Ricki and the Flash  (2015)    59/100

Rating :   59/100                                                                     101 Min        12A

Featuring Academy Award titaness Meryl Streep as fictional musician ‘Ricki’ Rendazzo (although screenwriter Diablo Cody was apparently inspired to create the film, not the character traits, by her mother-in-law Terry Cieri and her New Jersey band ‘Silk and Steel’), frontwoman and guitarist of her band The Flash, and detailing a tumultuous reunion with her estranged family after her daughter, Julie (played by Streep’s own daughter Mamie Gummer), enters a painful divorce and attempts to take her own life. Kevin Kline plays the ex-husband, with musician/actor Rick Springfield as Ricki’s current beau and lead guitarist of The Flash.

Director Jonathan Demme (‘The Silence of the Lambs’ 91, ‘Rachel Getting Married’ 08) initially creates an intimate drama but it all starts to slip away from him as time goes on, veering dangerously close to becoming a cheesy pastiche of middle-class soap opera vignettes – one of Ricki’s sons is gay and she doesn’t get it, her ex has married a black woman (there’s suggestion Ricki is racist as a result) and he keeps a stash of weed in the freezer (Ricki finds it in a second), and of course the cliché of the failed suicide attempt; there’s a blasé approach to everything, all with paper-thin treatments and Ricki as a down and out ‘rebel’ not welcomed by anyone but who’s musical talent will be offered as some kind of recompense for not bothering to be a mother for decades.

The music, however, is really good, with Streep’s vocals immediately evoking Stevie Nicks and working far better here than they did for her Oscar nominated turn in ‘Into the Woods‘ (Streep also spent a dedicated several months learning to play guitar, even receiving some tuition from Demme’s pal Neil Young no less), and indeed the performances all round are what partially redeem the film from its frequently transparent and hollow writing.

Rio 2  (2014)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                     101 Min        U

Colourful and bright animation that is actually a slight improvement on its predecessor, although as with that film there is nothing worth watching here for adults other than a light and frothy story with good graphics. Having said that, some of the songs featured are pretty good, and Will I Am (who plays Pedro) has expressed interest in the idea of working with Anne Hathaway (who plays Jewel) on a project outwith the movie industry. The story follows up on the love affair of Blu and Jewel, two rare blue macaws that now have a family of three young chicks to bring up but who are thrown into an adventure in the Amazon jungle when their human buddies get lost there, only to discover Jewel’s family that she had been separated from for many years, and they will have to work together against the evil loggers that threaten their natural habitat. Should be fine for families with young children.

Ride Along  (2014)    33/100

Rating :   33/100                                                                       99 Min        12A

A completely mirthless and soulless cop buddy film featuring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, the latter of whom is a rookie trying to prove his policing chops to the hardened veteran of Cube – who also happens to be the disapproving brother of his fiancée. Despite an energetic and committed performance from Hart, there really isn’t anything of any interest or comedy value throughout the entire film, with the rudimentary attempts at humour matched by the equally pathetic attempts at an original story.

RoboCop  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     117 Min        12A

This is actually better than the 1987 original, although it is not without its problems, chief among them massive overuse of shaky cam in some of the action sequences. The story is similar but not identical – here America and her giant corporations seem to be steamrollering the whole world (or Iran at any rate) due in no small measure to their manufacture and deployment of robotic military equipment, but the home market has remained a no-go for the technology due to public concerns over its safety, much to the chagrin of Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), CEO of OmniCorp the cybernetics juggernaut responsible for the mass production of robots and the prompting of the moral homeland debate (this is set slightly in the future, in case that wasn’t obvious).

The logical solution to this pesky setback is to plonk a man inside a robot who has a moral conscience, only the same conscience is a little too slow at deciding when to pull the trigger and when not to, so a little amount of cerebral ‘tinkering’ goes on behind closed doors with their first unwitting participant in the scheme (he gets blown to bits by the bad guys, fortunately one of the intact bits is his head) Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). This tinkering and the core concept itself forms the central discussion of the film, in between RoboCop annihilating the criminals in his home town of Detroit, and it’s handled at a reasonable pace with solid performances and slick special effects, and although there are a few problems with some of the action, and it’s not especially noteworthy, it does hold its own for the most part.

