Edge of Tomorrow  (2014)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                        Treasure Chest                      113 Min        12A

‘Groundhog Day’ (93) meets ‘Gears of War’ (XBox franchise) in this sci-fi action adventure starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. The film looks fantastic throughout, although it feels a little jittery in the beginning before Bill Paxton arrives to settle things, no doubt his ‘Aliens’ (86) credentials highlighting him for the role, and he makes sure to nod in James Cameron’s direction with mention of Judgement Day as we are introduced to our recognisable modern day world – except aliens called Mimics have decided to invade Europe, and with the threat barely contained there humanity plans a D-Day style invasion to be launched simultaneously on every available front, with our viewpoint being the Normandy launch from London. Cruise is a spokesperson for the military who gets himself on the wrong side of Brendan Gleeson, never wise, and finds himself very much dropped in at the deep end where he quickly gets obliterated but, mysteriously, instead of dying he finds himself back where he was twenty four hours ago …

Based on the 2004 ‘light’ novel ‘All You Need is Kill’ by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Tom Cruise was the perfect choice for sympathetically selling a potentially difficult story to ground, and Blunt is every bit as brilliant as the successful war veteran, or the ‘Full Metal Bitch’ as the military PR dubs her (a wonderful moniker I fully intend to appropriate for personal use – you know who you are). The action is relentless, with the humans all armed with robust mechanised exosuits, real props, again much like ‘Aliens’ or ‘Avatar’ (09) but on a more manageable scale – similar to the one in ‘Elysium‘, together with elements common to computer games. Blunt, for example, often wields an enormous ‘Soul Calibur’ esque blade. Don’t expect much on the philosophy front, but this is almost seamlessly put together by director Doug Liman and despite a couple of hiccups, it’s rock solid entertainment.

An interview for breakfast telly with the two main stars …

Jimmy’s Hall  (2014)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                     109 Min        12A

Based on the true story of James Gralton (Barry Ward) who returns to his native county Leitrim in Ireland in 1932, after having previously fought in the Irish Civil War and then lived in New York for a decade, and, at public bequest, he then sets about resurrecting the town hall for all sorts of social events like dancing and lessons, things that inject a new lifeblood into the heart of the community. Not everyone, however, is thrilled about this, and the local Catholic priest sees naught but Lucifer at work in the Jazz hands that are shaking in the night (I’m making this sound like ‘Footloose’ 84, it’s not), and thrown into the mix are the thoughts of the IRA with the hall labelled as a Marxist hub, as well as the Devil’s playground.

Of course, we are shown that what the protagonist has created is not only innocent and devoid of any overt political or religious intent, but is also a spark of something worthwhile for the people, rejuvenating the young and old alike in an area where opportunity rarely deigns to show its face. Unfortunately, the opponents of the gatherings have such strong views that they make its very existence political, and what begins as an isolated thing becomes the focus for something much bigger, as Jimmy ends up involved in what is voiced as a major problem throughout the land – that of an enormous divide between the landed gentry and the working class and the resultant eviction of poor, hard working tenants from their family homes that they’ve lived in for years as they can no longer afford the rates.

Where the film finds its main success is with its discussion of the role of the church regarding events and its influence over matters at the time, as well as its attitude towards them, and it highlights the issue well. Where it is less successful is in detailing the political makeup of Ireland at the time – we are given a mention of the background of the Civil War, and the IRA, and get a feel for the what the situation is, but it’s not as clear as it could be, and it feels like a slightly missing segment, nor is the emotional connection to the story as strong as you perhaps might want it to be, but it still resonates enough to hold interest throughout.

This is the latest film from director Ken Loach, who also so happens to be one of The Red Dragon’s top three directors of all time, and who has pulled a bit of a Miyazaki by announcing he was to retire from feature film work after this film, and then hinted he might change his mind – which was wonderful news, but he must never retire as he is one of the few directors who constantly carries a torch for the common man, often using real local people in his films as well as actors, and dramatising real events or social concerns – social realism as it’s called, and although this isn’t for me one of his best films, his work is always of value and always has a relevance for the present day.

