Iron Man 3

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

It’s not uncommon for movie series to rather run out of steam by the third installment. Even those designed from the outset to be trilogies often start fizzling out, and even in the more successful examples, few people would say that the third outing is the best. It is, then, perhaps with a slight sense of trepidation we’d approach Iron Man 3, and a gratifying sense of relief when we realise that we could make a credible case for it being the best of the franchise thus far.

Following on from the events of Avengers Assemble, there was always the possibility that not having an Earth threatening, er, threat for Robert Downey Jnr.’s Tony Stark to go up against might be a little anticlimactic, but I’m sure comic book aficionados were mollified by the news that the Big Bad of this film would be The Mandarin, apparently the rogueiest of Stark’s rogues gallery. Or so I’m told, as I don’t read the comics I don’t rightly know. I’m no nerd, man.

Anyway, Iron Man 3 sees Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow) firmly in charge of Stark Enterprises, while Tony sits in his basement and tinkers with endless new suit designs, much to Pepper’s annoyance. Turns out that there’s more than Stark’s usual line of self absorption going on, as his battle with nuclear explosions, inter dimensional portals and revelation of advanced aliens meaning us ill will has rather knocked him for a loop. Suffering from post traumatic stress flashbacks and panic attacks, while desperately trying to up his technological game to ward off future threats to the planet and Pepper has left him with a rather fragile mental state.

As such, he’s more than happy to ignore the terrorist threat to America embodied by the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), a mysterious, enigmatic menace only seen in video messages, coming across as a hybrid of Bin Laden and the Stranger from The Big Lebowski. With the government deciding that while this is a serious threat, it’s not yet one that demands the attention of Marvel’s mainstream superhero properties, a military manhunt is undertaken led by James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and his re-branded Iron Patriot suit, War Machine being deemed too aggressive, PR-wise.

Further complicating things are the involvement of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, another scientific prodigy in the Marvel universe’s already oversubscribed genius club, who’s hawking Extremis, a wonder drug that can regenerate and heal injured tissue. Handy stuff, but his organisation has something of a reputation for playing fast and loose with safety standards. Given the law of conservation of characters, I don’t think I’m revealing too much to say that he’s tied up with The Mandarin and will become another enemy for Tony Stark, for admittedly quite poorly explained reasons.

After a preemptive strike on Stark’s home sees him knocked out and flown on autopilot to the other side of America, he’s left dragging a battered, non-functional power suit to a small town to repair, regroup, and work out what the hell’s going on. You would not thank me for discussing the plot much further, but there’s as much, if not more, of Tony Stark in this film than there is Iron Man.

Spending so much time without his suit is something of a masterstroke for the film. While I’ve enjoyed the previous Iron Man films, the overwhelming CG-ness of the action in them makes for some rather bland set-pieces. The expressionless iron mask isn’t the most sympathetic protagonist, hence the frequent use of that really awkward in-suit, HUD reflection close up of Downey Jr. used so often. Here it needs to be dug out less frequently, while still containing as many exciting and rather innovative fights and set-pieces.

Stripping Stark from his suit also makes him physically vulnerable, which when combined with the aforementioned emotional vulnerability, makes Stark a rather more well rounded character that you can at least come close to imagine might not succeed in his struggle, rather than breeze through it. Much as I enjoyed the other films, they weren’t high on sense of danger. Forcing Stark to rely on his ingenuity and intelligence rather than just wheeling out another multi-billion pound prototype powered armour for much of the film makes his character much more interesting, and makes the excesses of the final set-piece much more satisfying.

Iron Man 3, then, largely addresses my major issue with the rest of the films in the series. The rest of the reasons to like the franchise are still in place, headed by the performance of Downey Jr which is as charismatic and funny as always. The supporting cast are universally solid, and Kingsley in particular is fantastic. The effects work is as solid as you’ve seen.

This doesn’t make it the perfect summer blockbuster, if you’re going to be all boring and analytical about it. The bad guy’s motives, in the abstract at least, are sound enough, but the way it ties into Tony Stark is massively contrived. You don’t have to look very far to see gaping plot holes, and this Extremis stuff is dangerously close to out-and-out magic in a world at least somewhat grounded in technological reality.

In fact, as a tightly plotted story, this might well be the weakest of the three. This, it turns out, doesn’t matter in the slightest, because it’s the most enjoyable of them by a good distance. It’s odd to think that this is Shane Black’s first turn in the director’s chair for a film with firepower of this magnitude, indeed only his second time in the chair at all. For someone who’s work has been so influential in the action genre, it’s odd seeing how restrained he’s been in his output.

Surely it’d have to be seen as a bit of a risk to put Shane Black on this job, but he’s knocked it out of the park, taking some major risks which might infuriate comic purists, giving fresh twists on the characters, and setting up something close to a fresh start for Stark’s next outing, be that his own franchise or Avengers 2.

It’s a brilliant bubble-gum tent-pole spectacular, and if that’s what you’re in the mood for there’s little reason not to love Iron Man 3.

Cloud Atlas

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

There’s rather a lot to recap in Cloud Atlas, were you foolish enough to make an attempt to try. However, Mama didn’t raise no fool, so instead let’s give it a rather more glossed over and probably amazingly confusing overview.

