Legend  (2015)    55/100

Rating :   55/100                                                                     131 Min        18

Tom Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the infamous London gangsters who terrorised the city throughout the fifties and sixties, in a film that is about as unreal a historical depiction as you can imagine. The whole movie has a strong comic vibe to it, feeling primarily like an excuse for Hardy to show off artistically, and indeed it works better in this sense than in any other – partly because laughs were written into it but unfortunately also because there are numerous moments when it just feels a bit silly watching Hardy beat-up on himself. ‘The Double‘ was much more successful in putting the same actor onscreen as multiple characters – here Ronnie is depicted as a schizophrenic lunatic with a love for anarchy and violence, with Reggie as the more respectable and intelligent but an equal in terms of his propensity for bloodied destruction.

Emily Browning is a highlight as Frances Shea, Reggie’s lover, and Hardy skilfully creates numerous indelible moments but writer and director Brian Helgeland (here adapting the works of the man the Krays’ hired to immortalise them in print – John Pearson) takes the conspicuous easy road too frequently – often the face of one Kray is in shot whilst the back of the other is in the foreground etc., and indeed, despite several gory, brutal and menacing scenes, he has managed to more or less write out the entirety of the Krays’ criminal misdeeds, they’ve become ‘Ronnie and Reggie’ from down the pub and the only people we see suffering are those personally involved with them rather than the innumerable innocents concerned – all leaving the whole thing feeling about as realistic as an episode of ‘Eastenders’.

Maze Runner : The Scorch Trials  (2015)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     131 Min        12A

The sequel to last year’s first instalment, ‘The Maze Runner‘, and based on the second novel in the series by James Dashner (published in 2010) this follows in much the same vein as before – again with really good special effects and an impressive production overall, but still with an overall weakness that taints everything. Looking at the still above you can see a sort of cleanliness that covers everything, with actors that never look like they’re more than two seconds fresh from a scrub in their trailer and everything decidedly aimed at a younger audience that they presumably assume is going to care less about any sense of realism. The end result is Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) running away from the latest thing trying to kill him and his friends for the majority of the film, mouth agape in the same sort of nullified perpetual shock, all in a sterilised but otherwise well realised world.

Following on from part one, the survivors of the maze are taken to a fortified sanctuary that is currently under siege from unknown forces. It’s a time for everyone to regroup and recuperate but with Thomas’s memories only partially returned the past is as murky as the future, and they must ask where they, their rescuers, and the latter’s assailants all stand in their blighted and overtly dystopian new world. The overarching story is actually petty good and full of promise – and visually it is often done justice, but the characters never interact realistically with each other, nor their environment – cue lots of moments of ‘we really should be as stealthy as possible here, la la la la la, what’s your favourite colour?’, and equally unforgivable scenes where scarce weapons are just carelessly discarded. Too loose and too whitewashed for a ‘safe’, although not totally unsatisfactory, final product. New support from the likes of Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk, Lili Taylor, Rosa Salazar and Giancarlo Esposito.

The Visit  (2015)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       94 Min        15

M. Night Shyamalan writes, directs and produces his attempt at the handheld horror genre with occasional success, as Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are shunted off to visit their grandparents (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) in their mother’s home town – minus the mother (Kathryn Hahn) though as she apparently did something heinous to them when she ran off with their father, who eventually ran off with someone else and hasn’t been seen since. The only problem is the grandparents are psychos and scare the living shit out of the kids, who are then determined to find out exactly what their mother did to them that was so bad.

In essence, Shyamalan has principally written a decent story, if not a screenplay, for the film but the delivery lacks any real tension – the kids are by turns likeable, and we see the after-effects of their parents divorce on them psychologically which was a rare nice touch for the genre, but then they are also really irritating; Tyler, for example, tries his hand at rapping and he’s no good, to put it lightly, but there are nonetheless three lengthy takes of him giving it a go. Perhaps worst of all, the film’s climactic moment is delivered with no real force whatsoever all but ruining it, and, well, it’s sandwiched between a lot of nonsense in terms of the regular scares together with the mere occasional moment of amusement, as the film continually threatens to ramp up both the comedy and the horror, and then simply doesn’t. Shyamalan reportedly had a lot of trouble editing the film as the final product kept flitting radically between genres – kind of suggests he didn’t really know what he was trying to do in the first place though …

Irrational Man  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                       95 Min        12A

Woody Allen’s latest begins in murky waters – Joaquin Phoenix plays an overweight despondent philosophy professor who likes more than the occasional drink or two, and Allen’s latest muse Emma Stone is the beautiful ingénue at college who will fall under his spell. It’s all a little clichéd and similar to his last film, ‘Magic in the Moonlight‘, with Stone’s early scenes each individually deliberately drawing the viewer’s attention to first her derrière, then her legs, and then finally her breasts. This is, however, a bit of a conscious red herring.

