Insidious ****

Effective horror films these days are harder and harder to come by. But it all depends on what you want from the genre? In Insidious, Saw creators Wan and Whannell appear to have collected together all their favourite horror elements from scary classics – namely Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror and The Shining – but not forgotten to add a good dose of humour, with nods to Beetlejuice and even Ghost Busters. It’s a really strange but fixating mish-mash of ghoulish behaviour, but it’s also one of the most effective, jump-out-of-your-skin and hilarious creations out in recent years.

At first Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) can’t understand why things move around in her new home, or why the baby monitor starts whispering evil nothings to her. Then her adventurous son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), ventures up into the creepy old attic, falls off a rickety old ladder, and doesn’t wake up the next morning. The doctors are baffled and so is her husband, Josh (Patrick Wilson). They must find the reason why their child is comatosed – and quick. But they don’t have too long to wait for answers when paranormal activity kicks off in the house, and someone keeps making bloody paw prints on Dalton’s sheets. It seems evil spirits are trapping their kid in a realm called The Further, and they must go and rescue him before it’s too late.

What starts out like a creepy Paranormal Activity copycat – minus the videotaping – turns into a totally unpredictable other-worldly journey that not only freaks the living daylights out of you, but has you giggling like a maniac. The latter is simply down to Wan and Whannell following the golden rule of not creating a horror that takes itself too seriously, with Insidious becoming a parody in itself. But don’t think that because the film ‘borrows’ from others that you’ve seen it all before because there is a nice little twist that turns proceedings into some sort of latter-day fairground or theatrical show, and gives a bizarre explanation for all the spiritual phenomenon. Hell, there’s even a Spidey impression by a demon that looks suspiciously like Darth Maul.

This is the key to Insidious; keep you guessing, engaged and entertained. As horrors go, it might not be very dark in nature – even when freaky-looking Barbara Hershey as Mom comes to visit and talks in riddles, but it knows how to set up the jumps well that still catch you off guard at times. Admittedly, there are parts that play out too long, but others are gleefully plan crazy, such as the competitive comedy double act by medium Elise Rainer’s (Lin Shaye, the wrinkly lady from There’s Something About Mary ) ghostbusting sidekicks Specks (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), plus Madame Rainer’s gasmask appearance that’s like experiencing a weird acid trip.

The film also ticks the ‘good-looking cast’ box with Wilson and Byrne in the leads, who give as good as they get in trying to protect their young family from spirits dashing from room to room, as well as violently convulsing structures. It’s a family and their young boy at stake, so the outcome has got to be a happy and resolved one – or has it?

Scared? You bet. Entertained? Totally. Insidious comes from accomplished filmmakers who know their genre and what presses the fear and funny buttons. This reviewer would now love to see Wan and Whannell tackle a seriously scary film based on its ‘explanation’ in question – thinking an adaptation of James Herbert’s Nobody True… Not sure about Insidious invoking childhood fears of darkness and demonic nightmares, as some have commented, but baby monitors are definitely the scariest and most evil things ever invented.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

The Veteran ***

What strikes an instant chord with The Vanguard writer/director Matthew Hope’s The Veteran are real-life newspaper reports of servicemen and women returning from tours of duty and finding a lack of support for civvy life. Then there are the proposed defence cuts in a time when conflicts aboard seem to be escalating. It’s hard not to get emotional or political. But Hope manages to avoid banging the politics drum by concentrating on the ‘survival’ tactics of one lone soldier throughout.

Think Harry Brown with bite: The Veteran follows paratrooper Miller (played by Toby Kebbell) who returns from Afghanistan to his crime-riddled London estate, where he must deal with his own nightmares and adjust to life back home on his own. Through a lack of work and possessing a particular, attractive skill set to a minority, he stumbles into a conspiracy involving his comrade-in-arms, the intelligent services and a gang of local drug dealers, and finds himself fighting an altogether different kind of war.

