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.

Pixels  (2015)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                     106 Min        12A

Opportunity squandered. Adam Sandler’s latest comedy sees an alien race test the human species to deadly combat via an invasion of 80’s arcade games come to life on a large scale (Pac-Man flits about eating cars for example), leaving Sam Brenner (Sandler) as humanity’s best hope for survival and conveniently giving justification and meaning to his and some of his friends’ lives (although to be fair, one of them has also become President of the United States) wherein much time was previously wasted/invested playing classic arcade games.

The film has very obviously taken huge inspiration from the wonderful documentary ‘The King of Kong’ (07), which charted the rivalry between two contending Donkey Kong champions (although there is suggestion it may have sacrificed facts for drama in the process which would be a shame if true). Here, the characters are all pretty lame and the actors: Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, invest in them with varying degrees of success but none succeed in creating anything with enough screen presence or workable comedy to be worthwhile. Indeed, Michelle Monaghan is arguably the most successful with her fairly run-of-the-mill romantic interest for Brenner, but the film’s largest drawback is that, despite convincing effects, they have managed to make the concept unbelievably dull and tedious. It perhaps wasn’t all that great for comedy to begin with, but coupled with plodding and ungrounded character and environmental interplay it just grinds ever downward into predictable and irredeemable pointlessness.

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 Unbeatables / Metegol  (2013)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       97 Min        U

Animated tale featuring a foosball table whose players all come to life in order to help their owner, Amadeo (Rupert Grint), defeat his town’s returning tyrant who is desperate for vengeance after Amadeo beat him at the table when they were kids, the only time he was ever beaten at anything, and despite becoming a real life international football star he hasn’t been able to come to terms with the humiliation ever since. This is an Argentinian film that has been dubbed in English and bizarrely, the people in charge of doing the English language version have taken the opportunity to play politics by making the winning foosball team English, with a few foreign players, and the side that is always beaten (Amadeo has never lost a game and seems to always play the same side – one could be forgiven for thinking the table was rigged) is entirely comprised of Scotsmen as far as we can tell. The English captain suggests that they have to work as one and are stronger together, which couldn’t be more obviously referencing the upcoming independence referendum next month, and the heavy suggestion that ‘we are better together because you are shite by yourself’ is unlikely to have the desired effect on voters. Why even go there? They could easily have mixed up the nationalities and kept this ‘better together’ theme going, and their direct referencing is surely going to fly over the heads of their young target audience anyway.

It reminds me of a perfectly pleasant and thought provoking debate on the matter I had with a young gentleman from England in the pub the other day, pleasant, that is, until he put his hands on his hips and triumphantly declared ‘And we both know who gets the most money out of the union,’ he smirked, ‘Scotland, haw haw’. Needless to say he wasn’t looking so pleased with himself when I burned him alive and scattered his ashes around Edinburgh Castle. I mean, it’s possible he’s right – but that’s the point, no one really does seem to know for sure.

As a worthy aside since the film attempts to also dis Scotland’s footballing credentials, England’s media love to laboriously mention they won the World Cup in 1966 (although many of you might have picked up on how little they mentioned that fact during this year’s Brazilian tournament – this is a direct result of the looming vote), but they are less inclined to remind people that during the following British Home Championship it was Scotland that was the first to beat that very same team. Nor were they terribly happy when we beat them at the last ever international to be played at the old Wembley Stadium, in fact they were so miffed they fudged in another international to avoid the humiliation (which they also lost anyway, one nil to Germany). Indeed, the Unofficial Football World Cup actually has Scotland sitting at the top of the all time rankings table, and England’s worst home defeat ever was to Scotland, 6 – 1 way back in 1881.

Although it is fair to say Scottish football at this precise moment in time leaves a lot to be desired. Personally, The Red Dragon thinks they should ban foreign players and managers and just focus on the game for the people of the country – levelling the playing field, increasing domestic support and promoting home talent until we have a decent international team again, get rid of the reliance on business and money and focus on the game. They should promote women’s football as much as the men’s too – it’s just as good, in fact they should have a friendly between the two national teams every year.

