Monthly Archives: June 2015

Minions

Banana!

If you actively dislike the creatures known as minions you are probably a horrible person, void of any joy. A lawyer or an insurance broker perhaps?

If you dislike the film called Minions on the other hand then you are probably a perfectly rational and balanced individual.

Minions certainly has its share of funny moments but many of these you would have seen in the trailer. The film suffers from one glaring error though: the word minion. You see, if you take the boss away then you no longer have a minion do you, you have a… err… maxion?! I don’t know, but the point is that a minion needs a leader.

In fact this is the whole concept of the film. It starts off with a great little sequence of minions evolving and blindly following the strongest predator throughout the annals of time: the T-Rex, the first man, then Egyptian pharoahs, Dracula and Napoleon. Each time the minions inadvertantly being their downfall.

Time passes and eventually 3 minions go in search of a new evil leader. The common theme here and the reason why the minions are funny is because of a strong lead character to rif off. It’s exactly this juxtaposition of superiority being thwarted by innocence and clumsiness that makes the minions adorable, charming and funny.

So remove the minions’ antipode and you are left with a mild laxative: fine in small doses but a lot shitter in larger amounts!

Thankfully the first of these minion only scene ends quick enough to introduce Scarlett Overkill; the ultimate super-villain who adopts our three minions and tasks them with stealing the crown jewels from the queen of England. Scarlett Overkill is voiced by Sandra Bullock and this could not be a finger pairing. Bullock’s voice perfectly suits both the mothering side of the bipolar Scarlett Overkill as well as her obsessive desire for power and glory.

Sandra Bullock isn’t the best thing in the film though. If you look outside of the main action in a frame you will be amazed at the sheer attention to detail that the designers and animators have put into each frame whether it be funny signs, pictures or background characters. There are a handful of stereotypical characters in the film but these too are beautifully imagined. It’s thanks to this impeccable attention to detail that these stereotypes also become funny such as the British police driving whilst pouring tea which demonstrate some perfectly imagined stereotypes.

Eventually Scarlett Overkill turns on the minions leaving them with only one option: stop her. Even the terrific attention to detail cannot alleviate the fact that there is too much screen time for the minions. The more they were left to be their own ruler the less I cared as the film went on.

If this film was the third in the Despicable Me series that made minions famous it could have been the best one of the franchise as it does some things very well but without a leading character to push forward the plot and provide context to the minions it’s not great but hey; at least it’s not gru-ling to watch either.

Go See

  • Attention to detail
  • Scarlett Overkill
  • Minions with a ruler

Avoid

  • Minions without a ruler
  • Too much minion time
  • The film’s novelty wears off by the end of the film

Overall

3-stars

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The Longest Ride

Cattle Class

The Longest Ride is a weird anomaly where the Trailer shows a much more complete version of a concept than the actual film does.

The story goes that Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) starts falling for Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood) but Sophia is planning to move away to New York within months which strains their relationship. As they head home one night they notice a car has run off the road. They rush to save an old man trapped in the car who tells them to save ‘the box’. It turns out that this box is full of letters from Ira Levinson (Alan Alda) to his wife Ruth. These letters reveal the old man’s life to have striking parallels to the Sophia and Luke relationship.

This simple premise of a box of letters could have allowed for a really interesting and dynamic structure to the film’s narrative. As Sophia is waiting for news of Ira’s recovery she reaches into the box and pulls out literally any letter that comes to hand. This letter seems to be the very first letter he wrote or at least the start of his relationship with his wife. How convenient. When Ira wakes Sophia offers to read Ira another, seemingly random letter, which of course happens to be the very next step in the story.

What a wasted opportunity. We are forced into a well trodden chronology of Ira’s life instead of having a broken chronology that gets pieced together as the film develops. It’s not just the narrative structure that this affects but also the depth at which these two couples are intertwined. Picking a random letter gives the instant excuse for Ira’s life to mimic Sophia’s which in turn allows the two to grow instantly closer together. As it is the closest we get to our promised entanglement of lives is “oh love is hard and you have to sacrifice things”.