The professor is not interested in bumping uglies with the young nubiles around him, despite his reputation for doing just that, in fact, he isn’t all that interested in anything, other than continually mulling over wasted time and the little of any concrete value that his life has given rise to. Until, that is, inspiration strikes him in the most unlikely of ways – turning the story into a darker and more searching character portrayal, much as was the case in ‘Blue Jasmine‘, and although in that sense this isn’t quite so revealing or incisive, it is well delivered and likeable throughout, marking a return to form for Allen after a bit of a stray bullet the last time around.

The Transporter Refueled  (2015)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       96 Min        15

The Transporter hasn’t actually been refuelled, rather he’s been replaced, Jason Statham no longer appearing in the lead role after having done so for the first three films in the action franchise that begun with ‘The Transporter’ in 2002. Ed Skrein takes on the reigns as central character Frank Martin, with Ray Stevenson playing his father who gets kidnapped by several hot women (not that he minds too much – concerns about venereal diseases are apparently non-existent in the Transporter universe), that have escaped a criminal gang’s prostitution ring and are now out for vengeance – forcing the transporter to offer his elite and discreet delivery services for free, but also entangling him in the girls’ troubles. Skrein isn’t bad in the role, and it delivers fairly sleek, easy to watch action from start to finish in sunny locales like Nice, France, but there’s unfortunately just no real point to any of it, with tensionless drama and continuous resolutions that are either too easy or just plain daft.

American Ultra  (2015)    40/100

Rating :   40/100                                                                       96 Min        15

Utter rubbish – two stoner lovers are living out their pointless existence until one day one of them is ‘activated’, turning out to actually be a highly trained killer programmed by the government. He doesn’t really know what’s going on, but has a knack of annihilating all agents sent to destroy him before he can find out (his program is to be liquidated by some office politics), although he has to make sure his girlfriend also survives so he can propose to her. It perhaps could have worked, but there’s no reason to care about anyone in the film – the central two have no depth and nothing interesting about themselves or their somewhat lacklustre romance and we know the bad guys are going to line up to be killed without the main character having to really think about it otherwise the film would be over pretty quickly – and if the main character is making no effort and doesn’t seem to overly care much about what’s going on, why should the audience? With Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart as the doped up daring duo.

No Escape  (2015)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                     103 Min        15

Fairly ill-conceived thriller set in a fictitious country, one which also borders Vietnam and has a major river crossing that border, which kind of makes it Cambodia really (they also create a fake flag which seems to be an amalgam of one from the north of South America crossed with Bhutan’s for some reason). Owen Wilson, who is actually one of the film’s saving graces, takes his entire family to live with him in a foreign land he knows nothing about, all because his position within a large water company (which he apparently also doesn’t know much about) demands it of him.

Unfortunately, there is a military insurrection against evil Westerners the very next day and armed militia wander around the streets ethnically cleansing the entire city of white people, and anyone else who gets in their way. Lake Bell plays the wife and my goodness is her performance annoying in this, as neither she nor her admittedly cute but slow witted daughters click that their life is in danger and they are going to have to make a significant effort to survive. Initially, when the blood splattered shit hits the fan, things look set to deliver a really intense thriller, but it’s quickly ruined – firstly by adding traditional crummy music telling us to be excited where before there’d been more of a realist approach, and then secondly the basics of the story just become thicker and thicker slices of well matured action movie cheese. They even camp out on a lit, open-air roof that can be seen from all directions at one point. Mince. With Pierce Brosnan in support.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  (2015)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                                                                     105 Min        12A

