Nov 29 2012

Review: The Bourne Legacy

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 3:48 pm

How do you solve a problem like Matt Damon?

In his three film appearances as amnesiac super-agent Jason Bourne, Damon helped redefine the entire spy thriller genre. He brought humanity to a type of film that had a reputation for being rather cold and unemotional. He played Bourne as a reluctant badass: one whose soulful eyes could barely understand what the rest of his body was capable of. When his beloved (Franka Potente) is killed at the beginning of The Bourne Supremacy, we as an audience feel more profoundly for this loss than the death of any Bond girl in the past 50 years (except perhaps Diana Rigg’s in OHMSS). But the greatest thing Damon brought to the table was believability: we could believe that he was both a real man and a superhero.

So could the Bourne franchise survive without its leading man?

In The Bourne Legacy, that very question is put to the test. The producers have managed to hold on some of the elements that made the earlier films a success: interesting locations, top drawer actors and a story that sees a reluctant hero on the run from shady government subdivisions. Legacy’s story follows Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a CIA super-agent who comes from an earlier incarnation of the programme Jason Bourne belonged to. His body and mind have been improved through science but unlike Bourne, he relies on regular medication to maintain his superpowers. In short, he’s a crummier, weaker version of Jason Bourne.

When the CIA’s secret projects get leaked to the British press, G-Man pencil-pusher Edward Norton makes a snap decision to shut down the government’s black ops divisions, shredding the documents and literally burning their field agents. Renner narrowly survives a drone hit intended to kill him and he goes on the run in search of the special medications required to keep him alive. Along the way, he picks up a sympathetic companion in the form of Rachel Weisz, a sexy biochemist (seriously, is there any other kind of biochemist in the movies?). As you can see, the film does not suffer from any shortage of acting talent.

The action is still very good: there’s a rooftop chase that’s pretty spectacular and an exciting motorcycle chase that sees Renner plow through the streets and markets of Manila. The stunts are very well executed but also very reminiscent of sequences in The Bourne Ultimatum. And indeed, that seems to be the film’s major letdown.

In an effort to recreate the Bourne experience without Damon, the film ends up feeling like a bit of a carbon copy. Writer and director Tony Gilroy (a Bourne veteran himself with screenplay credit on all of the previous films) has stated that he wanted to tell another story within the same world but he seems to have just re-cycled and re-assembled his previous screenplays. On top of that, Renner’s character isn’t anywhere near as sympathetic as Jason Bourne.

In the absence of Matt Damon, the makers of the Bourne films have set out to continue the franchise but they’ve ended up making a movie that’s more of an imitation than a natural extension. But while we wish this film was more ambitious, we can’t deny that it is also a very competent spy thriller. It ticks most of the boxes and delivers on all of its promises. It’s not as good as it could have been, but it also does nothing to endanger the legacy of the originals.

Nov 26 2012

Review: Brave

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 12:55 am

The 13th feature film from Pixar sees the studio break away from their own traditions while revisiting many of their favourite themes. At its heart, Pixar has always seemed like a company full of fathers: their most popular films including Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc and Uphave dealt with the relationships between men and their children (or surrogate children). Whether its Woody coming to terms with Andy growing up and leaving him or Nemo’s father learning that he can’t be too over-protective of his son, these films are enormously commercial films that feel like intensely personal projects as well.

Brave, surprisingly, is the first of their movies with a female lead character. For a company that prides itself on invention and innovation, it’s a little baffling how it took that long for them to make that leap. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a Highland princess who struggles with the life her mother (Emma Thompson) has laid out for her. The queen has made plans for her to marry into one of their allied clans while Merida wants nothing more than to control her own destiny. The rest of the plot is something that Pixar has managed to keep largely under wraps, so we shan’t spoil it here, but we will say that it involves magic and owes a lot to European fairy-tales.

At its core however, the story is about mothers and daughters and the mutual misunderstandings that are present in most family units. This central conflict doesn’t always seem as fully developed as it was in Finding Nemo, perhaps because the characters all fall into certain archetypes: the domineering mother, the strong-willed child, the gregarious yet passive father. This almost falls in line with its fable-like tone, but some of Pixar’s devotees may take umbrage with the simplicity. By the time the story reaches its third act however, any resolutions feel well earned and in the meantime, Brave delivers on the thrills and the laughs.