This seemingly leaves the film to be about Sophia holding a general interest in Ira’s life and the concept of the box of letters is sinfully forgotten. Still, who wouldn’t find Ira’s life interesting. Alan Alda plays a wonderfully forlorn old man on death’s door, a man full of life experience and wisdom and a man who still pines for days gone by. Alda has a really great voice which beautifully narrates the moments when we are treated to flashbacks of his life.

As a young man; Ira (Jack Huston) is convincingly in love with his wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin). The chemistry between these two is excellent and you really feel that Ira would do anything for Ruth. The scenes with this young couple are both well shot and well realised to give you an authentic feeling of the 40’s. These are the scenes that I constantly looked forwards to in the longest ride and not those with our two lead characters.

In contrast though I didn’t get this feeling of a deep loving relationship from Sophia and Luke, which once again alienated me from this notion of similar lives separated by time. Instead of a eternal love I couldn’t help shake the feeling that this was just a summer fling. The chemistry just wasn’t enough and a different leading lady would have worked out better. I actually liked Sophia’s character on screen but it’s not the character she is meant to be; reserved, art loving and studious. Instead she seems fun loving and mostly care free.

Scott Eastwood worked well as Luke the local bull riding hero. Physical enough to suit the bull-riding part of his character yet old fashioned enough to play the gentleman. The bull riding scenes were actually quite spectacular; shot in super slow motion you get to see a snotting and snarling bull thrashing on screen, it’s actually quite terrifying to think about sitting on the back of one.

Luke constantly proclaims he needs money to look after the farm and his mum but is that really so true? She clearly has enough money to have plenty of plastic surgery so it didn’t sit right with me and is one of the many small attentions to detail that were missing in the film. Another such example is Sophia galloping confidently on a horse on her first try! Hmm…

For all the films faults though the scenes with Ira will tug on your heart strings all the way up to it’s touching conclusion. Whilst this will surely bring tears to the eyes of many in the cinema the film is overall just another generic romantic comedy with obvious plot developments and less risk than a donkey ride on the beach – let alone a bull ride.

Go See

  • Ira’s life
  • Bullriding
  • An emotional ending

Avoid

  • Wasted narrative opportunities
  • Wrong leading lady
  • Obvious plot twists

Overall

2-5-stars

Mr. Holmes

And The Case Of The Forgotten Memory

I wanted to see Mr. Holmes primarily because of Ian McKellen. Let’s face it he makes an imposing Magneto in X-Men and then there is of course Gandalf. Sure these are only two roles but with a voice like that who wouldn’t want to see more of this man, right?!

Well I wasn’t let down. Ian McKellen plays a great version of Sherlock, even if it’s not the Sherlock that you particularly want. This version of Sherlock starts out as a grumpy old man full of cynicism and scorn at life in general. There was a part of me that instantly thought that Ian McKellen is ‘on his way out’ – so convincing is his fragile portrayal of a 93 year old Sherlock. Seeing a spritely 60 year old version of Sherlock instantly allayed those concerns – so convincing is his portrayal of his younger self.

The fantastic acting doesn’t just stop with McKellen though. Laura Linney puts in a great performance as Sherlock’s housemaid and pseudo-nurse Mrs Munro. Her performance is actually eclipsed by Milo Parker who plays Linney’s son Jack. Jack is arguably your typical young boy full of intrigue and curiosity. It’s this curiosity and an insistence to mimic Mr Holmes’ logical prowess that brings the old man and the young boy together. You can see McKellen’s treatment of Jack go from a mild irritance to a friend who is happy to share in-jokes at the expense of Mrs Munro through to a doting grandfather figure.

Whilst this development of relationships plays out really well the case that Holmes is trying to crack isn’t a typical mystery. You could argue that this is to the benefit of the film and it certainly is an interesting direction to take the plot but for hardened fans of Sherlock I wonder if the limited amount of puzzle solving and daisy chaining of clues will work against the film.

The reason I say this is because the case that Sherlock is trying to crack is his last case before he retired to the countryside. It’s a case that is already solved but the problem is he doesn’t remember how or why. This is all set in motion by the death of his dear friend Watson who has canonised Sherlock in a series of exaggerated novels. Before Sherlock dies he wants to write his own account of who he is by rebuffing some of the misconceptions, such as he smokes a pipe, and explain why he left his profession; his final case in which he can’t shake the feeling that he has somehow missed a crucial part of the puzzle. He must have gotten the case wrong otherwise why quit?