Great emotional film, with a multitude of references to other great films via central characters Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) who make small-scale parodies of the films they love, eventually coming a cropper for ideas when they have to make one for a young girl, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), whom they both befriend due to her being diagnosed with leukaemia (initially at Greg’s mother’s insistence). Moments of genuine comedy mix effortlessly with those of drama – you at once appreciate the dynamics of the youngsters getting to know one another at a pivotal moment in their lives as well as understand their individual neuroses and self-doubts, and the limitations they give rise to. Jesse Andrews wrote the screenplay, adapting his own 2012 debut novel, and with direction from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon it’s the latest in a run of films featuring a young cute girl diagnosed with cancer – after ‘Now is Good’ (12) and ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘, and this is most well rounded of the lot, anchored by convincing performances from Mann and Cooke, although the parodies we see a little of are never quite as funny as you want them to be.

Ricki and the Flash  (2015)    59/100

Rating :   59/100                                                                     101 Min        12A

Featuring Academy Award titaness Meryl Streep as fictional musician ‘Ricki’ Rendazzo (although screenwriter Diablo Cody was apparently inspired to create the film, not the character traits, by her mother-in-law Terry Cieri and her New Jersey band ‘Silk and Steel’), frontwoman and guitarist of her band The Flash, and detailing a tumultuous reunion with her estranged family after her daughter, Julie (played by Streep’s own daughter Mamie Gummer), enters a painful divorce and attempts to take her own life. Kevin Kline plays the ex-husband, with musician/actor Rick Springfield as Ricki’s current beau and lead guitarist of The Flash.

Director Jonathan Demme (‘The Silence of the Lambs’ 91, ‘Rachel Getting Married’ 08) initially creates an intimate drama but it all starts to slip away from him as time goes on, veering dangerously close to becoming a cheesy pastiche of middle-class soap opera vignettes – one of Ricki’s sons is gay and she doesn’t get it, her ex has married a black woman (there’s suggestion Ricki is racist as a result) and he keeps a stash of weed in the freezer (Ricki finds it in a second), and of course the cliché of the failed suicide attempt; there’s a blasé approach to everything, all with paper-thin treatments and Ricki as a down and out ‘rebel’ not welcomed by anyone but who’s musical talent will be offered as some kind of recompense for not bothering to be a mother for decades.

The music, however, is really good, with Streep’s vocals immediately evoking Stevie Nicks and working far better here than they did for her Oscar nominated turn in ‘Into the Woods‘ (Streep also spent a dedicated several months learning to play guitar, even receiving some tuition from Demme’s pal Neil Young no less), and indeed the performances all round are what partially redeem the film from its frequently transparent and hollow writing.

Straight Outta Compton  (2015)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                                                                     147 Min        15

Dramatisation of the rise to prominence of N.W.A.(Niggaz Wit Attitudes), the seminal rap group consisting of focal members Eazy-E (played by Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), detailing its foundations, socio-political effect and its bitter infighting and eventual split (the film’s name is taken from the title of their debut album and the first track on said album – Compton is a city south of L.A.). Both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are listed as being among its producers, so you can probably take a lot of it with a pinch of salt, and it’s not a biography of any one of the individuals per se so it has controversially not made any mention of Dre’s several physical abuses of women, but as a cinematic account of part of the music industry it is remarkably refreshing in the energy of the film, the performances, and the way it involves the audience in the music itself.

Mitchell, Hawkins and O’Shea Jackson Jr. all hand in great turns and are performers to expect more from in the future (O’Shea Jackson Jr. is of course Ice Cube’s son, and is indeed his spitting image) – interestingly, one scene features the crew receiving some police harassment courtesy of the L.A.P.D. and the main instigator of it is a black cop – much like was the case in ‘Boyz n the Hood’ (91), which was Ice Cube’s Hollywood breakthrough. With Paul Giamatti in support as N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller and directed by F.Gary Gray (‘Law Abiding Citizen’ 09, ‘The Negotiator’ 98), the film has been given a sinister seal of authenticity by portraying Marion ‘Suge’ Knight (played very well by R. Marcos Taylor) as a bit of a psycho – Knight who reportedly during filming got into an argument onset, one that was ended permanently by him running the other conversants over, killing one outright. In July of this year he was told he would stand trial for the murder.