This being a Pixar film, the visuals are of course exceptionally beautiful, creating a picture-perfect version of Scotland’s glens and forests that will surely shore up the Caledonian tourism trade for years to come. The Scottish characterisations could easily have gone down the Shrek route, but the mostly-Scots voice cast lend a sense of authenticity to the dialogue: a young lord voiced by Kevin McKidd, speaks in a broad Angus dialect that can’t even be deciphered by the other characters.

This is not a ground-breaking piece of work from Pixar, but it still is head-and-shoulders above anything their rival animation houses are producing. Kids will definitely love the action and the humour and adults will appreciate the beauty in its cra­ftsmanship. But by not pushing the envelope as aggressively as they have in the past, Pixar have left themselves open to the criticism that they’re being anything but brave.

Nov 19 2012

“Frankie Says Lorax”: New Releases Monday 19th November 2012

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 9:02 am

The LoraxBased on the beloved book by Dr Seuss, this film adaptation sees Danny DeVito voice the titular ‘guardian of the trees’ as he tries to stop the humans from exploiting his beloved forest. This 3D animated feature has everything you’ve come to expect from a Hollywood family film: kid-friendly jokes, exciting chases and a clear-cut moral message.  Throw in a couple of songs featuring The Hangover’s Ed Helms and you’ve got yourself a decent afternoon with your family in front of the telly!

Arthur ChristmasThe awkward son of Father Christmas, super-keen Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) embarks on a magical adventure when Santa forgets to deliver one last gift! As with all their films, the men and women at Aardman Animation have packed this holiday gem with great visual gags and a touching story about the true meaning of Christmas in the modern age. Boasting an all-star cast and the same irreverent humour that made Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run such firm family favourites, Arthur Christmas should be at the top of this year’s wish list!

Lay the FavouriteBruce Willis puts in one of his best recent performances in this Las Vegas drama from High Fidelity director Stephen Frears. Ol’ Bruno plays a legendary gambler who employs and mentors Rebecca Hall, a beautiful young woman with a knack for picking winners. Whilst getting used to the ins and outs of the seedy gambling world, Hall gets caught up in a love rhombus with Willis, his trophy wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and Joshua Jackson’s charming hockey player paranormal investigator cub reporter.

The Ryder Cup 2012Set within the cloistered fences of Medinah Country Club, the official film of the Ryder Cup 2012 tells a sporting story so unbelievable it could only be true. Watch Europe get crushed by their American opponents on the first two days of the tournament! See the Yanks congratulating each other a full 24 hours before the end of the competition! Observe as their smug grins disappear once Team USA realise they’ve squandered a 10-6 lead on the last day, losing what was generally accepted to be a ‘done deal’! Even the most casual sports fan will love this movie: buy it now and relive the highs of our generation’s finest sporting year!

OffenderA violent and gritty revenge thriller, Offender sees a young working-class man enter the prison system in order to exact revenge on his girlfriend’s assailants. Shot with style and bone-crushing panache, this Brit-flick looks to distinguish itself from the waves of gangster films pouring out of London every year. Lead actor Joe Cole (not that one) has been marked-out as one of Britain’s fastest rising stars, so you’ll want to make sure you see him here first!

Jay and Silent Bob Get Old: Teabagging in the UKYou can say what you will about the Kevin Smith’s movies; but the man really knows how to talk. Along with his long-time friend Jason Mewes, he toured a handful of UK theatres earlier this year, answering audience questions and telling stories from Hollywood and beyond. Anyone who has seen Smith’s earlier Q&A DVDs will tell you how incredibly funny he is as a public speaker. This new release promises to be just as hilarious. Featuring THREE full shows and running at almost 4 full hours, J&SBGO:TitUK is nothing if not terrific value!

LightspeedOfficially titled Stan Lee’s Lightspeed, this made-for-TV movie looks like it could be one of the best awful movies in years. Judging by the trailer, it’s a thinly-veiled rip-off of The Flash starring Jason “Son of Bond” Connery as government agent Daniel Leight. Injured during a mission, he receives radiation treatments that allow him to run at super speeds! The visual effects look truly rubbish, as does the acting. There’s a reason why Connery isn’t the definite Robin Hood of his generation. We’re not lying when we say that we’re really quite excited about seeing Lightspeed: it looks so bad that it must be good! Invite your friends around, order a couple of pizzas and prepare to hurl abuse at the TV!

The Penguin KingThere is only one thing British people love more than cute animals, and that’s royalty. Combining those two things is this new documentary narrated by national treasure David Attenborough. Charting their journey from adolescence to adulthood, there are scenes of extreme adorableness as well as a few moments of true tension. If you’re a junkie for British natural history docs, (and who isn’t?) you’re going to love The Penguin King.

