Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Sequels. We want them but we dread them. For every The Empire Strikes Back there's Speed 2: Cruise Control, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous, and so on and so forth (sorry Miss Bullock!)

2010 saw the arrival of a new anti-hero to steal the hearts of both young and old alike - and also showed that Pixar could still be challenged now and again with a mixture of great characters, quotable dialogue, glorious animation and - what Pixar does best - a display of substance over style.

Enter Gru and his Minions and millions of smiling audience members and cuddly Minion toys! Now 3 years later, the original cast and crew, with some additions, have returned to challenge evil... and sing about bananas!

If you loved the first foray of Steve Carell's moon-stealing villain (and you should of!), then prepare to be once again entertained - with maybe just a pang of pondering plonked on your popcorn tasting of "what could have been."

The original saw Carell's Gru grow into a delightful father figure from a despicable budget-constrained baddie  by the 3 girls he adopts to beat a rival. Here, the journey taken sees Gru try to grow further still by finding that "someone special" to share the role of parent to the less troublesome girls. Maybe that's the pang mentioned earlier about this sequel - one aspect that made the original so charming has moved on, and for continuity and story-telling, that is correct, but it does leave a kind of scratch that can't be itched.

The struggle to deal with whilst keeping his identity secret from the 3 girls was ingenious and apart from the mighty Minions (more on them later) most of the laughs came from the clash of strong, stubborn, single super villain vs 3 strong, stubborn sisters. Their constant battle for supremacy gave us the legendary "It's soooo fluffy I'm gonna die!!!" line. Here, Gru seems to be battling against his own clumsy stupidity and then eventual awkwardness once he realises that he does indeed care for Agent Lucy Wilde (Kirsten Wiig) rather than any other form of comedic relief. Yes, this makes for some fine slapstick and adult recognition of those embarrassing "lovey dovey" moments driven by shy awkwardness from the man who was shunned by girls as a boy. However, it feels just abit tame compared to the original with its adult vs child comedy approach.The step-dad and his step daughters familiarity breeds our contempt perhaps?

Now this may sound like a blasting of Despicable Me 2, but it isn't. The fondness for the first means that the bar was set very high indeed. This bar is met albeit with the pole of Minion mayhem rather than full cast cooperation. The Minions get to take more of the centre stage and this confidence has been shown with them getting their own spin-off movie which is already in pre-production - Minions. Scene stealer's extraordinaire, whether they are hoovering up in a French maids outfit or clambering up the side of a tall building ala the World War Z zombie's terrifying horde, all that they do is perfectly pitched to have both children and adults alike laughing like loons at their antics. If you don't spill your cola or spit your popcorn out at the films finale of "I Swear" then you're either too young to remember the early 90's or you're in need of a defibrillator!

So, all in all, it's fun, frivolous, fine-looking and funny... and maybe a tad forgetful? The kids will love it still but maybe step-parents or those parents who remember the uphill struggles with their offspring may hanker for the comedic foundations of the first foray.

UK release date: 28.06.13
Certificate: PG

Saturday, 22 June 2013


And so it came to pass that the much talked about "troubled Brad Pitt movie" finally hit a waiting world. A world where zombies now are a well-worn common appearance due to in part of the success of the likes of The Walking Dead - both its TV and graphic novel existence.

With its well-publicised reshoot of its ending and delayed release date by nearly a year, could the unfilmable World War Z be worthy of attention from audiences in a packed Summer schedule?


Director Marc Forster on paper seems an unusual choice for a sprawling story about the end of humanity. His Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction are small, intimate stories of struggle and it is exactly this approach that he has brought to this tale of a global struggle for survival. Not too fear though, he's also brought his experience of set pieces from Quantum Of Solace along so that it's not just talking and walking amongst the plague of the undead.