On the whole, Hope has produced a thought-provoking and truly distressing film about one lost soul’s relentless existence without any apparent hope of fitting back into ‘normal’ life. Sadly, Miller is yet another example of a faceless pawn in the defence game regardless of what his former bravery and actions achieved in a far-away land. However, there are some fanciful scenarios that simply fan the inner-city gang-culture bravado, as well as sillier ones when Miller meets corrupt agents in darkened car parks or derelict buildings. But once you get past the film’s brutal and extreme violence that some will question as controversial – one such fight with a baddie on a boat does shock but serves to portray Miller’s hand-to-hand combat experience, The Veteran does attempt to depict parallels between the worlds-apart war zones of Afghanistan and London. The former we never see, but are suggested by a brief but defining orange sunset scene, where Miller looks out over London’s skyline as a haunting battle soundtrack plays. There’s also a lengthy, energetic video-gaming-styled end shootout that’s quite alarming and makes you question – as in Harry Brown – where the hell the law is while all this is kicking off?

At the heart of The Veteran is the human story of an ex-para shut down to his feelings – a real victim of war. It sees Kebbell in an unfamiliar, deadpan stance, but with that distant glint of madness in the eye that we were first exposed to in RocknRolla. It’s undoubtedly a great performance from Kebbell who defines an exciting and serious character-acting chapter in this stage of his career, and shows why he was a 2009 BAFTA Rising Star nominee. However, even though the actor is making waves in Hollywood with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, this probably still won’t grab studios’ attention, not because of its Brit slant on the subject matter as this has global resonance, but because parts of the story do not match up to Kebbell’s performance and feel like a made-for-Brit-TV feature-length drama, rather than a feature film.

Even though Hope wrote this with ex-SAS soldier Robert Henry Craft in an attempt to raise awareness of the effects of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), this is not so clear, paling into lesser significance to the more ‘exciting’ terrorism aspects. This is a shame as it’s the domestic, post-combat angle that’s the most compelling – we never really get that sense of inner conflict, however well acted by Kebbell. The film does tackle how the war on terror is fractured, ever evolving, and more closer to home, but trying to deal with too many issues at once, and giving too many tangent sub-plots detracts from the film-makers’ initial purpose.

Overall, there is a market for The Veteran in today’s events, and Hope’s effort will not go unnoticed, what with the commendable appearance of Adulthood’s Ashley Bashy Thomas as head gangster, Tyrone Jones, performing opposite Kebbell, and demonstrating some more of the best of Brit talent. The Veteran makes an accurate point about the links between home-grown and wider-scale conflicts, but it does appear to miss out on the film-makers’ psychological intention, in favour of whipping up the fear of terrorism, espionage, and going all gun-ho. In so doing, it’s lost its key message of helping us understand how ex-vets need to re-acclimatise, which is a great shame.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Cedar Rapids ****

‘We’re all just selling something’ is the weighty moral of Youth In Revolt director Miguel Arteta’s new coming-of-age comedy, and without the intriguing (and unlikely) pairing of Ed Helms and John C. Reilly, it could be argued that marketing a film about a naïve insurance salesman from small-town, Midwest America who discovers himself on a business trip would be a hard sell in itself. But Cedar Rapids has that endearing indie ingredient: the triumph of the underdog. Who better than The Hangover’s star Helms – who plays respectable but uptight and hapless Stu in the hit 2009 comedy – to take the helm in this buddy story, what with the anticipated forthcoming sequel out in May. Cedar Rapids is not only Helms ‘warm up’ act to the former, but also a solid leading-man effort.

Cedar Rapids sees Helms as 34-year-old insurance agent Tim Lippe who has worked in insurance all his life and has never left his tiny hometown of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. After the controversial death of his company’s top salesman, Tim must travel to the ‘hotbed of debauchery’, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the annual ASMI insurance convention, with the aim of winning the coveted ‘two-diamonds’ award that his company has bagged three years in a row. However, even though it’s all smiles, hearty backslaps and fun team-building exercises, something rotten lies at its core, and it takes the distraction of a trio of convention veterans (played by Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) to make a real man out of by-the-book Tim, as well as expose the convention’s uglier side.

