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Batman: Year One (2011)
Brooding, and Brilliant
Animation grows up. Batman: Year Zero shows what the medium can do if you get the right talent behind the camera: It's a relentlessly downbeat expose of the first year of the Caped Crusader's reign, but it's not just him punching bad guys and smashing drug rings. Sharing just as much screen time is Police Commissioner Gordon, who arrives in Gotham City at round about the same time, and Catwoman (also known as Selina Kyle) with her lowly beginnings as a sleazy prostitute. With extramarital affairs, graphic violence and even a BABY being threatened at knifepoint this certainly is a long way from the camp 60's icon your mum and dad grew up with... And THANK GOD for that.
There's no padding here, no monotonous voice-over to set the scene... Just BAM straight into the action. We're given a date, we're shown what happened on that day... And then, the plot moves swiftly on. Some of these diary entries only last for a second... Others, like a fight in a burnt-out warehouse (there's ALWAYS a big battle in one of them) take much longer. And all the time, the movie never loses touch with it's human side... The morose, often tragic figures here are just as a pleasure to follow as the slick, brutal beatdowns Batman often finds himself in the middle of. It's tense, gripping, compulsive viewing from start to bloody finish. 7/10
Inside Out (2015)
NOT a return to 'form'
Maybe I just don't get it. Perhaps there's something intrinsic to the the whole experience I require clarifying on. Somewhere, there might be an obscure reason I don't feel as passionately about this film as others have.
Or maybe, JUST maybe...
Inside Out is overrated.
I mean, yea... The animation is excellent. But this is PIXAR we're talking about here... Not Hanna Barbera, circa 1970's. It kinda comes with the territory. And yes, the concept is very clever... But then again, it reminds me of an old comic strip I used to read called 'The Numbskulls' about small men controlling an average human's body. Then of course, there was the film Osmosis Jones, which regarded the adventures of the tiny people who were involved in the day-to-day running of Bill Murray. Not one of his funniest roles, BTW.
But something is definitely missing here. I found sections of the film a bit dull, none of the attempts at humour really made me laugh, and that pink elephant 'imaginary friend' was almost as obnoxious as Olaf the snowman. The part where I suppose we were meant to feel sad, as he was abandoned to fade away with the rest of the Riley's memories, just made me think 'about ruddy time'. What else was he supposed to do... Live, and cause a pre-teen to go through years of enforced therapy?
There wasn't enough going on in the human world, either...There was no real bond, with Riley, our lead character and the viewer... She felt more like a robot programmed by her five emotions than a living, breathing person. Her parents were as stereotypical and plastic as they come, and no other person has enough interaction with Riley for us to empathise with them... Or her, for that matter.
So, what it all boils down to is the quintet of emotions who live in her head and apparently call the shots there. Of them, Anger, Disgust and Fear and the most interesting, but guess what? They're the ones who get the shortest thrift in the script, and end up (for the most part) stuck in the 'control room' while Joy and Sadness go on the main quest. Joy's eternal perkiness is irritating, and Sadness is just a walking doormat. Not the pair I would have chosen for the lion's share of the movie to follow... And the film suffers because of this.
A lot of critics praise the authenticity of the memories Riley has and how it reminds them of their own children and lost youth... REALLY?! In that case, there must be a lot of reviewers out there who live in unbearably corny Life Insurance commercials, full of stock images and manufactured familiar situations. Watching the sun go down? First day at school? Eating broccoli?! Do me a favour.
Plus, some of them seem a bit unlikely... In one flashback, Riley misses the big shot in a hockey game, and hands the championship to the rival side. What do the rest of her team do? Why, put her on their shoulders and throw her up in the air repeatedly!! In the cutthroat world of American competitive sport, I HIGHLY doubt it. Or perhaps they just like being Losers. Hmm...
