Wrath of the Titans (3D)**

For a sequel bursting and ablaze with special effects and offering far better 3D this time around – as it wasn’t done haphazardly in post production, director Jonathan Liebesman’s take on Greek mythology is surprisingly bland. Unfortunately for him, it’s a combination of bland script and even blander lead in Sam Worthington. Worthington is like the Nigel Mansell of the acting world; performing adequately and a rather likeable chap but never setting the world (or screen) alight.

It’s as though Liebesman relies heavily on his effects to inject excitement into Wrath of the Titans (3D) as the rest is a confusing and often eye-torturous visual muddle that smacks of the hell-fire visuals of Lord of the Rings – and you expect Frodo to pop up at any second and save the day too.

In the sequel to Clash of the Titans, and a decade after his heroic defeat of the monstrous Kraken, demigod Perseus (Worthington), son of god Zeus (Liam Neeson), wants to live a quiet fisherman’s life with his son, Helius (John Bell). But a struggle for supremacy between the gods and the Titans and a weakening deity devotion from humanity sees a deadly alliance form between Perseus’s uncle Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and estranged brother Ares (Édgar Ramírez) to resurrect their ferocious leader, Kronos, father of the long-ruling brothers Zeus, Hades and Poseidon (Danny Huston).

After Poseidon’s death, Zeus is captured and his godly powers are siphoned to bring Kronos back from the dead. It is down to Perseus to save his father, the gods and humanity, with help from his wayward cousin, demigod Agenor (Toby Kebbell), Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and toolmaker to the gods Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), before the Titans’ strength grows stronger.

The sequel is all about its visual glory, and is perfectly suited to an IMAX screen for grand, eye-goggling effect. The downside to this is Liebesman’s choice of frenetic camerawork (by Ben Davis) in the first attack scene to depict utter chaos sets off a bout of motion sickness then has you playing catch-up afterwards as your sight attempts to return to normal. It’s near impossible to decipher any detail at this moment, which is a shame for getting a sense of the terror to come – and there are some interesting, two-headed beasts sent from the underworld to attack, but you have little time to register exactly what Perseus and townsfolk are up against before careering into the next shot.

The design in the film is pretty spectacular, recreating the earthy look and feel of ancient Greece, but again, you can’t help making comparisons with LOTR and Gandalf the Grey and Saruman when Neeson and Fiennes appear on the screen, confronted with the scorching, volcanic presence of Kronos. Even the usually captivating evil that the real-life, gentle Fiennes seems to offer up on tap – after Voldermort and other such characters – is sadly missing in this. It’s all rather camp in fact, with big names in tunic fancy dress. Oh, and just exactly why Kronos is so dangerous to gods and man is never fully realised too, in all the time it takes for his rocky presence to awaken.

Kebbell and Nighy provide the intentional comedy factor, but mumble off into the distance with their lines all the time, like sorry and forgotten Life of Brian extras. Pike provides the glamour and sense of purpose and strength – taken over from Alexa Davalos in the last film. Indeed, the choice of cast is a fitting one, but it just goes to show how a bad script can spoil an affair. However, Worthington, though a calming presence in the midst of visual bedlam, just falls short of the mark of being a convincing hero and worthy victor – he’s just too laid back to rally us together at the sound of the war cry, and it’s left to Pike/Andromeda’s leadership and determination in the battle scenes to get the juices flowing.

For all its obvious faults, Wrath is still highly entertaining though, because of the latter and the silliness and camp factor. It’s a lesson in producing effects for the even bigger IMAX screen too – and when is best and best not to use frenetic camerawork and choppy editing values. Expect an action-stuffed 3D extravaganza with very little subtext to it – minus eight-legged horses and double vision of the 2010 film, and you’ll come away with a smile on your face but strained eyeballs and a queasiness in the belly.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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StreetDance 2 (3D) **

Regardless of whether it’s a good film or not, StreetDance has its loyal fan base – paying punters – ready to flock to see the latest nimble starlets battling against the odds and demonstrating some astounding moves as their ammunition. Admittedly, whether you’re a fan or not, it’s always captivating for the length of each dance set piece – and we all know the outcome and who the victors in the dance-off will be. However, waiting to be dazzled by each routine is as painful and ugly an experience as getting corns on the feet.

