Saturday 31 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) returns in this animated sequel that stays very much within the parameters of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Oh, things are a bit different, but they're also just the same. And those little minions, so popular with the younger viewers, get plenty of fun moments en route to their own spin-off movie (due in 2015).

Gru has left his evil life behind, and is now a lot happier. He is a father to three adopted girls, and uses the lab and his staff to create a range of flavoured jellies (jams to us folk in the UK). His idyllic life is interrupted, however, when the Anti-Villain League ask him to help as they try to find a dangerous stolen substance. They have tracked its signal to a shopping mall, but need Gru to go in and find out just which one of their main suspects is the thief. Lucy (Kristen Wiig) is an agent able to offer assistance, and also quite an admirer of Gru.

With everyone returning to the main roles behind the scenes, this is clearly a project in capable hands. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, as well as writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, all know the characters well, and all know what worked from the first outing. Of course, for anyone who isn't as easily amused by those minions, that approach isn't without its shortcomings. But giving the little guys more screentime is clearly something that pleases the target demographic, and you can't blame the film-makers for wanting to keep that section of the audience happy.

Carell and Wiig are a lot of fun in the two main roles, Miranda Cosgrove provides amusement as Margo, the eldest of the girls who causes Gru some angst when she starts to take an interest in boys, and Steve Coogan and Ken Jeong also do well. But it's Benjamin Bratt who deserves a special mention. Taking over so late in the game, after original star Al Pacino had already spent so much time on the project that the animation was created to his dialogue, Bratt had to both create a fun character, Eduardo, and also match the speech movements already animated. That couldn't have been the easiest task, but you'd never guess from the final product. Bratt never seems like a replacement. He's fantastic in the role, and viewers should be glad that he was able to step in and "save the day", as it were.

If you liked Despicable Me then you'll like this sequel. Children will love it, and there's plenty for adults to enjoy. Be warned, however, that if you never warmed to those minions then you may want to give this a wide berth.


Shiny discs, cinema tickets, laptops and the other resources I use all cost money. So does my book, but it's really not that much money. And you might even enjoy it.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Friday 30 May 2014

Bonus Review: Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)

Live. Die. Repeat. That's the tagline for Edge Of Tomorrow, a film most easily described as Groundhog Day meets Saving Private Ryan, with the sentinels from The Matrix movies added to the mix. Tom Cruise is the leading man, sharing the screen with Emily Blunt, for the most part, and director Doug Liman is the man doing his best to ensure that viewers get plenty of bang for their buck.

Cruise plays Cage, the hero of the movie, but you wouldn't know that from the first scenes featuring his character. Because Cage is not a soldier. He's a Major, yes, but one who has always managed to avoid being involved in any major battle with an invading alien force that has been waging war against humans for the past five years. When Cage defies a request to lead troops into a final battle that his military superiors predict will lead to victory he is arrested, demoted, and thrown in with a squad of soldiers who are all making final preparations a day ahead of going into the battle. When tomorrow comes along, Cage can't even work his battle-suit properly. He has no idea how to turn off the safety. He dies pretty quickly. And then wakes up again, handcuffed and about to be bawled out by Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton). This happens again. And again. And again. It turns out that Cage has absorbed some power from the enemy, an ability to reset the day when he dies, but it's only a woman named Rita (Emily Blunt), a war hero who has, at one point, gone through exactly what Cage is experiencing. Can they use the power to change fate and win the war?

Based on source material by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (which goes by the better title "All You Need Is Kill" - the original title for the movie), Edge Of Tomorrow delivers everything that you expect from it. If you've seen the trailer then you won't be sold short. Many reviewers have already commented on the fact that this is the ultimate videogame movie and that's a good point. Cage has to learn with each journey, and whenever he's killed he ends up "respawning" back at the start, although viewers are saved the full journey on each occasion, joining the characters instead at every main junction to see how bad decisions are overturned, and how the main character develops his muscle memory on each attempt. The script, by Christopher McQuarrie, Jex Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, is sharp and witty throughout. You do get one or two scenes of exposition, of course, but they're perfectly done, brief and informative, before everyone gets back to battleground manoeuvres.

There will always be people who hate Tom Cruise, no matter what he does. Well, screw 'em is what I say. I've been a fan of the man for years, and he almost always delivers the goods when it comes to blockbuster fare of this type. This is another good performance. It's fun to see his character develop throughout the movie, especially in the first third, which makes it clear that he's not a soldier. He is, in fact, a bit of a useless coward. Cruise puts on his big grin, and isn't afraid (as he never has been) to twist it in a way that shows just how his character has managed to get to where he is without seeing combat. That grin brings a whole backstory that the writers don't need to make explicit. But when the grin disappears and the constant battling starts to reshape Cage into something he never thought he would be - a soldier - it becomes easy to root for him, and easy to believe in his transformation. Because Cruise makes it easy.

Nobody seems to hate Emily Blunt, and her performance here isn't likely to upset anyone. She's tough, likable, smart and naturally beautiful without ever being made into "the girl who needs saved" or any of that nonsense. Oh, there is added motivation for the character played by Cruise, but throughout most of the movie it is Blunt's character who plans and drives everything forward, reminding everyone who needs reminding that their lives are a small sacrifice if it means stopping the slaughter of the human race.

Elsewhere, Brendan Gleeson is enjoyable in his small role, Bill Paxton steals a couple of scenes as soon as he appears, and Noah Taylor is the scientist who provides some exposition. Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic and Charlotte Riley are the main soldiers who end up stuck with the rookie in their midst. The main thrust of the storyline demands that these characters stay on the sidelines during many sequences, but the script does a great job of making them identifiable enough for whenever they get to move back into focus.

Liman spins a number of plates here and makes it all seem pretty effortless. The action moments are as intense as they need to be, but never headache-inducing, the plotting and pacing are perfect, and the humour running through almost every scene helps to offset the darker elements of the film. Cruise can't just fall asleep every night and then wake up again. He has to be killed. Remember: Live. Die. Repeat.

There are one or two big plot holes (almost always inevitable with this kind of material), but if you're sitting thinking of them while the movie is unfolding then you're a tough viewer to please. I was, admittedly, ever so slightly disappointed by the final few minutes, but this is superior sci-fi action fare, and I don't see why anyone should write it off because of some very minor flaws. On the contrary, I encourage all sci-fi movie fans to check this one out as soon as possible. Ironically, after the first trip you may even want to watch it again.


