Friday, 30 March 2012


Despite such fantastic efforts from Pixar and their clearly (and quite rightly so) inspired-by competitors, there will still be people out there that think any form of animation is just for small children. These individuals are missing out on some of the most fun that the world of cinema has to offer, especially as the folks at Aardman have done it again!

After the experiment of CGI with Flushed Away that regrettably didn't work out box office-wise, Aardman are back with what they do best - stop-motion. As per usual, they've brought that decidedly quirky sense of humour with them that made Wallace & Gromit the lovable famous duo that they are. Infact, you'd be forgiven for not drawing parllels between them and the two main leads here - Grant's equal parts bumbling yet endearing Pirate Captain is Wallace except with a luxuriant beard, and Freeman's put-upon, eye-rolling No 2 is Gromit except with a voice.

As with all their previous efforts, the screen - foreground and especially background - are filled with gags that would require multiple viewings to try and spot them all; names of streets and pirate pubs, blackboard menus, paintings and photographs, the list like the quantity of giggle-inducing puns seems endless. What IS different however this time round is the feeling that the target audience has shifted slightly. All successful Pixar and Aardman productions have been predominately family-fuelled with enough adult jokes to keep the accompanying maturer audience members more -than-satisfied during their running time. Here, The Pirates! feels like the balance has shifted as there are moments after moments for the older viewers to laugh-out-loud at (and explain to the younger ones in hushed whispers afterwards) and then there's a slap-stick moment for the kids (and childish adults) to spit their popcorn out at.

With all the visual japes (Indiana Jones' "travelling by map" has a new twist not unlike the recent The Muppets! did) and the wordplay wisecracks (Napoleon Blownapart) and the delightful dialogue (London - "It smells like Grandma...") you could be forgiven that the characters don't get that much of a look-in, and to a degree, you'd be right. There are so many great characters and only a handful make centre stage enough for you to feel that you've had time with them - the Pirate Captain, No 2 are glorious but some of the crew dutifully wait in the wings and are given, funny though they are, what feels like scraps to entertain the audience. The monkey butler with his own subtitle cards is a prime(mate) example here - he's hilarious but you just know he could have been used more to even greater affect. Now that is a criticism that every film maker wished they had levelled at them!

Right from the very first lovingly hand-crafted frame until the end credits, The Pirates! is a laugh-out-loud hoot that needs to have another outing - there are several books about The Pirate Captain already floating about - and soon! Go see and remember what it is to leave a cinema grinning from ear-to-ear. Arrrrr!

UK release date: 27.03.12
Certificate: U

Friday, 23 March 2012


For every successful book-translation to the silver screen, there will always be at least more than a hand full of crash-and-burns that clutter up the multi-plexes as Hollywood et all try to replicate the cash-cow that was Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings. Teen literature, since the critic-confusing but tween-delighted success of The Twilight Saga, has been constantly raped in order to generate the next big thing, and, without further ado, here, its producers hope, it is....

The Hunger Games is, without doubt, a rare breed indeed. It achieves this notoriety by accomplishing two sorely sought-after feats - no prior knowledge of the source material AND a cinematic experience that stretches far beyond its 12A certificate. For those of you who like their films and pride themselves on their knowledge of them, combining the likes of Battle Royale with The Running Man and Lord Of The Flies may sound like a hopeless task but writer/director Ross has achieved just that. Not only has he accomplished this but he has done so in a way that, although on paper should invite comparisons, it leaves those others behind it's hand-held, shaky-cam, thought-provoking wake.

Whereas Battle Royale made full use of its 18 certificate, Ross gets around the lack of blood and guts to create his horror by quick cuts, confusion and Saving Private Ryan-esque cinematography. This is after all a story of children between the ages of 12 and 18 having to kill each other in order to survive but even without red splashed across the screen, the tension and anxiety are equally felt when the countdown to the Games reaches zero and the slaughter begins. Infact, even before then, there's so much tension as the heroine is taught how to play the game of celebrity and crowd-pleasing to the uber-rich, bored populace of the Capital. Its these over-indulgent excuses of civilised beings that ultimately could be the difference between life and death to Lawrence's reluctant heroine regarding sponsorship during The Games. The genre of reality TV that was so aptly dissected in The Truman Show has a new magnifying glass put upon it and it's not rosy - we as viewing spectators will have a lot to answer for somewhere down the line!

Lawrence, who knocked on the Academy, and the world's door, with Winter's Bone, takes that character and layers on more levels as a young adult having to defend her family although this time the stakes are that much higher. Her determination seeps through all that she does which perfectly balances the fake glitz and glamour that the likes of a superb Harrelson and an unrecognisable Banks as her "helpers."

And to top it all, the glimmer of a love triangle is brought into play due to the basic mechanics of survival and therefore more acceptable and believable than the Bella fiasco of Team Edward and Team Jacob - no long melancholy looks into the distance here, you could be killed if you do!

