Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues  (2013)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     119 Min        15

Equal parts slightly entertaining and just plain cringe worthy, this sequel to one of Will Ferrell’s best comedy films does not live up to expectations. All the cast have returned, as news anchorman Ron Burgundy and his team are put on the night shift of the new innovative 24hrs news channel, and to liven things up they effectively invent reality television. The very heavy advertising unleashed for the movie to give it a chance against the likes of The Hobbit, has ruined a lot of the comedy as cinema goers will be familiar with many of the jokes by now, and some of the others could have been good but the delivery is just not quite right. Keeping some laughs and losing others to just plain silliness, the film is redeemed somewhat by having a pretty good scene toward the end with a smorgasbord of famous faces joining in. Starring Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, Kristen Wiig and James Marsden.

The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug  (2013)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     161 Min        12A

Lots to like and lament in this, rather like last year’s first instalment ‘An Unexpected Journey’, including the realisation that Smaug is not pronounced ‘Smawg’, which sounds great, but rather should be uttered as ‘Smowg’, which sounds crap. At least, if we are to believe Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, who finally meets the great red dragon in person (voiced by man of the hour Benedict Cumberbatch, and yes dragons can talk, as well as type). Having a particular vested interest in seeing how well the animated creature bears up, I have to say I am impressed – even if he does seem to be a little easy to give the run around, certainly the hubris of Bilbo and his dwarves to rob him of his rightful home and treasure is deserving of some toasty punishment.

Like part one, for the 3D releases (not for the 2D ones I believe – check with your cinema) this was filmed with a double frame rate (48 frames per second instead of the normal 24 that pretty much every other film in history has been made with) and director Peter Jackson has stated that he listened to criticism of the technology before and endeavoured to ensure the film had a more ‘cinematic’ look this time. Well, for large chunks of footage MISSION FAILED – the negative aspects of this high speed rate largely disappear as the film progresses, but initially there are several scenes where things are happening laughably quickly. A scene with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen gives another fantastic performance as everyone’s favourite wizard) and Thorin in a Bree tavern (The Prancing Pony one presumes) sees sharp clear images that would be more at home in a made for TV episode of something, with the patrons zipping ludicrously about in the background. Surely someone working on it noticed it looked daft? Some of the effects (look out for the giant bumblebees that appear around Bilbo) also simply look fake, whilst others are fantastic: like most of the last third, and there is a scene featuring a captured orc at one point – the makeup and prosthetics would have us believe we’re looking at a real humanoid that once inhabited the Eurasian plate. In terms of the decision to even attempt a high speed frame rate – the cinematography from the original Lord of the Rings films was amazing, there really was no need at all to change it, and here, as well as the aforementioned misgivings, more could have been made of the natural beauty of Middle-earth/New Zealand in this instalment.

Jackson does seem to have listened to other criticisms and made better adjustments though – here the bad guys are nowhere near as squishy as before, although they remain pretty hopeless. We meet some new elves in the guise of Thranduil, played by Lee Pace, and Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly who was the absolute perfect choice for the part and seems to love every moment of her role, and the return of Orlando Bloom as a supposed to be younger but not really pulling it off Legolas. Those with a keen memory of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ will no doubt be puzzled as to why the eagles which saved the adventuring troupe did not take them all the way to The Lonely Mountain, and instead part two opens with them being chased by the same pesky wargs that the eagles purported to take them away from. This should really have been explained in the film, but the reason is either that the eagles believe in the balance of nature and don’t want to interfere too heavily on one side of any conflict, as Tolkien would ascribe to, or that they have a sense of humour, or indeed that they would also not really like a nearby, enormous sleeping dragon be woken up any time soon if it can be avoided.

The adventure is continued in a pleasingly convincing way, although I would probably suggest that seeing it in 2D is going to be by far the best way to enjoy it. It still feels like Lord of the Rings ‘lite’, a more palatable version for a younger audience which is in keeping with the novel but will still slightly annoy adult viewers. Nevertheless, the final part is set up to be the best of the bunch, and delving back into Middle-earth still feels suitably exciting.

Alas, there is no extra scene at the end of the credits. I certainly know what I would like to have seen a little sneak preview of ….

Kill Your Darlings  (2013)    69/100

Rating :   69/100                                                                     104 Min        15

A film hot on the heels of Walter Salles’ perspective on the Beat Generation of Jack Kerouac and co released earlier this year. Here, the story focuses on the coming of age of budding poet in the making Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and his erotic fascination with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) whilst the two of them studied together at Columbia university in 1940’s New York City. I wasn’t expecting to get anything out of this, and was simply envisaging more pretentious glorification of just how self absorbed they all were, as they continue to drag their lives into ever increasing circles of depravity, a vicious symbiosis with their writing careers (misery and poetry do often go hand in hand) all whilst the audience ask themselves who exactly would want anything to do with these people?