Fans of the movie may want to check out the source material -

All of these movie reviews come from me watching a LOT of movies, of course, and that is why I keep reminding people that every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself). So please feel free to remember me whenever you're visiting Amazon.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Ani-MAY-tion Month: The Lord Of The Rings (1978)

As flawed as it is ambitious, animator Ralph Bakshi's attempt to make an epic movie from The Lord Of The Rings may have left viewers with a rough, unfinished product (it all ends rather abruptly after the battle at Helm's Deep), but it stands up as a damn fine take on the familiar material. In fact, knowing just how much screentime was allocated for the Peter Jackson movies, it becomes easier and easier to see how well done this animated effort really is.

For the benefit of anyone who somehow doesn't know the story, a small hobbit named Frodo Baggins (Christopher Guard) ends up going on a quest to destroy a very powerful ring that has been left in his possession. Helped by the wizard Gandalf (William Squire), Aragorn (John Hurt), some dwarves, and a few fellow hobbits, he journeys from his home in the serene Shire to the ominous Mount Doom, the one place where the ring can be destroyed.

J. R. R. Tolkien certainly didn't seem to have any movie adaptations in mind when he wrote his most famous work. It's a dense, at times uneven (yes, I said it), novel. The fact that the tale eventually became a hugely successful trilogy is a pleasant surprise, but the fact that this animated movie from the '70s comes so close to capturing the feel and scale of the story, while also including all of the major narrative strands and set-pieces, is nigh-on miraculous.

While Bakshi is the man who gets to put his name at the top of the list, major credit should go to writers Chris Conkling and Peter S. Beagle, the men responsible for condensing so much source material into a script that's entertaining and succinct, but not insubstantial.

John Hurt is, arguably, the biggest name in the cast, but everyone fits the role that's given to them. Anthony Daniels is also part of the group, playing Legolas, and Annette Crosbie and Andre Morell both give enjoyable vocal performances as, respectively, Galadriel and Elrond.

Despite it being unfinished and imperfect, the film still holds a strange allure which I think is due, in no small part, to the rotoscoping technique mixed with the traditional animation. I certainly still hold on to the childhood memories of fear that I felt when first seeing the dark ringwraiths (I didn't know what rotoscoping was at the time, of course, but I knew certain characters in the film seemed different from the others, with the ringwraiths being the most unsettling). Perhaps when watching the film nowadays I still view it with some nostalgia colouring my perception, but I like to think not. I like to think that it really IS a strange and glorious animated epic that reached for the moon and remains full of fallen stardust.


Thursday 29 May 2014

Bonus Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Here it is. The sequel to the superhero reboot that nobody felt was really needed. Marc Webb returns to direct, everyone gets to reprise their onscreen roles, and the new faces are all welcome additions. It may still lag behind the Raimi movies, but this is a step up from the film preceding it.

Things are about to get pretty stressful for your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man/Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield). He's worried about how his superhero duties may endanger the lovely Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), he still wants to find out more about his parents (played by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), and there's a new villain to deal with in the shape of crackling, supercharged Electro (Jamie Foxx). And when Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) comes back into town . . . . . . . . . . well, I think most fans of Spidey will know what's going to happen there.

Deftly stepping between light and dark moments, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels, at times, like a teen comedy riff on the character. From the opening sequence, showing a determined villain (Paul Giamatti), driving through town with a load of stolen plutonium while Spider-Man tries to stop him, to the very last scene of the film, Spider-Man seems completely at ease win his role, and sure that he'll win out. Thankfully, the movie throws enough at him to give him doubt, but it's fun to hang out with a superhero who doesn't spend the majority of the film as a tortured soul. Oh, he has his moments, but they don't taint the entire movie. This is a fun blockbuster, but one that ups the stakes just in time for a gripping third act.

The script, by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, is fine, I guess. Everything is sketched out well enough, and Garfield gets a lot of lines that provide laughs, but it's also very heavy-handed at times (although that's nothing new when it comes to Spider-Man movies). It's admirable that the film never feels rushed or overloaded, despite the extra villains in the mix, as well as the developed backstory for Peter's absent parents.

Webb clearly has a blast this time around, and that feeling is shared with the viewing audience. Swing around the town with Spidey, revel in some of the huge set-pieces that provide some great eye candy, and enjoy the fights that always seem to allow Spider-Man one or two of his usual smartass lines, no matter how beaten and out of breath he is. The CGI certainly dominates at times, especially in the second half, but it's all polished enough to make the excess a bit easier to accept.

The other element making things easier to accept is the great cast. Garfield and Stone are still fantastic in their roles, with the former especially good at doing the slightly mopey teen schtick without seeming too irritating. Sally Field is fine as Aunt May, and Scott and Davidtz are good to see in their small roles. But it's the villains that everyone gets excited for, and what a selection of good folk being bad this movie has for you. Foxx is great, both as the timid and "invisible" Max Dillon and then, later, as the powerful Electro. You really feel sorry for him, in both incarnations, before he decides to embrace his powers and make his mark. Dane DeHaan doesn't get as much sympathy, but he's no less enjoyable as Harry/Green Goblin. Anyone hoping to see much of Giamatti will be disappointed, as his role is little more than an extended cameo this time, but he still does well with the limited screentime. Colm Feore is easy to dislike, as a conniving member of the Oscorp team, Chris Cooper is Norman Osborn, the man responsible (directly and indirectly) for most of the events in the movie, Felicity Jones is sadly underused as Felicia, an assistant to Harry, and there's another Stan Lee cameo, although it's more groan-inducing than amusing in this instance.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks good, sounds good (top marks to Hans Zimmer for the score, especially anything accompanying the scenes featuring Dillon/Electro), and doesn't disappoint anyone looking for superior blockbuster entertainment. It also sets everything up for a mouth-watering next instalment without those building blocks feeling like too much of a distraction. It's not up there with the best of the recent superhero movies, because some of them have really raised the bar of late, but it's a fun time at the cinema and one that I look forward to picking up on shiny disc.


Ani-MAY-tion Month: Puss In Boots (2011)

Here it is. The spin-off movie for a character first introduced to viewers in the Shrek sequels. Puss In Boots is a character that I, and many others, enjoyed when he joined in with the other established characters and helped to mix things up a bit. He never, however, seemed like someone who needed his own movie. And Puss In Boots proves me right.

Part adventure romp, part "origin story", Puss In Boots puts Puss (Antonio Banderas) in the middle of an adventure with his former friend, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), and a talented, attractive thief named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). Will the adventure have a good outcome, allowing Humpty to finally forgive Puss for letting him take a great fall some years ago, or will old wounds be reopened as the trio attempt to get hold of the magic beans that will let them grow a giant beanstalk and grab themselves a golden goose?