The central premise of the film is to cut between a number of stories, with a number of different styles, happening over a number of time frames, with a consistent number of actors. So, for example, you might have Jim Broadbent running around in a contemporary retirement home farce, only for a few moments later to find him as Captain of a galley sailing back from the New World.

Amongst these smaller stories we have such wildly divergent characters and stories as Ben Wishaw’ young composer apprenticing himself to Broadbent’s cantankerous old master, Halle Berry’s 70’s investigative journalist uncovering a conspiracy at Hugh Grant’s nuclear power plant. A futuristic tale of oppression and genetically modified servants, and a even further futuristic, post-fall tribal Tom Hanks helping an outsider find a satellite uplink. And that’s only the half of it.

Oh, and in all of these stories, Hugo Weaving is evil. Oooh, that Weaving.

Now, Cloud Atlas is not only biting off more than most films could chew, it’s biting off more than most ten hour mini-series could chew. While that does leave some of the stories within the story as perhaps a little under-served, some skilful editing, direction and a clutch of really great acting performances means that Cloud Atlas pulls off a very high percentage of the stunts it attempts.

For a film that is, in your boring linear Earthling time, pretty damn long, it really doesn’t feel it, whipping by at a grand old pace helped, no doubt, by its very frequent swapping of narrative focus. In fact my only main technical bone to pick with the execution of the film is also partly its strength. The effects, make up and prosthetics used to give the actors such a wide range of looks and characters is quite often breathtakingly well done, with actors occasionally looking completely, convincingly unrecognisable. On other, thankfully rarer, occasions, it’s done so badly that its presumably an elaborate practical joke, particularly everything in Future-Korea, which is borderline racist in its hamfistedness.

The very things that make Cloud Atlas such an interesting and unique cinematic experience are also the very things that ensure it can’t be an unqualified success. While admittedly it does carry off it’s sharp changes in narrative tone far more often than seems reasonably possible, there’s still too many times where it’s either disorienting or just plain weird, which is never a pleasant experience for an audience.

That said, it’s certainly the most unique, grandiose and lavish experiment you’ll see in a cinema this year, and possibly this decade. There’s surely a broad base of appeal for that, no matter your opinion of the central (let’s face it) gimmick of the film. If you do find your teeth set on edge by what is, I suppose, the logical conclusion of the thankfully somewhat abated in recent years fractured narrative technique, then this could we be three hours of torture, but it’ll also be visually appealing, well written and well performed torture, and a torture that covers so many different styles of torture that you’ll probably like at least some of the torture strands so much that it won’t feel too torture-y. I must stop writing torture so much, it’s like I’m in the Bush Administration.</CUTTING EDGE SATIRE>

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed Cloud Atlas, and found its unique narrative bouncing to be an engaging exercise in film-making. This is certainly not to say that it pulls off every move that it tries, more to say that I’m happy that there are film-makers willing to make these moves. It was a big gamble, and for me it pays off although given how much it’s pushing against conventional narrative, and given the only vaguely explained rationale for going through these narratives, I can’t really blame anyone for deciding it’s not for them and giving it a wide berth. Box office numbers would seem to suggest that this is what came to pass, but I’d urge those to at least give this a chance on rental or streaming, where it’s perhaps a little less daunting in scope from the comfort of your armchair. You might just like it.

Side Effects

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Emily (Rooney Mara) is struggling with life after the return of husband Martin (Channing Tatum) from prison, after a stint inside for insider trading. In what she later describes as a momentary lapse, she drives her car at speed into a wall of her garage. While getting checked out in hospital, psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks is called in to consult and, after promising to start a series of consultations, releases her back to the mean streets.

At these sessions, in amongst fleshing out the characterisation of both Jonathan and Emily’s home life, a drug is prescribed to deal with the anxiety Emily faces. This has an unfortunate side effect in that Emily starts sleepwalking, and well, apparently sleep-preparing-breakfast as well. This only seems mildly irritating at first, until Emily wakes up covered in blood, holding a knife, with Martin dead on the floor.

The film then starts to go down a path of trying to work out if Emily is responsible for her actions while under the influence of the drugs, and also how much responsibility her Doctor should shoulder in this situation, and how all involved handle the stress this situation causes. It makes a credible show of heading along this path quite nicely, thank you so very much, before taking a bit of a twist in the third act that, in common with all reviews, I very much feel would ruin the film if revealed. So I shan’t, although I’ll circle back to it in a minute.

Jude Law’s an actor I’ve often struggled to get a handle on. He has talent, a certain sense of style and a decent amount of charisma that somehow never seemed to translate into great leading role performances, especially if the role calls for a smiley, chirpy kind of lead. Witness the horrors of the remake of Alfie. Yet, when playing a more restrained and complicated role such as in Gattaca, which was the first time he really grabbed my attention, he can be brilliant. While his Dr. Jonathan Banks isn’t a desperately complex character, it has just enough hints of something in his past that he’s not completely squeaky clean that give Law something to get his teeth into, and that makes him a more interesting character than a put-upon doctor.

