About Time… for a new review!

What’s that? Flying solo this summer and all you wanted to do was go fetal in front of a film filled with jaunty lens flair montages of people hugging to a background of Beatles tunes and English landmarks to remind you how hideously alone you are?! Well look no further because About Time’s got you covered, and then some! That said, it was a high point of 2013’s Autumn cinematic line-up and is now a standout addition to the summer sky movies selection. It goes to show, you may not be able to “shag Hitler or kill Helena of Troy” (well, something like that) but, with a time travel wielding Richard Curtis at the helm, you sure can make a hell of a rom-com. Written and directed by the previously mentioned cinema don of Brit-love fests, About Time stars the heroically awkward, cinnamon scented lanky-love muffin Tim, played by Domhnall Gleeson, with Bill Nighy as his silky voiced time traveling padre and Rachel McAdams as the fringe-rocking girl of his dreams – all great, with Nighy edging the contest for who I want most in my immediate family. An array of lovably quirky, brilliantly observed supporting characters, of course, surround the trio. The delightfully simple, potentially handicapped, Uncle Desmond and Tom Hollander’s angst ridden, f-bomb launching playwright are a pair of stand-outs that, while failing to quite reach the comedic mountain top of Love Actually’s Collin “God of Sex”, provide more complex and believable side protagonists than LA’s zany, stock characters.

"Call me ginger pubes one more time!"

“Call me ginger pubes one more time!”

Tim’s newly discovered ability to travel back in time sporadically takes centre stage alongside the human relationships and drama at the films heart, but for the most part acts as a way for Curtis to have his cake and eat it too. Thus allowing him to orchestrate one painfully awkward, bumbling cringe fest after another; as Gleeson is able to divide his time between stammering English gent and understatedly suave ladies without the social repercussions of the former as he erases past moments of crushing social incompetence at will. About Time is one of the most engaging and enjoyable Brit rom-com’s for years and far and away Curtis’ best directional effort – benefitting from a fully expanded upon, core romance between two leads, equally charming and lovable, as opposed to being merely a clip show of amusingly kooky, yet forgetful, Brit archetypes.

"Not long now!" He thought as she tucked into her roofied egg on toast.

“Not long now!” He thought as she tucked into her roofied egg on toast.

One of the few drawbacks however, along with the various gaping plot holes when it comes to the time travel itself, is the total lack of edge to the film. I love watching the scrawny ginger get the girl as much as the next testosterone-light film obsessive but it would’ve been nice to see time travel used to remedy the age old problem of the delayed, cutting comeback now and again. However we’re consistently reminded from the off that T-dawg wishes to use his god-like super power for one thing and one thing only – to find true love; defying the two guilty pleasures every other person on the planet would use power over time to attain i.e. riches and bitches. Yes at times it threatens to turn into a 90 minute Christmas M and S advert and I’d advise any lactose intolerant movie viewers to shield their eyes towards the movies conclusion as a tidal wave of molten cheese gushes out of the screen, but ultimately Curtis has created a movie that encapsulates two universal themes – love and life – and you’d be hard pressed not to get on board. 7 ovaries out of I’m a woman

The Lego Movie: Bricking It with Excitement

“Everything is awesome!” Oh Lego Movie. You speak so fast but you speak so true. And never have truer words been spoken than in the case of the gloriously entertaining effort from Australia’s Animal Logic animation studios about an anonymous yellow faced construction worker destined to save his brick based world from the diabolical glue wielding Lord Business.

Having rather cynically assumed all the praise this “blockbusting” (Re-cycled joke – ya geddit?) cinematic beast had garnered recently was purely down to a mass movement of middle aged film critics having the mother of all rose tinted group nostalgia complexes over a toy they were too old to play with, I entered the cinema with expectations reserved and childhood memories guarded. Then the first 30 seconds of the movie happened and my concerns were dismantled faster than a Lego sandcastle in a room full of angry toddlers. From the frantic, audio-treacle electro-pop soundtrack to the non-stop, wildly inventive action The Lego Movie makes you feel like you’ve just snorted powdered creativity off the back a unicorn before mainlining molten joy straight into your fun balls. So yeah, it’s a pretty good time.

