

Maybe there’s something to be admired in a comic book movie that (for the most part, anyway) doesn’t follow the standard path of hero trying to foil super-villain, that does try to be more about character. But it’s a lot harder to actually turn this dark potential into a workable superhero tale which, let’s face it, is why we’re here. And what else is there to learn about this character that we haven’t already?

The other admirable aspect is the strong female characters, beginning with Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who tracks Logan down in Canada to persuade him to return to Japan at the request of the now very old and very ill Yashida. His old friend says he can make him mortal, which sets in motion a dense plot involving the Yakuza wanting to kill Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), power struggles and mysterious ninja protectors, and which ends up with Logan on the run with Mariko.

This exposes one of the major flaws at the heart of the entire enterprise; a plot that would be easier to justify if it were driven by Logan. But he is a passenger in his own story, a tag-along in this Japanese conspiracy plot and family saga, as allegiances switch at the swing of a sword, and who is on which side at any one time is anyone’s guess.

The rest is kinda tiresome, low on incident and long on intricate but largely unfathomable plotting. A few samey fights break up the tedium, as Logan’s claws clang against samurai sword. It’s the least X-Men-like of the movies so far, with barely another mutant to be seen save for Viper, whose encounter with Logan leaves his powers of healing on the wain, which at least gives some momentary interest when he isn’t indestructible.

The movie’s centrepiece comes fairly early, a fight atop a speeding bullet train that for sheer kineticism is hard to beat. But for all that it tries to avoid the usual tropes, inevitably the climax involves a clattering showdown between Wolverine and a super-foe that’s as tired as everything else in the film.

A post-credit tease for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past is almost worth the wait, but until that point The Wolverine is boring and incomprehensible, and that’s the two worst things it could have been.

Thursday 18 July 2013

The World’s End review

The World’s End (15/R, 109 mins)
Director: Edgar Wright
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The movie-making team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright has been one of the biggest success stories of British cinema of the past decade.

With Shaun of the Dead and then Hot Fuzz they showed that home grown products can be original, imaginative, entertaining and, significantly, capable of drawing a sizeable and appreciative audience.

Now they're back with the long-awaited third of what’s become unofficially known as the Cornetto trilogy, with Pegg once again co-writing with director Wright for what could be described as a bit of a blend of Shaun and Fuzz, combing the first’s monster-bashing with the latter’s sinister small town setting.

Pegg returns alongside his co-star Nick Frost and joining them are Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, completing the group of five friends whom we first meet as youngsters in the early 90s. Living in a sleepy small town, they're a rowdy but likeable group who set out to tackle the Golden Mile, a challenge to drink a pint in every one of the dozen pubs in town, from The First Post to The World’s End.

They never made it round all 12 but now, over 20 years on, Gary King (Pegg) is determined to recreate their crawl. But the rest have moved on, becoming respectable businessmen and family men. With little else going on in his life, Gary drags them back to their old stomping ground to try to relive their youths.

That would be enough for a lot of films, but Pegg and Wright are more ambitious than that. So on top of that setup, the lads quickly discover the town seems to now be mostly populated by aliens, or robots, or robotic aliens, in some Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style takeover.

The result is one of the year’s best comedies, hitting the mark in the early stages through the other guys’ reluctance to take part in Gary scheme, then later when they're facing down their enemies. But it’s also able to hit some strong dramatic and emotional beats. Fittingly, since we’re now dealing with guys who’ve left 40 behind, it’s even more thematically mature than the first two films, tackling aging and regrets, old memories and wounds, as lessons are learned and growth achieved.

Yet it’s still impressive that Frost and Pegg have kept their characters fresh from film to film, Pegg going from layabout Shaun to Fuzz’s hotshot cop to near-destitute alcoholic here. Frost has gone from an even bigger layabout in Shaun to a dim but sweet sidekick to a suited businessman, albeit one with a few smackdowns in his arsenal.

If there’s one level on which The World’s End doesn’t quite hit the bullseye it’s aiming for, it’s in the character of Gary. Set up in the beginning as someone who’s meant to grate, he’s positioned for a clear journey to reformed hero, which is fine but never quite impacts in just the way intended.

But we’re mostly on board for laughs, and this is a film that never forgets how to be funny for a second. Physical gags are brilliantly timed, humour is drawn from the characters, and every actor shines, although Pegg does bag himself many of the top lines.

It also manages to be an exciting sci-fi horror at the same time, while throwing in raucously choreographed brawls, even if everyone suddenly seems to have the fighting skills of Jackie Chan.