The Elf that Rescued ChristmasChristmas cheer keeps trickling into blinkbox! When a magical crystal which helps deliver presents to children around the world goes missing, one of Santa’s little helpers must save the day! This computer-animated film from Finland has plenty to keep the little ‘uns happy: bright colours, cheeky dialogue and an inexplicably Jamaican reindeer! If you want to get the holiday season started early, why not take a punt on this kid-friendly feature?

Nov 15 2012

Review: The Lorax

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 9:32 am

Since the dawn of recorded time, children’s stories have commonly taken the form of parables. If you want children to tell the truth, treat beggars fairly and understand the value of good grooming — why not teach them with a story? In the 50s and 60s, Theodore Geisel became the world’s most popular children’s author, penning a number of bestsellers under his pen name, Dr Seuss. All of his books are unashamedly silly, but nearly every one of them came packaged with a moral. Green Eggs and Ham was about the importance of keeping an open mind; The Sneetches was a transparent story about racial divides and The Cat in the Hat was of course about the dangers of letting hobos into your life.

In Dr Seuss’ The Lorax –a story that has been now been adapted into a hit film— Seuss tells a story about industrial ambition and greed, weaving in an environmental message that is pretty sophisticated for such a young readership. While this film adaptation seems to have disposed with much of Seuss’ flair for language, it’s kept his message pretty intact.

A lonely hermit called the Once-ler (Ed Helms from The Hangover) lives in a barren wasteland that he once created by exploiting the environment for financial gain. When Ted (Zac Efron), a young boy from the nearby town comes to find out what happened to all the trees, the Once-ler recounts his story of short-sighted greed. The film flashes back to relay his past, when he was still a bright-eyed entrepreneur, haphazardly felling trees and coming up against the self-proclaimed ‘Guardian of the Trees’, the titular Lorax (Danny DeVito). Tiny, gruff and bossy: DeVito must have seemed like the only logical casting choice.

In some of the film best sequences, we see Ted’s home and get a glimpse of the city he now lives in. It’s a walled city where absolutely everything is artificial: suburban homes are now lined with inflatable rubber bushes. Instead of leaves, the fake trees have flashing lights that can be adjusted to ‘summer mode’ or ‘winter mode’. Thanks to the extinction of trees and the unchecked industrial pollution, everyone also buys bottled air, produced by the city’s greedy Mayor. It almost feels like an alternative dystopian version of the human spaceship from Wall-E. Everything is tailored around convenience, with little concession to sustainability and no absolutely no regard to the corrosion of the human race.

In an effort to pad out Dr Seuss’ 45-page jumbo print book into a 90 minute movie, The Lorax’s writers and director have liberally sprinkled the film with musical numbers. While we’re not normally averse to cartoon musicals, the instantly forgettable songs never really ‘land’. They sound less like Sondheim showstoppers and more like the debut singles from X-Factor runners up.

The songs may be a bit of a disappointment but there’s still plenty of family-friend fodder. The Once-ler engages in some funny business with the ridiculously cute bears that inhabit the forest; the Seuss-heavy visual elements are delightful; and all the boxes are ticked with the thrills-and-spills chase at the end (even if it’s uncannily similar to the last 10 minutes of Wall-E). As we mentioned before, much of Seuss’ charm didn’t quite make the journey from page to screen, but his fable of corporate greed and environmental protection still abides. Besides, anything so irrationally vilified by US fear-mongers Fox News must really be onto something.

Nov 11 2012

Review: Friends with Kids

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 8:21 pm

In Kissing Jessica Stein, the first film written by and starring Jennifer Westfeldt, she plays a modern city-dwelling woman tired going on crummy blind dates with men and somehow embarks on an over-thought relationship with a bisexual woman. This leads to comic repercussions and emotional consequences as she works her way through the ins and outs of this this alternative relationship. For her 2012 directorial debut, Friends with Kids, Westfeldt finds herself in another modern hypothetical relationship.

Westfeldt and Adam Scott (TV’s Parks and Recreation) are affluent Manhattan BFFs who have, to the surprise of their friends, never hooked up. As neurotic urbanites, they arrive at the notion that the best way to start a family without ruining every one of their relationships is for them to have a child together, free of any romantic or sexual entanglement. They come to this conclusion after seeing their married friends turn into ‘mean angry’ monsters once children are introduced into the equation. Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are such couple. Once fun and carefree, they’ve now been reduced to an irrational, bickering couple under the weight of parental responsibility.

Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm are also introduced as frisky newlyweds whose relationship hits the skids once they become parents. Now, in order for the film’s conceit to work, you have to make a bit of a logical leap and accept that most new parents are actually has horrific as these characters. Does having a baby really turn you into shrews, zombies and alcoholics?

When Westfeldt and Scott finally have their child, they split custody (which is really convenient, seeing as they live in the same building) in a way that allows them both to pursue their own relationships: him with Megan Fox (playing a sexy Megan Fox-type) and her with Edward Burns (playing a hunky milquetoast Ed Burns-type guy). Their friends look on in bewilderment and jealousy as they manage to strike this magical balance between being parents and being happy. We’re not shown the exact logistics of how they pull this off, but we see the effect and can kind of understand how it could work. But it’s also at this point that Friends with Kids finally shows its hand.

At its heart, the film wants to be a both an intellectual experiment and a romantic comedy. As much as it builds up an interesting premise in the first half,  the film then takes a U-turn and conforms to standard rom-com plotting. The back half of the film is intent on playing out like the final act of When Harry Met Sally, but played for fewer laughs. Indeed, this film is not the gut-busting laugh-riot the poster makes it out to be.

As you may have seen on the bus ads, the biggest selling points of Friends with Kids is its connection to last year’s Bridesmaids. It shares many of the same cast members and also features a female character whose friends seem to be moving on while she wallows in single-hood; but it’s certainly not a laugh-a-minute type comedy. Instead, it’s quite a thoughtful film that is wittier than it is hilarious. Its caustic view on parenthood will certainly rub some viewers the wrong way, but at least it’s a film with something to say.

Ultimately, it’s the kind of movie that hinges on whether you like the cast. Hamm, Wiig, O’Dowd and Scott are all excellent but as the movie’s core, Westfeldt isn’t anywhere near as likeable or charasmatic as her co-stars. The film seems to be written from the perspective of her character, but we feel the most sympathy for Adam Scott’s character, which makes the story feel a little off balance.

While it’s not an essential piece of viewing, this film is a fairly strong, Woody Allen-influenced comic-drama that will likely resonate with new parents. Or people who happen to have friends with kids.

Nov 05 2012

“Unleash the Christmas Kraken!”: New Releases, Week of 5th November 2012

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 9:02 am

A Very Harold and Kumar ChristmasEveryone’s favourite stoners are back… and this time they’re decking the halls! They might not be on the hunt for snacks anymore but the capers continue as the duo desperately tries to track down a tree on Christmas Eve!  This seasonal comedy promises more ridiculous hi-jinks, raunchy set-pieces and another hilarious appearance from certified ladies’ man Neil Patrick Harris.

Arthur Christmas
The awkward son of Father Christmas, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) embarks on a magical adventure to deliver one last gift! From Bristol-based Aardman Animation, this holiday gem boasts an all-star cast (including Hugh Laurie and Bill Nighy) and the same irreverent humour that made Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run such firm family favourites.

Killer Joe Deep in the heart of Texas, something grim is going down. When small time drug pusher Emile Hirsch gets ripped off by his own mother, he needs to cash in on her life insurance. And in order to make that happen, he drafts in the help of dirty cop (Matthew McConaughey) who takes Hirsch’s sister (career jail-bait Juno Temple) as ‘collateral’. Naturally things don’t go according to plan and Hirsch’s entire family finds themselves in hot water. The critical success of Killer Joe has been a shot in the arm for both McConaughey and director William Friedkin (The Exorcist), proving that both of them are still vital forces in world of film-making. Warning: one scene in this movie will freak out the squeamish!

Joyful NoiseDolly Parton and Queen Latifah now have more in common than just their enormous voices: they’re both also in this brand new musical drama! They play two small town women who are forced to put their differences aside to save their church choir. Encouraged by Parton’s grandson, they introduce a contemporary twist to their gospel programme, incurring the displeasure of the pastor. With its diverse cast and mix of musical styles, there looks to be something for everybody in Joyful Noise!

Katy Perry: Part of MeLeading up to its release, all the media chatter surrounding Katy Perry: Part of Me was that it chronicled the end of Perry’s marriage to comedian Russell Brand and indeed, we get to see a lot of that. Ostensibly a concert documentary, the film goes a lot deeper than most behind-the-scenes movies in showing the highs and lows of being the world’s biggest pop star.