This journey of remembrance plays out using the same tropes of a typical murder mystery with flashbacks to crucial parts of the case and lingering shots of Holmes analysing items. Eventually these clues start coming together like completing a jigsaw puzzle: the answer is on the box in front of you but you still need to find the right pieces to put together before it makes any sense.

The mysterious build up kept me guessing throughout the film but, like a jigsaw puzzle, you might find it tests your patience as most of the pacing is really quite slow. I guess that’s a bit of a back-handed insult. It’s like saying you’re useless because you finish your work too quickly because really, saying the film is slow is about as damning a piece of criticism as I can spout for Mr. Holmes.

So praises nearly all round for Mr. Holmes yet it’s not a film that I would recommend that you rush out and see. It doesn’t have that brisk pacing to leave you feeling energised after watching the movie and the concept of an old man losing his memory doesn’t scream a hour or two of entertaining viewing but from what I can deduce it is undoubtedly a good film with excellent performances and superb character building.

Go See

  • Great acting
  • Interesting twist on the normal Sherlock icon
  • A beautiful sadness

Avoid

  • A bit slow
  • Not enough Holmes in Holmes

Overall

4-stars

Entourage

One Big In Joke

Entourage. It’s not a show that I have seen before nor have I ever heard anyone gush over it like people do with other shows such as House of Cards or The Walking Dead. In fact the only thing I had heard about Entourage was a radio interview with Jeremy Piven who plays Ari Gold in the movie and was described as being famous for his on screen rants.

Great! I fucking love rants. Especially when they are well thought out yet over the top rants. I have to say though; thoroughly disappointed. Although Ari Gold is probably the best character in Entourage his rants doesn’t hold the anger of a rabid dog that watched his favourite bone being sent to the bottom of a lake. Nor does it hit the wit and disdain that makes Dr. Perry Cox (John C. McGinley) so delightful when he unleashes his tirades in Scrubs. What it amounts to is more of a growing annoyance and frustration with his situation rather than memorable screen rants.

There are only two other characters who I found particularly memorable and neither of these were the main Entourage. The film does the absolute bare minimum to set up who these people and why they matter for the uninitiated like myself. The was our main dude and film superstar Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) who, bizarrely, feels like he is in the film for all of 10 minutes. There was E (Kevin Connolly) who is Vinnie’s Producer and is a character that doesn’t seem like he fits with the rest of the clique. There was Turtle (Jerry Ferrera) who is a Manager who everyone seems to be amazed that he has accumulated mass wealth with no background as to why this is supposed to be believable. Finally there was Vinnie’s brother who I think is meant to be the funny one but really couldn’t tell.

I think I only laughed at only one line from Johnny but I didn’t hear anyone else in the cinema laugh at all… oh yeah, that’s right, no-one else went to see it. It was the day after opening night and there was no-one else in the cinema except my girlfriend who was probably lapsing in and out of consciousness. I guess everyone else had more sense than us.

Outside of these bland forgettable characters there were hundreds of cameos. Liam Neeson, check. Kelsey Grammar, Check. Jessica Alba, Check. This might please celebriphiles but to someone who hasn’t watched the series these interactions feels are a big old in-joke that you are not welcomed to partake in. What is mind blowing though is why in the name of holy bum nuggets would you choose to give the Peirs Morgan the most screen time as a cameo. Peirs Morgan: a man who reminds me of Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings?

Maybe this is a localisation thing. Maybe the film makes sense to some sort of vertical slice of America but I doubt is of much interest to most of the UK where I am from. As an example most people found religion after their prayers were answered for Piers Morgan to move abroad but perhaps he is well loved in America? Outside of the desperate celebrity name drops the film spends it’s time playing out like a hip hop video parody which perhaps also goes down well in America?

The films starts with a boat party, complete with topless ladies, where we find Vincent Chase wanting to direct his next movie role. The films jumps from Vincent wanting to direct a movie to being nearly finished but needing some more money so it’s up to Ari to sort the funding. We never get to understand why this money is needed because Vincent shows an early cut of the movie to Ari who instantly loves it and buys Vincent a new expensive car because he knows it’ll be a huge hit. This extra money and the finished film is subsequently glossed over. This is just a plot device to drape more money on screen in the form of expensive cars, boats and apartments.