Helms comfortably takes on the kind of good-hearted geek role we normally associate with Steve Carell – Tim is merely a thirtysome clone of Carell’s 40 Year Old Virgin, a lovable man-child full of virtue. As such a character is a rarity in today’s jaded world, there’s always something appealing about getting to see the world still through childlike eyes. For the immature humour in this film to work, though, it requires reminiscing back to the deviant glee of the classroom innocent finally getting their hands dirty.

However, Arteta doesn’t just put Tim up for ridicule, but he gives him a strong set of values that we all aspire to and eventually wins all over, making him more layered than first depicted. In fact, as Tim is the ‘immature kid’ – as highlighted by his odd and slightly uncomfortable sexual relationship with his former teacher, Ms Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), we tend to forgive him more as he spins off the rails. Indeed, Arteta’s character isn’t that different from other small-town, wide-eyed ones of past films (including Steve Zahn’s unforgettable role in Management), but he has a disarming charm and a refreshing lack of baggage, so is content with his lot and very easy to like. But Tim is by no means an angel, and like an exploring teen, Helms expertly brings out his silly, serious and fearful side as he encounters the pitfalls of ‘adult’ life.

Helms by no means carries the film alone. Arteta again develops a set of quirky characters that we can really get behind, as they experience their own personal highs and lows. That said Reilly, Heche and Whitlock Jr. to some extent play character types we’ve seen them in before, though merely play to their strengths. Reilly is loud, brash ‘Ziegler’ who’s nursing a broken heart. Heche is independent (but married), adventurous and smart Joan ‘O Fox’ Ostrowski-Fox who is charmed by Tim, and Whitlock Jr. is the voice of reason. Although initially mocking Tim, whilst playing up to certain stereotypes and scenarios in the film that induce a couple of groans, they all learn new things about themselves and each other while stepping out of their comfort zones. It’s their evolution that’s probably more interesting than Tim’s as they reinvent themselves.

Expect the decadent running jokes and lowbrow smutty antics, but moments of sobering clarity, and you’ll not be disappointed with Arteta’s oddball bunch of characters in Cedar Rapids. You do root for all these misfits in the end, even after they show some less than impressive personality traits – and you need to stay for the end credits, as is becoming the norm these days, like some lazy plot after-thought. This crowd-pleaser is not Arteta’s defining piece, but its feel-good nature and big heart bolster your spirits.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Thor (3D) ***

In a time of Norse folklore, where men were men and roared with pride, comes a larger-than-life and humour-rich take on the Marvel comic adventure Thor that doesn’t forget the personal angle in the midst of all its splendid grandeur. This thumping-good-fun romp has a true hero at its heart to cheer on, opting for a lesser-known star to fully capture the imagination in Home and Away’s Chris Hemsworth, rather than someone established like Downey Jr. in Iron Man.

Cast out of the mythical realm of Asgard by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), for waging a war between the gods, Thor (Hemsworth) is sent to Earth to live amongst humans. But scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants the throne and all the power, and brews trouble for the exiled warrior. Thor’s time soon comes to defend the human race, becoming our unlikely hero while dealing with his feelings for physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

Hemsworth fully embodies Thor with all the energy, passion, arrogance and blundering foolery you’d come to expect from a mythical warrior who lands on Earth with a different era’s etiquette. He’s more Superman than Iron Man, without having to go through all the learning processes and adapting to life on Earth in a regular job. Perhaps that’s the appeal of Thor who crash-lands, quickly discovers his feet then gets on with the job of keeping us all safe – in the words of Bonnie Tyler’s epic, we’re holding out for a hero, and he’s dashing and ready for action.

Placed squarely at the centre of this film is the relationship between Thor and Loki. Director Kenneth Branagh and team have thought hard about casting, with Hiddleston as Loki making a striking contrast, both physically and mentally to hammer-wielding Thor, as well as a well-acted adversary. Hiddleston’s cool, calculating nature emphasises the film’s visual dichotomies and opposing but related elements of earth, water and air, bringing the ancient mythology to life.

