Jack The Giant Slayer ***

It’s fairy-tale time, another favourite ideas pot that Hollywood likes to dip into around the holidays to produce a film in time for family viewing. This time it’s the turn of Jack and the Beanstalk, a tale of man verses giant that should whet the appetite of any potential cinemagoer with a longing for some adventure and grand imagination.

Both of these elements are present in X-Men director Bryan Singer’s Jack The Giant Slayer, expect the Hollywood production values are a little ropey at times in the CGI department when it comes to our thundering bad guys who menacingly drop from the clouds via great, tangled beanstalks: This film is understandably 12A in rating as little ones would have nightmares for weeks after at these mythical monsters, especially two-headed leader General Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy). It’s also peppered with ‘bad language’, more so than other family-centric films of late.

The story follows orphan Jack who used to believe in the story of the reign of the giants as a small boy before they were banished by magic to the skies. All grown up, dreamer Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is tasked with selling his Uncle’s horse at market but ends up exchanging the animal for some special beans given to him by a desperate monk on the run who tells him not to get them wet. At home, a careless Jack loses one bean through the floorboards, and after a blustery wet, nighttime visit from a lost crowned princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), things start developing faster than Jack can say ‘beanstalk’. Through this error, the giant’s gateway is re-opened again, and old scores between man and giant come to a head. It’s time for Jack to come of age and prove his worth.

The film’s lead, although played as perfectly average ‘boy next door’, faults and all, Hoult as Jack has his less convincing moments in such a dynamic part that perhaps needs a little more theatrics. Still, Hoult’s good-natured humour and cynicism plugs some of this lacking, so it’s hard not to root for him overall. One of the film’s great advantages is having Hollywood funds behind it, but still retaining its Britishness, thanks to a great, predominantly British cast who really ham up the panto. Perhaps having the most fun is Ewan McGregor as King Brahmwell’s (Ian McShane) knight Elmont who features in a ‘pigs in blankets’ sketch that’s highly amusing – much of the story is predictable so it’s these witty moments that keep things interesting. Singer may well be American, like his other star Stanley Tucci as the scheming, power-crazed villain Roderick, but both adopt all the English eccentricities and characteristics to keep this grounded and rather quaint.

Although the main giants are voiced by the likes of Nighy etc this is where real-life action and CGI green screen acting don’t quite add up in parts, leaving dubious eye-line errors and rendering the whole production value of the fictitious brutes a little too ‘2D Beowulf in design’ to be really convincing. This ‘sketched’ style affects the 3D experience and reality of giant beings on earth. Still, there are some thrilling moments, such as when the monsters chase the King’s men on horseback.

There is also the question of the regular continuity errors, like the ever-changing costumes that make proceedings rather amusing to observe: Check out Isabelle’s attire on first encountering Jack’s humble abode that fateful night when the beanstalk springs into life. Then there’s the magic cat that appears in the house then miraculously outside of it after the overnight growth, not to mention missing floorboards. Where’s Jack’s uncle disappear to in such bad weather? Minor things before even getting to the giants’ kingdom… Admittedly, some of the flow could have ended up in the computer editing bins but it does become an unintentional game of ‘spot the difference’ between shots.

Jack The Giant Slayer is ultimately panto with a great cast at its heart that exudes fun, so it makes for entertaining and comical viewing – albeit nothing new and if you can put technical issues aside for the 114 minutes and endure the fart jokes.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Watch the trailer here

 

 

Reality ****

General consensus on reality TV is less than favourable most of the time, even though it can be equally addictive as curiosity takes over. Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone and his co-writers have taken this concept and produced a fascinating, modern-day Italian tragedy that gradually creeps under the skin. It’s as eerily disturbing as it is predictable in outcome, making this Cannes’ Grand Prix winner a highly compelling watch. It mirrors reality TV as it takes grip and feeds our urge to be proven right or wrong by events that ensue. It also serves as an ugly reminder of the impact of talent(less) celebrity.

Luciano (Aniello Arena) sees the rewards of winning Italy’s Big Brother TV, after a visit from last year’s winner at a wedding he is attending. With times being hard, running his fish stall, local character Luciano sees getting on this year’s show as his and his family’s way out of a humdrum, penny-pinching existence. He thinks he’s in with a good chance of being picked for the House after being invited to the main auditions. What begins as determination and ambition turns into obsession that affects his family and ultimately, his own wellbeing.