Support work from Gary Oldman as ‘tinkering’ scientist Dr Dennett Norton (inspired by Norton anti-virus?), Abbie Cornish as Mrs Murphy and Samuel L. Jackson is good, and the film successfully makes the OmniCorp board seem more like morally questionable people rather than the cardboard bad guys that so often frequented eighties action movies, RoboCop amongst them. In a scene where oodles of data and perp profiles are downloaded into Murphy’s noggin so he can immediately identify people wanted for arrest, I couldn’t help but think – don’t we already have the technology to do this? There are plenty of programmes that can identify faces, just pair it with a database and strap it to an officer’s squad car/ass kicking visor and bob’s your uncle, you could even apply it to a network of surveillance cameras and call it ‘The RoboCop Protocol’ …

Romeo and Juliet  (2013)    50/100

Rating :   50/100                                                                     118 Min        PG

A conceptually lacklustre effort that strips Shakespeare’s play down to its bare bones, and exposes just how dreadful the story actually is. Suffering the leads trying to enact star crossed love is like watching two bricks smash continually into one another, as Romeo comes across as a pathetic and vain dolt abusing the hopeless naivety of young Juliet. They first meet during a masquerade (was it as such in the play? I can’t remember) and given it’s supposed to be love at first sight, it seems somewhat odd when they can’t actually see at least half of the others face. What would have been more interesting is if Romeo had unmasked Juliet and said “Hmm, actually I think I made a mistake, sorry love, where did that other one go. Rosaline!”

The only saving graces for the film are the old acting hands who do a pretty convincing job, especially Paul Giamatti, playing friar Laurence, continuing his penchant for scene stealing (that’s not to say Douglas Booth as Romeo and Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet don’t convince, they do – just not really until their final scene together … ) and the costumes and set design, although it does very much look like the marriage scene was done with the aid of computers for some reason. Director Carlo Carlei must take a large share of the blame here, who seems to have taken a leaf from Tom Hooper’s book and decided that whenever one of his freshly faced nubile actors are onscreen he will zoom right in until their noggin fills the entire frame, not so great when you have one dramatic scene all but ruined by the large nose hair waggling away in time with The Bard’s lyrical lines. That is, of course, if you can actually make out what those lines are – much of the first third of the film is either badly recorded or mumbled and the experience quickly goes from ‘What? What was that?’ to ‘Actually, I don’t care any more’ as everything becomes a droning phrssssssssss sound.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Benvolio is easily the best here out of the newcomers, and will be the phoenix rising from the ashes of this film.

Runner Runner  (2013)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       91 Min        15

If you’re just in the mood to sit and watch a meaningless film, then this might be just the ticket, but if you’re looking for intrigue, originality or good acting then it is a ‘safe bet’ this will only disappoint. Justin Timberlake, who is once again entirely unconvincing as anything other than an irritating childlike upstart, plays Richie Furst, who finds himself in the unlikely employ of Ivan Block (played by Ben Affleck, who’s actually not too bad here – he is always much better when he is playing the bad guy), the mysterious head of an online gambling outfit being run from Costa Rica. It is painfully obvious where things are headed and how they will ultimately turn out, although credit should be given to the director Brad Furman (‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ 11) for managing to maintain at least minimal interest in seeing it through to the end despite it’s inevitability. Gemma Arterton turns up to pay the bills (and, presumably, to have a nice trip to Puerto Rico where it was mostly filmed) along with Anthony Mackie (who has more onscreen charisma than Timberlake and Affleck combined, and has also appeared in two films that won best picture at the Oscars incidentally – ‘Million Dollar Baby’ 04 and ‘The Hurt Locker’ 08 {although to be fair so has Affleck with his ‘Argo‘ 12 and ‘Shakespeare in Love’ 98}) as an FBI agent with an interest in Block’s activities. With both ‘Filth’ and ‘Prisoners’ on at the big-screen right now, one would be well advised not to waste their time on this.

R.I.P.D.  (2013)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                       96 Min        12A

It’s never really a good sign when one of your principal leads, in this case Jeff Bridges, comes out and publicly puts their own film down – here saying the final cut left him feeling ‘underwhelmed’. Going by its critical drubbing, that was putting it mildly for most people, and although it is true the whole movie constantly has an air of ‘this could have been much better’ and there’s a definite feeling of flatness throughout, especially in the first half, I’ll throw the gauntlet down and say it’s actually still quite fun.

Bridges buddies up with Ryan Reynolds to play two dead cops, in the case of Reynolds one very recently deceased, who have been unwittingly selected by the celestial forces of heaven to join the R.I.P.D. (Rest In Peace Department) and hunt down the dead souls (or deados as they’re called, a word which I certainly hope enters into the common vernacular. It’s a hell of a lot better than recent lexical addition ‘double denim’, in fact maybe the two could be switched…) who have by hook or crook escaped judgement from the almighty and are currently hiding in human form on Earth. It is a pretty cool premise and it’s based on the graphic novel of the same name by Peter M. Lenkov, although it does come across as a little too similar to ‘Men in Black’ (97), especially in the beginning, but despite this one of the film’s biggest pluses is that it doesn’t waste any time – the story continues to unfold at a good pace, and so the similarities are quickly forgotten.

