Daddy’s Home  (2015)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                       96 Min        12A

A very standard Will Ferrell comedy that sees the stepfather (Ferrell) in a family compete with the unexpected arrival of the testosterone-fuelled biological father (Mark Wahlberg), coupled with the usual level of predictability, over-the-top antics and, in this case, some particularly ropey CGI. It’s actually the second time the two actors have headlined together, after 2010’s ‘The Other Guys’, and Ferrell has once more ended up with the hot wife (here played by Linda Cardellini) though his caring and overly-sensitive husband is about to be emasculated by the motorbike riding, musclebound and well-hung Wahlberg (again, not a first onscreen … ). The leads engage to some extent as they play off one another, and there’s a slight upward trajectory as the plot unfolds, but it’s pretty desperate stuff throughout and it really needed more social bite with higher-impact comedy moments, not to mention less cringeworthy effects. Go and watch Star Wars instead.

The Good Dinosaur  (2015)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                       93 Min        PG

Not exactly living up to its family friendly moniker, Disney Pixar’s latest after the equally unbalanced ‘Inside Out‘ focuses on a young Apatosaurus, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), separated from his family and forced to survive with his unlikely primitive companion, Spot (Jack Bright), a young boy of around seven who still squirrels around on all fours for the most part. The two become erstwhile friends and begin the arduous task of finding their way back to Arlo’s homestead (the film is to my knowledge the very first animated dinosaur western, with the Apatosaurus as ranchers struggling to eke out a living from the land, and the T’Rexs as cowboys, or drovers – all after the asteroid that may or may not have originally wiped out the dinosaurs sails harmlessly past Earth for the purposes of the movie), during which time Arlo must find his courage, which is a nice theme for a film very much aimed at a younger, family audience, albeit one common to children’s fiction, see ‘Blade of the Poisoner‘ for another example.

Given its target demographic, however, there are at least three particularly dubious scenes (not to mention a ‘Lion King’ (94) moment that you will see coming a mile off): we see an enormous insect presented as food to Arlo, who is of course a vegetarian so he is confused by it, before its head is quickly wheeched off by Spot to demonstrate its purpose. Now, it wasn’t the cutest creature to ever be presented in a Disney film, but still such an abrupt execution begs the question of ‘was that really necessary to show?’. As too does a pterodactyl eating whole a, this time very cute, little wolf thingy, leaving a distinct queasy aftertaste to the moment, but chief sin of the three has to go to the two protagonists getting high on wild berries and then starting to hallucinate and trip out, seeing each other with multiple heads and so on.

I mean seriously, what on earth were they thinking. I don’t think even in the early days of Disney where now you can pick holes in the content to a degree, such as Tinker Bell and all the mermaids in ‘Peter Pan’ (53) trying to murder Wendy in rather ungrounded fits of jealousy for example, do they reach the depths of kids taking hard drugs, although actually John does smoke Wampum in ‘Peter Pan’ come to think. The scenery and landscapes are incredibly well rendered and brought to life, the dinosaurs look a little weak in that respect, but the story proves continually misguided with all of the above and multiple character decisions that don’t really make any sense, as well as numerous survivals from altogether too extreme scenarios. Another disappointment from Pixar, which suggests releasing two feature films in the same year, the first time for the company, may have perhaps stretched creative resources a little too far.

Ant-Man  (2015)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                     117 Min        12A

Marvel Studios’ worst release since ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (08) and presumably directly suffering from the project’s departure of the person who founded it, Edgar Wright, shortly before production began in earnest. Wright had been working on an Ant-Man screenplay for many, many years (along with his writing partner Joe Cornish) and had finally been given the go-ahead from Marvel but, citing creative differences, he left the project (although given they both worked on the screenplay for ‘Tintin‘ I’m not wholly convinced this was a bad thing). Taking his place to alter and finish the script were Adam McKay (‘Step Brothers’ 08, ‘The Other Guys’ 10) and Paul Rudd, the latter of whom plays the titular superhero himself, and it is the story that really lets the film down. Peyton Reed (‘Yes Man’ 08, ‘The Break-Up’ 06) also filled Wright’s shoes as director.

