Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Secret Life of Pets

Heavy Petting

As someone whose male ovaries are bursting at the thought of having pets as soon as I have my own house, I had high hopes for The Secret Life of pets.

I think I was about 11 when I first saw the trailer for this film – at least that’s how it seemed because it has been a long time coming to cinemas – and instantly loved it. The theme is rather unsurprisingly like Toy Story but with pets and emits an arty vibe of New York in the 90’s almost like this was Woody Allen’s foray into animation.

The trailer is actually the start of the film and it’s almost shot for shot. to me this was one of the best parts of the film as a host of really clever and astute pet behavioural observations are fleshed out into the main characters.

Max (Louis C.K.) is your every day loyal dog who wants the attention of his owner, Mel (Bobby Moynihan) is an incredibly stupid, slightly schizo, guardian of all he surveys whilst Gidget (Jenny Slate) is content with her luxury life and Chloe (Lake Bell) as one of the only cats holds a cynical contempt for everyone else around her. I like Chloe!

In fact the characters are so good that I would happily have just watched an hour of these pets just mingling and not much more.

Unfortunately that’s not what the film is about. Max’s owner brings home another dog called Duke (Eric Stonestreet) who is unquestionably the least focus of the pets. He is a bit clumsy, a big mangey, a bit overweight, a bit malicious a bit like Donald Trump only a thousand times more tolerable.

As Duke an Max vie for their owner’s affection it leads them to be captured by pest control. After being broken out by a cute but homicidal bunny rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart) they are forced into a literal underground rebellion of lost and unwanted pets from which they have to escape and get back home.

Now… this might sound as stupid as bringing home a jar of air as a holiday souvenir but The Secret Life of Pets has too much story and get’s in the way of any meaningful character development. With so many different personalities on screen it would have been easy to riff off of the clever writing to provide something deeper than a heist movie starring animals.

Because the focus is more on the crazy capers of the animals rather than their personalities the poignancy of Duke’s story line is all but lost.

Still; it’s all good fun. the writing and characters are brilliant. Smart observations of pet behaviour help it from being bereft of entertainment for older generation whilst the antics will undoubtedly keep younger audiences entertained. I do wonder though if  – like sausage dogs – The Secret Life of pets would look better if it was a bit shorter.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Excellent Start
+ Great characterisation
+ Overall it’s good fun

– Possibly better as an animated short
– Duke
– Duke’s story



The Nice Guys

Nice Guys Finish First

My mum’s lovely but if I’m honest she can be incredibly dopey. In fact she once tried to boil a pan full of vegetables on the highest heat possible the promptly forgot about the pan… and to add the veg… and to add the water.

When our house wasn’t fragrantly smelling like noxious burning metal she used to talk about breaking news like some sort of soothsayer: “You know, I went to bed and I had a funny feeling something bad would happen to Princess Diana”. Of course you did!?

Anyway, that leads me on to The Nice Guys because throughout this film I couldn’t help but think that this was like a modern day version of Lethal Weapon.

It’s not a radical line of thought; two dudes doing some detective stuff, neither really wants to work with each other, ones a bit more straight laced, the other a bit more “shoot from the hip” but as it turns out, writer-director Shane Black also wrote Lethal Weapon.

Even though Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) aren’t cops this is very much a buddy cop movie and a spiritual successor to Lethal Weapon.

I realise that might initially turn you off but The Nice guys is extremely clever in its writing and manages to feel extremely modern. Case in point are both Healy and March.

Healy is a metaphor for the our modern condition. He thinks everything is bad and it’s getting worse, yet under all the grizzle he just wants to be noticed in a character that is like your Facebook profile come to life.

March on the other hand is a metaphor for the modern man. He is a single father, fumbling his way through parenthood, accepting that the women in his life – his daughter – are equally as strong as him whilst still clinging on to that 17 year old desire to go get fucked up and party.

Both characters hold nuance and a degree of social realism that makes them both instantly likeable. It’s a key aspect that you don’t get from watching the trailer so even when you are fully expecting the scenes from the trailer they still feel hilariously fresh thanks to the context behind them.

Again, credit has to go to Shane Black for creating a genuinely funny script that provides an injection of humour at exactly the right points whilst still making space for moments of poignancy.