The supporting cast is just as effective, although you could make a solid case for Rooney Mara’s performance being somewhat hamstrung by her character’s personality and medication. She’s often cold and distant, which is absolutely necessary for the character and the plot.

Our opinion of Steven Soderbergh blows a little hot and cold around these parts, but even in films that I don’t like you can’t help but notice his visual flair, and that’s used to great effect here. He also has something of a knack for getting great performances out of people you would not typically expect to have great performances, and yes, I am looking at you, Catherine Zeta Jones. All in all, he’s done a terrific job in taking what could easily have been conventional, made-for-TV material and polished, honed and shined it up as well as anyone in the business.

Now, about that twist. It’s an interesting twist, but it’s kind of a cheat. It deserves some credit for being reasonably plausible, as these things go. There’s nothing as stupendously idiotic as in, say, Identity, where it turned out every character in the film was a personalisation of a nutter’s MPD flare-up. This is, if not particularly likely, at least largely possible. No, it cheats by being unpredictable purely on the basis of not telling you any of the information you would need to predict it, until well after the twist occurs, and even then it’s not particularly well illuminated. It’s not just that it’s hiding the corners of the plot’s jigsaw puzzle pieces from you, it’s hiding all of them, and the picture of what the puzzle is, then it turns out you should have been playing Hungry Hungry Hippos in the first place.

Even if it’s not a narrative twist for the ages, it’s a solid one, and as it’s not a last minute middle finger, as is common in this sort of thing, how the protagonists deal with the reveal allows the film to retain it’s prevailing character arcs and also give a sense of conclusion to the story. So it’s a certainly a better film than Identity, but seeing as there’s not too many worse films than Identity, that’s not saying much.

So, summing up, Identity is a really terrible film and you definitely should not watch it. Side Effects? Well, actually, that’s got quite a lot going for it, and deserves at least consideration for your viewing attention. Strong performances, a solid script and stylish, efficient direction from Soderberg. It’s not the most exciting film with which to leave a directorial career, I guess. It would seem more appropriate if it was either an envelope-pushing masterpiece or an envelope-pushing disaster, and a solid, well-told B- drama doesn’t seem to be the most fitting way to bookend Soderberg’a movie career. Perhaps that’s the greatest twist that Side Effects has in store for us.


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

I suppose the first thing we need to point out is that Danny Boyle’s latest film, Trance, is not shooting for documentarian levels of gritty realism. In fact, it tests the elasticity of suspension of disbelief rather heavily, probably too heavily for some. Here, hypnotherapy might as well be called ‘magic’, and we see a welcome return of the “bashed on head = amnesia” trope that I thought had been parodied out of existence. I now hope for a recurrence of the tramp seeing something weird, doing a double take and lobbing a half filled bottle of liquor away.

Eh, but that’s a rather poor place to start a review, so let’s reboot this like a comic book franchise. Trance sees auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) running us through his knowledge of the security protocols for removing particularly valuable paintings, or as shall call them for the remainder of the review, McGuffins, from the premises in case of robbery. These details would prove useful for Franck (Vincent Cassel), what with him and his gang about to rob Simon’s auction house and all. As part of the heist Simon takes a bash to the head, mentioned earlier, and Franck gets away with the bag-o-art.

Except the bag turns out to be a bag-o-empty, as it seems Simon’s managed to pull a rope a dope, the ol’ switcheroo, the Cincinnati hot dog, the Cuban Sandwich, the Earl Gray Bergamot Experience. Franck is none too pleased, and visits Simon to find out the location of their beloved McGuffin, which, it soon becomes apparent, Simon had been helping Franck’s gang steal. Sadly, the knock to the noggin has surgically removed Simon’s memory of where he stashed the painting.

Franck suspects Simon’s playing silly buggers, but after torture doesn’t jog his memory, a somewhat desperate Franck points Simon in the direction of Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson)’s hypnotherapy studio, in the hopes of unblocking Simon’s mind tubes like a mind plumber with a mind plunger.

Now, Trance is the sort of film where knowing a great deal about the storyline before going into it can only be to your detriment, so I shall go into no further depth on the plot, which all ought to be familiar to those who have seen the trailer. The one other aspect the trailer brings up, which forms the basis of the ongoing and increasing mind screw of the film, is that Simon soon no longer knows who to trust, and having a paranoid, possibly delusional loose cannon in the middle of your heist plan isn’t a good situation for anyone to be in.

Now, I quite enjoyed Trance, but you do have to give it some leeway. In particular, Elizabeth’s hypnotherapy is able to do whatever the plot demands of it no matter how unlikely, which is rather convenient. The final reveal of what, by the end, had become a likably convoluted mess, is the sort of thing that less competently made films would have me snorting in derision at. I refer the honourable audience to Welcome to the Punch.

However, Trance is more than competently made, as you’d probably expect from Danny Boyle. It’s slick and stylish and does a reasonable job of doling out developments and twists to maintain interest. It doesn’t however have quite the punch that you may be expecting, especially in the final reels where it really feels as though it should be picking up the pace, instead content to mosey along at a comfortable stroll. It’s never dull, but it does feel overly restrained for it’s own good.

