Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – 4*

The hip-ometer just reached overdrive with another geek fest of ingenious film-making that Kick-Ass set the bar for back in March of this year. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World plays out the height of quirky Canadian coolness, and like Kick-Ass, doesn’t require being au fait with the books behind it by Bryan O’Malley, but will appease fans of them, nevertheless. With a film-maker like Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) in the driving seat, you know you’re in for a uniquely staged and satirically funny offering on speed that will hook in every video-gaming youth (and wannabe youth) within a mile radius because this is kind of what life would be like, if it was all a game, replicated on screen.

Ironically, the strong gaming element is also Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera) weakness because Scott’s need to defeat girl-of-his-dreams Ramona Flowers’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil exes gets a little gamey-samey with all those Japanese-Manga-style, mid-air punches, so by the time we discover that Scott’s technicoloured-haired crush has dabbled in bisexuality, with the arrival of one of her crazy exes, Kim Pine (Alison Pill), who can be defeated by ‘touching her behind the knee’, we are rapidly losing interest in finding out what’s next in store for our anti-hero. Indeed there are occasions where the explanation from the book is desperately needed and things don’t quite translate clearly onto screen, and this is one of them with Pine’s knee defeat. In the book, Scott gets jiggy with Flowers, hence this is a reference to erogenous zones, which you can kind of read between the lines with in the film.

That said you are engaged in such visual wonderment and some seriously mind-blowingly awesome scenes that are just too cool for school that you almost forgive the gaming references whizzing over your head. The height of visual stupor comes with the exhilarating arrival of first ex, the Bhangra, hip-gyrating Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) who storms onto screen, just as Scott is trying his hardest to impress Flowers with some rock god moves. It is indulgent pop culture at its best and most vivid, backed by a seriously funky set of tracks throughout. Forget Seattle Grunge – so 1980s, meet Toronto Grunge of the Noughties.

Part of the reason for keeping you grounded in the story is the fine casting. The story itself is not that developed or taxing, really, almost superficial, compared to the effects, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Cera plays his usual bumbling, confused and almost naïve self, stuck in the body of a man-child, somehow attracting the attention of all females around him (the ultimate geek’s fantasy relived), but it is Kieran Culkin who steals the show in every scene with Cera as cutting gay best friend Wallace. One particularly hilarious moment is when Scott needs to escape from a girl who comes knocking and dives through a window, whilst Wallace does what all best friends do and tries to bat her off. Culkin times his deliverance to perfection and should definitely take up similar roles in the future because he is a tonic in this. The infatuated girl in question is Knives Chau, an almost prepubescent teen who epitomizes Manga chic, played by impressive newcomer Canadian Ellen Wong. Wong ignites each scene with Cera with such bubbly energy needed to boost the story further. There is also a great appearance from all-American screen star Chris Evans who seems to relish poking fun at the kind of characters he usually plays, as kung fu screen hero and Flower ex, Lucas Lee. But it is Jason Schwartzman as Scott’s nemesis Gideon Gordon Graves who gets the most points for dazzle power, basically because his is the film’s biggest standoff – and those not weary from all the frenetic, whizzing colour and graphic novel adaptations might well be by this stage.

One word to describe Scott Pilgrim: Energizing. It’s like being on a Manga rollercoaster ride, but it doesn’t skimp on visual representation, with each scene meticulously crafted by Wright and co – like a graphic novel page. If gaming isn’t your thing, it would be a shame to pass on this film because its production values will be referred to from henceforth in other cool factor flicks to come, much like The Matrix is in this. But be prepared for its gaming adoration and relentless and deranged pace that, thankfully, still makes time for character endearment.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

The Last Airbender – 2*

The draw of a good film is mainly in the story it has to tell, and for this reason, The Last Airbender scores higher because it’s a thought- and imagination-provoking tale of feuding parts that if they lived in harmony could be as one. The problem is the concept was given to such a hit-and-miss director who in all fairness is a better writer, but is only best known for his 1999 film, The Sixth Sense. M. Night Shyamalan strikes again but sadly makes little dramatic or noteworthy impact, appearing to just be tagging onto the Hollywood 3D craze and trying to ‘keeping in the game’.

