Hector  (2015)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                       87 Min        15

A Christmas film with a decidedly more depressing angle than is the norm. Hector (Peter Mullan) is a homeless pensioner living rough in Scotland and has been doing so for many years – although he has managed to make some friends, played by Keith Allen and Natalie Gavin, and indeed has become a regular at a Christmas shelter in London, which he is determined to reach this year as well via a lengthy bout of hitchhiking. This time, however, he needs a crutch to walk and ailing general health means he is scheduled for an operation after the holiday season, though for exactly what we aren’t told.

From first-time writer and director Jake Gavin, it’s as bleak as it needed to be for the first half of the film, as we watch Hector survive in the face of bitter elements opposed to that very purpose, and choosing to ground it as a Christmas movie was perfect as it reminds us of those less fortunate than ourselves and the hardships they will be enduring right now. Thereafter, the film warms up thematically as Hector’s backstory is explored amidst the arrival of friendlier faces and it’s here that a massive opportunity has been missed – the current political climate in Britain with the Tory party in power has left many vulnerable people homeless and destitute for no good reason and yet the exact mechanisms for this are very much under the public radar, reason being a decidedly right-wing and pro-Tory media (evinced by the somewhat pantomime attack on left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn – especially by the BBC, who seem to enjoy camping outside his front door ready to insult him every time he leaves home).

The story could have explored this dark facet of modern Britain, and indeed the medium of film is one bastion that can illuminate current circumstance, but alas the retirement of Ken Loach from feature films has left a noticeable void in British film for the cries of the voiceless, and the character of Hector is very much a victim of both chance and his own feelings of hopelessness. Dramatically fine, but given the bigger picture perhaps a little easy overall. Mullan is convincing throughout and the beautiful Sarah Solemani also shines as the care worker whose relationship with the people around her may be more symbiotic than is apparent.

Hitman : Agent 47  (2015)    27/100

Rating :   27/100                                                                       96 Min        15

Why did they bother. The first Hitman, back in 2007 and adapted from IO Interactive’s video game series of the same name, had its moments but never really set its aims high enough – here, in this non-sequel, they are directly pointed at the ground, with a ridiculous story ripping off parts of the Terminator and Matrix franchises amongst other much better source material put together with heavily stylised action sequences that are so tiresome and predictable they’re even less interesting than your average video game cut-scene. Rupert Friend plays the central Hitman character (Agent 47), a cloned assassin who has his targets set on one Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware), the daughter of the genetic assassin programme’s creator who is trying to trace her father whilst the mysterious John Smith (Zachary Quinto) sets out to interfere with Agent 47’s plans. Friend does his part, but Quinto is slipping noticeably down the greasy pole a little, at once reminiscent of his role as Sylar in TV series ‘Heroes’ (06-10). One can only assume he was a big fan of the games.

Hot Pursuit  (2015)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                       87 Min        12A

Perhaps alarmingly, I quite enjoyed this. It’s a buddy film with two female leads in place of the usual male ones – indeed, most of the chatter surrounding its release has revolved around this element combined with its being helmed by a female director: Anne Fletcher (‘Step Up’ 06, ‘The Proposal’ 09). This combination of the sexes, earth shattering as it is, has seen several criticisms lain at some of the jokes, but in each instance there often equally appears to be a unique omittance that the screenplay was written by two men – David Feeney and John Quaintance. These socio-political elements aside, the story follows Reese Witherspoon’s extremely-by-the-book cop Cooper as she attempts to both protect Sofia Vergara’s Riva and to also make sure she testifies against a criminal heavyweight, as without her testimony the case is set to collapse.

The first third or so will probably make you want to kill yourself, but eventually the corny story is buried in the infectious fun the two leads are clearly having together and their chemistry alone gives the fairly run-of-the-mill comedy the lift it needed to actually generate some laughs. Indeed, I found myself sniggering away several moments after some of the jokes had been delivered, and any film that can do that and then finally send me away from the cinema in a good mood deserves some credit. Flawed to be sure, and by the end it has begun to peter out a little again, but very likeable and some lovely stealth laughs in there for those not too proud to admit it.

