The Wolverine  (2013)    57/100

Rating :   57/100                                                                     126 Min        12A

Another flawed and humdrum X-Men film. It’s the latest one to focus entirely on central character Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, from the franchise, following in the footsteps of the previous films and his own personal outing ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ (09). The action takes place in a modern day time frame, after the events of ‘X-Men : The Last Stand’ (06), with Logan trying to come to terms with losing Jean Grey and, well, killing her. This essentially forms the very loose character justification for the film, but in reality it seems to simply serve as an excuse to feature the return of Famke Janssen in dream sequences sporting various nighties and proffering us a number of different views of her cleavage. The overall character arc from the beginning of the film through to the end is sufficiently insufficient to wonder if there was really any point to making it at all.

Not to mention one of the few things of any actual consequence that does happen is pretty annoying in terms of what it leaves the character with, especially if you really like Wolverine, as is the case for The Red Dragon. All of the secondary characters are two dimensional at best, as Logan gets caught up in an entirely dismal and predictable family feud in Japan, that sees him inevitably step up to save the damsel in distress – but will she help him forget Famke Janssen’s cleavage, and rediscover his joie de vivre? Well, not if baddie mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) has anything to do with it – a fairly bad ass villain who is given no history or real flesh whatsoever, even Gargamel in ‘The Smurfs’ (11) has more onscreen presence, and it’s a complete waste of both the actress and the character. We also see our hero team up with Mariko (Tao Okamoto), whom we are supposed to believe is another mutant, but we actually doubt it – so poorly are her powers depicted to us. Indeed, one of the human characters seems a much better candidate for super hero abilities with his seeming inability to miss with his bow and arrow, much like Hawkeye in ‘Avengers Assemble’ (12).

Having said all that, I did enjoy seeing Wolverine back on the big screen, and Hugh Jackman vigorously embodies, with all his growling testosterone, the part he was born to play. All in all, it feels like a very, very standard comic book story, one that on the page probably wouldn’t achieve anything greater than wetting your appetite for more, but on the big screen the lackluster story can barely be concealed (ironically, the Japanese story arc in the comics is one of the best received ones). The visuals of Japan, whilst not spectacular, are certainly very beautiful, to Iranian cinematographer Amir Mokri and director James Mangold’s credit (who previously directed Jackman in ‘Kate & Leopold’, opposite Meg Ryan and Sabretooth actor Liev Schreiber, in 2001), and indeed showcasing Japan is probably the film’s biggest success. Mangold is capable of better than this, and bar a few moments of involving action, he and the cast deserved a much better script.

There is an after credits scene that you most definitely have to wait for (it plays after the initial credits, not after the full sequence so the wait is a short one), though I have very mixed feelings about what is revealed there too …..

Frances Ha  (2012)    66/100

Rating : 66/100                                                                         86 Min        15

Starring and co-written by Greta Gerwig (‘Greenberg’ 2010, ‘To Rome with Love‘ 2012) this is a sweet little black and white film following twenty seven year old Frances, as she suddenly realises her career and relationships are perhaps not really heading in the directions she had thought they were. Set in New York City, it’s a drama acted out via situational comedy, primarily revolving and depending upon the lovability and appreciation of the slightly ditsy, but fun loving, Frances, and her deep but soon to be strained connection with her soul mate and best friend Sophie (played by Sting’s daughter, Mickey Sumner). It is largely successful in its premise, but it is a little pretentious in places, with lots of stylised images of ‘artists’ smoking, which is not only a cliché but an outdated one, with smoking’s social acceptability on the steady decline (something which some of the dialogue seems self conscious of). It feels like the characters are living in the cinema of the sixties rather than now, a feeling deepened by a random trip to Paris at one point for Frances – although this also mirrors modern successful films, with the likes of ‘2 days in Paris’ (07), sequel ‘2 days in New York’ (12), ‘Paris, je t’aime’ (06) / ‘New York, I Love You’ (09) and Woody Allen’s migration from his love affair with The Big Apple to European cultural hotspots, most recently with his much lauded ‘Midnight in Paris’ (11) and the aforementioned ‘To Rome with Love’.