Like the zombies depicted in the film, Forster and the 6 ( yes, 6! ) writers move straight away at an incredible pace - shuffling around aimlessly groaning is definitely off the menu here. Within the first 10 minutes an entire city is overrun with only snippets of information dropped in by news reports played out in the background on radio and TV. You meet Pitt's ex UN guy - Gerry - and his family all living happily in Philadelphia, then, before you can learn their names (which turns out to be pointless but more on that later) suddenly the streets are amok with carnage, but not awash with blood ( again, more on that later.)

With the entire world facing this zombie holocaust, Gerry is forced to help seek out an answer in a bold and refreshingly frank ultimatum - help and we'll guarantee your families safety. Don't and we won't. This plot device of finding "patient zero" allows us to see other parts of the overrun world and also allows Forster to deliver his set pieces. South Korea, Iraq and Wales all get their time on the screen and each has their own very distinct set piece to shred the nerves and start the goosebumps. Korea gets its own Call Of Duty-esque night time manoeuvres with Pitt trying to get from and to his military plane amid a plague of zombies. Iraq gets the big budget sequence which features heavily in the trailer where you get to see exactly what a herd of fast-moving zombies can do. This part pushes the tension to new levels but it never veers into the horror territory because you never really see any consequences of the zombie attacks. Throughout the entire World War Z, you never see any blood or carnage to help you realise the brutal seriousness of what is happening all around. If they hadn't of maybe gone for the lower certificate rating, this could have been a rare thing indeed - a summer blockbuster that added "horror" to its genre listing along with "action" and "spectacle."

Instead what we have is a great thriller that wants to truly scare and unsettle but never gets the chance to fully deliver on that. The sequence involving the lab in Wales is the infamous reshot part of the film and armed with that knowledge you could be forgiven for wondering exactly what it was that they had already filmed. That's because the ending here is a very much quieter and smaller set of events when compared to the first two thirds of the film. For this reviewer however it is the most nerve wrecking of all the land-based attacks with another game called to mind - a very Resident Evil" creep around" feel to it. One that is very different to the shoot 'em up chaotic action of the Call Of Duty part at the beginning.

Those astute of you may have noted the phrase "land-based" attacks just then. There is one other sequence that beautifully captures the terror of being caught between a rock and a hard place - now known as being caught between an airline door and a zombie.  Pitt gets to show some acting chops in this part where he comes face-to-face with the epidemic and with no feasible way out that doesn't involve the death of himself and every other passenger aboard the unluckiest place since Samuel L. Jackson had some bother on his one some years ago. Pitt, as expected and as always, carries the film throughout with ease but that does mean that basically everyone else doesn't get a look in. To the extent that his own family that he's trying to indirectly save by helping find a weakness in the zombie affliction don't really register on the important radar. All that accompany Pitt on his whirlwind tour of "Zombie World" may as well be wearing the red uniforms from Star Trek as they have about the same life expectany of one of The Enterprise's security crew!

A great film that truly delivers on the tension and spectacle, it feels alittle bit short on the gore and the "World War" status - at times more like a World Skirmish In The School Playground type of thing. If the open ending and box office allows for the obvious sequel, here's hoping they go more 28 Days Later than 28 Weeks Later and really try and scare the crap out of the audience!

UK release date: 21.06.13
Certificate: 12A

Saturday, 15 June 2013


There are times when certain films generate a buzz from their "behind-the-scenes" info - how much it cost, how long it took, locations used etc. Only a few of those rise above such focus and have the spotlight turned upon their performances and overall experience.

The little film made by the guy who delivered the 3rd biggest box office hit of all time is one such example. And the focus is... bloody good!

Let us dispense with the "behind-the-scenes" part shall we? During the two weeks between the end of filming and beginning of editing Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon made Much Ado About Nothing. In 12 days, using his own home as the only location and a cast littered from friends made up from his creator/writer/director history with basic cameras and avoiding such things as lighting, Whedon once again has shown that ensemble pictures are definitely his bag. Even if it is The Bard's work and for once not his own!