The only other reason for needing money is that it introduces one of the two best characters I mentioned earlier: Travis McCredle (Hayley Joel Osmont). Osmont plays a thoroughly enjoyable spoiled yet jealous son of Larson McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton) who is the films investor. Travis claims to know something about film and stubbornly requests sections are cut out of Vincent’s final film before he will hand Ari the extra money that is needed. Whilst this is probably the most fleshed out character the plot needed much more focus on his interaction with the entourage and more importantly Ari Gold to flesh out the flimsy plot and give more credence to Ari’s anger management issues.

The second of the characters that are of any note was Ronda Rousey who plays… err… Ronda Rousey. Sure, this is just another cameo but actually she plays herself as… err… herself?! What I’m trying to get at is that her role felt natural like she was/is a real person in a real world and it’s nice to see a more thoughtful side to her acting and not just kicking ass.

Realistically this film holds nothing to a newcomer. The plot is as solid as a semi-toasted marshmallow and the characters are as memorable as that time that… umm…. err. You could see this film for parties, fast cars, money, celebrities and a few pairs of boobs but here’s a pro tip: the internet. If you haven’t followed the TV series then your name’s not on the list and you’re not getting in. Probably for the best anyway.

Go See

  • If you watched the TV series… maybe?!
  • Ari Gold
  • Haley Joel Osmont

Avoid

  • Void of any meaningful plot
  • Doesn’t stand on its own as a film
  • Not really that funny

Overall

1-stars

Jurassic World

Resurrecting the Ancient Park

Jurassic Park is such an iconic adventure film. It blends CGI with real life animatronics so perfectly that it even holds up remarkably well today; some 20+ years later. Not only that but it is a good film that is fun for all ages. So how do you follow such a cultural phenomenon?

With 2 terrible sequels as it turns out.

In steps Jurassic World with its promises to return to the films roots of mild horror, fantastical adventure and a back to basics approach to special effects. It’s easy to find this promise as believable as the England football team saying they will win the world cup, especially when you consider it’s two previous entries into the series but Jurassic World delivers on almost all fronts.

If you are still not sure it’s probably because you have seen the trailer which makes it look like a poorly conceived re-hash of the original. The trailer shows genetically modified dinosaurs that goes killing everything for shits and giggles. It has people being best buds with a pack of raptors and it has Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) with some terrifying hair. Ignore the misleading trailer because the film actually works hard to give these aspects context – except the hair. By constantly focusing on world building rather than all out spectacle you are willing to suspend your disbelief and go with the ride when you are presented with the more ridiculous scenes the films offer.

I’ll elaborate further but first let me touch on the world building. The film follows on from the events of the original film, which have now largely faded from peoples memory. The park is not only open but it is thriving thanks to the continued work of Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong) who is one of the scientists in the precursor movie.The main plot story follows Grey (TY Simpkins) a young boy who, like seemingly every little boy, knows everything about dinosaurs and his brother Zach (Nick Robinson) who, like seemingly every teenage boy, is grumpy and disinterested in everything. The brothers head to the park to meet their aunt Claire who is a stuffy business orientated working woman.

The park has been tamed in a way that makes it feel like a sea-life center or any ordinary zoo. There is the giant Mosasaur in the above picture that will be an instant favourite as it explodes out of the water to feed on a shark and splash the delighted audience. Then there is the baby triceratops petting zoo which small kids can ride around on like donkeys. There is a glass ‘gyrosphere’ that you can queue up to ride like any other theme park. Finally there are the dangerous raptors.

So let’s start with the raptors. I know it’s looks stupid in the trailer but the motorbike raptor scene was actually really awesome. Owen (Chris Pratt) is both trainer and keeper of the raptors and is stoic in his treatment of them, fervently reminding people that whilst he is trying to train them they are, and always will be, wild animals. It’s a viewpoint that is consistent throughout and actually poses a valuable lesson to all when extrapolated outwards: animals are animals, you give them respect and they may give you respect back but if you don’t you might get bitten… or worse.