It’s directed by Noah Baumbach (‘Margot at the Wedding’ 2007, ‘Greenberg’) who teamed up with Gerwig for the script. Overall it meanders a little too much, and is a little vain, but nevertheless it successfully crafts a delicate and artful expression of friendship.


The Frozen Ground  (2013)    68/100

Rating : 68/100                                                                       105 Min        15

Based on the true story of Alaskan serial killer Robert Christian Hansen, and the police investigation to try and ensnare him before he can strike again. John Cusack plays Hansen, with Nicholas Cage as the lawman tasked with sowing the net of evidence against him, and Vanessa Hudgens appears as prostitute Cindy who narrowly survives becoming another homicide victim, but whose testimony is deemed questionable by the authorities due to her profession.

It’s a feature film debut from writer and director Scott Walker, and although it’s not as tense as it could be, it does deliver a successful amount of intrigue as to how they are actually going to manage to prove in a court of law that he is the man they are after (we the audience are left in little doubt as to his guilt from early on). Curiously, one of the worst moments of the film is during the end credits when we see photographs of the real life victims whilst what sounds like a cheery soft rock song plays, which comes across as somewhat disrespectful, though admittedly an understanding of the lyrics may have altered this perception, if it had actually been possible to make them out that is.

The film largely sticks to the real events, and it is at its least successful when deviating from them, certainly with the contrived relationship between Cage and Hudgens’ characters which borders on soap opera and partially necessitates the sidelined character of ‘the wife’, played by Radha Mitchell. Nevertheless, this is a good film for a greenhorn director, chillingly portraying an especially macabre series of killings. See the following documentary for details of the actual events (naturally, this will contain spoilers if you intend on seeing the film too).

Easy Money / Snabba Cash  (2010)    12/100

: 12/100                                                                       124 Min        15

A Swedish fictional thriller telling an all too familiar tale of rival criminal organisations, this time those of the Stockholm underground. The story focuses on the character of JW, a talented young student who is drawn deeper and deeper into one of the group’s employ, played well here by Joel Kinnaman. The problem is that it’s interminably dull, and there is absolutely nothing about any of the characters that is likely to be of interest to the audience, with the only exception those that are shown to have innocent family members that they care about, that being the case it feels like an entirely false inclusion and is far from an original hook in a film that otherwise substitutes violence for plot, and has little to no humanity. It’s filmed in an ultra modern style, showcasing how it’s possible to use many of the habits trending the world right now to bad effect – the insistence on using orange, blue and green lighting/colouring, the fast and out of sequence editing for no real reason, the unsteady camera, and indeed music that is badly misused and at one point noticeably seems to be stealing ideas from ‘The Dark Knight’ (08).

There are more than a couple of similarities with Tarantino’s work here too, with the kind of irrelevant stories the characters tell and the way we are inserted into them as a voyeur, and, one of the worst parts of the film, a plot device toward the end which is effectively straight from the pages of ‘Pulp Fiction’ (94). It’s from director Daniel Espinosa (‘Safe House’ 2012) and is based on the novel by Jens Lapidus, which became the first part of his ‘Stockholm Noir’ trilogy, and indeed the sequel to this will already be familiar to Swedish audiences, with part three due out later this year. Zac Effron is slated to appear in Hollywood’s upcoming remake. I’m sure it will be great.

The World’s End  (2013)    51/100

Rating : 51/100                                                                       109 Min        15

This is a film that people will really want to like, forming as it does the final act in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director/writer Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (which riffs on Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue trilogy and reputedly came about after a reporter pointed out the ice cream connection to Wright, whilst interviewing him to promote ‘Hot Fuzz’) that began with the seminal ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (strawberry) back in 2004, noticeably ran out of gas with 2007’s ‘Hot Fuzz’ (original), and here (mint chocolate chip) all but splutters to a grinding halt, offering but a few sparse gasps of comedy to last us through to the end. It’s a similar set up to before, with the protagonists in mortal peril from bad guys who are superior in numbers – in this case an army of robots that have overrun the small town of Newton Haven and threaten not only the heroes’ lives, but also to interrupt their pub crawl, supposed to end at The World’s End pub which the five friends failed to reach on a similar venture in their youth, two decades earlier.

