Paranormal Activity : The Ghost Dimension  (2015)    46/100

Rating :   46/100                                                                       88 Min        15

Could have been one of the better instalments in the Paranormal Activity horror franchise, alas it’s just rubbish again, although thankfully it’s been announced as the last one they’ll do despite ironically setting up a decent plot thread for sequels. Following on from the previous ‘The Marked Ones‘, this is film number six and to be honest I wasn’t especially aware, despite having seen them all, that the series features the same characters in different time frames and locations, alarmingly highlighting the ubiquitous poor scripting. Here, some new cannon fodder are introduced, in a modern setting of 2013, who find recordings of the anchors for the overarching plot – sisters Katie and Kristi Ray, shortly after the events of part 3 while they were still kids, and an eerie conduit between the past and present is instigated by a malevolent spirit that plagues the new family of three, plus their two friends that are staying over to make up the numbers.

The basic story is actually fine and builds up something potentially interesting with people that are almost likeable for this kind of film – indeed, the rather attractive wife (Brit Shaw) comes onscreen to enliven things slightly before a distinct moment of ‘Jesus Christ!’ as her even hotter friend (Olivia Taylor Dudley), looking like a young, petite and very well endowed Patricia Arquette, saunters into shot – but precious little is made of them, either as characters, plot devices or eye candy.

Instead, the film suffers the same repetitive fate as its predecessors wherein the screenplay sets up various set-piece scares, and everything else in-between makes no sense, such as adults filming their daughter being visited by evil spirits in the night rather than really doing anything about it, and it’s nigh on impossible for a film to pull off being scary and dumb at the same time. Also with Chris J. Murray, Dan Gill and Ivy George as the youngster in need of better parents.

Pan  (2015)    57/100

Rating :   57/100                                                                     111 Min        PG

The latest reimagining of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan operates as a prequel, with Peter (Levi Miller) abducted from his London orphanage during a WWII blitz raid by a flying pirate ship belonging to the dreaded Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), a slaver frigate that whisks him off to Neverland and the servitude that awaits him; hard labour digging in the mines for the life giving elixir that is fairy dust, wherein he will meet and befriend none other than fellow slave James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), ultimately taking the two on an adventure that will bring them, along with Smee (Adeel Akhtar), into the sphere of influence of the colourfully kick-ass Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) as they attempt not only to escape Blackbeard’s clutches, but also to discover what happened to Peter’s parents, who left him naught but a silver pendant of some panpipes that he has worn religiously around his neck ever since.

Written by Jason Fuchs and directed by Joe Wright (‘Pride and Prejudice’ 05, ‘Atonement’ 07, ‘Anna Karenina’ 12), the film is notable for its unique visuals where the emphasis of the movie has really been placed, but to be honest, they sent me to sleep the first time around. Thinking this was probably due to torturing foolhardy rubes all night rather than the movie, I watched it again and on 3D this time as it very much looked like it was meant to be viewed that way – alas, it actually looks much worse on 3D with large sections appearing too unreal and layered, to the extent that the flashy sequences matched with a whimsical story and a lack of any real depth to the thing does indeed make it quite soporific.

Light hearted family adventure was clearly the aim, and whilst it may please some youngsters and the wardrobe department have outdone themselves (with clear inspiration from Spielberg’s far superior ‘Hook’ 91) the final result is an ungrounded mess; half-realised ideas with committed performances that are drowned by a visual aesthetic that was way too experimental and ultimately fails. Rooney Mara is as radiant onscreen as she always is, just as Garrett Hedlund continues his growling acting career where he tries way too hard to be hard – this time attempting to be Indiana Jones for most of the film, although to be fair his style isn’t completely out of place with the movie here and he along with the rest of the cast are charming enough.

Ironically, the best moments in 3D are actually the stars twinkling through the credits at the end, credits that state ‘characters introduced by J.M. Barrie’ – ‘created by’ surely? As if the film is trying to take some sort of ownership over the much beloved inhabitants of Neverland, tsk tsk.