In the end, the second apocalypse comedy of the summer is not quite the perfect send-off the trilogy merited, but it’s a pretty close run thing. Pegg and Wright represent all that’s good about British genre filmmaking, and when it comes to collaborations between them, it would be a shame if this is the end.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Pacific Rim review

Pacific Rim (12A, 131 mins)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wildly anticipated, Guillermo del Toro’s first film since Hellboy II five years ago is a thundering slice of sci-fi action that, given its premise and budget, emerges as a typically overbearing, sporadically very entertaining blockbuster.

It’s got problems, and plenty of them, but these are papered over with enough skill, exuberance and spectacle that more forgiving audience members should find much to tickle them.

In an extensive prologue we learn that massive alien beasties, Kaiju, are coming to earth via a portal deep beneath the Pacific, kicking off a seven-year war after humanity’s response comes in the shape of enormous people-controlled robots, Jaeger, used to battle the Kaiju.

One such Jaeger pilot is Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), an orders-ignoring hotshot the likes of which we’ve seen a thousand times in movies like this. They're fighting a losing battle, with the Jaeger programme due to be retired in favour of erecting defensive walls, until it becomes clear that the few remaining robots are earth’s last hope.

With all the bombast and subtlety of a Michael Bay effort, Armageddon and Transformers being the most obviously referenced, and with the woeful banter to go along with it, this is brainlessly chaotic stuff. Elements of Avatar are in there too, and naturally plenty Godzilla, but such considerations aren’t really at the top of the agenda. This is a movie with little but carnage on its mind, and on that front it delivers.

Once the initial heavy bursts of destruction are out of the way, the movie pauses for a lengthy bout of training and character introduction. This midsection finds the film at its weakest, with the most periods of talk, and the clunkiest of interactions and relationships. During this down-time, the need for action is covered by flashbacks and memories and internal squabbling between Raleigh and his rival pilots.

But, notwithstanding the fact that it can get rather dull during that middle stretch, what saves Pacific Rim is its well-drilled structure and sense of pacing, a ruthlessly controlled build that takes us from glimpsed skirmishes to colossal scraps between Kaiju and Jaeger, as cities topple beneath them.

We’re well used to seeing this level of photo-real devastation in Transformers or The Avengers, and right up to last month’s Man of Steel, but Pacific Rim still manages to throw up moments that astonish and, given its very straightforward setup of monsters versus robots, even surprise. A thumping score propels it too, while Idris Elba generally manages to rise above the risible dialogue with a commanding turn as the soldier in charge.

As long as you don’t pay too much attention to most elements of the story, Pacific Rim does the job it set out to do. It gets better as it goes along, which is important, and in its scale and threat it’s genuinely epic. It doesn’t maintain it all the way to the end, and it’s regularly thoroughly dumb, but when it’s good it can be very good indeed.

Monday 24 June 2013

Blu-ray prizes to be won

Win Movie 43 on Blu-ray

To celebrate the arrival of the star-studded comedy of the year ‘Movie 43’ - out on DVD and Blu-ray 24th June through eOne - we have a Blu-ray copy to give away to two lucky winners!

'Movie 43' showcases a plethora of Hollywood starlets including Chloe Grace Moretz, Emma Stone, Kate Winslet and Halle Berry to name but a few. Other Hollywood A-listers include Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler and even Richard Gere!

'Movie 43' also proudly sponsors this year's #InnuendoDay set to unleash it's naughtiness on Friday 28th June! #InnuendoDay celebrates the most coveted aspects of British comedy; Innuendo, the tongue in cheek naughtiness that harks back to the days of Carry On, Are You Being Served, Monty Python and Little Britain!

So, join us on Friday 28th June for some fun shenanigans! Find out more information at:

To be in with a chance of winning, simply send an email with your name and postal address to by Monday July 1st.

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.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Hummingbird review

Hummingbird (15/R, 100 mins)
Director: Steven Knight
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Jason Statham is Joey, a former special forces soldier now living rough on the streets of London. On the run from some heavies, Joey takes refuge in a rich guy’s apartment and when he discovers he’ll be out of town for several months, he takes on his identity and stays in the flat. Haunted by his experiences in Afghanistan, we learn about his past and why he’s hiding, as he strikes up a friendship with a Polish nun and gets mixed up with some gangsters along the way. The enigmatically titled Hummingbird (aka the rather more prosaic Redemption in the States) isn’t the usual Statham kick-fest, although he still gets to show some skills in the odd bit of action. He gets to emote too, something he’s proves perfectly capable of, but this is an odd concoction, part bleak drama about the underprivileged, part tale of an avenging angel. It’s a curious melange of plot threads, with no real surprise about how they fit together, but still kind of interesting and with enough action to keep Statham’s core fanbase amused.