In the 2012 film, after being humiliated by the crew and reigning champs Invincible, popcorn seller and street dancer Ash (Falk Hentschel) goes on a journey to recruit Europe’s best dancers of all persuasions for the world rematch. Along the way he gets introduced to salsa in Paris, under the charms of Eva (Sofia Boutella), the salsa queen at her uncle Manu’s (Tom Conti) club.

Predictability – dance cultures clash then unite to form something unique for the finale, while a ‘West Side Story’ style romance blossoms between members of the two rival groups – has to be excused with such a film: We know we’re watching a path to success. There’s also a healthy and infectious dose of competition to get behind, combined with hormones and sweaty, supple bodies.

However, the ‘acting’ (in the loosest possible terms) in between each routine is as dire as it gets: Eddie – former Britain’s Got Talent contestant George Sampson – returns, trying his hardest to be the lovable joker, but bouncing off wooden muscle man Ash, he simply comes across like an over-excitable puppy. Hentschel only really awakens from his trance in the arms of Boutella as sultry Eva. But the only thrilling non-dancing performance is given by Conti in a part not too dissimilar to Shirley Valentine’s Costas, camping it up to hide the non-existent script.

The film has a thrillingly energetic salsa-street music mix that warrants a second listen or download. That said StreetDance 2 (3D) generally feels like a collection of teen music videos tentatively strung together by clichéd lines – just take the fake-looking pillow fight in the hostel dorm, slow-mo-ed for full titillating effect.

As for the 3D, it disappointingly didn’t add much more to the movement and excitement of the dance: The routines are enough visual eye candy without necessarily adding new technology, but it didn’t detract from the entertainment either – unless you find the glasses a bad fit. As a piece of catchy pop culture, the StreetDance franchise has a natural buzz, licensed to thrill again with the latest edition, plus a great soundtrack – just don’t expect much more than awesome moves for your money.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Tiny Furniture ****

Fresh emerging talent Lena Dunham is cinema’s female answer to Jesse Eisenberg, all self-depreciation, quirky awkwardness, acute observation and razor-sharp wit for the trendy crowd. Tiny Furniture, which she wrote and directed at the age of 23, is almost a semi-autobiographical look at the beginnings of post-graduate life, following on from her 2009 college days flick, Creative Nonfiction. This new feature film’s authentic feel will ring alarm bells as Dunham’s character Aura returns home to New York’s trendy Tribeca, and attempts to carve our a worthy existence after student life.

Native New Yorker Dunham instantly taps into the fears of many educated masses out there today, expected to deal with stepping out of the further education cocoon – where ideas and opinions are healthfully encouraged – and slot back into reality’s preconceived mould. However, Aura’s home life is one that feels as challenging as it is comforting, surrounded by success and driven female relatives, with her studious younger sister Nadine – Dunham’s actual little sister Grace – and renowned artist mother Siri (Laurie Simmons) who creates miniature furniture.

The film has no real sense of urgency, playing out like a pseudo documentary, and in turn, allowing us to be submerged in Aura’s timeless limbo. We get to know her attributes and her flaws, as well as her own insecurities in such a sparse setting – the latter being a running joke with the apartment’s many spurious cupboards that seem to hide away all homely comforts. The only human contact seems to come from snatched moments of hugging or sharing a bed with mum, sister or random strangers. There is another wonderfully comedic moment when Aura finds passion al fresco in a disused tube that sums up her spiralling sense of self-esteem and self-value.