Paper Towns  (2015)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     109 Min        12A

In many ways an unlikely success as it continually threatens to career off-path but always manages to reel itself back in. Central character Quentin (Nat Wolff) has grown up with a borderline unhealthy obsession with the girl next door – Margo (Cara Delevingne), whom he was once good friends with but the vanities of high school societal status have long since removed him from. Until one eve, that is, when she elects to pop in through his bedroom window, as only hot girls in movies know how to, and instantly denigrate him to hopeless sidekick duties whilst she destroys several of the lesser beings who have slighted her recently, committing various felonies in the process and using him literally as a tool but which he thoroughly enjoys nevertheless.

Now even more obsessed with her than before he is promptly gutted to learn she’s eloped from school, until he finds she has left numerous clues for him to follow in order to discover her new location. Thus he embarks on an epic quest of undying love and truancy, enlisting the help of several of his friends in the process and experiencing a jolt of excitement and adventure in an otherwise staid existence of quiet academic success and acceptance.

Adapted from John Green’s 2008 novel of the same name for the big-screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who have a long history of collaboration – having written the screenplays for ‘500 Days of Summer’ 09 and ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ together, amongst others) and directed by Jake Schreier (‘Robot and Frank‘), the story treads a thin line between promoting, well, stupidity, and showing teenagers learning to live a little, take the initiative, and enjoy being alive whilst pursuing things that matter to them – and in the end it succeeds in the latter, with fitting support from the likes of Austin Abrams, Justice Smith and Halston Sage, playing the protagonists’ friends, and a breadcrumb trail that, like the rest of the plot, teeters on being ridiculous but eventually rings true. There’s also a cameo from Ansel Elgort (who of course starred in Green’s previous adaptation ‘The Fault in Our Stars’) during which he shows off a dragon tattoo to Sage and asks if she likes dragons, and she answers ‘no’ – is this a reference to something in the novel? Or could it be, they didn’t like my previous review? Surely not, I can’t think why that would be the case …. and yet they must know all girls love dragons, tsk tsk (It’s like with horses but with significantly more encouragement).

Precinct Seven Five  (2014)    66/100

Rating :   66/100                                                                     104 Min        15

Documentary that details the corruption proven to be endemic in New York City’s Precinct Seven Five in the eighties – as told via interviews from the actual officers involved as well as some of the drug runners they helped out and some actual footage from the events described. If someone told you this was a comedy spoof, a ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ (84) of policing, you would believe them, you can’t help but think throughout ‘what a bunch of absolute, complete idiots’, although the film itself feeds into the problem with a racy delivery, much like the multitude of cop-chase TV shows on both sides of the pond, and a severe lack of any real consequences for much of the film.

Eventually, the real world hits home for the characters in the narrative and the audience, but it still lacks a lot in terms of the silent voices of several decades worth of victims. Despite large chunks appearing as an opportunity for the corrupt to boast of their various misdeeds, the film does manage to be both depressing and carnally compelling at the same time, and given its access to primary source material and the perps themselves, this does, despite its faults, stand as a very useful record for insights into what turns officers to the other side of the law in the first place, as well as how they can infect others like a virus if allowed to go on unchecked.

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.

Poltergeist  (2015)    34/100

Rating :   34/100                                                                       93 Min        15

Did ‘Poltergeist’ (82) need to be remade? The answer is no of course, and yet it was on the ever dwindling list of classic horror films not already hammered to bits and rehashed so it was pretty inevitable it would reappear at some point. Falsely suggesting hope for the film is the casting of well known actors Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt but, although Rockwell has a few good moments, even they look frustrated and bored throughout, as if they realised their mistake early on in the production.

The story is in principle the same – evil spirits behind the TV screen in a family home use the naivety and innocence of the young daughter to enter into the real world and abduct the child in the process, cue the arrival of demonologist Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris, clearly not having learned his lesson from ‘The Quiet Ones‘) who will try to rid the family home of the evil malevolent spirits and save the child in the process.