Anyway, back to the film – you can often tell the quality of the animation you’re dealing with by looking at how well they render the humans, and here that quality is definitely running at a minimum. The foosball players look much better, but backgrounds and secondary characters are predominantly basic and sometimes even garish, although the creative camera flourishes of director Juan José Campanella do occasionally shine through (Campanella directed best foreign film Oscar winner ‘The Secrets in their Eyes’ 09). The story plods on uninterestingly until the finale is set up – an actual football game between the residents of the town against villain Flash (Anthony Head) and his professional teammates. A match which is to decide the fate of the town, and one that is oddly not as one sided as the recent Germany vs Brazil semi-final. Here the film picks up and delivers a rewarding ending, but there’s not much of value in the rest of the movie, and the animated players spend most of the time just trying to find each other before giving a prep talk to Amadeo, ultimately not doing a great deal over the course of the film.

Walking on Sunshine  (2014)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       97 Min        12A

A musical which features various hits from the eighties, most of which are tortuously murdered by the young relatively unknown cast whose musical and acting abilities run the gamut. Oddly, said cast includes Leona Lewis in her film debut – and as the ace up the production’s sleeve not nearly enough of her is made, especially as she’s the strongest singer by quite a margin. It’s very obviously taking the majority of the leaves out of Mamma Mia’s (08) book, set as it is in an idyllic seaside location in Italy with three female friends as central characters (pictured above and played by, from left to right, Hannah Arterton {sister of Gemma Arterton}, Annabel Scholey and Katy Brand) and the context of one of their weddings as excuse for them all to be there. Scholey is the one to be wed after a five week whirlwind romance, although it turns out her husband to be (played by Giulio Berruti) used to be the lover of her sister (Arterton) who elects to keep this secret and hide the fact she is still in love with him, meanwhile Scholey’s ex (Greg Wise) is determined to win her back, but what could the outcome of all this possibly be …. ?

Most of the first two thirds is abysmal – indeed the opening rendition of Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ is probably the movie’s lowest point, but eventually it does get a little better, with maybe two or three scenes working as intended. One features Arterton singing live in a church and she does a great job – which makes you wonder why they didn’t do more of the same thing, à la ‘Les Mis‘, instead of dubbing the rest of it. Some of the other songs used include ‘Eternal Flame’, ‘Faith’, ‘The Power of Love’ (Huey Lewis and the News), ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and of course ‘Walking on Sunshine’.

Cuban Fury  (2014)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       98 Min        15

So derivative, it’s a wonder they bothered at all. Starring leading man Nick Frost – the whole concept for the film allegedly originates from a drunken email he sent to his producer, although it operates as essentially his own version of his pal Simon Pegg’s ‘Run Fatboy Run’ (07). He plays Bruce Garrett, a shy and introverted office worker who has a passion for salsa that he’s buried deep inside after some kids gave him a beating for dancing when he was a kid. The fact that this incident was a one off, doesn’t really speak highly of the main character, but that also forms the core of the story as he falls for burgeoning salsa enthusiast Julia (Rashida Jones) and must regain his self confidence and win her away from the affections of office rival and massive sleaze Drew (Chris O’Dowd).

The main problem, asides from the dire lack of any originality, is that’s it’s just so overwhelmingly drab, set in some uninteresting corner of England with very intermittent dance scenes all shot with such poor editing and direction that it’s not easy at all to say whether or not Frost is physically any good in the role, all asides from one scene where he has a dance-off in the car park at work with O’Dowd, which was quite well worked. The only other scene of any real note is when his quasi-mystical dance instructor (Ian McShane) has Bruce play board games with him and needles him when he refuses to properly engage with it, eventually producing a pretty impressive Scarface impression from him, making board games more fun for the pair and curing his self esteem issues in the process.

If you’re a big fan of Frost then you’ll probably still enjoy this to some extent, but if you’re simply a fan of salsa or otherwise then this isn’t really worth the time.

A New York Winter’s Tale / Winter’s Tale  (2014)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                     118 Min        12A

What a strange film. I don’t think I’ve found myself rolling my eyes in pained disbelief quite so many times in all the movies I’ve reviewed thus far, and yet the schmaltzy over indulgence did kind of get me interested toward the end, despite the protestations of my brain. I went into this with no prior knowledge of what it was about, but if you watch it, you must be prepared for a fairytale story defined by mystical notions, such as the biblical tussle of angels and demons for the souls of mankind and the concepts of miracles, fate and those worthy enough becoming stars in the heavens once they die. What happens once these stars go supernova, is not discussed.