The kind of social enterprise at work here, for example, is still something that is largely lacking in many places, even in a city the size of Edinburgh where there’s lots going on, you can easily find people at something of a loss as to what to do with themselves to socialize and just meet people, other than the standard drinking in bars and clubs. There are lots of groups and opportunities to be found online of course, and Ceilidh culture is thriving which is great, but the idea of a centralized hub that everyone is aware of where they can find all sorts of activities and events to just turn up to and then join in with, regardless of who they are or their experience, kind of just doesn’t exist. Seems like a bit of a societal oversight to me …

A Million Ways to Die in the West  (2014)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     116 Min        15

Seth MacFarlane’s second time at directing and writing a feature film (although he was joined by his usual collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild for the screenplay) after 2012’s ‘Ted’ takes us to the Old West of 1882, where he is about to be dumped by Amanda Seyfried and bemoan his misfortunes and the multitude of ways one can wind up dead in his middle of nowhere town, all before Charlize Theron meets and quickly falls in love with him. It’s a hard life really. The creator of ‘Family Guy’ is actually the thing that looks most out of place here, and although there are a few laughs it ultimately meanders around as light hearted entertainment that’s just as light on the, often toilet gag laden, comedy front. Where the film is actually quite successful is the chemistry between MacFarlane and Theron, who seem to share a few genuine laughs with each other onscreen, which is always nice to see. Elements of the story are closer to a stand up routine than a narrative in a comedy film, and there are certainly a lot of areas for MacFarlane to work on for his third film which must surely follow, but it does all right in the likeability factor come the end. With Liam Neeson in support and a host of brief cameo roles, including Ewan McGregor if you can spot him …

Maleficent  (2014)    74/100

Rating :   74/100                                                                       97 Min        PG

Disney’s latest live-action take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale sees much more made of the villain they themselves created for their 1959 animated version, the eponymous Maleficent (the definition of whose name is the very embodiment of evil), played in a truly wonderful performance here by Angelina Jolie. It’s possible to take the various myriad renditions of the tale in all sorts of directions – I was always told the version where Prince Charming kisses the princess and nothing happens, then a few weeks later she wakes up pregnant (dragon fairy tales do not paint a favourable picture of mankind – although see the 2011 Australian ‘Sleeping Beauty’ for more on this particular theme), oddly Disney decided not to run with that one, and instead we open with a charming back story for Maleficent, the soon to be powerful fairy ruler of the enchanted moorland realm which borders the human kingdom, and the two often being at odds with one another doesn’t deter the protagonist from falling in love with a young, Scottish I might add, boy who has wandered into fairy land intent on nicking something, the little urchin – suffice to say, things do not work out as hoped.

Time passes and we are introduced to Aurora (aka, Sleeping Beauty) and what unfolds is actually quite a touching and emotive drama about love, betrayal, hatred, rage, faeries, and yes, even dragons, all the good stuff really, and bar a couple of iffy moments near the beginning it manages to be entertaining throughout. It’s directed by special effects wizard Robert Stromberg (who won the Oscar for art direction twice, for 2009’s ‘Avatar’ and 2010’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’) in his directorial debut and he has done a great job overall, with the attention and dedication given to the effects and the art, make-up, and costume departments really paying dividends – in fact it looks pretty wonderful from start to finish.

I viewed this in 2D but you can tell from the way some scenes have been layered that a lot of thought has been given to the 3D production, so it could be that this is one of those rare films that are worth actually watching in 3D. All the performances are good – Sharlto Copley plays the grown version of Maleficent’s teenage beau, sporting a pretty decent Scottish accent, Elle Fanning plays Aurora with the perfect amount of youthful zest for life, Sam Riley is a henchman, and a raven, also with a convincing accent (Irish this time), with even the leading lady’s own daughter Vivienne playing one of the very young versions of Aurora, but this is ultimately Jolie’s show, and her full commitment to the role really shines through, winningly delivering the emotional resonance needed for it to work. A pretty great film, and a perfect one for families to go and watch together.