This sort of egotistical masturbation does exist, and it is annoying, but as the film progresses the story and in no small measure the good central performances begin to make it quite interesting – Radcliffe in particular has a very good turn, with a convincing accent to boot. The film opens with Carr in jail for murder, and the rest primarily fills in the blanks as to what led to it. The murder in question is a matter of historical record which inevitably most of the Beat Generation wrote about at one point or another – here the details have been shifted around a little, but the essence of events seems to be well captured. An interesting and impressive directorial debut from John Krokidas and, ahem, miles better than ‘On the Road‘.

Nebraska  (2013)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                 115 Min        15

The latest film from director Alexander Payne (‘Sideways’ 04, ‘The Descendants’ 11) stars Bruce Dern as Woody Grant, whom we initially see determinedly walking down a Montana highway trying to march his way to Lincoln Nebraska (that state’s capital) before being picked up by a state trooper and his worried family informed. His wife Kate (June Squibb) and sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) try to convince him that the marketing voucher he’s received saying he may have won a million dollars to be collected in Lincoln isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, but eventually David takes Woody on a road trip in order to satisfy him and spend some time with his father, stopping off in the small town where Woody and Kate first met along the way.

The entire film is shot in black and white, which looks great (they used Arri Alexa digital cameras, which would definitely be The Red Dragon’s weapon of choice too), and has elements of both a personal journey – the sort of thing where you one day decide I am absolutely going to do this one thing, even though that one thing may not make a great deal of sense, may not be at all practical, and may not have even existed as a thought a mere second ago, but then as the story progresses it becomes a much more reflective piece looking at the father son relationship, and the lives of the family in general. The same slow burn but involving nature from Payne’s previous work turns this into something endearing – helped along by good performances from everyone on the way. Bob Nelson wrote the screenplay, making this the first of Payne’s feature films not to have him appear on the writing credits.

Homefront  (2013)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                     100 Min        15

What is by and large a really good film unfortunately dwindles into all too familiar territory come the end, but nevertheless it remains on the whole worthwhile. It’s the latest action number from Jason Statham and features James Franco, Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as the supporting bad guys trying to trade off his life and that of his little girl to an incarcerated drug baron, who was of course put behind bars by Statham during his days as an undercover DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) officer. Trying to lay low and just look after his family now, things are set in motion after his young girl, whom he has taught how to defend herself, bedecks a local bully, and his hick junkie mother (played wonderfully by Bosworth) sets out for vengeance. Definitely worth a look for Statham fans.

Oldboy  (2013)    55/100

Rating :   55/100                                                                     104 Min        18

This is director Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-Wook’s South Korean film ‘Old Boy’. Given the original only came out in 2003, and if you are into film then you have almost certainly heard of it and probably at least thought about trying to watch it at some point, the question has to be asked, why remake it now? Especially since it’s a mystery, one who’s story has not been changed very much here, so if you know the outcome there is precious little reason to watch this version, and given that it’s a pretty flimsy attempt at a remake there is then no reason whatsoever to do so. So it seems this was either made for people who don’t like to watch films with subtitles, or was simply the inflection of Lee’s own ego – although to be fair, reportedly the producers did somewhat take the project away from Lee when it came to the final cut, much to the chagrin of director and leading man Josh Brolin alike.

The story revolves around Joe Doucett (Brolin) who is, for reasons unknown, locked up in a room for twenty years and then one random day released, and is then left to find out what on Earth happened to him and why. One of the first problems is that Joe does not look a day older when this two decade period elapses – initially we are shown his overweight gut and then a montage of him working out whilst interred, suggesting a level of commitment from Brolin, but still hardly accounting for the physical changes twenty years would bring. The all important story elements around the time of his release are simply delivered in a very weak way – in fact, judging by the random fight he gets into with some jocks immediately upon release, for no real reason, and his ability to contort their limbs at will, it seems twenty years of constant body building is enough to also grant one super powers to boot.

Elizabeth Olson turns up in what for her is not the first bad and unnecessary remake she’s appeared in (see 2011’s ‘Silent House’), Samuel L. Jackson has a brief role, and Sharlto Copley has another good turn after his memorable performance in ‘Elysium’. One of the biggest set pieces and most iconic scenes from the original is recreated – and from the point of view of the crew it’s a difficult scene all filmed in one continuous shot over multiple levels of the same building. Unfortunately, it looks completely ridiculous with stunt men throwing themselves all over the place willy-nilly, looking more like the WWE Royal Rumble on a bad year than a well rehearsed big budget action scene. That kind of sums up the whole thing – I did begin to get into the story again toward the final third, but overall it just feels like an ill conceived attempt to steal someone else’s thunder – the production team should really have just orchestrated the wider rerelease of the original if they were so taken with it. DEFINITELY watch the South Korean version, not this.