Some movies just grab you and some don't. Puss In Boots fell into the latter category for me. So much of the movie has been done before, and done better, and it feels like a trip back to a drying well (although, good grief, there's a sequel planned at the time of writing, so I may be in the minority).

Banderas and Hayek both have rich, warm voices, suitable for their kitty cat characters, and there are no problems with the line delivery. Galifianakis isn't as enjoyable, but he does what's asked of him. The main problem seems to be that the script, mainly written by Tom Wheeler, just isn't good enough. None of the dialogue stands out, and most of the set-pieces suffer from a sense of overfamiliarity (e.g. another dance off, but, y'know, with cats instead of people).

Director Chris Miller doesn't do much to help, but I guess he doesn't have to. There's enough here to make the film passable entertainment, it's not as if I will say that it's a poor film, thanks to the decent animation, movie references, and the fun that comes from heroics being accomplished by such cute cats.

Basically, this is a movie that will probably keep the kids entertained even if it doesn't try to be half as good as it could be. Considering the amount of great family entertainment that has appeared in recent years, that's a great pity, and puts this low on any list of prioritised viewings.


Wednesday 28 May 2014

Bonus Review: Maleficent (2014)

Maleficent, for those who may have forgotten, is the main villain in Disney's Sleeping Beauty, a film that remains an undeniable high point amongst so many animated classics from the House Of Mouse. This film is all about her, and allows people to see a different side to the famous baddie. Apparently, the story that we all thought we knew didn't play out quite as we were told. Maleficent changes that, giving viewers the other side of events. It is to Sleeping Beauty as Wicked is to The Wizard Of Oz, to make the obvious analogy.

I don't want to give too much away, as there are a number of pleasant surprises here in the way that the plot unfolds, so all I will say in my summation of the storyline is that Maleficent is introduced as a happy, winged fairy (played by Isobelle Molloy) and then experiences something that turns her into the scary adult that cursed a princess named Aurora. The scary adult version of Maleficent is played by Angelina Jolie, and the Aurora who is due to suffer on her sixteenth birthday is played by Elle Fanning.

Let me start with the positives here, because I liked a lot of aspects of Maleficent. The first, and main, ace up its sleeve is Angelina Jolie in the lead role. There may be scenes in which her cheekbones are far too distracting (no, really, I'm serious, I thought they were going to rip through her skin at some points), but her performance is almost perfect throughout. She puts on a decent British accent, looks superb in the costume and make-up, and manages to move from scary to funny to sad as the scenes demand. I know, I know, that's a basic requirement for many actors, although you wouldn't always know it, but she really dances through all of the mood changes with ease. The rest of the cast also do good work, although Sharlto Copley is left to go overboard as the distraught king/father who becomes obsessed with destroying Maleficent before any harm comes to his daughter. Fanning is very likable, and Sam Riley is an absolute standout as Diaval, a crow transformed into a man. Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple are fine as fairies (although they are given far too many comedy moments that aren't really all that funny), and Brenton Thwaites is perfectly acceptable as the bland Prince Charming type, Prince Phillip, to be exact.

The production values, and the design of the world shown onscreen, are also excellent. There are often an over-abundance of FX shots in each sequence, but they're pretty gorgeous. This is eye candy, and it's eye candy that many will find most satisfying when things move from the sweetness and light of the opening scenes to the darker visual style of the next hour.

Unfortunately, that's about all I have in the way of compliments.

Director Robert Stromberg, enjoying his first time in the big chair, fumbles things from the very beginning. I have little doubt that many decisions were dictated to him, and I should have expected a final product like this from Disney (damn my eyes for letting the trailer deceive me), but the bright, colourful moments don't feel as if they belong in this movie. When things darken, however, they don't go dark enough. This isn't a twist on familiar material. This is an entire rewrite to make everything sweeter, which makes the movie lazy and clumsy when it should have been interesting and much more impressive.

Thankfully for Stromberg, he can quickly point a finger at screenwriter Linda Woolverton, because this is one stinker of a script. Oh, there are some great lines here and there, mostly made great thanks to the delivery by Jolie, but it's 95% awful, made worse by the fact that it's clearly meant to be clever and fun throughout. The voiceover narration, by Janet McTeer, is especially bad, often relating information that could have been shown onscreen. In fact, it's occasionally describing exactly what IS being shown onscreen. At the start of the movie I thought it was irritating, but acceptable, as a shorthand way to throw viewers into the world. But I soon wanted McTeer to just shut up, which she doesn't (okay, she does, but the narration keeps cropping up at various points throughout the movie).

This is a film made enjoyable by the sheer force of Jolie's adopted personality in the main role, and even she can't always do enough to improve the lines that she's given. That would take real magic, and there's none of that here.


Enjoy Maleficent's original appearance when this is released in the UK in a few days -

I WILL keep reminding people that every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself). So please feel free to remember me whenever you're visiting Amazon.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Ani-MAY-tion Month: Persepolis (2007)

Perspolis is a perfect mix of thought-provoking content and cinematic entertainment. Showing the life Marjane (Chiara Mastroianni), who we see develop from a little girl into a strong and confident woman processing the turbulent, repressive and often horror-filled world around her. Marjane, you see, grew up in Iran and witnessed the Islamic Revolution and great change. Unfortunately, that change wasn't all for the better, although it may have seemed that way at the time.

Depicted mostly in black and white throughout, Persepolis manages to effectively show a number of horrors without ever being too explicit, but also without coating everything in sugar and honey. It really gives viewers a good general idea of how people live under the shadow of an oppressive regime by showing how Marjane at first explores her environment with childish curiosity, and then eventually rebels against much of it with a strength developed over the years.

Writer-directors Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi (with the latter translating her autobiographical graphic novel) do fantastic work. The animation is stylised, yet all of the main characters feel like very real, well-rounded human beings, which is so vital when showing how people have been held down, and often dehumanised, in the context of the movie.

Mastroianni is very good as Marjane, while her real-life mother Catherine Deneuve does a great job in the role of her onscreen mother. Simon Abkarian is Marjane's father, but Danielle Darrieux steals a number of scenes (or, at least, her animated character does) as Marjane's grandmother, the savvy matriarch of the family who proudly watches her granddaughter find her voice when it's most needed.

I was very pleased that I'd finally given Persepolis a watch as the end credits rolled. I'd been made to think about many freedoms we take for granted, I felt as if I'd learnt a little bit more about some quite important world history, and I'd been hugely entertained by an animated woman steeling herself ready for a new stage in her life by singing "Eye Of The Tiger" enthusiastically, if amusingly out of tune. But I also know that there's more I should look into, that this is just one small part of events that shouldn't be forgotten. I will be hoping, at some point, to educate myself further on the central subject, and that's, arguably, where Persepolis succeeds most.