I did actually enjoy the film, so you might think I'm being a tad harsh. But bear in mind this is PIXAR we're talking about here... Who's every feature was virtually a masterpiece. After a string of underwhelming flicks, though (Brave, Cars 2, Monsters University, and now this) perhaps it's about time I stopped treating them as the purveyors of miracles, and think of the company as a normal studio who pumps out spectacularly animated but somewhat shallow productions. Just like Dreamworks.
What a shame. 6/10
The Age of Adaline (2015)
Great idea, LOUSY execution...
If you were a young woman called Adaline and had eternal life, would you give it all up for 'twue lurve'? The answer would be a resounding 'NO' from my quarters, but what with it being a sappy dappy romance, I think you know what answer you can expect from this increasingly dreary piece of corn.
It doesn't help that the guy who you sacrifice an infinite existence for is a bearded part-time artist who stalks you EVERYWHERE, and his defining feature is his non-stop niceness. In other words, NOT a person, just a conglomerate of what Hollywood' screen writers think is the 'perfect man'. No quirks or surprises here... We've created... FRANKENHUNK!! I've seen this type of bland-beyond-belief Mr-Perfect in FAR too many films... And the next one I spot where I get even a whiff of such a character, the movie goes off. Along with my foot through the screen (hey, I can afford it).
In terms of how she ended up in this state, there was an incident involving a car crash at night, a lot of water and a lightning bolt. Not important. What IS is the fact you were born in 1908, and you start to look just as old as your daughter as she grows up... But you don't. So, here's the plan: You change your identity every ten years, move to a new state, sever all ties from the last decade, and repeat. Better than ending up as a lab experiment, I'm sure you agree.
Until, she meets HIM at a party. You know it's HIM because the action slows down as everyone else blurs into the background, and a cheesy ballad is heard. His actions, which involve following you around everywhere, refusing to take no for an answer, obtaining your home address illegally and making HORRIBLE looking dinners, eventually break down your emotional barriers, and you end up falling head over heels for this Weirdo.
Can I just state for the record that I'm fed up with being told borderline psychopaths and dull-as-ditchwater characters in media are somehow 'charming' and 'desirable'. Not to mention, people in movies acting completely contrary to the way I would in real life (and all other sane viewers) so the next time I have to suffer through one or the other, my television goes out of the window (as you can tell, I get through a LOT of TV's). Meanwhile, around an hour of cutesy poo romantic nonsense ensues.
Things FINALLY pick up again when 'the loving couple' visits The Weirdo's family, and Adaline is remembered by a cameoing Harrison Ford, playing the Weirdo's father, who had a fling with her around the Second World War. Only problem is... He's aged, and she hasn't. Hmm. The scenes where he realises the truth about her, and his heart-to-heart talk with the panicked girl are the best bits of the movie. Why couldn't we have had more interaction with these two instead of... Well, almost everything else?
Alas, the good stuff can't last... there's a car chase in the rain, a serious accident, a teeth rotting declaration of love, and a saw-it-from-a-mile-away twist ending. HOW DARE they take such an interesting concept and balls it up in such a momentous way. HOW DARE they have such a fascinating lead actress, and pair her up with the human equivalent of a freshly painted park seat. And HOW DARE they waste 110 minutes of so many people's lives.
We haven't all got as much time as Adaline, ya know. So do yourself a favour, and skip this unholy mix of genericity, mediocrity and (most of all) wasted potential... 4/10
Mean Girls (2004)
Mean Girls.... Mean Girls... Whatcha Gonna Do?!
The only contact I've ever had with mean girls is probably this film, and a few unimaginative plots in teen sitcoms. Nevertheless, I hear from 'those in the know' that female bullies can be MUCH worse than their male counterparts... With all the teasing, snarking and demoralisation that goes on in these little cliques, it can go as far as causing suicide in those that feel inadequate. I dunno... Insults and wind ups you can ignore, where as repeated punches to the face, and having chairs flung at you are a little more difficult to avoid. Perhaps I've had too little of the former, and an over abundance of the latter...
