Monday, 28 November 2011


2006 saw the release of an unusual film that took all who viewed it by surprise. Happy Feet was a strange mix of Moulin Rouge meets Glee via David Attenborough. Nearly six years later it's time to don your thermals because Mumble's back!

Musicals that rely on previously published material have a very hard task before them when they try to embed themselves into your heart. You see, despite there being thousands of songs to choose from, it's not always easy to get enough of them to blend together perfectly to help tell a story convincingly. The wrong tunes won't help move the plot along or worse, can make the story itself seem like it's been hashed out to try and fit the songs in. Moulin Rouge, Mamma Mia! and the original Happy Feet were able to pull this stunt off where it felt like the songs were actually written for the movie rather than chosen for it.

Sadly, the follow up does not achieve this, and not by a long shot. Which is strange when you think that writer/director Miller didn't do too bad with his Mad Max sequels. However, this second penguin helping is more in line with his disastrous Babe: Pig In The City follow up - the charm, beauty and originality of the first outings have been lost or ignored for what feels like a poorly conceived cash-in. If it were a straight-to-DVD affair or had been rushed out to maximise on the popularity of the first flick then you could understand and maybe even forgive a little the lack-lustre feel to the whole thing.

With a plot thinner than the ice our heroes have to traverse at one point in the film, Happy Feet Two feels like a mesh of non-fitting ideas that only barely cling together from the cuteness of the penguins and the choice of next song that they've banked on melting your heart or getting your toes tapping. And that's where the confidence is mis-placed -regretably in the song selection. This time round you'll only enjoy what's on offer if you listen strictly to chart R&B. Don't expect a typical family to all join in at any stage throughout its running time where the variation of the first outing guaranteed, even if all of them didn't like the song, they had at least all heard of it. They've gone too trendy for their own good rather than stick with mainstream classics to appeal to a wider audience.

What should have been a welcome return to the world of Mumble and his fellow flightless fellows instead has become a chore that no choir can redeem. March off to see something else if you can.

UK release date: 02.12.12
Certificate: U

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Along time ago, a cute secondary character in a family franchise became more loved than the actual films central figure. The then much-loved Donkey - annoying animal side-kick who can talk! - was replaced by a cat with eyes that were enough to make the strongest heart melt. Now it is Puss, and not Donkey, that has his own spin-off movie...

DreamWorks have been on abit of a roll of late with their animated features, especially if you remember way back to their Road To Eldorado and Prince Of Egypt entries, which, although good, never reached audiences enough financially or critically. Their origin story of Puss will not sit in the same league as those previous forgotten others, but it won't live in the hearts and memories alongside the original Shrek entry or their How To Train Your Dragon modern family masterpiece.

The thing that made Puss so cute was his ability to realise his "cuteness" and play upon it in a totally obvious way - his hat-clutching, eye-widening stare - to great effect. It was all about his kitty-ness rather than his Mexican-ness that was brought to the fore and, pardon the pun, milked to scene-stealing comic affect! Shrek was an ogre with a strange Scottish accent but that was never dwelled upon, just his expected characteristics - the same goes for Donkey. However, here the whole Spanish heritage plays a huge role in the story, so much so that Puss starts to become more of a Mexican freedom fighter - not unlike Banderas' famous Zorro - rather than a small cat who has a dangerous knack with a sword plus the disadvantage of being easily distracted by moving shiny things!

The Spanish-themed dance-offs and peasant villagers are pleasant enough distractions but they're not laugh-out-loud memorable comic moments that you'd expect from the fighting, frisky feline. Instead, those moments are left to the likes of Humpty Dumped and the villainous Jack & Jill to conjure up which isn't always consistent enough. The fairytale elements are present and correct but they lack the perverse twist that the Shrek series developed so well. This means that the jokes that the adults could and should enjoy are not as prominent as they might prefer but there's still enough for the little ones to think they've discovered their new favorite film...until the next one comes along!

A fun enough first outing but for sheer family frolics Arthur Christmas would be a better bet this festive season.

