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It's James effin Bond, innit?, 30 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Eggsy gets to train as a secret agent for the same ultra-top secret organisation which his father once worked for.

This is James Bond at boot camp, featuring Colin Firth as Eggsy's mentor, Samuel L Jackson as the villain, Mark Strong as the training sergeant, Michael Caine as head of the organisation, and newcomer Taron Egerton plays Eggsy. Now let's take on board that it is directed by Matthew Vaughan, co-written with Jane Goldman, and based on a comic by Mark Millar, and we should be prepared for it to be original, full of (often outrageous) action, stupefyingly violent, overflowing with profanity, very funny, and vastly entertaining. Think Roger Moore-era Bond crossed with Kick-Ass and Wanted.

Millar doesn't come across as likable when I see him interviewed but, by heavens, the films based on his stuff are entertaining. For me, everything in this film works – the performances are all terrific, the action is great and often laugh out loud (it manages to be both funny and credibly visceral – think the birdman at the start of Kick-Ass or the computer keyboard in Wanted). I could have done without quite so many F-words, but oh well.

Recommended if you enjoyed Wanted or Kick-Ass.

The Gambler (2014/III)
Bodywork fine, not much of an engine, 30 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a literature professor at a university: he also owes a quarter of a million dollars in gambling debts, and we can see that is gambling is reckless. Over a period we see him get involved with gambling lenders and debt enforcement individuals, his wealthy mother, and several students, one of whom may lead to his salvation.

I'm not too sure how I feel about this film. There are some very good performances, particularly from Jessica Lange (a very credible mix of hard, angry and distraught), and Wahlberg is no slouch, either (he has some hideous speeches to learn for the lecture room sequences which, for me, were the most entertaining part of the film). I liked the under-used Brie Larson who has an air about her of being a plain girl who can suddenly appear strikingly pretty.

The plot has a moderate amount of movement in it, but not much story, and I never really got to grips with Bennett's character. Wahlberg performed him well, but I never really understood why or how he had become the man he was, with what a self-destructive streak which never got displayed other than in his gambling or its consequences, when the rest of his life appeared to be very positive. I ended up feeling "so what?" without any explanation as to why I should care.

Mortdecai (2015)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Thoroughly enjoyed it, 30 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Lord Charlie Mortdecai is a rather seedy minor noble, an art specialist with a stately manor to maintain, and wondering what to do with a rather large tax bill. Consequently he has little choice but to get involved in a caper involving a restored Goya painting.

I fell up the steps as this film started, and spent the first ten minutes doing my best not to throw up at the pain in my knee, added to which I knew from the trailer that I was in for one of Johnny Depp's makeup, mannerisms and funny voice performances, which have rather outstayed their welcome as their number has increased. And, looking at reviews on the IMDb, it is clear that this movie has, indeed, annoyed and irritated a number of viewers: I fully expected to join their ranks.

And I loved it. There was me and an older couple in the cinema, and all three of us laughed out loud quite often. The film is very, very silly, and it tickled my funnybone considerably. I especially liked Paul Bettany's assistant/henchman Jock, and the transitions between locations were nicely done.

This is not going to please everyone, but it took my mind off my agonising knee very effectively.

Typical Moore Bond, 25 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

James Bond is pitted against assassin Scaramanga.

This is a fairly typical entry in the Roger Moore series of Bond movies - a plot of relative insignificance, lots of attractive travelogue photography, some decent stunts, action and effects sequences (the effects are rather better than usual), an above-average villain in Christopher Lee's urbane and rather likable Scaramanga, an entertaining freakish henchman, and pretty girls not wearing very much.

Unfortunately, one then has to add in the regrettable tendency towards misplaced humour which always found its way into the Moore Bonds, at its worst here in the spiral car bridge jump - an absolutely stunning car stunt, given a sound effect of a swannee whistle. Appalling.

And we shouldn't forget the shameful racism of Clifton James' J.W. Pepper.

Ex Machina (2015)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Intelligent sci-fi suspense thriller, 23 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is a programmer who is invited by his boss, genius whizzkid Nathan (Oscar Isaac), to his inaccessible remote super-duper hi-tech home/research centre. It turns out that Nathan has created a female robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander), and wants Caleb to test-drive her Artificial Intelligence with a view to establishing whether "she" is actually self-aware and intelligent, as opposed to merely simulating this due to her programming and AI routines.

Written and directed by Alex Garland (who has both pluses and minuses in my book), this film has a lot going for it. An interesting science fiction premise acquires a suspense thriller element to its plot, and the dialogue has an air of intelligence to it rather than being mere sci-fi buzz-phrases. There are a lot of twists and turns in what is essentially a relatively straightforward three-hander set in a single location. It is a good looking film (largely due to the location, but the cinematography is pretty impressive, too), with excellent performances from the three principals and also Sonoya Mizuno as Nathan's mute Japanese maid Kyoko. The special effects with which Ava is realised are impressive: although showy, you disregard them almost immediately as the characterisation is so good.

If I have a criticism, it is that the film drags slightly in places.

