Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Review – Captive

Stars: Kate Mara, David Oyelowo, Michael K. Williams
Director: Jerry Jameson
Certificate: 12A (drug use and “themes” – 15 wouldn’t have been a surprise)
Running Time: 97 mins
Release Date: 25th September 2015

Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo) breaks out of police custody and shoots dead three people. The subject of an enormous manhunt, he lays low in the house of Ashley Smith (Kate Mara), a down-on-her-luck single mother who chose the wrong time to go outside for a smoke. Captive shows how they develop an unlikely bond as the police closed in

Captive is based on a true story, which makes it impossible to criticise the eye-popping implausibility of it all. Nichols and Smith are both damaged individuals, able to find common ground over their absent children, the mistakes they’ve made in life and the ways in which society has let them down. The two leads bring the characters to life well, with Oyelowo in particular bringing a palpable anger to the role and an unpredictability that makes it hard to take your eyes off him. This does have the unfortunate effect of making the supporting players look somewhat one-dimensional by comparison – Michael K. Williams is simply playing “world-weary movie cop” rather than doing anything approaching a convincing portrayal of a real person

The big problem with Captive, however, is the other stuff that Nichols and Smith bond over, namely the redemptive power of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ. The final third of the movie features lots of religious reading from Smith’s drug rehabilitation book, and we see how the power of the words rehabilitates the paranoid, violent Nichols. The problem isn’t that the film starts throwing religion around – there are several hundred million people on the planet who wouldn’t consider that a problem at all – but that it’s tone instantly shifts from gripping, claustrophobic potboiler to gloopy, melodramatic TV movie when it does. The way the film ends hammers home this flaw to a tee

The ‘true story’ defence can only insulate Captive from criticism so much. Clearly it’s a remarkable story, in which real people went through some remarkable things, and you would be doing the people who lost their lives a disservice by diverging too far from it. But the final third betrays Jerry Jameson’s background as a director of low-budget made-for-TV movies; in the hands of someone more adept it would surely have been possible to maintain a greater consistency of tone while still remaining true to the narrative. As things stand, Captive is little more than a mildly diverting missed opportunity which seems destined to be swiftly forgotten

Our Verdict: 5/10

DVD review – John Wick

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Michael Nyqvist
Director: Chad Stahelski
Certificate: 15 (strong violence throughout)
Running Time: 101 mins
Release Date: out now on DVD and Blu-ray

When, oh when, will movie bad guys learn that killing dogs never leads to good things? Dog ownership is pretty much Hollywood’s universal signal for telling you who the good guys are, and those who look to cause them harm are almost without exception villains, scoundrels or robots from the future encased in human flesh to whom nothing good will come

So when Russian gangster Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) extinguishes an adorable pooch in the opening minutes of John Wick, his fate is pretty much sealed. We know that he will get his comeuppance before the end of the film, and it’s implicitly understood that he will deserve every bit of it. No fate is too grisly for him, with the possible exception of the fate Allen suffered in Game of Thrones, that went a bit far. And it just so happens that the owner of said dog is John Wick (Keanu Reeves) – a legendary retired assassin, and one of the most reliable deliverers of comeuppances that cinema has ever seen

So begins 100 minutes of almost relentless violence. Henchmen in their dozens are shot, stabbed or otherwise broken as Wick blazes a bloody trail across the New York nighttime. It sounds like every other one-man-army action film you could possibly name, but it felt different somehow, and it took me about 20 minutes to put my finger on exactly why. After growing dispiritingly used to the fast-cutting, camera-shaking directorial styles of Olivier Megaton et al, John Wick was the first film in ages where I could actually see what was going on. Director Chad Stahelski takes the delightfully old school approach of pointing a camera at things that are happening and keeping it pointed there while said things continue to happen, meaning that you actually see things like punches connecting – a genuinely rare sight in an era of sanitised, 12A-friendly action

