The Big Wedding  (2013)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                       89 Min        15

Completely silly. Featuring the stellar cast pictured above, this remake of the French film Mon frère se marie (My brother is getting married) is comprised of very predictable comedy and farce, as everyone invited to the wedding of the youngsters Alejandro and Missy, played by Ben Barnes and Amanda Seyfried, turns out to be intimate with one another, whether in the present or past tense. Robert De Niro’s Don is currently in a live in relationship with Bebe (Susan Sarandon), but was previously married to Ellie (Diane Keaton), with whom he had two children and adopted a third, who is now to be married. The only problem is, Alejandro’s biological mother is coming to the wedding, and she is deemed so devoutly Catholic that all evidence of the foster parent’s divorce must be covered up, meaning Ellie and Don pretend to be married again and Bebe goes off in the huff.

This primes most of the material, as infidelity is trivialised and yet the film absurdly still attempts a few scenes of serious drama, mostly surrounding Don’s daughter Lyla (Katherine Heigl), though they are at least kept to brief interludes. There are a few laughs in there, and if you like the cast and are in the mood for some irreverent inanity then it might be worth a look in, just don’t expect to be rolling around in the aisles at any point …

The Hangover Part III  (2013)    33/100

Rating :   33/100                                                                     100 Min        15

Being somewhat hungover whilst going to see this film, I was looking forward to sharing a degree of pathos with the protagonists, a knowing wry smile on my face as I sipped my super strong coffee and compared my antics the night before to those of the returning ‘Wolfpack’ onscreen. Surprisingly, mine were the more riotous, as this film DOES NOT feature drinking, and by its absence neither does it also feature shared hangovers and a plot to unravel what happened the night before. It should have been entitled ‘Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug go on an absurd and pointless adventure to recover money that their old buddy Mr Chow stole from some drug dealer, even though it has nothing really to do with them, and in between dull excuses for action, Alan will do random stupid things to which Phil will say ‘What the fuck?’ and this will constitute the one gag that is repeated throughout until you almost fall asleep, despite your super strong coffee, and Doug will be kidnapped and disappear again like in the first film as he is the most boring character’. False marketing to say the least (there is actually a hangover scene, but you have to wait through the start of the credits at the end of the film to see it). All the original cast return for this, with the addition of secondary roles for John Goodman and Melissa McCarthy, but none of them can lift the inane script out of the trash can it must have accidentally been taken out of. Even features Alan luring a small child into a tent to be alone with him so he can pretend to be his real father and talk about how he used to like holding him close to his chest. Just plain wrong.

Fast & Furious 6  (2013)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     130 Min        12A

For a quick recap, this is the latest in The Fast and the Furious franchise, following on from ‘The Fast and the Furious’ (01), ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ (03), ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’ (06), ‘Fast and Furious’ (09), and ‘Fast Five’ in 2011, all of which possibly makes this the worst named film franchise in history, so much so the marketing campaign for this instalment included a fan based vote on what to actually name the new one, and it seems the fans have a bit more common sense than the previous lot’s producers.

It’s primarily set in London, with the film imagined as a sort of bridge between the series focusing on underground racers and becoming an action platform that simply has fast cars, hot girls (including the quite stunning Gal Gadot, Miss Israel 2004, and Gina Carano, the mixed martial artist that went on an ass kicking rampage in Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Haywire’ two years ago) and many, many cheesy one-liners – most often courtesy of Dwayne Johnson’s returning character, Luke Hobbs. Here we see a team up between Hobbs and Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, as their combined forces are required to take down a highly skilled team of heist drivers led by Welshman Luke Evans (who played Zeus in ‘Immortals’, and will appear as the hero Bard in the forthcoming Hobbit films) and just maybe save an old colleague they had previously given up for dead in the process.

It starts off promisingly, with tight action from director Justin Lin (who helmed no’s 3,4 & 5), but eventually it just becomes too far fetched, and with a lot of the sequences taking place at night it’s visually a little tiresome and repetitive to watch. It also suffers massively from predictability in terms of dialogue, story, and what will happen to most of the characters, and has been to no mean degree ruined by advertising a huge ten minute or so segment of the film with the trailers shown before other previous big name releases – certain screenings of ‘Star Trek – Into Darkness’ and I think ‘Iron Man Three’. I’d already seen the same footage three times prior to seeing it in the actual film, and other frequent film goers will doubtless have the same reaction of ‘Argh not this bit again!’, especially as it comes toward the climax of the film, a climax also featured in some of the film’s normal trailers.