The leads all perform well in their roles, especially as things really unfold and unravel towards the end, although there’s no standout-brilliant turn amongst them. And to be honest, you can apply that general precept to everything in the movie. It’s all good, without being excellent.

Which is a little frustrating, to be honest. While Trance is still one of the more enjoyable and well put together films of 2013 so far, it feels as though it has the potential to hang together just a little better and be really great, rather than really good. That said, perhaps I’m looking at this gift horse in the mouth a little too closely. Really good is good enough for me.

The Dark Knight Rises

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

There must be some envy in at least the accountancy division of DC Comics, when stacking up the movie adaptation box office returns against their perennial rivals Marvel. While Marvel Studios, and the assorted other studios still laying claim to rights for Marvel properties, have spent the last decade pulling in terrifying amounts of money by saturation exploitation of their IP, regardless of quality or necessity, DC have contented themselves with flailing around with frequently abortive Superman efforts and The Green Lantern, of which the least said the better. Oh, and Batman, of course.

Nolan’s previous two Bat-movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight weren’t just high water marks for the ever swelling tide of comic-book adaptations, they were the best movies of their particular years. Expectations were high for The Dark Knight Rises, and to my great relief it delivers on pretty much all of them.

This installment moves us eight years on from the events of The Dark Knight, with Harvey Dent’s good name preserved and used as inspiration for sweeping new laws and police powers that has all but eradicated the blight of organised crime that infected the city. No longer needed, Batman has hung up his cowl and a banged-up, limping, disheartened Bruce Wayne has withdrawn to the rebuilt Wayne Manor, seemingly to wait for either death or Gotham’s hour of need, whichever comes first.

His interest is briefly, understandably piqued when Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, a cat burglar better known as Catwoman, takes an interest in Bruce’s family jewels. Not in that sense. We mean a pearl necklace. Not in that sense. Jesus. Let’s just move on to the main villain.

Tom Hardy, although you’d never recognise him, slaps on a mask as well as what looks to be one hundred pounds of muscle as Bane, a mysterious, feared mercenary that, turns out, is in control of the League of Shadows after Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan from Batman Begins was derailed. It seems they’re out for revenge, and with the first confrontation between a newly re-suited Batman and Bane ending with Bane breaking Batman’s back, it looks like they might be getting it.

While Batman’s thrown into the hellhole of a prison Bane came from, Bane takes great delight in his efforts to tear Gotham apart by starting a class war backed by threats of nuclear destruction. Bruce must rebuild his body and his mind in order to save his city, giving us a great excuse to indulge in the character and motivation dissections that this series does so well while still providing riveting entertainment.

And entertain it does. While, along with the other films in the series, it’s not perfect, and indeed it’s a little further from perfection than it’s predecessors, it’s still more or less the best film I watched in 2012. Even leaving aside the spectacle of the movie, in terms of characterisation, tension, drama and structure it’s leagues ahead of anything else. As I’ve said with the Begins and Dark Knight, it makes the the best of the other comic book adaptations seem rather small and silly in comparison.

However you can’t really leave aside the spectacle of The Dark Knight Rises, because there’s so damn much of it and it’s all so brilliant. It’s most obvious recent comparison would be with The Avengers, a very entertaining action spectacle that I enjoyed very much, and the best of the Marvel adaptations. In comparison, it’s a ridiculous little CG action reel that would fly away on exposure to a slight breeze. The effects work of The Dark Knight Rises leads the industry, for the same reasons that Nolan’s previous blockbusters have – the mixture of a good number of physical effects into the action often makes it hard to see where it’s switched to CG, if indeed it has. Given his track record, it’s not out of the question that he’d rip apart a jet using a cargo plane for the realism. It also shows that regardless of how good the digital effects for large scale crowd battles have become, there’s really no substitute for thousands of brawling extras in the impact stakes.

It’s been said that these Batman films are to this generation of younglings as Star Wars would be to mine, by which lazy analogy would lead to Bane being this generations’ Darth Vader. Certainly, they’re both great, iconic villains, physically intimidating with commanding presence, inspiring loyal followers. Of course, both are also masked, with effects laden onto the vocal performances. While initially it seems that Bane’s voice, in comparison to Vader’s sinister heavy breathing, is going to be annoying, difficult to understand and always a few minutes away from announcing the next train to pull into platform four, Hardy’s vocal performance creates a fascinating character. He looks so hulking and brutish, yet sounds so erudite – indeed, he sounds like the kind of person you’d love to share a pint with. Until Bane realises he can’t drink through the mask, then casually picks you apart like a chicken wing.

I said earlier on that this film might not be quite to the level of the previous two, but that’s probably being unfair to it. While it’s the first of Nolan’s Batmans that I wish was a little shorter, gawd knows what I’d cut out. It plays faster and looser with physiology than is suspension-of-believable, although Batman’s rehab plan would save the NHS millions. It has larger plot holes and otherwise competent people having attacks of incompetence seemingly entirely out of narrative necessity. Indeed, Bane’s entire plan for Gotham seems needlessly esoteric. If this wasn’t in part cashing in on a vast reserve of goodwill, and in part being exonerated by the other excellent aspects of this film, these flaws might have been more obvious and impactful.