The popularity of the cast, and that of ‘Shaun of the Dead’, will ensure a lot of grace for this outing, and overall it is easy enough to simply watch, but even the super keen midnight preview audience I was a part of only managed perhaps six or seven laughs throughout, and there’s a feeling of obviousness, a significant drag factor, and a contrived undertow that gives the sense that by trying to mirror the central aspects of their trilogy they have actually crossed the line into becoming a cliché of their own work. Plus they seem to be fighting against the squishiest mechanised monsters in cinema history, that appear to have been assembled out of nothing more than Styrofoam and Silly Putty. Some of the better gags come from their decision to carry on drinking despite the slight snag to their Dionysian plans, but it could really have been milked for a lot more than it is.

Pegg and Frost star, alongside Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike and a host of familiar faces in support. Probably best enjoyed after a pub crawl of your own (if you can stay awake until the good bits that is).

Monsters University  (2013)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                     104 Min        U

Pixar show once again that they, together with their Disney partners/owners, are in a league of their own when it comes to animation that will appeal to all audiences, regardless of age. This is a prequel to their successful 4th film Monsters Inc (2001) and tells the tale of how the two central characters Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sullivan (John Goodman) originally came to meet at the titular Monsters University (M.U.), and their challenge to prove themselves worthy enough to compete with the scariest monsters around.

The rendering work looks superb, and overall the story is engaging and inspiring, with the raft of interesting secondary characters that we’ve come to expect. Voice support comes from the likes of Steve Buscemi and Helen Mirren and as always a cameo from the company’s good luck totem, John Ratzenberger. There is a brief after credits scene, though you do have to wait a pretty long time to get to it ….

Pacific Rim  (2013)    55/100

Rating : 55/100                                                                       132 Min        12A

Despite the low rating, the action in this film is pretty darn good, it’s just that the story is both ridiculous and predictable, and the characters and acting largely follow suit. Set in the immediate future, humanity finds itself under constant threat of attack from alien invaders (the Kaiju), alas not from space above, but from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, wherein lies a previously dormant portal to another dimension. Every six months or so an aquatic behemoth comes through the portal and attacks, Godzilla style, a seemingly random coastal city. Our most obvious solution to this crises is to build enormous robotic warriors to fight the beasties with, each one controlled from within its head by two mentally linked humans whose consciences merge, which allows the story to digress down various emotional tangents.

There are multiple immediate problems with this of course, such as any real explanation as to why our current military capabilities aren’t enough to take down the enemy, or why since we know their point of origin it isn’t mined to high heaven. The robots themselves, or Jaegers as they call them (German for hunters), despite having huge plasma guns and an array of missile explosives, seemed to favour running up and smacking the aliens in the face as their weapon of choice, which naturally allows for the possibility for them to be, well, eaten. The chain of command in their outfit is at best flimsy, and at several times it’s easier to be against the protagonists than behind them.

An oddity that manages to be quite enjoyable and yet at the same time determinedly difficult to really like, it’s from director Guillermo del Toro and has very much the same feel and pace to it as his 2008 film ‘Hellboy II’. This, and del Toro’s continued determination to stick to real sets and props as much as possible, together with the visual effects, are the films strongest assets. It’s a real shame that, as is often the case, a money laden blockbuster is critically let down by basic conceptual errors and a hackneyed screenplay. If you like the look of the trailer, then this might still be worth a go on the big screen – watch out for the Optimus Prime lookalike truck that is no doubt deliberately crushed at one point, and there is a very brief post credits scene too.