What is a really interesting dynamic in the film is the sisters’ relationship, as though Aura resents that Nadine has her carefree college days ahead of her. This is particularly more intriguing as the Dunham sisters could be recreating real-life resentments within the context of a film. There is also a brilliant breakthrough performance by newcomer Jemima Kirke – a Piper Perabo look-alike – as Aura’s wild-child friend Charlotte who leads an equally dysfunctional and bohemian lifestyle. Aura, desperate to cling onto her irresponsible student days, uses Charlotte as a weapon to upset her household’s equilibrium. In a sense, none of Dunham’s characters are designed to be particularly ‘likeable’ – apart from Charlotte perhaps, and there is a selfish streak they all share. Here’s predicting big things for Kirke who embodies Charlotte with fearless aplomb.

The issues in Dunham’s Tiny Furniture could cut too close to the bone for some to watch in today’s times of austerity, ironically making it such a topical microcosm of emotions with the uncertainties ahead. The film speaks to anyone ‘waiting’ for their opportunity in life, sardonically pointing out the obstacles in the way in a glib but naïve manner. Dunham really is writing from truth, and the truth hurts to watch on the one hand while entertaining on the other. Dunham can be rest assured her own career path is set after this.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! ***

There is an unquestionable deep respect for our British creative institution Aardman Animations, and eager anticipation for their next project. Don’t be put off by the fact that its geniuses have teamed up with Sony and added 3D – The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! is a quintessentially Aardman affair, bursting with fine detail that you can’t possibly take in, in one viewing. In fact, it could be argued that this detracts from the plot, which has its lagging moments, if being totally honest – Aardman magic aside.

Pirate Captain (voiced with expert comic timing by Hugh Grant) is tired of not having any booty and being the butt of other captains’ jokes. Revered by his faithful crew, he sets out to win the coveted Pirate of the year Award – defeating flash rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven, voiced) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek, voiced) in the process. However, a brush with a sea-faring Charles Darwin (David Tennant, voiced) and a scientific discovery of an ornithological kind sets Pirate Captain and his band of merry misfits on a different path to raise the bounty, a quest that takes him to Victorian London and into the territory of pirate-loathing Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton, voiced).

Co-directors, Aardman guru Peter Lord and Chicken Run’s Jeff Newitt can be rightly satisfied in knowing that their swashbuckling creation is still a huge fan pleaser and as ‘tactile-looking’ as the trademark plasticine characters, Wallace and Gromit. The new 3D technology is actually only a small factor in the overall production value, adding depth of field rather than an immersive experience; each set and character has been painstakingly crafted in the traditional fashion. In fact, as with anything 3D at the moment, it could be argued that the film would be as enjoyable in 2D. The 3D merely feels like an Aardman experimentation that thankfully pays off. There is no Pirate Captain double vision.

Once known, all the stars who lend their voices are gleefully and instantly recognisable, such as the hearty vocals of Brian Blessed as Pirate King, Martin Freeman recreating his weary Tim Canterbury tones from The Office as Pirate Captain’s right-hand man, Pirate with Scarf, and a shrill Staunton going slowly barmy as Queen Vic, like her many comedy roles of past. What isn’t fully expected is exactly where the plot will go, and there is a bizarre and quite disturbing reveal for younger viewers concerning Queenie and her visiting dignitaries that is positively inhumane. However, with hindsight, it’s not too far from the fate of other animals in the Aardman feature-film collection, and this film is based on the first two books in the Pirates! series by author – and screenwriter – Gideon Defoe.

The Pirates! has so much loving attention invested in it, and there is a lot of naughty fun to be had. The downside is too much of a good thing – and too much information in a scene – can overload the whole experience, resulting in restless young kiddies at times. Still, visually, it’s an awesome Aardman romp of plundering proportions.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Hunger Games ***

Forget 2012; finally, the games have arrived. Author Suzanne Collins’s post-apocalyptic world is projected for all to watch on the big screen. The obvious parallels between the existence we are introduced to in The Hunger Games and the possible collision course we are on are eerily not lost – it’s just a shame that the film for the uninitiated book reader results in more questions than satisfying answers. If it weren’t for such a powerful central lead by Winter’s Bone actress Jennifer Lawrence, we probably wouldn’t be half as captivated.