Powder Room  (2013)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                       86 Min        15

Focusing on one central character Sam (Sheridan Smith) and the events of one evening’s session in a night club and, predominantly, the gossip/social haven of the ladies toilets this has the distinct feel of a theatrical piece, no surprise then that it is based on the comedy play ‘When Women Wee’ by Rachel Hirons. Sam must balance her existence for the evening between two different, mutually exclusive sets of friends – the upper class and well to do Jess and Michelle (Oona Chaplin and Kate Nash), and the not so haughty Chanel, Paige, and Saskia (Jaime Winstone, Riann Steele, Sarah Hoare), or scrubbers if you prefer, neither of which two groups really know about the other’s existence. In the spaces between this balancing act she must also weigh out the measure of her own existence, as she tries to desperately avoid the truth that her own life has not turned out the way she thought it would.

The comedy aspect is a little too obvious, and it takes a very long time to get into, but overall it is a decent drama, dealing in a reasonable way with the sort of things one might expect to find in the female latrines of a dingy nightclub, although in modern day times Sam’s life is not really nearly as bad as she makes out – she does for example have a job and money, which already puts her above the swell of misery still undulating around the shores of Europe. Credit is certainly due for taking a rare look at this aspect of British life – the nightclub culture that all young Brits will be familiar with to some extent. Indeed, one of the most common things that visitors from abroad have to say about this country is (along with the insanity of having one tap for cold and a separate one for hot) that they simply can’t believe the lack of clothing exhibited by people out on the town in all kinds of weather. It would indeed be most interesting if an equally mainstream, exciting social alternative to drink, hangovers and vomit were to arrive on the scene – perhaps more cinematic social satire and commentary on the issue is no bad thing.

Compliance  (2012)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                       90 Min        15

This is a notably disturbing film, in no small measure due to the fact that it is based on a true story and pretty much follows events as they occurred in a Kentucky McDonald’s restaurant in 2004 (click here for some of the details). Indeed, if it hadn’t been based on real events then it would be very tempting to cry ‘as if that would happen in real life’, and although the film focuses on the people within this store, the full impact of the story doesn’t hit home until some way toward the end. It’s well acted to the point that we feel like we’re watching a documentary, and it aptly demonstrates just how pervasive the concept of authority is as we see one employee accused of robbing a customer, and how the chain of command deals with the accusation – purportedly coming from a trusted source and yet with a distinct lack of any real evidence. With Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker as store manager Sandra and the accused Becky respectively.

Frozen  (2013)    85/100

Rating :   85/100                       Treasure Chest                     108 Min        PG

A dazzling, emotional and thoroughly entertaining Disney animated musical that takes the studio back to the work of Hans Christian Andersen with a tale loosely based on his ‘The Snow Queen’, and this is every bit as good as their previous reworking of his ‘The Little Mermaid’ back in 1989. Two new princesses get added to the canon of Disney hotties as we are introduced to Anna (Kristen Bell), a playful redhead full of energy, and Elsa (Idina Menzel), the elder of the two but who, as she ages, sees her mysterious powers to shape ice grow, effectively becoming a Nordic version of Doctor Manhattan and a danger to everyone she loves. But will she turn to the Disney dark side and kill everyone whilst laughing maniacally? That is, indeed, the question.

Actually, a number of tropes are wisely turned on their head here, and the company have made sure to fill the movie with their trademark wit and intelligence to allow all members of the family to enjoy it. The contrasting voices of the two sisters, with both lead actresses doing all their own singing, works really well, and a number of the songs are delivered with memorable gusto and power. The animation is simply terrific, making the snowy landscape look wonderfully crystalline and at the same time inviting with their choices of rich, decorative and intrinsically beautiful colour schemes. One of the main scenes doesn’t work quite as well as intended, but this slight hiccup doesn’t prevent the film from being great from start to finish. It’s simply the perfect Christmas film.

There is a small post credits scene – the wait is a long one, but if you stay, look out for the brief note regarding one of the characters right at the end.


“I want you to take me up the North Mountain…. I’ll rephrase that. Take me up the North Mountain!.” Kristen Bell/Anna

Free Birds  (2013)    20/100

Rating :   20/100                                                                       91 Min        U

Slapstick animated comedy about turkeys = listening to Owen Wilson squawk pointlessly for ninety one minutes as his stupid blue Turkey is smacked in the face by every person and object he encounters. Don’t watch this.