The Boxtrolls  (2014)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                       97 Min        15

The latest from stop-motion animation company Laika (after ‘Coraline’ in 09, and ‘ParaNorman’ in 12), and based on the 2005 young adult novel ‘Here be Monsters!’ by Alan Snow, this is a particularly skilled production, especially so from directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi along with tremendous voiceover performances from Ben Kingsley and Elle Fanning. The Boxtrolls are trolls that dwell in the underdark of the city of Cheesebridge, creeping out in the night to snatch children away from their families, dragging them back to their rat infested lairs to feast on the blood and bone of the city’s innocents. At least, that is what Dickensian bad guy Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) would have you believe. In reality they are a peaceful and frightened group of creatures, ones who wear boxes instead of clothes and who do have a human child in their midst, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who, along with posh girl Winnie (Fanning), generates the central story as the two of them attempt to thwart the dastardly plans of Snatcher as he uses Boxtroll scaremongering to try and wrest political power from the town elite, including Winnie’s father Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris).

The trolls are a little garish and could potentially frighten small children, at least in the beginning – their austere introduction is ameliorated as the film progresses and they are all really secondary characters, certainly for older children this is fine and is not in the same ballpark as the genuinely too scary for youngsters ‘Coraline’. It is interesting how much animation aimed at a younger audience has a garish/creepy edge to it outwith the realm of Disney and Dreamworks, perhaps that’s why, to distance themselves from the larger fish in the pond, but perhaps the reason runs a little deeper – after all, anyone who grew up watching ‘Watership Down’ (78) or the animated ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (78) isn’t going to forget cute little bunny rabbits getting torn to pieces or real orcs (there were breaks in the animation with live actors) splattering blood all over the screen in a hurry.

The story is fun and interesting with standing up and thinking for yourself the central theme, and although it’s good enough for adults to enjoy too, they will notice a lull in momentum going into the final third. One of its strengths is the nuances that have been put into the bad guys which makes them much more interesting as characters, and, along with Snatcher, they are well brought to life by Richard Ayoade,Tracy Morgan and Nick Frost (Simon Pegg also has a brief role). It’s clear to see the amount of work that has gone into the film, and if you sit through the credits there is a wonderful scene at the end showing one of the animators at work with a voiceover from Ayoade, poking fun at the amount of work involved, saying ‘it’s more like a hobby really. You should get a real job’, something no doubt familiar to artists everywhere ….

In Order of Disappearance / Kraftidioten  (2014)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                     116 Min        15

Norwegian film starring Stellan Skarsgård that features a now fairly commonplace Scandinavian model of gory violence coupled with black humour, and just as with a number of its contemporaries the slow delivery coupled with language translational issues all but ruins the comedy for the most part, in fact many of the scenes themselves have been visually slowed down in the editing suite making things even worse and resulting in a final film that’s pretty tough to remain interested in. Skarsgård plays a grieving father who has just lost his son, and only child, but when he discovers that a murderous drug dealing gang were responsible he goes on the warpath, hell bent on deadly vengeance.

The first section of the film is dark and serious as the body count rises, then more comedic elements come in and by the end the film doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to be. The tone has been lowered to the point where we no longer care about who lives and who dies and all notions about the morality of revenge have disappeared, swallowed by mundane and unoriginal gangster film clichés as a rival gang, the Serbians, get involved, no one realising that a one man army is responsible for the sudden disappearance of many of the region’s less respectable citizens. It’s almost certainly better if you understand Norwegian, but it still needed a lot more skill behind the camera and from the screenplay itself. Also with Bruno Ganz as the head of the Serbian family.

The Rewrite  (2014)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     106 Min        12A

Hugh Grant teams up once again with his long time collaborator – writer and director Marc Lawrence (‘Two Weeks Notice’ 02, ‘Music and Lyrics’ 07, ‘Did You Hear About the Morgans?’ 09) for another romantic comedy that’s as predictable, bland and slow as its predecessors, but by the same token it also retains certain qualities that make it reasonably easy to like despite not being especially noteworthy in of itself. Grant plays once hugely successful and now struggling screenwriter Keith Michaels, who is forced to take a teaching position in Binghamton in New York State (also where ‘Twilight Zone’ creator Rod Serling is from, as Grant tells us in the film) a far cry indeed from his normal Hollywood stomping ground.

Initially disdaining, he inevitably warms to the locals (largely due to the charm of Marisa Tomei who takes his class) and comes to realise he actually has something to offer as a teacher and that it can be a very rewarding thing to do. Banging one of the hot coeds along the way (Bella Heathcote) certainly wets his appetite but also helps put him at odds with his superiors J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, forcing him to confront how he presently views himself and also ask questions of his somewhat embittered take on the creative arts and life in general. Grant’s charisma as a leading man is evident but, much like all the other boxes the film correctly ticks, it barely registers as the softly pleasant humdrum continues. Oddly, one of the more memorable moments comes from the expected ‘Ok, you were right, I’ve been a twat but now that you’ve made me realise that and I’m debasing myself in public you won’t be able to resist forgiving me completely and everything will be hunky dory’ speech from Grant, as all the while we can see the distinctly unimpressed extra in the queue behind him, featured in the pic above ..

A decent enough watch, but if someone asked you in a year’s time to name all the Hugh Grant films you could think of, you might be struggling to remember the name of this one.