Bonus Review: Bad Neighbours (2014)

Bad Neighbours (or just Neighbors, as it was originally titled in America) is one of those all-too-common cinema releases, a comedy that packs all of the best bits into the trailer. And, as is also all-too-common, it's all the more frustrating because it had the potential to be so much better.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly Radner, a pair of adults who are trying to hang on to their youth and spontaneity. Viewers know this from the very first scene, which shows the couple trying to have some fun, spicy sex while the blissfully ignorant gaze of their baby daughter proves to be too off-putting. Perhaps the two will just have to accept that their adults now, with all of the responsibilities that entails. In fact, they have to act like real adults when the house next door to them is turned into a fraternity house (led by Zac Efron, as Teddy, and Dave Franco, as Pete). Mac and Kelly initially try to be cool, and even join the youngsters at their first big party, but it's not long until they realise that they have to do whatever it takes to ensure that the parties don't carry on. Teddy and Pete, of course, will do whatever it takes to keep the music loud and the alcohol flowing, and so begins a battle of wills.

Director Nicholas Stoller makes Bad Neighbours very much a party movie. There are loud tunes, neon-infused moments of drunken dizziness, and scenes that focus on general shenanigans. "Isn't this fun?" it seems to say. But those moments jar when the tone shifts, when it becomes clear that it's not as fun as it looks, when it's all about people partying or fighting because they don't know what else to do to reassure themselves of their position in life.

The blame lies squarely with writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, who just don't seem to be able to navigate the territory that they themselves laid out. Being unsure about how to mix the laughs with the darker moments wouldn't be so bad if the laughs were funny enough, but they're not. Instead, we get a lot of typical Rogen lines from Rogen, and lots of juvenile gags about penises. I like Rogen, but his character in this movie really needed to be more removed from his usual persona, and it isn't.

When it comes to his performance, Rogen is fine. If you like Rogen (which I do). Rose Byrne is also fine, although she's not treated as well by the script. Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo create some laughs as their friends, a couple now separated from one another, which makes for some obvious friction when they have to be in the same space. Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Halston Sage, and Craig Roberts also do just fine in their range of roles; a well-endowed frat member, the girlfriend of Teddy, and a poor, bullied lad nicknamed Assjuice. The worst person onscreen here is Zac Efron, which shows how badly his character is written.

I like Zac Efron, I really do. In fact, if it was anyone else in the role that he has in this movie then the whole film would rate even lower. He manages to improve things slightly thanks to his charisma and, well, sheer force of will. But this role may be the worst that he's ever been handed in his career, so far. He's the antagonist, but he's also given too little depth too late in the proceedings as the writers try to layer the whole film with some meaning that isn't required. This is a film in which the funniest moments include the misappropriation of airbags. Okay, comedies can be layered with drama, but when things are shoehorned in as clumsily as they are here . . . . . . . . it just doesn't work out.

I wanted to enjoy this movie. I'm often a sucker when it comes to any cinema experience. Despite my years of experience, and disappointment, I still watch a well-edited trailer and think "yes, can't wait to see that". And, as many people know, I am easily pleased. It would have only taken one BIG laugh, or a better balancing act between the comedy and the slightly darker undercurrent, and I would have at least thought of this as a worthwhile way to pass some time. Sadly, that wasn't the case.


Tuesday 27 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: The Princess And The Frog (2009)

Loosely based on a story by E.D. Baker, The Princess And The Frog is, for me, one of the most unjustly dismissed Disney movies from the past few decades. I think that's all to do with the soundtrack. I enjoy the songs when they're on, but I must admit that I can't recall a single one as soon as the last note is played.

The story, set in New Orleans, concerns Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), who has been turned into a frog by the deceptive Dr. Facilier (Keith David). He needs to be kissed, of course, in order to turn back into his human self. Unfortunately, when he convinces a young woman named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) to kiss him the end result isn't what either envisaged. Tiana also becomes a frog, Which means that the two have to hop off together in search of a remedy. On their travels they are joined by Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), a trumpet-playing alligator, and a firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings).

Written by Ron Clements and John Musker, with help from Rob Edwards and quite a few others, The Princess And The Frog is a very traditional Disney movie in terms of the overall style and feeling throughout. There aren't really any/too many sly gags for adults, the focus is on the characters and flavour of the setting. That's no problem, however, when New Orleans provides such a wonderful backdrop to the events, and when the characters are such enjoyable company.

Keith David stands out as Dr. Facilier, but that may be a little unfair - the villain is, after all, often the most fun part to play. Campos and Rose are both absolutely fine in the lead roles, with the former going through the usual Disney journey of self-discovery while the latter helps to point him in the right direction. Peter Bartlett is also very good as the conniving Lawrence, the valet to the prince who works with Dr. Facilier to keep his former master in froggy form. Wooley and Cummings are both a lot of fun, and the supporting cast includes fine work from John Goodman (always so good in voice roles, I find), Oprah Winfrey, Jenifer Lewis, Jennifer Cody, and Terrence Howard.

With its beautiful animation, memorable characters, and the usual selection of moral lessons this has almost everything required from a Disney movie. It's just a shame about those songs. But I hope that anyone who has seen the movie, and subsequently forgotten how good it was, revisits (and possibly reappraises) it, and I hope that anyone previously dismissing it as lesser fare ends up giving it a chance. There may well be some people who end up enjoying it as much as I do.


Monday 26 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (2013)

I really enjoyed Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. Really REALLY enjoyed it. So I don't know why I assumed the sequel was just some rushed cash-in, without any of the same people in the main voice roles. It's not. In fact, this is a sequel on a par with the first movie. It's consistently cute from start to finish, but manages to undercut that cuteness with sharp humour, amusing puns (okay, I found some of them hilarious), and bright, imaginative sequences throughout.

Leading directly on from the events of the first movie, the residents of Swallow Falls are invited to move elsewhere while their island and town are cleaned up. Inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is given the chance of a lifetime, when he's offered a job at LIVE Corp, the company ruled over by his hero, Chester V (Will Forte). But Chester V has a secret agenda, and only wants Flint nearby to keep an eye on him. The machine that caused so much trouble in the first movie hasn't shut down. It is, in fact, now helping to create a variety of food-based lifeforms. Flint is asked to go back to the island to help fix the situation, and his friends won't let him go back alone.

Just like the first movie, every aspect of this film just feels right. That's not to say that it's a perfect film, oh no, but it IS a load of fun from start to finish, full of creativity and jokes that should make you laugh out loud (well, they made ME laugh out loud). Hader and Forte are both very good in their roles, but they're helped out by a supporting cast that includes Anna Faris, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, James Caan, Terry Crews (voicing the character originally voiced by Mr. T in the first film), and Kristen Schaal.

Directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn have a lot of fun working from the script by Erica Rivinoja, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein. They have so much fun, in fact, that it fills up almost every frame, guaranteeing that viewers of all ages will keep smiling throughout.

Anyone who hates some quality punning may be a bit put out, but I distrust anyone who hates some quality punning anyway. Everyone else is pretty much guaranteed a great time. If you liked the first movie as much as I did then you'll also like this. It's smart, it's silly, it's highly rewatchable. Get to it ASAP if you have good taste (taste, see, because of all the food content in the movie - see? See?).*


*Yeah, sorry about that.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: The Triplets Of Belleville AKA Belleville Rendezvous (2003)

Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, The Triplets Of Belleville doesn't have any names familiar to me in the vocal cast, doesn't have a high concept at its heart, and doesn't have built-in fanbase that it's aimed at. What it does have is inventiveness, humour and a lot of heart.

The story is all about Madame Souza and her grandson, Champion. From a very early age, Champion has loved riding his bike. Over the years, he keeps cycling and cycling, supported and trained by his grandmother. He's aiming for one thing, of course, and that is a shot in the Tour de France. Unfortunately, once competing in the race, Champion is kidnapped, along with some other cyclists, by some crooks who want to use them in a scheme that will make them a lot of money. Despite the odds against her, Madame Souza heads off in pursuit of the crooks, with her loyal dog, Bruno, by her side. She is determined to save her son, and soon finds some unlikely allies in the shape of the three singing ladies also known as the Triplets Of Belleville.

The Triplets Of Belleville is a beautiful piece of work, full of gorgeous details throughout and lots of fun stylistic choices (such as the broad-shouldered criminal henchmen, or the overdeveloped muscles that Champion uses when pedalling on his bike). A lot of the characters are caricatures, but they're either treated in an affectionate way or used perfectly in moments of comedy, showing just how much thought has gone into each design choice.

Although the movie is French through and through, with affection for the country shining through just as the affection for Edinburgh was front and centre in Chomet's The Illusionist, most of the story is told visually. There are noises, and a few lines of dialogue, and a wonderful score (by Benoit Charest), but you could watch the film with the sound off and still understand most of it. I wouldn't recommend that, of course, as you'd miss out on some gags and great moments, but it's possible.

Old ladies rarely get such prominent leading roles, especially in stories revolving around kidnapping and dangerous criminals, but thank goodness that Chomet created Madame Souza and the Triplets Of Belleville. The characters allow him to lace every scene with humour and quirkiness, completely twisting any "seen it all before" moments into something witty and original.

Sylvain Chomet is a great talent, and The Triplets Of Belleville remains his best film. I'd encourage all animation fans to check it out whenever the chance arises.


I WILL keep reminding people that every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself). So please feel free to remember me whenever you're visiting Amazon.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: Heavy Metal (1981)

An interesting, quirky, sci-fi anthology movie, Heavy Metal, with its gratuitous nudity, wish fulfilment moments and title-appropriate soundtrack, is pretty much designed for teenage boys. That's not to say that it's a bad film, but it does seem to fill many sequences by going for easy options and rather juvenile moments.

The stories in this movie are all connected by a deadly, glowing orb. The orb has intelligence, and also the ability to voice its thoughts, and the framing device of the movie is the orb relating some cautionary tales to a scared young girl. The stories all tend to show how the orb affects those it comes into contact with, for better or for worse, and violence occurs frequently.

Mostly based on material from a long-running magazine of the same name, Heavy Metal is easy to enjoy, even if it's not so easy to love. The stories often have a nice, old-fashioned feel to them, they're all pulp pleasures taking place in different environments, and sometimes developing interesting mythologies in the limited time they have. Screenwriters Daniel Goldber and Len Blum have a great selection of stories to work with, including some written by the great Dan O'Bannon, and they manage to keep the tone consistent while hopping from one story to the next, mainly by populating the tales with a mix of robots, space travellers and topless women.

Director Gerald Potterton keeps everything moving along nicely, helped by a voice cast that unexpectedly includes John Candy, Eugene Levy, John Vernon and Harold Ramis, among others, and it never quite outstays its welcome (running at just under 90 minutes), although it comes close during the last section.

And then there's the soundtrack, which caused the film to be unavailable for a number of years due to problems with the music licensing, apparently. The bands/artists getting to invade your ears include the following: Blue Oyster Cult, Stevie Nicks, Journey, Cheap Trick, Nazareth, Black Sabbath, and more. Okay, none of the songs will appear on any greatest hits album, but they're an extra part of the appeal to the target demographic.

It's not a great film, and the love that some people have for it surprises me, but it's enjoyable enough. And has plenty of those robots, space travellers, and topless women to keep me happy. Which may just be yet another sign of my struggle to keep wearing the disguise of a mature adult.


Friday 23 May 2014

Bonus Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Most people will already know whether or not they're going to like Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. It reteams writer-director Adam McKay with writer-star Will Ferrell, it brings back all of the main cast member, and it fills the screen with many gags riffing on material from the first movie.

Ferrell is Ron Burgundy, of course, and this movie sees him at another crossroads in his life. He's having relationship problems with Veronica (Christina Applegate) and he's not the success he once was, but Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) comes along at just the right time to make him an interesting offer. 24 hour news. The idea seems ridiculous, but when Ron is allowed to get his old team back together he sees no reason not to at least give it a go. Which allows viewers to spend more time with Ron, Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), and Champ Kind (David Koechner).

I was hoping to love this sequel, and perhaps one day I will. But not today. It has some decent gags here and there, but too many moments feel either overdone and stretched out, with the film coming in at just under two hours, or far too reliant on replaying jokes from the first movie, with minor variations.

I must say, however, that when I first saw the first Anchorman movie I wasn't impressed. I didn't see what all the fuss was about. And then I ended up watching it almost every day for a fortnight, eventually coming to the conclusion that it was the funniest movie of the year. I'm not sure if the same thing will happen here, but I will allow for the fact that this may well grow on me.

As well as Dylan Baker, Meagan Good is a new addition to the sprawling ensemble, adding some more discomfort for Burgundy by being both a woman and black. Yes, you can imagine some of the awkwardness that ensues, but Good matches everyone in the cast with her fun, fiery turn. James Marsden gives yet another great performance in an increasingly long line of great performances (seriously, the guy is turning into quite the scene-stealer) as Burgundy's main rival in the studio, Greg Kinnear gets a few good moments as Burgundy's main rival elsewhere, and Kirsten Wiig bumps up the laugh quota as a female counterpart to Brick Tamland. Fans will also be happy to hear that there's another cameo-filled fight scene to liven up the third act.