The central character is Irish-American Peter Lake, played by Colin Farrell, whose parents set him adrift in a toy boat in New York harbour whilst they leave for presumably a better life elsewhere (the parents are displayed as caring ones, so this is not exactly a deed that will see many audience members warm to the start of the film). As luck would have it, the young child is picked up by Russell Crowe who seems to be playing an Irish Fagan, except that he’s also a demon, and his initial over acting and accent borders on the derogatory (he gets a little more palatable toward the end). In adulthood Lake rebels against his thieving foster father and this is where most of the story takes place, as he soon encounters a guardian spirit in the form of a flying white stallion (not in any way inspired by Pegasus you understand) and then breaks into a house for his last robbery in town, but then decides to steal the heart of the young lass he finds there instead using his Irish brogue and his horse (yes, it is that cheesy, though one suspects she had been fantasising about a burly Irishman breaking into to her private chambers for quite some time) although, tragically, she is dying of the consumption (that’s tuberculosis to you and I, although this particular victim appears to be in every visible way the picture of health) and thus destiny and fate become intertwined, together with their loins.

I won’t ruin the surprise of who turns up playing Lucifer. It’s Will Smith. Oops, well, it wasn’t really all that exciting, just like the movie. Truly, the first entire two thirds of this film should be eviscerated from existence, but even the black heart of I, The Red Dragon, was slightly moved by parts of the ending (I still wanted to gag at some bits here too though), due in part to me having already written it off and then finding the film had a few surprises in store. It’s the directorial debut of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who wrote the screenplay for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (01), ‘A Time to Kill’ (96) and … ‘Batman & Robin’ (97), and it’s based on the novel ‘Winter’s Tale’ (1983) by Mark Helprin (the film title outside of the UK and Ireland is the same as the book, it seems possible confusion with Shakespeare is confined to the British Isles). Downtown Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay plays the object of Lake’s affections, Jennifer Connoly and William Hurt make brief appearances, and happily so does Eva Marie Saint – best supporting actress Oscar winner for 1954’s ‘On the Waterfront’.

Le Week-End  (2013)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       93 Min        15

One can tell immediately from the trailer, which features married couple Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan off for a weekend trip to Paris, that this is going to be a reflective piece on the state of the protagonist’s marriage, probably interjected with sparse moments of comedy to lighten the mood, with the tensions of various unresolved issues rearing their ugly heads in order to tug at similar threads with as many audience members as possible, all before reaching some sort of cleansing and redemptive conclusion. This is exactly what is delivered, a formula which can work if done well – as in ‘Before Midnight’ for example, but here subtle errors make it difficult for the story to feel genuine, and ultimately it feels like the husband and wife, who are both well educated intellectuals perfectly capable of expressing themselves fluently, have barely ever had a conversation together.

Moreover, our sympathies are supposed to be equally divided between the two of them, but Lindsay’s character repeatedly comes across as a sort of caustic emotional corpse, with her to-ing and fro-ing between various states of half-life never really ringing true. The setting of Paris merely adds to the feeling of inherent pretension, and one can’t help but laugh when they climb the stairs of Sacré-Cœur, turn around to admire the view and exclaim ‘Who would want to live anywhere else?’ and the camera cuts to … a completely flat, overcast landscape. Really? They could surely have waited for a nicer day at least. I’m sure Paris has lots of lovely areas, but my overriding memory of the place is a heavily urbanised sprawl towered over by a great big rusty pylon. Indeed, the film is careful to only show the Eiffel Tower from a distance during the day. There are several irritations throughout the film as well – such as ‘a meal’ made of Broadbent’s character’s trait of eating with his mouth open, which is gross to say the least – but then we the audience are subjected to listening to it during more than one scene. PUKE!! With Jeff Goldblum popping up in support, and directed by Roger Mitchell. Who has at least improved on his last effort – ‘Hyde Park on Hudson‘.

