Tuesday, 21 February 2012


If you're old enough, you may remember when Disney used to churn out live action films by the dozen. Nature films with an upbeat narration and a sugary Disney taste to them. Since then, most animal movies have not strayed from the formula but have dropped the narration and used less sugar coating.

Here is something then that will be both familiar and yet at the same time, different. Based on a true story, Red Dog easily fits into the category of "if I hadn't already been told it happened, I would have believed it had been made up" which is the benchmark for all good true story adaptations.

It will feel in parts familiar to those who've seen the likes of The Incredible Journey, Marley & Me and Lassie with the dog-related hi-jinks but there's no young pup factor on display here to deliberately push the audiences buttons and make them fall in love. Here, it's just a manky-looking dog that will steal your heart without having to be Golden Retriever or Labrador cute.

What makes this different from the other animal movies is the non four-legged cast. Right from the get-go, this sets itself apart from the wholesome family image normally depicted by American offerings. The events take place in a backwater mining community in Australia and its inhabitants are as "colourful" as you would expect from the predominately Aussie cast. Even the world-weary travellers in search of money have been Oz-ised to the point where, despite their different accents, they are line-for-line of dialogue as interesting and fresh as their home-grown counterparts.

The humour is as bold and brash as you would think but it's that same sense of humour that sneakily creeps up on you and makes you care not only for Red Dog himself but for all the lives he touches in the small mining community. When the inevitable tissue-ending comes along you can feel the heartache that the"big, butch menly-men" are experiencing at the thought of a life without the cool, calm and easy-to-talk-to dog around.

A genuine, sweet film without ever crossing into sickly sweet terrority, it has enough laughs generated by the great human cast along with the interactions of Red Dog, to at least warm the hardest of hearts if not melt them entirely.

UK release date: 24.02.12
Certificate: PG

Friday, 10 February 2012


For some it may have felt like, "another year, another way for George Lucas to make some cash!" when the news that the saga was going to be yet again reissued but this time in 3D rather than re-tinkered.

Universally considered as the weakest installment of the Star Wars saga, The Phantom Menace upon its release back in 1999 was one of the most anticipated films of all time. Younger fans fell in love with Lucas' return to director duties whilst older fans who grew up with the original trilogy felt disillusioned, expecting the new films to have grown up along with them. Not accepting that the whole saga has always been "young at heart" the likes of Jar Jar Binks was considered a step too far for many older fans. Will the addition of the third dimension make the bitter pill that is The Phantom Menace easier to swallow for those individuals?

In a word, no. To understand the following review, I must make it clear that although not enamoured with it, I was not a hater of the saga's beginning episode. Like the others, it had its highlights, and some of those are absolute stand-out sequences. However, unlike the others, it suffered from an over-complicated plot that tried to explain itself through a very light-handed manner mixing in elements of slapstick and wooden dialogue - a combination that doesn't gel whatsoever. The addition of 3D does nothing to cover over these jarring aspects of the film.

With the ever-increasing onslaught of 3D releases - prepare for re-releases such as Titanic as well as numerous new family-friendly fare - there have been lessons well learnt from previous disastrous films: the poor post conversion of Clash Of The Titans and the pointlessness of 3D in Sanctum where pitch black underwater caves were not third dimension-friendly. Here, with space featuring heavily in alot of sequences, the 3D appears to be switched off rather than added. Even the two standout scenes that still thrill upon the big screen - the podrace and the duel of fates lightsaber battle - have nothing added to them to make it a worthwhile experience. Where the depth of field should expand the barren wasteland of Tatooine as the podracers speed on by, the fastness of the craft and the editing create a negative effect. Only the long distance shots during the lightsaber battle creates brief moments of depth but not enough to compensate the 2hour+ viewing time.

A disappointing start to the saga, the 3D needs to be brought to the foreground and moved into the "in your face" territory to make it worth you spending your hard earned cash all over again! The Force is not strong in this one.

UK release date: 10.02.12
Certificate: U


"Based on a true story"- those words can always leave a doubt in your mind and sometimes a sour taste in your mouth afterwards when events unfold that feel like only a Hollywood hack could have delivered them rather than fate itself.

With more a loosely stylised premise than an actual based on biography, this tale sets about deliberately pulling at the heart strings rather than hiding behind facts to dictate how the audience should feel. New to cinema director, Sucsy, lucks out on his first foray into the silver screen with the near-perfect pairing of McAdams and Tatum. Even when the cheese is being poured on thickly, whichever one is up on the screen responsible for the pouring, makes it that more enjoyable and easier to swallow.

Admitedly, most of the heart string-pulling is from Tatum's character as the loved-up husband who loses his love rather than McAdams who has the thankless role of the memory-loss wife who can't remember ever meeting him let alone falling for him and marrying him. Not many actresses can pull off the more negative female role in a romance-based film, but McAdams, along with Deschanel in (500) Days Of Summer, is able to pull it off somehow. As she gravitates towards her former fiancé which is her last memory, you should be hating her as Tatum's loved-up husband is left on the sidelines but her confusion and longing to hold onto any memory of herself helps you to feel sorry for her rather than anger towards her actions.

Like most romance-based films, any character other than the lovers are secondary and thinly written. This wouldn't be so bad as they are normally unknowns but when you have the likes of Sam Neill and Jessica Lange as McAdams parents with a past, it becomes more glaringly obvious that some attention could have been directed their way. That or cast lesser actors in the roles.