Despite being bluntly unoriginal in concept it also still manages to be unoriginal in every other way it can possibly be, scares are rubbish, predictable and largely don’t even make sense for the concept – the family begin hallucinating, for example, pretty sure poltergeists don’t traditionally posses the power to do this, and it has the misfortune of a story focusing on the crossing into another realm by a child which is a theme currently at the forefront of other modern and more robust horror films, most notably the Insidious franchise. The acting is unfortunately consistently as believable as the story, although it’s probably less the fault of the performers and more writer David Lindsay-Abaire (Steven Spielberg came up with the original story incidentally) and director Gil Kenan here – at one point a male character witnesses a chair fly into the air and smash into pieces by itself, and the next minute he’s trying to insinuate the family have made up their haunted house story. Dire.

Pitch Perfect 2  (2015)    59/100

Rating :   59/100                                                                     115 Min        12A

Not quite as on key as its predecessor, the focus here is split too much between the singing of the successful all girl a cappella group ‘The Bellas’ from the first film and their less interesting personal diversions and indeed that too of new character Emily, played enthusiastically by Hailee Steinfeld, with the overall effect a dilution of the original’s strongest elements. The cast have all returned including main players Anna Kendrick as Beca Mitchell and Rebel Wilson as ‘Fat Amy’, with Elizabeth Banks, who plays competition commentator Gail, actually taking over directing duties as well – her last outing being the ‘Middleschool Date’ section in ‘Movie 43‘.

The underlying thread is that all the girls are going to have to deal with their upcoming college graduation and with it the end of their time with the group, but this isn’t really explored enough to be a theme and it’s more of a depressant the way they’ve occasionally inserted it in. Pulling weakly in too many directions, the story goes into Beca’s stealthy attempt to become a music producer as well as Emily’s new girl on the block jitters and her inevitable arc of mistakes made and eventual recovery and acceptance, none of these diversions have any real bite to them though.

Eventually, we are greeted with a group riff-off and here the film comes to life, indeed this is the highlight of the movie as although the Bellas are training to take on German world champions Das Sound Machine, it’s easy to forget any of them really care about it with so much trivia going on elsewhere and there simply isn’t enough of the music. Some fun still to be had though, and The Red Dragon certainly enjoyed the several scenes of Beca questioning her sexuality around the glamour of DSM’s lead female vocalist, played by Birgitte Hjort Sorensen. Again, not nearly enough made of this audience winning visual cocktail.

This song was featured in the first film and was released as a highly successful single for Anna Kendrick at the time. I love the Visit Scotland poster at the beginning – I’m happy to give you a guided tour Ms Kendrick, BEFORE I DEVOUR YOUR SOUL AND MAKE YOU MY MINDLESS SLAVE, or something along those lines …

Pride  (2014)    76/100

Rating :   76/100                                                                     120 Min        15

A fantastic, moving and historically fascinating British drama chronicling the gay community of London’s attempt to help the Welsh miners picketing in 1984 as part of the larger nation-wide miner’s strike, one which encapsulated a major attack on the Thatcher government of the day and whose outcome would affect the fabric of British commerce forevermore. The community see a commonality between their struggle for the promotion of gay rights and the fight that the miners are engaged in, and when their good intentions are originally rebuffed they decide to take their money direct to the source – rural Wales, where not everyone is quite as liberal and pleased to see them as they would have hoped.

Lots of good performances from the likes of Dominic West, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, and a particularly strong one from Ben Schnetzer playing the leader of the London group whose single minded determination drives forth the entire narrative. The story also introduces some of the earliest diagnosed British victims of HIV, and the contrast between what happens to the people it mentions is worthy of a film in its own right. This is one of the best treatments of inclusivity and equality in recent memory, with great moments like when one of the local Welsh girls breaks out into song in a crowded hall and everyone feels compelled to join in, as well as a fascinating political backdrop that certainly has strong echoes with the Tory government in power now, as well as interesting titbits of information, like how the same seam of coal runs along the Atlantic connecting Wales, Spain and North America.

Planes : Fire & Rescue  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                       83 Min        U

Following up on the financial, if not critical, success of Planes, the Disney machine have realised they have a new potential franchise on their hands and have put more effort into this one – resulting in a much better story than before, though it’s still released by DisneyToon Studios who are relatively new at producing theatrical films and not straight to DVD sequels. Again aimed at a young family audience, parents might nevertheless find it quite enjoyable, despite being lighter on the occasional subterfuge of adult comedy compared to most of Disney’s output. The graphics are top notch as one would expect, but probably its biggest boon is the introduction of some solid voice acting from the likes of Ed Harris and Wes Studi, and a screenplay that deviates, thankfully, from regurgitating another race related contrivance and instead sees primary hero Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) effectively disabled at the beginning, forcing him to consider a change of career.