Shyamalan has a ‘golden egg’ opportunity to mimic the global success of other action-fantasy blockbuster series like Lord of the Rings with this captivating tale of earth, wind, fire and water. Disappointingly, his adaptation of the TV cartoon series suffers from lack of character establishment (and care), cringeworthy and wooden acting from its young leads, and misleading plot elements that seem to serve no real purpose. Plus the ‘bender’ comments get in the way of taking anything seriously in this film, which suggests that Shyamalan is not fully engaging us enough in a visually powerful spectacle to avoid this diversion and have it live up to its TV legacy.

In addition, the 3D is virtually non-existent throughout – the film was watchable without specs in parts – but it did work wonders on the stylish title sequences. The film’s only redeeming feature is the story behind the whole affair that is a potentially fascinating and alluringly spiritual one with a compelling value. To make up for the poorly filmed action scenes at the start – embarrassingly like those found in a low-budget US TV fantasy import – the water-fire battle in the finale scenes makes for geninuely exciting viewing.

On the whole, though, you beg for more depth and sumptuous visual thrills, as well as more character engagement. We needed to root for our Avatar, but instead he is fairly charmless, too wrapped up in his own world to warrant our empathy – or having his Southern Water Tribe friends there to assist. In fact the less we are exposed to their presence, the better the film, too, which is an even sadder state of affairs. An attack of the giggles is inevitable, but this is where the film’s enjoyment lies in the sexual inuendos that may seem childish but help us through the more meaningless parts. If the proposed sequel happens, it may be better to let Shyamalan do the writing and another more capable director take over to save this potentially fascinating saga from screen history obscurity.

2/5 stars

By L G-K

Knight and Day – 3*

Tom Cruise is not bowing out of the action just yet, it seems, and appears to have used this latest project as a Mission Impossible IV (2011) warm up with an attractive co-star in tow in Cameron Diaz. If nothing else, Knight and Day proves that the Cruise and Diaz chemistry still works with his self-assured screen confidence complimenting her ditzy bubbliness in a film filled with more satisfyingly real stunts and action sequences than a lot of the CGI-prone offerings of recent months.

Apart from a couple of annoyingly lazy ‘unconscious’ moments that conveniently let the film-makers off visually moving the story forward, and spoil a half-decent finale, this is a rather daft but enjoyable popcorn movie – just don’t expect to delve too deeply because there is very little below the surface, unlike the stars’ previous union in the trippy and multi-layered 2001 drama, Vanilla Sky. What you see is all of what you get in the current flick. Take this rather incoherent story for its high-octane chases and its attractive leads, and you will be satisfyingly entertained. Naturally, this all depends on whether Cruise and/or Diaz appeals, too, but no one watching can deny Cruise’s unfaltering determination to make all his characters 100% likeable, even if they are in the wrong, and the power of Diaz’s winning smile. Basically, the stars do what they do best and exactly what we come to expect, without breaking a sweat – Cruise leaping around and Diaz causing chaos.

Although this could be classed as an ‘action rom-com’, there is less emphasis on the romance – whether intentional or not. Diaz and Cruise are more like two life-long buddies who awkwardly get entangled and share a first kiss, than a passionate pairing sizzling on screen. The comedy, too, is less than effortless in places with a lot of laughs stemming from Diaz’s trademark scattiness that she plays on again in this role, but she still manages to charm all in the process.

Plausibility is absent in this caper, right from the start with the plane crash. But what Knight and Day lacks in this respect, it more than makes up in portraying the daydream of getting involved in the more dangerous and covert world of espionage and government corruption. Coupled with some exotic locations – and rooftop chase sequences that just smack of Bourne (unfortunately), even though Ethan Hunt was there first in 1996, this is one ride of events that will drift in and out of your conscience after watching. It’s a ‘here and now’ movie to enjoy in the moment because it oozes fun and absurdity in equal measure.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

The Karate Kid – 3*

It’s the week for the remakes. All those fond childhood memories of TV and films from the 80s, and for some of us fans, a nervous wait to see what’s been done to our beloved characters that were so iconic at the time. So, although The A-Team got a bit of a kicking, there is something quite charming to be had by Harald Zwart’s version of The Karate Kid (2010) – even if it could have done with a bit of a trim here and there.