For those who like their romances ever-lasting, against-the-odds, and filled with looks of longing, The Vow delivers only some of these categories to its audience. The time frame unexpectedly jumps forward towards the end and any loose ends are conveniently tied up by the "true love" ingredient thickly spread across the storyline but since the two leads are so good together, you can forgive them for it. But only just.

UK release date: 10.02.12
Certificate: 12A


There are, every now and then, experiences that are a sheer delight to partake in. With the glut of films released every week, it's hard to stand out from the crowd let alone induce ear-to-ear, jaw bone-aching grins. It would seem the answer to achieve this is simple... just add Muppet's!

But they need to be added in the style that made them famous - the TV show that felt unscripted and out of control - and not the slightly shoe-horned versions where they were thrown in amongst well-known and well-trodden literal greats (the brilliant Muppet Christmas Carol being the exception.)

Co-screenwriter and longtime Muppet fan Segel (see his vampire opera in Forgetting Sarah Marshall for proof), along with Stroller have clocked onto this and in a genius move, tackled the sad-but-true fact that the Muppet's have dropped off the public radar in recent years. Here, like a once-famous band that get together for one more tour, the gang get back together again after going their separate ways and losing contact with one another. Cue wonderful awkward songs of reflection, musical montages and a very Muppet version of the Indiana Jones "travel by map" method of transport.

All this is instigated by Segel and his brother, who also just happens to be a Muppet but, delightfully no one seems to question or comment on this fact. From their growing up together (the heights of both brothers marked on the door frame sequence) through to his ever-so-long relationship with the brilliantly cast Adams as his girlfriend (check out the confused face of Walter the Muppet's prom date in the photo of them altogether) it all seems natural but zanily so. And that's the essence of what makes it work so well - the bursting into songs where some lyrics seem not completed; the solemn low-point where all seems lost is accompanied by the sounds of Fozzie's Fart Shoes (patent pending!); the oh-so-wrong but oh-so-catchy and laugh-out-loud Camilla the Chicken's rendition of "Forget You" - they all make no sense but feel so genuine and funny that you don't care.

The one thing that lets it down is the lack of "nudge the person next to you and point" guest stars. Their TV show attracted all from the great to the iconic and nostalgically speaking, you'd expect them to be able to do the same. Maybe however that's been done deliberately to reinforce the point that the Muppet's are having to build up their popularity again from the beginning but it still feels wrong that they don't have any jaw-dropping stars throwing themselves into Gonzo's cannon for comedic fodder. Their "highlight" is Jack Black but it's the lesser stars that make more memorable appearances, the standout being Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons as Walter the Muppet's human alter-ego in the destined to be a karaoke classic "Man or Muppet."

Made for people who are able to look back at the Muppets rather than those who are being introduced to them and their insane ways first time round, this is a beautifully scripted and genuinely funny love letter to the group of misfits that, no matter how bad things got, banded together and never saw the bad in anyone - the world needs more Muppets! And a sequel, fast!

UK release date: 10.02.12
Certificate: U


Books that become plays that become films - the transition between each format can dilute the impact or leave fans of one source less than impressed with the other interpretations. Now the play that has run for 23 years from the 29 year old novel gets its cinematic debut with that "wizard boy" leaving Hogwarts firmly behind for pastures new... and chilling.

Director Watkins previously showed that unsettling is something easily achievable with his Eden Lake (showing the US a thing or two regarding how to depict deranged youths) but here, with the added benefits of a solid story and yet another wonderfully adapted screenplay from Goldman, he has reached new heights. The much-missed, good old-fashioned horror story is back, and better than ever.

Fans of the play will immediately note the bold decisions made by Goldman (surely a go-to-gal for Hollywood after her Kick-Ass, X-Men First Class, Stardust efforts) regarding Radcliffe's young solicitor who has been changed from a happy husband and father to a widower whose son even draws him with unhappy faces on his artwork. This move makes Radcliffe's actions more understandable as he wonders about his dead wife and if there is something on the other side rather than have the audience just think "well I'd run away and NOT go into the room where all those noises are coming from."

Where things work extremely well is the constant, under-lying tension created by every character upon the screen along with the superbly shot locations that only add to the creepy atmosphere. This nervousness sets the audience on edge throughout, so much so that even the very few obvious "jump" scares that are presented are highly effective despite you knowing that they're coming. However, it's the ones that you don't see coming or the ones deliberately avoided that truly make this a masterclass of nail-biting entertainment. Whether it's during the day or night, Radcliffe and the viewer are under constant surveillance and threat from mostly unseen forces, allowing the imagination to run riot regarding the titular vengeful spirit.

When she does appear though it doesn't quite match up to the horrific images that you've already conjured up but with the likes of the creepiest collection of children's toys ever filmed and the BEST reflection scare committed to celluloid, it can be forgiven as only a slight niggle that hardly gets a look-in through your shredded nerves. You even mostly ignore the too-youthful-looking Radcliffe but that's down to his great performance as well as the hand-squeezing tension.

Better than ALL the horror-slasher stories of the past few years out together, this is a lady you should see....through clammy, shaky fingers!

UK release date: 10.02.12
Certificate: 15