Tuesday 25 February 2014

Non-Stop review

Non-Stop (12A/PG-13, 106 mins)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Now firmly established as an action star, Liam Neeson’s latest sees him as an air marshal on a flight from the States to London who starts to receive messages from an anonymous threat that passengers on the plane will be killed if he doesn’t come up with a ransom. It’s all quite cat and mouse for a while, as he tries to work out which of the passengers could be behind it, followed by some decent rough and tumble. Tension is nicely held thanks to a steadily escalating pace, albeit with quite a bit of flim-flam and repetition to wade through in a saggy midsection, but the Agatha Christie-style vibe is fun, painting everyone as a potential suspect including Neeson himself. It’s a solid mystery, staying together almost until the silliness takes over, but sturdy enough overall to keep you on board.

Monday 24 February 2014

The House of Him - Glasgow Film Festival review

The House of Him
Director: Robert Florence
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Writer and comedian Robert Florence pulls off an astonishing sleight of hand with his debut feature, The House of Him, an eviscerating commentary on the scourge of domestic violence disguised as a slasher movie.

Filmed entirely in his mother's Glasgow home for £900, it may be confined and small of scale, but that lack of expansiveness is more than made up for with the thematic ambition and depth brought to it by Florence’s impassioned script.

It’s the house of a serial killer (Richard Rankin) who has been murdering young women there for years, and has just lured his latest victims, Sophie (Kirsty Strain) and Anna (Louise Stewart). At first it seems as though Anna will be the conventional “final girl”, chased around the house by Him. But it quickly becomes clear Florence has more on his mind.

Leaving the slasher antics aside for long spells, it becomes essentially a two-hander as the pair talk of Anna’s powerlessness to escape her plight. The analogy is a potent one, as their conversations delve into all the insidious ways abusers operate.

And in case you think this might sound preachy, it also works just fine as a horror film. The location never becomes limiting, imaginative and atmospheric ways are found to film it, and there are a bunch of decent jolts. A terrific, Carpenter-infused score helps considerably too.

The actors are assured and controlled, even overcoming that thing where hearing Scottish accents on screen can be like getting slapped on the ear. Rankin oozes quiet menace, while Stewart gets to display a wide emotional range, and their interactions never fail to compel.

As the film progresses, radio reports suggest what's going inside this house is happening the world over. Secret things, bad things in all the houses. And that plague is men. It's a pungent metaphor that entreats us to wake up to everyday misogyny and make us look long and accusingly at a world full of monsters.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman review

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (U, 92 mins)
Director: Rob Minkoff
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Animated characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman were part of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s cartoon show in the early 60s.

Mr. Peabody is a super-intelligent dog and Sherman is his seven year old adopted son, and together they go on educational adventures through time using Mr. Peabody’s time machine, the WABAC.

On the one hand it’s surprising that it’s taken 50 years for these characters to come to the big screen. But clearly the makers of Family Guy took from the concept their inspiration for the many time travel adventures Brian and Stewie have, so it’s likely that the ongoing success of that made someone deem it worthwhile to dust down the original property and turn it into a feature length animated movie. They needn’t have bothered.

This is demonstrated in a pointless introductory sequence in which Mr. Peabody and Sherman (voiced by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell and Max Charles) encounter Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution for no discernible story reason whatsoever. It’s the first sign that this is a film less interested in its characters than in being a history lesson, and that’s surely the last thing kids want when they visit the cinema.

Once that’s out of the way the story continues with Sherman starting school, where a bullying problem with a classmate gets out of hand and the question is raised of how a dog can possibly be a fit parent. It’s a fairly flimsy framework on which to hang a film, and after some thoroughly unengaging stuff involving this, the main plot kicks off when Sherman is forced to spend time with the girl who is bullying him.

Showing her the WABAC to prove he’s not a liar, they end up in ancient Egypt, forcing Mr. Peabody to go back and rescue them. The story doesn’t so much flow organically from there as ping randomly from one point in time to another, pushing on to Renaissance Italy and ancient Greece for no reason other than these are historical times, events and characters that people are aware of.

If you're going to dabble in these sorts of shenanigans, at least have the imagination to do something clever or original with it. But this is a story that seems thrown together with the bare minimum of care and attention, that never even attempts to do something out of the ordinary with the time travel element. So haphazard is it, that it could simply be a selection of episodes thrown together, each with a different historical setting, and loosely tied up with a stuck-in-time bow.

The jokes are largely science puns, and whose benefit these are supposed to be for is a mystery. Kids won’t get them (“I don’t get it” being pretty much Sherman’s catchphrase) and adults will groan at how weak they are.

There’s nothing like actual wit and Peabody and Sherman themselves are hardly the most endearing of characters. You’ll get more entertainment with Family Guy and your children will get more education with Horrible Histories.