Horns  (2013)    46/100

Rating :   46/100                                                                   120 Mins        18

So turgid with its own premise it misses the point spectacularly, with even the actors looking bored come the finale. It’s adapted from the 2010 novel of the same name by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) and stars Daniel Radcliffe as the hopeless sod who is accused of murdering his girlfriend and is so enraged by this that he sprouts horns from his temples and with them gains the innate, and completely without off switch, ability to bring out the worst in people, inducing them to not only speak the truth but also to give in to whatever base and carnal whim happens to be floating around their subconscious at the time. This aspect sounds quite promising, unfortunately the film only plays with it about circa fifteen percent of the time – the rest is spent watching Radcliffe moan endlessly about his horns instead of using them to have fun, and us the audience being forced to endure a constant traipse through the dullest murder mystery ever when it is painfully obvious who committed the crime in the first place, and we don’t really give a monkey’s about it in the second. Culminating in wasted special effects and dull acting in what is altogether a pathetically watered down version of what could have been. Also with Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson and David Morse.

Hector and the Search for Happiness  (2014)    43/100

Rating :   43/100                                                                     120 Min        15

A crummy, sentimental, almost boorishly stilted ‘life affirming’ film centred on yet another bumbling and repressed central geek character from Simon Pegg and one which will deliver no surprises whatsoever in terms of its resolution, although having said that the ending was quite nice – indeed that, a wonderful albeit too brief cameo from Christopher Plummer, and Rosamund Pike slapping her ass on Skype are the only things that saved this from incineration.

This is basically Britain’s take on ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘, with Pegg living out the same daily routine with his smoking hot girlfriend (Pike) and going through the motions with the patients at his psychiatric clinic. Essentially having a boredom induced mid life crisis he decides to go travelling, partly due to a boyhood obsession with Tintin (ironic, as Pegg also starred in ‘Tintin : The Secret of the Unicorn‘ and it was also terrible). This obsession fits the story well as it uses many racial stereotypes that wouldn’t be out of place within the pages of the comic (Tintin was one of the most popular comics of the Twentieth century for those unfamiliar with the Belgian boy detective, but initially it contained various caricatures that would never make it into print today), most notably when he goes to ‘Africa’, not a country within the continent mind, just ‘Africa’. Reason being his destination is shown to be run by drug barons and random people with guns who seem to have been educated at Cambridge and speak the Queen’s despite none of their goons knowing a word in English.

Seems a bit strange, travelling to but a single destination in Africa and yet picking one that is completely unstable and commonly plays host to Western abductions. The fudge to facilitate this is Pegg’s old uni buddy who seems to have been there the whole time and naturally as a white Westerner is the only thing stopping all of ‘Africa’ dying from disease or gunfire as the lions prowl quite literally ten yards away from the outdoor operating table, then, in a two pronged attack, this friend painfully creeps his arm around his black bodyguard revealing that he is also the man’s gay lover and that he has stayed as it’s the only place where he feels accepted as himself, despite the fact that the West has very effective and largely victorious gay rights movements and he clearly felt the need to run away and hide as far away as possible from everyone he knew to live out his repressed colonial fantasy of bumming an armed black man and was at great pains to keep this relationship hidden from everyone in the region until they and Pegg were in the middle of nowhere by themselves – I mean, that is both a politically correct and incorrect sandwich gone completely berserk, I’m surprised he didn’t have an offshore dolphin retreat for feminists recovering from troll bashing that doubled as the continent’s first pro bono transgender surgery.

Pegg’s other destinations are Shanghai, where he gets it on with a prostitute who then claims he used her which I still don’t understand, a monastery in an undisclosed location, and …. Los Angeles, that top destination to visit when you are searching your soul for a higher meaning and keeping a journal, as he is, of what makes different people happy. Alas he doesn’t ask any gangbangers, but whilst in ‘Africa’ he does get kidnapped, which at least brought a level of consideration into things, but then he gets out of it via another hopeless fudge.

Although the ending was done quite well for what it is, the fact that the girlfriend he leaves in limbo whilst travelling is both a nice person and very beautiful means there was only ever going to be one outcome to his ill conceived meanderings and one inevitable conclusion to what it means to be happy – sex with Rosamund Pike, and a considerable amount of money that allows you to live in posh splendour in London meaning you never, ever have to think about the hellholes you foolishly decided to travel to and get kidnapped in and where you can quickly turn a blind eye to the problems in the rest of the world as your near death experience has finally convinced your lady to accompany you whilst you engage in your hobby of flying remote controlled planes. Watch ‘Mitty’ instead.

Hercules  (2014)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                       98 Min        12A

Dwayne Johnson stars as the titular hero of Greek mythology (it should be entitled Heracles though, Hercules being the romanised version of the demigod) and he was pretty much the perfect choice for the role. He’s come a long way since the days of ‘The Scorpion King’ (02), delivering a slew of entertaining performances to become a dependable leading man and command one of the highest fees in Hollywood (Forbes currently places him in second place overall) and here his onscreen presence serves the character perfectly, as he stands on two tree trunk legs, each wider than the nearest warrior behind him, wielding his giant olive-wood club and adorned with the skin of the Nemean lion.