North America in a not-to-distant future is gone, and all that remains is Panem, controlled by the elitist, pampered Capitol that forces its surrounding impoverished twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl – or ‘tribute’ – to compete in the Hunger Games each year. Each tribute is selected as a warped punishment for a past uprising, and must fight to the death until one survivor remains standing. When 16-year-old Katniss’s (Lawrence) younger sister, Prim (Willow Shields), is selected as the mining district’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

Like some Dickensian rural backdrop, director Gary Ross captures the glum, desperate living conditions of the District 12 inhabitants, ironically surrounded by nature’s beauty, and keeps the intrigue brewing right up until the Reaping – where the tributes are selected by a ‘lucky’ draw. We are also given a clear overview of how strong a character our heroine is, mainly due to Lawrence’s defiant poise and striking features that Ross could be guilty of over-captialising on throughout, with lots of close-up camerawork. In this sense, he does try to visualise Collins’s word by suggesting this is a Katniss-led story adaptation – plus the author was part of the scriptwriting team.

However, condensing all the psychology and social concepts of the time satisfactorily into a film time frame is where important detail gets lost in translation from page to screen. As functional as the film is in relation to the book, there is not sufficient background into why the tributes seem to accept their fate so readily; how they really feel about competing in an unfair world; plus the significance of the bread, defiant hand signals and Katniss’s nurturing nature toward young Rue (Amandla Stenberg), a fellow tribute and component. Instead, the comparisons to The Twilight Saga lie with Ross’s focus on the potential love interest between Katniss and Peeta. In this respect, Hutcherson is aptly cast opposite Lawrence as the ‘weaker’ Peeta. That said both remain curiously guarded, which is what fuels our intrigue as to any true motive – hopefully to be further explored in a sequel, especially as there are ripples of rebellion in the midst.

To get the 12A rating, a lot of the brutality is portrayed as hurried, choppy close-up sequences, conveniently sanitised to suggest bloodshed, but without triggering the obvious nightmares associated with seeing kids killing kids. Some might argue that making it an 18 would have better served to depict the horrifying reality of surviving in this makeshift world. Whatever the case, you long for a sense of the bigger picture and wider visual setting of the virtual forest that the tributes hunt each other in, in addition to seeing Seneca Crane’s (Wes Bentley) staff designing it from their privileged high tower.

There are other memorable appearances too; Stanley Tucci as purple-coiffured game-show host Caesar Flickerman; Elizabeth Banks as the prissy and eccentric Effie Trinket opposite Woody Harrelson as brash lush Haymitch Abernathy who make up the District 12 tribute training committee. As conscience seems to be non-existent among the Captiol’s residents who treat the Hunger Games as compulsive Saturday night viewing – a frightening acceleration of our reality TV diet, Abernathy is as close to an empathy barometer as is possible. However, even his back-story remains a mystery as such, resulting in the non-read viewer filling in the blanks with possible reasons.

The positives to The Hunger Games are largely thanks to Lawrence in the lead. The rest of the Running Man/Lost-styled film relies heavily on the filmmakers’ falling on the side of ambiguity or stoicism to fuel any mystery, which without any further insight into or challenge to the ‘bigger picture’ only leaves inevitable frustration in its wake and some lagging parts. That said the seed of interest has been sown, and this survival story has more guts (and gore) to it than Twilight could ever wish for, and more winning formula than 2012 can muster, harnessing that gladiatorial fascination that seems inherent to us.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Wild Bill ****