By the time the raptors sprint into action the film has done enough legwork for you to accept this. The same holds true with the Indominus Rex: the parks new super-saurus. The reason the dinosaur is built is because of a desire for bigger and better attractions but it’s features are the way they are because of the animals it has been spliced with. It has this animal to assist with growth hormones and that animal to help adapt to it’s local climate and it just so happens to have acquired other unforeseen abilities because of this.

The Indominus Rex breaks free of it’s cage because it hasn’t had enough space to roam, it has been isolated and possible mistreated. It’s something that Owen spots instantly stating that it won’t play well with others – again tracking back to our theme of respecting animals. Of course the rest of the plot is quite generic, or classic perhaps, as the two brothers get lost and attacked by dinosaurs so Owen has to try to save them and cage the aforementioned freed beast.

There is a sub plot with Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), a military contractor for InGen, who has been doing some shady deals in the background of the park. Presumably to add depth to the story this plot line feels wedged in at best whilst the character role feels too forced and overacted to the extent that it actually took away from further, more interesting character narratives.

Still this doesn’t detract too much from an otherwise great film. It builds really well allowing us only glimpses of the new dinosaur for quite some time which helps build tension in a style that is very familiar to the original Jurassic Park. In each character there is something particularly relatable in their traits even if you could argue that they stick to well tested types. The park feels alive, operable and a place of excitement whilst an impending doom is layered gracefully over the top. Add a pinch of humour, a sprinkle of nostalgia and what you are left with is a bigger, but probably not better, version of Jurassic Park.

Go See

  • Superb world building
  • Great back to basics feel
  • Cool dinosaurs

Avoid

  • InGen role
  • Predictable story
  • That hair!

Overall

4-stars

Spy

Freeze! FBWhy!

Ever wondered what would happen if you had a kid and routinely fed them egg mayo sandwiches, only you’ve replaced the butter with chocolate spread and the mayo with vegetable crsips? No? Well have you ever wondered what would happen if you had a kid and woke them up on weekends by lighting Chinese firecrackers in their room? What about if you constantly screamed “God save us all” with blinding fear in your voice as you drove them to school every day?

No. Me neither. But I’d imagine that you’d have a child with a personality disorder that is of the same magnitude as Spy. I say this because Spy is trying to be three different types of comedy in one go and what you are left with is a film that fluctuates between a spoof an underdog story and a balls out, testosterone filled, foul mouthed comedy.

This identity crisis leads to a lack of focus and clarity in it’s purpose leaving the film feeling consistently underdeveloped. Consider AI or perhaps Grindhouse in this respect; yes they have their moments but feel cluttered and disparate from having multiple directors pulling the films in different directions.

The film starts of in it’s worst mode as a spoof of James Bond complete with title scene lifted from the popular franchise. We then have Jude Law who plays a hyper-realised, charming and smart Bradley Fine. This smarmy acting and the insistence to refer to Bradley as fine by name fine by nature is actually a bit of bore, even if it does set up Melissa McCarthy as Bradley’s frumpy and unconfident operations room assistant: Susan Cooper.

It’s from here that the film engages the second and arguably the best vehicle for comedy. Susan grows from this timid and unsure supporting role to a fresh faced field agent. Whilst this part doesn’t provide the heartiest belly laughs it is the best developed aspect of the film. Seeing Susan become the try hard field agent and shake off her previous unfulfilled ambitions is subtly endearing. God loves a trier, right?

What Susan is trying to do in the field is to stop a nuke being sold into wrongful hands. Its not an original plot. It must have been done hundreds of times before and this one offers absolutely nothing new. Thankfully the film’s focus is on characterisation otherwise the film would have totally tanked.

One such characterisation is of a hyper masculine Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who leaks more testosterone than BP leaked oil into the gulf of Mexico a few years back. Statham’s character marks the start of our third type of comedy. Almost every word that comes out of Ford’s mouth is either a lie or some sort of insult.

As the Susan closes in on her target Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne – who incidentally plays a very good spoiled, sycophantic villain) she too has to adopt a similar persona to Ford. This is where I laughed the hardiest as a lot of the venomous lines are exactly the sort of witty put downs you wish you could think of when you want to insult someone instead of an inevitable retort of “…. Err… Shut up!”.