We can predict exactly what will happen, how it will happen, when it will happen, and what all of the details concerned will be. Even for a superhero film this is remarkably two dimensional, and again for the genre it’s also really difficult to suspend our disbelief enough to get behind it fully. Rudd plays ex-con Scott Lang who is just out of jail and determined to help support his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), whose stepfather is a cop of course, but finds getting a normal job with his record next to impossible. Opting to do another heist with his mates, played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian (who seems to have gone to great lengths to disguise his identity as the Joker’s patsy in ‘The Dark Knight’ 08), he enters into the world of tech genius Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly – almost unrecognisable with a new bobbed jet black hair style); all of which sees him don a suit which can shrink a human to the size of an ant and back again at will, but he must use it to steal a competitor’s prototype before they can use it for nefarious purpose (there’s a very dubious ownership element regarding the powers, much like the screenplay, which is part of the movie’s problem).

As such, it is pretty much the same story as ‘Iron Man’ (08) with two pillars of the same company fighting each other for control of the same invention, leading to the inevitable punch-up at the end. An attempt at comedy has been made but it’s all far too simple and usually revolves around the same constantly regurgitated joke. The effects and the acting are fine but it just gets really, really dull, although it should certainly keep a younger audience fully entertained. There is both a mid-credits scene and a post credits one as well, the latter apparently taken from the next Captain America film no less (‘Ant-Man’ marks the end of ‘Phase Two’ in Marvel’s cinematic universe – ‘Captain America : Civil War’ will start ‘Phase Three’ sometime next year). Also with Corey Stoll as the villain (also bald like in Iron Man, coincidence?) as well as Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale in support.

Trash  (2014)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                     114 Min        15

Mainly in Portuguese with English subtitles and slightly living up to its name, this is directed by Stephen Daldry (‘Billy Elliot’ 2000, ‘The Hours’ 02, ‘The Reader’ 08) who oddly appears to very much be trying to mimic the style of Danny Boyle with the editing, choices of colour scheme and the high tempo music used to tie the threads of the story together. Written by Richard Curtis (whose last effort was ‘About Time‘), and based on the 2010 novel by Andy Mulligan, the plot follows the exploits of three young boys in the slums of Rio de Janeiro who stumble upon a wallet in the city trash one day, a wallet that holds the vital clue to the location of a huge stash of money. Corrupt city police are also hot on the trail and soon find themselves chasing after the streetwise youngsters in a sort of ‘Slumdog Goonies’ escapade, although it doesn’t ever feel very realistic, nor tense, and indeed the ability of the three central characters to make us feel for them varies as much as the acting between them does. The corrupt officers are so bad as to make them pantomime villains, and it all culminates in a scene that will leave you thinking ‘you seriously didn’t just do that. I’m so annoyed right now’. Martin Sheen plays the priest trying to look after the shantytown district the boys live in, and rather strangely Rooney Mara plays the Westerner doing a spot of travel and teaching English but her part is so, well, pointless that you have to wonder why Curtis bothered with it in the first place, unless he just figured a pretty white girl was needed in there somewhere …

The Hunger Games : Mockingjay Part One  (2014)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                     123 Min        12A

The ‘Part One’ in the title here is the main problem with the film – splitting Suzanne Collins’ final Hunger Games novel, Mockingjay, into two parts has just spread the story far too thin to work well, reducing this one to very humdrum melodrama with little of note going on, and although I don’t know the ending of the series it’s a safe bet what the conclusion is going to be, most probably also with the heroic sacrifice of one of the main characters to resolve a number of the somewhat tedious issues now in place. All of the previous characters, like Peeta, Gale and Finnick, are utterly reduced to brief moments of perfunctory dialogue and new characters, like Natalie Dormer’s Cressida, are very rudimentary plot devices – everything is all put on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Katniss Everdeen as she is, once again, heralded as the reluctant champion of an entire nation.

This time the games have finished and the resistance have to fight a media war to win over hearts and minds – Katniss is to be their lightning rod, but the evil Capitol seek to undermine her image and crush the broiling rebellion set in motion by the events of ‘Catching Fire‘. There’s a lot of DRAMA without a great deal really happening and there is a curious mix of quite dark scenes of war with soap opera drudgery, and the final ‘twist’ is not only clichéd but laughably so, in fact the same thing was attempted in ‘Flash Gordon’ (80) but they realised it was rubbish so it didn’t last long. Hopefully the finale will have all the fireworks and soul that this one is missing, although interestingly political protests around the world, from Thailand and Hong Kong to the United States, have seen people adopt the three fingered salute used in the series, as well as graffiti slogans from the franchise, which is extremely impressive – are the filmmakers up to the task of delivering on the final instalment?