The somewhat antiquated fire department at his local airport provides him with the inspiration he needs to come to terms with his injury (his gearbox can’t handle really high speeds and conks out) as the popular terminal faces being shut down unless they can upgrade it, and thus he enlists for fire and rescue training (crop dusters were actually some of the first planes modified and used for fire fighting in the 1950s) introducing a raft of new characters, predominantly more interesting ones than in the original, and a new primary location. It’s a polished and morally strong animation for kids, with occasional moments of unexpected class, like the rescue team talking about how thunder and lightning can start forest fires as they are summoned to put one out, and then AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ playing as we watch them do just that, slightly à la ‘Iron Man 2’ (10) – although Marvel are actually owned by Disney, and indeed what is alluded to right at the end of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ also manages to sneak its way into a scene here ….

Postman Pat : The Movie  (2014)    11/100

Rating :   11/100                                                                       88 Min        U

Horrible. Barely rendered people and backdrops featuring nightmarish robotic villains which could easily scar the intended young audience, a film which you would think had been financed by Simon Cowell as the central character faces ‘Simon Cowbell’ on the X-factor, except they don’t call it that, with a couple of reasonable laughs for adults that then become completely mired in a ridiculous story which is by parts surely unbelievable even for youngsters and then it’s flying completely over their heads.

But let me just get this out of my system – having a chat show host in England in the movie scream in a racist manner that she has made it clear she refuses to work with animals or Scotsmen is NOT OK. Get your heads sorted out screenwriters Kim Fuller (brother of Simon Fuller, who created the Pop Idol franchise, which explains a lot), Annika Bluhm and Nicole Dubuc. This is based on the secondary bad guy being woefully played by David Tennant sporting a fairly cringe worthy ‘bad guy Scottish accent’ – Tennant, why the hell did you agree to do this film? The situation is only just rescued by the two characters concerned mysteriously kissing at the end for no apparent reason, suggesting a love/hate relationship which narrowly prevented The Red Dragon from burning down the cinema in a fit of fiery rage.

Based on the animated Royal Mail postman Pat Clifton, aka Postman Pat, who kids could watch regularly delivering mail to rubeville every week on TV beginning in the eighties. The enormous irony here is of course (and forgive me, dear reader, for this is about to turn into a RANT about British politics) that the Royal Mail has just recently been privatised by the Tory vermin that are ruining the country from the halls of Westminster, as they have done every time they have gotten into power, and who voted for them? NOBODY IN SCOTLAND, because we do not suffer right wing stuck up ignorant prigs who stamp on and criminalise the poor whilst raping the profits of other people’s hard work for themselves. It sums up the rampant stupidity of this country when a Conservative party representing the rich minority, can so often come back to govern the majority who are most certainly not rich. Corruption and stupidity, the very backbone of modern day Britain. Even just a few days ago the English local elections showed a surge in support for the extreme right wing party UKIP whose members would see racism as the norm and would have everyone pay to go to visit their GP, and what happened when their leader came up to Edinburgh? He had to leave for his own safety that’s what.

So, no, Postman Pat – your film might have a rosy ending where you expose the evil manager trying to streamline the post office, but your own nation has ensured that in reality you would probably return to work one day and find out you’d been replaced by a marker pen, one making sweeping cuts to focus profit at the expense of the people and of service, you would not be returning triumphantly to your loving wife and son, you would be signing on and then explaining to your family that money would be tight, but of course in your little rural village there are not going to be many jobs going, especially when you consider your advancing years, and so pretty soon the Job Centre would be stopping your benefits because that’s what they’ve been mandated to do by the Tories, unless of course you would be willing to do the unpaid community service that they are now forcing the unemployed into, community service usually reserved for criminals, but then if you’re poor in the UK then as far as the Westminster elite are concerned you are indeed a criminal, despite the fact they themselves put you into your current position.

Good luck Postman Pat. You’re going to need it.