Gags feature prominently, and like everything else they usually work to at least some degree. Used time and again is the fact that the two main characters are given disguises, or ‘avatars’, once they’re returned to the land of the living – for Reynolds, an old Chinese man (James Hong), and Bridges, a tall hot blonde (Marisa Miller). It’s a nice touch. Kevin Bacon has another good turn as the bad guy (see 2010’s ‘Super’) but one of the film’s strengths is the commitment of Bridges, who was murdered way back in the old west and sports a pretty unique cowboy accent. It’s unique to the point of not being able to understand what he’s saying all the time (apparently the sound department had issues with this) but it still works well and adds a lot of flavour to both his character and the film. Mary-Louise Parker is also good in support.

Personally I hope they make another one – here’s a glimpse behind the scenes …

Rush  (2013)    80/100

Rating :   80/100                                                                     123 Min        15

Director Ron Howard kicks all memories of his lame duck ‘The Dilemma’ (11) into the dust with a fuel injected character study of the real life infamous formula one rivalry between straight laced and professional Austrian Nicki Lauder (Daniel Brühl) and playboy adrenaline junky Brit James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to this, partly because I don’t watch the sport (the only race I did watch was in the late nineties when one of the cars was engulfed in flames whilst in the pits, which certainly adds weight to the statement Lauder makes in the film that each time he steps into the car he accepts a twenty percent chance he will die) and partly due to an overload of marketing and exposure to the trailer at least thirteen times – and multiple different versions at that, in fact not only does each contain major spoilers and play with the narrative in a false way, but they combine to give the feeling of having already seen the film before it’s even started. Crazy.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take long before I was drawn into the story and the excitement of being thrust into the driver’s seat through multiple close fought, and sometimes catastrophic, races. The film charts the long standing antagonism between the drivers, and successfully plays around with demonstrating the pluses and minuses to each of their individual characters, constantly challenging our sympathies for each and having us second guessing which one we’d actually like to see win. It’s a very good film – one reminiscent of ‘Senna’, a fantastic documentary set in the eighties and early nineties {here it’s the seventies} and focusing on another powerhouse of the sport, Ayrton Senna. In both films, if you are not in the know about the events and drivers concerned then you are at an advantage, as it is far better to go in with no idea what the outcome will be and the two compliment each other nicely. Here, Rush sees both leads giving great, believable, contrasting performances, with equally good support from the likes of Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara.

Riddick  (2013)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     119 Min        15

Following in the footsteps of ‘Pitch Black’ (2000) and ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ (04), this continues the exploits of Vin Diesel’s central character Richard B. Riddick and returns him to a setup similar to the first film (all three have the same writer/director David Twohy), after he is stranded on an alien world and forced to survive against its aggressive native lifeforms, whilst an international bounty is slapped on his head to boot – one that is larger if he is returned dead rather than alive.

Unfortunately, the trailer renders a great deal of the film somewhat pointless as in it we are shown events from the final quarter of the film, taking ‘the sting’ out of the rest of the movie. It’s a shame, as although there is nothing here that’s especially original or interesting, neither is there much wrong with the film particularly, it’s just a little humdrum that’s all. Diesel is good in the role once again, though some of the supporting cast seem a little inexperienced. Expect plenty of sci-fi bug squishing.

Renaissance  (2006)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     105 Min        15

The most striking aspect of this animation is its austere use of black and white contrasts, which initially made it a little painful to watch (lights had to be turned off as a necessity) but come the end I was thoroughly enjoying its unique style. If you were to imagine a beautifully inked noir graphic novel suddenly come to life as a series of moving pictures before you, this is exactly what you would see. The title refers to the literal meaning of the French word, rebirth, and the story takes place in Paris in the year 2054, where we see a young woman being kidnapped and a hard boiled cop enjoined to track her down.

Daniel Craig voices the lead, and as always with animation there is the inherent distraction of time spent thinking ‘I know that voice! Who is it, hmm…’ and the satisfaction of finally getting there (or the irritation of not), to help everyone along, there is a connection linking the hero to the villain, and again from the villain to the guy in the middle. The plot revolves around the disappearance of the girl and the cosmetics company she works for, unfolding in very traditional film noir style. Enter the role of the disappeared’s sister, and the worst elements of the film are revealed, as suddenly both the dialogue and its delivery, along with the concepts, nose dive into a corny and ill developed pastiche of the genre.

It’s not gripping, but it does have a lot of credible artistry to it. Fans of different styles of animation (a combination of motion capture and 3D computer graphics were used here) will probably get more out of it than followers of film noir will, but it’s probably still worth a look in for both.