It’s a style that makes Wick more reminiscent of Hong Kong than Hollywood, and an infinitely easier watch than the likes of the headache-inducing Taken 3. It’s amazing that something so basic makes such a huge, positive difference, but it also exposes some of the film’s bigger flaws. Because we can see exactly what’s going on, we can see exactly how terrible every character’s aim is – Wick goes from deadeyed marksman to drywall-bothering scattershot as the plot demands it – and there seem to be a number of occasions where Wick sneaks up on a clueless bad guy by basically crouching directly in front of them. The standard of the action choreography never quite matches up to the quality of the camerawork, and occasionally the chasm is so wide that the whole enterprise looks a bit silly

John Wick is, therefore, best enjoyed if you go into it accepting it for what it is – a bit silly. The entire cast spends the whole movie putting on very serious expressions, and what humour there is is born of mild absurdity rather than the one-liners you’d expect of what is essentially Commando for the 21st century. It’s a film that’s great to watch, but you’ll almost certainly shrug, shake your head and forget all about it the moment it’s over

Our Verdict: 6/10

Review – Irrational Man

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey
Director: Woody Allen
Certificate: 12A (much alcohol is consumed)
Running Time: 96 mins
Release Date: 11th September 2015

The campus of a fancy east coast college is abuzz about the arrival of new philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Phoenix), with the excitement split roughly equally between those who value his genius and others more concerned with the rumours of a many splendoured sex life. The reality is somewhat underwhelming, as Abe turns out to be a pot-bellied, impotent alcoholic with little in the way of academic substance, such a lack of joie de vivre that he uses Russian Roulette as a teaching aid. Even being the object of the affections of both wide-eyed student Jill (Stone) and bored chemistry teacher Rita (Posey) can do little to raise his spirits. That is, until a chance encounter in a coffee shop gives him new purpose in life, as he sets out to commit the perfect murder

The central concept is a good one, with Phoenix’s character finally finding a practical application for his philosophical musings as he self-justifies the murder of one perfect stranger that might improve the life of another. It’s possibly the first instance in history where commit a heinous crime has made someone a better person, and the philosophical knots that Abe ties himself in to rationalise things are great to watch

Slightly less great to watch, unfortunately, are the principal female characters. Both Stone and Posey are swept off their feet with an ease that doesn’t so much border on cliché as it does forcefully seize control of cliché’s territory using a fleet of tanks. Even after recognising him as a quite ludicrously flawed human being, they continue to hang upon his every word because he’s the sort of smouldering, complicated genius that Woody Allen clearly believes he himself would be in Phoenix’s body. Stone’s character even goes so far as to self-identify as being the cliched student who falls for their college professor, which if anything makes it worse. The central murder plot would be every bit as interesting without any of it, but apparently Allen saw yet another opportunity to pair up a leading man with a much younger actress and just couldn’t help himself

It’s a mixed bag, is Irrational Man, but the talented cast and fun central theme do enough to tip it firmly into “watchable” territory

Our Verdict: 6/10

Review – The Bad Education Movie

Stars: Jack Whitehall, Iain Glen, Joanna Scanlan
Director: Elliott Hegarty
Certificate: 15 (an unusual obsession with testicles)
Running Time: 91 mins
Release Date: 21st August 2015

The Bad Education Movie should come with a Game of Thrones spoiler warning. The fact that Iain Glen is starring in the feature-length spinoff of an at best moderately popular BBC3 comedy show is a pretty strong indication that the Ser Jorah Mormont paycheques dry up pretty early on in season 6

The film, which should under no circumstances be confused with the similarly-named 2004 Almovador flick, tells the tale of a school trip gone wrong. Teacher Alfie Wickers (Jack Whitehall, who also bravely puts his name to the writing) takes his class of 16-year-olds to Cornwall, where they visit the Eden Project, appreciate some cultural highlights, and accidentally embroil themselves in a separatist uprising (led by Glen). The plot, such as it is, is little more than a frame upon which to hang a succession of jokes which the producers of Porkies rejected for being a bit on the juvenile side