However, back on Earth, Portman still seems to be in No Strings Attached mode, portraying Jane as a giggly girly type who clearly has something between her ears, but gets shown up by Kat Dennings’ wittily dry Darcy character. Just where’s the Portman fighting spirit we recently witnessed in Your Highness even, when the mean government agents take away all Jane’s hard work? Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot for the Oscar-winning actress to sink her teeth into in such a role, but opting for ‘dizzy female’ portrayal is another thing.

The sets and effects are stunning and help Thor live up to its epic status. However, don’t get too excited by yet another promise of 3D as it adds very little to any of the landscapes – of even the notorious hammer in flight. You may get a little more depth of field at times – where pulling focus in the past used to suffice – such as the beer mugs when Thor goes out drinking with Jane’s colleague, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), but it would have been thrilling to see more of the technology at play in the fantasy realm battle scenes, especially with Asgard’s impressive ‘Rainbow Bridge’, Bifrost moments.

You can’t help but feel like Branagh and co have merely created an teaser for the suggested sequel with this film, where all the characters are introduced, but without cooking up too much of a storm. However, Thor 2 would certainly be welcome. And do stay until the end of the credits for news of The Avengers (out 2012), too. There’s definitely more Thor-someness and superhero team playing to come.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist ****

Petrol heads unite; it’s the return of throbbing muscle cars tearing up the streets and desert highways with a bunch of thrill-seeking car enthusiasts at the wheel. Well, kind of, but the noise and adrenaline is certainly still there in full dramatic force.

Once you’ve adjusted your ears, seasoned Fast franchise director Justin Lin throws in a dusty desert chase at the very beginning for good measure for fans who have been waiting a couple of years for the next instalment. Apart from trying to work out (spoiler) how a car can flip a coach and still stay intact, lap up this incredulous first stunt because the latest film has turned all Jason Bourne/Ocean’s Eleven on us, and is more about a major heist and escaping authority in Rio, plus the gang’s relationship values, than the motorised chases/races the series is best loved for.

That’s not to say that the filmmakers have never placed a lot of importance on family in past films, but this one drums it home (schmaltzy ending aside), often in wholly sincere (and quite amusing) moments of self reflection, with the aid of much-loved characters, Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), Mia (Jordana Brewster) and extended family.

Indeed, returning to the franchise’s successful relationship core Fast 5 sees Dom busted from jail by Brian and Mia who go on the run in the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio, before reuniting with some old personalities – one of the film’s major joys – for one last $100 million dollar heist. This is not just another ‘get rich quick plan’, though, but a skewed serving of justice to take down the local corrupt kingpin masquerading as a legitimate businessman. However, adding to the ‘misfit family’s’ woes is Rottweiler US federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) who carries out his job to the letter and is determined to hunt down and bring Dom to justice.

A serious suspension of disbelief is needed with a lot of the action scenes, but that’s not to say you don’t get the same entertainment value out of seeing our heroes narrowly miss objects by the skin of their teeth. Each energetic and well-edited set piece is set to a pumping Samba flava to depict the colour, vitality and spirit of Rio. It’s equally galvanising to see Diesel and Walker united in the driving seat once more, a little older and wiser, but just as tightly-sprung and testosterone-fuelled as before. In fact this film bathes in the latter, like an overpowering whiff of cheap aftershave that seems to rub off on the women, too. Mia has become more hard assed and hands on in this, but still keeps a dignified femininity. Sadly, even though this is set in Rio, you have to wait some time before the beautiful bodies lounging over hot throbbing bonnets come into view. Still, the willowy Gisele (Gal Gadot) returns for another job in biker leathers with a metal beast throbbing between her legs, and later in a miniscule bikini to whet the appetite first.

But by far the most gleefully splendid moments are those with Johnson as hunter Hobbs in the frame, especially the iconic one when the two ‘muscular man mountains’ of Diesel and him collide, which is worth the lack of car chase scenes alone, and could be one of cinema’s defining altercations. Indeed, Johnson is quite formidable in presence and gusto in this, but his character has a noticeable, fragile human side that adds to the intriguingly fine balance between good and bad in the narrative. There are a lot of guns and violence, so the film is at the far-end of its 12A rating, bordering more on 15.