Rather than following in the footsteps of the likes of ‘Clash of the Titans’ (10) and ‘Immortals’ (11), this is more concerned with Hercules the man and how the myth is wrapped around him, and it is essentially a battle film with pretty decent set pieces and costumes – there’s nothing outstanding or brilliant about the movie but it is pretty good overall, notwithstanding the cheesy dialogue and historical inaccuracies (Athens is shown to have a king, for example, when at this time, circa 350 BC {which is actually way too late for Heracles’ era anyway}, her democracy was flourishing and kings had been done away with, and indeed they are using the misplaced king, Eurystheus, of variously Argos or Tiryns depending on which source you read) that we expect to find anyway. It’s based on a graphic novel and it has that kind of feel to it – similar as well to ‘King Arthur’ (04) in that we follow Hercules and his friends as they are hired to help defend the kingdom of Thrace from an usurper (Hercules is a mercenary, one tormented by a brutal personal event in his recent past), and we don’t get to know them in any great depth – but well enough to like them and care if they get cut to pieces or not.

There’s a host of good supporting actors – some of them regulars of the genre such as Rufus Sewell, John Hurt and Ian McShane, but also Peter Mullan, Aksel Hennie, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal – playing the Amazonian Atalanta and looking very much like a young and super fit Nicole Kidman. It’s good fun with some nice locations and sets and it’s a lot better than the likes of the Conan reboot and the aforementioned ‘Immortals’ (truly, an episode of ‘Total Spies’ is more worthwhile than that film), and although it is lacking any kind of spark to really ignite it, enough has been done to merit a sequel and it probably won’t disappoint if you’re in the mood for a weekend action film.

Oddly, Johnson’s real life buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger had his first movie role playing the same part in ‘Hercules in New York’ back in 1969 (one of Schwarzenegger’s inspirations, Steve Reeves, also played the Grecian hero on two occasions). The two friends managed to share a brief onscreen moment together in ‘The Rundown‘ 03, which is also worth a watch incidentally.

How to Train Your Dragon 2  (2014)    57/100

Rating :   57/100                                                                     102 Min        PG

The Red Dragon feels the need to debunk the hubris of this animated franchise (this of course follows up on 2010’s successful, and quite enjoyable, ‘How to Train Your Dragon’). Dragons cannot, point of fact, be trained, least of all by humankind. At best we might lead you on a little for our amusement, or because we enjoy toying with our food before we devour it, but the idea that someone can push the right bits of our bodies and mystically have us at their beck and call is, I’m sorry to say ladies and gentlemen, an erroneous construct of the movie industry in an attempt to satiate those such as myself and supply us with a never ending stream of playthings. The possible exception to this would be the case of particularly attractive human females who like to engage in the activity of dragon riding bareback for private reasons, as this strokes our egos as well as said reasons.

Oddly, the film’s main problem also concerns this aspect. Having well established with the first film (where everyone was originally engaged in conflict with one another) the notion that dragonkind and mortals can exist cooperatively by virtue of each being reasonable entities, this foundation is then turned on its head with the introduction of an ‘Alpha’ dragon which can effectively tell the other dragons what to do and they will obey zombie like each command. This does not work. It completely obliterates the previously central concepts of friendship, morality, reason and, most importantly, free will. Imagine what the sales pitch to create an accord between the species must now become – ‘Yes, seriously they can be trained and become your new best friend that will be loyal until the very end. Unless there is an Alpha in the area in which case YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKED, and should find the nearest cave to hide in unless you want to watch your family being barbecued’. Worse yet, this concept is used to deploy one of the most hackneyed plot devices for upping the ante and drama in a sequel (no spoilers).

The movie eventually tries to atone for this egregious error of balance but it’s too late by then, and it’s symptomatic of a lot of the loose writing going on. The trailer shows the appearance of main character Hiccup’s long lost mother (played by Cate Blanchett with one of the weirdest pseudo Scottish accents ever) but it turns out she was swept away by a dragon (yes, she too likes to ride dragons, Cate Blanchett could also definitely fit into the exceptions category mentioned above) during an attack on the Viking village leaving her infant son and husband (chief Stoick the Vast played by Gerard Butler) to assume she was eaten. She wasn’t. Her flimsy excuse for allowing her family to think she was dead for twenty years is that the dragons became her friends and she didn’t believe the rubes in the village would change their ways. C’mon. She obviously found something she wasn’t getting at home.