Rather like reality TV, the viewer is given a window into Luciano’s life as we watch events with him and his nearest and dearest unfold from an objective standpoint. In a sense, we still root for him and his endeavours, if only as failure would be too tragic to contemplate, plus his intentions towards his family seem genuine and heartfelt. The story is also a frank social lesson in greed as Luciano is ironically very ‘well off’ with a solid family network and self-sufficient as a local businessman living within his means – quirky ‘robot’ scams aside. Arena is quite striking and charismatic in the role, leading us effortlessly through his character’s emotional journey and the highs and lows. He makes Luciano a very genuine and fully fleshed out character, even in his more erratic moments.

There is also a lot of natural humour to be had in Reality, for example, when Luciano and family visit the local water park and he supposedly gets ‘the call’ he’s been waiting for. These lighter moments contrast beautifully with the darker ones, such as Luciano becoming delusional in nature and even more isolated. There is also an unsavoury element with a weaken Luciano exposed to corruption from the local underbelly of have-nots, even if this appears charitable to start with. The final scenes are utterly wretched and deeply moving as Garrone lets events play out to translate the harsh reality of getting a whiff of celerity but being closed off to it, too. These scenes are some of the most memorable and affecting, long after the end credits roll.

Reality is just that; a chilling dose of filmic reality of how damaging and all consuming celebrity and some people’s aspirations of it can be in this day and age, without being patronising in its efforts, almost subliminal in message. The film’s natural cinematic sense plays to its strengths further, making it a notable gem of filmmaking to catch, which translates into any language.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Welcome To The Punch ***

Stylish Brit crime thrillers seem two a penny, and it takes a very different perspective to produce one that stands out from the crowd in this day and age. Shifty Director Eran Creevy’s gritty and sassy London-based drama Welcome To The Punch echoes recent Brit flicks like The Sweeney in design, showing an alluring but dangerous, modern side of the City.

Creevy goes a step further and chooses the cool, glitzy facades of Canary Wharf to whiz us through the isolated streets in an exhilarating opening chase scene. This sets the production values to come and makes London look like a dark, foreboding entity in its own right, its presence flooding through the veins and infastructure of the underworld. It’s hardly surprising that a Scott is involved (Ridley), almost in homage to his late brother’s style of action movie.

What the script lacks in character development it makes up for in sheer angst and tension building that oozes out of each location and main character’s pore. James McAvoy as the bent copper verses Mark Strong as his nemesis and master perp makes for an intriguing power struggle as Creevy establishes the strained history between the characters from the start as his basis for the action and line-crossing dilemmas ahead. Both acclaimed actors make the most of their portrayals that feel rather two-dimensional – Strong does this kind of part in his sleep now – but nevertheless are watchable because of a combination of solid, dependable portrayals and high production values that bolster the film’s appeal.

Apart from McAvoy who plays against the norm – Wanted (2008) aside, Andrea Riseborough as McAvoy’s cocky, curious partner is quite compelling to watch in what feels like a ‘made for TV’ cop drama at times employing A-listers. In a way, although the setting smacks of ‘high value Hollywood’ production, the Brit actor influence keeps the whole proceedings nicely grounded and somewhat credible, even if the some of the scenarios seem dubious as the McAvoy-Strong relationship mutates throughout. And it’s here that Creevy misses a trick in exploring some interesting character dynamics, even with Peter Mullan as Strong’s right-hand man on board, and this makes the whole film very much action-centric when it could have been more character-driven – and appears to be aiming for the latter.