It’s certainly the film that stands on its own the least well, but that’s likely the case for all of the third parts of a trilogy in all of the trilogies there has ever been. Certainly, you’ll only get the most out of Rises if you’ve seen the other two, and in fairly recent memory too. As the last part of the trilogy it ties everything together brilliantly, with what seems like throwaway lines in previous films being paid off at critical junctures in this.

Rather like The Dude’s rug, Dark Knight Rises really ties the trilogy’s room together. It provides a fantastic, satisfying end to the series character arc and story, which you can’t say of a lot of films and almost no comic book adaptations. Shows what a bit of planning can do, although arguably it’s done it too well. At the minute, I can’t imagine another Batman, or another Batman film, being anything other than a grave disappointment , which doesn’t bode well for the Justice League film.

I could probably quite happily go on at exhaustive length about this film, but going by the box office I rather imagine you’ve already seen it, in which case you’ll have your own opinions about it. I’ve already given you my opinions, which is that it’s one of the best films of 2012. I can’t really give you much more of a recommendation than that.

Welcome to the Punch

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Sometimes it’s nice not to be lead astray by trailers. It’s difficult to come away from the promotional materials issued for Welcome to the Punch without the feeling that this is a rather generic thriller, albeit with a decent cast attached to it that I typically like. That is exactly what the Welcome to the Punch delivers, although it’s difficult not to want more from it. Or indeed expect more from it, given that for a while it was lauded as one of Britain’s best then-unproduced screenplays.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that Welcome to the Punch holds, then, is that the script, or the iteration that’s found it’s way on screen at any rate, is the weakest aspect of the film by a long chalk. The film kicks off with firey young detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) in hot pursuit of master criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), who along with his gang are making a getaway with a vast sum of cast from some heist or other. After ill-advisedly trying to solo this instance, Max takes a bullet to the knee as Sternwood slips through his fingers.

Time passes, and we rejoin Max who has, understandably, developed a bitter, unmotivated, cynical cop persona more fitting of a man twice his age. His partner Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough) seems to have more of the go-getting attitude that Max used to display, although it seems that Max’s morning ritual of draining fluid from his knee also drains his enthusiasm for the job.

He perks up somewhat when Ruan Sternwood, Jacob’s son is picked up at an airport, bleeding critically from a bullet wound. Tracing a phone call from Jacob to Ruan is enough to lead us to his Icelandic woodland cabin hideout, and also apparently for the Met to get a SWAT team out there to round him up. Interpol, presumably, although wisely the film doesn’t get too bogged down in juristrictional debates. This renewed focus on Max’s old nemesis is enough to ignite a spark of interest, at least enough to explain why the current approach won’t work and an opportunity to say I told you so when it doesn’t.

Still, it looks like they’ll get another crack at Jacob, as he heads to London to investigate what his son got mixed up in, and why he was shot, aided by former ‘colleague’ turned respectable businessman Roy Edwards (Peter Mullan). Well, I say respectable , he seems to run a car dealership, which in terms of trustworthiness is up there with politicians and pickpockets.

Max intends to use Ruan and his hospitalisation as a trap for Jacob, but also needs to uncover who’s got it in for Sterwood Jnr. Tugging on the leads points both to a larger conspiracy, and after the conspirators attempt, but fail, to kill two birds with one stone in a nightclub shootout Max and Jacob must reluctantly put their differences aside to unite against a common foe, and shine a light on what’s going on.

Now, there’s a plot device I’m entirely unfamiliar with! What a revelation, etc. Now, to be fair, it’s executing on the conspiracy details well enough that I’d give that a pass, if the conspiracy wasn’t so ridiculous, risky, and completely unlikely to achieve its aims. Oh, and the ex-British Army mercenary hired to take on Max and Jacob, Dean Warns (Johnny Harris) looks so similar to Eddie Marsan (bearded edition ) that I’m convinced that the real conspiracy here is the existence of an Eddie Marsan cloning facility.

I’d sat down to write this a few weeks after viewing it, and was quite surprised to find it lingering near the bottom of my big, roughly sorted by enjoyment list of films I’ve seen this year, what I done keep to aid my useless memory for the year-end “best of” lists. I don’t now recall it being so bad, although admittedly I barely recall the details of it.

McAvoy and Strong are both likeable actors, and both put in entirely respectable turns, albeit for most of the film you can’t shake the feeling that McAvoy’s attitude matches better with a much older actor. The supporting cast are also entirely reasonable, Peter Mullan in particular stands out, providing moments of great comic relief without sacrificing the character’s edge. It’s all handled in a reasonably stylish way, but the critical weakness is a script that’s never far away from from throwing another cliché at you.

Welcome to the Punch is largely adequate in most respects, but in the relatively few instances where it fails, there’s not much on the other side of the equation to balance the books. For the sake of avoiding spoilers I can’t reveal much about this conspiracy, I think it suffices to say that it is very stupid indeed, and when revealed it does rather bring into question how much time you’ve wasted watching it unfold.