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Stepping on stray Lego was a pain felt by all

In addition to the brilliant, pulse pounding score and retina ruining action set pieces the cast, made up of a mind-boggling, rib-cracking veritable whose-who of comedy actors, is uniformly hilarious. Christ Pratt is supremely lovable, when is he ever not?, as Emmet Brickowski the films centre piece mistaken for the Lego World’s chosen savior while his opposite lady Elizabeth Banks draws the perfect line between strong, mysterious female character and strangely attractive Lego love interest. Morgan Freeman reprises his role as the omnipotent God protagonist, a part reserved in every film for him and him alone, while Will Arnett, Alison Bree and of course the great Will Ferrel, to name but a few, all turn in priceless supporting efforts.

It’s all in the details for The Lego Movie however; from the surface scratches and faded thumb marks on each of the characters to the diverse array of worlds and toy lines that make up their ludicrously vibrant, angular universe it is clear that a colossal amount of love, care and childhood feels have gone in to making this film work, with enthusiasm and affection for the craft of movie making and block building flowing from every plastic pore.

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There was room for only one hat clad super villain

It even avoids the pitfalls of many children’s films; lining the fluorescent, rainbow colored visuals with a subtle, canny wit preventing the story from ever entering into diabetes enducingly sweet territory. Like the best family movies it is made for kids but written for adults. The simultaneously subversive and celebratory comedy is another of Lego Movie’s great strengths as the narrative pays homage to and gently mocks the films that it takes inspiration from, making fun of the classic troupes of the “Chosen One” movie sub-genre while skimming over the ludicrous, jargon heavy backstory in the most succinct and chuckle inducing of ways.

While ridiculously enjoyable throughout by the time the delightfully creative Lego credits started rolling I felt profoundly drained. It gives the term “non-stop” a whole new meaning and even thinking back to it the sensation that I just finished a 4 hour, casting sugar fueled DDR marathon with a team of coked-up morris dancers begins to wash over me. But in the end just reading that last sentence was probably more exhausting than any cinematic experience in recent years and The Lego Movie is a quality time regardless of sensory overload.

For a film about cold hard plastic, painful to the touch and confusing to the brain it has a poignant, if slightly cliched, message about family and the power of imagination at its core and is guaranteed to entertain all ages.

8/10 Stars

Crash to “After Earth”: The Oscar Comedown

Why, Will? Why? In the wake of a string of sublimely awful movie choices “The, Not So, Fresh Prince” tops the lot with “After Earth”, one of those rare films that I’d rather spend a night in a skip full of Chlamydia infecting honey badgers than watch again. M. Night Shyamalam, inexplicably still being allowed in the directors chair, defends his crown as the cinematic world limbo champion with his ability to reach new lows (bud-um-chish) unchallenged by any director, past or present.

Smith and Shyamalan have crafted something so heroically, hilariously terrible it’s a struggle to categorize it as a film, more a 100minute demonstration of what not to do when making a movie. In addition to burning the eyes it also boggles the brain as to how, a cast of sentient beings, some of whom possess a vague degree of talent could invest in a project this abysmal and have the gall to charge people money to watch it… Ok, so maybe that’s a little harsh but I’ve had to be so nice recently about the legitimately decent Oscar nominees that I’ve built up a fair bit of film reviewer angst and needed to vent. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop.

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And so the pout-off begins…

“After Earth’s” tone is set from the off as it opens with the bland, BS ridden backstory, drawing unsettling parallels with Smith’s own scientology beliefs, being recounted by Kitai – played by Jayden Smith, Big Will’s on and offscreen son, with all the enthusiasm and emotion of a substitute teacher reading out the school lunch menu.