McKay and Ferrell seems to bring out both the worst and the best in one another. They have some great ideas, and great running gags, but the self-indulgence on display sometimes outweighs the thin material, and an excessive runtime really doesn't help.

Of course, those who enjoy the whole thing more than I did will welcome every extra minute.

Those who want to stay classy for much longer will do well to pick up Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues on Bluray, which also contains the alternate version of the movie (complete with 763 new jokes, according to the advertising) and more extras than you can shake a glass of scotchy scotch scotch at.


Ani-MAY-tion Month: Meet The Robinsons (2007)

Based on the book "A Day With Wilbur Robinson", Meet The Robinsons is a film full of fun moments and some time-travel shenanigans, but it never feels like a completely satisfying movie. Seven people worked on the screenplay, including director Stephen J. Anderson, and it's a shame that not one of them could do enough to lift the thing from good to great.

Wilbur is a young orphan, seemingly destined to remain at the orphanage forever. None of the prospective parents who come to see him end up taking him home. He doesn't always help himself in that regard, thanks to a penchant for creating inventions that don't always work as they should, but he's a sweet kid desperate to feel wanted. Which is why he puts all of his energies into inventing a machine that will show any memories hidden away deep inside the human mind. He wants to see the face of his mother, who dropped him off at the orphanage years ago. Unfortunately, his invention gets the attention of the evil Bowler Hat Guy, which leads to a young lad named Lewis trying to help Wilbur out by taking him away for a while in his time machine. But time travel is only a good thing when people stick to the rules. It also helps if people don't crash the time machine. While Wilbur and Lewis try to put things right, the Bowler Hat Guy senses victory coming his way.

Mixing kid-friendly science fiction with some quirky humour and a nice retro style, there are lots of elements here to enjoy. The third act, that brings about a few revelations and ties everything together nicely, it very good. The sweeter moments of the opening scenes are also very good. But this is a film that spends its middle section just wandering aimlessly around between pointless scenes and too many redundant characters. Okay, they're not redundant in the grand scheme of things, but the Robinsons are a large family with only one or two individuals who really stand out.

The vocal cast isn't a big help. Although everyone does a good enough job, it's a shame to have Angela Bassett, Laurie Metcalf and Harland Williams wasted in supporting roles. The latter has the most fun, and there are also small roles for Adam West and Tom Selleck, but there's never enough good voice work to shake the feeling that the whole enterprise is quite bland and anonymous.

Danny Elfman provides a decent score, which is as Elfman-esque as his usual work, and there's one great gag spoken by a dinosaur (well, he makes noises and it's translated - but you have to turn on the DVD subtitle option to read it), but that's about all I have left to say. I've run out of praise to sprinkle throughout this review.

Ultimately a bit of a disappointment, Meet The Robinsons is still passable entertainment. But it should have been much better.


Thursday 22 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: Mad Monster Party? (1967)

I won't beat around the bush, I love Mad Monster Party? despite knowing how flawed it is. The pacing isn't perfect, the jokes are a bit lame, the songs aren't exactly classics, and the story keeps throwing up ridiculous moment after ridiculous moment. Yet I still love it.

Baron Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) is throwing a party. He's due to retire, and so invites lots of famous monsters to his home on The Isle Of Evil, where he will also choose his successor. The guest list includes Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), the invisible man, an aquatic creature (probably from a black lagoon), and . . . . . . . Felix Flankin, the Baron's nephew. Also in attendance are The Monster, of course, The Monster's Mate, and the lovely Francesca. And Yetch, an assistant to the Baron who is quite smitten with Francesca.

It may not be a Christmas-themed work, for a change, but this is unmistakably another wonderful Rankin/Bass production, with the usual cast of colourful characters, lovely visual details and musical interludes. Looking at it objectively, it's a couple of notches below their best work, but what horror fan can be objective when a stop-motion feature brings together such classic archetypes? And let's not forget the zombie bird men, and a gigantic ape that also makes an appearance.

The script by Len Korobkin and Harvey Kurtzman (with some uncredited help from Forrest J Ackerman, apparently) alternates between awful and great. Again, I just don't mind. Even when it's being pretty bad, in terms of dialogue and obvious gags, it's trying so hard to please that I give in to it.

The vocal cast isn't exactly a who's who of celebrities from the time, but the inclusion of Karloff is the biggest plus. Allen Swift is the man responsible for most of the other voices, and does great work in every role, while Gale Garnett gets to wind the men around her little finger in the role of Francesca. Phyllis Diller has fun as The Monster's Mate, but she's given a never-ending stream of bad jokes/puns to deliver.

The film is akin to one extra-large Halloween cracker, and crackers are always put out on the table when a party atmosphere is being created. The jokes in crackers are usually awful, the toys/gifts are rarely much better, and there are often times when you pull them apart and don't even get a satisfying bang (now, now, stop making up your own jokes). Yet that doesn't make them, or the party, any less enjoyable. The same can be said of Mad Monster Party?


Wednesday 21 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: A Scanner Darkly (2006)

There have been many movies adapted from the works of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, and a number of those movies have been fantastic (yes, I'm thinking mainly of Total Recall and Blade Runner). Most of the movie adaptations, however, have failed to translate some of his more interesting ideas from page to screen. Screamers may have had some identity crises and paranoia in the mix, but it still didn't delve deep enough into the territory that Dick returned to on numerous occasions.

Keanu Reeves stars as Bob Arctor, an undercover operative who is fraying at the edges. He's supposed to be investigating sources of a drug named Substance D, but instead seems to spend too much time addicted to the damn thing and hanging out with fellow addicts, Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), as well as his sorta-girlfriend, Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Things get stranger for him when he is tasked with surveilling . . . . . . . himself, although the superiors assigning him to keep a closer eye on Bob Arctor don't know that he actually IS Bob Arctor (all agents work in disguise as an added safety measure).

Directed, and adapted into movie form, by Richard Linklater, A Scanner Darkly is a strange, smart, and unique experience. The plot may wind towards a bleak third act, but there's plenty of humour in the first hour or so, and the characters/cast all do well at holding your attention while often talking about things that seem meaningless. Although "seem" is the key word there.

Everyone involved gives a great performance, with Downey Jr. on top form, but, because of the rotoscoping technique used, praise must also go to the animators who worked on the film. Yes, all of the stars are pretty recognisable, but they're all slightly hidden under a layer of animation. This may seem like an odd choice, but makes perfect sense when you see Arctor working in his scramble suit - a suit that constantly changes to make identification of the wearer impossible. It also helps with the overall tone of the movie, and the more hallucinatory aspects.