UK release date: 09.12.12
Certificate: PG

Saturday, 12 November 2011


At this time of year, there is already a danger of Christmas overload with music, adverts and shops going cheer-crazy. And then there's the obligatory festive film to contend with. However, this time it's in the more than capable hands of Aardman...

The folks at Aardman have long been people that, along with Pixar, have given delight to everyone who has watched any of their output - anything from them on a bad day is head and shoulders above others on top form. It now seems the small UK company has finally broken its bad spell with the big US cousins.

Straight out of the gate even before the opening credits, you know that they've cracked it - the letter to Santa from the little girl in Cornwall with all the questions concerning chimneys, timing and the exponential birth rate making all future present deliveries even harder - is the perfect mix of cute and crazy, laden with jokes for kids and adults alike. And that's before we've even seen exactly how all of the above is achieved through the aid of technology and an army of elves - think Monsters Inc. meets Mission: Impossible and you're halfway there.

Like their previous productions, there will be repeat viewing necessary if you wish to clock up all the nods and sight gags littered throughout the film - a The Wrong Trousers train track-laying homage, a Shaun The Sheep toy on the bedroom floor, a Stagecoach/Raiders Of The Lost Ark parody involving hanging off the back of a moving vehicle, to name but a few. And like past efforts, there are some sublimely strange moments to be had - the impromptu landing in Africa sees Arthur and co surrounded by lions and not even Attenborough would have thought to lullaby them with reindeer slippers to escape being eaten!

The British cast do a fine job with McAvoy the right side of youthful wonder and passion (but only just!) as Arthur and Broadbent and Nighy spot on as current Santa and GrandSanta. It does get a little "early Spielberg" with family issues (i.e. father and son problems) rising to the surface throughout the proceedings but then what family doesn't have the odd argument over the festive period? Even the Claus family does it seems.

With what feels like a genuine love of wanting to make a great movie and not just cash in on a Christmas film, Arthur Christmas is a magical rarity that, yet again, will be enjoyed (and loved) by all. More importantly, with its re-watch value, it's destined to become a modern classic along with The Muppet Christmas Carol for families and kids of all ages. Even if you don't do Xmas, this is a film you will enjoy, trust me on this. How could you not? The race is to get to Cornwall, not somewhere like New York! Fantastic!

UK release date: 11.11.11
Certificate: U


It would be nigh-on-impossible to remember a time before Depp could do no wrong. Over recent years, he has gone from strength to strength with only Pitt or Clooney matching him for diversity and memorable performances.

Now, take that and then hook him up with the director of Withnail & I and the lesser known but equally bonkers How To Get Ahead In Advertising and what do you get?....

What you don't get is Depp all Captain Jack shouting "where has all the rum gone?" for 119 minutes (which would so be worth the admission price!) but instead a less flamboyant but still mesmerising performance that induces smiles everytime he's upon the screen.

His journalist "out of depth and out of sorts" in 60's Puerto Rico is introduced in a wonderful blur of drinking that leaves him a day late for his new job and a trashed-but-unopened mini bar on his hotel room floor - this is a character that Depp could do in his sleep but there's no phoning it in here from him.

For those who yearn for, or prefer, structure to their viewing, you may find The Rum Diary hard to engage with. Like it's central character, the thin-on-the-ground plot moves its merry way across the land, bouncing off of and frequently drunkenly interacting with the locals with no real rhyme or reason. In that respect it's very similar to Withnail.. except the holiday plot device is replaced with a shady holiday destination deal that Depp's reporter is brought in on.

The rare meat on the bones story of shady deals introduces the other known actors of Eckhart (perfect body, fake smile) and Heard (even more perfect body and playfulness) but despite their solid performances, it's truly a case of "Here's Johnny!" Amongst the sharp wit and tangy one-liners, director/writer Robinson shows that despite his near 19 year absence from behind the camera, he still hasn't lost it. The car chase is absurdly sublime with one of the worst cars ever to be involved in a chase and an inventive use of alcohol thrown in for good measure to boot!