The central storyline focuses on the discovery of an old long forgotten bad guy who’s building an evil dragon army, and our young hero will once again try to find a peaceful solution. Jay Baruchel returns to bring Hiccup to life but, as he speaks predominantly through his nose, he does not make a natural choice for voice acting, and he also plays him in the exact same way he does all his characters – the hopeless geek routine that will have you wanting to gouge your eyes out at points as he tries to tell people utterly crucial things that they need to know and continually lets them interrupt him – spit it out for God’s sake!

There are nice moments, and the animation is colourful, detailed and slick. All of which makes this exactly the same as most of Dreamwork’s output – skilled but with everything undermined by woeful writing. It’s not even morally robust enough to recommend for family viewing unfortunately.

Her  (2013)    83/100

Rating :   83/100                       Treasure Chest                     126 Min        15

With the Oscars ceremony taking place in a few hours time, this was the last of the best film nominees I had left to see, and what was a very, very strong category for me has just become even more so. It’s from writer/director Spike Jonze and takes place in an immediate future that, from the technology on display, feels like it is taking place just around the corner from where we are now. Here we meet Theodore, played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix (who was perfect for the part), who is about to be treated to the latest innovative piece of computer software to hit the globe in the guise of an artificially intelligent operating system for his computer.

After only briefly hesitating over whether to choose a male or a female program, he is soon greeted by the sultry tones of Scarlett Johansson emanating from his computer and, understandably, he soon falls in love with ‘her’. The story thusly plays on the idea of love and the parameters of normal relationships as Theodore finds he doesn’t really need anything physical but rather someone who is completely attentive to his needs and engages him mentally, and yet he also has the option of turning her off whenever he wants to. Or at least, in the beginning he does, as the story along with the AI continues to evolve, throwing more and more food for thought at the audience.

A couple of parts of the film don’t hold up as well as the rest, the most egregious of them being when Theodore is on a date with Olivia Wilde who’s starting to feel him up but then asks a fairly reasonable question about him taking her seriously and he bottles it. If Olivia Wilde has her hands down your pants and asks if you are going to be nice to her, you simply say YES!. Or nod your head, or groan affirmatively, this is not a scenario where there is any doubt or need to think about it. Shortly before this he implies that he could be her dragon, which she likes the sound of. Must. Interview. Her.

This is an artfully delicate and incisive film with well balanced and intelligent use of its sci-fi premise, and it may just provide an upset at the Oscars …

Homefront  (2013)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                     100 Min        15

What is by and large a really good film unfortunately dwindles into all too familiar territory come the end, but nevertheless it remains on the whole worthwhile. It’s the latest action number from Jason Statham and features James Franco, Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as the supporting bad guys trying to trade off his life and that of his little girl to an incarcerated drug baron, who was of course put behind bars by Statham during his days as an undercover DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) officer. Trying to lay low and just look after his family now, things are set in motion after his young girl, whom he has taught how to defend herself, bedecks a local bully, and his hick junkie mother (played wonderfully by Bosworth) sets out for vengeance. Definitely worth a look for Statham fans.

How I Live Now  (2013)    42/100

Rating :   42/100                                                                     101 Min        15

Total crap. Yet another film (on the back of ‘Byzantium’ and ‘The Host’) that sees Saoirse Ronan playing an angsty teenager in love, who must deal with some enormous problem that is preventing her from having ecstatic fairytale love with her perfect man, as she stares angrily/stoically into space. The dramatic event is in this case a nuclear attack on London, and the subsequent invasion of the mainland that plunges Britain into darkness and separates her from the local churl that she is having desperate fantasies about (played by George MacKay) – often shown to us in lurid, jarring and bizarre dream vignettes. The trouble is that their cardboard romance doesn’t look like it would survive a trip to Blackpool never mind the end of the world, as the film, despite good cinematography and deserved kudos for the wardrobe department (anyone who dresses their heroine in a T-Shirt that reads ‘My laser Kittens destroy you’ is most definitely onto a good thing), tries to achieve something akin to crossing ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ (92) with ’28 Days Later’ (02), and completely fails. Teenage girls might enjoy this, but very doubtful anyone else will – disappointing effort from ‘The Last King of Scotland’ (06) and ‘Touching the Void’ (03) director Kevin Macdonald.