Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

Posted on

The Pitch: More life lessons and trashy pop, Chipmunk style.

The Review: The original Alvin and the Chipmunks movie (and yes, I have seen them both at the cinema) was a reasonable kids’ movie, with just enough smarts and self-awareness to get by on its not inconsiderable charm.

Sadly, this isn’t quite as polished – Jason Lee, who made a likeable Dave in the first movie, is here sidelined in favour of Zachary Levi, who is himself very amenable as TV’s Chuck, but here has little to do except look mildly ashamed most of the time.

The Chipmunks are still true to their own characters – this time we get three girl Chipmunks as well, all inexplicably voiced by known actresses. (Try and guess who without looking at the credits.) Ultimately, there is little here to justify a second trip to the tree for these furry critters. Pray that there won’t be another squeakuel.

Why see it at the cinema: You can really see the fine details of the fur on the big screen. Yep, that’s about all I’ve got on this one.

The Score: 4/10

Review: A Single Man

Posted on

The Pitch: Colin Firth is an English professor dealing with life after death (not his own, of course).

The Review: Long have I been haunted by the memory of my mother and her infatuation with a dripping wet Mr Darcy emerging from a lake in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It felt that Colin Firth would forever be stuck in Bridget Jones and St Trinians sequels in an attempt to remove that memory, but here is finally something for him to get his teeth into.

In a career best performance, Firth conveys huge amounts of emotion with the most subtle of facial gestures. He runs the full gamut of emotions over the course of an eventful day, although it is the flashbacks which most truly allow him to flex his acting muscles.

Support is stong from Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult, but the other main focus is first time director Tom Ford, whose fashion background shows through clearly in the attention to shot construction and composition, and in the subtle and effective use of colour and contrast to illustrate the changes in Firth’s character’s moods. A memorable experience, if not the most lasting of impressions.

Why see it in the cinema: To experience up close the full subtleties and nuances of Firth’s compelling performance.

The Score: 8/10

Some movie trailers are worse than piracy

Posted on

WARNING: This article contains very mild spoilers for I Am Love and The Ghost, on general release at the time of writing. You may wish to turn back if you intend to see these films but haven’t yet done so.

Before the advent of reasonable broadband speeds, there was always a time that I had to be in the cinema for. That point normally came about 10 minutes after the advertised start time of the film, at the point when the adverts finished and the trailers began. It’s amazing how a couple of good trailers can sometimes offset the disappointment of a less than stellar film, and can build that sense of anticipation to the point where the trailer is more enjoyable than the film itself.

Sometimes these little marvels can be almost films in themselves. And then one day, I realised I’d seen a trailer which pretty much was the film itself. It was for Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible.

For an action movie, you do need to get some of the key action beats into the trailer, otherwise people won’t be enticed in. But to put beats from every major (and even minor) action movie into the trailer leaves little to the imagination and then leaves the movie feeling somewhat unsatisfactory, perhaps unfairly.

Trailers had seemed to get better over the years, but then last weekend I was at my local art cinema, where I was in the slightly strange position of seeing two trailers for films I’d just seen and one for one that I was about to see. The first was for Dogtooth.

There are two shots in this trailer (I won’t say which) that are taken from the last ten minutes of the movie. But in the larger context, that’s fine. The trailer itself gives a good sense of the overall tone of the movie and the shots shown don’t actually spoil the plot. In fact, this is pretty much what a trailer should be.

The next trailer was for I Am Love (Io Sono L’Amore). Having seen the film before the trailer, I was glad it was that way round.

Because this trailer has two or three longer shots taken from the end of the movie, and in particular actually contains two short shots which feature in the dramatic denouement. The problem comes if these shots are in any way memorable; in this case they are, so what potentially happens is that when watching the movie, you are robbed of dramatic tension the closer the movie gets to the end if you’ve not yet seen these shots, as you know they must (almost) certainly appear.

But the worst offender is The Ghost (or The Ghost Writer, depending on your location). Admittedly it didn’t help that I saw the trailer only three hours before the actual movie, but this commits a number of crimes.

Not only are whole reams of crucial plot exposition contained in this trailer, but large amounts of crucial moments from the third act, a key moment from the penultimate scene and part of the last scene of the movie are all in this trailer. As if to see how much worse matters could be made, the trailer commits one further sin, by making the movie seem a lot more of a thriller (and also a lot more interesting) than it actually is. Maybe an impressive feat on behalf of whoever cut the trailer, but not helpful when it comes to watching the movie.

I would love to think these are isolated incidents, but from reading a recent early review of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood movie on AICN, it seems that this is more of a pattern than it should be as that is doing something similar. I will now try to avoid watching that trailer again before seeing the movie, but you become a captive audience when inside the cinema.

Seeing a dodgy pirate copy of a film is bad enough, but seeing a two minute cut down version on the big screen which pretty much removes the need to watch the movie feels worse in some ways. So all I’m asking for is that those people who are putting trailers together try not to give too much away in the trailer itself, and ideally sell a product which actually matches in terms of content what is in the cut-down version. Not too much to ask, surely?

Review: Up In The Air

Posted on

The Pitch: Can it be easier to hear you’re out of a job if Gorgeous George tells you?

The Review: George Clooney is the very definition of the modern leading man. Having struggled to find the right kind of roles during the early part of his film career post-ER, he settled into a groove in the last decade, able to deliver smooth sophistication for the Ocean’s movies, tense unpredictability in films such as Syriana and even various goofballs for the Coen brothers.