If my increasingly addled memory serves, I believe the thing that annoyed me most about the movie’s premise was that of a London seemingly besieged by crime, gang violence and firearm offences, without which the central premise of the conspiracy rings completely hollow. Unfortunately for Welcome to the Punch, this version of London exists only in the pages of the Daily Mail and in Harry Brown, and provides yet another threat to the whole suspension of disbelief thing.

From a distance, then, it seems that the annoyances of Welcome to the Punch fade with time, leaving behind a memory of an unremarkable, marginally below average film that’s not worth your time or attention. Which isn’t much better, I suppose. Ah well.


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

It’s always good to have some consistency in your life. For some, this may be the welcome routine of family or work life. It may be a ritual catch-up with friends down the pub. If you’re a student, it may be getting hammered to the point of vomiting yourself inside out at your neighbourhood’s local nightclub every weekend. If you’re Jason Statham, it’s appearing in at least two crime-based action/thrillers every year. You can practically set your clock by the appearance of his shiny head in cinemas.

Well, that’s a lie. As you’ve probably gathered. However the point I’m trying to get at is valid, and that is that Jason Statham is not known for challenging himself in role selection. Maybe he’s not offered them, maybe he’s content with the niche he’s so very successfully carved out for himself. Whatever the case, the point I’m flailing desperately towards eventually making is that even without having seen a whiff of the cast list, given a rough indication of the plot of Parker, you’d assume El Statho was involved.

Parker is not, sadly, a cinematic outing for Lady Penelope’s long suffering chauffeur, or a vehicle based around Simon Munnery’s old Alan Parker: Urban Warrior comic creation. It is, in fact, based around Statham’s titular Parker, one of those old-fashioned honourable criminals that I’m not convinced ever existed. You know the type – won’t rob from anyone that can’t afford it, doesn’t hurt anyone during the jobs if it’s at all avoidable, won’t pull a Joker and screw his partners out their cut, loves his mother and all that jazz. In short, the gentleman thief we can all get behind, at least for ninety minutes in a cinema.

We’re introduced to him in the middle of a planned heist at the Ohio State Fair, where in a remarkably cheeseball move, he takes time out from the plan to help a young kid win a prize at a side-show. From the outset, it must be said that subtlety is not the film’s strong suite. Working with an unfamiliar crew, recommended to him by partner mumblin’ Nick Nolte, things start off smoothly enough until ‘connected’ rookie criminal and all-round asshat Hardwicke (Michah Hauptman) sets a fire intended as a distraction in the wrong place, leading to loss of life. Most irksome! However, Parker and the rest of the gang that Melander (Michael Chiklis) heads up make their escape with a few million dollars.

Sadly, Melander and chums have not been to the same criminal preparatory school as Parker, and have fewer compunctions about this ‘honour’ stuff. To be fair, they at least give Parker the opportunity to join in with their latest scheme, the jewel heist of a lifetime. However, Parker’s not so keen on throwing his lot in with this shower, and wants to shake hands and part ways with his share of the loot. Trouble is, his share of the loot is required to finance the next operation, and this tension comes to a head with Parker left for dead in a ditch.

However, much like the unfortunate case of the man turned into a newt by a witch, he gets better. And he’s out for revenge! Well, a sort of revenge. It’s not the seething anger of a man wronged vowing a bloody punishment, it’s more of the low-key certainty of someone deciding to kill his enemies and swipe their marginally more ill-gotten gains gotten with his ill-gotten gains.

His investigations lead him to Florida, where aided by struggling estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez) he uncovers their hideout and their plan, the foiling of which will bring him into conflict not just with those who have wronged him, but also their friends in Chicago’s Legitimate Businesses.

If the above veers into my usual dismissive brand of snarky comments then I should really apologise for it, as Parker is a solid crime thriller that almost visibly oozes competence, which is kinda disgusting. Go clean yourself up, Parker.

There! It’s happening again! The problem with Parker is that it’s just a little bit too familiar, a little bit too generic to give much of an angle to discuss. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, really. Statham by this point can do this sort of role in his sleep, and he puts in a solidly charismatic if unspectacular turn. Even Jennifer Lopez, of all people, is charming and likeable in her everywoman role. I’m as shocked as you are. Our villains are a reasonable mix of thug, threat, and cowardly incompetence, that make for a reasonable rogue’s gallery to go up against. The heist plans are entertaining and not completely ludicrous.

Hell, the only real negative there is regarding Parker is that it seems from the outset to have aimed for ‘OK’ or ‘alright’ or ‘fine’, or any other term that’s reductive of ‘enjoyable enough but unremarkable in pretty much every aspect’. It’s achieved that, to be sure, but it’s not exactly the loftiest of ambitions and you can’t help shake the feeling watching this that there’s enough talent in front of and behind the camera that this ought to be a lot better than just OK.

Still, for all that, it is OK. It’s a perfectly reasonable watch, just not one that stands out in any respect worthy of recommending you pay it more than scant regard when planning your viewing. There’s just too many similar, better films out there.

Hyde Park on Hudson

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Released in the U.K. around the same time as the vastly better publicised (and received, as it happens) Lincoln, Hyde Park on Hudson focuses on another President of the U.S.A, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR (Bill Murray) seemingly frequently grew tired of the Washington day-to-day, and would decamp to his childhood home, the titular Hyde Park on Hudson to run the affairs of state. Wanting to maintain a connection to his family while digging the country out of the Great Depression and seeing a looming possible entry to World War 2, he calls on distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) to keep him company.