This version seems to fill its predecessor’s big boots, both in acting, script and scenery, taking on all the trappings of a big budget epic, but keeping its personable and stirring side, far more than the original did in places, in fact. Yes, little Jaden Smith as Dre Parker has the all the charisma and get-up-and-go expected from a 12-year-old starlet from a famous acting couple (the Smiths), and he does handle the emotional moments incredibly well for his years, in both poise and timing, but it’s Jackie Chan as Mr Han who steers proceedings on course and gets the real crux of the story going. In fact, the plot up until Mr Han puts his oar in with the bullies is in danger of going a little flat and clichéd. Even though Smith does his best to flesh out his character and portray how Dre feels moving far from home to a strange city and culture, Smith alone doesn’t have the acting presence to carry the story on much further after this point. Hence the editing suggestion above…

In some of the most bone-cracking and visually physical fight scenes seen in any kids’ film that actually border on child abuse (with many a ‘look away’ moment), Chan still manages to ‘lighten the mood to maim’ between the kids in the most controlled, but humour-filled and sweet-natured way. It’s a play of contradictions: one minute you wince horribly as one kid knocks ten bells out of another, like watching a disturbingly realistic video game, then chuckle manically as the playful Mr Chan disperses a whole gaggle of intense kiddie ‘killing machines’. Perhaps this is down to the cartoon-style kung fu and his standard, fun-loving characters that he’s associated with, or some clever direction from Zwart, in that he shows ‘warts and all’ to highlight the impact of bullying, then brings the humour straight back with the arrival of wise-cracking clown Chan. That said Chan gets to demonstrate some impressive tormented moments in a diverse character spectrum that compliments Smith’s performance. Both actors are very well cast opposite each other.

The Karate Kid also serves as a nice little present-day case study of interracial harmony in communist China – naturally, with all the best, fluffy bits of living in such a vibrant and developing nation rolled out for all Western audiences’ eyes to see. It’s almost like a video postcard, a national advertisement with its modern and historical scenery that will have some considering a visit to the country after watching the film. Others could cynically add that it’s propaganda peddling, mixed up in a coming-of-age drama. Or, perhaps, this is reading too much into it? It certainly crossed the mind.

Smith Jr., like Smith Snr., has inherited all of Dad’s on- (and off) screen likeability, so placed with goofy Chan they produce an entertaining dynamic in a remake that could actually be better than its legacy, in some respects, with superior writing, direction and action sequences – well worth catching at the cinema for its values, humility and inspiration. The Karate Kid is like this year’s kung fu Step Up or StreetDance for all its young characters’ dedication and choreography.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

The A-Team – 3*

A-Team, we have a problem… Trouble is, not sure if you can help us? We need to get back down to earth and have our eyeballs re-attached into their sockets, please. To say that there isn’t lots of big, brash and ballsy fun to be had with Joe Carnahan’s film version would be untrue, including Bradley Cooper as Face in fine, tanned form to salivate over, and Sharlto Copley giving the original Murdock a run for his money in the loopy stakes. The A-Team (2010) is definitely summer popcorn fodder that will fill cinemas and thrill youngsters with no loyalty to the 80s first time around – and in this respect it fulfils its brief. However, in Carnahan’s effort to lose the nostalgic campness of Cannell’s iconic 80s TV series that was one of its key success ingredients, and bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, Carnahan’s big-screen adaptation turns the vaguely believable and solid action sequences fondly associated with the fugitives’ small-screen escapades into a mindless, cocky and super silly fiasco that almost mocks the original – and its legion of eagerly awaiting fans.