That said Welcome To The Punch is a punchy and satisfying watch on face value, taken as an action crime drama, keeping an electric pace throughout that builds on the thrills and delivers. Unlike Shifty, the character development feels a little wanting, even wasteful of such a prominent and crowd-pleasing cast. Expect more of the former and enjoy London, as you’ve never seen her before, as much of a character in this as the rest of the human cast.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Parker ****

Another Jason Statham action film brings thrilling news for some who love seeing their gruff screen hero doing what he does best to bad guys, and groans of déjà vu from others, weary at yet more stylised action sequences, bad accents and corny one-liners that are the Statham trademark. However, to dismiss the actor’s new film Parker in a hurry would be to miss out on some frankly mindless but competently made fun from renowned Ray director Taylor Hackford and Black Swan writer John J. McLaughlin. Not to mention, this film is based on the Donald E. Westlake (as Richard Stark) novel Flashfire taken from a successful series about a ruthless career criminal with principles called Parker, a character brought to screen by Mel Gibson in Payback (1999) and earlier by Lee Marvin in Point Blank (1967). Granted, Parker (2013) has some incredulous plot and subplot situations but is like a guilty Stratham pleasure, dripping with bloody insanity – plus it helps that both leads, including Jennifer Lopez are easy on the eye and the brain.

Professional thief Parker (Statham) is double-crossed after a botched robbery at the Ohio State Fair, causing tragedy in the process. Not impressed by the loss of life, Parker turns down the offer of working with the same four-man gang again (led by Michael Chiklis as ring leader Melander) – unbeknown that the Mob is involved this time, only for them to leave him for dead by a roadside. Seeking revenge, Parker tracks the gang to Palm Beach, Florida, that is planning a multi-million dollar jewellery heist at an auction. Parker disguised as a wealthy Texan recruits the help of attractive but down-on-her-luck, local real estate agent Leslie Rodgers (Lopez) who susses him out as up to no good and wants in on the action to get her out of her dead-end existence, living with her demanding mum (Patti LuPone). Reluctantly, Parker needs her to scope the local landscape and the gang’s movements as much as she needs him as her meal ticket out of the retirement paradise, but he doesn’t vouch for the Mob coming after them when they learn he’s still alive.

Some Westlake fans might quibble over the choice of Statham as Parker, considering the character in the books is cold, meticulous and murderously violent: Statham has made his mark on screen dishing out the blows to deserved recipients with usually minimal blood spillage, while always retaining a redeeming and loyal quality underneath. Expect more brutal, mean Statham in this, but still a man of cynical, selective words with the power to charm the local female population at a hundred paces and raise a few sniggers at his one-liners. It’s the same Stratham macho magic, only a little eye-wateringly grizzly in places, but the loyalty and determination still intact to allow us to root for him. Admittedly, just how wounded Parker manages to dispel the bad guys is quite astonishing, but setting reality aside, watching him is like watching a cat with nine lives, which is all part of the film’s appeal.

Lopez has always courted mixed reviews for her acting abilities, and plays a cross between ditzy cutesy and tough-talking Karen Sisco from Out of Sight as Leslie. The chemistry between Statham and Lopez is highly convincing, even though for Parker, loyalty means in every aspect of his life, including staying faithful to girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth), and Leslie and him never do get steamy. That said there is a sizzling, lingering scene for Lopez admirers to check out her pert booty, when Parker asks Leslie to strip to (ahem) ‘check for a wire’. The actress shows she’s still got the goods to play the rogue’s moll. Aside from looking mighty fine, Lopez does provide some genuinely funny and fresh responses to LuPone’s henpecking and Parker’s bloody-mindedness, standing her own ground as the comedian in this, set against Statham’s tough, blunt delivery. It also helps that the silly plot to rob the sunny island of its local jewels and grab the proceeds fits the whole fake scenario of the location – Palm Beach society life has suddenly become the height of cool, it seems, thanks to the Hackford-McLaughlin presence that makes the action just that little bit more plausible. The film-makers also get added help from acting heavyweights who provide admirable supporting performances, including Chiklis as the nasty thug and a bedraggled Nick Nolte as Claire’s father and shifty Parker contact, Hurley.

Parker is well executed, ultimately entertaining and totally consumable but hardly groundbreaking as action thrillers go. Nevertheless, Statham is as effective as ever as straight-talking and determined Parker who we naturally egg on to right wrongs by any means possible, all the while knowing he could get the girl if he wanted to – heck, he even wins over Mum, no questions asked, as he bleeds over the Rodgers’ condo floor.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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A Good Day To Die Hard **

It has been almost six years since Bruce Willis last donned his iconic vest and saved the day but he should have waited a bit longer for a better  script to come along because this has to be the worst Die Hard movie in the franchise’s 25 year history.