One of the best bits actually appears at the very end – after a screenshot of text warning people not to try any of the stunts they’ve seen at home, a tad unnecessary really, the story continues and sets up the next film, tentatively entitled ‘Fast & Furious 7’, with a surprise appearance from someone you might just recognise… Some of the shoots took place in Glasgow doubling as London (though filming took place there too whilst the Olympics were on) something which prompted Vin Diesel to state his claim to Scottish heritage and that one of his ancestors, he won’t say who, is in fact buried at the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel (the one from ‘The Da Vinci Code’). An interesting bit of trivia, but, whether or not it’s accurate, what isn’t in doubt is that he has been confirmed as the person to play Kojak in the planned big screen adaptation of the titular detective’s crime stopping antics, ironic as he used to watch Telly Savalas (the original Kojak) coming in and out of the building he grew up in whilst they were filming the tv series in his neighbourhood of New York City.

Epic  (2013)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     102 Min        U

Initially, this shapes up to be a very clichéd and obvious animation with little to nothing of interest for adult viewers, and with far too many parallels with Disney’s ‘Tinkerbell and the Secret of the Wings’ for its own good. However, after the swishing and swooshings of its stereotypical young hero have faded, together with the setting up of the equally stereotypical motivations for the other characters, it actually becomes a lot of fun – and at least one adult felt the need to give it a quick, slightly self conscious, burst of applause at the end, which The Red Dragon endorsed in spirit if not quite in action.

The story revolves around the Leaf Men, tiny humanoids that move incredibly fast to the human eye (faeries for all intents and purposes) who are charged with safeguarding the natural environment of the forest against their enemies, the Boggans, who thrive on darkness and death, and who seek to prevent the Leaf Men from selecting their new queen who would use her powers against them for another generation. Enter cute redhead human Mary Katherine (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) whose mother has just passed away and is now forced to live with her estranged father in the forest, estranged due to his obsession with finding evidence of the Leaf Men’s existence. One quirk of fate later, and MK finds herself shrunk down to, ironically, not so epic proportions and entering the miniature world for herself, as the future of that world hangs in the balance.

It’s from Blue Sky Studios and based on the writing of Louisianian author William Joyce, a fairly prolific creative talent who’s previous adaptations for the big screen include Disney’s ‘Meet the Robinsons’ and Dreamwork’s ‘Rise of the Guardians’, and who won the Oscar for best animated short film, along with Brandon Oldenburg, in 2012 for ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’. The writing helps immeasurably, with a decent amount of comedy in there, and the animation for the most part appears lively and slick, which, together with the combined voice talents of the cast including Colin Farrell, relaxing into his natural Irish brogue, Christoph Waltz, as the bad guy, Josh Hutcherson, Chris O’Dowd, and big names from the world of music in the guise of Beyonce, Steven Tyler and, in his first big-screen role, Pitbull, ensures everything is brought to life successfully, creating an enjoyable film that should suit families and grown ups alike.

The Great Gatsby  (2013)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     143 Min        12A

Baz Luhrmann’s take on the classic 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald begins as a hectic, malformed mishmash of what should be feature film editing, and eventually becomes something resembling a story. Just as many modern action films are shot with ultra fast cutting between different camera angles and shots, much like music videos, here Luhrmann applies the same technique, accentuated with glamour and flare, to drama, resulting in a nonsensical kaleidoscopic headache, and just as he applied modern music to Bohemian Paris in ‘Moulin Rouge!’, which worked well, here we find pop and r&b where we should be listening to the big bands of the Roaring Twenties in New York City. It jars badly. Not until the director actually decides to let his actors act after about forty five minutes does the film get in the slightest bit interesting, and although the set design up until then is indeed spectacular, quite why they opted to go for authenticity with the look of the era, but not the defining music or the dancing (a little does find its way in), is a complete mystery.

How true to the source material the story is The Red Dragon cannot say, but this is ultimately the same core idea from Luhrmann’s previous films rehashed, that of a sweeping love story, here a triangle between Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby) and Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan) over the affections of Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan). Both the male leads are strong and work well opposed to each other as they are, but Mulligan barely registers an emotional response throughout, perhaps playing her somewhat hopeless character a little too close to the bone. Within this context the themes of obsession and fidelity, pride, arrogance and romantic idealism are explored in a reasonably interesting manner, managing to re-engage most of the audience after the overly indulgent beginning, but it sadly remains too little, too late, especially with a running time of 142 minutes.

The story is being told to us via the disaffected writing of Nick Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire, which to an extent can justify artistic licence with the film’s presentation, but not taking it to the gaudy extremes that are thrust upon us from the word go. In the sense that this is a tale told by a reluctant, introvert character admiring, and bedazzled, by another male full of showmanship and mystery, and yet still fundamentally flawed, this is very reminiscent of another, later, American classic novel – ‘On The Road’, with Sal Paradise there writing about Dean Moriarty. Similarly, both recall the dichotomy of the wonderful novel ‘Steppenwolf’, from Hermann Hesse and published not long after ‘The Great Gatsby’, with the insinuation that each of the sets of characters represent two parts of one man, his essence divided. Click here for a review of the even less worthy film adaptation of ‘On The Road’ with Kristen Stewart.