Science fiction that treads scarily close to science fact, A Scanner Darkly isn't guaranteed to please everyone (I know, I know, no movie does that, but you know what I mean). I hope, however, that people at least give it a try and help to build its small, but loyal, fanbase.


Don't forget, every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself).

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Bonus Review: Godzilla (2014)

Let me start this review by reminding people that I was in the minority when it came to Monsters, the cinematic feature debut of Mr. Gareth Edwards. I thought that the film was good, but not great. Edwards had the potential to do much better, I thought. When the news came that he’d been handed Godzilla, I was as excited as anyone else. And as the hype machine started to gather speed I was definitely eager to be wowed by this movie. I paid extra for IMAX tickets, I picked the best seats available, and I slipped on the 3D glasses.

And two hours later I walked out of the cinema with a feeling of disappointment.

What’s the plot? Well, after a fantastic credit sequence, we get to see Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) trying to figure out what to do about tremors that he fears may cause problems for the Japanese nuclear power station he works at. Those tremors do cause problems. Major problems. Fast forward by fifteen years and Joe is still obsessing over just what happened. The area is, apparently, dangerously radioactive, but Joe thinks that something is being covered up. When he’s arrested for trespassing, while trying to access his own home (abandoned in the middle of the disaster, it has some of his work/research that he desperately needs), it’s up to his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), to travel to Japan, pick him up and try to keep him out of further trouble. Ford had just started to enjoy some leave time from the military, settling down with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde), but picking up his dad will soon be the least of his worries. It’s not long until a MUTO – Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism – shows up and starts to make a mess, to put it mildly. And then, well, it’s only a matter of time until the titular creature makes an appearance.

Godzilla is not a BAD film, and many fans of the big guy have expressed their absolute delight with the final product, but it’s a film that highlights just how small the bag of tricks is that director Edwards is working with. Most of the movie can be summed up in this way – camera looks at character, character looks awestruck, camera then moves to reveal part of whatever is inspiring reaction. Seriously, remove every shot just like that and you could probably shave ten minutes off the runtime. Some have complained about the slow build, but that really didn’t bother me. Patience is a virtue, and it’s fair enough to make people wait and wait for the main event. It’s a shame, however, that an early trick/gag of cutting away from some monstrous action is then repeated on so many occasions that you start to suspect that the whole thing is one big leg-pull. The big third act was interrupted a few times, each time cutting away to scenes that seemed painfully boring compared to what viewers knew they were missing out on.

It’s also a shame that everything felt as if it was taking place in a large studio lot, as opposed to a city full of people. I know that evacuation measures were put into place, but I find it hard to believe that the location of the final battle would be cleared out so quickly. The end result is something that feels impressive, but also feels as if it is taking place in a vacuum. This is a failing highlighted by just how potentially great the mid-point sequence in Hawaii is, but that set-piece is one of those just used to tease the audience on the way to the grand finale.

The acting from everyone concerned is just fine for the film. I thought Taylor-Johnson was decent enough as the rather bland military man who ends up stuck in the middle of a monster mash, Cranston is the human highlight of the cast, but isn’t around for long enough, and Olsen has to look concerned a lot of the time, which she does. Ken Watanabe gets a few choice lines, he’s a man who knows what Godzilla is and how he should be respected, while Sally Hawkins hangs around beside him and isn’t given all that much to do at all. And then there’s David Strathairn, who does well as the Admiral trying to save as many lives as possible. While nobody, Cranston aside, is on their best form, complaining about the acting in a Godzilla movie is like complaining about there not being enough sex and violence in a Pixar film. The two don’t really go together, so just sit back and enjoy it for what it is.

The other main stars are pretty superb, it must be said, with Godzilla looking the best that he’s ever looked. He may be a CG creation, but he feels real, he has weight, and his appearance mixes new touches with the established, classic template. Similiar praise can be heaped upon any other creatures onscreen, although it’s a shame that the main MUTO feels a bit too much like a blend between the creature from Cloverfield and Super 8.

The script by Max Borenstein is okay, bringing a seriousness back to the franchise that was missing in the much-maligned 1998 movie (a film which most like to dismiss, but I enjoyed). But giving the movie a serious tone and forgetting to include ANY sense of fun are two very different things. Aside from one cheeky gag – a big showdown being played on a news report – the film is a pretty po-faced and humourless affair. Thankfully, it does include plenty to appease fans, and at least consistently tries to deliver spectacle on a grand scale.

Last, but by no means least, I have to mention the superb audio work. The score, by Alexandre Desplat, is almost flawless throughout, and I’ll happily admit that there have been few sounds to impress me in the cinema half as much as hearing that mighty Godzilla roar.

Even if you end up as disappointed as I was, this is a film to see on the big screen, accompanied by a superior sound system. Although it falls down on a number of main points, there are also still many great moments in the movie. Edwards has done what he set out to do. Put Godzilla back on the big screen, atomic breath and all, in a movie that gives him the respect he deserves. Maybe next time he’ll also respect the audience a little bit more.


While waiting for the Bluray further down the line, quench your kaiju thirst with this collection -

Ani-MAY-tion Month: The Plague Dogs (1982)

I knew this was going to be a tough film to watch. It was from the makers of Watership Down (which I still haven't seen . . . . . . yet), and it was a movie that left an impression on most who saw it. Well, from the very first scene, it soon became apparent that this IS a tough film to watch. Very, very tough.

Not recommended for animal lovers or very young children, The Plague Dogs is a dark adventure story about two dogs who escape from a research lab. Both have endured numerous horrors, all in the name of science, at the hands of "the white coats" and neither dog wants to end up back in that situation. Ever. Not really sure of what to do out in the wild, the two escapees end up receiving guidance from a canny fox. Meanwhile, a search is organised and it looks like time is running out for the furry fugitives.

Based on the novel by Richard Adams, The Plague Dogs was adapted into movie form and directed by Martin Rosen, and the man doesn't pull any punches. It's hard to imagine people thinking of this being pitched to younger viewers, but it's also admirable that the subject matter has been dealt with in a way that will cause all viewers to be upset by what they see, and to consider just how animals are inconsiderately, and sometimes cruelly, treated.

The animals are easy to sympathise with, and easy to root for, without being transformed into anthropomorphic Disney creations. Voiced by John Hurt and Christopher Benjamin, both of the dogs are likable without ever being made cute. The bigger dog, especially, has moments in which it snaps at humans, but with good reason. Anybody/anything would react in the same way after such maltreatment. The fox (voiced by James Bolam) is a bit harder to warm to, seemingly sneaky and selfish on occasion, but as the movie develops it becomes easier to understand him, and to realise that he's just acting according to his nature.