Fast 5 also sees the welcome return of Dom’s nearest and dearest, including smooth-talking Roman (Tyrese Gibson), practical Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), quick-thinking Han (Sung Kang) and banished Vince (Matt Schulze), a ploy to bring delight fans back – and yes, Han didn’t die in Tokyo Drift, it seems. Gibson and Ludacris provide the comedy act, signalling the highs and lows and camaraderie of the whole operation. Apart from the final grand gravity-defying and breath-stopping car chase through Rio that all players mightily deserve to participate in, considering the otherwise driving drought, there are some energising on-foot chase scenes and shootouts within the twisting pathways of the favelas to indulge in, as well as the ever charismatic Joaquim de Almeida as kingpin Reyes, another Latin baddie/businessman role that he effortlessly moulds and delivers with total credibility.

If you are expecting high revs and racing meets, you may be a tad disappointed with Fast 5. However, the characters, with the welcome addition of Johnson, will quickly reel your interest back in and get you on board because of their strong sense of values and purpose, and because we just love to witness them in action. Make sure you stick around for the end of the credits, though, for two nice surprises… Fast 6 might be being tuned up as we speak, and ready to be rolled out any time soon. As they say, ‘where there’s demand, there’s supply’, and this franchise will shoot up the box office chart because it’s undemanding and fiercely electrifying entertainment.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Arthur ***

Love him or loathe him, there’s just no stopping the publicity juggernaut that is Brand at the moment – on both sides of the pond. Or is there? Those (seemingly) loyal to the Oscar-winning 1981 version of Arthur, starring the lovable late Dudley Moore, were especially keen in the US to get the knives out ready for Mr Katy Perry’s debut lead performance in this year’s remake of the same name – and no, voicing a talking Easter bunny in Hop doesn’t count.

Arthur is the story of pampered Brit billionaire and drunk Arthur (Brand) who’s always on the sauce, partying and shirking his responsibilities. He’s threatened with disinheritance if he doesn’t marry the woman his controlling and cold-hearted businesswoman mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James), wants him to – the terrifyingly competitive social climber, Susan (Jennifer Garner). Trouble is, he falls for the wrong girl by sheer accident one day, a cent-less illegal tour guide/wannabe children’s author called Naomi (Greta Gerwig). His only guiding hand in life is ‘surrogate mother’ and nanny figure Hobson (Helen Mirren) who has a love-hate relationship with her man-child charge. So, does he follow his heart or his head?

To be fair on Brand, the US critics’ backlash is rather unwarranted – unless you just can’t stand the man, so wouldn’t even entertain the thought of watching 110 minutes of him. Coming from someone who holds the original film dear to their heart, far from irritate the hell out of you in this, surprisingly, Brand injects a new infectious fun feeling into Arthur. He is the definitive Arthur of the Noughties, a decadent bad boy with too much dosh to squander, and if we’re to believe that reality mirrors fiction (and vice versa), Brand’s past is perfect practice for such a role of petulant over-indulgence and vanity – just think Sachsgate. Plus he’s an ex-addict, so knows the score and can draw on past experience. Indeed, just like Arthur, there’s always a glimmer of raw Brand vulnerability bubbling away below the surface, which keeps the self-depreciating moments more credible. However, he still doesn’t quite touch on the emotional tragedy of Moore’s more compelling performance when he loses Hobson in the story. This could be Brand’s acting inexperience, or the fact that Brand only ends up playing one kind of character – himself.

Never mind Brand, though. There was one major doubt in the mind, before watching this film: Replacing John Gielgud’s gleefully acidic-tongued Hobson with a female character of the same name. Thankfully and unsurprisingly, steadfast Mirren comes up trumps, but dripping in a lot less sarcasm than her predecessor. She absolutely steals the show, and this is evident when Brand has to finish off proceedings at the end by relying on a spot of near-nudity to squeeze more laughs out. And does their on-screen partnership work? It certainly keeps you entertained and in high spirits throughout – and you can easily imagine art imitating life with boss lady clipping any Brand random moments of madness down to size.