One of the better songs from the film …

Star Trek – Into Darkness  (2013)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                     132 Min        12A

The follow up to J.J.Abrams’ bold forage into the Star Trek universe continues where the first film (‘Star Trek’ 09) left off, with the crew of the Enterprise a couple of years farther down their alternative timeline to the original series, and The Federation trying to come to terms with the rather brutal and abrupt events of the last film. It bears a lot in common with its successful predecessor, and it fulfils its mission statement perfectly: remaining true to the essence of Gene Roddenberry’s creation (replete with the music from the sixties playing at the end, mention of Tribbles, Mudd, and Christine Chapel – a.k.a. Nurse Chapel, one of the most commonly recurring secondary members of the original crew) whilst still standing on its own two feet as something creative in its own right and encapsulating the blockbuster outlook the new films have been conceived with.

It’s immensely entertaining, looks fantastic, and is filled with the prerequisite spirit of camaraderie that all great adventure films have in common. Indeed, it is certainly one film to see on the big-screen, and the bigger the better (some scenes were shot on IMAX), and there are relatively few sci-fi films nowadays that display the ‘final frontier’ of space in such an awe inspiring cinematic way, in fact I’d like to see more time spent on this in the third instalment which must surely follow on from the immediate success of this one, and there are a lot of appreciable nice touches, like the flair added to the warp trail effect from the Enterprise. Michael Giacchino returns once more for the score, his music fitting perfectly into the list of memorable and atmospheric Star Trek themes, as does Leonard Nimoy for another brief cameo, his character surely busily preparing New Vulcan and her allies for the arrival of a certain none too friendly cybernetic race in circa one hundred years or so….

The story is captivating, but is also one given to debate afterwards as to whether or not several plot elements hold up under scrutiny. This is exactly the same as ‘Star Trek’ which seen bad guy Nero witness his home planet being destroyed and then going back in time, which would have allowed him to forewarn said planet and possibly prevent its annihilation, or at least evacuate everyone, but instead he decided to go on a mass genocidal killing spree with his advanced ship, for no logical purpose other than to create drama on a suitable scale. The story here riffs very heavily off several elements from its canon of Star Trek source material, and also fits in a sizeable nod to The Godfather part III in the process.

It would perhaps be wise to have Abram’s flair for action and entertainment combined with a bit more of the Star Trek ethos in the next one, but there is no doubt he has injected new life back into the wonderful characters that helped create one of the most enduring legacies in the history of the big and small screen, and the future for this incarnation is wide open, in fact it was a stroke of unfettering genius to break the timeline and take us back to where it all began. Performances are good all round, including from new cast members Alice Eve, Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Weller (most famous previously for playing Robocop), Simon Pegg has also largely improved his Scottish accent. If you enjoy this, most certainly watch the second of the original series of films, which was arguably the best of the bunch.

Mud  (2012)    74/100

Rating :   74/100                                                                     130 Min        12A

The latest in a series of recent films to feature a standout performance from Matthew McConaughey, who has decided to ditch his, much given to ribaldry, roles of ‘the guy who takes his shirt off’, romcom castaways most cinema goers will be familiar with prior to his taking on much more interesting and, as is the case here in his interpretation of the eponymous Mud, more vulnerable character portraits, although getting his shirt off is still knowingly fitted into the storyline, female viewers fret not. All this is a little misleading though – he is one of three main characters, the other two being a couple of friends in their early teens who happen upon Mud hiding out in the woods around their small town in Arkansas, as the first half of the film plays out like a cross between ‘Winter’s Bone’ and ‘Badlands’, meandering into the domain of Mark Twain along the Mississippi river.

The boys are played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland whom, together with a supporting cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon, also bring their characters to life with suitable distinction. Indeed, initially everything unfolds at a painfully reticent rate, but slowly we warm to the central trio, and gradually their lives become more interesting, ultimately leading to a worthwhile, poignant and memorable drama about the incisive and defining pain of falling in love, no matter what age you are when it happens. The film is written and directed by Jeff Nichols, hot on the success of his 2011 indie hit ‘Take Shelter’, also starring Michael Shannon.

McConaughey’s performance, and the film in general, received a lot of buzz in Hollywood when it was released, and it stands as another early awards contender, and it would not be particularly surprising or amiss to see him take home a prestigious award based on the sheer number alone of his recently lauded performances. For any fans of his, McConaughey’s other noteworthy roles of late have been; ‘Magic Mike’ (2012), ‘The Paperboy’ (2012), ‘Killer Joe’ (2011), ‘Bernie’ (2011) and ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ (2011). Indeed, John Grisham has recently announced he’s working on a sequel to ‘A Time to Kill’, whose film adaptation was previously one of McConaughey’s finest moments – is this sequel inspired by a resurgence in the actor’s career?

