Krampus  (2015)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       98 Min        15

Comedy horror focusing on the travails of a family and their relatives one especially cold winter’s eve when Krampus, the pagan god of cramps, descends upon them, resulting in numerous involuntary and sudden spasms in the family members whilst they go to the bathroom and about their normal business of bickering, fighting, cooking and vaguely trying to be merry and pretend they actually like one another, often to comic effect. No, not really. Rather Krampus represents the sinister anti-Santa, thought to have originated in Austria and one of numerous similar figures in European folklore and tradition, he is usually represented as a horned, hoofed, towering menace, whisking misbehaving children off to some unknown, and presumably grim, chastisement, although oddly enough he doesn’t seem to have made it as far north as Scotland – he was probably deep fried and eaten by the same kids he came to collect.

Certain members of the principal family, basically all of them, have forgotten what Christmas is really all about, or rather their rotund gun-totting relatives staying over have steamrollered whatever seasonal cheer they had left, bringing the decidedly unfestive house to the initial attention of Krampus, who elects to pay them a little visit and pick them off one at a time along with the help of his animated companions: grisly werebears and despotic gingerbread men (and possibly women) and a sort of Christmasy version of The Thing. Nothing brings people together like common adversity – unfortunately common adversity also sometimes drives them further apart, and Krampus has a field day with nary a sensible decision made to stand in his way. In fact, he has such a good time, he decides to pay the neighbours a visit while he’s at it too.

Directed by Michael Dougherty (‘Trick r Treat’ 07) and co-written by him, Todd Casey and Zach Shields, the entire thing feels like there’s a really good movie constantly threatening to come out, but it never really does bar a few nice touches here and there, and although the cast, including Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and Krista Stadler, all at least carry their roles, their characters simply have too many moments when they act in a horribly stilted way, pausing hopelessly when they need to finish off daemonic foes and always two or three steps behind what is clearly right in front of them. Similarly, the direction and writing continually show signs of promise but fall down too readily, with many action scenes difficult to view clearly – and the most promising characters dealt with too summarily. It’s a great concept though, which may witness ‘Krampus’ carry its weight a little farther than it really ought to.

Inside Out  (2015)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       94 Min        U

Disney Pixar’s latest is unsurprisingly ambitious and technically accomplished, but on this occasion they’ve overshot their own creative mark and landed a little too close to the dead zone of thematic ambiguity for comfort. The plot is theoretically about one family: father (Kyle MacLachlan), mother (Diane Lane) and young eleven-year-old girl Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) who relocate from Minnesota to San Francisco, causing Riley to suffer numerous quite natural insecurities and regrets as she waves goodbye to several friendships and a hallowed place on her ice hockey team.

In reality, the movie is focused on what’s going on inside Riley’s brain as we see Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) brought to life as individual entities at the helm, ‘Headquarters’, of Riley’s entire personality and normal function. Herein lies problem number one – an attempt to personify characters as representative of one distinct and solitary emotion but also as characters in their own right who must necessarily exhibit more of a range.

The whole motif behind the movie is that it’s OK to feel sad sometimes, as this can be a visual signal to others that we are in need of help. Sadness initially messes everything up before her place in the grand scheme of things becomes apparent, and as her chaotic influence sweeps throughout the labyrinthine corridors of Riley’s grey matter we watch as entire elements of the host’s personality are completely and irrevocably annihilated by mistake, whilst in the real world her life is equally devastated as a result. All of which has the effect of largely distancing Riley from being in any way in control of herself and her own state of being, which in turn is conceptually very alienating for an audience.

Similarly, there are a lot of very eerie goings-on; we see a large creepy clown lurking around in locked away memories, entire characters begin to fade into nothingness as Riley starts to forget them. Notwithstanding this, there are funny moments and the artwork involved is top-notch, as we’ve come to expect, just as the adventure the central personality profiles go in does more or less hold interest until the end. Still, the film’s premise hasn’t been satisfactorily fulfilled and The Red Dragon is by no means convinced this is a good film to be taking youngsters to go and see.

Night at the Museum : Secret of the Tomb  (2014)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       98 Min        PG

This is essentially completely identical to parts one and two of the ‘Night at the Museum’ franchise, which began way back in 2006 although it seems like just yesterday. The majority of the characters return for this instalment, including the protagonist Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Jed (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) and the late Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, together with new faces Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), La (also Stiller) and security guard Tilly (Rebel Wilson) as well as some great cameos. A very loose thread throughout explores Larry’s relationship with his son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) who is determined to take a year out before college to basically chill out in Ibiza, much to the chagrin of his concerned father, but can Nick convince Larry that he’s mature enough to make his own decisions?