Despicable Me 2 review

Despicable Me 2 (U, 98 mins)
Directors: Pierre Coffin,Chris Renaud
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Reformed super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) is now a family man in this sequel to an animated comedy that was built almost exclusively around the perceived charms of Gru’s little yellow Minions. This second go-round decides to take their presence up several notches, and if tots find their reaction shots, slapstick and farting funny then so be it. The plot involves Gru getting recruited by the Anti-Villain League, who get him out of retirement to track down a bad guy with a serum that turns people (and Minions, lots and lots of Minions) into monsters. It’s the most perfunctory of storylines, with a subplot that sees Gru’s daughters trying to find him a girlfriend, and grasps for laughs are desperate. There’s lots of physical hijinks and the animation is expertly timed, but there’s no soul, and it quickly becomes evident this is every bit as pointless and forgettable as the first film. It’s candy-bright and Carell gives an energetic and committed vocal performance, but it’s not enough to raise Despicable Me 2 from the ordinary.

Monday 17 June 2013

World War Z review

World War Z (15/PG-13, 116 mins)
Director: Marc Forster
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

It was almost two years ago now that the centre of Glasgow was taken over by Hollywood, as George Square and the surrounding streets were transformed into Philadelphia for Brad Pitt’s zombie-apocalypse epic World War Z.

Since then rewrites and reshoots have tarnished its reputation somewhat, to the extent that serious questions are being asked about the wisdom of spending $170m on a zombie movie, a genre that flourished in low budget, almost underground circles.

As it turns out it’s neither disaster nor total triumph, but a solidly put together thriller with plenty of entertaining scenes. And while Glasgow isn’t exactly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, if you miss the first ten minutes, you’ll miss Glasgow.

It’s where we meet Pitt, his wife and two young daughters, stuck in Philly traffic. We’ve been hearing news reports of trouble around the world and disease outbreaks, when suddenly all hell breaks loose around them. There’s panic in the streets and people attacking each other, attacks that are close up and frantically edited to the point of confusion, compensated for by their intensity, with the sense of fear and danger real enough.

Barely escaping with their lives, the family makes it to an aircraft carrier, where it’s soon revealed that they're in the middle of a worldwide zombie infestation. Zombification is almost instantaneous, the walking dead are fast, savage and abundant, and the sustained threat in the early stages is palpable.

As a former United Nations investigator, Pitt is needed to go back into the mix with a scientist to try to find a cure or a way to stop the outbreak. This takes us to Korea for a gloomy and hard to follow sequence that’s just a stepping stone to get us to Israel.

This is where the movie really starts to gain traction. For a start everything there happens in daylight, and gives us a proper sense of the scale of the devastation. But the eye-catcher is the sheer number of zombies attacking a walled Jerusalem, and they're working together, forming undead pyramids to great effect, in those spectacular shots from the trailer.

Based on a novel by Max Brooks, World War Z is a reasonably original take on the zombie movie, focussing on the people actively fighting against the hordes, rather than just trying to survive or avoid them. There are some thrills, some tension, and a lot of impressive sights, though Pitt's family become something of an afterthought once they're separated, so emotional investment is limited.

He makes very interesting films, but this is only time outwith Troy that Pitt has been the solo anchor of a summer blockbuster. He’s fine in the lead, neither out of his depth nor particularly dynamic. His character is not a man of action, instead using his smarts to pick up clues, and this is a refreshing change.

Things grinds to a halt at the beginning of a third act that brings us back to the UK, before picking up significantly for a well-realised climax, then turning lazy again for an uninspired final outcome. It’s a pedestrian end to a patchy action horror that more or less delivers on what it set out to do.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Man of Steel review

Man of Steel (12A/PG-13, 143 mins)
Director: Zack Snyder
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Continuing what’s been a fairly decent summer season so far, the year’s most anticipated movie arrives with high hopes of successfully furthering the adventures of the most iconic of all superheroes, Superman. Henry Cavill dons the cape as Kal-El, the only survivor of the doomed planet Krypton, sent to earth as a baby by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe).

Part origin story and part continuation of the mythology, it’s a smartly structured blend of Superman and Superman II that flashes to Kal’s childhood, filling us in on adoptive parents, the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who bring him up as Clark. It’s this that gives the film a real emotional depth, as Clark struggles with who he is, coming to terms with his powers in a film about choices and decisions on a massive scale.

Steeped in the classic Superman iconography and acknowledging but not overplaying Kal-El’s status as a god among men, Man of Steel is respectful to its cinematic predecessors without the need for the suffocating reverence that blighted Superman Returns.