Quite Possibly …

The Reluctant Fundamentalist  (2012)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                     130 Min        15

A fairly basic story told via characters that don’t really engage our sympathy or a great deal of our interest, but it at least flirts with the point it’s trying to make. Based on the similarly titled and highly acclaimed novel (so much so, many universities give it as a welcoming present to new undergrads) by Mohsin Hamid, the story follows that of Changez (Urdu for Genghis, pronounced Chungez) as he is being interviewed in Pakistan by an American journalist (Liev Schreiber) over whether or not he has anything to do with the kidnapping of a local American academic, and by extension, may be the fundamentalist in the title. We go on a journey through his past via the tale he tells in the interview, seeing him move to America as a young man from his native Pakistan for academic pursuits, and finding eventual financial success within the ranks of an internationally recognised company, and then being stigmatised and threatened in the aftermath of 9/11 based upon the colour of his skin.

However, the high paid job he has sees him analyse companies’ productivity, looking for ways to make improvements which invariably involves making life worse for the assembly line staff, which Changez does with ruthless aplomb, and so it becomes a little difficult to feel any real sympathy for him when, for instance, he is harangued by security officials who suspect he may be a terrorist, especially when he seems to be released the same day with no charges having been made or repercussions of any kind. He grows a beard out of what we assume to be spite, a deliberate attempt to do something which in theory he has every right too, but in reality he lets it grow so scruffy that the majority of companies that deal with the public are going to take issue with it, regardless of ethnicity. The relationship with his girlfriend, played by Kate Hudson, is also used to accentuate the unfair tension he begins to feel everywhere in his New York life, and comes to constitute another element in his general crisis of faith, but really everything about her character and their relationship feels loosely defined at best, with highs that don’t even register and lows that potter around the realms of lackadaisical whimsy.

Riz Ahmed (‘Four Lions’, ‘iLL Manors’) plays Changez, and he does quite a good job, although nothing about his portrayal is particularly enlivening. He also narrated the book for BBC Radio 4, quite possibly what brought him to the attention of acclaimed Indian director Mira Nair (‘Monsoon Wedding’, ‘Salaam Bombay’) for this adaptation. The film hints at the sort of cycle of violence that might send someone down the road to fundamentalism, but really for the most part what we see is a young man going through some relatively undramatic problems with regards to alienation and relationships, and frankly if he were such a bastard in the first place, turfing thousands of working class people out of jobs (something which historically does lead to extremism), then I seriously doubt he would let having to endure a little anal probing at the airport and a slight rebuke from his father stand in the way of his making more inordinate amounts of money in the lucrative career that is displayed as his for the taking. There is also a lot of mention of CIA involvement in Pakistan, but details are never discussed, adding to the strains of conceit that echo throughout the entirety of the film.

21 & Over  (2013)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                       93 Min        15

From the writers of ‘The Hangover’ (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, this time directing too) and essentially with the same storyline but different characters, focusing on a trio of college students in order to apply their tried and tested routine on a younger market. The three friends are played by Miles Teller, Justin Chon and Skylar Astin and we follow their exploits as two of them determine to celebrate the third’s twenty first birthday with a raucous night on the lash, whilst promising to get him back home in time for a good night’s preparatory sleep, an important medical school interview looming the next morning.

The comedy is forced from the onset through necessity, and it’s entirely formulaic, which sometimes grates, but it does have its moments and it is given a dash of sincerity and respect by fully committed performances from the central cast. Fans of the Hangover series can expect to like this too.

I’m So Excited / Los Amantes Pasajeros  (2013)    39/100

Rating :   39/100                                                                       90 Min        15

The latest Spanish film from Pedro Almodovar falls way short of the expectation mark in this camp comedy, set mainly in the cabin and business class section of a troubled aircraft flying in circles around Toledo in Spain, though it does still include the expected moments of creative perversion. The plane’s landing gear is stuck, courtesy of one distracted Antonio Banderas by his character’s wife Penelope Cruz whilst he was clearing the chocks off the runway (they are only in the film for the duration of this brief scene, the rest of the ensemble cast will probably not be familiar to most audiences outside of Spain).

Something will have undoubtedly been lost in the translation here, and comedy is probably the genre that suffers most from subtitles, but the laughs never really get better than a sub-standard sitcom, and most revolve around the homo, or bi, sexual encounters of the staff as they contemplate a possible incineration on landing, all largely done as fairly obvious farce.  It’s a far cry from the dizzy artistic heights of his last film, ‘The Skin I Live In’ back in 2011. For better comedy on a very similar theme, see tv series ‘The High Life’ starring Alan Cumming.