More coherent than its counterpart, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, The Rum Diary matches the lead character at that time of his life where there is much confusion but no hallucination as the trail of alcohol is the only path being walked upon and not that too excessively... yet. Crazy film, crazy fun with Depp delivering another crazy (if not truly classic) character.

UK release date: 11.11.11


You'd be forgiven for thinking that horror/thriller films all take place in the here and now and either in the US or Japan what with the slew of movies over the years...

Well writer/director Murphy making the step from small to big screen, has decided to go old school, literally!

Set in 1921, The Awakening tells of Hall's ghost debunker who wants to believe that there are such things as ghosts and the afterlife but instead comes across and exposes fraudsters out to prey upon the grieving. Starting off with a fake seance, Hall is quickly introduced as a no-nonsense, independent woman who hides a secret within her brash exterior.

Like The Orphanage and The Others, this is primarily a one woman show and a lot rests on the shoulders of its lead. Hall, who stood her ground up against Bale and Jackman in The Prestige, shows that she can move easily to centre stage and carry the weight of the film. She never lets it slip into the category of "damsel in distress" during her fall from certainty to near insanity as events unfold within the grounds of the creepy school.

As a chiller, there are some genuine jump-out-of-seat moments - the large dollhouse is an exceptional one - but the kettle is taken off of the boil far too many times during the running time. This means any tension that is built up is then thrown aside for, sometimes unnecessary, dialogue or red herrings. The nail biting atmosphere should be more continuously pushed towards the audience rather than letting them relax too many times. The beauty of the time setting means that reliable and bright torches aren't available and Hall has to rely on a genarator-run lightbulb to explore the things that go bump in the night and all those moments are then but a memory when the exploration stops and the exposition begins.

Overall, it's a solid haunted house tale that will have you tense yourself several times but will leave you feeling that there should have been more to make you feel more satisfied. It's over long epilogue means that you leave the cinema completely relieved of any nervous tension rather than the tingles from the films finale but it's still better than the modern gore-fests of late.

UK release date: 11.11.11
Certificate: 15

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Since his debut in '97, writer/director Niccol has explored the realm of sci-fi without actually making what most people would call a "sci-fi flick."

From the genetically flawless (Gattaca) through to artificial people (S1m0ne) and reality TV gone extreme (The Truman Show), he has given, which in other hands could have been Summer Blockbusters, small, thoughtful movies that want to challenge rather than dazzle.

This latest "future ain't so bright" story from him doesn't buck the trend not one bit...

With no catch-up or back story for the audience to get their heads around, the future of non-ageing after 25 and working for time rather than money in order to stay alive, is quickly covered in the opening sequence. The most effective tool used is the role of Timberlake's mother, played by Wilde, who at first glance appears to be his girlfriend until it's mentioned it is her second time celebrating her 25th birthday. This distinctly Logan's Run-esque idea of youthful inhabitants only populating the planet has so much potential yet Niccol refuses to explore any of it. The closest he comes to this is when Timberlake meets Seyfried for the first time and is presented with the issue that he doesn't know if she is either the mother, wife or daughter of the uber-rich gent that he's just met.

Instead, he opts for a chase movie where the chase is so undramatic and pedestrian that you long for anything to happen upon the screen. Even with Murphy's Matrix rip-off (dresses like Neo but walks and talks like Agent Smith) magically prowling just one step behind our mis-understood hero, there's no urgency or worry for the fugitives on the run from the timekeepers. With no fleshing out of characterisation nor logical steps to their development, you don't end up worried enough to care about them. This tied up with dialogue so corny that even George Lucas would cringe - "you saved me the moment you walked into my life," - drives a formidable wedge between the audience and the cast with time reference puns hammering the nails into the coffin one-by-one.

Everything seems on a go-slow which baring in mind that this is all about time and how little people have of it, is the wrong pacing for the storyline. The wanted couple never seem in danger of being caught and then when the plot moves away from Logan's Run and The Island into Robin Hood and Bonnie & Clyde, you can't join them on their quest for justice for all, because, quite frankly, who could be bothered? There's just no time for In Time.

UK release date: 01.11.11
Certificate: 12A