X-Men : Days of Future Past  (2014)    77/100

Rating :   77/100                                                                     131 Min        12A

This is perhaps not only the best of the X-Men films, but I’d definitely consider putting it into my top ten superhero films in general, a success that has to be accredited to the wonderful ensemble cast, an exciting story with a lot of soul searching for many of the characters, and the return of director Bryan Singer to the franchise, who helmed 2000’s ‘X-Men’ and ‘X2’ (03) but then dropped out to concentrate on his Superman reboot (which has since been rebooted), with Brett Ratner taking the reigns for ‘X-Men : The Last Stand’ (06).

Following the original trilogy came ‘X-Men Origins : Wolverine’ (09), ‘The Wolverine‘ (13) and ‘X-Men : First Class’ (11), and here we find a story that interweaves the threads of all the films thus far, as we see a glimpse of what the Earth looks like in 2023 with war raging between mankind and mutants, together with those who took up arms to defend them – a war that ravages the whole of humanity and yields scenes not dissimilar to James Cameron’s Judgement Day. Mechanoid hunters called sentinels, that can detect the mutant gene (a version of one of them appears in the training room in The Last Stand), have proven decisive in the conflict and the last remaining X-Men plot one final desperate attempt to avoid annihilation, by sending Wolverine back in time to 1973 to the very point of the sentinel’s deadly inception of power in an effort to change history and create a better future for all.

There are a couple of fairly unexplained and egregious continuity errors (unless we are dealing with alternative universes, which remains a possibility), most notably following on from events in The Last Stand and The Wolverine, but they can pretty much get away with it because in the former something was hinted at (not explained in that movie was the fact that the comatose patient we at one point see being cared for by Moira MacTaggert {played by Olivia Williams, and then Rose Byrne in ‘X-Men : First Class’} is in fact professor X’s twin brother who was born brain dead, prof X having no doubt devoured his mind in the womb) and, well, they’re X-Men, and in the latter what they changed was rubbish to begin with so it was a good idea to ditch it. Despite the time travelling shenanigans the story holds its own really well, with only the occasional bit of dialogue that could have done with a few tweaks, and the various character arcs at play are all pretty satisfying and should all resonate with audiences despite their variety and the extreme scenarios, as with a lot of sci-fi and fantasy it is after all the human weaknesses, problems, relationships and fragility that ultimately determines whether or not it finds a place in the viewer’s heart.

The special effects look great, as too do the real props made for the film, with the costume and makeup department really outdoing themselves. The score fits the film well, and Peter Dinklage provides just the right amount of screen presence and gravitas as the primary villain Bolivar Trask (an interesting choice of name, given it is most famously attached to Simón Bolívar who liberated much of Latin America from imperial rule – also relating to the story, in The Last Stand Bill Duke’s character is defined as Secretary Trask). Some of the enormous cast are as follows: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Halle Berry, Bingbing Fan, Shawn Ashmore, Daniel Cudmore and Booboo Stewart, with Bryan Singer making at least two cameo appearances in the background.

There’s one post credits scene right at the end, and for a bit of trivia this is reputedly the second most expensive film from 20th Century Fox after ‘Avatar’ (09) and one of the primary producers is Lauren Shuler Donner – wife of Hollywood legend Richard Donner, who of course directed the original ‘Superman’ in 78. There is an episode of Star Trek the Original Series on TV in one of the scenes, which no doubt plays on the fact the comics did on occasion interlink the worlds of Star Trek and the X-Men and interestingly a book exists, ‘Planet X’ (98), that crosses over their universe with the Next Generation’s, and when Xavier and Captain Picard meet one another they remark how much they look alike, but it was published before Patrick Stewart was signed on to play Xavier (he, of course, also played Picard in the Next Generation and its subsequent films).