Credit where it’s due – I laughed twice during The Bad Education Movie, and neither of the jokes in question were spoiled by the trailer. One about the downsides of investing in art, and another about the etymology of the name “Gay Colin” (may not have been Colin, I wasn’t concentrating all that hard). That’s twice as many times as Get Hard and an infinite number of times as many as Unfinished Business, but still leaves it with roughly the same laugh:hour ratio that you’d expect from a Second World War drama or chick flick involving terminal illness rather than a comedy film. The rest of the mercifully brief runtime is not so much scripted as it is brainstormed, apparently consisting of a series of ideas that came up in a “what do idiots find inherently funny?” meeting thrown indiscriminately at the screen

Sex toys. One-legged strippers. Swan-teabagging. Laxatives. Using hallucinogens in the Anne Frank museum. Jack Whitehall’s scrotum. No effort has gone into crafting jokes, you’re just expected to laugh at these things. Which is fine if you’re the sort of person who is capable of dong that, but I’d expect that it restricts the potential audience of the film to an even greater extent than basing it on a TV show which spent 19 inglorious episodes ghettoised on the BBC’s red-headed stepchild of a youth channel. The first Inbetweeners movie showed that cult televisual appeal could translate into big screen success, but it also showed that having at least some amount of wit was an important part of that. It’s natural for that sort of success to inspire imitators, but watching Bad Education didn’t bring The Inbetweeners to mind at all. It reminded me of when American Pie was a big hit, so big that it inspired the existence of Freddie Got Fingered

Our Verdict: 2/10

Review – Fantastic Four

Stars: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell
Director: Josh Trank
Certificate: 12A (one scene involving exploding heads)
Running Time: 100 mins
Release Date: 6th August 2015

I’ll cut straight to the chase on this one – Fantastic Four is not a very good film. More than that, it is a not very good film which has the word “fantastic” in it’s title, thus automatically subjecting itself to a tired series of one-line “not very fantastic at all!!!!” reviews. I could oh so easily leave it at that, but hey, there are crowds to stand out from

Standing out from the crowd is something that Fantastic Four seems determined to do – necessary, in a world where the average human will watch a new superhero film more times in the next three years than they partake in any form of meaningful human interaction – but goes about it all the wrong way. Everything that it does is laser focused on being more “dark” and “edgy” than your average piece of technicolour MCU entertainment – from the disturbing new context of the phrase “it’s clobbering time” to the actual, literal darkness of the colour palette – but in doing so, they forgot to make any aspect of it even remotely entertaining

Miles Teller plays Richard Reed, a prodigious young scientist who cracks the secret to interdimensional travel while tinkering in his garage. Recruited by a faceless military interest, he builds a working vessel which can catapult himself, talented mechanic Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), genius scientist/obvious bad guy Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). The interdimensional travel is safe but the other dimension isn’t, and a confrontation with some angry green slime leaves Doom stranded and our heroes, plus Sue Storm (Kate Mara), sporting an array of new superpowers. Travelling back to the other dimension in search of a cure, they learn the power of teamwork and defeat Doom, who has been twisted to the way of evil. And that is it, literally everything that happens in a 100-minute movie. The acquisition of superpowers occurs at around the 45-minute mark after an incredibly slow buildup, and our heroes are called upon to use those superpowers to any meaningful effect precisely once

It could be argued that the whole point of the film is franchise setup, and it’s true, maybe a sequel is where we would finally get some payoff after sitting through the exposition, tortured childhoods and training montages that make up 75% of Fantastic Four‘s running time. But sequels only happen if you make sure that the first in a series doesn’t fail quite so hard as Fantastic Four does. What’s more, the characters that such time is taken establishing aren’t even that appealing – Reed is an antisocial, friend-abandoning dick, Johnny is a hotheaded stereotype, Grimm had roughly as much business undertaking interdimensional travel as Steve Buscemi did landing on an asteroid in Armageddon, and Sue barely has any defining character traits at all beyond a fondness for 90s indie music