In fact, my only real criticism is the actual story line which felt convoluted and at times thin. However, the focus is so clearly on the relationship between Crowe and Gosling that it becomes apparent that the story is simply there to provide a basic framework in which to hang these portrayals.

Every once in a while a film just resonates with you, whether it be through character, story, mise-en-scene or just where your head is at right now. This film certainly did that for me and hopefully it will resonate with you because when that happens it’s nice, you guys!

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Funny
+ Ryan Gosling was excellent
+ Excellent writing

– Rather convoluted plot
– Buddy movie is perhaps not that original


Alice Through the Looking Glass

More Mad, Less Hatter

I really disliked Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Nothing really grabbed me about from the story to the characters I just thought it was a bit bland, forgettable and pointless. That is of course, with the exception of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter who I just wanted to shut up and fuck off throughout. Six years later we are given the sequel that literally no-one was asking for.

Through the Looking Glass has all the familiar trappings of the original film but weirdly I actually quite it. Let me explain why.

I still found most of the characters to be rather shallow archetypes. For example; Mirana (Anne Hathaway) is the good queen – beautiful, dainty, white and literally floats around the screen. Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter) is the bad queen – ugly, quick to temper, red and up to no good.

You can take almost any of the characters and somehow they come across as generic with well trodden motivations underpinning them; especially given that there is very little character development from the first film.

It’s not like the story hooked me in either which is surprising given that the screenplay was written by Linda Wolverton who had a hand in the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and more recently Maleficent.

By the end of the film you’ll be left with one question: Huh?! It turns out that most of the events in the film are pointless and irrelevant. The very reason for Alice setting off on her quest (the Hatter is a bit poorly) is hard to empathise with, especially when he was the very thing I disliked about the original.

If you take a look at the architecural style of Tokyo you will see areas that smash new and old, high and low rise together yet it all comes together to look like, well… Tokyo. This is how I feel about Through the Looking Glass. It’s easy to have contempt for a lot of the individual pieces of this film but  it’s precisely because of this confusing narrative and the try-hard characters that I enjoyed the film.

I think the best way to describe it is unhinged. By taking delight from insanity it is only natural for it to be whimsical yet unnerving and bordering on threatening.

If you look at most fairy tales they are often quite gruesome or at the very least based on something rather awful so I loved the fact that the film dares to indulge in the darker side of fairy tales.

Even you this doesn’t spark an interest in your warped mind like it does in mine the film also features some excellent use of special effects. This is mainly towards the end of the film and forms one of the darker aspects of the storyline which also manages to weave in the events of the original rather seamlessly whilst reducing screen time for Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter which in my opinion is a good thing.

To me, this film represents the duality of human nature: I fully recognise that it’s actually not a very good film but there is something about it that is both unbridled fun and unsettling that I really enjoyed. Perhaps that says more about me than the film!?

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Less Mad Hatter
+ Excellent CGI
+ Weaves in the previous film

– Convoluted story line
– Too casual for some
– Archetypal characters


Warcraft: The Beginning

Missing The WOW Factor

I never played World of Warcraft for the simple reason that I feared for my life. Seemingly normal friends would disappear for days on end only to be found in their room, curtains closed, hunched over their computer, surrounded by half eaten pizza and covered in their own shame.

Prying these warped individuals away from their gaming rig was like trying to remove a zombie from a fresh corpse, hiding a heroin addicts needle or stealing the one ring from Golum only instead of hearing the words “My precious” would be confronted with “Fuck off, I’m WOWing!!”.

Before Mojang’s popular Minecraft game and King’s soul destroying evil that is Candy Crush Saga the biggest name in Gaming was World of Warcraft so it’s only fitting that it has had a silver screen adaptation.

Orcs, magic, elves, kung fu pandas (no, really!), bull-man hybrids, golems… it’s a no-brainer to translate this into a fantasy epic it just needs a new angle to differentiate itself from Lord of the Rings.

In steps director Duncan Jones whose career has been catapulted thanks to his seminal film Moon which is one of my favourite all time films as well as the excellent Source Code. Both films triumph by focusing on one fascinating aspect of a story and Warcraft tries to do the same with middling success.