Annabelle  (2014)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                       99 Min        15

If your average human were to pick up the main character Mia in this film (played by Annabelle Wallis {no joke}) they may be forgiven for thinking ‘whoa, she is absolutely gorgeous it must be my lucky day! But wait, what am I missing? It can’t be this easy, I must be missing something here. Oh, that’s it, she collects creepy fucking dolls. Great. Next thing I know she’ll be sleeping with one of them between us and calling it mommy. Time to leave a note on a pillow I think …’. The husband here, unfathomably, actually encourages her obsession and even sources one of the super scary porcelain little misses as a present. What. An. Idiot. He really was asking for trouble there – of course the doll he so dotingly gives her is ‘Annabelle’, soon to be possessed by demonic spirits after the local version of the Manson family invade the couple’s neighbourhood and cause all manner of gory mayhem, leaving the young Mia with numerous psychological and emotional scars as well as an anthropomorphic satanic doll.

Speaking of which, did anyone ever read the comic ‘The Doll’? Now that was scary. This is distinctly less so, in fact there is very, very little in terms of the doll actually being personified, it’s mainly just lots of bad things happening around it – the worry may have been crossing into farce if the thing starting running around the place smirking and sticking crucifixes between its legs. As par for horror films many of the secondary characters are hopeless but there are a few well executed and tense scenes in here and Wallis is fine as the damsel in distress – a major pitfall though is the disturbing level of violence at times employed, as if writer Gary Dauberman had thought to himself ‘OK, what’s one of the most sickening things you can imagine happening …’, but really this kind of writing is rudimentary and it’s not something anyone really wants to witness for a good reason. At least the film doesn’t continually go there, à la the likes of ‘Hostel’ (05) and its brethren.

The story is also one of the canon belonging to the two paranormal investigators featured in ‘The Conjuring‘ – alas marketing ‘Annabelle’ with this connection was a bit of false advertising as the pair don’t really feature in the film itself.

The Purge : Anarchy  (2014)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                    103 Min        15

The sequel to last year’s ‘The Purge‘ from Blumhouse productions (with James DeMonaco writing and directing again) who don’t waste any time in getting the next installment in their franchises out. It retains the good basic story from the first one – that at some point in the very near future the U.S. Government sanction one day of violence and wanton destruction when people can ‘purge’ themselves of their baser inclinations and not face any recriminations (until the next Purge possibly), thereby theoretically creating a society largely free of crime for the rest of the year. Here, the concept is advanced a little and more politics come into it, which was a good idea and works quite well, but its critical sin is that four of the five main characters are terribly written and just as terribly acted.

Frank Grillo (‘The Winter Soldier‘, ‘End of Watch‘) plays one man on a mysterious mission – driving around on purge night in a bullet proofed car with a small arsenal with him for company, but focused on his goal rather than engaging in the bedlam around him. The character is the strongest element of the movie. Unfortunately, he stops to help out some strangers and ends up with a small entourage of completely hopeless gibberlings that shackle him for most of the film. I mean, you really feel sorry for this guy, as the others waltz around in plain sight, scream and shriek at every possible opportunity, talk when they shouldn’t, tell him killing is wrong but ask him to kill everyone around them so they can survive, just generally break his balls and cover constantly. It picks up dramatically for the last twenty or thirty minutes, and if the rest had been like this then it would have been possibly better than the original, but as it is the very people we’re supposed to empathise with effectively destroy the entire core of the film.

Transformers : Age of Extinction  (2014)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                     165 Min        12A

Aaargh, what a disappointment. Perhaps it was foolish to get my hopes up for the fourth instalment in the Transformers franchise (after ‘Transformers’ 07, ‘Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen’ 09 and Transformers : Dark of the Moon’ 11) but having grown up with them, and as a fan of the new series so far, it was kind of difficult not to. Essentially, all of the things that were wrong with the previous films have been taken to excess here, with worthy moments to counterbalance this few and far between.