It turns out that FDR is looking for a little more than companionship from Daisy, and it’s not too long before they embark on an affair. FDR wasn’t going to get anything as trivial as being crippled after a bout with polio get in the way of his philandering. Keeping the affair on the down-low is made somewhat easier by Franklin’s wife Eleanor living in a separate house, so it’s only FDR’s aides and his mother they have to dodge.

However, while I’m sure the aforementioned appreciated not having their noses rubbed in it, this sort of behaviour was not uncommon for the Prez, which does rather re-cast Bill Clinton as a staunch traditionalist. There’s not really a great deal of exploration made of this aspect of FDR’s character, which is puzzling given that the story is nominally told from Daisy’s point of view, and feels like a missed opportunity to give this film a bit of meat to its bones.

Instead a great deal of time is given to the other claw in this film’s pincer movement, a visit to Hyde Park on Hudson by the Their Mostly Highly Royal Majesties the King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth First Of That Name (Olivia Colman) of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, Defenders of the Faith, Masters of Teras Kasi, Overmongers of Cheeses. This is another iteration of Stammerin’ George, ala The King’s Speech, even though his therapy sessions first took place over a decade before this film’s set and by all accounts he was much less stutterific by this point. I should, I suppose, point out that this film is “inspired” by a tapestry of different accounts, and as such shouldn’t be taken as much more than a slightly informed guess as to what actually went on.

The Royals are on tour trying to drum up some support and sympathy for the looming crisis of WWII, and FDR appears to be rather more open to the cause than the prevailing isolationist foreign policy of the time would otherwise indicate. FDR and George form a bond of friendship that serves to show the charm and charisma both men could bring to bear, and provides some of the stand-out scenes of the movie. Indeed, as a strange father-son dynamic develops between the President and the King, we learn about as much of George’s reaction and attitudes to Edward’s abdication as we did in The King’s Speech. Which came as a surprise to me, given that my knowledge of this flick’s content going into this was limited to a poster showing Bill Murray sporting a quite remarkable grin.

While there’s not really any weak performances in the film, it’s not unreasonable to say that Murray outshines them all. He provides a remarkably likeable and charismatic performance that helps keep you engaged with a film that otherwise shows some real structural weaknesses. Focus shifts around between Daisy, the Royals and FDR so much that it feels like it’s telling three stories at the same time, and not doing a great job at any of them.

There’s also something of an issue in that none of these stories, or portrays of relationships, are strong enough individually to warrant this level of examination in a film. Sure, the Royal visit in particular paves the way for the vital future cooperation, but the harsh reality is that this film shows a few dinner parties and discussions over cocktails. Given the weightier notions contemplated in Lincoln, which I can’t help compare it to given the U.K. release windows, it feels rather slight.

Slight, but not unenjoyable. Bill Murray’s headline turn makes for an enjoyable watch, albeit not an essential one. Should you stumble across it, it’s a pleasant way to pass a few hours, however it’s not worth making much of an effort to seek it out.


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

I suppose the first point to make about Lincoln, at least for those not too familiar with the film’s premise going into it, is that it’s not a biography of the man, detailing his upbringing and his rise to become the 16th President of the United States of America. That was ably covered in last year’s documentary Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and we don’t need to repeat it. Spielberg’s film dials into the weeks preceding the debate and (spoilers) passing of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, where they finally agree that slavery is a bad thing up with which they should not put.

Perhaps we should mention from the outset that while this seems to fall broadly in line with what modernity records Lincoln’s actions to be, it’s fair to say that it’s an open question about what Lincoln’s feelings and motives for his actions truly were. While this film implies, wisely without outright proclaiming it, that Lincoln was indeed motivated by a drive to end the U.S.A’s participation in humankind’s darkest act, we’re talking about a guy who not too long before had been saying the solution to the social upheaval caused by suddenly freeing all of these black folks was to ship them all back to Africa.

Of course Lincoln was a politician, and the thing to remember about politicians is that tying the truth into such pretzels it’s indistinguishable from, but technically not a lie, is essentially the entire job description. Regardless, Lincoln spent great political capital and used great influence to get the amendment passed, so all this dissembling seems a little disingenuous. Certainly if you judge him by his actions, there’s few figures in the Abolitionist movement that could say they did more for the cause.

So while Lincoln might not be a window into the subject’s soul, it’s providing a remarkable look at the machinery of government and the balance of powers at perhaps the most delicate and pivotal moment in the U.S.A’s history. Now, a film that largely concerns itself with political chicanery doesn’t seem like it would be the most riveting experience you could have in the cinema, especially over two and a half hours, so it’s to its very great credit that Lincoln is so compelling a watch.

Much of that there credit has to go to Daniel Day Lewis in the title role, providing another blistering performance of the sort we’ve come to expect from him. Perhaps we’re in danger of taking him for granted, so it’s important to recognise just how captivating he is in the role. Would the film work without him? Probably, given how important a time it portrays and the quality of the supporting cast, but it wouldn’t have stormed anything like as many barns as it currently does.

