Tuesday 25 November 2014

Horrible Bosses 2 review

Horrible Bosses 2 (15/R, 108 mins)
Director: Sean Anders
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The law of diminishing returns for comedy sequels comes into effect with this grim retread that once again stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day as a trio of hopeless friends who turn to crime when their luck deserts them. After the events of the first movie they’ve quit their jobs with the intention of running their own company and have invented a shower device, the demonstration of which on a chat show makes for a very early example of just what level of coarseness this return is going to be reaching for. When a flashy businessman (Chris Pine) and his father (Christoph Waltz) go back on a deal, they decide to kidnap and ransom Pine and, to no one’s surprise they're even worse kidnappers than they are murderers - they were dim in the first film, but they surely weren’t this dim. You can 100% guarantee that Day and Sudeikis will behave like morons, with every plot point driven by their idiocy, and it soon becomes tiresome. It’s thoroughly undisciplined, with people just allowed to talk until one of them hopefully says something funny, which is very rarely the case. Paying no regard to logic, which again can be overlooked if the laughs are plentiful enough, the series has gone from pretty funny to pretty much a laugh free zone. Quite the most remarkable cast is topped up with a visit to Bateman’s old boss in prison (Kevin Spacey), while Jennifer Aniston returns to lash on the crudity. A relaxed Bateman does his low-key exasperation while Day screams every line in deeply wearying style, and in the end it’s far closer to headache-inducing than funny.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (12A/PG-13, 123 mins)
Director: Francis Lawrence
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The final book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy gets a now standard two-movie split, and if you haven’t seen the films that have preceded it, you haven’t got a chance with this first part.

It begins immediately after the events of the second film, Catching Fire, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) taken from the Games arena and waking up to find herself in the supposedly destroyed District 13.

We’ve had glimpses of the bigger picture before, but now that what was essentially training in the Games is out of the way, we can get down to the real business. And that aim is full-on revolution, the overthrow of the corrupt and authoritarian government of the Capital, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

The rebels are fronted by Philip Seymour Hoffman and newcomer to the series Julianne Moore as President Coin. Katniss’s actions in the arena have been the spur for uprising in the Districts, and they want her to be the face of their campaign, to film propaganda videos that let the people see there’s hope.

She’s more interested in the fate of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is being held in the Capital, and it’s this tension that drives the drama rather than a reliance on set pieces. Because, goodness knows, it sure ain’t an action film, which is far from a bad thing.

As the third part in a four-part trilogy, there were always likely to be some pacing issues, and occasionally events that could take up one minute of screen time can be stretched into three or four. Some characters are afforded more screen time than might otherwise be the case or we’re introduced to people who don’t feel entirely relevant.

It’s a bit like trying to make a full meal from a limited set of ingredients, but it’s compensated for by a dramatic escalation of the threat level. Snow is going to town to destroy every threat posed by the Districts, stopping at nothing short of genocide, and the dangers are very real indeed.

This is serious, sturdy stuff, looking at fascism and totalitarianism and evoking World War II with its air-raids and underground shelters and wars of information. It’s also reminiscent of the third Matrix film or Return of the Jedi with its hidden rebel base antics, and the groundwork is worth it for a number of powerful, stirring moments.

Lawrence holds it all together as ever, with another committed and impassioned performance that reveals the steel of Katniss and demonstrates that she’s the best young actress on the planet. By the time this series closes out next November, we’ll hopefully be left with a sci-fi saga to be treasured for years to come.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Interstellar review

Interstellar (12A/PG-13, 166 mins)
Director: Christopher Nolan
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

There are very few directors out there who would be given a budget the size of Interstellar’s for a non-franchise or non-adaptation movie. But very few directors are Christopher Nolan, and this is 2014’s most anticipated movie, and has been since it was first announced.

It’s also been a fine year for Matthew McConaughey, and he caps it with the lead in this vastly ambitious sci-fi epic that’s two parts magnificence to one part frustration. He plays Cooper, a one-time pilot who is now a farmer, as are many people since a crop blight led to a world food shortage and turned many parts into a dustbowl.

But life has to go on in this near-future world for Cooper and his son and daughter. He’s all about the pioneer spirit, living in a world where he’s no longer able to use his skills, until he encounters a team of scientists led by Professor Brand and his daughter Amelia (Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway), They have a plan to leave earth in order to find new inhabitable worlds since, as Brand puts it, “mankind was born on earth, it wasn’t meant to die here”.

This sends Cooper, Amelia and another pair of astronauts on a two-year journey to a wormhole that’s been discovered near Saturn, and to whatever lies beyond that. That’s all you really need to know, because from this point in there are many thrills and surprises to be discovered in a film that’s all about what we leave behind for future generations. There are echoes of 2001 in its silent, balletic space sequences, as well as in some of the more surreal imagery that Nolan unleashes in the later stages.

A lot of the time it’s hard science, as actual rocket scientists come up with plans for how to save mankind. Questions of relative time may scramble the brain, but it’s done with the utmost sincerity and not without humour, which is a welcome touch. It’s not an action film, certainly not a single-minded one like Gravity, so that shouldn’t be expected, but when Nolan does throw some in, he runs with ideas and visuals that make for jaw-dropping sequences.

For all its spectacle though, it’s the immense force of the human drama that gives Interstellar its impact. The implications and the scale of what we’re dealing with here can be difficult to contemplate, and when it concentrates on its profound examination of humanity, it approaches brilliance.

In most regards, this is exactly what we should be demanding from our blockbusters. It’s conceived with intelligence and far-reaching intent and executed with immense skill, yet it never quite achieves that moment of transcendence that it seems to threaten for the first two hours.

There’s plenty of room for trimming in its much too generous running time, and Nolan throws into the mix the kinds of characters and plot developments you might expect from lesser filmmakers, undoing a lot of good work in a final hour that at times can be sluggish and ponderous.

So the year’s most anticipated film has turned out to be a good one, at times a very good one. But in the end does it really amount to much more than you might find in the very best episodes of Star Trek?