As for the other women in Arthur’s life, Garner sounded like an odd casting at first, but is hilarious in her own right and a good match opposite Brand’s larger-than-life persona, as he tries to repel her futile advances as Susan, accumulating in a rather magnetic moment of bedroom madness. Gerwig’s character makes a refreshing change to Liza Minnelli’s gobby Linda Marolla character, Arthur’s love interest in the first film, allowing you to develop more empathy for Naomi as she steps into a whole different universe.

Arthur 2011 would never win the accolades that the 1981 film did (Best Actor for Moore and Best Supporting Actor for Gielgud), but like its protagonist, it does deliver some cheeky laughs that balance out some of its flatter moments. Brand is a big kid at heart, and Mirren takes no prisoners, so casting seems near enough spot on. Therefore, when parts of this film do not work as well, the majority of the blame must lie with the film-making combination of TV director Jason Winer and Borat and Brüno screenwriter Peter Baynham’s adaptation of Steve Gordon’s original story. Or maybe times have changed, what with the banking crisis and the rich just getting richer, this story just comes at a time when things still smart, so the decadent, feel-good feel of the 80s no longer holds true? It’s a bold part to play, and Brand does his best, so here’s a toast to his efforts.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

TT3D: Closer To The Edge ****

If you’ve ever wondered what the appeal of riding is, no matter how we bikers try in vain to convert you to two wheels from four, Richard De Aragues’s new documentary film is an excellent place to start. Ok, it’s the extreme version of riding, but it absolutely hammers the message across in the bluntest and rawest of terms.

TT3D: Closer To The Edge is an exhilarating and heart-stopping adrenaline rush full of big ballsy biking, which like the race magic the petrol-head ‘gladiators’ cherish, draws you in and injects you with the TT lunacy drug. And from some of the people present at our screening, attended by two of the riders in the film, Ian ‘Hutchy’ Hutchinson and John ‘Sheep Skin’ McGuinness, you don’t have to ride to begin to understand the passion of dicing with death – and the biking bug. With the utterly entertaining Elvis-and-Wolverine cross, Guy Martin as your maverick ace and the film’s anti-hero (the face on the film poster), you’ll experience the highs and shocking lows of the event, as if you were sitting in the rider’s seat.

The film follows a select few of the international array of riders in the days and nights leading up to and during the 2010’s TT race, one of the most dangerous road races held on the streets of the Isle of Man, and over 100 years old. The goal is the coveted Tourist Trophy – aka the Isle of Man TT. However, for those whose eyes might be glazing over already, it has to be stressed that this film is not all about the sport itself, so requires no in-depth understanding of the rules and regs (and there are numerous frustrating ones, as Martin exposes), but more about how the heart commands the head when someone is truly passionate about something. It’s also about what drives the thrill-seeker, regardless of the risks (i.e. serious injury or death). And parts of the ride place you firmly behind the tank and in control in 3D – apparently.

Our lack of a 3D experience, as we were watching an unfinished film version – and hence, the necessary drop to 4 stars for this review, as we can’t really comment any further on the matter, however much we’d like to – was the biggest caveat of the evening. Our disappointment was quelled somewhat by getting to chat to biking legends Hutchinson and McGuinness and discussing their incredibly optimistic racing plans for this season – especially as the former was still on crutches. It was this dose of reality that made the film even more impacting. But to be fair, as the film stood, it was still as effective as ever. Therefore, make sure you get the full experience, however much every film on the planet today seems to shout ‘I’m in 3D’, allowing the ticket price to be hiked more, as you will come out of this simply buzzing with energy. We did, without 3D.