But this is something slightly new again, and marks him out as possibly the James Stewart of his generation – comfortable with the leading man role, but with other possibilities lurking underneath. Oscar talk is maybe a little flattering here, but nonetheless Clooney makes the most of what he’s given here, and that’s quite a lot.

It helps to have excellent support, and from the excellent Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, through to small support roles from the likes of Danny McBride and J.K. Simmons, everyone’s on their game. The movie itself follows a familiar flight path, but takes enough twists and turns to keep it consistently enjoyable, and the dialogue constantly pleases and sparkles.

Jason Reitman keeps a good rhythm to proceedings; less of a flashy visualist, he still makes sure the plot always has forward momentum, even through to the redemptive but ultimately honest ending. A particularly resonant product of the current environment, especially if you’ve ever sat on the other side of that table.

Why see it at the cinema: So as not to put all the nice staff at the cinema out of a job if their takings are down. Also, they went to the effort of going to lots of different airports, rather than just the same one dressed up differently – if they made the effort, why shouldn’t you?

The Score: 9/10

Review: St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold

Posted on Updated on

The Pitch: Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the girls’ dormitory…

The Review: So, David Tennant. I can understand you not wanting to get typecast as Doctor Who, even though yours is one of the best portrayals ever. And I can also understand you not wanting to be bogged down in Shakespeare forever. But this? Really?

The first St. Trinians remake was an often charmless affair that still had a number of redeeming features – Russell Brand, Gemma Arterton in schoolgirl uniform, Rupert Everett cross-dressing, Colin Firth being a total wassock. This either removes such elements, marginalises them to the point of uselessness or simply doesn’t know what to do with them this time round.

From the toe-curling pirate opening to a mortifying flash-mob recreation, through to a tedious finale at the Globe, this does no favours for the reputations of any involved. See the first if you must, but avoid this one at all costs.

Why see this at the cinema: If you’re an 8 year old girl who’s lost the DVD of the first one, or a serial masochist who’s too proud to be British.

The Score: 2/10

Review: The Road

Posted on Updated on

The Pitch: Apolcalypse just before Now. What are we going to do today?

The Review: Viggo Mortensen is making a career out of less than cheerful characters. Ever since he escaped from Middle Earth, he’s been wrapped up in stern moods and miserable looks, often in the company of David Cronenberg. Now he teams up with the director of The Proposition to bring to life, if that’s the right word, Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

By turns almost religiously faithful and carefully respectful to the source material, this somehow loses some of the power of the original prose. No sense is ever given of the exact nature of the apocalyptic event, but neither is strong reasoning given for the journey undertaken, which makes the whole enterprise feel unfocused.

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the road movie feel is broken up by the constant flashbacks. Gradually the story is pieced together, but this doesn’t have the direction it needs, and cannot get by on mood alone, when the mood is bleak but actually would benefit occasionally from being bleaker.

Continuing the trend of movies with sprinklings of famous cameos, especially Guy Pearce and Robert Duvall in ‘is-that-really-them?’ layers of muck and make-up, this has many effective moments, that sadly do not all add up to being the sum of their parts.

Why see it at the cinema: The post-apocalyptic scenery, especially the occasional panoramic view, is stunning and deserves to be seen on the best screen possible.

The Score: 6/10

Review: A Prophet (Un prophète)

Posted on Updated on

The Pitch: A French Goodfellas, with less glamour and more ghosts.

The Review: The European answer to all those American crime and prison movies that Gomorrah tried so manfully to be, but didn’t quite manage. A mesmerising central performance by Tahar Rahim as he slowly takes control of his life and works out his place in the criminal hierarchy, then sets out to control it.

Coupled with this are elements of the fantastic which give a further fresh twist to the material, including one of his victims who can’t leave him alone and the strange prophecy alluded to by the title which comes in incredibly handy at a later stage.

The movie starts off largely confined by the prison walls, but gets to stretch its legs as the plot develops, using the divide between outside and inside for tension and to help drive events forward. While the most striking confrontations take place inside the walls, it’s the set-pieces outside that give the movie its energy and edge.

Tense and well paced, tautly plotted and different enough to stand on its own terms, this comes highly recommended for all fans of the genre.

Why see it at the cinema: To truly feel the claustrophobia of the prison cells, and the isolation of the prison yard, needs the biggest screen possible.

The Score: 9/10

Review: Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo)

Posted on Updated on

The Pitch: Deranged child-friendly Japanese animation, available with or without subtitles.

The Review: The kind of movie that makes you wish you were taking drugs, as you may possibly get the most from the surreal, sometimes psychedelic imagery. Attempting to explain the plot is almost a lost cause, and actually this is a little lighter on plot than some other Miyazaki efforts, which makes it feel more slight.

Nonetheless, only the hardest of hearts could fail to be enchanted by a girlfish with a craving for ham, running on the top of a wave. Would recommend you avoid doing what I did, which was seeing the film in it’s subtitled Japanese version, along with four dozen children who had to have the subtitles explained to them as they can’t read quick enough.

There is a simple pleasure to the graphical style, and the story has that fairytale feel, while still retaining a more modern quirkiness. It’s just that there’s not a huge amount to make this live long in the memory. Still, the imagery and the music is never less than pleasantly entertaining, especially the tune over the end credits, which I was still humming 12 hours later.

I saw the subtitled version; as with many other Miyazaki movies, there is a version in the English language where the dub has been overseen by John ‘Pixar’ Lasseter. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Why see it at the cinema: Watching lots of happy children and their bewildered parents staggering from the screening afterwards is always entertaining. Also, the collective experience of joy the film brings is much better in a larger group.

The Score: 7/10