What this film really focuses on is the invading Orc army and the reasons behind why they have to invade the peaceful realm of Azeroth. There is an impressive amount of detail to the history, culture and the Orcs societal structure that I simply wasn’t expecting and quickly becomes the most interested aspect of the film.

Some excellent CGI work and refined acting help shape the Orcs into something you might not expect from this genre of film; They are something more than a barely comprehensible, topless football hooligan with the IQ of a mouldy sponge cake… also known as “a  football hooligan”.

It’s not all jolly green giants though. Dominic Cooper is incredibly bad as Llane Wrynn with his performance more apt for a depiction of a badly performed local stage play than it is of a noble and enigmatic king.

Similarly; Ben Foster plays Medivh – an all powerful defender of the realm fighting with magic forces beyond our comprehension – feels only slightly less farcical than Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s bi-polar Zaphod Beeblebrox who was ironically played by Sam Rockwell: the star of Duncan Jones’ Moon.

Even though these characters are as compelling as juggling hedgehogs the on screen magic is subtly better than most films. Computer games have been trying to make magic look jaw-dropping for years and this aesthetic is brought to life on the big screen through floating runes and orbs around the relevant spell-caster.

It’s not just the magic that is impressive either, the first encounter between Orcs and man brings home the terrifying brute force like a bus to the face and show them as more than worthy adversaries.

That’s all good but this is high fantasy so it’s not for everyone. It has bright characters and mythic beings that all have names that are pronounceable only when being tickled and trying not to sneeze at the same time.

Finally, the film does a really poor job of explaining the geography of Azeroth as we are introduced to a ton of new places with no explanation of why they are important or how they fit together but this is merely a symptom of the rich lore that is available to be built on.

There is clearly room for future entries into the franchise if the funding is there and the next film is more impressive otherwise I guess this is the beginning and the end.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ First encounter
+ The Orcs
+ Interesting magic

– Terrible acting from Dominic Cooper
– Poor exploration of lore and geography
– High fantasy – not everyone’s cup of tea


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Half Shelled

There is an inherent problem with calling a film about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles goofy and stupid. That problem is that you are watching a film about martial art wielding, shell wearing, bi-pedal turtles… what else would it be?

That said; I found it goofy and stupid.

If you watch the 2014 Turtles film you will probably find it quite enjoyable thanks to the four charismatic heroes and that still holds true of this latest offering and in this respect it’s quite a faithful recreation of the cartoon.

Without question the best moments are when the turtles are on screen. There is a sense of fun emanating from them that I find really charming and this feeling is only extended thanks to the chemistry between the four.

The film also tries to bring in many fan favourites such as Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly), Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), Krang (Brad Garrett) and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) but director Dave Green is unable to bring a balance to all these new faces who at times struggles though only his second major cinematic release.

Equal screen time is given to all of the above but in some cases, such as Kim Kardashian, less is absolutely more.

Bebop and Roksteady received probably about the right about of screen time but their dialogue is aimed squarely at a younger audience and not, in my case, at big man-babies who grew up loving the franchise. They are goofy and stupid but I’m just about OK with that.

It’s Tyler Perry’s portrayal of Baxter Stockman that didn’t fly for me though. Firstly, he doesn’t look like the gangly scientist we are used to but moreover; Perry has made a name for himself in relatively dramatic roles so watching him trying to do slapstick is like watching your dad trying to dance.

Similarly disappointing was Casey Jones. Instead of being an effortlessly cool vigilante we get a rather generic rookie cop a bit like Riggs from Lethal Weapon. Perhaps the next Turtles film will turn this around.

Not all new characters are disappointing though because Krang was an excellent villain. His synthetic humanoid robot host thing is actually rather terrifying and looks like a genuine threat to both humanity and the turtles.

If it wasn’t enough to try to make sense of all these new characters by trying to understand and empathise with their own unique histories and motivations the film also tries to cram in added drama between the turtles as Leonardo (Pete Ploszek) must keep the team congruent.

I know what you are thinking, who cares about half shelled dramatics when Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is clotheslining- goons from the back of a truck or Michealangelo (Noel Fisher) is hoverboarding for funsies. Well… good point. The action scenes are superb and are about 40% more turtley than it’s predecessor.