There is the commonly used phrase, ‘the people’s hero’, but that is what De Aragues’s film is angling for, and how it is achieved. The film has lots of big personalities, but relies on Martin to hook you in and keep you in the frame for the entire duration. His babbling charisma, blatant rule-bending and stubborn ways, and mightily friendly and easy-going stance make him the idea ‘lead’. Therefore, as you feel you know him so well towards the end, there is THE shocking event that leaves you simply mortified and on tender hooks. Those who know the 2010 race’s history will know what that is, but it’s still horrifying to watch again.

In addition to the miles of road surface covered throughout that feels like an introduction to a racing video game, the film is not all ‘full-on’ action, and has some wonderfully humorous and reflective moments of calm, often defusing the tension that builds up. It shows an accomplished and thoughtful piece of film-making, spending time with the winners and losers of the whole event.

The biggest worry about TT3D is it missing an untapped audience – this biker would see it, regardless. The only thing to try and compare it to, particularly the racing moments, is watching an on-board camera YouTube video of some nut on a bike, which are always well received online. But this film is in another league and done with panache, and has some real characters you can get behind and continue to follow. Hell, you might end up at the TT on 30th May at this rate, spectating or otherwise. It certainly makes you seriously consider booking that ticket – or if a natural-born thrill-seeker, getting that CBT test booked…

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Your Highness ****

Panto season is (thankfully) a long way off, but if you want some pre-Easter sauciness to tickle your fancy, and are a big fan of sword-fighting fantasy adventures, Your Highness is at your service. Crass, crude and boundlessly bonkers, Your Highness is quite literally a hilarious, sex-obsessed adult fairy tale with a big heart – think a cross between Benny Hill, Monty Python, Stardust and Labyrinth, with a bit of Willow thrown in.

Danny McBride of Pineapple Express fame (the one in his pants) takes his first lead helm with all the full confidence and spunk that we’ve been waiting for. McBride is Thadeous, a spoilt, childish prince who is constantly in his older brother, Fabious (James Franco)’s shadow. After returning from yet another gallant and noble quest with a new bride-to-be, Belladonna (played by Zooey Deschanel), Fabious incurs the wrath of an evil sorcerer called Leezar (Justin Theroux) who kidnaps fair Belladonna on their wedding day, a virgin that he needs to procreate with and produce an all-conquering dragon. Bone-idle Thadeous is forced to go along on the new quest to recover Belladonna with his brother, but discovers he is also noble and quite the responsible adult when the chips are down. Along the way, he falls for a sexy warrior called Isabel (Natalie Portman), putting a whole new spin on his life.

Your Highness has a lot of daft subtle and observational humour, so it can take its time to stoke the frivolity. Hence, be prepared to get off your comedy high horse and come down to peasant gutter-level mentality to thoroughly enjoy it, as it’s laced with contemporary slang and swear words. In fact, as this is from the director of Pineapple Express, David Gordon Green, there are the running dope and bodily function jokes, too, as well as an obsession with sex organs (cue horny Minotaur), so this may not be to everyone’s taste. However, because it’s sleazier than a schoolboy’s wet dream in parts, the 15 rating is appropriate, where some might have questioned some of its content.

Actually, the most hilarious scenes are the ones between a deadpan Deschanel as Belladonna and the brilliant, scene-stealing Theroux as Leezar, when the flippant remarks and insults fly about as Leezar’s virgin prisoner mocks his egotistical plan. Childishness is definitely on the agenda, emphasised by the appearance of parental figures on the scene – Charles Dance as King Tallious who despairs with layabout Thadeous, and Leezar’s three domineering witchy mothers who are cringingly present when he tries to do the dirty deed with Belladonna.

Oscar contenders who’ve recently been associated with more serious roles, Franco (127 Hours) and Portman (Best Actress for Black Swan) just seem to throw career caution to the wind and have some wicked fun for a change, which is deliciously refreshing as each hams up their caricatures in this. Portman shows that all that ballet dancing has gone to good use, giving adoring fans a long, lingering taste of her curves in one scene. But it’s Franco as Fabious, who is instantly likeable with his endless puppy-dog enthusiasm and sibling love, that drives the film’s proceedings on the whole, allowing McBride to gleefully add the surly underdog humour, with the help of his long-suffering aide Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker). Sarcasm flows freely, too, enabling writers McBride and Ben Best (The Foot Fist Way, another McBride collaboration) to touch on more controversial topics, such as the scene between the brothers and a wise but stoned, bulbous-headed sorcerer who has dubious paedophile tendencies.