Shot in the heartland of London 2012, actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher’s new gritty Brit drama Wild Bill could be set anywhere, if it wasn’t for the occasional skyline prompt. But unlike the gloomy, award-winning Junkhearts that follows a similar ‘deprived London’ vein – and was released at the same time as Fletcher’s directorial debut at last year’s London Film Festival, Wild Bill has a more genuine heart to it for those of us who know the London Borough of Newham area, and it’s not obsessed with trying to hit rock bottom to provide grim reality portrayals. Wild Bill may well be guilty of depicting council-estate wows but it has a dry sense of humour bubbling through it that anyone with local knowledge will pick up on and relish, making it highly entertaining.
Out on parole after eight years inside ‘Wild’ Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) returns home to find his now 11 and 15 year old sons, Jimmy and Dean – played by Sammy Williams and Son of Rambow’s Will Poulter – abandoned by their mother and fending for themselves. Unwilling to play Dad, an uncaring Bill is determined to move on. Although Dean has a labouring job on the Olympic site and is doing his best to be a father to his younger brother, the arrival of Bill has brought them to the attention of social services. With the danger of being put into care looming, Dean forces his feckless Dad to stay by threatening to grass him up for dealing. If there’s one thing Bill doesn’t want it’s to go back to prison. He reluctantly agrees to stay for a week to help fool social services that the boys are being cared for. Having never really grown up himself Bill quickly connects with Jimmy and through this new bond starts to realise what he’s been missing – he has a family and a place in the world. He is a father. However, their happy family set-up is short-lived when Jimmy gets into trouble dealing for Bill’s dangerous old cohorts. To sort it out would breach the terms of his license and risk sending him back to jail.
There is a commendable honesty and personal element to the way Fletcher has co-written and directed his new film that shines through, elevating it out of the humdrum, paint-by-numbers gangland estate piece. In fact, it’s more a story about strained family relationships set in hardship than the latter, with an intriguing all-male cast battling it out on screen. It does suffer from contrived banter at times, especially between the boys, but the performances are so earnest and convincing that this compensates for the latter.
Among the hustle and bustle of certain moments, the film has warm, lighter, reflective ones, with the icing on the top being Wild Bill’s rooftop heart-to-heart with his younger son, and one defining moment when a paper aeroplane is launched off the building edge that encapsulates all kinds of thoughts and emotions played out at that time in the film; it’s cinematically beautiful for such a debut piece.
Indeed, Creed-Miles could have his career-defining moment on his hands in this, moving effortlessly in character between hard man and doting dad to showcase his impressive acting skillset. As obvious as his character arc is, there is an enjoyable ‘coming of age’ and simultaneous healing process to witness, as the actor navigates through the highs and lows of the story.
Wild Bill succumbs to the odd, slightly incredible moment – and its trailer smacks of Guy Ritchie tones, but it wears its lion heart firmly on its sleeve with bouts of good humour and sense, making it impossible not to be drawn into its rugged charm. Fletcher also shows exciting promise behind the camera too – something to be further encouraged by going to see this.
4/5 stars
By @FilmGazer

Contraband ****

Chris Farraday in Contraband is another “made for Mark Wahlberg” part, the kind that allows this Boston-born star the chance to tap into his own tough upbringing experiences of being on the wrong side of the law, while showing a softie side. Although perfectly cast in the likes of Four Brothers, The Departed and The Fighter, like his comical Terry Hoitz role in The Other Guys, Contraband is not all grit but has some surprising hidden wit, complete with a running joke threaded through for the audience’s amusement in a tale of corruption, deception and good ol’ family values that excuses all the bad behaviour.

Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) long ago abandoned his life of crime, but after his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris is forced back into doing what he does best – running contraband-to settle Andy’s debt. Chris is a legendary smuggler and quickly assembles a crew with the help of his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), for one final run to Panama and back, hoping to return with millions in counterfeit bills. Things quickly fall apart and with only hours to reach the cash, Chris must use his rusty skills to successfully navigate a treacherous criminal network of brutal drug lords, cops and hit men before his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and sons become their target.