Apparently humanity jumped the sinking ship that was Earth a while back, relocating to a new all beige star-wars knockoff space world on which they divide their time between choosing increasingly ridiculous future names for leading characters, Cypher Riage? Really?!, and battling some of the most generic movie monsters ever committed to screen, with a potent combination of double ended bamboo swords and total apathy – their twin keys to victory. It is in fact this core concept, the alien, “Ursa”, senses fear therefore meaning you’ve gotta suck it up to survive, that’s responsible for many of “After Earth’s” considerable failings/shooting itself in the foot syndrome.

Will Smith is not only robbed of all emotion and his trademark, potentially film saving, charisma but also, after the 20 minute mark, his movement as well, when the characters crash into Earth, reducing him to a sedentary presence throughout – grumpily sitting in the wreckage of his career… I mean spaceship spouting confused, pseudo-philisophical bullshit while Jayden, having purchased the finest personality bypass money can buy with the profits from Karate Kid, alternates between a look of disgruntled confusion and the pout of a recently lobotomized man-duck.

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He’d made the rookie error of mentioning “Wild, Wild West”

The writing, so cheese-ily awful it feels like molten brea is being pumped into your ear holes, does nothing to help the pair. Seriously, trying to make a good movie with a script this incompetently bad is like playing jenga in an earthquake or opening a restaurant that only sells bacon in Iran… it just ain’t gonna happen and you’re a fool for trying. With the usual energetic charm the two leads thrive on sidelined there’s next to nothing left to liven up the giant cliched turd of a narrative… if this is what the future holds someone grab me a bottle of bleach cos’ I’mma start chugging. 

But it’s Shyamalam, surely there’s a twist, right? Well wrong! As the very thing M. Night. made his career on, the shocking, unexpected reveal, is signposted throughout the entire film so in the end (spoilers!?!?) when the big bad, incredibly unimaginative monster does show up the only surprising thing is that it took so long/you’re still watching the movie. 

Even the futuristic, science fiction element of the film fails to convince thanks to the non-sensical character dialogue  –  “Gravatronian extractor beam… spacial sensory smart suit… wormhole blastoise (or something like that)” being a few of my personal favorites amongst the innumerable instances of laughably poor writing

The action, structure and cgi is reminiscent of a mid-ninties game demo while the pace of the film mirrors that of a baby turtle in a paddling pool full of humus. It is an unmitigated disaster whose only saving grace is it’s occasionally easy on the eye visuals and unintentional comedy. From the story to the acting to it’s completely illogical and derivative plot After Earth is incomprehensibly, next level bad.

2/10 Stars

Grudge Match: Rocky got Wrinkly…

The question some might be pondering going into Peter Segal’s latest movie, about two boxers ending their three decade retirement to settle an epic sporting feud, may be “But, if I wanted to see a couple of pensioners beat the botox out of each other surely just placing the winning bingo slip onto the floor of an LA retirement home would more than suffice?” While this elaborately phrased rhetorical question may indeed be an accurate description of the films final showdown surely you wouldn’t want to miss out on its finer selling points i.e. the gently predictable comedy, Stallone’s “I just pooped a little face” when trying to conjure up any emotion more strenuous than mild confusion and montages more arthritic than a one shot film of your grandparents constructing Ikea furniture. Its fair to say Rocky is back in business #YouSlyDog.

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This is the happiest day of my life

Stallone is a revelation, testing new waters and stretching himself to his thespian limit, as Henry “Razor” Sharp an um… past his prime boxer on the comeback trail. Pumped full of what appears to be bull hormones and preserving salts Sly delivers speech after spine tingling speech, philosophizing on unrequited personal glory, lost love and finding himself with all the emotional range and conviction of an extra in a toothpaste ad. So while Stallone may still be ploddingly, plying his trade, the supporting cast are universally solid and enthusiastic with one of the true greats on a return to form in his opposing corner.