The main story arc follows the somewhat mouldy decline of the golden tablet that brings all the exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan to life at night, and just as the previous film took everyone on a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., this time the British Museum in London is where they hope to find answers to the imminent cessation of all their nocturnal activities. The film works as a really great advert for the museum and the not too distant Trafalgar Square area – indeed, these are two of The Red Dragon’s favourite places to visit in London (although usually I am paying more attention to potential new slaves than exhibits, I once met a rather charming girl called Mona Lisa in the National Gallery (no joke) and indeed was similarly distracted in the British Museum and thoroughly enjoyed the visit along with the hieroglyphics merchandise from the shop, until I remembered the Rosetta stone is there and I had neglected to see it. Pesky human females). The film is perfectly in keeping with Stiller’s usual zany, light and family friendly comedy adventures and for precisely that reason this delivers exactly what you would expect – a film that’s easy to watch with colourful performances and the occasional laugh but nothing to make it stand out and overall somewhat banal, with an ending designed to finish the series rather than really make much sense.

’71  (2014)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       99 Min        15

An odd film in that it’s set during the height of the Troubles in Belfast in Northern Ireland, but it’s actually a completely fictional story. I’m not sure how wise it is to take artistic license with something so important and divisive in not too distant Northern Irish history. On the one hand it demonstrates the kind of scenarios and conflicts that would have been experienced at the time, and with a bit of distance so they don’t have to worry about historical accuracy with the characters and so on – on the other it could be seen as not treating events seriously enough, using it as an excuse to create a tense drama that, in the absence of a properly delivered political backdrop, could have been set in any conflict. Director Yann Demange and writer Gregory Burke have more or less walked their fine line successfully here, showing a sense of the conflict’s reality and the brutal horror of the violence but together with a framework for its existence, and without simply getting lost in their own dramatic attempt to keep the audience engaged.

Jack O’Connell plays the protagonist Gary – a British soldier deployed in Belfast for the first time, who ends up isolated from the rest of his unit and on the run as all hell breaks loose in the city around him and he desperately tries to reach the relative safety of his barracks. It’s well shot, there’s some real tension in there, and O’Connell passes mustard in the role although really he’s not asked to do much except run around looking scared and he has yet to impress in any role that doesn’t involve him portraying a violent psychopath, the next few leading roles he has lined up should put his acting chops to the test. The film’s major problem lies in its believability, as the story becomes increasingly difficult to buy into – in particular the moment when one of the characters, who has himself and his daughter to protect, thinks to himself ‘hmm something is happening here which we absolutely must keep a complete secret from everyone, I mean like everyone, even the people I trust most in the world, and then in a matter of hours it’ll all be over anyway. “OK love, I’m just popping out to tell the local head of the IRA about our situation. Yeah, it seems like the logical thing to do. Bye!”’ It’s pretty much downhill from there.

Broken City  (2013)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                     109 Min        15

Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, an ex cop working as a private eye who’s hired by the mayor of New York (Russel Crowe) to take snaps capturing the adultery of his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). It shapes up well, but ultimately begins to lose ground about half way through, with the twists and turns, and the interlinking of the characters with the story, feeling a little trite and forced. Wahlberg has carved out a niche for these kind of roles, and he fits them well with his incredulous looks of ‘are you kidding, this is seriously happening to me?’ as he stares off to the side before facing forward again to finish delivering his lines in his trademark stance. It’s a shame the promise of the first half isn’t matched by the second.

Hansel and Gretel : Witch Hunters  (2013)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       88 Min        15

Gory fantasy violence as the traditional fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel gets a modern makeover. The original story was of course written by the Brothers Grimm, and indeed the look and feel of this film is very similar to Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Brothers Grimm’ with a lot of attention paid to the production design, including an animatronic troll, and complete with a very similar role for everyone’s favourite bad guy Peter Stormare. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the titular two, grown into adulthood and battle hardened after many successful seasons of witch hunting, but now they face multiple child abductions in the same area, and a brush with their mysterious past. Famke Janssen makes an appearance, and you can expect lots of frenetic and gaudily over the top fight sequences with blunderbusses and magic. Ok, but instantly forgettable.

A brief look behind the cameras – look out for what must surely have been a painful blow to the midriff…

Django Unchained  (2012)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                     165 Min        18

Tarantino’s latest gets a lot right but, unusually for the director, it also gets a lot wrong. Here he tackles the western genre and has said he wanted it to fit into the spaghetti western style but in an American way. Whilst imagining a western done in the style of Quentin Tarantino delivers exactly what we see here, there is also an element of style being prioritised over story; particularly in the length of the film, which starts off very strongly, but soon begins to drag. The Red Dragon is a fan of westerns, but if you ask anyone who doesn’t like them one of the commonest complaints is that they find them boring and tedious, and asides from some over the top gory violence ‘Django Unchained’ isn’t going to do much to change that view for many.