One of the most underwhelming characters however is Nancy Artingstall (Miranda Hart). Miranda plays the role exactly as almost every other role she has been in; hapless and dim witted. What really didn’t make sense was that by the end of the film McCarthy’s character has passed on the mantle of being a stellar backroom agent to Miranda Hart. Why, when she is clearly useless? For comedy value? Perhaps but she isn’t slapstick enough to fulfill the bumbling yet adorable idiot role.

Even with a unimaginative storyline Spy has an ample amount of laughs thanks to the character depictions but by the time the film ends it is straddling three different comedy styles and ultimately leaves you wondering why?!

 

Go See

  • Good characters
  • A fistful of vicious put downs
  • A charming underdog story somewhere in there

Avoid

  • Confused comedy styles
  • Bog standard story
  • Miranda Hart

Overall

2-5-stars

Man Up

Love is Blind… Date.

When Nancy (Lake Bell) starts monologuing and pulling faces at the camera whilst trying to psyche herself up for a blind date in the very opening images of Man Up I wondered if this was going to be a total waste of my time. It came across – to me at least – as trying too hard to be funny.

Nancy continues to get herself ready for a party that she doesn’t want to go to where she is to meet the blind date she has little interest in. You could almost say she holds disdain against him in fact. Whilst this first scene isn’t particularly hilarious it did make me slightly warm to Nancy at least.

After the party Nancy heads home on a train and it’s at this point that I started really liking Nancy as a character. It really didn’t take long to completely change my impression of the character. You see, Nancy is cynical, short tempered, bad mouthed and self destructive but underneath her abrasive and dismissive exterior she is actually lonely, vulnerable and just a bit melancholy. I’d like to think that this is a character that¬†everyone can relate to in some way but hey, perhaps it’s just me with a cynical outlook on everyone else’s life whilst secretly wanting to be adored!?

Nancy’s traits are actually delightfully woven throughout the film. She starts off cynical of an ‘always-positive’, happy but naively innocent Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) who she meets on her train journey home. Jessica is desperate to push her self-help enlightenment rubbish on Nancy by stressing that she needs to be more positive in her life and to ‘put herself out there’ if she is to find romance. Nancy obviously finds this notion slightly repulsive whilst simultaneously stuffing a giant sandwich into her face, trying to belittle Jessica and generally showing off her abrasive side.

The reason Jessica is carrying this self help guide is to help identify herself to her blind date Jack (Simon Pegg). Jessica actually leaves the book for Nancy (asleep by this time) with the aim to buy a new one. Nancy runs after Jessica thinking she has forgotten her beacon but of course bumps into Jack instead.

Nancy has been told time and time again to put herself out there so she tries to break her spell of loneliness by pretending to be the blind date.

This is where the film really starts picking up. Almost all of Simon Pegg’s films have some really intelligent scripting and this is no different. Whilst it doesn’t hit the heights of many of his other films the interplay between Jack and Nancy gets better and better throughout the film and does enough to keep you involved throughout. Jack starts off as nervous and emotional, unleashing verbal diarrhoea at Nancy who is desperately trying not to blow her cover by second guessing what Jack was expecting; in this case someone 10 years younger and a triathlete.

The date goes really well until Nancy self destructs by admitting that she isn’t actually the real blind date. Jack starts slinging blame and insults at Nancy who quickly looses her temper and leads towards the best scene of the film.

Jack and Nancy are in a bar, drunk. Jack is diagnosing Nancy as someone who is afraid to get emotionally involved and thus has to pretend to be other people whilst Nancy is diagnosing Jack as someone who is still hurting after a painful divorce and has to boost his self esteem through one night stands with girls almost half his age. The reason why this scene is the film’s highlight is because all the above happens whilst they are entangled in a dance together. They continue dancing as the argument gets more heated it’s almost a pastiche of the dance scene from Pulp fiction. That description doesn’t really do it justice but if you know Simon Pegg’s films I’m sure you get the idea.

Man Up is overall a light hearted romantic comedy; a bit of a chick flick. Although that holds a lot of negative connotations Man Up is relatively smart and definitely not as wishy washy as a lot of romantic comedies but at just 88 minutes it’s duration is pretty spot on.

The main characters are actually quite loveable in their own ways and manage to achieve what good introspective films do by reminding yourself that you just a fragile being in need of love or a grouchy fool who takes a twisted pleasure in being negative. Again, maybe that’s just me but a week after I’ve seen the film and Lake Bell’s character is still in my head so something is done right.