The A-Team suffers from softly-rendered, wishy-washy, half-complete CGI (incomplete underbellies of cars etc), daft, gravity-defying scenes, and a serious case of the camera shakes to substitute for any real action – something the Transformers series is stricken with. Carnahan seems to have indulged fully in his trademark ‘zoom in’ choppy shots that are like being on a swirling fairground ride, whilst getting motion sickness and wanting off. In addition, everything in the movie becomes superfluous, except the grand juvenile pranks and Cooper’s buffed physique.

Oh, did we mention Cooper’s body? It’s constantly on display as gratuitous tool (admittedly, not a bad thing), used as a ‘buff-er’ in between setting up the next action sequence. If nothing else, Cooper can be proud of the impact it has because his acting skills aren’t what’s on show, here. That said credit to both Copley and him for trying to at least stay faithful to the original characters they are resurrecting. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson looks the part as B.A Baracus, but sadly misses the mark, making little impression as he mumbles through his words in an incoherent daze, and has none of Mr. T’s menacing, even angry persona. Liam Neeson as Hannibal unsurprisingly commands authority, staying true to type in the kind of ‘justice-hunting’ role we’ve seen him in many times before – complete with creeping Irish lilt, but he lacks Peppard’s devilish and unpredictable dark charm that kept all on their toes.

Part of the fun of the TV series was the theme tune that always signified that the impossible was always possible with these ex-soldiers on the case, that any contraption could be built and any baddie dealt with. It’s just unfortunate that the only time this score is relied on, and could have seriously rallied fans, if used more intelligently, is the in the best and funniest scene. Ironically this scene relies on nostalgic ones from the TV series to bring us back on board, as Murdock gives his fellow ‘inmates’ a remarkably real 3D treat, whilst trying to evade the US military in a mental asylum. Still, we can be thankful that some pimped up version wasn’t adopted to accompany the 2010 film. For all us ‘oldies’, too, stay to the end of the credits for an unexpected treat – and shock.

Smug as it is unforgiving, on first glance, Carnahan seems to have stuck two fingers up at the TV series and created what he thinks latter-day audiences want to see. In fact in trying to honour the original in parts, the film-maker has got a little too caught up with his special effects team in trying to bring The A-Team into the digital era that he has created a parody of some of the most influential action heroes that had a very real purpose to see justice prevail. Without getting too heavy and political, Carnahan had the opportunity to cash in on anti-establishment and anti-war sentiment and make his adaptation not only damn good fun but also more poignant. By the way, the extra star is for Cooper’s engaging ‘personality’, if we’re going for superficiality mark-up, here…

3/5 stars

By L G-K

Toy Story 3D – 5*

Sequels are notoriously tricky things to pull off – trilogies even harder. The franchise not only has to be a strong and established one, but you have to ensure return fans and make them believe that they’ll be missing out on the ‘next chapter in the story’, if they don’t catch the new installment. This certainly seems to be something Pixar was pitching for in the long run-up to Toy Story 3, with yet another new character announcement virtually every other week. The worrying thought was could Stanton and co be in danger of diluting its winning formula of genuinely endearing animated stars?

Not a chance, is the honest answer because the new ‘toys on the block’ at Daycare centre ‘Sunnyside’ – a contradiction in terms, without spoiling the plot – under the iron rule of a despot soft, pink teddy bear, a giant baby doll with a lazy eye, and a Ken doll who is more than in touch with his feminine side, as he is his own reflection, just add to the powerful draw of old friends Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Hamm, Slinky, Rex and the Potato Heads. One of the reasons these new play things compliment the old, apart from the necessary need to inject new blood into the story, is all have one thing in common: the desire to belong. This powerful emotion is a key theme that runs throughout the films, but is poignantly brought to a head this time with grown-up Andy going off to college. It’s this fear that both young and old audiences instantly engage with, and Toy Story 3 addresses it in the most emotive and memorable way possible, with an equal measure of fun.