That’s a good thing because it really feels like the cartoons that I fell in love with as a child. However,  with less noise and clutter from these extra story threads there is a really tight story that revolves around sibling rivalry and wanting to be accepted. If Out of the Shadows took this route we would be looking at a solid 4 star film or better but instead it’s an entertaining yet forgettable slice of entertainment.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Turtles
+ Great action
+ Intimidating villain

– Too many new characters
– Awful interpretation of Baxter
– Underwhelming action from Casey Jones


X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Third Class

Credit where credit is due; Bryan Singer has done as much for the X-Men franchise as he has for the popularity of the superhero film genre as a whole thanks mainly to the success of the two original X-Men films.

This was followed by the abysmal X3 (which took a hearty dump on the franchise) and a number of middling Wolverine films before First Class and Days of Future Past brought fresh faces and ideas to the franchise whilst expertly weaving in aspects of the original films and real life events alike.

Its a shame to see the third X-Men film, once again, abandon a winning formula in favour of gratuitous CGI.

Watching Professor X (James Mcavoy) and Magneto (Michael Fastener) struggle to keep together their friendship whilst staunchly supporting their own opposing ideals was one of the best aspects of the previous two X-Men films. It’s a saga that Apocalypse needed to simply drop a cherry on top of, drop the mic and walk off into the sunset yet these two icons barely exchange a single word.

Instead the dialogue is proliferated by Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) who reels off self infatuated monologues to anyone who will listen which, as it turns out, is no-one.

This dialogue is meant to make us understand why his four horseman chose to unquestionably follow him. However, it’s hard to comprehend this devotion when such a terrifyingly powerful mutant spends more time preening and fabulous-ising his horseman than he does being the titular harbinger of doom.

Even in the final fight with Apocalypse he does nothing. Literally. Nothing. You have a couple of x-men standing still whilst CGI whirls around them and Apocalypse standing still whilst CGI whirls around him.

Compare that to the dynamic and imaginative fight scenes captured in Civil War and the action is hugely disappointing. It’s almost as if this film was adapting an issue of Marvel’s “What if…” comic book series – this one is “What if Roland Emmerich directed X-Men?”

Apocalypse, as a villain, sits right on top of shit-heap that is the MCU’s catalogue of underwhelming villains but moreover the whole film simply tries to do too much ending with mixed results.

The latest offering introduces new X-Men and old favourites. The absolute best scene in the film is once again stolen by Quicksilver (Even Peters) . It doesn’t live up to the kitchen scene from Days of Future Past – one of the most clever and entertaining moments in recent film – but it still is a welcome injection of fun.

On the flip side is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who’s unnecessary appearance is an attempt to connect his Origins film but it doesn’t advance the plot and the aggressive nature of the scene doesn’t fit with the feel of the rest of the film.

Equally unpalatable is the criminally under-utilised Psylocke (Olivia Munn), the newly turned emo version of Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Jubilee (Lana Condor) with her multiple cameos and Jean Grey (Sophie turner) who… well… I just think is bad at acting!

On the plus side we get really excellent versions of Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) who are both exciting and enigmatic new faces. They are perfectly placed to take the franchise forwards without having to rely on the juggernauts (pun intended) of McAvoy and Fassbender.

With so many characters to juggle and back stories to fill it’s unsurprising that the large chunks of the story feel completely disjointed as we jump from unrelated story to unrelated story with the exception of perhaps Storm’s involvement in the overall plot.

Even though it is largely unrelated to the main story the details of Magneto’s life after the events of the previous films are rather touching. It’s only a glimpse at what could have been but I would absolutely be interested in watching a Magneto standalone film that explores the tumultuous mind of Eric Lehnsherr.

The above might sound like I’m shitting on X-Men apocalypse and in a way I am, but it’s not because it’s a bad film to watch more that it’s lost focus of what was important in this film. Complete the Professor X, Magneto saga, introduce fresh faces to star in the next reboot and show some eye popping and imaginative action scenes.

Sure, it does some of the above but in a weird moment of self reflection it’s ironic that Jean Grey even states: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Yes. Yes we can.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Quicksilver’s moment of glory
+ Most of the ‘new’ characters
+ Magneto’s Arc

– Rubbish villain
– Sophie Turner
– Does very little to expand the trilogy