Your Highness is quite simply lowbrow, filthy fun that makes no apology for being anything other than that. It’s a true character-driven film as it’s a coming-of-age one with ‘men-children’ growing up in it that worships bromance in spades. Indeed, as the casting is spot on, the different personalities resonate well off each other, which is just as well as the deliveries and some of the script could have been slicker in some cases. McBride has chosen wisely for his first lead project, but helped in part by his co-stars’ recent notoriety and success at various awards ceremonies. Still, the adventures of man-children have had an endless appeal at the box office in recent months (Hall Pass etc), so this enjoyable mediaeval orgy is no exception. Let the silly smuttiness begin…

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer



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Rio (3D) ****

From bunnies to birds, this Easter feels like a nature zone of full of cuddly cuteness. It’s the battle of the studio giants for your kids’ attention, with Universal’s Hop (out last week) verses 20th Century’s new holiday offering, Rio. What the latter has to offer, though, is all the spirit of Rio for weary adults craving a break in the sun, plus some vibrant, heart-felt fun set to infectious Samba vibes.

The story follows Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), a non-flying blue macaw who is smuggled out of the jungles surrounding Rio de Janeiro, and ends up by accident in small-town Minnesota, where he meets his devoted bookstore owner, Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). After a doctor comes to town and tells Linda that Blu is needed as one of the last of his kind to mate with another macaw called Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway), both bird and owner find themselves travelling to Brazil’s party town. After meeting the fiercely independent Jewel, Blu finds himself on a self-discovery adventure in Rio that ultimately leads to love.

From its opening scene, Rio’s animation’s colourful jungle life gets you straight in the mood for the lighter evenings ahead, complete with solo songs later on from stars Jamie Foxx and Will i Am. Reminiscent of The Jungle Book, the animation is designed to pulsate with the beat in the livelier scenes, in stark contrast with the awe-inspiring, sweeping panoramic views over the coastline when Blu hitches a ride on the back of an unsuspecting, passing hand glider or bird. These sequences make excellent use of the 3D, as do others, showing the attention to detail that director Carlos Saldanha and his team have given to building each shot. In fact, since Ice Age, the quality and detail has noticeably improved, resulting in a radiant and totally immersive atmosphere that previous film’s backdrops lacked. The same erratic and energetic animal movements are still present, though, as are some of the clichéd storyline outcomes.

The height of coolness in increased with a voice provided by Oscar-nominated Eisenberg (The Social Network), indie’s current darling, who brings to life a touching vulnerability to Blu’s personality. Blu’s awkward ‘coming-of-age’ moments feel that much more real with Eisenberg’s self-doubting acting personality injected in them. Hathaway adds the ‘get-up-and-go’ spirit needed to trigger events, while boosting Blu’s ego, but not before she gives him a hard time. It’s the classic love story of opposites meeting and attracting that translates well to birds in this case.

No animation would be complete without the supporting cast, including the bad guys, a smuggling gang made up of men, birds (like Nigel, voiced by Jemaine Clement) and monkeys (note The Jungle Book nod), trying to derail proceedings – as well as the carnival. The greedy gang want to make money out of a pair of rare blue macaw birds, and are constantly pursuing our heroes. There are also the token ‘jokers’, an oddball grouping of Nico (Foxx) and Pedro (Will I Am), reacting to the older, wiser Rafael (voiced by George Lopez). This loyal trio are highly entertaining in their own right, often driving the action and plot. And as with any kids’ film, it is friends that make up the surrogate family that make the film. Nico, Pedro and Rafael are no exception, pulling out all the stops for the macaws.

With its sizzling, sunny premise, catchy beats, wild adventure and endearing cast, Rio is Easter’s winning combination. So, the Marvellous City is calling – and no need to get those inoculations and jump on a plane, either.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer



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