De Niro sporting a physique reminiscent of Monsters inc.’s Mike Wizowski and the athleticism of a diabetic walrus appears to be having a great time as Billy “The Kid” McDonnen with much of the films, if not all, its success being owed to the pudgy pugilist. With the occasional face creasing smile or brilliant bout of comedy improv the Bobby D of old shines through and Jon Bernathal is perfectly cast as his estranged son with a matching broken nose and wry sense of humor, while the grandson will have you cracking up and wanting to eat your own face in equal measure with his unintentionally hilarious and simultaneously infuriating dialogue delivery.

Kevin Hart, brimming with more energy than a labrador puppy on speed, is wise cracking fun as the duos sleazy yet lovable promoter although his decidedly one track comedy does start to grate after the fifteenth “White people?! Am’I’Rite!” joke. However the rapport between him and Alan Arkin’s urine soaked boxing coach remains chuckle inducing throughout.

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An hour in and a punch had yet to be thrown

Like Harts comedy originality isn’t Grudge Match’s strong suit as every available cliche is shoehorned in to swell the running time from it’s rightful duration as a 5 minute SNL skit to a creaking 2 hour bout of Stallone self-parody. The direction is equally uninspired, aside from a surprisingly exciting final fight sequence; in which rapid fire editing is used to great effect, cutting after single punches to create a sense of momentum and drama as well as to disguise the tea and Cash in the Attic breaks that clearly ensued.

Grudge Match draws a number of parallels with Project X. In terms of shit-tasticness and star rating conundrums that is, you’ll find no topless bouncy castle montage here (cut out due to age restrictions and a member of the test audience feinting in the pre-screening). While “X” targeted teens looking for cinematic wish fulfillment Grudge Match shamelessly panders to the nostalgia fueled older crowd searching for one last hurrah with their onscreen heroes. But uber-derivative cash grab or not I had a great time watching my two on screen heroes lay into each other like a pair of wrinkly windmills. So if, like myself, you go in with ankle level expectations and an innate fondness for Stallone’s weatherbeaten steak of a face you will too.

5/10 stars

Pan’s Labyrinth: Not Your Average Fairytale

If you came to Pan’s Labyrinth expecting a charming fairytale in bucolic Spain then you better buckle up because you’re in for one traumatic ride. With a narrative more layered than a genetically enhanced super onion, and twice as tear inducing, Guillermo Del Toro’s 2006 cinematic effort brands itself on your memory banks and refuses to fade until several group therapy sessions later.

The film is set in 1944 in rural Spain, during the beginning of the end for Franco’s fascist regime. The story follows Ophelia as she travels with her pregnant mother to the country home of her military captain step-father in preparation for the birth of his son and her half-brother. Before she can even finish unpacking, Ophelia is enticed down a disused well by a fairy-insect hybrid before being told she is the Princess of the underworld and that she must prove her innocence before claiming her throne. If all this sounds like the familiar story troupes of the fairytale genre think again. Any whimsical elements of Ophelia’s tale are quickly dispelled by the accompanying, bloody narrative focusing on a Spanish rebel groups fight for freedom against an oppressive regime as well as the ill-fated members of the Captain’s inner-circle that try to aid them. Oh and Vidal, the Captain, turning a man’s face into a cup holder with an empty wine bottle in the first 10 minutes of the movie also went some way to dispelling the fairytale cliches.

The movie as a whole is brilliantly crafted boasting both skillful, measured direction and uninhibited imagination. The editing and cinematography subtly reinforce the theme of two opposing worlds, ethereal fantasy and brutal wartime reality, as scenes of Ofelia battling Del Toro’s wondrous brain creatures are seamlessly blended with shots of fascist soldiers patrolling the nearby woods for freedom fighters. Everything feels damp, earthy and at times deeply unsettling as Guillermo reminds us of his horror movie roots by providing the audience with more “don’t go in there moments” than a drunken hernia operation.