Wild (2014)
1 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
A little strange, but not unenjoyable, 23 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Her marriage fails, her mother dies, and she descends into a self-destructive spiral of promiscuous sex and drug use. To find the worthwhile person her mother always saw inside her, Cheryl Stayed decides to hike the Pacific Crest trail up the US western seaboard.

Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl in a film which is always interesting, but actually perhaps a little on the gentle side. The most traumatic moments are told in flashback as we see the elements which have driven Cheryl to undertake something which is, by most standards, a rather weird way to address one's inner demons. The hike itself, though not without its hardships, is mostly an exercise in picture postcards, other flaky hikers, and blisters (all of which are entertainingly shown, by the way). There are several attempts at driving up suspense by having other people appear to be worryingly menacing, but nothing amounts to anything serious.

Witherspoon is rather good here, and there are moments of genuine emotion and some intensity. There is also some bad language, graphic drug use, and sex and nudity (for those who have paid notice to Witherspoon's past comments about not wishing to do nudity because her body is horrible, this film provides evidence to the contrary). For those who care, the sex and nudity is relatively minimal and does excellent work in illustrating Cheryl's low self-esteem.

I enjoyed this.

10 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
Good war movie, 23 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Chris Kyle, Navy Seal, is a first rate sniper and tactician, but finds it difficult to return to real life after four tours of duty in the middle east.

Bradley Cooper plays Kyle in Clint Eastwood's biographical movie of Kyle's life, mixing action sequences in Iraq with rather more soapy stuff back in the States. That's not to downplay the domestic element: Sienna Miller is excellent as Kyle's wife, developing from bachelorette to mother and distressed wife, concerned at the husband whose personality hasn't fully returned from Iraq. And Kyle's recognition of his problem and eventual preparedness to address it are well shown, too, and contain some of the strongest elements of Cooper's performance.

But the combat sequences are probably what will live in the memory. They are extremely well staged, exciting, visceral, suspenseful, and full of jeopardy.

This is a very good film with an excellent central performance from Cooper who is maturing well as an actor. Eastwood's direction is good, especially in the combat sequences, albeit possibly a shade too leisurely overall.

The Inside (2012/II)
Dreadful, 22 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Tramps assault partygoers in a warehouse, following which things get worse - some alleged supernatural gubbins is involved.

This horror film is yet another found footage effort (with edits and changes in camera angles).

It is so dark as to be almost impossible to follow visually, not to mention the large amount of jittercam. The image quality is poor. And someone thought it was a brilliant idea to have screaming and non-stop snivelling featuring on the soundtrack for at least an hour longer than the film lasts.

This film is so horrible as to be virtually unwatchable.

Beware the bolts, 18 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Alex and Meg go to a remote cottage to try to sort out their failing marriage. They have different goals and aspirations, and have fallen into bad marital habits, but they love each other and both believe their marriage is worth working on. Meg goes out for a run and, wouldn't you just know it, gets bitten by a zombie. This doesn't help them sort out their problems.

It's not unknown for a film to change genres halfway through - From Dusk To Dawn, anyone? - and it is understandable to build up an emotional investment in two fundamentally decent and likable people in order for the audience to care about what happens to them. But the intimate domestic drama which occupies the first half of this film is quite effective in its own right - well written and well acted - and the zombie tale which is bolted to it does one of two things. It cheats you of an ending to the domestic drama, if you wanted one, and it comes far too late if you are watching the movie for zombie-related gore reasons. The film is so resolutely two different things that the presence of each operates to lessen the impact of the other. It's a shame, because this is a decent stab at having the best of both worlds on a low budget.

Two other things - unlike many such British films, this was not filmed during winter: it is very green, and the trees are in full leaf. And much of the first half has an annoying and unnecessary background wind noise on the soundtrack.

Foxcatcher (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Wonderful performances in a dull overlong film, 16 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Brothers Dave and Mark Schultz both won gold medals for wrestling at the Los Angeles Olympics. Industrialist, philanthropist, and America's richest man John Du Pont prevails upon Mark to join him at his ranch Foxcatcher in order to establish Team Foxcatcher to pursue American wrestling to greater glories.

This film dramatises a real-life series of events with a tragic ending, and highlights excellent performances from Mark Ruffalo and (perhaps unexpectedly) Channing Tatum as the brothers, and a stunning piece of work from Steve Carell. Unrecognisable behind prosthetic nose and teeth, Carell manages to give Du Pont a pair of eyes which are barely human: every second he is on screen, you are acutely aware that there is something very, very wrong with him. It is a stunning performance judged by any criteria, but given Carell's comedy background it comes as a huge shock.

If only that were all. But it is unfortunate that these performances inhabit a film which has two major flaws. The first is the running time. At 130 minutes, the film drags terribly. Right from the opening sequence of the brothers training, scenes make their point and then drag on and on to increasingly little point. And the other flaw is that, after all that, I'm none the wiser. What caused the deterioration in the relationship between Mark and Du Pont? Was there some sort of homosexual interaction? If so, nothing was spelled out. What led to the final events? Was it simply a reaction to the mother's death? Again, no explanation was offered, and I needed a little bit of resolution in terms of understanding why these things had happened.

Director Bennett Miller is nominated for Best Director Oscar this year. He doesn't deserve to win.

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