Anyway, this is pre-insane Lindsay Lohan, when she still had a career as a singer/model/ actress... Nowadays her antics only tend to put her on the cover of the cheapest gossip rags. She plays a 16 year old who's spent most of her childhood in deepest, darkest Africa, and returns home to the USA to discover a different kind of jungle... One where the popular kids rule the roost, and the nerds, fatties, uglies, disabled etc are just part of the food chain. Being pretty if a bit naive, Lohan is actively seeked out by a group of three pretty yet bitchy girls called 'The Plastics' to sign up... And while it all starts up as a bit of fun, it isn't long before Lohan's sweet and innocent nature begins to be corrupted... (Who said real life can't imitate art?)
Scripted by comedienne Tina Fey who obviously has grown up in this type of dog-eat-dog environment and knows the inner workings of the secret hierarchy between so-called classmates, Mean Girls is insightful, interesting and just downright hilarious. Most of the dialogue, whether it be from a spotty geek, or a pampered princess, rings with authenticity, and the film doesn't shy away from showing the harmful consequences of pitting one pupil against another in a battle that ultimately no-one can win. It does get a little too soppy towards the end, as everyone 'learns their lesson', and sometimes you get a character that comes dangerously close to being more of a stereotype than a fleshed out individual.
But, for the most part, Mean Girls is a breath of fresh air in a stale, overdone genre, with something to actually say, rather than relying on the same old high school movie staples. Well worth a watch, especially from those who have yet to survive the experience... 7/10
Very Good Girls (2013)
Very Good Girls in a Very Bad Film
This movie is something, alright. It takes the most worn-out, done-to-death, predictable, stale, unimaginative elements from the many other tedious indie dramas that I've suffered through, reheats them, and tries to serve them as fresh. No dice, kiddo. Only this isn't just a case of mouldy leftovers. No, this is pure, unadulterated, 100% ****. Guaranteed to grow your garden, or your money back. You'd have to go a long way to find something as soulless, brainless, meritless and charmless as this. And by the end, I couldn't care less.
The first thing you should know is, in a SHOCKING twist, the 'very nice' girls in the title are actually pretty badly behaved. In fact, the first thing we see them do is have a skinny dip. On a crowded beach. Gee, I hope those body doubles got paid well. On their bikes during the journey home, one of them collides into a hunky ice cream man. A neon sign flashes: LOVE INTEREST above his head. He is very rude to one of them. Within a few days, they'll be having sex. Despite what the director would like us to believe, with the addition of syrupy softly-sung ballads in the background whenever the duo get within a few feet of each other, there's more chemistry in gym class than there is between these two non-entities.
I almost instantly plugged that her new beau was a STRUGGLING ARTIST, who only sold his diary treats to finance his TRUE CALLING. Ya know what? I was RIGHT ON THE NOSE!! You, see... He takes pictures of people, photocopies them into huge portraits, then sticks them on walls, the backs of buses, etc. This of course, is complete rubbish... without any artistic vision, or otherwise... But you have to remember this film is based in a parallel universe, where all bounds of normal human reaction and values are completely at odds with reality. So, needless to say, his new girl finds it 'CUTE', and he's a 'GENIUS'. Say no more.
Speaking of her, at one point she starts strumming a guitar. And I was on the edge of my seat... Waiting for those three magic words... "OPEN MIKE NIGHT". ZING!! I did it again!! Perhaps I should pick up a crystal ball, and start calling myself Madame Zorro. She also has confidence issues, and I suppose you would... Performing in front of ten people. But don't worry... her new flame gives her the strength she needs to brave the throngs. Her voice is very ordinary... But like I said, these events transpire in an alternate dimension, so we're listening to the new Madonna. SIGN HER UP!!
Richard Dreyfuss and Demi Moore drop by for an easy pay cheque... There's some kind of love rivalry going on between the two bimbos for the heart of Mr Interesting... and a bit of fractious family feuding thrown in to pad out the length. But all of this twaddle can be summed up by simply saying 'Dead Air'. It's not worth the time it takes to watch. It wasn't worth the time to type this review. In fact, it's barely worth the time it takes to put the disc in the machine.