Victor von Doom is a similarly hopeless antagonist. For one thing, having a name like Victor von Doom marks him out as the bad guy from the second he’s introduced – even viewers with no familiarity with the comics probably have enough of a basic comprehension of the English language to figure that one out. His supervillain appearance looks like a cheap Halloween costume; like someone wanted to dress as Shodan from System Shock 2 and did their best by spraying some luminous green paint onto a mannequin. It’s not the only weirdly cheap-looking aspect of a $120m movie – Sue Storm’s flying motion is weirdly stilted, the 7-foot rock monster that is the Thing walks with all the impact and heft of a 5′ 7″ actor in a green leotard, and the supposedly baffling, new alternate dimension they all travel to is a straightforward cross between the Mojave desert through an Instagram filter and something out of the original series of Star Trek

It’s difficult to come up with anything positive to say about Fantastic Four. I can’t recall a single smart line of dialogue, spectacular action shot or worthwhile character. It moves so slowly that there’s barely anything in the 100-minute running time, and what’s there is pretty much uniformly not worth the price of admission

Wait, there was one thing – they test the interdimensional travel machine by sending a chimp through first. Give the chimp some superpowers and his own spinoff movie, and all is forgiven. So, only a waste of 98 minutes of your life

Our Verdict: 3/10

Review – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Sean Harris
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Certificate: 12A (implied torture and occasional knife fighting)
Running Time: 131 mins
Release Date: 30th July 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation opens with Tom Cruise hanging onto the outside of an aeroplane, in the scene which has formed the cornerstone of the film’s marketing material. It is the very best kind of introductory sequence – even if you haven’t seen any of the previous Missions Impossible, by the end of it you’ll know exactly where everything stands. You’ll understand the dynamic of the team (Cruise is the plane-hopping daredevil, Pegg the permanently awed computer genius, Renner the long-distance observer in an office somewhere), be on board with the film’s approach to practical rather than effects-based stuntwork, and have Lalo Schifrin’s iconic score stuck in your head. It’s a great bit of writing and filmmaking, which also manages to match anything that Furious 7 had to offer in terms of tension and energetic silliness. Even more impressively, Rogue Nation manages to maintain the level for a good while longer, with a great twist and a couple of interesting new characters following in quick succession. For the first hour or so, I was enraptured

Unfortunately, Rogue Nation is unable to maintain those standards all the way through. The twists become convolutions, the fantastic practical stunt work is undermined by one particularly ludicrous piece of car-backflipping, and the pace slows to a crawl. Despite not being an especially long film, the latter stages make it feel long, and desperately in need of having twenty minutes and at least one plot twist shorn from the running time

Despite that, the goodwill built up during the first half is enough to carry things over the line. It helps that it’s comfortably the funniest film of the Mission: Impossible canon – well, with the possible exception of John Woo’s M:I2, but it’s intentional this time. The patter between Cruise and Pegg approaches buddy cop territory at times, and even Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames get in on the action with a nice line in old married couple-style bickering. Moreover, Christopher McQuarrie’s script is always ready to poke gentle fun at the very idea of Cruise as an action star – enemy henchmen tower over his 5′ 7″ frame at every opportunity, and there are at least a few sly digs at his advanced age in there somewhere. It’s a formula that worked well for McQuarrie’s Edge of Tomorrow last year, and it’s a hit again here

Like Edge of Tomorrow, another interesting aspect is the introduction of a strong female lead – like Emily Blunt before her, Rebecca Ferguson at times threatens to outshine Cruise completely. Her highly trained, undercover double-or-possibly-triple agent is the most interesting thing in the film, and has potential to be the most interesting thing in the next few films in the series. If McQuarrie stays on board, and perhaps learns how many endangered heads of state is too many endangered heads of state for one film, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a sixth and absolutely no reason I wouldn’t watch the heck out of it

Our Verdict: 7/10

Review – Inside Out

Stars: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind
Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Certificate: U
Running Time: 94 mins
Release Date: 24th July 2015

“Animation is a medium, not a genre” has long been the rallying cry of the Pixar executive. While awards ceremonies continue to lump animated films together as some kind of homogenous brightly-coloured mass that must be kept away from the serious films at all costs, Pixar’s message has been a simple and consistent one – they’re telling stories, the same as any other filmmaker, it just so happens that the stories are delivered by computer-animated toys/monsters/Scotsmen rather than your typical actors. It’s a simple and demonstrably true message which leads to marvellous results like Wall-E being voted as one of the top romantic films of all time, and long may it continue

There’s one slight problem with this approach, however. If I can’t just use the generic label of “animated film”, how the very hell am I supposed to classify Inside Out?