And Version 3 is funnier, as it is harrowing in places, as well as far darker with a very real danger lurking in the toy box that might surprise some. It’s as though the franchise has ‘grown up’ like Andy, too. In fact testament to this edger side is the beautifully rendered furnace scene, where our toy heroes almost come to a hot, sticky end, like homage to Ripley in Alien: Resurrection. It’s at this very point in the film that the toys become very life-like and vulnerable indeed, and we understand just how much of an impact they’ve made on our subconscious over the past 15 years. Perhaps the near seamless 3D enhances this whole experience, a credit to the years of development that Pixar has put into their product – a tough act for each and every 3D film since to follow.

Ken, (Spaniard) Buzz and Mr Potato Head take centre-stage for some singularly huge laughs, each given their own moment to shine: Ken with his comedy fashion show for Barbie (who comes into her own and demonstrates that she’s more than just a pretty plastic face in a yard sale in this film); Buzz with his slick, nimble-footed Latin moves, after a forced factory reset by the ‘bad toys’; and Mr Potato Head in a very compromising position trying to help his desperate friends escape Sunnyside ‘prison’ in the most hilarious stealth move ever seen that will cause many to cry uncontrollably into their popcorn. The animation is so top notch at this very point, as well as in the furnace scene, that it’s as though virtual and real footage have been harmoniously fused together.

The ending is absolutely fitting, drawing a satisfactory close on one chapter, whilst marking hope for a brand new one. Let’s hope that Pixar don’t feel the need to make any more after this because it would seriously spoil the huge effect Toy Story 3 has bowed out on and cheapen the franchise.

To Box Office No.1 and beyond, Toy Story 3 is another triumph for Pixar, still masterfully tapping into and developing these toys’ very real anxieties, so everyone can enjoy and empathise with them. It is definitely a next chapter to catch, for sure. What you walk away with is a sense of total fulfillment, as Woody and gang are no longer just animated cartoons, but old, established friends. This film is probably as near perfect as any family cinema outing could hope for this summer and is guaranteed to hit the mark.

5/5 stars

By L G-K

Inception – 5*

No film is ever ‘perfect’, especially at the time of release, though many a film critic will have their favourites that nearly touch that impossible mark. What these films become are examples of near perfection in their own right, studied and lauded by all. The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan many well have placed his latest work of art, Inception, in the same sort of ‘sci-fi royalty’ category as other greats like Blade Runner, Aliens and Citizen Kane. It’s a bold statement to make, but one that is totally justified. Written and directed by Nolan, Inception is the first original, cerebral masterpiece of mind-warping proportions in a long time complete with superb casting and a style so slick it’s like poetry in motion to watch.

Doubt anyone who claims to get what’s happening in one viewing. This film makes you work hard and demands a second sitting. But this is far from laziness on the film-maker’s part. It’s the mark of game master. Whilst trying to figure out whether you are still witnessing a dream, within a dream, within a dream, or reality, each carefully crafted scene has so much trickery and visual wonder in it that it would be a crime not to revisit it. The only criticism might be that it’s too clever for its own good at times, trying to explain its concepts within the narrative. But we are captivated by its ideas, transfixed like a magician’s stage volunteer, afraid to stop and question it for a second, in case we miss anything crucial. That’s Inception‘s power.

Such a blockbuster needs a strong and magnetic protagonist, like Harrison Ford as Deckard, or Welles as Kane. Inception has DiCaprio as its helm, guiding us through his troubled world as covert dream thief Cobb who has some personal demons that threaten to destroy his last job to promised freedom – his life back in return for incepting a dream/idea into a heir to a corporation’s mind (Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy). His problems also threaten the lives of his loyal counterparts who design and ‘take part’ in the inception process. It’s the ultimate in corporate espionage, getting the victim at their most vulnerable when they are asleep.

This is DiCaprio’s finest hour (or make that nearly 2.5 hours of twists and turns). He engages his audience completely, forever unsettling us as to his character’s true nature or intentions, and demonstrating a raw vulnerability that keeps our empathy with Cobb alive. Cobb must be a good person, surely, as he is a devoted father who wants to return to his kids and see their faces again? In these more comforting moments, Nolan has cast Batman stalwart Michael Caine as Cobb’s father, Miles, that reassuring figure of authority, our anchor to reality – but just whose, is the big question?