Speaking of crossovers, there is now a link between the films of all three different companies making major adaptations based on Marvel characters, with this being advertised at the end of Sony’s ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2‘ (reportedly as a condition of Fox freeing up director Marc Webb to work on his second Spiderman film, but oddly Josh Helman, who plays William Striker here, also has an uncredited appearance as Striker in the movie) and here we are introduced to the character of Quicksilver, called Peter Maximoff in the film, who can also be seen in one of the post credits scenes of ‘Captain America : The Winter Soldier‘ (here he’s played by Evan Peters, but in the Winter Soldier he’s played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, ironically the two played close school pals in superhero flick ‘Kick-Ass’ 2010, whose director Matthew Vaughn helmed First Class and helped write the story for this … so many connections), although that isn’t quite the whole story with that character ….

(note the remarkable correlation between the advertising poster for the film shown above, and the national flags of Scotland and England, especially with the blue cross over Scotsman James McAvoy’s face as it is – is there a hidden referendum agenda within X-Men? If so, are we, the Scots, the mutants? I quite like that idea – possible weak but nevertheless useful powers to have: Johnny Five’s ability to read entire books in two seconds and remember everything, the ability to tell that human females are diseased by their eyes glowing red and also knowing what part of their cycle they’re on, perfect control lucid dreaming with real-time special features, being able to breath fire … )

P.S. Having watched this more than once now, I can’t be sure but I think Mystique at one point actually turns into Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Also, curiously, in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (98) Johnny Depp has the line “Both Kennedys murdered by mutants”, something briefly alluded to in the film …

Blended  (2014)    45/100

Rating :   45/100                                                                     117 Min        12A

Adam Sandler’s latest offering reunites him with one of his best co-stars from his long list of comedy hits and misses – Drew Barrymore, marking her third appearance in one of his films after the pretty great ‘The Wedding singer’ (98) and ’50 First Dates’ (04, which I haven’t seen). There is no denying their onscreen chemistry at times, but in this, those sparse incidents are obliterated by many, many cringe worthy moments and extremely lacklustre attempts at comedy. As usual, the human elements of Sandler’s films again work well here, it’s just a huge shame that he regularly doesn’t find writers that can utilise him and his fellow actors to full advantage, or indeed any advantage at all.

The story sees both leads as single parents trying to raise numerous children and the film opens with the pair of them on their first date since they each became single, but it doesn’t go well. Luckily, fate conspires to send them on the same romantic trip to South Africa though, where couples go to ‘blend’. If it was some sort of barbaric Hunger Games scenario whereby the least entertaining or romantically indulgent couple were actually blended together at the end then it might be worth watching. Alas, no such luck. The exploration of the coming of age agendas of the kids, and Sandler and Barrymore’s blossoming romance, do have some merit, just not enough to suffer through the rest of the film for. The discovery that the somewhat berserk character signing and dancing in an almost derogatory way about Africa at every opportunity after they arrive on the continent was played by action and ‘Expendables 2‘ star Terry Crews, was a shock to say the least.

I do love this photo of the main actors, you can see why they wanted to do another film together.

Postman Pat : The Movie  (2014)    11/100

Rating :   11/100                                                                       88 Min        U

Horrible. Barely rendered people and backdrops featuring nightmarish robotic villains which could easily scar the intended young audience, a film which you would think had been financed by Simon Cowell as the central character faces ‘Simon Cowbell’ on the X-factor, except they don’t call it that, with a couple of reasonable laughs for adults that then become completely mired in a ridiculous story which is by parts surely unbelievable even for youngsters and then it’s flying completely over their heads.

But let me just get this out of my system – having a chat show host in England in the movie scream in a racist manner that she has made it clear she refuses to work with animals or Scotsmen is NOT OK. Get your heads sorted out screenwriters Kim Fuller (brother of Simon Fuller, who created the Pop Idol franchise, which explains a lot), Annika Bluhm and Nicole Dubuc. This is based on the secondary bad guy being woefully played by David Tennant sporting a fairly cringe worthy ‘bad guy Scottish accent’ – Tennant, why the hell did you agree to do this film? The situation is only just rescued by the two characters concerned mysteriously kissing at the end for no apparent reason, suggesting a love/hate relationship which narrowly prevented The Red Dragon from burning down the cinema in a fit of fiery rage.