The serious threat that forms the comic-book conflict of the second half comes from General Zod (Michael Shannon), who was banished from Krypton and has made it to earth with plans of resurrecting his planet at the expense of ours. A properly menacing Shannon facing off against the perfectly cast Cavill is the backbone of a rousing adventure, while Amy Adams adds layers of strength and intelligence as Lois Lane.

The action is truly cataclysmic, fully recognising the fact that these are near indestructible super-beings fighting, so when they hit each other, they stay hit, and entire cities crumble in their wake. It’s stunning stuff, with director Zack Snyder gleefully taking advantage of the $200m worth of resources available to him as all memories of the disappointing Returns are wiped clean, and the best Superman movie since the first one in 1978 reaches the stratosphere.

Monday 20 May 2013

Epic review

Epic (U, 102 mins)
Director: Chris Wedge
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

With an output over the last decade or so that includes Robots, Rio and the Ice Age movies, animation studio Blue Sky has a track record that could probably be best described as spotty.

That mediocre run continues with their latest big budget animated adventure, another in which you can see the money up on the screen, but which is tonally all over the place and sorely lacking when it comes to memorable story or characters.

The title would suggest something sweeping and grand, and while that’s what aimed for, it’s really not what we get. Instead we’re served up a rather po-faced mythology about noble forest-dwelling Leaf Men who need their queen to choose her heir, something that can only happen once every hundred years. If she can’t find someone the forest will be desiccated by the baddies, rat-like creatures called Boggans.

The Leaf Men are responsible for the balance of the forest, and this slapping around the head with its eco-message is the first of Epic’s missteps. The battle with the Boggans is represented by fairly impressive if frantic action, mostly consisting of bow-and-arrow fights and chases on the backs of saddled birds, ripped from Avatar but also providing the most enjoyable moments of the movie, impressively choreographed and pleasingly executed.

Meanwhile, in the real world, which is populated by plastic-looking people, late-teen Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) goes to stay her nutty professor father following the death of her mother. She wants a normal dad, one who isn’t obsessed with trying to find the tiny people at the bottom of the garden, but throwing in the dead mother is a desperate grasp at gravitas that never really gives us anything to invest in.

When the queen (voiced by Beyoncé no less) is attacked by the Boggans while MK (as she likes to be called) is passing by, before you can say Honey I Shrunk the Avatars she has been zapped down to the size of the Leaf Men. She comes into possession of the Life of the Forest, a magical pod she’s charged with keeping safe until some gobbledegook about it blooming in the moonlight can come to pass.

Aiding her in this is a pair of comedy molluscs in the shape of Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari, and though some humour is important, does it really need to be provided by a talking slug and snail? Also inhabiting this forest world of good versus evil is a young guy called Nod (Josh Hutcherson), who is yet to earn his stripes among his Leaf Men soldier community. He’s a crashing bore, saddled with that glossy-haired animated hero look that hasn’t changed since Aladdin and was most recently repeated in the equally lacklustre The Croods.

The story never develops to a level beyond your bog-standard eco-toon like FernGully, and last year’s Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings covered much the same ground with better results. It’s not as dull or unengaging as some recent efforts, but still pretty flat and thematically there’s more than a hint of The Wizard of Oz in the young woman who is discontent with her own existence.

Look to the source material as blame for that. Epic is based on an illustrated children’s book called The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce, who also wrote the stories on which last year’s Rise of the Guardians was based. It’s a title that, while a clumsy mouthful that couldn’t possibly be used for a movie, at least gives a much clearer picture of what’s at play here.

It’s a fine swarming spectacle bursting with colour, majoring in bucolic grandeur to offset the tedious and goofy world. But though very pretty indeed, green and lush and detailed, all it really achieves is to prove once again that animation needs to be much more than just a series of good looking pictures.

Along with the nice visuals, an accomplished voice cast manages to keep it tolerable. A restrained and solemn Colin Farrell is Ronin, the leader of the Leaf Men, while Christoph Waltz wheels out another of his fast-talking villains.

But if ever a title makes promises the film can’t cash, this is it. Pedestrian, ordinary, derivative and bland are all words that could be used to describe Epic, but if there’s one thing it most assuredly isn’t, it’s epic.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Fast & Furious 6 review

Fast & Furious 6 (12A/PG-13, 130 mins)
Director: Justin Lin
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

There’s something to be admired about a movie series that has gone from fun to bloated to having stuck around so long that it actually became fun again, largely thanks to the introduction of Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five.