Speaking of the supporting cast, it’s impeccable. Tommy Lee Jones is on form as the firebrand Abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens , and indeed this is as good a performance as I’ve seen from him. You could argue that while Lincoln is the logical head of this film, having to weigh the human costs of the ongoing civil war with the practicalities of this vote, and the implications of a possible early end to the war, Thaddeus provides the heart, being one of the few characters to believe the in retrospect blindingly obvious proposition that all men are created equal. He also has as critical a personal struggle in dialling back his rhetoric to avoid scaring off the more conservative members of the Republican party (back when they weren’t the party of cackling evildoers) as any of the trials Lincoln faces.

David Strathairn is perhaps a little underserved in his role as Secretary of State, and a few occasions comes across as an exposition sounding board, albeit an immensely talented one, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role as Lincoln’s eldest son, feeling he must go to war against the wishes of his father presents an opportunity to delve into Lincoln’s private life. The relationship with his sons as well as the fractured relationship with troubled wife Mary (Sally Field) serve to help humanise Lincoln, although arguably it’s here where the film is at its weakest. It perhaps sounds a little heartless to say, but these personal struggles seem very minor in comparison to the events unfolding around them, and it’s difficult not to wish most of these scenes could be slapped on fast forward.

However, if my only issue with the film is that a small percentage of the scenes aren’t quite as brilliant as the vast bulk of the film, well, that’s hardly worth mentioning at all, is it? For a film that could easily have been a very dry, procedure-driven experience, it’s amazing that it’s captured so much of the heart and emotion of this critical time. If you haven’t seen it, you ought to.

Gangster Squad

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

There’s a certain level of expectation set by calling a film something like “Gangster Squad”, primarily that it’s probably unwise to go into this thinking that this is a particularly serious drama. Indeed, the level of expectation set by calling this “Gangster Squad” is “borderline parody”, and I suppose it’s largely a matter of your judgement whether that’s a good thing or not. Certainly Gangster Squad plays an awful lot like, as Drew would tweet it, The Untouchables written by thirteen year olds. But I’m rather getting ahead of myself.

Post WWII Los Angeles isn’t quite the idyllic paradise that soldier turned cop John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) was thinking of when smiting the evil HyperCommuFacists of Nazi Germany, what with organised crime being quite so rampant and all. The big cheese around at the time is one Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), ex-Boxer and all round psychopath, who’s not averse to having his East Coast rivals ripped in half as a message, that message being that Mickey Cohen is a psychopath.

Still, with enough of the cops and a senior Judge on Mickey’s payroll, there doesn’t seem to be much to stop him and his gang of thieves, pimps, bookies and cut-throats taking over all of L.A, and he’s got ambitions on the whole Western seaboard. He’s almost beyond the law. So, as history teaches, the only way to ignore all this pesky “lawful arrest” nonsense is to declare a War on Crime, and round up a good ‘ol fashioned band of vigilantes. In this instance, O’Mara is tasked by Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to recruit a gang of like-minded cops who are not on the take, and want to reclaim the town for the forces of, well, let’s call them good. Close enough.

Joining Team Extra-Judicial are ex-intelligence guy Officer Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribese), beat cop looking to clean up his hood Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), veteran cop and apparently a cowboy Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his barely believably named junior partner Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and after some arm twisting, Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who’s somewhere between a lounge lizard and a disillusioned anti-hero. It’s only his somewhat contrived relationship with Cohen’s moll Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), that has him finally throw his hat in the ring.

After a disastrous start, the squad start hitting up various dens of inequity which soon attracts the attention of Mickey, who unsurprisingly doesn’t take this lying down. If he wants a war, he’s got a war, et cetera. A great deal of shooting ensues.

Now, on first glance Gangster Squad at least looks like a serious period crime flick, but it’s really anything but serious. The most obvious tell comes from Sean Penn, who leaves no piece of scenery unchewed as the frothingly nuts Cohen, who in traditional unstable boss style is just about as dangerous to his henchmen as he is to the coppers opposing him. Brolin’s grizzled veteran act comes across as amazingly low key in comparison, but even he’s not afraid to harness the full power of cliché, largely in place of any meaningful character development.

Indeed all of the cast of Gangster Squad play so closely to sterotypes that you can probably predict the entirety of the film without going to the trouble of actually seeing it. This is fortunate, because I can’t exactly recommend you rush out and see it. It’s not, I hasten to add, that I didn’t enjoy watching Gangster Squad, or even that it’s a particularly badly made film. It’s just that it screams out B-movie from every frame of its being.

That certainly doesn’t stop it being a decent amount of fun, as long as you’re amenable to it’s somewhat cartoonish, Boy’s Own, over-the-top portrayal of “real life events” – it’s based on a true story, but one written in crayon. At its worst, it’s a really stupid film, and at its best, it’s a guilty pleasure.

Most other times of the year I’d give it a guarded recommendation, with the above caveats in mind. However at the moment, Django Unchained scratches exactly the same itches at the same time as being a far better film, so it’s difficult to direct anyone in Gangster Squad‘s direction. Perhaps one to catch up with on the home formats, but not at the top of your priority lists.