Chasing Mavericks  (2012)    73/100

Rating : 73/100                                                                       116 Min        PG

Gerard Butler stars in this ‘Karate Kid’ esque (both also star Elisabeth Shue, coincidentally) true story about how one man’s lifelong love of surfing helps inspire a similar desire in his young neighbour, Jay Moriarity, whom he reluctantly takes on as his protege in order to train him to tackle the giant, dangerous waves at the North California location of Mavericks, waves that have claimed the lives of some of the biggest names in surfing and are formed by an unusual rock formation under the water (the name comes from that of the dog who accompanied the location’s founding surfers). The film does stray dangerously close to Nicholas Sparks level melodrama, with the small town, the small town bully, the small town cute girl the protagonist wants to get with, and the ever present danger of the waves, but it eventually sidesteps this dead end territory and fleshes out as a pretty decent drama.

Newcomer Jonny Weston does a good job as the wave hungry Jay, and the film’s visuals of the surfing, and the fact that it’s a true story, are its biggest strengths, with the waves at the end looking sufficiently catastrophic – projecting surfing as at once deadly (Butler himself almost drowned and was hospitalised whilst filming after a succession of waves pulled him under for forty seconds), and a lot of fun. Co-helmed by respected directors Michael Apted (‘Gorillas in the Mist’ 88) and Curtis Hanson (‘L.A. Confidential’ 97), the shoot was difficult and dangerous, going on for a lot longer than expected thanks to bad luck with the weather – all the surfers featured, bar the two leads, are professionals.

Have a peek at the interview below with Butler and Weston, with one of them constantly interrupting the other …

The Bling Ring  (2013)    57/100

Rating : 57/100                                                                         90 Min        15

A bunch of idiots rob another bunch of idiots, in an idiotic fashion, in Sofia Coppola’s latest indie satire on modern celebrity culture. But do we care? Well, it is difficult to. Based on the real story of a group of teenagers that went on a robbery spree in Beverly Hills, targeting their celebrity idols and using the press to find out when they would be out of town. We watch them repeat the same thing over and over again throughout the film, with them leaving a profiler’s dream worth of fingerprints each time and being caught on CCTV on several occasions, with the only male of the group repeatedly saying ‘C’mon guys, we should really get out of here, now!’ and being completely ignored each time resulting in him casually continuing with what they were doing. Too little effort has been made with characterisation, with an emphasis placed on drink, drugs, and music. Having said that though, a large part of this is necessary to illustrate the world they are a product of, indeed to show the only things that are deemed important to them, with fashion and celebrity taking a high precedence, but we know right from the beginning that they do end up in court, even though we only get the briefest glimpse of the aftermath of the criminal proceedings for one of the characters, giving the piece a decidedly flimsy feel to it.

The group of young larcenists represent one side of the symbiotic see-saw that bobs up and down with the vagaries of fame and celebrity. They most notably, and frequently, target the house of Paris Hilton, who allowed the film crew to use her actual house in the movie, effectively letting her use ‘The Bling Ring’ as another publicity vehicle, and no doubt making a nice profit from the shoot in the process. It’s a clever move for her, so long as it doesn’t result in copycat robberies, or a sort of rite of passage for young bratlings to break into her house. A great deal of irony in the film itself then, but overall it simply becomes very tedious watching the group do the same thing over and over again for the duration of the film, something which wasn’t overly interesting in the first place.

Now You See Me  (2013)    69/100

Rating : 69/100                                                                       115 Min        12A

This film is a lot of fun, but it is let down by the trailer to a large degree, and the suspense it successfully builds begins to decidedly peter out toward the final act. Dave Franco (younger brother of James Franco), Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson all play magicians who come together to form an ensemble act, cumulatively, and bombastically, calling themselves the Four Horsemen. After one of their shows sees them use their powers to commit theft on a grand scale, the authorities are called in (here in the guise of Mark Ruffalo, joined by the sultry Melanie Laurent), but who is behind the group and what is their ultimate goal? Equally, how real, or how magic, is the magic? Well, I won’t ruin that element, but the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the twists and turns aren’t all that hidden – we’re given hints to what’s coming all the way through, but we’re also told that most magic is simply misdirection …. (also with Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in support).