Based on the animated Royal Mail postman Pat Clifton, aka Postman Pat, who kids could watch regularly delivering mail to rubeville every week on TV beginning in the eighties. The enormous irony here is of course (and forgive me, dear reader, for this is about to turn into a RANT about British politics) that the Royal Mail has just recently been privatised by the Tory vermin that are ruining the country from the halls of Westminster, as they have done every time they have gotten into power, and who voted for them? NOBODY IN SCOTLAND, because we do not suffer right wing stuck up ignorant prigs who stamp on and criminalise the poor whilst raping the profits of other people’s hard work for themselves. It sums up the rampant stupidity of this country when a Conservative party representing the rich minority, can so often come back to govern the majority who are most certainly not rich. Corruption and stupidity, the very backbone of modern day Britain. Even just a few days ago the English local elections showed a surge in support for the extreme right wing party UKIP whose members would see racism as the norm and would have everyone pay to go to visit their GP, and what happened when their leader came up to Edinburgh? He had to leave for his own safety that’s what.

So, no, Postman Pat – your film might have a rosy ending where you expose the evil manager trying to streamline the post office, but your own nation has ensured that in reality you would probably return to work one day and find out you’d been replaced by a marker pen, one making sweeping cuts to focus profit at the expense of the people and of service, you would not be returning triumphantly to your loving wife and son, you would be signing on and then explaining to your family that money would be tight, but of course in your little rural village there are not going to be many jobs going, especially when you consider your advancing years, and so pretty soon the Job Centre would be stopping your benefits because that’s what they’ve been mandated to do by the Tories, unless of course you would be willing to do the unpaid community service that they are now forcing the unemployed into, community service usually reserved for criminals, but then if you’re poor in the UK then as far as the Westminster elite are concerned you are indeed a criminal, despite the fact they themselves put you into your current position.

Good luck Postman Pat. You’re going to need it.

In Secret  (2013)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     107 Min        15

Period drama with a dark side in this adaptation of Émile Zola’s 1867 novel ‘Thérèse Raquin’ from director Charlie Stratton and starring Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Lange and Tom Felton. At its heart we see a young woman coming to sexual maturity within a constrained environment, with Olsen adopted by Lange and forced to marry her son, Felton, who is often ill and not exactly a ‘sexual tyrannosaur’ (to ape Jesse Ventura’s line in ‘Predator’ 87) around the ladies. Near the beginning we see Olsen, secretly watching some yokel cutting crops in a field, furiously grinding her clit against the grass whilst she does so (we do not actually see the clit of course, I fear period drama audiences are probably not quite ready for that yet), which is great – female sexuality is still so often a marginalised and often scandalously taboo subject that it’s very refreshing to see it dealt with openly within this traditionally very conservative genre.

Moving to Paris the young couple are introduced to Oscar Isaac’s suave artist who will immediately, and rather easily it has to be said, charm the pants off of the main character, which leads to all manner of passionate and irrevocable decisions. A study in morality, sexuality and both basic human kindness and greed this is very well put together, shot and acted, in particular by Felton and multiple Oscar nominee Lange (6 times no less, with one win for lead actress in 94’s ‘Blue Sky’, and one supporting Oscar for 82’s ‘Tootsie’) and it ought to have wide ranging appeal, not simply to those with an affinity for costume pieces.