Apart from the characterisation the film doesn’t have any one thing that stands out. The script is pretty good for the most part, the cinematography is so-so the sound design and editing are acceptable which all serve to make the film a bit of a middle of the road film. Its a British made film so lacks some of the gloss of a Hollywood movie but that helps root us in reality and makes it easier to remind us of some of our best and worst traits without making a song and dance about it… even if that song and dance was pretty damn funny.

Go See

  • The dance scene
  • Self destructive Nancy
  • Intelligent script for the most part

Avoid

  • It’s not a whole lot more than just another romantic comedy
  • Amusing, not hilarious
  • Not particularly visually striking

Overall

3-stars

San Andreas

Rocking the West Coast

It would have been so easy for this film to just sit back and splurge 2 hours of green-screen ‘oh-shittery’ into our eyeballs but thankfully that’s not the case with San Andreas.

Of course, there is a lot of exactly that – it’s a disaster movie after all – but doesn’t feel as egregious as say The Day After Tomorrow or 2012. What you get with San Andreas is a family drama that just happens to be set during an apocalyptic style earthquake. Also the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson!

The film starts off with Ray (Dwayne Johnson) who is a rescue chopper pilot saving a girl from a car. This immediately sets out Ray as an all American hero and all round nice guy, spouting the normal cliches that he is just doing his job, but we quickly learn that he has split from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) after the death of one of their two children.

The majority of the rest of the film is Ray trying to save his ex-wife Emma and remaining daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) from certain death in the midst of the worlds biggest earthquake that rocks the entire San Andreas fault line. What is impressive though is that through all the on screen spectacle you never lose track of this family dynamic whether it be in the few quiet moments where Ray and Emma reflects on their broken marriage or whether it be Blake demonstrating her survival skills learned from her dad. this alone elevates it above a lot of other disaster movies.

It’s also nice to see the rock being slightly less macho in this; I mean sure he’s the rock and is about twice the size of a normal human so don’t expect a transformative role like Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler or Christian Bale in The Machinist, but there is one scene in particular where he emotes the reasons behind the divorce which is surprisingly touching and humble. You almost think the big man is going to let out a tear – now THAT would have been something.

Actually I’m just going to take the time to chuckle about how big he really is. There’s a scene where has to parachute into the middle of San Francisco and when he lands I couldn’t help but think “Come on… really?! You’re not helping keep tremors under control are you!!”

For the most part the chemistry between the family members is acceptable enough for this type of movie but don’t go in expecting a melodrama. With that in mind it’s probably not a massive shock when I say that Paul Giamatti delivers the best performance of the film. Paul plays Lawrence who is a seismologist and believes he has found a way to predict future earthquakes. This prediction method allows him to warn San Francisco of the impending doom and he races to broadcast a message to the same effect you really get the feeling that he is helpless and desperate.

What would have been nice in San Andreas is a serious discussion point on how we can better detect and prepare for earthquakes. At the end of the film it does refer you to check out further reading material but the we have just watched just over an hour and a half of CG enhanced spectacle that it’s hard not to be instantly dismissive.

So. Earthquakes. They are pretty damn scary in this film. There are enough heart in mouth and awe-stricken moments to keep you entertained throughout but it does suffer from a classic one-upmanship by trying to show more destruction, bigger buildings falling over crazier set pieces. There is a scene where Ray and Emma are on a boat in the San Fran harbour trying to out race a tsunami style tidal wave when they come face to face with a giant container ship.

No. Tidal Wave after world’s biggest recorded earthquake – danger enough!

Apart from a few over the top scenes the film is riddle with cliches. The worst is the line delivered to Lawrence at the end of the film: “Hey, you did good today”. Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) the super handsome, wealthy and polite new man in Emma’s life turns out not to be Mr fantastic after all and therefore has to have an over the top death. And of course Blake has to find a new man in her life through all the chaos Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) – although to be fair to Ben… good lord Alexandra Daddario’s body!

Anyway enough of being shallow.¬† If you like disaster movies however this is probably one of the better ones in recent years and even if you don’t the film has a lot to keep your interest even if it lacks the depth to make it a truly great film. The earthquakes are genuinely frightening which is rule number one in a film about earthquakes but doesn’t offer any real world implications. Even so, my next holiday: not San Francisco.