Inside Out defies categorisation. It has Pixar hallmarks running through it like a stick of rock, and is immediately recognisable as their work, while simultaneously being quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. On the surface it’s the story of Riley, an 11-year-old girl whose parents move her from an idyllic, ice hockey packed existence in Minnesota to San Francisco. Under the surface is where it gets interesting and unique – the entire story is told through the medium of the emotions in her head, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). Throughout her childhood Joy has been in control, resulting in a mind full of happy memories. The big city brings the other emotions to the fore, however, and an accident leaves Joy and Sadness far away from the emotional control room. Can they get back before acting with Anger in control does Riley serious harm?

So begins an astonishingly imaginative journey through the depths of Riley’s mind. Abstract concepts like ‘personality’ and ‘long-term memory’ are brought to life in ways that you would never have thought made sense until you see them in front of you on screen, at which point they just do. The whole film is an awe-inspiring visual spectacle, which takes something resembling Inceptions‘s dreamscapes and turns them into something bright, unique and sparkling with wit. I could write at length about my favourite bits, but in the interests of avoiding spoilers I won’t do that. Suffice it to say, the whole thing is brimming with ideas and brilliant in execution

Okay, let me have one spoiler – there’s a slightly obvious but still lovely visual representation of the Train of Thought, which is a literal train that meanders off in random directions. I was expecting there to be a similar representation of an Emotional Rollercoaster, but instead of seeing one up on screen we just get to experience it as an audience. I defy anyone with children of any age, or indeed a functioning heart of any kind, to not be moved by Inside Out. Pixar’s last truly great film, 2010’s Toy Story 3, combined wonderful storytelling and a much-loved cast of characters with the occasional emotional gut punch, but Inside Out goes even further than that. The leading characters are emotions personified. The leading human characters whose heads they inhabit feel the effects of those emotions. We as an audience connect with them on a level that seems profoundly silly when you catch yourself and realise that it’s just a bunch of cartoon characters and now you’re crying and the whole cinema would probably be staring at you if they weren’t too busy doing the same themselves

In case there’s still anyone out there who insists on lumping animated films together as a genre, consider this. Inside Out will be competing against the likes of Minions for all of it’s major awards, which will require those judging the categories to not so much compare apples and oranges as compare delicately-prepared organic apple-based ice cream with Sunny Delight. It couldn’t exist in any other form except animation, it couldn’t be anything other than a Pixar film, but that shouldn’t exclude it from comparison with the very best films of the year

Our Verdict: 9/10

Retro Review – Boyhood

Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater
Certificate: 15 (no obvious reason – occasional bad language and alcoholism)
Running Time: 165 mins
Release Date: 11th July 2014; out now on DVD and Blu-ray; currently available on Sky Movies On Demand

It’s taken me a year to get around to watching Boyhood. That seems unreasonably slow on the face of things, but compared to how long it took Richard Linklater to make it it’s practically supersonic. In those twelve relatively short months, Boyhood has racked up scores of awards and an almost unprecedented level of critical acclaim, but I’m sure that what it’s really been pining for is the official MovieBag seal of approval. Well, here it is

Fans of Linklater’s Before trilogy will feel right at home with Boyhood, as it treads similar stylistic ground. There will be lots of conversations, there will be emotions, there will be Ethan Hawke with varying degrees of facial hair. Instead of a slightly pretentious couple, however, we’re focussing on a family – six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane), older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, real-life daughter of the director) and their mother (Oscar winner Patricia Arquette). The storyline is of little consequence – boy grows up, things happen – but the way the film has been made is something completely unique. The boy and his family age twelve years over the course of the film, as we watch Coltrane’s actual real-life transition from floppy-fringed child to hipster-moustached high school graduate unfold before our very eyes