In other words: Do something better with your life. Like, anything. 2/10
The Organization (1971)
You've seen it all before
Ah, the 70's. Big guns, bigger cars and acknowledgements that *GASP!* police departments have black people too. Close on the heels of Isaac Hayes as Shaft, there was Sidney Poitier as Mister Tibbs. Both starred in a number of films based around their characters, although Poitiers tended to be slightly more realistic in nature (What with them being directly made with the assistance of the local force) and with less wanton violence.
That doesn't mean they were immune to suffering from cliché-itis, though. So you have the usual schtick where the bad guys turn out to be the good guys, endless chase sequences through crowded streets and of course... The 'pivotal' moment where Tibbs has to hand over his gun and badge due to him being suspected of corruption. It may not be the movie's fault that such scenes have been done to death over 40 years, but it is what it is.
Poitier keeps things ticking over nicely with his usual reliable screen presence, and the sparse family moments he shares with his wife and son are a nice touch... Although, too brief to really be that effective. Overall, it's an interesting look at a Gene Hunt era of law enforcement which is long since past (for better or worse) but in terms of entertainment, very, very average. 5/10
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Fifty Shades Of 'Meh'
Fifty Shades of Grey is a very silly film, based on an over-hyped book, in which an incredibly attractive young billionaire decides to initialise a clumsy young girl into his world of sado-masochistic sex when she turns up one day to interview him.
Aside from a few notably graphic scenes involving blindfolds, restraints and whips, their is virtually nothing here to distinguish this bromidic mush from the thousands of others tales of it's ilk... From the chiselled hunk with the 'tortured' past, to the flighty heroine, who one minute is all for this guy's weird fetishes, and the next (for no particular reason) decides to back away.
In other words, don't expect an in-depth psychological profile... Christian Grey is a d*ck simply because he had some unfortunate experiences at the hands of an older woman in his youth (which aren't really elaborated on) and the brilliantly named Anastasia Steele wants true love in her life... She doesn't like it when Grey forces her into a more casual relationship. Still, at least he gives her a nice car. She should be a bit more grateful, if you ask me.
Most of the film proceeds like this, with Grey popping up where Steele least expects him to, trying to 'get it on' with her at every possible moment, and Steele umming and arring over whether to sign a contract, which would turn her into Grey's personal plaything for months. In other words, she'd be selling HERSELF into slavery. But, hey... a slave with a nice car. Love that car.
The attempts at drama fall as flat as the Rolo I sat on last night, the non-stop brooding by both leads becomes very irritating very quickly, and the always present pop songs in the background make you want to listen to the soundtrack, rather than suffer through the rest of this soporific slop. You know the one... "I let you set the pace... Cos I'm not thinking ssttrraaiigghhtt". Damn you Elle. And Damn this movie. 4/10
The best part? NO SONGS! HURRAY!!
After the success of Maleficent, which was basically a reboot of Sleeping Beauty told from the perspective of the villainess, (But this time making her a MUCH more sympathetic character). Disney returns to their well of classic fairy tales again for inspiration (Read: Money) and... Oh, look what's popped up... Cinderella!! Why bother putting together a new and unique screenplay, when you can just take an old animation, and spruce it up for a live-action remake?! GENIUS!!
Unlike Maleficent, this is a far more straightforward adaptation of the original... the movie stays with Cinders all the way (aside from the occasional foray into the royal castle), and it starts and ends just as you'd expect from a 'Happily Ever After' bedtime story. The Fairy Godmother is a tad more dotty and brusque than before, the various animals that turn into the coach, horses, footmen, etc are loving rendered using CGI special effects and there are a few black faces scattered about to provide a more eclectic cast.