Seasick-inducing, handheld camerawork aside at the start, Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur’s Contraband settles down to gradually become an adrenaline-throbbing heist that doesn’t drop the intensity ball for one second, complete with a corrupt New Orleans setting and stellar cast fit for purpose. From Wahlberg to Foster to Ribisi, each actor embodies the kind of role we’ve seen them play time again, naturally making the status quo believable. The only initial oddity to get used to is Ribisi’s chipmunk voice, but his violent, weasel ways soon put to bed any giggles that arise. As a Brit, a bedrangled-looking Beckinsale is also fully convincing as Farraday’s suffering wife, getting the accent and battle-harden characteristics down to a tee as a tough mother prepared to defend, whatever the costs.

Like a less slick Ocean’s flick, most of the detail of the heist in Contraband – including lots of different and intriguing ways of smuggling onboard a larger container ship – is as paramount to the makeup of the plot as the big-screen action. It doesn’t disappoint on the thrills and spills either, allowing hard man Wahlberg the arena to shine in the best way he knows how. Making a mockery of the law and authority provides escapist moments of pleasure too, demonstrating the lighter side of the dangerous work, while playing to our sense of deviance. It’s the potent Robin Hood mentality at play again, with loveable rogues just righting the injustices in life, without necessarily changing their own spots.

As familiar and generic as some of the happenings in Contraband actually are, Kormákur’s thriller sets sail with enough puff, dynamics and intrigue to see it safely dock at the end of its voyage, complete with devilish humour and an expert lead at the helm in Wahlberg to tie up all the loose ends. It’s as physical as its environment of tough shipping and hardened personalities, and uses these features to set it aside from the standard heist movie, making for a solid, gutsy and realistic watch.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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John Carter ***

Writer-director Andrew Stanton tries his hand at live action this time, putting some of his fun Pixar magic from the likes of award-winning Finding Nemo and Wall-E into John Carter, an other-worldly adventure staged on Mars – or Barsoom, as adapted from Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs’s work, A Princess of Mars. Whatever faults this film has, it does something that the dull Cowboys and Aliens from last year tried and failed to do; marry Western and sci-fi genres and the analogies between American civil war history between cowboys and Indians far better, opening up the Barsoom landscape that looks like Arizonan plains to a wider audience.

The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including green-skinned Tharks led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the Heliumians and their science-loving and beautiful Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse after a warring faction led by a Zodanga fighter named Sab Than (Dominic West), controlled by immortal, shape-shifting Therns, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), fight with the Heliumians, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

John Carter, solidly depicted by virtual unknown this side of the Atlantic, Tarzan-looking Friday Night Lights TV star Kitsch, is an all-American anti-hero turned hero that you want to rally behind. The plot of a stubborn, greedy man ‘coming of age and wisdom’ is an all too familiar one that still has mileage here for the non-Burroughs fan, while satisfying our curiosity about Man’s voyage and hopeful life discoveries on another planet in our solar system.

John Carter is also beautifully visual and creative in its scenery enough to capture and distract you from the fairly thin premise and weakly portrayed passions of why the factions are at war. Naturally, the lack of water seems to be the only key issue that both planet and Martian has, and the story leaves the door open for a further solar system exploration into this. But even this major problem isn’t necessarily clear until cone-headed Shang mentions it. And yes, the environmentalists out there will smile at the filmmakers’ sense of purpose at highlighting our own planetary dangers in this respect.

Kitsch and Collins are both Amazonianly striking in this with a playful banter, teasing enough for adults to know the presence of sexual chemistry, and for children to find entertaining. Stanton injects a camp element into the whole affair too, allowing you to forgive its singularly B-movie overtones. However, much this film rips off classic sci-fi elements from Star Wars, Star Trek, Xena: Warrior Princess and the recent Avatar films, with the Tharks long-limbed appearance, there is nothing but fun and fantasy to be hand here in equal 3D measure – but nothing fresh on the Barsoom horizon either. And a medallion discovery that serves as the porthole between worlds is hardly imaginative either, even if we soon delight in drawn-out moments for laughs of watching Carter first leap and bound over the Barsoom terrain, mimicking an Earthling spaceman minus his suit.