A stunning surprise of a film that will have something for any age that wisely chooses to sit down and watch it - you can go as shallow or as deep as you wish at its message and reflection on where society could, and has, gone to. The second instalment cannot come to quick!

UK release date: 23.03.12
Certificate: 12A

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Hollywood continues to look not only under every stone but in the embarrassing past for ideas to drag people and their cash into the cinemas. For those who weren't of a certain age in the late 80's, the US had a teen-drama thats only boast was that it starred a young Johnny Depp.

Jump (pun intended) 20+ years and now the short-lived TV show has received the same treatment that the comedy duo of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson applied to their re-imagining of Starsky & Hutch.

The serious side along with any well-meaning message or "learn" from the original source has been well-and-truly ditched in favour of out-and-out comedy. The message here is simply "throw out any type of jokes, no matter what style, until something sticks." And for a good part of it, this approach works. Not nearly consistently enough to make it a comedy classic or a cult film, but enough to make it worth your while to watch it.

The basis of the humour falls into very familiar terrority of "mis-matched partners" and "fishes out of water" - this here being the dreaded return to High School where what was once cool is definitely not so anymore. Hill, who was the laughed-at and put-upon geek first time round, gets to trade places with Tatum, who was an all-round athlete and a shoe-in for Prom King. What on paper shouldn't work, ends up being a dependable pillar throughout its short running time and that is the pairing of Hill and Tatum. The obvious detail that both look far too old to attend High School is dealt with frequently but their attitudes and desire to be liked places them squarely amongst the surrounding teenagers.

For those who follow some of the best comedies on TV at the moment, you will find yourself delighted at all of the bit characters, with appearances from various cast members from the likes of 30 Rock, New Girl, The Office, Parks and Recreation and Scrubs. There may be times when you wished that they had a little bit more of the limelight to increase the successful joke ratio. However, then you're hit with such off-the-wall delights as the very-similar-in-execution to Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Hot Fuzz "5 stages of the new drug" sequence that most certainly hits the target of the funny bone. If you don't find at least one of the stages that Hill and Tatum experience when they take a sample of the new drug - the giggles, the confidence boost - then there is something wrong with you.

Abit hit-and-miss, there is still something for all tastes of comedy - gross-out, slapstick, in-jokes for those who know the source material - but the reverence and love that was shown to the Starsky & Hutch movie seems to be somewhat lacking here.

UK release date: 16.03.12
Certificate: 15

Saturday, 3 March 2012


After what seems like one of the most intense advertising campaigns of recent memory, the latest from often-ridiculed director McG finally hits multiplexes.

There has been a sub-genre that, although not over-explored as of yet, has delivered some highly entertaining, if not critically acclaimed, films. True Lies and Mr & Mrs Smith both mixed the elements of spying, lying and romance to crowd-pleasing degrees that successfully appealed to both male and female audiences - a rare achievement and much sought after goal from eager Hollywood execs. Now that sub-genre looks set to add another title to its number with the glint-in-its-eye/tongue-in-its-cheek action rom-com that pits the new Captain Kirk of Star Trek against the new Bane of The Dark Knight Rises...

Straight from the opening sequence of a Hong Kong-based covert operation, all you need to know about the two male leads is presented in a slick James Bond-esque mission - both are comfortable with their job and each other but are the classic combination of chalk and cheese: one a devoted but separated father, the other a playboy; one is full-on sincere and the other is full-on up-for-it.

The script runs along at a blistering pace, swinging between each "spy guys'" attempts at seduction but it's not really the story that wins you over. Yes, you can see the outcome a mile away but with this kind of film it's not really about the destination - it's the journey there and the people you follow that make it worth your while. Pine and Hardy are able to back-and-forth banter along with best of them, but it is Wetherspoon that manages to pull off the harder of the three roles. She could have easily been the woman you "hate," coming across as some kind of two-timing tramp as she dates both super spies, yet she is able to make you believe that this is all new to her and she genuinely doesn't k ow what to do or how to decide between these two men that seem to offer her different combinations of all that she's ever wanted in life.

McG has, amongst many other things, has been accused of (like Michael Bay) paying more attention on the sequences rather than the story or it's characters. This latest outing here sits comfortably alongside the first Transformers where yes, there is spectacle - the opening rooftop fight; the finale car chase and those, the envitable smack down between the two friends - but there are characters that through laughter and charm, make you care about them and end up making you root for them... ALL of them!

As much fun as the trailer suggested it would be, This Means War is a rarity where couples or single sex groups can go watch it and still be entertained. They've managed to put up on the screen a little bit of something for everybody - the romance, the bro-mance, the action, the humour and of course, three not- too- displeasing-upon-the-eyes central actors. If you don't find the montage where both Pine and Hardy up-the-stakes against each other and sample the delights of paintball, modern art, muscle car racing, the high-wire and disastrous dates involving sprinklers and tranquilizering darts, then you have no funny bone at all!
Do yourself a favour and go see it!

UK release date: 02.03.12
Certificate: 12A