The story takes place several years after the battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons which annihilated parts of Chicago (which has, incidentally, recently won a competition to be the venue of a large new movie museum. I’m sure it’s because of Transformers), a direct result of which sees the US Administration trying to handle their own security affairs with the Autobots effectively made into outcasts, whilst a covert CIA military outfit is secretly hunting them down for their own nefarious purposes. Shia LaBeouf, his family and various girlfriends are nowhere to be found and the central human characters are this time fleshed out by Mark Wahlberg, playing a hard up mechanic tinkering with old junk in his idyllic garage that always has the sun setting or rising outside whenever he’s working in it (no surprises what he’ll come across one day), Nicola Peltz, his overly hot jail bait daughter, and Jack Reynor, her fake Irish boyfriend.

The dynamic between the humans really couldn’t be more contrived and it’s hard to imagine it won’t grate on all but the youngest of audiences, but the film really starts to fall apart when Optimus Prime learns something which sends him into A COMPLETE FROTHING RAGE and he winds up to go on the warpath, which certainly had me thinking ‘AWESOME!’ but then they deflate this build up far, far too quickly, and right before the audience knows they would have discovered something critical. From then on, it just becomes an endless series of pointless explosions with terrible dialogue before the Dinobots are eventually introduced and Prime rides one like a donkey, but really they do so little they could have been any bit of new, slightly more powerful tech for all the difference it would have made.

The film has the feeling of director Michael Bay having been too influenced by his critics. Gone, for example, are the overt shots of his lead actress poised on a bike for no reason as if willing all spectators to jointly penetrate her in her every orifice, instead we have brief takes of flesh here and there, one second shots from between the daughter’s legs …

 Tessa's Short Shorts

… for example, but Bay has to either go for it or not bother – half measures don’t come off well at all, and the whole film feels like he’s almost making the movie he wants to, but with too many concessions. There are still, however, some really nice moments – such as one character memorably getting their brutal just deserts, scientists playing with a My Little Pony and a few decent set pieces. Unfortunately, however, below standard special effects here and there and more silly moments (the creation of the chemical element ‘Transformium’, for example, is unlikely to give chemists much inspiration for future nomenclature) continue to ruin the whole, and its length leaves it as one extended headache more than anything else. The early teenage bracket are probably the most likely to get something out of it. Also starring Sophia Myles, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, T.J. Miller and Bingbing Li.

The Last Days on Mars  (2013)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                       98 Min        15

A zombie film set on Mars, not unusual in terms of the genre but slightly so in terms of its general release at the cinema and not straight to DVD.  Mankind has recently established a base on the red planet and the present crew are due to be shipped back to Earth for the next staff rotation when one of them happens upon sings of microbiological life. This life form, as one would expect, starts to turn the humans into flesh eating zombies that are impervious to the atmospheric conditions of Mars and the laws of science and nature in general. You can tell who is going to meet their undeath first based on their acting calibre. It’s not all that bad, is just isn’t interesting, original or tense enough to be particularly worthwhile, nor is it sadly bad enough to be especially good fun. Watch ‘Mission to Mars’ (2000) instead, which was also ropey in places but was great to watch, or the Mars episode of Doctor Who with the aliens in the water which was also good apart from the completely nonsensical ending. With Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai and Johnny Harris.

The Big Wedding  (2013)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                       89 Min        15

Completely silly. Featuring the stellar cast pictured above, this remake of the French film Mon frère se marie (My brother is getting married) is comprised of very predictable comedy and farce, as everyone invited to the wedding of the youngsters Alejandro and Missy, played by Ben Barnes and Amanda Seyfried, turns out to be intimate with one another, whether in the present or past tense. Robert De Niro’s Don is currently in a live in relationship with Bebe (Susan Sarandon), but was previously married to Ellie (Diane Keaton), with whom he had two children and adopted a third, who is now to be married. The only problem is, Alejandro’s biological mother is coming to the wedding, and she is deemed so devoutly Catholic that all evidence of the foster parent’s divorce must be covered up, meaning Ellie and Don pretend to be married again and Bebe goes off in the huff.

This primes most of the material, as infidelity is trivialised and yet the film absurdly still attempts a few scenes of serious drama, mostly surrounding Don’s daughter Lyla (Katherine Heigl), though they are at least kept to brief interludes. There are a few laughs in there, and if you like the cast and are in the mood for some irreverent inanity then it might be worth a look in, just don’t expect to be rolling around in the aisles at any point …