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Pleasing Superman/Supergirl yarn, 24 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Superman and Supergirl find themselves pitted against city-stealer and world-destroyer Brainiac.

This animated feature adapts a comics story by Geoff Johns. It strays from artist Gary Frank's style, probably because Frank's Superman is clearly modelled on Christopher Reeve: I quite liked the character design, but it won't be to everybody's taste. The quality of the animation varies from serviceable to excellent.

What I liked here was the dynamic between Superman and a Supergirl who is still finding her way and feeling somewhat out of place. Supergirl is a well-rounded, nicely realised character in this. And the issue of Lois Lane being at risk, which is why Superman/Clark conceals his feelings towards her, is well addressed.

OK for its era, 23 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Martians invade Earth. Humans are outclassed. Is there any hope for the human race? Well...

HG Wells' classic tale gets transplanted to the USA, and saddled with some contemporary (for the 50s) characters, and given flying machines rather than tripods: otherwise, the main story beats remain. The trouble is that Wells' story is a classic for what it is rather than its storytelling: everybody remembers how the Martians are defeated, but it is a singularly limp, anticlimactic, and dramatically unsatisfying payoff in Wells' book, and remains so for this version (and also Spielberg's version in the noughties). So what is left is the survival attempts by the humans and, of course, the eye candy of the Martian invasion itself.

The soapy human shenanigans don't seriously engage the viewer's identification but, fortunately, the special effects are nicely realised, bright, colourful, and eye-catching. They're dated, of course - wires are visible, miniatures behave like miniatures (buildings crunch like matchboxes when destroyed, for instance) - but they are still quite good fun. They were, of course, state of the art at the time.

This film is OK, but there are other sci-fi films of the time which stand up rather better.

Interesting, but for Batman fans only, 23 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Batman: Gotham Knight is an animated film containing half a dozen vignettes, each helmed by a different Japanese director, and intended to fit between the first two films in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

The stories each have worthwhile elements to them. The voice talent does well, and it is good to have Kevin Conroy as Batman. The animation style is very Japanese - don't expect Disney, but do expect Studio Ghibli or animated TV series from the last 30 years.

On the slightly negative side, the fact that these are individual vignettes means that the film doesn't hold together as a whole very well. And, on the more negative side, the character design, particularly in the first segment, tends to be somewhat alienating.

4 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
DeNiro slums it: films is not without merit, though, 22 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

On the day after his wife's funeral, Dick Kelly prevails upon his grandson Jason to take him to Florida. Jason – conventional, lawyer, getting married next week – rapidly discovers that his plans and best intentions are being resoundingly flouted by his grandfather, who seems determined to sow the wild oats which were kept in storage during 40 years of marriage.

This comedy – which contains absolutely no surprises whatsoever in terms of plot: you can predict the ending from about 5 minutes in – is interesting chiefly by virtue of seeing DeNiro, one of the greatest actors of his generation, slumming it in a foul-mouthed, lowest common denominator, sex-obsessed comedy which is aimed primarily at teens and 20s ie. the people Hollywood pitch this sort of film at. And for much of the early part of the film, during which the script mistakes profanity for wit, this is unedifying stuff. I am sure there are funnier ways of expressing DeNiro's reawakened sex urge than having him repeat "I want to f***," over and over. And saying it five times doesn't make it five times as funny as saying it once. DeNiro does what is required of him without ever appearing to be invested in his character: one for the pension fund, maybe. Efron is along for the ride, but offers a little more.

There is stuff to be enjoyed here, though, and it mainly comes from the supporting players. Not from the two "comedy" cops – misconceived from the start – and not from the drug dealing shopkeeper Pam. But Julianne Hough, with the singularly unsympathetic part of control freak fiancée Meredith, is very funny delivering an overperformed song at the wedding rehearsal, and Aubrey Plaza is simply wonderful. I'm not a big fan of crudeness and coarseness for the sake of it, but Plaza takes that and makes it very very funny, especially when it is combined with a gift for making it sexy at the same time. The last time I found something both hilarious and raunchy was Jamie Lee Curtis stripping in True Lies: Plaza is equally funny and hot here.

One has to admit it is a little sad to see DeNiro in this sort of film but, for all its shortcomings, the film pleased a young audience in a fairly full cinema.

Brooklyn (2015)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Small film with big heart, 22 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Eilis (pronounced "Ailish") has an unrewarding part-time job as a shop assistant for poisonous Miss Kelly in 1951 small-town Ireland. Her sister Rose arranges for the church to take her to New York where a better future awaits her. After some severe homesickness, finding a boyfriend helps Eilis settle down. But a crisis takes her back home, and maybe she will have to make some hard choices.

This is a fairly slight story. There are conflicts which drive it along nicely: the initial journey to the USA, homesickness, the other girls at the boarding house, developments with the boyfriend, the crisis which takes Eilis back to Ireland and what subsequently transpires. They are all major in Eilis' life, but minor insofar as they are the sort of hiccups which life throws up for all of us. And that is the joy of this film – big emotions delivered in small packages.