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Ophelia wasn’t sold on the new morph suit design

Ophelia, played by Ivana Baquero, with the bravery of a bomb disposal worker who wrestles sharks in her spare time and the innocent naivety of, well, a twelve year old is captivating in the leading role, even if at times her actions do make you cringe harder than your Gran’s thoughts on immigration. The rest of the cast are all solid in their respective roles, with two particular, movie making, stand-outs. Doug Jones is fantastic as the world’s creepiest and creakiest faun and terrifying as the famous Pale Man, think Stallone when his Botox and steroid supplies run dry. Seriously, having watched him play Abe Spaien in the Hellboy movies Jones’ talent levels could only be upped if it was discovered he spent his spare time juggling live honey badgers and bringing peace to the middle east.

But the true show stealer is the monstrous Vidal, played by Sergi Lopez. The Captain’s transition from a vaguely intimidating, grumpy grease ball into a terrifying fascist robot death machine is sudden, brutal and one of the films most memorable moments. The progressively more violent and sadistic actions of this Spanish terminator aim to reinforce one of the key themes of the movie, this being that all the saggy skinned child eating monsters and Ann Widdcombe look-a-likes in Del Toro’s fantastical mind hole are nothing when compared with the evils of man and the brutality people are capable of.

Pan’s Labyrinth does have one major flaw however and that is the criminal underuse of the incredible fantasy world that the title and many of the early scenes had promised. Instead the, very worthy, but decidedly generic human conflict takes centre stage and by the time the credits had started to role I felt teased and cheated of a movie that had shown the potential to be truly great, but failed to quite live up to it’s early promise.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a stunning, though-provoking film, and despite being a little fantasy set-piece light, is a gothic, and at times grotesque, high-point of Del Toro’s career that’ll rob you of more sleep than a needy newborn and keep you thinking long after its over. 8/10 

Project X: The Game Changer… well, not really

A drug fueled montage of tequila, rogue twerking and midget rage… but enough about my Tuesday nights, on to the review.

Project X is a simple film. It sets out with a tried and tested premise, a century old “found footage” directing gimmick and a single aim; to have a seriously good time, whether you want to join in or not. And good lord does it succeed. The film follows a day in the life of 3 socially awkward friends, determined to change their bottom of the food chain school status by throwing a county wide birthday bash. Needless to say things get wildly out of hand, but with a premise this revolutionary the film couldn’t help but be great, right? Well, yeah actually, it sort of is. The cast are headed by a pre-pubescent Jonah Hill (not actually Jonah Hill), a sentient lizard man (solid actor, one to watch) and Tony Sopranos sexpest nephew (knob).

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The war for the sweater vest had gotten out of hand

The film plays out like a 80 minute long music video on acid; sporadically interspersed with the kind of set pieces, ranging from sleep inducing to eyebrow singeing, that seem to have been the product of a stoned Sunday afternoon brain storming session between director Todd Philips and his dog.

Project X may indeed lack the remotest iota of focus or originality but it does succeed in capturing the pre-party combination of tense excitement and expectant nerves while introducing some pretty thought provoking concepts along the way. “Will anyone show up?” “Will the party be chill?” “Is my blimp sized best friend going to eat all the snacks?” These are just some of the burning, universal questions that it boldly asks – truly a film for our times. The moral of the narrative, if I was pushed to search for one, would probably be that destroying your house, car and much of the surrounding neighborhood is all worth it for 15 seconds of vague acceptance from a group of near strangers who you’ll almost certainly never see again, and you know what? I was totally onboard.

While it may be more repetitive than a Mormon fashion show this movie got me feeling excited and party ready, that is, of course before the adrenalin drained away and the depressing realities of my pizza box and red-bull can strewn surroundings killed my momentary buzz.

This is one of those films that really deserves two ratings, with an argument for it being placed at both ends of the star spectrum. The narrative is more predictable than J-beebz’ latest album, there’s better character development in your average supermarket advert and at times the movie looks like it’s been filmed on a toaster but if you push past those significant drawbacks and decide to dive straight in, grab a fistful of ecstasy and join in the body shots (metaphorically speaking) the film is plain, addictive fun.

5/10 stars