Peter PanYou’ll believe a boy can fly! The classic Disney animation comes to blinkbox for the very first time and it’s just as charming as ever. Based on J.M. Barrie’s beloved Victorian story, it sees young Wendy and her brothers whisked away to Neverland by the titular boy-who-never-grew-up. The movie’s got pirates, mermaid, tree houses and Native Americans (Indians): everything you could possibly want in an adventure. With one exception of course: no Rufio.

A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul LiebrandtFollowing British chef Paul Liebrandt over the course of ten rocky years in New York’s restaurant scene, the documentary A Matter of Taste is a fascinating look at a boundary-pushing culinary artist who could very well be a genius or a charlatan. Featuring interviews from Michelin-starred chefs Heston Blumenthal, Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller, this is surely a ‘must-see’ for foodies everywhere.

SwerveA young couple on a road trip across Australia happen upon a car wreck and find suitcase full of money. When they hand in the money to the local police, they think they’re doing the right thing but little do they know: the outback has little use for honest people. Made in the mould of No Country for Old Men and starring Jason Clarke (Lawless), this tense indie thriller will have you sweating on the edge of your seat!

Swan Princess ChristmasHey Parents! Do you remember the 1994’s The Swan Princess? What, no? Well, anyway here’s the long-awaited third sequel! The official synopsis: “as the kingdom prepares for a festive holiday, the villainous Rothbart plots to destroy Christmas. Will the castle friends be able to stop Rothbart and save the day?” Yes, the plot sounds pretty standard but it’s definitely something the kids can watch while you get an early start on your tax return. Merry Christmas, grown-ups!


Nov 02 2012

Review: A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 9:05 am

Whenever comedies start spawning sequels, the law of diminishing returns normally starts kicking in pretty quickly. Regardless of what box-office figures would suggest, the Austin Powers series is one of the most egregious offenders, recycling swathes of gags from the first film so thoroughly that Goldmember was effectively a photocopy of a photocopy. You could spend all day rattling off good comedies with terrible sequels. City Slickers, The Nutty Professor, Hot Shots, Major League, Bruce Almighty, Men in Black, Analyze This: all of these movies didn’t have a concept that could support a ongoing franchise.

Nobody could’ve guessed that the makers of low-brow stoner comedy Harold and Kumar would crack the winning formula, but with this ‘3D’ Christmas sequel, it appears as if they have.

Taking place years after the duo escaped from Guantanamo Bay, we find that Harold (John Cho) has become a high-powered banker and a newlywed husband living in the suburbs. His estranged friend Kumar (Kal Penn) hasn’t really moved on so much, as he still spends his days smoking pun-based strains of marijuana (his dealer is a shopping mall Santa with a regular line in Winter Wonder Weed and Rudolph the Red Eyed Reindeer).

Reunited on an epic quest to find a tree on Christmas Eve, Harold and Kumar’s long journey into Christmas night finds them tangling with privileged city kids, experiencing psychotropic hallucinations and getting in trouble with Russian gangsters. Just like in the first two films, Kumar has to re-learn the importance of taking responsibility while stuffy Harold has to remember how to chill out a bit. Their character arcs are pretty standard and the constant drug references might not be for everybody, but Cho and Penn are so comfortable in these parts that the final effect is actually quite endearing.

Old characters are reintroduced in amongst the newer additions: while it’s great to see Neil Patrick Harris playing a creepy, sex-crazed hetero-version of Neil Patrick Harris, the writers thankfully went to the effort of creating some original material as well. Wu-Tang’s RZA has a funny bit playing a tree salesman and there’s a nice little plot detour that sees Harold’s needy new friend and Kumar’s Ira Glass-lookalike neighbour in their own little side adventure. The script finds a nice balance between acknowledging the earlier films and finding new things for these characters to do.

As you’ll quickly discover, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas was made specifically with 3D in mind, and it certainly makes more of it than almost every other film. Instead of using the technology to ‘immerse the view in the world of the film’ like we’ve heard so much, all the 3D in this movie is intentionally gimmicky. There are shots of weed smoke being blown towards the camera, broken glass and sparks flying everywhere and a shot a waffle-making robot ejaculating maple syrup in slow motion. And while they’ve fully embraced the gimmick, the writers and director have not solely relied on it.

Even without the crap flying towards you, the film works perfectly well in 2D as a sweet, hilarious and unexpectedly appropriate holiday movie. If there is another Harold and Kumar film in the pipeline, we can’t wait to see it!