Parents will want to vet this one, no pun intended, before deciding whether or not to let youngsters watch it, but I hope that most people realise how good, how worthwhile, it is. It's the kind of family film that we don't really see any more in the timid, sanitized products that tend to rule the box office nowadays (with one or two exceptions). I encourage families to watch the film together, to deal with the emotional turbulence, and to then discuss it after the end credits roll.


Monday 19 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: Robots (2005)

Shiny, bright, easy entertainment, Robots is enjoyable enough, despite the fact that it's a couple of notches below any of the better animated movies of the last decade. It's lovely to look at, with design work that holds up well alongside any other title from the decade, but just doesn't have much else going for it.

Ewan McGregor voices Rodney Copperbottom, a robot who dreams of being a great inventor. He decides to head off on a quest to impress the mighty Bigweld (Mel Brooks), the big cheese in Robot City. Unfortunately, Bigweld is no longer in charge of his own company, which is now being managed by the greedy, devious Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). Rodney still wants to meet Bigweld, and his persistence might just lead to an upturn in the fortunes of the poorer residents of Robot City (including Fender, voiced by Robin Williams).

Co-directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, there's a wealth of detail and gorgeousness in every scene here. The same can't be said of the script, written by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and David Lindsay-Abaire. It's not exactly poor, but it just feels a bit flat. Even the lines rattled off by Robin Williams feel lacking in energy, especially compared to his far superior turn in Aladdin (over two decades old, but still one of the standout performances in any animated work).

While the vocal cast all do well, it's a shame that there aren't a few more easily identifiable voices. Williams is obviously Williams, and Paul Giamatti is always welcome in any movie, but McGregor provides a bland, American accent, and Kinnear seems a bit tame in a role that you'd expect him to seize with his usual relish. Brooks, great director that he is, doesn't make much of an impression as Bigweld, while Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Stanley Tucci, Amanda Bynes, Dianne Wiest and the rest of the cast are in the same boat. They all do a perfectly good job at reading their lines, but they're left bereft of any real personality. Funnily enough, it's Jennifer Coolidge, in a supporting role, who ends up as one of the most memorable robots, thanks to her fun character actually matching her usual onscreen persona.

Robots has all of the parts in place, all of the nuts and bolts are on, but it just put a decent motor into the gorgeous exterior. Aesthetically pleasing it may be, and a lot of the visual gags are very enjoyable, but the fact that it never fires on all cylinders (pardon the pun) means that it's unlikely to be anyone's first choice when browsing the family entertainment section.


Sunday 18 May 2014

Bonus Review: Blue Ruin (2013)

As slow burn thrillers go, this is one of the best I can think of in recent years. I could start to describe the different movies it hews close to, but that just might end up doing it a disservice. So I'll just say that it takes a lot of familiar beats from the revenge thriller subgenre and twists them ever so slightly, making things feel a lot fresher in the process.

Macon Blair is Dwight, a young, homeless man. He may seem to have no plan in life, and no ambition, but it soon becomes clear that there's one thing he wants, at any cost. Revenge. When a kind police officer takes him back to the station to break some bad news - the killer of his parents is finally being freed from prison - Dwight then sets about preparing for what he knows he must do. Unfortunately, it doesn't go quite as planned, which sets off a damaging sequence of events that Dwight is then desperate to stop.

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin is one of those movies best described as quietly powerful. Or, perhaps, brooding. Almost every scenes is loaded with the potential for danger and pain, either physical or emotional. But that's not all there is to it. There are some jumps here and there, some scenes that will get your heart racing, and a number of scenes that show just how good Saulnier is at using various cinematic techniques to wring more tension from the material.

The cast all do a great job, but the top honours go to Blair for his portrayal of Dwight. First shown with an unruly head of hair and big, shaggy beard, Dwight may physically transform as the movie unfolds but his behaviour never changes. He has always been determined to get his revenge, but he's also a timid man who doesn't really know what he's doing. Amy Hargreaves doesn't have much screentime, playing Dwight's sister, but she does well enough, Devin Ratray is enjoyable as an old friend who helps Dwight out, and Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb and David W. Thompson all do a good job as relatives of the man Dwight is aiming for.

Although I don't think it's QUITE as good as all of the praise it has been garnering over the past few weeks, Blue Ruin is still very good indeed. It's worth seeing, and it's worth going out of your way to see it at a local cinema, because supporting quality independent cinema means that we can get more and more of it. Which is good for us movie lovers.


Ani-MAY-tion Month: Toy Story (1995)

It's strange now to think of the many, many years before Pixar were such a huge success in the realm of animated movies, but Toy Story certainly announced their arrival in the best way possible. Smart, packed with great gags and characters, a visual delight (although Pixar would develop and improve with each subsequent movie), and benefiting from a premise that will appeal to any child, and anyone who can remember their childhood.

Woody (Tom Hanks) is a cowboy, and he's also young Andy's favourite toy. He loves his life. When nobody else is around, the toys are all able to live the lives that they keep secret from all of us humans. But things change when Andy receives a shiny new toy for his birthday. A Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) action figure. Buzz has a laser, wings, better audio speakers, the lot. He's a super duper, shiny spaceman, and his presence threatens Woody's position as the number one toy in the room. And to add to the frustration, Buzz doesn't realise that he is a toy. He thinks that he is THE Buzz Lightyear.

Directed by John Lasseter, who also developed the story idea with Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and Joe Ranft, Toy Story remains not just one of Pixar's best movies, but also a statement of intent. It showed just how in tune they were with audiences, mixing fresh ideas and animation with enough jokes and nostalgia to keep adults happy. The script is packed full of great lines, written by Stanton, Alec Sokolow, Joel Cohen, and one Joss Whedon, and the world of the toys is rendered in a creative, colourful, and brilliantly believable, way by the team of talented animators.

The voice cast is the icing on the cake. Hanks and Allen are both superb as Woody and Buzz, but the film is given even more plus points thanks to the involvement of Don Rickles, Jim Varney, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, R. Lee Ermey, Annie Potts, and, well, basically everyone who lends their voice to any character (including Erik von Detten, who does great work as Sid, the nasty kid who lives next door, and spends a lot of his time damaging toys).

The original, and still the best, Toy Story is an object lesson in how to make a modern movie for the whole family. The tools are used to realise the story, as opposed to being overused just because they're available, the film talks directly to children without ever talking down to them, and both the script and visuals provide enough gags and details to keep boredom at bay, no matter how many times you've already seen it.


Don't forget, every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself).

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.