What Whedon has done here is make a Shakespeare film for people who don't do Shakespeare. By "Shakespeare" I mean the use of the original prose (such as seen in Baz Lurhmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet) as opposed to dialogue "based on" the Bard's works (like 10 Things I Hate About You.) Now, that doesn't mean that you will be able to sit down and understand word for word the various monologues and back-and-forth's between the characters such as Beatrice and Benedict. What you will be able to do however, is get the gist of what is going on more than you may have done in previous adaptations.

This is down to Whedon's clever use of his chosen actors and the delivery that he gets out of them. Most of them "Whedonites"- they have worked with him through the likes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Cabin In The Woods, Avengers Assemble - it is their obvious ease with the material that makes it so easy to accept for the audience and then go along with throughout the proceedings. Their speed, inflection, tone, interaction - it all seems just so natural. Bearing in mind that they used to meet at Whedon's home and do read through's of Shakespeare for fun during downtime on his previous projects, you would expect nothing less than seamless perfection from them at handling the often-thought-of "hard going" material. All this from the man who made vampires cool before Team Edward was even thought of and who made a Western in space before others tried to make sci-fi genre-mashing cool.

Admittedly, Much Ado About Nothing is one of the easier entries into Shakespeare's world - the comedy about love and its secrets and lies sits somewhat better on the untrained pallet than the tragedy and consequences of  a King - but it is still none-the-less a tall order to try and pull off successfully so that connoisseur's and freshman's alike are both suitably wooed and left satisfied.

With an emphasis on the two "L's" - laughter and lust - the tale of two would-be lovers is played out in a black-and-white dream-like state. Drinks are ALWAYS on hand (and indeed in hand) throughout as the players move around each other (both known/seen and unknown/unseen) as plots are hatched and hearts broken. Here, sex and sexy are evident and evidently abundant in this modern setting where news travels fast via smart phones and iPads rather than horse and parchment.

For those who have followed Whedon's work, his cast are superb. The sheer delight in watching the tom-foolery of Amy Acker's Beatrice as she overhears news of Benedict's love is grin-inducing, with a pratt fall to match any of that from Inspector Clouseau. Likewise, Alexis Densiof's cocky-and-then crumbling confidence when he overhears of Beatrice's love has some of the best peering-through-windows work since Rowan Atkinson was in his prime. Fran Kranz shows that his hyper-geek from both Dollhouse and Cabin In The Woods is not the only entry in his CV with the tortured soul of Claudio both believable and understandable whilst normally Mr Nice Guy Sean Maher as seen in Firefly does a lovely 180 and is deliciously evil as the havoc-wrecking Don John. As of course it should be, the best comedy comes from Captain Hammer / C'ptn Tightpants (Malcolm Reynolds) himself - Nathan Fillion. As Dogberry (along with Buffy's Tom Lenk) you will never see a better or more over-repeated use of the word "ass" as long as you live. And trust me, you will be a better person for it!

Delightful. Delicious. Devious. Do see it!

UK release date: 14.06.13
Certificate: 12A

Friday, 14 June 2013


Four words changed the face of modern cinema back in 2005 - Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. With Nolan's take on the Caped Crusader, audiences and studios alike were shown that there could be another way to depict a "comic book character" upon the silver screen. Reality could be part of the foundation for a film of a larger-than-life superhero... and it could work with impressive results.

Jump 8 years ahead and the success of his Dark Knight trilogy has placed Nolan at the top, amongst the few who can pick and choose (and not be interfered with on) any film they wish to make. Passing on Warner Bros. invitation to helm the rebooting of their jewel in the crown, Nolan took on instead producer and co-writer duties, leaving the directing to the dismay of many fans - Zack Synder. With a back catalogue classed by many as a prime example of "style over substance" (300, Sucker Punch, Watchmen, Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole) Synder seemed a very leftfield choice to bring the all-American hero Superman back to the world.

