Macbeth  (2015)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     113 Min        15

A little bit of a disappointment I have to say. Director Justin Kurzel’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play is very memorable for its bloody, bleak and beautiful visuals of the Isle of Skye and Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, but throughout almost the entirety of the film it fails to be very engaging. Too many moments feel like actors reading Shakespeare rather than living their parts or vocalising the minds and emotions of their characters, and the darkness, particularly the central character’s decent into it, isn’t offset against anything – it all goes pear shaped too quickly for us to care particularly about the unfolding tragedy.

If we compare this to one of the most famous examples of the protagonist going through a violent metamorphoses, Michael Corleone in ‘The Godfather’ (72), there we like Michael, we see him at the wedding with his girlfriend, we learn he’s a good guy, a strong character – and indeed it’s primarily the bond for his family that begins the corruption of his soul, so we understand it and care about him as a character. Macbeth generally, and particularly here, is much more difficult to invest in, as are all of the characters. In real life he was considered to be quite a benevolent king, and in the play he begins as someone who commanded the loyalty of those around him – the film needed much more of this. As it is, we just have stylised bloodletting before his woman finds it a little too easy to sex him into devilry.

Michael Fassbender takes centre stage as the titular devil and he fits the role like a glove, although his portrayal is curtailed by the shortcomings of the film and doesn’t shine quite as brightly as it could have done. Almost none of the main cast are Scottish but all attempt very reasonable accents, with Fassbender and then Englishman Sean Harris in support as Macduff doing the best of the bunch. French actress Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth does stand out a little as the only one not attempting the accent and unfortunately it does jar with the others and the setting, and despite her being a great actress it nevertheless adds to the imprint of hollow characterisation. Critically, a lot of the dialogue is muffled and difficult to make out – it’s fine not understanding the, in parts, antiquated language Shakespeare wrote in, or getting confused by the poetry and its references, but one should at least be able to make out the words themselves.

To be fair to the film I did just watch Kurosawa’s version of the play, ‘Throne of Blood’ (57), a few months ago so I wasn’t really in the mood for the same story again so soon, but if you are similarly overly familiar with the play then visuals aside I don’t think you’re going to really gain anything from this retelling. Also with David Thewlis as Duncan, Paddy Considine as Banquo and Jack Reynor as Malcolm.

A Walk in the Woods  (2015)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     104 Min        15

Adapted from Bill Bryson’s 1998 novel that recounted his expedition along the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, and starring Robert Redford as Bryson and Nick Nolte as his mate Stephen Katz, who turns up for the trek in a less than ideal physical state. Both the leads deliver very likeable performances and, along with the occasional vista of wonderful scenery, they are what make an otherwise far too light, breezy and unremarkable film quite reasonable, if underwhelming, entertainment.

Along their journey they meet various other people – none of whom seem in any way real, rather they have been accentuated to an extreme for the sake of comedy, and yet we’re supposed to be watching a retelling of a real adventure for the pair so it does largely detract from what the film could have aspired to be, and indeed it’s been done so heavy handedly that it also ruins what should have been decent comedy.

Having said that, it never really goes so far as to be completely off-putting, but relating to Bryson’s remarks – that his initial jolt of excitement at having the work adapted and himself played by Redford quickly gave way to foreboding that the story was about to be taken out of his own hands (it was adapted by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, each making their screenwriting debut, with ‘Big Miracle’ {12} director Ken Kwapis at the helm), this indeed definitely has the feel of a much diluted version of the source material. With Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen briefly in support as respectfully Bryson’s wife and a random hot innkeeper they meet on the trail, and in the end it’s not great but remains a pleasant enough Sunday afternoon film to watch and relax with.

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 Longest Ride  (2015)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     128 Min        12A

Nicholas Sparks must be the least inventive successful author of his generation, given that his work largely just recycles the same story involving an idyllic, yet troubled by one central threat, romance between a young Venus and Adonis spliced and intermingled with a parallel love story involving two other characters and their, usually tinged with tragedy, tale in flashback. Such is the case in this latest adaptation of his similarly titled 2013 novel, with Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) as the aforementioned mercurial lovebirds and Alan Alda as the old fogey who will engage them with his own tale of romance after the other two save him from a car wreck along with his basket of love letters that he apparently never leaves home without (and which Robertson’s character has no qualms about delving into whilst he’s unconscious).