Interestingly, one scene features Olsen at her dressing table, Lange standing behind her chatting away, whilst Isaac is hidden under her skirts, conducting a conversation of his own, and the scenario together with the look on Olsen’s face, the powder on her cheeks and her contrasting striking red lipstick all create a remarkably familiar image – she would be the absolute perfect person to play Harley Quinn, aka Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel lover of none other than Batman’s nemesis the Joker. Despite committing the potential sacrilege of putting Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in the same movie together (not to mention allowing Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck loose on another superhero film) it’s unlikely that WB would go anywhere near the Joker for quite some time yet after Heath Ledger’s iconic Oscar winning portrayal, plus Olsen is set to appear in the Marvel Universe anyway, but you never know.

I don’t think this is from the same scene but you can see what I mean …


The Two Faces of January  (2014)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                       96 Min        12A

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel of the same name (which isn’t one of her Tom Ripley stories), this is a character portrait of two fairly petty criminals and one woman who gets caught up in the middle between them. Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette MacFarland (Kirsten Dunst) are married and holidaying in Athens in the early 1960’s where they meet tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac), who is busy skimming extra profits off of his naive tourists. Chester has accumulated large amounts of money through various scams, and some of the people who lost their savings have hired a private eye to get it back for them – queue an accidental murder and the three central characters trying to evade capture and secure new passports via Rydal’s contact, although both he and Colette are unaware the P.I. has actually died.

Rydal sees an opportunity to squeeze a fat cat for money before realizing he’s in over his head, and indeed he also has an eye for the pretty Colette, who is in turn not exactly pleased with her husband for landing her in the current situation. What unfolds is an almost inevitable story of jealousy and doubt, anger and fear, but it’s well brought home to us, with an understandable balance very well distributed between all the characters, and a good exposé of that moment probably everyone has experienced when three really is a crowd. Taking its title of course from the fact January is named after the (literally) two faced Roman god of transitions, Janus, this adaptation is the feature film directorial debut of Hossein Amini, who also adapted the screenplay, and as such it is quite impressive, being well paced, set and acted right from the very beginning.

Godzilla  (2014)    4/100

Rating :   4/100                                                                       123 Min        12A

The picture above shows Aaron Taylor-Johnson in his central role here as Ford Brody, who must brave all to face the monstrous threat that ancient large beasties pose to the whole of mankind, although really his character, like almost all the others in the film, actually serve no real purpose and the script constantly bends itself over backwards to fit them into the plot, in this instance he looks rather like he was casually walking down the street when the director and film crew sprang upon him and shouted ‘Ok, now look over here and I want to see a look that says big dinosaur comes to life smashes everything and puts family member into mortal danger which also shows he wasn’t mental all these years and you were completely wrong about him, action!’, and alas the direction and acting do not improve on this throughout the film – asides from Bryan Cranston who, along with the effects, are the only good things about the movie (he plays the said family member in peril).

The story despite ostensibly focusing on Godzilla, actually doesn’t – we spend most of the time watching inept military personnel chasing a couple of giant bat thingys before they can mate, but their mating call attracts Godzilla who acts as a gigantic balancing force of nature and attempts to tackle them head on. Handily the bat things eat radiation and emit electro magnetic pulses, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever but does make it more difficult for us to kill them, although a neutron bomb would surely be difficult to absorb and feed off after it’s atomised everything in the region, one would think. Or chemicals I’m sure would work, or trying to shoot them in their eyes maybe, or …. well basically they are granted carte blanche to do what they like until hero time, and the arrival of Godzilla.

It has a boredom intensity that hasn’t perhaps been seen since the last terrible American Godzilla film back in 98. This sort of tragic action film kind of had its heyday in the nineties, and thankfully studios and directors and writers learned that audiences were not into stupid contrived plots, predictable starts, middles and ends all delivered by turgid hopeless characters. It seems director Gareth Edwards is very much in love with the nineties, whose last film ‘Monsters’ (10) was much better than this but still featured nothing very interesting happening for the majority of the film. Traditionally Godzilla arrived in Japanese cinema as a cultural expression of the horror of having two atomic bombs dropped on their soil – this film seems to be saying yes but that was necessary and we, the Americans, are still the good guys. This is a horrible, horrible film and one that is extremely difficult to make it through to the end of.