The rest of the stellar cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Ken Watanabe as Cobb’s team are the cream of the Hollywood crop, an intoxicating union on screen that only adds to our fascination. Thinking man’s babe Page once again demonstrates why she has an established career ahead of her, and Gordon-Levitt and Hardy give such accomplished performances that these will only go to up their studio credibility and longevity. Such a visually exquisite film needs a natural beauty to counter balance its architectural awe, and French actress, Edith Piaf songbird Marion Cotillard embodies the role of Cobb’s late wife, Mal, breathing life and grace into the part of the haunting and complex character. She is like any latter-day screen heroine in this, bringing a classical charm to the whole affair not seen since Hitchcock’s reign, combined with a fresh, contemporary perspective to her role. You almost don’t recognise the surgically enhanced Tom Berenger as Fischer’s late father’s lawyer Browning, with dying Fischer Senior played by Brit acting great Pete Postlethwaite. This collection of fine acting talent represents what can be accomplished in combination with a brilliant writing/directing.

Let your mind become the scene of the crime, open to Inception with this summer film-noir blockbuster. Borrowing Gotham’s moody facades and Bond-styled action sequences, Nolan has given us what we’ve all craved in a long time – a worthy and beautifully executed film that stands out on its own, so mind-blowing that it will render you speechless as you walk out of the cinema, like Cobb and co have been playing your mind as you watch. Anything’s possible…

5/5 stars

By L G-K

Twilight: Eclipse – 3*

Face it, all you cynics: The Twilight Saga is here to stay, long after the books are read and the final films are (re)watched to death (pardon the pun). And it isn’t just hormonal teens or sad, lonely singletons that fit into the Twihard category – the latter having had Sex and the City 2 to indulge in a month ago – because what this series delivers is pure, unadulterated fantasy escapism and good old-fashioned romance. Chivalry and good manners are still king, something that anyone can appreciate, once you get past the (often) nauseating and incessant moodiness that lead frowner Bella (Kristen Stewart) is guilty of a good 90 per cent. So, the latest edition’s seeds of success are sewn and it doesn’t really make a blind bit of difference what any critic says, quite frankly, because fan curiosity and loyalty fuels box office ratings – and this is going straight to the top.

Quite deservedly so because, dare we admit it, this third film in the angst-ridden vamp saga is not only better than the first two, it’s ten times more super-charged and has more bite. This may not put the former in the best light and in all fairness to the second film (New Moon) that was a yawn-a-minute, the third book is oodles more exciting anyway. Eclipse just translates better onto the big screen, with the film-makers sticking fairly close to the written word. Yes, this latest film’s cinematic impact was never going to recapture the initial giddy thrill of ‘the first meet’ and subsequent Bella pursuit in Twilight, plus the real-life ‘are they, aren’t they’ speculation over RPatz and Stewart’s relationship has finally been put to rest. To be honest, the Bell-Ed fireworks fly off the screen in this film and the bedroom scene sizzles with frustration and desire to merely confirm showbiz’s worst-covered-up affair. That said what you witness in this scene does make you wonder whether the actors have done the horizontal foxtrot yet – though, based on RPatz’s recent sexy number in Remember Me, this man-boy has skills, so our guess is ‘quite likely’.

What has happen with the third film is it’s found a great director in the diminutive form of Brit David Slade who skilfully brought another fanged romp, 30 Days of Night, to the big screen. Slade has injected a new lease of life into the introspective Twilight brand that has a huge dosage of wit and a smothering of passion in equal proportion, allowing you to both swoon in the right places and catch your breathe in others, as well as enjoy a momentary dig at the overwhelming intensity of the characters who may well be dealing with more than the average teen, but should seriously get out and have some much needed fun.