The story follows that of freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) as he and bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) travel the pre-Civil War American Deep South, ultimately in search of Django’s still enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). There are a lot of nice touches, including a lot of jokes at the expense of racist plantation owners, but at one point Django makes an extremely dubious out of character decision, and it’s purely to set up events in the rest of the film. Indeed, anyone familiar with ‘Inglorious Basterds’ (09), which was a fantastic movie, will recognise several nods in its direction, but also very strong similarities with the way tension was created in that film and then released.

With that knowledge everything plays out with an inevitable unoriginality, and it does indeed become quite tedious, to an almost childish degree, with even some of the music jarring badly with the narrative – something for which Tarantino is famous for normally getting completely spot on. Even things like having one of the slave owners suggest that all black people are genetically programmed to be submissive and that Django, being different, is one in ten thousand, and then much later on having the ‘hero’ Django saying something along the lines of ‘you were right about one thing, I am one in ten thousand’, well it kind of has a lot of negative connotations with it, though this is possibly more down to carelessness than anything else. Christoph Watlz and Samuel L. Jackson (in a masterfully Machiavellian role) give the strongest performances.

Upon the release of the film, Tarantino has had to face a bit of a grilling from journalists over its content, and over the very hot debate at the moment surrounding whether or not movie violence has a direct link to several gun related massacres in the States and elsewhere. In the following interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the strain of that is perhaps beginning to tell….

The Expendables 2  (2012)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                     103 Min        15

One is very much aware from the onset that this is an ACTION movie. Stallone’s super team up of action stars continues with a second instalment and even more famous faces than before, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis also get larger parts than in the last outing. The style and set-up is exactly the same as last time, and it’s a decent action romp. It’s also impossible to deny that it’s nice to see them all onscreen together, and it’s equally impossible not to notice they’re having a really good time making it! Having said that, ‘The Expendables 2’ has sadly had to include itself in the list of films where people died on set, after a stuntman was tragically killed during a set piece accident.

The Expendables 3’ is a dead cert, and rumour is Nic Cage is already on board, and the filmmakers have approached Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford. How about the original bond Mr Connery for a final touch of class? The set-up here is great, but it would be nice to add more to the fray than just a shoot ’em up bursting with one-liners, and it does kind of feel like cheating when you have all these super fit action stars and they all have automatic weapons….

Shadow Dancer  (2012)    62/100

Rating :  62/100                                                                      101 Min        15

Beginning in Belfast in 1973 and based on the novel by Tom Bradby, Shadow Dancer mainly takes place in the early nineties and focuses on one family and their involvement with the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It stars Andrea Riseborough as the main character Colette McVeigh and Clive Owen as the British MI5 agent assigned to deal with her, supervised by Gillian Anderson in support (who played an MI7 chief in ‘Johnny English Reborn’ last year) who has spent the last eight months profiling Colette and working on a strategy to use the girl against her own Republican activist brothers. The scenario feels real, but the biggest problem with the film is that the characters do not.

Clive Owen gives Colette his real name on their first meet in order to gain her trust, for example. Clive Owen is dependently good throughout, but the central performance from Riseborough leads to other problems. We are given the very strong sense she is someone heavily involved in the Troubles and violent IRA activity, and yet she seems strangely disinterested, or disconnected from most of what’s going on around her. It creates a disingenuous feeling that permeates the whole film, as if the entire whole is an attempt to artificially create tense drama, rather than the audience witnessing a dramatic scenario happening to real people. The film has a grainy texture to it, making it seem older than it should, and the protagonists are given an equation to solve that only has a few possible solutions, but it still takes them a pretty long time to solve it.

Unfortunately, anyone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and watched ‘W.E.’ (11) and was, presumably, scarred by it, may find it impossible to shake the associations with Andrea Riseborough’s last cinematic outing. The film was so bad laws should be passed to prevent Madonna from ever opening her mouth to talk about British history again, or from ever making another film for that matter. In it, Riseborough played Wallace Simpson, and the film aimed to paint the American woman who seduced a British monarch, and forced his abdication from the throne, in a better light than is usually cast upon her. The overriding memory is that she comes across as a wanton slut in the film, but the same sort of hopelessly vague and insincere aura that surrounded her performance there, seems to have many ‘shadows’ here. That said, her Belfast accent is very good, and remains so throughout. It’s pretty rare to find really convincing and consistent accents on the big-screen as actors transcend different nationalities, though quite frequently during the film the dialogue becomes muffled and difficult to make out.

Director James Marsh, who won an Oscar for the documentary ‘Man on Wire’ (Sean Connery describes this as one of his favourite movies incidentally), has created a fairly linear, small scale piece that he’s tried to give a distinctive feel. He hasn’t completely failed, the beach scenes are lovely and memorable, but it’s only the suitably dramatic ending that saves it from complete mediocrity. Documentaries don’t always start at the very beginning, and perhaps here it would have been better to save the opening flashback for a while and simply introduce the characters more. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Marsh had been very much inspired by ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ (11), and was trying to emulate a similar feel for this work. The book is probably a lot better.