Category Archives: New Releases

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

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

New in Cinemas – 31st July 2015

Pick of the Week

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (12A)

Why it’s our pick of the week: Entry number five in the strangely enduring 60s revival franchise, Rogue Nation seems sure to please anyone who enjoyed Ghost Protocol. There will be stints, there will be gadgets, there will be Tom Cruise sprinting. Oh, and some nonsense about a global “anti-IMF”, the rogue nation of the title, masquerading as a plot. It’s only really up against Terminator: Genisys in the vital race for Best Fifth Franchise Entry of the Year, so must be fancying it’s chances

Best of the Rest

Hot Pursuit (12A) Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara star in a critically-ridiculed interpretation of the buddy cop genre. If only I could accurately write “with hilarious consequences” here
The Cobbler (12A) Adam Sandler stars in a ridiculously over-literal take on the phrase “put yourself in their shoes”, thanks to the power of a magical heirloom. Not strictly a comedy, therefore automatically funnier than most of Sandler’s output
Beyond the Reach (12A) Michael Douglas stars as a big game hunter, hunting big game (obviously) in the Mojave desert. Probably not the best time to be releasing big game hunter-based films, to be honest
7 Cases (15) Miniscule-budget Brit drama starring Steven Berkoff as a man who puts a pair of bank robbers through Saw-style trials to get to their seven cases of loot. Also starring Sam Fox, for some reason
Drishyam (12A) Bollywood remake of the highest-grossing Malayam movie of all time, starring Ajay Devgn
Bangistan (12A) Indian comedy which describes itself as a “whip-smart satire of fundamentalism”, starring “a pair of blundering terrorists”. Solid. Gold.
Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder (PG) Thunderpants as written by a world-renowned Danish crime writer, if you can imagine that. Which you can’t

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

New in Cinemas – 24th July 2015

Pick of the Week

Inside Out (U)

Why it’s our pick of the week: It’s been five long years since Pixar last released a truly great film in Toy Story 3, but after a dud (Brave), an unnecessary sequel (Monsters University) and an unnecessary sequel to a dud (Cars 2) it looks like they’ve finally returned to form with Inside Out, an offbest tale of the emotions who live inside a young girl’s head. We’ll have a full review on Friday

Best of the Rest

Southpaw (15) Jake Gyllenhaal undergoes an astonishing physical transformation to play a boxer piecing his life back together after tragedy. The late James Horner delivers one of the last scores he composed before his death last month. A thousand Academy members prick up their ears and go “hmmm?”
Maggie (15) Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in an uncharacteristically low budget and non-action packed tale of a man transporting his infected daughter across a land ravaged by the outbreak of a zombie virus. Maggie took five weeks to film and cost just $5m to make, yet still managed to absolutely bomb at the US box office in May with a take of less than $200,000
Ruth and Alex (12A) Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman star as the titular couple in a drama about selling an apartment. Essential viewing for fans of the actors, or fans of films about selling apartments
Eden (15) A tale of sex, drug and rock ‘n’ roll set in the early 90s Paris club scene, but with rock ‘n’ roll replaced by the pulsing beats of helmeted electro pioneers Daft Punk
The Legend of Barney Thompson (15) Robert Carlyle marks his big-screen directorial debut with the tale of a Glasgow-based barber turned serial killer. Sounds ideal for those of us who thought Sweeney Todd had entirely too much singing
The Chosen (15) Low-budget horror which marks the feature film debut of Kian Lawley, who is apparently something of a Youtube sensation. Also starring the magnificently-named Wiley B. Oscar

Review – Ant-Man

Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Cory Stoll
Director: Peyton Reed
Certificate: 12A (some thoroughly unnecessary swearing)
Running Time: 117 mins
Release Date: 17th July 2015

Hey, remember when you could go and watch a film without having to do research first? When, unless there was a number in the title somewhere, you could pretty much guarantee that everything you needed to know about the film would be contained somewhere within the film itself? Where you could just sit back and enjoy what was going on in front of you without keeping on eye on the wider significance that the narrative has to some cinematic universe or another? Ant-Man does not remember those times, and cares not one jot about those who do

Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, a self-styled Robin Hood-type cat burglar who robs from the rich and, er, gets thrown in jail. Struggling to hold down the job he needs to maintain contact with his young daughter after his release, genius scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, brilliantly rendered to look like 80s Michael Douglas in the opening sequence but now his actual grey haired, goateed self) enlists his help to steal a dangerous military weapon based on his research. To do so, Lang must don Pym’s incredible shrinking suit and become… dramatic pause for effect… the Ant-Man

What follows is a bit of a mish-mash of genres and styles, perhaps representative of the film’s troubled, many-writing-credited genesis. It’s roughly equal parts Misson Impossible-style heist, generic superhero romp, special effects dry run for the inevitable Honey I Shrunk the Kids reboot, and winking self-awareness about how ridiculous the whole concept is. The inconsistency in tone is a real problem when this is supposed to be an origin story which establishes the character of a new superhero on the block; by the end of the film we’re none the wiser as to whether Lang is a roguish thief, committed family man, six-packed ass-kicker, or merely the exact same character that Rudd plays in all of his comedic roles. Age of Ultron earned it’s enjoyable scenes of easy banter between the leads by establishing all of their characters several films in advance, while Ant-Man just tries to skip straight ahead to that point without investing in the difficult bits like backstory, motivation, or anything that could really be considered consistent characterisation

For the first time in quite a few Marvel films, there’s a good deal of originality to the action sequences, with the size-shifting adding a new, if not always completely successful, dimension to the usual cavalcade of fistfights and explosions. It’s rather undermined by an unusually shoddy 3D job, though, with many scenes appearing completely flat and others shot in what could at best be described as afterthought-o-vision

Ant-Man‘s saving grace is the fact that we’ve been here before. The first Captain America and Thor films were similar exercises in meandering pointlessness, but served as the start of something eventually quite good – I’ll go out on a limb and say that, in terms of improvement over the original, The Winter Soldier is one of the better sequels ever made, and Ant-Man could easily go the same way when rolled up with an Avenger-stacked supporting cast and the broader tapestry of the connected universe. It’s just a shame that such improvement has to be built on such average foundations

Our Verdict: 5/10

New in Cinemas – 17th July 2014

Pick of the Week

Ant-Man (12A)

Why it’s our pick of the week: Marvel continue their quest to find out whether the phrase “you can have too much of a good thing” is true or not by hurling their umpteenth superhero property at the screen, at the same time allowing us to see whether the idea of a former sitcom actor portraying a wise-cracking, underpowered superhero is a guaranteed money spinner or just a Chris Pratt-shaped one-off. This time it’s the turn of Paul Rudd (Mike from Friends) to don the mask and coloured leather as the titular Ant-Man, whose power is the ability to shrink to the size of an ant. Honestly, being exactly the same as Spider-Man but with two fewer legs would probably be more useful and entertaining

Best of the Rest

Self/Less (12A) Intriguing sci-fi starring Ben Kingsley as a wealthy but cancer-stricken man who transfers his consciousness into the healthy body of Ryan Reynolds. General critical consensus seems to be that “intriguing” is a more accurate way of describing it than outright “good”
The Gallows (15) On the anniversary of a school play that was struck by tragedy, some standard horror clichés play out.
True Story (15) Jonah hill aims for a hat-trick of Oscar nominations in his third non-comedic role, after the success of Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street. Sadly, the reception for this drama – about a journalist who tracks down a criminal who has stolen his identity – has been closer to that of his previous collaboration with co-star James Franco, the limp This is the End