In his now infamous interview on the BBC’s The One Show Willis complained bitterly about the film’s title and how it doesn’t make any sense but nor does the plot which seemed to escape him. Frankly the title was the least of his worries.

So in this his fifth outing New York cop John McClane heads to Moscow to go to the aid of his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) who he discovers is in fact an undercover CIA agent working to prevent a nuclear weapons heist.  McClane gives him a hand and it all goes to pot.  The pair then team up to fight the Russian villains as Jack tries to get a special file from one of them although its significance is never explained.

The whole father and son dynamic is a fascinating one but it is never truly explored. It is merely a self-serving plot device as is their miraculous reconciliation. You are none the wiser as to why the two stopped speaking to each other or what kind of person Jack is so you are never invested in his character.

Courtney, who was last seen in Jack Reacher in an unforgettable performance, does his best with his two dimensional role while Willis, bordering on autopilot,  delivers his one liners with great relish with his tongue firmly in his cheek including the mandatory “Yippee ki-yay”.

But what makes the original Die Hard one of the best and much loved action movies to date seems to have been lost on director John Moore (Max Payne) and screenwriter Skip Woods.  Where is the intense cat and mouse game between McClane and his nemesis? Where is the ruthless and charismatic villain who can outwit McClane at every turn as Alan Rickman’s performance defining Hans Gruber did? Where are the intelligent and heart stopping twists and turns along with a hero who is completely human and struggling to survive as he fights to save his family from harm?

This is the essence of the Die Hard films which has been replaced here by major set action sequences held together by a flimsy and uninspired story which lacks heart.

The action scenes are big and loud and very elaborate and includes a ridiculously long and never-ending car chase.  But they are neither thrilling nor nail-biting and just left me beaten into submission by the end.

Setting the story outside of the US was a major mistake because it makes McClane seem anachronistic and comical and you can’t truly suspend disbelief.  Plus the Russians are all portrayed as liars and schemers who clearly cannot be trusted.  It is up to the Americans to go in and save us from nuclear destruction at the hands of the Ruskies. It is both insulting and clichéd. Clearly Hollywood has a short memory. The Cold War ended decades ago boys.

But the biggest crime of all is that Moore has made a boring and dumb downed Die Hard movie which is unforgivable. This certainly isn’t a good day for the franchise and with plans for a sixth film they need to get back to basics or die hard trying.

2/5 stars

By Maria Jose

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BFI LFF 2012: Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God *****

In the week that has seen the shock resignation of Pope Benedict XVI comes a brutally uncompromising documentary about the clerical child sex abuse scandal and the extraordinary lengths the Catholic Church went to cover it up which goes all the way to the highest echelons of the Vatican.

The Pontiff is in fact the most learned man on the subject. When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition, it was decreed that every sex abuse case involving a minor went to him. He was fully aware of the extent of the problem yet he did nothing to stop or bring the perpetrators to justice.

Oscar winning film maker Alex Gibney’s rigorous expose is a gripping account of systematic abuse of power and collusion to protect the Church’s reputation at all costs.

The film begins by investigating Father Lawrence Murphy, a charismatic priest,  who abused over 200 deaf children in a school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from the 1950s to 1974. The accounts from four of his victims, powerfully voiced by renowned actors, are both heart-breaking and sickening as their efforts to unmask him and get him ex communicated fell on deaf ears.

Through the use of archival footage and grainy home videos Gibney effectively recalls the era and highlights Murphy’s depravity as he singled out youngsters whose parents didn’t know sign language.

But the documentary also looks at paedophile priests in Europe and South America along with the Vatican’s continued code of silence.

It paints a disturbing picture of errant behaviour being tolerated as long as it was kept secret. Victims were paid off and priests were banned from reporting their depraved colleagues to the authorities. Those who tried to take action against abusers felt the full force of the Vatican.

This is a very powerful and emotive documentary which will leave you shaken to the core and wondering how men of the cloth could do such heinous things to poor defenceless children and get away with it.

As Joseph Ratzinger prepares to step down as Pope his papacy will be forever stained by the sex abuse scandal and the knowledge he could have made a vital difference but didn’t.

5/5 stars

By Maria Jose

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