Now the Fast & Furiouses are being churned out at such an alarming rate, you’ll barely have time to catch your breath before part seven will be with us next spring. But we’ll need to make do in the meantime with this ludicrously enjoyable sixth entry that sees former criminals Dom and Brian (Vin Diesel and Paul Walker) retired to family life in Spain.

Meanwhile Johnson’s cop is on the trail of another set of bad guys led by Luke Evans, and goes to Dom and his crew of street-racers for their help, the carrot being that Dom’s one-time squeeze Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) isn’t as dead as he thought she was. And if they can bring the gang down, they’ll get the pardons that will allow them to return to the States.

By becoming increasingly convoluted and introducing too many characters, it means there’s an awful lot of movie here for a daft racing flick. When they talk it can sometimes be best to look away, as feeble lines delivered by subpar actors aren’t what you’ve signed up to a Fast & Furious picture for. And it can sometimes be very po-faced, generally whenever Diesel is around. Thank heavens then for Johnson, who punctures the stern atmosphere with some engaging stuff.

But when it takes to the roads, it’s a Ferrari of a different colour. The vehicular mayhem is stunningly executed, often thrilling, albeit not all of it coherent, and at least a good percentage of it looks done for real. An exposition-heavy midsection in between the bouts of carnage threatens to outstay its welcome, but a centrepiece chase on a Spanish highway involving a tank is worth the wait. That’s merely a taster for a quite colossal climactic sequence on the world’s longest airport runway, making the final third of the movie unrepentantly silly and thoroughly enjoyable.

And stick around once the credits start rolling to see who’ll be joining the fun in episode seven!

Monday 6 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness review

Star Trek Into Darkness (12A/PG-13, 132 mins)
Director: J.J. Abrams
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Most expectations were surpassed with the release four years ago of Star Trek, J.J. Abrams’ ambitious reboot of the original series that recast all the iconic parts with new actors.

With the groundwork done, the opportunity was there for this first sequel to blast us into the cosmos, all the while further whetting appetites for two years from now, when Abrams will turn his attention to that other sci-fi juggernaut, Star Wars.

But while expectations may be sky-high, the reality doesn’t quite live up to them, and the result is a solid and very enjoyable adventure rather than an unqualified home run.

An all-action prologue finds the Starship Enterprise and her crew on an alien planet, where they're attempting to save the primitive inhabitants from an erupting volcano without revealing themselves and breaking Starfleet’s prime directive about interfering with undeveloped civilisations.

As well as being stirringly executed, this sequence sets up the major themes of what’s to come, found in the relationship between hothead James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his seat-of-the-pants, wiseass captaincy versus seemingly emotionless half-Vulcan first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and his cold and logical approach to everything.

All the crew are present and all signs point to this being the jumping off point for a proper mission for them. But this proves to be a false start, and the pace stalls a little when Kirk gets busted for his antics on the alien world (“They saw us, big deal”), with he and Spock still railing against each other.

The central story kicks in with the arrival of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former Starfleet officer who plots a series of attacks on earth against his former employers. The Enterprise is sent on an off-the-books revenge mission to shut him down, even though that may mean antagonising the Klingons.

So first, the stuff that doesn’t quite work: a firefight on the Klingon homeworld is chaotic and incomprehensible. A midsection that cranks the plot in to place is often gibberish. Any attempt to summarise it would be futile, partly because it’s badly written, partly because of the twists involved as it progresses.

So it’s left to the characters for what works, which really is how it should be. Not everyone gets a chance to shine right enough. Does Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) do anything other than chuck out grumpy, albeit very amusing one-liners? Not really.

Simon Pegg has improved his accent no end since first time out, and his Scotty is a laugh, but Uhura, Chekov and Sulu are window dressing, even if the actors playing them (Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, John Cho) are perfectly decent. Pine and Quinto are good too, but Cumberbatch is amazing, a calm and steely presence who anchors the whole thing, blowing Pine off the screen whenever they face off in scenes which are among the best in the film.

A now familiar score is an absolute blast, and vast, stunning sets combine with glorious visuals to make this an adventure that’s epic on most levels, packed with breathtaking individual moments. But, truth be told, much of its success is due to smoke and mirrors, with enough flare and energy to paper over the gaping holes in the plot and the fact that it’s a film aimed first and foremost at pre-programmed audiences.

It really is a geek’s delight, with nods and references to past glories likely to leave newcomers scratching their heads as to what the fuss is about. As betrayals and reversals abound and Kirk is outmatched by Harrison at every turn, the bigger picture is outlandish and impenetrable.

Hopefully there will be more fully developed blockbusters this summer, but there may not be too many that are this much fun. Just don’t spend too much time thinking about it.

Friday 3 May 2013