I have to admit that I did find myself warming to the story as the film went on, despite some ropey acting (some good work too though, especially from Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, as the flashbacked love interest) and the expected cavalcade of cheesy twangy songs, romanticised countryside and vainglorious displays of tensed biceps and tight jeans. Indeed, since this is the second Sparks adaptation, the other being ‘The Best of Me‘, that I’ve begrudgingly admitted to not despising recently I guess I should cut him some slack, and here director George Tillman Jr. (‘Faster’ 2010, ‘Notorious’ 2009) does a pretty good job with the material and at handling the primary source of tension: the male lead’s occupation of rodeo rider coupled with recovery from a near brain haemorrhage due to the sport the year before (partly inspiring the title, though you kind of imagine Sparks tittering away to himself at perspective double, or indeed triple, entendres whilst he was writing), including cinematically vivid shots of the stunt men in action (some of the scenes are with Eastwood on a mechanical bull, though he did sneak off after the shoot wrapped to try one for real), although here it would have been much better to ditch the schmaltzy formula and replace it with more traditional grit and sweat for a favourable contrast.

It won’t disappoint fans of Sparks but it still lacks anything that’s likely to entice many new prospective converts into the fold.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day  (2014)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                       81 Min        PG

Adapted from the 1972 children’s book of the same name by Judith Viorst, part one of a three part series, this effectively shoots itself in the head right at the very beginning by showing us what is due to happen to the Cooper family, consisting of mum, dad, eleven year old Alexander, his older siblings Anthony and Emily, and his baby brother Trevor, as they experience the titular very bad day. All instigated, it seems, by Alex, who felt everyone around him had the Midas touch whilst he was the perpetual victim of misfortune, thus inducing him to make a wish that the rest of his family should experience what he is used to for a change, a wish that he quickly comes to regret as a series of reasonably catastrophic, though family friendly, events befall each of them, including even the baby. Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner are the famous faces that play the parents and the delivery and essential story is all fine, it’s just that since we are going one or two days back in time within the narrative there seems precious little point to setting up each of the unfortunate events when we’ve already seen what their outcome is going to be. It was a really daft way to open the film, and though it is still a reasonable family movie extolling the virtue of sticking together no matter what, it could easily have been much better.

Oculus  (2013)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     104 Min        PG

Horror film featuring the supposed shenanigans of an EVIL MIRROR THAT CAN CONTROL MINDS, in this case the minds of Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) the surviving members of the Russell family, their parents having been brutalised in front of them when they were kids. Now in their early twenties, Tim is released from psychiatric care (where he has been ever since mirrorgate), convinced that his mind used the irrational to rationalised horrible instances of domestic violence – his sister’s first response to him being released is to cajole him into turning up at their old home again to immediately confront the mirror and try to tease out the evil within so she can record it and prove their parents weren’t completely mental. This will severely test the effectiveness of Tim’s therapy sessions, as well as his love for his older sister, who has effectively toughed it out by herself through the foster care system, intent on a danger fraught reckoning with the old heirloom of Balmoral castle (a nod, no doubt, to Gillan being Scottish but also an opportunity missed with no mention or link to any of the Royal Family that stayed there).

Gillan sports an understated and entirely convincing American accent and is herself the strongest element in the film, with Thwaites having the difficult, hackneyed and irritating role of conveying the ‘I don’t believe any of this’ trope across to the audience. Throughout the entire movie we have a dual narrative – what’s happening with the two main characters in the present, spliced with showing us what happened to them and their parents when they were kids and here the biggest difficulty arises, as one not only detracts from the other but they both eventually become deliberately intertwined, which is a pretty ambitious strategy and, well, the film doesn’t really pull it off. There are lots of silly moments, like Kaylie earnestly saying ‘OK, from now on we’ll stick together’ and then hotfooting it right out the door and leaving her brother to stare into space in growing stupefaction (he does this a lot). The enemy they are ostensibly up against seems too powerful as well, with the pair unable to tell what is real and what isn’t, especially when Kaylie has prepared the scenario already armed with this knowledge.