What else can I add? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lily James makes for a beautiful and charming heroine, Cate Blanchett hams it up marvelously as the truly wicked Lady Tremaine (I mean, she walks with her cat on a LEASH!! Unforgivable) and Helena Bonham provides a memorable yet short cameo and the wacky Godmother herself. Sometimes, you don't need bells and whistles to make an already appealing story better. What Kenneth Branagh has done is let the material speak for itself... Adding some modern twists here and there, but never enough to make them intrusive on the central drama.
So, despite my earlier misgivings, maybe there IS something to said for this recycling-an-old-animation-into-a-flesh-and-blood-version malarkey. Can we have Dumbo next, please? There may not be a Handsome Prince in that particular cartoon, but I can think of a Not-So-Handsome Prince who'd be PERFECT for the lead role. QUICK Disney... Sign him up before he ascends to the throne!! 7/10
More Than Bearable...
While I feel that the story of a family adopting a CGI animated animal was done better in Stuart Little, Paddington was still fun to watch, especially if you're a Londoner... Since it makes extensive use of familiar locations and native speak which some overseas audiences might not get. The story (such as it is) is mainly an excuse for Paddington to get up to his usual disruptive shenanigans, but kids will eat up his light-hearted antics, while adults won't be too bored with the odd grown-up joke thrown their way, and Nicole Kidman as a bleached blonde ruthless huntress.
A couple of pieces of interest: It's funny how no-one reacts to having an intelligent, talking bear around. If Kidman had ANY sense, she'd put the titular ursine on display in a cage, not mount and stuff him. No sense of business practice, some people. And, what exactly is the appeal of marmalade? I don't eat the peel of my orange with the innards... So why would I want to stick it in my sandwich? Paddy, me old china, I'm afraid you and I will never see eye to eye on the merits of that particular spread... 6/10
On reflection, not very good.
The Inexplicable popularity of this dull, over-gimmicky horror could probably be explained by the inclusion of ex Doctor Who assistant Ms Karen Gillan to the cast. Not a fan of the show myself, I have no idea why she appears to have the following a lot of others who have left the role seem to lack... But what I can state is, a movie is NEVER as good as it's stars... And Oculus is an increasingly tiresome exercise in over-elaborate set-up with hardly any payoff.
Starting 11 years in the past, it documents the relocation of your typical white-bread American family (Mother, Father, Two Kids, Golden Retriever. Not too sure about the picket fence) to a new house, complete with a spooky mirror. This object seems to have the power to suck life from everything around it, and causes people to suffer hallucinations to protect itself. Before long the dog is acting weirdly, Mom is driven so crazy she has to be leashed, and Dad spends all his time brooding in his room. To cut a long story short, everyone but the children end up dead... With the boy committed to a secure institution, and the girl left to pick up the pieces.
Present day. The lad is now a man, and has finally been given clearance to leave the mental hospital. Guess what his sister has been doing while he's been on the inside... That's right. Tracking down the antique mirror, and buying it back. You see, she made a vow with her brother to 'purge it of it's evil' before he was send down... And now she expects him fulfill his promise. Rather unwisely, he agrees... And so begins a LONG process of filming the mirror from all angles, checking the temperature of the room it's in... Occasional breaks for snacks and water...
Yes, it IS as tedious as it sounds. And no, I have no idea why anyone with any attention span could sit through this tripe without having something on stand-by to pass the time through the many empty moments (I had my iPad. ALWAYS be prepared). As for the flashbacks, they might be cliché and predictable, but at LEAST you have SOME level of excitement. When it skips forward to the here and now, I found myself uncontrollably yawning at the not-quite-stimulating goings on. And yes... I get plenty of sleep, thank you very much.
And, you wanna know something else? I disliked Gillan in this role. She might be hot stuff in a cheesy Sci-fi serial, but here I found her shrill, manipulative and almost unbearable. During a certain 'shock' scene, when we were presumably meant to be saddened, I could only wish that what had just transpired had occurred earlier. Let's hope her annoying performance here is just a case of a bad script and direction, rather than a harbinger of things to come... 4/10