It’s a dazzling unique selling point which goes way beyond a mere gimmick and becomes intrinsically linked to the film’s very DNA. The 165 minute running time sounds like a lot, but in order to accommodate twelve whole years it fairly whips by. There’s no time for exposition or any such clunky devices, instead the audience is trusted to infer the passage of time from cultural landmarks and the sorts of changes in appearance of the lead actors that you’d chalk up as a continuity error in any other film. A haircut, a newly-broken voice, a new relationship is all it takes to set the scene, and you never miss the “ONE YEAR LATER…” prompts that lesser films would splash on the screen at every opportunity. Arquette works her way through three husbands with barely a minute spent on courtship or actual weddings, yet there’s never any difficulty keeping track of what’s happening. It’s an incredibly skilful piece of filmmaking which never crosses the line into “too clever for it’s own good” in the same way that primary Oscar rival Birdman all too often did

Some of the dialogue is sparkling, too – scenes on safe sex and work ethic should be required viewing for anyone who turns 15 and is officially old enough to watch the film. Speaking of which, the certification is a nonsense – that Ethan Hawke’s potty mouth, a joint and a touch of underage drinking gains it the same certificate as Unfriended‘s sleep-disturbing shocks or Kingsman‘s wearying violence doesn’t quite sit right

The only way to really find fault with Boyhood is to wilfully miss the point. Yes, it could be argued that not a lot happens. Mason’s life isn’t dramatically more eventful than the average childhood; Arquette’s might be, but it isn’t really given all that much screen time to prove it one way or the other. But for any other such complaint – not enough car chases, too few jokes, whatever – there are dozens of other films you could be watching to meet those needs. There is absolutely nothing else like Boyhood, and it’s more than possible that there never will be (though I’d highly recommend that the next entry in the Terminator franchise films it’s far future scenes by just sodding off for 20 years). It’s a unique, fascinating film which absolutely demands to be watched

Our Verdict: 10/10

Review – Song of the Sea

Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Lisa Hannigan
Director: Tomm Moore
Certificate: PG (occasional scariness, nothing too severe)
Running Time: 93 mins
Release Date: 10th July 2015

The big surprise of 2015’s Oscar nominations, and indeed one of the bigger surprises of any set of Oscar nominations, was the absence of The Lego Movie from the Animated Film category. What made it all the more surprising was the film seemingly chosen in it’s place, a tiny Irish production which spent it’s US opening weekend being screened in seven cinemas and being seen by an audience roughly one two-thousandth of the size of the Warner Bros. juggernaut. July 2015 finally sees Song of the Sea hit British screens, so at long last we can make a judgement on whether it deserved its place alongside Big Hero 6 and the like using actual opinions rather than mere numbers

And you know what? They might just have had a point all along

If you’ve ever watched a Studio Ghibli movie, you’ll be instantly at home with Song of the Sea. There’s a young brother and sister with big eyes, a unique, enchanting hand-drawn visual style, an absent parent, and a few magical creatures hovering in the background – at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching Ponyo with greyer skies. Though the influences are clear, the Irish scenery, music and mythology that Song of the Sea brings to the table gives it an atmosphere that is unmistakably it’s own