The Croods  (2013)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       98 Min        U

The latest from Dreamworks Animation, and if we look at the original concept art from director Chris Sanders below..

The Croods concept art

… then compare that to the finished article at the head of this page, we see a certain resonance with the title. The story follows the desperate adventure of a family of prehistoric human/squirrel hybrids as they attempt to avoid plummeting into the fiery chasms of molten lava that dog their travels, the result of cataclysmic tectonic activity. Not to worry though, there’s plenty of time to fall in love and invent fire, shoes, and the umbrella along the way, courtesy of the wiry but bright male orphan Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and his affections for the physically stronger, and very much in vogue (and slightly aping ‘Brave’), female cave dweller Eep (Emma Stone), much to the chagrin of her equally meaty father (Nicolas Cage).

It’s a very standard Dreamworks movie, with little of interest for adult viewers but enough constant action and fanciful colours to keep younger audiences entertained. There is a chase sequence for a precious edible egg near the beginning, for example, that seems to last for an eternity as it’s passed from family member to family member via a series of increasingly unlikely measures in order to avoid capture from its mother, whom The Red Dragon’s sympathies were mostly with, and come the end of it one’s attention will almost certainly have wandered naturally away from the film. This pattern is oft repeated, although it gets slightly better as it goes on, and despite the modern day cliché of the romance involved, there is a nice touch when Guy refers to the apple of his eye as being “heavy”, at which she seems genuinely complimented and offers a beaming “Thank you” in return – good to see a children’s animation endorsing a slightly different feminine physique from the status quo of wafer thin princesses.

As with other Dreamworks productions, all the animation was done via computer, and some of the details on the main characters seem a little basic and lacking in finesse. The film also highlights, not for the first time, despite their Shreks and Madagascars, a difference in class level for the company against its much more diverse rivals, Disney, Disney Pixar and Studio Ghibli, not least of all by virtue of the fact director Sanders was the co-director and co-writer of Disney’s ‘Lilo and Stitch’, which The Red Dragon considers one of Disney’s most original and best, and he actually left the company to film this for Dreamworks, although he completed the successful ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ for them first, and he has Kirk De Micco helping, or diluting, his efforts with both direction and the screenplay here on ‘The Croods’. To keep up with its competition Dreamworks really has to make more of an effort to engage the whole family, rather than just its smallest constituent parts, although they have made an interesting strategic move into the Chinese market, with ‘Oriental Dreamworks’ under construction in Shanghai, and their first feature film, ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’, expected to be released in 2016 coinciding with the completion of their ‘Dream Center’ in the city, which will feature a host of shops, theatres, the world’s biggest IMAX screen, and is aimed to rival the likes of Broadway and London’s West End.

Not short on corporate ambition then, though the ‘Dream Center’ will be going head to head with a new Disneyland opening in Shanghai that same year…

Red Dawn  (2012)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       93 Min        15

The plot is completely ridiculous, not to mention horrendously cheesy, but the action is reasonably good. ‘Red Dawn’ sees the improbable invasion of the American mainland, focusing specifically here on Spokane in Washington (second largest city in the state after Seattle) by the North Korean military in a covert D-Day esque landing, that seems to involve parachuting in one CGI soldier for every few square metres of American soil. The logistics of this exercise are not deemed particularly relevant. What is though, is how Chris Hemsworth and his band of youths are going to arm themselves and take back the homeland from the enemy guerrilla style, calling themselves ‘The Wolverines’ and hoping to inspire others in the process.

The film is a remake of the 1984 version, and during production the original Chinese protagonists were digitally altered to become North Korean after news of the film’s plot didn’t go down too well in The People’s Republic. Angering militant North Korea, where the producers don’t stand to make money from the native box office anyway, doesn’t seem to matter. Why didn’t they just make it a fictional country? It’s not like any effort was made on a realistic plot anyway. After the first third it gets much better with some surprisingly enjoyable action, though unfortunately the one-liners do not similarly improve but are at least delivered with gusto.

(The politically astute amongst you may have noticed that North Korea threatened nuclear war within a couple of weeks of this film’s release. Coincidence? Or is the relatively young Kim Jong-un a massive, and easily offended, film buff? Although, really, all film buffs should be offended by this film, not just those in North Korea)