Despite never really hooking the audience it does have its moments, and it’s still better than the majority of horror films churned out nowadays because it at least attempts to have a story, even if that story does, at times, become a convoluted mess.

Escape from Planet Earth  (2013)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                       89 Min        U

The first animated theatrical release from Rainmaker Entertainment, which hits UK shores over a year after its release in the States – was it worth the wait? Well, not especially, but for its target audience of young kids it should prove visually and thematically entertaining enough, with the occasional nod to films like ‘The Artist’ (11) and ‘Monsters’ (10) to try and keep adults interested.

The story focuses on two alien brothers, one full of machismo but not the sharpest tool in the shed and the other a tech nerd and family man (his son is initially more impressed by the showmanship of his brother) at mission control – when the former is captured by the US military (many of their number have mysteriously gone missing on Earth) the more cautious brother is forced to ‘man up’ and go into the field to try and rescue him. The animation is slick and colourful, and although the story is very simple, exploring the rivalry of the brothers along with the relative pros and cons of their strengths and weaknesses, it should hold youngster’s attention throughout, although it is unlikely to become an enduring family favourite.

With voice acting from Rob Corddry, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Alba, William Shatner and Ricky Gervais.

Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues  (2013)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     119 Min        15

Equal parts slightly entertaining and just plain cringe worthy, this sequel to one of Will Ferrell’s best comedy films does not live up to expectations. All the cast have returned, as news anchorman Ron Burgundy and his team are put on the night shift of the new innovative 24hrs news channel, and to liven things up they effectively invent reality television. The very heavy advertising unleashed for the movie to give it a chance against the likes of The Hobbit, has ruined a lot of the comedy as cinema goers will be familiar with many of the jokes by now, and some of the others could have been good but the delivery is just not quite right. Keeping some laughs and losing others to just plain silliness, the film is redeemed somewhat by having a pretty good scene toward the end with a smorgasbord of famous faces joining in. Starring Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, Kristen Wiig and James Marsden.

The Family / Malavita  (2013)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     111 Min        15

Based on the novel by French author Tonino Benacquista and written/directed by filmmaking legend Luc Besson (‘Leon’ 94, ‘The Fifth Element’ 97), this English language film sees the family of one Giovanni Manzoni, a former member of the Brooklyn mafia, under witness protection with his family in Normandy, France, after bad blood and attempted assassination forced him to testify against one of the other crime lords. It’s a black comedy, as the family’s violent traits find themselves at odds with the quaint/rustic/backward way of life in their small town. Unfortunately, the gags are all very predictable and although Besson stages his familiar action set pieces well, his inexperience with comedy does show.

The central cast all do a good job – with Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron and John D’Leo embodying the main family, and Tommy Lee Jones playing the FBI agent assigned to try and manage their protection. It’s a very likeable film, it’s just not anything more than that. Although the scene where Giovanni is invited by the town to watch and discuss a classic movie of American cinema, is quite wonderful.

Bad Grandpa  (2013)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                       92 Min        15

Normally, trailers for films don’t usually wet The Red Dragon’s appetite much, partly due to overexposure and partly due to having a somewhat voracious appetite, but the ad for this did have me looking forward to seeing the full movie. The difference is though, that with the trailer the fact that this involves pranks on real people is not so prevalent on the consciousness of the audience, whereas it is foremost on one’s mind when watching the film and it’s not so easy to switch off completely and enjoy it – although all the people whose faces aren’t blotted out did give their permission to appear in the final edit.

This is of course the latest Jackass film, one with a slight alteration to their previous movies as here Johnny Knoxville dresses up as the titular Bad Grandpa, Irving Zisman, and goes on a road trip with his grandson, played by Jackson Nicoll. A lot of the gags are funny, just not as much as I was expecting them to be – all except for the beauty pageant scene, which never failed to get a laugh in the cinema when the trailer was on and despite seeing it many times over, it is still quite hilarious. A slightly higher rating is probably merited when watched with a couple of beers and your mates …