Lead protagonist Ben (David Rawle) thinks that his little sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) is nothing more than a mute annoyance who made his mother go away, but there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. It turns out that she is the last of the selkies, a mythical half-seal half-human whose song is the key to rescuing a whole race of fairies who have been turned to stone by an evil owl-witch. When written down like that it sounds a bit ridiculous, but it’s impossible not to be drawn into it when you’re actually watching the thing. The story is beautifully told, achieving the rare feat of making both of the young leads believable without being annoying, and sympathetic without layering on the emotions in too overpowering a manner. In addition, practically every frame would make a lovely desktop background or wall hanging, with driving Irish rain, twinkling magical lights and adorable smiling seals all being treated to the same level of lavish attention to detail and all looking absolutely stunning. It’s the cinematic equivalent of taking a cruise to see the Aurora Borealis. By contrast Minions, it’s current box office competitor for the family demographic, is the cinematic equivalent of a tour of the Haribo factory with a trio of hyperactive toddlers. Song of the Sea is so far ahead as a story, an experience, a thing to behold, that the two barely even warrant comparison

What it does warrant comparison with, as mentioned above, is Hayao Mayazaki’s peerless oeuvre. It’s less uneven than Spirited Away, less offputtingly weird than Ponyo, a good half hour shorter and less bloated than The Wind Rises – in short, it’s up there with the very best of them. Take your family to see this instead of the ubiquitous banana-hued gits, I implore you – you’ll enjoy it more, and it’ll save you a fortune in merchandise

Our Verdict: 8/10

Review – Terminator: Genisys

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, JK Simmons
Director: Alan Taylor
Certificate: 12A (action, explosions)
Running Time: 126 mins
Release Date: 2nd July 2015

James Cameron recently went on record to say that he considers Terminator: Genisys to be the true third film in the Terminator franchise. While he clearly meant that it followed on rather better from the two that he directed than the official third and fourth entries, the cynic in me and everyone else couldn’t help but assume that it would be more closely related to the two shit films in the series than the two good ones. Although Terminator 3 was underrated and had a great ending, it’s still a full 24 years since there was last a properly great entry in the franchise

Now, the time travel aspect of the series is going to make this plot summary a bit complicated, so bear with me. We kick off immediately before the events of the first Terminator film. That is to say, we’re in the far future, and Skynet is about to attempt a last desperate roll of the dice by sending a Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese (A Good Day to Die Hard‘s Jai Courtney) follows the computer-generated young Schwarzenegger through the portal, and we’re treated to a couple of entertaining scenes which pay a nice homage to the original. However it rapidly becomes clear that this is not the 1984 that we or Reese were expecting. This timeline’s Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) has been watched over by a Terminator since she was 9 years old – consequently she kicks some serious ass, and Arnold has an excuse for actually looking his age. Together, they need to figure out what needs to be done in this new timeline to stop Judgement Day from happening, and naturally fend off a new foe more dangerous than any they’ve faced before. “Before” being a pretty flexible term

The opening scenes actually allowed me to believe that maybe Cameron had a point after all. The alternate 1984 is more imaginative and playful than anything that Rise of the Machines or Salvation had to offer, and raises hopes that we might be in for an entertaining Back to the Future 2-style remix of what’s gone before. Unfortunately it’s not long before Genisys has run roughshod all over the franchise’s already-contradictory established rules about time travel in the interests of creating something considerably less interesting. A promising start rapidly gives way to just another conventional action blockbuster

Nothing that happens after the first half hour or so of Terminator: Genisys makes any sense beyond “because the film says so”. Whether it’s trampling a bit more on the extensively-trampled continuity of the film in the interests of creating a new antagonist, or having our heroes steal a school bus when multiple more practical vehicles are available just because somebody wanted a school bus chase action sequence, or having every line Schwarzenegger delivers sound like it was extensively workshopped to be as quotable as possible. Unfortunately it ends up sterile and unmemorable, just another sequel in just another franchise rather than the worthwhile exercise that it so easily could have been

It’s a shame, because there are some flashes of promise which deserved to be explored further. J.K. Simmons is criminally underused as a cop who sort of knows what’s going on with the Terminators – expanding his role, or better still having him play Earl Boen’s psychiatrist character from the first two films, could have made a big difference, but instead he’s sidelined after about 10 minutes onscreen. Similarly Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith deserved a bit more involvement than his insignificant bookending of the narrative. But more than anything, seeing the great opening squandered on something that ends up so hollow and generic is the biggest disappointment of all

Our Verdict: 5/10