The film may well be about a new sanguine army of vamps descending on the respectable ‘vegetarian’ Cullens, but it’s actually all about Edward and Jacob’s clash of fangs over the diminutive Bella, with one of the funniest lines delivered by Jacob: “Let’s face it, I’m hotter than you”, after a reluctant, cold-blooded Edward lets the horny, torso-naked pup warm up his lady in a tent on the side of a snowy mountain. The entrance fee alone is worth witnessing Jacob and Ed verbally tear chunks off each other, with another great retort from centuries-old Ed about Jacob’s lack of decency – any True Blood fans will appreciate this generation gap quip. Another well-directed scene is the awkward ‘birds-and-the-bees’ talk in the Swan household, which is a divine father-and-daughter moment between Bella and cop father Charlie.

On the downside, our CGI wolf friends still don’t look as convincing as they could, and the film has some necessary but rather bland flashbacks explaining both Rosalie’s and Jasper’s demise into immortality. The Volturi royalty never actually amount to anything, but amusingly stand there looking like a bunch misplaced, black-cloak-wearing Jedi knights that only get one kill in – minus cool lightsabers. It’s also a shame that new character Riley, played by rising Aussie star Xavier Samuel, isn’t in the next episode because he develops into an intriguing character over the course of this story. Bryce Dallas Howard also injects some fire into Victoria, where Rachelle Lefevre missed out.

These films are not perfect, but this one Eclipses the lot and nicely sets up book number 4, Breaking Dawn, coming in 2011 in its first part. But Twilight needs no real promotion here because it has a captive audience that will pay top dollar to feast on the next part of the story and keep the books alive. If a dashing hero like Ed and a buff fur ball like Jacob can be fascinated by morose Bella, there’s hope for every ordinary girl yet.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

Predators – 3*

Can Adrien Brody pass as an action hero? Yes, he certainly can, considering the large combat boots he’s had to fill, vacated by Schwarzenegger after the original 1987 film. As no-nonsense mercenary Royce, growling his way through this episode, Brody successfully plays totally against type, acting as one major factor that hooks you in and keeps you intrigued until the bitter end. The other massive advantage is the LOST-style beginning, where a band of sinful human bait land in an as-yet, unidentified jungle, helping to mimic the full potential of the TV series to spin the mystery along for as long as necessary. Sadly, the giveaway is in the film title that something has transported them there – Predators waiting to hunt. So, let the game begin…

The main thrill stems not from the haphazard killing scenes that include blasting away lookalike bestial extras straight out of Cameron’s Avatar content bank, as well as gutting pesky Predators, but the human interaction and allegiances formed between the bunch of armed misfits that include the token, hard-nut Hispanic beauty, Isabelle, played by Repo Man’s Alice Braga. The obvious love interest to Brody’s Royce and screen eye candy, Braga embraces her role in much the same way as favourite Latin toughie Michelle Rodriguez does – another LOST veteran. Perhaps, for non-Predator fans, this is how this film is best marketed because the relentless threat of the invisible, Terminator-like Predators is slightly lacking this time around and the fun is gone. It’s all about escape from the living hell – the question is how? Interestingly, in its place, Armoured director Nimród Antal has created a sci-fi feel, far more apparent than previous incarnations that retains the supernatural atmosphere and sense of stranded hopelessness.

Predators serves action-gore junkies well, with an array of guns, knives and kick-ass sequences to make sure the blood (both red and luminous green) intermingles with the jungle terrain. Predators is a very visually-pleasing film that many not thrill as much as the first because the illusive enemy is no longer a secret, but it gives the audience a solid pursuit adventure, complete with attractive and dangerously alluring characters. It even has time for a touch of graceful Samurai sword fighting between a Japanese Yakuza and a Predator in the swaying beauty of a crop field at night. For once in a film, knowing all about our characters is not necessary as the less we know, the more strength it retains, allowing the end twist to fully work – though some may try and argue that they saw it coming a mile off.

Predators is non-taxing, satisfying, action-packed entertainment that still manages to place more emphasise on its characters than previous editions, but without bogging us down with superficial details and dull jungle revelations, before each prize meets their maker. Has ‘Fear Been Reborn’? Not quite, if we’re honest, but claustrophobia and anxiety is rife, and this is Predators’ adrenaline injection. Does the human prey ever get out – and alive? Like LOST, that’s the big question and one worth lasting the duration to find out.

3/5 stars

By L G-K