So, does the mix of "style" Synder and "normal" Nolan work? Yes. And no.

Superman - the challenge has always seemed to be how to actually challenge him. He is, after all, invincible. Until they introduced the (still strangely unbelievable) reaction to parts of his homeworld - Kryptonite - nothing really ever put him in jeopardy. Apart from his natural urge to protect those mere mortals around him (which is often exploited by the villains), tension for the son of Jor-el has been problematic at best. So, the way around that particular thorny issue for the reboot? Give him the double whammy of both emotional AND physically obstacles to deal with.

Cavill, stepping into the iconic cape donned by Reeves (4 times) and Routh (just once), has the somewhat unenviable task of retreading the origins trail along with some additional development. The plot here spans what was originally taken up by the very first two Superman films - his arrival and "identity" discovery and then his "home compatriots" challenge. Throughout a big chunk of the 143 minute running time, Cavill is asked to perform various shades of reserved, quiet and awkward as the young Clark Kent tries to follow his Earth-fathers advice and keep his head down as "humans won't be able to cope with the knowledge of someone like himself walking amongst them." Kent Snr is given an almost Uncle Ben quality from the Spiderman franchise with every great speech given echoing the infamous "with great power comes great responsibility." Choosing Kevin Costner to be Kent Snr was a wise choice as he walks the fine line between "everyday man" and ""learned father to an alien" easily, making what could have either been a throw-away role or abit of a joke neither. His performance resonates more than Russell Crowe's Jor-el who for the most part has to play it very neutral as he is a hologramatic version of himself, guiding Cavill to make his choice of  whom to fight for.

Now, if all of the above seems a tad "serious" then you have read between the lines! This is played for drama and depth rather than adventure and fun. And therein lies the rub. With the likes of complicated and slightly unhinged Bruce Wayne/Batman, drama and depth can work. However, Clark Kent/Superman, by its very nature, demands a lighter touch - probably to help deal with the way-out-there plot of an alien fighting for justice and the American way. But Nolan and Goyer's script instead concentrates on the "serious" whilst Synder brings the "spectacle." None of them seem to have brought the "light touch" or the "fun" that the original two outings had or the likes of the Ironman franchise repeatedly delivers. Yes, this is a different film from those just mentioned and a different time, but then, out of nowhere, in the last 5 minutes of the Man Of Steel, we are suddenly given a full-on glimpse of just how entertainingly fun it can be! The interaction between Cavill's bespeckled Kent and Amy Adams's Lois Lane is cheek-achingly grin-inducing after all the spectacle, speeches, smashingof Smallville and strangely enough the avoidance of the actual word "Superman."

Up until those final fantastic five minutes of non-special effects fun, the plot sees alot of back story crammed in via a non-linear timeframe but strangely done at a very lesiurely pace. Just like Clark Kent himself, the film seems to meander, looking for a place to fit in. His movement from place-to-place and job-to-job sees him secretly saving people, then moving on before his true nature and identity is discovered. This backstory told through flashbacks is a novel approach to the life of Kent but it does make it slightly harder to feel sorry for the boy who has to keep himself to himself for fear of ruining both his and his Earth-parents lives. Just when you begin to connect with the young Clark, the scene swings to either a burning oil-rig or a bar and the connection between audience and protaganist is weakened somewhat. 

Overall, Man Of Steel is a good foundation to build upon, and no doubt the sequel will be on its way to us very soon, but its not a great stand alone experience. At times too serious and too long, the film suffers from Transformers Torrets where the action is too fast - a fact heightened by the use of camera shake presumably added for realism. When one of the many entanglements isn't taking place, it gives us a good insight into how hard it must be for the son of Jor-el to fit into our world but I just wish they'd have put some fun into it to ease both his and our souls... 

Also, sci-fi geeks, look out for the cast of BSG and Dollhouse and for the Wayne Enterprises and LEXCORP logos dotted around!

UK release date: 14.06.13
Certificate: 12A