Go See

  • An entertaining family drama
  • Paul Giamatti
  • Big ol’ earthquakes

Avoid

  • Full of cliches
  • Over the top at times
  • Lacks any real world learning opportunity

Overall

3-5-stars

 

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond

Tommorrow Is Not So Far Away

Hey do remember Disney when you were growing up? You have some fond memories I’m sure. Apart from their iconic cartoons; my memory of Disney is uber child friendly films Herbie, Popeye, Homeward Bound or The Mighty Ducks.

You probably think that a lot of these same films are meh.. Not so good now you look back at them but there is still some sort of nostalgia there for them. At some point that changed for me. Perhaps it was me growing older but that backlog of iconic kids films seemed to die out.

Tomorrowland feels like one of these films that kids will absolutely remember. It has everything that kids could dream of I mean for a start it has jet packs that are there just for funsies!

The jet packs were invented by our sour and forlorn anti-hero Frank Walker (George Clooney). I only tend to like Clooney when he plays an underdog or a broken sort of character so I was pleased that Frank is grouchy and misanthropic which takes the edge off of Clooney’s punchable smarm – a good thing in my book.

Frank is cranky because one; he was kicked out of Tomorrowland and 2; He knows that something bad is going to happen to the earth and there is nothing he can do to fix it. In steps Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) our heroine who has a chance to avert this crisis.

Casey has been given a special Tomorrowland badge that allows her to see Tomorrowland when holding the badge. Intrigued she holds the badge and tries to walk towards the city. This part is actually quite amusing. Although she sees Tomorrowland she is still moving in the same space she was previously (in a room for example) so ends up bumping into all sort. The segment is cleverly done.

It’s here where we get to see Tomorrowland in all its glory. Tomorrowland feels like a documentary of a child’s imagination painted into the side of a giant jelly bean. Everything is clean, everything hovers, there are giant helper robots and swimming pools suspended in mid air, gaming visors and giant skyscrapers. It’s the best part of the film but it is also cruelly short.

You see Tommorrowland is a place where the brightest minds gather to make the most amazing things without the normal restrictions of finance and politics. It’s a utopia that allows people to do what they love as long as it serves a purpose. Such a riot of imagination is wildly enjoyable and really it’s the main reason you should see the film but there is so little on screen time of the workings of Tomorrowland that you leave feeling slightly disappointed. Perhaps they only gave a tantalising glimpse to set up a sequel but the ending doesn’t suggest a sequel is imminent.

Because the place is so free from the bindings of our social structure it is intentionally difficult to find. Frank is the only who knows how to get there so Casey has to persuade him to go back. Frank isn’t so willing to do this because he knows that Tomorrowland has changed.

Slight spoiler alert here so you may want to jump to the next paragraph. Tomorrowland has changed this much is obvious when Frank and Casey finally get in. The reason why it’s changed is bizarre though. Frank and Nix (Hugh Laurie) who is the head of Tomorrowland know that when the events on earth happen that they will be largely unaffected. If they knew, perhaps they let everyone else know that they are safe, perhaps not, in which case they assume they are safe. Yet when we get back to Tomorrowland most people have left and everything is looking run down… why?

Anyway, aside from that slight gripe there is an interesting question that is raised about whether we are on a self fulfilling prophecy to make things worse. We see so much negativity in the news with extremist attacks, war, famine, natural disasters and global warming the list goes on. Perhaps we actively crave this aspect of life to fulfill some carnal urge for destruction or perhaps just to make ourselves feel better that there are other people worse off. It’s quite a fascinating concept but is never really developed to its full potential.

Because of the above it’s not really a film for adults. It’s definitely watchable especially if you have mad it into adulthood with your imagination in check. However, If I was a kid again I think I would cherish this film. Would I look back in 10 years and think ‘meh’. Probably. But for today; tomorrow is magical. There’s just not enough.

Go See

  • Jet packs
  • Tomorrowland
  • ..with your kids

Avoid

  • Not enough tomorrow
  • If you are looking for an adults fantasy film
  • Plot inconsistencies

Overall

3-5-stars