All the players are good. Julie Walters as landlady Mrs Keogh is a hoot, and Brid Kelly in the small part of shopkeeper Miss Kelly is superbly vile. But this is Saoirse Ronan's film, from the first frame to the last. Just 20 while the film was in production, she delivers a masterclass of film acting, conveying complex emotions effortlessly. There is a scene relatively early on which concentrates on a close-up of her face for some time, and you can follow the mixture of thoughts which are going through her with no dialogue at all.

This is a warm film, full of compassion and heart.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Good fun, if inconsequential, 20 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Arisia,newly recruited to the Green Lantern Corps, is suffering from nerves before her first mission, so Hal Jordan tries to put her at ease by telling her tales of famous Green Lanterns of the past.

This feature is, by definition, episodic, and anyone who wants to watch a single story is going to be disappointed. But for those who want to enjoy Tales Of The Green Lantern Corps - a comic title which enjoyed some popularity for a while - this is a treat. It's good to see many of the other Lanterns featured, although the voice work isn't always what one would wish for: Jason Isaacs leaves Sinestro lacking in gravitas and self-importance, and Henry Rollins is a rather lightweight voice for Kilowog.

For all that, this is good fun for GL fans.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Good, but a bit questionable, 19 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Superman's role as purveyor of justice is challenged by The Elite, a super-powered group led by Manchester Black, who kill super-villains so that they can't escape and commit more mayhem. But is the only way to deal with The Elite to use their own methods against them? I have mixed feelings about this animated movie which adapts a story arc by Joe Kelly. It's a good story, well told, which raises interesting questions about the morality of misusing power over others. On the other hand, it is a very dark piece, with some inappropriate language for an all-ages character like Superman (Superman would not use the expression "w*nkers", for instance). So my verdict is mixed.

And the assorted British regional accents are inconsistent: Black has a generic "oop north" accent while his father and younger sister have London accents!

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Pretty darn good, 19 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Luthor finds a way to subject Superman to a lingering death and, as his resources start to dwindle, Superman starts to put his affairs in order.

Based on a 12-issue series written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Frank Quitely, in which silver age sensibilities were given a contemporary update, this adaptation (the final work of the late and much missed Dwayne McDuffie) is necessarily episodic. It's good, though - the half dozen or so subplots are all entertaining, and the overriding story of Superman's apparent imminent demise holds everything together as the film moves to an unexpected conclusion.

Voice talent is good and the script only occasionally dips into Morrison's sometimes lamentable propensity to lapse into verbal excess. Design captures the essence of Quitely's quirky faces, and animation is solid.

An enjoyable animated feature.

Empty action, poor characterisation, wasted goodwill, 17 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Waves of parademons attack and Earth's main super-heroes band together in defence somewhat reluctantly (because they don't like each other).

This animated movie tells a very simple story of a huge but unfocused invasion, fought off by well-known superheroes and Cyborg. There is some origin stuff (including Cyborg), but not enough given that these are the New 52 versions of the characters. And that means that Superman is not a character of humility and nobility, he's a brash young man driven by impulse. Wonder Woman is not a character of gravitas and depth, she is shallow and temperamental. Cosmic policeman Green Lantern, responsible for a huge sector of the galaxy, is a trivial smartar$e. And so on. These are not the characters many viewers will be expecting to see, and they needed more explanation.

The film, which has virtually no substance behind the almost non-stop action, is a wonderful example of just how misconceived DC's New 52 reboot was: just about everything which made its characters so iconic has been abandoned and replaced with something not as good. At a stroke, overall quality has been diminished by a material amount.


3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Brilliant but flawed, 15 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Trapper and guide, Hugh Glass, while guiding the survivors of a party decimated in an Indian attack, is mauled by a bear and left for dead while his son is killed. Glass struggles to survive in an incredibly hostile environment, so that he can return to exact retribution on Fitzgerald, who killed his son.

I have mixed feelings about this visceral but beautiful movie. Directed by Alejando Inarritu, it shows, if anything, even more directorial flamboyance than his Oscar-winning Birdland, and is undoubtedly less likely to divide opinion quite as markedly. The opening sequence of the Indian attack is staggeringly well filmed, in lengthy unbroken shots where the camera makes movements which seem impossible. The movie is a feast for the eyes - the scenery is spectacular, the action is brilliantly choreographed and photographed, the special effects are astonishing (you can't see where they finish and reality ends) – and, all the time, the camera is endlessly prowling around and through the action. Every second on screen shows what a challenging shoot this was.

But there are flaws. At over two and a half hours, it is at least half an hour too long – Glass' wilderness wandering could usefully have been trimmed down. And demanding shoot or not, DiCaprio's almost dialogue-less performance is more grimacing than acting. Tom Hardy sounds authentic but largely incomprehensible as Fitzgerald. Inarritu is far too fond of shots of the sky up through pine trees – the first one was gorgeous, the 21st smacked of "Get on with it." The payback on the kidnapped Indian girl is muddled from a story point of view. Frankly, I didn't believe Glass would have survived: not just the bear attack, but the repeated soakings for extended periods in freezing water. And the film is very dark and desaturated, a trend which I have lost patience with.

It is definitely worth seeing, but I don't think I'm that keen on seeing it again soon.

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