John Carter the film has the unenviable task of filling in the back-story of the Barsoom history while keeping a sense of adventure burning in the run-time. What it fails to do with any real substance with the latter it makes up for in the former as you cannot deny wanting to explore more of the new world you are transported in and the origins of its beings. In this sense, Stanton and co have created the structure of another intriguing universe and history, but unlike Cameron’s Pandora, Barsoom has been let down by the filmmakers’ flimsy concepts in this that feel underdeveloped in favour of fleshing out the main players, and there is no real sense of connection between human and alien – like between the Na’vi and Jake Sully – that would have pulled John Carter out of the grandiose B-movie league.

3/5 stars

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This Means War ****

This week’s ‘date movie’, director McG’s This Means War, is wrapped in an action blanket from the start for romcom lovers weary of lovelorn, sugary angst from the start. Thankfully, it doesn’t start in an idyllic Manhattan suburb either. It comes crashing into fun focus, James Bond style, in the oddly intriguing pairing of Tom Hardy and Chris Pine – yes, Bane and Kirk unite. It shamelessly tries to hook the male/tomboy viewer in with a blast of guns blazing to set the scene for what is effectively a wickedly entertaining love triangle, headed by the bubbly Reese Witherspoon as the object of the two studs’ desire.

FDR Foster (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) have been best friends and top CIA operatives for a long time, enjoying the job and its perks. After a failed relationship, Tuck decides he’ll try Internet dating, and meets up on a date with attractive Lauren (Witherspoon). As fate would have it, after the date ends, FDR happens upon Lauren too. The friends then wage an epic battle against one another after they discover they are dating the same woman, using their CIA arsenal for the job.

Incredulous scenario aside, it is possible to buy into the premise this film offers that two agents would get away with bugging and effectively stalking a young woman for their own gain, however uncomfortable – and frankly creepy – that idea sounds. And it’s the devilish part of the whole affair that you are actually condoning what is a very serious crime by guiltily enjoying the shenanigans. But it’s probably more due to the exciting trio of Reese, Hardy and Pine delivering some riotous chemistry, and the chalk-and-cheese fascination of watching Hardy in his first romcom role and forehead-challenged Pine (with a an even bigger quiff than normal) on screen having a ball playing bad lads.

Hardy still gets to be the tough guy – but with the soft centre – so it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to accept him in this role, and coupled with Tuck’s British self-depreciating nature in his personal life, Hardy sets him up to be the man who needs rescuing by the right woman. There is also an obvious self-mockery laced throughout the whole affair and the performances that keeps things all very tongue-firmly-in-cheek. Once you appreciate that, and combined with some thrilling self-destruction nature, it’s easy to invest in and thoroughly enjoy this.

Like every romcom, the eye candy is abundant and pristinely turned out, and Witherspoon is still very much a sweetheart to treasure in such a role at the ‘ripe old age of 36’ in romcom territory. Blessed with eternally youthful good looks, she still fits the part perfectly – unlike Jen Aniston who is getting a tad long in the tooth. Witherspoon brings her own brand of witty retorts and comical facial expressions to this part, and there is a hilarious scene when Lauren goes on an action-packed date with Tuck at a paint-balling park, allowing the actress to sum up how her date’s going with one gurn.

Sadly, thanks to a blatant pointer near the start with ‘doting dad’ Tuck showing some regret at a relationship lost, it’s plain to see how things are going to end – even if there is a moment of doubt at the end, which could have left the boys hanging (making a far better ending than the silly, overly contrived one).

That said this is the start of a new breed of sexy romcom that takes the genre out of its cosy, often urban environment, and adds a little zest to the mix – and yes, it does try hard to be appealing to more than the usual romcom fan by adding another angle to keep the genre interesting. This Means War is easily consumable, puerile entertainment with some devilish giggles to be had; the action romantic’s must-see in a sense.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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